The Protection of Wheat

May 20, 2017:

In which Isa Reichert is visited by Rusalka Stojespal, after her arrival in SHIELD's medical facilities. Takes place after "5838: Toward the Boundary Line."

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.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Melinda May, Phil Coulson, Sloane Albright, Tony Stark

Mood Music: None.


Fade In…

Thanks to the nature of those in its employ, the Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division has some of the most scientifically advanced medical facilities in the world. There are a few private organisations that might hope to match close to what they use, but as far as publicly extant corporations go, they're the most bleeding edge.

It's normal for agents to be ferried in and out of here for medical treatment. The level of technology devoted to healing injuries is phenomenal. They have the capacity to sustain injury far and away more severe than the average civilian, so it's vital that their ability to mend wounds keep up with them.

Isa Reichert left her apartment clad in a SHIELD flight suit and carrying a pressure helmet under her arm a little over twenty-six hours ago. She hasn't returned since.

It's not unusual for her to disappear for days at a time on the job, but some other agents living down the hall had commented on the recent news. Something about Coulson, and also about his pilot being shot down the previous night, rushed to the emergency medical facilities.

She hadn't returned to her quarters by that morning.

Word eventually gets around to the Stojespal heiress about what happened to the pilot living next door to her, by rumour or by direct inquiries. Whatever source she finds is even kind enough to tell her what room the wounded pilot is in.

Over in the tower housing the Triskelion's medical facilities, the racing enthusiast will find her red-haired neighbour in a ward room that seems a point or two nicer than the other ordinary ward rooms.

Isa Reichert looks alarmingly fragile in a thin hospital gown, with its the blanket draped over her. At the moment, she's unconscious, but her sleep doesn't look particularly restless, so she must be close to waking. Some orderly has been kind enough to comb her hair for her.

Without being able to see clearly beneath the blanket, it looks like the surface tally of her injuries is a sizable list – a bandage over her head, a sling over her left arm, casting around her shoulder on the same side, and the clear form of a cast over her left leg. That's not including all the bandaging for the broken ribs, the fracture in her other arm, or the lacerations where twisted and broken metal had scoured one arm where the cockpit had been staved in.

In all, she looks like a mess. Her breathing is laboured, and carries a wracking quality to it.

It does not look like she's had a particularly good twenty-four hours.

…At all.

Even if she hasn't heard any kinds of rumours on the street or sought anything else out herself, she would have heard it in the data being forwarded her way. Intelligence has been issued to her involving aircraft of a strange design; drones based on multi-billion dollar fighter jet designs, and one that looks like it integrates a cockpit. Eventually she might have heard from second-hand or third-hand parties that the one-eyed pilot, for all her skill, had been shot down over Russia and dragged back to the infirmary by an irate Phil Coulson and stoic Melinda May.

The identity of the recon photo's aircraft is hard to say. There's light reflecting off his pressure suit helmet's visor.

Oooooh boy.

And now it's time for a strange magic trick - open sesame. Fortunately her badge, despite being nearly as junior a ranking as it gets and only one step above 'visitor,' gets her into the medical ward. Rusalka had heard rumors that started to spiral about Phil and a failed mission, or maybe a successful one, where maybe everyone was lost and where maybe not every aircraft returned. The truth was that Phil's four-man infiltration team had returned, everyone breathing. Not all the Quinjets, though. And at least one of his team wasn't doing anything more than breathing.

Granted she'd gotten used to Isa occasionally being away - SHIELD business, or maybe just flying Phil to his island getaway in Tahiti. It didn't matter; she'd still passed plenty of time with her best friend. When Isa was around, the trio was together, which is what really mattered. Now, it seems that that may not be the case anymore, and old feelings start to well up.

The Stojespal heiress finally arrives at the right room, the Russian redhead alone for the time being but heavily monitored. There's the soft beeping of various machinery that keeps the older woman alive and sedated, but there's this gaunt weakness to her that shocks Sally badly.

It's reminiscent of seeing her father's body, an empty and hollow shell. It's also reminiscent of nightmares she's had about her mother, as well. To be confronted with it gives the girl a gasp of fear, and a nervous flutter of hands - there's nothing she can do, what can she do, she has to stop this - before she can swallow her fear and try to hold it down. It would not be well to lose her composure anywhere, especially here.

Instead, Sally just slides one chair next to the bed, settling in to wait and watch. The silence aside from the medical machinery is almost calming, and she glances to the door - there's no sign of a nurse, and she can't hear anyone coming by anytime soon. So in an act that even a week ago would have been unthinkably dumb, she reaches one hand over Isa's body, and rests a small single sprig of wheat on her chest. Short, ripe, and golden; it's so curiously rustic and ancient a gesture that it's entirely uncharacteristic of the modern engineer.

A lot can change in a week.

The pilot remains still when her younger friend pads into the ward room and settles into a chair at the bedside. Judging by the silence, it seems Isa may not wake in spite of the disturbance, although something in her face is still troubled. Her sleep seems to be anything but restful.

A few seconds after Rusalka leaves the sheaf of wheat over her heart, Isa jerks awake with a shudder and a sharp, ragged intake of breath that sets her to coughing wetly; so severely that she has to lever herself up on an elbow to keep from choking. It's a long moment before she's able to breathe again, and when she lets herself sag back to the bed, it's obvious that even that short incident has drained her strength.

Her voice, when she speaks, is reedy and weak. "Devushka." Yet Isa still manages the faintest hint of a smile on her unscarred side, blue eyes dull from pain and drugs. "<I was not… expecting a visit from you. Make yourself… comfortable.>" With effort, she flicks a hand, casually. "<I may be here… a while… I think.>"

At least Rusalka's not clomping around in Doc Martens or anything; she's actually left her flats at the door to the room and is walking quietly in socks. Jeans and a Columbia University sweater; it's one of New York's rare cooler days in May. Not supposed to last, but such is the fickle beast that runs the weather.

She can see the woman's face, contorted - pain? Probably not, with the pile of IVs going into…well, wherever they can, with Isa's arms in casts. Bad dreams, perhaps? Or something else. It doesn't matter, after a few seconds she shoots upright choking on something. Sally's instantly at her side, one hand slipping under her shoulders to help support her while the other tries to keep various medical bits from coming off. "Isa! Are you -" The tablet she'd been working on slips to the floor forgotten, its hologram display still projecting just above its surface.

