Toward the Boundary Line

May 20, 2017:

In which Isa Reichert is visited by Phil Coulson, and boundary lines are quietly acknowledged. Takes place before "5833: The Protection of Wheat."

New York City - The Triskelion

The Headquarters, Armory and Fortress of the Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics division is, for the most part, an unassailable tower in the midst of the diplomatic sprawl that is Midtown East. The primary intelligence clearing houses and most of SHIELD's senior leadership are all housed hear, along with a veritable army of agents and staff to keep the place running, the world spinning and the weirdness at bay.


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Rusalka Stojespal, Sloane Albright, Tony Stark

Mood Music: None.

Fade In…

Phil has not been hovering at Isa's hospital bed. He has been getting regular updates. He has been snapping at doctors. He has been going through intelligence, ordering it sent to Tony Stark – and, specifically and perhaps surprisingly, to Sally Stojespal, just to make sure they make hide or hair of it. He is calling in favors around the world to create a dragnet that will haul Makarov's sorry ass straight to him, as if dispatching an army of cats whose job it is to bring a half-dead bird to his doorstep. But not a dead bird. He wants the man interrogated. Then he wants him put in a box for life.

When he learns Isa is ready for visitors he comes in with a thundercloud look on his face, the same one he's worn for several days now. It does not lessen to see her conscious. It is a rare thing to watch, an angry Phillip Coulson, but there are certain berserk buttons programmed into the man's soul.

Isa jumped up and down on one. And then she kicked it a few times for good measure. She might have rolled over it four or five times.

He points one long finger at her and says, fuming, "If you ever disobey my orders and pull a stunt like that again, Isa Reichert," there are, after all, people around, "I will personally see to it that you spend the next two decades flying a cargo freighter named the Launchpad McQuack."

Pause, beat.


"Google it."

The idea of cats organising themselves enough to do anything on that scale is kind of a scary thought. They're cunning hunters, agile and silent. Admirable, really, in any kind of profession that requires a certain predatory mindset — like those pilots who are hunters. Isa likes cats; their abilities as hunters might be a good reason why.

But right now, Isa Reichert is not thinking about cats. She is not thinking about anything. The nurse said that she was ready for visitors despite her status in the intensive care unit, but the anesthesia was still wearing off. She'd been through a whirlwind marathon of surgeries to halt the internal bleeding and repair what could be repaired of her punctured lung, let alone the plethora of fractures, breaks, and cracks to her limbs.

Oh, there was a concussion, too, but that also got taken care of, for the most part.

After all that, the pilot has been carefully laid up in one of the ward rooms. It's noticeably a nicer kind of ward than she had been in before; more private – perhaps by chance or perhaps by choice on the agent thundering behind the scenes to get retribution for the pilot's fall.

For the moment the pilot lies on the bed, the grey SHIELD logo blanket draped over her, arms over the top of it. Her left arm is in a cast nearly to the shoulder. A few lacerations over her neck have been bandaged, and the shape of a cast is clearly visible over her left leg. Divested of her belongings, her eyepatch is also in a drawer, and her good eye is closed.

It flutters when the door opens, but it doesn't move to open until there is a finger pointed at her and the sound of an angry voice.


It's not that she's purposefully calling him 'Phil,' but more because she doesn't have the strength to say the full name. Isa swallows and tries again, desperately trying to rally her energy and focus her eye on the Level Eight Agent.

"Phillip… Coulson…" She doesn't smile, because she knows exactly why he's angry. She would be, in his position, but she had to act quickly, and staying near May's quinjet only would have endangered the other three. It wasn't worth bringing them all down. Her sacrifice would have been a small price to pay, and it almost wound up a better landing than it did. If it hadn't exploded and had its back broken mid-flight, she could have brought it down safely.

Almost only counts in horseshoes, though. Not when there's flaming wreckage moving at subsonic speeds.

"<I do not… understand…>" Her voice is weak; so weak. Partly because she looks every inch like she's been through hell, and partly because they have her on some seriously potent drugs. Isa swallows again, mouth dry, and tries to string words together, this time in English. "Sit… please. I don't have… the strength to watch you… from over there."

Phil makes a growly sound when she says she does not understand. "Google it later, then," he grumps. Now his perfectly good angry-snark has been wasted on drugs. He should have timed his entrance. Another 7 hours or so.

He has a seat. He folds his arms. He continues to wear a dire glower. A very. Dire. Glower.

"Never again," he reiterates, hazel eyes blazing. "There are only so many times a woman can be cracked like an egg and stitched back together like the proverbial Humpty Dumpty, and you have reached your limit. I will send you to fly test runs for Stark and ensure you don't see any more action like that if I have to, but," he waves his hand around broadly to indicate the whole hospital room. "We're 100% done with this nonsense." Not that the bullet wound was her fault. Not that the missiles were even her fault. But he's railing right now. The water is up in a big railing monsoon, and it's probably not going to be done until it's done.

He stands up and stomps to the extra blankets, bringing over two more. He snaps each one open with great emphasis, then tucks them around her in a fury. He sits down again. "May could have handled it," he growls. "I knew her capabilities, you didn't, you should have done as I said." This may or may not be entirely fair, as Phil has no skills in the cockpit, and his assessment of such things might have been off somewhat. It's probably one of those percentile things, where there's a chance he's right and a chance he's not, and their risk assessments are probably a bit different overall.

