To Family

January 06, 2018:

Christmas at home in Sokovia for Rusalka, Sloane, and Phil

Polyuchyn

A small town in Sokovia that happens to be Sally's home

Characters

NPCs: Many family members

Mentions: Tony Stark

Plot:

Mood Music: None.


Fade In…

Festive might well be the literal translation of Polyuchyn. There's really not many other words to describe the town, with their version of Christmas eve on for full display. Much of the family - along with the two visitors from the United States - had been out around town, lending their voices to the celebration. Rusalka Stojespal, of course, is out with the group and like most of the Stojespal family clad in wildly colorful attire.

Tradition has snuck up and eaten her, clearly; white and red and embroidery and touches of other colors galore. Fur as well, the freezing-temperature weather does require such measures, but it's still by far the strangest outfit that either Phil or Sloane have ever seen her wear. She's doing her best not to grumble, even while having to constantly rebalance the large floppy and colorful hat.

Fortunately, between the fur coats there's thermoses of cocoa and coffee that tend to be liberally spiked with alcohol to keep the spirits warm.

Eventually the singing wraps, as the sun sets and the stars become visible in the sky. Fortunately there's transport back to the castle, the star-fortress's lower levels making a fine garage for a wide range of cars. It isn't as if the family lacks for much, in this town; it's simply the way things have been for a very long time - just like the celebrations. Phil, Sloane, and Sally find themselves eventually roped into seating in the main dining room, quite close to the head of the table at Dragana's right and all together.

At least there's enough english speakers, or translators, to make things easy - Sally giving commentary and quips about various family, though chiding Phil not to speak to her granduncle Maxim, or else they'd spend the entire night trading hilarious war stories, and get an insightful look as to just how deadly a hot dog can be. "I swear I will never get the two of you apart if you do. And then I will be forced to return to SHIELD and tell them!"

There are, of course, more than a few people curious about Sloane - they've heard a few tales of her as well, the Inhuman friend of their own family who'd been a rescuer. One of the younger children, a bespectacled eight year old boy, had been especially curious. "Are you a boginitsa?" 'Little deity.' "Like Khoro the Wise?"

Finally, dishes are placed, people are settled, and the feast is permitted to begin. Sally can't help but grin at the others, the floofy headpiece tucked on a corner of her chair. "I did warn you it is twelve courses."

It's the first time Sloane L. Albright has ever left the United States, and it has been a doozy.

The sights, sounds, smells, the water— at least, when she can get a glimpse of it— all leading to the inevitable arrival at the doorstep of the Stojespal family home. She knows Sally Stojespal the Engineer, more than Rusalka Stojespal the traditional Sokovian lady. To be honest, it's weird and yet a little refreshing to the Boston-born Inhuman to see her best friend in all the things that she calls familiar, home, and … so /traditional/.

Oddly enough, she seems pretty okay with playing with the kids. It's also refreshing— perhaps in the soul— to not have to deal with being looked at so strangely, either with people terrified of her looks, remembering her from the photos taken of her in the Bugle, or just … way, way too into a girl with scales. It's quite a change from the Sloane back home— junior agent, trying her best, finding her way; she's having a good time and perhaps finally able to relax a bit.

Of course she'll talk with the young ones, giving them a big ol' smile with her sharpened incisors. "I'm not sure what that means, but I'm /definitely/ not wise," she replies with all-too much mirth. "But, I can do this." Reaching out a finger, she touches an empty glass. After a moment, it starts to fill with water— from the bottom-up, as though someone were pouring a drink inside, giving the kid a wink.

As the food arrives, and god knows she's probably taken a few covert pictures of that headpiece while perched on the Sokovian engineer's head, Sloane laughs. "Sals, in the last year, I haven't /yet/ met a meal I haven't been able to decimate," she says in an almost challenging sort of way.

Phil has a pretty okay singing voice. Nobody'd invite him to do a solo, but he keeps up. And he seems to genuinely enjoy himself. The cold touches his nose and turns it pink; he's looking more Avuncular than ever in a red sweater-vest, green pressed shirt, and black slacks. All signs of the G-Man are muted to the point where it would be easy to forget he is one at all. Indeed, he seems intent on enjoying the gift he has been given by being on actual vacation, something he has greatly and desperately needed. That's not to say he doesn't have a sidearm tucked into that stuff somewhere, but it is to say that he's doing his best not to talk shop or think about it.

He stops to check out all the cars though. Especially the classic ones.

