Dobroy Nochi

June 07, 2017:

In which Isa Reichert considers a slight career shift in light of her constant "adventures," and discusses things of a decidedly personal nature with Phil Coulson.

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: Rusalka Stojespal, Tony Stark

Mood Music: None.


Fade In…

For a lot of the hardworking agents in SHIELD, it's been a very long week since the crash over St. Petersburg. Orders have seen people scrambling in an effort to bust this Icarus Dynamics business wide open; agents have been shuffled and reshuffled on the global stage like pieces on a chessboard. It's not a top priority, naturally, but it's still one that's managed to command a modest amount of resources and manpower.

If they're allowed to complete their prototype and start kicking these things off the assembly lines to the highest bidders, it would be a nightmarish vision of pure chaos. The global stage would be a free-for-all.

That might explain why a certain redheaded pilot has been pulling up to fourteen-hour days, pouring every last ounce of energy into the riddle of how her former husband managed to get the drop on SHIELD's team. She's been working like one possessed. Finally, after almost non-stop meetings with Sally Stojespal and Tony Stark, after drafting and redrafting her designs, she's had enough to let Phil know to track her down so she can share her work.

She's not actually at the Bus, this time, but her apartment; waiting patiently for him to come calling, with a slew of information strewn on her coffee table, her work laptop propped open and running. The exhaust of its fan flutters a few pages, but nothing quite takes off on her.

She's ready, though. All her data is ready to go, and her short voice message had indicated she has some progress to show Coulson.

Crushing her former husband like the bug he is has been a nice bonus, but as she told him, she's not in it for that. She's in it for the right reasons. Icarus Dynamics needs to be shut down or destroyed as of yesterday.

Isa, however, is… not actually making any last-minute corrections. She's slumped in her chair, head turned, chin resting on a loosely-curled fist, sleeping the sleep of the dead until that knock at the door rouses her. She'd sacrificed a great deal of sleep this week, according to scuttlebutt around the Triskelion, practically burning that candle at both ends with a napalm torch. Without direct stimuli to keep her awake, she's taking advantage of crashing hard on the downtime.

It should be noted that Phil Coulson has some reservations about meeting Raisa at her apartment again. It is all part and parcel of the reservations about anything growing between them, the ones that have had him pulling way back into himself and focusing on work. But in the end, pragmaticism trumped any such concerns. He's got a thousand things to do and no time to do them. He needs to see what she's got and pass on something to her in turn. Taking the time to dig her out of the workspace she's ensconsced herself in so she can come all the way up to his office when he was already basically down the hall to deal with Something Else is just idiocy.

So he knocks on the door, unable to really get inside without her help anyway, thanks to the biometric scanner. He carries a small briefcase and the grim expression he's been wearing for weeks now. It's only really gotten grimmer, a testament to the fact that Phil Coulson isn't always the kindly smiling Cheshire Cat. Sometimes he is a Man on a Mission. Sometimes he's a gentleman who really just sort of wrangles the world into a form of order through the force of sheer Attitude. He is definitely that Phil now, a force of raw determination and focus that is difficult, if not impossible, to shake out of a mode that puts most self-professed workaholics to shame.

The door doesn't open for a few minutes. In fact, it might almost be long enough that it might be concerning. Is she not actually at home after all? Did she go somewhere else? Did something happen to her…?

After a few seconds the door finally gives the chunk of its mechanisms disengaging, and the door swings open on its oiled hinges wide enough to admit Phillip Coulson, Man on a Mission.

Isa Reichert says nothing to the grim facade of SHIELD's avenging agent, instead waving him towards the loveseat, which has enough room for him to sit comfortably. There's even a cup of coffee somewhere in the midst of that paper forest, prepared his way, still hot enough to curl steam.

Maybe she senses the thundercloud that seems to cling to his very soul. Or maybe she senses the undercurrents – but she hadn't been willing to pack everythng up and wrestle it up to his office, not when she's still physically recovering… which has probably been set back handily by her take-no-prisoners workdays over the past week or so.

She smiles, crookedly. It has no real mirth in it; it looks bleak, tired.