He stomps up and gets her a glass of water. "Here. I'm going to help you sit up and drink this. And you're not going to give me any trouble about it!"

"It will have to be later." Isa speaks slowly and with effort, trying very hard not to aggravate the puncture wound through her lung. Her voice is raspy, sounding more haggard perhaps than Coulson has ever heard it. It's been a long time since she's been through that kind of physical trauma. Even the bullet that had slammed through her shoulder hadn't laid her this low. "I do not have… the strength right now."

She turns her head slightly as he sits, mainly so she can continue tracking him through her good eye. Her gaze is unfocused, though, dull with pain and drugs; a little unsettling, perhaps, given the hyperfocus she often gives things.

"Anything… but Stark." Isa pulls a scowl, although the expression doesn't have much heat. She feels too terrible to sum up proper animosity. "Besides, it was not… as though I was able… to evade. They shot first." Something ugly lights in that blue eye; a rage all the more terrible for its quietness. "That bastard… tried to kill me. That was… not my husband. I am not… married. Not to that insane monster. 'Fix' me… I do not think… there is anything to fix. I think that I… could still… out-pilot him, any day… of the week."

In spite of how terrible she must be feeling, she makes the effort to speak clearly, speaking the English that's really her and not the killdeer act — just enough of an accent seasoning her words to sound a little bit exotic, but not enough to completely overwhelming them or make her incomprehensible.

She casts him a bland look, though it doesn't have the kind of force of will behind it that it usually would. "Da, Phillip Coulson, and May… would have caught fire… if she did not let me go. I had already… lost the engine. Would you have… had me condemn you three… to death too?" Her half-smile is without mirth. "I wouldn't. Someone… had to get the data… back to SHIELD."

Slowly, her eye closes. Not once does the meter of her breathing change, but he might notice a tear slipping down the unscarred side of her face, gleaming in the fluorescent lights.

"I think perhaps… it would have been kinder… if he had truly… been killed… five years ago…" Her voice is soft, so soft, and broken. She trails off at the end into that same ragged wet cough, sagging back when she's finished. All she has the strength to do for a moment is to watch him, swallowing against a dry throat in — guilt? Relief? It's hard to say which, but those two definitely factor heavily.

Isa doesn't open her eye. He might notice another tear tracking down where the first had fallen.

"Phillip Coulson… I am so sorry… to have frightened you." Her voice is no more than a broken whisper. "I frightened… myself. But sacrificing my quinjet… was the only way… to keep the others alive."

Oh. Crap. Now she's crying.

Phil stares at her, and he softens, and he sighs. His anger evaporates; the seas calm, just like that. He is not really given to it much anyway. He's made his point, and the truth is, he knows damn well he's talking to a brick wall. She'd do it again in a heartbeat, and so it is his job to make sure that never happens again. He realizes that he can't move her around for the water and so just dumps it out. He huffs at it, like it's irritating him, holds out one finger, and stalks down the hall.

He's been in the hospital too many times to count. He knows that the IV delivers hydration. He also knows dry mouth sucks.

He comes back with a cup full of ice chips. He offers one out to her. "Here," he says. "You have the strength to take this at least. Go on."

He's not taking no for an answer. Feeling helpless does not sit well with the SHIELD Agent. Thus, ice chips. He stares at her with that insistent gaze of his, the one that renders his face into a mule-stubborn version of itself, the one that he gets when he's holding tight to his favorite Captain America mantra (the one in which the world must be told, 'No, you move.')

Probably a little more dramatic than ice chips call for.

But he's doing it.

It takes a few moments, but Isa masters herself once again, calming with a shuddering and careful breath. Even breathing seems to be pretty touchy. The impact of the cockpit door had nearly crushed her torso, breaking a few ribs in unpleasant ways. She hadn't been completely crushed, thankfully, or she wouldn't be here; but what isn't broken is either bruised and tender or lacerated and tender. She probably shouldn't even have been able to walk away from insanity like that alive.

Making the effort to straighten, she lets him help her with the ice chips, her good hand trembling as she reaches up to steady herself. Included in her wonderful cocktail of industrial strength painkillers is morphine, and it does a number on being able to orient herself. The vertigo induced by it is even worse with the way she's used to thinking in three dimensions.

She makes the effort, though. He's there to help her, and the truth is she's too exhausted to care about showing weakness to him.

"Thank you," she murmurs, once she's gotten through two and a half ice chips. The compulsive need for water is a little less overwhelming. "Mouth is always… so dry after surgery."

Rolling what's left of her ice chip in her mouth, she looks up to him, something in her regard uncharacteristically still; as though she were searching for something.

After a moment of that serious regard, her face flickers into a slight smile.

"At least… I was able… to land," she offers, with a weak chuckle. "Didn't… completely crash… from vertical ceiling…"

No, thankfully, or there wouldn't be anything of her left. It was a blessing it had all happened at relatively low altitude, or Isa Reichert wouldn't have had a prayer.

There's a flash in his eyes when she says that about surgery, because it irritates him all over again that she's able to say that in that way, like it's just sort of something she does. Wake up. Brush teeth. Pick up milk. Have some major surgery. Brush teeth. Go to bed.

