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The first time happened completely by chance.

He hadn't even thought about what he was doing, just reacted - given the size difference between the two of them, it made perfect sense for him to be the one to give Solo assistance, hands cupped to help him reach a windowsill which was otherwise just a little out of reach. He hadn't even begrudged the shoeprint the American left on his shoulder as he levered himself in through the half-open window. A few moments later and the nearby door had opened silently, giving the two of them the opportunity to case the building without actually breaking in.

The next time, Illya told himself, was also something that just happened.

This time Gaby had been there as well, the three of them making the best of the most basic of accommodation, a run-down hut on the side of a Swiss mountain, which had turned out to be the perfect place to keep a low profile while also watching for illicit activity in the town below. Suspicious activity that was probably related to at least one European royal family, a concept that the good socialist in Illya found immensely satisfying. True to form, as if forgetting her own East German heritage and the political views that they should therefore share, Gaby was making some comment about Illya being a Hero of the Soviet Union in his own way and Solo was just there in the doorway between them so...

He hadn't realised what he'd done till he had done it. More surprisingly, given how easily they had come to blows in the early days of their partnership, Solo hadn't reacted other than to stiffen a little as Illya's hands had wrapped around his biceps and he'd just lifted the American out of the way. Like he was lifting furniture, moving an ill-positioned chair to somewhere more appropriate.

Solo had passed it off with a joke later, of course, as was his way. If there was one consistent thing about Napoleon Solo, it was that he'd always find some deprecating comment to make, no matter what the circumstance. But, thinking back on it from the quiet solitude of his bed, Illya had realised that Solo had reacted more than he'd initially thought - Illya hadn't imagined the sucked-in breath, the way Solo's eyes had widened slightly, his pupils dilating. Those kind of reactions were beyond the American's control, betraying the fact that Illya's actions had affected him more than he'd like to let on.

But affected him how, exactly? Many emotions had similar symptoms and Illya was determined not to misdiagnose the situation, not when the risks of doing so were so great and the likely impact of a mis-step even greater.

He was used to being the biggest man in the room. It was something that happened often, both during his time in the navy and later in the KGB, both institutions filled with the best that the Russian state could provide. And it wasn't as if Solo himself was a small man - any illusions he'd had about that had been swept away quite quickly the first time the two of them had tussled properly, throwing themselves through the partitions of that Berlin toilet block. Solo might be smaller than he was, shorter and a little slighter built, but he was solid muscle underneath those well-cut suits. Not, Illya thought, a man who was used to being pushed around, or who had ever tolerated it when it happened.

The best way forward, of course, was to undertake an experiment - like any good scientist, Illya would formulate a hypothesis and then test it, adjusting his initial theory in light of replicable results. He would do that, and he would start the following morning.

After that, Illya took every opportunity that presented itself to loom over Solo, reducing the physical distance between the two of them to the least he could manage without literally treading on the other man's heels. Every time the American turned around, Illya was there, an innocent expression on his face (of course!) but ever-present.

"Let me get that for you."

Illya pressed up against Solo's back, reaching up to grab a container that was just a fraction out of the American's reach - what idiot had put that box on such a high shelf anyway? Out of the corner of his eye, Illya was certain he saw Gaby smirk at the two of them. It looked like he wasn't the only one who had seen how Solo had reacted the other day, or figured out just what Illya's own game was. Did he have a partner in this, he wondered? If not, then at least he was fairly certain she wouldn't interfere.

Solo muttered something that might have been 'thank you', though Illya wouldn't have bet on it. He'd felt the tension in the American's body, couldn't have missed it as his chest was pressed against Solo's back from hip to shoulder. More evidence for his theory, something to consider as another fact in support of his hypothesis, and Illya was nothing if not patient and methodical when it came to science.

---------------------

The third time was literally an accident.

Though you'd think the life of a spy would mean a lot of time watching as much as it did taking action, Illya had found there was also a lot of running away from things or people involved as well. At least, for this mission, he only had Solo to worry about - Gaby was in charge of communcations, not to mention being their designated getaway driver, a role for which her expertise with machinery made her more than equipped. That left him and Solo to undertake the actual infiltration, get in, get what they'd come for (in this case, microfilm of stolen blueprints) and get out. Undiscovered, if possible, but if not then at least unscathed.

That was, of course, when the building blew up.

When the dust had begun to settle, his ears still ringing, Illya had looked round and discovered the American was missing. He was certain Solo had been right behind him, just before the entire world was upended, but he wasn't there now. They hadn't been close enough to the explosion for there to be no trace of the other man left - Illya had enough experience with high explosives to be able to predict exactly the circumstances under which such a thing might happen and these didn't fit the bill - but Solo was still nowhere to be seen.

At least, the still-logical part of Illya's brain argued, an explosion like that meant he probably wasn't going to be disturbed by guards any time soon. He hadn't noticed any kind of fail-safe device, meaning he couldn't be completely certain what had triggered the explosion, but if there had been guards on the building before, they weren't going to be bothering anyone for a while. If ever. The more important task to hand was finding his missing partner.

"Illya? Napoleon?" Gaby's voice finally cut through the residual ringing in his ears. "If you don't answer me, I swear I'm coming in..."

"I'm here," Illya said quickly. "Stay where you are."

If the place was rigged, there was just as big a chance of a further boobytrap, one designed to catch any would-be rescuers (or looters) and he didn't want Gaby wandering into danger just because her partners had been unlucky enough to get themselves blown up.

"Napoleon?" Gaby asked. Even over the slightly tinny radio signal Illya could hear the concern in Gaby's voice as she asked the last question he wanted to answer.

