Country Roads

June 01, 2017:

In which Rusalka Stojespal takes Isa Reichert for a drive in the country, and the two find some relaxation away from the city.

East Side - New York City

Sutton Place, Turtle Bay, Tudor City… all of these recognizable neighborhoods help define the eastern side of Midtown Manhattan. From 6th Avenue to the East River, from 40th St. to 59th St., the East Side contains such notable landmarks as Sotheby's headquarters, the UN building, and the unmistakable Chrysler Building, (at 4nd and Lexington) is THE art deco structure, easily the most identifiable with the deco movement. It is the tallest brick building in the world (1,046 feet). The offices are mostly given over to private organizations such as Bank Rome and InterMedia Partners.

Grand Central Station, located at Park and 42nd Street, properly known as Grand Central Terminal, is the intersection of 67 separate rail and subway tracks serviced on 2 levels. There's a Dining Concourse featuring restaurants and fast food below the Main Concourse.

East Side is home to some of the city's brightest luminaries, since it's far enough away from the bustling city center to afford some privacy, but close enough to the action to make it one of the more in-demand areas outside of the Upper East Side.


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Melinda May, Pepper Potts, Phil Coulson, Tony Stark

Mood Music: None.

Fade In…

There had been many unanswered questions on the way down from the Stark Industries penthouse suite. It had been a quiet elevator ride, though, and the red-headed pilot had not volunteered very much information. Isa Reichert had seemed like she was barely holding to consciousness, leaning against her cane and enduring the elevator ride in miserable silence.

Having one's limbs regrown wholesale came with a few side effects, like intermittent pain and fatigue. They didn't tell you about that stuff before they threw you into the science lab. Well, actually, they did, but she had been too busy focusing on how much her everything had hurt at the time.

Thus it was that the pilot had called her friend to the Triskelion to pick her up at the front entrance. Where she's staying, she hasn't specified, but it hasn't been her apartment. She'd taken a duffle bag with her late at night days ago and not come back. No visitors had been by, to all intents and appearances. The apartment had stayed dark.

Yet the pilot is waiting in the humid New York afternoon, leaning on her cane and looking as worn down as she usually does, if not more. She's been all but tearing her hair out over these Icarus Dynamics problems. Much like her superior, she's the type of personality who will obsess over a problem to the point of single-minded exclusion of anything and everything else.

Today she's dressed casually, with a black shirt tucked into blue jeans, her scuffed combat boots, and a leather jacket that is markedly not the one she usually wears — this one is a plain brown leather bomber jacket. It has no patches, and its collar is lined in fleece. It fits her, unlike the last one.

Come to think of it, she hasn't been wearing her ring, either, or her Russian dogtags on their chain. She isn't carrying anything today, either.

Once the Lotus pulls up, she wastes no time in getting in, flopping into the passenger seat and pulling her cane in.

"<Just drive,>" she comments, tiredly. "<I do not care where. I need to get away from here for a little while. Do not worry; I will reimburse you for the gas.>"

The morning had been long in coming, but it gave Rusalka a minute or so to gather her wits after the previous evening's whirlwind of revelations and technology. She's quick on the uptake, and can think quickly, but there's a few difficulties when your whole world view gets shaken a few times over. It's not like the instinctive reactions of finding the right spot on a track, or the reflexes of being behind the wheel at all. Several moments overnight, she'd considered calling home, asking her mother – or her other family – what to do.

No. She is an adult, she will find her own way through this. Her way, yet in a way that doesn't disrespect her family.

Isa's request had come with an instant agreement; there's no regular classes anymore to worry about. It's a pleasant enough day, though it also brings to a head whatever Isa's situation is. Sally knows that the truth is different from what she'd known, but she wants to figure out where the tale had changed – where her friend that had truly loved a dead man found out he lives, and wants Isa destroyed.

And try to figure out how she is going to ask what is…honestly, an unthinkable question. How does one approach it? She's still personally sensitive about her father's murder, and can only imagine what kinds of emotions are burning in Isa with the whipsaw she's gone through. To simply ask is unthinkable, yet…she doesn't know what to do.

At least right now, there is a single thing she can grab onto right now, something…stable. That she knows. That she won't endanger by talking to. In this case, it's the chirp of the Evora's alarm, the smell of its interior, the feeling of the bucket seat forming itself perfectly to her body. The tightness of the seat belt, the sensation of the steering wheel and pedals, the sound of the snarl of the engine as soon as she turns the key. It's a touchpoint, and it brings clarity.

Sally pulls up at the elevator doors and leans across to open the door for her passenger. "<The seat-warmer is on, so climb in. It should help,>" she adds – the warmth should help ease a little of the physical pain for her passenger. The request from Isa gets an eyebrow of surprise – and Rusalka glances across the dash, knowing the answer but never not doublechecking. A quarter of a tank…mm, it should be enough for now. She'll stop for fuel on the way home. Or while they're out, whichever.

She shakes her head, before resettling her hairband back in place. "<No need to reimburse. Perhaps it will be nice just to get out of the city, at least. A drive, to relax. I do it from time to time. This is one of those times, then.>" She glances over at Isa, nodding – noting the other woman's changes to attire. The jacket is new, not what she'd bought when they'd gone shopping…but there's a different feel to it all. Perhaps for herself as well, she thinks. A sleeveless blouse, denim shorts and bare legs, her feet only loosely covered in a pair of sandals, she's dressed for a day off.

"<I know of a few places. It will be relaxing, I promise. Ah, do you have any music preference, or would you like it quiet?>" She wants to talk…to ask so much. But she is a good girl. Knows not to pry. Instead…with a deft touch on the gearshift, a dance of her feet on the pedals, and a firm grip on the wheel, Sally pulls the car out into traffic and quickly onto the freeway.