He quells it though.

He puts the ice chips down and folds his arms, giving her an unamused look. At least she was able to land?!? "That's what Launchpad McQuack says too," he tells her with all the gravity that statement deserves. Which seems to be a lot of it, if you happen to be Phil. That's not strictly true, since the quote is 'any landing you can walk away from is a good landing!' but it's close enough. Truly.

He exhales and sits back down. Well, she's definitely grounded for awhile now, because this isn't going to heal as fast as even a SHIELD-treated gunshot wound.

And then, with the faintest of smiles.

"Filya, huh?"

The one-eyed pilot has been through so much injury, both major and minor, that she's long since stopped worrying about medical treatment. Doctors and hospitals don't frighten her in the least, and she can bravely face any number of needles with stoicism appropriate to the Motherland. It's been forced on her so many times that her unease over it no longer means anything.

Once she's finished her ice chips she takes a few seconds to simply breathe, too weak to think about doing anything else right away. Moving too quickly makes her dizzy, and not just from the painkillers. Her broken body is in open revolt at having to do anything more than what's been asked of it.

Isa swallows, eye screwing shut as she simply concentrates for a moment on marshalling her strength—

Filya, huh?

Coulson might notice that the unscarred half of Isa's face flushes scarlet as her eye slides open. She doesn't meet his gaze, grumbling something under her breath that's too vague to make out and coughing wetly. Thankfully she manages to control herself, eye sliding back to Coulson.

"Da. Is the short form of your name. Phillip. Filipp," she explains, the second form of the word carrying a much sharper accent; a twist that seems to make it uniquely Russian. What she pointedly doesn't say is that it's a more intimate form of the name, used among familiars rather than that of professional politeness. "I… I thought I was going to die," she says, meekly. "It seemed… like a good idea… at the time, if I was not… going to see you again."

Her mouth twitches into the faintest hint of an odd, sad-looking smile. "I am sorry for presuming, Phillip Coulson. If it makes you uncomfortable… I will not call you by that… any more." Even if, the tense and unspoken statement seems to hang, I would like to.

"Who says it makes me uncomfortable?" Phil asks, that inscrutable smile still on his face.

Though his face turns grave a moment later. She's not a married woman, but he's still her superior. That puts her in an awkward position, one he ought not place her in. It creates a power vacuum between them. She's still emotionally compromised. Everything about both facts makes it abhorrent to make even one more move in her direction, to take even one more step than he's already taken.

The right thing to do would be to dial this back to something strictly professional as of yesterday. It's already been a problem once…would she have disobeyed his orders if he had just been Agent Coulson? Perhaps the familiarity, the undercurrents, damn near got her killed.

The thought is as good as a cold shower.

He stands up, smoothing down his suit. He just told her it didn't make him uncomfortable. The truth. Or half the truth. The truth is it leaves him feeling pleased as punch. But that feeling represents another failure of integrity. His tone is gently professional when he speaks again. "We're going to find him," he says. "He'll face justice for what he has done. And once the data is analyzed, I believe we'll have most of the answers, if not all of them."

Briskly turning back to work, to safer waters. The suit is one of his sharpest; today he's been wearing the mantle of authority as he demanded the very best out of each of his Agents. This isn't even the only problem on his plate, but right now it's sure the problem that's making him the angriest. That is a problem too. It's not good that his emotions have been allowed to have such a say in all of this. He needs to be analytical. He needs to be right on top of his game. He will do her a disservice by becoming distracted. She is a member of his team. He needs to serve her as such.

Very slowly, the pilot raises an eyebrow when Coulson implies it doesn't make him uncomfortable. Part of her had thought that perhaps that closeness, that intimacy, had bothered him somehow. Certainly there has seemed to be an undercurrent of awkwardness and tension between them since a few days ago – something she's noticed, but not necessarily acted on, too acutely aware of her crushing fear of loneliness to want to push anyone away.

Least of all him.

She watches him stand up, something flickering through her eye at the distancing gesture. Part of her had hoped he would stay in his chair, to stay close. The pilot gives a wet cough, stifling it through her nose, more out of irritation from her wound than anything else; she waits until it passes before she tries to speak again.

There's a bit of a wince as she relaxes back into the hospital bed.

Even she notices that professionality, though; that demeanour of strict distance.

Perhaps he might notice the sorrow in her eye.

"Filya." The name is given softly, so softly, and she doesn't look away from him this time. Her blue eye, red-rimmed and bloodshot, is nonetheless pleading. "Sit. Stay with me. Please… please do not put these walls up. Do not shut me out. Filya," she murmurs, so softly it's almost missed under the monitoring equipment, "I… I do not know if I could bear that right now."

It's probably not the request he wants to hear right now, but there's such pleading in that single eye.

He closes his eyes.

He exhales. "This is wrong," he says gently. "I've been way out of line. I was out of line the other morning, I'm out of line right now."

He sits back down. His impulse is to reach for her hand. He resists the urge. "You've been through the emotional wringer. This is not the time to start anything at all." He has to be careful in how he puts this. She'll dig in her heels, even get furious, and then she'll be all the more sold on the idea. "This is the time for you to rest, and heal. You need time to grieve your marriage a second time. You need to get some answers. I can't even tell you I'm wholly focused on this; I'm probably going to have to dart out to another field mission that has nothing do with your case soon enough. I don't want you to wake up one morning and think…great, I started this nonsense with my boss and it was all just…he was there, the only person I could trust at the time, a port in the storm when things were crazy."

