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the world leaves a bitter taste in my mouth

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On the whole Gaby finds it easy to say that she enjoys her job. Not in any humane sense, of course, but in the base, urgent energy of it all, the wicked push and pull, the dangerous waltz with death. She doesn’t like it nearly as much as Solo, but doesn’t fight against it at every moment the way Illya does. Allowing it to feel ordinary, this grand theatre of espionage, is easier—smarter—than any other option. It takes stamina for Solo and Illya to push in and away the way they do, and a lot of brazen stupidity. She hasn’t got Solo’s undying desire for the dramatic, hasn’t got Illya’s paradoxical pragmatism. The night progresses and the curtains open, full of dark, stolen glances across tables and through doorways. She’s a performer first, a spy second. The wife of their mark stares her down from the balcony with an open pack of cigarettes, expectant. Faced with the unexpected, she must improvise. 

Solo’s the one who does best unscripted, and he’s so silent in Gaby’s earpiece that she doesn’t need to turn around to visualize his smirk. His job here is done. She gets a numb, tingly sensation in the tips of her fingers that feels heady and true, like luck. Illya, true to form, asks thrice over what are you doing, agent? before realizing that she’s only going to ignore him, at which point he starts his tirade on Solo instead. Illya hasn’t gotten to play husband this time, so he’s been practicing his particular brand of sulking: micromanagement. Gaby just smiles, watches Solo’s back slip out of the building, and joins the lovely Mrs. Chan on the balcony for a smoke.

If Gaby weren’t at work, she might press her lips to Mrs. Chan’s beautiful hands, lean and elegant, fingers poised. Gaby takes a cigarette, slow, measured, gives her a chance to watch carefully, smiles a small, secret smile that she knows never fails. Anticipation roars in her ears as Mrs. Chan lights her up, fingers close enough to brush her cheek, the corner of her mouth. Illya’s fit sounds distant. 

Mrs. Chan, Gaby finds, does not mince words. 

“Quite the honeymooning couple, are you? You must be close,” she asks, smoke disintegrating into the night. Her eyes flick over to the door Solo exited just moments ago. Gaby’s eyebrow quirks. Illya’s finally gone silent in her ear. “It’s a bit cliche, though, for a cover.” Gaby hides her surprise easily. How easy it must be for a woman playing a wife each day to pick up on the mask Gaby’s wearing tonight. “And you don’t strike me as a particularly—docile wife.” 

Gaby laughs, husky and sweet. Solo huffs in her ear, murmurs something playfully sardonic. Mrs. Chan certainly seems to know what she’s doing. However this goes tonight, Illya and Solo will get an earful. The thrill rushes through her. 

“My dear husband certainly doesn’t mind,” she replies as provocatively as she dares, relishing the words and the silence on the other end of her mic. And then, as an afterthought, a reckless slip of the tongue, “I’m glad I strike you at all, Mrs. Chan.”

“Please,” she says, eyes dark, “call me Annalisa.”

Her cheekbones are lit from the moon on one side and the warmth of the ballroom on the other, lashes fanning slowly over dusky violet skin. She’s taller than Gaby, and absolutely stunning. Her dress is a dark blue, outdated satin sheen with a deliciously modern cut. Gaby looks deliberately, lets her bask in it. The her flushed cheeks glow as if tiny pink moons reside under her skin. 

“Listen, darling,” Annalisa begins, murmuring close, breath tinged with smoke and perfume and foretaste, “I’d rather not spill my husband’s secrets, but if I must, I’d rather it was over a glass of something nice. Armagnac, perhaps?” 

“How could I refuse a woman of such taste,” says Gaby, eyes ablaze as she leans against the balustrade.

And then their cigarettes are out, the boys are silent in her ear, and Gaby’s passing through a garden and up stairs and rounding corners—a door, a hallway, carpet, the rush of the night breeze and the coolness of the moon and—then Annalisa’s mouth. Hot against hers, the door clicked shut, locked. The brush of cool satin on hot skin.

Gaby shifts, grips Annalisa’s arm and pivots, pushing her firmly against the wall and pressing the curves of their bodies together, graceful sharp pokes of hips and the brushing of legs. She runs her lips down the side of Annalisa’s neck, a moist trail with every inch traveled, hot and easy. She hopes her boys are listening, hanging on to her every breath. 

