May 17, 2017:

In which Isa Reichert confides her worries to Phil Coulson, and receives a little reassurance in return. Takes place after "5804: After Hours."

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.


Mood Music: None.

Fade In…

The Triskelion has all sorts of facilities available to the agents in its employ. This includes facilities for recreation, training, medical, and also housing for those who have reasons not to stay in New York City.

After a gruelling week of flight detail, Agent Isa Reichert is nearly ready to drop. She's been literally all over the world this week, pushing the organisation's standard quinjets to their limits to deliver her "fare" on time. Today's itinerary included a few flights around France, and a final delivery that took her back into New York City.

Once the quinjet was handed off to the flight crews, she had dragged herself from the cockpit, lit herself a cigarette, and trudged down the hall to present herself to the medical facilities for a scheduled physical therapy appointment, to check and ensure that her arm is dealing well with the strain of flight. That had also been exhausting, but the doctor had said everything looked like it was healing nicely, and there were no problems.

Finally the woman had dragged herself to the mess hall, or whatever it is the Triskelion calls it, realising that if she crashed in her apartment she wouldn't have any chance at all of eating something before dropping into unconsciousness.

Thus it is that Phil Coulson will find his red-headed, one-eyed pilot crumpled at a table out towards the edges of the room. She has a cup of coffee in front of her, lukewarm at best, and a half-eaten piece of toast, as well as an empty bowl suggestive of what was once eggs. Her undamaged arm is stretched out on the table in front of her, head down on it and single eye closed. Did she pass out? Has she finally fallen asleep? Or is she just resting a tired, bloodshot eye?

At least she's eating and drinking. Sort of.

There is no greater truism in this business that sometimes the choices one has to make are the choices between bad situations, and worse ones.

In this case, the bad situation was placing Isa on a brutal schedule that has left her looking like a shadow of herself, has her ready to fall asleep into her toast. The worse situation would have been leaving her to stew when there was little more to be done: the next move has already been identified, the plans are underway, and worse – they aren't a direct pass at Makarov at all, but rather a pass at dismantling the reasons why anyone would be after Makarov, to take pressure off of him and also (frankly) to get a handle on the bigger, more dangerous issues that his frantic rabbit-flights across the world are pointing to.

And despite the fact that Phil knows he's done his very best for the pilot, he can't avoid the stab of sympathy-laden guilt that assaults him as he just stands there in the door to the mess hall, studying her.

He finally comes over and gently moves the plate out of her way, and puts a hand on her shoulder. "Raya," he says, very softly, very gently using the diminutive form of her name.

<"Come on. Let's get you to your apartment. You'll find better rest there than on a cold mess hall table.">

The pilot has had brutal schedules before, when she had still lived on the schedule of active service. Certainly her husband had also lived on that schedule, since he had never been invited to serve as a test pilot. It's been years since Isa had done so, though, and her current situations factor in a great deal more stress, physical and mental. She isn't what she was twenty or even ten years ago.

Apparently she's really asleep. She's still wearing her SHIELD logo flight suit, and her red hair is pinned at the nape of her neck. At the touch to her shoulder, she tries to bury her face further into her own arm, mumbling something.

A second or two pass where it might seem like she's fallen asleep again. Slowly, oh so slowly, that single blue eye flutters open.

"<Misha…?>" she murmurs, muzzily.

But it's Phil Coulson, and not Mikhail Nikolayevich Makarov. A half-second later Isa recognises the voice.

It doesn't compute.

The last time she heard that name, it was Mikhail talking to her.

Isa blinks once or twice, before reluctantly pulling her head up. One hand rises to rub some life back into her lone eye. She yawns hard enough to pop her jaw, before eyeing Coulson somewhat blearily. "<Phillip Coulson…>" She sits for a moment with her eye screwed shut. "<What are you doing here…?>"

She's awake, but only in the most technical sense of the word.

Silence ticks by for a few seconds, and she finally cocks an eye at Coulson, frowning thoughtfully.

"<What did you call me?>"

At least she doesn't seem angry. She seems more thoughtful than anything else, almost curious.

"<I'm fetching you. You'll get a horrible crick in your neck if you sleep here,>" Phil says gently. He clears his throat a little – maybe he got a little too familiar just then. It had seemed right, at the time, but now that the maneuver not only caused her to call him by her husband's name but produced that question, he rather thinks he overstepped and got a trifle too familiar.

"<I'm sorry, that was—come on. I'll walk you back so you don't fall over.>"

Flustered. He is definitely flustered. He doesn't allow that to show for long. He puts on the mild, boyish, faintly apologetic smile that hides just about anything else, and changes the subject.

