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Oh. 

He grins and breathes in sharply, feeling the warmth radiate from her, and it feels like he stands there forever. That scent...

Of course.

"Until next time, ma'am."

He turns, winks at Hussein, and strides out of the room. 


 

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"Listen, Agan. You're costing the agency a lotta time here. These long-distance calls shake dîmes out of our pockets every time you take a breath to tell me more about this girl. So she's rude. So she's kicking you around like a priest to a gigolo. Work with her. She's a girl; girls love you. Do something with that," his superior says with a sigh.

Carter can imagine the looks he'll give the other guys in the bullpen; 'Greenies', he'll mouth to everyone. They love calling him that and he hates it, but it's stuck, because in the last few years he's been there, they say he runs at everything like a new agent would. They keep him around because his Pop's high brass and the running into walls and knocking them down actually helps a lot sometimes.

He misses the guys. He misses New York. It's easy, and familiar. And whatever else this place is, it's... Not. 

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"Acknowledged, sir," he grinds out, and slams the phone down hard enough to dent the casing. 

He leans his head back. Nothing for it. 

He's actually pretty good at getting a read on places, and the first few sites That Woman pointed out aren't much. Another few have enough clientele he recognises from the American embassy to rule them out, unless the commies are dumber than they look. 

The others...

The others are the ones she's supposed to be scoping out. 

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His usual play is to very visibly drink more than he should be able to handle - he doesn't know why, but he can drink anyone back home under the table, down to the old British Intelligence guys who've been drinking nothing but beer since the Middle Ages and that Ruskie defector with the homemade vodka - and see who'll join in, or failing that see what people say when they let their guards down in front of a drunken man. 

And yep, there sure are more guns and quiet men with hard eyes wandering around than you'd really expect. 

It breaks the script for them, for him to roll around like this with not an ounce of fear in his eyes, they don't really know how to react, and that's why it works so well. 

One time on assignment they took it as a cue to rob him, and that hadn't gone well for them. Made his job easier, though. 

He's feeling pretty pleased with himself, having got a good few names (or aliases, at least) and tips and now lounging on... some kind of cushioned thing he's trying to remember the word for in Hindi... and getting a dance from one of the girls, when she sways into a flicker of lamplight and he notices the familiar shape of the bruises around her neck and wrists.

Ah, shit. 

One of those kinds of paramilitary organisations. 

He lurches to his feet and staggers to the bathroom unsteadily, then hops out of the window and down the street.

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Before the sun comes up he's got everything collated in a file, written in his own shorthand and a simple cipher, and he's all ready to spend a precious few days with his feet up until he has to meet her again. 

... After she's been there

...

God fucking damn it.

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He'll be back there even more obviously drunk the next night, and the night after that, all week. 

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Khan hasn't been there nearly long enough to request her own clients, and crafting her cover has been part of a very long, very complex operation over the last week. Still, some of the girls like her enough to let her go and serve the new American man - they don't like unfamiliar men in these parts.

She's been trained to handle pain. These bruises are nothing. They're unfortunately quite unattractive, though. 

She steps out in a shimmery veil and not much else, leaving her eyes uncovered, and sashays into the room he's in. 

She wants to see how much she can unnerve him. How much can she make him sweat?

Her dance starts smoky and sweet, too precise and controlled to be a true courtesan, but fluid enough to pass decently for one. Her hips undulate like waves, calling the moon down to the ocean, and in a swift move she perches on his lap. Her nails rake through his golden halo, scratching slightly at the base of his neck in a way that makes shivers trickle through him. 

He's close enough to read the fury in her eyes. What the fuck is he doing here? 

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He's sprawled in a chair pretty convincingly, his face has a pearly flush (hard scrubbing in the bathroom) and he smells of expensive imported whiskey, but up close his eyes are sharp, and icy. 

There are fourteen armed men here, only one or possibly two of whom are actually security. Three possible points where they're hiding something, probably the back behind the bar. Probably that's where they keep the girls who aren't exactly employees, as such. Three of them look like a plausible threat to mysterious incredibly fucking annoying local contact.

Then she starts dancing and he stops thinking. 

He's hyperaware. Some base and ancient part of his brain is still tracking the whole room, her movements, alert and razor-sharp in isolating anything that could be a threat, but he is... Somewhere else, his pulse pounding and pupils blown as she gets too close. His fingers tremble.

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The reason there's sheer drapes covering most of the alcove here is so that the shadows cast mood-appropriate flickers every time someone moves. It's also an excellent way to make sure the employees are treating the clientele well. 

Khan has to keep this up as long as she can. 

With twirling hands and delicate movements, she starts the massaging move they teach all the girls here. She starts at his shoulders, strongly muscled, and moves down his arms, lingering at the forearms a little too long to be official. Her fingers meet his and lead them to the exposed skin between the skirt and blouse she wears.

"We're looking for Usmaan. He's the fence for the higher value products," she whispers, falling into a backbend that bares her stomach to him. "He's a customer. Not a proprietor." 

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He is strong. It's harder than it should be to press deep into his muscles, but they do slowly relax.

His whole world drowns in that strange spicy scent and the rich colour of her skin as she draws close enough to touch.

When she guides his hands up to touch her he almost chokes on his own breath. His heartbeat throbs in his ears and he has to try to hide sitting up straighter as his whole body comes to life at her touch. 

When his hands are brought to her, his grip is... Gentle. He holds her and hooks his thumbs under her blouse, running over smooth skin with a warm touch, feeling the bump of the scar there, and entirely without thinking he traces it tenderly with a fingertip. His hands move with the dance and she can feel the pressure, the curve around her ribcage - she's so light to him, so very delicate. His eyes are fixed on hers. 