He speaks fluent Ukranian of course, so he's doing just fine here in Sokovia regardless of what language anyone wants to use. He smirks as Sally chides him away from speaking to Maxim, and murmurs (in her own language), "Now now, you know that's just going to make me want to do it. I'm reaching the age where war stories are one of my few joys in life you know." He winks, that's not true — but the actual lie is that it's his only joy.

It's rare for Phil to get a chance to sit down for a good, well cooked, tasty home meal, so he's going to enjoy every minute of this. "This is spectacular," he compliments, before he dives in with gusto.

Children tend to gravitate, especially when you're Neat and Interesting. Not to mention have a great singing voice for all their favorite carols, though the pile of Ukrainian tends to make it a little hard to tell just what they're asking for. Fortunately for Sloane the eight year old gets nominated instant leader of the group.

Who becomes fascinated with the glass, picking it up and swirling it around a little - and then holding it up over his head, proclaiming something proud in his mother tongue before all the kids dash off yelling and cheering. "You have invented magic water," Sally adds with a laugh, "and I think they're all going to sample it and inherit your strength. Or magic power."

The cars are a mix - some modern, more utilitarian but quite comfortable sedans, and a small collection of the rarer Soviet-era luxury cars that get maintained as well. Clearly Rusalka's not the only petrolhead in the family. Unfortunately the family artillery isn't out today; it's mostly for parades and a little cold to run in such weather - a great steel box sitting in freezing temperatures is hardly what one would consider luxury.

Even if it is a tank of sorts.

"And he was never seen again." There's a laugh, before she continues in Ukrainian. "I will introduce you later I suppose. If I do not I am sure you will hunt him down yourself, yes? Old men and their stories." He gets a hmpf, but it's playful, before they settle down to dig in.

"Be careful what you wish for, you know." Sloane's dare has been called. "Baba mixed up the menu this year for you." First up, a sweet grain pudding - and a toast. "One of many to come," Rusalka warns. "Everyone makes at least one." Including the visitors, at some point. This first toast, though, comes from the head of the family, followed by a small speech.

Dragana stands, glass raised. The mix of table and wall candles, as well as some soft electric light, casts a sea of illumination on the table - and the curious, clearly fake, spider webbing in the ceiling of the room. Ukrainian, though with Sally translating almost instantly it's not hard for Sloane or Phil to follow - even if he's cheating by already being fluent. "It has been a long year, this year. One of joy, and one of sorrow, as all such years are. There has also been much that is new to us, and some that is old that has returned."

There's a slight glint in her eyes at the last phrase, but she says nothing more.

"We endure and we thrive, as we always have - and we grow." She shifts to english, as a servant places three shot glasses before the trio, filled with…something. Strong. "When Stojespal walked by moonlight and bled for our land, we shared this. A bond built on fire, and baptised with the fruit of our home, made in the oldest of ways." Back into Ukranian for the rest of the family. "Z ts'ho momentu, Budynok Stoyespala, zarady yiyi krovi ta lyudey, dlya kokhannya, yde do yoho smerti. My napadaty, moyi lytsari! Na moyemu zadn'omu, slid!*

Sally herself blinks at the drink and the war cry, glancing back and forth - she clearly hadn't expected this. Her mother simply stares quietly, silencing any sort of objection. A test, of sorts, though one she already knows the outcome to. For all three of them, really. One deep breath, and she reaches out and downs the thing quickly, barely managing not to cough it back up as the burn reaches everything.

When vodka is a mere social drink, one's moonshine is forced to be quite memorable.

"Space-alien power," Sloane sarcastically— but amusingly— replies to Sally, wiggling scale-backed fingers. "Oh God, I'm going to be pulling water out of the air all night, aren't I?"

The crushing depths of the seas are a cold mistress, and the Inhuman genetics inside her have seen fit to make her more adapted to chilly climates— but even she needs some heat in her bones; a sweater worn over a thermal-knit turtleneck and warm pants. Her ears are another story— at least in the cold, at one point, she found herself using a scarf wrapped around her head like a shawl considering earmuffs are just /right out/ for her.

The tips are still a little red.

During the car show, of course, Sloane can't help but put a hand on her cheek and let her weight shift, watching Phil and thinking for just a moment that she wishes she could just start taking pictures of the man. He's always so guarded, so cool and closed off that seeing him excited about cars is … it's so …

It's a learning experience, okay?

