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He didn't actually expect to end up working in intelligence. 

He'd been too young to fight in the war, and the recruiters had been pretty impressively honest about not letting him fight anyway, even though he could run circles around any grown man (and lift him over his head if he wanted to).

When it was all over, and he'd left high school, and the years had ticked by without him getting blown to pieces by the power of the atom, he'd slowly found himself talking to more and more important people. His dad had never really been clear about what exactly he did, but his friends were mostly serious types with dark glasses and earnest expressions who jumped at little noises, and to him it was all just normal. Pretty clearly someone had to stop the Ruskies starving the whole world to death, might as well be him.

Which - after a great deal of training he'd found trivially easy, and various rather unpleasant tests and experiments and vetting processes - had landed him here, in some kind of baking hot asshole of the Orient, where his ability to stumble through "Geez, these dust storms sure make a man chafe, am I right?" in Punjabi and Urdu apparently made him the best choice to make contact with a possible Person of Interest whose name was "#Unknown to the Agency, possibly -R-". 

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The coordinates he's been sent have led him to a coffee house on the outskirts of the city in Pakistan. It's strange. The air is jovial, with men and some women milling around, laughing at the top of their voices and speaking Urdu in a slang he wouldn't understand very well at first listen, and a tension permeates the air just under all this. 

He knows the political climate here is rocky at best, especially with the new Ahmadhis gaining ground against the Ahrars. But Pakistan is deeply politically charged at its heart and conflict is woven into the making of this place.

Partition was a mess, that much is sure. And the resentment for each other, for the Hindus, for the British government, for the white man, runs rife everywhere. But the people are tired and they want peace. 

He sticks out like a whore in church. But the locals are friendly enough when he asks them things, and become friendlier still once they learn he speaks the language. There's genuine delight in their realisation that the white man has deigned to learn their tongue, and they soon become less hesitant and offer him friendship with his coffee.

He waits, and watches. R could be anyone, anywhere. Sleeper agents have only become more common since the war ended and they had the Russians to contend with. Just being so close to their border makes his skin itch. 

After about ten minutes, there's a plate of sweets set in front of him that he didn't order. He's never seen the server before, and he's gone just as soon as he appeared. Instead of one of the rolled up sweet pastries that should be amongst the rest of the sweets, there's a chit of paper. 

'Could you be any more obvious? You could have at least dyed your hair. Come through the back. You're meeting with the Siren.'

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The way he sees it, the Indians and the Pakistanis and whoever had their wars and feuds and shit, the limeys were better at it until suddenly they weren't, and white or brown or whatever you don't get to pretend you weren't holding a sword too, it goes around and it comes around and what matters right now is fighting the reds, so here he is.

They do make good coffee, though. And he likes foreign languages and he likes making friends. 

Anyway, this could be a trap but it probably isn't and if it is the thing to do is spring it, so he pops a pastry into his mouth (damn the locals know what they're doing, and in the experiments they told him he was pretty much safe against poisoning attempts unless it was literally glowing), whistles at a waiter to get him more of that whipped coffee shit, and wanders aimlessly through to the back.

He was pretty sure an obviously American guy with dyed hair trying to pretend to blend in would be more suspicious than a loud blond Yankee with fuck-all to hide, but let's be real they're all making this up as they go. 

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Naturally, everyone watches him. Subtlety has truly never been his strongest suit or his preferred one (why sneak around when you can break down the door and get the job done much quicker).

There's someone guarding a door with a gun and he throws a hostile look at him.

"Password?" he demands in Urdu. 

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Big friendly smile and even-more-badly-accented-than-he-normally-does Urdu! "Yeah, hey buddy, I looking for the bathroom, someone told me called 'Siren' or something???"

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A look of utter disdain, and then he raps on the door with the barrel of his gun. Someone calls something from inside and he nods at Caragon. 

What he steps into is an office. Actually rather nice, good light, cool, hung with patterns and things on the walls that aren't covered in shelves of dossiers. Most likely they're fakes and the real ones are hidden somewhere. 

At the dark wooden desk sits a woman in a green shalwar kameez, the colour of the flag, and her warm brown skin makes it look striking. It's simply patterned so as to not take any more attention than necessary. It doesn't work. She's arguably rather stunning - full lips, dark eyes, luscious hair that tumbles over her shoulders, a sweet face with a scowl that reminds him of a cat. 

He likes cats. Hates dogs. 

"Finally. I sent Hussain out there five minutes ago. Were you finishing your coffee?" she asks, her voice dripping in sarcasm. Her English is only slightly accented in that sharp lilt people have on this side of the world. 

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"Yeah, it's good round here. And id you want me here in less than five minutes, you need to damn well say so, lady, or I'm doing it in my own good time. Now who the hell are you?"

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"Yes, I suppose you all have ample time when your country is usually the one dropping the bombs and making the borders," she remarked idly, scratching something out on a file she was working on.

"Have you been briefed, or do I have to hold your hand through that too?" 

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Oh for God's sake. "Yeah, it's nice to be the winners, you should try it some time. And you can hold my hand any time you feel like it." 

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Finally she looks up at him, icy brown eyes and imperial smirk. It should not look so harmonious on her face but it does.