"He has a favourite girl and he's a betting man," he whispers back. "Short man, nasty temper, armed, drug habit."

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A sharp sigh tips out of her at his brush, goosebumps break out all over her skin, her arch at it seems entirely involuntary but she plays it off quickly enough.

She glares at him. He's supposed to play along, not take fucking liberties. 

She's off his lap and rounding the armchair, trailing hands over his chest and neck, and if she's being honest, appreciating the light dancing on his skin. He's so pale it looks like moonlight, like the bright flesh of a lychee before you bite into it. She's never seen skin so golden white. 

Ever since she was young, she's been watching American movies. She wanted to be an actress. Be like Judy Garland and Grace Kelly and Rita Hayworth, command men like dogs and live that life of glamour. Her stepfather told her a good Muslim girl would never be so shameless.

She smirks at the irony now. How shameless can she get? 

 The women had always looked so beautiful, though, like deities restrained to human form.

He's just as pretty as one of them. The men here are never this poised, this rugged, the masculinity here manifests in different ways. 

She smirks at the irony now. How shameless can she get?

"I can't get close to him," she murmurs into his ear. "And I hate to admit it, but perhaps you can." 

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His breath hisses between his teeth as his head lolls back, muscles standing out in sharp relief along his neck. Her skin is so soft.

All the stories other agents ever told about the women here, harem-girls and sultanate princesses, they're all nothing compared to this. He can believe in magic right now. 

It takes everything in him to stay focused.

"What's the play," he murmurs in a low tone.

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She lets out a chuckle. For all his bravado, he's frighteningly inexperienced in other ways. 

She can play him like a violin.

She leans in, brushing lips over his neck in a feather-light caress. "Be drunk. Make friends. Rich American man splashing money will win favours here."

Her lips linger near his ear, her hands smooth down his chest and play with the top most button of his shirt. "Make this convincing. Call me 'Yazmine'..." Her words are a soft rush of air. 

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Make it convincing? That isn't hard. 

"Yasmine..." his voice is rich, growling, she can feel the tension in his chest. 

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With a deft flick of her fingers it comes undone, and her touch is cool on his bare skin. She darts a look at a foreboding shadow outside that isn't moving and seems stopped just outside this 'room'.

"Again," she breathes, slipping her hand further down, almost halfway now. 

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Goosebumps burst across his skin.

His gaze doesn't even flicker in the shadow's direction, eyes fixed on her even as he shifts his balance to prepare for what comes next, some other part of him mapping possible weapons and hiding places and angles as he drinks her in. 

"Fuck, Yasmine, just like that, yeah... "

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She clenches her teeth to hide a shiver, gods, his voice, she almost wishes she'd given him her name. She's surprised he hasn't asked, hasn't begged on his knees in front of her-

The shadow grows, drawing closer, the jagged outline of a weapon appearing on the side.

"More," she whispers desperately, not sure if the urgency comes from her racing heart or the approaching stranger. 

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Kukri knife. He'll use one sharp blow to block and break the wrist, elbow to the face, whatever. 

He only needs one arm for that, doesn't he?

His other hand comes up to trace a line along the soft skin of her neck.

"Don't stop," he orders, the trembling in his voice betraying him. "You're mine-"

 

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The curtain swishes aside and a man walks in, portly but slime enough to show he's still in shape. A roll of something - a map? blueprints? - is stored under his arm.

His lip curls as he spies Khan sitting on the American man's lap, his head curled over her shoulder to reach her neck, and his hands nowhere to be seen. 

"Girl. You're on. Usmaan wants someone new."

Khan swallows hard and stands. Just because she can handle pain, it doesn't mean she enjoys it. 

She leans down to murmur in his ear, "Find me," hoping it's enough, and follows the man out. 

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He doesn't look up, lying back splayed as though too drunk to move. 

He waits the count of 30, then rolls to his feet and stumbles vaguely after them, half-full glass in hand. 

Fucking mystery spy woman. It's like breaking out of a spell now that she's stopped - dancing - what a brilliant fucking idea that had been. 

She won't even be grateful when he digs her shapely ass out of the fire, he bets.

He wanders along the wall, glancing idly at girls posed in the alcoves there like pretty empty-smiling statues, towards Usmaan's favourite. He's talked to the man - apparently he's been coming here for years, knew the owner. Nice enough guy, considering. He'd thought. 

He listens ferociously. 

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There's the sounds of more dancing, the little anklets chiming with each step she takes.

It stops abruptly, there's a rustle that sounds like a grab for a arm.

"Yes, Sahib?" comes her lilting voice, pitched to seem sweet and girlish. There's a tension that Carter recognises only because he's been the cause of it - loathing.

"I haven't seen you before," a rough, oily voice says, with a boarish chuckle. "I heard what you were doing to the American boy and I wanted your... Services for myself."

A strained a thump, and she lets out a sharp chuckle. 

"We know to be good to you, Sahib. You give us so much business. The American man did too, actually, he's been drinking like a fish." 

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Yeah OK that's enough of that.

He waits until there's silence and then crashes in noisily, taking his time so as not to startle him, slinging an arm around the man.

"Usmaan!"

He flops down next to him, reeking of booze.

"Wanted to talk business with you - got some of Uncle Sam's cash you can help me be parted with nice and quick- oh, am I interrupting something?" He winks at the mystery woman, grinning at the look on her face. "Man to man, ask for the thing she does with her tongue, back page of the karma sutra or some shit-" he licks his lips, looking at her - "but we got time, ain't we? Not going anywhere, are you doll?"

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