April 14, 2017:

In which Isa Reichert expresses her frustration, and Phil Coulson is there to knock her rage down a few pegs.

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.


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Black Widow


Mood Music: None.

Fade In…

Although many of its agents are extraordinary people, even the most ordinary of people have a basic need to keep their skills sharp and both body and mind properly trained. Those who don't have as much in the way of physical demands often find a means to keep their bodies in peak condition. As a pilot, Isa Reichert doesn't often find herself in the same situations that operatives like, say, Natalia Romanova might find themselves in. Completely different skillsets.

Fortunately, she doesn't have to go far for training. Certainly not outside the building and into the city. At this rate, leaving the Triskelion is only when she can't stand the same four walls any more – otherwise, there's not much point in it. It's too dangerous. There's just too much going on that threatens her directly or indirectly.

The sound of Isa Reichert can be found sooner than the pilot herself. If one follows a path to the exercise facilities, they'll hear the sound of a punching bag being absolutely ravaged; closer, one might hear the pilot's quiet grunt before she throws a fist and connects with the bag, with a dull whud.

That's exactly where she can be found, dancing with a fairly heavy bag, single eye narrowed in something between aggravation and the same kind of laser-focus she shows when she's flying.


Her fist connects again. Maybe it's a product of retraining herself after the accident, but it seems to be with her left fist that she leads; not her right.


Hmm. She doesn't look very happy.

The man who enters the gym is as unobtrusive than ever, though in a pair of sweats and a black shield t-shirt, Phil is less unobtrusive than in a suit. It's impossible to hide, in that get-up, the very real muscle definition that he carries, the mark not of any kind of extraordianary ability, but of determination and long, hard hours doing much the same as Isa is doing.

He's been scarce, since the mission.

But he shows up now, slipping in behind the bag, bracing it. He adopts a front stance to help brace himself.

He looks, just for a moment, a bit like a sad puppy as he gives a little smile, his eyes compassionate but also very aware he's messed up. "So…I take it that's my face?I figured I might as well help you visualize it a bit better."

He may have had to take his time to contemplate the fact that even after 30 years, he can still miscalculate, even on areas where he considers himself to be a master: personnel management, mission planning.

He's got a black eye already, it's worth noting. He's slower than he used to be, and one of the enemy soldiers got him right in the face with the butt of his gun the other day. Phil had recovered, taking the gun away from the soldier and shooting him with it in a show of ruthlessness that said loud and clear that he's still a spy, still an agent, still someone who will do as he must do. Even as he tries to do the right thing, the good thing. Even as he tries to remain compassionate, and retain human life. Sometimes the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the guy pistol whipping your face as a facility looks ready to tumble down on everyone's head.

Stationed at her own hanging bag, Isa doesn't immediately notice that she has a visitor. In fact, she doesn't see him until she spots a flash of movement behind the bag. On pure reflex her fist slams into it with enough force to break someone's nose, or give someone a screaming black eye.

Isa is glaring when she straightens, indignation blazing in that single blue eye… but she doesn't say anything. Not immediately. A casual left hook with enough force to make one's kidneys wince in sympathy arrests the last of the bag's inertia. It lurches to a halt as Phil clutches at it from the opposite side.

"<How dare you,>" the pilot snarls, jabbing a linen-wrapped fist at the agent in clear anger. Isa doesn't move to strike him, though. It's just an accusatory point. "<You know what kind of danger I could have been in, and you know why I don't want to be anywhere near current Russian territories or interests. For God's sake, Coulson, I could have been discovered. Or shot! I don't know about you, but I don't have the kind of superhuman constitution that lets me shrug something like that off.>"

She's started to stalk in a circle by this point. "<Furthermore, the last thing I need right now is to have my nose rubbed in the ground by someone like that. I damn well know how to fly. I am damn well not compromised in that regard. I damn well made sure of that.>" There's something ugly in that blue eye. It seems that confidence and pride in her skills is something she takes with extreme seriousness; it is, knowing her story, one of the last things she has left to her. "<That was humiliating.>"

Seeming to run out of steam for an instant, Isa stands there breathing heavily, glaring, left hand still clenched into a fist.

After several seconds of glaring, Isa huffs another sigh, straightening and stalking over to Coulson.

"Is over now, I guess." Grudging; so grudging, the statement given in her customary broken English. She raises a hand as though to touch the air near Coulson's face without actually touching him. "How is your face?"

<"I apologize, Raisa. It was a mistake.">

Phil Coulson lets her rage without saying a word. He only speaks those seven when she is finished, when she grudgingly steps back and speaks in English. He continues, though, saying precisely what he did wrong.

