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Someone less observant would not have noticed the tiny flicker of disappointment showing on Illya’s face when Waverly says, “And of course, Solo, your tickets are already reserved. You show the daughter a good time, your partner tails the father. Everything clear?”

“Crystal,” he says, still glancing at his left side. Illya says the same and accepts the folder from Waverly, and his face isn’t betraying a thing, but Napoleon is sure that for a moment he had indeed looked displeased that he wasn’t the one on seducing-the-mark’s-daughter duty. Which is quite strange in itself - usually he’s more than happy to leave that part of the job to Napoleon.

Napoleon pretends to read the file Waverly hands him and thinks about what exactly is different than usual this time. The mission should hardly be a nuisance to pull off. There’s proof already against the guy they’re supposed to nail - all Napoleon has to do is sweet talk the man’s daughter to find out where could the guy be hiding a fair number of illegal weapons that should be smuggled out of the States sometime in the next week, and then Illya should be there to make sure the actual smuggling doesn’t happen. Napoleon is fairly sure Waverly only gave them the mission because Gaby’s out on a solo op back in Germany and the two of them are wasted on paperwork until they have to rendezvous in London next week for another mission, because it’s really nothing that requires great skills to pull off.

Anyway, he doubts Illya particularly cares for seducing this one mark. It has to be something else. He had looked disappointed when Waverly said that Napoleon was supposed to bring the girl to the Met - intel says the lady is fond of Italian opera and wouldn’t have refused tickets for the Il Trovatore premiere.

Wait a moment. Yes, Waverly said that the plan included going the premiere, and that obviously they would be getting good seats, and then that Napoleon would have been the one on seducing duty. And that was when the disappointment had showed.

Might it be that it was because of the opera?

Napoleon says nothing and reads the file for what might pass for an acceptable amount of time, and doesn’t say a word until they reach the elevator.

“I guess I’ll have to break out the really expensive suit,” he says as he presses the button to the ground floor.

“Do you own a suit that is not expensive, Cowboy?” Illya retorts. He doesn’t sound disappointed, but that means nothing.

“Touché,” he admits. “Still, I guess I should err on the side of caution. By the way, may it be that you know what I should expect?”

“What?”

Napoleon shrugs and figures a small lie won’t be noticed. “I went to my fair share of operas,” he says, “but I tend to avoid dramas. The only thing I know about this one is that there’s a fairly famous aria about a pyre?” In fact, while he doesn’t particularly like the dramas, he has seen this one more than once. He knows what to expect.

He can see Illya trying not to roll his eyes openly. “Americans,” he mutters. “That is correct. And it is also a drama. If you would like an extremely short summary… two men hate each other because they love same woman. One is nobility, the other isn’t, of course woman loves the poor one. The nobleman kidnaps the other’s adoptive mother, everyone but him dies in the end. Just before they find out the two are really brothers and the mother fooled everyone. I imagine it would not suit your taste.”

“Wow,” Napoleon says as they walk out of the elevator. “You do know your classical music, Peril.”

Illya shrugs, then stops in the middle of the hallway. It’s empty, and when he speaks his voice is so low, Napoleon only hears him because they’re standing shoulder to shoulder. “Sometimes. We went to the Bolshoi to listen to opera. Even after, a few times - well, my mother liked it. I liked it.”

Oh, now that’s at least partly explained. “Liked as in, you don’t like it anymore?”

“I have not been in years,” Illya says, and now he sounds maybe a bit… disappointed about it? So that had to be why he was hoping he’d get to escort the mark to the Met.

Napoleon doesn’t try to pat him on the back or anything that might seem even remotely condescending. “Well, at least I hope you had nice seats back in the day.”

Illya snorts. “No. After, we always went to gallery. Before, too. To give an example.”

“Well, damn. Guess you didn’t see much of it.”

“One hears just fine in the gallery, Cowboy. It is, in fact, the best place to listen to music.”

“Fine, fine, I believe you, Peril. I’ll have to sacrifice artistic integrity for the sake of the mission,” Napoleon jokes, and Illya does roll his eyes just a tiny bit at that.

Still, later, while he gets ready to meet the mark, he thinks back on that conversation. From the way Illya talked about it, there’s no way he’s set foot in something as frivolous as an opera theater in years, and the man sounded fairly passionate about that ridiculously tragic plot before. And maybe his skill set wouldn’t have been appropriate for the mission, but still, Napoleon can’t help thinking that he could have just bought a ticket and gone on his own, if he wanted it so much.

Which is when he realizes that maybe it’s not KGB policy to allow their agents such frivolities, and in the four months or so that they’ve worked together it’s been mission after mission. Hell, he’s hardly had time to enjoy some well-deserved frivolities, considering that Waverly has barely given them more than three days off at once. Knowing Illya, he probably assumes that even if he’s not technically working for the KGB, the same directives are valid as far as he’s concerned. Otherwise he wouldn’t have looked disappointed at missing the chance to go to the opera thanks to the mission cover.

And that’s when he realizes that maybe it’s not just the opera. The man always wears the same nondescript cheap sweaters - obviously anything costing more than he deems acceptable would be a concession to capitalism, God forbid it -, has only eaten out when it was required of the mission and had not come with him and Gaby when, in Istanbul, they decided to go to one of the local bath houses before coming back for debriefing. He said someone should have stayed at the hotel in case there were last minute changes of plans, sure, and he had seemed to actually think it was necessary.

Napoleon doesn’t want to say that it feels kind of sad, really, but - but for real, what’s the point of leaving the Iron Curtain if you don’t live a little when you’re outside it? But then again, considering what you’ve seen of the man’s training, do you think he even thinks he’s allowed to do it?

Instead of caving to the temptation of feeling just - sad about it, he decides that there’s no reason he shouldn’t do something about it.

--

“Peril?” He asks five days later, when the mark has been arrested and the two of them have been debriefed.

“What.”

“If I were you, I’d wear your nice suit tomorrow evening.”

What.”

“We have three free days before meeting Gaby in London and I have plans.”

“I suppose you will not share them with me.”

“Who do you take me for? Remember. The nice suit. I’m picking you up at six.”

Not that he has to go a long way for it - for now they both have rooms at the U.N.C.L.E. headquarters, and near each other for that matter. At six Napoleon has put on one of his very expensive suits, as Illya would put it, and is knocking on Illya’s door - and lo and behold, the man has actually done what Napoleon asked. He’s wearing the suit and tie he had in Rome for their first mission together - it’s still pristinely kept.

“Will you say what is this about?” Illya hisses.

“But of course. We’re going to the Met.”

What?”

“You heard me right the first time, Peril. I couldn’t get a front row seat, but then again this is not a premiere and I can afford the parterre. Seemed to me like you’d have appreciated it more than my mark, to be quite honest, and it’s not like you see that well from first row anyway, so - we’re going to the Met, we’re going to see what I was assured is a top-notch production of Don Giovanni, which I personally like a lot better than your precious dramas, and you’re hopefully going to reevaluate our capitalist ways as far as staging opera goes. How about that?”

For a moment there Illya looks completely flabbergasted at the suggestion, and even more so when Napoleon hands him the tickets so he can look at them, and he sees him swallow rapidly once, twice, three times, until he hands the tickets back. The tips of his fingers are trembling ever so slightly. And then -

“I should imagine Don Giovanni suits your taste more, Cowboy,” he quips, and Napoleon chooses not to remark that his voice also had been shaking just a tiny bit.

Then they go, and - Napoleon was right. Admittedly, he spends more time paying attention to Illya than to the opera, but he’s seen it more than once, while he has never seen Illya openly doing something this, well, frivolous.

And damn it, but he should have started sooner. It’s not just the way the man obviously tries not to look awed as he walks inside the theater, which is probably a lot bigger than any other he might have set foot in, and more or less manages it. It’s just the way he seems completely out of his depth at the experience being comfortable while enjoying some entertainment - he doesn’t produce sarcastic quips when Napoleon hands him a glass of juice he got at the bar, or when they take their places in the parterre. Mostly he just looks at the surroundings with eyes that are slightly wider than usual, taking it all in, his fingers running over the velvet of the seat. As for the opera - he doesn’t even glance at Napoleon once since it starts, but it’s fine because like this Napoleon can see how much exactly he’s engrossed in it, and he can take notice of how Illya’s fingers wrap around the armrests during the first act finale.

He asks Illya if he wants to take a walk around during the intermission and Illya says no, he’ll stay seated but maybe he will take one later, which means he can’t buy the man something else at the bar as he had planned. Still, Napoleon figures he can still turn it to his advantage. He buys a schedule for the entire season at the foyer and the libretto, and then he sees that it won’t end too late. Certainly they can find a nice restaurant after the show is over.

He smirks to himself and goes back to his seat. Illya is still surreptitiously glancing at the hall.

“Here,” Napoleon says handing him both libretto and schedule. “The libretto is because I figured you might want a souvenir. You can take a look at the schedule and see if you want to come back at some point, if we’re in town.”

Illya’s mouth falls open for a moment. “Come back?”

“Who said it was a one time deal, Peril? You can come to the same opera house twice, it’s not forbidden.”

Illya scowls at him and chooses to look at the schedule instead of replying. Napoleon does not miss that his eyes do get a bit wider while he reads it.

“What’s so special about it?”

“They show six operas at same time,” Illya mutters. “How.”

Napoleon laughs openly. “Why, did you finally find something to appreciate in our capitalist ways of managing a stage?”

“Maybe,” Illya concedes, and he sounds halfway pained as he does. Napoleon doesn’t remark on that, figuring it probably was enough of an effort to go as far as that, and settles back in his seat. He spends the entirety of act two doing the same thing he had done during act one - staring at Illya, who is too engrossed in the show to notice it. It’s a show in itself, if you ask Napoleon - the way he seems to be paying attention to every detail, the way he gasps during the finale even if he knows the plot already, how sometimes he just seems moved by the singing, and - I have not been in years, he had said.

Napoleon also has to really put an effort in not laughing out loud when two ladies seated behind them who are here most probably to show off their new dresses than to see the show start talking in tones that could be more hushed during a fairly long recitative and Illya just turns towards them and glares them into silence. Then he thinks of Illya’s face before when Napoleon had implied that it needn’t be a one time thing.

That’s when he resolves to drag the man out to the opera more often - after all, they’re headed to London in a few days, and he would probably enjoy an evening out in Covent Garden. Anyway, he’ll plan that in due time.

He also doesn’t fail to notice how Illya glares at the people leaving the parterre as soon as the opera ends.

“Typical of rude Americans,” he mutters as he claps.

“What, leaving before the curtain call?”

“There is nothing funny about it. They put effort and work into performing, least you can do is letting them know.”

“I think that’s typical of rude people everywhere, Peril.”

“Changes nothing. People’s hard work should not be dismissed like that.”

Napoleon doesn’t press the topic and they stay until the very last curtain call.

--

“Wait,” he says, grabbing at Illya’s arm as he sees him heading for the subway. “Where do you think you’re going? This is not over.”

“Not… over?”

“Of course not. It’s not even eleven. Stands to reason we might eat something.”

“Mess hall is still open at the base,” Illya says.

Mess hall. Peril, come on, that’s not appropriate at all. How about we eat decently,” he answers, and then he steers Illya towards the opposite side of the road. If he doesn’t recall wrong, there’s a fairly decent Italian restaurant which might not be what you’d call lavish, but would look like it in comparison to the mess hall at HQ. It’s telling that Illya doesn’t try to contradict him, even if he does look flabbergasted all over again when Napoleon stops in front of the door.

“Come on,” he says, “dinner’s on me. You might as well take advantage of it.”

He doesn’t know if Illya doesn’t protest just because he’s too surprised to do something about it, but he follows Napoleon inside. They only discuss the show. As they do, while Illya doesn’t seem out of his element, Napoleon gets the feeling that the man might have never set foot in this kind of establishment outside a mission. It’s as if being here on his own - or at least, not because of work - is making him feel like he’s taking a vacation he didn’t deserve, at least from the way he looks at the three forks on the left side of the plate and from the way his fingers brush against the tablecloth (it’s good linen). Napoleon would like to point out that it could be a regular occurrence if he only wanted it to be, but it’s probably not a good idea, so he eats his lasagne and steals glances at Illya eating his pasta alla norma slowly, as if he wants to savor it. He also says he doesn’t need dessert, no, he really doesn’t. Napoleon orders tiramisu for the both of them instead, and again, Illya doesn’t overtly glare at him for having overstepped his boundaries.

Interesting.

