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It isn’t that Illya has a fixation, not anymore than he can fixate on a particularly rooted splinter, or passive aggressive comments made by a colleague, or scabies.   That’s what Napoleon Solo is from the moment they set eyes on one another: Under Illya’s skin.  

 

It hasn’t gotten better since Rome.  For a moment, it seemed to reach a sort of stasis in Istanbul, but in Marrakech, Solo looked at Illya and smiled. It was not one of those carefully constructed smiles, meant to disarm and beguile a mark, but something sincere, brilliant like sunlight-- and Illya’s blood churned underneath his skin.  In Copenhagen the feeling grows roots and twists deep. Illya kills a nazi war-criminal with his bare hands for the extreme misstep of whipping the broad expanse of Napoleon’s back. Illya’s stomach twisted to see each linear carve up his spine where the lash sliced deep enough to scar.

 “Did you kill that man?” Napoleon had slurred, one of his eyes was swollen shut.  Illya’s hands were covered in his blood and Napoleon ran gentle fingertips over his knuckles, smearing a pathway to clean skin.

 “Da,” Illya grunted as he lifted Napoleon over his shoulders because he could hardly walk, weak from pain and exsanguination.  He spat on the body, hissed “ Svolach’,” between bared teeth.

Napoleon wheezed. It might have been a laugh.  “I must agree in this instance, Peril. Told me everything, even where he’s hidden the bombs.  What. An. Idiot. Thought when you were tortured it worked the other way around.” Then, without any hint of insincerity he patted Illya’s shoulder and murmured, “Thank you for finding me,” and passed out.  His head lolled idly, and something clenched in Illya’s chest.

 

This is what makes Napoleon so dangerous, Illya thinks, he wields charm the same way Illya wields his own fists.  Ensnaring instead of eliminating. A quiet, sweet sort of obliteration, and by the time you realise it has happened, it’s already too late.  You’ve been drawn under his spell. Everything about Napoleon is dangerously disruptive.

 After they’ve secured the mission in Copenhagen, Waverly sends them all home to touch base with your family, let them know you’re not dead in a ditch somewhere.   Gaby feigns wiping sweat from her brow and tells them, “As much as I adore you both, another twenty-fours among men and I might have suffocated you while you slept.”

 “I take offense to that,” Napoleon interjects, “I am an exceptional roommate.”

 “And yet I still find the toilet seat left up.” Gaby kisses his cheek and turns to straighten Illya’s collar before deliberately leaving a pink smear of her lipstick against hollow above his jaw.  The romantic tension that might have existed a few months ago has settled into something easier, something that doesn’t make Illya feel slightly panicked and choked.

 Illya is not used to people caring about him, without wanting something in return.  He learned early in life this sort of love is not love at all, it is an arrangement of convenience.  It is being used. He keeps waiting for the other shoe to drop. To be stabbed in the back. To be left behind.  Yet Gaby and Napoleon display none of the behavioral warning signs that tend to precede a betrayal. There is certainly a loaded sort of hyperawareness that continues to exist between him and Napoleon, but their hesitancies have become less about mistrust, given way to a dubious intensity in their interactions.

 "Tschüss , darlings,” Gaby says, sliding thick-rimmed sunglasses up the bridge of her nose as she turns toward the cab.

 Napoleon smiles and waves to her, then faces Illya.  “Well,” he says, “I suppose you have a long flight ahead of you.”

 Illya shrugs and looks off into the distance instead of looking at Napoleon.  “Try not to get abducted and tortured while you do.. whatever it is you do when Waverly’s back is turned.”

 “Oh, Peril. What would be the fun in that?” Another brilliant smile. He nudges Illya with an elbow.  “How about you? Any big plans to meet up with the old comrades?”

 “No,” Illya says, voice flat.

 “Come on now, who knows when we’ll get another vacation? All of Russia, and you’re telling me there’s not someone you can go grab a cocktail with?”

 “I do not drink.”

 “The ballet then?”

 “I’ll see you later, Cowboy.”

 The truth is that Illya has no family left.  He’s never allowed himself to be close enough for anything else.  He’s had allies, associates, but there is nothing to benefit from having friends, aside from gaining a weak spot.  

 

That’s why it is so frustrating that Gaby and Napoleon have crept in and made room in a place Illya long thought dead.

 

---

 

The first week is unbearable.  He stares at the faded grey paint of his childhood room. The dacha he grew up in was the only thing left to his name after his parents died in disgrace.  He does not return to this place often, too many memories. The doors creak, empty rooms beam at him like open mouths.  The upstairs study is where Illya watched from behind his mother’s skirt as the Militsiya pushed his father’s cheek against the floor, before dragging him away.  The room across from Illya’s nursery still holds all of his mother’s dresses, hung up tidily in bags like she might return for them one day.

 It does not do the mind well to live among ghosts.  

 Illya goes running twice a day just to give himself something to do.  He pushes past the apple orchard, the bare branches passing overhead like dozens of broken arms, his breath clouding from his mouth as the temperature drops.  The snow buildup along path is beginning to melt, makes the earth wet and splatters Illya’s jogging pants. Illya wonders what sort of mischief Solo must be getting up to wherever the hell his feet have landed him.  Doubtful he has managed to stay away from the disreputable casino tables he seems so found of. Or perhaps Illya is wrong and Napoleon has a home to return to, people who love him, people who are waiting for him.

 

The second week, Illya repaints his room, he can’t stand looking at the chipping splotches of grey that frays from the walls.  It isn’t until Illya has stepped back to admire the completed project that he realizes he has painted it the same shade blue as Napoleon’s eyes, and Illya is struck with the urge to punch a hole in the wall.  It’s a stupid compulsion, pointlessly destructive.

 

He does it anyways.  

 The plaster gives in easily against Illya’s knuckles, and for a moment that tight feeling in his chest disappears.

 But only for a moment.

 

By Wednesday of the third week, Ilya feels the beginnings of some sort of mental spiral.  People like him are not meant for things like homes, vacations, even the barest illusions of freedom.  He is used to every moment being articulated according to training schedules and missions, he has forgotten how to exist like this.

 There is only so many games of chess you can play alone, before it feels like talking to yourself.

 The knock on the door breaks Illya out of the fit of pique in an instant.  The Browning is in his hand, cocked and ready to be dispatched at whatever is on the other side of--

 

“If you plan on shooting me through the door, at least give me a moment to step aside.”

 Illya furrows his brow, creeps over to the door and pulls it open just enough that silver winter light spills over the top of his socked feet.  “Is that you, Cowboy?” He peaks through the crack enough to get a glimpse of dark hair.

 “Unless you have another dangerously handsome American partner you’re expecting, then yes.”

 “You here to kill me?” Illya asks curiously, not that Napoleon would probably give an honest answer, but why else would he be here?

 Napoleon laughs out loud at that.  “Oh definitely, front stoop in broad daylight.  I’ve been meaning to take a tour of the gulag. Of course I’m not here to kill you, don’t be stupid.”

 Illya wrenches the door open, pulls Napoleon inside by the front of his coat and slams the door closed.  

 

“How did you get here?” he hisses, turns Napoleon lose and pulls the curtains on the windows. The last thing either of them needs is to raise suspicion. Having a top C.I.A. operative show up at your doorstep is the definition of unsubtle.  There are whisperers everywhere. Illya would get pulled from the program, and that would mean no more nights laughing together at Gaby’s silly dances, no more running with Napoleon at his back. No more of the hushed bickering in the middle of a mission when they’re both high on adrenaline and trying to compete with each other.

 “Into the country?  I have connections.”

 “No,” Illya says, “How did you find me?”

 “Waverly’s file on you was very thorough, and I have a good memory.” Napoleon looks around the foyer for a moment then cocks his head aside and says, inexplicably, “Kitchen is that way?” He doesn’t wait for Illya to answer, just hangs his coat on the hook behind Illya’s shoulder and wanders off into his home like he’s been invited in for the grand tour.

 “Why are you here?” Illya demands, trailing behind him.

 Napoleon begins opening cabinets and grimacing at the bareness he finds within.  “We’ve been assigned a mission in London. Rumor has it, there’s a biochemist there under the alias ‘King Mike,’ who intends on contaminating the entire North Sea. Where do you keep the coffee, I’m unbelievably jet lagged.”

 “Must be more than rumor if they are sending us,” Illya grumbles, trying to sound like he’s put out that this terrible vacation has been cut short, and that his heart isn’t doing strange things in his chest to have Napoleon within arm’s reach.  He stretches over Napoleon’s head and retrieves the coffee grounds from the top shelf. Illya’s chest accidentally brushes against Napoleon’s shoulder blades and the man doesn’t even try to adjust their spacing.

“Still does not explain why you are here.  You are not my handler.”  He hands Napoleon a tin of Nescafe and turns to fill the kettle.

 “Instant?” Napoleon recoils from the tin as he opens the lid and sniffs the contents.  “Don’t you have regular R&G here? I feel like I’m back in the Army.”

 “Do you want it or not,” Illya asks, gesturing at the kettle in exasperation. “This is not cafe, Cowboy.”  Napoleon sighs in resignation and nods. Illya switches on the kettle, turns around and folds his arms across his chest.  “You are too picky. Brat.”

 “Sophisticated,” Napoleon counters.

 “What does this make me, then?  A barbarian?”

 “Oh Peril,” Napoleon huffs a laugh, “you are a man out of the ordinary in every sense.”

 

Illya has no idea how to take that.  

 

“Anyways,” Napoleon continues like his words are nothing, “I was in the country on business and told Waverly I’d come and fetch you myself and brief you before our flight. We’ll rendezvous with Gaby at the border.  Thought you’d love that. No wasted time.”

 Illya hums uncertainly. “By business do you mean black marketeering?”

 “Perhaps I just wanted to come see you,” Napoleon says and fixes Illya with one of those maddeningly unreadable expressions that makes Illya’s heart kick against his ribcage.  Surely he can not mean that. Illya blinks, and the corner of Napoleon’s mouth pricks up at the side. “Our charter leaves in two hours, you better go pack.”

 

---

 

Illya can’t remember the last time he was sick, actually sick from something other than the annoyance of a common cold.  He can feel it coming on the day before fully succumbing to the symptoms, there’s a lethargy he can’t shake, his precise and methodical train of thought becomes disordered.  A rawness creeps down the back of his throat, and there’s a heaviness in his chest that Illya has been ignoring since the first full day on English soil. He blames it on the coastal humidity.  Illya’s body is well acclimated to the low temperatures, but the cold paired with the wetness in the air is less than ideal.

He tries to shake off the fatigue by going for a early morning run before his partners awake, but doesn’t even make it a kilometre before his breath comes up short, exhales turn into wretched coughs. Illya does not say anything to Gaby or Napoleon, he’ll manage it through the same force of will he uses to endure pain, compartmentalizing the needs of his body below the needs of the mission.  The body is a tool, something for the mind to exert control over, and this will in no way affect the job they are here to do.

 

He wakes in the morning with aching bones, shivering in his bed with fever.  The shower does nothing to warm him at all, and every wet cough is accompanied by pink-tinged phlegm.  It’s disgusting. When Illya wipes condensation from the mirror he finds himself staring back into bloodshot eyes, there’s a sheen to them that makes the blue of his irises look strange and glassy.

