Fifty Percent

April 19, 2017:

In which Isa Reichert accompanies Agent Coulson on an operation in Barcelona, and things end in wholly unpredictable ways.

Barcelona - Spain

Home to about five million people, Barcelona is the largest metropolis on the Mediterranean Sea. It's located on the coast between the mouths of the rivers Llobregat and Besòs, and bounded to the west by the Serra de Collserola mountain range. Further, it is one of the world's leading tourist, economic, and cultural-sports centres, and its influence in commerce, education, entertainment, and more all contribute to its status as one of the world's major international destinations.

The Gothic Quarter is the centre of the Old City. Many of the buildings date from medieval times, some from as far back as the original Roman settlement. Catalan modernista architecture (related to the movement known as Art Nouveau in the rest of Europe), give the city a unique, organic look. Many of these buildings are World Heritage Sites, particularly those created by architect Antoni Gaudí.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Darcy, Melinda May, Peggy Carter, Rusalka Stojespal, Sloane Albright, Steve Rogers

Mood Music: Yoko Kanno & Mai Yamane - Time Doing Time


Fade In…

Isa may have walked past a sleeping Phil Coulson when she went to get her cigarette, but she returns to one who is awake, watchful, and waiting for her. He let her have her cigarette and her moment. There is no griping about security, no commentary whatsoever about it. He emerges from his bunk as if he'd had hours of sleep, though in truth it was only one or two. He's taken off his jacket and his tie, but that's about it.

His face is set into grim, unhappy lines.

"I have to show you something," he says. "You're going to want to sit down."

He'd all but demanded she did sit, all but ordered it, refusing to show her a thing until she did.

Then, apparently judging this to be the right situation for it, he gently takes her hand by the wrist, opens her fingers, and lays the watch gently inside, closing her fingers around the small object.

He'd given her a moment to process that.

Then he'd said: "There's more."

That is the moment where he'd turned the data pad with Makarov's face on it, with the facial recognition pings still blinking as they verify his identity. "<Your husband is alive, Raisa,>" he'd said, very gently, just in case she was in too much shock from these two reveals to latch on to this.

He'd stepped back, then, waiting for her to react however she'd needed to what amounted to an emotional nuclear bomb thrown directly into her lap in the darkest hours before the Barcelona dawn.

It was with weary resignation of the sleepless that the pilot had finished her cigarette and returned, single eye hooded nearly to the point of closed as she dragged her exhausted body back towards the cockpit. She could have caught a few hours of sleep in one of the unused cargo holds, or even bedded down on Lola's bench seat, if she'd asked Coulson nicely. Instead she had chosen to be near the cockpit.

After telling her to trust those instincts of hers, she had decided to listen to his advice.

So it is that she looks up, frowning tiredly when he shows up like a ghost. How is he able to move so silently? Looks like she failed her situational awareness assessment again.

"Coulson." She tilts her head a little, settling her hands in the pockets of Mikhail's bomber jacket. "Something wrong? Or is time to take off?"

I have to show you something, he tells her instead. You're going to want to sit down.

He had not said a word until she had eased back down into the pilot's seat, frowning at him in obvious puzzlement. What's the big deal here? Why does his entire mien seem so drastically different? There's a pall of solemnity over him as he takes her hand by the wrist; she all but shies away at the unexpected touch, flinching, but not strongly enough to break his grip. He turns her hand over and places something on her palm, closing her fingers around it.

It ticks, softly, with the measure and meter of well cared for machinery. The tiny sound seems as loud as the roar of the quinjet's turbines in the night.

Against her better judgement she opens her fingers, eye slowly widening. She knew, of course, as soon as he closed her fingers over it what it was. It fits her palm almost perfectly. It's the pocket watch Mikhail had always carried with him.

The watch in her hand blurs. For a few seconds she isn't sure why her vision fails her. She blinks hard and flinches at the spill of tear that lands on her hand, looking up sharply at he says something impossible.

Isa stares at Coulson for a long moment, incomprehension written across her strong features. There's something close to desperation, too. Some part of her wants to believe that; had wanted to believe it for five torturously long years. Her mouth opens. All she manages is a sound dangerously close to a whimper.

Numbly, Raisa Ivanovna Yakovleva closes her fingers around the watch.

"<How—>" Her voice is too breathless. "<Phillip Coulson, it is true that this is my husband's watch, but—>"

The fiercely proud, independent, and stubborn pilot seems to crumple in on herself, fingers whitening around the Molnija pocket watch. She clutches at it watch like a drowning man clutches a life preserver, head bowing and red hair spilling over her face.

In spite of her silent sobbing, she makes only a single sound. It's a single high, keening wail; soft, so soft, but unspeakably grief-stricken. She clutches the pocket watch to her heart – as though this simple object could banish all the pain and the suffering of the past five years.

She can't even speak. But at the moment, she isn't sure she could trust herself to.

Coulson lowers his head while Raisa cries. He keeps silent, respectful watch over her while she does, the data pad in his hand but lowered now. He is present with her, but he doesn't move, or speak, or touch her, or offer any other explanations. He barely has any explanations as it is. He bears silent witness to the emotional devastation of a woman who has already been devastated, broken, who fused herself back together with fire and will, who crawled over her personal field of broken glass to make something functional out of herself once more. Only to find out at least some of that which had forged her was some sort of lie, some sort of trick, some sort of play made by someone or something.

And in truth, Phillip Coulson has no idea what the Hell is going on here yet. He only knows that he's found a man who did not leave a body, because he was busy walking around in it. He doesn't know why Makarov is on the run now, or who he is on the run from. He does not know why Makarov allowed Isa to believe he was dead, or if he had any choice in the matter.

And when one knows nothing, and when information wouldn't help anyway?

One keeps his mouth shut until the storm passes, however long it takes for the storm to do so. Eventually he will bring her Kleenex, and a glass of water, when those things are called for.