Of course, he pays for a cab to bring them back to HQ, and he makes a show of going to Illya’s room first, stopping just outside the door.

“That was a nice evening,” he states. “We should do that more often.”

For a moment, Illya looks surprised at the suggestion. “What?”

“Why not? I think we both had a nice time, haven’t we? Though maybe next time a stall would be better. So you don’t terrorize the nice ladies who only go to the opera to show off.”

At that, Illya does chuckle, not overtly, but some. “That would be a good idea.”

“That’s settled, then.” He turns his back on Illya so that he can get back to his own room, and then -

“Cowboy?”

“Yes?”

“... Thank you. I enjoyed it very much,” Illya pretty much blurts, and then he has closed the door and gone back inside his room.

“Me too, Peril, me too,” Napoleon says, even if he doubts anyone else will hear it.

It’s settled then - sadly he can’t come up with anything else of the kind they might do before they go to London, but they should have some time off after the next mission, and he intends to take full advantage of it.

--

Sadly, Napoleon’s plans for London don’t come into fruition at all. He had thought they’d have at least one free evening for a quick trip to Covent Garden, but then it happens that the maybe-corrupt-embassy-employer they were supposed to trail in order to find out whether he was, in fact, corrupt, realizes that someone is trailing him and takes an unexpected last second trip to Paris. Which obviously meant he was guilty, and so they have to pursue. Of course the only plane leaving at short notice had only two free seats, there’s no time for HQ to arrange things differently and since Illya and Gaby had been the ones making contact with the mark, Waverly arranges for them to leave taking those two seats - Napoleon is supposed to follow on the next day. His plane is in the afternoon, though, which means he has an entire morning of doing nothing in front of him.

And he’s also supposed to bring all of his partners’ luggage with, since they left in a hurry. He wakes up early to pack, none of them had time to do it the previous day, and as he moves to Illya’s suitcase he’s reminded of what he had thought of a while ago - the man’s clothes are all impeccably kept, and they aren’t bad quality, but they’re old. A few sweaters are mended in places, though with enough skill not to make anyone notice at first sight (did he do it himself, Napoleon wonders), the trousers are all well-worn, and same is valid for the shirts. Obviously, there isn’t a brand name to be found on any of the labels. The only brand new item of clothing Illya brought with is the infamous suit the man had worn to the opera and in Rome. Now, there’s nothing inherently shameful in it, of course, and Napoleon commends someone who can obviously wear the same clothes for a long time without ruining them. All things considered, it’s blatant that the man pays extra attention to them, regardless of the job hazards. Still - there’s nothing wrong in treating yourself to some nice, new clothes once in a while.

Well, maybe he knows what to do with the rest of his morning. He packs everything, then heads out of the hotel straight to Regent Street - good thing the hotel isn’t really that far. He goes to Liberty - he doesn’t have that much time to shop around and it’s a guarantee, if you want good quality stylish things to wear. He comes out of it with a new suit and a couple of shirts for himself, which is all good and proper, and then he wonders if he might have gone overboard with the rest. Two pairs of trousers, four sweaters and three shirts might be a bit too much to explain with ‘I saw that and I thought you’d like them’, especially when the receiver is supposed to be Illya and not, say, someone who wouldn’t feel as if you might be overstepping your boundaries when buying them clothes, and a lot of them, and from a fairly renomated shop for that matter.

In the end, when he goes back to the hotel, he packs one pair of trousers, one of the shirts and one turtleneck in Illya’s suitcase and the rest in his - he can give them to Illya some other time. Meanwhile, he thinks of the man wearing the sky blue turtleneck he put on top of the rest and his mouth maybe goes a bit dry. Blame him - certainly Peril wearing this particular shade would be a sight for sore eyes. Also, it’s fairly nice angora wool, and considering that Paris isn’t exactly warm this time of the year and that the man didn’t even pack a heavy sweater as far as Napoleon can see… he’ll probably say that wearing extra warm clothing in winter if the temperature is not below zero is not the Russian way, knowing him. Yes, he definitely doesn’t regret this particular purchase.

He closes the suitcase and figures he’ll come up with an explanation for why he’d do it in the first place on the plane.

--

In the end, he doesn’t come up with anything, and in between having to catch up on what went down in his absence and nailing the man, he sort of forgets about informing Illya that he took the liberty of adding to his luggage. Also, he does check out what’s showing at the Opéra, figuring that they might also bring Gaby along if she wants to come, but when he sees that it’s La Traviata he decides that it’s probably better to not strongarm Illya over there - not that he thinks the man would get upset over melodrama, that’d be fairly ridiculous to assume, but still, sob stories about prostitutes with a heart of gold are probably better left for when Illya proposes to go himself. If he ever does. So he ends up not even getting the tickets - too bad, but he figures they can go another time -, and then when he comes back to the hotel he finds Illya perched in front of his room, his arms crossed over his chest… holding the turtleneck to it.

“Ah,” he says before Illya can start that conversation, “I see you found it.”

“So I was right,” Illya says.

“Meaning, about me putting those extra clothes in your suitcase? Yes.”

“Why.” He doesn’t even have the grace to put it as a question, damn it.

“Because.”

Illya glares at him, even if not overtly so. Napoleon tries to shrug as nonchalantly as he can get away with. “I went to get some clothes for myself,” Napoleon finally says - he has to break the impasse or he won’t even get back into his own room. “I saw those and I thought you might like them. Also, I had just packed your other things and it seemed to me like your wardrobe was maybe due for a bit of renovating.”

“But my clothes are perfectly serviceable,” Illya says, and wait, is he sounding more confused than… well, angry?

“And it’s a miracle they are, considering our line of work and that you obviously didn’t buy them last week. Still, that doesn’t mean you can’t replace some until they’re so worn-out they’re completely ripped.”

“Fine,” Illya concedes, “and still. I do not know where you bought this, but - it is - too much,” he finally manages.

Napoleon is absolutely not surprised that the man can recognize that - not after that conversation they in the store back before the three of them left for Rome. Even if he doesn’t understand the finer points of matching colors, at least he understands the fine points of realizing that not every kind of clothing in the universe is exactly the same thing as long as it covers you.

“Case is, Peril,” Napoleon says, moving so that Illya has to leave him enough space to open his door, “first, that we get paid enough to afford that. Second, that we have a thankless job and we deserve some perks. Nice clothes are a part of it.” He doesn’t say I think you deserve wearing nice things also because he doesn’t want to risk a punch to the face in case it’s too overt a comment when he’s still testing the waters, and when he’s still not so sure of why the tension between Illya and Gaby is more or less still there but is still not going anywhere. However things are, he doesn’t want to intrude on that specific matter until it’s settled. But if he includes himself into that statement maybe he can get away with it.

Illya just looks down at the bundle in his hands as if he’s really struggling to answer properly. Napoleon takes pity on him, never mind that he thinks he can somehow salvage the evening. After all, his room is a fairly large suit with a small kitchen - if he tips one of the hotel staff members and asks her to buy him some groceries, he thinks he can put an edible dinner together.

“Hey, let’s just - you can tell Gaby, too. Be here in a couple hours.”

“For what?”

“Dinner. She can assure you I am the most gracious host.”

“Oh. Fine, but - I do not think she can come.”

“Why’s that?”

“She left last hour. She said - she did training with another recruit who is here permanently. So - they are having dinner together, I think.”

“Well then, you should come. And you can wear those new clothes, you know. If you want to.”

Then he walks inside the room and closes the door before it can become awkward, and when he hears Illya leave, he’s quick to ring for a maid. Thankfully, the woman is plenty willing to buy him food from the small market around the corner, and while he knows he’s not going to manage anything as refined as truffle risotto, he gives her a list of ingredients that should be comprehensive enough for him to cook something at least palatable whatever she finds, and gives her a generous tip for good measure. In the end she comes back with mostly vegetables and he doesn’t have too much time, so he settles for ratatouille - they’re in France, he might as well cook one of the three French dishes he can pull off -, hoping that he remembers the recipe correctly. One hour and a half later he has barely managed to turn off the stove, set the table and change into a clean shirt when he hears Illya knocking on the door.

He opens it and - well, damn, he did wear the turtleneck. Napoleon will have to compliment himself - it fits Illya perfectly. It’s just the right length, and it’s not overtly baggy. And that shade of blue really, really suits the man, not that Napoleon is going to say just that openly.

“Do come in,” he says, moving out of the way. “I guess my eye hasn’t betrayed me.”

“You did not have to.”

“Nonsense. It’s always nice to be proved right. Come on, you can sit - I’m done already.”

You are done? Did - did you cook?”

“Yes? When I say I am a gracious host, it doesn’t mean I order room service. Relax and let me get the food.”

Illya sits, and Napoleon goes to get the food, and he knows he must look fairly smug as Illya obviously finds the taste agreeable.

“Are you that surprised?” Napoleon asks, still not bothering to keep himself from sounding smug.

Illya shakes his head. “Gaby did tell me. That yours was good cooking. I guess -” He stops, breathes in. “Fine, I guess I did not think it could be this good. Say nothing. I know what you are about to say, Cowboy. Don’t.”

“I wasn’t going to say a thing,” Napoleon lies, because he definitely was going to gloat about it. Still, he can gloat in silence, and then he notices that Illya isn’t just wearing the new sweater. The trousers are definitely the one Napoleon got him in London.

Well, he’s not going to point that out for everyone’s sake, but he’s still going to stare as much as he can get away with. No harm in that, right? After all, there’s nothing inherently bad in looking as someone that aesthetically pleasing, or so he tells himself.

He’s not stupid enough to actually buy it - he knows that he’s looking because he thinks Illya looks amazing, and that he’s liking it even more because he’s wearing something Napoleon got him, but he’s not going to dwell on that just yet. He settles for gloating some more when Illya clears his throat and asks him if there’s enough food left for a second helping.

--

“Nice sweater,” Gaby tells Illya two days after as they board the train that will take them to Copenhagen - Napoleon really needs to ask Waverly for a full week off. It’s the sky blue one, of course - the others are still safely packed inside one of Napoleon’s suitcases. Napoleon is also feeling entirely too pleased at seeing that Illya hasn’t just buried it in the bottom of his own suitcase and just went back to using any of his old, worn out ones. Gaby reaches out and touches the wool - Illya lets her. It’s the kind of gesture just her and maybe Napoleon himself could get away with.

“Something tells me that he bought this,” she says after a few seconds, nodding towards him.

Illya goes maybe slightly red in the face.

“How did you realize it?” Napoleon asks, not even bothering to deny it. Gaby looks at him as if it’s the most stupid question in the world.

“Just someone daft wouldn’t understand that you could only find that kind of wool in Regent Street or somewhere like that, and out of the two of you, he’s not the one who’d go there on a shopping spree. Still, nice choice. You’re certainly better at finding him clothes than you ever were at finding me some,” she says, not sounding particularly heartbroken about it, and then she closes her eyes, angling her face towards the window and curling on the train seat.

Illya doesn’t say a thing, takes a book from his bag and starts reading it instead. Napoleon attempts to do the same with the briefing Waverly sent them before they left Paris, but he spends more time glancing in Illya’s direction than actually reading it.

He really needs to find a way to just give the guy the rest of the clothes he got in London. Now he really wants to see if his hunch about the dark red turtleneck he bought among the rest was right, too. Then again, Copenhagen is even colder than Paris this time of the year - finding a better excuse to make the man accept the clothes without making him feel like a charity case (because he knows that’s the conclusion he’d jump to, and he really wishes to avoid it) shouldn’t be too hard.

---

In Copenhagen, things are so hectic that he doesn’t even find time to either come up with his excuse or give Illya the clothes. However, after debriefing with the local U.N.C.L.E. responsible of operations (his partners had stayed back at the hotel and he had gone to debrief, on account of being the only one of them who wasn’t part of chasing the bad guy of the month and, therefore, was somehow more rested), he comes back to their hotel on foot. The hotel is central, which means he gets to have a very nice albeit very cold stroll, and that’s when he sees the chess set. It’s in the window of a small shop that also sells backgammon boards and similar items, but there’s something about it that sets it apart from the others. Firstly, it’s not too large and the board can be folded to bring it around - it would barely take space in a medium-sized suitcase. But more than that, it’s surrounded by sets with overtly elaborated pieces. The one next to it has every piece shaped like a real person, and in the next one over their clothes are hand-painted, but the one Napoleon is eyeing is just - somewhat… very somber. It just looks minimal, all black and white, the stylized pieces distinguishable but not enough to distract from the game. He also is fairly sure that Illya’s old set got somehow lost in Rome, because he hasn’t seen it around since then, and in between continuous missions he figures he hasn’t found time to buy another. Well then.