The bucket seats are surprisingly comfortable, even for someone who only works out to be an occasional passenger. She's quickly come to rely on the girl to get around the city. Now, she's coming to rely on her for matters much more dark and dangerous than simple navigation.

Slowly, Isa's eye slides mostly closed, only a thin slit of bloodshot blue showing. The question is, how is she going to break all of this to the girl? She's scarcely had time to fill her in on any of the details, and they're important details that may lend context and help her in her understanding of the situation.

Most of it are details she would rather pass up sharing, but it might be important, somehow, and she's come to trust the girl implicitly.

The one-eyed pilot heaves a sigh, leaning back into the comfortable seat, savouring the heat radiating from it. It doesn't banish the relentless ache, but it does alleviate it somewhat.

"<Anywhere, Sally Petrovna. I do not care where you choose, so long as it is not here. I trust you to find the right roads.>" Isa waves a hand in affable dismissal. She looks out the window, watching cars rushing past in far more of a hurry than Sally and the Lotus. "<Thank you. I am sorry I did not answer your questions last night. I was too tired.>"

"<By the time I was back to my quarters, I was not good for much of anything else.>" Isa's half-smile is rueful. Truth be told, May probably found her satchel dropped halfway to the crew quarters, and maybe her jacket another five feet later, right before the door. The pilot chuckles. "<That is the problem, Sally Petrovna; I am still recovering, and when I have a problem set before me, I do not remember to heed my own limits. But I am feeling better, after a night's sleep, and a decent breakfast.>"

She settles into her seat, fishing around in her pocket. Not finding whatever she's looking for, or perhaps remembering it's rude to smoke in someone else's car, she leans back and makes herself comfortable.

That blue eye strays toward the window, toward what snatches of the blue sky she can see.

"<I am sure that you have questions. By all means, ask them, while I try to decide where it is best to start.>"

Sally doesn't mind being tapped from time to time as a driver. She's done it for Sloane plenty, and is happy to help Isa as well – she's not one to make friends or trust someone easily, but when she does Rusalka Stojespal goes all-in. And the previous night had…been difficult, emotionally, for the older woman. So when the call had come, she'd sprung to answer instantly, pausing only long enough to buckle sandals to her feet before dashing away.

Maybe there's a little bit of selfishness in the gesture, since she's terribly confused about the whole situation. Maybe there's nothing she can do about it, except listen a little bit…but sometimes, she hopes, even that can be enough. It has to be with her best friend, who has gone through things Sally can't even comprehend – even more than her physical transformation, being so…abandoned by her family.

"<Alright. Definitely out of town, then.>" Sally puts her foot down a little harder and the car surges in a growl from the rear-moutned engine. She's not breaking the limit – but definitely putting New York City in the rear view quickly enough. The Hudson river stays on the driver's side for a while, and soon the city itself passes into the rear-view as they cross north into more rural areas.

There's a free moment when she slips her hand over to Isa's, covering it with a pat and a gentle squeeze before resting it back on the gearshift. "<It is alright. It was…it has been a troublesome time for you, I can tell. I have never seen you quite…quite so determined and energetic,>" Rusalka admits. "<I would not think of rushing or pressuring you, but…I admit, I am very confused.>"

An understatement. "<I suppose I understand. When I work on things, like…the Master's Thesis, perhaps, or even just for exams, I tend to tune out a little. Nothing else exists besides what I am doing.>" She laughs a little, patting her own stomach. "<I suppose it is one way to keep one's figure, at least.>" A figure that she's still growing into; as it is she's as tall as Isa, but with longer legs and arms – there might be another inch or two to go before she's finished.

The window view passes from a wide freeway full of vehicles to only a couple lanes, with low green hills and scattered buildings. The sky is bright, puffy clouds promising a humid day but one with enough blue sky to suggest a warm one as well. Fortunately, those windows are treated so they don't reflect much – Isa's own visage doesn't stare back at her.

Sally herself has settled into a content speed, with the road mostly open before her. "<I suppose…if you do not mind,> starshaya sestra, <I would start at the beginning, for me at least. Your husband died, I had thought…yet, this is not the case? He lives, then, yet…>" She doesn't carry that thought further, at least not out loud. Yet tried to shoot you down, knowing it was you…and said insane things. There is a tremendous gap she is yet unaware of, and so she begins to build her bridge from the side she knows.

There's a faint twitch at the touch of an unfamiliar hand, but Isa keeps her own hand down with a conscious effort of will, and a faint half-smile. Friends, as the saying goes, are only family that people choose for themselves, after all.

"<Troublesome. That is a good word, I suppose.>" It's not the one that she would choose, but it is an accurate descriptor. Determined and energetic are also good descriptors, but they aren't quite so accurate as the other. Obsesssive is probably a better one.

It's a character flaw of hers. She has a tendency to lock onto an objective, and no force in heaven or on earth will stay her from the path. There are many agents of SHIELD who suffer from the same unfortunate trait. It tends to get work done, and if a little bit of well-being is the cost, it's an insignificant price that she'll gladly pay.

The pilot leans her right elbow against the door's interior arm rest, cupping her chin in her hand. Isa herself is more compact in her figure, athletic but not quite lean; muscular, but not bulky. She works out where she can, but she's thinned out a bit between her injuries, still building herself back up to normal.

Even Isa likes the great outdoors. She draws in a breath and lets it go in a sigh as the city gradually gives way to greenery.

