"Sir, I'm sorry, but I won't work with Miss Dancer!" Trevor Kensington wasn't one to lose his cool easily, but his last button had been pushed and he wasn't pulling any punches with his boss. "I did not join UNCLE to take part in a social experiment - if she wants to be my secretary, that's one thing, but a female partner will be nothing but a liability in the field. It's a proven fact women and men are physically different. Women are the weaker sex. I won't work with someone who can't have my back one hundred percent."
"Are you through, Mr. Kensington?" Alexander Waverly asked, his icy tone belaying his calm exterior. "I would advise you to watch your tongue. You're coming dangerously close to insubordination. I make the personnel decisions around here, and I won't assign you to Miss Dancer simply because I won't subject the poor girl to your attitude."
"That's fine with me, sir. She won't make it six months, I guarantee you."
Turning to storm out, Kensington didn't realize the door had been open and that a shellshocked April had been among those who had heard his tirade. Lacking the good graces to act even a little embarrassed, Kensington stomped off, muttering under his breath about the inability of women to live up to UNCLE's expectations.
April, for her part, turned and walked away in silence, lest anyone noticed the tears she was struggling to hide.
Several hours later, Mark found April sitting by herself in the canteen, nursing a coffee and scribbling furiously on a notepad. The look on her face was one of hurt and fury, an unhealthy mix of emotion for any agent, rookie and veteran alike. "Hello, love."
April looked up sharply, her expression softening considerably as he sat beside her. "Hi, Mark. How long have you been back?"
"About an hour. Had a meeting with the old man and then had some paperwork to tend to before they could officially reinstate me."
April covered his hand with hers in a sign of solidarity. "I'm so sorry about what happened to Nathan. I know the two of you were close."
Mark sighed, thinking about his partner, Nathan Yamaguchi's death. It was offensive enough that THRUSH had infiltrated London HQ, but Nathan's assassin hadn't even respected him enough to look him in the eye while killing him. Instead, a car bomb had slain his partner. "I hate it when the bad guys win. Mr. Waverly wanted me to have time to grieve and I have. No sense in sitting around feeling sorry for myself. Besides, Nate wouldn't have wanted me to dwell on his passing, so here I am."
"Stiff upper lip and all that, right?" she teased. Though she hadn't known Mark that long, his support and encouragement had made for an easygoing, almost familial friendship and she often found herself joking with him in a way she couldn't with anyone else.
"Something like that," he smiled, though it didn't quite reach his eyes this time. "What about you? What are you working on?"
April looked away. "My resignation letter."
"Your what? You can't be serious! If this is about Kensington, believe me, he's not worth it."
"Oh God, is there anyone who doesn't know about this morning?" April covered her face with her hand and swallowed hard to fight the unwanted emotion that threatened to reveal itself. Now it was Mark's turn to offer comfort and he brought her hand away from her eyes as he spoke.
"I'm sorry, love. If it's any consolation, Kensington is such an arse his own mother wouldn't be his partner. You've worked too hard to let him force you out now."
April pushed the notepad away in disgust. "He's just the last straw, Mark. You think I don't know what they say about me behind my back when they don't know I'm listening? They either objectify me or resent me for breaking up their good old boys club. It's only a few agents, but nobody has ever thought to ask me why I'm really here."
"You don't owe anyone any explanation, April," Mark reasoned, irritated that his colleagues had been so boorish. April was a talented woman, and it was a damned shame that some men were so insecure they would feel threatened by her presence.
"I feel like I do, and quite frankly, I'm tired of always being on the defensive. You want to know why I'm really here? I want to follow in my father's footsteps. He was in the OSS and served with the French Resistance for two years, never once putting his own safety above that of the oppressed. When he retired from active duty, he joined the reserves and trained our boys in advanced intelligence techniques for nearly two decades. Who knows how many lives were spared by the wisdom he imparted? Father spent his whole life protecting people he never knew from threats they never saw coming. Nobody ever knew the good he did...nobody but me. I want to honor him and continue the fight. That's why I'm here. That's why this matters so much to me. I want to make the same difference he did, but men like Kensington never consider that. They just think I'm some kind of raving she- beast out to prove a point or a fragile flower who's nothing more than a token."