"I'm looking for him," Illya said. "Now clear the line."

To his surprise, Gaby did as he asked and Illya stood for a moment, just listening. At first, all he could hear was the sound of concrete settling, steel beams groaning under unaccustomed weight and, somewhere further away, the rush of water from broken pipes. He took a careful step forward, not trusting what was under his feet and steadying himself as it shifted a little. The lights had gone out too, the electricity equally disrupted by the blast, and Illya pulled a flashlight from his pocket and turned it on, scanning his surroundings for Solo.

A few feet further from where he stood now was a hole in the ground. Since the American was nowhere else in sight, that seemed a good place to start. After a quick glance at the ceiling, just to make sure there would be no nasty surprises falling from above, Illya stretched out on the floor. He stuck his head and the hand holding the flashlight over the edge of fractured concrete, looking down.

"Goddamnit, Peril, get that light out of my eyes."

Illya's fingers tightened on the flashlight, the only sign anyone watching would have seen of his relief.

"We need to get out of here," he said, looking down at a very dusty Napoleon Solo, who lay uncomfortably across some furniture in what had probably once been a basement storage room.

"Illya, did you find him?"

"Yes," Illya replied, "he's fine." Below where he lay, Solo was getting up, ineffectually dusting himself down a little despite the fact that all that did was generate clouds of a mixture of dust and concrete to swirl around him. He coughed a few times, then seemed to realise the problem was self-inflicted and stopped what he was doing. "I think he lost his earpiece?" Solo looked up at that question, then reached up to his ear and nodded once. "We'll be right out."

"Give me a hand," Solo said, climbing onto the back of a nearby couch and reaching up. Between the two of them, he managed to get himself up to where Illya was, leaving them both sprawled on the floor for a moment as the American caught his breath. "Let's go."

It wasn't till Solo tried to walk that Illya realised there was a problem. He'd managed to climb without any apparent difficulty but the moment the American put any weight on his left ankle, it buckled under him.

"Here." Illya put Solo's arm around his shoulders, intending to help him walk, but the height difference he'd found so amusing a few days earlier soon proved to be more of a hindrance than a help. The two of them staggered to a halt again a few steps later. "No good." He looked at Solo, gauging his options and finding they were all quite attractive, all things considered. "I must to carry you."

"What?"

Solo didn't move fast enough. Before he could object in more detail, Illya had his hands on the American once more, picking him up. But not, as was probably more practical, a fireman's carry - he needed Solo to be able to see where he was going, just in case he was wrong about the risk from still-absent guards - the only logical choice was to carry Solo in his arms. Like a bride, one arm around Solo's back and the other under his knees, which would also prevent further damage to his ankle. It was all perfectly logical, not mention quite embarrassing for the American.

"You still have gun, I hope?" Illya asked, as Solo blustered a little at finding himself in this position. "Since I have hands full, you must keep eye out for guards."

Setting his jaw, Solo pulled his pistol from its holster. He didn't meet Illya's eyes as he did so and Illya was sure he saw a slight tinge of red on the American's cheekbones, though the fine layer of dust that covered both of them from head to toe made it difficult to be sure.

Luckily the rendezvous point wasn't too far away, because Solo was heavier than he looked.

Illya had to accept that, in hindsight, it would have been easier to put the American over his shoulder - that had its psychological advantages as well, and left him a hand free to guard the both of them - but there was just something about carrying Solo like this.

Over the ridge and down to where their stolen car was parked, Illya was careful of his footing, picking his way more slowly than he would otherwise have done across the uneven ground. One of them with a possibly-broken ankle was more than enough for any mission.

"Anyone following?"

"Don't see them if they are," Solo replied, craning his neck a little as if he needed the extra height to peer over Illya's shoulder, back to where they'd come from. It was a fiction, he wasn't that much shorter. "Let's just go."

Gaby was half-out of the car when they reached the clump of trees that hid it from view, one arm resting on its roof as she eyed Illya and Solo like they were schoolboys late for their lesson.

"You both okay?" she asked. Illya could only imagine what they looked like - Solo was covered in dust and he was certain the same was true for himself. Normally the American clothed himself a little like he was putting on armour against a coming fight. Even in coveralls like the ones they currently wore, more suitable for infiltration than a three piece suit most of the time, he usually managed to look much tidier than Illya ever felt. "I've called for a medic to meet us at the safehouse."

"Good," Illya said.

"I'm fine," Solo said, at pretty much the same moment.

Gaby looked at the two of them, eyebrows raised at Solo in particular, Illya was glad to see. He wasn't going to get in the way of what he knew was coming for the American.

"If you're 'fine', then why is Illya carrying you like it's your wedding day?"

Illya bit back a laugh, even as he felt Solo stiffen at her tone, not to mention the unspoken implications of her words. He busied himself with fumbling for the door handle, pulling open the rear door of the car and pretending he couldn't hear the furious words in German being exchanged between his partners. Gaby only resorted to German when she was really cross with them and at least he wasn't the target this time around.

"Put me down," Solo said to Illya, reaching out one hand to the open door and letting it take his weight. Illya lowered the American's feet, then stepped back. Let them sort this out between the two of them. "I'm fine," Solo said again, though his words were punctuated by the slam of the driver's door.

"Get in," Illya said. "We need to go."

As if refusing to admit how much his ankle hurt, Solo maneouvered himself into the rear seat and let Illya shut the door behind him. Illya's ass had barely touched the passenger seat before the car was peeling away from where it stood - it was a battle for him to get the door properly closed and get his seatbelt fastened before a sharp left hand turn would have had him sprawling across Gaby's lap.

