Home is Where the Heart Is

April 25, 2017:

In which Isa Reichert enlists Sloane Albright for her help, and in some small measure, both find something close to family.

New York City - The Triskelion

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: Phil Coulson, Rusalka Stojespal


Mood Music: None.

Fade In…

It's a quiet evening in the Triskelion. Most of the agents stationed here go about their business, whether they're on duty or indulging in leisure time… and some are on leisure time whether they like it or not. Like medical leave. Raisa Ivanovna Yakovleva hadn't liked medical leave five years ago, and she doesn't like it now.

According to the doctors, the round had punched into her shoulder and done damage to some important nerves. That, she later learned, was why her hand and arm had felt so weak – while the physical damage had been repaired, it would take physical therapy to get herself back up to speed.

She's getting there, and able to do several things that she hadn't been able to do a week ago. Healing is a slow process, though, and she has no serum in her blood, radioactive bite, or cosmic affinity to speed up that process. She is, in a world full of larger-than-life legends, a wholly mortal woman.

It's an embarrassment to ask for help, but at this point there are basic things that she simply can't do by herself with only one arm, like 'cook a decent meal without setting her kitchen on fire.' So it is that Isa Reichert finds herself knocking on Sloane's door, not certain if the fish-girl is home or not.

Part of her is hoping that Sloane is here, because kneading dough to bake is really difficult, if not impossible, with only one hand. It sounds perfect on a crisp spring evening, and she has nothing better to do with her time, having already pored over the facts and figures Coulson had sent her. She'll come back to that, but for now, doing something in the kitchen might take her mind off of her current dilemma.

Today's menu is rosemary bread. She'll even throw some in for Sloane if the musician-student wants some. What better way to conscript some help than bribery?

For the time being, the pilot is dressed casually but nicely; a white blouse tucked into beige slacks, sleeve on the right side rolled up past the elbow. Her hair's been drawn into a loose braid, which seems to take a few years off her features. The chain of a pocket watch peeks out from the pocket of her slacks; her wedding band is around her neck, the gleam of light off the chain conspicuous in the harsh corridor lights.


"Alright, Sloane. You have to control as much of the water as possible without spilling any of it. If you mess up, we start over again."

Closing her eyes, extending her arms, and turning out her palms, Sloane sucked in a deep breath and started to focus. The olympic-sized swimming pool in the SHIELD training area was already cleared and closed off – though there were undoubtedly some folks wanting to see the fish girl do her thing hanging out at the windows – as she started to pull the water up, up, and up, building a pillar of water up out of the center of the pool. It ripples and sways.

"Now," the trainer says, "hold it for ten minutes."

Sloane's head swivels, eyes wide. "WHAT?"


Knocking—shit. There's knocking.

Sloane's face lifts up out of the pillow, her arms thrown forward and hugging it to her head, strands of ginger red hair dangling in front of her face. Letting out a heavy, loud yawn, she pushes up from the bed and slumps off, pacing out of the bedroom and scruffing at the back of her neck, fingernails scraping against scales as much as skin while she approaches the door. "Coming, coming," she says, voice a little bleary.

When the door to 1602 Triskelion Housing, Awesome Floor, SHIELD HQ, New York City opens up with a heavy cli-click, Sloane is revealed – and she looks beat. Dressed in a tanktop and shorts, a good deal more of her scales are exposed than usual, including the swaths that swoop in across her collarbone and down the sides of her chest.

"Oh—Isa! Hey." she asks, rubbing at those fiery orange eyes. She reaches over to pick up her phone off a small table just inside the door, checking the time. "What's up?"

The pilot herself doesn't look too good, either. There's a shadow under her eye, and the line of her cheekbone looks a litlte hollow. Being grounded has been killing her slowly.

Out of all of this, the only real saving grace is the assignments that Coulson gave to her to work on during her downtime; some way to feel she's still able to contribute, and some way to make some kind of progress in her current investigation.

When the door opens, Isa raises her hand in something between a tired wave and a casual salute, along with an exhausted half-smile.

"Miss Albright." Her tone is coarse as ever, more like a raven's croak than a woman's voice. She's been smoking, by the sound of it, but not recently. There's no trace of cigarette smoke about her. "Is bad time? Can come back later, if so…"

Sloane blinks a few times, shaking her head. "No, I'm just a little tired. It's been…"

Six minutes, the pillar collapses. "Again."
Eight minutes, the pillar collapses. "Again."
Five minutes, the pillar collapses. "Again."

Ad nauseum, for an hour. By the end of it, Sloane was huffing, puffing, and right about to fall flat on her face. Not even a cold shower could shake off the exhaustion. And tomorrow's physical training, too… god, she hates guns.

Sloane sighs after a moment, shaking her head. "… a long day." 'Long day,' she says to the world-travelling secret agent pilot with one eye.

Lifting her hand, she waves off the thought rather dismissively. "Don't worry about it. I've got all the time in the world right now. What's up?"

"Sorry to bother." Isa manages a resigned half-smile, gesturing towards the sling that immobilises her left arm. "Had something of… accident, and need some help doing something. Was going to bake bread, maybe share some with you and Rusalka Stojespal. Rosemary," she adds, as though maybe that might entice Sloane.

She tosses her chin to indicate the apartment. "Was somehow able to knead dough. But, can't hold tray with one hand to put in oven or take out…"

"Want to come in? Can rest, relax a little. Look like shit," she adds, in an incongruously polite tone. The pilot gestures toward her door. "Have thing or two to talk to you about, anyway."

It doesn't seem bad, anyway. Isa seems pretty calm.


