Building a Better Mousetrap

May 28, 2017:

In which Agent Coulson meets Isa Reichert on the Bus, and the two try to puzzle out how Mikhail Nikolayevich Makarov got the drop on them in St. Petersburg.

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, Peggy Carter, Rusalka Stojespal, Tony Stark

Mood Music: None.


Fade In…

Other than sending several sets of SHIELD-themed sweat pants and tank tops, Phil Coulson has indeed been scarce. During the week he was either locked in his office for hours at a time, running back and forth to Washington, DC for a series of increasingly tense meetings as he tried with all his might to delay a certain arrest that needed delaying so that a certain American Hero might both pick up some exculpatory evidence and eliminate a huge danger from his brain…(successfully, one might add, but it wasn't easy)…and then, ultimately, disappearing into Russia again.

Pilot chatter says he called in an airstrike on a target on Lake Baikal, and used some of the intel swiped from Icarus Dynamics to make it look as though the strike was initiated and concluded by the corporation, rather than by SHIELD. Hydra, the Russian Government, and Icarus are no doubt swarming on each other like ants in a kicked ant hill as a result…which means SHIELD has more time, ultimately, to figure out how to best make use of what they learned on their nearly very catastrophic mission to St. Petersburg.

Now, he is back from Siberia (a mission which has ultimately convinced him that he's not a fan of Raisa's former country at all), however, and this means he needs to check in on said Intel.

This might be the point where Raisa Ivanovna learns one of the less-lovely sides of dealing with this man, because however kind and trustworthy he can be, he has his faults. One is that he's a workaholic; another is that when something has finally made him angry the anger remains at a low level for days and days, because he's not a person given to wild displays of anger. Stormy seas can remain stormy and dangerous for some time once they are stirred…that's Phil. The two often combine into a nasty soup that leaves him grim-faced and unable to switch gears. He has come looking for her, but his mind is very much on removing Icarus Dynamics as a threat to anyone at all, on finding Makarov and punching him in the face three or four times, and on making sure HYDRA walks away from the entire affair with a properly bloodied nose.

Thus, when he comes looking, anything personal between them is far, far from his mind.

The red-headed pilot hasn't been in any of her usual haunts. Once Coulson goes looking for her, he won't find her – the last ordinary place he might look is her apartment, which is the first place with a clue. The lights are off. A tiny toy die-cast bus sits on the kitchen counter. There's no note. The photos that had been so carefully tended on her mantle are purposefully turned face-down.

Coulson's a smart man. Scary smart, even. He can probably put the pieces together.

Melinda May had invited Isa to work from the Bus, maybe out of respect, maybe taking pity on the pilot's enforced medical leave and inability to fly. Isa had spent the first three hours gaping at the incredible aircraft and its insane level of comforts and conveniences. There's nothing, absolutely nothing, like this in her country of origin. Not that she's aware of.

Not even the highest military official in the country would have something like this available to him. SHIELD truly spares no expenses. She might have slept in just a little this morning, finding the lodgings just as comfortable as her bed in her apartment.

Coulson will find her in one of the work areas, bent over a laptop blazoned with SHIELD's sigil. She's tapping away at its keys, single eye fixed on the screen, every so often reaching for a digital tablet and stylus attached to it.

To see the screen from behind, it looks like she's as focused on Icarus as Coulson. Her features are twisted into a stony expression of concentration, using what looks like engineering software.

Looks like she's trying to recreate Makarov's aircraft, trying every way she knows how to figure out how and why he was able to go fast enough to very nearly hit escape velocity.

By the stubborn set of her jaw, she hasn't had any breakthroughs yet. So intent is she on her work that she probably won't even notice Coulson until he says something.

Phil gives a half a smile despite himself.

"You must have really made a positive impression on Agent May," he comments. "Man. I haven't been in the Bus in awhile."

He comes to the other side of the work table and adds, "I always thought it would be so much cooler with a fish tank."

But his levity can't last long. "I'm told you've been working with Stark and Stojespal to make heads or tails out of what we found in St. Petersberg. What have we got?" He's ready for some next steps, and he's ready for them like yesterday. Especially as he used Icarus, indeed, to cover his reasons for going to Lake Baikal in the first place.

He's clad in his sharpest, most authoratative suit. He doesn't look rumpled at all. Just focused, with his hazel eyes already narrowing on the screen.

There comes a short string of caustic curses in Russian, and Isa startles hard enough that she has to make a grab for the stylus, nearly accidentally flipping it across the table. She stares somewhat owlishly at Coulson while she waits for the rest of her brain to catch up and make sense of what she's looking at.

Apparently she really had her head in the game.

"What?" His comments on a fish tank seem to make her stare even more blankly while she tries to reboot her brain. Carefully, because she had almost sent it flying across the room, Isa sets the stylus down and pushes the laptop a quarter-inch or so away from her; enough to indicate she's paying attention to Coulson and not on her work.

"Agent May?" Her response is serious, her blue eye solemn. "Thanked her, already. A lot. Da, I am glad for that. Agent May, she is phenomenal pilot. I am impressed. Have not seen anyone like her where I come from." The pilot allows herself a hint of a grin. "Glad she is on my side, and not against it. Would be terrifying, I think, to have her on my six."

Isa tilts her head, very slightly, although there's just a hint of amusement in her eyes. Fish tank, indeed. That sounds like an awful idea.

"Information? Da. Sit." She pats the chair next to hers, turning the laptop around so he'll be able to see it, retrieving the stylus so she can point to various parts of the aircraft. "I am doing this in Russian. Easier to explain aircraft," she adds.

"<It looks like that son of a bitch started with one of the bigger Sukhoi attack dogs. The nose and the wings look right for that; they're not quite what I would expect of a Mikoyan and they're too sleek for an Illyushin.>" Isa reaches out with the stylus, indicating points on the screen with its nib. "<That's about where the similarities end.>"

She moves the stylus to point towards the area just behind the cockpit. It's sketched a little more loosely, there, without the smooth, confident lines of the things she knows are a certainty. "<I've been thinking about the shape of this thing ever since I saw it. Why did his aircraft have such a hunchbacked appearance? That was bothering me, at first.>"

He sits down where indicated, leaning forward to get a good look at the craft. The models she names are vaguely familiar to him, though honestly he'd have to go look them up to make a deeper study of them later in order to get the fullness of this briefing. Still, he's good at 'get the gist' – it's a good intro, but what he cares about is he's looking at an attack craft that's sleek, and with a strange hunchbacked appearance.