"Where should I start?" English, this time; without the customary harshness.

Awkward. It's just a little awkward, as though she doesn't know quite what to say. At least her arm is out of its sling, and she seems to be limping to and fro without the use of her cane, although it's leaned up against the chair. Instead, she offers a slightly awkward, somewhat apologetic smile. "At the beginning, I suppose. Have a seat. I took the liberty of brewing a cup of coffee for you. I had a feeling you haven't had anything since this morning." They are alike in that way. She may have needed Sally to scold her to take care of herself more than once over the past week.

Her eye is already on her laptop and papers, though, as though debating internally where to start.

He sets the briefcase down and reaches for the coffee before she even says its for him. Why? Because he can see the color of it. Cream and sugar messes are not to her liking, so he knows, instinctively, that she's not going to be drinking after her. "Thank you, Raisa Ivanovna," he says, every courteous. He summons a faint smile for her; it's flash and gone, here and back again.

"The beginning is good," he says. "I have things for you as well, to take to Stark, and Agent Stojespal."

But he won't delve into those things. He's happy to hear what she has to say first, happy to nurse the cup of coffee between two hands. His face changes but little after all that; he's still grimly determined. But attentive. Hazel eyes fix on her, radiating professionalism. On the subject of whether or not he has eaten, drank, or even slept within a certain time period he remains silent. As ever, the cards of one Phillip Coulson are played tight to the chest.

When he shows a faint hint of emotion, the pilot's blue eye lingers on him. The expression is there and gone so quickly she isn't sure if she's imagined it. After a second or two, though, she risks a fleeting smile of her own.

He hasn't worked himself into a hole in the ground, so that's a positive thing.

"Good." Sitting down on the edge of her chair, she turns the laptop around until he can see the screen. It shows the same schematic as before, more clean and refined; more complete.

"This is what I showed last week. I have had time to refine it, based on feedback from Sally Petrovna and Tony Stark. I cannot create a faithful reproduction, but this is my best effort; a means by which to counter its hypothetical systems." She shakes her head. "I would need to study it to recreate it faithfully."

"Tony Stark has been focusing on the power plant and propulsion system, with help from Sally Petrovna, but I have been focusing on what Icarus has done with it; as I said," she adds, "so we might counter what I believe its systems to be. I have also been managing the airframe, aerodynamics, avionics, and navigation aspects of its construction."

"He will have a prototype complete within the next two weeks, if not sooner."

She keeps her eye fixed firmly on the laptop. Very quietly, she adds, "I should be cleared for flight duty by then, according to what the doctors have told me." She will not ask him to be assigned as its pilot, instead leaving that information there; if he feels it's appropriate, he'll put her name forward.

Her eye turns to the laptop agin. "I have included a summary of changes, and a breakdown of those changes in layman's terms for fast reference. You will find it all in the documents I have printed for you. The long and short of it is that I do not know of any alloys which will perform at such temperatures. That is something you will need to ask Tony Stark. He is more a metallurgist than I am," she adds, apologetically. "I thought it over for days, but I could find no answers."

Settling forward in her chair, she leans her elbows on her knees, watching him almost warily. She is no stranger to Grim Phil, but the effect is a little unsettling from someone she knows is not ordinarily like that. He's been Grim Phil for a very long time, now.

She realises, with a faint twinge of emotion, that she rather misses Dorky Phil, before the undercurrents between them became an undertow.

But she wears a brave half-smile, as though she were all business, as though her head were in the game; confident over the imminent fall of Icarus Dynamics.

Raisa Ivanovna Yakovleva is a very bad liar.

"What do you have for me…?"

Phil takes a sip of the coffee and briefly scans the notes. "Well, maybe this will clear up the mystery," he says. "Or one of them."

He opens up the briefcase. It has a small vial in it, clear, with metal end caps. It's full of a glowing amber liquid. "This seems to be a Chitauri feul capsule meant to pop right into some sort of engine array. It may be the missing link –it might be that you can't tell what metal would work because the early prototypes didn't take this capsule-buffer into account."

