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take it from me

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It’s so late that it’s early again, by the time that they all get back to the hotel, or just getting there: enough so that the streets are still busy, late-night revelry drawing to a close, but Gaby can tell that they’re at the tipping point of the night, now, right before it shifts into the absolute stillness of the hours just before dawn, the very first light seeping in at the horizon. She and Illya take the elevator, and tired as she is, there’s something unspoken between them, the continual interruption of circumstances and then something else.

Gaby’s good at reading people, remnants of a childhood spent ferried from relative to relative and then the proving grounds of adolescence, to say nothing of the way that movement is just as articulate a means of expression as words, even when it isn’t the formalized language of ballet. Napoleon is used to lying, with his words and his body and the way he takes up space; Illya isn’t remotely, for all that he has the formal training that Napoleon lacks, and is even less used to wanting something within his grasp and not moving to take it.

He’s scared, she realizes, or — there’s something there, anyway, tremulous and tender, like the way he’d said I’ll be close by, and the faintest pressure of his fingertips on her leg — awestruck, perhaps. Illya looks at her the way that she’s seen people look at the sky at sunrise, like someone discovering for the first time something that he doesn’t know how he’s lived without for so long. Illya looks at her like someone resigned to never having that.

Gaby’s had too many good things taken from her to not grab at them when they come into reach, though; she’s lost too much to not put up a fight for what’s left, and if that’s selfish of her, she doesn’t care. She cares about the way that Illya had looked, confronted with her fear, and the tenderness with which he had carried her through the underbrush, up the hill; she cares about, since then, the half-dozen moments they’ve stolen, over coffee and conspiracy, and the ways that he thinks it’s all right to care about people. Napoleon he cares about obtusely, and she isn’t even sure if Illya knows it yet, whether his blunt affection is a cover while he tries to figure it out or simply a way of avoiding doing so.

She isn’t sure how Illya cares about her, besides that he does, and in a way that seems new to him, and therefore frightening, something to be dealt with like a chess problem, and in Napoleon’s room — it’s the biggest of all of theirs; she doesn’t know how he does it, but suspects it involves the desk clerk, who had considered Napoleon rather less than professionally — she considers it, over vodka, and over the rim of her glass, watching Napoleon’s sprawl get progressively less sustainable and more indulgent, and watching Illya’s posture remain entirely consistent. They’re talking about the partygoer they’d seen falling into the Seine, perhaps, to the delight of his friends, or the way that Paris looks at night — Napoleon — or maybe what they’ll do when they reconvene this afternoon, back on duty — Illya — and she’s never been willing to compromise on this. Gaby has never been willing to fight any less than tooth and claw for lamplight, and easy conversation, and can’t tell if she feels deliberate — choreographed — or tired, whether the moment is heavy with significance or if it’s the hour.

She stands, and sets her glass down; she’s barely taller than Illya, even when he’s sitting down, the way he is now, but it’s enough that he looks up at her. “Don’t you dare,” Gaby says to Napoleon without looking at him, “unless the world really is about to end,” and she takes an indulgent agony in the long breathless moment of it: the way that Illya leans up into her, the movement of his shoulders under her hands, his steadiness, even in motion, and kisses him the way she’s wanted to since Rome, and the way he’d gone still under her. He’d leaned up then, too, just barely, had obviously wanted even as he’d held himself in check, and now Illya is less tentative, but he’s following her lead, and Gaby holds him still so that she can kiss him breathless, match his want and meet him halfway.

“I’ll leave you to it,” Napoleon says, when she breaks away, and Illya turns to bury his face in her neck, presses his mouth to the juncture of her shoulder, the notch of her collarbone.

“Don’t you dare,” Gaby says, again. “Wait,” she says to Illya, who’s looking up at her, confused, and crooks her finger at Napoleon, who rises, and comes to meet her.

“Terribly unprofessional,” he says, and she holds him in place with her stare.

“You’ve never been professional in your life,” she says, and he laughs and settles his hands on her waist, slides them up her arms until she catches his wrists, and holds him that way.

“Depends on the profession,” Napoleon says, and Gaby knows that he kisses for show, appreciates the visual of it — the way she goes up on her toes, her fingertips pressing into his wrists — as much as the physicality, and indulges him. Napoleon provokes, in general as well as in specific, and she tightens her grip in response, is a little more forceful than she might be otherwise, lets herself bite at his lower lip to hear him sigh. There’s an ease to Napoleon that is comforting, regardless of what might be behind it.

“I’d hate to leave you out,” Napoleon says, then, to Illya, and Gaby realizes that Illya hasn’t moved all this time, watching them. Napoleon settles beside him, and waits. “May I?” he says.