Of course, Sloane is the one person that doesn't speak Russian or Ukranian; every time a question is asked or a statement made, her head snaps to look at her friend for help, through toasts and translations, and … wait, is it okay for her to drink? And the food? "Challenge accepted."

— oh god it's sally's mom she's looking over here did sally tell her she does an impression of her oh no oh god—

The toast made, Sloane hesitates for a moment— she's been shot at, saved people's lives, but this is the first time she's ever … pounded a shot of something strong, burning, and powerful. Her eyes tear up, her pupils expand a little for a second, and the back of her hand comes up to her puckering lips as the tries to find a way to deal with that /burn/.

"Smooth," she whispers after a second, trying to hide the rasp.

"Old? Pfft," Phil says, in mock affrontery. "I'm not a day past 29."

A sweet grain pudding is much to Phil's liking, but he stops when toast time happens. He listens politely. He can read the brief reference to Hydra in there, but he does not comment or even react to it, merely wearing his 'I am having a good time' pleasant smile.

When its time to drink the vodka he raises it high and downs it. With every evidence that he is a smooth and polished drinker.

When it is his turn he stands and says, "Over the past year I have had the privilege of working with two fine young women sitting at this table." He nods to Sally, and to Sloane. "And I have had the privilege of working with Madame Dragana and Madame Irja as well. And the thing that has struck me about all of these women is they have displayed, again and again, phenomenal courage. Not just courage of body or will, though they all have plenty of that. They all have the courage to be exactly who they are, to be proud of that, to stand up in the face of any opposition with their head held high and their hearts wide open with love: for each other, for their colleagues, and for the people they've sworn to protect."

He raises another glass. "And as I look around I see those same qualities burning in the hearts of everyone I've met tonight and so to them and to you; may you shine your lights forth into the next year and chase a few more shadows out of the world in so doing."

Hopefully that wasn't muddled, he is a little toasty.

"Now we know how to put you to work properly!" Sally's grin is infectious, and if it makes the kids happy, well, she's not gonna stop it. Space Alien Power, she says, and Sally gleefully adds that to her translation of what to expect as the kids run off. The legend of 'Sloane Albright, hydromancer, superhero, alien' grows.

As Phil takes in the love of the automobiles present, Sally grins a little and adds a reminder. "Someday you will meet Lola too, you know. Someday." She can't help but be amused as well, though she certainly shares the same love for the machines. Someday, of course, she'll drag Sloane through a race day…but this is not that day.

Irja watches, curiously, as Sloane takes her slug of what the Russians brewed on the backs of tanks and called samogon. A harsh, brutal moonshine made to remind even the dead that they were once alive, and possibly to get one or two of them back to that state. It's potent stuff, of course, as anything should be.

"Hladkyy," Rusalka translates for the crowd, and Sloane gets a small smile from Irja and a nod - as well as laughter and a couple cheers from those nearby. Defiance against the bite is always appreciated…as is the easy, old-hand method Phil takes, which earns him a round of applause as well. The room quiets once more as he takes his moment to speak.

And the speech is appreciated quietly…for a moment. The older gentleman whom Rusalka had pointed out as Maxim, baldheaded and pinch-faced, lustily yells out his own toast to follow Phil's. "To courage and burning out shadows!" Grin.

Rusalka herself is just trying to get a little air down after whatever 200-octane nitrous she just downed, but manages to at least raise her glass in reply. Her voice might be a bit rough, eyes wide like Sloane's, but she's at least able to translate Phil's words for her friend as the second course is served.

It's going to be a long, and very festive night, though for the girls at least juice is provided - the initiation they'd just done doesn't need to completely empty the bottle this time. They're also still young, too, as far as the rest of the gathered crowd thinks.

Before she can do it herself, Rusalka's mother stands and gestures at the far edge of the table, nearest the door - two plates stand unused, for ancestors who might stop by as well as other friends not present. "My husband would be proud to be here this night, and see what kind of daughter we have raised. And the friends she has brought to us, that we have made our own." It's not quite dour, but there's a determination in her words that Sloane's seen before; it's simply that controlled way the woman is, even her bearing is just short of making a full salute.

"I am grateful for having had the privelege to work alongside both of these people. They have both prevented our table from becoming much smaller, and I can only say that the courage toasted to is proven in their hearts. Mr. Coulson and Miss Albright, I toast the strength that your courage gives you and pray you will never be missed at this table."