<"I thought of you as a SHIELD asset first and as a person second. I've been nervous about that excavation for months. I wanted the best, people who could navigate Russian territories. I was confident you wouldn't be discovered, and for me, getting shot at is a risk of the job. I didn't stop to think that you might not be confident that you would not be discovered. It also didn't occur to me how Natalia's…personality…might interact with yours. I'm used to her. She doesn't bother me. She doesn't even mean to bother you, or to humiliate you. She—">

He hesitates here, leery of giving away details as he ever is, especially about something so personal. So he changes what he was going to say. <"I truly thought two insanely skilled, strong-willed women who shared a language and a culture might have a chance at being friends. Two defectors. I am usually better at predicting how people will interact with one another. I allowed my focus on the mission to blind me to the possibility that she would…">

Play a merry tapdance on every one of Raisa's insecurities? Stoke her temper like a demon?

<"Be a bit condescending."> That's what he settles on.

"<To be thought of as a SHIELD asset, I can expect. I am not even afraid to put myself at risk. After all, I am living on borrowed time, more or less.>" Isa switches seamlessly to Russian, folds her arms, and glares at her fellow agent.

She's wearing a simple halter top today, along with workout pants sporting snow camouflage colours. The lack of collar or sleeves show that the scarring is just as extensive as the lines beneath her collar suggest – it makes its ragged way all the way down the right side of her neck, partly wraps around her throat in one spot, and covers the entirety of her right arm. Even her fingers are scarred, and the movements on her right side do seem more stiff in general. The scarring lessens somewhat as it tracks down toward her hip; when it's lost below the waistband of mixed greys and whites, it's a bit narrower enough to suggest that the upper quarter of her torso got the worst of it.

Honestly, with marks like that, she must have gotten caught full in the face by the blast, unexpected; thrown her right arm up and turned her face away from it, only to have the right side seared.

There are probably warmer glaciers in Novaya Zemlya than the stare with which Isa regards Phil.

After a few seconds of that she sighs in disgust. "<I am not without blame, either. I should not have allowed her to needle me so. But I have had enough of my skills being questioned; it has been five years of battling uphill in the rain to prove that I am not a useless cripple.>" She flexes her right hand, clenching a fist and unclenching it. It might be that she doesn't have much in the way of fine control, but she still seems to have plenty of strength in it. Enough to wrestle with a stubborn flight stick, or an uncooperative throttle.

"<Just because we two are from Russia does not mean that we are going to be best friends. I would have preferred civility, if not respect, but I guess that is too much to ask.>" Isa shakes her head, resting her curled fist against the bag, arm upraised as she leans on it. Something in her expression hardens.

What, Natalia would be a bit condescending?

"<No shit,>" Isa retorts, angrily.

"No shit," Phil agrees, with the slightest of sighs. It's rare for him to swear, in either language, but sometimes the situation does rather call for it.

He switches again though. <"I promise I won't make you go on any more missions with her. I can't promise that someone else won't question your skills. But if someone does, you should remember that I chose you for my personal team. I didn't do that because I feel sorry for you— I can't afford that kind of thinking, and frankly I wouldn't insult you that way. I did that because you're one of the best I've ever seen, perhaps the best, and I've flown with Agent May. Go see how she flies sometime and understand what it means for me to make that comparison. And no, I didn't…">

She's taken that wrong, a bit, that bit that they'd be 'best friends' because they're both Russian. It sounds twisted that way, from what he meant. He suddenly feels off balance again, a man facing a woman's wrath, finding very little that what he can say is taken precisely the way he means it. Well, he's been here before, nothing to do but power through it.

<"I should have required civility,"> he agrees. He's not sure why he didn't. Mostly, he thinks, because the fuse was lit, the bombs were exploding and he had ducked into his foxhole before he really had the chance.

Isa Reichert may not be the smartest or the strongest person around, but she has one priceless quality that's kept her alive against all odds. She is stubborn as an absolute mule. Where a lesser person might have given up in the face of such relentless adversity, Isa has persevered.

Being stubborn to the point of illogical absurdity is occasionally a convenient survival skill to have in one's toolbox. Sometimes it can be troublesome, as with meeting one Natalia Alianovna Romanova. Being meek wouldn't have earned her anything at all, though – it's clear to her now that the woman would have dismissed anything out of the pilot, treating her as no better than part of the quinjet's interior. An inanimate object; a resource to be used.

"<I would not have minded even if she had ignored me. Treated me like a piece of furniture inside the quinjet.>" Isa shakes her head, lapsing back into Russian in her aggravation. "<But to actively do what she did…>"

Basically, Romanova seized on the one thing that would seize Isa up.

