How to Snare a Rabbit

May 01, 2017:

In which Isa Reichert shares her findings with Phil Coulson, and the two formulate a plan to catch one very elusive rabbit.

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: Rusalka Stojespal, Sloane Albright

Mood Music: None.

Fade In…

A message had been left for Phil Coulson from the pilot that he had taken under his proverbial wing. It's a short and simple affair, delivered in her customary laconic English – she's done the assignment he had offered to her, and she has a rough hypothesis based on that information. There's also something said about a black cat, security detail on the Triskelion's flight line, and an emphatic avowal that no, she most certainly has not been drinking. It's all on the security tapes.

In the absence of any other plan, and also because most of the information she's been using is in her apartment, Isa had directed him to meet her there.

Coulson's sharp. He might notice a few new details about her apartment. It's cleaner, not that it hadn't already been clean as a whistle. The wedding photograph on the mantle, and her final publicity photo showing her laughing in the fighter prototype's cockpit, seem more subtly prominent somehow. They look like they've been freshly dusted, cleaned, and maybe scooted forward a quarter of an inch. There's a vase of fresh flowers next to them, on the side of the wedding photo.

Isa herself is seated on one side of the loveseat, a scattering of papers spread out on the coffee table. A glass of water sits on the table, and the consendation beading on it suggests it's been there a while. She herself is dressed casually; a pair of blue jeans, a faded green plaid flannel shirt, and her hair's been pulled into a messy twist that keeps threatening to fall out on the right side.

Notably, she's still wearing her wedding band, and has been since Coulson had returned it to her finger in Barcelona.

The things on the table include printouts of bills, maps with handwritten annotations in tidy and alarmingly precise Cyrillic lettering, and even a photocopy of the stolen credit card that Makarov had supposedly been using. Stealing. To stoop so low… he must have been truly desperate.

That's where Coulson will find her – poring over her maps and her data and figures, occasionally making quick and precise notes on a separate pad of paper, and occasionally sipping from a glass of wine. In moderation, of course. It's very good wine; it's possible she was saving it for some good news. 'Oh by the way, your husband isn't really dead after five years' is as good an excuse as any, to her. The bottle is right there, too – a good vintage, and quality label. With only a little of a glass in her, Isa seems considerably calmer than the emotional pilot usually is.

There's a plate of crackers and cheese on a small corner of the table that isn't claimed, along with some toothpicks liberally stabbed through pieces of cheese, because Isa knows better than to drink on an empty stomach.

Also because the cheese in this city's delis really is fantastic, and she's willing to take any excuse to partake of local cuisine. It's all so different.

Cleaning is often a good way to release nervous energy. And perhaps Isa is also subconsciously anticipating a homecoming, wanting Makarov to have some nice place to return to. Phil notes it all without commenting on it. Really, all this talk he's been hearing about multiple deadbolts concerns him a little bit more, all things considered, but she had mentioned trust is not her strong suit. He'd also reviewed the security footage of the cat.

Both of these instances have meant he comes bearing gifts, but he doesn't draw attention to the two cases in his hands right away.

He's simply dressed in one of the non-descript suits that makes it hard to place his personal rank, ability, or profession. It is the ultimate American Male Suit. He could blend into any crowd wearing this suit and be instantly forgotten. Multiple people might see him and describe him as four totally different people, simply because he's bland and vaguely inoffensive, perhaps bringing to mind a cousin, an uncle, a fondly forgotten professor, perhaps someone met at a party that one meant to look up and never got around to at all.

He looks over the work Isa is doing, eyes flickering over the Cyrillic notes, taking in both their content and their precision in the blink of an eye. He takes in the cheese, and that strikes him as good. A healthy interest in something, even if it's only the local food scene. The girls have been good for Isa…which leads him to a thought. He scrawls down an address and adds it to the pile of gifts, then sets it all down on the coffee table with a soft click.