 Illya exits the bathroom half-dressed and is faced immediately with Napoleon.  He’s propped himself up against the frame of Illya’s bedroom door and is looking him over with narrowed eyes.  His gaze lingers across Illya’s chest and Ilya fights off a shiver.

 “What is it, Cowboy” Illya grits out, looking away to rummage through his suitcase for a jumper before Napoleon can analyze too much.

 “Heard you hacking up a lung in there, you all right?”

 “It is nothing.  Mind your own business.”

 “This is my business,” he waves his hand in the space between them, indicating himself, Illya, them as a unit.  “We’re going to be staking out King Mike’s bunker all day. Outside. In the cold. I need to know you’re well enough to handle that.”

 “Yes and I am trying to get ready.  Something you should do as well.” Ilya nods toward the door and pulls his undershirt down over his head.  

 “Don’t take this the wrong way Peril, but you look extra miserable today.  You look like someone just told you your dog died.”

 Illya whirls on him, even though the movement makes his brain throb in his skull.  “I said I am fine.”

 Napoleon rolls his eyes, and pushes off the door jamb.  “Take something for that cough, we can’t have you giving our position away.”  He snorts and rolls his eyes again when Ilya unleashes at him in Russian, cursing and gesturing toward his gun with idle threats.

 

----

 

Illya has dug through the emergency med kit for Paracetamol and takes double the recommended dose.  The fever sweats out, but is back with a vengeance in no time at all. Illya’s head is pounding again, he wants to lie on the damp ground and go to sleep.  There’s a wheezing quality to his respiration, a shrill rasp that has Napoleon looking at Illya sideways every few minutes.

 King Mike’s hired security walks their circuit along the shipping containers and at precisely the wrong moment, Illya’s breath catches at the inhale, and it feels like choking.  The sudden need to cough and expel fluid from his airway is acute, and Illya’s body doubles over with the effort to hold his breath and keep the sound from finding a place in his mouth.  

 Napoleon grabs Illya by the collar of his turtleneck and hauls him up, presses a gloved hand over his mouth and locks their eyes.  Illya looks at him helplessly, fixates on the ribbon of brown threaded through the crystal blue of Napoleon’s left eye and tries not hyperventilate.  The guards pass and re-enter the inventory unit, and Illya is quick in wrenching away from the warmth of Napoleon’s hand to muffle himself in the lining of his coat as the coughs wrack his body.

 

“That’s it,” Napoleon whispers, “we’re done for the day.”  He reholsters his weapon and begins slipping the monitoring equipment back into his satchel.

 Illya shakes his head weakly, “We haven’t even spotted the mark yet, we can not leave.”

 “No one is going to leave their stockpile of deadly chemicals lying around.  We’ll get him, just not today.” Illya hesitates, wonders if he can even go toe to toe right now with Napoleon once his mind has been made up.  He must see Illya considering it because he sticks his finger in Illya’s face and says, “Don’t even think about it.”

 

---

 

Gaby opens the door. “Home a little early aren’t--” she pauses as Napoleon handles Illya past her and into the room, “What’s wrong with Illya?”

 “He’s caught Pneumonia,” Napoleon says, “Lie down,” and he pushes at Illya’s shoulders until he gives in and sinks down onto the sofa, shuddering all the way.  

 “Is just a cold,” Illya says between chattering teeth.

 “I served in the trenches long enough to know what Pneumonia sounds like,” Napoleon shoots back, gives Illya a withering glare before turning back to Gaby.  He writes something down a scrap piece of paper and hands it to her. “Go to this address. She’s a doctor, she’s worked with our agents in the past. Trustworthy.  Tell her what’s going on, then call Waverly and tell him too.” Gaby nods, grabs her purse and leaves them alone.

 

He doesn’t know how long he sleeps, only that he must have done because the shadows in the room are in completely different places when he wakes up.  The light from the window is a dull rhombus projected on the far side of the wall. Napoleon sits across from him in a chair and is pouring through the bank records they’d pulled from Blackwall Yard.  His shirt sleeves are rolled up, but otherwise he looks the same picture of refinement as ever. It is hard to reconcile this image of Napoleon, to the one Illya has seen bruised and bloodied and triumphant from combat.  There are so many versions of Napoleon that it is hard to keep track.

 

“Waverly will not be pleased,” Illya sighs, his voice sounds awful, and he curls in on himself for warmth.  At some point the blanket from the bed has been draped over him. When did that happen?

 Napoleon looks up and says, “He can take it up with me.”  He moves to sit on the coffee table and reaches toward Illya’s face with an open palm.

 Illya startles and jerks away.

 Napoleon sighs and holds both hands in front of himself in entreaty.  “Relax, I’m just checking your temperature, that’s all.” Illya continues to instinctively strain backward against the arm of the sofa as Napoleon reaches toward him again, slower this time like Illya might be a very rabid animal.  

 

Illya’s mother would do this when he was a child, he remembers it like a fading dream.  Somewhere along the lines, he’s forgotten how to be gentle, and how to permit it. Napoleon’s fingers are a cool balm as they settle over Illya’s forehead.  

 

“Christ almighty, Peril, you’re burning up.  Why on earth didn’t you say anything?” His hand curls, knuckles drifting down to feel Illya’s febrile cheek.

 He doesn’t answer.  Napoleon doesn’t take his hand away.  He brushes under Illya’s jaw, against his throat.  It’s the first time in months that anyone has really touched Illya for any other reason than to inflict pain.  A nail scrapes gently at the curve of Illya’s mouth and it takes every bit of self-control not to open to it. Illya’s heart ratchets in his chest when the thumb stops at the well below his bottom lip and doesn’t move.  

 Napoleon’s brow is furrowed, lips pursed, he’s looking down to his thumb, staring hard at it as if this one piece of flesh and bone is a traitor to the rest of him.  He swallows. “You’re trembling. It must be the fever.” He says it like he’s trying to convince himself.

 Illya parts his lips and Napoleon’s pupils dilate-- and Gaby opens the door.  Napoleon wrenches his hands away so fast that Illya barely even registers the movement.

 “Your ex told me to tell you that she does not do house calls anymore,” Gaby announces, and throws a paper bag into Napoleon’s lap.  “But she says two of these, twice a day for the next ten days, and our dear Peril will be on the mend.”

 

Illya turns over on the sofa and faces away from everyone as they continue their conversation.  Illya strokes his fingertips over all the places Napoleon just touched.

 

---

 

They track down a black market arms dealer all the way from Bosnia  to the red light district in Amsterdam. He was low priority for U.N.C.L.E., small time arms trader, occasional peddler of flesh, just someone to keep surveillance on-- until he turned up in Sarajevo and began taking bids for a uranium core smuggled out of Kazakhstan.  

 

They’re checked into a hotel outside of Amsterdam, a far cry from the empty barns and tents they had to use in Bosnia as they moved about the country.  Illya does not complain often about accommodations; he has slept in the woods, cold and covered in mud, and inhabited small spaces where his head scraped the ceiling.  When he was in training they slept six to a room and there was no expectation of privacy, a lack of comfort is something you grow accustomed to.

 But god, it feels good to stand in a clean shower.  

 They’re all staying in the same suite and must take turns in the bathroom.  Napoleon goes first, he’s due to meet with their mark in an hour, posing as an affluent southern businessman looking to grow his stock in underground trade.  It wouldn’t do to show up still smelling vaguely like horse shit with two week’s worth of facial hair growth. He emerges from the bathroom, pristine and clean-shaven, still dressing himself as he hurries out the door without a word.

 

Illya turns on the remote tracker that pairs with the bugs in Napoleon’s shoes and watches the signal fade in and out with every step.

 

---

 

“Alright, we’re in,” Napoleon says upon entering their suite, he’s already unbuttoning his shirt, eyes darting over to his suitcase.  He holds a small paper bag, the top is tied up with a black silk ribbon. “But we have to move on this immediately, our dear Mr. Bannon is holding a silent auction for his uranium tonight.   He owns a club.. of sorts.. in De Wallen and is hosting a masked gala where the exchange is supposed to take place.  My date and I will be in attendance, make our bid, and then slip away to uncover his vault before he announces the winner.  If we’re lucky, whomever wins the bid and finds his transaction lacking, will feel duped enough to take care of Bannon for us.  Two birds with one stone, and all. Where’s the geiger counter?”

 Illya says, “Under my bed in the black case,” the same time Gaby announces, “I’ll go get dressed for the party.”

 “Oh,” Napoleon says, expression shifting in a strange way, “actually, we’ll be needing you on radio and transport.”

 Gaby furrows her brow, looks surreptitiously over at Illya who feels some degree of dawning panic as the implication unfolds.  “Okay,” she says and shrugs, “you know I prefer running point anyways. Just, you said date, and usually that involves me in some capacity.”

 “It’s not that sort of club.”

 “This is bad idea,” Illya blurts.

 “How is it any different than when you’re my escort?” Gaby asks, folding her arms across her chest.

 “Because I don’t--” and Illya’s mouth shuts with a click and he looks down at his feet.  He has no idea how that sentence might have ended, but whatever it would have been, he knows it can not be said out loud.

 

“Look,” Napoleon says when the silence becomes loaded, “It’s a masquerade at a club for men with certain proclivities.  We’re trying to fit in, he needs to trust us.”

 “Surely not all of his guests share these proclivities,” Illya protests, and has no idea why this, of all things, makes his stomach flip.  He’s played dutiful husband to Gaby more times than he can count, he prefers having Napoleon within reach during missions like this because it’s a tactical advantage. This should really be ideal placement.

 “You’d be surprised what people get up to,” Napoleon says cryptically and then, “Besides, I was told to bring an outlandish guest.”

 

Illya gestures emphatically at Gaby’s tiny body, then his own.

 “Yes, Peril,” Napoleon says with a sigh, and produces two masks from within his bag, “precisely my point.”

 

---

 

Illya is used to having eyes on him, his stature disrupts the average sized person’s line of sight and draws it upward.  It has been this way since he was fourteen, above average for his age to begin with, and then grew seven inches in the course of fourteen months. Double the norm. He was already a pariah at his school, son of a disgraced official, sullen and angry and different, he did not need any more help in setting himself apart from his peers.  His clothes never fit properly, he was awkward and clumsy, not yet at home in his body, it was an endless source of teasing.  They called him Zhirafa. The Giraffe. It stuck well into late adolescence.  He remembers the growing pains, his mother shaking him awake because he would cry out in his sleep.  He hated his body.

 What Illya is not accustomed to, however, is the open, inarguable ogling, of which he is currently subject.  Usually Napoleon takes up all the space in a room with his charm and undeniable beauty, people gravitate toward him as if pulled in by an unseen force.  Illya has always repelled indiscriminately, he knows his professional utility lies in his volatility and it has served him well. It is unsettling to watch eyes skim appreciatively over Napoleon, and then alight when they pass over onto Illya.  This is how he has seen men look at beautiful women.