What if she's not even seeing him? Does he fear that even more than he fears pressuring her? He adjusts his tie a little bit, his eyes kind, the way they always are, his smile kind as he outlines what seems to be a very real possibility.

"Like…a nicer version of Stockholm syndrome."

Isa Reichert offers only silence in response to the explanation and logic offered to her. For a moment it almost seems as though she might have drifted back into sleep, but her eye is open just far enough to see a hint of blue. She's still awake.

Despite his temptation, Isa can see that it costs him not to reach for her hand. No matter how carefully he hides his feelings, she knows he wants to close the distance — possibly she only thinks that because she herself wants to. When he fails to bridge the gap, she takes a chance, hand hesitating for a brief instant before her trembling fingers reach for him. It's the burned ones, skin white and mottled, textured oddly.

Ordinarily she makes a point of shaking hands with her left hand, leading with it, keeping the flame-scarred skin out of view when given the opportunity. This time, though, she doesn't care.


He's still talking, going on about how she's been through the emotional wringer, and it isn't the time to start anything. Maybe he expects her to get angry with the way he's laying out cold logic in front of her, building a wall made from excuses he's thought out quite carefully.

Isa huffs a quiet sigh and opens her eye, looking up to him; a little blearily, bloodshot and red-rimmed, but positively lucid.


He's still talking, painting a picture of how terrible a relationship with her would be because he's her superior and that would be awkward.

"Stop talking. Always with these words, words, words." Isa's sigh is a strange, contradictory blend of exasperation and amusement. Yet her face is serious when she looks up to him. That blue eye is earnest. "You talk yourself in circles to talk yourself away from me… but you do not want to, not really, do you?"

She continues to stare up at him. "It is true that my marriage is now in ashes. He tried to kill me. And he thought it was the right thing. There is no negotiating with that; I would be insane to go back to him. He would finish the job; of that I have no doubt." Isa shudders, revulsion in the downward slash of her mouth and the way she screws her eye shut. "He is gone. That man is not my husband any more. I do not know who he is, but that is not the man I married."

Like… a nicer version of Stockholm syndrome.

The pilot draws in a deep breath, very carefully so she doesn't start coughing against her injured lung, and lets it go in a sigh through her nose that sounds almost gentle. Her eye falls closed for a moment as though she were drawing on some inner reserve of patience.

Then, Isa gathers her strength for an instant and then reaches, seizing for his hand, even if it costs her in a twinge of pain. Her grip is not strong, but she's determined to catch his hand before he pulls away from her.

"This is as much my choice," she says softly. "It is clear to me now that I was in love with a dream, a memory. It would have killed me. You have never led me astray, Phillip Coulson, and the very fact that you are trying to distance yourself from me… that tells me you are a good man."

He lets her take his hand. It's true he doesn't have it in him to pull away. His fingers close warmly over hers. There is no flinching when he touches the scars, no more than there was before. If he hadn't accepted those he never would have allowed these chinks in his personal walls to start building. But they don't repulse him. She has survived, and survived, and survived when anyone else would have fallen, faltered, failed, given up. They are merely marks of that survivor's quality in her. He is more than old enough to pay far more attention to the inner person than the outer, anyway, and it's not like he can't see the beauty that remains.

He lowers his head as she speaks, chides him, uses her new diminutive for him. It's hard to see the emotion on his face, but he wouldn't be sitting here, holding her hand, if she weren't right about the fact that no, he really has no desire at all to create those walls and distances. He really isn't sure he has the strength to leave her alone when being alone is what she fears more than fire itself, when she is pleading with him to stay.

When she seizes his other hand, he starts in surprise, his head jerking up just a little bit. He doesn't pull away, but he is sort of frozen, uncertain. She says he's a good man.

Right now, she's more sure of that than he is.

His shoulders slump a little; he's lost this argument too it seems, possibly because he didn't want to win it. He pulls the chair a little closer with his foot. She chides him for all the words.

He speaks no more of them. He just sits there, hands in hers, head bowed, making no more move towards her than that, but no more move away from her. He still has concerns. Deep, dark, yawning concerns that make him question everything he is doing. Maybe it's overthinking. Maybe it's not thinking enough. But they did just nearly die, and they nearly did it with an ocean of regrets between them. He'd sounded so habitually calm when joking about their impending death, but that doesn't mean that the natural reactions to such things don't eventually come. There's a price to be paid for detachment in the field…

And he'd certainly lost that detachment anyway when he'd realized he was safe and she was busy creating another flaming wreck.

She hadn't actually expected him to stop talking.

When Coulson closes his fingers over hers, she actually looks surprised, which shows through even through her haze of exhaustion, medication, and physical and emotional trauma. That he doesn't pull away from her is more than enough to tell her that this is also something that he wants – it produces a flicker of satisfaction; confirmation, perhaps, that she has not badly mistaken the subtleness of his body language.

Phillip Coulson is a difficult man to read even on the best of days, when he is being most open – and she has seen him more openly than many others have had the opportunity to see.