Sloane's eyes drift from Isa to the sling, then right back up again. It isn't a judgmental look, but maybe a smidge worried – she doesn't like people getting their asses handed to them, but… she's also living in a building full of spies and agents and the occasional superhuman – she's had to get used to a few things here and there.

"Hey, stop, I just said it isn't a problem."

Then, the point of the visit – she needs a hand, perhaps a little literally.

"Oh. Hang on!" Sloane steps back into her room, heading to one of the small tables adjacent to the recliner facing the TV and snapping up her keycard in it's neck-strap lanyard. She snaps up a hoodie before returning to the door, clicking off the lights and slipping out into the hall with Isa. She's barefoot, but it might just be the college student comfort slipping back in.

"Well gee, thanks – but nah, I'm all right. Training is rough."

Something to talk to her about, Isa says. Sloane's brow scrunches a bit; usually when an adult says that to her – at least, more of an adult than a nineteen-year old is an adult – it means they want to bring up something bad. She's following her training and courses right, though, isn't she? Hopefully it's nothing bad.

"Talk away!" she still confidently says, following Isa to her door – all of five to ten feet from her own.

With her burn-scarred right hand, the pilot opens the apartment door and holds it long enough to let Sloane cross the threshold. It's a mirror layout to the other girl's apartment, so aside from being flipped, the floor plan is otherwise exactly the same.

Isa's unit came furnished, and its generic furniture makes it look unlived-in. It's a place of neutral earth tones; the only personal touch is the floor lamps, which aren't standard issue, casting warm lighting through the unit.

The other personal touch is two framed photographs on the mantle – one is a wedding photo, picturing Isa in a white dress, before the fire; before her face was disfigured and her eye lost. She's laughing in the arms of a man with short blonde hair and mild blue eyes the colour of a summer sky. They both look happy; Isa looks happy in a way she basically never has been since Sloane's met her.

The second photo is a press release, expanded from a newsprint publicity photo. It pictures Isa in the cockpit of some sleek fighter or another, which bears Russian print on the side of the cockpit. She's flashing an engagement ring and laughing, as though at something the cameraman had said.

Beyond that, the unit is so plain as to border on austere. The package from Stark Industries, one flight suit with integrated armoured weave, is on one of the side tables.

It does smell nice, though. The aroma of rosemary wafts in from the kitchen, and the smell of fresh dough. Isa gestures Sloane over eagerly; aside from a bit more kneading, the dough is ready to go into the oven, and takes only a little bit of prodding to get it back into place. She must have done as much as she could one-handed, until her arm got too tired to finish the job.

"Close door behind you. Lock, too."

There are six deadbolts on Isa's front door. Why are there six deadbolts on Isa's front door? Those aren't standard issue.

Holding the door to make sure Isa gets in okay – she's got her arm in a sling, okay? – Sloane closes the door and then stops dead, looking at the first deadbolt. Then the second. And third. And fourth, and fifth, and sixth. Glancing down, then up, she looks to make sure there aren't any more foot-nudged or high-set bolt locks on the door, or traps to set. This isn't some elaborate trap, right?

Hell, this is a lot of security in a super secure building. What happened to Isa for this many locks?

Whereas Sloane's studio apartment looks like a college dorm room, Isa's is … mature, kind of plain, almost boring – at least, then she catches sight of the photographs on the mantle, stepping closer toward them with a bit of a squint. The Russian pilot's in the kitchen, so she's got a second to spare.

Handsome. And she's … so happy. What happened…?

Large orange eyes blink once, then she trails off toward the kitchen after her host, hoping there's no surprise attack with a butcher knife and a turkey baster. "A'right, let's attack this big bad oven and bake some bread! Which is what we're still doing, right? Unless this is some kind of elaborate trick by the training staff, 'cause after today I wouldn't put it past them."

Sloane's shoulders sag a little. "This isn't what it is, right? … right?"

"Has nothing to do with training. I am not assigned to you at all, except maybe our being neighbour." Isa's voice calls from the kitchen, and when Sloane turns the corner, she'll find the pilot chewing on the end of a toothpick, absently kneading at a lump of dough one-handed. It's very slow going, because… one hand. She is nothing if not magnificently stubborn.

Shades of Sloane's best friend, maybe, only more mature; without the presence of personality that royalty would carry.

She'll leave off kneading the dough, though, passing over the cutting board she has the flour and dough on and gesturing loosely. "Was able to knead this mostly, but still need some attention, I think. Will need help putting it into oven, too. After that, can maybe get you something to drink, da?"

Nope. Nothing about training. Maybe this isn't some elabourate trick on part of Sloane's SHIELD handlers.

There's still something freaky about six deadbolts on the door of a highly secure building, though.

Shifting the cutting board in front of her, Sloane first stops by the sink to was her hands, digging a small elastic band out of her hoodie pocket before it gets tossed back into the living room area – she'll clean it up when she gets a second. Dusting her hands with a bit of flour, she starts to knead bread… but for what it's worth, she's trying to not put one ton of strength behind it.

It's a good exercise in self-control.

"Water's fine! Or juice, or something – it's kind of weird, but since the change I actually don't like the taste of coffee anymore? … I mean is that weird or what? There goes my sleepless nights doing class work all night," she says, letting a halfhearted grin pull across her face.

The dough is flipped, working it more with her knuckles. "I'm just glad I can still eat pizza, because man. If I couldn't have pizza, I'd have had some real problems with all of this, y'know? Cheeseburgers, too. … though, I haven't been to a Big Belly Burger in ages. I gotta swing by again. Anyway, what's up? You wanted to talk, too?"