He walks inside - the owner doesn’t speak English but his German is pretty good, and then he finds out that the set is handcrafted but that it’s been sitting there for months, so the owner is perfectly willing to sell it to him at half price. Not that Napoleon wouldn’t have paid it full, but the man looks happy at finally selling it in the first place - he buys it and puts it in his own suitcase later, adding to the list of things he needs to find a good reason to give to Illya at some point, before going to report the new mission orders to Illya and Gaby.

As soon as they have to handle something trivial, he is going to put his foot down and ask for some days off, though.

--

"I talked to Waverly," Napoleon says without many preambles a couple of weeks later. They're back in Italy, they just successfully brought to completion a mission in Naples and this time he called HQ directly and said that he was going to get seriously burned out if they weren’t given some godforsaken time off. Waverly, somehow, hadn’t even tried to protest before agreeing with him. Maybe he should just ask directly more often. "And he graciously conceded that we deserve five days to spend wherever we wish at our leisure."

“Oh,” Gaby says, “I like where this is going.”

“And I don’t,” Illya not so helpfully adds.

“Therefore,” Napoleon goes on, “since we are here and I think we earned our downtime, I took the liberty of booking a few rooms in Capri. Sadly it’s too cold for a nice swim, but the hotel director assured me that their pool is always open and that the weather is fairly warm, for the usual standards anyway. I mean, according to him the locals sunbathe even now.”

“Solo,” Gaby says, “I love where this is going.”

“Forget it,” Illya says.

“Forget what? The rooms are booked already,” Napoleon remarks. “You can stay holed up in yours, I suppose, but I think it’s two against one here.”

“Yes, sorry but I’m siding with him,” Gaby is quick to say, bless her. “It’s been too long since Istanbul. Some sun would be wonderful.”

“Besides,” Napoleon says, “why would you spit on a few nice days on the beach?”

“I do not think any of us has packed beachwear in the first place,” Illya says, still not looking at the both of them.

“Somehow, I don’t think that will be a problem.”

Illya doesn’t have anything to add and Napoleon grins to himself. Five days in Capri during the winter - this time, he is treating the man to a real overpriced meal, regardless of what he says.

The next day, they find out that as Napoleon predicted, the hotel concierge is more than happy to sell them some bathing suits if they want them, but Illya steadfastly refuses one, and when Napoleon tells him to think of the resident ladies who’d love to share the beach with a couple of young, attractive men, he glares at him long enough that Napoleon decides it’s not a matter worth pursuing. Gaby says that she doesn’t care what they do, she is going to enjoy some sunlight after having spent all this time in Northern Europe, thank you very much, and Napoleon figures that at least he can take advantage of the occasion - surely he’s not leaving Illya to sulk on his own locked in the hotel room, which is probably what he’d do left to his own devices.

--

“This is not acceptable,” Illya hisses as they sit down outside the only open café in the main square.

“What?”

Prices are ridiculous. Look at the difference between standing and seated.”

“Well, yes, that is somewhat obvious. But it’s also perfectly normal that you pay more if you’re seated.”

“It is outrageous. And no one is here but us. Why should we pay three times the price? This is robbing.”

Napoleon rolls his eyes. “No one said that you were paying, Peril.”

“Not the point. This is capitalism at its most ridiculous.”

Napoleon just smiles. “Very well. And what are you having?”

“Me? Nothing. I will not contribute to this travesty.”

“Fine,” Napoleon agrees, and when the waiter comes to their table he orders two coffees. Illya just glares at him but doesn’t, interestingly, tell the waiter that Napoleon got the order wrong.

He also just glares again when Napoleon asks the man if they also serve lunch - the waiter answers them that of course they do.

“Lighten up,” Napoleon says while he stirs his espresso minutes later - Illya hasn’t even looked at the sugar and he’s drinking it bitter. “There are worse places you could spend your time doing nothing in.”

“Fine,” Illya grunts a moment later, “the place is agreeable.” And how couldn’t it be? They’re high enough to see the entire gulf, the sun is shining even if it’s not a hot day (Illya is wearing the sky blue angora turtleneck and Napoleon thinks that in the open sunlight it looks even better on him than it did in Paris - he really needs to give them the other ones, too bad he couldn’t find an excuse for it in Denmark), they’re drinking excellent coffee and no one is trying to kill them. Just someone completely unreasonable wouldn’t find it, well, agreeable.

Then Illya turns his head to take a look around, his eyes go wide for exactly a moment and - he abruptly looks down at his espresso.

Napoleon looks in the same direction and -

“Wait a moment,” he says. “Either I’ve gone blind or that’s Ingrid Bergman sitting a few tables over.”

“Cowboy, shut up.”

“Oh, I don’t think I will.” Illya is still staring into his coffee. Napoleon moves just a bit closer. “Come on, Peril, your secret’s safe with me. What was that?”

Illya says nothing for a long moment, then downs the rest of his coffee in one gulp and keeps on staring at his hands. He looks - somewhat embarrassed, which is just so alien a look on him that Napoleon almost pinches his arm to make sure he’s not somehow dreaming all of this.

“She is - great actress,” he painfully says then, so low Napoleon can hear him. “I like her old Swedish movies best.”

Which is something that somehow doesn’t surprise Napoleon at all.

Anastasia was ridiculous inaccurate American drivel. However -” He doesn’t finish the sentence.

“However?” Napoleon presses on. “Come on, just say it.”

Illya’s face looks literally pained as he finally says, “However, Casablanca was not so bad.”

Napoleon thinks he knows why he looks pained as he admits it. “Oh, not so bad?”

“Is still ridiculous inaccurate American drivel, but at least it’s - sincere. And it is admirable to put the common good before your personal problems. Also, actors are mostly European, which makes it entirely more tolerable.”

There’s a fair amount of things Napoleon could say to this, and he will tease the man to hell and back for this during the next few days - really, that was as good as an admission that he actually does enjoy that movie -, but his practical side suggests him something else. After all, no one else is in the square, Mrs. Bergman is on her own, not looking particularly in a hurry as she sips her cappuccino. There aren’t photographers around trying to snap pictures. After all, the paparazzi probably leave her alone these days. He smiles.

“You should go talk to her.”

What? No.”

“Why not? At least have her sign something. Hey, I have a notebook with me. I’m sure she won’t mind.”

“She is having coffee, it would be rude,” Illya retorts.

“I’m sure she suffered worse back in the day. Come on, I can see that you want to tell her how much you enjoyed Intermezzo.”

 

“Wait, have you even seen that -”

“Just our undoubtedly capitalist remake, but I know it exists, thank you. I mean, you can do it or I can do it for you -”

“You wouldn’t.”

“Wouldn’t I?”

That’s when Illya probably realizes that yes, Napoleon would, and -

Well, trying can’t hurt. After all, Illya can stop him if he wants to. He stands up from the seat, looks down at Illya and takes a step towards the other table, and -

Illya just looks at him with the face of someone who just can’t figure out what is he even doing, but he’s not stopping him.

Napoleon smiles and heads for Mrs. Bergman’s table.

--

Fifteen minutes later, he’s still smiling to himself while Illya stares down at the page of Napoleon’s notebook where Mrs. Bergman, who had been entirely gracious and was quite happy to meet an admirer who actually liked her Swedish movies better than her Hollywoodian ones, has written him a short message and signed it. She wrote the note in Swedish when Illya told her that he has a more than casual grasp of the language, and she had seemed even happier at that. Napoleon wishes he could take a picture of Illya right now because his expression is just - absolutely priceless.

“See?” He says. “Told you that she wouldn’t have taken offense. And she couldn’t believe you had seen - what was that movie?”

Valborgsmässoafton,” Illya says casually - Napoleon doesn’t even try to repeat it. “I just - I would have never -”

“Now will you finally admit that there are advantages to being stranded on this oh so dreadful island with me, and will you actually pick something for lunch yourself? Because I’m ordering for you if you don’t.”

Illya glances at him with an expression that Napoleon can’t quite pinpoint yet, and then - then he smiles just a tiny bit and damn but he should do that more often, Napoleon thinks. “Fine, Cowboy, you win. I will order lunch. Satisfied?”

“See? Wasn’t too hard, Peril. And don’t choose the least pricey dish you see just because of that.”

Illya chooses the second least-pricey, and Napoleon decides to believe that it’s because he actually wanted to eat it. He doesn’t fold the page with the signature - rather, he takes a paperback out of the pocket of his jacket and puts it in between the pages making sure it doesn’t get ruined, and he still does look a bit starstruck, but Napoleon chooses not to remark on that.

Still, he can’t help it just a tiny bit. “Imagine the luck,” he says, “of all the bars, in all the towns, in all the world, she had to walk right into ours.”

“Cowboy,” Illya says after a long, long moment, “sometimes I find no words.”

Napoleon finds that he’s perfectly fine with it, and he files this entire morning as a victory when he steals glances at Illya as he eats his food and there’s no way the man is not enjoying every overpriced bit of it.

--

The next day, Gaby heads for the beach, again. Illya refuses to go, again, and as Napoleon has had time to ponder the question and has realized that the man almost drowned in Rome and hasn’t exactly been near large quantities of water in the same way since, he doesn’t press the matter. When Illya says he’ll be in his room finishing his book, Napoleon doesn’t press either and opts for spending a bit of time conversing with the locals working at the hotel, learns of a few places he could go visit that are not the seaside and is almost in mind of walking to the ruins of the local Roman villa when it starts raining.

Fairly hard, for that matter - he’s in mind to ask if there’s any way he can contact the hotel next to the beach where Gaby’s going just to see how she’s doing, but before he can do it he gets a call in the hotel lobby. Gaby informs him that she and all the local ladies who had gone to the beach for a tan are currently being hosted at the house where one of said ladies live, which is right over the beach, so she’ll just be back after it stops raining. Well then - he’s stuck in the hotel, and while he does have a novel he could be finishing… he thinks that maybe it’s the right occasion to at least make some use of the chess set, patience that he’s not fond of the game himself.

He knocks on Illya’s door - Illya opens it a moment later.

Napoleon is momentarily disappointed when he sees that he’s not wearing the blue turtleneck - he’s back to his one of his thrice-mended old ones - and then chides himself. Seriously, it’s not his business anyway.

“Peril. I was wondering if you would be amenable to come to my room? Since I can’t even go out to have my overpriced capitalist lunch at the café, at least don’t leave me here to rot out of boredom.”

“Somehow, I doubt boredom will be what kills you. But all right, I will come.” He leaves the book he had in his hand on the nightstand, locks the door and follows Napoleon to his own room.

Napoleon is about to just go grab the set from his suitcase, but then Illya stops dead in his tracks while staring in distaste at his sleeve.

“What’s up?”

“Nothing.”

Napoleon moves closer - there’s a rip right over Illya’s elbow.

“Well, seems like it has run its time. Told you your wardrobe needed renovating. Why are you even wearing it anyway if it’s that old?”

Illya shrugs minutely again. “The one you bought is - good wool. Also - cannot be washed with the others. Could get ruined if I wear it too much. All the others I have are - well. Old.”

Which is - it makes entirely sense, yes, but it’s also… kind of heartwarming to see that he’s put that much thought into it.

At this point he might as well come clean.

“And what if I had gotten more than just the blue one?”

“Sorry?”

“Er. Well, I saw that one first, and thought you might like it, but then the same model was in different colors and I had just packed your bags and your wardrobe did need renovations, and you did get one free if you bought three, so I figured it was a good bargain.” It’s not true that he got one free, but it makes the entire thing sound reasonable. After all, if he was going to buy two, he could as well gotten three and a free extra garment in the bargain. “And I still have them with me. Since we didn’t exactly go back to base to put away suitcases.”

Illya just - stares at him. “You bought four.”

“I bought three and got four. That’s capitalist basic selling techniques for you. Also, not all of them were angora - the last two should go in the wash with everything else. Catch.”

He goes to his suitcase, opens it and throws the bag at Illya, who catches it at once. He takes the sweaters out - the red angora one and then the two which are regularly sturdy wool, one black and one dark brown. And you can see on his face that he’s recognizing that it’s not cheap stuff.

“I trust that you can just throw that one away instead of wasting your precious time on mending?”

“You did not have to,” Illya sighs, “but - you might have point here. Fine. This one has… run its course. But this wasn’t the reason you wanted me here.”