As promised, there was a medic waiting for them when they arrived at the safehouse; in fact she was peering anxiously through the window at them as they arrived.

The argument between Solo and Gaby seemed to have been forgotten by this point, possibly since Gaby had taken out some of her anger through what had been even more aggressive driving than usual (which was saying something). She hustled round to the rear door, which Solo had already opened, and offered her hand to pull him to his remaining good foot - their height difference was amusing too, but in a different way, as Gaby's shoulder fitted almost perfectly under Solo's arm as she helped him navigate the few steps into the safehouse.

By the time Illya had emptied the car of their belongings and followed them in, Solo was sitting
on a battered-looking sofa with his foot raised on a nearby wooden chair. The medic was examining his ankle, which had turned a nasty shade of reddish-purple and was clearly swollen. Solo's boot lay nearby and Illya wasn't surprised to see it had been cut open to get it off.

"I don't think it's broken," the medic said finally, standing up. "But, once you've got yourself cleaned up, you should keep off it for a few days."

"Cleaned up," Solo echoed. He made it sound as if the idea of a hot shower, of clothes that didn't almost stand up on their own because of their coating of dust, was a lovely dream he could never have.

"I'm sure your partner will help you, Mr. Solo," the medic said, smiling at Illya as she did so. He almost looked over his shoulder to see who she was smiling at - he hadn't even been sure she'd noticed he'd entered the room, she'd been so intent on the American's ankle. "Won't you, Mr. Kuryakin?"

---------------------

That night, Solo slept on the couch.

He'd accepted the aspirin the medic had given him but refused anything stronger - Illya would have done the same, it always seemed like overkill when more serious injuries would merit the kind of painkiller that was being suggested. The creaking refrigerator in the safehouse had a tiny freezer compartment and they chipped some of its lining of ice away for a makeshift icepack. Gaby had put herself in charge of making sure it was applied properly, chiding Solo when he tried to leave it on for longer than recommended, but at least their brief argument on the subject was in English this time around.

By the time morning came and Illya went downstairs in search of coffee and breakfast, he was sure Solo hadn't slept very much. He was sprawled on the sofa, one leg hooked over its arm so his ankle was raised as suggested, but he didn't look like he'd been comfortable at any point in the recent past.

"Get me some aspirin, Peril," Solo said, when he saw he wasn't alone. Illya looked around for the bottle and found it where he'd last seen it - on the nearby coffee table, well within reach. Still, if he'd hurt himself yesterday, Illya had to accept he'd be wanting a little care and consideration from his partners too so he bit back the instruction to get it himself and did as he was asked. "And some water?"

Dropping the bottle of aspirin into Solo's hands, Illya turned and went into the kitchen.

"Are you making breakfast?" Gaby asked, appearing at the doorway. "I'm sure Napoleon would like some too."

"Water first," Solo said. "Then breakfast."

He'd apparently lost this argument before it even began, if the two of them were already ganging up on him this early in the morning. Illya finished filling a glass with water, then handed it to Gaby.

"For him," he said, indicating the sofa and Solo on it. "If I make breakfast, you must wait on injured."

By the time Illya had busied himself gathering together ingredients for breakfast from the refrigerator, he realised could hear Gaby and Solo talking but not quite make out the words.

"So, what's for breakfast?" Gaby asked, more loudly. Illya ignored her, concentrating on breaking eggs into a bowl. "Eggs?" She was at his shoulder now, peering round him as if she'd never seen a man making breakfast before and didn't quite know what to make of it. "I like mine fried. Or scrambled." Out of the corner of his eye, Illya saw her half-turn to where Solo was lying, watching the two of them with a suspicious expression on his face. "How about you, Napoleon? Any requests for the chef?"

"Whatever Peril makes us is fine by me," Solo said.

Illya glanced over his shoulder, unsure he'd heard the American right - was he really not making suggestions about what Illya ought to do, for possibly the first time since they'd met? He thought back to the medic's examination the previous night and wondered if she'd also checked for a head injury before Illya came in. He hadn't even thought of the possibility, given that Solo had been lucid and talking like he usually did, either of which could have easily hidden a concussion.

"I thought I saw some cheese in the fridge," Gaby continued, as if Solo hadn't spoken. "Cheese omelettes, then?" She prodded Illya in the ribs, her finger unexpectedly pointed. "You should look."

"Do not touch anything," Illya said, lowering the whisk into the bowl unused. Gaby might have many talents, her skills with anything mechanical were second to none, but he had no intention of letting her be involved in something as important as breakfast. "I will check."

He opened the refrigerator door and looked inside.

"I don't see cheese."

"Try the bottom shelf," Gaby said. "I thought it was right at the back."

Illya squatted in front of the fridge, one hand holding the edge of the door, then leaned forward to peer into it. Behind him, from the sofa, he was certain he heard a muffled noise from Solo but when he looked round the American was fiddling with the bottle of aspirin, holding it up against the light from the window and counting its contents. Solo's face looked a little flushed, though - maybe he was running a temperature?

"No cheese," Illya said, after a final check. He closed the fridge door, returning to his would-be omelettes and trying to ignore whatever was going on around him. He'd had plenty of practice at that, working with these two for the past few months.

"Any news on extraction?" Solo asked, when they had finished their breakfast.

"Not yet," Gaby replied, piling their discarded plates and cutlery onto the nearby coffee table. "So make yourself comfortable."

"I'm still covered in dust," Solo complained, as if he hadn't been the one who had decided after all that he didn't want to get cleaned up last night. If Illya remembered correctly - and of course, he did - Solo's view on taking a shower had done as rapid a U-turn as any Gaby might have made on four wheels once he'd realised that doing so would require more assistance than usual. And that assistance would have to come from Illya, not Gaby, as she had pointed out. "I should take a shower, now my ankle is feeling better."