His compliments on her skill are perhaps filed away by a smaller and more rational part of her mind, but right now the pilot is busy seeing red. She's angry, but more significant than that, she's feeling vulnerable after having her capabilities questioned so blatantly.

Sure, one could argue that Coulson sees her skill for what it is and that's all that matters, but Isa Reichert seems to suffer from an excess of professional pride. It's the last thing left to her and she'll be damned if she lets it go down without a fight. This woman's wrath is indeed like the fires of Hell itself. Given her story, there are probably years where she fuelled herself on nothing but sullen rage, cigarettes, and vodka.

"<No shit,>" Isa snaps again, when Coulson mentions he should've required civility. "<Though it seems to me she still would've figured a way to bend those rules. When one is as skilled as her, I suppose they earn a certain amount of leeway to behave as they please, but that is no excuse, to me.>" Stepping back, Isa slams a vicious left hook into the bag, rattling it in Coulson's arms, following up with a right hook only slightly less vicious. She might be imagining Romanova's face in the region of her target.

"<I'll fly for anyone in SHIELD, but not her, unless I'm directly ordered to.>"


"<She can damned well fly her own fucking quinjets. Obviously the little princess thinks her own flying skills are better, so she is welcome to it, as far as I am concerned.>"

"Alright," Phil says, as she gets into a blind rage. He points to the mats. "If you need to have this out physically, let's just do this."

There's no telling what he's thinking or feeling right now. He's slipped into neutrality, basically recognizing this is an anger that's about far more than him and his management and human resources missteps. This is about other things, and she's not going to get it out of her system in a bag. He goes to stand at the mat, leaving the bag to swing if she continues to hit it instead, crossing his arms and regarding her.

Sometimes what it takes to restore equilibrium is a bit beyond that. He just watches her with somber hazel eyes to see what she'll do next. He doesn't speak as to whether or not Isa will fly other missions for Natalia or not. He could; he could take all sorts of stances on that, but he chooses to adopt no stance at all. The needs of SHIELD govern them all, and that might mean someday, in the future, she gets directly ordered to fly Romanova. There's no point saying that when she already knows it for herself, given the fact that she made the allowance for direct orders herself.

Now it's about lancing the poison, draining the rage.

The pilot pauses, frowning even more deeply at the unexpected offer. It's given in English, which necessitates a moment for her to shift mental gears, and those mental gears are a little ground-out even on the best of days. She's not bad at English, but her grasp on the language is still a little uncertain, even if she understands better than the impression she gives.

Sometimes it plays to her advantage to seem clumsy with the language. People are apt to let their guard down around her that way. Not Coulson, of course; he's entirely too cunning for that, but it's a handy ace up her sleeve.

After all, omission of information is not precisely lying…

Frowning even more as he points to the mats and says 'let's do this,' she adjusts the wrapping around her hands and trails after him.

"Fine." She's still radiating wrath; there's no mistaking the way her blue eye is blazing. His instincts are good. There's probably more at play here than merely clashing with an associate. Her seething is almost palpable; in a way, it's easy to see how someone like her has survived all of life's knuckleball throws — she's tough, even if she feels vulnerable; she's strong, even when she insists she's weak. It's the kind of razor-sharp survival instinct that governs whether a person rises above, or whether they give up.

It's great for problem situations, but it's not great in this one. She's well beyond the point of reason. In this state, the only way to give reason back to her is to neutralise the poison — and anger is a poison, make no mistake. The only thing for it is to lance it.

Cautiously, she lifts her hands in a boxer's stance, staying light on her feet and watching Coulson warily.

After the incident with the enemy soldier, it is entirely possible she expects him to bust out some kind of crazy superhuman skill and lay her flat on the floor trivially.

…Well, that's probably not too far from the truth.

Frustration gets the better of her, though, and she throws a vicious left hook for Coulson's face. If it connected, it would be rather like getting socked in the face by a middleweight — she seems to take care to keep herself in good physical condition, drinking and smoking aside. Her strength is good. It's not superhuman, but for someone of her apparent height and build, it's good.

He's just not there anymore. He sidesteps, blocks, and uses her force to simply toss her a few steps past him. Not even hard enough to impact the wall or anything. It's just a toss, casual. He steps back to face her, hands sliding up into an open handed guard stance. He's been taught several martial arts in the course of his training. Ironically, this one, aikido, the one he has cause to use the very least in the field, is the one that suits his nature the very most.

He lifts his eyebrow, and this needs no translation. It's a sort of…'really? Is that all you've got?'