The pilot seems to be alright, for highly questionable values of alright, and when her weight sags against Sally's hand she helps lower her back down. And then Sally's recognized, and smiles a little brushing an errant strand of hair from her face. "Welcome back, starshaya sestra." Whoops, English; she's gotten too used to it. A quick mental change of gears puts her back into Sokovian-accented Russian, the tones almost rustic as far as Isa would hear.

"<You don't say.>" This to the Russian woman's assessment of her future. "<If I had to judge you'd be here forever; you're almost a mummy. And hmpf, how can you say such a thing?>" A regal sniff of disdain. "<Of course I would visit a friend who'd been so hurt. Or should I ignore the mere suffering of the proletariat, anyway?>" Why yes she still has a mouth, it seems…

Settling back in her chair, she scoops the tablet back up, making sure she hadn't broken it - but Stark Industries makes tougher things than that. "<What…what the hell happened to you, you lunatic?>"

There's an instinctive shudder as Isa feels hands moving to support her, drawing away from the younger Stojespal with the violence of deep-rooted instinct. This is a woman who abjectly does not like to be touched; a woman whose dislike of such uninvited contact almost seems phobic. There's a silent apology that flickers through her eye when she realises how sharply she had reacted, though, bowing her head slightly.

"<I am… fine, Sally Petrovna. Do not… worry.>" Isa's smile is so wan that it probably isn't very reassuring. "<Thank you… little sister. It is good… to be back.>"

She must not be feeling well. She lets those jabs at her age slide, and the jabs about the proletariat. "<Life,>" Isa observes, voice thin and reedy. "<That is what has… happened to me. May I… ask a favour? I would like… a cup… of ice, if that is not… too much trouble.>"

"<I flew… for a mission… Agent Coulson led to Russia. They shot first. I did… what I could to minimise the damage. I could not… eject from my aircraft without endangering the others.>" Her eye slides to half-mast, an expression of regret. "<I had already lost a turbine. Agent May was supporting my quinjet with hers. Incredible piloting… but it was not enough.>"

She coughs, wetly, wracking and horrific-sounding, but comes back to herself a few seconds later. "<I had to disengage. The engine exploded at that point, and one of the fuel tanks ruptured. The best I could hope for… was an emergency landing in the snow.>"

Sally doesn't know of Isa's fear of touch, or her personal rules about close space - the last time they'd talked, it had been the older woman to reach out and ruffle her hair. When the redhead flinches as Sally supports her, she chalks it up instead to pain - which is, all things considered, an understandable assumption. Considering how much of Isa is covered in bandages, a sudden coughing movement like that would be plenty to shake things that shouldn't be shaken.

Once she's relaxed and laid back down in bed, the girl retreats, giving the space Isa craves. <"Fine? You have fantastic definitions thereof. Are you sure you did not smash your head that much harder?>" Fine, really! But then Sally's face cracks into a smile, and she nods. "<It's good to see you back, as well. It would have been nice under better circumstances, though. Life, eh?>" That gets an eyebrow raised, before Isa makes her request.

"<Certainly. A moment.>" Eschewing her shoes, she slips out of the room in socks, returning less than a minute later with a foam cup pilfered from the nurse's station. She glances at Isa's arms, the cast and sling around her left shoulder and her right wrapped in a pressure bandage for the fracture there. "<Ssh. Sip gently. One piece.>" The cup is lifted to Isa's mouth, enough for her to get a piece in to help her talk - and then it's time to listen.

And that tale that is told is a brutal one indeed. She can picture it, with May flying below Isa's aircraft, but the picture of the quinjet going down with her friend at the controls, unable to do anything…Sally's eyes close, and she pictures it - along with the memory of a hundred films of racing crashes, cars bursting into flame and exploding into shards as they strike unyielding earth at the same speeds as Isa's dying quinjet. She knows well what happens in such events…and she knows that Isa has been through them before. It's what gave the half-gargoyle her burned and destroyed face.

"<You are lucky, then…that this is all. That…>" That she was not once more splashed with burning fuel and debris, and turned into something even worse. There's a moment when Sally stands suddenly as Isa coughs, but her friend's breathing clears, and she continues. Listening lets Sally collect the sprig of wheat where it'd fallen from her friend's chest to the bed, and tuck it into a pocket.

A slow nod. "<Which you managed…barely, it seems, to survive. I am glad.>" Cobalt blue meets sky blue, one gaze as intent as the other is drugged and faded. "<I would not…wish to say goodbye to a friend made so soon.>"

"<I have been injured many times in the course of duty,>" Isa murmurs, eye closing for a moment as though even that much speech had cost her. "<It has taught me to lower my standards. I do not mind if I am in some pain. Pain and I; we are old friends, very old acquaintances. Pain has never been a surprise for me. Merely an obstacle for one to muscle through.>"

She looks down as something catches her eye. A sheaf of wheat, left balanced neatly over her heart. With undue care, she reaches up and takes the thing, fingers trembling as she tries to grasp it between them to examine it. What is this-oh, that superstitious nonsense.

It doesn't feel much like nonsense right now, though. Her fingers curl around the gift, and she closes her eye for a moment.

"<Thank you for your gift.>"

Sally hits the corridor to find a cup of ice, and comes back with more of the same. They were an unspeakable relief when a nurse gave them to her as relief from dry mouth. Idly pushing one around from one side of her mouth to the other, she sighs, shoulders sagging a little. "<Thank you, Sally Petrovna.>" There is an unsteadiness in her voice; the tone of one utterly humbled by such a small kindness.

She doesn't argue as Sally takes the sheaf of wheat, hands limp at her sides. Her eye half-closes. "<Yes. I was lucky. I do not remember when I have felt so badly, except when this happened.>" Isa gestures weakly to indicate the right side of her face; there is no eyepatch, either, half-hidden by her hair but visible. "<I do not think I would like to… say goodbye to a friend… made so soon, either. And…>" Here a half-smile flickers across the unscarred half of Isa's face. "<I have not… yet taken you flying.>"

To the idea of lowered standards, Sally just sighs. "<I suppose so, but…you know, I prefer not being in pain. Perhaps it's simply a Russian thing; thankfully Sokovia has no such strange cultural attachments.>" Hardly serious; she's just teasing a friend on a similar-but-different background. "<I am simply glad to be young enough to not have gone through that, myself. You look a wreck, in all honesty. Hrm.>" She leans down to glance over the chart hanging from the sign of the bed, pronouncing the words carefully - medicine loves Latin.