“Drinks, hm?” breathes Gaby, mocking, as she curls her tongue round the back of Annalisa’s ear and nips, feeling the rise and fall of Annalisa’s chest with her whole body. 

“Later,” Annalisa sighs, rolling into her thigh as Gaby pushes a knee between her legs. “I get to have so little fun, and you, well—” a barely audible gasp as Gaby pins her arms above her head with one hand, the other gripping her hip dangerously “—you must have the most horrid work schedule, Miss Spy.” Annalisa’s self-satisfied grin lights up in Gaby’s abdomen and she kisses her fiercely, rough and devastating.

Gaby hears Solo let out a laugh. Illya’s quiet. “It’s quite the night shift, yes,” Gaby lets out, dry, “but I can’t say I’m not enjoying myself at the moment.” 

She lets Annalisa’s arms go, holding her hips and pushing her backwards into the room, propping her up on the edge of the vanity. Gaby’s got a hand in her hair, mouth on her collarbone and fingers up her dress, tracing out the skin with gentle, devastating movements. Gaby knows her strength, loves the feeling of Annalisa’s black hair pulled taut between her fingers and the careful, smooth precision of slipping her panties down her legs and onto the floor, the slick wetness of her against her fingers. 

“Do you often manhandle your lovers?” 

Annalisa is breathless and the humor is light, but Gaby is pure wickedness. 

“Only if they’re good,” she says, leans in to lap up Annalisa’s sticky sweetness, breath hot against her thigh. There is silence in her earpiece but she knows they’re there, knows they’re listening. She wouldn’t be surprised if they were watching, too. The window’s wide open to let in the cool night air, and a street full of flats faces them at eye level. No time to look. 

The wet sounds of Gaby’s tongue are filthy, filling up the space in time with Annalisa’s harsh breathing. When Gaby looks up Annalisa is a vision, dress hiked up to her waist and spine curved back, hair falling from its trim pinned state with every curl of Annalisa’s toes and quiver of her hips. 

“I get the feeling,” says Annalisa in a bold whisper, “that we’re not alone.” Her eyes sparkle, and her mouth is red and parted and exhaling with delight. Gaby hears a sharp intake of breath in her earpiece. Illya. 

Gaby hums, holds Annalisa firmly, and teases her clit with her tongue, light flutters that turn Annalisa’s knuckles white where she’s holding the vanity. She cries out, ringing, and laughs when she can feel Gaby smile against her. Her inner thighs are smudged with lip gloss and spit and her own slick, ghosts of glitter and sheen in the dim. How Gaby has missed this feeling, the drunk honeyed sweat-drenched thrill of this part of the job.

“Does that bother you?” Gaby asks, watching her from underneath dark, low-hanging lashes. 

“Tell me, darling, do I seem bothered?” Annalisa laughs breathlessly, brushing Gaby’s hair behind her right ear, where the tiny clear earpiece resides. Gaby feels her clench and moisten against her fingers, and Gaby pushes them in, just slightly, and withdraws to suck at her own knuckles. 

Another impossible gasp in her ear, another truncated sigh, a rush of wind against the sheer curtains. 

Gaby runs hands down Annalisa’s thighs and removes her shoes, unpins her hair, trails hot kisses over every inch of skin. They move rather unceremoniously to the bed, and Gaby finger-fucks her in earnest, still fully clothed, down to the shoes and earrings and the gaudy ring Solo bought. Annalisa’s gasps and pants are satisfying enough for Gaby to teeter on the brink of losing composure, but she keeps her fingers steady and clever, working Annalisa slowly to pieces. She hasn’t had this much fun in a long time. 

“Mm, to look a man in the eye and ask him how it feels,” Gaby says, bold and cruel against Annalisa’s neck, curling her fingers down and receiving a sharp moan for her efforts, “to know I can pleasure a woman better than he.” 

Annalisa’s breathless laugh in response makes Gaby grin, teeth sharp against damp shoulder blades. She curls her fingers again, and Annalisa shudders, clenching down, satin against silk against skin and pooling warmth into Gaby’s hand. She melts torturously onto the sheets, hands shakily brushing at her hair, pulls Gaby down roughly for a messy kiss. 