“Oh. No, it wasn’t. See, I was thinking, I haven’t seen you play some chess against yourself in ages.”

Napoleon can bet that for a moment Illya looks pained. “My set. I, uh, left it in Rome.”

“I imagined,” Napoleon agrees, not pointing out that it’s plain obvious that Illya is partially lying. It’s just not having left it, there has to be something else underneath. “However, in Copenhagen I was out for a walk and found this nice, cozy little shop. You’d like it. Maybe I should bring you next time we’re there. Anyway, you can sit at the table.”

Illya does, cautiously.

“A cozy little shop, in which I found this,” he keeps on, taking the box from his suitcase again. He sits down in front of Illya and moves it over to his side. “Now - we have nothing to do, the weather’s undoubtedly as miserable as it can get in this season, and so I thought, maybe you should try playing with someone else. Of course, I’m probably way below your skill set, but beggars can’t be choosers now, can they?”

For a long, long moment they stare at each other, intently, before Illya breaks the moment to open the board - the pieces are all neatly stacked inside and as he touches a rook it’s obvious that he’s appreciating the craftsmanship.

Napoleon really hopes it doesn’t mean that he realizes -

“These are handmade,” Illya says.

“Uh, yes? I think I have some more style than buying plastic portable sets, Peril.”

“That is not what - has anyone ever told you you’re impossible?”

“More than once. So, are you going to destroy me in four moves already or not?”

And, miraculously (or maybe not so much), that works. Illya just smirks. “I could destroy you in three, but I feel charitable. You may last at least ten. And I will let you have the white side.”

“How nice of you, Peril,” Napoleon grins.

Illya does, in fact, annihilate him in fifteen moves - Napoleon is terrible at chess and it’s no news. But then they play another game, during which it’s plainly obvious that Illya just lets him... not lose for enough time that it could pass for a fairly balanced game. Then when he stops stalling he’s quick to wipe the board clean of Napoleon’s pieces, and it’s the same for the third. He also looks increasingly smug with every move.

“You’re enjoying this,” Napoleon says in the middle of the fourth game - it’s obvious that he’s going to lose, and he has a clue that Illya could checkmate in two moves if he wanted to, but he’s obviously having his fun in seeing Napoleon dig himself into some hole he can’t quite figure out.

“Playing against an opponent who has no clue of what he’s doing can do wonders for one’s mood,” Illya says as he moves his queen across the board and pushes Napoleon’s last rook out of it. “Still, you might be right on one thing.”

“Enlighten me.”

“I might have played against myself for too long,” Illya says, and - that makes Napoleon put his tower someplace he actually didn’t want to put it, and that pretty much loses him the game. Again.

It was the way Illya said it - he’s looking at the board, and he had sounded painstakingly sincere, and Napoleon is sure he’s not only talking about chess. Not at all.

“Then I guess I can drag my humiliation for a bit longer, Peril. But I’m taking the white again, at least I’ll last five minutes more than I do when you have it.”

“As if it makes any difference, Cowboy,” Illya says, turning his side of the board with most of the white pieces still on it towards him, but he looks - as close to genuinely happy as he had looked back at the opera, even if less uncomfortable since this is his usual ground.

Napoleon settles for losing a lot more than five games in the next foreseeable future, if it means this is the reaction he gets.

--

They come back to London fairly well-rested, and Napoleon can bet that Gaby is favoring white dresses on the trip back to show off her newly acquainted tan - blame her, she really does look great.

He half-expects Waverly to send them on another mission again as soon as they get to HQ, but they don’t get briefed on that.

Instead, Waverly sits them down in front of his desk, offers them fairly expensive tea and tells them that after their six-months trial (and they weren’t aware at all that it was a trial), they have passed it with flying colors, and so he cheerfully offers them a steady job with U.N.C.L.E. if they want it. It doesn’t take much to also understand that he’s perfectly willing to deal with the reaction of their previous agencies should they choose to work for him, and of course that would mean entirely new contracts, but he’s sure that they can make things can work out to everyone’s satisfaction.

Gaby, of course, doesn’t have to take a choice - she already works for Waverly, after all.

Napoleon pretends to think about it for a moment, but then again he’d be an idiot not accept the deal. He knows his bosses at the CIA - if when his sentence is up they should find some other loophole to keep him in their service for another ten years, he wouldn’t be surprised at all, and while Waverly could learn something about warning people that there are such things as six-months long trials, well. He’s a decent boss, he hasn’t blackmailed them into doing anything shady yet, he seems more interested in assuring that World War Three doesn’t break out rather than making sure his own country obtains warfare that should be left alone, and if he has to choose between U.N.C.L.E. and the CIA, well, there’s a no brainer. Napoleon opens his mouth to says he takes the deal.

“We wouldn’t be reassigned, would we?” Illya asks before he can do it.

Waverly raises an eyebrow as he lowers down his teacup. “Of course not. The trial was also to establish whether the three of you could work that well together more than once, and I am quite sure the results were fairly exceptional. Of course, that stands as long as all of you officially work for us.”

And - well, damn, until now there still was the pretense that they would one day go back to their respective agencies. But while Napoleon leaving the CIA will just make Sanders and a few other important higher-ups fairly unhappy, they won’t try too hard to protest - it would be too much hassle for a single agent, and they certainly don’t need to argue with the MI6. Whereas, if Illya willingly leaves the KGB, he’s not so sure they would take it so well. He has all the reasons to politely refuse, after -

“Very well. As long as it stands, I will accept.”

“It greatly pleases me to hear it, Mr. Kuryakin. And what about you, Mr. Solo?”

Ah, damn, he’s the only one in here who still hasn’t uttered a word. “I was about to answer before,” he mutters, “but - I would be a complete idiot if I said I want to go back to the CIA now, as if I ever liked it.” Never mind that even if he had wanted to defect, they’d have hunted him down. He figures he’ll just postpone his plans for settling down for a bit longer if it means working with people he actually enjoys being with, for an organization that somehow values his skills.

Waverly then informs them that since they now work for his agency in name and in fact, it’s time they get acquainted with the employee benefits. They’ll eventually be provided with permanent housing in London, but for now they’re welcome to leave their things permanently in fairly spacious suites at the HQ, and if they have personal effects that should be sent for, he’s sure he can manage an extraction.

Napoleon tells him that they know his New York address already - it’s not a huge apartment, not that he lives in there for the great part of the year considering his job, but all his personal effects are there and should fit in four or five boxes. Gaby says she doesn’t need anything from her East Berlin flat that she hasn’t brought over already. Illya stays silent for a long moment and says that he doesn’t need anything brought over. It’s also obvious that he’s lying, but Napoleon doesn’t call him out on it just now.

He does it later, after they’re told where they can find their lodgings and Gaby’s gone to get keys for the three of them.

“Why did you lie to him before?”

“I did not,” Illya lies again.

“You did. I might be a terrible spy, but I can recognize when someone’s lying, especially when I’ve been living in their pockets for six months. Come on, what was it?”

Illya shrugs and obviously tries to look nonchalant. “It has been six months. KGB never loans agents this long. Whatever went on, even if they do not assume I - defected, I assure you that if Waverly had sent an extraction team to my flat, they would not have found anything to extract.”

Well, damn, now that’s a point, but -

“Wait a moment, does that mean that they just - confiscated everything you own that you didn’t bring to East Berlin?”

“Most probably confiscated it, went through it and burned everything on principle.” And he says it with such - with such nonchalance, as if it’s not of import. And - if it was Napoleon’s case, he’d be well over angry. It’s not that his apartment is full to the brink with personal effects - it’s mostly clothes, books, and fine, the occasional art piece that he kept for himself, thank you very much, and if those pieces aren’t there when he opens his boxes he won’t blame Waverly for it, so really, it’s not much - but they’re still his things, and - you tend to get attached to what you own. And he’s fairly sure that whatever Illya’s country stance is on private property is, he can’t be taking it so lightly.

“And that doesn’t, you know, bother you?”

Illya shrugs again. “That’s how KGB works. Two months is the limit. It’s said and done already, probably. No point in bother.”

Wait, and he had known all along and said nothing?

Napoleon is about to press the issue, but then Gaby comes with their keys and he lets the matter drop.

A week later, he finds five boxes inside his three-rooms plus kitchen suite - Waverly certain has an efficient extraction team. And his, well, personal art pieces are in one of them. Napoleon smirks and feels slightly more - he doesn’t want to say at home, but still, more at ease, after he has hung the paintings to the wall, put his clothes in the wardrobe and places his books in the empty shelves he had in the bedroom.

He thinks about the boxes Illya didn’t get and then he realizes he has the perfect excuse to finally hand him the trousers and shirts he was still carrying around from his trip to Liberty. He just says that after Illya pretty much admitted to him that he was going to have to refurnish his place completely he had gone and gotten him at least a few clothes to make sure his closet wasn’t too empty, knowing that it would be the last item on Illya’s list. Thankfully, the trousers and the shirts were of a different brand than the others, so he can lie and say he got them just now. Illya accepts them without too much fussing, and Napoleon realizes why when he inspects the closet - not counting the clothes Napoleon bought, he really was recycling the same five trousers, ten sweaters and six shirts. He can hardly refuse some more for now. The only item in the apartment that wasn’t already provided is Ingrid Bergman’s signature, framed in the living room, and Napoleon decides that he’s not going to ponder the implications right this moment.

--

One week later, he knocks on Illya’s door on his way to briefing with Waverly - they might as well go together.

“You can come in,” he hears. “Give me a moment.”

Napoleon walks in and - finds Illya putting books from an Hatchards bag into the shelves in his living room.

Actually, there are three empty bags on the ground, and it’s just one shelf that he has been putting them on, but it’s almost full to the brink.

“... I see you had a nice time shopping, Peril.”

“As if,” Illya grunts. “Beggars cannot be choosers.”

Napoleon moves closer, just to see what it is that sent Illya on a shopping spree, and takes a look at the titles.

The Double, The Idiot, Notes from Underground, Crime and Punishment, The House of the Dead, Brothers Karamazov, Demons, The Gambler -

“... Have you just bought all of Dostoevsky’s novels at once? And what’s it about beggars?”

Illya shrugs and leaves the last book next to the others. “He is - my favorite author,” he concedes. “I had all of these in Moscow. But I cannot get them back now. About beggars, well. I do not think I can find them in Russian now. These will have to do.”

He looks fairly annoyed at that, but in a what can I do about it, might as well deal with it way, and - Napoleon doesn’t know what’s sadder, the entire situation or the fact that Illya doesn’t even get angry about it. As if it’s just a fact of life that his previous employers most probably burned all of his beloved books, and that not only he can’t get them back but he also has to read them translated.

“You certainly like your books long,” Napoleon jokes, trying to lift the atmosphere.

“You certainly could learn much from Dostoevsky, Cowboy, but I understand our novels are not popular in America lately.”

“Really? I’m all ears.”

“What?”

“Fine. I’m vastly ignorant in the topic. Lend me one.”

For a moment Illya looks completely speechless, but then he turns his back on Napoleon and skims through the titles. Then he grabs The House of the Dead and hands it over.

“Not my favorite,” he says, “but it could be… instructional.”

“What, is your favorite too much outside my realm?”

Illya shakes his head, looking almost fond. “No, but I do not think it would be wise giving you the longest one if you have never read the others.”

Which - fine, it makes sense, so Napoleon takes the one he’s given and while Illya goes to grab his jacket he glances at the shelf. The longest is definitely Brothers Karamazov.

--

Napoleon reads half of The House of the Dead on the plane bringing them to their next mission in Athens, and the rest on the way back.

Somehow, it makes perfect sense that Peril’s favorite writer has written an entire novel centered around a man’s spiritual awakening in a prison camp in Siberia. He’s not ever in his life going to ask him if he likes this particular book because he hopes that his father found something not so bleak in his own experience, not that Illya can know for sure, but he’s going to ponder it regardless.

He’s done just before landing - he shakes Illya’s shoulder to wake him up.

“Rise and shine, Peril. We’re back in Britain and I’m done,” he says handing the book over.

“Already?”

Napoleon shrugs. “I’m a fast reader. And regardless of the grim subject, it was more engrossing than one would think.”

“You - you liked it?”

“It’s not my usual taste,” Napoleon admits, “but it was a good book. I guess I should think about it some.”

“Maybe you should,” Illya agrees, taking the book back, but he looks... pleased that Napoleon didn’t outright dislike it. Never mind that he wasn’t lying - he’ll need to think about it a lot before he unpacks it completely.