"<I appreciate you giving it your all this week. We needed you sorely for everything you did.>" This is not really a lie. Though he might have been overworking her for her own good, he also did her the courtesy of choosing her for missions that were of vital importance, even though he, himself, could not attend to those missions personally. And if he was going to wear her out, it's only proper to make sure that her work is valued and appreciated.

"<I've had worse than that before. I think I'd count getting shot as much worse.>" Isa's voice is a little hoarse; a little muzzy. She swipes an arm over her eyes, as though she were still trying to wake herself up, eye screwing shut for a moment. "<After a while you learn to sleep anywhere, including the cockpit.>"

Pulling herself to her feet, she casts him something of an odd look, quirking her lone red brow when he gets a little flustered. She did catch that much. Despite missing an eye she sees plenty enough most of the time. It's all in what one trains oneself to look for.

"<Don't be.>" A sweep of her hand gathers up the gloves she'd left tossed onto the table, and Isa shuffles after Coulson when he moves to start towards the residential ward.

That he had allowed her to choose her missions probably hasn't escaped her; it's the kind of attractive detail that never would have presented itself in her former life. The novelty also wore off quickly when she realised just how packed her schedule would become over the previous week. When she had done some rudimentary math and tallied up the flight hours, she'd been swearing fit enough to blister the skin off a cat; by the time the end of the day had rolled around, she'd already been ground down into exhausted numbness.

Exactly his point, when it came down to it. Keep her too tired to focus on the things she has no power over to change. Keep her too tired to remember that her husband is in the city, and functionally unreachable.

She reaches up to rub at her face as she walks, gloves dangling from her other hand. "<This organisation functionally owns my soul already,>" Isa states, wearily, in response to his thanks. "<I can stand to lose some sleep if these things need to get done.>"

"<But… I have not seen you all week.>" Her single eye flicks toward Coulson, even as she reaches up to pluck the pins from her hair, the whole of it tumbling down in a cascade of rich coppery red. Whatever she was going to say seems to pause by the wayside; she frowns, eye drifting away from Coulson almost awkwardly. "<I do not like to sound like I am pumping you for information, Phil Coulson, but I am worried about my husband,>" she states, quietly. "<I do not know when we will be able to find him. But I would like to know that he is still alive. If I am to understand his situation, my idiot husband has managed to piss off enough organisations that that could change at any moment.>"

She looks away, something oddly vulnerable in that tired blue eye. "<I would just like to know that he is still alive. And if he is not…>" If he is not, her tone seems to say, she would sooner know and not have to guess.

Her mind seem to circle back to something else he'd said.

"<And I do not mind if you call me that,>" Isa adds, even more quietly. "<If you asked me, I would say that with all you have done for me, you have earned that right.>"

<"As far as we know, he's alive. We caught him on facial recognition 24 hours ago, ducking into a convenience store. I think he's camping out in abandoned buildings all over town at this point.">

Phil looks steadfastly down the hall, though he has a hand out ready to steady her if it looks like she's about to fall over then and there, for all her stoic ability to push through just about anything. <"If he had perished, you would be the first to know. I wouldn't keep you in suspense, or say inane things about your sleeping habits.">

She says he has the right to call her Raya, and he gives a little smile. <"I'll keep it in mind,"> he says quietly…even as he resolves that there are over a hundred reasons why he should avoid exercising that right ever again. Unless, of course, it happens to be the right tool to bring her back from the brink, of course, but then, when he actually needs a verbal tool to get a job done, nothing is truly off-limits except cruelty.

<"You'll want your rest. We've identified an Icarus facility. We're drawing up plans to raid it. You'll be on the team. I'm giving you 5 days leave to rest up, but I want some of that 'rest' to be physical in nature. Go for a swim in the pool, hit the firing range. Do not sit in your apartment and stew. Be active, do things, keep your mind off of it, so that it is razor sharp and ready when I come down with a team, a briefing, and a departure time."> He still doesn't want her focused on things she does not have the power to change.

Ducking into a convenience store? The pilot's brow arches faintly at that, but she does not question. Chances are he's using a stolen credit card that won't track back to him, or he's dealing strictly in cash. What worries her is where that cash must have come from. Even if they manage to bring him in safely, he's probably done enough damage to warrant a few felonies.

Not unless SHIELD has enough resources to keep any potential charges from sticking, anyway. And that's provided he lasts long enough to see this thing through to the end – whatever his endgame may be. With as well as she knows the man even Isa isn't sure what Mikhail's motivations are.