"<I suppose the beginning is an appropriate enough place to start.>" Isa lets her eye linger on the greenery beyond the window. "<Thirteen years ago I met Mikhail Nikolayevich Makarov; two years after I became a test pilot. We became friendly.>" The pilot sighs, flicking a hand in almost dismissive gesture. She's still wearing a sling over her left arm, but her right is unencumbered. "<We saw one another off and on for the next eight years. Five years ago, he asked to marry me. I accepted. Now I wonder if it was no more than a question of the deal.>"

She's almost glaring out the window, tone of voice leaden. "<We were married for two weeks. One week after my thirty-third birthday — as a reference for when this was happening, that is the third of April, Sally Petrovna; it was a beautiful spring even in Moscow — my parents were killed in an automobile accident because of shoddy repair work done to their vehicle. I had been close to them both. Four days later, the engine of Mikhail Nikolayevich's aircraft ruptured in flight, and I was told that it crashed in the Siberian tundra on patrol.>"

"<I began drinking in earnest, then,>" she says, quietly. "<I am not proud of that. It was two years before I came out of that vodka bottle. That was when I knew the sky was the last place left to me.>"

Isa gestures to the scarring that ravages the right side of her face; the patch that covers what should be her right eye. "<Three weeks after that is when this happeend. I do not remember much of that time; I was told I was no more than human wreckage, when I was pulled from the wreckage. It was over a year before I left the hospital, and the doctors said I should not have survived.>" Her right hand falls, tapping the heel of her hand to her breastbone. "<I have a strong heart, they told me.>"

"<Three years I spent rehablitating myself; learning to fly again. I bent my will to that; I pulled strings, I cashed in favours. Eventually, I learned to do so again. I visited Mikhail Nikolayevich's grave. I bargained with my superiors. But they told me I would be lucky to fly for a civilian outfit. Nothing that I could do or say could convince them to take me back.>"

Her eye lids. "<That was the last blow I could stomach. I could not let them take my sky from me. It was all that I had left. I became desperate,>" she adds, tone softer. "<I stole intelligence. Whatever data I could obtain clearance to take, I took. I brought it with me, and I left Moscow. I left as quickly as I could go. I flew to Europe. From Europe, I flew to New York. I brought the data with me to SHIELD, and I bargained with them. Let me fly, I told them, and I will give you everything I have brought with me. Just give the sky back to me.>"

"<Not long after, Agent Phillip Coulson decided to take a chance, and extend an olive branch to me. He put me into the cockpit of an experimental SHIELD quinjet, and the rest, as they say, is history.>"

In what way, she doesn't specify. Her trust of SHIELD? Her trust of Coulson, personally? Her resolve to pick up the broken pieces of her life? It could be any of them, or even all of them.

Sighing, she leans her head against her hand. "<In April, Agent Phillip Coulson picked up his trail. Mikhail Nikolayevich was not dead. He tracked him. We flew to Barcelona to investigate… he was there. I saw him. There was a sniper there, as well. That was when I was shot.>"

"<We found a company called Icarus Dynamics, and that my erstwhile husband was involved in them somehow. Running from them, I thought. As it turns out, he is working for them, because he ambushed us when we travelled to St. Petersburg to secure intelligence from a facility of theirs. That was when I was shot down.>"

Isa spreads her hands, grimacing. "<You know the rest.>"

Sally feels the twitch, but doesn't comment – though she does realize that either Isa's easily startled, or is very much not someone who likes being touched. Either way, she will give the pilot her space, especially when she glances to the side and accelerates to pass a semi truck or two.

And then she listens – something she's good at, at least. In some ways, it's one of her better traits; she shares in flaw if not intensity Isa's obsessive nature. Focus is a good thing for an engineer; being able to devote your entire mind to a project and see everything to it – and stay focused on the mathematics to confirm that vision – is very important.

It's also a requirement in her driving. Distractions are one thing – a conversation while on a regular road is fine; she has no problem with this. Were they on a track, there would be a lot more quiet places as she pushes the car to its limits – but without needing that today, she can simply enjoy it. And the company…and the explanations.

Some of the explanation she knows, but it's good to hear again. Partly to refresh herself, partly to compare what was once secret against what was once known. It isn't that she doesn't trust Isa Reichert…it's that she knows there are things she can and cannot talk about. And the occasional interesting detail happens as well – such as a certain pilot's birthday.

The third of April. Noted.

The mention of shoddy repair work gets a snarl of anger, Sally's face contorting in a way that takes the death doubly personally. That it happened to a friend's family, and was caused by a failure in something she so strongly believes in, is two daggers into the heart. There's a hard swallow that follows the grimace, but she lets Isa continue.

Sally wonders…were she older, were she faced with such loss – the entire family, perhaps – she cannot claim she would not follow Isa's path.

The expression on her face shifts to a smirk, as she's mentioned to have a strong heart. Certainly there is something that has kept the Russian going all this time…something deep within her, even as she suffered so, and drowned herself in drink, there was something that refused to die. She respects that, a lot.

And then Isa's story, and the bridge Rusalka builds in her mind, reaches the far side of the gap. She slows the car as they pass through one of a dozen small towns in this part of the New York-Connecticut border, before pressing the pedal back down and ticking the speedometer upwards once they're clear. All the while, she listens…and nods.

"<I see. So that was when you were shot…when you'd just reunited with him. You seemed…quieter, then. Just afterwards, I mean, when we talked. But then, after the crash, things seemed to change. I understand why.>" She lifts her right hand to her lip for a moment, thinking, before resting it back on the steering wheel. "<I suppose it was a shock…several. If I fo->"

Her breath catches in her throat, and she swallows it down while managing not to shed a tear. "<If I found my father was still alive…and then, that he had turned upon me so, like you described to Mr. Stark…>" She shakes her head, brown hair swaying slightly. "<I can not think of it. I cannot understand the idea, that…that someone could so completely change. But it…it is terrifying.>"

As the greenery continues, the hills get a little higher – still plenty of view, but the rolling nature of the land becomes more noticeable, and the gentle curves of the road become a little longer. "<I know what I say is only words, Isa…Raisa.>" A moment later, she adds the patronymic. "<Raisa Ivanova, you have endured so much pain…I do not know how. I know I could not, if…if such were to happen to me.>"

She blinks hard, the thoughts of her mother – and the similarities she has to the Russian pilot – foremost on her mind. Baba. A gaggle of aunts and uncles and cousins, if they were ripped away…she isn't sure she would survive it.