Eventually, that presence is like a beacon light against the storm. It takes her a long time to master herself, but Isa eventually does, and accepts the glass of water and the tissues with numb thanks. She even brings herself to look at the datapad one more time, single eye wide in disbelief.

The world stopped making sense.

She watches it twice, clutching the watch until the ornamentation on its cover bites into her palm.

"<That is Mikhail Nikolayevich.>" Her assertion is almost numb, devoid of inflection. Isa hunches in on herself a little, holding the watch up and looking at it closely. "<And I do not doubt that this is his pocket watch. It was given to him in commemoration for his squadron's excellent work.>"

Her brow furrows; her expression threatens to crumple again. "<So how…>" She looks up to Coulson again with the air of one lost. "<Where… where is he? What do we do now? And why in God's name did he not try to contact me? I…>" Her voice breaks. There is, at this point, no hope of all of speaking in English. "<Is this why we have been flying all over Europe?>"

"<Yes. It is.>" Coulson says quietly. "<I hope you can see now why I was very careful about what I said. Careful until I knew. He's due for a meeting in Barcelona tomorrow at 3 PM. We're going to go, you and I, and we're going to try to do it quietly and bring him in. We're going to ask him questions. He's on the run from someone, Raisa. We need him safe, in the air with us, and we need him to give us some answers. And I'm going to get the answers, not you, because I can't fly the bus.>"

And because ultimately, what he needs is the intelligence before he allows their emotional meltdown to proceed, whether the man is traitor or ally in danger.

"<Once we have landed back in New York City you will get your opportunity to talk to him. With any luck he is well ahead of his enemies and this won't be a tough pick-up at all. If there is no luck, then this will grow messy.>"

A meeting in Barcelona at three o'clock, with a mysterious party that no one knows the identity of. That would explain why he had directed her to a distant farm field and why there's been such a need for secrecy. Coulson had given no hint of the proceedings, aside from confirming that it had to do with her husband's situation. He had not said that it had to do with her husband.

"<And here, I thought we were chasing his killer.>" Isa laughs. It's too fast and breathless, all nerves. "<Not my Misha himself.>"

She's handled it reasonably well, all things considered.

Coulson confirms that the other pilot is on the run from someone, and she looks up to the agent when he asserts that he's going to be in charge of getting answers. "<Of—of course, but… I'm going with you. Like Hell I am staying with the quinjet.>" She gives another unsteady laugh. "<Phillip Coulson, I will do whatever it is you need me to do. I will try to control myself.>"

The night had passed uneventfully after that, and so had the next morning and afternoon. Through it the pilot had slept not a wink. After Coulson had dropped his emotional depth charge into her lap, and after she had calmed down some, she had gone outside to smoke and think. She hadn't come back for forty minutes, and her carton of cigarettes had been mostly empty after that.

Now, ten minutes before three o'clock, late afternoon traffic is starting to ramp up around Barcelona. There are tourists in the streets and locals going about their business. And in the back streets of the city, towards a less-travelled thoroughfare, a man and a woman are heading for a less-travelled café.

She walks behind him, wearing a black blouse tucked into black slacks, and a black jacket over that. Her hair is gathered up elegantly at the nape of her neck, though it bares the burn scars around the right side of her neck. They follow the line of her throat down past the neatly-turned collar of her blouse. She still wears the patch over the right side of her face, balanced under a pair of dark sunglasses, and though it's out of sight, her sidearm is secured in her jacket.

The Molnija watch is with her, though, stowed in the pocket of her slacks. Somewhere she's even managed to find decent makeup. While she doesn't have enough skill to banish the scarring, she's managed to lessen the effect, somewhat; enough that someone from a distance might not recognise the disfigurement exactly.

Lengthening her stride a little, Isa lowers her head and voice. "Am going to guess you will be doing talking." She's not happy about that, but she can understand it.

Phil Coulson approves of her updated Agent look. He walks beside her, sunglasses on his own face. Today he's chosen the sharp suit.

Fun fact. He'd slept like a baby. He's learned the trick. He couldn't afford to be less than his best, and he'd simply gone back to bed as soon as it was clear that there was nothing more he could do for his pilot. The best thing he could do was to be super sharp and ready to go. He'd armed himself, both with a conventional pistol and an ICER. He'd also taken two small portable forcefield generators out of a lockbox at the back of the plane, a handheld device that can be activated at will. He has a pair of zip ties with him too, though he'd taken pains to quietly conceal those on his person rather than distress Raisa by showing them to her. It's all fine and well to tell her that he's bringing her dead husband in for questioning, but the fact that it's also essentially an arrest is maybe more than she needed to hear.

As they walk, he passes her one of those generators. "If things get hairy, press the red button at the top. It will give you cover no matter where you happen to be standing."

She asks if he'll be doing the talking, and he nods without bothering to comment on that any further. His face takes on that grim expression he wore while breaking the news to her, that strange mix of compassion and a man who is more than ready to do what needs to be done for the greater good. He walks with swift strides now, keeping a watchful eye out for signs of trouble behind those dark lenses.

Late afternoon light sifts down between the buildings, illuminating motes of dust as they dance over the brick and cobble roads. This is an older district of the city. One can almost imagine the twisted skeletons of Roman ruins in the shape of crumbling old archways and the occasional base of a column, tucked in squares and commons between residential buildings.

The café is an old building, but not so old as that. It looks to cater to the poorer locals, shadows in their eyes and nursing half-empty drinks.

But there's one in particular they're here to meet.

Coulson might feel his pilot lurch to a halt behind him; might hear the quiet but sharp intake of her breath.

Seated in a corner table with the shadows hanging over him like a veil is a mild-looking man. A few years ago he might have been in his prime, but he's been burning the candle at both ends for a few years, and that shows on his handsome features. There's a bit too much shadow under his eyes; a bit too much hollow beneath his cheekbones.

His eyes are the pale blue of winter sky, a little like Isa's, save perhaps a little more grey. His hair is a bright sandy blonde, short and neatly combed. There's something honest and trustworthy about his features, not quite boyish but not yet too lean, either.