The Sokovian officer stands, glass raised and deep blue eyes staring into Sloane especially, as the table echoes, "To strength!" Meanwhile, the food keeps on coming. And coming, along with the conversation and toasts. Sloane's dare may be called after all.

When it's Sloane's turn at the toasts, she finally lets out a bit of a nervous laugh, head slanting to the side. "I'm sorry— I sing and perform but I'm pretty terrible at speeches. … And the … whole… not speaking the language thing…"

"The last year changed my life a lot, and in ways I … still don't even know if I fully understand. But I've had two people stick up for me in this time." She looks at Phil. "Sir, you … never doubted me, and you gave me the means to pick myself up and grow. And Sally, you … never judged me, gave me time, and you still put up with me. So … I just wanted to say that I'm glad I've got these people in my life, and I get to spend the holiday with everyone here."

Eventually, it all works it's way back around to Irja Stojespal.

The toast is … suitably intense, exactly what she would have expected of the woman. There's a bit of a grin there, faint enough to not expose fangs but certainly enough to show the friendly smile. She's made jokes and done impressions, sure. And it all wraps with one statement that really, it … just /fits/ every thought and memory that Sloane has ever had of Sally's mother: 'To strength!'

Food starts making the rounds. She piles it on, of course, not quite taking more than her fair share but certainly proving that Inhumans have a slightly skewed sense of stamina and metabolism— or maybe it's just because she's changed that much versus others she's met.

Her hand shifts down to her pocket at a couple of lulls in conversation, peeking down at the display of her phone, but quickly it's shoved back into her pocket. And, when she has the chance, the ginger girl leans to Sally and smirks. "Your mom's just like I remember." The lean shifts to Coulson, next. "I swear, one time I saw her glare at an old car and the rust peeled off in terror."

They are kind things to say, and Phil smiles and drinks. All this toasting could make everyone way past toasty, but there's plenty of food to soak up the booze with at any rate. His eyes soften at some of the things Sloane has to say in particular. He resists the urge to ruffle her hair. He feels it. But he resists it.

He chuckles at the notion of Irja peeling paint off of the car with her scariness, and turns warm eyes over to her. "Can I get you to come in to see FitzSimmons, ma'am?" he murmurs. "I mean. I could do with some Weaponized Fear Factor."

Some people would get embarrassed to be assigned that particular quality, but Phil…rather thinks that Irja Stojespal is not at all one of them.

He clears his throat and says, "Sally I really appreciate this invitation." This, quieter, after all the toasting is done, to strength and courage and all else. "It's…been a long time since I've gotten to enjoy this experience."

Left unsaid: he spent his last Christmas freezing his nuts off and getting shot at in Antarctica, and his plans for this one had amounted to the football game and a beer until the invitation had come; having a real one is incredible. The January 7th date even works for him; things are still slow enough that it's not too hard to take off work but not so crowded with mainstream holiday madness. Plus all the Kings have made it to the stable.

Irja listens, and nods approvingly at Sloane's speech. So do the rest; it's a quiet acceptance; not everyone is as good at public speaking as others are. Dragana too, as well as a couple of the older men that seem to fit in as a 'council' for her - the family's organization is slowly getting a little clearer.

Certainly, it would not be at all amiss to draw parallels to the fictional Corleones, in some ways…

The eldest Stojespal grins, and starts to reply - before she's interrupted, surprisingly, by a soft clearing of someone's throat. One silver eyebrow on the old woman's face rises in surprise, followed by anticipation; she'd not expected her granddaughter to do that. Neither had Rusalka, apparently; she's at least not quite shocked into her jaw hanging open but those blue eyes are quite wide, staring at the air force officer.

"My apologies, my lady Baroness," Dragana adds. It's enough to get a sudden silence in the room.

Irja, meanwhile, looks Phil over one more time and then back at Sloane, having heard that particular comment. That gaze, those hard-as-stone blue eyes take on the ginger girl's directly for a moment before she speaks. There's a judgement in them, as well as a measurement, and Sally herself can't help but glance back and forth between them in surprise.

"Miss Albright, I understand your home life has been…less than ideal, of late. I am very proud of my daughter, as you are quite aware." Whatever lint or dust might have lingered on Sloane's outfit is out the door and headed to San Francisco at this rate, under that gaze. "In all her decisions I have seen fit to not countermand her once, and that is a rare and valuable thing for a child. Were I to have two daughters like such…"

Her gaze softens infinitesimally, but more than enough to send a signal to her target. "I would be a truly wealthy woman indeed. If ever you desire it, that place is yours. To family," she adds in Ukrainian. "By blood and hard ways!" She settles back down with a smile, before shaking her head at Phil. "Children cannot help but tell such stories. I am sure that others will fill in an important detail, that the car itself had not even rusted yet."

