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Cat Suits and Cool Pants

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He looks like a well-behaved dog at bathtime, Sam thinks, when he catches a glimpse of Parker on his way from Leah's truck to the back of Jules and Spike's: resigned to getting hosed. Inspector Stainton, standing off to the side with a couple of fresh-faced uniforms, looks more like a staticky cat.

"You know who that is, talking to the boss right now?"

Jules glances up from unpacking all the gear they expect to need and some they don't.

Sam tries to be more specific. "Short. Red hair." He pauses, trying to think of a better word than 'bombshell' to describe the unfamiliar woman.

"Looks like the dame out of a Dashiell Hammett story?" Spike supplies with half a smile, leaning backwards to look around Jules at Sam while he finishes assembling the parabolic mic.

"Something like that, yeah."

"That'd be Agent Romanov of SHIELD."

"Who?"

"SHIELD," Spike repeats, then expands when Sam shakes his head, at a loss for ringing bells. "The hipster intelligence agency. 'Oh, well, you won't have heard of them, but the original lineup invented Captain America'."

"Snidely Whiplash?" Sam asks Spike, who ends his exaggeratedly pretentious impression with a head-toss and a twirl on the end of an invisible mustache.

"What? No, that's the hipstache. You know—all these kids with the sailor tattoos and the bow ties?"

"You and I go to different websites," Sam says, and Jules snorts.

"Is this condescension masking bitterness because they never tried to recruit you?"

Spike rolls his eyes at her.

"Yeah, you might want to think twice about telling CSIS they were your fallback school."

"You're going to lecture me about intelligence agencies, Samtastic? You know I didn't get hired just for my dimples."

"Me neither," Sam begins and Jules interrupts him.

"No, that decision had more to do with—"

"My pert butt and cute hair," Sam interrupts back. "Will you let me crack my own jokes?"

Jules sticks her tongue out at him. Sam struggles with the urge to grab her in an attack hug and try to catch that tongue, but, well, his and her and the Boss' jobs all on the line, he manages to restrain himself.

Spike waggles the microphone at them chastisingly while he fiddles with his earpiece. "Anyway, Romanov was here when we pulled up, said she needed a word with the sergeant."

As if on cue Parker strides out to the centre of the staging area and raises his voice to address the team. "Listen up, Constables Scarlatti, Callaghan, Braddock, Kerns, and Lane." Parker sweeps the five of them with his eyes, left to right, Sam assumes by way of introduction.

"Today's job just got a titch more complicated. As of right now, the offices of the Oracle Corporation are effectively outside our jurisdiction. No matter what occurs in there today we do not intervene, not even to observe priority of life. In fact we're to avoid the twelfth floor entirely, as much as possible, and leave it to our new friend Agent Romanov and her team."

"Team?" Jules repeats with a frown, her voice pitched for Spike and Sam alone. "I didn't see any kind of team."

Spike shrugs.

Sergeant Parker continues, "Beyond that, nothing changes. You all know what we're here to do."

"Connect, respect, protect," Leah recites, and Parker nods.

"Eddie."

Ed claps his hands and barks, "You heard the Boss. Spike, give us eyes. Get an update on our subjects: locations, objectives, states of mind. Jules, Sam, and Leah with me, we prep for hard entry. Let's go!"

Sam surreptitiously toggles his headset mic. "Are we okay with this, Boss?"

In Sam's ear and at the other end of the Suburban, Parker sighs and mutters, "As it happens, we are not, but we're going to do it anyway because SHIELD are . . . special."

Parker's sour face gets no sweeter when the interloper looks up from retrieving a hardcase from the trunk of a studiously nondescript sedan. "You know I can still hear you."

"Then you'll hear me reiterating that you have my team's complete cooperation."

Romanov smiles and shuts the trunk. Parker rolls his eyes, pulls the brim of his cap down lower on his forehead and goes to join Ed as Romanov straightens, rounding the car to the rear door and climbing into the back seat. She emerges, implausibly quickly, wearing a blue-black . . . well, it looks like a wetsuit, snug but structured, with eagle insignia on each upper arm, and buckling a belt weighted with nearly as much gear as theirs low around her hourglass waist.

"What the . . ." Sam says as he watches her sashay towards the building.

"I told you." Spike watches her too, briefly, before his attention snaps back to the laptop in front of him. "Leotards. It's a hipster thing. Eyes in!"

"Great work, Spike," Parker calls from his new position. "Now get me something I can use."

"On it."

Sam's startled to look up from the quarter-split surveillance display on Spike's screen to find Romanov standing nonchalantly a metre in front of him. Good sneaker.

"Braddock, right? Samuel? I've seen your scores." She adjusts the wide, segmented cuff—one of a pair—around her left wrist. "You're quite a marksman."

"Thank you," Sam says uncertainly. His fingers itch for the grip of his Glock but reaching for it feels like it'd be giving her some kind of satisfaction—if not taken as a sign of aggressive noncompliance.

"You really do have nothing to worry about here, Constable. I won't get in the way of your operation, and you won't get in the way of mine."

"Roger that."

With a smile like the inevitability of death Romanov turns and leaves the trio blinking in her absence.

Jules recovers first. "Okay. That was badass."

"It was," Spike agrees, and he doesn't look happy about it.

"I guess you have to be, to carry that outfit." Sam shakes his head. "We have a job to do."

The last word is inaudible, drowned out by Ed's irritated holler: "Fast is good!"

"Amen to that," Spike says, and returns his eyes to the screen.

*

They're all surprised when she turns up at the Goose later in casual clothes, accompanied by a blond man in a hole-specked Ministry T-shirt, fortyish, who looks like he's forgotten how to sleep.

"Hello again," Romanov says, looking just as sweet as pie.

Her friend waves and grunts. "Canadians."

"You did good work today."

Sam's certain the words out of Leah's mouth are "Thank you" but they sound a lot more like "We know."

Romanov looks modestly chagrined. "I think we may've got off on the wrong foot this morning. It's one thing hearing that Strategic Response are more than just SWAT, something else to watch your team prove it."

Ed accepts the compliment on behalf of his fellows with a demure nod. "'Preciate it."

Romanov nods back. "Enjoy your evenings."

She starts turning to go; Jules, leaning forward in her seat, looks quickly around the table for assent. She locks eyes with Sam last of all, sitting across from her rather than beside in order to restrict inappropriate physical contact—not that it stops them from tangling feet occasionally. Sam shrugs.

"Hey—do you want to join us?"

Romanov stops and looks back towards the table, then at her companion, who makes no kind of signal that Sam can detect, then back at the table. "Sure," she says, and pulls up a chair.