First thing's first, after all. He seats himself across from her and gives her one of his kind smiles, the ones that reveal very little other than his care and concern for this member of his team. "What did you find for me?"

Ideally, all of this work will result in a homecoming. There are a great many odds stacked against the safe return of Mikhail Nikolayevich Makarov, but there are also a great many benefits on his side; and a great many people burning the candle at both ends to ensure.

Fifty percent, Coulson had told her, once. That's the best any agent can hope for in a situation as tangled as this. Much like him, though, she intends to do her level best to make that one hundred percent.

She'd told the Winter Soldier that she wasn't sure she could survive losing her husband a second time, and she'd told him the honest truth. The blow had been devastating enough the first time around. She's well aware that this is not a guaranteed success, but she's also well aware that if things go badly, there is a very real possibility that she may self-destruct before all is said and done.

It isn't that she doesn't care about the family she's found in SHIELD… but these are old wounds, and the scars run deep. The fire may have left its mark on her, but the worst of her wounds have always been the ones that can't be seen.

With some luck and an honest-to-God miracle or six, she won't need to worry about that.

No sooner has she let Coulson in the door than she drops back into her seat again, hunched over the notes with a single-minded focus that betrays her investment in all of this. Honestly, part of her has to wonder why he hadn't sacked her from the case – too much involvement, and all that.

Isa pauses her reading long enough to spear a piece of cheese with a toothpick, and then look up again at the sound of things being set on her coffee table. It doesn't immediately register what they are, so she moves on to his question, which she belatedly remembers that he'd asked.

"This." She gestures to the papers spread before her. "My husband's trail. Think he's looking for me. Check your surveillance on Bronx, maybe. Figure it's only a matter of time until he tries to go there, or contact me there."

Her brow lowers, incrementally. Her scarred hand rises to rub at her scarred jaw, absently nudging her eyepatch back into place with a forefinger. "Seem like he's going everywhere he can, but there, going by what you gave me." She frowns. "He's scared," she finally states, decisively. "<Actually, even that does not really explain it. Mikhail Nikolayevich is not just frightened. He is flat-ass scared,>" she observes disapprovingly, in Russian.

"Have to wonder what he got himself into. Is not an easy man to scare." Isa shrugs blandly at Coulson, in a sort of 'what-can-you-do?' expression. "We fly supersonic jet for living, so what is he so afraid of, I wonder? Obviously, am being held against him, somehow. Am not sure how, after they did not kill me."

Her finger lowers to tap at the various documents. "But that much, I know. Mikhail Nikolayevich is going to my apartment, next. Think he's only stayed away this long, maybe scared. But he will not be able to resist too long. Is like… what is that thing. Like siren song, da?"

"The moment he shows up we'll be all over it. The apartment is being watched and watched well. Of course…he might know that. It might be good to…hmmm. Take your credit card out a few places, with me shadowing you on the ground and a good shot shadowing you from the roof. Just here and there, enough to give him other places to track you, to approach. Places we of course then survey. As for scared, well. At least one of his pursuers is an organization called Hydra. They're very nasty. I'll get a briefing to your phone, but if I were being actively pursued by Hydra, the Russian government, and a ruthless corporation – something else I'm sure of by now, though I'm still trying to get a name for the thing – I would only look cool, calm, and collected."

Coulson leans forward to pick up some of her notes, giving them a more thorough reading. "Exposing you isn't my favorite plan. If I thought for a moment we could fool him I'd have a red headed decoy with scar prosthetics out doing this, but then if he approaches he'd detect the fake and we'd be back at square one. How is your arm? I'd rather it be healed before we get out there."

He leans back, foxlike. "Ideally, I'd lure him into trying to break in here. You know the man. What would I have to do in order to do that? Because then it's a bloodless catch all around."

"Suppose that wouldn't be too bad." Isa's observation is given in a dubious tone of voice. "Not sure revealing myself is good idea. Have my own hunters. You take something from Kremlin, they sit up and they take notice." she adds, crisply drawing a finger across her throat. "Probably embarrassed lot of people. People who think my security clearance was revoked."