Illya’s fingers are running almost reverently along the cover and Napoleon turns to his left and attempts to steal Gaby’s magazine. It’s probably a better idea right now.

--

Throughout the next few days, he conspicuously visits most of the bookshops in London selling used books that he can find, hoping that some of them might have a Russian section, but he comes up with nothing. You wouldn’t think that finding books would prove to be harder than anything else he’s set his sights on until now, as far as Illya is concerned, but he has to give it up for the moment.

Then, he and Illya are sent on their own in West Berlin - Waverly was reluctant, says that he’d have rather picked someone else, but they need another extraction in East Berlin, Napoleon is the best agent they have for that, and it would be risky to send him without backup. Of course Gaby is benched for it, it’s probably better she doesn’t go back to Berlin anytime soon.

Also, Illya needs to stay on the West side to help him snuggling back in with their mark, so Napoleon does have a few free hours on the East side on his own. He has to smuggle out the brother of a scientist who’s now working for U.N.C.L.E. and only requested for his brother to join him in the UK in exchange for his cooperation. Contacting him in the light of day is probably not a good idea, so he’ll wait until evening.

Napoleon likes to travel light, but this time he brings a bag with, which he knows he will regret later, because it’s going to be a hindrance. Then again, if the scientist’s brother wasn’t targeted already like Gaby was, maybe it won’t be.

After a bit of snooping around, he finds a small shop selling only used Russian books - sadly his bag isn’t exactly large, and the shop doesn’t have much choice. He piles up Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, Demons and Notes from the Underground on the counter - the covers are battered, one spine is cracked and all four smell of dust, but beggars can’t be choosers. Then he realizes he has space for one more.

“You wouldn’t happen to have Brothers Karamazov to sell me, would you?” He asks the owner.

“Case is,” the man says, “I might.”

He produces two copies. One is a mass trade paperback in the same serviceable but battered conditions as the first four. The other, though - the other is the kind of rare find in this kind of shops. It’s hardback, for one. The cover is black leather, with the lettering in silver. He opens it - the pages are still crispy and the paper is actually good quality.

“It doesn’t look used.”

The owner shrugs. “I was given it from someone who needed to sell valuables fast. I think it was their grandfather’s. Will you have it?”

It’s going to be a tight fit.

“Yes, thank you.”

--

The bag isn’t a hindrance - the man wasn’t tailed and when he understands who is sending Napoleon he’s quick to go home, grab a bag of personal effects and follow him out. No one sees them, no one follows them and it goes smooth as ever. It’s probably the easiest job Napoleon’s ever had in his life.

Their guest is sleeping in their safehouse - the train HQ reserved for them is in the morning - when Illya turns to him with a scowl.

“Your bag.”

“What about it?”

“Was empty when you left. Is full now. And it looks heavy.”

“Oh. Oh, yes, I shopped around some.”

“Are you - Cowboy, are you gone mad?”

“Me? Not at all. Why?”

Illya scoffs all over again and Napoleon is sure that he doesn’t growl just because the roasted chicken Napoleon just fed him and their guest was too good to leave someone in a bad mood after eating it.

“Extractions - you should know. You might have needed to run. Bags are a hindrance, but heavy bags? Could jeopardize everything. What was so important that you might have risked your life for it?”

Right. Loaded question.

“Well,” Napoleon says, “I was going to bring this up to you later, but as you’re asking now… case is, I thought your bookshelves could stand some more content.”

My bookshelves?”

Napoleon opens the bag and puts the pile of books on the table, then pushes them over to Illya’s side.

“That was the best I could find, but I guess it’s still better than our probably pitiful translations. At least for your standards.”

Illya grabs the first one, then the second, then the third, and by the time he’s thumbing through the Brothers Karamazov Napoleon is starting to worry that he might have broken the man or something - he has rarely seen him this, well, moved, but he doesn’t dare saying a word. Not when the tip of Illya’s fingers are shaking against the pages.

“You - you potentially put the mission in danger just to - to get these for me?” He finally says, still not looking up at him.

“Peril, I knew that the mission was virtually riskless, and I can do my job even dragging five bricks like those with me. That said, I certainly wasn’t buying them for myself, and they’re kind of hard to come by in London.”

“But -”

“Listen, it’s bad enough that you don’t seem affected about your previous employers most probably putting your house on fire, and I know that material things are, well, replaceable, but still, you shouldn’t be settling for the next best thing. It’s not like asking for your favorite Russian book in Russian is too much, but I knew you weren’t going to bother Waverly with that, or you wouldn’t have gone and bought all of them translated. Or am I wrong?”

“You’re not,” Illya admits. “But - why would I have asked Waverly?”

“He did ask us if we needed our things extracted, if you had given him a list he’d have found you better editions.”

“Fine, maybe. Still, why? It’s - not essential.”

“Humor me and elaborate on that. What do you mean?”

Illya shrugs again, his fingers still running over the silver lettering. “Books are collateral. Good agents do not need them. Asking the organization for trivial things isn’t - proper.”

The more time passes, the more Napoleon re-evaluates the CIA. At least they never expected you to buy that kind of drivel - as long as you accepted that Uncle Sam could do no wrong you were in the clear, and no one bothered too much whether you really believed it as long as you did your job. The only positive thing is that Illya is saying it as if it’s drivel he learned by heart but never really believed in fully, if anything because even if books are trivial he still values them enough to go and buy out half of the Hatchard Russian classics section.

“Peril, I think that’s where the problem lies.”

“What do you mean?”

“Entertainment might be trivial. No one is going to dispute that. And maybe it doesn’t make you a better agent, but - people like things. Even trivial ones. Which usually make them happy. And no one should deny themselves that just because they’re trivial. What I mean is - damn it, if you enjoy long, sad Russian novels you have all the rights to have them on your nightstand just because you like them and not because they’re beneficial to your efficiency on the field. Or if you want to go to the opera you should go just because you like spending four hours of your life listening to people acting out ridiculous melodrama while they sing their lungs out and not because it makes you a better asset. You shouldn’t feel guilty for wanting that.”

It’s… very telling that Illya doesn’t deny that he, in fact, feels guilty for wanting that. He looks at Napoleon, seemingly taking that small speech in, and Napoleon can see his throat constricting. He puts the book back down on the table. His fingertips are slightly shaking all over again, like they did when Napoleon showed up with the opera tickets.

He doesn’t know how long they stare at each other, but just when Napoleon is starting to get worried and starts, “Hey, are you all -”, he doesn’t have the time to say right before Illya moves closer, and closer, and then -

Napoleon hadn’t known what to expect, but not for Illya to put his hands on Napoleon’s shoulders tentatively, as if he’s not even sure he’s overstepping a boundary. Napoleon just stays still and at some point he nods in encouragement, not even knowing what the hell he’s even encouraging.

The first thought he has when Illya’s hands move around his shoulders and tug him in is, but when was the last time he actually hugged someone?, because it’s obvious that the man barely even knows where to put his hands. Except that Napoleon is hardly going to point that out, and instead he raises up his own arms and grips under Illya’s shoulderblades, and at that at least Illya stops being as stiff as a piece of wood.

“Thank you,” he says a moment later, muffled against Napoleon’s collarbone.

“You’re welcome,” he settles on. He could have added something, but he’s sure he doesn’t want to ruin the moment, and so he keeps his mouth shut.

“You know,” Illya says a short while later, not quite moving away yet. “I just realized.”

“What?”

“I do not need translations for those ones, at least. You can have them. Maybe you learn something about good books.”

Napoleon snorts against Illya’s shoulder. “Fine, fine. I did like that one, didn’t I?”

--

When, back in London, he goes back to his apartment with a handful of translated Russian novels, he doesn’t expect to find Gaby waiting for him in his living room.

“Wait, who gave you the keys?” He asks.

She raises an eyebrow and shows him one of his own lockpicks.

“Right, right, fine, got the message. To what do I owe your visit? You could have just knocked.”

“Maybe, but where’s the fun in it? Anyway, as to your question…” She smiles, then stands up and grabs a couple of books from his hands. “Something tells me this isn’t your usual kind of choice, when it comes to reading.”

“Uhm. No, it’s not, but -”

“No need. I have seen his living room.”

“All right. And what’s the problem with it?”

“Napoleon, I don’t know if you’re pretending or if you’re really daft enough that you haven’t realized it yet, but just for full disclosure, I’d die for him, but we’re friends.”

“... I didn’t think you weren’t?”

“All right, maybe you are that daft, after all. Again, Illya and I are very good friends And that’s all there is to it. So, if you’re not, well, making a move just because you think we’re still dancing around each other, you have my full blessing to go ahead and do it.”

She’s staring straight at him as if she’s daring him to deny it to her face, and - no point in lying, she’d probably see through his bullshit anyway. And he hasn’t made a move also because he didn’t want to come in between them if they still needed time to figure things out, after all. Other than that, he’s not going to lie to himself that much longer about the exact ways in which he likes Illya Kuryakin.

“Are you saying what I think you are saying?” That’s safe enough an answer, isn’t it?

“I am saying,” Gaby keeps on, moving so that she’s just next to him, “that if this were some kind of Hollywood romantic film, he would be the one buying me clothes in Regent Street and potentially jeopardizing missions to get me something he knows I’d like and that he knows I’d never ask for because I don’t think I’m worth that trouble. And instead, you are the one doing it. Now, I’m saying that you should totally keep on doing it - he won’t do it himself because he’s also that daft, so someone bloody well should. But I am also saying that if you don’t want to stop at it, you aren’t stepping on anyone’s toes. Least of all mine. Do you need that explained further?”

He swallows and shakes his head. “No. No, I think I got it.”

“Good. Maybe you aren’t completely hopeless yet. By the way, next time you want Russian books, you can ask me. I do have contacts in East Berlin, still.” Then she moves a bit forward, kisses his cheek and waves at him as she leaves the room.

Napoleon realizes he’s still clutching the other three books in between his fingers as he watches her go - he puts them on the table where Gaby left the other two.

Then he decides that he needs a drink before even attempting to decide what to do next, and if his hands shake just a tiny bit as he pours himself a glass of the best whiskey he had around the apartment, well, no one is there to see it.

---

The next morning, with alcohol out of his system and a clear head, he resolves to sit down and come up with a way to make the damn move, as Gaby would have put it, and that’s when he realizes he kind of has his hands tied.

Point is, when seducing someone - he has his fair share of tricks up his sleeve, but most of them include taking them out, treating them to nice restaurants, bring them out to the theater or the opera, buying them something nice, the usual drivel.

Except that he has already done all of that and more with Illya, and how can do better than that when he has already set a high bar, because it’s not as if he was going to do it half assed if he set his mind to it? Never mind that the last thing he wants is Illya to assume that it was, well, heading there all along, since that hardly was what he had in mind when their little dance started.

He thinks about it long and hard, and then he realizes that maybe he doesn’t even need to, well, overdo it.

Maybe he can settle with something hardly pretentious, for his standards of pretentious anyway, but he needs Gaby to help him.

He grabs his phone and dials the line for her apartment.

“Miss Teller?” He says into the phone after she mumbles something in German that sounded close to what do you want at this time in the morning.

“Solo,” she sighs. “Is there a reason why you’re waking me up at seven fifteen in the morning of a free day for the both of us?”

“Why, I was going to treat you to breakfast at my place, which should beat the mess hall’s, but if you’re going to refuse it on principle -”

“While I’m sure it’s not because of your inner generosity, fine, I’ll be there in twenty.”

Napoleon smirks - she knows that as much as she likes to say that his cooking smells like feet, it beats the mess hall’s without even a contest. He moves to his kitchen and when she walks inside his room he has omelettes and sausages already served.

“Nice,” she says approvingly. “What do you need in exchange?”

“I should feel offended,” he says as he takes his seat in front of her, “but fine, maybe I do need your help. It’s nothing terrible. And you kind of asked for it.”

I did.” She doesn’t sound too convinced, but when she eats the piece of omelette she had cut with her fork she looks fairly pleased with it.

“Let’s say that I hypothetically thought about making that move you mentioned yesterday.”

“Oh, that. At last. So, what’s the problem?”

“That I need your assistance.”

“My assistance. How can I assist you, then? I’m listening.”

“If you would be amenable to pry out of the Red Peril a few bits of information, I’d owe you a fair amount.”

“Depends on which information. If it’s personal -”

“No, I just want to know - let’s say that, for dinner, he walks into a nice Soviet restaurant in Leningrad where they virtually can get him whatever he wants. I should like to know what he’d order.”