The pilot watches impassively as Sloane shrugs off her hoodie and tosses it towards the living room. The choices of seating are either an overstuffed chair or an overstuffed loveseat arranged around the small coffee table; the hoodie happens to drape across the loveseat.

"Have both. Can get you something while you do that." Isa busies herself with rifling through an almost obsessively clean fridge. Honesly, even her kitchen looks like it isn't used very often. That, or the pilot is actually much more of a clean freak than she looks, keeping things obsessively organised and tidy.

She manages to produce a glass and a bottle of what looks like apple juice, pouring a generous amount. "Have tea, too. Coffee. Herbal tea, black tea… also have milk…" But the juice seems to be fine, so she sticks with that, shrugging and setting the glass aside, where Sloane can get to it and also where she won't inadvertantly knock it over.

Leaning against the counter, Isa doesn't fold her arms; she can't because of the sling, as much as she might like to. She does manage a faint chuckle at the commentary on pizza. It's true, pizza has melted even her icy black un-American heart. It's also cheap and delicious, because New York City suffers from the unique dilemma of having a lot of really good pizzerias, owing to its Italian population.

"Lived on coffee, while cadet. Actually," she muses, shrugging, "lived on coffee in service, too." She hasn't spoken of it much, before, but she must have been military – the photograph is the clue. "Never much liked it, but it keep a person awake good enough. Strong tea, too."

Ah, but she wanted to talk, too.

Her eye settles on Sloane, thoughtful but largely neutral. "Are with SHIELd, so are some things that I should probably tell you. May hear it from your friend Stojespal anyway," she adds, shrugging, "so may as well hear from me directly. Will tell her soon, too. Involve her too."

Uh oh. Involve? That can't be good. Just what nonsense is Isa dragging these two impressionable young souls into?

"Am pilot for SHIELD, true, but is probably more accurate to say, am Agent Coulson's personal pilot. Will fly for SHIELD agent, but most of my time, I fly directly for Agent Coulson." She gestures loosely toward the living room, where the framed photos rest on the mantle. "Any place he need to go, I take him there. Once you are out of training, will be the same for you, I think, probably. And maybe your friend Stojespal, too; will see where wind blow her."

She half-smiles, the expression quirking only the undamaged side of her face. The scarring had cut a swath around her mouth, but the tissue around it is still apparently inflexible; scarred and rigid.

"Am hoping it blow her to SHIELD, though. Think she has making of fine agent, too, even though am still somewhat new myself."

Easing knuckles into the dough with one hand, she sneaks the other out to pick up the juice and take a sip. "Like SHIELD cadet, or back home in Russia?" Sloane asks, setting the glass back down. Pulling her hands back, she makes a quick cursory examination of her knuckles and the flour stuck to them. "Hm."

'Are with SHIELD, so…'

Sloane's hand slips, her eyes a little wide – but still looking down at the counter. Recovering quickly, the Inhuman tries to keep her composure by clearing her throat and focusing. "Oh, personal pilot? That's… that's cool, I guess. I didn't realize he was important enough for something like that."

The thought of Sally joining SHIELD also weighs in on her pretty heavily.

"I'm not …" the ginger-haired girl starts, not quite locking eye to eye(s) with Isa. "I'm not… with SHIELD. They're giving me some training, that's all – they're just … they're worried that my powers might make me a target."

Sloane's hands shift from the bread to the counter, leaning against it with a slightly-hung head. "I still have a life to go back to."

'I think,' is unspoken.

"Da. Back in Russia. But do not mistake it for home. Has not been home for a long time; longer even than before I left." Isa shakes her head, something cold and hard creeping into her eye. Oh. That's a new piece of information, and maybe that explains why she has half a dozen deadbolts jury-rigged onto her front door. There's no mistaking the cold, quiet animosity. She jabs a forefinger downward to the floor, as though to indicate her own apartment. "This is home now."

She's of the same opinion as the Winter Solider. There is no love lost between herself and her former homeland. This place is her home now, and she'll shed no tears over that. She hadn't realised how stifled she had been until she had fled. Even in those dangerous weeks crossing borders, there had been a feeling in her life that she had not yet experienced.

She had felt free, even in the midst of her danger. Maybe the danger had made it that much sweeter. With great risk comes great reward.

Unable to fold her arms, she slips her hand into the pocket of her slacks, frowning a little. That expression comes easily to her face; as easily as the smile in those old photographs once seemed to do. Part of it is the natural set of her face after the scarring, tissue disfigured and rigid, but part of it is the stress lines under her good eye; the weariness that seems to hang about her like a cloak even on the best of days.

Very slowly, her brow arches as Sloane slips, clears her throat, and covers her slip a little poorly. The pilot thins her lips thoughtfully. So, the girl isn't formally with SHIELD, even though her friend intends to devote herself to the cause, sooner or later… interesting. Interesting, too, that they'd so readily let someone go with powers like hers – but for all Isa knows, SHIELD has the market tapped on up-and-coming superpowers. Surely they know when people crop up like that, with their information networks.

Or maybe she has no idea how it really works. Yeah, probably that. This is a brave new world for the pilot, too.

She sighs, fiddling with something in her pocket. She hadn't been wearing a wedding ring, but whatever's in her pocket makes a quiet, metallic sound; as though that's where the band is. There's something thin in there, too, by the timbre of the sound – dogtags?

"Well, wish you best of luck going back to life." Isa tilts her head, studying Sloane thoughtfully. "But if you decide, maybe want to come back, am sure SHIELD would take you." She does not mention Rusalka's thoughts. That's Rusalka's information to divulge. "Have no place else to go, myself. Is as well SHIELD is becoming home to me."