She smiles to herself, dagger-thin and without humour. "It wasn't. Am sure it was, though. Probably very quickly, after that."

"Hydra?" When Coulson sheds some light on who the hunters' identities are, she frowns, tilting her head in obvious puzzlement. "Da. Have heard of them. Was approached by them, but… ah, declined to serve. Same is true for Mikhail Nikolayevich. He would not fly for them either. Maybe jealous; especially if he flew for corporation?"

Isa frowns down at the notes scattered in front of her. "Make no sense, though. He would not have flown for private corporation. Would have been end of his career, I think. Government, you know; can be terribly jealous, da?" Leaning forward, she hunches her spine to rest her elbows on the table, kneading at her temples in mute exasperation.

What in the hell would he have been doing, courting a private corporation? Such things tread a fine line where she had come from. They had to handle their business very carefully, especially in regards to anything that might make the Motherland look less than ideal… either in terms of technology or manpower. If they did something well, too well, they only made themselves a target. Mikhail must have known that – so why would he take that kind of risk?

"<Misha, you idiot, what did you do?>" she mutters at her notes.

Her head shakes again, faintly. "No. Decoy would not fool him. But way he stared at me in Barcelona…" She swivels her single blue eye up at Coulson, arching her brow. "Think he did not know what had happened to me. Know that look. Had it, lot of time, after I left hospital for first time. <It was the look of, 'Merciful God, my beauty, what has happened to you?'> Am not sure." A cloud seems to pass over her expression. "Has been too long."

Sighing, she straightens and spears another piece of cheese, offering it to Coulson without looking away from her work. "Here. Have something to eat. Have wine, too. Is good wine. Italian, maybe? Thought was worth opening bottle for, even if…" Even if they manage to screw this up, or Mikhail screws it up, and gets himself killed. She'll take a little hope in her life, for once.

"No… he will know decoy is not me. Even if you get scar exactly right," she adds, tapping her scarred finger to her scarred temple, just beside the eyepatch; she pulls a scowl a moment later. "Is also difference in how people behave, when one eye gone, also. Can't tell you how glad I am building has elevator instead of stairwell."

Her eye slides back to the notes. How is her arm? Isa straightens, rotating her left shoulder, wincing only a little; rolling her wrist to close a fist without flinching. "Better. Is not so strong, yet, but will be. Doctor say don't have to wear sling any more, only if needed." In other words, she's on the mend. "Left one hell of scar, though," she sighs, in mock resignation.

Really, what's one more?

And then Coulson says something that completely fails to register. Her head twists around to him, single eye blank. "<You want him to what?>" In fact, it's so stupid to her that she even lapses into Russian.

What would he have to do?

Isa frowns, thoughtfully.

"Into SHIELD? Think he is scared, and maybe stupid in some way, but not that stupid. Will know better than to try to break into place so secure. Am sure he is no thief, or hacker, though maybe he have one helping him to get away… and to keep using card." She gestures nebulously at the printed bills strewn across the table. "Ugh," she sighs, sotto voce. "My husband, he is turning into thief."

But there's no disgust or remorse in the statement. Apparently she understands well the fire that's been lit under him. Her single eye slides out of focus as she regards the papers.

What indeed?

"Am not sure," she admits, slowly. "Can maybe think of something, but am not sure what… would have to be… hm. Some kind of threat to me. Maybe…" Her eye narrows. "No. Would be too cruel to do to him…"

Phil forgets to eat. A lot. It occurs to him that he hasn't eaten in hours as he takes the cheese and helps himself to the wine with a nod of thanks. He pops it into his mouth, hazel eyes tracking on her more than on the libations as he listens to her go back and forth with him. This is good; it reveals a lot of her thought process as an agent…and assures him that however personal this is for her, she's keeping a clear head.