The only constant she can figure on is that he's protecting her somehow.

Isa blows out a breath, but it carries as much relief as it does exhaustion, frustration, and resignation. No matter what he's gotten himself into, he's still alive. That has to count for something.

"<An Icarus facility?>" That draws some interest, enough to poke through her general miasma of exhaustion. After a moment she bows her head, eye closing in formal gratitude. "<You are letting me have a place on that team? I will not forget that, Phillip Coulson. I will do as you say.>"

She reaches out her left arm, clenching a fist and curling her arm demonstratively. "<I still have physical therapy between now and then. I am feeling much stronger. I do not think any permanent damage was done.>"

Silence falls for several seconds as she concentrates on putting one foot down in front of the other. There's a stumble here or there, but for the most part she catches herself, too proud to outright ask for help. She nods once at his marching orders. Five days and physical training.

"<Yes. I can do that.>" For Mikhail, she would do anything; endure any routine. "<I will visit all of those. In fact, I think I am overdue for the firing range. For a time I focused on ensuring I could fly without problems, and neglected my basic soldier's training.>" Isa grins, a little sourly. "<I suppose I will have to shake off the rust.>"

They get to the elevator; Phil pushes the 'up' button, and waits for the silvery doors to slide apart. He holds them for her so she can get in at her own pace, then steps inside and hits the button for the 16th floor, where the apartments are. <"Shaking off the rust would be a good thing. It's a small team for a big facility, but its not feasible to take anything bigger.">

He'd already checked up on the details of her recovery, of course. There's no way she would be on the team, or even back in the air, if her arm weren't healing up well enough.

He leans against the opposite end of the elevator from her, giving her a little smile. <"I have to shake the rust off every now and then myself."> There are times when Phillip Coulson is keenly aware of his encroaching age. He's seen it in shots fired on the range that hit center mass but not hearts or heads. He's seen it in the amount of time he can spend upright, vastly reduced from even ten years ago. He's seen it in the decline in his running speeds, and the subtle aches and pains which sometimes greet him in the morning. One day there may be too much rust to scrape away, if some mission doesn't kill him first.

But these are the kinds of thoughts no sane leader shares, other than to allow the empathy engendered by a shared experience to touch those hazel eyes.

Isa shuffles into the elevator like one fully on autopilot. There is a significant enough shadow under her lone eye to suggest she's behind on quite a bit of sleep. That eye is hooded and half-focused, enough to see the elevator in front of her, but not enough to concentrate on any of it too closely. It's just barely enough for the most rudimentary of situational awareness.

"<Do you have a specific target in mind? You aren't going to find Mikhail Nikolayevich there, are you? Ah, damn.>" Isa lets her eyes slip a little out of focus. Her curse is half-hearted. "<Part of me was hoping it would involve him somehow, but I suppose it does not.>"

That would have been too much to hope for. Knowing he's still alive is a balm, but it doesn't make the loneliness any easier to suffer through.

Digging into a pocket, Isa fumbles for keys that aren't needed any more, frowning and dropping the metal when she remembers she doesn't need it. Instead, all she needs to do is thumb an activation button, lean over, and let the biometric scanner go to work. Its mechanisms release the door with a hiss, and she palms the door open the rest of the way, stumbling in and gesturing for Coulson to follow.

"<Come in, Phillip Coulson. Have a cup of coffee, at least. You look as though you could use it as much as I can.>"

No sooner does the door shut than she's tossed her gloves onto the endtable, stumbling to the mantle to reach up and adjust the framed photographs. Once that's done, she stumbles back to the loveseat, crumpling into it and scrubbing at her face in the manner of one completely exhausted.

"Ugh." Isa gives a soft sound of disgust and fatigue, rubbing at her face as though to jog some kind of life back into it. "<Alright. I will do that. And… thank you,>" she adds, looking up and fixing Coulson with that single dark-ringed eye. "<For everything. Do not think that I have not noticed you were allowing me to choose my missions, Phillip Coulson; it is too much an oddity to me to not notice. I would never have been given such operational freedom where I came from.>" A flicker of a smile crosses her face, even though it's a little wan. "<And the effort you have expended until now. I appreciate that you have not given up on me, or on Mikhail Nikolayevich.>"

"<We are grateful, even if he is not here to say that for himself.>"

He hesitates, does Phil, but he could in fact use the coffee, and Isa brews a pretty good cup. He follows her in, only to watch her crumple into the loveseat. <"I think coffee is the last thing you need,"> he says gently. <"What you need is sleep. But if you insist, just stay there and I'll brew you a cup. I think I can figure out how to work a coffee machine.">

