Something I'm Working On

Title: Chaos, Control, and the Color Red
Rating: PG-13 for Violence, Language, Possible Sexual Situations
Fandom: The Avengers (Movie Verse), Chuck
Pairings: Carina & Natasha, Natasha/Clint
Summary: It's a partnership that shouldn't work and yet somehow does. Mostly. Sometimes. Okay, not usually, but it's so much fun that Carina Miller doesn't give a damn.
Complete: In progress.
Length:  2,060 words

Carina’s Croatian is a bit rusty, possibly because it has been twelve years since the op outside of Metkovic, and who the hell needs to know fourteen thousand languages anyway? This is why most spies chose to work in teams—Sarah always took the Eastern European set, Carina the Western, and Zondra had rocked the romantic and Latin-based languages like nobody else, leaving Amy to pick up the rest. Croatia had been Sarah’s area of expertise, which means unless the waitress working the small café in Dubrovnik speaks another language, Carina’s Croatian isn’t going to get her far. “Let’s go back to my hotel” and “Holy crap, that’s a bomb” doesn’t tend to go far in idyllic little cafés with barely room to move between the tables and the windows open to let in the faint, salty waft of sea breeze.

She’s in luck. The waitress speaks French, slowly and haltingly, and Carina doesn’t have to use innuendo to get a damned croissant.

She’s edgy, but that’s nothing out of the ordinary. Most of her fellow DEA agents are convinced she samples the merchandise, as she’s usually fidgeting. The irreverence, temper, and foul mouth don’t help.

Carina doesn’t bother to tell him that she came that way, and chances are, she’ll leave exactly the same way.

She thanks the waitress in French and ignores the sugar and creamer on the table to take her coffee black. They’re not far from Turkey, and she can tell by the coffee alone. It’s exactly the way she prefers it.

It sours on her tongue, though, when her contact walks into the café. It’s been years, but Carina’s always had a thing about faces. Even without that thing, though, she’d know this face well.

“You’ve gotta be fucking with me,” she says as Natasha Romanova, the Black Widow herself, primly takes a seat on the other side of Carina’s table. “You’re a good guy now?”

One of Romanoff’s eyebrows flickers up, just a fraction of a movement, and Carina gets the sense that the other redhead is amused. She keeps her hands in Carina’s sight, which is fooling exactly nobody at the table. Carina knows that the other woman doesn’t need a gun to be deadly.

“Agent Miller,” Romanova says, leaning back in her seat. “I thought it was Hansen?”

“I needed a change.” Carina’s eyes narrow as she catalogues changes in the woman across the table. The hairstyle’s new, bright red and curly, and it looks like she’s in the process of growing it out. The clothing’s a little less shiny and black. But God, the woman hasn’t aged a day. It makes her uneasy, but she covers it with a nod at the hair. “I think you of all people will understand the red’s iconic.”

There’s another eyebrow flick, and Carina definitely catches more amusement now. “In more ways than one.”

They’ve met before, though they were on the opposite sides of that murky, mutable line between good and evil at the time. Carina was still embedded with the CIA, operating under the umbrella of the CAT Squad. Natasha Romanoff hadn’t had any allegiances. She was a freelancer, a wild card, whatever she needed to accomplish any mission. Sometimes her targets were bad guys, sometimes they weren’t. Carina has studied her file extensively, what little she can find of it, and knows that there are probably dozens more kills on the woman’s file than they know about. It doesn’t matter. CAT Squad had gone up against Natasha Romanova so many times that Graham had been known to remark, in a tired voice, that it should only take one cat to kill a spider, not four.

And now, here they are, on opposite sides of the table but apparently on the same side. Carina’s orders are to work with a liaison, after all, and it’s the one boss she trusts not to royally screw up her life, which means that somewhere along the line, Natasha Romanova has picked up those allegiances she was lacking before.

Unless she hasn’t and this is all a ploy to repay some old debt and take Carina out. Carina has never been one to beat around the bush. “You here to kill me?” she asks. “That’s really going to ruin my day if you are.”

“If I were, I respect you enough to make it quick,” Romanova says, and her sarcasm matches Carina step for step.

“Aw, gee, that practically makes us BFFs. Comforting that not that much has changed.”

“Sure it has. By this point we’d have tried to kill each other three times and that’s on a bad day with slow reflexes,” Natasha says.

“Also, I’m alone and not surrounded by annoying blondes or hothead brunettes and you’re apparently not some Russian freelancer anymore.”

“I’m still Russian,” Romanova says in a flawless American accent. She sounds like she’s from the posh part of New York, not the Volgograd listed on her file.

“Yippee-kay-yay,” Carina says, noting that that wasn’t precisely a no on the whole ‘Are you here to kill me?’ thing. “All right, I’ll play along. Who do you work for?”

Romanova lights a cigarette but doesn’t smoke it; it’s part of the ambience. After all, there are only ten tables in the café and everybody seems to be smoking at every other one. Carina spots a glowing red light that’s not the ember and gets it: it’s a bug-silencer. She shrugs. “I work for SHIELD.”

“SHIELD is a myth.”

“No, competence from the upper level DEA is a myth. SHIELD is that nightmare that keeps coming true.”

Carina’s heard of SHIELD. Most everybody with a high enough clearance has, but it’s like the Boogeyman of intelligence organizations. There was some whispering through the ranks that it was directly involved with the Battle of Midtown a few months back, but Carina doesn’t listen to rumors. And if they’re real, then fine. She’s intrigued. “If you’re so down on the DEA, what are you and your Easter Bunny and Santa Claus operation even doing here, then?”

