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February 2017

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alphaflyer: (Clint shades)
[personal profile] alphaflyer
Written for [livejournal.com profile] kiss_me_cassie's prompt "Mission:  Wedding".  Alas, it got away from me a bit lengthwise and hence isn't quite finished yet, but I wanted to post it before the promptathon turns into a pumpkin!  (Hope the mods allow ...) Parts 3 and 4 should be done tomorrow, at which point I will also edit this baby and post it on AO3. Unfinished and unbeta'd because time constraints, RL and nasty cold.


Red Wedding

I.

“You cannot be serious.”

Clint stares at Coulson as if his handler had finally decided to appear in public without a tie.

“I’ve carried out ops in Iraqi jails, on a pig farm in Oklahoma and the men’s toilet in the Capitol.  I’ve put on a dress for that carnival thing in Cologne, and almost lost my manhood to a herd of piranhas.  Honestly, you’d think I’ve passed your fucking tests by now.  So what’s this?”

Coulson eyes him coolly.

“This isn’t a test, Agent Barton.  You’ve been with S.H.I.E.L.D. for five years; I’m not quite sure how, but you passed probation a long time ago.  No, this is a mission, and a very important one, too.  The economies of several Central European nations depend on a successful outcome.”

Clint isn’t buying.

“How important can it be, if it involves a monkey suit, a circus hat and a garden salad?”

Coulson folds the outfit S.H.I.E.L.D.’s wardrobe department has produced neatly and tidily into a suitcase.  When he speaks, it’s pretty obvious that his patience is beginning to wear thin. 

“This is a morning coat, a classical top hat and a boutonnière, Agent Barton, standard dress for a wedding.  Wardrobe has your measurements, so unless you’ve been into the pizza again, you will look just fine.  You may even find the man of your dreams.”

Clint sighs heavily, and shoots the grey hat and striped pants another venomous look.

“Why do people think that getting hitched means you have to pretend you’re a chinless Victorian aristocrat?”

Coulson ignores him entirely this time; instead, he puts on his briefing voice.

“Dardan Jashari is the head of the Sokovian mafia, as corrupt as he is violent.  He got very, very rich from the most recent civil war, selling weapons to both sides as well as diverting aid convoys and selling the food to starving civilians.  His wedding to Jelena Novakoff would, through her father, give him access into the innermost circles of the Sokovian government.  While the marriage being spun as a gesture of reconciliation between the warring factions it will really achieve is the union of two of the most almost certainly lead to the destabilization of the country, and possibly the entire region.”

Clint looks at the picture Coulson is holding out.  Typical uni-browed thug, late thirties, with a look that suggests his interest in the Sokovian secession wars was more than purely financial.  Probably just one war crime (or a few bribes) short of an indictment in The Hague.  Why anyone would want to marry a specimen like that is beyond Clint, but then again, his mother married his father so who’s he to judge.

Coulson isn’t done though.

“There is another asset rumoured to be attending the wedding.  We don’t know who he is working for, or who his mark is; the wedding party is rife with potential targets, and the Sokovians are very good at holding grudges.  If he does kill Jashari, I don’t want to hear about it. The Council wants him dead, which is all you need to know.  We don’t care how.”

Clint interest is piqued in ways that Balkan politics could never hope to achieve. 

“Competition?  Cool.”

Coulson rolls his eyes.

“Just remember it’s going to be difficult to take a bow and arrow into a wedding, so think of something else.  Dismissed.”
…..

II.


Weddings are occasion Natasha both likes and loathes.  They’re easy to slip into, because who’s to say no to an attractive, unknown guest who probably belongs to the ‘other side’ of the wedding?  On the other hand, they remind her of far too many occasions in which it had been her playing the simpering bride, at the behest of Ivan or whoever held the reins.

She is not called the ‘Black Widow’ by accident.

Well, this wedding promises to be of the easier kind – too many people for anyone to know everyone, with invitations based on prestige, not friendship.  Natasha remembers a royal wedding she attended in Doha, in which the thousand or so guests (on the woman’s side of the wedding alone) arrived with tickets, not personal invitations.  This one, too, seems to value quantity over quality – several hundred people crowding into the chandelier-lit ballroom of the only five-star hotel in the country.

She smiles coquettishly at the token security thugs at the door.  Waving the invitation she’d taken off some clueless guest in the parking lot, where she’d allowed her high heels to make her stumble in a pothole, she wafts past them to air-kiss a surprised elderly woman.

“So nice to see you again,” Natasha gushes in flawless Sokovian.  “I was hoping you’d be here.  Wasn’t the ceremony just gorgeous?  I was so touched.  We must catch up after dinner.”

The old woman, clearly not used to such attention, allows pleasure to win out over confusion.

“Certainly, my dear,” she says with a smile.  “Although you may need to remind me of your name. I’m getting old, you know, and my memory isn’t the best.”

Natasha trills a little laugh.

“But of course I will,” she nods.  “I’m starting to have those moments myself.  See you later, then!”

She repeats the performance with a couple of other guests, certain of the number of eyes following her into the room.  Having established her credentials, she walks past the bridal dais to assess placements and angles, more out of habit than any actual plans to carry out her commission so publicly.  A dance, yes – much more subtle, and full of opportunities.

The outer tables don’t have name cards; she finds a seat with relatively clear sight lines and settles down with a glass of water.

It doesn’t take long before someone else sits down beside her.  He’s alone, and presumably (correctly) assumed that she is, too.  Great.  She inclines her head in a greeting she doesn’t mean, and takes the man’s measure through lowered lids.

Reasonably attractive, of unassuming height, spiky dirt-blond hair.  His strangely coloured eyes widen a little as they take in her cleavage. The morning suit he is wearing is cut to perfection, although she notices that he shrugs frequently, as if he’s not used to wearing a jacket.  His shoulders are broad, and there are interesting calluses on his fingers.