"<I worry much about my mother, as it is. Without being able to watch over her, she…she has a problem, sometimes. It is something that worries me. Ever since father was murdered, and the fight and her career as an officer failing, she has…moments, where it seems as if she's not there anymore. It terrifies me, sometimes. Duty, service…those ideals, they have been a part of her forever, and I love her for her strength.>"

She's actually thoughtful enough not to snap a dirty word in any language when someone tears past the Lotus at ninety miles per hour, instead following her line of thought as she maintains tight control over the white and black car.

"<That my own grand-aunt was responsible for father's death…that is pain enough. I want no more of it in my life, truly.>" She lifts her hand to forestall comment, finishing her thought after a moment. "<I worry about Sloane, as well; I worry about my mother, I worry…about you as well, I suppose,>" Sally adds with a bit of a wry grin. "<I did not come to New York to gather a host of friends, and I am not good at making them. But.>"

Guiding the car through a moment of traffic, sliding past a convoy of trucks, she settles it back into the traveling lane before turning to look back at Isa for a moment. There's a mistiness in those blue eyes, sadness at everything that has happened as well as a tearful joy that she's made such a connection. Blue eyes turn back to the road, but the look was enough to show she means it.

"<Raisa Ivanova, I would…I would pledge myself to your side, with the honor and the strength of my family name. Stojespal is a name as old as the foundation of the Earth, and we have never taken bonds between others lightly…but I swear to you that as long as I live, you will not be alone.>" Maybe she's unintionally sped up a little bit, tense as she makes her oath, but she eventually relaxes. "<You are someone who has shared your wisdom and strength, and now…your sadness. I appreciate it in the old ways, and I stand by my vow. Your trust, your friendship…it is just as valued as the bonds of blood.>"

There's a little glance back to Isa as Sally rubs her face and nose for an instant, brushing away totally nonexistant dampness. "<I swore that to Sloane Albright, and…now I suppose, I have a second sister.>"

"<I was not reunited with him, not precisely.>" Isa holds up a flame-scarred forefinger. "<We saw one another from across a cafe in Barcelona, but that is the extent of it. Agent Phillip Coulson ordered me to remain back, and to cover him. I did not go to Mikhail Nikolayevich.>"

Something ugly flickers through her eye. "<He did not stay, once I was hit. I thought perhaps he was frightened, at first, and forgave him that. But the reason that he did not stay was because it was not his intention to stay, I think.>"

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. It's a tried and true cliche, but it's also truth. Going by the look in her eye, that man had better hope and pray that she doesn't catch him alone, because she looks like she would very much like to break him in half if she does.

She leans back in her seat and looks out the window.

"<I hope such things do not happen to anyone,>" she murmurs, dully. "<I would not wish it even on Mikhail Nikolayevich, and there are a great many terrible things I would like to wish upon him right now, wherever he is.>"

Isa is silent as the other reasons her way through the story, connecting the dots and building her bridges. It must be a confusing tale to someone who has only pieces of it to rely on. She is patient, at least in this; she lets Sally take as much time as she needs to reconstruct the tale in her own time.

Even so, she can't help her eye flicking toward the spedometer when the Lotus starts to surge forward along the quiet back road. She seems not to be weighing Sally's words at all when the girl gives her formal oath, looking out and watching the scenery roll past. Maybe she's wrapped up in her own thoughts. Maybe she's thinking of increasingly violent and vengeful things she might like to do to her former husband. Or maybe she isn't thinking of anything at all.

After a moment she speaks.

"<I accept, even if the Yakovleva family is not so old as that of Stojespal. We were builders, once, before we began serving the military. My grandfather was a shipbuilder, even if his son and his granddaughter did not go the way of the Navy.>" She grimaces. "<I do not think I could stand to serve on a ship, or a submarine. It is not the same as having the sky…>"

The sky had called to Ivan Fyodorovich Yakovlev, and it had also called to his daughter, too, just as the sea had called to Fyodor Vasilievich Yakovlev.

Isa can only shake her head. She might reach over and lay her hand over the hand on the gearshift, a gesture of implicit trust and sincerity, but her arm is still bound in its medical sling. All she can do is bow her head.

Perhaps Sally had noticed, in what few glimpses she might have had of Isa's apartment lately, that the photographs on the mantle have been turned down; that the woman has not been wearing either her wedding ring or her Russian dogtags on their chain. She has had nothing around her neck and nothing adorning her fingers.

Now she knows why.

"<Aunt, perhaps. You get ahead of yourself, Sally Petrovna. I am no siter; I am almost old enough to be your mother.>" Isa chuckles. "<Speaking of which, I would be interested in meeting Irja Stojespal. She sounds like a fascinating woman. I would like you to pass on to her that if she should ever choose to visit New York City, she would be made welcome, at least by me. Who knows? Perhaps SHIELD might appeal to her after all.>"

It's a joke. She's pretty sure Irja is too dutiful to change her alliances just like that.

Leaning back in her seat, she reaches up to rub at her face with her right hand. "<Sally Petrovna. I will tell you something that I told to Agent Phillip Coulson. There is something that I once used to do in Moscow, when I felt pressured and frustrated with my life. I would drive out of the city, at night, much as you are doing now, and find a high hill to pull over on. I would get out, lie on the top of my car, and watch the stars.>"

"<Perhaps some night when we both have the time, I would like to do that with you. It is an incredible way to gain some perspective, and clear the mind.>" Isa allows herself a faint flicker of a smile to cross her face. "<It would be hard, in the city, but out here in a place like this, I think we would have plenty to see.>"

She'd made the same offer to Coulson, but Sally is not beholden to juggling spinning plates that might cause world wars if they're dropped. She's willing to wait for Coulson — she's willing to be patient in a way her nature is ordinarily not, for him — but in the meantime it would be nice to have a friend she could indulge in that old favourite pasttime with.