…She's not serious, is she? Rusalka's just flat out staring at this point, before finally shaking her head.

More food comes, shifting from salads into - sausages? Thick monstrous things, wrapped with spices and mustards and heaven knows what else. Sally can't help but give her friend a grin. "Normally…fish would be on the menu for much of tonight, but. Like I said," she adds, flashing that grin at Phil. "Baba thought it was best to shuffle the menu up this year." Certainly the newcomer at the end of the table next to the empty plate seems to think it was a fantastic idea, as she wolfs down her particular serving.

'Weaponized Fear Factor.' Sloane's cheeks are puffed a bit from food, but she tries hard to not laugh; she's a little worried to speak with the biology-engineering wunder-duo if only because she's expecting them to come at her with industrial-grade tweezers looking for scale samples for some kind of weird armor project.

She was, honestly, kind of hoping that Irja hadn't heard the joke— lots of food, clinking dishes and silverware, and conversation— but it was caught. For a second she almost shrinks to two inches tall in her seat, but … Irja is surprisingly welcoming, fair, and warm— not at all the version of Sally's mother that she remembers.

Was it the glance at the phone? Did Sally tell more than Sloane knew about her family situation? The Inhuman's fiery orange eyes shift from Irja to the table and back, not quite able to speak but surely the look on her face more than enough says anything— and everything. She looks down, scratching at the back of her head, trying to not get all choked up.

It's been a long time since Coulson got to enjoy something like this; Sloane didn't think she'd have a Christmas like this. And the food… oh god, the food. Normally they'd be having fish? She can't help but laugh, shaking her head while preparing to move on through the odyssey that is a Stojespal family feast. "Classy, Sals. Classy."

'The car had not even rusted yet.' Sloane almost chokes on her food, trying to not laugh.

Phil's eyes twinkle. "Sloane. You are not a fish. I think you can still eat one if you are so inclined. Unless you are not." Note to self, do not take Sloane to that sushi place. He can see why it might discomfit her, but she really isn't a fish. She just. You know. Super duper looks like one. "Aren't you a dragon? I know I heard someone call you a dragon at some point. Dragons eat all kinds of things."

He digs into the sausage with equal gusto. "To family indeed. And if you promise not to peel her paint, Madame Irja, it would be my pleasure to take you and Lady Dragana for a ride about in my Lola one day soon."

Well, they might enjoy it, or it might just be a middle aged dude showing off his flying compensation car, but he does offer.

It might just be a christmas miracle. Even stone can soften, in the right circumstances, and the smile on Dragana's face says more than enough for what she thinks of it all. Even if she's not the baroness herself, there's still a definite sense of power present.

There's a soft nod from Irja at Sloane's expression and reaction, simply one that lets Sloane deal with things as she likes. Sally, meanwhile, whispers. "I didn't know…I mean, I did mention that there was…problems, because of your transformation, but. Like, I'm sorry, I did not realize…" Her hand sneaks over and gives her friend's a squeeze.

"If it means anything…you would make the best sister."

There's a shrug at the mention of the menu. "Next year, if you approve, fish all night." Yeah, next year; it's not like the newest member of the family is getting permission to be excused from the table anytime soon. "I might have mentioned to the chef your love of burgers, as well; it was his idea for the sausage. Mostly." Not that Sally had certainly liked the idea; she may not be attacking her plate quite as much as her friend, but she's still enjoying the feast.

And a feast it is, as it rolls through various other things - salads of cabbages, mushrooms, seeds, and so on; soup and stew and dumplings all come and go. The toasts as well - various projects, hopes, and dreams, all among the family. Quite a few of them, actually; it's a common enough thing to keep the night lively.

Rusalka grins at Phil. "Water dragon, yes. I think that name…hrm, I do not recall when it came up. It is highly accurate, though," she adds. "Besides, some tradition could use a little shaking up, yes? Once in a while." And then she casts a dark eye on her own outfit, the traditional clothing of her people being…well, okay, it's pretty and all but the truth is she can't wait to get out of it once the feast is finished.