Manual labourer, Natasha has just concluded, when his eyes slide off her breasts and focus on the bridal table with an intensity she recognizes only too well.

The eyes of a killer.

She dabs her lips delicately with a damask napkin, and turns her most blazing smile on him.

“Bride’s side, or grooms?” she asks in Sokovian.

“Groom,” he replies unhesitatingly, in the same language but with an accent that sounds American.  The man’s bearing is loose, but guarded, like a cat, ready to pounce, and he posture is straight, military.

“Business associate.”

Natasha rapidly refines her assessment.   Jashari’s bodyguards and enforcers are all local, so … ex-US military … private security consultant?

Her thoughts are interrupted when the bridal party arrives and heads towards the dais at the far end of the room.  Her mark, not unlike the man beside her, wears his suit reasonably well but with a touch of unease – no wonder, for a man who prefers being photographed in camo jackets, bent victoriously over a dead animal or human opponent.  Dardan Jashari looks around the room with the air of a man used to seek (and find) approval, giving the thumbs up to various people until his eyes arrest on Natasha.

She straightens her shoulders so as to push out her breasts, and flips her flaming red hair with an idle hand.  Freshly married or not, Jashari observes her with a predatory grin, stopping just short of licking his lips.  Getting him onto the dance floor should be a breeze …

Jashari’s young wife is a pretty slip of girl, stunningly if not ostentatiously dressed in a gown of ivory silk, with a train held for her by two attendants.  A small, pearl-encrusted purse dangles from her wrist; an outfit that could settle many a mortgage, no doubt.  An older man hovers behind her, his hand on the small of her back as he pushes her forward to take her seat.  Her father, a man known more for his ambition than his interest in the welfare of his people.  There appears to be no mother.

She sits down dutifully, like a trained doll, and for a moment Natasha can almost see the strings.

“Not too happy, is she,” her tablemate mutters to himself in English. Natasha wonders for a moment how he can possibly see the bride’s face from this far away, but then she notices the set in the girl’s shoulders, and the way she leans away from the groom -- just to the point where she gets too close to her father, and flinches back.

“You understand English.” 

It’s not a question, and she decides there is no point in denying that she’d heard him.

“I didn’t know Dardan had American associates,” she says.

Her neighbor shrugs.

“Fingers in lots of pies,” he says, leaving open whether he is referring to Jashari or himself.  He holds out his hand.  “Barton.  Clint.”

His calluses, when she takes his hand, feel even odder than they look, and not consistent with any firearm she knows.  But his grip is both warm and firm, hands she instinctively understands would know how to set a woman’s body on fire, and how to crush a larynx so as to end a life.

Hands not unlike her own.

She is spared the need to reciprocate with the introduction when four other guests – one couple and two more of the single males that seem to form the majority of attendees – join their table.  None of them bother to introduce themselves; names here are currency, and you hold on to your coin.  A white-gloved waiter puts plates of delicately arranged morsels in front of everyone, and for a while no one speaks.

Not your typical wedding, Natasha concludes.  There’s a palpable air of….  Mistrust?  Dislike?  You could cut the tension with the flat, silver butter knife placed perfectly diagonally on her bread plate.  The men’s eyes are constantly wandering around the room, observing and taking each other’s measure; verbal jousts are flung at Jashari in attempts to get his attention, bask in it when successful.

Testosterone levels are running high, and many glances – and lewd remarks -- are thrown her way.  She reacts almost instinctively, reaching for the stiletto in the folds of her dress, when she feels something touch her back.

Barton, resting his hand on the back of her chair. She relaxes – for now – and throws him an amused look.

“Pretending I’m yours?”

He shrugs, and gives her a knowing grin.

“Just throwing the jerks off your scent.  Beginning to piss me off.  Not that you’d need help, of course.  You always carry a knife to a banquet?”

“Absolutely.  I heard chivalry wasn’t dead yet.”

He snorts, and for a moment their eyes lock.  It’s almost like a shock, a recognition….  But then the groom’s best man loudly announces a drinking game, and the moment passes.

In a moment of dazzling originality, they’re told that every time he and his bride kiss, the guests are supposed to down a glass of raki.  There is much banging on tables with each kiss, and waiters stand by to pour more of the paint stripper liquid as soon as a round is done.  The bride plays along, but Natasha doesn’t miss the fact that she surreptitiously wipes her mouth on a napkin after each slobbering encounter.

By the time dessert is served, the noise level in the room has gone up several decibels, and a couple of loud arguments have broken out in a far corner.  It’s only a question of time before someone will swing a fist; currents of violence move through the air like tangible threads.

Barton has been leaving his raki untouched throughout, instead nursing a single glass of wine – one sip at a time, alternating with deep draughts of water, as he scans the crowd with eyes that miss nothing.  Foreign intelligence, or hired gun?  Here to watch, protect, or to kill?

“Not a fan of raki?” she asks when he waves off yet another attempt from one of the waiters to top up his still-full shot glass.  Obviously, he’s bent on staying sober.

“No more than you,” he replies, pointing at her own glass.  (So he’s observant, too.)  “Last war around here ran on that stuff, I’m told.  I think it fries people’s brains, and I like mine fresh, soft and squishy.”

He gives her a little smile that does interesting things to his face.

“You still haven’t told me your name,” he says.

“And maybe I won’t.  Keep the mystery alive.”

She’s not sure where that response came from, but she doesn’t want to lie to him; the truth, on the other hand, is a matter of circumstances -- and this is not the right one.

The band strikes up a song, and all eyes go to the dais where the groom grabs his bride by the hand and pulls her to the dance floor.  He’s drunk and swaying a little, but manages a decent imitation of a waltz before others start to join in.

Now.
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