"And then?" he asks, game to hear the rest of this without too much interruption. His hazel eyes radiate complete and total focus, his face set into grim lines as he really gets his first good look at the craft that nearly ended his life in the cold St. Petersburg skies. It is a weird little plane. He gets that much from the rendering.

"<The problem is that it is not an attack craft. It is a fighter.>" Isa takes her stylus, pointing next to the point where the sweep of the wings join the fuselage and the reinforcement behind the cockpit. "<It would make sense to me if it were an attack craft. Field a squadron of drones, and you have your own escort. Yes? But this here, this is made to absorb shock; here, here, and here.>"

Her mouth sets into a grim line as she studies her handiwork. It's a little sloppy, but she was never trained for drafting. "<The ailerons and brake flaps, and the other control surfaces of the wings, are also made to endure heavy strain from the hypothetical model I have built. I do not know why this was made into a fighter, but… if it is, it is the most advanced fighter I know of.>"

"<Why they would even need this, I do not know.>" Next, she taps the hunchbacked array behind the cockpit. "<This is the mystery. I thought at first that it was full of broadcast equipment to control the drones, but now I do not think it is. I think that it has to do with the power plant, somehow.>"

The stylus moves. She taps the rear of the jet, where the turbines are slung under the wings. It looks somehow coarser and heavier than another fighter, or even a quinjet. "<The mystery is what he is using. That is what Sally Petrovna and Tony Stark and I cannot figure on. How he is achieving such speed. I do not think it is too volatile, or he would not have risked it for an unsure bargain.>"

"<On the other hand, perhaps it is.>" Isa sighs; sets the stylus down and rubs at her knotted hand and wrist. She straightens, lolling her head to each side, neck crackling. Her expression settles into a grimace as though she'd bitten into something sour. "<He has already established that he is insane, or a traitor, or both. I am still not certain which. I am certain only that whatever he has in mind, it is not good. For anyone.>"

She picks up the stylus, tapping at the bizarre-looking jet on the screen. "<This thing, I think, must be destroyed. Even the best scenario ideas that I have for it are not good. And the worst… they turn my stomach.>"

"Wait," Phil asks, frowning. "The difference between an attack craft and a fighter is?"

He's studied many topics, but the finer points of airplanes hasn't really been something he's needed to know before now. His level of command is such that he tells people who do know about planes to make things happen with those planes, and they do it. He has never worried about telling them specifically which aircraft to send. Half of being a good commander is surrounding yourself with good, smart people and trusting them to deliver good results. He can only become an expert in so many things.

"They're going to have more than one prototype," he points out. "Destroying the one isn't going to get it. What we need to do is capture one of those craft so the three of you can really understand it. Did it have any unique parts that you were able to identify, or use any unique fuel types? If it has anything like that we might be able to track purchases of those materials to identify where they might be building them or working on them."

He holds up a hand and says, "We're of course looking for Makarov, Raisa Ivanovna, but this is getting bigger than him all the time. If Icarus Dynamics perfects that technology and sells it to the wrong people before we can catch up…"

He leaves it unsaid.

It could be bad, however. Really bad. "If they chose to sell to Hydra instead of struggling with them we'd all be up a creek, for example."

"<Here and here.>" Isa points the stylus back to the plane, indicating the wings and the ventral line of the fuselage. "<An attack craft is made to be stable at low speeds. How fast you're flying when you release the payload influences how well you can hit the target, so attack craft are made to fly as slowly as they can. Not so slow that they would be left behind by their own escorts, of course… but they're made so they can manoeuvre and fly at low speed without stalling.>"

The stylus twitches sideways, to indicate the engine. "<Half of the key is here. In the turbines. But I have no way to know whether those are going to be standard power plants. My hunch is that they are probably not.>" She points again to the back of the cockpit, where it bulges out, and then to the underbelly of the fuselage again, where she's added large intake ducts. "<I saw intakes on that bird, for the few seconds I was able to see it. Giant intakes. You don't need to bring in that much air unless you're cooling something enormous. Even then, there is only so much that can do against a controlled burn or even an afterburner.>"

"<Heat is heat. That is what has me stumped, Phillip Coulson. I do not understand how they are counteracting the kind of heat a power plant capable of those kinds of speeds should create.>" Her brow furrows in consternation. "<Russia had never tried to build something like that. They refined, they perfected, they streamlined; but they did not create anew, not when it came to a standard high-performance turbine.>"

"<The other half of the key is the wings. Those wings are reinforced. Every square inch of them, I am betting, may well even be armoured. With such a monstrous power plant, they will not need to worry about armouring. In fact, it would not surprise me if it were armour-plated, the whole of it, so perhaps he did not care whether or not Agent May tried to target him. Normally,>" she explains, setting the stylus aside again, "<the sound of a missile lock, it is like nails on a blackboard to any pilot. You hear that, your first instinct is to do anything you can do to get rid of the lock. You hear that buzzer in your ear, you have two seconds to live. Maybe more, maybe less. Probably less. I have never timed it, but it also depends on how close your shooter is. Anyway…>"

She sighs, leaning back in her chair and eyeing the blueprints balefully. "<The point is that I am at an impasse here. I will have to take this to Tony Stark, and see what he thinks. I would not mind showing it to Sally Petrovna, either. Rusalka Stojespal,>" she adds, for Coulson's benefit. "<She is young, but she is brilliant, and a master of her craft, even I must admit.>"

"<Yes, they are going to have more than one prototype. I wonder where they are hiding it? But they will still want to preserve their prototypes. With bleeding edge guts like that, I imagine they are very expensive to build.>" Isa rubs at the scarred side of her jaw, eyeing the display without really seeing it. "<But this 'Icarus Dynamics,' I think they are bigger than I thought they were. Perhaps they have hidden for years. Worked in secret. Under the nose of the KGB itself, maybe.