The man wears a dark dove-grey suit, with a tie the colour of saffron. His hands are bare, and the glint of a wedding band is visible on his finger. He looks nervous, looking constantly toward the doorway, and it's one of those last passes that he freezes. His eyes fall onto on Coulson, but past him – at the woman behind the agent. They widen.

"<Oh, God.>" Raisa Ivanovna Yakovleva's voice is quiet, so quiet; little more than a breath. "<Oh my God. It's him. It's really him.>"

He must be thinking the same thing, by the way he stares at the two – but slowly his expression shifts, looking almost tortured. The implications of seeing her before him have touched on a few realities. She's too close. Just being here is a threat; puts her into terrible danger.

"<Phillip Coulson, what do I do?>" Her statement is no more than a breath, high and frightened.

"<Stay here and cover me.>" Phil says firmly.

He goes striding towards Makarov, flashing his SHIELD badge. "<Mikhail Nikolayevich Makarov. I'm going to need you to come with us. Now. We will keep you safe, but it will be harder to do so if you create a scene here. I'm sure you've heard of my organization.>" He is guessing here, guessing that the man needs safety, guessing in that moment of watching him play with his ring that whatever else is going on, he didn't betray his wife voluntarily. Guessing, too, because of the look he gave her.

But he still needs to handle this in a professional way. "<Stand up, come right to my side, and we're going to walk out together.>" He keeps his voice terribly calm, a man who knows just what to do to navigate everyone out of here alive. "<We're going to slip into the back streets, where a car is waiting for us. You'll sit in the front with me, your wife will sit in the back, and we'll get you to a safe location to sort all of this out just as quickly as possible.>"

He hopes that Makarov chooses to do the right thing. He hopes that Makarov does not choose to panic. He's all coiled tension, though, ready to act if Makarov does the exact opposite of what he's being told to do.

That firmness awakens old instincts. She was military once, no matter how rattled Isa may be, and so she obeys his order without question, shifting until she's standing slightly to one side of the doorway. Her eye still locked across the room at the blonde man in the suit, she slides into a chair.

At the far table, Mikhail Nikolayevich Makarov looks up to Coulson. He looks at the badge, reading it when it's flashed close to his face. His expression is guarded, though when he casts a quick glance over to the one-eyed woman, it changes to one of such sorrow and longing that she almost flinches in her chair.

But she's a good agent – and learning, despite the emotional devastation. Her hand is flat on the table, where she can reach her Stetchkin easily and quickly.

Makarov looks back to Coulson. His eyes flick between Coulson and Reichert several times, as though weighing his response, or trying to decide how and where she fits into all of this.

"<Phillip Coulson.>" That was the name on the badge, right? He keeps his hands flat on the table, but despite his calm voice, there's a tension through his shoulders that suggests rising panic. "<I am not going to go anywhere with you until you tell me why my wife is here. She is in danger. Great danger.>"

"<You must get her out of here. She must not even be in the same country as me.>" There's a haunted look to those blue eyes, and those pleasantly handsome features are twisted into an expression of torment. "<Please. Please, you must get her out of here. Everything will go wrong.>"

"<She is an Agent of SHIELD.>" Phil says firmly to the man. "<So she will go when you do. Mr. Makarov. We don't have time for me to ask you twice. If you want to protect your wife, you will stand up and walk out of here with the both of us. Now. I picked up your trail. Who else do you think might do that?>"

He extends his hand, gesturing for Makarov to stand. He really, really doesn't want to just have to resort to publically arresting the man in a cafe in Spain in front of his wife.

But he'll do it if that's what he has to do. He is firm, resolute, his eyes compassionate but his mouth and jaw set into the thin, tight line of a fellow who isn't having any of it.

He does, however, offer a balm. "<It's obvious you're in trouble. She wants to understand. You want her to understand, don't you? She has thought you dead. She has been through a great deal. Let me help you. Let us help you.>" The hand, now, subtlely looks more like a hand held out in friendship, but it's still the same hand, shepherding, ushering, trying to silently urge the Russian man to do the right thing before it's too late. Because if there's one thing Phil knows, it's this: if this takes too much longer someone will figure out what's going on here. A phone call might become three, which might become seven, which might result in enemy forces converging on this cafe while he continues to try to coax this particular pilot to come in from the figurative cold.

Worriedly, Makarov's gaze flits between the two agents, as though he were trying to put those pieces together. In truth, he had even wondered if she was alive. Lord only knows what the people he'd been working for had told him.

With the same air of worry, he climbs to his feet, attention settling firmly on Coulson. Apparently he assumes that his wife can take care of herself.

"<I do not understand.>" He shrugs, even as he straightens his suit jacket. The worry lines over his eyes seem to be a semi-permanent feature. "<I will go with you, but where are we going? I saw your badge, but how do I know that it is real? They could have sent a fake agent. It has happened once before. I almost was not able to escape.>"

At her table, Isa fiddles with her collar, eyeing the two men with obvious anxiety. Much as the man at the other end of the café, there is fear in her eye, but also longing. She hasn't seen him in so long; so long, and the ache of her loss and grief is almost physical.

She had thought him dead. Seeing him alive and breathing and walking and talking in front of her is almost more than she can process. She had mourned for him; had grieved his death, and still did up until a few minutes ago.

So how…?

Back at the other table, Makarov fixes his attention urgently on Coulson. He's not an agent; his situational awareness is good, but he's in over his head with this espionage nonsense, and he absolutely knows it.

As a result, he does not see the tiny, red dot that flicks across Isa's scarred face before settling neatly on the centre of her forehead.

But Coulson does.

In the heat of the moment there's only one decision to make. He had been opening his mouth to point out that Coulson is there with his wife, but that is cut off when he sees the tell-tale signs.

"Isa! Down!"