At Phil's offer, both Dragana and Irja blink in surprise, then face each other. There seems to be almost some sort of communication between them, as Sally adds a few words in Ukrainian to explain. Something simple about Lola being a vintage corvette that flies - no really - and has many fascinating features, and is for Phil what might well be his only child. "People have been shot for touching it," she adds in English, deadpan.

Dragana considers the proposition with glee, intensely amused at the idea. Perhaps one or two of those vintage sedans in the family garage are old favorites of hers… Irja, meanwhile, simply nods and eats a dumpling before meeting Phil's gaze evenly and offering her thoughts.

"A suitable punishment." Oh no, she means that entirely - now there's the Irja Sloane fears sometimes. "I do not, however, believe I will turn down such a unique and valuable offer, Mr. Coulson. I do look forward to that day."

She barely knows the Stojespals, and they're offering her family. SHIELD is doing much the same. Be it a bit of the sentimental hometown girl or some kind of stubborn pride, but she does the completely logical thing and just sucks it all up inside and tries to put it in a box and push it to the back of her mind for now.

Avoidance is super healthy. It even shows from the phone and the way she's been stealing glances at it every so often for the whole day.

"Okay, well— it depends on who you ask. So this one time there's something in the river— this was before I signed up," Sloane says, holding up her hands a little. "I was pulling people out of the river and I remember someone yelling about me being 'the serpent.' Dragon came up a few times. Most of the time it's just 'fish.' Which is weird because I've never seen a fish with teeth like this."

Sloane does, however, start laughing. "Though I have to admit I really haven't had a stomach for fish for ages. Though I do kind of like the smell of fish sticks. God, I'm weird."

Irja's willing to take up the offer. She doesn't even think, it just /blurts out/ while she's picking up a glass to drink. "Mister Stark called Lola your wife," Sloane says, just /right out/ throwing the Iron Man under the bus. After a hot minute, cup in hand, she just realizes what she says and nearly chokes on her own drink.

"I mean. Um."

Phil's lips curve into a smile to all of it; he's not really put out. Even by the wife bit. "You two wanna ride too?" he asks of the Water Dragon and the young noblewoman. He's feeling indulgent. Maybe it's the drink, maybe it's the warm sense of family, maybe he's trying to get invited back next year, whatever it is, he's feeling indulgent. And then he adds thoughtfully, "Maybe I should let Sally drive."

Now we KNOW he is filled with the Holiday Spirit.

God bless us every one. Especially Phil's wife, Lola Coulson.

There's no need for an answer anytime soon. Sometimes an offer takes time to mull over, to consider from all angles, and finally return an answer to. Sometimes an offer comes from a place so unexpected it takes time to even process it. There's plenty of time; the Stojespal family is an old one and they're used to long decisions being made.

Sally, meanwhile, finally notices Sloane playing with the phone from time to time, after the hand squeeze. A curious, mildly concerned look, just asking if everything's okay - probably…it isn't as if Sloane has an e-trade app or anything. Does she?

And then Sloane explains, and Sally's back to translating - embellishing just a little, explaining a detail here and there. Ah yes, that day that mutated creatures had shown up on shores of Manhattan; some details get left out - they're eating, of course - but the curious are rewarded with heroism and namesakes.

"Akulechka!" Granduncle Maxim of the war stories can't help but yell out the word, laughing. It's Sloane's own fault, if she hadn't mentioned her (noticeable) fangs earlier. "He, ah…little-shark, I think is best. It's like a nickname you give a niece or something." And considering the laughter around the table, that nickname may stick.

Iron Man is pretty well-acquainted with buses. Even still, Sally stares at her friend for a moment in shock before sparking a moment of laughter. "He…did say such a thing. He might not be wrong," she can't help but mumble. "With all due respect, I mean, sir." Maybe there's a touch of pink to her cheeks from embarrassment, or maybe it's the side effects of that carefully distilled would-be neuron-poison they called moonshine. It isn't as if Sally's had much experience with alcohol anyway…

And then Phil makes not one but two offers that prove that while she has no tolerance for booze, clearly neither does he - did he just offer to let her drive? "I…" A headshake. Snap decision time, floor it for a pass or let up and lose? Charge! "I - we - accept! Absolutely accept!" Those blue eyes are completely wide, and she can't help but grab at the chance.

"We would both be honored as well, Mr. Coulson. And for as long as I command it, Kov'yl airfield is yours to visit and examine. I cannot promise much, but I believe a trip would be worth your time in the future." Irja regards the cheerful american with a cool gaze, but it's practically her default expression.