As he spoke, the American moved his foot - true, it did seem a little less swollen this morning than it had the previous night, though still a combination of unusual colours - and just about managed to restrain from gasping as he moved it. If that was 'feeling better' then Illya was the proverbial monkey's uncle.

"Let Illya help you," Gaby said. "He wants to, don't you?"

If it hadn't been for their muttering together earlier, the content of which was still a mystery, Illya would probably have take Gaby's words at face value. Her betrayal of the two of them during the Vinciguerra case had proved she was a much better liar than anyone could have suspected but somehow Illya found he still wanted to believe what she was saying. He wondered how she did that, whether it was deliberate or just an accident of nature. When it came to Solo, he felt almost the exact opposite - a definite desire to disbelieve every word that came from the American's mouth, if not to put his fist in it afterwards. That desire had diminished a little as they had worked together but had been replaced, Illya had to admit now, by other desires which would probably be similarly unwelcome.

"Of course," Illya said. "Let me help you." His words were as bland as he could make them, years of speaking to superiors whose judgement would fall on any misspoken syllable giving him ample practice.

Now it was Solo whose expression was suspicious, which was exactly what Illya intended. He didn't like being on the defensive, not where the people he was working with were concerned - bad enough when that happened with the enemy, let alone... what were they exactly, anyway? Friends? Co-workers. That was the best description, definitely.

"I can do it," Solo said, batting off Illya's hand as he attempted to help the American get up from the sofa. He swung his raised leg around, shuffling across the cushions as he did so, before lowering it very gently to the floor. "I feel like the opening act at the circus," Solo continued, as he levered himself up. Illya tried not to step forward, not to grab at Solo as he was certain to fall, before he was suddenly balanced on one leg and then somehow managed to find an equilibrium. "Ta-da." He swept out his arms, a little mock-bow as if looking for the audience's applause.

"Now the stairs," Gaby said, nodding back in their direction. "This should be fun." Solo glared at her and she seemed to relent, getting up from her seat. "Fine. I'll help you upstairs but that's it. Anything past the bathroom door is Illya's problem, not mine."

Gaby was stronger than she looked. Illya reminded himself of that fact once more as he trailed the two of them up the wooden staircase, perfectly positioned (and certain of his ability) to catch both of them should they fall backwards for some reason. But then she had all sorts of experience to fall back on herself, not just a couple of years of hauling engines around but a more specialised physical training she never spoke of. Given some of the stories he'd heard about ballet schools, Illya was surprised that Gaby still loved to dance the way she did.

"All yours," she said, reaching the bathroom door at last. Solo looked a little drained just from that trip, sofa to bathroom, and leaned gratefully against the doorframe as Gaby relinquished him, slipping from under his arm as if she'd never been there. "Have fun!"

Before Illya could respond, she was already halfway back down the stairs and the two of them were left, alone.

"Just get me in the tub and I'll let you know when I'm done," Solo said, pushing the bathroom door open. Beyond lay a positively ancient bath, curved edges pockmarked with rust, above which someone had installed a more modern showerhead. Illya pushed past him, crossing over to the taps and turning them on - his own experience the previous night told him it would take a little while before the water would be warm enough - behind him Solo was still propped against the doorframe, watching him. "Sound like a plan, Peril?"

"Let water run," Illya said. "And take off clothes."

He busied himself with finding some towels, straightening the mat by the bath, ignoring the sound of Solo inching his way into the bathroom, leaning on the wall all the way. The sound of a zip behind him - Illya tested the temperature of the water and decided it was warm enough, even for a decadent American - then there was a shuffling sound that Illya interpreted as Solo removing his underpants without losing his balance again.

"Okay," Solo said, "help me out here."

A hand appeared in Illya's peripheral vision and he turned, instinctively. Solo grabbed onto his shoulder, bowing his head as if in acceptance of what would have to happen next, given the high sides of the tub. Illya's arm wrapped around Solo's waist, hand splayed across his belly. Yes, Solo was definitely running a slight temperature, the skin warm and taut beneath Illya's fingers, a sensation he tried not to get lost in. Concentrate, Kuryakin.

With one smooth movement, Solo was standing in the tub, warm water pouring down onto his head from the shower.

"I go now," Illya said, before he could give into temptation and see just what the rest of the American looked like. He could imagine it, piece it together from a hundred half-glimpses of Solo over the time they'd worked together, he didn't need to actually see. "Call when you are done."

He was out of the bathroom before Solo could respond, closing the door firmly between the two of them.

As much as a part of him wanted to go downstairs and leave Solo to his own devices, Illya knew that wouldn't be a good idea. If he knew anything about the American, it was that he didn't know any limits - his own or other peoples' - so there was little chance he'd actually ask for help when he really needed it. So Illya found himself waiting outside the bathroom door as long minutes passed and he began to wonder just exactly what was going on in there.

He could hear the water still running, but otherwise it was quiet.

When Solo was in a good mood and they were forced to share a bathroom, Illya had often heard him humming to himself in the shower. Usually, how he got into that good mood was the result of activities that didn't really come under the role of secret agent and which Illya didn't care to think about too closely - for Solo, it was almost a compulsion, it seemed, one about which Illya was certain a few psychologists of his acquaintance would have plenty to say. He always seemed in a better mood when not forced to merely associate with Gaby and Illya himself, which Illya tried not to take personally. They weren't friends after all and Solo apparently had needs.

Illya leaned a little closer to the door, so that his ear was almost pressed against the wood. Nothing. And definitely no humming. Except...