English, for a moment. "Fractured left metatarsal extremity, dislocated clavi-…it says you are old and busted." Sally perks back up with a grin, holding up the tablet and its technical display for a moment. "<So I suppose you will need help for a while, and well…it is not as if I am working on new engines for Mr. Stark, or scheduled to learn how to use a gun, or other such things. I have time.>"

She reddens a little at the thanks, since she knows Isa's feelings towards such superstition. For much of her life she'd shared those feelings; then she'd found out that Tony Stark has a demigoddess of …chaos? destruction? something? locked up in his basement and that magic is totally a thing. So maybe her world's been a little upended, and she's sticking with her baba's feelings. She doesn't worship the wolf goddess…but that doesn't mean Sally thinks she isn't real. Not anymore. "<You're welcome. May she watch over you as you heal, Isa.>"

And then Isa smirks, and Rusalka just can't help but cross her arms and snort derisively. "<I am not so sure I should take you up on that. I would like to be able to climb out of the aircraft properly parked on the ground, not…like some New Yorker's junker car, stuffed wherever you might feel like it and up against whatever happens to be there! I demand a solemn oath that this will be your last time landing a plane that doesn't involve a trip to the body and fender shop for its pilot.>"

There's a flicker of annoyance at being described in such disrespectful terms, but there's a comfortable camraderie at the act. Sally is lying about assaulting Isa's age, and Isa knows that Sally is lying, and the two go through with it anyway. It's a bizarre twist of Russian culture, this affable lying – sometimes to fit within the boundaries of authority, and sometimes because it is simply a comfortable routine.

In the pilot's case, it falls into the latter. There's something about Rusalka's spark and with that she approves of and admires. Maybe she sees a little of herself in the girl.

"<I feel like a wreck,>" Isa comments. "<I am sure also that I must look like a wreck. I suppose, if you are wanting to be technical, I am a wreck.>"

There's a faint twitch of her eye at mention of Tony Stark.

"<That reminds me. The next time you speak with Mister Stark, may I trouble you to have him contact me? There is material that I must show him. We encountered something we cannot identify, and thought perhaps he might lend his familiarity with certain engineering precepts.>"

Sagging back a little, Isa's eye half-closes as it drifts to regard a middle distance somewhere by the wall. "<May she have sharper teeth than the hounds that harry me,>" the pilot breathes, exhausted.

…Just what is that supposed to mean?

"<I cannot make that promise to you, Sally Petrovna.>" Isa smiles, faintly, though there's a hint of melancholy in her expression. "<I feel I am living on borrowed time and borrowed luck. And I will not lie. The life of a SHIELD agent is sometimes dangerous. I can promise you that I will try,>" she offers. "<That is the best I can offer.>"

She lets her eye drift a little further closed. "<You said that your mother was in the Sokovian Air Force. Has she flown before, Sally Petrovna? I would like to hear more about her. A distraction would be welcome,>" she murmurs, the look in her eye distant, but still lucid, for the moment.

The Americans have a perfect word, 'snark.' In Sally's case, it is simply that - though there's also some admonition to Isa for letting herself get in such a bad shape. She's glad that the redhead's alive, but Sally would very much prefer it if Isa would be able to walk away on her own. There is, in the end, that shared spark of defiant amusement - in Sally's case, it's still a small fire but definitely burning.

"<A wreck indeed. It could be worse; I'm sure there are much less comfortable places to convalesce. At least you won't have to sit and watch Supernanny for the day,>" she adds cryptically. Though there's a lot of amusement in that particular statement.

Wait. isa wants to talk to Tony? For an instant Sally's not sure if she should call the attendant nurse, but then it's explained. "<I will, yes - once you are more able to receive visitors. You're half asleep as it is; perhaps you'll end up talking in your sleep and describing some fanciful flying monster.>" Grin. "<I will make sure he contacts you as soon as you are capable. I'm mostly sure he will not be hesitant to have me tag along again…>"

Sally leans back, turning her tablet back on, and looking things over a moment before glancing back up at Isa. "<The sharpest. And she is a giant creature, as well. More than enough for any mere hound. Aah, I sound like some old woman who hasn't even seen a radio before; just…>" Sigh. Worlds change around her, and it's hard to scrabble to keep up. "<I am sure you will be fine,>" the Sokovian finally says.

And then holds up a hand - "<Hold on now! I know it's dangerous, I simply wanted to make sure you weren't talking about such an insane ride. I wouldn't mind a proper flight around town…>" Smirk. Wide smirk. A smirk the likes of which her patron wolf goddess would admire. "<In one of your miraculous chicken-raptor-shaped Quinjets, if you don't mind.>"

Hey, if you're going to go for it, go all the way to the checkered flag.

"<My mother?"> The surprise question gets a blink, but then Sally nods, resting the tablet on the table. She's tired, though, and Sally can see it - perhaps talking has been enough effort for now. "<I suppose…well, let me see. My mother, Irja. She's strong, but…has been through a lot. Let's see, she joined the academy…>" Her voice trails off as she does the math. "<I was born in 1999, so it seems 1995 or so. It's been a longstanding thing, that many of our family have joined the military. We've all fought for Sokovia,>" she adds, leaving off the nasty details of that - a brutality that Isa hadn't wanted to hear.

"<Patriotism, pride, service, all of that. Not that I disbelieve such things, I just…it is tradition. And so my mother joined,>" Sally continues, steering back onto the right track. "<She did well. Graduated in the top third of her class, became commissioned, and joined as an administrative aide, but with the command career track. Not a pilot, but someone who might have one day worn stars and led the entire force.>"

Sally leans forward a bit, resting her elbows on her knees as she looks down. It's not shame, simply thinking back - giving Isa the whole story, and making sure to get the details right. "<She met my father Petro while still in the academy; it was something that Baba had arranged - our family had been allies with the Tereshchenko and it was something the family heads wished for. A union of blood, something to solidify things. They married in 1998, and he was a good father. But mother was so dedicated to the Air Force; she grew up hearing the stories of what happened in the past. And she began studying history, as well. I believe she intends to teach someday, if she leaves the service.>"

Ahem. She's babbling, but that voice can't help continue on. Maybe she needs to spill her guts a little, and bond with a friend like she hasn't since she'd first met Sloane. Sloane, who knows everything about Rusalka's past - practically a twin sister, and someone Sally would die for it if came to that. Isa too, now…she realizes she can't help but share that feeling with the Russian woman.

