“Why are you never drinking away the pain?” Jasper Sitwell asked. He was blinking owlishly over the top of his beer. He'd changed into jeans before leaving the office, making him the only one fully out of uniform. “I mean, we’re here like once a month for me or Mars, but you just sit there, sipping happily like your heart is unbreakable. How you do that?”
“Step one is not having anything resembling a love life,” Maria Hill mumbled, swirling the dregs of her third beer in the bottom of her glass. She wore her tight, black SHIELD-issue uniform with the ease of long practice, ignoring the admiring-but-intimidated looks she garnered from every corner of the shabby bar. “Seriously, Phil, when was the last time you got laid? Hell, you’d think you would have an easier time than we do finding someone to warm your sheets.”
Phil Coulson lifted one eyebrow at her. “And just exactly how would I have an easier time? Is there some large segment of the population with a fetish for men with too many secrets and too few hair follicles I haven’t managed to tap into yet?”
“You’d be surprised.” Jasper ran a hand over his polished dome and grinned. “You have good bones; you should try shaving that Captain America-perfect part you have going on.”
A wave of Maria’s gun-calloused fingers interrupted him.
“I’m just saying,” she explained glumly, “you’re not bad looking. You’re smart. Sometimes you’re funny. And you’re not choosy about girl or boy. You should be able to…” She trailed off, staring vaguely into the middle distance toward the shining bottles behind the bar.
“Mars?” Phil nudged her leg under the table with the polished tip of his shoe. That was usually a dangerous gesture, but she was slow enough from alcohol that he was sure he could dodge a retaliatory kick. He nudged harder. “Mars!”
She swung her attention back and lashed out with a boot. Phil easily pulled his foot out of range; Jasper’s shin wasn’t so fortunate.
“Goddamn it, Maria!” Jasper curled uncomfortably to reach his abused leg with one hand. “That fucking hurt!”
“You were saying?” Phil headed off the drunken posturing with a hand waved between their faces. “I should be able to what?”
“You should be able to walk straight enough to get the next round,” she told him with the deep sincerity of the exceptionally intoxicated. “Although, since you’re not straight…”
“I’m going.” Phil rolled his eyes in exasperated fondness. He slid out of the circular booth and leaned his hands on the table. “You two try to contain the drunken tears. Or at least the drunken snot.”
“You need to get your heart broken a few times,” Maria told him solemnly. “It’s unnatural that you never need to drown your feelings.”
Phil patted her hand before heading to the bar. When he returned with three beers, Maria and Jasper had their heads tipped far too close together, whispering and gesturing.
“Bad idea, Jas,” Maria said, leaning away. “He’s got a nice ass. We could just work with his ass to set him up and let him get dumped that way.”
“I really just don’t want to know, do I.” Phil kept his tone dry, sliding the drinks across the table.
“We decided you have a nice butt,” Jas announced loudly, and then his face went through a complicated twist of expressions as he rewound his statement and realized how it sounded; Phil snorted at the horrified look that Jasper's face finally settled on. “Not that I’d know, but I’ll bow to her expertise.”
“Shut up and drink,” Phil grumbled as he slid back in and bumped his shoulder against Maria’s. She went boneless against his side and let her head flop against his shoulder.
“Hey.” Jasper was plaintive and pouting from the far side of the table. “This is my pity party! Why is he getting all the love?”
“Six weeks,” Maria mumbled, pressing her face into Phil’s shirtsleeve. “‘S been six weeks since I’ve so much as had a date.”
“And it’s been…” Jasper held his arm too close to his face, studied his watch a moment. He blinked twice and then closed one eye before studying the face again, counting under his breath. “... five hours since I got dumped. By text message. Who even does that?”
“You probably deserved it,” Phil told him blandly. He took a long draught from his mug, and then lifted his free arm to swipe the foam from his lip with his thumb. “You’re really a pretty lousy boyfriend.”
“I’m a very good boyfriend, I’ll have you know." Jasper sniffed, offended and haughty. “I’m just a better secret agent.”