Maybe even family, too. There's something just a little bit melancholy about the way Isa studies Sloane.

"Ohh, I got'cha. Sally's from Sokovia – I mean I'm pretty sure she's talked about that. She's pretty proud of it, no matter how much she jaws on about how she hates traditions," Sloane says, tapping her fingers together like a mouth talking.

The air becomes a bit heavier, however, as the topic shifts to her abilities.

Sloane sucks in a breath, then puffs out her cheeks while staring at the near wall – almost as though she hopes that the plain cream-colored paint will hold the answers that she's looking for. Best of luck going back to her life.

"… Yeah."

Sally is considering joining SHIELD, now. Is it for her sake? Or is this something that she actually wants to do on her own? The thought tugs at the Inhuman a bit, frowning as she shapes, lifts and brings the dough to the bread pan, making sure it's greased, and then laying the uncooked bread inside. "Well, like I said… she's … she takes after her mom more than she'd like to think. Real motorhead, though. Dunno if that'll help you guys considering the talent you have around here."

Sloane holds her hands over the sink, focusing for a moment. A bit of water splashes out over her hands from thin air, giving her a chance to wash the flour off and shake her hands clean, eyes searching for a towel to dry off with. "They probably do want me to stay. I mean there's no way SHIELD doesn't already know everything about my life right now. And there's no way they're not writing down every little line of what I've been able to do and what they're teaching me right now."

Leaning on the counter, her foot lifts, tapping curled toes against the linoleum floor. "It's not that I don't want to help. I just. … I didn't ask for any of this. And now I just… I dunno. Home is Boston, but my parents didn't take this well. College is here. Friends are here. At least, the ones that still talk to me."

Securing a towel, Sloane dries her hands before tossing it on the counter and approaching the oven with the bread pan in hand. "I don't know."

"I know. Da. Has mentioned she is from Sokovia. Have never been there myself; have not had much reason to read about it." Isa shrugs. For others in her position, as a native of Russia, that might be a point of contention. She doesn't seem to care about it too much.

She does lift a brow as Sloane gives that unenthusiastic agreement, though it seems more of a sympathetic expression than a standoffish one. It must be hard for her, being caught between two worlds the way she is. There's no going back, either, nor is she at a point where she can comfortably commit herself to either sphere.

"From what I hear, that kind of thing, probably useful." Isa gestures loosely; nebulously. "Is demand and use for all kind of job, all kind of talent. And she is talented. Can see that, even with only one eye," the pilot quips, deadpan.

Very talented. The demonstration at Stark Industries had been impressive even to her, watching the girl fearlessly tackle engineering problems posited to industry veterans twice or thrice her age. Stark had seemed impressed, too.

Of course, that is a problem, isn't it? The motorhead and the pilot are both on Stark's radar, now…

"Am sure of it," she agrees mildly, in response to SHIELD tracking Sloane's development with her abilities. Just as they'd retroactively tracked her own progress, no doubt, once she had given them an offer of stolen intelligence in exchange for service.

Isa frowns as Sloane voices her misgivings, tilting her head so her red, red hair spills over her right shoulder. She's silent a moment, thoughtful, before she lifts that wintry blue eye to settle on Sloane. After a few moments of this, she seems to settle on a decision, conviction in that eye. "Have story to tell you. Might maybe help you in your decision."

"Bread will have to rise anyway," she adds, shrugging her right shoulder. It's not like they don't already have the time.

Orange eyes drift down, the same kind of soul-searching stare hitting the bread pan.

The bread has to rise, right. Setting the pan to one side, Sloane's weight shifts, stepping back to the counter. Her arms cross, still not quite looking up at Isa or even trying to tackle the problem head-on. Her cheeks puff again with a sigh.

She can see Sally's talent, even with one eye. Wait, didn't Sal have a trip or something in town? 'I didn't even think to ask,' the Inhuman realizes, biting on her thumbnail. She's supposed to have over half her day to herself, but she still hasn't been doing a lot in terms of … actually focusing on herself, and the others in her life…

'Have story to tell you.'

The fish-girl's head lifts, looking at the Russian with an unsure gaze.


The pilot sidles around the corner behind Sloane, pulling her right hand from her pocket and keying in the kitchen timer for the bread. Once that's set, she gestures for Sloane to follow her, returning to the living room.

There are exactly two places to sit; an overstuffed chair and a loveseat. Not really made for entertaining, is it? It works, though.

Isa drops onto one side of the loveseat, stretching her legs out and crossing them at the ankle. The other is given a long look. At least she'll be in a more comfortable place to search her soul, right?

"Sit," she urges.

Isa watches and waits, studying her young guest with muted and almost cat-like interest.

Sloane's eyebrow lifts as Isa moves by, heading into the living room area of the studio apartment and gesturing for her to follow. Padding from one floor type to the next, she does so… and almost far too comfortably for her own good in someone else's apartment – college mentality? – she thunks down into the overstuffed chair, folding her legs in close and resting her hands on her ankles.

She doesn't need to be told to sit twice, that's for sure! Isa looks right at home, too. Reaching over the arm of the chair, she pulls the hoodie up, tossing it across her lap and slumping back in the seat. She can't help but let her gaze drift back to the photos. It's Isa. She's happy.

And not like, drunk, or putting out her cigarettes in someone's eye. Or with an eyepatch, or with some kind of hidden skull eye gun laser shooter.

The fish meets the gaze of the cat, waiting for the purpose of making her come in and sit.