"<She did well…promoted through the ranks, rose to ability, but when father was murdered…she did not take it well. Relations with the Tereshchenko family became…strained.>" Outright destroyed, in honesty. "<And it weighed on her, so strong - and yet suddenly everything she'd been holding up collapsed around her anyway. Because of me, as well; my mother…had not reacted well, when provoked over something I had done. She struck a superior officer,>" Sally continues - a high crime indeed. "<But because of the situation, and the witnesses, she was spared the worst. Perhaps. Instead, her political career was a shambles. Reassigned…to 'nowhere.' A career-ending position, never to see a promotion board again.>"

"<I have been in worse hospitals in my time,>" Isa murmurs. "<Prototypes do not always fly true, you know, and sometimes I have had to improvise.>" Crashes were freakishly rare in her career, though. She had always seemed to get things back under control at just the right moment, seizing victory from the jaws of defeat.

There were crashes, though. Raisa Ivanovna Yakovleva is no stranger to physical pain any more than the pain of the spirit she has carried with her for so many years.

The pilot is fading a bit, even as she tries to follow the conversation quickly. She manages the faintest hint of a smile at Sally's description of Tony and her state of affairs. "<Very good; thank you. It is official… SHIELD business. We need… the capabilities of aircraft identified. He is… knowledgeable… very knowledgeable.>" Even if she wants to strangle him, most of the time.

Her eye slides half-closed, but it rolls back toward Rusalka as the younger woman describes the Sokovian Harvest Goddess. "<Ah… sharp teeth. Those are sometimes… very useful.>" Isa's blue eye slides closed for a moment. "<I am glad for that, then,>" she says, softly.

For a moment it almost seems as though she might have fallen asleep. She doesn't even rise to the bait of the chicken-raptor-shaped quinjet, although her eye does flicker briefly open to linger on Rusalka at that, mutely accusing.

They're not chickens.

"<I see…>" Isa's voice is soft, not much more than a failing breath. The medical equipment continues to beep in time to the tune of her vitals. "<Irja Stojespal sounds like a good woman.>" The patronymic is missing, because she does not know the name of Irja Stojespal's father. That particular feature was not retained by the Sokovian elite. "<A strong woman, and a skilled one. So she has not flown.>"

It sounds as though the woman had struggled against a broken heart, too, much as Isa herself once had. Her eye drifts a little further closed, something not just uncomfortable but wounded passing over her face, briefly. It's not a reaction to the pain – but some other hurt; something not half as visible as the ruin of scarring that ravages the right side of her body and face.

Without a concealing top on, her burn scars tell a much more complete tale of ruin. They run below her collar, and the way they follow from beneath her sleeve from elbow to fingertips suggests there's no break at her forearm or shoulder. The upper right portion of her torso is solid scarring.

The wound must have been absolutely horrific; the pain unspeakable.

Right now, though, going by how gingerly Isa moves when she troubles herself to move, it's more a matter of blunt trauma. Blunt trauma is incredibly painful.

"<She is lucky. Most are not given such an opportunity,>" Isa murmurs softly, just a little muzzy as the drugs begin slipping into her system. Given how much is broken, it's probably just as well she's not completely lucid. "<They disappear. Like my parents disappeared. Like Mikhail Nikolayevich disappeared.>"

Isa smiles, but the expression is wintry; the fire in her veins prompts her to speak without quite realising she's speaking. "<But I wonder now if he did that to himself.>"

"It is true of cars as well. Racing, especially. So much of those machines is unique, prototypes and test frames and such, all trying new technology. Some of it ends up in the public's hands, but…they're all handmade, one-off machines. Sometimes a prototype does well, sometimes…sometimes racing happens.>" And what seemed like a workable idea becomes a firey inferno claiming its driver, or sends the car careening into a wall at speeds no human should reach. So many times, racing has happened; even to people Rusalka has met.

And yet, just like Isa…they climb back into the cockpit, knowing that the limit is there only to be pushed further and harder. Sally decides she'll have to show a certain movie, someday.

The mention of shield business gets a wide-eyed reaction of surprise, then a cough…and Sally looking away nervously. "<I uh…I see. That… Well, I will let Mr. Stark know, certainly though I cannot…guarantee he will be terribly interested, at least…not for a little while.>" Is she blushing? She's blushing. "<There sort of might have been an…an incident recently…>"

Ahem. Yes! Moving on!

"<Yes, she is. She is my mother, and I love her. She is strong, though I worry…but yes, she has not flown,>" Sally finishes, changing course again. "<And…yes, I understand. Were it earlier, under the old regime…perhaps so. But it is not, and she still runs an airfield, just. It is not something she will likely come back from, I admit. A 'dead-end' position, for most people there.>" Sally frowns, then looks back at Isa. "<But I know she would like to meet you. You…once were an inspiration, I remember. A sign that things were changing, and for the good.>"

Sally's brow furrows when Isa continues, the words cryptic - she knows of the loss of Isa's husband, but… "<When his plane crashed, you mean…that he did it deliberately? If he thought you were dead…>" Perhaps it would have been a way to reunite. If not in this world, then in another.

The pilot is largely silent on the matter of cars and racing. She has never been an enthusiast of automobiles, although some pilots veered in that direction, craving speed even when their boots were in the dirt. Hers had been a more quiet craving, a silent gravitation back to the tarmac whenever she felt she needed to get back in touch with reality.

"<It does not matter whether or not Mister Stark is interested in this matter or not. I will have need of his cooperation, and I am willing to suffer through whatever inane thing he decides that he wants to have his cooperation.>" That quiet diatribe seems to be the limit of Isa's strength, and she sags back a little. Her brow quirks at mention of an incident. "<Incident? Mister Stark has not been harmed, has he…?>"

Oh, no. Icarus isn't going after people she's talked to, are they? That's the last thing she needs. Could they actually move that quickly? Does Makarov have a hand in it; has he been tracking her? Something cold turns in her stomach.