She gives him her heartfelt thanks, and all he does is give a slight smile. <"It's just effort right now. I'd sooner you thank me when I've actually achieved some results."> The words are spoken in a mild and modest tone. <"And the truth is this has gone beyond personal favors to a valued team member, Raisa Ivanovna. Your rabbit has gotten ensnared in something so big that SHIELD can't help but respond now. I believe we'll start to understand how big when we've hit this facility, but…it's certainly big enough for a four-way conflict at this point.">

It's just not in his nature to accept credit if he does not feel that the credit is due to him, and in this case, he does not.

Sleep would be a wonderful thing, but it isn't always the refreshment to her that it is to other people. Stress is a fact of her life. As a result, her dreams are often plagued by nightmares, with either fire or losing her husband at the top of that list. Even when she's given time off, she always looks a little bit haggard.

"<It is all in the kitchen.>" With all that said, she's exhausted, and she can feel how far it drags her down. The past week has been spent ferrying SHIELD's finest all across the globe. Between the changing time zones and the gruelling hours, she's ready to drop. "<I am sure that you can figure it out. Call me if you cannot and I will do it.>"

It's pretty easy, though. Especially with the big green button that says 'brew' on it.

"<My rabbit.>" The pilot grins sourly to herself, even though she's holding her head in her hands. "<Oh, yes, he is certainly a rabbit. I do not think he will be expecting me to call him that. Too bad for him. He has earned it.>"

She can hardly fault the man for running like a rabbit, but it seems to her that he's always fled at the most inopportune and inconvenient times. Sooner or later, things will reach the point of no return, and he'll run right into a trap.

"<It seems my husband's actions are significant enough to cause an international incident.>" She heaves a sigh. "<Ahhh, Misha. You idiot. What did you do?>"

The question is rhetorical. Mikhail Nikolayevich is not here to answer it.

Apparently Coulson's statement is enough to set reality to sinking in. Isa can only shake her head at the sheer scale. What did he do to get so many different factions tripping over themselves to kill him – or her? What did he do that made them want to kill him in the first place? It had to be something truly spectacular. That her former superiors are after him is of no surprise to her. It's the other two that are a riddle, and how both Hydra and Icarus could fit into this is beyond her.

Isa reaches up to run fingers through her hair, looking up and eyeing Coulson. It's not a very big apartment; the boundary line between the kitchen and the living room is no more than a high counter with two unremarkable bar stools. Coulson, and the top of her coffee maker, are clearly visible.

"<And that is why I said you may call me 'Raya,'>" the pilot points out, matter-of-factly. "<You have earned that right, I would say. There are not many I would want to do that. And never in mixed company, of course. I have a reputation to keep. But I do not mind.>"

Phil Coulson routinely handles alien technology and cutting edge doo-dads that the average Man on the Street hasn't concieved of yet. He can, indeed, figure out how to work a coffee maker with a big green 'Brew' button on it. He even remembers precisely how Raisa likes hers. He fixes hers first, then goes back to get one of his own, listening to her muse about her husband's foolishness. The fact that the apartment is so small and compact is nice, allowing for conversation between them.

He kind of remains in the kitchen while she says that, pulling out his own coffee. He puts in enough milk, cream, and sugar to make it practically a cafe au lait, save for the fact that it's cafe au lait done wrong. The true stuff involves gently heating the milk and dissolving the sugar inside of it before adding it to the coffee, but he is too impatient to get the coffee in his mouth.

"I'm glad," he says, too tired to stick to Russian for now, even though it might be a kindness. He keeps his voice pitched low. "I am glad I did not overstep. I consider you a friend, Raisa Ivanovna, and the last thing I want to do is make you feel uncomfortable in any way. It felt right in that moment, but—I think I'll be careful how I use it just the same. Just because one can do something…" Here, a kind smile. "Does not mean one should."

"<You remembered.>" Isa raises an eyebrow when the coffee given to her is exactly the way she would make it. She wraps her fingers around the mug, settling more comfortably into the seat and eyeing it. "<I did not think you would remember how I take my coffee, but you are a thorough man, Phillip Coulson. Good. I do not mind taking orders from someone who pays attention to details. Details are very important.>"

Trust her to focus on the smallest details when it comes to her work. She's been developing a reputation among the flight crews as a demanding taskmistress, and she's also been known to inspect every square inch of an aircraft personally. Details are important, because in her line of work, details might mean the difference between life and death at supersonic speeds.

