Title: Interested Parties, Table For Two

Author: Jedi Buttercup

Rating: K+

Disclaimer: The words are mine; the worlds are not.

Summary: As a recruitment pitch, it wasn't the worst Joss had heard. Certainly less dramatic than the last one she'd received. Didn't mean she was all that enthused about it, though. 2000 words.

Spoilers: Season 2-ish for Person of Interest; post-Avengers for the MCU.

Notes: For kerrykhat, for Day 4 in Wishlist 2012, for a prompt of Joss Carter + Natasha Romanova with the summary. Title alludes to Natasha's line: "We kept our distance. Even helped keep some other interested parties off your scent" and to Finch's self-reference as "a concerned third party".

As a recruitment pitch, it wasn't the worst Joss had heard. Certainly less dramatic than the last one she'd received. Didn't mean she was all that enthused about it, though.

"You want me to come work for SHIELD," Joss repeated slowly, eyeing the woman seated across from her. She'd walked into the diner while Joss was eating and slunk into the booth as if it was something she did every day, her hair a vibrant red not found in nature and something in her walk and the tilt of her chin that would have instantly reminded Joss of John even if she hadn't recognized her face from recent news footage. "Why?"

"Are you asking why you'd want to work for SHIELD? Or why we want you, in specific?" Agent Romanov asked, her words measured with just that little hint of smug John got sometimes when he thought Joss was asking something incredibly obvious.

Joss wasn't really in the mood to play that sort of game over breakfast, but she was curious enough about her guest to play along, a little. "Why me? Like you said, I'm a detective... and I like to think I do a pretty good job defending my homeland right where I am already."

"You know what the acronym means," the agent nodded, a faint hint of approval creeping into her tone. "Then you know that we stand for much the same things you do." Given all the other cues, it was hard to tell whether the sentiment was real, or just part of Romanov's angle to draw Joss in; Joss gave her full credit for the attempt, though.

"Kinda hard not to, the way you people were forced to go public after the invasion," Joss shrugged. "And you didn't answer my question. I'm not one of your flashy guys in costume; I'm a cop."

"You think those 'guys in costume' are the only people who work for SHIELD?" Romanov replied, raising her eyebrows. "For every visible agent, there are dozens of others in the background, gathering information and working to support them. Some would argue that they're an even more valuable part of the agency. I would have thought you'd already be familiar with the concept."

"Uh huh," Joss replied, skeptically. "From my days in the Army, right?"

"Right," Romanov replied, looking even more amused. "Of course."

Joss shook her head. "And why would I want to leave the Homicide Task Force, where I know for a fact I'm making a difference, to become one more drone in some covert agency's support crew?"

"Detective Carter, if I were looking for a drone, yours would not be the first name to come to mind- and I would hardly be the agent sent to speak to you," Romanov replied. Then she tilted her head, sharp eyes obviously taking in every micro-expression on Joss' face, and finally opened up her agenda a little. "You've done good work here. You've been a force opposing corruption as long as you've been at the eighth precinct, and your record before that is exemplary. But you and I both know that you've also made a lot of enemies- and that it's been a long time since your first loyalty was to the Task Force."

Joss reached for her half-empty coffee cup, turning it slowly in her hands while she formulated a reply. "I took an oath," she said, carefully. "And I take that oath very seriously." She'd been on the other side of an interrogation table before; she wasn't going to implicate herself that easily.

"Which part? To never betray the public trust?" Romanov said with absolutely no emphasis in her tone. "Or to always uphold the agency you serve?"

That struck a nerve; Joss had been uneasy from the beginning about the propriety of one man- or one small group of supposedly righteous individuals- taking matters of life and death into their own hands that were clearly the province of the legal authorities. There were still times she couldn't believe what she'd got herself involved in, days she had trouble looking Szymanski in the eye or lying to officers in other precincts about what she was up to in their jurisdictions. But with the likes of HR and Elias involved, sometimes those outside hands were the only ones actually making a difference. However John and the little guy got their information... it allowed them to step into the gap that had opened between law enforcement and true justice.

However she felt about their means and methods, she'd seen injustice happen on her watch far too often to look away from the human cost now. She did believe that everyone should be equal under the eyes of the law... but as it happened, over and above the lives they saved, her and Fusco's work with John had actually brought the system back closer to that ideal every time they cut off a few more tendrils of corruption. So from a certain point of view, she was upholding the ethical standards required of her by working with the Man in the Suit, rather than against him.

"All of it, of course," she replied evenly, with a bland, take no prisoners smile. "I have always been committed to serving my country."

"Of course," Romanov replied, returning the smile in kind. Then she changed tactics, leaning forward and interlacing her fingers atop the table as she approached the conversation from a new angle. "Then it may interest you to know that part of SHIELD's mandate is to monitor potential and developing threats to humanity."