Isa leans back in her chair until she can sit more comfortably, resting against the overstuffed backing. It may be standard issue furnishings, but the chairs are really comfortable and leagues better than whatever she might have had in her homeland. The decadent West, it had once been called, and she can see why. What a difference in standards of living.

The woman blows out a sigh, as though she were considering where to begin. Nor does she miss that glance at the photographs, and the way Sloane studies them, as though she were trying to reconcile two very different things.

Night and day. Those photographs show a woman who was happy and content, secure in her lot in life.

"I was born in Moscow." The voice that comes from the pilot seems somehow… different. The Russian accent is much softer, and the tone seems somehow less gruff, as though the weight of years eases for just a few minutes. Her grasp of the language, too, seems more confident – she's much better with English than she lets on. "My grandfather was a pilot in the Russian Navy, and my father was a pilot with the Air Force. Career pilots, both of them. I suppose that's where I learned to chase the sky."

Her eye wanders to a middle distance on the far wall, slipping out of focus just a little. "I enrolled as soon as I was able. It didn't matter that I was a woman; I had enough skill and merit to prove that I was serious, and that I would not accept 'no' for an answer. I had skills that would serve the Motherland, so I was allowed to pursue them."

"I became a pilot, after training as a cadet for years. I fought for that much. Because I was a woman, even though we were technically allowed to work in such careers, we were still not looked at the same. Another unspoken element of the culture, I guess. It forged me, though. It tempered me. I became one of the best cadets, and when it came time to graduate, I did so with honours."

She leans back, eye half-closing. "I did not intend to become a test pilot, but I was approached to do so, and I decided it was not such a bad idea. I had skills that allowed me to do that well, too, better than if I had remained a combat pilot. I became the darling of the publicity department. Every time the Pravda reported, it was I whom they spoke to. I explained the innovations that I tested for the engineers and spun them into something the everyman could understand; something that glorified the Motherland even further."

"I was happy."

That last is given softly, but in a leaden tone. There is particular emphasis on was, as though to further underscore how far in the past it is to her now. Yet by the photographs, she couldn't have been too much younger.

"At thirty-three I married. His name was Mikhail Nikolayevich Makarov. He was another pilot, but not a test pilot; he flew a Mikoyan, a multirole fighter and also interceptors from time to time." Isa flicks a hand toward the photograph. "I was married for eleven days."

"They say it was mechanical failure, but I know what really killed my Misha. Incompetence. Mediocrity." She hoods her eye, looking toward the photographs, in their place of honour on the mantle. A shrine to the departed, as Rusalka had rightly observed. "Three weeks later my own aircraft plunged to earth. The same engineering flaw. The intake failed and the port engine array ruptured. I went down over Siberia. An electrical fire broke out in the cockpit, and my ejection seat would not work. Neither would my Misha's, they told me. Fitting, I thought, that I would die the same way."

"I did not die. Emergency crews found me. I was not conscious." She gestures toward her face. "I did not leave my hospital bed for months. It was years before I left the hospital. Two. They could not save my eye," she adds, leaden.

She looks to the photos again. "I learned to rehabilitate myself. I forced myself to learn to pilot once more. I pulled every string, called in every favour, that I knew to. And I did… but it was for nothing. They told me I would never fly again. Not as I had done."

"But I could not accept that. Flying…" Her eye turns back to Sloane. "I think you know something of what it is like, with Rusalka Stojespal, and her driving. It was all that I had left to me, now."

The smell of rosemary bread is starting to waft through the apartment, but it isn't quite ready yet.

"I felt caught between two worlds much as you do, devushka. I could not stay. But I could not go, either. I knew too much. But I had to do something. Living in between, I knew I could not survive, not for long… so I stole something, and I took it with me to New York City, to SHIELD. In exchange for that something, I pleaded with them – let me fly again. My handicap, it does not mean anything."

She lets her eye fall on Sloane again. "I understand, I think, something of what you are feeling. I am also between worlds, in a way. Between Russia, which I can never go back to, and would not want to. But also I am between this country, too; a stranger in a strange place. I do not come from here, and I do not understand much."

"But I will offer you this one thing, this one piece of advice, to make your own decision. SHIELD will take care of you, if you let it. They will be your home. They will be your…" Something flickers across her face – a momentary clouding, there and gone, easily missed. "They will be your family, if you have need of it."

Sloane was expecting a moral lesson, or a 'This Story Isn't About Me, Honest, It's About Bisa Bechert.' She didn't expect… the honesty. The brutal, cutting, unforivging honesty. As Isa starts to tell her tale, the Inhuman's gaze starts to lower – slowly, incrementally, taking in each and every part of the tale with a sober expression. It's pulling down on her, bit by bit, whether or not that is the redheaded pilot's intent.

She has to make her own decision. SHIELD will take care of her. She'll have a family, sort of.

"I get the point," she says, her voice a little quiet.

"I wanted to be a musician. I wanted to have a band. I wanted to go on tour. I wanted to have screaming idiot fans. I wanted to make music and travel and see the world. Mom and Dad wanted me to be a concert pianist. 'Columbia's a very respectable place, young lady,'" she says, trying to hit the sort of stuffy tone her father would sometimes strike.

"And then one day I get up and I get dressed, and I go to this symposium on musical arts, and I'm sitting in the lecture hall. And then there's this mist in the place, and it felt like my legs were made of jelly and I couldn't run away. I woke up five months later in a dirty warehouse, like this."

"I'm fucking terrified I'm going to have a nightmare and then wake up because there's a flood in the building because of me. I'm afraid I'm gonna try to shake someone's hand and break it. I'm afraid of holding my cousin's baby and accidentally crushing him. I-It's not … it's not about family. I'm afraid I can't go back."