"<Fuel type, though… that is also a mystery. The afterburners looked normal, but there is no way that ordinary fuel is going to give that kind of yield. Even your quinjets do not use a standard mix, although that may be because the demands of their engines are very different than a straight turbine…>" Isa trails off, with a sheepish half-smile. "<Sorry. I am losing myself again.>"

Raising a hand, she waves it carelessly, almost dismissively. "<I do not think the fuel type matters so much, right now; I am not convinced it is running on ordinary fuel. That is a puzzle piece I cannot solve right now. Of more concern to me is the power plant itself. How is it achieving such speed? Hypothetically, if you put a human pilot in a craft like that, it is perhaps possible for him to survive the trip in a pressure suit, if it is a very good pressure suit. But I will be honest with you, Phillip Coulson. Russian technology is not always very good. They must be getting help, or funding, or both, from somewhere else.>"

Maybe that's how Hydra enters the picture. She hadn't actually thought about them working together, but that's the kind of nightmare scenario that makes even Raisa Ivanovna Yakovleva shudder. "<Merciful God, I hope not,>" she adds disgustedly. "<Maybe they are backed by a private investor. Several. Someone with reason to see the state as an incompetent hindrance, maybe. That would not be hard, and I think is more likely.>"

She folds her arms over the table, though, and eyes Coulson with a look somewhere between determination and fatalism. "<Whatever the case is… Phillip Coulson, let me be honest with you. The more I see of this nonsense,>" she says, sweeping an arm at the laptop, "<the less I care about Makarov and the more I want to throw this train off its rails. Icarus is playing with fire. And the sooner we can shut them down, somehow, the better. Preferably before they discover Hydra, or vice-versa, as you have said.>"

Leaning back in her chair, the pilot huffs a frustrated sigh. "<All I can hope is that Icarus and Hydra are too busy snapping at each other to decide they should pool their resources. My best guess for the power plant would be the highest temperature threshold alloys you can smelt. But I am no metallurgist,>" she adds, shrugging. "<Until I have an opportunity to talk to Tony Stark, I am at an impasse.>"

"Yes, take it to them," Phil muses. "Because they're going to be able to take what you've just told me and reverse engineer a few possibilities for how they're doing that, and they'll either get us comparable technology quickly, or they'll give me a list of possible components I can track around the world, or, and this is the ideal scenario, both. At this point I'm about to start sending a few corporate espionage specialists into Russia to see if they can't get themselves hired by Icarus so we can understand both the scope of their operations and what their ultimate goal is – though they're a company, and the goal may be as simple as 'create competitive military technology that makes us a ton of money.'"

"Ian Quinn could be backing them," Phil says, thinking immediately to the nastiest private investor he knows of. "I'll look into what he's been buying on public record recently, and where he's been going that we know of. That, too, might create some new leads we can look into. It also isn't out of keeping for Hydra to sometimes literally seem to be attacking their own interests so we don't realize what's what. Though if that's the case Hydra will likely know it was SHIELD, not Icarus, that bombed one of their facilities. But the Russian government won't know that we just carried out an airstrike on their soil, so it's still all to the good. Nevertheless, a Hydra rope-a-dope could be going on here. Would explain how this company operated without the KGB catching on."

"I want you to coordinate with both of them and then come see me when you've gotten me anything on my wish list here." Delegation is the name of the game, and she's far better suited to doing this than he. It also keeps her engaged and productive.

"I want you to brace for the fact that this isn't going to give you any sense of quick resolution unless we grow very, very fortunate indeed. These sorts of things tend to become massive, snarling problems. These people set fires, we put them out. It usually takes a long time to get to the source of the flames. It becomes a laundry list of things we want or need to accomplish, rather than just a single goal. Mentally, and I think you're already doing a good job of this, but mentally we need to make sure we're focused on the people we're protecting and the harm Icarus and/or Hydra, or both, can do."

He pauses thoughtfully. "Get me a list of the most talented aerospace engineers from your homeland that you can think of, do a little research if you have to. Let's find out where the top 20 or 30 of them have been lately. Let's find out who has dropped off the radar, who is spending too much money, whatever. They have to have real talent working for them, and if we can figure out who the likely candidates are we can surveil them, and, eventually, bring them in."

See?

Laundry list.

She's speaking in Russian and he doesn't mind, but English is flowing out of him in turn. Not because he's trying to be disrespectful…for one he's just in no mood to slip back into the language after spending quite some time as a particularly unpleasant Hydra lieutenant, and for the other, he's trying to think through all these courses of actions. Just as she thinks better in her native language, he thinks better in his.

"<What? No.>" Isa glances back to Coulson, shaking her head. "<I do not want a quick resolution. I want a thorough resolution. This is much bigger than that insignificant son of a bitch, and I'm not going to feel satisfied until I can help to resolve this mess. He can go get fucked for all I care,>" Isa adds, hotly. "<Maybe his engine exploded over St. Petersburg, and they're still finding pieces of him. I hope so.>"

Well. That went well. She lets the anger fade, though, bowing her head very slightly in a gesture of concession. "<That being said… yes. I know that this is more important than him. I will not argue if something horrible happens to him, and might perhaps have a celebratory glass of wine if that were to be the case, but it is not my priority.>"

She glances back to the laptop screen and frowns. "<I will take it to them as soon as they are available. Tony Stark is often busy, but I think that he will see me if I come calling, since I do not often do so. I will see if Sally Petrovna is able to leave a message with him that I want to speak with him.>" The scarred fingers of her right hand drum on the table, restless. Her left arm is still in a sling. She's dressed professionally, in a black button-down shirt and black slacks, a small SHIELD logo pinned to the collar of her shirt. Her hair's been pulled back into a slightly messy braid that suggests she just threw it together to get it out of her face. She raises her right hand, then, absently toying with the end of the braid and frowning even more deeply.

"<Whatever they are doing, they are too clever by half. Yes, Phillip Coulson, I am focused on that. The thought of what Icarus can do with a thing like this, and the thought of what a thing like this can do in the hands of a group like Hydra, is enough to give me nightmares.>" She eyes him at a bit of an oblique angle, expression bland. He may have noticed, the night he spent on her loveseat, that she has them. Perhaps she didn't say anything, but he might have heard her mumbling in her sleep. The word pozhar, fire, came up clearly.

But she wouldn't direct attention to that. She's like a tiny bird puffing itself up to disguise its weakness; throwing itself on its would-be attackers to hide a broken wing. Those weaknesses might as well not exist in the waking world. Isa would never acknowledge them – which speaks to how seriously she's taking this.