The night is long and passes with electrifying clarity. Gaby’s knees framing Annalisa’s face, the flush of her neck and collarbones and the wet, salty tang of her mouth when Gaby leans down for a taste. The quiet din of Nina Simone on Annalisa’s record player, drowned out by body talk, hot breath and skin. Gaby hopes viciously that Solo and Illya are still up, listening, by the time they get around to their drink, lounging naked on the couch just inside the balcony. 

Annalisa’s lonely, she thinks. Living the beautiful life of an ivory-towered wife, the exotic plaything of her husband. As it turns out, he’s not even a major player—merely a crooked investor and peddler of government information. An absent married man dancing with the law as a hobby. Gaby is struck time and time again by the sheer arrogance of wealthy men—put coins in their pockets and they’re suddenly above morality, gambling it all away for even an illusion of power. 

She gets a few names, which is quite helpful, but the truth is that the moment Annalisa looked at her across the room, quiet and longing, she could have pieced together enough of a lead and told the boys where to look. The thought is as hideous as it is satisfying.

“If the world were run by clever women like you,” Annalisa sighs, “then I might not rely on gossiping about my husband with spies for entertainment.” 

She huffs out a laugh, but the longing in her voice is so palpable that it makes Gaby’s heart twinge. Longing for the freedom, the power, the romance of the life she thinks Gaby leads. But Gaby’s leash is short, and her life expectancy shorter. Despite her naiveté, Annalisa knows how this goes. Gaby lets herself feel grateful that she won’t have to slip quietly out of her bed at dawn. Saying goodbye is a luxury she is rarely afforded. It’s the easiest part of the job when you’re as heartless as she’s trained herself to be. They’re the best at it, too, she and her partners. Another minuscule, easy thing, so easy it would rip the three of them apart. 

She takes out the earpiece, breaking off a short, indignant almost-sound from the other end as she places it on the coffee table. She’s thought about it before; what it would be like to be her own handler, to survey her world from the top of the mountain. It itches at her, sometimes, like a memory from childhood that she can’t seem to let go. The number of men she’s killed. The wreckage, the aftermath of years of espionage and dinner parties and bullets. For the first time that night, she feels truly like Solo and Illya are there in the room with her, even after removing them from her ear. She takes a deep breath, and spares Annalisa her world. 

“Trust me,” she says, “there are only a couple of people who could stand it.” 



Annalisa’s lovely suite is four stories up, so Gaby tucks her evening gown into a traveling bag, dons a pristine day dress (both courtesy of Annalisa) and ambles down the avenue at dawn. The hotel up the way, positioned just right, looks perfectly suitable for a man of Solo’s tastes, so Gaby marches in with her most charming smile. After a little chat about the quality of the night train service—such delays during the busy summer season!—and a little flash of Solo’s gaudy ring, the concierge sends her straight up to suite 404 for her long-awaited reunion with her husband, who checked in last night.

Solo opens the door as if he’s been expecting her, chipper and self-satisfied, but the bags under his eyes are just a bit more purple-blue than usual. 

“I hope you didn’t wait up all night for me,” she says with a sharp smile, perhaps slightly crueler than necessary. Solo can take it, she knows. Most of the time, he basks in her callousness, which would be troubling if Gaby didn’t enjoy it so much. 

“My darling!” he exclaims, embracing her, much to the delight of the curious concierge, who hovers slightly around the corner before making a slow walk back down the hallway. “How I’ve missed you,” continues Solo, ever the doting husband, utterly convincing to the casual observer and no more than typical histrionics to Gaby. She crowds him into the room and closes the door, straightening his tie as a way of telling him not to lean in for a desperate reunion kiss. Remnants of salt and musk linger on her tongue, not yet fully washed away.

Illya’s sitting by the window, contemplating his next move—Gaby wonders how long the two of them have spent playing chess, in the past twelve hours—and resolutely not looking at her. His hat is off, and his ears are tinged pink. She grins despite herself. 

Solo, predictably, is eyeing her dress and bag appreciatively. “My, my,” he mutters, “Mrs. Chan certainly knows how to dress a woman.”

“Among other things,” says Gaby, all teeth. Solo’s eyebrows shoot up before looking Illya directly in the eye. She lets the silence sit for a few moments longer than necessary before putting them out of their misery. “Illya, darling, run me a bath.” 