Gaby stares at him, her hand holding the mug of tea she had just poured herself stopping mid-air.

“You want to know - oh. Oh. Well, I imagine that wouldn’t be too hard to find out. Still, why do you need me to find out?”

“Because if I did he’d suspect I’m up to something.”

“Point taken. Fine, you’ll owe me for this, but I think it won’t be too complicated. I’ll let you know. But I want breakfast here at least for a week - they should put you in charge of the mess hall when you’re not working.”

“You’re hilarious, Miss Teller,” Napoleon quips as he drinks his coffee.

--

That evening, she knocks on his door again, and when he opens it she looks downright smug.

“You owe me,” she says.

“Wait, you found out already?”

“It wasn’t too complicated. Did you get the briefing for next week, yes?”

“I did.” Waverly is sending them stopping another ring of illegal arm dealers in Portugal - someone brought him the file before.

“Well, since we’re supposed to play the newlyweds again I asked him to join me for lunch so we could discuss the cover. And I told him I heard nice things about that Russian restaurant just around the corner from HQ.”

“That place? But it’s terrible!” Napoleon can’t help it - he went once and he walked out of it with the feeling that he ate cardboard most of the time.

“I know that, but he didn’t,” Gaby says, and now Napoleon sees where this is going. “So, we had a fairly pleasant time, as long as the food wasn’t involved, because when it was - well, you really owe me for all the ‘this is not the Russian way of cooking anything’ I heard in those two hours. Or for all the ‘but if they were a serious establishment they would have this, this and that’.”

“We already established that I owe you,” he says. “So, what’s the verdict?”

“The verdict is - well, the beef stroganoff they served at that place was deemed terribly unsatisfactory according to any decency standards. He said that he hadn’t had a proper one in a very long time and I think his mother’s used to be particularly good, but that was all I could get out of him on the topic. He also looked very disappointed in the blini that they had as appetizers - he said something about the baking being all wrong but I lost him there. He was outraged that every variety of borscht they offered wasn’t what you’d find in Russia. Never mind that the Olivier salad wasn’t even in the menu, which was most probably the most amusing part of it. Also he didn’t have dessert because he was convinced it would be as atrocious as the other dishes, which I can’t fault him for, but he also said that his favorite wasn’t in the list anyway so why bother.” She chuckles loudly at that.

“What’s funny in that?”

“Well, sounds like his favorite dessert is the so-called Napoleon cake,” she says, unable to laugh as she says it, and - okay, fine, it is a bit funny.

“Good thing he didn’t try out the vodka or he’d have found it wanting, too,” Gaby adds. “So, is that enough for your little plan?”

“I think so,” he says. “You can have breakfast here for the next month.”

Gaby looks delighted at that and Napoleon notes down the names - well, he has to plan a dinner.

--

It’s easier said than done, though - he knows he can cook stroganoff better than the chef at that restaurant, but he doesn’t know a thing about the other dishes. He has a very vague idea about the Napoleon cake, but it’s hardly the easiest thing to bake and he’s sure the Russian variant is somewhat different from the French. And he can’t certainly go ask Illya for recipes at that -

But maybe he can ask Waverly’s new secretary. The woman is from Leningrad, used to work for the KGB, too, and she also is on loan at U.N.C.L.E., even if from what he’s gathered the few times he talked to her she’s planning on staying in London permanently. After he goes to Waverly to discuss his briefing he stops outside the man’s office, says hi, lets the conversation slide into casual chattering and when he tells her that he’d like to broaden his horizons if he happens to have to extract someone Russian, she’s absolutely delighted to share some recipes with him. He comes out of the office with four different borscht recipes, a very detailed description of how baking goes when it comes to blini, the exact quantities of ingredients for a real Olivier salad and another long and detailed list of instructions to bake Napoleon cake. Great. Now he just has to find a time and a place, but it’s going to have to be after the next mission.

--

Portugal goes fairly smoothly, but they don’t get recalled back and they move directly to Geneva, and then to Stockholm, which means Napoleon doesn’t have the literal time to sit down and cook the damn dinner, also because the cake needs at least three hours of his time and he doesn’t have them.

Then the Stockholm mission turns into a complete mess - complications happen as there was someone from Interpol on that investigation already. His cover gets blown, they end up in a car chase that involves a lot of shooting, a lot of driving and Illya pulling some seriously dangerous stunts in order to stop the man they were chasing and at the end of it they’re stuck in a three-room chalet somewhere in the Kolmården forest, with Illya nursing a bad concussion and Waverly telling them to stay put until he straightens things out with Interpol.

It’s late at night and Napoleon is sure that all of them just want to go straight to sleep, but at least Illya can’t, not before a good six hours.

“Tell you what,” Gaby says, “you can put something to eat together while I’m keeping him awake and then we can take turns.”

“Right. I’m starving, I’ll just go to the kitchen then.”

He doesn’t know what’s even in the pantry, but when he realizes that he actually has all the ingredients to at least try and put a decent beef stroganoff together, he decides that it’s better than nothing and spends the next hour bent on the task. The end result is - maybe not the best looking, but he hasn’t exactly had time to shop for high quality beef and mushrooms himself, so he figures it will have to do.

He goes back to the small living room - Illya is sitting on the sofa looking like someone who could use sleeping it off for the next three days and Gaby is elbowing him at every moment he seems to nod off.

“Miss Teller? There’s a plate for you in the kitchen.”

“Great. Wake me up in two hours or so?”

“Duly noted,” he says as she stands up and leaves the room.

“I do not need you two -” Illya starts.

“Sorry, considering the blow you just took there’s no way I’m leaving you to your own devices and possibly falling asleep. Move over, I’ll go get us dinner.”

Illya doesn’t say that he isn’t hungry at least, and when he comes back to the kitchen to grab a tray, cutlery and the likes Gaby is eating her portion of stroganoff and sending him a look that probably means you really are hopeless, Solo, not that he can even deny that.

He divides the food in two plates, places them on the tray along with forks, knives, a couple of glasses and a bottle of water and when he goes back to the couch, Illya has scooted over.

Also, he suddenly stops looking murderous the moment he notices what is on his plate.

“Since I figured you might want to eat something you liked, well, I thought I couldn’t go wrong with that. Also it’s the only Soviet food I can cook.” For now, he doesn’t add, but it’s better to anticipate questions. “Hopefully it’s edible.”

“It - smells good,” Illya concedes, still looking down at his plate.

“Well then, let’s eat because I’m starving. And wait, is there a television here? Good, I can keep you awake without needing to talk your ear off.”

Illya snorts and takes a bite while Napoleon turns the television on - pity that most channels only receive static.

All except one, which is airing some kind of news.

“Hey, what is he going on about?” He asks Illya - he is the one with at least basic Swedish knowledge.

“Local politics, I think,” Illya says slowly. The bandage right over his scalp is still pink - Napoleon is sure he isn’t bleeding anymore, though. Maybe they should change it. “And - this is - acceptable.”

“Oh, acceptable?”

“Usually, outside Russia, it’s not,” Illya mutters before taking another very quick bite, and Napoleon just grins and eats his own portion. It is edible, so he figures this was overall not a complete loss, and that’s when the news end and -

Casablanca’s titles appear over the tv screen.

Illya groans. “Change it.”

“Sorry,” Napoleon says smugly, “but I ran through all the ten channels and this is the only one that’s actually working. And didn’t you say it was not so bad?”

“Do we really have to?”

“The alternative is that I talk to you for the next two hours lest you fall asleep, Peril.”

“Fine, leave it,” Illya concedes - and settles back down on the couch with a pained grunt before going back to his food again. Napoleon has to shake his shoulders a few times when he seems to be nodding off in spite of himself - he pretends not to but he is watching the movie intently, or as intently as one can with a concussion, and when they’re both done Napoleon just puts the tray with the dirty plates on the ground - he can worry about that later. Neither of them says a thing until every not German customer in Rick’s bar is singing La Marseillaise and Napoleon might be fighting the temptation to hum along.

“To be truthful,” Illya says the moment the scene is over, “it was better than acceptable.”

“Are you sure you didn’t hit that head too hard?”

Illya groans. “See if next time I pay you any compliments,” he says, even if it’s completely without bite.

“Aw, that’s remarkable. I’ll take it anyway.”

Illya shakes his head and stares defiantly at the screen. Napoleon does the same, even if he steals glances at his right enough to see that Illya has the face of someone who’s desperately trying to keep his features neutral, even if it’s a feat when you’re probably feeling some kind of pain at the base of your skull.

At least he’s not in danger of nodding off, even if Napoleon keeps on shaking his shoulder at regular intervals just to be safe. And nothing else happens until the airport scene - Illya looks exasperated every time Rick and Ilsa look at each other, presumably finding them over the top, and when Napoleon goes to get him some more ice for his head he takes it wordlessly.

And then Rick tells Ilsa that last night was a great lot of many things, and fine, at we’ll always have Paris Napoleon can’t help the knot forming in his stomach - he’s seen this movie too many times to count and it always happens at that point, what can you do - and then at I’m not good at being noble but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world he hears some kind of noise on his right and -

“Don’t,” Illya blurts out, and he even manages to sound threatening even if his free hand is wiping at his eyes.

“I wasn’t going to say anything.”

Illya snorts, and technically he’s still not, well, crying, even if his eyes are obviously wet. “Forgive me if I’m not believing that.”

It was probably meant to sound threatening, too, but he says it just when Rick says here’s looking at you, kid, and the effect is completely lost because just then a couple tears do escape.

“I am not well,” Illya says a moment later, still wiping at his eyes.

“I can see that,” Napoleon humors him.

“This is the only reason this is happening.”

“Of course.”

“You are making fun of me.”

“Peril, I saw that movie for the first time with my unit during the war and half of the men started crying long before now. Possibly it started when everyone was singing in French. And I’m not going to disclose whether I was in that half or not, but I’m not making fun of anyone here.”

“This is ridiculous,” Illya says a moment later, after having wiped at his eyes again - he looks back in control now, at least. “This film is inaccurate, they had people fleeing Hitler playing Nazis and the script is worst American sentimentalism -”

“You already straight up told me you thought it was not so bad regardless of the American drivel, you can like it even if it’s pure sentimentalism.”

Renault sends his officers rounding up the usual suspects and Illya drops the half-melted ice bag and turns on his side, staring straight at him. “It would not -”

“Let me guess,” Napoleon cuts him, “if your charming handler that I had the displeasure to meet in East Berlin had a clue that one of his top agents not only happens to enjoy a badly researched monument to American sentimentalism but also has emotional reactions to it that aren’t necessarily falling in the negative realm, he would be very displeased.”

Illya opens his mouth, then closes it at an obvious loss for words. Then -

“What if I say you are not entirely wrong?” He asks, sounding exhausted.

“I say that your charming handler is an idiot and that it doesn’t make you less of an effective agent, Peril. Never mind -”

“Never mind?”

Napoleon figures that wording it safely might be the best choice. Still, he has to at least partially come clean. “There’s nothing wrong with it. So after all you enjoy this monument to American sentimentalism - what’s the big deal? Let me tell you, all of this, being displeased about you actually enjoying things is just - that’s what people do, right? And you’re - fuck’s sake, Peril, you’re not at your organization’s beck and call even when it concerns your tastes. If they can’t see beyond how useful you might be, too bad for them.”

“Too bad for them?”

Napoleon isn’t quite sure he can put yes, because your superiors don’t get to see you gloating when you’re not playing chess against yourself, and they don’t get to discuss dumb opera plots with you, they don’t get to see you engrossed in cheap paperbacks and treat them like first editions because you care that much about what they say, and they don’t get to see that you have a personality and that it’s everything but unpleasant when one gets to know you, and I don’t understand why would anyone think it’s a good idea to treat you like an asset and not a person in words that might not sound completely ridiculous, never mind that he’s not even sure Illya would take such a rant seriously.

And fine, Napoleon had other plans for this - surely he hadn’t thought he’d do it in a Swedish cabin lost in the middle of nowhere while Illya is concussed, he needs a shower or ten, the two of them are completely exhausted and Rick is talking about the beginning of a beautiful friendship on the television screen, but he’s been known to be impulsive at times, and this is most definitely one of them.

He moves forward, puts a hand on the uninjured side of Illya’s head and kisses him - and it’s a fairly pitiful kiss, because usually he would move in closer, maybe run his tongue about his partner’s lower lip and make sure to keep it slow and thorough, but now he doesn’t even know what the reaction will be, and so he settles for pressing his lips against Illya’s in a way that might not leave doubts as to why he’s doing it.