"<Aerospace engineers?>" Isa looks up, frowning and tilting her head thoughtfully. "<Yes, I will do so, although I am not so familiar with them personally. I know their names, but I cannot speak to their character, for those whose names I recognise.>" She flips her stylus between thumb and forefinger, restless. "<I will be happy when I can walk again. I do not like feeling helpless, Phil Coulson.>" She holds up a forefinger, along with a sour half-smile. "<And before you tell me it is my own damned fault, I will tell you that I did not have a choice, although I will concede you the point of trying.>"

"<That is a good plan, though.>" Tap, tap, tap goes the stylus. She finally sets it aside, perhaps recognising that it's no more than a nervous tic of sorts. Her right hand returns to toying with the end of her braid as she frowns at the laptop display. The young-at-heart gesture seems at odds with her grizzled appearance. "<I will contact Sally Petrovna and Tony Stark as soon as I am able. But for the moment, there is nothing I can do. It is late. I will be up before the sun, again, and I will contact them then. She will convince him to see me, if he does not agree to see me right away, if I tell her that it is important.>"

Her eye turns back to Phil, frowning. "<In the meantime… I have not seen much of you, although I did not expect to. Have you been taking care of yourself, Phillip Coulson? You look tired.>" Her mouth twitches into that faint hint of a smile again. "<And… thank you for the clothing. It was much appreciated. Do you know how uncomfortable hospital gowns are?>" It's a rhetorical question, mostly. The quirk of her mouth suggests she probably guesses he does know. Getting put through the wringer seems to be a job requirement of a group like SHIELD. The work they do is satisfying, but by no means is it safe.

If her burst of anger at his warnings ruffle him, it hardly shows. But then, when does it ever? Only when he has responding anger, and that's a very rare thing. Besides, she resolves it herself, quickly enough, and with no further intervention from him. Her head's in the game, right where it needs to be, and that's what he needed to know.

If there's one thing Phil knows it's agents with nightmares. Granted, he doesn't spend his time on couches listening to most of them, but he's been on missions where sleeping next to one another was required. He has a few himself, though his own sense of inner conviction often acts as an emotional buffer between him and events which would be traumatic or frightening. Such mental stability is a gift though, one no different than having the ability to fly well, or the ability to engineer amazing prototypes as a relatively young college student. Everyone is different, and even the meta set, he notices, tend to have weaknesses to balance out their considerable strengths.

He gives a little quirk of a smile when she asks after his well-being. "It's nothing a good cup of coffee won't fix. Maybe a few hours of uninterrupted time, if I can steal them, to listen to the Yankees play. As for hospital gowns, I agree. They're the absolute worst. They should be criminal, though I suppose they're useful for when the surgeons need to get to various things."

If he'd been planning on telling her anything was her fault, it doesn't show now. In fact, he says quietly, "I think the matter of your actions in St. Petersburg has been adequately resolved, Raisa Ivanovna." Or, at least, he knows he's never going to convince her that listening to his orders and May's was the right course of action. "Any missions that we undertake on Icarus in the future will actually be undertaken via ground transport on nights that the weather prohibits flying, unless we're stealing an actual prototype. Come to think of it, getting in to steal plans might be better."

He frowns thoughtfully. A mission might be forming in his mind, for one Agent, perhaps two, someone very good at slipping in and out of places to get the required information. But he sits on the thought, as he sits on so many others.

Instead, he murmurs: "Appear at points which the enemy must hasten to defend; march swiftly to places where you are not expected.'" Sun Tzu's The Art of War, today, as he contemplates the best way to tackle this particular problem.

Yankees? Isa's brow furrows at that explanation, not recognising the term. She hasn't paid much attention to the sports offerings of her new home. Most of the time, she has herself buried in her work, especially since her flight and fall over St. Petersburg. She's been a bit preoccupied with digging her way down the rabbit-hole and seeing how deep this Icarus Dynamics runs.

Smashing her ex-husband like the insignificant insect she considers him to be is, at this point, just a convenient perk. She said she would fly for SHIELD, and that is exactly what she intends to do. It isn't just flying, either. She'll serve them in whatever capacity she can, willingly, to combat evils like Hydra or Icarus Dynamics wherever they're found.

She's shown she has the mettle for it. No matter how misguided, it must have taken courage for her to do what she did, piloting a burning and crippled quinjet down to earth to keep May's quinjet from being engulfed by the flames.

She tilts her head a little, eyeing him. Something flickers across her expression when he says her actions were adequately resolved, but whatever it is – it almost looks like guilt – she remains silent on that aspect.

"Ground transport?" She switches back to English, but it carries the softer tones of her true tone of voice, when she isn't unconsciously disguising how well she can speak it. Her eye slides back to the schematics on the laptop screen, narrowing in thought. "Stealing a prototype, that is not a bad idea. If what I have done is accurate at all to its systems, I am confident I could pilot one. Then we could see what we are working with. But the drones will not do us any good. I do not know if there are even manual controls in those, and could not tell you, not without seeing one in person. No; it would be better to see one of the squadron leaders."

She rubs her jaw again, frowning as she eyes the schematics. It's not until he quotes Sun Tzu that she snaps her attention back toward him, as though she'd gotten lost for a moment.

Coffee, he'd mentioned. "Phillip Coulson. Would you like a cup of coffee? I should probably get up and walk around; I have been sitting here for…" Isa squints at the tiny clock in the laptop's display.

"Too long," she finishes, vaguely.

…He probably doesn't even want to know how long she's been tearing at this engineering conundrum like a mastiff with a bone. He'd just order her to go get some rest, and when it comes to her own well-being, she's very… forgetful. In a very specific sort of way.

He hesitates, but he offers a faint smile. "I never turn down a good cup of coffee."

And if she's offering to stretch her legs and get it for him, so much the better. If they could get the actual engineering specs for both the squad leaders and the drones, that would be the real way to do it, the absolute best way. But where would those specs be, and how to get to them, and how to get them back?

A problem for another time. He studies her, and ultimately doesn't necessarily need her assessment of how long she's been at it to recognize that she's been at it too long. "One cup of coffee, and then you're done for the night," he advises. "You're going to get sleep, wherever you go to get that sleep." He already knows she has a tendency to obsess…that is one of the ones they share, apparently, and while he doesn't do much of a better job of taking care of himself, he can at least usher others to it.

