You have never been an easy child.
Before your father's disgrace, you weep too easily, speak too loudly, gesture too freely.
Quiet hands, Illyusha.
Indoor voice, Illyusha.
Crying won't solve anything, Illyusha. Be a man about it.
Afterwards, any little thing might set you off, might mean lost time and aching knuckles and disappointment in your mother's eyes. You learn, slowly, how to put your emotions in miniature boxes, how to crush them into insubstantiability. You slip up frequently, and every time, your mother's reprimands get quieter and sadder. She seems sometimes like she is disappearing, being erased edge by edge.
Perhaps, one day, she will fade away into mist.
Perhaps, one day, your vision will go strange around the edges and your hearing will distort and you will simply not come back. You might not mind that very much.
As soon as you can, you join up. Special Forces, then the KGB. The sneers and whispers of your father's shame follow you even there, as constant as the ticking of his watch around your wrist.
You breathe, slow and deep and even, and tap your right hand against your thigh, focusing on the movement and the sensation of your fingertips against the fabric of your pants so you can put your anger back in its box.
You have gotten better at putting your emotions into boxes. Oddly, once they're in boxes, they all look the same, and they all come out anger.
You still slip up frequently, but you've gotten better at removing yourself from places where there are people who could get hurt. You don't really want to hurt anyone; when you do (because you always end up hurting someone, it's what you're built for), your hands still shake and there's still a part of you that just wants to hide in the darkest corner it can find and scream.
Screaming and hiding is undignified and ill-suited to a KGB agent, so that part of you gets a little box all to itself, shoved away with all the rest of the boxes.
You know you're dangerous, that your hands are meant for destruction, nothing more. You know you need orders; if you tried to make decisions for yourself, you would ruin everything. You know this from experience.
Fortunately, your handlers expect you to be only a weapon, to be aimed and fired as they please. It becomes habit, reflex, for your body to move on the command of another.
Attack, Kuryakin. Kill.
It's easier, when you don't have to worry about deciding what happens next, when you know that each slip-up means a stern rebuke and a sterner punishment from your handlers, hours or days left by yourself in a small, quiet room with nothing to break. Your leash is kept short in a firm, vicious grip, and it's almost a relief.
You chase Solo and Teller through East Berlin and fail to catch them. You almost kill your new partner on your first day working together, then let him get under your skin enough that you slip up. You slip up over and over again, and already the scared little part of you is cringing in the face of Oleg's inevitable disappointment. You will finish the mission, though, because it would be unthinkable not to and the idea of nuclear weapons in the hands of Nazis sends even more ice through your mind than the thought of how long you'll spend alone in quiet with nothing to break, after this.
You finish the mission. All three of you nearly die at least once apiece. You will not have nightmares about drowning, or about Solo in that electric chair, or Gaby's screams as the car rolls over, because you have put those memories away with everything else. You do not have nightmares, and you have never woken up with your face damp and the images of a thousand deaths at your hands behind your eyes.
The order to kill Solo and retrieve the tape comes, and you try to put your reaction in a box so you can comply, but you slip.
You still go to Solo's room with your gun in your jacket. Solo tosses you your father's watch, as casual as anything, and you slip again, although in a different way. It feels more like gears clicking into place than something breaking, and the feeling that runs through you is shivery-electric, not white-hot and shaking.
You realize that you don't want to follow Oleg's orders. The knowledge hurts, like a bandage ripped off too quickly.
You and Solo burn the tape, and you put your exhilaration/terror at the disobedience in a box like everything else and try not to think about what will happen when you return to Moscow.
Instead of being sent back, all three of you are sent on another mission, and then another one after that. You grow accustomed to relying on the presence of Solo and Gaby, to having backup, to making plans as a team. You fall easily into letting Gaby and Solo make the decisions, into trusting them. You even, hesitantly, dare to argue when you disagree with the current plan, and you are amazed when they actually listen to your objections. You hardly even notice that you've given them your leash, that you trust them to pull your trigger when necessary and restrain you when it isn't.
Gaby and Solo are both carelessly, needlessly affectionate, kisses on the cheek and hands brushing casually and occasionally ruffling your hair. You eventually stop tensing up when they touch you.
You still slip. Not as often as before, but your deplorable lack of self-control hasn't gone away just because you're with a team you trust. But the blinding, panicked fury never turns itself on Solo or Gaby. You know that you could not hurt them, not physically, even if you wanted to. You have known this since you met them.
Often, pulling your punches and otherwise restraining yourself from destruction feels like choking, like your ribcage is being slowly compressed into nothing. Being careful around Solo and Gaby - letting them push you around, tap you on the shoulder, grab your wrists and squeeze when your blood roars in your ears - it feels like hiding under all of the quilts in the house during wintertime, kept solid and in place by the heavy, warm weight on top of you.
On a mission in Switzerland, the three of you end up snowed in at a tiny safehouse buried in the mountains. There's no shortage of food or firewood, but you're stuck until the blizzard dies down enough to see.
You are restless, pacing. You split logs until you run out of logs to split, then start setting traps in the vague hope that the private army of the businessman you were investigating will come to find you.
After an hour and a half outside, your fingers are numb and stiff and you cannot feel your nose or ears. Solo retrieves you, pulls you gently inside and sits you down by the fire he and Gaby built while you were busy.
Here's a blanket, Peril.
Jesus Christ, Peril, your hands are like ice. Have some tea.
You drink the tea Gaby brews (too weak, not enough sugar, too much milk) and almost spill it all over the floor when she climbs into your lap.
Apparently, to your teammates, sharing body heat is an absolutely reasonable way to keep warm.
You wrap your arms and blanket around her. Who are you to begrudge her a little warmth?
Solo cooks something thick and warm and spicy, teases you for how much water you drink between bites. Gaby is totally unaffected by the spice, just mocks Solo for being unable to cook anything that does not smell like feet in one way or another.
The safehouse is tiny. It has one bedroom, which is nearly completely filled by the bed.
Solo and Gaby firmly shoot down any notion of anyone sleeping on the floor.
In the morning, you wake to both of them wrapped around you and each other, their faces soft in sleep. Some of Gaby's hair has ended up in your mouth. Outside, the blizzard has ended, leaving the world frozen and still and serene.
You breathe, slow and deep and even, and let your heart swell quietly with affection.