The Lotus settles back into a proper speed for the area, down a little from before – the more rural location, plus the curves around the diminutive hills, suggest it. Sally's relaxing some, finally, away from New York – and away from the aura of stress that seems to permeate the city. Maybe there is something nice about the rural countryside…or maybe it's just thoughts of home. Tucked up against Ukraine, Sokovia's a hilly land to begin with – the flat landscape of the Big Apple took a while to get used to.

Isa describes what happened back in Barcelona, and Sally listens…wondering. That he would appear, almost as if to bait her…and then vanish. And come back at the controls of what she'd privately started calling the Tchernobog, hunting the redhead next to her. It's…unthinkable, and she can't help a shake of her head to clear the thought.

A momentary snort of laughter as Isa hints at the black and terrible things she would wish upon her former husband, but then she smiles. "<If everything goes well with Mr. Stark…I believe you will get your wish. He was busy this morning, when I checked in at the tower, but…I am not sure he has slept. At least JARVIS is watching him,>" she adds. "<I would not be surprised if he's building that improved Quinjet himself, just like he did his suits…>"

The scenery has no answer, but for Isa's pleasure it also has no questions. It merely is, rolling past the car as Sally continues their drive north. Simply existing, as if to say that it needs no such complexity as humans place upon their lives. Perhaps that is the draw to such calm and quiet pastures. But for now, as Isa looks at it, the green hills gaze back in silence…thinking nothing of their own.

A smile breaks across Sally's face when Isa – Raisa – accepts. "<I am glad. In truth…I have no idea how old the family is, only that they have been around a long time. Long before Sokovia became what it is today, at least. Sometimes I think great-grandmother simply likes the turn of phrase,>" she adds, giggling with the innocence of the young.

And then innocence turns to wisdom. "<The sky is where you are. Where your soul is. It is what you were supposed to do, just as I…>" Her fingers lift off the steering wheel for a moment, as if to call attention to what she's doing right at that moment. "<And I would not presume to call upon your age in such ways, Raisa Ivanovna. It would not be proper, would it?>" She grins, then considers the woman's offer.

"<She has expressed interest in visiting, actually. Everything that has happened, ah…with college, and Stark Industries, my internship. She would like to visit, at least to take in the city for herself. We did not get much time last year, when I first arrived.>" The joke gets a laugh, though. "<I do not think so, in honesty. She loves home…and truly believes in protecting it, in the way of our family. I think she would remain…but she would respect SHIELD.>"

Sally sighs a little, wondering sometimes whether she's betrayed that same family way. "<I…see things a little differently. SHIELD protects the world, it seems. Not just home, but all of it – and there is good there. Threats like the Tchernobog, that…that could wipe out our entire Air Force, by itself. It would probably not even need its drones; that such a thing exists frightens me. It could rampage across the sky, unstoppable, yet…yet for SHIELD. For Agent Coulson, yourself, and Tony Stark.>"

She shifts around a little, bare legs finding a new position alongside the pedals and bare shoulders rolling so that she stays alert. It's comfortable, this long drive, but Rusalka is always careful with her drives. She knows precisely how far to push things, but also knows it's best not to always run on those edges. Besides, the seats are remarkably comfortable.

"<That is why I think I would yet join them. I think it would still be the way of defending my home, just…in ways that my mother could not, that our family could not, simply because the world…the world is not what it was. So very quickly things have changed, it feels like.>" This, certainly, is something she's been wrestling with for a while.

The offer of a nighttime drive, and a look at the stars…it's enticing. "<That…would be nice. Sometimes in Sokovia, when it's clear, you can see parts of that. In the old parts of the estate, I could see so many. In New York…the only stars are the ones that shine in the buildings. An artificial sky, perhaps, but…I have missed that nighttime. I promise we shall, Raisa Ivanovna.>" She grins. "<Perhaps we will take Sloane too; I think she would see the beauty in that. And could perhaps use the distraction.>"

As they continue, there's less traffic. Fewer needs to pass cars, or be passed by them, and more of a view. Trees, tall and proud. Meadows and rolling hills, the occasional horse or cow in a pasture not noticing the white sportscar as it rolls past. Sally smiles, enjoying the drive. It's good to get out, she thinks, before a soft musical chime comes from the dashboard – as does a small red light.


"Thirsty already, eh…" English, talking to her car. She gives the gas pedal a loving tap, before settling back in as she was before. Blue eyes glance ahead, looking – there's no sign just yet for a fuel station, but there's plenty of road left. "<I suppose we'll have to stop for a few minutes. I'll take care of it, don't worry. Now…when mother makes her way here? I'll be sure you meet.>"

Grin. "<Aunt Raisa.>"

"<Good.>" Isa allows herself a faint smile. "<I made the same offer to Agent Phillip Coulson, but he is a very busy man. It will be good to have someone to go back to the night sky with.>"

Never mind that Isa technically doesn't have a license. She knows how to drive, but she never got around to it, between the problems in her life and SHIELD's demanding workload. Sally happens to have a perfectly good sportscar and a willingness to put up with her fiery Aunt Raisa.

Maybe someday Isa might take her driver's license test, but she hasn't had much need to…

"<Yes, SHIELD protects the world. It is why I am not sorry that they were the option that I turned to. I was desperate, at first, but I have grown into it,>" Isa says, at length. Agent Yakovleva, Coulson had called her, and she has not forgotten the thrill of joy and pride she had felt at that address; just as much as she would if he had called her Raya again. "<And they are protected by Stark Industries. All of the wonderful things they use have to come from someplace, and that happens to be Tony Stark's workbench, it seems. I will have to speak with him in the next few days. See what he has gotten himself into.>"

There's a short pause.