“Let’s finish this round and call a cab,” Phil said wearily. “With friends like you, who has time to date? Too busy getting you drunk to go out with anyone else.”
Jasper snorted and downed his mug in steady gulps. “So get a move on with the finishing." His empty glass thunked against the table. “We’re crashing at yours tonight.”
Once Phil had collected his suit coat and tie from the back of his chair, it took Jasper's help to haul a stumbling Maria out of the booth. Leaning together, they all lurched their way out to the street and into the back of a waiting cab.
Phil woke exceptionally warm, a bit stiff, and completely pinned in place. He could feel the sun from his bedroom window, warm on his cheek. Obviously, he’d forgotten to close the curtains before falling into bed the night before. He opened his eyes slowly, relieved when he didn’t have pain stabbing him in the face from the feared hangover. Of course, he hadn't actually had that much to drink the night before. Jas and Mars on the other hand… And speaking of the lovelorn duo…
“Hey, guys?” Phil’s voice was raspy from the booze and the late hours the night before. “Jas? Mars? Guys? Guys! Let me up!”
The bed shifted, and there was a moan from the vicinity of Phil’s chest and an answering groan from his hip.
“My god.” Phil directed his plea toward the ceiling. “Please let me be wearing pants.”
More bed-shifting and the feeling of a hand patting his thigh.
“Yup.” Maria’s voice was muffled under the covers. “Still wearing your work pants, even.”
“Hot damn,” Jasper said, only slightly muddled from where his face was wedged into Phil’s armpit. “No drunken orgies, ‘cause - no offense Phil - but you’re not my type.”
“Get off me, you ass.” Phil shoved at Jasper's shoulder. “Seriously. Everybody off.”
After some further groaning and shuffling, Phil managed to drag himself out of bed. He spared an amused glance at Maria’s bare feet hanging off the side of the bed beside the pillows as he crossed to the en suite.
“Why’s he always the pillow?” Jasper grouched. “How come you’re never the pillow?”
“He’s got more meat than I have,” Maria answered, flipping the blanket back over her face. “And you’re bony in weird places.”
“Fuck you too, Mars.” Jasper rolled over to his stomach, stretched, and dropped the pillow over the back of his head.
Phil shook his head affectionately at the two of them and went in to take care of morning business, firmly closing the door behind himself and flipping the lock. Jas didn't always remember to knock after a night out.
Phil was working on his first cup of coffee, suit exchanged for a pair of worn jeans and a stretched-out t-shirt, long before Jas and Mars made an appearance. He had a pair of thick boot socks on his feet against the chill of his bare wooden floors, and he leaned against the counter, inhaling steam. He thought over the conversation of the night before.
Yes, it had been rather a long while since he had so much as gone on a date. He didn't particularly feel the lack, however, as frequently as he was out with his friends for companionship. They often ended the night back at his place, since he had the largest bed, and no one was willing to sleep on the crap floors they were all blessed with; they got enough of that on missions. Really, how would you explain that to a potential partner? You see, I have these two friends that both have PTSD about on par with mine, so when we drink too much, we often get in bed together to keep us all from running into the night and firing our service weapons at civilians. Hope you don’t mind, but they might show up on your feet by morning.
And then there was the somehow yet-stranger complication of his job and the missions that took him out of the country for days or weeks, unable to warn anyone at home where he was going, when he was going, or when he would be back. That tended to put a bit of a damper on the whole relationship thing. Not that Phil was particularly good at relationships without the job, but SHIELD put a whole new level of dysfunction in interpersonal connections.
And if I keep riding that train of thought, I will get maudlin and pathetic very, very quickly.
It was a relief to open the front door and find his morning paper there as a distraction. This was clearly the kind of morning to start with the funny pages and work backwards.
Phil was on his second cup of coffee when Maria finally stumbled out of the bedroom. He guessed that she had dug up a pair of sweatpants she had left sometime in the past, since they didn’t hang half-off her hips or hit her far too high on her ankle. She'd paired them with one of his t-shirts, and her shower-wet dark hair was twisted in a bun held up by a pen. She twitched her head in his direction in a near-nod, and went straight for the coffeepot.