He also saw her brow furrow. "They're a baseball team," he says with a smile. "The New York Yankees. I enjoy baseball, when I get the chance to listen to it, or watch it. I usually listen to it though; I can do other things while I listen. Not very important things, but…I usually catch up on the necessary administrivia during that time."

"Da? I will get you one." Isa takes a moment to heave herself to her feet, using the cane to steady herself as she does. She's moving much better than when she was first released, no longer needing crutches, but she's still moving stiffly and somewhat gingerly. It must still ache. The body was never meant to regrow tissue at such accelerated rates, after all, though it's a small price to pay for being back on her feet.

The coffee maker is thankfully not too far away, and she hobbles over to it to set a cup to brewing. "Hn?" One more and then she's done? "Oh. Da. I was only going to have half a cup, and then turn in. I have sat too long in that chair, and no matter how comfortable it is, I am hurting." She gestures to indicate her left leg. "The things SHIELD can do are amazing, but the body was never meant to regrow tissue that fast, I think, maybe."

Her mouth twists, sourly, as she waits for the coffee to dispense. Pain; more weakness. It galls her, even if it's just a fact of life. "I hurt, still. But the doctors, they tell me I will not need the cane in another week. They tell me I did not need the crutches in less time than they thought." She gestures vaguely, shrugging her right shoulder. "They told me I have a strong heart. That I bounce back quickly, for as much as I was hurt. Better than the opposite, I guess, da?"

It beats still being bedridden. She'd probably be going out of her mind right about now if she were. Or begging Tony Stark for some kind of virtual reality something that she could use to accomplish actual work without needing the use of her shattered limbs. He'd probably have something, too.

"Baseball," she repeats, unfamiliarly. "Oh. Sport, da? I have heard of it, but never seen it. I have never bothered much with sports."

Isa looks like she's giving him a thumbs-up, but she points upward, as though to indicate the sky. "My interests were always elsewhere."

There's a short pause while she takes one cup off the coffee maker and puts the second on. The first is apparently meant for him, as she stirs in the mess of cream and sugar that he seems to prefer, before hobbling over with it. Despite having a full cup of liquid, she balances it well, setting it down carefully before returning for hers.

"So," she says, conversationally. That blue eye settles on Coulson, speculative, before she offers a faint smile. "I don't remember much of when you came to visit me. SHIELD's sedatives are very good. But I do remember that you came. Thank you for visiting. And thank you again for the clothing. It was most helpful." It helped to feel like a normal human being, instead of some kind of test experiment in a stiff papery hospital gown. So what if everything had the SHIELD logo on it? It's a cool logo! Right?

Isa scoops her cup from the coffee maker once it finishes, stirring in the same ratio of cream and sugar she'd added to Coulson's. Two for him? Or maybe she just feels like trying something new?

Hobbling back over, Isa sets her cup down before easing herself back into her chair. She settles in with a sigh, leaning her cane against the table before wrapping both hands around the cup of coffee. "You know," she observes, "sometimes, it is good to have a cup just to have something warm to hold. Best for cold nights. I would go outside Moscow, sometimes. I would drive out beyond the city, and I would park there, and take coffee with me up the hill. I would watch the stars at night." She takes a sip of coffee, hissing a little. Too hot. "The stars here are different. And I cannot see them well from the city. Your American cities are very bright at night. Do they ever sleep…?"

Nope. They sure don't. Hello, New York.

He suddenly feels like a real ass for letting her get the coffee, no matter what she says about having sat in that chair for too long. He opens his mouth to stop her.

Then, the side of him that's a little more in tune with people stops him. She is upset at her own perceived weakness. If he tries to stop her from doing something as basic as making a cup of coffee she offered to make then she will no doubt be furious at best, mortified at worst. It's no bad thing, he knows from experience, to exercise those regrown tissues as well.

Thus, he takes the coffee with little more than a quiet, "Thank you," smiling faintly that she's gotten the measure of it just right. The cream has to turn the coffee just that right shade of caramel brown. He lifts an eyebrow when she tries it the same way, but doesn't comment on why she might. Instead, he listens as she speaks about stargazing, about whether American cities ever sleep.

"Well, every individual does, but the collective, here? Not much. Go out into the rural areas and you'll have a different experience. I imagine. Some places roll up their sidewalks—" Whoops, that's an idiom, so he amends, "Uh, close every business…by 5 PM on the dot every day. I believe Fahnestock State Park is supposed to be a good stargazing site as well; if you wanted a place to drive out to just like you did in Moscow."

She says she doesn't remember much of the conversation on sedatives, and he chooses for whatever reason not to fill her in at all.

To go by her expression, the taste of the coffee wasn't quite what she expected, markedly sweeter than the way she usually takes it. Sometimes it's good to experiment… but sometimes it's good to stick with what you know! She drinks it without complaint, though. It's still coffee. Maybe the sweetness will take the edge off the caffeine or something.

He's right. She could use some sleep. It's one thing to have a good work ethic, but it's not healthy to spend too much time at any single task. Coming back to things with a clear head is necessary in this case. There's too much riding on it not to.

"Fahnestock State Park," she repeats, tilting her head a little. "Thank you. I will remember that. I used to dream about buying a telescope, but I could never afford something like that in Moscow. Besides, it is more fun to watch them with only one's eyes. Eye," she corrects herself, good-naturedly. It may be that she lost an eye, but she's not afraid to poke fun at herself over it. She's long since gotten used to it. "It is as much about enjoying the night as it is watching the stars."

"Meteor showers are the best," she adds, sipping at her coffee, with something of an effort of will. "There is always something to see."

She falls silent for a moment and watches Coulson calmly, almost studying him. "I remember you spoke of fishing. I remember you said that you enjoy it." A half-smile. "It is not something I have ever done, but I would not mind learning. They say that is very relaxing, too. And a fish cooked well is a delicious meal. Phillip Coulson, would you teach me to do that, some time?"

"In exchange," she offers, "I will teach you to find the constellations, if you do not know already. Navy men know how to navigate by the stars, though I am afraid that is not a skill I ever learned. I always looked more for my own amusement."