Gaby doesn’t realize that she’s been holding her breath until Illya ducks his head, a halfway nod, and Napoleon surges forward as if he’s been held in check — more performance, no doubt, but then what else is there to him — and kisses Illya with one hand on his jaw, unspoken permission to touch. Illya is less shy with Napoleon, and tugs him closer by the hips after a moment, lets Napoleon press forward and turns to better meet him.

“I’d hate to think that was all for me,” Napoleon says, voice a little rough, when he pulls back.

“Me too,” Gaby says, inspecting her nails, and waits.

“Gaby,” Illya says, and when she looks at him there’s that same apprehension, that half-desire that someone will save him from what he wants.

If someone will, it won’t be her. Gaby settles over him this time, one hand in Illya’s hair, and sets to work on his shirt with the other; he isn’t particularly helpful, but the warmth of his hand on her back, his grip on her waist, more or less makes up for it, and Napoleon makes an impatient noise.

“It’s a very pretty picture,” he says, “but unless you’re planning to break another coffee table — well done, by the way — there’s actually furniture meant for this sort of thing.”

“So go bring it here,” Gaby says, rudely, and yelps in surprise when Illya stands up, kicking him in the ribs when she wraps her legs around him, dress riding up. He winces. “Some warning would be nice,” she says, and tempers the reproach by kissing his shoulder. Illya shrugs and she glares at him, but holds on until he sets her down on the bed, and then she hooks a leg around his and pulls until he loses his balance and catches himself over her on his elbows.

“Come on,” she says, and holds up a hand at Napoleon. “You — wait.” She points at the chair by the door. “Sit.”

“Heel?” Napoleon asks. “Stay?”

“Beg,” she suggests, and doesn’t miss the way he shifts at that.

“Promises,” he says, and settles in.

“Wait,” Gaby says, and pushes Illya away for a moment, getting up. “Take this off,” she says, and indicates her dress, and turns around; Napoleon unzips it smoothly, and takes it when she pushes it off her shoulders and steps out of it, all solicitous care. “Now sit.”

Napoleon leaves the dress folded over the foot of the bed, and doesn’t say anything at all. He sits. Illya watches both of them, and Gaby thinks that she’s never seen him like this, so afraid of what he wants. “I’ve never — not with — Gaby,” Illya says, and she thinks, oh.

It makes sense, not that she’s giving it overmuch thought at the moment, and so she stands there for a moment, halfway between them, and smiles at him. It isn’t something that she does, much; most of the time, she assumes that he knows. Now, though, she lets him look at her, and climbs onto the bed, settling herself over him, and says: “Let me?”

“Please,” Illya says, and she kisses him again for that, rocks against him to feel him arch.

“Here,” she says, and takes him by the hand, laces her fingers in his and traces down from her throat down the center of her chest, presses into his hand until he’s cupping her breast through lace. “Like that—” she says, when he traces an arc with his thumb, and sighs “—and here,” she says, and his other hand is still at the narrowest point of her waist, holding her steady, and she drags his fingers down across her hip, pushes against them until he settles into a rhythm. She comes like that, from the pressure of his fingers and the roughness of the lace, and props her chin up on his chest to watch as Illya presses his fingers to his mouth, curious.

“We can do that, too,” Gaby says, and he looks at her as if realizing that getting what he wants might not be so terrible after all.

“Leave me something,” Napoleon says, and when she looks up at him he’s as still as she’s ever seen him, all control except for his grip on the arms of the chair and the faint flush of his cheeks.

“You’ve been quiet,” Gaby says. “We should do this more often.”

“I was appreciating the art,” he says. “Besides, you seemed to be doing perfectly well on your own.”

“I liked it better when he was quiet,” Illya says, and Gaby laughs, delighted.

“We can do that too,” she says to Illya, and rolls off of him for a moment to leave her lace on the floor, and he settles back to watch; she spreads a hand low on her belly, and thinks abstractly about how nice his hands felt, and what it would be like for him to work her open, how she would feel it, and shudders, presses two fingers into herself and thinks that, later, she wants that, too. “Here,” she says, and traces over Illya’s mouth, lets him lap the shine off her fingertips before she pushes him back to lie down, and climbs onto the bed to swing her leg over his shoulders. “Follow my lead.”

He does, and Gaby slides a hand into his hair to guide him, lets him hold her steady with a hand on her hip and the other around her ankle, grip carefully firm. “Up,” she says, and pulls; “there,” she says, “but slow down—” and he does, soft and gentle, lets her set the pace. When she says “—more,” Illya gives her that, too, and makes a sound, when she pulls his hair, as if pleading.