He doesn't mention the rest of what they got…information that might lead to the Chitauri fuel source so they can just take it out. "Tell Stark I plan on blowing up the source, so he might want to design an equivalent, but if he can synthesize this stuff or use something Earth-based then I'll grant him the resources to use it."

He can see the brave half-smile. The way she reacts to even just the slightest burst of human expression from him. It loosens some of his grimness, provides a source of empathy.

He sighs. He'd been prepping to leave, but he finally puts his coffee aside. He studies her for a long moment and decides he can't keep avoiding the issue. It's time for some straight talk.

"Raya," he says. "I care about you a great deal. There is, as I've said, much in you that I admire. And I will always be your friend. It pains me to see you alone and hurting, and part of me would like to fix all of that for you. But I'm sorry. I cannot find it in myself to think that starting something with a woman under my direct command who is rebounding from a dead, traitorous husband and recovering from her second highly emotional plane crash is anything like a good idea. It's not appropriate. As it is, I am usually only available for personal time one night out of sixty. That's not a ratio most people can handle. There's a reason most spies have brief encounters, remembered fondly and left quickly behind."

He pauses to let that sink in, and adds, "I am going to put you back in the air, but I'm reassigning you. As a test pilot, jointly assigned to SHIELD and to Stark Enterprises. We're going to have a lot of testing to do, and there will no doubt be multiple versions of our counter to the Icarus Dynamic planes to get airworthy. We need your exacting standards, your aerodynamic knowledge, and your keen focus. I can't get that out of just any personal pilot or combat pilot. You also have a good relationship with Agent Stojespal and Tony Stark that I can't duplicate, a dynamic that's getting results. You can't be replaced."

Faced with concrete proof of things that should not be, Isa's efforts to recreate an impossible aircraft feel a bit hollow. It wasn't a bad job, and certainly not an easy task, but having physical evidence feels somehow more solid.

It's so small, so innocuous-looking. How can something so tiny create such a stir?

How on earth did they manage to get their hands on something like that? Maybe the better question to mull over is how they hadn't up until now. Icarus has proven that they're willing to play hard ball, and they're willing to throw morals out the window for the sake of advancement.

What scares her more is how they intend to use something like this.

"So this is how they've done it." Her voice is soft; she can't look away, eye narrowing in thought. "<I had wondered,>" she muses to herself, in Russian, only half aware she's speaking out loud. "<There was no turbine I could think of in the world that should have fit on an aircraft that size. No cooling system powerful enough to stop the engines from trying to break down. And no reinforcement that would prevent a pilot from being turned into paste at the gravitational force… that kind of speed should tear a fuselage apart…>"

She pauses once he mentions the message to pass on to Stark, and then she nods. "I will tell him." There's a kind of grim, satisfied approval in her tone. Good. It's going to be destroyed. "It would make sense."

When he uses her diminutive, though, she tilts her head at him. That, at least, is enough to get her attention and pull her directly out of the engineering rabbit trail her mind was veering towards.

She listens to him in silence, expression unreadable.

After a moment she smiles. It's a melancholy sort of smile, but an understanding one. She hesitates a moment, half-reaches for his hand; hesitates again and settles on folding her hands in her lap. That's behind the boundary line.

"Da." Her tone is gentle, so gentle. "That is to say, I understand. They are good reasons. But I am glad you think of me as a friend, and that there is something left to admire in me. I had wondered if the fire had taken that, too." Not just the physical, but the mental. She had wondered for a while if there was room in her heart for anything but bitterness and pain.

"But I am sorry to have put any additional strain on you, Fily—Phillip Coulson," she corrects hereslf, softly. "So very sorry. You are right. I should not have imposed; I should have withdrawn."

She stands, but only to tidy up her papers. They're methodically combined into a single orderly stack beside the laptop. There is, in fact, a coffee table under all that paper. Though she moves stiffly on the left side, she seems to be healing well. If what Stark says is true about the timeline then she'll be ready for it.

Oh, to have the sky back.

Her head tilts again, regarding him through that blue eye. She is calm, despite the subject matter; despite her own pain and miserable loneliness, because he's right.

That part, she decides, is what she hates most of all.