She points up, as though to indicate the stars. "Later, of course. Much later. I think Icarus will have all of SHIELD much too busy to do such things… to be honest with you, I am looking forward to contributing. Too long I have spent my time cringing and hiding."

"And in a way, it is a means for me to atone," Isa says, slowly; seriously. "For so many years I flew the newest designs, and contributed to greater and easier ways for men to kill each other. Even if I did not push those buttons myself, even if I did not take those shots, their blood is on my hands, because I helped to perfect the things that ended their lives in faraway places. So helping SHIELD to protect people – that is what I want to do, Phillip Coulson, with the rest of my life, of my own free will."

"I think that can be arranged," he says, of teaching Isa to fish. He gives a faint smile, but it's got warmth to it. He warms his hands with his own coffee, falling silent as she speaks of the decisions she's come to.

"These decisions have steadied you," he observes. It's to the good – Raisa Ivanovna is a passionate lady, but the wild swings of emotion that she has been prone to in the past aren't always an asset in the field. Turning this corner speaks to someone who is channeling all that passion into something productive, instead of into getting overwrought. It was all natural, the way she was feeling and acting, but this?

"And I think, in having made them, you will find that you are never in a position where you think you have just one thing to live for ever again. There is never a shortage of reasons to live when helping others is your reason for being, because there is never a shortage of people who desperately need help."

She speaks of blood on her hands, and he turns sober. "There will also always be blood. I killed several men on this latest mission, by my own hand, directly." They were not the first, they will not be the last. "Either they were going to die, or my team was, and everyone they'd later kill doing everything they were doing out there, which was its own brand of terrible. I can't talk about it, but…those were the options. I chose to protect my team. I hope they are resting in peace wherever they are, or that they will be reborn into the kinds of men and women who make different choices next time."

He leans his head back, closes his eyes. "The reasons why a thing is done matter as much as what was done. But I'll be the last person to tell you that you don't need to atone, because the thing is…those impulses grow from inside your heart. If you say that you do, you no doubt do, because your heart knows that something in your motivations at the time was not in line with who you were, and what you stand for."

But he opens his eyes and looks over at her without raising his head, a warmer smile on his face. "Still. With those convictions made…welcome to SHIELD. Now you truly are an Agent."

"Good." Isa's expression remains mostly neutral, but there's a faint flicker of warmth through her face; the blue of her eye. Her gaze turns back to the laptop display for a moment, but it's clear when her eye flicks back that she's listening to him.

Even so, she can't help herself – her hand moves for the stylus, making a few minor changes to her hypothetical schematic; jotting down a few more notes. Maybe Stark can help her make something feasible out of this. Anything that could bring them closer to what Icarus is really doing out there.

The decisions have steadied you, he says, and her eye turns back toward him for a half-second. She listens in silence as he delivers the rest of his observation. They've tempered her, shaped her; helped lend her purpose after the majority of her life came crashing down around her. She has a strong heart, the doctors had told her, but she must have a strong heart in the other sense, too. She's dragged herself over her personal field of broken glass, and forged herself through fire and single-minded determination into a functional agent.

She's found her purpose.

"Da. There will be blood. There is always blood in this world, and I learned long ago there is not avoiding it. The difference now is that I may choose what blood and for what reason it is spilled." There's something troubled in her eye, but also calm, as though she's made peace with her decision. "I fight now to protect others. If someone puts themselves in my path, now? They do it willingly. It is not the same as civilians. As unprotected villages, or towns, or even cities, that are placed in the line of fire because of some politician's decision."

She look at him levelly; determinedly. "Thank you, Phillip Coulson."

Then, and only then, does she smile – the smile of someone who has reached a decision they can believe in; warmth, too, because he has stood by her all of this time.

"And thank you, Phillip Coulson, for believing in me. I know I am not the easiest agent to work with. I know I am tempermental, and… what is the American phrase? High work? No. High maintenance? That," she adds, more confidently. "And I know that I am quick to anger, and quick to act… I am not used to playing the long game. But I am trying to work on all of that." Her half-smile is a little sardonic. "I think that is why fishing will be good for me. Maybe it can teach me patience, da?"

Her hand moves to indicate the whole of the Bus around her. "In the meantime… this is a good place to work. I will have to thank Agent May again, the next time I see her. You know, she is an incredible pilot. And I am also too proud, Phillip Coulson; I do not say that lightly of anyone. I did not think she would be able to support both quinjets, but she is a master. Truly."

"I think it would take more than a day on a boat to teach you patience," Phil teases. "You might need a whole lot of days on a boat." It's gently done though, he's not really trying to give her a huge hard time about her impatient nature.

"High maintenance usually refers to women who want to be draped in expensive gifts. You're not high maintenance. You were going something, you needed a shoulder, and that's all there is to it. It happens to everyone. And all we can ever do is keep working on ourselves." He spreads his hands. "I had to stop biting pencils." It's a joke, a silly one. "My SO once told me if I snapped one more spitty pencil in his presence he was going to beat me senseless. I just had this terrible nervous habit."

He smiles at the mention of Agent May, and the Bus. He looks all around and says, "May is the type of person who will always take care of you, but she will always expect the best from you as well. But if she feels you are giving that best she will go out of her way for you every time. She never acts like she cares, but she absolutely does. She is one of the most trustworthy people I know. When you guys truly fly as wingmen to one another in some combat fight where our technology has not been handily defeated – we need to know how they got around our cloaking, too – I have a feeling it's going to be a day that lives on in infamy in the minds of our enemies."

"I think I would need a whole lot of days on a boat," Isa agrees, with a rueful half-smile. At least she knows she has problems with patience. She has enough self-awareness to poke fun at it, a little. "But I do not see how that would be a problem, except for the part where I really do not have that many days free. It would be relaxing, at least."

The prospect of sitting on a boat doesn't bother her in the least. According to her dossier, and security footage from the organisation's training facilities, she is in fact a strong swimmer. Water has no reason to frighten her. It is the antithesis of fire, after all.

In fact, being surrounded by water is probably relaxing to her.

One can't burn if one is saturated.

Isa folds her hands around her coffee mug, looking down at it, blue eye drifting half-closed. "Oh." Expensive gifts? That's hardly her style. Indeed, she seems to prefer things that are more practical than anything else, if her appreciation of the clothing Coulson sent her is any indication.