 

Napoleon leads Illya around the room with a firm hand to the small of his back before bringing them around to the bar.  “Two vodka tonics, please,” Napoleon requests and flashes white teeth at the cocktail waiter. The man nods and Napoleon presses up on his toes and drags Illya down by the collar to whisper in his ear.  “That’s Bannon over there,” he tilts his head just so and Illya allows his gaze to travel. Napoleon’s hand clasps over the nape of his neck, fingers rubbing gently over the top notches of Illya’s spine and Illya fights off a shiver.  “Has he spotted us, yet?”

 Illya catches Bannon’s eye and whispers, “Yes,” when the man begins excusing himself through the crowd to make his way over.

 “Good,” Napoleon says, smiling against the shell of Illya’s ear like a lover murmuring their sweet nothings.  Everything he does is so calculated, each point of contact between them is precise and gives the impression of a comfortable intimacy.  “Relax. You’re scowling.”

 “They are onto us. They keep staring,” Illya says into the hair above Napoleon’s ear and fights the urge to bare his teeth at their onlookers.  The mask over his eyes is making him feel claustrophobic, it limits his peripheral and Illya is well on his way to paranoia, but Napoleon just laughs.

 “Of course they’re staring,” he says this like he is explaining it to a child, he pulls back a bit looks Illya over skeptically.  “Christ, you really have no idea do you?”

 “What do you mean?”

 

 “Mr. Devereaux, I’m so glad you could make it,” Bannon says as he draws even and shakes Napoleon’s hand before fixing Illya in his sights.    

 “I never miss a good party,” Napoleon says in an easy southern affect.  “Haven’t seen this many masks since Mardi Gras.”

 “I’m sure,” Bannon murmurs absently, his eyes have not left Illya.  “And who have you brought with you this evening?”

 “Mr. Bannon, this is Aleksei.  My partner.”

 “In trade?”

 “In many things,” Napoleon says, nonchalant.

 “Mister Aleksei, tell me what it is you do.”

 

Illya does his best to relax the lines of his body and seem non-threatening.  “I am an accountant with Transneft.”

 “Is that how you met Mr. Devereaux?”

 “My father’s business is very active in the oil exchange industry,” Napoleon lies flawlessly, “I plucked Aleksei here out of a little office in Volgograd.”

 “You don’t look like an accountant,” Bannon says, giving Illya a once-over.

 Adrenaline spikes in Illya’s blood for a moment, before he realises this was intended as a compliment.  “Teachers told me I was too tall for Bolshoi Ballet,” Ilya says with a shrug and Bannon laughs.

 “I’m certain they did not deserve you, Russia is far too conservative to hide a gem such as yourself.”  Napoleon’s fingers tighten into the fabric of Illya’s suit jacket when Bannon’s reaches out to pat Illya on the chest, and lingers just a hair too long.  “Mr. Devereaux, you have impeccable taste in accountants. Please enjoy my party, we will speak of business later.”

 

---

 

It is easy to slip way into the press of the crowd inside the club and disappear.  The geiger counter spikes in the palm of Illya’s hand as they round a quiet hall and it alerts with growing intensity the nearer they draw to a door on the far side of the passage.  There are no guards at the door, which Illya finds strange, he’d certainly post a security detail if he had several million dollars worth of enriched uranium locked away. But, then again, it might be equally as wise to not draw attention to the exact location where you hide your most valuable possessions.

 The lock is easy work for Napoleon’s keen fingers, and within a few seconds they’re behind the door and pressing for hollow points on the walls where the safe might be hidden.  

 

“Here,” Illya says, and begins rearranging and adjusting the books and baubles resting on the shelf, hoping to trigger a release to uncover the safe.  He pulls an edition of Leaves of Grass halfway out of its slot, there’s muffled tell-tale shifting of gears, and the bookcase shifts aside.  Illya turns around to Napoleon.

 “Got there first, Cowboy,” Illya says and grins.

 “Yes, you’re very clever, now go keep watch while I work my magic. I’d like this mission to go down without one of us getting shot or tortured.”  Napoleon stoops to examine the safe and his eyes light up. Ilya finds it difficult to look away in the face of Napoleon’s genuine excitement.  “Oh, I’ve been dying to try my hand at a Gordian’s lock.”

 “Just hurry,” Ilya reminds him, unnecessarily, then moves back toward the door and cracks it open far enough to see out into the hallway.  He doesn’t watch Napoleon, but he can hear his progress transmitted through vague taps and low sighs, sounds that are as familiar to Illya now as Napoleon’s voice.  He’s stood watch over Napoleon dozens of times as he’s done exactly what he is doing now. Illya can tell by the way air moves from between Napoleon’s teeth how close he is to cracking a safe.  

 He’s close right now.

 

But perhaps not close enough.

 Two armed men turn into the hall and begin checking doors. “Cowboy, we have company in sixty seconds.” Napoleon shushes him, irritated, and Illya secures the suppressor on his Browning.  “Fifty seconds. I suppose we can pile the bodies under the desk.”

 “We won’t need to,” Napoleon says, and Illya can hear the door to the safe giving way, can hear Napoleon removing something heavy from within and pushing it across the floor.

 “Of course we’ll need to.  Thirty seconds.”

 “We won’t,” Napoleon says again, always so certain of everything, and he pulls at Illya’s arm.  “Kiss me.”

 

Illya almost drops his gun, shocked enough to tear his eyes away from the guards to stare down at Napoleon’s face, and Napoleon rolls his eyes.  “ Excuse me?”

 “We don’t have time for-- Don’t they teach you this in the KGB?” Napoleon asks, undoing his tie in a hurry and scrubbing his hands through his hair until it’s messy and sticks up in odd directions.  “They’ll just think we’re a couple who has snuck away for a bit of a romp, instead of a couple of spies here to relieve their master of his uranium. No mess, no fuss. Now, get over yourself and come on.

 Illya can not disagree more.  It sounds very much like a mess waiting to happen.  “Shooting leaves no witne--” but then Napoleon is straining up, pulling Illya down by the scruff of his neck, and Illya’s next words are muffled against Napoleon’s lips.  

 

It’s not a good kiss.  Illya is trying to remember whatever it was he was about to say, unable to respond, his mouth a flat unmoving line.  He feels Napoleon huff through his nose. There are footsteps growing closer.

 “Work with me, Peril,” Napoleon says, exasperated, a little desperate, “Pretend I’m.. someone, whoever, just--”

 Illya surges forward against Napoleon with all of his strength, kissing him with far more intensity than necessary, crushes him up against the bookcase.  And that’s the crux of the problem, isn’t it? Ilya does not need to pretend Napoleon is someone else. He doesn’t need an impending threat in order to want this.  He doesn’t need anything but Napoleon’s hands on him, steadying him at the waist, and the brief hng..! of shock as his back lands against the shelves.  

 Napoleon claws at Illya and he pushes back, gives as good as he gets.  His tongue slips its way into Illya’s mouth, wet and licking and perfect, and so so so out of control.  The hands at Illya’s hips pull him inward, but Illya resists, he knows what state he’s in after just a few moments of contact, and if their bodies become flush together, Napoleon will know as well.  He will know that Illya is a deviant.

 It doesn’t matter after a whole three seconds because Napoleon is pressing his tongue against Illya’s pulse, and hooking his fingers into Illya’s belt loops and somehow Illya goes pliant.  He gives into the hands that pull at him, and Napoleon lets loose something ragged and obscene and not at all professional, when he feels Illya’s hardness brush up against this thigh.

 “It’s okay,” Napoleon breathes when Illya tries pulling away, and Illya could laugh because it is so obviously not okay.  “Don’t stop.”

 

Someone clears their throat, and Illya jolts.  He’d become so locked into the past fifteen seconds, that he’d forgotten that there was a purpose to it beyond just letting Napoleon grasp at him.  Only Napoleon’s hands fisted into the front of Illya’s shirt keeps him from instinctively reaching for his weapon to clear the room of witnesses.

 Napoleon allows his head to swivel in the direction of the guards.  There’s a dazed look in his eyes, a lovely blush high on his cheeks as he grins lazily at their guests.  “Boys, this room is occupied.”

 “What are you doing in here? This door was locked,” the larger of the two guards barks at them, his hand rests against the handle of his gun.

 “Um,” Napoleon laughs, purposefully slurs his speech and feigns intoxication, “isn’t it a little obvious what we’re doing?”

 “How did you get into this room?” he repeats and Illya tenses for a fight.  He told Napoleon this was a stupid idea, he never listens, never thinks.

 “Wasn’t locked when we came in,” Napoleon says, hiccups and sways into Illya.  “Fellas, I think I might have had a few too many glasses of champagne. Could you point us in the direction of the gents?”  He hiccups again and covers his mouth.

 “I’m sorry,” Illya manages, holds Napoleon propped up in his arms, “we did not know this room was private, you can have it back.”  Napoleon groans and makes gurgling sounds like someone very much trying to hold back vomit.

 “Let them go mate,” the other guard says quietly to his partner, “Just another pair of poofs looking to get off.  Disgusting.”

 Illya prickles at the term, he’s heard enough slang to know it’s derogatory.  His right hand twitches against Napoleon’s slumped shoulder.

 “You’re going to wish you hadn’t said that,” Napoleon sighs as he straightens, and then, without warning, darts forward and sends his fist into the guard’s face.  He goes down to the ground, unconscious. The larger guard takes a step back in shock before unholstering his weapon and takes aim at Napoleon. Illya immediately has the man’s wrist twisting in one hand, and is dislocating his shoulder with the other, before knocking his skull into the wall.  

 

“I might have gotten carried away there,” Napoleon admits after a moment, and nudges his guard with the toe of his shoe, “Prejudice is such an unattractive quality, though.”

 Illya just looks at him.  

 “What?  Why are you looking at me like that?  Get the uranium so we can get the hell out of here.” Napoleon furrows his brow, and Illya wants to punch him in his beautiful face.  He wants to shake him up until he looks as unnerved as Illya feels.

 

Illya wants to smear himself against Napoleon until the aching is gone, and all that remains is great glowing heart of it.

 

---

 

They run from Amsterdam and bed down for the night in some small motel outside of Brussels.  They leave the adjoining doors between their rooms cracked open in case they were followed, if one of them is ambushed, the rest will know.  

 

When Illya is certain everyone is asleep, he takes himself in hand and brings himself off as quickly as possible.  The touch of his own fingers feels so utterly inadequate. His skin still feels like it’s on fire everywhere Napoleon touched him four hours ago, and the need to be rid of the urge to do something gnaws away low in Illya’s belly.  He turns his face into the pillow to muffle himself when he comes, spilling sticky and shameful onto the sheets.

 

---

 

Oleg sits across from Illya in a cafe in New Brunswick.  It is past time for Illya’s quarterly debrief and assessment.  He’d been able to put it off an extra month and half while they were in a hostile zone in Venezuela, but now that they are back in a staging phase, Illya can no longer stall.  