Raisa is not working herself up to a protest, though she could, and part of her very much wants to. She seems to be considering for a moment; seriously considering.

She looks to the mantle. Both photos are deliberately turned face-down. They've been that way since St. Petersburg. Neither has she been seen with her wedding ring since that day, or the dogtags she usually wears. That eye sweeps back to Coulson, fixing on him.

"Da. You are right. More the fool I, I suppose. I should have known better." She circles back around to sit on the edge of her chair. Her eye hoods, finally closing as she sighs and drops her head into her hands. "I should have known better," she repeats, softly. "It was not fair to you."

Silence passes for a few seconds. Did she fall asleep like that?

"What if…" An idea occurs to her. She almost completes her thought, but pauses, head still in her hands, staring at the floor. It would be seen as grasping at straws if she asked about transferring to Stark Industries. Careerwise, though, it's something she has entertained the idea of – it sounds like they're the brunt of the momentum behind SHIELD's research and development, and that's where she truly shines, professionally speaking. She's no front-line operative and she knows it.

Isa makes a contemplative sound, picking up her head and slowly lifting her eye to both of his. She's calm, that much is obvious. If she weren't, she wouldn't be able to hide it. "I have a counter-offer for you, Phillip Coulson," she murmurs. "I would like a chance to defend my side, even if I think that you have already made up your mind. But you are not solely at fault for this… this…" This thing, her helpless gesture seems to say. "It has been as much my wish as yours. May I have that opportunity?"

It would take a greater calibre of asshole than Phil Coulson is to tell her no at this juncture. She deserves to be heard. He has had his say. And while she is correct that there is a sort of resolute calm behind his decision, however much it pains him to pain her, he nevertheless needs to let her have her say. He also respects her too much to do anything but. So instead of closing the door, walking off, offering the kind of abrupt finality that might rip the bandaid right off and allow her to start healing from the wounds he placed, he takes up his perfectly-created coffee concoction again and inclines his head at her.

His hazel-eyed gaze gives away little save that basic respect, save for the few times that he winces, each and every time he declares it her fault. He obviously takes some issue with that, but he won't speak now until she has spoken. He, after all, got to say quite a bit.

Only fair to let her say everything that's on her mind and heart.

It's a measure of how much she affected him that he ever let it get this…entangled…at all.

But there he is, no longer so grim. A still, unreadable pool of water, instead. It's not dorkiness, but it's safe to say that navigating this terrain is not the only thing that has put the deep lines between his brows of late.

The pilot lets out a slow sigh and raises both hands, rubbing at her face as though that might restore some life to her tired features. It doesn't, but moving makes her feel a little better; helps her compose her thoughts.

Ordinarily her hands would remain in her lap. She is absolutely loathe to show anything she perceives as weakness or vulnerability in herself. Yet time and again, this man seems to have gotten away with seeing her at her lowest points. That, alone, speaks to her of their slow entanglement.

"I do not want to make you uncomfortable, Filya. I would never wish to do that." There's a hitch over his name, as though she were going to correct herself and decided against it. "But I see that you are struggling over this, and it is not a lie to say that I am not. The last thing I want to do is to cause you pain, not after all you have done and risked for my sake."

She drops her hands to her lap, folding them and locking her gaze on them. After a moment she lifts her gaze, not quite looking him in the eye. "You are right. I am alone. I am hurting. I have been hurting for a very long time, and they say what does not kill you, it makes you stronger. But I do not feel very strong right now. I am tired of this pain, Phillip Coulson, so tired of it. I also see that you struggle, too. And I am sorry for that; so very sorry. You have enough struggles to devote yourself to. I do not need to add more."

"But… I am selfish. It is one of my many character flaws that I have not been able to master, and do not think I ever will." Her small half-smile is both fleeting and self-depreciating, at best. "Maybe it is not a good idea. Maybe it is a good idea. How are we to know? I told you that I have a counter-offer. Not because I wish to be difficult, Phillip Coulson, but because it is in my nature to fight, tooth and nail, for what I believe in. And I believe that if we said goodbye, if we went back to professional distance…" She looks at him, shrugging bleakly; expressively. "I think that we would both regret it, and for a very long time."