“Fury called.” She managed to speak after the first sip, an explanation for why she was up before noon. “You, Jas, and me are being called in. Check your texts; I’m sure there’re details waiting for you.”
Phil sighed and pulled his glasses off to rub his eyes. One Saturday morning with a half-a-pot of coffee and an entire newspaper should not be too much to ask. Just one, once? Fuckit.
Jasper stomped out of the bedroom moments after Phil had checked his texts. He was still in his jeans from the night before, but he had also dug through Phil’s dresser for a t-shirt. Phil’s glare followed him all the way to the coffeepot.
“Can you people find your own clothing?” Phil's irritation with work leaked into his tone. “At this rate, I’m going to spend my weekends naked from the waist up.”
“I’ve seen your chest hair,” Maria replied. “You won’t be cold.”
Phil gave her a flat stare, and then turned his attention back to the crossword.
“You two going to help me so I can finish one crossword this week before I have to leave for work?”
Jasper settled in one armchair, and Maria curled on the opposite end of the couch, feet tucked under her for warmth. It was comforting, this. Familiar. Companionable.
And yet, Phil couldn't quite stop himself from thinking about the night before and how different it would feel to have a body in his bed for a reason other than nightmare regulation.
He sighed, slid his glasses back onto his nose and read the clue for thirty-seven down aloud.
“Маленький брат.” Natasha poked Clint in the ribs much harder than necessary to wake him up. “Get up.”
“‘M awake,” Clint muttered, dragging his arm out from under the pillow to stretch. “And I’m still not your little brother.”
“Would you prefer ‘asshole?’” she asked acerbically.
“What’s wrong with ‘Clint?’ It’s an easy enough name to remember.” He continued grumbling to himself as he pushed himself up to sitting, rubbing at his eyes.
“It’s too easy a name to remember.” She turned away, leaning back over the tiny tools and the passport scattered across the floor in front of her. “So you need a new name. How about Anton?”
“Any particular reason?”
“Because it’s a good name." She glanced at him with a tiny smile. “I like it.”
“Whatever.” He flapped a dismissive hand in her direction, a vague acceptance that she would do whatever she wanted, no matter what he said. “Did you get the papers finished?”
“Nearly there,” she said. “You are now a Russian-born temporary Dutch resident named Anton Vinogradov. Your time here is running out, and soon you will need to return home to your mother Russia. Unless you find yourself a good man to marry you, protect you from Russia’s persecution of all things gay. So now all we need to do is finish your profile on the website, add a couple of photos that highlight your good side, and we can finally pack up and go home.”
“I thought you didn’t have a home, Tash.” Clint kept his voice gentle, reaching out to rub a curl of her hair between his fingers. It was good to see it starting to shine again after the dullness that living rough in Russian for nearly a year had caused.
She brushed his hand away impatiently.
“Your crappy little apartment is growing on me.” She sniffed disdainfully and then added, “like mold.”
“A mail order bride?” Phil stared blankly at the pages spread out in front of him. “This is the best cover they could come up with?”
Fury scowled him into silence.
“Since the plans for that set of weapons went missing from Brown and Richolt a year ago, we’ve been tracking whispers, shadows, and electronic transfers that may or may not have a damn thing to do with them.” He turned to the wall screen and pressed a button on the remote to bring up a series of documents. “To the thieves from the people who hired them. From them to someone else, and so on down the line. There was a murky nine months involving Russia, possibly the Russian mafia, and then a bunch of explosions.”
The documents flipped to a Chinese intelligence report on a factory that blew outside of Moscow. Phil felt his eyes widen at some of the more colorful adjectives used to describe the size of the blast, the heat of the fire, and the skill level of the people or person who took out the entire facility without ever appearing to have been onsite.