"What if we made it clear you were staying here?" Phil asks, too tired, really, to lapse into Russian with her. If he does, it really will be the sing-song stuff, and terribly; sounding native is an act of concentration for him. He's been burning the candle at both ends lately.

"And then," he says slowly, "What if I gave him the opportunity to get the drop on me, steal a way to come in here, either to grab a keycard I very much would like him to have, or to 'force me to take him to you?' I could be sitting there packing your things at the Bronx apartment. Make it sound a little worse than it is, try to explain, let him appear to take control. Then we spring the benign trap when he's well and truly in our halls. I think for you he'd do a lot of stupid, and we don't have to be ogre-like with threats. Even the hint that we're questioning you very closely or watching you with suspicion because of him might be enough to make him do something beneficially rash."

The more he plays with this idea, the more he likes it. It means he doesn't have to expose Isa. It means that he doesn't have to station a full team on protection detail just so she can have a conversation with a skittish husband who might bolt again, and who might bolt right into the arms of his enemies. And it only means putting himself, really, into a little bit of danger. It might allow him to plant some thoughts, some ideas in Makarov's head in case things go sidways. A man tends to listen just a little more when he feels he has the upper hand, a little control, for once.

Forgetting to eat seems to be a common malady amongst the most dedicated of agents, or those tending to mentally intensive work. Isa herself has been forgetting on a semi-regular basis. At least she remembered to set herself out a platter before she'd gotten started.

Her thought processes are as quick and agile as a quinjet itself, darting here and there like so many fish; there one moment, and gone on to something entirely different the next. She's a reasonable and intelligent woman, that much has proven itself – a little excitable, perhaps, but anyone could be forgiven that in her current situation.

At times, too, she can be a little dependent on intuition and emotion, especially when piloting, but she's learned to make that work for her. Perhaps it's a pressure valve for when she was living in a society that discouraged individual expression.

She looks down at the scattering of documents, but she doesn't see them. Her mind is already racing ahead, thinking through what he has to say. There's no mistaking that she understands his statements in English. She's simply on the trail of something, and there's no stopping her once she's reached that point. It has to be worked out in its own time.

"Could set trap maybe. Imply something happen to me. But that would be too cruel," she adds, shaking her head. "Not after what we both have been through. No. Could maybe set yourself up. Is maybe less risk than setting me up as bait, but for Mikhail Nikolayevich, I will do it."

If he has that many people after him, though, maybe using herself as bait is not the best idea.

She rubs at her jaw as though the scarred tissue itches; it seems to be a gesture of contemplation, or maybe nerves. "Might fall for that. Think he hasn't had control for long time. Of anything. Seemed… haunted, in all surveillance photo you gave me. Can probably be convinced…" Isa's expression falls a little. "Ah… da. Think he would do lot of stupid, for me. I would for him," she adds, casting a significant look at Coulson.

Her eye is invariably drawn to the documents again.

"Maybe. But… would have to be careful. He sense anything wrong, anything at all… think he'll run again. Have never seen him so frightened." She leans back from the data, reaching for something on the endtable – carton of cigarettes and lighter, tapping one loose and lighting it in a single quick, practised motion. One is offered to Coulson. "But… could work, maybe." Her single eye lingers on the documents, grim; lost in thought as she considers.

Eventually she flicks a glance back to Coulson, puffing a wreath of smoke and letting the cigarette droop from the corner of her mouth on the scarred side. "You think it could work…?"

Coulson declines the cigarette with a simple raised hand and a non-judgmental shake of his head. He doesn't seem particularly concerned by the second hand smoke though. The child of an earlier era, he remembers when every airplane and restaurant table still had ashtrays at the ready. And there are certainly areas all over the world where one would stand out, not blend in, if one made a big deal out of a little bit of tobacco.