"Is he still in there?" Gaby's voice from right beside him made Illya jerk upright, half-turning and catching his elbow on the doorframe. "Oops, sorry about that," she continued, her tone more than a little insincere. "Is Napoleon okay?"

"He is fine," Illya said, rubbing his elbow and wondering just how a small German mechanic was able to sneak up on him that way. "If he needs help, he will call."

"I'm sure you'll both manage," Gaby said, with a grin, turning on her heel and heading back downstairs. Illya watched her in silence, making sure she was actually gone before he returned to his consideration of the bathroom door, his ear not quite so close to the wood this time.

That was definitely a sound from inside, but not a hum - was that a moan? Illya's hand was on the doorknob, the door opening before he could think about what he was doing.

"Uhhh."

The door swung open, letting a draft of cold air and one slightly confused Russian into the bathroom at the same time. Illya saw it all happen as if in slow-motion - Solo glanced over his shoulder towards the door, a puzzled look on his face, then (as realisation struck) the American lost his balance and fell, one hand reaching out for something to break his fall. All he could reach was the shower curtain, which looked flimsy at best, and the ping, ping, ping noise of the rings being pulled off the rail richocheted around the bathroom like the noise of gunfire.

By the time Illya had realised what was happening, Solo was already sprawled out in the tub on his back, one hand clutching the remnants of the shower curtain and the other still curled around a rapidly-diminishing erection.

"Eyes up here, Peril," Solo snapped, waving a hand in the direction of his face. "And get me a towel, would you?"

Perhaps his hearing had been playing tricks on him when he was the other side of the door, Illya decided, as he grabbed at the towel he'd found earlier and thrust it behind him in Solo's general direction, but it definitely seemed like the American had found a way of keeping himself entertained after all. Illya busied himself turning off the water, certain that he didn't want to see what was going on behind him till Solo was at least a little more covered than he was now.

"Help me out."

Illya turned, getting his first proper look at the situation in which Solo currently found himself. At least he didn't look like he'd injured his ankle any further, though that leg was currently stuck out to the side of the tub. Though the water had mostly drained away, what was left in the botton of the bath was one very unhappy looking American, still extremely wet and clutching a towel to his groin. This was not going to be easy, for either of them.

"Sit up," Illya said, leaning over the bath and wrapping his arms around Solo. The American had, at least, let go of the remnants of the shower curtain, which hung sadly across the edge of the tub and draped onto the floor. With one foot, Illya kicked it away so it wouldn't get caught around either of them. One of Solo's arms came up and rested on Illya's back but he was very aware of the position of Solo's other hand, clutching the towel to his groin and pressed between the two of them as Illya tried to lift him out of the tub. "Is not easy," Illya continued, as Solo slipped back down again, though he managed to stop the other man hitting the bottom of the tub with a resounding thump, if only just. "Easier if you hold sides of bath."

Solo didn't look convinced, and for a moment his hand seemed to press the towel closer before, with a huff, he took hold of it and dropped it on the other side of the bath.

"Just get me out of here," he said, leaning forward again and gripping the edges of the tub as Illya's arms went around him again.

This time, they were successful and Illya was able to get Solo upright again, before helping him step out of the bath and steady himself on the edge of the basin. Still wet, still naked, still with an erection. And looking anywhere other than at Illya as Solo grabbed another towel and began to dry himself off as effectively as a man using only one hand can manage.

"I wait outside," Illya said, sure he was speaking mostly to himself.

---------------------

With the bathroom door safely closed between the two of them, Illya wondered just what Solo thought he had to be annoyed about. It wasn't Illya's fault that Solo had hurt his ankle. He also hadn't asked to help the American shower, that had been Gaby's idea, and not one of her best. Illya had to accept that opening the door when Solo wasn't expecting it had startled him, but again if Solo had been paying attention to what he was supposed to be doing - getting clean, like he'd said he wanted since last night - instead of pleasuring himself, he wouldn't have ended up needing Illya's help again.

He had nothing to reproach himself about, Illya decided. Except for teasing Solo when he'd become curious about the reactions he was getting by just being in the other man's proximity - Illya had always thought he'd have made a first-rate scientist, if his time with the navy and then the KGB hadn't taken all of his attention and he'd just been conducting an experiment. It was his duty to be sure of his colleagues, to be able to rely on just how they would react in any given circumstance and so, to that end, all data was good data.

He had to admit that he hadn't figured on walking in on Solo like he'd just done. Somewhere in the back of Illya's mind a small suspicion was growing, though there was little evidence for it yet. He had to be sure it wasn't just wishful thinking on his part. After all, all the signs pointed to Solo being more than a little enthusiastic in his pursuit of women - as he leaned against the wall at the top of the stairs, Illya wondered just why that pursuit hadn't more actively included one Gaby Teller. Maybe, he'd heard the expression once and wasn't quite sure where, Solo did not fish from the company pier and that was all it was.

He was also certain Gaby would have something to say about any pursuit of her on Solo's part. She certainly always seemed to have an opinion on most things, whether Illya wanted to hear them or not, and was understandably invested in keeping an equilibrium between the three of them. It was one thing, after all, to pretend to be her fiancé but quite another for that kind of relationship to be more real. For himself, he'd always liked strong women but was unsure of his ability to keep up with this particular one, or indeed whether she would even want to be kept up with.

"Illya?" At least Gaby's voice came from downstairs this time, rather than right beside him. "We're leaving shortly, can you tell Napoleon he needs to pack his things?"

"Tell him yourself," Illya muttered, sure he was just far enough away for there to be no consequences for this minor rebellion.