But he says nothing at all. He's a middleweight himself, no super-soldier. He's a little taller; he's got the reach. He's using it, apparently, to be a pain in her ass. But then, as many have noted, he does excel at three things. Being a clever bastard, being supremely unassuming, and…

Kind of being a pain in the ass.

With a grunt and an oof, Isa finds herself pushed past the point where she had intended to strike, immediately kicking one foot back to brace herself against the mat.

She seems to realise what's happened to her a split second later, once she's regained her balance. Applied redirection of force. No matter how hard she comes swinging at him, he's going to redirect her momentum, and he's going to be in control. All that rage is useless. Indeed, that rage becomes a weapon of his arsenal.

She's too angry to use logic. Some part of her brain knows what he's doing to her, but the rest of it is still burning and doesn't really care that she's being indirectly manipulated.

Whirling, Isa lunges, snarling and attempting to ram a fist straight into Coulson's already-black eye.

Right now her blood is up and she doesn't particualrly like to be touched, however unobtrusively, such as being thrown forward a few paces. Maybe that's why she had reached out to pat his hand, over drinks at a sidewalk cafe a few nights ago – a gesture of trust on her part, not because she was reassuring him, but because she was touching his hand to do so.

…Actually, even casual study of her mannerisms and physical quirks would show that she really, really doesn't like to be touched; even the requisite physical examinations she had suffered through on joining SHIELD had been reluctant, at best. Maybe it's a result of the fire, or maybe she's just withdrawn into an extremely private person over the years.

This time he steps into her strike, but sideways again, towards her. He does a open hand inside to outside block; his hand closes around her wrist, uncaring right now about her desires to be touched. The moment she stepped into the ring, the moment her rage forced this confrontation, she lost the ability to dictate these things. He is suddenly twisting and flipping her around, sending her belly first to the mat in what could have become an arm snapping hold, if he'd bothered. Instead he taps her lightly with a foot with the floating ribs, as if to emphasize other things he might have done, before stepping back again.

Seconds later, he's right back in the stance he started in. He's like water tumbling over rocks, immune to all the other elements, unplacable, forceful and returning to its own shape the moment it's done being disturbed. The rocklike core at the centre of the man, the part of him that simply does not move no matter what his circumstances, no matter how bad they are, shows now. He might get exasperated. He might make mistakes, but he won't dwell on them. This is what he returns to. Total control over himself, total confidence in who he is and what he stands for, regardless of any missteps he might make. He can try to make them right, but if the world were full of perfect people, SHIELD would not need to exist.

Outside of the ring, or some necessary field situation, he would of course never touch her without— well, her express permission, but also actual need. There are a dozen reasons why, starting with respect, moving on to being her superior officer, moving on to her being a married woman, and moving on past that to simple decorum. But here?

Here she's just going to have to suck it up.

He speaks one word. "Up."

She's not done yet.

Down goes the pilot one more time. Isa hits the mat with a rush of breath, dimly aware that the force of impact is going to bruise. The room spins a little as she spits blood, lip split from her graceless landing.

This time, she doesn't immediately throw herself at him in murderous rage. It seems the light of reason has slowly begun to pierce that red haze.

She's made a terrible mistake. Only a fool would underestimate this unassuming and seemingly bland agent. Phillip Coulson is dangerous not because of his abilities with a gun or a martial art, but because he is cunning. He does not let his emotions rule him.

Frustration flares again, but Isa doesn't let it overtake her judgement. It doesn't erupt into full-blown rage; there's something else behind it, this time — shame, because she's overreacting and she knows it. But the pressures of the past weeks, the past years, are weighing on her.

Where Coulson is stone and water, Raisa is fire. She burns brightly with the will to survive, with a bright spirit, but therein lies her problem. Fire is not so easily controlled, if it can be controlled at all. It takes mastery to be able to lend shape to flame. Once upon a time she was very good at it, but time and hardship have ground down her ability to care.

Plunging headlong into the self-destructive fog she had lived in for the years after Mikhail's death was easy — it's living, and living for a cause, that take the most courage and resolve. She's still learning how to do that again.

Sometimes some bruises are necessary along the way.

Up, he commands, and she obligingly climbs to her feet, but there's a reluctance this time. Is he getting through to her? That single eye looks a bit less murderous, so maybe that's the case after all.

Isa spits blood again.

Up comes her bandaged fists again in boxer's stance. She can brawl and box with the best of them, even if she's not formally trained; it's gotten her out of trouble when she's needed it, and her sidearm's done the rest when physical ability haven't been enough. It's no match for a trained opponent like Coulson, though.