Isa smiles, faintly, even though the expression is tempered with a little melancholy.

"I am sorry, Phillip Coulson." Her voice is soft, so soft, and not quite level.

Scarred and unscarred fingers squeeze his hands gently, a gesture meant both to give and take comfort. She's had precious little of comfort and stability of late. Maybe, she reasons, she could be called the selfish one for pushing him when he acts out of a sense of responsibility.

"You are one of the most honourable men I know," she murmurs, that faint smile fickering this time with a whisper of pain. "That is why I am selfish. You are my superior – that is so, and I would follow your orders through the fires of Hell itself. I made that decision not long after I met you for the first time. You have my loyalty, Phillip Coulson. But I made a choice to trust you with something more fragile than that… not because I think that you might fail. Not because I think that you might stumble, and become entangled in your own integrity…"

It seems she's thought of all of this, too; given it serious thought.

Isa shifts her hands, lacing her fingers with his. "<I made that choice because I trust you to guard that fragile thing, and protect it. I cannot protect it by myself.>" Her hand tugs at his, pulling it towards her heart, laying it gently over the beat – carefully, gently, enough so that it's more of a demonstration than a temptation. It's only a simple meter of the fact that she still lives after her insane stunt.

"<I am sorry to have frightened you; so very sorry. But I think that is proof enough that this cannot be so terrible as you think it is.>" That blue eye shifts, meeting both of his, calm and serious despite the slight lack of focus. SHIELD has wonderful medical drugs. Isa does not smile, expression solemn.

Apparently she has thought about all of this, from multiple angles; more so than she had let on, despite her faltering efforts to hold herself back. "<If I did not have something I thought was precious to cling to, I think that perhaps I might not have piloted that quinjet so well. That perhaps it wouldn't have mattered if I went down and did not come back up again.>"

She looks away, then, a flicker of pain crossing her expression. "<To have lost what was left of my life, and then to have no one to depend on, to be alone – I do not think that I would have been able to bear that, at the time. So… I must thank you instead. Filya.>" She uses that name again, gentle as a caress, in such contrast to her furious curses as the quinjet had crashed.

"<I wanted to live. I wanted to bring that fucking wreckage down any way I could, Phillip Coulson, because I wanted to come back to you more than I wanted to destroy myself.>"

She places his hand on her heart. Phil tenses a little bit. He knows that it's an emotional gesture more than a physical one. The tensing comes from his own concerns about whether or not she is right to trust him with such a thing. He allows it, caught in this woman's wake. She makes a highly convincing case for the idea that she's driving this bus as much as he is, if not more. She even makes a convincing case for the idea that their slow entanglement was an asset in the field, and not a liability. Her life thumps and pulses beneath his fingertips, held very tentatively in place.

He smiles at her, a small smile, but a genuine one, full of concern. He opens his mouth to answer as she thanks him. Perhaps the words would be something she wants to hear, would be his acquiescence at last, now that he is again choosing to speak.

The harsh beep of the morphine machine as it releases another controlled drip into the IV makes him start. It's a damning third strike to the two he has already mentioned, reminding him of one more portion of this scenario that gives him pause and leaves him uneasy. He gently extricates his hands from her hands, gently withdraws from the beat of her heart.

<"You're drugged out of your mind, Isa Reichert,"> he says gently. <"Let's at least see if you feel the same way when you aren't on the good stuff. You're never alone, not here, but let's…just leave it at that for now.">

Perhaps it's further deflection, perhaps it's just taking issue, but he adds, dryly, "You'll follow orders? That's news to me. I seem to recall some difficulty in that area not long ago. Wasn't that how this conversation started in the first place?"

The gesture had been meant to offer tangible truth to her words. It's not quite as convincing as it could be, though. The life pulsing beneath Coulson's fingertips flutters like the wing of a bird, still not yet stong again; weak after the trauma. As he'd pointed out earlier, there are only so many times this woman can be cracked like an egg and be glued back together again.

Sooner or later, that glue will fail. There will be pieces that no longer fit. How long until that happens to her?

Only when Coulson smiles does she offer her own, tentative and weak. So much of her feels tentative and weak right now. It's so hard to project confidence and strength in a thin hospital gown, with tubes threaded into her arm. It's so hard to feel strong when the pain is always lurking in the background, a haze of red heat behind her thoughts. Only the drugs are keeping it bearable. Even her thoughts run a bit sluggish, but her gaze is lucid. She is terribly weak, but her mind is still her own.

That may not last, though. Her eye reluctantly slides away from his, tracking to the medical equipment as it beeps to announce a dosage.

Well, that's a thing. The stupid machine's timing is awful.

Only with reluctance does she let him pull his hands from her, and the hand that was still holding his lets go with reluctance she doesn't bother to hide.

"<Yes. I am,>" Isa agrees. Her voice is soft and weak. "<I think if I were not under dosage, it would be a very different story, and I would be saying very uncouth things for the pain. A lot of them. Right now, I cannot feel much of what is broken, but if I am to guess, I would say that my everything is broken. It is better that way, that I do not feel.>"

Her expression shifts into one of resignation as she blows out a gentle sigh. "<It is going to be a very long next several weeks.>" Yet her statement suggests she wouldn't dream of trying to duck responsibility. In a way, she did bring this on herself as direct consequences of her actions, even if there were no other viable actions available. "<Perhaps I will take out a subscription to the New York Times. Your American crosswords are valuable time-wasters, you know.>"

After a moment her eye slides back to Coulson, softening.