After a moment of effort she dismisses that fear, putting it away for the time being; too exhausted to concentrate on it or sustain it.

She does colour a little when Sally talks about being an inspiration. Her eye slides away from the girl, suddenly finding something in the corner more interesting to look at. Isa grumbles some half-hearted protest under her breath before looking back to Rusalka, softening a little. It's clear that Irja means much to her. "<Then I would not mind to meet with her.>"

"<Get permission from Agent Coulson, and perhaps you can bring her here, with a visitor's badge.>" Isa shakes her head very slowly and carefully. "<I do not think I will be going anywhere any time soon.>"

Her eye flicks back to Sally, as though she were calculating something. For a long, long moment she doesn't answer; the other might wonder if she even plans to.

"<No,>" she says, softly, expression slowly shifting until it's blank as stone. "<His aircraft shot first. He fired two missiles at my quinjet, knowingly, aware that I was doing the piloting.>" She shudders, face white, but whether in fear, revulsion, or rage, it's hard to say. "<I do not have a husband any more. Mikhail Nikolayevich has gone insane. I am not married to that…>"

She can't even come up with a word that describes her revulsion well enough.

Swallowing against a dry throat, Isa reaches for another ice chip, finishing that off before she tries to speak again.

"<He was piloting the other aircraft. A man who was supposed to be on the run. How did he go from New York City—>" Ah, the plot thickens, "<—to twenty miles outside of St. Petersburg so quickly? His supply of money is not inexhaustible. And how did he come to pilot that prototype? No. He is working for Icarus, I think. That is the aerospace company that has built the prototypes Agent Coulson would like you to study.>" She frowns. "<They were helping him. That is all I can think of.>"

It's a puzzle, but it's one she absolutely doesn't want to solve. She is certain as she has never been certain that if her fellow agents had not been there with her, she would not be alive.

Or she would be entangled in a fate so much worse than death to her, if he believed any iota of the things he was saying.

Isa shudders.

"<Icarus is a problem. I do not know what they are doing, what these things you and Mister Stark are to study must be, but I know it is dangerous. They must be stopped.>"

That blue eye lifts to regard Sally. "<And if it is the last thing that I do, Sally Petrovna, I will wipe them from the face of the map if it means protecting the innocents that their projects threaten. Those aircraft…>" She shudders again. "<Never before have I seen aircraft move like those. I could not have outrun them if Agent May had not been there… no. He knew I was alive. He was well aware of it. He wanted me to land, knowing that I would have had no choice once my aircraft had been so compromised.>"

It's alright; Rusalka happily forgives Isa her disinterest in ground-level speed. By rights, she's no pilot or terribly interested in what goes on at altitude, what with the whole 'gravity' thing. Then again, the idea of the quinjets does intrigue her - such a complicated thing, married into such a useful design. Yeah, she's interested in that at least.

Sally bites her lip when Isa asks The Question, though. And clears her throat nervously. Surreptitiously, her hand slides over to the nurse's call-button, just in case. "<Yes, there was…ah, he took me here, to the Triskelion, to examine some older technology. It…it turned out to be Agent Coulson's personal vehicle, that Mr. Stark has worked on, and added a lot of things to. And…I sort of unintentionally hit Mr. Stark, not very hard but where his rib was cracked, and some fruit…>" Ever the contrite girl, now. Her voice drops in shame, despite the comedic moment. "<Was spilled into the seats. Of a classic car, a beautiful vintage Corvette; Phil Coulson's.>"

Please don't suffer a stroke. "<SoAgentCoulsonsortofshothim. N-not like that! It was, ah…an 'icer' pistol, some kind of stun gun; he's…he's alright, but. I think Agent Coulson is still angry…>"

As long as Isa's still breathing, Sally will continue. It's confusing, at first; Isa's explanation doesn't make that much sense - who is she speaking of? And then at the end it all tumbles home. She's talking about her husband…who isn't dead. Who has teleported places, and fired upon his wife?! That's…not possible.

"<I do not understand what is going on…>" Understatement. "<But…your husband, he is the one who shot at you? Again? Was he the one before, your shoulder?>" There's some shock, and some fright, in her voice - this is a whole new bundle of secrets. "<After so many years…no, that doesn't…I don't understand it. Not one bit. But…>" Now she's wondering.

And grins. "<I might have found something even better. It's part of a project that Mr. Stark has me working on, I've been adapting a repulsor to work within a turbine engine. Blending ARC reactor technology with pure turbofan thrust,>" she adds, holding up the tablet so Isa can see. She may not be the engineer that Sally is, but she knows her engines. "<Instead of just having them side by side, actually blending it into the same thing; it seems to be extremely powerful. I haven't gotten a prototype working, yet, but…>" She grins.

"<I would very much like it if you'd come see it, when it's ready.>" If Isa's seen the data acquired from Phil's intelligence haul…it might look curiously familiar…

When Sally takes the time to explain what had happened to Tony Stark, Isa listens, and as she listens, her expression grows increasingly blank.

If she's putting these pieces together correctly, that means that Tony Stark and Rusalka Stojespal went over to the Triskelion with the intention of having an up-close and personal look at Lola. There's exactly one thing in the world that will draw genuine anger out of Phillip Coulson, and that is to touch his precious vintage car.

While it's true that he's let her ride in Lola, that's beside the point. And at the time, she'd needed to look less like a fugitive and more like a tourist.

She stares even more blankly when Sally adds that Coulson shot Stark with an ICER pistol, and blinks owlishly. The effect is lost somewhat with having only one eye, but she blinks slowly enough to convey the incomprehension.

"<Oh. Oh God. Stark spilled fruit onto Lola's seats?>" The pilot finally blanches a little. "<I do not envy him the position he is in. Yes, I know what an ICER pistol is. It is not lethal, but it can be very unpleasant.>"

She doesn't shudder, because in her opinion Tony Stark had it coming to him, and she will have to toss Coulson a mock salute the next time she sees him.