She shakes her head, tilting her head and sighing, red hair spilling over her shoulder. Too tired to speak in English, she sticks to her native Russian. "<And I consider you a friend, Phillip Coulson,>" she adds, tilting her head a little further to eye him. There's an openness to her regard. Perhaps she's too tired to be evasive or defensive. "<Which is why I say that I do not mind.>"

There's a short pause, and the pilot smiles, tiredly. "<I am not made of glass, Phillip Coulson. You do not need to worry. It is true that I am under a great deal of stress, and I am worried about my fool of a husband. I am worried about what circumstance is turning him into… he was never a thief, and he was never a liar. But he is turning into both. I do not know what to do.>" Her hand rises to rub at her temple.

"<I am afraid to see him again. Will he be the same man I married? Is he now? I do not know. I have seen him steal, and where one steals, one also lies. I am sure that is not far behind.>" Isa cradles her coffee mug in her hands, and there's something approaching vulnerability in the slope of her shoulders. "<I want to see him again. I ache to see him again; it is a physical pain, more than I can describe. But at the same time… I am afraid to.>"

He blinks when she comments on his remembrance of how she takes her coffee. He smiles a little— "It's my job to remember. If you suddenly take your coffee in a different way, for example, it could mean you've been replaced by some sort of clone or robot decoy or enemy agent with a holotransmitter—"

Yep, this is his world. He stops rambling about it though, focusing his intense hazel eyes upon her as she discusses her worries about her husband. His face softens a little. "Isa—Raya."

He pauses again. There are many things he doesn't like about Makarov, but mostly they're tactical things; he is irritated beyond belief that the man left a safe, comfortable haven to go bounce around New York City, making himself a moving target, sure, but making himself a visible one. New York City is huge, and there literally would have been no reason at all to connect Makarov to an apartment owned by Finley, LLC, a little company created on paper to be Phil's lease holder so the name Phillip Coulson would not appear anywhere at all.

But he has to set Isa straight on some things, namely the nature of the game her husband is playing. "Your husband is engaged in a deadly game of International espionage. He's doing clumsy, untrained spy work, but he's doing what he has to in order to survive. I don't know what his initial mistake was, the one that set him on this path. That could have been very well-meaning, or it could have been awful. But I don't think you should judge him too harshly for the things he's doing to survive. Any one of my agents would do the same in his shoes. I'd hope you'd do the same in his shoes. I'd hope you'd do it better, because I hope if you ever find yourself in that position you'll have absorbed enough from me to go even deeper underground…"

"But I'd hope that you'd do it, because I would want you to survive."

"<While that is an amusing story, I do not think I believe you. I believe you remember details like that because it is in your nature to be considerate, even if you are doing work like this.> Isa studies him, single blue eye subdued as she sips at her coffee. "<If that is what you need to believe, though, I will not hold it against you, yes?>"

She settles more comfortably in her seat, pulling herself marginally more upright. "<My husband is involved in a deadly game of international espionage, but the problem is that he does not know what he is doing, no more than I do. I will not be so arrogant as to say I would do better. I have not. I am lucky my actions did not get me killed before I ever left Russia.>"

"<I am sure I could have been. I did not sleep since leaving Moscow; I did not sleep even when I reached New York City. I did not sleep, not really, until I rented my apartment in the Bronx.>" What a write-off. At this point she's ready to toss that grubby little hovel, because anybody who's somebody has already gotten what they need out of the place. "<There were plenty of opportunities for someone to kill me,>" she comments, as off-handedly as though she were discussing the day's forecast. "<I have been careless. Mikhail Nikolayevich is being even more careless.>"

She shrugs, carefully. "<But I can only imagine what kind of strain he must be under. Probably he has not slept, or eaten well, for a long time.>"

The redhead flushes, though the colour only touches the unscarred side of her face. "<Yes? You would?>" She doesn't look directly at him. "<It seems I cannot stop trying to survive, no matter how much a misery it is to live. I do not know why. It has always been that way. But…>"

"<It is good to know there are others who care.>" Her admission is given softly. "<Phillip Coulson, I think…>"

There's a long pause, and she studies him thoughtfully. There's something almost detached in the tilt of her head, and the way her single eye is half-lidded. Whatever she's thinking, though, she seems content to keep it to herself. Indeed, she seems almost troubled by it. Isa lets her breath out between her teeth, frowning unhappily.