"I don't want to imply we're hurting you," he reiterates. "Only that we might be reacting like any lawful organization upon finding out one of its agents may have been less than forthcoming. A few leaked communications here, a few days of your credit card transactions simply stopping there, little breadcrumbs to indicate that we might suddenly no longer trust you. Let him imagine what the implications of that could or could not be. I don't want him thinking we'd hurt you or torture you, but sometimes being prosecuted is enough. We want to come across as trustworthy, but not draconian. It's a fine balance. We want to come across as…" here, he gives the ghost of a smile. "Very quite American, if you will."

He turns the plan over in his mind one more time. It's not the first plan he's come up with while simply talking things through, thinking things through. It's a measure of how much Isa has impressed him that he's willing to relax enough to do this at all, rather than to silently consider every last angle on his own, and then present her with an inscrutable 'here is what we're going to do.' Finally he says, "I have made a career out of these kinds of maneuvers, Isa. He's a pilot. I only have faith he'll read my signs at all because he's on high alert. I have also made a career out of looking unassuming and slightly foolish. I think I can make him believe he's managed to get the drop on an older, slower civil servant. He's tired, he's emotional. Prone to seeing what he wants to see. I'll probably get a black eye when he decks me, but I've had worse."

He tap taps his fingers thoughtfully on the coffee table. "The biggest danger is that one of the major players will take the opportunity to take some shots at both of us, but…your apartment isn't really that far from the Triskelion. I think it's got a high probability of working."

The pilot doesn't seem to take much offense when he declines a cigarette, and it certainly doesn't stop her from indulging in her own. It seems to be a stress reliever for her. Something to do with her hands. Having empty hands is anathema to a person with jittery nerves.

Carefully, she reaches forward, clearing away papers from a mostly-buried ashtray and freeing up some space around it. Tapping ash, she returns the cigarette to her mouth, drawing on it thoughtfully.

"So. Make him paranoid. More than he already is. Can see that," she concedes, studying the papers with a narrowed eye, tapping at a glossy surveillance photo of a very exhausted-looking Mikhail. "Make him act before he think. Not hard, when he's that scared. Could maybe work… risky, but could work. If he figure anything out, though, could be trouble."

Isa sighs smoke, eye lifting to some middle point of the wall, lost in thought for a moment. "So. Just keeping eye on me. Maybe did not tell you everything I did, when arrived in New York…" The pilot puffs smoke thoughtfully, settling the cigarette at the base of her index and middle finger, hand loosely wrapped around the lower half of her face. "Make sense. Would make him stop. Think. Not think in good way," she adds. "Make him do something hasty, maybe. Something stupid."

"Da. He is on high alert. Too much, I think." Her scarred forefinger taps the photograph again. "Too much, too long. Have never seen him so exhausted, not even during active duty… will not look at you hard enough to know any better." Isa allows herself a slightly sardonic half-smile. "I did not, at first."

She was pretty well convinced he was Phil From Accounting the first time they'd met, and only later did hse begin to understand just how wrong her assessment had been.

It's not often that she's glad to be wrong, but in this case, she has been.

"Hopefully," she sighs, "not too hard. Will wait with bag of ice," she adds. It's a wan joke but at least she's making the effort, which suggests she's handling all of this a little better than she could be. "Da. Major players… you count three, you think? Hydra, Russia, some corporation? Make sense. I have that much after me, I wouldn't sleep, either."

She would probably resort to thievery and desperation, too. Deep down, she knows her husband isn't a thief or a liar – but circumstances have made him both. That knowledge is a dull ache in her chest. If luck is with them, though, she can help bring him home to her, and undo the damage done.

Isa heaves a sigh, smoky. "Maybe. Is true, Bronx is not far. Most importantly… he is tired. Is exhausted. I would be, in his situation. Was," she adds. She was like that when she reached New York, wild-eyed and almost unable to function for exhaustion. Her chat with SHIELD probably wasn't very impressive, what with her looking over her shoulder every two minutes, expecting someone to pull a gun on her. "Am not sure if it will work… maybe pessimistic after everything, little bit." Isa rolls her left shoulder in a shrug, this time without wincing, which is probably a good sign that it's healing nicely. "But, will doeverything I can to help make sure it does."