"<Also, maybe, see if he has slept.>"

JARVIS is watching over him and making sure he does basic things like eat and sleep, right?


At her driver's words, Isa lifts her red brow in an expression of clear surprise. So, the Sokovian gearhead would pledge herself to SHIELD and all that they stand for? That's good, and her expression suggests she approves very much of this tentative plan.

"<That is good. My decision was made for me, more or less, but you have many more things to weigh. It is not an easy thing, to make a decision like that. I am proud of you, Sally Petrovna.>" It's mildly irritating that she can't reach over and ruffle the girl's hair, but she does manage a smile. "<You will have to speak with Agent Phillip Coulson.>"

Despite the obvious trust she shows in Coulson, not once does Isa ever seem to refer to him in anything but the most professional of titles. He must have made quite an impression on her. Now, with the full story out, it must be clear why. He's done a tremendous amount of work to help her untangle the situation with her former husband.

He's also stood by her when she was very nearly at her most vulnerable and frightened. No doubt she must have been feeling terrible once she put the pieces together as they related to Mikhail Nikolayevich.

He also took a chance on a broken woman, some months ago, when she had first come to SHIELD in her desperation. By extending a little trust, a little respect, he had earned a friend for life — an agent willing to march on the gates of Hell itself for his sake, and for the sake of the organisation, once she realised that protecting the people of the world was what she had wanted to do.

Isa's wearing a peculiar little smile. She doesn't elabourate on why. Maybe getting out of the city's done her some good. Maybe she's thinking of something that brings her some kind of peaceful pleasure. Whatever the case is, it's a softer expression than what she usually wears.

Maybe all she's thinking is, it's nice to see green. It's hard to relax in the city, surrounded by so much concrete and steel and glass.

Who knows? Isa is a private woman, and sometimes difficult to read.

Slowly, her eye tracks sideways to the fuel gauge as it chirps. "<Sally Petrovna, I think that your beloved child is unhappy with you,>" she points out, gently poking fun at the girl. "<Yes, you should invite Sloane Albright, as well. Getting out of the city, I think it would do her some good, as it has done me. It has been too long since I have seen open fields.>"

Isa tilts her head, eyeing Sally somewhat speculatively. "<Do not worry about it. I will pay you for the gas. I do little else with my earnings,>" she adds, shrugging her uninjured shoulder. "<Yes? You will? Good. I should like to speak with Irja Stojespal. She and I will have some things in common, I think, from what you have said. I am looking forward to it.>"

The gauge hangs close to the empty mark, though Sally knows the official specifications of just how far there is. She's never pushed the Lotus past this point, and usually fills up much sooner than letting it get quite this low…but it's been an important drive, and she did not want to stop back in New York to fill up. It shouldn't be long before they find a station, anyway.

A small laugh slips past as Isa mentions poor Phil. "<I suppose he is, at that. Even with just the troublesome things we find for him, yet…he does much more than that, it seems. When we first met, he only said he was Sloane's case worker, as if he were…some sort of simple clerk. There are many hidden depths to him,>" she thinks. "<I would not quite have expected his taste in automobiles, certainly, though I admire it.>"

If Isa ever saw the desire to learn, she has a willing teacher. Not that she'd need much, admittedly, but it never hurts. Just…not with a Lotus. A rental is much more suitable for training than something that could, unchecked, hurtle down the road at close to two hundred miles per hour.

"<They were your only option…but I suppose,>" she adds, giving the not-nearly-so-superstitious pilot a smirk, "<perhaps someone wise was watching over you at the time? It certainly was the proper choice to make, after all.>" Hey, you heard Tony Stark, all that stuff is real. It's not superstition if it's true, right? Wink.

Mention of Tony and his utter lack of sleep get a nod. "<I was going to stop by for an update tomorrow, actually, and then deliver it to Agent Coulson. I felt he should have the best analysis Stark can give him, and…I do have to speak with him myself. Besides, I'm not entirely sure the two of them should be in the same room, for a little longer anyway.>" Her face, of course, is the picture of well-practiced nonchalant innocence.

"<It is not, no. But I know I asked you once…you did not commit to the idea, but you gave me perspective. It let me properly weigh the future, and…thank you.>" Pride is something that she appreciates, Isa's feelings toward her are treaasured and respected. She will live up to that pride, she decides. "<Another thing to speak with him about, then. I suppose…I might as well begin the process properly. At least, as far as education goes.>"

The road continues to unspool, the scenery just as beautiful and brightly lit as before. It brings a smile to her face, and Rusalka…has finally, truly relaxed. Perhaps they both needed a good drive, just to clear their minds and escape the bonds of New York for an hour. It's certainly an explanation for her expression, and fits the one on her friend's. The depths of Isa's thoughts, and history…well, Rusalka is still only a teenager.

She has time to grow.