 He is very careful to keep his tone neutral as he answers Oleg’s questions about their missions, does not offer any additional detail beyond key facts.  Before Oleg had been assigned as a handler, he was the KGB’s best interrogator, an expert at analyzing body language and reading subtextual clues to glean the truth from between the lines.  Illya never had a reason to monitor himself, it had been so easy to thoughtlessly follow orders. He was trained to dissociate his needs or desires from his allegiance to his country. But then Gaby Teller and Napoleon Solo came crashing into his life, working their way into his mind and heart and making everything shift aside for their inclusion.  His allegiances are compromised. He knows it.

 

Oleg can not know it.

 

“Tell me about your partners.”

 Illya does not hesitate.  “They are emotional,” that’s the truth, “I find it best not to involve myself beyond necessity.”  

 Oleg studies his face, and Illya hopes it is as impassive as his words.  “How would you rate their field performance.”

 Illya shrugs.  “Adequate.” A lie, although begrudged.  What Gaby and Napoleon lack in brutality and discipline, they more than make up for with razor sharp intellect and ingenuity.

 “And how do you feel about them?”

 “I..” Illya clears his throat, and hopes it has not given him away, “I avoid conflict of interests when possible.”

 “That is not what I asked Kuryakin.”

 “I find them curious,” Illya admits carefully, hoping this is the right answer.  “They are not the same as KGB.”

 

Oleg nods and spins his empty coffee mug in a slow circle.  “It is good to watch them, but do not allow your curiosity to get the best of you.  The closer you get, the easier it becomes to stick a knife in your back.”

 

---

 

Everything changes in Budapest.

 

Even as his hands find purchase in Napoleon’s hair, Illya knows no good can come of it.

 Afterward, Illya will have no idea who reached for the other first.  Was it Napoleon’s fingers pulling Illya in by the belt, or was it Illya’s hands pressed on either side of Napoleon’s face?  Afterward. Afterward he will try to remember, because right now Illya has to be pressed up against the wall, right now Illya has to groan and open his mouth when he feels the slick tip of Napoleon’s tongue caressing his bottom lip.

 

“I thought you were dead,” Napoleon hisses, knocking off Illya’s cap and clutching him by the front of his jumper in some futile attempt to steady him while Illya squirms and tries, desperately, to make the height difference work.  “Idiot. Next time just tell me to duck.”

 He kisses Illya hard, angry and relieved all at once.  His mouth is an intoxicating hot smear against Illya’s lips and throat, and for the life in him, Illya can’t understand why this is happening, but by no means is he going to stop it.  Not now, not now that the ever present restless feeling he gets around Napoleon finally seems to, well, not disappear, but seems to have found direction.  It isn’t the meandering thing of the past ten months.  This, what they’re doing to each other right now, has a shape and objective.

 Napoleons fingers push underneath Illya’s jumper, one hand claws against his ribs, but the other is strangely still.  His palm is warm, flattened underneath Illya’s left breast, and it isn’t until the hand is gone that Illya realizes in shock that Napoleon was feeling his heartbeat.  Illya becomes abruptly and painfully aware that a mere five hours ago he’d been jolted back into consciousness. Napoleon’s lips were sealed over his, breathing into Illya as he administered CPR. Ilya had taken a poison tipped dart to the neck after pushing Napoleon out of its path.  He remembers the painful seizing of his heart as it glitched into arrhythmia. Then there was nothing. And the next thing Illya remembers is Napoleon’s startled exhale cresting over his cheek as Illya jerked, and his heart began again.

 

“God Peril, you’re so--,” Napoleon murmurs now, against the very same lips he breathed life back into hours ago.  “Can I just--” and Illya can’t figure out if this is something Napoleon is asking, or if it’s rhetorical, because he’s starting sentences and not finishing them, so Illya just keeps kissing Napoleon’s mouth and hopes that it’s answer enough.

 The sound of Illya’s belt being undone is shocking, out of place between the muted sounds of skin pressed against hot skin.  Napoleon hesitates, his fingers sliding along the exposed flesh of Illya’s hips and Illya knows he’s giving him a chance to walk away from this moment and all of its implications.  Ilya sinks back against the wall, sticks his burning face into the crook of Napoleon’s neck, grabs Napoleon’s wrist and pushes it down with a groan.

 “Fuck,” Napoleon whispers, rubs over the bulge in Illya’s trousers, before unzipping him.  He smooths his open palm down the length of Ilya’s cock. “I can’t believe you’re letting me do this.  I never thought--”

Napoleon’s words cut off into a sharp exhale when Illya bites down over his collarbone and shoves his thigh between Napoleon’s legs. Illya doesn’t know what he was expecting, and for some reason is surprised when he feels Napoleon hard, hot and twitching against him.  This is enough to make Illya move his hands from where they’re frozen and clinging to Napoleon’s shirt, down to the clasp of Napoleon’s trousers. His fingers begin wavering with fine tremors.

 

“Here, here,” Napoleon says, frantically helping Illya with his flies.  He moans when Illya rubs his palm over his erection, before overcoming the space between them. He angles his hips, their cocks rub against each other, Napoleon closes his hand around them both and whispers, “Oh God, you’re so..” and never finishes before his hand begins to move, and Illya’s head drops back, hits the wall behind him.  Illya closes his eyes, blocks out the reality of what it is he’s allowing, what it is he has been so desperate for.

 “You’ve never done this with a man,” Napoleon says against Ilya’s throat. Not a question.  Doesn’t need an answer. “Tell me if you want to stop,” he scrapes his teeth over Illya’s adam’s apple.  A hand fists itself in Illya’s hair and Napoleon leverages their mouths together to swallow the sounds Illya is making-- something equal parts pleasure and distress.  

 

When Illya was thirteen he saw two men pressed against each other behind the traktir in his village, their mouths open, hands buried in one another’s hair the way Napoleon’s is now.  Illya had felt relieved .  It meant he was not alone.  Only a week later, both of the men were arrested in the same alley.  He never saw them again, and Illya mercilessly extinguished that little flame of hope like it never existed.  Mother had already lost a husband, she needn’t lose her son as well.

 

Illya should have known that nothing stays buried forever.

 

It doesn’t take more than a couple minutes before Illya is panting, and he ought to be embarrassed that it’s gotten to this point so fast.  But it’s just been so long, and Napoleon is so beautiful with his teeth dug into his lip, and Illya has been alone always.

“Come on, Peril,” Napoleon breathes, surges up to press their mouths together, and it’s sticky and gorgeous.  It aches like a bruise. Illya tries to stifle the whimpering sounds that bubble up in his throat, but one by one they eek out from behind his teeth.  “That’s it, please.”

And something about the pleading, how Napoleon wants something from him, like he’s desperate to keep Illya under his hands-- all of it is too much.  Napoleon is fire licking at Illya’s tender bones, and Illya bites his own wrist to keep himself quiet when he comes.  

 It isn’t until he’s twitching with the aftershocks that Illya is able to focus.  He blinks blearily at Napoleon, releases his hand from between his teeth.

 Napoleon’s eyes flick down and Illya follows his line of sight to bitten skin.  The indentation is angry and red, not quite bloody, but will show easily tomorrow as a bruise.  Napoleon licks his lips before he picks up that same wrist and slams it back against the wall, presses his cock along the inside of Illya’s thigh.  His thumb smooths posessively over the bite mark.

 Illya instinct is to become angry, to fight his way out from being pinned against the wall.  It is what has been drilled into him-- never let yourself be cornered. But the way Napoleon’s gaze shifts from his grip across the the column of Illya’s wrist, down to where he using Illya to rub himself off, to Illya’s still panting mouth-- it paralyzes him.  He wants to trap Napoleon here in this moment forever, red-cheeked with desire and looking at Illya like he’s a miracle.

 Napoleon comes when Illya’s free hand slips a path over the swell of Napoleon’s ass.  He gasps, lets go of Illya’s hand to push up the hem of his shirt, and ejaculates onto Illya’s exposed stomach.  He whispers little ah, ah, ah’s against Illya’s collarbone, his hair is a curling wreck from Illya’s hands.  Napoleon shakes apart and finally goes still.

 

The afterglow fades too fast, and Illya can feel himself growing tense all over.  The restlessness is back, stinging and metallic on his tongue, and now there is panic there as well.  Shame. Napoleon pulls away, and Illya sees his look of caution, just there in the set of his brow as he takes account of Illya’s trigger finger nervously twitching.  A tic. A warning. A blaring red light signaling Illya’s untouchableness.

 

“Shit,” Napoleon says into the damning silence.

 

---

 

They don’t talk about it that night, which is for the best.  Illya made sure there would be no chance of that when he slipped out from between Napoleon and the wall and ignored Napoleon’s exasperated, Now hold on just a-- before leaving his room.  He never should have followed Napoleon behind that door in the first place.

Ilya’s sexual history might be sparse, and he might be lacking in some of the finer points of social etiquette, but he’s definitely aware of the complications borne out of sleeping with a coworker.   More than a coworker, Illya thinks unhelpfully, a partner , and one of the closest things Illya has had to a friend.  A friend Illya could be ordered to assassinate at any moment if his handlers at the KGB decide to pull Illya from the U.N.C.L.E. program.  

It’s this mental preparation for the worst which makes finding Napoleon and Gaby picking through room service leftovers over coffee, seem incredibly strange in its normalcy.

 

“I thought you’d already left,” Gaby says around a mouthful of croissant. “Late night?”

 Illya looks sharply at Napoleon, but he doesn’t return the gaze, simply brings his coffee cup to his lips to blow away the steam. “Give him a break Gaby, he did nearly die on us.”  Napoleon looks up at Illya and gestures idly at the spread.  “We’ve saved you some kolaches, but you’ll be needing to take them to go.  I meet our mark at the embassy in an hour. You haven’t removed the bugs from my cufflinks have you?”

Illya stares hard at him, looking for any sign of awkwardness, or worse, anger-- but Napoleon’s face is the same mix of inscrutability as ever.  

 

“Peril? The bugs?”

 “Yes, they are there,” Illya says evenly, and wonders for a moment if last night was a terribly vivid dream borne from a wrought subconscious.  

 

It wasn’t, or course it wasn’t.  Illya has a bruise the shape of Napoleon’s mouth low on his throat, hidden underneath layers of clothes.  He dug his thumbnail against that bruise only moments ago, and the ache of broken capillaries under his skin felt real.  But Napoleon’s eyes on him, and then their absence as he turns away, makes reality shift just so.

 

---

 

It happens again, not even 48 hours later: Illya slipping into Napoleon’s room because he can’t stand how Napoleon acts like he never touched Illya at all.  He’s grateful for it, and frustrated by it in equal measure, and Illya hates how easy it seems for Napoleon.  Of course Napoleon is accustomed to these sort of dalliances, he collects the affections and secrets of powerful people, the same way he collects priceless and beautiful pieces of art.  His sudden deviation from this pattern to include Illya is bizarre. It’s stupid. What does he hope to accomplish?

 Napoleon sits up in bed when Illya creeps silently past the door, and even this makes Illya want to scream.  He doesn’t even reach for the gun on the bedside table, he just props himself up on his elbows and stares at Illya through a shroud of muted starlight from the window, as if this is normal and expected.  Like he’s been waiting on Illya this whole time.

 

“Are you just going to stand there?” he whispers, and Illya grits his teeth.  He wants Napoleon to do it for him, he wants Napoleon to grab him by the arm and pull him down so it’s less like owning his own decisions.  