He doesn't wait for her to comply. He moves with surprising speed for a man his age, leaping to close the distance between himself and his pilot in order to wrap arms around her waist and barrel her down to the ground. A split second later he tosses that shield generator and activates it, tossing it not to protect them, but to protect her husband, a shimmering half-force field springing up to give him a place to duck behind.

"Stay down, Makarov!" he orders, even as he fumbles for his weapon, hawk-like eyes already looking to try to pick out the sniper's location. He should have brought more backup, but again, this was still more a speculative operation than one SHIELD was willing to devote a massive number of resources to. He was pushing his luck with the fuel bill as it was.

His face is all focus now as he gets his weapon into his hand. The pistol, not the ICERs. they're not playing around, so he's not going to play around either. Not that a pistol has much range on a sniper rifle, but it is what it is.

She might be overwrought, but the one-eyed pilot remembers her training. If someone bellows an order at you, you don't stop to think. You do it. Lives may be on the line and personal safety may hang in the balance.

Isa! Down!

No sooner does Coulson shout his warning than Isa is struggling to her feet to kick her chair out of her way.

Several things happen at once.

There comes the loud crack of a high-calibre, long-distance rifle, followed by the crackle of shattering glass. There are screams from inside the café as its patrons abruptly find someplace else to be. The baristas drop behind their counter like they've got bags of rocks in their hand.

Somewhere behind it is the sound of a struggle.

Isa finds herself tackled around the waist and barrelled into the ground, barking a curse as Coulson's weight drives her shoulder into the ground.

Makarov obediently ducks behind the shield, and somewhere along the line he's produced a Stetchkin of his own, though it looks to be a little older and hard-used than Isa's. His eyes are wild, darting everywhere, trying to find where the shot came from and if there's anybody else coming.

No second shot comes. The café is empty, the only sound is the wind.

Pinned beneath Coulson's weight, Isa doesn't move, but she's breathing too fast; makes a high, thin sound suggestive of pain.

Coulson might find there's blood staining his crisp white shirt.

It isn't his blood.

Isa looks up at him, single eye pleading; tries to say something, but only manages a strangled sound. The pilot coughs wetly. It doesn't look like she's been shot through the heart, at least, but blood pools beneath her at a worrying rate. It's her shoulder, far enough away from her heart and head not to be immediately lethal, and close enough to be alarming.

She looks up at Coulson, unable to look anywhere else, and her single eye is pleading.

"<Coul…>" Her voice is faint. "<Coul…son…? Where… where's…>" Where's her husband?

But Makarov is nowhere in sight. His chair is overturned and the cup of coffee he'd been nursing is strewn across the floor. There's a trail across the dusty floor towards the far door, as though someone had fled from the building.

Isa struggles feebly, but there's no strength in her; that much is obvious. Dark blood stains her black blouse. "<Have to… find…>"

Phil Coulson presses his hands into the wound and keeps pressure on it. He lets Makarov go.

"Gone," he says. "Stay still."

And then he bellows. "I need a medic here!"

He bellows it in Spanish, too. Then he withdraws one hand from her bullet wound to work his watch phone. He calls the local emergency line, then he calls local SHIELD offices, snapping at them in Spanish too, getting her help, focused only on getting her the medical attention she needs. His face is grim and angry, angry at himself, angry at her attackers. He ought to have advised her to stay in cover, he ought to have done a dozen other things than he did.

But he didn't, so he returns to center and handles the crisis at hand. He does shout and snap when there is a need to, and he does so now, issuing instructions. An order for Makarov, an order to find the sniper. NOW this is an official SHIELD case. An agent is down in the field, and it's time to get moving. NOW something big is going on.

He picks up his gun, dropped after he'd gone to put pressure on her wound and use the phone, and keeps it out just in case their enemies arrive before help and backup does, prepared to make a grim stand while trying to keep Isa's blood in her body. He is no medic. It looks pretty bad to him, and that's enough. She's certainly in no position to defend herself.

Isa makes a faint sound, a strangled whimper of pain and desperation. How did this go so wrong? She can feel her strength ebb with every beat of her heart. Already her hands feel cold and stiff. They don't respond when she tries to move one of them.

Gone, he says. Stay still.

There isn't much choice in the matter. Isa sags back, coughing wetly. Her eye slides closed; her expression is one of defeat.

"<I'm… sorry…>" Her apology is so faint it could be missed, little more than a choked breath. This is not how I wanted to go, she wants to say, but she can barely speak. The edges of the world are fading to black, and she feels weary, so weary. Nothing seems to matter too much. All she wants to do is sleep.

The first to arrive are SHIELD personnel. Specifically, medics, bearing a stretcher and emergency response equipment. They're quick to wave Coulson off, if respectfully, so they can do their thing. It's not long before they have her into the nearest conveniently-placed medical facilities, and into surgery as quickly as they can.

It takes a while, more because of its placement than anything else. She had tried to throw herself onto the ground the instant Coulson had barked the order. That was what had saved her life – she was already moving when the unknown attacker fired, and it had bit deep into her shoulder, ripping through nerves and tendons and burying itself someplace inconvenient.

By the time she's out of surgery and visitors permitted, the sky is dark. Her ward room is the same kind of ward room one can find in hospitals anywhere. The lights are dimmed.

The anesthesia takes a while to wear off. She's slow to wake, groggy and disoriented. She seems somehow smaller and more vulnerable-looking in a thin hospital gown. Her face is haggard, pale and drawn; wan.

That single blue eye flutters, but doesn't quite open. She tries to say something, but the sound she makes is more like a raven's croak than speech. Licking dry lips, her eye flickers open, unfocused, and she tries again.

"<Misha…?>"

"<No. I'm sorry. It's just me.>" Phil says. He comes to sit by her bedside. When he'd visited Sloane he'd brought a greasy cheeseburger, but today he's not even armed with tapas. He's been on the phone ever since they waved him off, been coordinating efforts to investigate the sniper's nest, coordinating efforts to comb the city for Makarov.