"I see. No… not even before. Those things, they have never mattered to me." Her eye flicks back up to him, slightly blank at the acronym. SO? Oh, supeior officer. Presumably. The blankess gives way to a slight furrow of her brow. "Nervous habit? I must admit that I have a difficult time imagining you nervous, Phillip Coulson."

Nervous habits. She shows a flicker of a half-smile. "As a girl, I would pace, when I was nervous. I would drive my mother crazy. I still do that, sometimes, but I like to think I am better about it."

When Coulson describes the inner workings of Melinda May, Isa smiles, but it isn't the slightly self-depreciating expression she usually shows. It's genuine. "Da. I get that impression. That is why I give to her my best… and I hope that is the case, too." She reaches for her cup, taking a sip of coffee, savouring the warmth of it. At least she has something to savour; it sure as hell isn't the taste, but at least she manages to swallow it without cringing. How does he drink this stuff every morning? Curiosity had compelled her, but there are some mysteries that are better left as… well… mysteries.

The smile fades; replaced again by business. "I will talk to Tony Stark, too. See if he has maybe any suggestions about the cloaking. I think that would be something he might have ideas about… he is knowledgeable, even if he is infuriating, sometimes, to talk to." Freaking man-child. There's no denying that he is a brilliant engineer, though. "I am curious about that myself. Maybe something to do with the radio control of the drones? They all seemed to know where we were, right away. That is the only thing I can think of," she adds, gesturing toward the laptop screen without looking away from Coulson, "unless the squadron lead has some kind of equipment packed behind cockpit."

There's a moment or two of silence, and her eye drifts back to the screen again.

"If I can find out how this thing is built… maybe we can make one of our own," she adds. Before that can go into any unpleasant directions, she holds her right hand up in placating gesture. "Not like theirs. Build it to our needs. Something that can get in and out of an area quick, quicker than anything else. Maybe some kind of counterelectronics suite, da? Something to clear air or surface for rest of troops… ehhhhh," she sighs, letting go of her coffee cup, reaching her right hand behind her head and leaning back in her chair. "Is a thought, but for later, I guess."

She stays that way for several minutes, tipping her head back, blue eye sliding shut as she heaves a sigh. It's good to stretch. When she straightens, she rests her arms on the table, eyeing her fellow agent calmly and seriously. Maybe she's about to ask something serious. Something personal, even, maybe.

"Phillip Coulson." Isa finally speaks, slowly raising her red brow.

"…How in hell do you drink this every morning?" Isa thumbs at her coffee cup.

Phil Coulson smiles and says, "I get nervous all the time. It's just after awhile I learned to control it. I used to eat pencils, hum rock songs, tap my foot. I used to be kind of bad at lying too. I started as just this wide-eyed data analyst. They never tagged me for field work at all, and certainly not for command. But it turns out I had a bit of a knack."

He listens, of course, to everything else, even when her veer into Engineering Land completely goes over his head. For this, he merely smiles…the course of action has been laid and set, and what remains is to see what is made of it.

She looks like she's about to get personal, and he braces. He's not ready for that. Not because of her, necessarily. But because he just ordered a bunch of people killed, some of which Agent Carter rightly pointed out might could have been salvaged. But a rescue mission would have been so costly in terms of his own people's lives that he could not ultimately justify it, nor could he justify allowing the facility he just went to the ability to continue to exist.

He has a feeling Agent Carter is not going to be pleased with the decision should she learn of it, but he is also aware that were he Hydra, he would have shot any prisoners who were actually salvagable about five minutes after their harrowing escape.

Nevertheless, it weighs on him. So when it turns out to be gripe about his coffee habits…he just lets out a soft chuckle and shakes his head, hazel eyes offering a muted twinkle. He drains his own coffee-milk concoction and says, "One of the great mysteries of life, I suppose."

"I pace. I have always been one to pace." Isa gestures with her good hand as though to indicate something going back and forth, back and forth. "Would drive engineers crazy, before and after I flew prototype, when I would give my report to them. Usually I would give it in writing, and wait as they read it. Sometimes I would tell them; stay and answer questions." Her mouth twitches in a wry almost-smile. "Would make them so nervous."

Sometimes it served the self-righteous twits right. She would purposefully let off that nervous energy around them just to make them sweat. Other times, when she had the less overbearing types, she would hold herself back and play nice. Her active and energetic personality wasn't what most of them expected.

She shrugs, at his mention of data analysis. "Really? I would not have thought that. Seem more like you have a gift for fieldwork. Specifically, leadership. Planning," she adds, tapping a scarred finger to her temple. "It is not easy, and it is not for everyone. I would not seek leadership, myself. I am better at following." Her half-smile turns somewhat self-depreciating. "Really." Well, aside from That One Time.

Maybe she notices the tension about him, the way he braces when she seems like she's going to ask or say something personal. Maybe she had actually intended to, and veered away from it, out of respect for his comfort level. It's hard to know. She's sharper than she lets on, most of the time; much more canny than her personality would seem to indicate. She watches and observes; studies and runs her own mental analysis, when emotion isn't clouding the issue. A problem she has made clear she's aware of – and knowing is half the battle, after all.

When she smiles, it's an expression both warm, and maybe a little sad. It may be she doesn't know what kind of details he's wrestling with, but she knows that if he's in a position of leadership, he wrestles. Things weigh on him. It's inevitable in work like this; any kind of work where lives may be on the line at any point.

It's easier when all she has to worry about is to fly the plane. Having the easier duty almost feels like cheating, in a way.

To his chuckle and his comment on the coffee and life's great mysteries, she only smiles, but it's that same slightly melancholy smile.

"I have an idea, Phillip Coulson. When you are once again free, and when I am free and no longer broken… teach me to fish. A SHIELD agent's life is a busy one, but everyone needs a break now and again, da? It would not even need to be for long. Half an afternoon on a lake." There's a short pause, and she tilts her head, braving another sip of the sickly-sweet coffee. "Or, some night, I will take you to – where was it that you recommended? Fahnestock State Park? I will bring coffee, or soup, or something warm."

There's another short pause.