 Napoleon doesn’t move when Illya sits next to him on the bed.  “Look,” he says when the silence extends too far, “we don’t have to talk about it, but I’m not touching you until you’re sure that’s what you want.”  The outside of Napoleon’s leg is a warm weight against the line of Illya’s hand, and when Illya tries to form his fingers around the shape of his thigh, Napoleon seizes him firmly over the wrist.  “You’re going to need to say it.”

 The words grate all the way out from Illya’s throat.  “Let me,” he asks, because saying I want it, seems impossible.  Too close to an admission, too dangerous.


“Good enough,” Napoleon sighs after a moment and pulls Illya down on top of him.



Napoleon comes with his cock in Illya’s mouth. Illya has never done this before, he’s too messy, inexperienced and it shows, but it’s enough to make Napoleon writhe underneath him.  It’s enough to make Napoleon swear quietly and bury his hands in Illya’s hair as the sound of it becomes pronounced. Napoleon can’t seem to help but push up in little shivery thrusts, so Illya holds him down at the hips and grinds his thumbs against Napoleon’s iliac crests and wishes for bruises.  

 When Illya shoots a man dead, he feels no sense of power.  He is detached from it completely. But this, he thinks, having Napoleon incoherent just from Illya’s mouth on him, this is powerful, somehow.

 And when Napoleon pulls up on Illya’s hair in an implication and whispers, “Wait, you don’t have to--” Illya pulls back down that much more ferocity and swallows as Napoleon comes in bursts across his tongue.  Illya does not feel disgusted or disconnected from the moment. He wants it all, everything that Napoleon can give him, even if it is just this. God knows it’s far more than Illya deserves.

 

“Get up here,” Napoleon says when Illya finally lets his mouth slip away to press a shaky kiss low on Napoleon’s hip.  He’s too turned on to be embarrassed about what he’s just done. “You’re incredible,” Napoleon breathes out, fingers still stroking through Illya’s hair, and Illya knows he’s just addled by hormones, he can’t mean it, but it still sounds beautiful when Napoleon says it.  

 This is why Napoleon is the best at seducing in the field-- he is perfect at making someone feel as if they’re the center of his world.

 “I bet you say this to all your..” lovers sounds too intimate, partners sounds too conventional, “..marks,” Illya finishes lamely, and winces at the indication.

 “Only because I have to with them,” Napoleon says in a resigned tone that makes a frisson of concern thread itself into Illya’s blood.  The unspoken but not with you lingers circumspect and unsaid between them.  Napoleon cups Illya between the legs, slips his fingers under Illya’s briefs and gropes his bottom.  Illya’s arms collapse on either side of Napoleon’s shoulders so he can kiss him and really, Napoleon is brilliant at kissing, all soft lips and just the right amount of tease to drive Illya crazy with wanting.  If Napoleon is kissing him, then he won’t hear how desperate Illya is. Still, in spite of himself, a broken gasp gets caught against the lobe of Napoleon’s ear.

 “Ill-- Peril, ” Napoleon groans at the sound of it and his hand moves faster, but that--just that: Illya’s name half-bitten off in Napoleon’s mouth, is enough to push Illya over the edge.

 

----

 

“Perfect, I knew the grey one would bring out your eyes,” Gaby says, sipping her champagne as Napoleon emerges from the changing room dressed neatly in a tuxedo.  “Our countess won’t be able to look away.” She slaps Illya’s arm and gestures toward Napoleon as if she is a very proud mother displaying her child at church on Easter Sunday.

 Illya’s eyes drift over toward Napoleon as he examines his reflection in the mirror and adjusts his collar. He looks the same, but with a nice suit.  The man could be smeared with mud and stink like swines and Illya’s heart would still stutter to look at him. The admittedly impulsive sex they’ve had does not help, because now Illya is burdened with the terrible knowledge of what Napoleon looks like naked.

 “Peril,” Gaby chastises, “doesn’t he look beautiful?”

 Napoleon catches his gaze in the mirror and smirks.  “Yes, Peril, don’t I look beautiful?”

 

Unbearably so, Illya thinks, and says, “It will work.”

 

---

 

Napoleon doesn’t get back to the hotel until after dawn.  Illya tries not to stare at the way his hair isn’t as polished as it was when they departed six hours ago, or that his shirt is wrinkled and smeared ever so slightly with lipstick at the collar.  Illya thought he would feel anger once he got over the sick feeling in his stomach, and while the need to touch Napoleon right now is overwhelming, it’s something not precisely rooted in jealousy.  

 Illya swallows thickly and asks, “All right, Cowboy?”

 Napoleon’s tone is blank as he hands Gaby the small recorder they’d hidden in the lining of his suit coat.  “Get it to Waverly, I’m going to sleep,” Napoleon says and starts unbuttoning his cuffs.

 Gaby nods and looks at her watch, “I’ll be back in two hours.”  She looks over to Ilya and mouths stay with him before grabbing her purse.  

 

He hears the door to Napoleon’s room close, hears the water running from the bathroom for a few minutes before shutting off.  Illya assumes Napoleon has gone to bed because the only sound left in the room is the quiet shuffle of Illya’s pawn across the chessboard, but then in a flurry of movement the board is being thrown aside.  The pieces scatter everywhere, a knight rolls across the room, and Illya tenses on instinct, starts to stand, but then Napoleon is in front of him and shoving him back down into the chair before straddling Illya’s lap.

 “What are you doing Cowb--”  Ilya starts to ask and immediately drops it the moment Napoleon surges forward to press their mouths together.  He’s still wet from the shower, a towel slung low on his hips, all it would take is one tug from Illya’s hand and Napoleon would be bare. He runs a thumb over a slashing scar across beneath Napoleon’s collarbone where someone tried cutting his throat twelve months ago, and missed.  

 “I thought” Illya says, voice muffled between biting kisses,  “you were tired?”

 Napoleon ignores that completely, presses his lips to hollow of Illya’s ear and murmurs in flawless Russian, “I want you to fuck me.”

 “Yes, fine,” Illya says stupidly, his heartbeat surging so fast that his vision sparks.  “Wait, didn’t you just--”

 “Not the same,” Napoleon breathes, head tipping back in a gasp when Illya scrapes his teeth over a nipple, before drawing their lips back together.  “This is different. You’re-- it’s different.”

 

Illya tries to steady him at the shoulders to get a good look at Napoleon’s face, but Napoleon shrugs them away and grinds down into Illya’s lap before reaching between them to undo Illya’s belt.  The frantic hands are not at all uncharacteristic in these encounters, but the distant look in his eyes certainly is, and it makes the hair at the nape of Illya’s neck prickle. The second time Illya reaches for him, he’s sure his grip can’t be easily fought.  He doesn’t say anything, isn’t even sure what to look for, just searches Napoleon’s face for any give in his mask of indifference.

 The muscle in Napoleon’s jaw flickers and for a moment it appears he’s weighing the possibility of a fist fight instead.  Illya knows what it is costing him to be vulnerable, and knows it isn’t fair because Illya never reciprocates that risk. But then Napoleon’s lips purse and he closes his eyes on an exhale. “Sometimes,” Napoleon says, swallowing, “I just want something real.  Do you understand?”

 “Yes,” Illya says, and, “I understand,” even though he might not be able to understand it the same way it feels for Napoleon, he does know what it is like to live the life of a spy.  Your continued existence is often contingent on how well you can sell a lie. Sometimes it is hard to tell where you begin and the subterfuge ends.

 Napoleon nods, looks down at Illya’s mouth and says “Good, now--”

 

Illya hands are on the towel in an instant, pulling it away to dig his fingers into Napoleon’s thighs. “Chair is... too small.. for this,” he manages to get out between kisses and Napoleon’s hands scrambling to undo Illya’s trousers. “Will break.”

 “It’ll be fine.”

 “Don’t we need--”

 Napoleon reaches over behind Illya’s headrest and produces a square foil packet, and a tube of lubricant. The latter is pressed into Illya’s palm, while Napoleon rips open the former with his teeth.  “I got ready earlier, all you have to do is put this on.”

 “What?” Illya asks, and looks back over his shoulder toward the bathroom door, mind conjuring images of Napoleon still wet and flushed from the shower, forehead leaned up against the wall as he--

 “Focus, Peril,” Napoleon says absently, rolls the condom onto Illya, then slicks him from root to tip and not for the first time, Illya wonders if you can become addicted to a person’s touch.

 “Are you sure you--”

 “Jesus,” Napoleon says, tone caught somewhere between a laugh and exapersation, “you’re the one being corrupted here, do I really need to walk you through--”

 Illya pulls down on Napoleon’s hips, enough to breach him by a couple inches, and Napoleon’s fingers dig talon-like into Illya’s shoulders.

 “What were you saying, Cowboy?” Illya hisses, keeps his grip on Napoleon firm as he pushes the rest of the way into the impossibly hot clutch of his body.  He expects Napoleon to keep complaining, to snark at him in that way where it never seems like the man has been truly satisfied by anything ever, but Napoleon just shudders and goes pliant-- takes it all.

 

Illya’s palms smooth up the bare expanse of Napoleon’s back, fingers brushing over the occasional imperfection of a scar, the strong notches of his spine, his muscles bunch and flex and he truly is beautiful.  An impossible work of art, layered and nuanced, and impossible for Illya to interpret.

 Napoleon’s hips roll up, then back down all at once, then back up where Napoleon pauses, and Illya makes a sound in his chest like he might just be dying.  He grabs Napoleon by the scruff of his neck and leverages their mouths together, thrusts up into him. He holds Napoleon there, keeps him still, and does it again harder.  He hears wood beginning to splinter.

 “Don’t stop,” Napoleon pants against his mouth, and Illya couldn’t if he wanted to.  His fingers are locked onto Napoleon’s hips, pulling him down and down and down, rougher than he means to, but god it feels so good and Napoleon makes these sounds-- intense and helpless and lost in pleasure.  Illya doesn’t stop, although he does jolt a little when he feels Napoleon’s hand snake between them to work his own cock in time with each thrust.  He feels Napoleon tightening around him, he’s biting his lip and whimpering, then there’s damp heat bleeding through Illya’s shirt, and Illya fucks him hard and fast through it until it’s all too much.  Illya buries his face in Napoleon’s throat as the pressure crests, holds on to all the words threatening to run out from behind his teeth, and he feels himself pulsing inside of Napoleon’s body. Part of him wishes the condom were gone, wishes he could spend himself bare inside of Napoleon, mark him up and keep anyone else from getting too close.

 

He knows that isn’t a good thought to have.  Napoleon is his own man. But Illya thinks it anyways.

 

---

 

“Get these for me, will you,” Gaby says over her shoulder, one arm is behind her back and gesturing to a row of tiny buttons going up the spine of her dress.  “Why do they design dresses like this? Am I meant to dislocate my shoulders to fasten myself into it? You men have it so simple.”