"<Hmpf. He is quite well, merely making sure I do not forget. As if it were possible. I have never run out of fuel, and I will not do so today.>" The embarrassment would be catastrophic. "<Nor have I ever had trouble, in honesty. A carefully maintained vehicle is not so hard a thing to have, and…perhaps this is my beloved child. I would be a poor mother if I neglected him, would I not?>" The last is said with an affectionate caress of the steering wheel, before letting her hands settle where they were. "<He has always been a good boy, and I will always take good care. He deserves no less.>"

There's a nod at the idea of bringing Sloane out. "<Actually…perhaps a small trip, just the three of us. A campfire, some songs, a time to just…forget the rest of the world. Stare at the stars, sing along, and simply enjoy it. Maybe even just this far, really. It's quite beautiful, isn't it?>" The landscape hasn't passed her notice, despite the firm attention she pays the automobile and traffic. "<I had wanted to come this way, once, just to follow this road. I'm glad I did. And, alright, alright. I accept your offer, in friendship and family. I will take your gas money…though, it might be a bit expensive, in this part of the state.>"

They're not that far from New York city, perhaps just an hour or so. But prices change so easily, over so short distances. Meanwhile, Sally glances back and nods to her passenger. "<I am sure you will. I will be sure to let you know, definitely. Hm, now…let us find a proper gas station for my thirsty child, shall we?>"

Much as the girl knows the inner workings of her car so intimately, the pilot could say the same of the quinjets that she pilots. They aren't the machinery that she had trained herself to fly on, but adapting to them has not been too difficult – indeed, Isa Reichert has come to enjoy the quirky-looking aircraft. There's no getting around how agile they are, or the utility they have with their cloaking capabilities and their vertical movement.

Sometimes she misses flying at a dead run in a fighter or inceptor, though. Not much can compare with the sheer force of gravity; the sheer thrill of the world ripping by at speed.

The Lotus feels almost lackadaisical by comparison, but sometimes it's good to relax. Isa leans back comfortably in her seat. The heat feels good; it helps quiet some of the ache that seems to seep out from her very bones.

"<The first time I met Agent Phillip Coulson, he had left me a note to meet him on the tarmac. He had not said why. I had thought he was a clerk waiting for someone else; I was quite surprised to learn that he was the agent who had come to assess my skill.>" Isa's mouth twitches in a half-smile. "<He has elevated how to be unassuming into an art form. Sometimes I wish I had skills such as that.>"

Glancing out the window, Isa watches the countryside roll by, absently checking through her pockets. Cigarettes and lighter are still there, but she wouldn't dream of smoking in the Lotus. Maybe she'll do that when they stop for gas; take a brief hobbling walk to stretch.

She glances back, shrugging one shoulder. "<Yes, maybe a small trip. I think that would be good for the two of you.>"

Gas money? Isa waves a hand, dismissively. "<I am not concerned. I spend little enough of my salary, and I do not drive a car of my own, so I do not have a problem spending that.>"

"<Yes? Good. Tell her that I have a gift for her; something that she would appreciate.>" Isa looks out the window again, something around her eye tightening. "<Mikhail Nikolayevich's watch. He will not need it any more, and I do not intend to return it to him. I have removed his initials from the back, and I have also removed the photograph from inside.>"

The Lotus is the equivalent of a small private jet, perhaps. It isn't the highest performance, or the fastest, but it's clearly leagues better than what inhabits 99.9% of parking spaces – and it comes with a level of comfort also leagues better than one would find in a racing prototype or formula-one car. All things in balance, just… lots of everything.

Someday she'll have to get Isa to the track and teach her the real meaning of agility…

"<Unassuming. Certainly that should be his middle name,>" Rusalka agrees. "<We met to speak about Sloane, actually. He wanted to make sure I was not going to do anything rash, such as taking her away out of the country for her own protection, or anything. All the things a rich foreign girl might think of, but…he is always so frighteningly affable.>" He'd never lost that permanent 'ever so slightly amused smirk' when he'd stun-gunned Tony…

…but then again, in hindsight, her boss had been asking for it. Literally. And it was sort of funny. Scary, at the time, but like some things that frighten at first she can't help but giggle nervously about afterward.

That Isa decides not to light up is appreciated, even though Rusalka doesn't know of her desires. Besides, they'll be stopping for a break shortly, anyway – she can get out and hobble around then, a little bit. The smell of the interior is kept fresh and clean, so it would not do to risk changing things. Sally herself wouldn't mind the chance to stretch as well, once they find a station.

"<Oh?>" The description of the watch, though, that comes as a shock – Sally gives Isa a few seconds of a stare, steering almost autonomoustly and keeping the car on the road while blue eyes widen. "<But that … I mean,>" she tries to add, turning her gaze back to the asphalt. There's a pause – the importance of such a thing followed by a desire to shed it, and yet…to turn it into something else. It's confusing at first, but she thinks through the problem and finally nods.

"<I see, I believe. It is…no longer what it was and now means something else.Instead of a connection between you and… him, it is one between you and my mother. I know she would appreciate it. And I think,>" she continues, speeding up to get around a large RV taking the scenic route, "<that the watch itself deserves a new start. I am sure mother will appreciate it.>"

And now they'll really need to stop for fuel soon, as Sally sets back to searching the rolling horizon – it isn't as if the Lotus has gotten any less thirsty.

"<Maybe.>" Isa tilts her head as though in place of a shrug, fiery hair spilling over her shoulder. "<He is very good at seeming like less than he really is, but he is more than he seems. Truth be told, I am fascinated when people are so capable of such patience. It is something I have never been very good at. I am too impulsive. Too impatient. I have always been, but I suppose it comes with the vocation.>"

People who fly supersonic aircraft in tense situations for a living have a tendency to jump the gun a little bit, especially when they have other factors weighing on them that might affect their calmness and state of mind. Isa Reichert is a passionate woman. Sometimes those passions rule her whether she wants them to or not.

The matter of the watch earns a weary and noncommittal sound somewhere in the back of Isa's throat. It takes Sally a moment to figure the issue out, and once the light dawns, the one-eyed woman manages a brittle smile.

"<I do not want any reminders of that son of a bitch in my life, and if it would be a thoughtful gift for Irja Stojespal, all the better. I want only to be rid of the thing, and rid of any associations with Mikhail Nikolayevich. A curse on his name. I hope your fanciful woodland spirits eat him,>" she adds, half-joking. Her voice is full of too much animosity to be entirely lighthearted, though. For all that she's joking, there's a part of her voice that's just as serious about the curse. "<I am Raisa Ivanovna Yakovleva, and I will not be played by anybody.>"

Certainly not as she has. She watches as Sally threads the needle around the camper, keeping to the curve of the road with impressive precision. "<Is that a fuel station, up ahead?>" Isa raises her blue eye, pointing toward a distant sign. "<Stop there,.>" she adds, once it's clear that it is. "<Please,>" the pilot remembers to add, a beat later.