"<But. My name is Raisa Ivanovna Yakovleva, Phillip Coulson,>" she says softly, in response to the name he uses. "<Isa Reichert is no more than a nom-de-guerre. It is not who I am. It is not a person who has a history. Perhaps even it is not the name of a person who has a future, because who can you be, if you cannot be your true self…?>" Okay, maybe she's rambling a little. But just a little, and it's the kind of philosophical thing she's thought of before; the struggle of identity when she began using a name that wasn't her own.

The pilot sighs, very softly; very carefully. "<Call me by Raisa Ivanovna if you wish. Call me by Raisa. Or call me Raya, if that is what you prefer, but it does not cause me discomfort. I will not allow it. I refuse to allow that lunatic to take that from me,>" she adds, a hint of glacial anger stirring below the surface – well controlled, but itching to have an outlet.

The man tried to kill her. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, as the saying goes… and this woman is capable of a great deal of scorn. She is passionate and vengeful – loving things with all her being, and also being capable of hating them just as deeply.

"<Already I have given him too much power over me, and that ends today,>" she says softly, an inevitable finality in the words. "<He is no longer my husband. My husband died when his fighter crashed. This… I do not know who this man is; this man who would prefer to capture me to fix something that is not wrong with me like a fucking lab rat. A lab rat…!>"

She calms herself, offering Coulson a fleeting hint of a slightly apologetic smile. "<Phillip Coulson, I will help you study Icarus; I will help you destroy them, if that is what is necessary. But I will not fear them. I will not fear him. My achievements, the life I have led with that name, that is my own. He cannot have that. No one can have that but me. And no one can take that away from me.>"

See? Look, she's listening to his advice, in a roundabout sort of way. Wait, does it count when it's being wielded against him?

Such a proud spitfire, she is, even as the painkillers seep into her veins. She fights them, if only because she wants company before surrendering to the dark and dreaming.

It's so hard to project confidence and strength in a thin hospital gown.

She settles under the extra blankets he had brought, though, along with an appreciative sigh. She's always found hospitals to be insufferably cold, whether passing through or staying as a patient.

When she lifts her eye to him, it's to study him for a long, quiet moment. It might seem like she had drifted off, but there's no mistaking the alertness and understanding in her eye. At his gentle admonishment, she closes her eye and shakes her head faintly. Even that movement costs her, wincing and drawing in a ragged breath.

"<It is true that they have the drip on, and it must have been so since my arrival. But my head is clear, I promise you that,>" she insists, speaking with careful deliberation to prove she's not rambling. She also makes a point of holding his eye with her own. "<I do not think my feelings will change, Phillip Coulson. But as I do not want to hurt you, if distance will make you more comfortable, then I will endure. Enduring is something I have always been rather good at, you see.>" Isa allows herself a flicker of a sardonic smile. "<I do not think patience would be ill-spent, with you.>"

The pilot smiles, a little sadly. Life is such a many-splendoured and infinitely complicated thing. Why must hers be so frustratingly complicated, so much of the time…?

"<Will you stay?>"

Her soft question comes only after a moment, looking up at him with that same somber hope – but she flushes a moment later, as though realising the question might be taken in unexpected ways. Isa shakes her head, faintly. "<Until I sleep?>" she clarifies, a little embarrassed. "<I do not think I want to be alone right now,>" she adds, in an uncharacteristically small voice. "<I am sorry to ask, after I told you I would not, but…>"

But even Raisa Ivanovna Yakovleva is not immune to the shock of near-death.

There's a long pause.

"<And… may I have another blanket, please…? Hospitals; they are always so cold…>"

Coulson frowns, debating the wisdom of the open use of the name. He privately decides he's going to have to start digging up which Russian officials still care about taking her down. Then he's going to have to find dirt on all of them and arrange for a little blackmail to keep that particular problem off of her back. This causes him no particular moral problems since…let's face it…if they were doing the right things they would not have anything for him to dig up. Ergo, they brought it on themselves. And it's a very bloodless way to save a life.

As usual, he lets her rail and rant without comment, willing to listen to her without interrupting her flow. A brief, amused smile crosses his features at one point…she had accused him of using too many words at a time, but she can sometimes really get going. It doesn't bother him any; quite the opposite. He's quite comfortable listening, letting her share her thoughts with him. She gets sheepish at her outburst, and he pat pats the air, as if to indicate that it's fine. He can understand the impulse, if nothing else, and the need to regain a bit of herself. At least she recognizes she's earned herself weeks of surgery, rest, and physical therapy with her stunt. It will once again be some time before she is in the air.

If her feelings do not change, that will put his conscience at ease, but for the moment, he steps back and sits in the chair, pushing it a bit back from the bed to ensure there are no more touches exchanged. He will stay, but he's drawing the boundary lines firmly for now. Not because he does not care, but because he does care. But it is clear that he will stay.