“SHIELD is…having some PR problems. My boss thinks that we’ll get over them by playing nice with the other agencies. Since we have a history I requested you special.” Romanova’s voice is now drier than the Nairobi, but she seems amused, and it’s kind of flattering. There are probably better agencies for this mythical organization to work with, after all.

She decides, until it all goes to hell and she and her new companion have to start trying to killing each other for old times’ sake, she’ll call her new friend Natasha. It only seems fair.

“So what is this? A partnership?”

“Liaison agents, on a temporary basis,” Natasha says.

“So am I SHIELD or are you DEA?”

“Neither. I’m SHIELD, you’re DEA, you’ve got skills I can use and vice versa.”

“Feels a little hard to believe you when you spent so much time trying to kill my friends,” Carina says, though to be fair, the first time the CAT Squad reunited after their separation, three of the members had been doing their level best to do the same.

“It wasn’t personal.”

“You used to leave us messages on mirrors with lipstick. With our lipstick.”

Natasha shrugs. “You were fun. It was the mark of a peer.”

“I paid good money for that lipstick, bitch,” Carina says without heat.

“Send SHIELD the bill.”

“It’s not the money that’s really the problem. They discontinued that shade.”

“Is this where I make a sad face?” Natasha asks, and Carina slouches back in her chair. The lipstick actually belonged to Amy, but that’s not an important detail. “The four of you screwed up some major missions for me, too, you know.”

“You didn’t make things easy on us, either.” Carina crossed her arms over her chest, still slouching. “So, skills for trade? What does that even mean? Which one of our agencies screwed up so badly that we’re dancing to the puppet strings now?”

Natasha’s face doesn’t change. Carina wonders at that, but she had learned early on in their run-ins with the Black Widow that the ex-KGB operative doesn’t do unguarded, or unplanned, or even unhinged. Every move is completely controlled to the point where a non-reaction is a reaction in and of itself. Carina wonders if there’s something she can do with that.

“My agency,” Natasha says at long length. “And the details are classified.”

“Oh, secrecy, that always works out so well in the long-run.”

Instead of getting annoyed, which was Carina’s aim, Natasha smiles. “It appears I owe Fury a dollar,” she says. “This is going to be just like working with Clint.”

“Who’s Clint?” Carina asks, but Natasha sets her cigarette down in the ash tray and instead pulls out a flimsy sheet of some plasticky material Carina doesn’t recognize. She sets it next to Carina’s half-eaten croissant on the table. Carina decides her coffee is now off-limits, even if she didn’t actually see Natasha’s hand anywhere near it. “What’s that?”

“Put your thumb in the lower right corner,” Natasha says, and Carina examines the sheet, wondering if it’s a trick. She gives a shrug and touches her thumb to the corner—instantly the plastic transforms, turning rigid and semi-opaque so that Carina can read text flowing across its screen. It’s a tablet, Carina figures out, but a disposable one; she picks it up and flicks a finger over the surface, and the words scroll down, becoming pictures and then more text.

“Nifty,” is all she says.

“Stark’s proud of it.”

Stark? Oh, she’s talking about Tony Stark, technological genius, philanthropist, freelance superhero, whatever he goes by, Carina realizes. She hadn’t heard that he was in bed with SHIELD, but maybe it makes sense. She continues to flick over the sheet, absorbing the text. It’s a mission in Zagreb, set for the next day, what seems like simple recon and infiltration. Drug lord, she notices, which is her wheelhouse. The ties to international terrorism and extremists, that’s more Natasha’s field of play.

“You’re the Black Widow,” she says. “You do this sort of thing in your sleep. What do you need me for?”

“Learning to play well with others, apparently. For SHIELD, not me. I already had my object lesson in that one this year. Consider us a cross-cultural experiment, and if it goes well…” Natasha shrugs. “ In this particular case, you’ve a skill-set that’ll come in handy.”

“I’m all ears.”

“I need you to cause some chaos so that when they take me down, it looks legit.”

“You’re a crazy woman,” Carina says, but she remembers the one time the CATs had taken Natasha Romanova into custody in November of 2003. It hadn’t ended well, but at least they’d found out that the secret CIA hospital in Sarajevo served better grape Jell-O than the secret CIA hospital in Kuala Lumpur, though it didn’t quite measure the cheesecake that the secret CIA hospital in Dhaka kept stocked. They’d gotten some information out of the Black Widow, but not nearly as much as she’d gotten out of them. Shortly afterward, the lipstick messages had begun to appear. “The kind of chaos I cause, it never works out well for my partners.”

“Precisely.” Natasha smiles. “You’ve got a reputation. This guy knows it.”

Carina’s now fighting offense. “So you want me to look like I deliberately screwed up? I…am perfectly fine with that.”

“I thought you might be.” Natasha tosses a dossier on the table. “Your papers. Just us this time. Next time, we’ll probably have a team.”

“Oh,” Carina says, wrinkling her nose. “I don’t like teams much. Too many lady feelings.”

“See you outside after you get that new coffee you’ll be wanting.” Natasha quirks an eyebrow at Carina, who rolls her eyes back, and heads out of the café to where she’s no doubt got a car. It’s a long drive to Zagreb, which makes Carina wonder why they didn’t just have the meet there. But she can’t deny Dubrovnik is pretty in its own way, on the seaside with old buildings and sea walls and the sort of picturesque beauty she’s used to seeing through all of her travels. True to form, she orders a coffee to go, collects the plastic sheet with all of the details, and heads off with her new partner

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