Sloane's voice cracks a bit. "… I'm afraid I can't go back."

If there's one thing that the pilot has established, it's that she is brutally, unflinchingly honest in most of her dealings. She does not lie; she merely omits information, but not playing all of one's card is not the same as bending the truth. When she does give an account, she gives it without batting an eye at the consequences, even if it paints the woman herself in an unfavourable light.

Small wonder she's happier away from the place that she came from, where such an attitude is a death sentence.

Telling her this much of her story is a calculated risk on the pilot's part. It's dangerous to even know her, she had argued with several people, yet people have a way of never following one's expectations. Privately she's glad of that. Friends are rare and precious jewels in her life, encountered seldom and trusted even less. She had lost something, she told Coulson in confidnce, once; and she needed help finding it again.

A part of that lost piece of herself is in these two young ladies. Even if it's dangerous to know her… they're caught up in dangerous things, too. They're capable of making their own decisions. They're strong; they're survivors. She can recognise that much of a kindred spirit in each of them.

After a moment Isa gives a slow nod, as though she were reaching a decision.

"Good." Good? What could possibly be good about feeling so tangled and torn? That wintry blue eye settles on Sloane, in deadly earnest. "That is good. Keep your dreams, because you may still yet find them again. But be wary, too, because life is never what we are expecting, when we are expecting it. It is good that you feel this way. You feel passion, still. That is good."

Her eye slides away from Sloane. "The part I did not tell you, when I lost my wings, when I lost my Misha, my parents, my eye… I gave up. I am not proud of it. I lost my way. I thought that I had nothing left. Before I learned to rehabilitate myself again; before I decided I would not accept that, I spent a few years, maybe, in a bottle of vodka. I stopped caring. I did not feel anything any more. But you – you still feel something, even if it is only fear, only doubt. Even that is precious, because it tells you that you feel."

Isa pushes herself to her feet, though the motion is somehow weary. She makes her way over to Sloane's chair; stands behind the Inhuman for a moment, though her voice suggests she's not too far away. There's a weight that settles on Sloane's shoulder – Isa's hand, the right one, burn-scarred. The pilot grips for a moment; a silent gesture of support and solidarity.

It's a significant gesture of both support and goodwill, coming from Isa Reichert. She's made it abundantly clear, in small gestures and mannerisms, how much she dislikes being touched; how much it garners an almost panic reaction. But the hand stays right where it is.

"I cannot make your decision for you. I can offer you only support no matter which it is that you choose." Isa's eye drifts toward the wedding photo in its frame. Something in her seems more tired, then; so much more than mere physical exhaustion. "None of us can go back, Sloane Albright. We can move only forward. I cannot go home either. I do not have a home to return to. I have not for years."

"But it is how we move forward that is what matters, I think. You care, still. And you do your best to prevent those things you say from happening, which counts for much, I think." A flicker of what's almost a smile crosses the unscarred side of her face; there and gone. "And that must count for something, da…?"


That was not the reaction that Sloane had expected.

But then it becomes clarified – the more things change, and all that. Isa confesses that she gave up, but she's here now – flying, fighting, and definitely doing enough to get herself hurt enough to need to have an arm in a sling. Things turned out for her, because she wanted to fly.

Sloane figures that's good enough for her. She can still sing. She can still play. The rough burn-scarred hand settles on cool scale and skin, serving as a reminder that physical contact can still be powerful when words don't quite work.

The young woman's chest fills with a deep breath – one that is rather natural for her, but unnaturally long on the inhale with an equally long exhale. "Yeah, it … it does. Thanks, Isa."

Scruffing at the back of her own neck, fingers scratching against the few patches of skin not covered in swaths of small, fine scale, she tries to grin a little bit and disarm the weight of the situation. "Careful with the smile, your face might get stuck like that."

That burn-scarred hand doesn't flinch away from scale and skin. Although it's possible that she can't even feel the scales, it's more likely that Isa is simply asserting her loyalty and support in that small gesture. She gives her trust rarely, but when she does, she gives it absolutely. There are a few people in the city who have earned it, and now, Sloane Albright can add herself to that vanishingly short list.

Isa gives the Inhuman a comforting pat before withdrawing her hand. Everything will turn out fine, the gesture seems to say.

That the breath Sloane takes goes on for far too long doesn't escape Isa, but she doesn't draw attention to it, either. That would just be rude in this particular situation. Why would she rub Sloane's nose in it? The change has already been difficult enough for her to cope with. Best focus on what's normal for her, or as close to normal as possible. Or, to draw her attention away from it entirely…

"Ay." Isa's eye lights with what might be mirth. She allows herself a fleeting half-smile; sardonic, but only a little. "It's too late for that, I think."

Something else occurs to her; something that might cheer the girl up.

"Have you ever been on a quinjet?"

Isa's gonna guess… no.

Reassurances from an adult figure are pretty nice right now. It's been awhile since she's had a proper hug with someone other than Sally since bursting out of the cocoon, too, but she keeps that one to herself. Bursting out of that shell was… different. Scary. Unusual.

It took so long to get the slime out of her hair.

Slumping back in the seat a little bit, her fingers fold together on her lap, thumbs tapped together as she tries to think of what to say next, how to approach a conversation with the agent, but then she's asked a strange and unusual question – at least a strange, unusual question to a student that's spent most of her life in quiet, safe situations where the greatest risk she ever took was going to school in New York.

"What's a queen-jet?" Sloane asks, squinting.