“The plans appear to have finally ended up in The Netherlands, where an informant tells us that the final sale will be made at a reception held jointly by several mail order bride companies. International introduction services. Whatever they call them now.” Fury shook his head and blinked his eye, looking either bewildered or disgusted; it was frequently hard to tell the difference behind his eye patch. “Anyway, it’s a dance held for the brides and their prospective fiancés. We need to get someone into that reception. Putting someone on the catering staff is out, because Interpol and several of our other international associates will have people in there already. And everyone is always suspicious of the waiters. I need someone who can’t be connected to any of them. So a bride or a groom it must be. There will be some of each, as the companies in question cater to all genders and sexualities.”
“Supposing you get turned on by more than a perfectly filled out requisition form, of course,” Jasper muttered, giving Phil a smirk. Phil kept his eyes on the description of the missing plans, feigning deafness.
“That’s where you come in, Coulson.” Fury glared at Jasper. He’d long since given up on getting the Jasper and Phil to act like anything other than teenage siblings in private briefings, but he did his damnedest not to encourage their competitions. Outwardly, at least. He knew from experience that their one-upmanship led to both of them operating at peak levels in the field. “It’s the best way to give you a legitimate reason for heading over there, for getting into that... shindig. We need you to be completely unremarkable.”
“And it’s mine instead of Jasper’s because…?”
“Because you put on a suit and that little ‘too mild to melt butter' face, and no one thinks you’re anything but whatever you tell them you are,” Fury said. “Look, Coulson, I know this isn’t your idea of a good time, and I know that you don’t like feeling like a whore for SHIELD, but we need this to be you.”
Trying desperately to ignore the amused look exchanged between Jasper and Maria at the end of the table, Phil shoved the documents back into a tidy pile and laid them in the manilla folder.
Phil flipped the file closed and drummed his fingers on the edge of the table.
“Cheese,” Fury coaxed, “in addition to getting into that party, there’s a strong probability we’ll need you to bring one of our Dutch associates back with you to testify, since the legalities are sorta sketchy. We’ll find you a pretty woman, and you know damned well that she’ll be competent, if she’s on this mission with you. You’ll make everyone there and here jealous. Sound good?”
Phil gave him an unimpressed blink. “Not particularly. But fine. I'll read through all of this and write up mission parameters beginning Monday. Should have something solid by the end of the week.”
“Sitwell.” Fury turned to the grinning pair at the end of the table. “Get Phil's cover paperwork together for the Dutch Security office. They’ll get it backdated in the system, so all the proper documentation will be in place before he flies out at the end of the month. And Coulson, don’t forget your wedding gown.”
“With respect, sir,” Phil said blandly, “fuck you very much.”
“That’s why he’s my favorite,” Fury told Maria, and she snorted, pressing her lips together and shaking her head.
“That’s because you’ve both lost your damn minds, sir,” she retorted. She collected the file folders from the table, leaving one in front of Phil before turning to follow Fury out of the conference room. She paused at the door to wink at Phil, and he rolled his eyes at her.
“The two of you are both thirteen years old." Jasper didn't look up as he spoke, watching his pen as he jotted a few reminders on one of the pads of sticky notes that congregated in his pockets.
“Which makes you our younger brother,” Phil returned. “And I’d prefer a brunette, when you get started on the paperwork.”
“I thought you liked blondes.” Jasper’s eyebrows crawled up his face, full lips pursed.
“I also prefer men,” Phil answered dryly, “but I’d just as soon not get too attached. It’s a mission, not a date.”
“Maybe you could get lucky, and it’ll turn into both.”
Phil stared at him, keeping his expression flat.
“Or maybe not.” Jasper held his hands up in surrender. Then his face split into a broad grin. “But it’s your chance to finally get near someone where you’re guaranteed to at least hold hands and maybe get a kiss or two.”
Snatching up his file, Phil rolled his eyes and stomped from the room.
They were back in Phil’s living room that night, drinking again, while Jasper filled out the forms for Phil’s future “wife.”