"<Perhaps you are,>" Rusalka agrees with Isa's assessment, "<but it is not so bad.After all, you were able to wake up Tony Stark, and immediately get him to work on this – and he never complained once.It is very impressive. Sometimes I wish I could be both… more patient, less… troublesome. Clearer and not quite so, ah… so frustrated. And yet faster, as well. Like you both, being able to just…think clearly and quickly and not spend so long shaping thoughts."

She has time to grow. But it's good to know what you want to go for, even if that goal is dichotomy itself.

The bite in Isa's voice almost takes a chunk out of Sally's soul, even though she's only a bystander – there's a sense of vengeance in the woman that is almost palpable. "<I see.Even still… I believe my mother will appreciate it. Though… I am not sure if that would be so good,>" she adds on the topic of said woodland spirits. "<I would not want to poison them, and earn their ire.>"

Isa's mention of a station in the distance, squinting to be sure— "<Ah! Yes, excellent. Grh… why can they not put up a proper sign, where people can see it! As if they do not want business,>" she grouses. But at least she's found what she was looking for, and breathes a small sigh of relief. She does not permit the world to leave her stranded, and it has complied as it should.

There's a soft crunch of dirt under the tires as the white car pulls off the road and settles in next to the pump. Sally shuts off the engine, then stretches and finds her way out of the car. "<You can stay, if you want. I won't be too long, I think, though I want to fill up completely before we leave.>" So… she'll just get Isa's reimbursement later. Meanwhile, time to hook up the thirsty child to its bottle.

"<Everyone works differently.>" It took some time for Isa to remember that fundamental truth, having come from a society that actively stamped on individualism. In that sense she's something of a curious dichotomy. She is dedicated to the welfare of the group and others, yet she is intensely private; crushingly lonely, yet afraid to take that first step in trust so much of the time. "<You will get to where you need to be, in time.>"

Maybe coming from a society like that is where her terror of loneliness stems from. Or, maybe it's no more complicated than a simple fear of loneliness, born from too much loss in her life. Isa has established herself as a passionate woman, given to emotion; there is absolutely no doubt that she has felt every single loss keenly. Even the loss of her husband, however much she might argue it – mourning what was and the companionship that she had lost, more than the man himself.

The venom in her tone of voice suggests she certainly doesn't mourn the man himself. There's real heat there; real malice.

"<Don't wilt like that. The bastard has it coming,>" Isa growls. "<He could have asked me. He could have approached me as a representative of Icarus Dynamics. Maybe this could have gone differently if he did. But instead, he chose the one road that I wouldn't, that I couldn't, stand for. He broke my heart, not just once, but twice. And then he tried to kill me. I will shed no tears for the son of a bitch. I refuse to.>"

Raisa Ivanovna Yakovleva refuses to give him the satisfaction.

She looks up as the Lotus smoothly pulls off the highway and into the station, easing up to a pump. Climbing out of the car, she shakes her head, reaching for her cane and levering herself up and out of the seat. It's warm and humid out, so she shrugs out of her jacket, salvaging her cigarettes and lighter from it, leaving it behind in the car and carefully pushing the door shut.

That done, she hobbles a short distance away from the gas pumps, lighting herself a cigarette on the outskirts of the station and looking out to the fields. The agricultural land seems to compete with short stretches of New England forest, with enough trees to keep any glimpse of the horizon from being a sure shot. Clouds are still scudding across the summery sky, enough to promise a humid day; maybe even thunderstorms along the Hudson, if they keep building.

Taking a long draw, she exhales smoke, eye half-closing.

"<We can return to the Triskelion after this. I had better get back to work. I have a few changes I'd like to try with the schematic independent of Tony Stark's efforts. Call it a hunch. Each of us can work on the aspects of it that are our specialties. I will see about the manoeuvrability and reinforcement of the fuselage, while you and he deal with the power plant, main propulsion systems, and turbines.>" Isa shifts, plucking the cigarette from her mouth to tap ash onto the gravel, before bringing it back to her lips. "<I will admit that I am curious to see how it ends. That is why I chose to become a test pilot, ultimately. The lure of the unknown.>" The pilot flashes a crooked half-smile. "<After all, it is the unknown that a test pilot deals in; it is the unknown when a test pilot climbs into the cockpit of an untried and untested aircraft. I am as addicted to that, I think, as the wide open sky.>"

Whatever muted joviality she had fades away as she looks to the sky and its puffy clouds again. "<I would like to talk to him again soon, I think. I would appreciate it if you could secure for me an appointment… we will say, Monday? That will give me some time to finish what I am doing with the schematics…>" Stubbing out the last remnants of her cigarette, she hobbles back to the Lotus, sliding in and stowing her cane next to her leg with a faint grunt of discomfort. She'll be glad when this injury stuff stops being an inconvenience.

Reimbursement will come later; something Isa is happy to do for Sally. She's more than appreciative enough of the standing offer of transportation at any hour of the day or night.

"<You can drop me at the front entrance. I will make my way to where I need to go,>" she adds, waving her right hand, before dropping it to open the window a little. She's quite aware she smells like cigarette smoke, and she doesn't want to go stinking up Sally's car with it. "<I am tired. Maybe I will sleep a while before I set back to work…>"

Which is, most likely, for the best. Once she's "home" to the Bus, precisely what she does, for quite a few more hours than she'd intended on. Chances are that's where May will find her, if the taciturn Bus Driver checks in on her guest – curled up on her cot and dead to the world.

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