 “Is not efficient,” Illya agrees and comes to crouch awkwardly at Gaby’s back to get eye level with his task.  His hands are a bit too big, they slip on the little pearlescent buttons, but he’s mindful enough of his work to keep from ripping them from their delicate mountings.  There might have been a time where brushing up the small of Gaby’s back, and over the strap of her brassiere, would have made him nervous and hot cheeked. Now there is only easy companionship. Even with Gaby’s mouth inches from his own, soft and intent, he never felt as reckless there as he does just being around Napoleon, and now that feeling grows in his blood.  Infects bone deep.

 “What are you thinking about?” Gaby asks.

 “Ridiculous dress,” Illya says, “do not breathe too deep, or the buttons will come flying off.  Shoot someone’s eye out.”

 Gaby laughs, then clicks her tongue.  “Liar.” Illya’s fingers pause. He looks up and finds Gaby staring down at him, and knows instantly that she knows.   “I see your faces more than my own reflection, you think I do not see the way you look at each other?”

 

Napoleon clears his throat. “Who are you talking about?”

 She rolls her eyes, “I’ll give you one guess.”

 “He is insufferable, American, I hate him all the time. Your eyes need checking.”

 She fixes Illya with a stern face.  “My friend lies to me.”

 

Illya can’t decide which way to react, to deny and reach for the anger that he wears as a protective skin, or to simply get up and leave and hope Gaby never breathes a word of it again.  He grits his teeth and remains perfectly still.  “It is not.. like that.”

 “There is nothing wrong with it,” Gaby says, brow furrowing.  “You mustn’t hold this sort of prejudice against yourself.”

 “It is not like that,” he says again, more firmly, because it isn’t.  It is not nature, surely it is not his nature.. Right?  And surely Napoleon continues on with his own affairs when they are not entrenched in each other’s space, there is no reason to believe otherwise.  It is a thing he and Napoleon do to each other, whether out of convenience or a passing need, and they never speak of it afterward and that is for the best.

 It’s terrible.  It is becoming unbearable.  But there is propriety, and obligation, the work, and Illya is not allowed.  He already has the blood of a traitor, he can not be labeled a degenerate as well.

 “We can not,” Illya tells her and goes back to the buttons.

 “Darling,” Gaby says, her voice gentle, “I think it is already too late.”

 “I could never return home.  I love my country.”

 

Gaby sighs and purses her lips, she cups Illya’s cheek in her tiny palm.  

 

---

 

He spends the next five weeks putting space between them, removing himself from Napoleon’s proximity unless absolutely necessary.  The first three weeks, if Napoleon notices, he gives no implication of it whatsoever. Doesn’t even raise an eyebrow when he sits too close to Ilya before a debriefing and Illya immediately is out of his chair and switching over to the other side of the table while Gaby, who most certainly has noticed, glares daggers at Illya.  

On the fourth week Napoleon “trips” in the kitchenette of their latest hotel, and manages to fall against Illya in such a way that boxes him up against the ledge of a counter. Napoleon’s forearms are braced on either side of Illya’s hips, their chests pressed together, and Napoleon gets a mean glint in his eye and says, “Sorry about that, I’m so clumsy.”  Except Napoleon isn’t clumsy in the slightest, he’s graceful and agile in all things, and Illya freezes in place until Napoleon moves away without looking back.

 

Nothing worse than an itch you can’t scratch.  Nothing worse than an itch you can scratch and know you shouldn’t.

 

The fifth week Illya slips.

 

They’re forced to share a tiny room after drawing straws for the ensuite, and Gaby must have cheated somehow, because a merciful god would not allow Illya to sleep this close to Napoleon.  It’s torture. Napoleon walks around half dressed after they come in from a day of intel gathering, and gives Illya no other choice than to see him like that, because wherever Illya goes, Napoleon permits no quarter.

 The next night, sleep is just beginning to take Illya underneath it’s wing, when he hears the bed next to him shifting, squeaking rhythmically, hears the slick pull of Napoleon touching himself.  And Illya is cursed to know what Napoleon sounds like in pleasure--tight gasps, bitten off moans, tiny ah, ah, ah’s that make Illya want to scream and break things with his fists.  His eyes flick over, and god, he isn’t even underneath the sheets.  He’s right there, barely a foot and a half of division between their beds, bathed in moonlight from the window, and arching upward into his own hand.  

 Illya bolts upright, fingers digging into the mattress, “Do you have to do that now?”

 In this light he can still see Napoleon bite his bottom lip, hair loose and curling across his forehead as he turns toward Illya’s voice.  “Why are you watching? I thought we were ignoring each other?”

 “Watching?! You--” Illya starts, gestures wildly at Napoleon and then into the meagre space afforded to keep them separate.  Napoleon follows Illya’s flapping and pulls a face of consideration.

 “You know Peril, I think you’re right, I’m being inconsiderate,” he gives himself one last slow stroke and Illya’s mouth runs dry.  “These are terrible accommodations. It isn’t too late, I’m sure I can find someplace better suited for my purposes.” The implication isn’t someplace, it’s someone, and Illya doesn’t think for an instant that Napoleon would actually make good on the threat, but he’s reaching out and grabbing hold to Napoleon’s wrist.  Holding fast when Napoleon gives a performative yank backward.

 “Don’t..” Illya says and clenches his teeth.  “Do not go somewhere else.”

 

Napoleon blinks at him, like he didn’t really expect to break through Illya’s resolve so easily, and yes, that’s a problem.  “Okay mmf! ” Napoleon says as Illya crashes over on top of him and then it’s hands and hands and hands and hands.

 “Why are you so spoiled,” Illya says breathlessly after Napoleon has turned him over and immediately went to sucking Illya’s cock.  “Are all you Americans alike?”

 He pulls off with an obnoxious pop.  “Hardly,” Napoleon replaces his mouth with his hand and bites the inside of Illya’s thigh.  “Poor upbringing,” he says, another bite, hard enough to make Illya hiss, and he soothes the spot over with his tongue, “literally.  Couldn’t afford to want things.”

 “So now you just take what you want,” Illya surmises, reaching down to twist one of Napoleon’s curls around a finger.  

 Napoleon pauses, then climbs back up Illya’s body and stares him down with some degree of concern.  “Is that how you feel? Taken?”

 

It would be an easy thing to say yes, clearly Napoleon is alarmed to some degree by the concept.  Taking, stealing: An object given over unwillingly. No. Napoleon may be a thief, but he has not done anything to Illya that Illya did not want to be done, taken nothing that Illya did not readily give.

 “No,” Illya says quietly after a moment, then to lighten the odd mood that suddenly has situated itself between them, “I feel like you should get back to what you were doing.”

 A thumb pushes over Illya’s mouth, and Illya opens to it.  “Truly the worst the pillow talk,” Napoleon says, but he’s smiling again and that’s worth something to Illya.  He traces the sharp point of a canine.

 “Napoleon, please,” Illya offers, because he’s more than a little desperate at this point, Napoleon’s weight against him doing funny things to his head.

 “I love it when you say that,” Napoleon murmurs, arms collapsing so he can lower himself down for a kiss, and when he takes Illya in his mouth again, he doesn’t stop.

 

---

 

Waverly calls Illya into his office at headquarters.  He sits him down--as usual--has a cup of zavarka in a fine china cup that Illya will find impossible to hold steady between his thumb and forefinger--as usual--then he says, “How’s my favorite thief?”

 Which is definitely not his typical opener, and Illya freezes with his teacup awkwardly clutched centimetres away from his mouth.  “Solo?” he stalls dumbly.

 “He is your partner.”

 “Teller is also my partner.” It comes out as a question and Illya wishes he could turn back the dial and try this conversation again.

 “Well I know how she is,” Waverly says, sounding a bit confused, but in the sense that he’s baffled by Illya’s own bewilderment. “I’m her handler.  Well, I was, I’m her boss now. Yet she keeps calling me for everything under the sun. Very strange woman. Sometimes I think she does it just to annoy me.”

 

Illya isn’t sure if that requires a comment on his behalf so he keeps silent for a moment longer then says, “Solo is fine. Resourceful.”  He adds, “Gotten better at not getting kidnapped,” when Waverly keeps staring like he’s waiting for additional information.

 “You three work well together.  Your team has the highest rate of successes out of all our agents.”

 “Yes,” Illya agrees, because it is the truth.  

 “I would hate to lose that level of efficiency.”

 Illya stiffens, “Sir, what is this about?”

 “I want to offer you a position here at U.N.C.L.E. Permanently.”

 

Oh.  

 

Waverly continues, “As you are aware, your placement with us was considered a type of loan. Just as Mr. Solo is on loan through the CIA.  Both of your intelligence entities acknowledge the need for a combined neutral policing efforts in light of the growing number of threats in our world.  Without diversity in our organization, accountability means very little. The KGB is willing to extend that loan--you--indefinitely. Instead of reporting to Oleg, you would report to me.”

 “I--”

 “We have quarters for each of you, here at our New York installment.  I realize it is not your home, but we do employ several other Russian--”

 “Defectors,” Illya finishes.

 Waverly’s mouth twitches, “Yes, well.  That was their doing, not ours. You will still retain your citizenship.”

 “I accept this position, KGB will label me a subversive, whether they acknowledge my utility here or not.  They are not like CIA, Russia will not take me back, even if they tell you different. I will be tainted.”

 “You’re already tainted.” Waverly says in his precise accent which makes cutting remarks seem so civilized, and Illya puts down the cup, balls his fist in his lap when a tremor runs through it.  “You came to us that way, through no fault of your own. I am offering you a clean slate.”

 “You offer me exile.”

 “From what, exactly?”  Waverly asks, leaning back into his chair and folding his hands in his lap.  “Your country, I suppose. But you can still work to keep your home safe from the dangers of the world, and isn’t that what truly matters to you anyway? Kuryakin.. Our governments will always find reasons for hostility, and when they are distracted and squabbling amongst themselves, it leaves everyone else vulnerable.  Don’t you agree?”

 Illya does, of course he does, he isn’t blind to the problems in his country.  And he’s certainly not blind to the dangers of the world, since he so often finds himself a part of neutralizing those dangers.

 “Sleep on it a while,” Waverly says, from grave to pleasant within a moment, “I need to send you three out to Florida, of all the god forsaken places, and you can give me your answer on return.”

 Illya nods and begins rising out of his seat.  He turns as he reaches for the door knob and faces Waverly again.  “You offered Solo this position as well?”

 “Of course,” Waverly says.

 “And his answer?”

 Waverly hums, swivels in his seat a bit.  “Contingent on yours, it seems.”

 “He dislikes CIA, why would my answer make a difference?” It’s a clear choice for Napoleon.  

 “I don’t know,” Waverly says, and he seems to be edging on some version on irritation, “why are you asking me?”

 

Right.  Illya nods and purses his lips, and walks out the door.

 

---

 

Napoleon is sprawled on his belly alongside Illya, naked and still trying to catch his breath.   Illya is in a similar state, trying to slow his respiration and staring up at the ceiling to keep from looking over at the man next to him.  Every empty centimetre between their prone bodies aches and pulls at Ilya.