That amusement fades, though, and she looks at Rusalka gravely. There is exhaustion in the set of her jaw and the droop and stress lines around her eye. The shadow under them is almost unsettling, but surely that's just the harsh lighting of hospital fluorescent lamps.
"<My husband is the one who shot at me,>" Isa confirms, keeping her eye on the racing enthusiast. "<No, that was not him. We were in the same room at the time. But that was as much a deliberate attempt. And my shooter was not unskilled in missing me. I think it was a deliberate message.>"

She rolls her shoulder in a shrug. "<I do not know. But perhaps it was. Perhaps it was a ruse to throw me off the trail. To offer up no suspicion at his behaviour; to follow him into the jaws of Hell itself. Which I did,>" she adds, voice bitter and rueful. "<Straight into a trap. I would not mind that so much, if it were only my own foolishness, but my naive trust endangered Agent Coulson and Agent May, and their consultant.>"

"<You are not the only one who does not understand,>" she murmurs, a shadow of pain passing over her eye again, and something like calm bewilderment. "<I do not know what is happening with my own life any more. It will take time. But I know now that trusting him was a dangerous mistake, one that I will not make any more.>"

Her trust has gone to other venues. Coulson, now, no matter how much he might bark about Lola, she would follow him anywhere. She would fly through the fire, for him; through the very fires of Hell itself, and do it gladly.

Isa looks like she's being startled from her thoughts as she falls silent, focusing when Sally talks about her latest project. "<Compatible fuel sources? Fascinating. I did not know if it were possible to do so, but if it were, it would be an incredibly powerful power plant.>" She can't help a flicker of a half-smile. "<Yes, Sally Petrovna. I would very much like to see this prototype when it has been built.>"

"<And if you were in need of a test pilot to push it to its limits…>" Isa smiles, even though the expression is exhausted. "<I think I may perhaps know of one.>"

Well, at least Isa didn't suddenly have a stroke or something. That's good point number one. Good point number two is that she's clearly following the words Sally's saying - even if the meaning is beyond incredulous. If Sally ever found out that the redhead had been given a ride in the modified Corvette, she'd be quite jealous - but then again Rusalka herself had been up to her elbows in the engine bay.

"<Did you know it can fly?>" Sally grins, still intrigued as to just how it does that. "<And…yes, it…was sort of my fault. I've been afraid to talk to Agent Coulson since, s-so…I will see him, however. And I will bring Mr. Stark, and explain. I think he'll listen long enough to realize what is going on.>"

Isa explains further, and it makes no sense. To have him suddenly reappear in her life, to be in New York and yet in Russia as well, to have so much questioned - were the situation reversed, she can imagine the well of despair Isa is in. "Were it my father…suddenly back from the dead, without so much as a word, and…attacking my mother, I would not believe it. Could not. A person cannot change so much, even in that time.>"

Her words are grave, the determined assurance of the young. "<I do not know what the truth is…but if your husband is alive, then he is still…I don't know.>" Her voice trails off, quiet. "<But I would at least…demand answers. If father were still alive, if the other side of the family had covered up his death…no. I cannot conceive of him turning in such a way. To betray everything.>" Naieve perhaps, but honest.

She shakes her head. It's too confusing, and…when Isa isn't heavily medicated, she'll have to get a more coherent explanation. Maybe. If it's not classified so high up that her being aware of any of it is a crime.

Instead, she turns her attention to the engine design. "<It requires an ARC reactor of some sort, but I've been working on that…basically it's using the repulsors to shape the entire vortex of air and fuel, like…sculpting the perfect shape in the engine, for maximum power, and using the repulsors as a sort of afterburner. If…>" Swallow. This is the hard-to-believe part. "<I call it a turbo-repulsor, and checked the math for something like a MiG-29, perhaps…if it had these engines, and a skin that could take the heat from the air friction? It could perhaps accelerate to Mach four.>"

Nearly twice the aircraft's rated speed, and hundreds of miles an hour faster than even the vaunted American SR-71 Blackbird.

"<It will take some time to get a prototype, I think…but, I'll race you. If I do not finish before you are out of the hospital, I will let you fly me around as you wish, test pilot. If I win, you will be my passenger for three laps on the track.>" Smug, of course. She knows she's going to win this fight; it's not like Isa's some sort of Terminator-woman.

…Right?

Despite the brutal injury, Isa's papers say that her health is in shockingly good shape. Her lungs and liver are in decent condition despite the abuse she puts them through on a regular basis. No history of heart conditions, no history of strokes – at least, according to what records SHIELD has been able to find.

She is also undeniably lucid. There's no mistaking the fact that she's following every word that Sally says to her.

No… that was just her famously bland look when something is so bizarre or stupid or aggravating that she has no way to react to it.

"<Lola? Yes. He told me, although I have not seen it.>" Isa leans back on her pillow, eye half-closing. "<When we were in Barcelona… chasing my stupid fool of a husband… it is a very beautiful car. I understand why he is so very proud of it.>"

Indeed, her pauses aren't through any lack of clear-headedness. She simply has to be careful speaking; the entirety of her chest is one great ache after having her torso smashed by the cockpit. It's a wonder she wasn't crushed to death.

"<Neither do I, young lady,>" Isa says, a little sadly. "<One could perhaps make the argument that he did not know I was the pilot, but he knew. He called me Raya. He knew it was me.>" There's a flicker of sorrow across her face; sorrow and pain. "<But I did not know him. The things he was saying… they were insane. They were cruel. That… was not my husband.>"

She shudders. "<I do not know if I even want answers.>"

The whispered admission is one that brings pain for several reasons, but they aren't reasons she wants to speak of. Not with this girl, who is like a daughter that she never had.

Somewhat self-consciously, her eye slides away from Sally; lingers for a moment in the direction of the door, as though she were waiting for somebody.

But she looks away from it, with a soft and self-depreciating smile.

"<Yes? Arc technology is interesting, to me. Imagine what an aircraft could do with a power plant like that. Hmmmm,>" she murmurs, thoughtfully. "<Repulsors as afterburners? That is interesting, but I think it would be best if you maintained actual afterburners, too.>"

"<A redundant system that is not dependent upon an arc reactor…>" Isa looks over again, arching a brow at mention of the MiG-29. If she had both eyebrows, they'd both be disappearing into her hairline by now.