Joss blinked. That was an interesting statement- and a potential explanation why Romanov was the one talking to her, not Agent Donnelly and his task force or more of John's old CIA buddies. It wasn't that they thought John was a traitor, or a dangerous mercenary: SHIELD had larger concerns in mind.

Seriously, though? John might be a threat to her sanity most days, but the world? Joss drew in a slow breath. It didn't fit. She might've believed it before that day in the parking garage- but even then she'd had doubts about the 'proof' Snow had showed her of John's supposed crimes.

"Not surprised. But that still doesn't tell me why you're talking to me... unless, of course, you think there's some kind of threat out there that I'm best equipped to handle." She kept her tone as dry as possible as she returned the verbal serve, putting the ball back in Romanov's court.

"As a matter of fact, we do," Romanov replied, firing it back again.

This time, Joss fumbled the return in her surprise. She dropped a hand to touch the burner cell in her pocket, despite how she knew that would look, abruptly aware it had been awhile since she'd heard from them. "I don't understand," she shook her head.

Romanov turned her face away then, glancing out through the diner's plate glass window. "We've been aware for some time now that a certain former CIA agent had survived," she said, gesturing at the passersby outside. "He was invisible enough as long as he remained out of society. But the moment he began to act again..." She paused for emphasis. "This is SHIELD's backyard, Detective."

"You mean the Man in the Suit, right?" Joss tried to recover, still rattled by the shift in the layers of conversation. "I was taken off that case a long time ago, you know. And I saw enough to find it hard to believe he's some kind of threat to humanity. I know the man's dangerous, but he did save my life. And not even the FBI task force thinks he's more than a skilled mercenary."

"Donnelly doesn't know about his friend, or the resources they have access to," Romanov replied, turning back to Joss with an admonishing look.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Joss replied, her alarm ratcheting higher.

Romanov's smile widened at that, showing a flash of white teeth. "And I think that's the first outright lie you've told in this whole conversation. You're very good at your job, Detective. But we have Tony Stark on our payroll as a consultant. This is his backyard, too, in more ways than one. Mr. Wren's security is very good; but given enough time, there's always someone better."

It wasn't hard to guess that by Wren, Romanov meant the man John referred to as Harold, he of the many names and more disguises than his partner ever bothered with. John got his way with charm and craft; his friend, by disappearing into the background even when you were looking right at him. Joss swallowed, brushing her fingers over the silent phone again.

Was he listening? Or were they in SHIELD custody? What the hell was going on?

"If you know so much, then I have to ask again; what do you want me for?" Joss asked, firmly.

Romanov sighed. "Before the Chitauri invasion, we were content to monitor. The NSA was already hunting him; so were the CIA, the FBI, your department, and half the gangs in New York. And until the situation changed from a potential to a direct threat, we were willing to let it all play out without interference. But after the invasion- the people who, ah, commissioned Mr. Wren's resources began shifting their focus from the prediction and prevention of terrorism to slightly more exotic targets, and thereby came to our attention. The game is changing, Detective, and they have no way to stop it. When the inevitable happens, we'd prefer to direct Mr. Wren's and Mr. Reese's abilities in a more productive fashion than standing by while they're thrown to their respective wolves."

By aiming their 'potential threat to humanity' against the inhuman threats they were expecting, the rest of subtext lingered in the air, unspoken.

And she noticed the woman had said 'direct', too, not a more hands-on verb. Was that why she was approaching Joss? To co-opt her as a handler without hiring either of them directly? Given their skillsets and general privacy issues, it might be the easiest way for SHIELD to reach them without provoking a negative response, no matter what Mr. Stark had found in his research.

...Iron Man had been researching them. The thought boggled the mind, and brought back all those early Batman jokes she'd spent a long, long time ignoring. Joss clenched a fist around the phone, wishing that John really was listening in, for once. What the hell was she supposed to say?

In that moment of indecision, the beep of the phone was as loud as a siren.

"Go ahead," Romanov said, nodding in the direction of Joss' pocket. "I'll wait."

Joss blew out a breath, then decided she might as well. But the small screen of the old-style flip phone showed only two words: We're listening.

"Bastard," Joss snorted in relieved exasperation. Then she looked up and nodded at the agent, closing the phone and placing it squarely on the table in front of them.

"One more thing before I say anything else," she insisted. "I get why me. But why not my partner? And why were you the agent sent to speak to me? How does Detective Carter rate the Black Widow?"

"Because you're the one they'll listen to, however admirable Detective Fusco's redemptive arc? Because I'm a woman, and the Deputy Director was busy? Because I was one of those invisible agents before my face was splashed on every news feed? Or... maybe because Mr. Reese met me once, and knows I have even more red in my ledger than he does," Romanov shrugged, delicately.

"SHIELD isn't perfect, Detective. Nor are the Avengers; look at our roster. But our goals are the same as yours, merely grander in scope."

"Okay then," Joss sighed, then made her decision. "Give me the full spiel. And then we'll see what we see."

"Fair enough," Romanov replied, and smiled like the cat who'd got into the cream.