One side of Illya’s mouth turns down, but he doesn’t say a word as he makes his way to the bathroom and turns on the water. “And I’d like breakfast, Solo, if you please.” He offers her a dramatic bow and presses her hand before he, too, ambles off to procure breakfast. How obedient and well-behaved her boys can be. 

Illya excuses himself from the bathroom awkwardly before she strips down to nothing but the ring, leaving the French doors to the bathroom wide open and heaving a sigh as she settles into the water. She catches Illya’s gaze just beyond the edge of the doorframe where he sits at the chess table, very obviously distracted. 

“Didn’t get enough of a show last night, Illya?” she calls, watching his brows furrow before the clack of Solo’s shoes against the floor interrupts him. 

“I did not watch,” he says shortly, face flushed with embarrassment and rage. Solo looks at him incredulously before putting Gaby’s breakfast on a side table by the tub.

“Breakfast as requested, dear,” he says, looking between her and Illya with thinly veiled interest. 

“How decadent,” she says, and thinks of how ridiculous it would seem to her mother to eat tiny pastries in a hot, sudsy tub until your toes were pruned beyond measure. She reaches for the coffee and takes a sip, black and only just sugared the way she likes. 

“You’re still wearing it?” asks Solo, almost as surprised as he is pleased. Gaby smiles up at him, harsh and coy, twirls her hand around elegantly so the diamond catches the morning light. 

“Well, you wouldn’t have me lose it, would you?” 

The essentials stay on at all times. Pistol in one garter holster and a dagger in the other. There is no such thing as keeping track of something you’ve put down in Gaby’s line of work. And she certainly wasn’t going to deny herself the flicker of emotions that pass over Solo’s and Illya’s faces in the moments after the words have left her mouth. Yes, a world with her reigning supreme does indeed exist, and she thinks it might be hell—a particular hell just for the three of them. 

Solo moves effortlessly over to the couch, ruffled enough that even Illya looks uncomfortable. He looks like he’s about to open his mouth and say something droll over his breakfast and copy of the local paper, so Gaby addresses the situation. 

“Perhaps you didn’t watch,” Gaby says, and Solo looks up at Illya, who’s got his arms crossed like a frustrated boy. “But I’m sure you listened.”

Solo chokes just barely on his own coffee. Illya refuses to meet her eyes. 

“It is best practice,” he says slowly, as if she’s the one who doesn’t understand, “to know the whereabouts of one’s partner for whole mission.” 

“And you’re the best at your job, aren’t you, Illya,” she murmurs. “I wouldn’t expect anything less.”

Illya looks up, and Gaby gives him a meaningful look before propping her feet up and scarfing her breakfast as inelegantly as she can manage, licking crumbs off her fingers thoroughly before washing up. She doesn’t bother with a performance. 

The bathwater is warm and smells faintly of lavender oil, which sits on the sink nearby where Illya likely set it down after making the bath. It smells suspiciously like Napoleon’s cologne, and Gaby wonders, briefly, if that was a conscious decision on Illya’s part.

Solo is there with a towel and robe as soon as she stands. She wipes the suds off her body with her hands before stepping out of the tub and drying off, eyeing the bits of red on her neck that will require powder later. The day has begun. Business as usual. 

“Waverly called to thank you for your efforts,” says Solo, “and to send us off to separate parts of town for the next three days before we’re caught in the crossfire. He’s got all he needs.” Of course he has, thinks Gaby, and hopes that Annalisa puts her cleverness to good use. She’ll need it. 

Gaby laughs cruelly despite herself. “At the end of the day,” she says, eyes sharp on her partners, “we are all dogs. We’ll all do well not to forget it.” 

There is a heavy silence. Gaby doesn’t need to look at their faces to know that they are all thinking the same. For a job so concerned with humanity, it has very little. Only moments of it, usually stolen, sometimes chanced upon, rarely gifted. 

“London on Wednesday, then,” says Illya. It’s not a question. She knows they’ll all be there. Same flat, the one Waverly pretends not to know about. A couple of days off the job there, if they’re lucky. That’s all they’ve got, really, these days—luck. And when it runs out, so will they.