None of that is happening now though. The orders have long been given. He's now just waiting for results on all fronts. And the result he has in front of him is an agent with a shoulder wound. Still, shoulder wounds can be serious – there are some pretty important veins and arteries in shoulders, even if most people don't realize that.

"<We're looking for him. We're looking for answers. This wasn't the end. This was the beginning. And now I can pull a lot more resources on this. We can get a team together. So. Rest up. Heal up. We're going to get your answers, and we're going to find a way to make this right.>"

He sounds dead certain. There's no room for wavering in him, no room for anything but success. He stands tall, as if the whole world could challenge Phillip Coulson and he wouldn't even move. He has declared it. So must it be.

They'd sent her back to her ward room with a cloth sling over her wounded arm, and thus far she's shown no inclination to move it. Someone had mentioned something about nerve damage and rehabilitation. A lucky shot, that same orderly had mentioned. It could have been permanent damage. A few inches over to the right from her left shoulder, and it could have been death.

It may be that Agent Coulson radiates confidence and capability, declaring that this is but the beginning and he will see it through to the end, but his pilot doesn't look so confident. She looks wounded in more than one way – aside from looking physically haggard after what she went through, there's a shadow in her good eye.

They hadn't given her back her eyepatch with her belongings. It must have been a gruesome wound in its time, but now, with the burns healed, it looks more like there was never an eye socket in the first place. It's covered over with scarring; there's simply an absence of an eye.

Not even the thin hospital gown made from its cheap, starchy material makes her feel as naked as being without her eyepatch, dog tags, and ring.

Slowly, Isa wills her single eye to focus on the room. It keeps swimming and lurching, but maybe that's just how she feels inside. Like someone yanked the rug out from under her feet, but where she expected to find a floor, there's only a big hole. It feels like she's in free fall through that hole.

"<Oh…>" It's more of a sigh than a word as she sags back, that single eye hooding. The disorientation of the anesthesia remnants and the painkillers must still be wearing off. Isa still doesn't look alert, but she looks a little more coherent.

Her eye closes; her expression seems to crumple. She raises her scarred right hand to her face, covering it as best she can. "<Oh my God.>"

"<He's alive.>" She seems in disbelief at her own words. "<God have mercy on me. Phillip Coulson, I went to his funeral five years ago. He's alive. I mourned him for five years. But he's alive. Where…>"

We're looking for him, Coulson assures her. She seems crestfallen at that. Some impossible part of her had hoped he'd be there when she came to, but he's not here.

She tries to sit up, but doesn't have the strength. "<He looked… scared,>" she finally says, in an uncharacteristically small voice. Even if she hadn't trusted Coulson before, she has no choice in the matter now. It's the weakest she's ever felt or been since the accident, when she had spent months, over a year, in a hospital bed like this one. "<He was running from something… someone…>" Her voice sinks. "<Oh, Misha—>"

"<Where is my ring?>" As though just remembering, Isa's eye snaps open and flicks straight to Coulson, brow quirking in worry. "<Did they give you my personal effects? My ring, Misha's watch. I don't have them.>"

There's a long pause.

"<Phillip Coulson,>" she confides, very quietly. "<I… am frightened.>"

"<It's all in the drawer next to you,>" says Phil, of her personal effects. He takes a few swift steps forward to pull the drawer gently open. He fishes out her ring on its chain and offers it out to her. If he thinks she's vulnerable in her current position it doesn't show. She could be in a ballgown or in her suit again. She is treated precisely the same way.

She confesses to fright. He draws over a hard plastic chair and sits next to her, looking into her eye. It would be eyes though; he again fixes his gaze exactly where her eye would be, facing her scarred face without flinching. He's seen plenty of people in his time with plenty of injuries, he has learned how to face them square on, to treat those people with the same respect and dignity without needing to stare. It's a hard skill to learn, but he's had years to learn it.

The compassionate look crosses his features again, and he gives her what he hopes is a reassuring smile. "<Of course you are frightened, Agent Reichart,>" he says quietly. "<It's a frightening situation. But focus on this: if he's frightened, and was frightened for your safety, it means he didn't betray you and he's not out to hurt you. Something happened. He got caught in something he couldn't control and couldn't stop. He's trying to protect you as best as he can. Now what remains is helping him, and that's what we do. We help. He's a smart man. He's stayed ahead of the game, he's continued to move. He's probably out of the city by now, to be honest, but…he also knows you're with SHIELD. Were I him? I'd be trying to figure out a way to make contact again without exposing myself.>"

When Coulson crosses the room to fish the ring on its chain from the drawer, the pilot manages a small sound of relief. There's no strength in her, not for something as arduous as twisting over to open the drawer herself. She'd have to get up; she can't reach it, and she knows that's more than she has in her. But she's possessed of a powerful urge to simply hold it, one of the only tangible things he'd left behind.

She takes the trinket into her hand, closing her fingers over it and sighing, pressing it to the scarred side of her face. Her eye burns; she can feel the tear brimming that she's too proud to let fall. But she lets it fall. She's too tired to play at being strong.

Right now she's feeling very vulnerable, and very weak, in more than one sense.

"<Mikhail Nikolayevich is indeed a smart man,>" she asserts quietly. Maybe some of Coulson's confidence is rubbing off on her; some of that trauma seems to be fading, replaced instead with the same kind of analysis that made her such a useful test pilot. "<He will go where he thinks it is safest… but SHIELD could have protected him. He must know that. But he must know that something is not right, too, if he is avoiding them. Oh, Misha,>" she breathes, tone bleak. "<What have you gotten yourself into?>"

But he's alive. That's the important thing. Isa leans her head back and stares up at the ceiling, unfocused. Her right hand continues to clutch her wedding band, chain wound through her scarred fingers. "<Yes. We will help him. He has protected me, somehow, all of these years. Now it is my turn to protect him.>"

If there was ever any doubt of her trust of Coulson before, there's none now. She'll walk through flame itself for him, after this. And her psychological evaluations suggest she has an phobic-scale fear of fire after the accident.