"We've received reports of a paramilitary organisation with heavy ties to the Russians attempting to infiltrate our Congress." The heavy emphasis makes it clear that the infiltration is more of a Charles-style definition than an R definition. "Rats and urchins have given us locations. It's our job to hit each one, find out what we can, work to the top, and let the special forces know where to hit and who to arrest. Samje?" 

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"Sounds pretty simple. I'm feeling like the old "fake American defector" plan, you can distract anyone who looks sharp enough to catch me out?"

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She raises an eyebrow at him. "They'll smell you from miles away, Agan. And you'll get too many questions. I won't be allowed within fifty foot of the place. We need someone else." 

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"You want three people in this operation? Nah. We need a way to get one of these bastards when they're not in their secret hidey-hole. We scope the place out nice and subtle, identify one of them, get hold of them, get it out of them."

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She stares at him. R is not impressed. 

"And when he squeals? Pigs for the slaughter raise the highest bids here." Figuratively of course. That would be haram.

"He'll get more money for ratting us out than we can give him to stay quiet. No, here we deal in subtlety and espionage the proper way. I'm sure you're not familiar with this approach," she says, muttering the last bit under her breath.

She hands the file to him with a list of locations on the front. "Scope these out. I've located them as potential fronts. An American man visiting a brothel won't raise many eyebrows."

There are, conspicuously, two that are already crossed off the list. 

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"Uh-huh, you know what, have it your way. How'd you rule these two out?"

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She smirks. "I'll be getting to those myself." 

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Huh. God only knows how they do things round here. Is she posing as customer or employee? "So, what, you're a woman of... interesting tastes? Or negotiable affections?" He smirks.

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She pouts in fake sympathy. "What a shame for you that you'll never find out. Now get out. We meet back here in a week." 

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"Woah, steady on, lady, I just got here."

He feels pretty dumb just standing here arguing with a lady but somehow she just gets under his skin. 

...Part of his job is to not get the locals even more pissed at the white man, isn't it. He probably shouldn't talk to a girl like that, agent or not. He can already see her bristling. She's probably scared. What with being a woman tangled up with dangerous people and great big American soldiers.

"Listen, ma'am, I think we got off on the wrong foot. You're doing good, here. You're helping us out, we'll make sure you get taken care of when we sort this out, OK?"

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"How gracious of you!" she says, her eyes lighting up. "I'll be so thrilled for you to do all the work and mess up the operation I've been running for most of a year. It would truly be an honour to see you get beat up by the wrong people when you make a wrong move."

Her voice is dripping with sarcasm and her accent lilts in a way he recognises from being on the lines: did she go to school in England or something? 

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Nobody's ever landed a blow on him. "Yeah, not gonna be a problem," he snaps back before he remembers himself. "I mean, it's sweet of you, ma'am, but don't worry about me. Nobody's going to hurt me or you, OK? Why don't you tell me some more about yourself?" He can't help but feel like he keeps losing control of this conversation.

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She just laughs at him, standing and rounding the desk to lean on it in front of him. She flutters her very long, very pretty lashes, with brown eyes that sparkle like a princess's. There's an innocent look on her face that feels foreboding, like she's going to say something cutting-

"You have no idea what works here, Gora," she says softly, hissing the word out somehow. "We were born of violence, here. Did they tell you the brutality that came out of partition?"

It's belated, but now that she's close to him, he can see a thin scar that starts at her collar and disappears under her shalwar and dupatta. The faint droplets of gold in her ears sparkle invitingly. 

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"Yeah?" He's drawn closer as though by a magnet, eyes blazing, and he towers over her. He knows he should do something diplomatic, but he can't remember it over the sound of his heart pounding. "You want me to call you names, too? You wanna pretend you guys got no blood on your hands?"

He smells like wood smoke and coffee and his gaze is so bright.

"Or are you gonna just tell me what I need to know? 'Cause last I checked we're on the same side here." 

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A corner of her mouth tilts up cruelly. "Oh, I want you never to forget the bloodstained soil of this land. Remember how we came to be. And remember what will  happen to you if you fuck this up."

Even curses sound so sweet in her voice. She doesn't break his gaze. Hers is icy and cool, but her pulse hammers on that spot on her neck which the sash doesn't cover. He's pretty sure that's the spot she must have sprayed her perfume - roses, and the fragrant night jasmine they grow on all the streets and terraces here. 

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His breath hitches, and he fights the mad urge to lean in closer and breathe deep. "Yeah," he croaks, almost groans, "you- you don't need to motivate me." He leans a little closer, steadies himself. "How do I know you can be trusted, then?" It sounds strong out loud, a little cocky, but inside he's scrambling to get his balance back.

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She leans in slightly, tilting her head just so, and now they're sharing air and she is so close she can count the grey flecks in his eyes and he can see that hers are a rich honey brown when the light catches, and he can smell cinnamon and cardamom on her breath. 

"You don't," she breathes, and the words travel through him and down to a very particular place, raise the hairs on the back of his neck.

"Hussein."

The door opens, and just like that, the string between them snaps. Hussein holds the door open expectantly. 

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