“You know, Phil,” Maria said from where she was lying on her back on the rug, feet resting on the sofa, arms tucked behind her head. “Maybe you should give the mail order spouse thing a try.”
“Of course,” he answered, frowning at his interrupted crossword puzzle from the morning. “I always did want a wife who is in it for the opportunity for economic advancement, or whose need for a safe environment allows her to be exploited in the interests of shareholder profits.”
“Okay, not ‘mail order bride.’” Maria corrected herself. “But what about online dating?”
“What about online dating?” Phil looked up, confused. “Do you know how difficult security clearances would be with nothing but an online profile?”
“Not really,” Jasper replied with a shrug without looking up from poking on his laptop. “I could do it while you were out for coffee. Facial recognition sent through SHIELD’s servers, a quick run through the databases, and, Bam! Security checked, SHIELD-approved dinner-and-a-movie.”
“That would be abusing resources.” Phil erased thirty-seven down where Jasper had filled in “ASSBALLS” for reasons known only to himself.
“Getting you laid would be a perfectly appropriate use of resources." Maria sighed and closed her eyes. “If you don’t get some action soon, you’re going to go off-mission and kill a room full of informants.”
“If it hasn’t happened by now,” Phil answered, thinking ruefully of his two year dry spell, “I doubt it’s too big of a risk.”
“Leave him alone, Mars." Jasper threw a own at her. “You know the only thing that gets him hot anymore is the office supply catalogue. I’m not seeing an entry for a girl with staple-remover thighs, though, so maybe we need a backup plan.”
“Brunette.” Phil spoke loudly to drown out their banter. “Female. Curvy.”
“But you like curvy.” Jasper cocked his head to look around his monitor at Phil at the other end of the table. “I thought you were going for what you don’t like.”
“I’d like something nice to look at while we’re on this mission.” Phil shrugged. “And there’s supposed be dancing. At least give me a pleasant armful.”
“You’re an old fart, Philip,” Maria said acerbically. “One of these days, someone is going to come along and remind you that you’re alive below the waist.”
“He needs someone to remind him he’s alive above the shoulders,” Jasper grumbled, fingers clattering over the keyboard.
Phil just laughed and downed his whiskey before answering fifty-nine across.
“Put that thing down and come answer the personality questions.” Jasper scored his chair to the side to make room for Phil.
“I’m getting in on that action.” Maria rolled gracefully to her feet. She stretched her back, and popped her neck, movements betraying the deadly grace of her training. “This part should be fun.”
“So what’s your pleasure?” Nat paused on the preferences portion of the dating website, fingers hovering over the keyboard of her laptop.
“Mmm, I want a man." Clint dropped into another lunge, stretching his arms over his head. “Although that’s mainly because the probability of getting someone to show up sooner rather than later is higher. Age? Go with… forty to sixty. Blue eyes, hair… whatever color his hair is.”
“Careful, Clint,” Nat said, lips barely shifting into a Mona Lisa smile. “You’re getting awfully close to describing your perfect man.”
“Hardly.” Clint snorted. He changed legs and lowered his hips into another lunge. “I don’t want some boring-ass accountant who thinks it’s exciting to rescue a Russian boy from the evils of home. I want a man who appreciates my talents as much as my ass. And who appreciates my ass for the fine piece of muscle it is.”
“I don’t think we’ll find that on this site,” Nat told him.
“Good thing I’m not really looking for a husband then, huh.” Clint straightened and crossed to the tiny room’s single bed to drop a kiss on Nat’s flaming hair. “Anton needs to exist just long enough to get us both home, and then he’ll disappear and I can go back to plain old Clint. We’re gonna be okay, Nat. I promise, we’re gonna get out of this.”
Jasper sat at his desk, flipping through requisition forms for the team he had been overseeing. He wished he had more leeway to tell Michaels no, just because the man was an unendurable ass. Sadly, his paperwork was always flawless, so Jasper scrawled his name on the bottom and reached for Agent Halliwell’s. Her forms always needed a touch-up, but, as she was neither evil nor whiny, Jasper never minded doing a little extra work for her. He signed off on her request for a new suit to replace the one lost to gorilla spunk on the mission in Dallas and started to make a note to ask her what he’d missed in her report and then decided that, really, he didn’t want to know.