"<That is true,>" she begins, almost in a rush in the manner of someone nervous, "<that may be so, and he may be doing what he is doing to survive. But I do not know. I could not see him doing such things, normally. I… I am afraid to see him again, Phillip Coulson, and I do not know what I would find. Perhaps he and I have grown apart, and the thing I have loved so long has been only a memory, a dream; something that is not real.>"

Pain flickers across her features, and she drops her eye, looking away from Coulson. "<I am not so sure that I have the strength to survive losing him one more time, even if he is not dead; even if it is only that we have grown apart, as people will do when they no longer see one another so frequently.>"

"<Phillip Coulson, may I confide in you a secret…?>"

Phil gives that little bit of a gentle half-smile that he gives when he's genuinely touched by something. It comes with levels of self-depriciation. It comes when she says he's considerate. It's the only reaction he'll give. He sips at his coffee, his eyes tightening in sympathy as she points out the man is exhausted and scared. He probably shouldn't be so hard on Makarov, really.

He does care, but to acknowledge that here and now might be a bridge too far.

She starts getting nervous, and for half a moment he thinks now is the time to gently excuse himself, to let her pull herself together. There are undercurrents here.

But she is in pain, she is worried, she is confused; she needs to confide in someone, and has precious few others she can confide in. He chooses his words, his reactions, carefully. In the end he finds he really only needs two. His tone is as gentle as his eyes, his face reveals, as ever, quite little, really. "I'm listening," he says. The words are quietly spoken as well, there is gravity to all of this that must be acknowledged in how he handles it. She has, however, his undivided attention. He leans there with the counter serving as an effective divide between them, looking at her like there isn't anyone else alive in the world right now.

I'm listening, the agent says, and Isa looks down, as though to hide her reaction by the spill of red hair across the side of her face. In truth, it takes her a moment to compose herself. She's exhausted, as exhausted as she's ever been, and some distant part of her knows that preys on her ability to judge soundly.

"<I am afraid, Phillip Coulson. You already know that, but you do not know why. Even if Mikhail Nikolayevich has grown away from me, grown apart; even if we are alike to two strangers, now, that is as frightening to me as it would be if he had been killed.>" She lifts her eyes, looking to the framed photograph on the mantle. "<Some might say we were not married long enough for such a bond, but the truth is that we were together for many years before that. I have known him for thirteen years, though perhaps for the last five, I have not really known him any longer.>"

"<But my point is this: I am as terrified of losing him because we have drifted apart as I am if he were to be shot tomorrow.>" Isa fiddles with her coffee cup, turning it in her hand and thinning her lips. "<I am afraid. But I am not necessarily afraid of losing him, as terrible as that sounds, because he has already been gone from me for the last five years of my life, and I think when I have needed him the most.>"

Her eye darts away from him, and for a moment she looks almost vulnerable. "<When I fell from the sky, burning, I learned something, Phillip Coulson. I learned that no matter how terrible one's life, there is always cause for it to be worse. There is always something more that can happen. I learned, in my case, that those things can happen to me – and I can endure them completely and wholly alone.>"

"<I discovered that I am terrified of that. Of being alone. I do not care if I am struck from the sky, burning, again. It will be frightening. But it will not be as frightening, to me, as being alone is.>"

Why is she telling him this?

"<But… please forgive me. I am sorry. I am imposing on your considerate nature,>" she sighs, softly. "<I do not know what to do, but in the end, that is my problem to solve, not yours.>"

"<Even if… I do not know what I will find.>"

Phil hesitates. He hesitates for a long time. It might appear as though she's all but frozen him with her apologies. He is unreadable again, serious, but unreadable.

Finally he hesitates, then comes over to sit down beside her, coffee forgotten. He keeps a respectful distance, but he wants to look into her good eye. He switches back to Russian. <"While there are always ways in which things can become worse, the great and glorious mystery of life is that there are always ways in which it might become better. I do not know what will happen with you and Mikhail Nikolayevich. In many ways, this is up to the both of you to decide, and it's too early to worry about it yet, because nothing is resolved yet.">

<"It is natural to fear. It's even okay to fear. But in so doing, you musn't close yourself to the possibility that things may also come out even better than you might expect. Life rarely serves us what we think we're going to get.">

A little smile crosses his lips. <"And you have to marshal your energy a bit, when it comes to all this worry. Try to deal with what's in front of you today. You can't do anything about tomorrow, and yesterday has passed. In the immortal words of Tom Petty…'Most things that I worry about never happen anyway.'">

She is spared the indignity of listening to him try to sing that to her, but he quotes the song lyric as if it's a bit of poetry.