That single eye settles on Coulson, unnervingly calm; the eye of the storm, at least for the moment. At least until reality sets in once more.

"Phillip Coulson, I think… that I am ready for whatever will happen."

She even cracks a little half-smile. "Do you know what Russian word is for 'rabbit?' Is zajic. Should maybe start calling my husband that. Zajchik. He keep running this way… is like frightened rabbit."

Phil nods and pulls up the AR display on his watch. Fingers fly over holographic keys. In seconds, he's transmitting information and orders, creating the set-up. "In one hour I am going to go search your apartment," he says. "I suspect it won't take him too long to find these little bread crumbs." In the meantime, he has more cheese, then pulls over the stack of things he brought.

"ICER," he says, handing over the first gift. "The bullets are non-lethal, filled with dendrotoxins that will drop even most metas. The next time you see that cat, shoot him down with this, and then we'll see what kind of 084 is messing with our planes. Seems like the kind of thing that ought to go to WAND, which is really not my thing at all, but all the same. Plus you should have one."

Second gift. "Biometric scanner for your door. Nobody needs 9 deadbolts, Isa. This will ensure nobody gets in if you're not with them. Thumbprint and retinal verification. So as long as you don't lose the other eye, you should be able to get into your door. It's also somewhat more subtle, rather than communicating to all of SHIELD that you don't trust them."

Finally, the piece of paper. "This is the safe house for an 084 named Gwen. She's been accidentally transported here from another dimension. Might do her some good to have a friend. Maybe bake her some bread, introduce her to Sloane and Rusalka, get her out of her shell a little. She could use a support system while we work on her problem, and someone to help her figure out the differences between our timeline and hers. That information is locked behind my clearance level by the way; you know because you are a member of my team. I don't want the other two to know. Just that she's a girl who is as displaced as Sloane is ought to be enough. If she tells them, she tells them, but try to keep the information contained if you can."

Somewhat gingerly, the pilot takes the ICER into her hands, turning it over this way and that. It probably costs more than several months' salary put together. Strange, too, considering it weighs considerably less than her Stetchkin; but that doesn't mean much.

She squints, slightly, before arching her brow at Coulson. Zero eight four? She's still not quite familiar with the bureaucracy's acronyms, and while she's adept with English, knowing it as a second language is still a setback in this regard. Slang is tough to get the hang of, and it changes so fast.

That biometric scanner, however, earns a bit of a blank stare. Nobody needs nine deadbolts, Isa. Her eye flicks back up at him. "Actually," she says coolly, "there are eleven."

It's a joke, Coulson. There's a hint of a smile in the left corner of her mouth, on the unscarred side.

"Thank you. You can have the deadbolts," she adds.

Also a joke.

That, however, earns a shrug. "Is not rest of SHIELD. Is everyone else." Well, not directly implicating SHIELD is a big step. She won't say she trusts them, but implicating that she doesn't mistrust them is pretty significant for her.

Coulson knows how little she trusts anyone.

The piece of paper is taken and looked at carefully, single eye dropping to scan it over. Her eye lifts again when Coulson starts mentioning Gwen, and she listens for a moment.

"<Is that so? Then I will see what I can do.>" Seems Coulson's picked up on the fact that the pilot, despite having her life turn into a literal flaming wreck, hasn't lost a basic streak of decency and maternal instinct over those hard-luck cases. "<Those girls know that there are a lot of things I cannot and will not tell them, so they will not ask too many questions.>" She smiles, thinly. "<They also know, I think, that I can stonewall them better than they can.>"

After the fire, she came to be very, very good at stonewalling people; a master of the stony stare.