He was about to close the whole packet and turn off his computer when his office door slammed open, crashing against the wall, to admit a Phil Coulson who was shivering with emotion, hair wild and eyes wilder.
“What the fuck were you thinking?” Phil demanded. He brandished a handful of papers at Jasper, and Jasper considered ducking. He’d seen Phil incapacitate a man with less.
“Hello, Philip,” Jasper said with a bright, fake smile. “Nice to see you, too! Of course I’d love a cup of coffee, seeing that it’s so early in the morning. My weekend was lovely, and so was my date. And how have you been?”
“WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK WERE YOU THINKING?” Droplets flew from Phil's lips as he screamed, and it was the first time Jasper ever understood the phrase "spitting mad." “DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU GOT ME INTO? DO YOU KNOW HOW INCREDIBLY FUCKED I AM RIGHT NOW?”
“Well, I’m sure I was thinking only of you, as always.” Jasper decided that flippancy was his best defense until he figured out what he was defending. He clicked his pen closed and threw it on the desk. “So why don’t you tell me what I supposedly did to fuck you over, and I’ll see what I can do to fix it.”
“You… this… A bride… and it’s…” Phil gave up trying to speak and threw the papers he was holding down on Jasper’s desk.
“Looks like it’s all in order,” Jasper said, flipping over a few pages.
“Look again,” Phil gritted from between clenched teeth. “Read a little more closely.”
Jasper thumbed through the pages, mouthing words. And then his hands slowed as what he was reading began to sink in.
“Wait…” he said slowly. “Phil, does this say… Why is… This is not…”
“You got me a real bride, Jasper,” Phil said, voice dark and angry. “There is someone waiting in Amsterdam expecting their prospective husband to show up. And they’re going to get me. On a mission.”
Jasper sat staring at the pages in front of him, frozen in place. He finally shook himself and looked up at Phil.
“Okay.” Jasper plastered a fake smile on his face and forced his voice into cheerful brightness. “We can fix this. I can fix this. I just need to send a couple of highly-encrypted emails, and we’ll get this straightened out in no time. You just… you just go back to your office, and I’ll send the revised information to you in just a little bit.”
Phil glared at him, then turned on his heel to sweep out of the office. Just as the door swung shut behind him, Jasper grabbed his phone and hissed desperately into it: “Mars, I fucked up so badly. You’ve gotta help.”
This was what came of matchmaking while drunk. Jasper really had thought he was filling out the documents for the fake agency Dutch Intelligence had created, but he'd been so blurry after half a bottle of tequila. He had only had the real forms there to compare, to double-check his Dutch associate's work. He knew she was competent, but it never hurt to have another pair of eyes.
On the plus side, Phil hadn't yet appeared to notice the other change Jasper had made to the requested partner. Really, if he could just get this part fixed, Phil would forgive him when he realized he'd get to spend a month in the company of a skilled, talented, understanding-of-the-job man.
“Sorry, Coulson.” Fury handed back the papers after reading over them. “It’s too late to change all of this now. You’re just going to have to go over there, try to keep your bride out of harm’s way, and delay the wedding until you’ve completed your mission, then get the hell out without too many hurt feelings.”
“I’m fairly certain that I’m not anyone’s dream man.” Phil raised one eyebrow. “I doubt that leaving someone behind will cause too much of a broken heart.”
“You might be surprised, Phil.” Maria stretched toward him and patted his arm comfortingly. “And, who knows, maybe you’ll take a liking to her and want to marry her anyway. Stranger things have happened.”
Phil stared blankly along the conference table until Maria was forced to look down at her tablet.
“What if I need to bring someone back to testify, Director?” He swung his gaze back to Fury.
“We’ll figure that out when we get to it,” Fury replied. “Just get packed up, and we’ll have a car to take you to the airport outside your place at six am sharp.”