For a brief instant, it almost seems as though those apologies were too much for the agent. Isa looks over her shoulder to Coulson, quirking her brow in an expression of worried expectancy. Everything okay over there?

He eventually reboots his brain and makes his way to the loveseat, sitting down beside her, and she notes he does so without his coffee.

Also, he speaks in Russian, which is a detail she appreciates.

"<Forgive me, Phillip Coulson, if I have learned not to look on the brighter side of things.>" Her statement is dry, but not entirely bitter. It's true that she was an optimistic woman once upon a time. Such a trait is like riding a bicycle; faded, but never truly forgotten. "<I have lost too much, in too short a time, to want to believe in the best. It is easier to expect the worst, and then I am not disappointed when the best does not come to pass.>"

She looks down, regarding her coffee with her eye half-hooded. One hand swills the mug a little. "<Maybe that is so.>"

Gradually, her head rises. She looks up to the agent, and her worries and anxieties are clear in that single blue eye.

"<Yes, maybe that is so. But I do not think I could survive having my heart broken again, Phillip Coulson. I am afraid to take that risk. To see what he has become over the years. For him to see what I have become.>" She drops her gaze, drawing in a deep breath and sighing. "<There is no easy solution. Few things worth effort are easy, but this… I am tired of hard answers. I am tired of being lonely. So tired.>"

"<Whoever said it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all,>" she murmurs, swilling her mug around, "<I would dearly love to punch his teeth in, I think.>"

<"You need sleep,"> Phil says gently, reaching out to try to pull the coffee cup out of her hands. <"You have lost much, and you're tough as nails, and you're still alive, which means things can get better. Look, you're here. You're flying some of the best jets in the world. You've got friends, people who care about you. Makarov will fit into all of that, or he won't…but try not to drive yourself crazy. It's easy to start writing scripts in your head, to start having the arguments before he's here to have them with you. Thing is, if you don't let him have his side of the argument before you've had it 100 times in your own head, you might miss out on what you want, and that would be a shame. In the mean time, you're not alone anymore, and that means something.">

It all seems like such cold, inadequate comfort when he says it out loud, and he smiles ruefully. It's all still true. But he knows he can only give her so much. If he's not careful he'll complicate things for her, snarl her right up, and that wouldn't be fair.

If she lets him take the cup he'll move it to the coffee table. Then he switches back to English, standing. "Now seriously. Get some rest. That's an order. Nothing looks right when you're tired."

Isa looks down as the coffee mug is gently prised out of her hands, but she doesn't make any kind of move to stop it. Her fingers release almost automatically and her eye tracks it half-heartedly to the table.

"<Yes, that is true. I know all of that. But I am not safe, either, Phillip Coulson. I have not been safe for a long time. I do not know if I will ever be safe after what I have done. I have humiliated some very important people in Moscow. They will not soon forget that they have been humiliated by my actions.>" The red-headed pilot shakes her head slowly. "<Maybe I am too afraid of the things that have not happened, but that is what has kept me alive, I think.>"

"<It is in my nature to worry.>" It's cold comfort indeed, knowing that she will go to bed tonight, sleep alone, and wake in the morning to face the day's trials alone. Once upon a time she had a confidant she could trust in, a friend, a companion. Someone with whom she shared part of her very soul. To have that ripped away from her was more than devastating; it's something she's only just begun to recover from, five years later. "<And I am worried about him, too. He is lost, he is frightened, he is probably hungry and tired and cold. Perhaps also he is in pain. I do not want to know that he is feeling these things. I want to stop them, and there is nothing I can do, because he is too frightened to allow anyone to help him.>"

She sighs, rubbing at her forehead when he orders her to get some rest. That single blue eye watches Coulson as though she were weighing whether or not she could win an argument with him. If she were more alert, she would absolutely argue that order. Isa Reichert's stubbornness is beginning to garner a reputation throughout the Triskelion, for those few that interact with her on a somewhat regular basis.

"<…Fine.>" But he wins, for tonight, if only because she knows that he's speaking the truth. "<You win, Phillip Coulson. I will rest.>"

Isa manages a faint smile, but it seems more rueful than anything else when taken with the shadow beneath her eye.

"<I am lucky to have a friend like you. Mikhail Nikolayevich once told me I did not look after myself, sometimes. It is good to have someone who does.>" Pushing herself to her feet and gripping the back of the love seat to keep from wavering, she reluctantly turns toward the tiny corridor that leads to the only slightly smaller bedroom. "<Stay as long as you like. Have more coffee, if you yourself do not go to sleep somewhere. I trust you will show yourself to the door when you are finished.>"

She pauses halfway toward the threshold, looking over her shoulder to eye him. For a moment she almost seems on the verge of saying something else, frowning thoughtfully. It's a long moment that she stays like that, almost melancholy, hesitating long after the point where it might have been inconsequential. She's considering something important. It's just hard to say what.