"<I would not doubt that he is gone.>" Isa shakes her head, weakly, flinching and hissing in pain when it pulls at the muscles of her shoulder. "<But he is alive. We can… we can find him. And bring him home.>"

She breathes out, slowly.

"<Merciful God,>" she whispers, on a shuddering exhale. "<He is alive…>"

All things considered, she's taking all of this remarkably well. Coulson's calm and confidence are probably to thank for that. She may be a phenomenal pilot, but she is an emotional pilot; that is, perhaps, what makes her so in-tune with what she does, in its own way.

That blue eye slides back to Coulson. She swallows, taking another breath as though to calm her nerves. When she speaks again it's in English, but slow and careful, and not at all broken as her English so often is.

"He will try to make contact again. I know it. He will want to make sure I am safe." She looks up, unfocused, something in her expression falling a little. "Did you see his hand…?"

Makarov had still been wearing his own wedding band, the gold somewhat battered and a little scarred, but whole. "I know that band," she whispers, softly. "He remembers. I do not know what he has gotten himself into, but it is up to us now to help him out of it, I think. But if this is the kind of person he has after him… we will need to move quickly."

"Phillip Coulson." She looks directly to Coulson, and the fact that he looks at her scarred face without comment, without recoil, does not escape her. Isa even manages a tentative half-smile. It seems somehow awkward, though; like an expression she's forgotten how to wear. It creases the scarred side of her face strangely. "I am sorry. I… I do not know how to thank you. Just knowing that he is still alive… oh, merciful God, you do not know what this means to me."

"There is no need to apologize," Phil says gently. "You've done nothing worth apologizing for. You're doing remarkably well. There are agents of 25 years who wouldn't be doing so well. I'm going to get us a transport back to New York as soon as you're medically ready. He won't make contact here, and if he starts digging New York is where he'll expect to find us. That's where he'll go next, I'm sure of it."

He thinks this through now, slowly. "We won't catch him getting into the country. He's too good and he's crossed two national lines during this hunt alone without pinging a trace. But sooner or later he'll turn up, and when he does I'm going to have a team ready to cover him and you. We'll let you go in and make contact alone this time, and we'll be sure to take out anyone who tries that sniper trick again. I'm going to have the whole city block covered the next time we see him."

He suddenly winces. He's here spinning plans when she truly does need to rest. "But all of that can wait until the doctors clear you. Right now you really do need to focus on resting and getting better. I don't think it will take long to at least get you ready for transport to New York, but I will defer to the wisdom of the doctors."

"I could not remain calm." Isa shakes her head as gingerly as she can, watching Coulson with an air of weariness. It's true that she might have lost her mind a little once she spotted Makarov in the crowd, but he probably anticipated that reaction. It's just a good thing that she hadn't sprinted for him. They both might be dead right now if she had given in to that impulse.

Oh, but that temptation had been powerful. She had been so close to him. So close, and now he's withdrawn back into the proverbial woodwork.

She turns her head the other way, looking over the sling on her arm. After the accident, she'd had to switch her dominant hand from the right to the left, fingers and hand too severely burned to be of any use. Once the raw tissue had scarred over, she had been able to teach herself how to use that hand again, but the instinct to use the left had remained. It's always been more responsive since the fire, and the hand itself more tactile. She can't feel much through that deadened tissue for any tasks that require delicacy or precision.

Now, with her arm still numb from the blow, she has a feeling she's going to have to learn how to use the right side again. Isa sighs through her teeth as she regards it.

"He will go to New York." She says the words with the same confidence and certainty that he does. "I know Mikhail Nikolayevich. Now that he has seen me, now that he knows I am with SHIELD, he will look to them to find me. And he will find me."

She smiles, a little, but it's an anxious sort of smile. There's so many unknowns right now, and she's always been leery of the unknown.

"I will be ready to go back to New York City as soon as the doctors say I am ready." Her expression fades a little. "I am sorry. I will not be able to fly for some time, I think. Not like this."

She sighs, falling silent as he spins his plans, but it's not a sigh of tiredness or impatience. It seems more an accepting sound; almost an agreement.

She finds herself nodding, though the gesture is faint. "Da. Yes. That would be best, for me to speak to him, however worried he was this time. I think it would be good to soothe his nerves. Show him that I am safe. Convince him…"

That single blue eye drifts to half-mast. "Phillip Coulson." Her voice is quiet and small. "Will you please sit with me, until I sleep again? I have more questions. Maybe I will not be awake long enough to ask them. But I would like you to please be here with me, if that is not asking too much more of you."

It isn't like she has anybody else she could ask, anyway.

He waves off her apology about the flying and doesn't even say anything about it. She says she could not remain calm, and he says firmly: "You were calm enough." He has no complaints with her performance, it seems. "I'm sorry I moved a little too slowly, for that matter."

The request to stay, however, surprises him, but it softens him as well. The smile he gives is not the inscrutable one, or the dorky sly one he gives when he's silently laughing at his own jokes. It shows no teeth, but it's genuine. There are subtle differences between those smiles, but one who has spent as much time around him as Raisa has can certainly start to discern the differences. There's a human being under all that plotting and Cheshire Cat foolishness, and he's closer to the surface than most people really imagine.

"Of course I'll sit with you," he says gently. "And I'll answer whatever I can."

He settles in then, not really making a show of getting more comfortable but doing so just the same. Before he'd been, like many people in authority, more on the edge of his chair, ready to jump up if someone needed him. Now he actually settles back into it, puts his back against the plastic, folds his hands, planting himself there. Truthfully he has the authority to make people come to him, and he's in a hospital room so they'd damn sure better message.

She approves of the plan, agrees with his assessment, and he sees very little reason to dwell on it much longer; he does think she should rest. But…she also has a right to her questions, and to have a sounding board for her fears. As it turns out, he's not too bad at being a sounding board; he is very good at just sitting still and quiet, listening to whatever she has to say.