At last, she asks him to talk about anything, and he decides its time to talk about anything but shattered lives and work. "Ever been fishing?" he asks her, in English, as well, because he wants to gently get her mind off of Russia at all. Not to take anything away from her, but because Russia has not been kind to Raisa Ivanovna. It may even seem like a bit of a non-sequiter, except there's a soft look in his hazel eyes, and a softening about his little smile, that indicates that he actually has very fond memories of fishing, that he's sharing something here, no matter how seemingly insignificant.

In spite of her monstrous willpower, the pilot is losing her battle against the painkillers. It isn't enough yet that she can't carry on a conversation, but there's a dullnes to her eye that suggests the drugs are beginning to take hold. Carefully, she withdraws her good arm into her blanket, huddling into it as comfortably as she can. The room feels cold to her; bone-chilling, in the way that hospitals always are.

Her eye remains fixed on Coulson, though, watching; listening. There's a twinge of sorrow as he steps back and moves his chair, establishes himself firmly outside of the quarrantine perimeter line around her hospital bed.

She should have expected it, really. Phillip Coulson is not by half as impulsive as she is. He is the water to her fire – cautious and patient, where she is passionate and impulsive.

It's a quality she actually admires in him. Rather than envy a skill or nature she knows she lacks, she respects that in him.

Truth be told, she respects a lot of things about him.

Coulson switches to English. There's a flicker of unrecognition in her eye, but it passes as she switches mental gears. It takes her a noticeably longer time than usual.

Ever been fishing?

"No… Phillip Coulson… I have never been fishing." Her voice is weak, her words little more than a breath. Her eye falls to half-mast, even though she makes an effort to continue watching him. She even manages a faint hint of a smile, exhausting though it is. "I take it… by the look on your face… that you enjoy it…?"

"I do. I haven't been in quite some time. My father used to take me. The best time to go is early morning. Six AM. Sun shining right over the waters. Everything's quiet. You can hear the fish plop a little. It doesn't really matter if you catch any. You bait the hook, you sit there in the slowly warming day, in the quiet, and you enjoy the beauty. Maybe something tugs your line, and you know you're going to have a fine dinner that night, something you caught and prepared yourself. Maybe it doesn't. Birds start singing, the wind sort of whispers through the trees. I go to church, you know, on the holidays, Christmas, Easter, but that's not really when I feel like I'm talking to the Almighty. I feel it when I've got my fishing pole in my hand, and I'm just sitting there, in the silence."

It's not the world's most captivating story. It has no plot, it has no point. It doesn't relate to anything at all that's important, save to remind Phil that he's got a cabin up in Wisconsin he never has a chance to use. He doesn't mention it, because really he finds he'd like to take her there, and that would violate his carefully established boundary lines.

Instead, he just rambles on and on about it, in his low, calm, quiet tones. Sharing this little bit of himself, this bit that not everyone gets.

Isa's eye dulls a little further as she listens to the explanation, but not because she finds it boring. She's always enjoyed being outdoors, although her lifestyle hadn't always lent itself to such things, especially not in her homeland.

Now, though, SHIELD has been teaching her that she doesn't need to sacrifice who she is as a person to be what she is as an agent. She can do both – she can pilot, she can pour her very being into the time she spends in the cockpit – but she is also free to be Raisa Ivanovna Yakovleva. Slowly, the organisation has taught her that the two can be separate; that they should be separate.

Slowly, soothed by the gentleness of his voice, her eye drifts closed—

"It sounds wonderful."

—but she's not sleeping yet.

"Perhaps someday… you can show me… how to fish. But I am… probably not very good at it." She chuckles, voiceless and breathless; her eye flicks open when it segues into an ugly wet cough. By the time she finds her breath again she leans back with a wince and a faint, breathless sound of pain. Even the painkillers can't suppress everything. "Probably I am not… patient enough for that… I think."

At least she knows that patience isn't her strong suit. Knowing is half the battle, right?

Swallowing against a dry throat, she glances back to him, red-rimmed and bloodshot eye drooping halfway closed. It's obvious that the activity means a great deal to him. Just talking about it seems to bring him peace, even if he's not actually out on a lake.

It's also a little hard to imagine him doing something so… mundane.

"I have always… liked being outside," she murmurs. "But the thing I like most… is the wind. It makes me feel… as though I am closer to the sky… you know…? Like if I close… my eyes—my eye," she corrects herself softly, "I am truly flying. Sometimes, in summer, when… I had the time… I would walk to a hill some distance… outside of Moscow… and I would sit up in the wild wheat… I would feel the wind in my hair… and I would watch the stars at night."

Slowly, oh so slowly, her eye drifts closed again – but not without a fleeting look of regret at his hand, firmly out of her reach.

"If you are… going to sit over there…" Isa licks her lips and marshalls her flagging strength. "That is putting you… a step or two… closer to the blankets. May I have one more? It is cold," she murmurs. "But probably… it is just me. I am tired."

"But please," she murmurs. "Tell me more…"

When she speaks again, it's so softly it could be missed, if not for her faint smile. "It is like… being there… Phillip Coulson."

"The trick is you don't make it about the fish," Phil says with a chuckle. "You make it about being on the boat, drinking the soda or the beer out of the cold ice chest, watching the birds. Being with the person you're with. If you make it about the fish, you won't have any fun." In this, he both answers her request to be told more, and answers her comments about being taught…

With perhaps some sort of tacit hint that he's willing to teach her, perhaps, when the time and place both have become whatever he deems to be appropriate.