"I said that I am proud to serve SHIELD… and I am, more than I can tell you. Please do not mistake what I am about to say for ingratitude. They have been good to me, more than perhaps I deserve. But I was not made for this kind of work, I think. Perhaps I am a coward – but for all that I have been trained as a combat pilot, a test pilot is where my skills lie. I was not made for combat. I am not superhuman.

Her expression is grave, blue eye solemn. "You told me in the hospital – I remember now – that there are only so many times I can be broken and glued back together once more, and you are absolutely right about that. I worry, sometimes, that it will be for the last time if I continue to serve here in a capacity whose task I am not equal to. I have been thinking, while you were busy, and when I have not been busy with the Tchernobog."

"If I were to transfer to Stark Industries… to go to a place where I could help SHIELD more directly, in a way that I am better trained to do…" She looks up to him, calmly. "I would no longer be your subordinate, and I would no longer be at such risk in the field. And I would be doing the work I have been trained to do. There is always something to be improved on the quinjets that SHIELD is using, and there is always new technology to be discovered. And once it is discovered, it must be tested and proven, da?"

Her smile is a little sad, her voice so soft that it loses its steadiness. "Please tell me, Filya, that there is some way I can convince you. I do not want to hurt you, if you have made up your mind, or waste your time. Your work is much more important than my own heartache." She draws her right knee up to her chest, wrapping her arms around it and resting her chin on the top of her knee, sighing and closing her eye. "But if there is any doubt, any doubt at all, in you… if this is something we might both come to believe in, someday… then I will fight for that chance, however tiny it may be, because that is in my nature."

The trouble with all of this is that Phil has a big heart; he does not like entanglements in some ways precisely because of moments like these. The moments when, inevitably, the job must come first. SHIELD must come first. His work must come first. He made the choice 33 years ago, and he makes it again and again every moment that he gets up. His agents are his brothers, his sisters, and, in the younger ranks, his children. The only hole that remains unfilled is the romantic one, save for brief encounters here and there: respected ships in the night.

He gives her a compassionate, gentle smile. "I'd say…that making rash career decisions in the hopes of launching a romance is precisely the reason why I should never have slept on this loveseat." He nods to the offending piece of furniture, as if it were somehow a co-conspirator. "I'd say that you've been building a life in SHIELD, and the only reason why you'd ever consider making a change is in the hopes of removing one more obstacle between us. That's not right, Raisa. It's not right for you, and ultimately, it's not right for me either. Because one day you're going to look up. I'll have spent 8 nights in Washington, 4 in Los Angeles, 15 in some place I can't even tell you about because you don't have clearance. Someone will snap a photo of me dancing with a beautiful woman. I'll only be doing it because she is the only one that knows the abort codes for a bomb that's about to launch, but I'll be looking at her exactly like I've just discovered the love of my life, and you will wonder. I will come home exhausted. We will try to set up dinner dates and they will be interrupted: an alien invasion, a missing agent, a hostage crisis, a pyromancer setting the UN on fire. You will get a call at 3 in the morning one night, and you'll hear: Phil Coulson is chained to a radiator and has a bag over his head, and we're trying to get him out of there. Maybe they will. And maybe they'll show up with a flag and my ID and an apologetic look on their faces, and you'll get to go through that pain a second time. You came here to take to the sky. I came here because this was the life I wanted. The only life I ever wanted, in fact."

He gives her a slight smile. "I promised to take you fishing. And it was a fool's promise. Because right now some DC assholes are trying to leverage certain events to slash SHIELD's funding in crippling ways, we've got airplanes running on alien technology about to cast the entire geopolitical stage into chaos and both of those problems are just the ones I can tell you about. The rest you don't even have the clearance to hear as a SHIELD agent. I can't think of even one weekend day where I could take even a few scant hours to rent a boat, show you how to bait a hook. You are passionate, emotional, and lonely. The only gift I can give you is the gift of ultimately feeling even more lonely. Because you will attach yourself to me, and you will remain fiercely loyal no matter what. You'll tell yourself that one night out of sixty is plenty, that I'm busy, that I'm important. And you'll wither in our bed."