Eventually she can only shake her head, looking somehow smaller than usual. "<Phillip Coulson, you are a good man.>"

That's all she says as she turns on her heel, heading for the back of the apartment as promised. She'll trust him to show himself out, whether in five minutes or fifty. She won't begrudge him however long he chooses to stay; she, for all her exhaustion at the moment, knows that his lifestyle is the more exhausting of the two. Always running, always doing, perhaps because he has a restless conscience, or perhaps because he strives for perfection. Whatever it is, it's a blessing to those under his command and in his trust. It's humbling beyond measure that he has put this much effort into her own situation.

"<Good night, Phillip Coulson.>" Her parting comes softly from the hall. "<Be careful.>"

It's true that she doesn't know that she could survive anything happening to her husband, estranged as they've been for the past five years. At the same time, though… she isn't sure she could stomach seeing anything happen to Coulson at this point, either.

<"Good night,"> Phil says gently, saying absolutely nothing else to all these other words she's offered up to him. There is much that should, perhaps, be said; she showers him with both her fears and her compliments, and what little he has to offer verbally almost seems ridiculous in the face of these things.

Phil Coulson should leave this instant.

He really should. There's her professional reputation to consider. And his. There's all those undercurrents. There are just a lot of reasons why he shouldn't stay one iota longer than this. But she is alone, and she hates being alone. He remembers her, vulnerable and scared, asking him to stay at the hospital.

He watches the door, picking up her coffee, taking it to the sink. He stalls a moment by doing the scant dishes, drying them, putting them aside. This gentle clinking might serve to keep her awake, and he tries to keep it to a bare minimum. He watches the door as he does. Then he heaves a sigh, because he can't bring himself to walk through it.

He instead settles himself on the love seat. People will always talk, and that doesn't make what they're saying true. And certainly there are dozens of agents running in and out of each other's quarters all the time, really. And as long as it doesn't become a problem he doesn't much care, and neither does anyone else. And since it's not like that…

Since it's not like that, he removes his shoes. And he settles down on the love seat, where he will soon doze off, and then go to sleep.

He doesn't know if he's a good man, because a good man might well have left. But it doesn't seem good to him to leave her completely alone tonight either, not as distraught as she is, not as exhausted as she is. Not as afraid as she is, this woman who needed eleven deadbolts, and, later, a biometric scanner just to feel even marginally safe in a place that should offer penultimate safety.

It's a bridge too far, and he knows it. But he sleeps lightly on the couch all the same. She'll find him there, curled up uncomfortably but resting deeply, whenever she wakes up again in the morning, his suit growing rumpled in the night.

Notably, the pilot does not bother to close the door of her bedroom. She's not used to having very much privacy, and hasn't established herself as someone who really expects it. So, the agent may well hear the rustle of cloth; the sound of the pilot changing into something to sleep in, and the sound of bedding being moved.

Silence issues from the room. She hears his every movement, unable to sleep in spite of her exhaustion; hearing the clink of cheap standard-issue ceramic and the sound of running water.

If this has any bearing on her professional reputation, she doesn't care, or hasn't cared enough to say anything. There is no sudden appearance of the red-headed pilot. She does not bother to get up and fret about the implications.

The gossips and the rumour mill can go hang themselves as far as she's concerned.

Instead she hears the subtle creak of springs as Coulson arranges himself on a loveseat just slightly too small for him to lie comfortably on.

Right now, she's too exhausted to really grasp the ramifications of Coulson's choice. All she knows in her haze of fatigue is that there is an ally here, and that she doesn't need to fret so much so long as he stays there. After all, what harm could come to her as long as a Level Eight Agent is in her apartment?

More importantly, how could any harm come to her when someone who has consistently gone to bat for her so many times, risked his neck under so many different circumstances, stays right there…?

If Coulson checks in on her in the night, perhaps to make sure she stays where she says she will, he'll find the pilot sleeping the deep sleep of the truly exhausted. There's a peace about her features that isn't there in the waking world. It's the release of one's troubles and worries; the sleep of someone who is, at least for the time being, feeling secure and at ease.

Well, as close to at ease as Isa Reichert can come, anyway.

He might find the faintest hint of a smile on her face, too, because he's made it clear that no matter what happens, she isn't alone.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 License