"The best fishing days are a combination of wind and water anyway; you want the water a little choppy. Still waters make sleepy fish. Choppy waters make excited, interested fish. Fish that dart and dive and are hungry enough to take your bait, fish that don't spend a lot of time carefully considering what's in front of them. You want fish who are having fun, morbid as that sounds."

He smiles a little and says, "I've been on a bunch of different boats; even deep sea fishing once. There's nothing quite like the deep sea variety, because you can just…clean and cook and eat right there on deck. Maybe someone brings a little white wine. You've got a little butter, a little salad. There's nothing like it. No 5-star restaurant can duplicate true, fresh fish. Not one in all the world. Especially if you've gone and gotten hungry, out on the water and in the sun all day long."

"So it is… more about the…" The pilot trails off, brow furrowing as she tries to find the right words. It's getting a little hard to think as the painkillers take hold, and despite her grasp of the English language, it's still foreign to her. "The… ah, what is the word…"

The ambience, that's what she wants to say, but she can't quite find it. She gives up with a soft sigh.

That single blue eye watches Coulson carefully as he explains. It's hard to say whether she takes that tacit hint, but when she manages a faint smile, a strange dichotomy of tentative and warm, it seems she does.

Learning to fish would be interesting and it might even come handy for catching dinner some night – but the part she would be more interested in is the company spent in a place where various players on the grand stage of the world aren't trying to kill her.

Fishing is also a great way to waste a day.

She shakes her head, faintly. "It is the same… for any hunter, Phillip Coulson. If something… does not move… there is no instinct… to chase it. I used to… to be the same. I loved… combat flying… for that aspect alone. To chase, to challenge… to strive…"

"It is human nature, I think… in a way…" That blue eye lids, but she's not quite falling asleep; merely remembering. "We have… to challenge ourselves. There would not… be any challenge… in catching sleepy fish."

"Heh." She half-smiles, faintly. "Or should I… call you… Ribka?" Fish? "You seem… to enjoy it… like you have many… good memories of it. I am glad… that you have something… like that."

Leaning back, Isa lets her eye drift up to the ceiling, which is just as unremarkable as any other hospital ceiling. "Da. I am glad." To what, though, she doesn't say. Maybe the promise of learning to fish; the promise that the door is open a crack, but not closed. "So…"

Her eye turns back to Coulson, eyebrow quirking slightly. "Do you have a favourite kind of fish?"

Phil smiles as she plays with diminutives. He likes Filya, but all of that is on the other side of the Boundary Line. He comments not, playing those cards close to his chest once again. He does nod in agreement to her comments about chasing and challenge and the hunt, though adds, "Sleepy fish also just tend to sleep instead of bite. While the fish aren't totally the point it is nice to catch something."

She asks about his favorite, and he is all to willing to tell her all about that as well. He had no idea she could ask so many good, insightful questions about the fish really; it was something he fully expected to lull her into sleep. He is pleased, though, to be encouraged to ramble about the subject, to watch her take an interest in it. His voice turns quite lively, a bit passionate, even, as he tells her more.

"Yellow perch," he says. "I mean you can find all sorts of stuff back in the lakes…bass, bluegill, walleyes. But I think the perch is the tastiest. It's got a very mild flavor; it takes herbs well. It's best baked, but you can do it a dozen different ways. A lot of people prefer to fry it up, but I think that tends to ruin it. You end up tasting bread and seasoning and not the fish. You get tempted to drown it in ketchup. Fried is for fish that's been sitting in freezers and trucks for months." Utter contempt for fried even then, apparently, because he pulls this face.

On seeing the beleaguered agent's smile, the pilot manages a flicker of her own. It's getting difficult to stay so alert, though. Her strength is starting to flag.

It is nice to catch something, he says, and she can't help a faint nod. It would be unfortunate to spend all day in pursuit of something, only to return empty-handed; especially if that something was to be one's dinner. Then again, maybe a nice relaxing day on the lake would make up for not eating a tasty fish.

"Yellow… perch. Zholtyy okun'. I know the name… but I have not eaten it." Her response is softer, somehow fainter. She smiles but the expression seems mostly to herself. Maybe someday, he can teach her how to catch a yellow perch, and show her how to cook it.

When it comes down to it, cooking isn't exactly her strong suit – but it's really just following directions. Aside from her sense of responsibility when it comes to putting the safety of others first, she's generally good at following directions.

She lets her eye drift a little further closed. "I have not… tried cooking… fish. Not in years. I had… an uncle who… fished sometimes. He would sometimes… bring fresh fish back… when he would visit my father." That eye slips faintly out of focus. It won't be long, now, until the sedatives take hold. She's already slipping away, even though she's fighting it. "But that… was years ago. I have not seen him in… at least fifteen."

Finally that eye eases closed. When she speaks again, her voice is small and distant; so different from its usual gruff, confident tones. "I think," she murmurs, "I will sleep… for a little while…"

But she doesn't, right away, because even though her eye is closed, she manages to speak one last time.

"Thank you… Phillip Coulson. For…"

Although Isa doesn't say what, the warmth in her voice suggests more than just taking her mind off things by talking about fish. She's thanking him for staying, for being so kind to her, even if those sentiments are for the moment behind the boundary line.

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