ELSEWHERE IN NEW YORK

There's an itch at the back of Tony Stark's head. It won't go away, like a lovesick mosquito, and it's damned irritating, whatever it is. Maybe it's the cold. Who knows.

The display shows no notifications, missed calls, messages… Maybe that's the problem? Sloane glances up at Sally before shaking her head, a quick 'not now.'

Does she want to /ride/? Sloane looks at Sally first, then at Coulson; her head slants before she nods. "Yeah! I have to see what this legendary car is all about. Motorhead was pretty into it, too," she adds, pulling a thumb at Sally with a grin. Stories are swapped; fighting a monster in the East River (and it's mild sanitization for the dinner table). Glancing to Sally for the translation after the replies, the Inhuman lets out a laugh. "Ha! Yeah, I guess a shark's a pretty good comparison, too, huh?"

"Maybe I should let Sally drive.'

Memories flood through her mind; knowing the Sokovian for a week but still really needing to get across town. One dragging the other to a concert. A trip to the track. Classes they need to get to, art shows, music festivals, and once or twice, more than one of the same thing on one day. The roar of the engine, the smell of burning rubber, and the swirl of lights and that moment where Sloane could swear she could actually taste the concept of speed.

And Phil Coulson offers to let that drive his car.

Sloane immediately picks up her glass again, taking a long drink. Don't say a word let Sally /enjoy/ this don't open your mouth don't say something stupid.

Phil Coulson is an observant fellow. He doesn't show any signs that he understands what's going on with the phone, but he takes it and files it away. What he decides to do about it will not happen today or tomorrow or even the next day, but he's aware now and in time he's going to make good on said decision. He is aware he has caused shock, awe, and general disturbances in the force, but that's half the fun of it, really.

Since they're at a nice family dinner he makes no comment that if Sally breaks his wife she may get shot. She, after all, knows; she's the one that told everyone else.

So he simply enjoys the moment, smiling placidly. The comment about punishments makes his eyebrows lift, but a smirk teases over those Cheshire Cat features of his.

"Merry Christmas," is all he says to Sally instead, more than halfway through his plate already.

The attention to the phone is curious, but she's not sure why. It isn't as if Sloane is bored, it seems. At the very least, the growing stack of plates - including seconds of this or that course on occasion, gladly provided - say she's certainly not bored with the meal. Well…it's her deal, and the not-now gets a nod. Some other time.

"Lola is beautiful, yes. And…well - wait. Hrmf. I will show you tomorrow, unless…Mr. Coulson has a picture of his wife?" She can't help the giddy giggle that follows, especially since her /own/ phone has migrated away with the rest of her regular clothing. Traditional costumes need pockets too!

The story about fighting in the east river gets a nod of approval from Maxim and the rest, and they start reminding each other of other fights. Old wars, old men; Phil at least would enjoy the details. Sneaking up on an armory, infiltrating a few people overnight past the sentries, standing guard while the others acquire what firearms and ammunition they can carry - amidst griping about how needlessly heavy all that stuff is these days - and getting found by a guard…

…who was promptly attacked and beaten by Maxim with a frozen sausage, before he could sound the alarm. It's clearly one the others have heard as they all narrate the punchline with him, to the old man's sputtering cries of foul. "To sausage!" cries out a young woman at the end of the table, long brown hair braided over one shoulder. The grin on her face is wide and satiated, with the empty plates before her. The toast is rewarded in kind, from Maxim and Dragana loud enough - the latter with the most curious of smiles.

Meanwhile it's a disturbance in the force, alright, as if millions of traffic police suddenly cried out in terror…and were suddenly silenced. When Phil drops his 'Merry Christmas' on her, the impact of the present finally hits. There's only one thing she can do, and fortunately he'd been seated next to her. Both arms fling around him in a bearhug of thanks, before she manages to comport herself properly. "I will make it worth your decision, sir!"

Across the table, Irja merely regards her daughter. 'You'd better', she doens't say. "You will," she does, by means of subtle threat.

Everything needs pockets. None of the sewn-shut or fake ones, either. To heck and back with your traditions!

Sloane looks between Sally and Phil with a bit of a grin. It wouldn't surprise her if there's a photo of the elder agent standing and posing with his car, from what little she's heard about it already— it's a point of pride, and something that she can kind of— but not entirely— understand just from all the time that she's spent hanging out with Sally.

Of course, Sloane could talk about rare guitars, violins, or pianos for hours while Sally's eyes just cross.