Phil pressed his lips together and let a long, deep breath out of his nose. Hopefully the rest of the mission would at least vaguely resemble the plan as outlined.
“Nat.” Clint broke after an hour of silence, grabbing her arm as she placed her hand on the knob to open the door. To leave the safety of their hotel room. To go to the airport where Clint would prostitute himself for the cover that would get them back to the US. To meet the man Clint would have to pretend to fall in love with while making damn sure the guy fell for him, too. “I can’t do this. I can’t do this!”
“Breathe, Anton,” Natasha said, her voice sharply Russian. She reached up to place a hand gently on either side of his face, pulling his forehead down to hers. “This is just mission. You can carry out a mission. You distract and distance and get through this. You don’t have to sleep with him. You simply have to make him want to sleep with you. You can do that.”
“Every step of the way, this mission has been one giant fuck-up.” Clint could hear how plaintive he sounded and he hated it. “What’s to say this part won’t go the same way, Nat?”
“Call me ‘Natalya,’ брат,” she pressed her hands together, squeezing his face. “Remember this.”
“We were supposed to keep the plans from being stolen, and that went to hell. And then we were supposed to get them back, but instead we somehow end up being chased through half of Russia and most of Eastern Europe with no plans in our possession and no idea where they ended up. We never did even figure out who actually got to them in the first place. I’m just tired, Nat. Alya.”
“Seduce businessman who wants to save you from your sad history of persecution in your native Russia, love.” She paused to pull him down further and drop a careless, damp kiss to his forehead. “Give him happy memory of being wanted by pretty young man. Then you rest.”
“Fine. But you get to hold the sign.” Clint pulled out of her grasp and tried to smooth down his hair. “I’ll be in the can or something. I want a look at this guy before he gets a look at me.”
“Fine. Now put on your Russian face, and let’s go before we’re late, eh?”
Stepping off the plane in Amsterdam, Phil flashed his badge to get through customs without having his briefcase searched. It could prove awkward to explain how the documents that needed to be signed once he got there were already signed. He rested the case against his ankle while he swung his jacket around his shoulders and started looking for the sign that his new almost-wife would be holding for him.
Yay. Just what he’d always wanted.
And there it was. “Phillip Marcus.”
The last name had been Maria’s contribution to the entire absurd production. “Everyone knows you’re Fury’s bitch, Phil. And no one but you and I and Jas here would connect that name to Nick. So you’re golden.”
Too sleepy or too drunk to come up with a better rejoinder, Phil had shot back, “You’re a bitch.”
And then they devolved into teenage insults for several minutes, only coming up for air when Jasper announced he was done with the paperwork. Obviously, Phil shouldn’t have let Mars bait him like that; he should have been keeping a closer eye on Jasper and his forms. He should have filled them out himself.
Shaking off the memory and the annoyance that came with it, Phil walked toward the sign being held above the heads of the crowd of people waiting for those disembarking. He noticed the carefully manicured nails (blood red) wrapped around the edges of the posterboard, and then saw the thick mane of hair (scarlet red) below the sign. The woman had sharp, regular, beautiful features with full lips and wide, smoky green eyes. Her cheekbones were highlighted with the perfect dusting of blush, and her skin was flawless.
Why was this woman looking for a husband via an internet agency? Every man within twenty feet was watching her with a great deal of interest.
And then she spotted Phil moving toward her and started forward to meet him.
“Mister Marcus?” she asked, her throaty Russian accent making his name exotic in her mouth. Phil suppressed a shudder; this woman, with her brilliant eyes and controlled movements would not be easy to fool.
“Yes.” Phil fumbled his briefcase to his left hand, holding out his right. “Just… I’m Phillip.”
The woman took his hand, studying his face. Her English, when she continued, was clear, charmingly Russian, and obviously designed to disarm.