She smiles a little, though the expression only moves half of her face. "<I flew those, once. They are good aircraft. I miss them, sometimes. Quinjets are not the same as a true fighter. They are not better, and they are not worse. They are different.>"

"<If you manage to do that, to design a power plant capable of such speed… I would like to see it, even if someone else is doing the flying.>" Isa tilts her chin, glancing down to the wreckage of her body. "<I will not be doing much of that, I think.>"

The worst part of this is that she just got back from medical leave.

"<Is that the hill you want to die upon, young lady?>" Isa arches her red brow, and her smile is devil-may-care. "<I have never lost a race. You will not win.>" That smile softens; becomes a little more sardonic. "<We will see what we will see, Sally Petrovna. I have been broken badly, and it will be a long time healing, I think.>"

"<In fact, if you do not mind, I would like you and Sloane Albright to help me, when I have gone back home. I will need help. One leg is broken in four places. One arm is broken in three. My shoulder was dislocated. Several ribs are broken and one is cracked. I have been treated for various lacerations and abrasion…>"

"<But there are no burns, thank God.>" Her admission is soft, and sincere. There is nothing in this world she fears more than fire – well, only one thing, but she is not feeling so careless as to tell it to this girl. Her instinct is to remain strong in front of Sally, and her greatest fear is a weakness.

She lets her eye drift to the ceiling, content to lay there and do nothing. There's no energy left in her, after her broken body was returned to the Triskelion. That energy's been gone ever since. Even if she wanted to do something, she couldn't.

"<Crutches and sling… at the very least,>" she sighs, eye half-closing. "<Damn. It will be a long time… before I can fly again.>"

Isa's healthy, just shitbeaten. That's good, she'll heal soon enough. And her reaction…well, as long as Isa hasn't completely lost herself, Sally will continue on - which she does. Granted, 'bizarre' was an understatement…

"<Yes, he is. And Lola is quite beautiful; I understand how he feels. But…then again, I suppose I should not be so surprised; it was just completely out of nowhere. Sort of. I did not know he kept such a weapon on him at all times, but I should not be surprised.>"

When it comes to her husband, Sally just shakes her head. "<That does not at all sound like the person you told me about. Not the calm, easygoing type - the trickling stream next to your fire. If that was not your husband…then it is not your husband.>" The Sokovian girl gives a shrug, not sure of how things could be the way they are - only that they are, and she's trying to come to grips with it herself.

"<I suppose…then, he is not as dead as you had said, then. Not if you've been chasing him…>" It's mostly a subtle request to learn more - that Isa's husband lives is brand new to her, and a bit of a shock. "<I would like to know more, if…you can speak of such things.>" If it's classified, then it's just been the wind blowing quietly. If not…Rusalka's lost, confused, easily as much as Isa is.

Rusalka nods, when the topic switches to the engine design. "<Not just afterburners. To actually reach in and compress the air flowing through the engine, to shape it in just the right way for maximum efficiency and power. It combines with the afterburner to make a sort of ramjet, albeit one that is adjustable and works at any speed. It's the repulsors that…>" She searches a moment for a proper analogy. Ah. "<Like kneading the flow, dramatically increasing the power density of the engine. It runs hot, so it can't be constantly used…>"

Grin. "<But when it can, perhaps to escape from a fight with a sudden massive burst of speed. Or get a better position on an enemy, or…anything, really. I'm trying to work that out right now. I think it'd be solved soon. The real problem would be the pilot, a sudden snap acceleration like that…>"

A sudden incredible burst of speed to escape? That might sound oddly familiar to what happened at the end of the air battle.

And when the patient gives her demonic smirk, staring at Sally, the Sokovian just crosses her arms and gives her the best look of disdain she can. "<It is the hill I will erect a monument to victory upon,> sestra. <I look forward to providing a unique opportunity for you then.>" Oh it's a challenge, and it's on. Perhaps it's just teasing, but the idea is good motivation for Isa to heal quickly.

"<You have time, I am sure. It is not as if I can simply wave my hand and make such a thing appear in moments. Mr. Stark has not given me access to his magical toolbox just yet. Besides,>" she adds, in a lower voice, "<this is the sort of thing you build carefully, by hand. Checking everything as you go. So you will have at least a few days, I'm sure, to get your rest and enjoy the free food.>"

A smile tickles the corner of her mouth. "<It is good that there was no fire. A testament to your piloting, in the end - with a damaged aircraft, being able to put it down into the snow helped, I'm sure. I will have to thank Agent May for your rescue, as well as Coulson and the other person.>" Isa had mentioned a Specialist, but the term is one that Sally sees as a generic - just some random agent. But someone still worthy, in the end.

"<Perhaps I will have Tony make you a set of Repulsor-crutches. Imagine being able to fly with them tucked under your arms, like a giant chicken-monster.>" And she can't help giggling at the mental image of that.

"<I was given one, as well. They are non-lethal, and rely on some manner of toxin to neutralise targets.>" Very faintly, Isa tilts her head, because if she shrugs, she's very sorely going to regret it. "<I must report to the range and practise with it, soon. It is much lighter than my Stetchkin.>"

She only shakes her head to Sally's description of Makarov. "<Perhaps the distance drove him insane. Or perhaps Icarus is more sinister than we know, more insidious; able to drive a rational man to irrationality…>" Her eye falls closed. "<The worst part is that he believed what he was saying. He believed he could 'fix' me, like some lab rat. Like I have anything to be fixed.>"

Isa's eye slides away from Sally, lingering on the far corner of the room. "<I am not so drugged out of my mind as to speak too freely, Sally Petrovna. I am sorry, but perhaps for now, until I understand more of it myself, it is better not to say.>"

It's hard to know what to say, to explain something, when she herself doesn't fully grasp what's going on.

Lying back, Isa lets her eye drift closed, but she's still listening, evidenced by her response. She chips into Rusalka's explanation without even opening an eye.

Her strength is fading, but she's not ready to raise the white flag just yet. "<Impressive,>" she murmurs. Her tone is thoughtful; there's a good chance she's wondering if something like that might be what she experienced.

Makarov's aircraft tripled its speed in less than three seconds. How did he do that…?

Eventually her eye returns to Sally, though, and she nods in response to the praise. "<Thank you, Sally Petrovna,>" she says softly and sincerely.

Repulsor-crutches?