"You've already made a difference just by being here," Mark pointed out, hoping he was being helpful. "Look at your Survival School ratings - someone who doesn't belong here would have never made it to the top of the class."
"But I had to be that good," April protested, still unwilling to concede an inch of her self pity. "Anything less would have put a target on my back for sure, not that it isn't there anyway. Don't get me wrong, I know I have to pay my dues like anyone else, but I didn't come here to be relegated to the secretarial pool."
"Give it time, love. You'll be running rings around all of us soon."
Having said her peace, April had no response. She just hoped that Mark was right.
The next morning, April had just returned from Research and was compiling a report for Mr. Waverly about a potential THRUSH stronghold in the Bronx when the call came summoning her to his office. Unlike others who felt as if they had been sent to the principal's office when called to him, April appreciated her time with the head of UNCLE's North American command. He had taken her under his wing from the beginning and had always treated her with a sense of avuncular pride, which had helped her through the sometimes hellish days of Survival School. She knew she wouldn't want him mad at her, and hoped she'd never incur his quiet wrath, but for now April knew that she had his respect, and that, along with Mark's support, made her situation more bearable.
"You needed to see me, sir?"
"Ah yes, Miss Dancer. Please come in." Mr. Waverly turned to face her as he lit his pipe. "First, I feel I owe you an apology for Agent Kensington's behavior. He was out of line."
"Sir, it's not your fault. I'm sure it won't happen again."
"You're right, it won't" he nodded. "I've put him on restricted duty until such time as he can learn to be a team player. I take my agents' well-being very seriously and I made it clear to him that he can come back when he's ready to abide by my rules. Chief among them being that he doesn't question my choice in partner assignments."
"Well, sir" April replied, trying not to smile, "there's a reason you were put in charge. I doubt Kensington will be the same man when he returns."
"Precisely what I'm hoping for. Now, there is the matter of assigning you a partner to tend to. I believe I've found someone whose skill sets are quite complimentary to your own. Someone a bit older, who can guide you through your first field assignments but who will also be on equal footing with you."
"That's a relief, sir, who is it?"
Instead of answering her directly, Waverly punched the intercom button on his phone. "You can come in now."
"What's this I heard about someone needing a partner?" Mark teased as he walked in.
April turned and couldn't fight the grin that lit up her face. "It's you!"
"I expect I'll have an assignment for you within the week," Waverly continued. "It looks like THRUSH is trying to expand their territory in the Bronx and if we can make a preemptive strike, we might be able to prevent them from gaining a further foothold in Manhattan. If you could fill Mr. Slate in on your research, we'll reconvene as soon as I have all the details ironed out. In the meantime, Mr. Slate, treat Miss Dancer to lunch at Delmonico's on me."
"Well color me impressed, love. Usually he can pinch a penny so hard Lincoln's hat falls off," Mark teased.
"Don't get used to it. This isn't an excuse to start running up your expense accounts you know," Waverly warned, breaking into a slight smile as his newest team shared a laugh.
"Thank you, sir," April called out as she turned to leave. "I won't let you down."
"I know you won't, young lady," Waverly muttered as he watched them leave, confident that his matchmaking abilities would once again be proven right.
"Here's to us!" Mark toasted, raising his glass to April as they dined on filet mignon, Delmonico potatoes and purple Brussels sprouts.
"About 'us", Mark," April responded. "Just exactly how did this become 'us'?"
"Well," Mark explained, trying to look innocent and failing miserably, "I may or may not have approached Waverly after we talked about my needing a partner, and I may or may not have volunteered to work with you. He may or may not have mentioned he was thinking of pairing us up anyway, and..."
"Mark!" April scolded, sounding a bit more put out than she meant to, "I'm not a charity case!"
"Nobody said you were, love," he agreed, "but let's face it. I needed a partner and I want to work with the best. Didn't really leave Waverly a choice, did it?"
April tried not to smile, but her excitement and relief betrayed her. Finally things were starting to happen and her first assignment was going to be a real one, not just some dead drop somewhere to prove her worth. She truly felt her father was watching over her and she made a mental note to stop by St. Patrick's on the way home and light a candle for him. Thank you, Father. For everything.
"Earth to April. Penny for your thoughts!"
"Oh I was just thinking that you should be quite careful what you wish for, partner. With me, you just may get it."
Theirs was to become a legendary partnership.