Unnecessary Parties

"I don't see why I have to be a part of this nonsense." Root stared out the window of the airplane, uncharacteristically disgruntled. "It seems to me to be a whole lot of fuss about nothing."

"We've been over this." Coulson walked in from the front of the Bus. "Malta is the perfect place to establish a base camp, for the same reason Quinn used it back in the day—no extradition treaty. Even if the CIA or Interpol find us, they won't be able to touch us. Legally, anyway." He dropped into the seat across from there. "We set up a 'vacation house' in the area; we spend a few months establishing the false identity of the Italian Don who owns it and oozing our way into Prince Pedro's confidence, and we have a ready-made base-camp/safe-house established, in a way that allows us to tap into the criminal underworld and still explain rapid mysterious trips to and from the base." He shrugged. "It's the perfect cover."

"I think you misunderstood me." Root turned her exasperated expression to the Director. "I don't see why I have to be part of this."

A grin quirked the sides of Coulson's mouth. "Well, that would be the decision of your Machine, now, wouldn't it?"

Root let her head fall back onto the seat with a little huff. "I've never doubted her before, but if she's developing some ill-timed sense of humor..." She muttered.

Coulson was still grinning. "You're mad about being included on a mission where the solitary goal is to have fun and live like wealthy Italian gangsters." He shrugged. Look at it as... getting some political clout overseas to match Samaritan's stranglehold on the US."

"And I'm needed for that because..."

"Ask your Machine. But at the very least, you could be a good friend to Jillian." Coulson nodded at the dark-headed girl sitting nervously in the lounge on the Bus. "She's done some routine surveillance work—we had her stationed at a cafe near Stark Tower—but she's a level 1 and this is the first real field deployment she's had."

Root glanced briefly at the girl and rolled her eyes. "I've never really been much of a 'people person.'" She informed Coulson.

"...That makes sense, actually." Coulson nodded, studying the stitches around the woman's eye and ear. "Still, she's supposed to be your cousin, so it would make things easier if you could act like it."

"Oh, I can pretend to like people." Root waved dismissively. "That shouldn't be a problem."

"That's... good. That's a start," sighed Coulson, giving a tight smile. "Start by pretending to like people, and then maybe move to pretending to have fun, and..."

"...and if you pretend long enough, you might have some by accident?" Root smirked.

Coulson shrugged. "You never know."

"We don't have time to have fun. We don't have time to even pretend to have fun." Root nearly hissed. "You've sworn fealty to a god, I hope you realize what that means."

"I... didn't." Coulson's brow was severely furrowed, and he was staring at Root quizzically. "I mean, not only did I not realize what it means, I'm... pretty sure I never swore anything."

"We are in the midst of a war of gods." Root answered, eyes glittering. "Time is everything. Samaritan thinks at nearly 10 times the speed of the Machine and has more than fifty times the manpower." She gave a thin smile. "So forgive me, 'Director Coulson,' if I seem a little impatient."

After a few moments, Coulson gave another, more understanding, smile. Leaning forward, he gestured to her.

"Now, we've already eliminated ten different names off the list of numbers you gave us at the start of this arrangement." He said, in an undertone. "Four of those were associated with Decima. After he drops us off, Tripp's off to Budapest to handle one. May and your friend Shaw are in Hong Kong with a few other SHIELD agents, taking care of another."

"But that second set of numbers you gave us?" Coulson shook his head in admiration. "Skye's been working around the clock to compile complete profiles. Ex-agents from SHIELD, the CIA, the KGB, even Mossad. Various people with unique skills and checkered pasts that might be open to working for a down-on-its-luck secret agency. Some of them, neither I nor Skye can quite see why the Machine picked them, but we can't wait to find out."

"So yeah," Coulson shrugged. "We're outnumbered for now. But this recruitment drive? It's just getting started."

A/N:Props to whoever can guess what other Whedon property is being referenced in this chapter. This was a bit more difficult to write than I anticipated... I knew what I want but had a tough time getting it out. This is good, though, as it sets up the rest of the series.

A little divided as to what fandom to do next. I'm leaning to Covert Affairs, as I want to hit that before the season premiere, but Burn Notice is also very tempting, and I have a compelling idea for Criminal Minds. Guess we'll just wait and see which is done first.