"<Thank you,>" she adds, stubbing out her cigarette in the ash tray. Isa gestures toward the table of paperwork, sweeping a stack of it together and neatly tucking it into a manila envelope. "<You can have these back; I do not need them any more, if you have settled. In the meantime, I will speak with Gwen, yes. Does she have a last name? Or is that also classified?>"

The joke is meant with a smile and a twinkle of the hazel eyes. She says he can have the dead bolts, and he says, deadpan, "Awesome. I plan to MacGuyver them into something later."

There is nothing that Phil Coulson could actually use 11 deadbolts for, or even 9 deadbolts, other than deadbolting things, but he still enjoys the joke.

"She does, but she can tell you if she wants to," Phil says. It's just in his nature to keep information close, and not spreading information about Gwen is a good way to keep her trust. "I'll send an e-mail about you, otherwise you might frighten her a little bit. So far she's really only had contact with me and her caseworker Brian, and a few others she met out in the world before I went to collect her. I want to take her to see Dr. Foster soon, but…she seems to be out of pocket at the moment."

Something about that causes his mouth to tighten. Just a hint, just a hair.

He takes the papers, snags another piece of cheese, pops it into his mouth. He'll just drop them off at his desk. "Steve from IT will come install that for you tomorrow," he says, of the biometric scanner. "He's trustworthy. You could also snap him like a twig. So don't be alarmed. I'd do it, but I tend to cross the wires and make them explode when I try."

He then touches an earbud in his own ear, setting a frequency, and draws another out of his pocket. "So you can listen in," he says, holding it out to her. "But you can't talk, or you'll blow the whole thing. I'm going to go see if I can't lure your husband in now."

The reference flies over the pilot's head, but she's well used to that kind of thing. She'll dismiss it as another linguistic difference. There are many of those. Her grasp of the English lanugage is generally more firm than she lets on, able to communicate fluently, but certain things pass her right by. Cultural references like that are right at the top of the list, and slang.

Otherwise you might frighten her a little bit, Coulson says, and the pilot snorts sharply enough to suggest a little self-depreciation. "Really? Would not have guessed." Isa says this while stabbing a finger at the scarred side of her face and eyepatch, and the look on the undamaged side of her face is bland. "Probably best."

Mention of Dr. Foster also draws no recognition. Whoever that is, it's not someone she's yet made the acquaintance of. Oh, and Steve From IT, whom she definitely hasn't met, but if he thinks she can snap him like a twig, she'll trust his judgement. It's also a good mental reminder to look into self-defense courses through SHIELD.

She does narrow her eye as he offers the earbud, taking it and thumbing it into place. Her answer to him is a faint nod. Dropping the first few carrot-crumbs for the rabbit to follow, eh? That sounds like a good start – but Isa only nods, settling into her loveseat to wait; curious, perhaps, as to what he might say or do to seize the attention of one Mikhail Nikolayevich Makarov.

"We'll cover MacGuyver later," Phil says dryly.

And then she says that she might scare Gwen cause of her appearance, which he'd thought nothing of. "No," he says gently. "Not your face. Knowing too much about her. She's got more mettle than that, Isa, and you vastly overestimate how disturbing you really look. I think she might be more the type to wince at the amount of pain you've gone through, not to be put off by the damage the pain left."

But there's really no time to waste. He really has put out carrot crumbs for the rabbit, some of them via data and transactions and staged phone calls that he sent out while they were still sharing cheese. Now he has to see if the rabbit will sniff them out and follow.

When he leaves the Triskelion he gets on the phone to…her. Actually. "Keep pressing her," he says tightly. "But do get her that water and let her have a cigarette. I'm not ready to accuse her of anything, but I want to know what she knows."

And then he walks at a brisk clip to her Bronx apartment. He actually does look for tails, because there are other people out there, because to do anything else would make Makarov suspicious. If he happens to spot the man, he will simply miss seeing him for other reasons, artfully weaving in plausible distractions and turns of his own head to conceal it.