It's like she never learned to not ask questions like that in all the time that she's known Rusalka Stojespal.

"No, no. Not 'queen-jet.' Quinjet," Isa clarifies.

The pilot makes her way to an endtable with a drawer. She pulls out a sheaf of paper, flipping through them until she finds what she's looking for. Producing some kind of magazine for aircraft enthusiasts, the front cover's glossy photograph shows off a sleek and streamlined quinjet.

It's a little chubby compared to a fighter jet, but the added mobility makes up for it.

Isa taps a finger on the photo as she hands it over to Sloane. Its swing-wings are folded up, as though in position for a carrier; the sun shines off its treated black hull. The cockpit is broader than a regular fighter jet; it has turbines that swing out from pivoting armatures at the halfway point of its fuselage, between the wings and the tail.

"That is a quinjet." She leans her hip against the chair, letting Sloane look over the photo and the magazine at her pace. "VTOL capability. That means it can take off vertically. You turn engines straight on, you go straight up. It can take off with a runway, but it doesn't need one. Speed is a little less than a fighter jet – I used to pilot those – but it makes up for it with agility. It flies like a jet and manoeuvres like a helicopter."

Isa gestures toward the magazine. "That is what I pilot for SHIELD. Other things, too, but mostly those."

This is probably leading somewhere, but she doesn't go to where just yet.


Taking the paperwork, Sloane's eyebrows lift and her eyes widen while she taps her finger against the page. "Oh, one of those things! I've—I mean. I kind of saw one before! Like I didn't see it, but I saw the … shape… it just didn't look like a normal plane, you know?"

Flipping pages, the information is a little beyond her skill level, but she has a feeling Sally would get a kick out of something like this – it isn't a car, but she's an engineer at heart. There's no way she wouldn't love to get her hands on, or in, something like this and all of it's mechanical guts. Vertical takeoff, and engines, and pretty fast.

It's impressive, even if she doesn't actually get everything.

Tired she may be – emotionally and physically – Sloane does show a bit of curiosity. "I mean that sounds cool, but I don't know if Agent Coulson is gonna be happy about something like that. I'm not… I mean, I'm not an agent, or a cadet, or … anything, really…"

"No. Quinjets are almost always larger than the Mikoyans I used to fly." Isa leans over to point at the key features of the aircraft on the magazine's cover. "The only thing that would be so big is an interceptor, and even those are narrower. All of the power is in the engines."

Her hair dangles over Sloane as she leans down over the back of the chair, pointing at the edges of the wings, where they fold up like they're on hinges. "The quinjet can also compact, so it can be stored in smaller places, like naval carriers. I do not know that they are used that way, but I imagine they can be." She taps the wings on the photo, and then the turbines halfway down the aircraft's body. "The wings fold. The manoeuvring turbines, here, can also be folded inward."

"The important part is that it moves like a helicopter." The mid-body turbines are tapped again. "Because of these. So it moves smooth, like hummingbird, da? Hah," she adds, barking a bitter laugh. "That is what I should tell Coulson. Name it kolibri."

She recovers from her sidetrack quickly. "Agent Coulson, I think, will let you ride on one if I ask. Maybe he will come, too; maybe he will want to discuss with you the possibility of joining SHIELD. But that is up to him, and you." The photo is tapped again a few times with her scarred forefinger. She can still move her hands normally, but the texture of the skin is all wrong; too smooth and discoloured, white and oddly plastic-like. "Is worth doing once, if you can get away with it."

There's a brief instant of silence.

"I wouldn't try to logic your way out of free ride on quinjet," she advises, arching her red brow and allowing herself the faintest hint of a grin. "After all, when will you ever have opportunity like that again, da…? It is true that I am a pilot, even if I am not a test pilot any longer."

"Oh. And there is one other important thing, I think, that I did not tell you…"

Isa continues to explain the technology, the mechanics, all of it – and Sloane just kind of grins the faintest bit, letting her brow crease upward a little. "Yeah, Sal would … she'd go nuts for this. If you really wanted to recruit her you'd be showing her this, like. All of it."

It moves like a helicopter. It should be called a hummingbird – kolibri.

"That'd be pretty cool, I guess." It's hard to say if this is teenage bravado being stubborn or a legitimate worry about the flight, and whatever pitch that Coulson would use to try to actually recruit Sloane into the agency. Still, the opportunity is there, and it's so … tempting. Letting her eyes lull off to one side, the Inhuman tries to look cool about it – she tries so hard

"I-I mean I guess I could go for that, if Mr. Coulson's okay with it."

'There's one other important thing.'

Sloane's head tilts on a slant. "One more?"

"Heh, heh. I think I will, when I am healed. Maybe I can take you both for a flight. Just a tour around New York City, when Agent Coulson does not need to be taken somewhere." Isa tilts her head, studying the photograph. "Da, that would be just the thing. I think she would enjoy it too."

She makes no comment on whether Rusalka should be shown the quinjet; respects Sloane's own reluctance to rush ahead to a decision. The two need to reach that decision, whatever it may be, on their own time. Isa will not try to influence them one way or the other, beyond giving them information to make their own choices.

To be thrown into such a situation and have no choice – that feels like something that would have happened to her in her homeland. To be assigned a number, a label; to be shoved into a pigeon-hole.

She couldn't do that to these two. They have to reach it on their own terms.

"One more," Isa agrees, soberly. She moves around the edge of the chair to sit back on the side of the loveseat, crossing one leg over the other and leaning comfortably over her knee. The arm in the sling she keeps folded to her side; the other she balances absently against her knee at the elbow. "My name."