"Tell who what?" Solo asked, emerging from the bathroom with the towel wrapped around his waist. "Are we off?" One hand held the towel closed, the other clutched the grubby and dust-covered coveralls he'd been wearing since the previous day - Illya tried, but failed, to wonder just what Solo had done with his abandoned underpants. "Here," Solo continued, shoving the coveralls at Illya.

"I am not servant," Illya said, bristling a little at Solo's demand. He crossed his arms, leaving Solo holding the coveralls out mutely, then turned and stalked away down the corridor towards the bedroom they had meant to be sharing. Behind him, he could hear Solo using the wall to support himself as he tried not to put any weight on his injured ankle but refused to feel guilty. "Pack things," he said, throwing the words over his shoulder when he was certain Solo had reached the doorway. Illya busied himself with the few items of clothing he'd brought, shoving them roughly into his battered suitcase.

Behind him, the other bed creaked and Illya's imagination provided the rest of the scene: Solo had sat down, dropping the coveralls he'd tried to foist off on Illya (if he hadn't just left them in the hallway) and was now pulling off the towel he'd wrapped around himself.

Illya didn't consider himself a modest person - the sheer lack of privacy his time in the navy had allowed had destroyed any thought of that - but Solo seemed even less concerned about the concept than almost anyone he'd known. It was probably the combination of that, along with the smirk which often made Illya's fists itch a little, that kept him resolutely concentrated on what he was doing, far beyond the time it actually took.

"You know," Solo began - words which were rarely the start of anything good, in Illya's experience - then paused a moment, as if thinking how to word the rest of this sentence, "it's usually considered common courtesy to knock before walking in on someone like that."

"I heard noise," Illya said without looking at Solo, then wondered why he was defending himself. It wasn't as if he was in the wrong, after all. "That is all."

"I bet you did, Peril."

Those words, spoken with the laziness of a sleepy cat, made Illya glance over his shoulder despite his better judgement. As he'd suspected, Solo was stretched out on the bed and was now completely naked. Illya felt himself redden, surprised that he could be affected that way by something so simple as biology - he knew, had always known, that Solo was well-formed but that was different than seeing him... displayed.

"Get dressed," Illya snapped, returning his attention to his packing although he'd been done for longer than he'd care to admit. Somehow, Illya had the feeling that things had turned between the two of them and, unlike his own experiments, he wasn't sure what the outcome of this particular scenario would be.

As he finally zipped up his suitcase, something soft hit Illya on the back of the head.

He looked down, pleased he hadn't reacted more violently, as there was little doubt about the identity of his assailant and only the nature of the weapon was a mystery - a quick glance showed it had been a pair of rolled up socks. Illya bent over and picked them up, conscious of the softness of the material against the callouses of his hands. Solo liked quality, even when it came to things nobody else might ever see, and his socks were no exception to that rule.

"Get dressed," he said again, picking his suitcase up and heading to the bedroom door.

Illya didn't need to look to know that Solo was ignoring his instructions, that he was probably still sprawled on the bed as naked as the day he was born. So, this time at least, he said nothing more and left the American to his own devices.

---------------------

He met Gaby halfway down the stairs.

"Is Napoleon nearly ready to go?" she asked, looking like she wanted to push past him. Illya stopped, blocking her way - him walking in on Solo in the bathroom was one thing, but if the American wanted to be naked in front of Gaby he could do it on his own initiative, not because of something Illya had started between them that had spiralled out of control. "Get out of the way, Illya."

"He is ready soon," Illya said, not budging even as Gaby tried to squirm past him. The stairs were quite narrow, so it wasn't something she was going to be able to manage easily, regardless of how sharp her elbows were. "Leave him."

She huffed, unused to not getting her own way. That was something else that needed a little tinkering with, this insistence on doing exactly what she wanted - that, Illya was certain, would get either her or one of them killed some time soon if she didn't learn to rein it in. Still, she was new to this line of work and maybe time would sort it out without any effort on Illya's part.

"Are you boys fighting?" she asked, suddenly. Illya blinked. "I don't like it when you're fighting."

"He is asshole," Illya said, knowing that response would make Gaby smile, which it did. He didn't use the American's words very often, but he'd heard Solo use that one on occasion and it never failed to make Gaby grin like a schoolgirl. "You know this."

"Well, you're no angel either," she said, turning and heading back downstairs. Illya followed her, still a little cautious in case she made a break for it and tried to sneak past him again. "You know this," she said, echoing his words and their tone with another grin.

"I am good socialist," Illya said. "Angels are figment of imagination."

Devils, though, that was another matter - he'd met enough evil in the world to believe a little in their existence, not that he was going to tell Gaby anything about what he'd seen. Bad enough she would be seeing things for herself, if she stayed in this line of work.

A sound on the stairs made the two of them turn; a rhythmic thumping sound, which heralded the appearance of first, Solo's suitcase, and then his bare feet. Rather than call for help, perhaps knowing the response he might get - Illya would have been tempted to put the American over his shoulder and carry him down that way - he had clearly decided he could manage on his own. It wasn't doing much for his suitcase, though the hard shell of the case was protecting it from the worst of the damage, and Illya went looking for the first aid kit when he saw how swollen Solo's ankle still was. Before they did anything else, that needed strapping up again.

"Having fun, Napoleon?" Gaby asked, walking over to the bottom of the stairs and relieving the American of his suitcase. He grimaced at her in response. "You could have called."

"I'm fine," Solo replied, though he clearly wasn't. It took an effort for Illya to put together the man he'd seen sprawled out on the bed only minutes before and the one who sat three steps from the bottom of the stairs. "But more aspirin would be good."