That doubt shows in her eye. She's still frustrated and she still wants to prove herself, but there's no proving herself here. It's a much more subtle process, whatever it is Coulson has in mind.

Gradually, Isa lowers her fists, scowling.

"Enough." The guttural command is rasped around a mouthful of blood, which she spits again, prodding gingerly at her split lip. As much as it galls her to admit it, she's hopelessly outmatched. Maybe that's part of what had sent her hackles up at Natalia so badly — feeling threatened by such an omnicapable woman and her own inability to measure up in anything but flying the taxi.

"Am no fighter," Isa growls, grudgingly. "Need to be able to fly tomorrow. You break my arm, you find another pilot for a few week, I think."

There's a short pause, a beat.

"Also broken arm, hurt like hell."

He is inscrutable, never letting it show whether he would break her arm or not. It might be worth six weeks with a lesser pilot to shape the greater, but that's beside the point. She has been given something to think about, but more over, the poison is out; the fire no longer raging in the living room, but contained again in the hearth.

He steps back, he drops his arms, and he returns calmly to Russian. Now they have both known and acknowledged their mistakes, and so he gives her something else. The tone is more gentle, but it is not the mournful tone of before. It is not quite the deceptive softness which he approached her with before. It is something like a mentor to a student, something just like a friend to a friend, if it were a friend prone to poetry and bits of historical quotes which…he is.

<"No one,"> he says, <"May make you feel inferior without your consent.">

<"That was Eleanor Roosevelt,"> he adds, since he would no more expect her to recognize the very American quote than he would expect himself to recognize a quote from a famous Russian figure, unless it were one he happened to study.

<"There is much in you to admire. Do not cheapen it by rushing to defend it from those who will not see it. When you know your own worth, it can't be taken from you. You are more than a pilot. You are more than an agent. You are more than a fighter. All of that grows from something else, something that's inside you, something only you possess. You might never be able to put that thing into words, but when you start to get a sense of it, you will truly become unstoppable, and it won't matter if you're standing beside Thor Odinson, a man who as far as I know can benchpress a city block, or beside the skinniest, drippiest nerd in IT. You will feel neither more, nor less, than either of them, because you'll understand that thing within makes all significant. And you'll understand that it takes both sorts. It takes everyone to make this beautiful, strange, messy thing we're all here to defend so it can continue being beautiful, strange, and messy another day.">

He smiles then.

"I've got to go to Paris tomorrow," he says, in English.

Lecture over.

"I'd like to be wheels up at 1300, please."

And then he turns to go.

Phillip Coulson has proven his mastery over the art of unassuming mildness. To some extent even Mikhail Nikolayevich Makarov had been able to reach for that unassuming mildness when it benefitted him to do so. More than once he had adopted that flexible guise when his wife's temper had gotten the better of her.

But Raisa Ivanovna Yakovleva has always been a woman made of air and fire. Her spirit is one that burns bright, but there are certain things she had not been and will never be good at, such as reining in her temper in certain situations. She is proud, which may come as a surprise after all she's been through, and sometimes that pride rules her.

It's a work in progress.

Spitting again to clear the taste of blood from her mouth, Isa watches Coulson with a tightness around her eyes that speaks more of exhaustion than actual animosity. He's bled the rage from her, enough so that she can think clearly and actually listen to what he has to say.

Isa shifts her weight and exhales, absently prodding at her ribs; wincing involuntarily at the tenderness. That's going to bruise tomorrow, but part of her had already resigned herself to that as soon as it had happened.

While part of her wants to make a remark about Natalia, the rest of her sees the wisdom in not doing so. It's better to just drop the subject of the other woman, and on some level, Coulson's advice is both sound and proper. She is what she is, and the approval or disapproval of anybody else doesn't matter at all.

"<Maybe so.>" It's probably the best he can get out of her for right now. She swipes an arm across her face, ignoring the smear of blood from her lip and letting both hands drop. "<Most of the time I would let that roll off my back. I had my enemies, too. But most of the time my Misha was there to talk sense into me.>" She shakes her head, sighing. "<It's been a rough few years.>"

Gathering up what few things she'd brought with her, Isa slings her duffel bag over her back and glances back to regard Coulson with a brow slightly arched. Paris?

She frowns after him, brow furrowed a little and the scarred side of her mouth a downward slash.

"Can be ready by twelve hundred."

She will be, too. It might be she's been an irresponsible fool over the past day or two, but she'll always take her flying with the utmost of seriousness.

"<Thanks,>" she mumbles under her breath, swiping her bloody lip again, sighing as though in disappointment at herself. "<Sometimes I need some sense drilled into my head. Since my Misha is not here to do that… I am glad someone else is.>"

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