For the moment, Isa puts her husband out of her mind, as difficult as that may be. There will be work to be done soon enough. She will have her opportunity to see Mikhail again. Of that, she has little doubt. Coulson has proven himself; she would walk through the fire for him. Any fire, even the fires of Hell itself.

Questions. She had questions to ask of him.

The obvious ones will have to wait, because he doesn't have the answers to those. She knows that he doesn't, or she's reasonably confident he would have volunteered that information. Part of her likes to think he's the kind of man who would tell her if he were privy to that information.

Taking a few deep breaths, she clutches her wedding band, raising it up; with a touch of her lips to the warming metal in her palm, she holds it to the scars that disfigure the right side of her face and closes her eye. Closing her eye helps her ignore the burn, the tears that threaten to spill.

Stop being foolish, she tells herself, savagely. Focus.

"We will be going back to New York City, when I am able to. Back to SHIELD. I took quarters in the Triskelion, but I am still paying for my apartment in the Bronx. I will continue to do so." She exhales, softly. "He will go there first. Once he has found out the name I have been using there, I think he will find out. That is my hope. I think it would be good if you listened to my apartment. But you are probably going to do that, already, I think."

There's no question there, but it brings her to her other point. "I have met a few agents in my time in SHIELD. I trust you, Phillip Coulson, but I do not trust anyone else. I… used to be trusting, before…" She lifts her scarred hand, flicking three fingers; the others still clutching the ring. Before the fall, and before the fire. "But it is very hard for me to do. I would like to know if these agents are trustworthy."

"The girl in the quarters next to mine, her name is Sloane Albright. She has… fish-scales. I do not think she has had her powers long; she is learning still to use them. She and her friend, Rusalka Stojespal, I think she is a college student who loves cars… they have been… nice, to me, but…" But everyone is a shadow agent, to Raisa Ivanovna Yakovleva, and when she fell from the sky, burning, her ability to trust others also burned away. "They are just girls, but…"

She shakes her head and looks away, single eye slipping out of focus just a little. Maybe the painkillers are starting to affect her. "I would like to protect them. Has never sat well with me when one so young are put into such thing. But… is hard, sometimes, to simply… trust."

"I miss that. Will you help me to do that again?" She cocks her weary, red-rimmed eye toward Coulson. "I do not like to ask such personal things, but…"

In for a penny, in for a pound, as the saying goes.

He had only nodded about the apartment: vacant or not it is thoroughly bugged, camera'd and surveyed. He wanted to see if any assassins showed up, and he wanted to make sure they regretted showing up. Not just because it was about her safety, though it was. The intel would have been pretty invaluable too.

For a moment Phil Coulson thinks that Raisa is about to ask that she be backed up by an untried Bogatyr and a baroness race car driver college student, and he's steeling himself to have to tell her that she's just going to have to trust that he can pick a well-vetted team. When he realizes she's just discussing taking them under her wing he relaxes considerably. Sloane might have her uses as a dark horse, but her powers aren't nearly well controlled yet, and there's the matter that she might not want to turn her life in a direction that involves getting shot at on the regular. And while he'd love to recruit Rusalka, she isn't recruited yet.

No, her request is something wholly different. He listens to it with all due respect, reflecting on the sheer amount of physical, mental, and emotional pain this woman has survived. Now she proves that she is more than a survivor. Now she proves her real strength, by acknowledging that she has lost something, and asking for his help in getting it back.

"Yes," he says quietly. "I will do everything in my power to do this. I'll even tell you who you can trust without question. Peggy Carter, Steve Rogers, Melinda May, and…"

He siiiiiiiiiiiiiiighs.

"You can trust Darcy too. She's just going to drive you up a wall while you trust her. So. Many. Walls. Those are good places to start."

He contemplates. Is this something he can ask Rogers to come in on, helping to guard the apartment and Raisa while she makes contact? Worth thinking about. He could surely run Makarov down, if he rabbits again. It might be a little low-key for him, but Rogers has no arrogance in him. He will do both the small and the large, and this could turn out to be not small at all.

Part of her had suspected the apartment would be stuffed to the gills with surveillance equipment, more or less the second she had left it behind. She had still wanted to ask. If there's any chance at all that Makarov goes there, she wants to know. More importantly, she wants to be sure where he goes next.

She isn't letting him escape this time. Whatever demons he's facing, whatever spectres are hunting him, she refuses to let him face them alone.

Isa Reichert draws in a deep breath, and lets it out slowly, closing her eye.

"Good." Her voice is so soft it's almost lost amidst the medical equipment. "Good."

"Have met Agent May and Darcy. In passing only. Have not had much to say to Agent May; have not had much reason to see Darcy." Isa lays back, still clutching the wedding ring, as though she were afraid that letting go might mean that all of this – of Mikhail Nikolayevich Makarov's unexpected return from the dead was no more than a fluke; a dream. "Will speak with them more, when back in New York. Maybe."

Slowly, the more she unfocuses, the more she slips back into her English speech patterns. Her eye slips out of focus, too, as the painkillers begin to take hold again.

She opens her eye just a little, though, looking to the ceiling.

"Have one more question," she murmurs, faintly.

"Nobody 'speaks' to May," Coulson says dryly. "Unless you just want to hear what you know anyway. She's good at giving you faint long looks that inspire you to understand what you should be doing. She's not much of one for casual conversation. Yet there's nobody anyone would rather have at their backs, I assure you."

Of course. Darcy speaks all day long, at a mile a minute, and often in the most embarrassing possible fashion.

"Speak…to Agent Carter," he suggests quietly. "I think…she might understand a little bit of what you're going through." He will say no more than that; those are not his things to tell of, but he nevertheless has done a lot of catching up with the files, the story of Steve Rogers coming back from the dead, and if those two weren't husband and wife they were certainly friends, and close.