"<I… I think I will stick with wood, thank you.>" Isa's retort is incredibly bland.

"<That…makes sense, I suppose. There was some blue markings on his chest, not quite like paint, but…as if it was something under the skin. I mean, at his shirt collar!>" Not to say that Tony Stark would go walk around SHIELD shirtless…but it's definitely a nonzero potential. Casual Friday is every day for the inventor. This, at least, is one of his personality tics that Rusalka hasn't accepted - sure, she's dressed down today, looking like any other college student, but there's still a hint of finery and money in those jeans at least.

The sweatshirt, well, it isn't as if she has much choice there.

There's a wrinkle of Rusalka's nose at the mention of Isa's other pistol and range time; Sally's interest in guns ranks somewhere around Isa's interest of Moscow's tourist destinations. Still, the ICER is functionally interesting at least…but she'd rather not have to bother with it despite Phil's own concerns.

Sally gives a derisive snort at the idea of Makarov's particular taunting over the radio. "<As far as I can see, the only thing that needs fixing is…>" A glance at the nurse's sheet at the edge of Isa's bed again. "<'Every bone, including the hard head.' So to hell with whatever anyone else thinks.>" She reaches up one hand, seeking Isa's own - the left hand the only one that isn't wrapped in plaster, airbags, or other such medical gear. Softly, her fingers squeeze against Isa's own, a reassurance between friends.

"<Perhaps I should speak to Mr. Stark about replacing your bones with steel. If you keep going through this, it may happen anyway. Seriously, I've only known you for how long now and…all this?>" Smirk. She's already wiped away the discussion about Makarov, now it's just time to tease her friend. "<We will have to do something about your takeoff and landing ratio, someday. Certainly before I let you fly something as precious as my new engine around.>"

Smirk.

"<Fine, then a repulsor-wheelchair, instead of crutches. You could float around like the emperor in that silly old space movie, perhaps.>" Her voice gets an ancient scratchy quality that she's trying to hold despite laughing. "Young Jedi~"

"<What? Phillip Coulson shot Stark in the throat?>" So surprised is the pilot that she forgets to even use professional titles. "<Well, if he dropped dried fruit onto the upholstery, I suppose he had it coming. I wish I could have been there to see it.>"

There's no mistaking how impressed she is by the fact that Coulson actually went through with that… but surprised? No, not really. Nobody touches that car. Not even she could get away with that, as his designated pilot.

"<Yes.>" Isa raises her scarred right hand, a little weakly. It has no cast on it; the left side of her body is another story. Her grip is strong despite the injuries that ravage her, both old and new. She squeezes Rusalka's hand, weakly, though it's clear the effort of holding her arm up at all exhausts her. "<Thank you, Sally Petrovna,>" she murmurs, softly.

Silence falls for a few seconds, but she's listening. That blue eye lingers on the racing enthusiast.

She smiles, faintly. "<Yes, my record used to be much better… and no. Crutches for me. I used them after I burned. They are not so bad.>"

"<You should bring Irja Stojespal here some time,>" she comments, lying back with an exhausted sigh. "<I have nothing better to do but wait until I am no longer broken. If it means so much for her to meet me, who am I to refuse?>"

It's strange, in a way. She had never thought of herself as a role model or inspiration of any kind. All those years; she had only done her job. To the movie reference, she only shakes her head, eye closing momentarily. "<I do not watch much television, or movies.>"

Sally waves a hand at the misunderstanding. "<No-, nothing like that. Ah, in the center of the chest, but…under his shirt, at the collar, above where he was shot. Like, uh…>" She tries to think a moment, before shrugging. "<Like seeing veins turn blue for a few seconds before it dissipated; I only saw the edge there. I imagine it was more direct, where he'd been hit, but. Mr. Stark is well, though. I'll be sure he comes to visit.>"

Maybe she should learn how to use an ICER, if it has that much power. Or maybe she'll just ask this Peggy Carter to have the inventor come visit; she's got that strange ability to get him - petulantly, admittedly - to do what she wants.

Still, Stark's lucky Coulson went for the ICER. She's not convinced that SHIELD's reliance on his technology is enough to protect him from the consequences of defacing the corvette…

Sally gently lays Isa's arm to rest, before letting go with one last pat. "<You are welcome, and I hope to see you up soon. Of course I will be happy to assist, and I am sure Sloane the same. I doubt there has been much different since you've been gone.>"

When the talk turns to Rusalka's mother, she blinks a little, then nods slowly. "<I will see. She has expressed a desire to come to New York to visit, perhaps when she has leave available. If she comes, I will be sure you have a chance to visit, but…when you are feeling a little better. It would not do to see one of her inspirations in such shape, and it would be nice to be able to talk without being so tired.>"

And then Sally sits upright, almost smacking her head. "<I am a fool; I forgot. Here. A moment…>" She reaches down, plucking a small music player from her shoulder bag as well as a pair of miniature speakers. "<The music I brought you before, I made copies of. This way,>" she adds, tucking the player against Isa's hand and the speaker on her shoulder, <"you can enjoy things a little, and it won't be so boring.>"

"<Thank you. I would appreciate if you asked him to visit.>" It's clear that the pilot is finally starting to fade. Her voice is soft, so soft, lacking any of the usual fire and strength that it normally carries. "<Agent Coulson will no doubt provide him with the materials that he needs. I do not have the strength.>"

Her single eye drifts, but it doesn't quite close. The machine at her side beeps softly, announcing as it releases another controlled dose into the IV. She looks over at the sound in weary acknowledgement. It looks like she won't be awake for very much longer, between her own exhaustion and the sedating effects of the painkillers.

Sleep is for the best. It's the best way her body can heal.

For the moment she watches as Rusalka answers her offers, and nods faintly at approval of bringing Irja to the city. "<Good. I would like to meet her. Ah, thank you, young lady. Please put it on the table. I will not be able to listen just now; I am already weary,>" Isa whispers, unable to even gesture towards the bedside table. "<The machine has just released another dosage. I will sleep, soon…>"

"<But before I do…>" The pilot manages a wan smile. "<Thank you, Sally Petrovna. For everything…>"

That blue eye slowly, ever so slowly, slides closed. As Raisa Ivanovna Yakovleva drifts into sleep, though, there's a peace to her expression that never quite seems to be there when she's awake.

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