The credits roll as Illya moves back just a tiny bit, but he hasn’t punched him in the face yet, and he’s not looking angry yet - he’s guarded, though.

“If you’re wondering what was that for,” Napoleon precedes the question that he knows is coming, “fine. What if I say I actually, you know, like you also because you’re the kind of person who cries at the end of Casablanca and is capable of walking out of something like today’s cock-up instead of getting themselves killed?”

Fine, that also was hardly the best way to confess your feelings, no doubt about that - for a moment he has no clue of what to expect because Illya’s just staring intently at him as if he’s trying to work something out, and Napoleon just keeps still and lets him, whatever it is that he thinks he’s doing, and -

“What if there’s something else I did not - think I should want?” Illya finally says, and Napoleon doesn’t miss how his accent is getting thicker.

“I think you should go for it,” Napoleon replies truthfully, hoping that this might go where he thinks it’s going.

Then -

Illya’s fingers are shaking ever so slightly as he reaches out and touches his neck, and then he’s tugging him down and they’re kissing again - it starts a bit tentative but never let it be said that Napoleon is the kind of man who doesn’t grab at chances with both hands when they present themselves, and so he does what he wanted to do before. He keeps the kiss slow but presses his mouth against Illya’s firmly, he grasps at Illya’s lower lip with his teeth just a tiny bit, swallowing the small moan he’s rewarded with, and when Illya’s lips part not so tentatively, he slips his tongue inside without much of a hurry, feeling the way Illya’s hands are moving towards the back of his head bringing the two of them closer. It’s not as heated as he had thought it would be if the two of them ever kissed a while ago, but Illya kisses back with enough fervor and intention that Napoleon can entirely believe it’s not a spur of the moment thing. He wonders how long they could have been doing this, and then he runs his tongue along Illya’s again and proceeds to kiss him properly all over again before moving away when he feels like he needs to catch his breath.

“That was what you wanted?” Napoleon asks.

“Yes,” Illya rasps, and they’re so close they could kiss again if one of them just moved a tiny bit.

“Well, I say you can have it,” Napoleon says. “Even if I was hoping to bring it up in a nicer occasion.”

“What?”

“I had plans. But you can’t know them right now. I still have them.”

“Fine,” Illya concedes, “I am not quite so sure prying them out of you would be wise. And this is not so bad.”

“According to you,” Napoleon retorts, his hand brushing over the bandage. “Do you need it changed?”

“Perhaps later.”

“Fine. Also, I guess I shouldn’t wake Gaby.”

“I think - I think we can let her sleep.”

The only thing Napoleon doesn’t like about this is that Illya sounds like someone who’s not quite sure this is really happening - which should be rectified as soon as possible. He leans closer again, his arm going to Illya’s waist, careful not to move his weight over him - Illya didn’t say it, but with the fall he took earlier there’s no way he doesn’t have bruises in places that might hurt if he did it.

“I was wondering,” he says, his free hand moving over Illya’s collarbone.

“Do I really want to know?”

“Given the circumstances, does that mean that we’ll always have Kolmården?”

He doesn’t know if Illya actually openly laughing at that means that he ruined the moment. But he thinks not.

“Do never try to learn Swedish, Cowboy, your pronunciation is atrocious,” Illya answers a moment later, his head falling against Napoleon’s collarbone.

“Fine, but I think that overall, it does sound less terrible than I thought it might.”

Fine, Illya can’t deny that also because Napoleon leans downwards and kisses him against the couch all over again before he can even try and do it. Still, he doesn’t technically deny it in the next few hours, nor when Gaby joins them in the living room after the sun rises and congratulates them on finally ending their perpetual dance around each other - that has to count for something.

--

Two days later, after they board their plane back home and after he’s told that they’re benched for the entirety of next week, he knows it’s time to actually go through with his original plan.

“Come to my room tomorrow for dinner,” he tells Illya when they’re seated.

“Do you wish to - talk about it?” Illya asks, sounding halfway unsure of it, and he has a point because they haven’t exactly talked things out so far.

“Something like that,” Napoleon says, and refuses to share further details. He also notices how smug Illya looks when Napoleon starts reading his translated Crime and Punishment, and when his head falls over Napoleon’s shoulder half an hour into their flight Napoleon lets him be. If he slings an arm around the man’s shoulders, no one is going to find it too conspicuous.

--

He doesn’t let himself wondering how ridiculous it is that he pretty much spends the next day holed up inside his room going over his recipes and cooking dinner. It’s probably a good idea that he does it, though, because he burns the first batch of blini and he also the second. Thankfully he figures out where he was going wrong after that one and by the time eight PM rolls in he has everything ready and set on the table and he’s changed into one of his most comfortable suits.

Just in time, because someone knocks at eight sharp. Napoleon opens the door to find Illya on the other side wearing - the red angora sweater, which by the way was another great catch, because it does look as good on him as the blue one did.

“Well, do come in,” he says. “I hope dinner is to your liking.”

“I guess I should be grateful that your taste in food is better than your fellow -” He was probably going to say countrymen, but he stops when Napoleon moves and Illya sets sight on what is on the table.

Napoleon can see him working it out in a moment.

“... Cowboy, is that somehow the reason Gaby was questioning me when we had lunch before Portugal?”

“Asking you would have quite spoiled the surprise, wouldn’t it? By the way, what happened in Sweden? It wasn’t in the plans. The plans were - this, pretty much.”

He can only see Illya’s shoulders no - he’s turned towards the table, giving him his back, and months ago Napoleon would have wondered how much did it take for Illya to just leave himself completely unprotected with someone behind him. He sees Illya’s frame trembling ever so slightly, once, twice, his hands gripping the seat’s back.

“By the way, if the recipe is off you can blame Miss Kuznetsova.”

At that, Illya turns back towards him again, looking - well. He had a similar expression on his face when Napoleon handed him the books in East Berlin.

“Miss Kuznetsova? Waverly’s new secretary?”

“I told you, I know how to cook stroganoff but that was it. I asked her advice for everything else. Including dessert. By the way, nice taste. I especially am fond of that cake’s name.”

“You are impossible,” Illya says under his breath, but he sounds - certainly not as exasperated as he’s aiming for. “And - you didn’t have to do all this.” His voice has gone soft now, and he’s still leaning on the chair, and he does seem a bit overwhelmed.

“I guess I didn’t have to. Case is,” he answers, moving closer, “I felt like it. Also, since you think you don’t deserve to have the nice things you want, I guess I shall take that burden on me officially.”

“Officially,” Illya considers as one of his hands goes to the small of Napoleon’s back.

“I think you might have noticed I have been shouldering it for quite some time. Not that I mind at all.”

“I - what if I say I think I can live with it?”

“Why, Peril, that was exactly what I was hoping to hear.”

After all, he thinks as Illya’s hand goes behind his neck and drags him upward for a bruising kiss, he’s nowhere near ready to stop shouldering that particular burden anytime soon.

 

Epilogue

 

“Why are we in the men’s section? We were supposed -”

“I think Miss Teller would rather not have us arguing on whether her hat should match her gown. Besides, you need a new suit.”

“The one I have is perfectly -”

“The one you have is the only one you have and that’s unacceptable.” Napoleon hopes the tone sounded definitive enough, and heads straight for the right rack, Illya following behind with the face of someone who’s definitely not entirely on board with this.

“There is still no need to buy it here,” he mutters as Napoleon looks through the rack.

“You didn’t object when I said we should shop here for Gaby, or at least I don’t remember hearing you suggest something more affordable.” They’re at Liberty, again. Just this morning, they went in for their usual briefing, and for once they are supposed to be benched while Gaby is supposed to sweet talk the son of this lord who might be selling State secrets to Mossad. She’s also supposed to do it during tomorrow’s performance of I puritani at Covent Garden. Her reaction wasn’t too enthusiastic - for one, she muttered something along the lines of I’d have rather gone to a Beatles concert, but I suppose I could do worse, but most important she doesn’t have anything appropriate to wear.

Napoleon had noticed Illya looking disappointed that he didn’t get that kind of mission all over again, but he had been looking for that reaction. Napoleon had waited for him and Gaby to leave, saying he needed to discuss something with the boss, and then he had asked Waverly if the agency might have another two tickets to spare. Just in case.

Waverly had looked at him with the face of a man who perfectly knows that you’re not telling the entire truth, and then had said that of course he could arrange it, and do you have any preferences as far as seats go, Solo?

Napoleon had smirked and said that a first order stall would have been ideal.

And then, when Gaby asked him if he knew some place where could get a godforsaken gown he had been quick to catch the occasion. Illya came along muttering that he needed to make sure Napoleon didn’t convince her to buy something horribly inconspicuous, which was all good - no further convincing needed.

Now they’re back at Liberty - no one had disagreed with him when he had declared it a suitable shop for their target.

“Wait a moment,” Illya says as Napoleon eyes a charcoal suit which could definitely be a good choice, “why do I need a suit?”

“Oh, didn’t I inform you? We’re going, too.”

“What - we are?”

“I asked Waverly if we could, just in case. Not I think we’ll be needed, which is all good and proper - I know you’d hate being distracted by some mission while Joan Sutherland is singing.”

That does momentarily work - Illya just stares at him, saying nothing, and before it can get awkward Napoleon grabs the three suits he had been eyeing and drops them into Illya’s arms.

“So how about you try them on? I swear on my honor I’m not forcing you to get more than one.”

“On your honor. Of course,” Illya snorts. “Fine, I will try them on.”

The first fits but it’s black and it looks like the kind someone would wear to a funeral, and Illya keeps on muttering about how stiff it feels, so it’s discarded. The second fits better but the dark burgundy somehow looked better on the rack than on Illya, so it’s discarded as well.

The third, though. The third is a nice, discreet dark blue that definitely doesn’t give the funeral vibes, and Illya actually looks somewhat more at ease in it. For some kind of miracle it falls in all the right places and it doesn’t even need adjusting on the shoulders or at the hems, and damn but Illya looks good in it.

“How does that feel?” Napoleon asks, painfully aware that his mouth has just gone dry.

“It is - quite comfortable,” Illya answers a moment later, looking down at his sleeves before staring back up at him. “Still, there is no need -”

“Now that I’ve seen you in it, I think that there is sorely the need. Actually -”

“What?”

Napoleon glances around the area - there’s no one else, and for some miracle the salesgirl isn’t here. Maybe it’s the shift change. He has no clue, but he’s not going to waste his chance.

He pushes Illya back into the changing room and locks the door.

“You aren’t thinking that we should -” Illya starts.

“Of course not, I want to buy it,” Napoleon retorts. “But I really have to do this,” he adds, and then he pushes Illya back up against the wall and kisses him without more warning.

And considering that Illya kisses him back without protesting any further, he decides it was a definitely brilliant idea. He also can’t help it when his hands move downwards, over the small of Illya’s back and then lower, and yes, that suit definitely fits in all the right places.

“This is not good,” Illya breathes when they part for air, even if his hands are not moving from Napoleon’s waist at all. “Anyone could -”

“Oh, we can be quiet, I think,” Napoleon says, purposefully lowering his voice before going for a kiss again, a bit slower this time, and fine, maybe they should just go out, buy the thing and -

“Hey, where are - oh, no, you aren’t.”

“Gaby?” Illya asks, and considering how mortified he sounds she’s going to guess at once what they were doing.

“I can’t believe you would - I mean, how irresponsible can you get, Solo?” She’s outside the door now, keeping her voice purposefully down.

Napoleon moves back, whispers we’re buying this, you can change back and leaves the room, closing the door behind him.

“We weren’t going to,” he says. “I mean, do you really think I’d risk ruining the clothes he had on? Who are you taking me for?”

“I just - you know what, never mind. Just one question. Is this, er, appropriate?”

She pretty much shoves at him a light green satin dress - Napoleon holds it in front of him and decides it’s not a bad choice. Probably she will look underdressed as it’s not as flashy as people usually wear during such big events, but he doubts Gaby cares for it or that it might be a problem.

“Yes?”

“Oh, good, I can buy it and put a stop to this torture. And by the way, you two? You’re terrible. I’m never going inside a shop with the two of you as long as I live.”

She turns her back on him and heads for the check out - Illya comes back out of the changing room not long later, the suit draped over his arm.

“She was right about leaving, though,” he says.

“Not before we find you a tie and a shirt,” Napoleon grins, and Illya does shake his head as if he’s just resigning himself to his antics, but he doesn’t say no, after all.