Tonight Illya had to physically sling Napoleon over his shoulder when the building they were in, was set on fire.  Smoke had begun pouring underneath the door and Napoleon refused to leave until he’d cracked the safe and extracted the documents within.  The idiot managed, of course, but not without a bit of unconsciousness from smoke inhalation, they’re both still a bit scorched and smell of burned things, and none of it kept Illya from flinging Napoleon onto a bed and fucking him from behind.  He’d smeared the soot from his hands over Napoleon’s shoulders, and took all that exasperation wrought by Napoleon’s stubbornness, and the subsequent relief of survival, and pounded it into Napoleon.

Napoleon had gone down onto the bed, arched into the palm Illya placed over the crown of his head and said, “Oh, so this is how it is tonight?” and smirked like it was his plan all along-- to get Illya riled up and emotional after another week spent trying not to touch him.

And Illya had pulled Napoleon’s hair and shut his own eyes when Napoleon made such a sound-- high pitched and young.  Illya unleashed an angry diatribe in that moment, language weaving in and out of Russian and English, faster than he could think it through, “You drive me crazy, stupid, do not even think what would happen if-- why do you even let me do this to you? Bad ideas, you always have such bad ideas, Solo-- fuck--”

 Napoleon had fumbled a hand backward to dig his nails hard into Illya’s flank, barely able to speak through the force of Illya’s thrusts, “Steady there...Kurayakin…I might..start to think.. you care.”

  "Ti Durak.. ” Illya had muttered between clenched teeth, Napoleon’s stinging fingers a constant source of harassment.  They wouldn’t be here right now if Illya didn’t care.

 “If I’m a fool, what does that make you,” he’d sniped back, and clearly Ilya was not fucking him well enough if Napoleon was still capable of--

 

Ilya nearly jolts straight off the bed when he feels one of Napoleon’s fingertips brush lightly against a scar mapping over his ilium.  Napoleon pauses when Illya flinches, but doesn’t move away. They do not typically touch each other after they’ve fucked, and during the moments they do touch, there is not much gentleness to be found.  It is such a simple caress, but the intimacy of it makes Illya nervous.  Napoleon traces the faint linear marks left behind by hasty stitches, the ragged striation of damaged tissue underneath.  

“Ouch,” he murmurs.  “Who gave you this?”

 “First year of training,” lllya allows, “other recruits do not trust me.  They’re angry, embarrassed that a traitor’s son is--how do you say-- showing them up .  A fight breaks out, and I do not see the knife in his hand.  Bad aim. Completely misses femoral artery.”

 “Jesus,” Napoleon says to himself and allows Illya to press his hand away when the odd feeling of pressure over dead nerve endings gets to be too much. “What was your father like?”  Illya jerks his eyes away from his focused gaze at the ceiling and turns it on Napoleon. “You don’t have to say,” Napoleon adds, calm as ever, “I know it’s not my business”

 “Then why ask?”

 “Because I’m curious,” Napoleon says, a small smile touching the corner of his lips.  “I’m trying to understand you.”

 “Why must you understand me?”

 “Because I want to.”

 Illya lifts his hands up, lets them fall back down in exasperation.  “That is not an answer.”

 “Told you that you didn’t have to say. I don’t know what you’re getting so flustered over.”

 “Am not flustered,” Illya denies, “What do you want to know?  He was a good enough father, strict, took care of his family.  I was young, he worked a lot, and then he was gone and my family paid for his sins. I did not have a chance to truly know him.  There is nothing else to understand, and that is the problem. I live in the shadow of a ghost, but you knew that already. Unfortunately, I do not have much else to offer.  Does that satisfy your curiosity?” He looks over at Napoleon again, sees something that might be a tendril of guilt in his eyes, and Illya softens, unexpectedly, at the sight of it.  Three times in one night he’s played right into Napoleon’s hands. “Are you angling for me to fuck you again?”

 

“You sort of ruined the mood by being honest, but yes. Always.”

 Illya laughs quietly, turns his eyes upward again. “You... are an impossible man.”

“Impossible? Hm.  Sounds enigmatic. I’ll take it as a compliment.”

“Of course you would,” Illya huffs, and allows his hand to reach over, fits his fingertips in the rut of Napoleon’s spine, and traces the proud line of it.

 

----

 

Inevitably, they must resort to another honeypot strategy, and inevitably Napoleon is the integral cog in that machine.  Illya pouts all day over it, resorting to outright hostility against Gaby and Napoleon both, which isn’t fair at all. It gets so bad that Napoleon snatches him aside by the front of his shirt in the middle of the hallway as they leave the motel, drags him away from Gaby and from watchful eyes, and slams Illya against the door of a utilities cupboard.

“What the hell has gotten into you?” He demands, eyes flashing and Illya still wants to fight, but he also just wanted this: Napoleon’s hands on him.  And now that he has it, the fight has been sucked out of him.

 “Did not sleep well,” Illya lies, and Napoleon knows it’s a lie.

 “If you’re distracted, the mission will fail.  You know it will.”

 “I will not be distracted. Momentary lapse, will not happen again.”

 Napoleon sighs, then looks around discreetly.  “This isn’t because I….You know it’s just work.  It doesn’t mean anything when--”

 “I said I am fine,” Illya snaps, because he doesn’t want to address it in context.  He’s compromised and it isn’t jealousy over the fact that Napoleon will be in someone else’s bed.  Illya has no entitlement to these feelings whatsoever, it’s just worry plain and simple.  It’s a choking thing lodged in his chest, hurts to think about Napoleon doing things he would prefer not to do under other circumstances.  It isn’t fair that Napoleon is usually taking up the entirety of the slack in this, and they are all too fond of Gaby to allow her more than superficial seductions. The men they deal with are typically wretched beasts and only so much trauma can be allowed for the sake of the world, really.  And Napoleon never seems to get angry, but Illya has fury to spare and feels almost as if he’s compensating for Napoleon’s flawless composure.

 

When Illya was in training, there were strict rules against fraternization.  It did not concern him then, though he knew that sex sometimes could be a distraction.  Any of his own dalliances have been quick fumbling things that Illya entered into anxiously, and departed from without much feeling.  He understood how greed, agenda, the hunger for power, could pervert the strongest alliances and cause entire countries to crumble from the inside out.  But he did not, could not, understand then, how simply caring for another person could invite such dysfunction.

 

“It should be me,” Illya blurts.  “We can switch out.”

 “Oh Peril,” Napoleon says with a wince, “that’s very generous, but--”

 “You don’t think I can do honeypot?  I am trained in this. Better than you, ” (absolute lie), he gestures at himself, “Is something wrong with how I look?” Aside from the towering and the glowering and the self-awareness that Illya can’t seem to shake, but it manages, occasionally, to come across as charming.

 Napoleon gives Illya a once-over and blows air between his lips.  “Don’t be stupid. Nothing wrong with how you look. It’s a crime against me, personally, how good you--” Napoleon’s eyes glass over a bit and Illya is suddenly very interested to hear more in this vein, but then Napoleon shakes his head, “Listen, that’s not that point.”

 “Women like accents, I have a fantastic accent.”

 “You do but--”

 “It is settled, I will go tell Gaby,” Illya interrupts before Napoleon can finish and intercede with all the reasons this is a terrible idea and will likely lead to a failed mission.  He leaves before Napoleon can see the truth.

 

---

 

The mission doesn’t fail, but it doesn’t go exactly to plan either.  But by the end of the debacle the mark is on custody, Illya is bleeding from somewhere on his head, Gaby’s crashed their loaner through the window of the mark’s bedroom, and Napoleon is smoothing things over with Gainesville police and putting them in contact with U.N.C.L.E.’s liaisons.  Very, very messy, they might draw up a reprimand, but nevertheless it’s successful.

 It is through no real fault of Illya’s own, he managed to somehow charm this very dangerous woman, was escorted all the way back to her lair.  She ignored Illya’s nightcap suggestion, pushed him down onto a chair, and went to groping him straight away. It was a bit surprising, and the last person straddling him like that was Napoleon, and the disparity between his level of attraction between one and the other was immense.  His body was slow to respond. She mistook his trepidation for inexperience, perhaps innocence, and Illya hadn’t quite made it far enough to figure out his move if he was ultimately unable to perform-- and then some one drove a car through the window and it all went to hell after that.

 The police leave, and Illya examines the wreckage, bits of metal and glass and drywall strewn all about.  When he looks up, Napoleon is staring hard at him, a grim expression on his face.

 

“What?  Why do you look at me like that?” Illya says, “I had it!”  He points idly down at what’s left of the car and raises an eyebrow. “You almost hit me with this.”

 Napoleon looks around the room, then trudges over like Illya was the one who made this mess, and Illya sets his jaw and waits for Napoleon to fuss.  But Napoleon doesn’t fuss at all, he simply puts himself in Illya’s space, puts his hands on either side of Illya’s face, kisses him soundly on the mouth, and pulls away.

 Illya blinks and blinks and doesn’t know what that’s supposed to mean.  

 

Gaby clears her throat on the far side of the room.  lllya jumps at the sound, Napoleon hangs his head, and Gaby says, “Stupid boys.”

 

---

 

As soon as they’re back to the motel, and Illya’s head wound has been tended, and Gaby has less than discreetly excused herself for the evening with a, “I think you two should talk,” -- they’re on each other.  The door is barely latched behind her back before Napoleon has handfuls of Illya’s hair and is dragging him down roughly into a kiss.  This isn’t new for them, by now it’s almost expected when it’s clear that it’s going to be a night like this, it’s practically a competition to see who will be the instigator.  But Napoleon’s kisses have an edge to them tonight. He’s always passionate and responsive, seems to instinctively know when Illya wants to lead or when Illya is too stuck in his own head and needs to be drawn out and taken apart.  So it’s hard to place why these kisses, and Napoleon’s hands on him feel different tonight, but whatever it is, it makes something power on inside of Illya as well.

They’re pushing each other’s clothes off their bodies faster than what buttons and seams and stitches want to permit, trampling them underfoot as Napoleon hops around to untie a shoe and suck a bruise under Illya’s jaw at the same time.

 “Wait--you’ll leave a mark,” Illya warns, voice nothing but a strange panting thing.

 “I know,” Napoleon says, voice buzzing and intoxicating against Illya’s throat.  

 “Where people can see,” Illya clarifies, because it’s July in Florida and wearing a turtleneck means certain heatstroke for someone with Illya’s subarctic blood.

 "I know,” Napoleon says again, like Illya has missed the whole point.  When he pulls away to come back to Illya’s mouth, the spot is tender and hot, and Illya knows he’ll dig his thumb into it when he looks in the mirror in the morning-- and then it’s clear.

 “You were jealous,” Illya exclaims, and tries pulling out of the kiss to look at Napoleon, incredulous and a bit stunned at the realization.

 “Yes,” Napoleon admits, doesn’t even try to lie even though he could, it’s so hard to tell when he’s lying. He strains back to Illya’s lips but Illya holds his face steady between his palms.  Napoleon doesn’t look him in the eyes, he’s staring intently at Illya’s mouth, waiting for Illya to draw what conclusions he will so Napoleon can get back to it.  “

 “Why?” Illya asks, genuinely perplexed.

 “Can I fuck you?” Napoleon blurts, pulls his bottom lip between his teeth, “we’ll stop if you don’t like it, it’s fine,” he adds hurriedly, “can I?”