“Do that again,” Napoleon says, quietly, and Gaby doesn’t look, but she can hear him shift as he leans forward.

“Do that again what,” she says, forces the words out, and doesn’t stop moving.

“Please,” Napoleon says. “Do that again, please, Gaby.”

“Easy,” she chides, but does it anyway, and turns to look at him. There’s none of the hesitance that she’d seen in Illya there, just desire. “Don’t worry, I’m sure you can find some way to make it up to me.”

“I don’t think that’ll help my case,” he says, distracted, and she rises up on her knees a little. Illya strains upward to follow, and Gaby tightens her grip on his hair, and presses him back into the bed.

“Your loss,” she says, and Illya pulls her down by her hip, but it isn’t enough yet. “Come on,” Gaby says, and presses even harder, and there, that’s perfect — he makes a noise from deep in his chest, desperate — and she rocks against his mouth, thinks of Napoleon waiting and the terrified trust with which Illya had said her name, and holds Illya in place, shuddering through it until she sighs and goes still, rolls sideways and tries to catch her breath.

Illya pushes himself to one elbow, and she can’t stop looking at the way his mouth is swollen pink, the slippery shine to it. “Gaby,” he says, as if wonderstruck, and she kisses it out of his mouth, her taste and her name and all the awe with which he says it.

“For God’s sake,” Napoleon starts. “Please—”

“Come on, then,” Gaby says, and pulls Illya up to sit on the edge of the bed, settles on her knees behind him to work at his belt. “Since you’ve asked so nicely.”

Napoleon is elegant in motion even when so clearly yearning, and goes to his knees like poetry. Illya gasps, and Gaby gently pins his arms and watches: Napoleon’s hands, clever at Illya’s waist; Napoleon’s mouth, already bitten red; the way that Napoleon looks up at both of them, and then takes Illya into his mouth, wet and messy and lush. Illya swears, and jerks forward, and Napoleon just takes it, eyes half-closed now, pulls back to gasp and bites his lip. Gaby feels Illya shiver, looking down at Napoleon, and thinks that this was well worth the wait. “Show-off,” she says, instead, and Napoleon hums in reply, goes down until Illya makes a noise as if all the air has been knocked out of him. “Get on with it.”

Napoleon does, too, and — there’s nothing elegant about it, not the clutch of Napoleon’s hands in the sheets, or the way he’s moving; he’s too desperate for that, but — it hits Gaby in the chest, solidly, visceral and undeniable. Maybe it’s the way that she wants to pull his hair, curling as it is, or the way that Illya goes silent when he comes, as if shocked, or one of a hundred things that she can’t name, at least not yet.

“Come up here,” she says, instead, and kisses him when he settles between her legs, bites at his mouth again and pulls his hair, and he looks exactly the way she’d expected him to at that, mouth falling open, eyes closed. “Well done.” She pulls again. “No smart remark?”

“Do that again,” Napoleon says, “please,” and she does, hard enough to pull his head back, so that she can scrape her teeth across his throat, the taut lines of it. “Please,” Napoleon says again, hips moving against the bed, and this time she wrenches his head back — he makes a desperate sound, all air — and bites hard enough to bruise, at the base of his throat where it’ll ache, and he goes rigid, gasps and comes, shaking even as she holds him in place.

Gaby’s sure he’s aware of what he looks like, but that doesn’t mean she can’t appreciate it.

“Quiet was good, but this works too,” Illya says.

“Don’t encourage him,” Gaby says fondly, and lets Napoleon bury his head in her neck. Illya traces the line of him, the concavity of the small of his back, and lets his hand rest there until Napoleon moves, drags his chin to rest on Gaby’s chest and presses a kiss there.

“You know,” Napoleon says, “I’m sure you could find some way to shut me up.”

“This is what happens when you encourage him,” Gaby says to the room at large, and looks down at him and over at Illya, who indicates his interest by giving her an unimpressed look and digging his nail into Napoleon’s back, which doesn’t help at all. She can’t quite suppress a smile. “Make your case, then.”

“Well,” Napoleon says, “I’ve been complimented on my professionalism—” and she can’t suppress her disbelieving laughter “—and I’ve been told that I provide excellent service.”

“Go on, then,” Gaby says, and thinks: this, I will fight for; God help anyone who tries to take this from me. It’s quiet outside, now, well into the stillest part of the night, and she thinks that she doesn’t need anything else anyway, not that she can’t fight for and win, if she wants, but she doesn’t say that. She thinks that they probably know, now, and if they don’t, she’ll do it anyway, and says, instead: “Impress me.”

They do.