"Here," Illya said and tossed the bottle over. Solo caught it, tipped out a couple of pills and swallowed them dry - Illya knew from personal experience that was never pleasant and wondered what objection Solo had to asking for a glass of water. It wasn't as if they were in the middle of nowhere, even if the safehouse was a little basic. "And now your foot."

"No argument from me," Solo said.

Illya bit back a comment how unlikely that was as Solo rolled up his trouser leg a little. He wasn't sure he'd be sticking to aspirin if his own ankle was that colour and Illya concentrated on taking out gauze and scissors before beginning to strap it up again.

"I'll meet you at the car," Gaby said, disappearing with both suitcases and leaving the two of them together again, for the first time since the bedroom.

"I want my socks," Solo said, out of the blue. "You kept them."

Illya finished what he was doing, ignoring Solo as he knew it infuriated him, concentrating instead on tying off the bandage around the American's ankle.

"Your foot is too swollen," he said, putting everything back in the first aid case and crossing to replace it in the cupboard. "I keep for now." Solo had levered himself up, one hand on the wall, and was standing at the bottom of the stairs. "Maybe I keep for always." He wasn't sure what made him do it, it was just an idea that came to Illya in a flash - as he came closer to where Solo was standing, leaning really, he got the socks from his jacket pocket and made sure Solo saw them in his hand. "Very nice," he continued, stroking one thumb across the soft material and watching the American closely as he did so.

Illya knew Solo was going to move a split-second before he did, giving him just enough time to raise his arm, holding the socks above his head (and away from Solo, that was the important part) in a move that was horribly familiar to anyone who'd ever been a child. The height difference between them alone was enough to make it impossible for Solo to recapture them and Solo knew it, even as he lunged for them and lost his balance, falling heavily against Illya.

Solo could only save himself by wrapping his arms around Illya, almost instinctively, and trusting that Illya wouldn't fall as well. He didn't, though the breath was knocked out of him and he took a step backwards, their combined weight making him waver for a moment. Solo was pressed against him for what seemed like an eternity, though it couldn't have been more than a couple of seconds before he stepped back, taking his weight on his good ankle again, then started to hobble towards the door.

---------------------

The ride from the safehouse was quiet, at least.

Solo had limped to the door and been met by Gaby, who'd come back to see what was taking them so long. With a reproachful glance at Illya, she'd helped the American out to the car and seen him settled into the back seat - after they had been driving for a few minutes, Illya had glanced over his shoulder and seen that Solo was sleeping. His foot was propped up on one of Gaby's bags and he didn't look at all comfortable, but he'd managed to fall asleep anyway, a situation which Illya was certain he'd soon envy.

"Tell me what's going on," Gaby said quietly. She was even driving more carefully than usual, no sudden moves or rapid turns - they weren't being pursued at the moment, as far as either of them could tell, but that didn't usually stop her from driving like a maniac if she felt like it. "Are you and Napoleon fighting?"

It was the tone rather than the words which made Illya pause, rather than answering with a flippant denial like he usually would, like he had when she'd asked him on the stairs. He and Solo always fought, it was in their nature - their working together was based on a constant competition between them, though neither of them could probably say who was winning at any particular time. Illya hoped he was, he was certainly the better spy in his opinion, but somehow he suspected he wasn't.

And then there was Gaby. By all accounts she was a novice at this game, but she'd been recruited by Waverley long before either he or Solo had known that the British had an interest in what was going on. Not only had she double-crossed them with the Vinciguerra's, she'd been able to lie to them about her intentions long before that - even, they'd found later, before Solo had walked into that East Berlin chop shop and thought he was recruiting her. There was a subtle irony to that fact that Illya really liked, the idea that Solo had thought he was the puppeteer and had turned out to actually be one of two puppets. If Illya himself wasn't the other, he'd have been applauding the whole situation.

And now, with Solo asleep just feet behind them, she wanted to interrogate him on their partnership? If her motives hadn't been more than a little suspect before, Illya decided he had even more cause to be suspicious now.

"We are not fighting," Illya said, choosing his words carefully. He looked into the back seat again, trying to decide whether Solo really was asleep or just shamming - knowing the American, he could believe either to be the case. "Is difficult." He sighed, wondering if that was a little too much, but Gaby was still giving more of her attention to him than he liked, given that she was driving the three of them through relatively unknown territory. "Watch road, we can talk later."

His statement was punctuated by a tiny swerve, as the car hit a pothole and juddered. In the back seat, Solo jerked awake, banging his ankle against the back of the drivers seat and biting back a curse.

"Sorry," Gaby said, and sounded like she meant it. "Go back to sleep."

To Illya's surprise, Solo obediently settled back down and closed his eyes. After a few moments, he seemed to be asleep once more.

"You are miracle worker," Illya said, quietly. Gaby smiled at that, but said nothing in response.

Illya could only imagine what Solo's response would have been if he'd been the one telling him what to do, no matter how good his motives. It wasn't as if there was much else to do and Illya found himself relaxing a little too, though the passenger seat was a little more cramped for someone of his stature. They would be over the nearby border soon, their destination a small airfield where a plane was supposed to be waiting - a cargo plane, unfortunately, but that was their best chance of leaving anonymously, next stop New York.

---------------------

By the time they reached the airfield, Illya was starting to get a little anxious. It wasn't that he wanted some kind of repercussions from their mission the previous day, but so far this all seemed a little too easy. Nobody had shot at them, they'd made it to the safehouse without any issues and now they were heading home. Well, Solo's home anyway, since Illya didn't regard New York as anything but the latest in a long line of places he'd lived. He wasn't sure what Gaby thought about it all, or whether she was still infatuated by the concept of living in the decadent West after so many years the wrong side of the Wall.