“I am Natalya Vinogradov. My brother, Anton, will be back in a moment. I think he was nervous about meeting you.” She nearly smiled, a small, thin thing that didn’t approach her eyes. “He very much liked what your profile said, and he has been very hopeful that you would come, would marry him and take him with you to bright, new life. Unfortunately, he does not speak so much English.”
“I… brother? That’s…” Phil fought the urge to simply sit down in the middle of the floor. He blinked a few times and straightened his shoulders. “Charmed, Ms. Vinogradov. I’ve been looking forward to meeting Anton, too. I hope my Russian is adequate.”
“There he comes now,” Natalya nodded over Phil’s shoulder, and he turned to greet the man (as apparently Jasper had gotten that part wrong, too, the useless, incompetent, worthless asshat) to whom he would be expected to propose.
Jasper was going to die. Painfully. In the messiest, most untraceable manner Phil could manage. And he knew of at least thirty methods that would suit, offhand.
And then Phil caught sight of Anton, and the shrieks of reuniting families and the false joviality of international coworkers faded to a mere hum in the background, the lights went soft, and Phil stopped breathing.
Jasper needed a fruit basket. No! Beer of the month club! No! Strippergrams daily for a year! Jasper was a god among men, Cupid walking the Earth with fluffy wings and a heart of gold.
Anton was… perfect. Dirty blond hair lightly gelled into messy spikes on top of his head; a handsome, but not beautiful face; crooked nose that spoke of a few rounds of fisticuffs; perfect mouth with a bottom lip made for pouting; strong cheekbones; and Holy Fuck! shoulders that seemed to go on forever beneath a soft, blue t-shirt. He stopped in front of Phil, and Phil lost his breath in another punch of physical attraction as he got a good look at the changeable blue-green of Anton’s eyes.
It was only when he noticed that Anton’s lips were moving and that a small frown of confusion had grown between his brows that Phil determined he had zoned out a bit too long and was staring in a manner that was far closer to the “creepy” than the “admiring” end of the scale. He mentally shook himself and internally demanded that he stop acting like a junior high girl, then offered his hand to Anton and dragged up a less poleaxed expression.
“Hello,” Phil pulled out his barely-rusty Russian. “I’m Phillip. Your… your pictures didn’t do you justice.” He had never seen pictures, of course, but Anton didn’t know that. And Phil was going to play this with everything he had. If he had to fake-woo a man like this one, he'd damned well figure out how wooing worked! Besides, there was no way a photograph could ever adequately capture that.
“Flatterer.” Anton’s eyes sparkled behind his stoic expression. “Your eyes certainly didn’t show up in the pictures. Gorgeous.”
Phil felt himself blushing and wondered that his face remembered how. He thought he’d gotten it out of his system during the first two years at SHIELD when he’d been befriended (or possibly been taken hostage - it was hard to tell some days) by Jas and Mars. In the early days of their friendship, they'd made it their mission to test Phil's tolerance for mortification. Or, maybe, they had just been preparing him to resist all psychological torture that could devised by any evil organization.
“Let’s get your luggage.” Anton gestured toward a sign directing passengers to baggage claim. “Then Natalya and I will drop you off at your hotel, so you can relax for awhile. And then maybe you and I will have supper together?”
“I’d like that, Anton,” Phil told him sincerely. He decided he liked the idea even more as Anton led the way, and Phil found himself with unfettered access to ogle Anton’s backside in a pair of comfortably-worn, snug-hipped jeans. Oh, this is going to be distracting while on assignment.
After collecting his suitcase and the garment bag holding two spare work suits and one that was rather nicer, Phil found himself wedged against the side door of a taxi with Anton’s broad shoulder bumping his own as they shifted around corners. He forced himself to concentrate on the conversation, agreeing to a time and place to meet, and then they were pulling up to the front of his hotel and Natalya was saying goodbye. Anton simply smiled at him, just the slightest bit. Phil hoped his reply to the sister had been at least mostly polite; it was hard to tell when he couldn’t manage to drag his eyes away from the brother, though.
He shook his head and walked into the hotel to register and find a shower - preferably cold.