"What's the other question?" He asks it kindly, perfectly patient to hear one more question or over a dozen if that's what needs to be asked. He promised to stay till she slept, though to his eye it looks like she herself doesn't have much gas left in her personal fuel tank.

"Da. Had that impression." Isa's voice grows a little fainter as she thinks back to the few times she'd met with the taciturn Melinda May.

The room around her seems to blur a little, edges softening, but not because of any more tears. She's run herself dry on that front. No; it's because the painkillers really are taking effect, and she's feeling her hold on consciousness loosen, ever so gradually.

Coulson says to talk to Carter, and she takes that into consideration, making a note of the other agent's name in silence. Carter. Yes, she's heard of the woman, but only in passing. She's only heard of the reputation, loosely, and none of those details are coming to her in her current state. She's wrung out, emotionally and physically. It's a wonder she can even string words together at this point. She seems to be fighting to do just that.

What's the other question? Coulson asks, in that kindly, patient tone. It's a balm to hear someone speak to her that way with the blow her composure's taken over the past few days.

She thinks for a moment. It takes her longer than she might like to remember what that question was. Weary and disoriented, she lapses back into Russian, slurring very slightly. These painkillers have nothing on the vodka in her cabinet.

"<I want to know your honest opinion. What are the chances… of bringing Misha back?>" she murmurs, focusing on a spot somewhere past Coulson's shoulder. "<Of bringing him back alive? Finding out who is after him? I… I need to know…>"

In a lot of ways, spy work is like work on the Millennium Falcon. At the end of the day there's always some guy up there yelling, "Never tell me the odds!"

Phillip Coulson does not yell that. Agent Coulson instead pauses for a moment, rubs his finger up and down the length of his jaw, does some mental calculations, and decides whether or not he's going to sit and think until she falls asleep, or actually answer the question.

"<I give us about 70% odds on finding all the answers to what happened. The threads are there to tug, and it's just a matter of tugging them. Makarov is forcing them to expose themselves by the simple act of running, which means they must drop intel by their very movements, which means we will figure it out. The only way we won't is if all parties abandon ship right now and let him go, which rarely happens.>"

The other odds?

"<Odds of getting him back alive are 50/50. There are people firing guns at him, Raisa. No matter how good we are, no matter how good he is, that puts the odds at 50/50. They are only at 50/50 because he is smart and good, and because we are. Because our enemies in this are also smart and good. This is a high-stakes event, and things go wrong. It only takes one unlucky moment to end him, I won't lie. But. That is any of us, on any given day of the year, and 50% odds are about as good as we ever really get. If he weren't smart and good, I'd immediately have to downgrade his odds to a dismal 10%. So. It's as good as it gets, scenario-wise.>"

Comforting? No. He wishes he could tell her 100%, but she needs honesty, not sugar-coating. She needs to brace herself now, so that it doesn't destroy her later. And so giving her these dark figures is honestly the kindest he can be in this situation.

The one-eyed woman's eye slides towards closed, very slowly, as though she were fighting it. By the time Coulson sorts out his odds and begins answering her question, it's nearly closed. Only a slit of unfocused blue remains.

Seventy percent, he says. There are threads to tug and Mikhail's flight forces them into action; forces them to play their hand early and give up their advantage of surprise. Taking initiative is always wise. It means the battle is fought on one's terms, and not one's opposition. She would do the same if she were in her husband's situation.

Ten percent, he says, on retrieving Mikhail alive if he weren't crafty and careful. Fifty percent, ultimately, after all is said and done and the final calculations are made.

Raisa Ivanovna Yakovleva considers the numbers in silence, long enough that it might seem as though she's fallen asleep. She's awake. Her eye hasn't closed yet.

"<Thank you.>" Her voice is faint. She's fading fast, but she's making a concerted effort to stay conscious long enough to say what she feels needs to be said. "<I was wondering whether you would give me numbers that would make me feel better, or whether you would give me the truth. I am glad I was not mistaken.>"

Her eyelid lowers. "<If you talk to Misha… before I do… I do not know what will happen, and perhaps you may…>" The little bit of blue left rolls toward Coulson, and now it's clear that she really is fighting to stay conscious; fighting valiantly. "<Please pass… a message on… for me…?>"

"<Please tell him… that I am here… for him…>" Her voice grows small and distant. "<Tell him… that I love him… and that I wait… for him to… return… to me…>"

Gradually, that eye slides closed. Her grip loosens on the wedding band in her palm, but even in sleep, her fingers are still half-curled around the metal. As sleep sets in, her face relaxes, too, at peace in a way she never is when she's awake. The stress lines ease.

And maybe, Coulson might catch the faintest hint of a smile briefly curl the good side of her mouth. It's a fleeting thing, there and gone, but an agent of his calibre most likely doesn't miss it.

Phil Coulson watches his beleaguered agent slip into sleep at last and exhales as he's thanked for telling her that her husband might die after all.

Then he goes to a cabinet at the side of the hospital room. He knows, after 30 years, where they keep everything in these hospitals, and so he is able to draw out three or four grey SHIELD-logo blankets. Individually they're all too thin. Collectively they're okay. Hospitals are always cold, and the gowns never help.

He gently spreads them over her one at a time, then draws them up under her chin, pausing to untangle her IV wires just a little bit to make sure they don't get caught or tangled. He gently takes her wedding ring and slips it onto her finger so she doesn't drop it in the night, and, well. She is married. He picks the right finger for the job.

Then he walks over and dims the lights. It can't be dark, because doctors and nurses need space to work, but it can be dim.

He draws the little curtain to make sure she gets privacy. Some might just need to come in, change something, clean something.

Then he gently closes the door behind him with a soft click.

In seconds he's back on the phone, getting updates and status reports from the investigation into the sniper's nest. 70% he'd said, 50% he'd said, but really…

He'll be damned if he doesn't put in his own efforts like 100% and 100% don't rely solely on everything he does and says within the next several, crucial hours, days, and weeks.

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