He reaches her apartment and lets himself in with a SHIELD-issue lockpick set. He then pulls on gloves and begins a professional search of the place, inch by inch, taking his time. Real professionals don't toss. They search carefully and methodically.

He'd feel bad about this if he didn't know Isa's whole life fits into a duffle bag. It's not like he knows how to fake searching for things. If she did have any secrets hidden in here they would no longer be safe.

The pilot still affects something of a bland look over MacGuyver. Presumably, the reference will make a lot more sense once she's had the context explained to her. In the meantime, she'll just look blank, because it's meaningless to her. What in the Hell is he going to do with eleven deadbolt locks…?

Even so, her head tilts very slightly as Coulson corrects her, brow very slowly arching. "Knowing too much." The words are repeated less out of skepticisim, and more as though she were confirming this to herself. "So. Like me, then." She was that way, too, at first. Knowing SHIELD knew the details about her life, all of them, terrified her to no end – even if she was too stoic to show it. It still disturbs her a little, but she's found it much easier to trust Coulson with as much as he's done for her. He is SHIELD, to her.

She nods slowly. "Hunh. See that. Da, will talk to her." Any little bit she can do to help will not be effort wasted, as far as she's concerned.

Coulson is politely but warmly shown out, along with a quiet admonishment in Russian to remember to eat dinner at some point along the line. For now, she'll lock those eleven deadbolts, and the shunk of each one sliding home is like a symphonic suite to her paranoid soul. The rest of her table is cleaned up, dishes put away, and another glass of wine poured.

Isa then settles back on her loveseat to wait, narrowing her eye as she listens in on the phony call. Some part of her can't help a faint smirk. Standard interrogators' tactics. Keep the perpetrator waiting. Make them sweat out their information; keep them only comfortable enough to consider the fact that they've fallen into interrogation room purgatory.

The thought of being held someplace like that timelessly is enough to get most sane and rational people talking, and talking quickly.

Despite the fact that Isa Reichert still pays the rent on her Bronx apartment, it's immediately clear from its appearance that no one lives here, and hasn't for some time. The whole of it is spotlessly clean, almost to the degree of collecting one's security deposit back, and there are no personal touches to differentiate it from any other miserable hovel of a low-end Bronx apartment. Surprisingly, there's no trace of vermin, probably because Isa was obsessively dilligent about it.

Coulson won't find much, though. Isa's taken to carrying her life around in a duffel bag. Less than that, even. Anything truly incriminating is hidden in her Triskelion apartment – for a given value of hidden, anyway.

Nobody shows themselves on the street. The cracked and broken sidewalk is unnervingly empty.

If Makarov takes the bait, he does so without moving. Perhaps he intends to play it safe, and observe Coulson for a time – see who this man is, and what kind of a threat this man might be to his wife.

It's a fine time for courage, Isa reflects sourly. This would have resolved itself tidily if he had shown himself and surrendered himself to Coulson, but no. It looks like this is going to turn into a game of cat and mouse. Cat and rabbit? Mouse and rabbit?

Isa sighs, draining her wine glass and pulling herself to her feet. Time for bed. The drama on the street can wait. Mikhail is paranoid and exhausted, but he's not foolish. Maybe he thinks Coulson can take him on and win. Or maybe he's just indecisive, uncertain of what he can do with his wife in custody and too many variables unanswered.

After this much time, she couldn't say. With so much pressure on him from so many different directions, she couldn't imagine what kind of strain he must be under; how it must be affecting his judgement.

On her way to her bedroom, Isa pauses, glancing back at the photographs on the mantle; staring for a moment at the one photograph she has left of her husband.

The pilot smiles wanly to herself before shutting off the lights.

One hundred percent, she tells herself, as though it's a mantra she's repeated to herself over the past weeks; as though she's not telling herself this out of fear or anxiety or worry. One hundred percent.

The bait has been dropped. Now, to watch and see what it will attract, over time.

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