--

Napoleon will have to find some way to thank Waverly - maybe the man wouldn’t be too adverse to a nice new painting of note for his office (unless art gallery directors are usual guests at U.N.C.L.E., he needs to consider the issue thoroughly) - because the seats he found them are excellent. They’re the only ones in one of the central first tier stalls, and he hadn’t remembered that those stalls had curtains, but it might come useful later.

Gaby is sweet talking her lord down in the parterre and she looks perfectly at ease in her green dress - good. If she needs help she’ll let them know. Illya, instead, is glancing at the balconies, taking in the view. He loosens his tie a bit before sitting back on the chair, and maybe he doesn’t look like he owns the place or like he’s at ease with it yet, but he definitely seems happy to be here in all the ways the overdressed people sitting down in the parterre aren’t.

“Hey,” Napoleon says, handing him the libretto he got in the foyer before while Illya was busy staring at the ceiling, “I got you another souvenir. But if we meet Joan Sutherland in some other bar I’m not asking her to sign it.”

“Very funny,” Illya remarks, but then he takes it without adding anything else. “And you would. Are you sure that -”

“Gaby looked plenty fine. If she needs us she knows how to contact me.”

“Why you?”

“Because we both agreed that you should enjoy the show without worrying about the mission if there’s something to worry about.”

That’s when the lights go down, which is probably a good thing - it’s not the kind of conversation that they should have had here, if it had gone on.

Illya definitely enjoys the show more than Napoleon does - he loves the voices but he always thought the plot for this particular opera was more unbelievable than average and it’s too long considering how flimsy it is, really, never mind that the libretto is hardly a masterpiece. When Sutherland isn’t singing, he doesn’t pay attention to the stage and instead either glances down at Gaby (who, from his vantage point, looks this close to nod off every fifteen minutes or so), or he just stares at his left. Which, admittedly, is what he does most of the time he’s not paying attention to the opera. Illya barely even looks at him - he reads through the libretto quickly whenever a new scene begins and then he keeps his eyes glued on stage, and Napoleon isn’t ever going to tease him openly about the fact that he seems to actually be engrossed. Even if the plot is still completely ridiculous.

Things go pretty much as they had when they went to the Met, until it’s time for the love duet, finally because at least it means that the actual plot is done and he can just worry about the singing. But then the lights on the stage dim down further right in the middle of the scene. He notices that Illya is squinting down at the libretto - right, maybe he could still read before, but not now.

“You know,” he whispers as he moves closer, “I can translate that.”

Illya says nothing but he closes the libretto. Napoleon pulls his chair so that they’re side to side, just in time - the second half of the duet starts a moment later.

“Dear, I have no words that might convey how happy I am, I feel my soul rising in the ecstasy of love,” he starts, careful to keep his voice low and - yes, whoever wrote this really could have done a lot better. “In every moment, I’m breathless, I call for you and I only want you - come here, I’ll say it again, I love you of immense love, yes, feel it from my heart.”

He’s about to joke about how terribly banal it is, really, but then Illya groans something in Russian under his breath that Napoleon doesn’t quite catch.

Also, his hands are gripping the side of the chair even if he’s keeping himself perfectly still.

Wait.

Napoleon moves closer so that he’s whispering right against Illya’s ear. “Yes, tell me again, my treasure - in every moment, I’m breathless, I call for you and I only want you,” he says just after the tenor.

He also reaches down and takes one of Illya’s hands in his. It’s not trembling, but Illya is obviously trying to stay still and he’s breathing - somewhat irregularly.

Well then. “Oh, my treasure, we’ll be forever united, we’ll be together always.”

Illya takes in a sharp breath. “This is - not good,” he croaks, his voice barely audible.

And now that he hears it, Napoleon thinks he knows why. He smiles and doesn’t answer. Rather, he keeps on. “Come into my arms, my love, my treasure, my life, come, you won’t be stolen from me as long as I’m keeping you held against my heart.”

“Cowboy, I did read as far as that,” Illya says, but he sounds downright flustered now.

“Come here, I love you with immense love,” Napoleon goes on, ignoring him. “And, in that love, I shall always live with you.”

Illya keeps on staring defiantly at the stage as the two lovers finally kiss, but when it happens, he doesn’t clap along with the rest of the audience - instead, he turns to look at him and it might be dark but Napoleon can see that his pupils are slightly blown, and he’s sweating just a tiny bit.

Good thing the best part ended just now, Napoleon thinks, and then he reaches out and closes the curtains at the sides of the stall.

It’s very telling that Illya pretty much grabs the back of his head and drags him into a kiss that has no right to be this bruising - Napoleon half-ends up on his lap and the balance is precarious, but he can keep it. So he kisses back, his lips parting when Illya’s tongue pushes forward, and people are still clapping and they might for some time, so why not going for it.

After all, this is a perfectly legitimate use for a stall.

People are still clapping when Illya lets him breathe, even if his grip at the back of Napoleon’s neck is still way too strong to let him move freely. Not that he wants to.

“This is insane,” Illya blurts out, still barely audible over the clapping and screams outside the curtain.

“Maybe, but I’m quite sure we would hardly be the first.”

“It’s too -” Illya starts, and never finishes it because Napoleon bites down on his lower lip and he has to keep down a groan instead.

Even if he does have a point - it would be fairly too risky. Here.

“And what if,” Napoleon starts again, “we find one of the restrooms after this is over? After all, Gaby is going to the post-performance party. They certainly aren’t going to close the theater until it’s over. I am fairly sure that the restroom near the gallery is empty after performances.”

“I say you will be the death of me,” Illya retorts, but - again, he hasn’t said no, has he?

Napoleon grins and opens up the curtain again just as the clapping winds down. Illya tells him that he doesn’t need more translations, he can imagine what’s happening himself, but he doesn’t even shrug away Napoleon’s hand when it moves around his waist. Too bad they couldn’t do this anywhere else, Napoleon thinks - they can now because it’s dark and they’re alone and everyone is looking at the stage anyway.

Still, he’ll make the most of the situation in a bit.

He waits for the end, he dutifully claps until the last curtain call and doesn’t even try to dissuade Illya from it even if Illya keeps on glancing in his direction with the face of a man who is really about to lose control and not in the bad way. And when he’s sure it’s over, he grabs Illya by the arm.

“So, should we? Before we end up running into everyone else going downstairs.”

Illya glares at him with blown pupils that somehow lessen the effect, and he follows him outside.

For some miracle, they do manage to reach the gallery’s restrooms without crashing into anyone else, and Napoleon is very glad to see that he was right - they’re empty. He heads for the last one in the row and the moment Illya is in he locks the door - and fine, it’s a fairly tight fit, but it could be worse. He can’t kneel, not when the two of them have some breathing space but not that much, but it’ll have to do.

“If someone comes -” Illya starts, and then Napoleon presses up against him. Illya bites down a groan at that, never finishing the sentence.

“Then we just have to be quiet now. By the way…” He drops his tone even lower - now just someone right outside the door could hear him. “Obviously for now I can only do so much, but when we’re back at HQ, I might make it up to you.”

“How,” Illya says, obviously trying to keep his tone down, and it can’t be easy when Napoleon has both hands undoing his belt.

“If you want me to speak Italian you just have to ask, Peril. Or am I wrong when I say I thought you might be interested?”

Illya visibly bites down on his lower lip as the belt falls open.

“It seemed to me that you were enjoying it. Weren’t you?”

“Maybe I was,” Illya breathes out as Napoleon moves even closer, his hand slipping past the waist of his trousers. Illya drags him forward for a kiss right when Napoleon’s fingers finally reach his erection, which - damn, he had felt it when they first pressed against each other, but he hadn’t realized he was this far gone already.

He strokes once and Illya pretty much moans into his mouth - damn, now it’s not just Illya’s suit that is starting to feel smaller than it should be, but Napoleon figures he can handle it until they’re back in his room and on a bed. For now he just smiles into the kiss and strokes twice, then again, and it’s a good thing that Illya is pressed up against the wall because for a moment he seems to lose his balance.

If you were,” Napoleon breathes when they part, as Illya breathes in sharply, “then - why, I think there’s something you - need to understand.”

What,” Illya says against his mouth as Napoleon slows down a bit - he’s this close, and Napoleon can feel that indeed, but he’s going to draw it out a little bit. Or as much as he can get away with.

“I thought it was clear by now.” His free hand goes to the back of Illya’s neck, his thumb hooking beneath the shirt’s collar, his mouth covering Illya’s when he moans again as Napoleon’s fingers start moving again. “See,” he says, and now he goes a bit faster, again, “when you want something and I could - well, reasonably make it happen…” He bites down very softly on Illya’s lower lip and then gives his cock a long, hard stroke. “You only have to ask, you know.”

He moves his free hand downward at that, behind Illya’s back, and it’s worth the pain of having it pressed that strongly against the wall because then Illya comes with a long shudder, his mouth crashing against Napoleon’s, and if he hadn’t had that arm around his shoulders they’d have probably crumpled to the ground. Napoleon just keeps on stroking him, slower, until Illya’s more or less leaning on him, completely spent - there’s sweat in his hair and both their suits will be very creased, and Napoleon really needs him to return the favor the moment they’re back in his bedroom, but for now it’s been entirely worth it. He can stand to wait some.

“I cannot understand if this was your best idea or the most reckless dumb thing you ever did,” Illya mutters after he’s caught his breath, leaning back just a bit. Napoleon smirks and grabs his handkerchief from the inner pocket of his jacket with his free hand before handing it over to Illya.

“I quite like the positive outcome, Peril. And you’re borrowing that - give it back after you washed it, will you?”

“Wait, you can’t -”

“Oh, I think I can wash my hands outside like a civilized person. There’s no one around, after all.”

He’s thankfully right, and by the time he has washed and dried his hands, Illya walks out of the stall - the suit is creased, his hair is fairly rumpled and his cheeks are flushed, but after he throws a fair amount of cold water on his face he doesn’t look like someone who just got laid in the restroom.

And then -

“You didn’t -” Illya starts as they leave the room and head downstairs.

“I’m moved that you realized now, but don’t worry, I can wait. And my offer is still valid - as long as you make it worth my while.”

Napoleon thinks he really likes the glint Illya has in his eyes right now. “I think I will... make it worth your while, Cowboy. And I think I will take your offer, as long as you - explain what you say after.”

“Why, Peril, I think it’s a date. Another one, since I don’t think this counts as a mission.”

“As long as no one hears you say it,” Illya mutters - they’re back at the foyer now. The agent posing in between the staff who was supposed to contact them if there was the need is serving drinks at the bar and isn’t coming their way, so Napoleon assumes Gaby is doing fine.

“You have a deal. And are you sure you don’t want a drink? The bar is still open.”

The bar is also as lavish as the rest of the building, and Napoleon is sure that the price listing will reflect it. He expects a negative answer, truthfully, but -

“For once, I might,” Illya replies quietly, sounding like someone who can’t quite believe they’re really saying it.

“Good. I see there’s hope for you, yet.”

“As long as I am paying.”

Napoleon opens his mouth.

“If you insinuate that I am growing fond of your capitalist traditions, you can forget what we said before.”

Napoleon closes his mouth and raises his hands in defeat. “Fine. I’ll let you buy me overpriced wine and we won’t talk about it. Deal?”

“Deal,” Illya repeats, his tone going slightly softer as they head for the nearest empty table.

They get their overpriced drinks - Napoleon gets red wine, Illya something not alcoholic that Napoleon doesn’t quite get, and he’s halfway through his glass when Illya suddenly clears his throat.

“I have a question.”

“Do go ahead.”

“After Gaby is done here - we are going to New York, yes?”

“From what the boss said, sounded like it. Why? Want to visit the Met again and see if we can pull off this trick there, as well?”

Illya glares at him in a way that would have looked effective if the flush hadn’t just come back to his cheeks. “Considering your nation’s usually ridiculous concerns about… public decency, maybe we should not - do that. But - as far as going again…”

“Sure,” Napoleon says before he can start being embarrassed for having asked it.

“Right. You did say I only had to ask,” Illya says a moment later, not trying to hide the fondness in his tone, even if he’s talking more to himself than to him, and Napoleon doesn’t try to hide it from his own as well when he moves closer and answers, “I did, and you should ask more often.”

“Shut up,” Illya says with no bite at all. “We both know that if I don’t you will do it anyway.”

Napoleon doesn’t even try to correct him - he chooses to move his seat closer and hook his ankle around one of Illya’s. That was an entirely correct statement, after all.

 

End.