"I would not say that is entirely true." Isa's tone is calm and soft; thoughtful. "It would be true if I said that it were not a reason, though, and I do not like to lie. Yes, I had thought of that. But there is another reason I have been thinking about that."

She lifts her left arm, baring it. There are no scars there, because she had never touched fire on that side, and the regrowth treatment did away with any marks that might have left a scar. "I have been broken, several times. The crashes I have dragged myself from have all been catastrophes. I should have died in any number of them… and those that I have suffered through, they have not been because of my vocation."

When she fell over Siberia, she had thought it happenstance when she woke up a few months later. Now, she's not so sure that there wasn't some kind of foul play involved. Later, she was shot in Barcelona, which was hardly her fault; she happened to be in the wrong place at the worst of times. Then, when she crashed over St. Petersburg, that had been a direct and deliberate attack on her aircraft, with knowledge of who the pilot was.

Honestly, test piloting new and freakish designs for Stark sounds a lot safer than her track record so far… and it better represents the work she is ultimately trained to do.

"It would be safer there. Perhaps not as safe as SHIELD, but I do not think I would be shot at on such an alarmingly regular basis," she says, softly. "I am sorry if I sound like a coward. But I am frightened, Filya. I do not think I was made for such demands. It is a wonder my body has not quit on me before now."

"If I continue to place myself into such danger, and I cannot guarantee that I would not, because it is not in my nature not to risk myself for the sake of others, I do not know how long I would be able to survive such consistent injury." There's something subtle and sad in her expression. She hates admitting weakness, and she especially hates consciously admitting it to him – and yet she seems to do it time and time again.

Her expression softens, and she falls silent to let him finish. Every single one of his reasons is a sound one. Every single one of them has logic and thought behind it and a truth that resonates with her.

Raisa Ivanovna smiles. It's a smile of pain and sorrow, one that doesn't even pretend to try and reach her eye. It's also a proud expression, because she could have chosen to show that smile, or to show the pain that she really feels, and chose instead to put on that brave face.

It doesn't feel very brave.

Her expression falls into one of careful neutrality. "That is a fair point. Your points are all sound ones. But I do not think it is worth throwing away, either. You are right, da, yes. Yes, I would be loyal. That, too, is in my nature. I cannot help that any more than I can help my inexcusable selfishness."

Pushing herself to her feet, she limps purposefully around the table, settling on the other side of the loveseat. She does not reach for his hands. It takes a lot of conscious effort not to.

"And for you, I would do that. I would step back, and I would let you go. And I would be miserable, because I know that I would never find someone like you again." She shakes her head, slowly. "Please do not mistake what I say as desperation. It is not. It is only asking for a chance before you dismiss something out of hand. I only ask that you not close this door, not without taking a moment to look through it, and see how things could be." She pauses briefly. "You do not know that every situation will be stacked against us. Life has a way of being surprising, sometimes."

She lifts her gaze, looking him in the eye, even though it takes a great deal of willpower to do so. "I am willing to be patient, for you. I am willing to wait. For you, I would. One day in sixty, that is not so bad, is it? It is one day more than no days."

Silence hangs for a moment, and Raisa Ivanovna lets it, but eventually she licks her lips and continues on.

"I am sorry," she says, softly. "I know that it is not fair to you to ask this… but I ask it because I think that you would regret walking away, too, if you did not try. I would like nothing more than to give you what you want, and to let you walk through that door." She raises an arm; gestures at her door, with its biometric lock. "But if I did that, I think there would be regrets between both of us."

"All I ask is time. Just a short time, to see how we feel. Time to heal, time to see if this is what is right, or if this is not right."

Raisa Ivanovna Yakovleva hesitates for a moment before reaching out with her hands – gently, in case he's uncomfortable and pulls away – for his own. "It does not need to be fast – and it would be better if it were not, I think. As I said, it will take time, and I know this; I do not want to rush into anything by doing this. All I ask is a chance, Filya. Please."