"I am Raisa Ivanovna Yakovleva. "

"It is probably better if you do not use it; it would not be safe for you or for me, but merely knowing, that is not so bad…" She glances back to the photos on the mantle, as though her mind goes elsewhere for a few seconds. When she comes back to reality, she looks back to Sloane, with a faint half-smile that seems more melancholy than anything else. "It may seem like a strange gift, but I want for you to have it."

Sloane can't help but grin a little bit, offering the magazine back to Isa. She can't help but admit that she's curious to jump on board one of those planes, though if they're anything like what she's seen in movies, they're a lot more… they're not much on views, even if they're as nimble and cool as the pilot is making them seem.

While she crosses back to the love seat, she chooses to reveal one more thing to Sloane – just one.

Her name.

Though she's a smart girl, it doesn't quite hit her at first – Isa stole something. Isa can't go back to Russia. Isa had to join SHIELD. Isa used her real name. Wait. Holy shit, Isa's like, super in trouble, like, spy movie trouble. But in real life. This is … huge, and kind of insane.

Then again, so is being the fish girl.

After a moment of looking from one side to another, as all those pieces start falling in place, Sloane only can utter one word. "Damn."

It's better that she doesn't use it, but knowing is fine, or so it seems. Sloane holds up her hand her head shaking and lips pursed. The other hand moves to cover her heart. "Don't even worry about it, your secret's safe with me."

Isa pushes herself to her feet to take the magazine from Sloane when it's offered back to her, putting it back into the drawer she'd taken it from. In truth, it's more a civilian publication, but initially, it had helped her to familiarise herself with the properties of a quinjet. They had taken some getting used to, early on, and their function was different enough from the types of things she once flew to require some research.

Although technical, the publication doesn't go too in depth into their inner workings. It covers just enough to make a good introduction for the layman.

The pilot drops back into the loveseat with a whuff of breath, watching tiredly as Sloane slowly processes the significance of what she's just been told. She leans back, crossing her legs at the ankle again, propping her elbow against the armrest; her chin against a loosely-curled fist.

When the light dawns, Isa smiles a crooked half-smile.

"You're a good girl," she finally says, eye lidding. "Whatever you choose, you will do it well, I think."

Silence passes for approximately three seconds.

And then the oven timer goes off, beeping steadily from the kitchen.

"Bread!" Isa perks up visibly. "Ah, this was one of Misha's favourites. Have always been fond of it myself," she adds, almost vaulting off the loveseat, albeit carefully. "Can save some for Stojespal, too. Might like it, you think…?"

Everyone likes compliments. Sloane grins a little, but with the corner of her mouth opening a bit it shows one of her slightly longer, sharper incisors. It's nice to have that kind of reassurance land in her life.

"Thanks, Isa."

The buzzer dings. Isa's up on her feet, already on the move – but Sloane's the one that has two (perfectly) functional arms. Rising a little more casually, she pats Isa on the (good) arm, moving toward the kitchen. "I'll get it. And yeah, I think she'll like it."

'It' applies to other things, too, Sloane notes to herself. Including the idea that this could be another kind of family.

If there's any discomfort at what large teeth Sloane has, the one-eyed woman doesn't show it. She hardly has room to talk, with the way her own face and body have been disfigured – the same scarring that makes her face so unsightly mars her right hand, too, and presumably further down past her collar. People stare at her, too. They used to stare at her when she was a pilot, but their looks were more admiring; or in the case of the men, desirous. She'd been a beautiful woman once upon a time.

That was all over. They stare, still, but now out of horror. She's seen revulsion, too. Disgust. It took some getting used to, at first, and had been a bitter pill to swallow. The revulsion factor had been much worse when the wounds were still fresh. Now it barely registers when people stare at her. She's long since learned to tune it out, as the Americans say.

Isa only smiles a faint smile. There's a warmth to it, a softness, that seems at odds with the ruin of her scars.

Really, they're like the children she'll never have, having met Mikhail far too late in her life for that before his death. But that doesn't matter to her. Sloane – and Rusalka, too – are likeable and young enough to touch her maternal instincts. Some would probably argue she hasn't got any, gruff and prickly as she is after the accident, but that part of her had not burned away.

No. In a way, they represent that there is good beyond the flames. Protecting them, guiding them, represents something she can dedicate her life towards. It's not a bad aspiration.

"Polzhaluista," Isa replies, almost cherfully.

That warmth creeps back into her smile. "Da. Hope so," she says, in response to Sloane's statement that Rusalka might like the bread. At least, she assumes it's about the bread. "Was one of Misha's favourites."

Oh. Right. Americans don't know about the diminutives.

"Mikhail Nikolayevich," she clarifies, pointing to the photograph.

…Ack, they don't know about the patronymics, either.

"Mikhail," she clarifies, shaking her head with a wry twist of her mouth. "Call him 'Misha.' Is… is more casual form of name. Casual? No, is not word. Will think of it later, maybe. Anyway, I call him 'Misha.' And he called me 'Raya.' Is casual form of 'Raisa,'" she clarifies.

"Anyway, will save some bread for Rusalka Stojespal, then. Or, can have her come help me bake another loaf, some time, da? Seem to be here often enough to see you. Could maybe borrow her one day, some time. Have her help me with thing like that while you are busy."

Or resting. She's seen how exhausted Sloane's come home some days, and she'd be loathe to take any more away from time that should be spent resting. As it was, she wouldn't have bothered her tonight, but she'd thought she'd been able to handle it herself – too ambitious, unfortunately.

"Or maybe you both come, one day. I do not mind."

After all, what's a visit or a chance to mooch some food off family, right?

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