"Not soon, if you do not want to. Not even far distant, if that is your preference, too," she adds, gently. Then, her voice drops a little lower. "I do not want to overstep, Phillip Coulson." A faint half-smile flickers across her face, a little melancholy; almost a little guilty. "Only to help. Perhaps that would help. Something far removed from the things that you are accustomed to; from the routine."

He can definitely see why a pacing, glowering red-head with an infamous temper might make the engineers she worked with nervous, but the thought amuses him more than anything else. "When I was younger, the gift was well-buried," he says, wryly. "I was even more of a dork then than I am now, and I'm aware that I'm still pretty gosh darn dorky."

Self-awareness!

He catches that melancholy. It causes one of his inscrutable smiles to steal over his face. This one is inscrutable with a light dusting of empathy, but still very difficult to read, his face naturally settling into lines that don't give very much away at all. His body language doesn't change one whit, a man who is so used to playing everything close to his chest that it's a wonder that he's managed to reveal to her as much as he has. But then again, sleeping on her couch was a pretty big reveal.

She spins out her idea, and he continues to just give her this look for a long moment before he answers. Deliberating, perhaps, or perhaps studying her.

"I'll teach you to fish," he says, at last, a promise that offers no more and no less. Only one of his reservations – the one in which she was drugged out of her mind when she started delving into the connection that has sprung up between them – has properly been removed. The other two still linger, and the big one…the one where he's her boss…is unlikely to go away any time soon. But…he'll teach her to fish.

But he also stands, putting his empty coffee cup aside. He tilts a finger at her and raises an eyebrow, still smiling.

"Lights out," he orders. "Here or your apartment, I don't care, but lights out, Agent Yakovleva. It's time. I'll be heading up to my office to do much the same. I've got another ridiculous meeting in DC tomorrow morning."

"When I was younger, I was more of a handful, I expect most people would say." Isa allows herself a somewhat self-depreciating grin. "Probably the only reason I was not shipped off, probably somewhere unfortunate, was that I did what I did for the Motherland, always. I am sure I had a reputation among the engineering corps. And I know that I had a reputation among my flight crews. But you do not take chances with aircraft. If things are not done exactly right, accidents happen."

Like the one that lost her most of the right side of her face, or the use of her right eye… although these days, she isn't so sure that might not have been sabotage rather than carelessness. It would make some kind of sense, although she hasn't yet puzzled out how the pieces fit, if that's the case.

"Good." Raisa Ivanovna Yakovleva looks inordinately pleased with herself when he says he'll teach her to fish. It might not be a useful skill to very many people, but ways to wind down her overactive mind and actually relax are few and far between for her. "Very good. Thank you, Phillip Coulson. I think it will be good for the both of us." It'll take both their minds off the stresses of the job. Even her duties carry with them stresses – if not from the skeletons that are threatening to push their way out of her closets, than the unbelievable mess she's uncovered belonging to her former husband.

And oh, what a splendid mess that all is. Just trying to put the details together makes her head hurt.

Slowly, when a finger is levelled at her, that red brow arches in a classic who, me? expression.

Lights out, he says, and she casts such a forlorn look at the laptop display that it must seem almost comical. "Ah, but I was almost finished. I want to show this to Tony Stark this week. And also Sally Petrovna, as well. I think they will help us to find answers…" She doesn't argue, this time, which suggests she's either exhausted, in pain, or both.

Isa sighs.

"Fine. You win, Phillip Coulson." She can't help a flicker of a smile when he calls her Agent Yakovleva. Like that makes it somehow official; as though she had been waiting for some unknown sign that she is truly a part of SHIELD. "I think I like that. I think I am looking forward to the day where I can use that name, and not hide behind another."

Pushing herself to her feet, she reaches for her cane, leaning on it. Much like the rest of her tastes, it's simple elegance; a length of varnished oak with a rubber stop. "I will sleep here, I think. I have been staying here, at Agent May's invitation. If you see her before I do, please thank her for me, will you? The Bus, it is truly impressive. And I am deeply appreciative of her offer."

Isa pauses, not quite brushing past Coulson on her way past. He's a good two inches taller than her, so she has to tilt her head very slightly to look up at him, arching that red brow as she studies him for a moment.

"Hm." A thoughtful sound, as she considers his own admission of morning meetings. Turning, she reaches with her right hand, straightening his tie (which doesn't need much straightening) with the faintest hint of a smile. "Da, I will go. I am always up early."

"But… I do so on one condition." Her right hand falls away from his tie. "Maybe you keep the midnight oil burning for the sake of the rest of SHIELD, but you must take care of yourself, too, da? Get some rest."

She gives his shoulder a pat as she files past him, toward the crew quarters.

"Rest, and take care of yourself, Phillip Coulson," she throws, over her shoulder. "I will contact you when I have spoken with Stark Industries."

"You'll probably be able to use it sooner rather than later," Phil says, offhandedly. "Your name, that is. I've had agents gathering blackmail material on anyone who might still be interested in you for several weeks now. If it all goes as planned, I'll be able to finagle you some sort of official forgiveness within 90 days. If it doesn't, there might be some shooting, so…fingers crossed."

It's not really a joke. Indeed, his face doesn't really twitch. Given he has to go have some of those blackmail discussions personally some of that shooting could very well be aimed at his face. But this is a game he has played before, and since the people who he's blackmailing are not particularly good, kind, or innocent people he doesn't feel too bad about it. It's a bloodless way to get the job done…so long as none of the shooting stuff starts.

She steps foreward. She adjusts his tie. A gesture that is as intimate in its own way as ironing his clothes was. Almost as intimiate as a kiss. He doesn't stop her, but instead looks down at her with all of his inscrutable empathy, spoiled only by the slight tightening of his throat muscles. He returns no similar gesture, not even when she pats his shoulder.

She tells him to get some rest, and he merely smiles faintly. He'll be flying out in 4 in the morning, but all he says is, "I will." She doesn't have to know that he anticipates getting three or four hours on the cot or on the sofa in his office before it's time to grab a quick shower, time to get moving all over again. "I look forward to hearing your report." For now, despite allowing the brief moment, he keeps things strictly professional. She is sleeping here, so he turns and leaves the Bus.

And the timing is probably all to the best, for his phone rings, and apropos of nothing that he's told her about tonight he begins conducting a lively conversation in Farsi. The job, sweeping him out and away once more.

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