She speaks of her broken body, about all the accidents she's suffered. "That is reasoning I can get behind, and if that is why you wish to transfer than I could certainly get behind that. I just can't get behind you doing it for my sake alone. I imagine Stark will snap you up."

She says the rest and he studies her. It's almost impossible to see what he might be thinking or feeling. He has gone inscrutable again. Whether he thinks her own points have merit is impossible to say.

Indeed, he lets her wind down to the end of her request before he stands. And it's only after he's standing that he speaks. "Time," he agrees. "I'm not doing this because I've got another relationship to rush into. I'm not going to do anything but my job. I believe, yes, that time to heal is what you need. If this is a door meant to stay open it won't close, Raisa Ivanovna. Neither you nor I could properly close it. But if it's not…best be sure. You've been through a lot."

He steps towards the door, puts one hand on the knob, and stops. He looks back at her. And gives her another one of those weary, compassionate smiles.

"You shouldn't worry about it so much, you know. Showing weakness. Everyone has weak places inside of them. Often, they're where the best parts of us live."

"I told you I had thought about it." Isa tilts her head, eyeing him warily. Her heart is in her throat, but she's loathe to show that, so she keeps her hands curled in her lap. "You are not the only reason behind this decision. I will not say you are not a factor – but it is not solely for you that I consider this."

She gestures to her cane, leaned against the side of her chair. "How many times can I be shot down and pull myself from the wreckage? Da, I could say, 'yes, I will survive,' but I do not know that. And as you said, there are only so many times it can happen before my body, it decides that it is too tired to heal again."

"Acting as liaison to Stark Industries, that would also allow me to keep a lower profile, I think. I think a low profile is good right now. Icarus, they will be looking for an enemy, once we dig into them in earnest." She is also convinced that between herself and Makarov, she is the better pilot simply because she knows how to think outside the box, and he is more of a technical pilot. His aircraft are now well beyond the playing field, though. She wouldn't have a prayer against him as he is now, with the full support of Icarus Dynamics.

She doesn't want to give the son of a bitch the chance for the satisfaction of having the last laugh.

She pushes herself to her feet when he does; ghosts after him as he heads for the door.

"Ah…" Isa lets that sound of relief hang in the air for a moment, letting out a rush of breath she hadn't realised she'd been holding. The pilot hangs her head, her tone one of worried relief. "Thank you."

He stops and turns back to look at her; gives her one of those smiles. Not the inscrutable little sort he so often wears, but a genuine one, one she can see the emotion in.

She answers with one of her own, grateful and uncertain, weary beyond measure. It falters when he tells her she shouldn't worry about showing weakness. To his credit, she doesn't interrupt him to protest. Pride is a powerful motivating force within her; was a survival skill, for a little while, pushing her beyond limits she hadn't realised she could surpass. It turned her from human wreckage into a functional person again, just when she thought her life and career were finished.

Carefully, she reaches out – not to take his hand, but merely to touch it, a fleeting gesture of unspeakable warmth before she lets her hand fall away. It's a 'thank you' and an 'I'm sorry' all in one, and a side of warmth she otherwise isn't very good at expressing.

"Thank you, Filya," she says quietly. When she looks up at him, her expression is neutral; weary and understanding, and somewhere behind that, grateful. She hesitates for just a heartbeat longer, before stepping away from the door, letting him leave if he doesn't want to linger. "Dobroy nochi," she murmurs, gently. Good night. "Please take care of yourself."

"Dobroy nochi," he replies gently, accepting that touch to his hand. His natural empathy wars within him even now, wanting to reach out to her, to comfort her. But…they've reached an equilibrium. Something they can both live with, for now. The door is open – but an open door goes both ways. If she starts to realize there is another, if, through some chance Makarov is in the same dire straits as James Barnes, if she simply realizes what it means to care about someone such as him and finds out for herself that it's intolerable…then she can walk away.

It is the only solution his honor will accept. And as much as he's married to his work, he is all the more married to his internal moral compass, the idea that certain things are right, and other things wrong, and he must stand beside that right thing no matter how painful or dangerous that may be, no matter how it might look to anyone else at all.

That is why he offers only his goodnight, slipping through the door and closing it gently behind him.

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