 “You want to--,” Illya says, reels with the sudden change in conversation, says, “I know it’s fine,” a little defensively because he’s done it to Napoleon multiple times, and if that wasn’t fine, then they would need to have a very different conversation.  Illya understands by now it is not a commentary on masculinity to be the one penetrated, as an intolerant society leads young men to believe.  Clearly they’ve never seen Napoleon being fucked; beautiful and strong and undeniably male, and capable of sustaining whatever Illya gives him.  Perhaps that is not what he means though, and is simply acknowledging that consent for an act can be retracted without any hard feelings. Napoleon may tease, but he doesn’t pressure.  He prides himself on being a considerate lover. The unease Illya had felt the first time they found release in each other’s arms has long since been put to rest, particularly once Illya realized that it was his own vulnerability that he feared, and not Napoleon’s hands on him.  

 “We can try,” he says, because even Illya is capable of being amenable at times, and drags Napoleon’s face to his while they stumble the rest of the way into the bedroom and down onto the bed.

 

Illya bears Napoleon against the mattress, kisses his jaw, the cleft of chin, the pale hallow of his collarbone.  He can’t stop touching him, but at the same time, Illya can not bear to touch him at all. Entire pieces of Napoleon disappear underneath the broadness of Illya’s palms, hidden away from sight, and Illya’s heart swells when a plane of skin is revealed again.  Napoleon wraps a thigh around Illya’s hip and rolls them over, settles between Illya’s legs as he fumbles to uncap a tube of lubricant.

 “Just relax,” Napoleon murmurs into Illya’s hip, his hand brushing down and down, and still Illya startles a little at the first slick stroke of a finger against him.  Napoleon adjusts his position, head dipping to wrap his lips around the head of Illya’s cock, tongue flattening as he sucks slow and wet, and Illya hardly notices when the finger breaches.

 He keeps it like that, pressure and pleasure, holding Illya on the balance between the two when he adds another finger.  Discomfort is soothed away by Napoleon’s tongue, and Illya grounds himself with a hand in Napoleon’s hair and the other gripping the muscle of Napoleon’s shoulder.  His fingers hook and nails scratch convulsively in response to Napoleon’s movements. Illya hisses between his teeth and Napoleon mistakes it for pain, asks, “Are we all right?”

 “Do not patronize me,” Illya says witheringly, “ I am fine, you are taking too long.”

 “Hm,” he can feel Napoleon smile against the crease of his thigh, “in that case, let me try--” and he never finishes that sentence. His fingers angle inside of Illya, massaging and searching upward, and then Illya has to arch and curse in his mother tongue and his hands don’t know what to do--they grasp blindly at whatever piece of Napoleon they touch first.  It feels nearly like the beginning of an orgasm, a tight tug deep in his pelvis, and when it abates, such longing is left behind.

 

He feels a bead of precome leak thick and hot down the side of his cock and Napoleon is echoing Illya’s own foul language “Fuck! Holy hell, god Peril, why didn’t you tell me you were so sensitive?” His eyes are dark, so dark, as he moves quick to lick Illya clean.

 “How was I supposed to know?” Illya demands, voice shriller than usual, body straining into Napoleon in search of more.

 Napoleon seems to be talking to himself, fighting with himself over whether or not he wants to see how far he can push Illya with just his fingers, because he’s muttering, “Later, next time,” to himself, slicking himself up urgently and Illya feels a frisson go through him--something equal parts nervousness and need that has his hands cupping the back of Napoleon’s head, fingers sliding through the shock of dark hair loose from their humidity and turned wavy.  Napoleon braces over him, gives Illya the kiss he’d been seeking, and begins pushing into him.

 “Tell me if--if you need a--”

 Illya fills in the blanks, and while there is some discomfort, the strangeness of a new sensation, by no means does he want Napoleon to stop.   They’ve come this far, Illya would never have predicted a year ago that this is where they’d be right now, never imagined he would allow himself to be exposed this way, or in any way really.  Such a dangerous thing, to love a person. But it doesn’t feel wrong. Something is made peaceful in Illya’s head, smooths out the sharp edges of his turbulent mind, when Napoleon touches him.

 

Napoleon’s eyes flick up to Illya’s in a silent question when he bottoms out.  Illya pants a little, nods, and Napoleon’s hips retreat and come back in a smooth roll of movement.  Should have known he’d be graceful in this too, even as his thrusts pick up in intensity and the lewd sounds of fucking become emphatic-- it feels almost like he’s being danced with.  Illya’s hands clutch at Napoleon’s hips, scrape down his spine and over the swell of his ass, just to feel the balletic lines of him, so tightly controlled. He isn’t the animal the Illya becomes in extremis, a visceral thing of passion and need even when he tries so hard to be gentle.  Napoleon compensates for their disparities even here. He undulates like the wind over feathergrass-- an invisible force altering and effecting all in its path.

But Illya does not want Napoleon’s restraint right now, he wants all the bits of Napoleon he rarely gets to see-- only ever in glimpses that Napoleon hides away as soon as it’s exposed.  Longing glances and hard kisses that burn Illya from the inside out and feel to loaded to be totally meaningless. Illya wants all the rough-hewn rawness of him: Napoleon pure and unrefined.  Each time Napoleon seems to be losing himself into the push and pull of their bodies together, he seems to reign it in, eyes shutting tight to keep from being seen so Illya has no hope to read whatever it is Napoleon’s face is saying.  Illya grabs a handful of his hair, tries to shock him into opening his eyes, but Napoleon whimpers like it’s him that’s being taken apart.  He folds over on top of Illya until their chests are pressed together, grinds into Illya slow and deliberate.

 “Why would you do that,” Illya gasps in Napoleon’s ear, “look at me.”

 Napoleon buries his face in the crook of Illya’s neck, and says, quietly, “Illyushka…”

 Illya’s name in Napoleon’s mouth lands like brand against his skin.  His hands soften, he cups the back of Napoleon’s neck, heart beating a wild tempo in his chest as he urges Napoleon to face him, afraid of what he’ll see there, and begging for it at the same time.  “Please look at me,” Illya says again, and Napoleon does.

 It’s devastating, that look.  Illya knows that look and the great living need in Napoleon’s eyes-- knows the fear and hesitance there in the set of his mouth, the helpless adoration at war with the conflict in his eyes, wanting something and wanting it bad, and telling yourself you aren’t allowed.  Take what you can get. All of that self-denial, just to break your own rules and fall in love so quietly and so completely that you hardly realized it until it’s too late.

"Oh,” Illya murmurs, still panting, still responding to the slow push of Napoleon inside of him, and has no idea what else to say.  He pulls Napoleon down and answers the best he can this way, their lips meeting, his hands holding fast on Napoleon like he never intends on letting him go, ever-- and then it all seems to click for Napoleon as well.

 He groans against Illya’s mouth, clutches desperately at his thigh and hitches it high over his hip and says in broken sentences, “ God, I couldn’t allow myself to hope you might-- I didn’t think you’d ever let yourself--but I couldn’t quit once we--” uncharacteristically ineloquent, then he moans again and hides his face once more in the safety of Illya’s throat and fucks him with the sort of ferocity and athleticism that, frankly, is just showing off-- but Illya has such little dignity to care about it this moment.  He absorbs it all, lets go and allows himself to be reduced to shudders and grunts and the pressure mounting inside him. He goes blissfully white hot at the edges when Napoleon works his hand between them and begins tugging at Illya’s cock.

 

Illya comes with his teeth dug into Napoleon’s shoulder, bites down hard enough to make Napoleon flinch, but also moan when Illya breathes harshly through his nose and makes sounds that vibrate against Napoleon’s skin.  He fucks Illya through the aftershocks, verging on the precipice of too much, but never falling over into it.  His mouth is tense, thrusts grow shallow and arrhythmic as Napoleon holds Illya down at the hips, smears semen and sweat over the outsides of his thighs, and it’ll be disgusting later, but right now it’s best thing that’s ever happened to Illya.  

 Napoleon’s face is a miracle in surrender.  His breath catches, then Illya can hear Napoleon’s voice caught in his exhale, all the air going out of him all at once.  He’s flushed from his cheeks down to his chest, mouth finally turned loose, hair falling in his eyes as he pulses inside of Illya.  Napoleon collapses on top of him before Illya has the chance to snatch him close, and Napoleon, ever the brat, doesn’t mind his weight as he goes.  Knocks the breath out of Illya a bit, but makes up for it with kisses which is all Illya had wanted anyways and decides not to call him on it. (You don’t get to fuck a person speechless, then squash them in the aftermath.  And Illya gets called rude.)

 Eventually he must pull out though, does so gingerly and looks over Illya with an edge of smug possessiveness as he does.  He collapses next to Illya’s prone body, and Illya’s right hand seeks out Napoleon’s left like it is the most natural thing to do.  

 

Napoleon breathes in through his nose, and out through his mouth, and says to the ceiling, in Russian because that is the language he uses when he wants Illya to listen best, “You should know that I haven’t been sleeping with anyone else.”  Illya turns to look at him, and Napoleon does the same. “Not since the first time. There’s been what I’ve had to do for a mission and… and then there’s you,” he concludes.

 “Good,” Illya says, “keep it that way,” and it comes out small and sincere and sounds strange to his own ears. “It is the same for me,” he adds, though surely Napoleon already knows this, it bears saying aloud.  “ Bozhe moi, this is terrible idea.”

 Napoleon gives him a lopsided smile. “People think lots of brilliant ideas are terrible at first.”  He pauses, eyes clouding over. “Have you given any thought to Waverly’s offer? I know it’s not the same for you, as it is for me.  It isn’t simple. I don’t want... this.. to affect your decision.  I know how important your country and your work is to you, and I’ll respect it if you decline.  I don’t want you to resent--what I mean to say is--shit, I feel like we should have had this conversation in reverse.”

 Illya leans over, cups Napoleon’s cheek in his hand, and kisses him quiet.  When he pulls away, Napoleon’s eyes are slow to open, part of him still looks lost in that kiss.  “I do love my country,” he says, “but I think... I serve my people better this way. There is nothing left for me at home, I can not be a full person there.  Told myself that the work is all that matters, but there is more to life than only service isn’t there? I think so anyway.” Illya sighs and backs away from such contemplation.  “Besides, is not so bad to be stuck with little Chop Shop Girl, and a Cowboy.” His thumb pushes over the whorl of Napoleon’s ear, and into his soft hair. “Also, you would not survive long without my help.”

 Napoleon laughs quietly because he knows that Illya is both teasing and deadly serious, and Napoleon does not mind that Illya is a man made of contradicting extremes.  “It won’t be easy, this,” Napoleon says, “are you sure you’re up for the challenge?”

 

Illya thinks back to the years spent bending himself to unreachable standards, the isolation and insecurity and the anger that formed the bones of his existence-- and compares it to the warmth alongside him.  The great, infuriating, brilliance of Napoleon.

 

Illya has always welcomed challenge.  Without adversity, how does one learn growth?

 “I do not need easy,” Illya says, drawing Napoleon’s hand up until it rests atop his chest, “I only need you.”



***