'To sausage!' It's a bloody, violent battlecry, and perhaps it's just the holiday and the cheer catching up with her, but the Inhuman lifts her glass on cue. By god does she cheer it on. "Sausage!"

Sitting back in her seat as the meals, conversations, and fun progress, Sloane looks … content. Though her hand slips to her stomach after a time, pushing a harsh breath out between her teeth and into a balled-up hand.

"Okay, Sals. I gotta— I gotta call defeat on all this food. This has been a killer Christmas feast."

He had, by the by, noted the airfield invitation, which he nods to graciously and murmurs a thanks to when he sort of circles mentally back around to it. But then? Sudden Sally Hug!

He hugs her back gently and in fatherly fashion, pat patting her back and beaming. He likes being a Dad, what? And…then he's laughing uproariously at the sausage story.

But pictures of his baby? Forget cell phones. He has one of those photo wallet things usually reserved for people's children, that can be passed around. Phil standing in front of it, yes. Phil has taken pictures of Lola from every conceivable angle, in fact. He has taken pictures under the hood. It's no longer top secret technology, after all, it's old school. He has taken pictures of the weapons and just…

Yes. There is plenty.

"It has been a killer Christmas feast," he agrees solemnly. "And you all have no idea how special this has been to me. Thank you." It is one of those memories that will be tucked away as evidence of a life well lived, a good one to hold on to someday when his life flashes before his eyes, seconds before that light goes out. A great day.

If she'd known Sloane's thoughts, she would have cheered them with a toast at that moment. Fortunately for her own lack of embarrassment, there's nothing like that happening; it certainly would not do to give one of the stranger toasts of the night.

At least, even if they don't completely understand each other, there's appreciation for things. Quality music, for example, even if it spills over into occasional debates as to whether Frampton's earlier work was better than his more recent, or not. Or for that matter, whether Lamborghini's current madness can even be called automobiles anymore.

"Well. I hope you left room for dessert, you know. Twelve is an important number." Sally grins, as the final round is brought out - in this case, stewed fruits and honey-dipped pastries. "Though I believe…just a little bit, because absolutely I am stuffed as well. Ugh, I am not fitting into my clothes tomorrow…" The lament of the engineer who spends most of her time in a lab. Exercising this night off is going to be murderous.

The interest in baby photos, even if it's not a traditional baby, grows rapidly. Even if Sokovia spent much of the last century locked behind the Curtain, it was hardly unaware of the rest of the world. And the Corvette is, truly, a thing of beauty in any culture - there's a couple eastern cars that sample its styling in an attempt to be anywhere near as cool. The true thing, in fire-engine red?

Well, there's a lot of old guys in the family. And a few younger ones who give it the whistle of approval as well. At this point he might need armed guards to keep the motorheads of the family away…

Dragana smiles at his words, but leaves the business of things to her granddaughter. Irja is, after all, the baroness; sometimes it's fun to delegate things and not have to do them. She's eaten well too, of course, and could stand to relax. The air force officer nods, then rises. "It is just as much with us, Filip Coulson. Polyuchyn, and our home, is always welcome to you. For looking over my wayward daughter, I can do no less; for giving her the guidance and strength to become a proper woman and protector of her people, I can only humbly thank you."

Those blue eyes find Sloane as well, and she switches to english. "And you as well, Miss Albright. Perhaps I did not expect such a bond to forge between two such people, but I am quite remiss if I am not aware of it. That you have supported her and saved her, and been her friend, is not overlooked at all."

She glances around the room, tapping her glass on the table twice quickly and not spilling a drop. "To family!" That glass gets raised and lifted in the Americans' direction, a salute and toast to them that is racously echoed by the rest of the Stojespal clan and retainers as well.

The following morning of course is spent buried in giftgiving, though most of it for the children. Still, a few things find their way to the newcomers - in Sloane's case, a proper set of clothing that matches Sally's traditional attire, complete with the family crest embroidered into the collar. And a matching ushanka, made from what feels like real animal fur - and with snaps that wrap /around/ her ears, rather than try to fit over it. For Phil, something a little more sentimental; a sword - a cavalry saber, a vintage thing from the 19th century carried by a prince of Stojespal into battle.

And, of course, a small bottle of that particular moonshine that he'd approved of. Ah, the impetuousness of youth.

  • 'From this moment, the House of Stojespal, for the sake of its blood and its people, for love, goes to its death. We charge, my knights! At my rear, follow!'
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