To be honest, he wasn't even sure if Solo thought of it as home either. He knew the American had been born there, but that didn't automatically make a place home - Illya had been born in Moscow but didn't miss it at all, though that was probably more about the people he associated with the place than the place itself. His good memories of the city were heavily outweighed by those he'd formed after his father had been arrested, so his view of the place was more than a little jaded.

Still, they'd have plenty of time to think about that on the flight back. They'd reached the airfield now - the shabby-looking plane standing on the runway had to be their ride out of here. Gaby let the car roll to a halt at the gate, an unspoken opportunity for Illya to size up their situation and give the go-ahead for them to approach the plane. They could only see one person standing by it, smoking a cigarette at the base of the cargo ramp, and Illya was pretty sure he recognised him, even from this distance. When the man turned away, dropping his cigarette onto the tarmac of the runway and limping back up the ramp and out of sight, he was certain of it.

"Looks good," Illya said, but reached into his jacket and pulled out his pistol, just in case. That was definitely Michaelson, who was the pilot they'd been expecting, but that didn't necessarily mean it was 100% safe. "But go slow."

Gaby nodded, putting the car back into gear and accelerating smoothly across the tarmac, their path scribing an arc between the gate and the plane. His caution proved unnecessary - no enemy agents emerged from the plane, in fact nobody else was there except Michaelson, who waved an acknowledgement and then headed for the cockpit as soon as he saw the car pull up.

"Rise and shine," Gaby said, opening the rear door by Solo's head. "Illya, give him a hand?"

He'd been heading for the trunk, determined to busy himself with their suitcases and let Gaby deal with Solo again, but he didn't think quickly enough. Before Illya could respond, Gaby had disappeared toward the plane, heading up the ramp to check on the arrangements for their car and gossip with Michaelson, if Illya was any judge of the situation. She seemed to have most of the older agents wrapped around her little finger and, at times, Waverley as well. Illya wasn't sure what to think of that - it certainly wasn't KGB policy, but then the KGB didn't have any agents quite like Gaby Teller.

"I can manage," Solo said. "If you want to get the bags."

Of course, now it was Solo suggesting it, that was the last thing Illya wanted. As he'd told the American earlier, he wasn't their servant, so Solo had no right to tell him what to do.

"I help," Illya said, grabbing hold of Solo's wrist and tugging the other man towards him. "See, I am giving hand." Before Solo could say anything else, Illya had pulled Solo out of the car and had him standing, if a little unsteadily. A moment later and he had his shoulder in Solo's stomach, straightening up before the American had the chance to say anything, let alone struggle. "Is much better, this way."

It had to be shock that kept Solo from reacting, that meant Illya was across the few feet that separated the car from the cargo ramp and was partway up it before he drew breath.

"Sit," Illya continued, depositing Solo on one of the bench seats. His face was red again, Illya noted, as he turned back towards the car to retrieve their belongings, but that might just be from being over Illya's shoulder in a dead man's carry, even though that had been brief. "I get bags."

---------------------

They'd taken off within minutes, leaving the car standing in the middle of the now-empty airfield - Michaelson had promised someone would be along to collect it shortly and his promise seemed to be good enough to keep Gaby happy. She always seemed to regard any car she drove as belonging to her and wouldn't like the idea of it being mistreated in any way. After they took off she'd disappeared back to the cockpit, leaving Illya and Solo alone in the empty cargo space, facing off from two sets of bench seats. Illya suspected, given her love of driving fast, she was planning on learning how to fly and grilling poor Michaelson on the best way forward with that plan.

Earlier, Illya had carried Solo up the cargo ramp and been surprised at the lack of response to that tactic - it couldn't have been completely unexpected given their interactions of the past couple of days, but Solo hadn't said anything about it and the absence of a witty or sarcastic comment from the American was starting to worry Illya a little. Had he managed to push things too far between them? That seemed unlikely, given how competitive they always were, but maybe Solo saw being picked up that way as some greater slur on his masculinity than being carried from a bombed-out building. Not that Solo had anything to worry about in the masculinity department, if the show he'd put on for Illya while they were still at the safehouse was any evidence. He had no idea how Solo's mind worked, sometimes.

A couple of hours in to the flight, Illya noticed a change to the sound of one of the engines. They had been a monotonous drone, too loud for conversation even if he and Solo had anything they both wanted to talk about, and the pitch had altered enough to be noticeable. Gaby emerged from the cockpit shortly after, her expression serious.

"Michaelson says one of the engines is losing power," she said, leaning close enough to Illya so she could be heard clearly. "We need to put down so he can see if it's something he can fix."

Illya nodded to show he'd heard and understood, then watched as Gaby crossed to where Solo was sitting and repeated her message to him. Solo didn't look pleased at the idea and Illya couldn't blame him - they all wanted to get back to New York, where they could separate and get some well earned rest before whatever mission Waverley probably already had lined up for them rolled around.

The airfield where they landed was a little less basic than the one they'd taken off from, a small row of hangars showing regular traffic of some kind. By means of a mixture of basic English, patois and crudely-drawn pictures Illya was able to communicate with one of the men who worked there, sending him off to phone for a taxi so they could find a hotel. When he arrived shortly after, the taxi driver's English turned out to be a little better and soon the three of them were rattling along small country lanes towards what was promised to be the best hotel in the area.

As Illya suspected, that claim turned out to say little about either this hotel or the quality of any others that might exist - assuming there were any others in competition with this one. He'd stayed in bombed-out buildings that looked safer, but they didn't have much of a choice - they were stuck overnight, with Michaelson pronouncing himself fairly sure he could fix what was wrong and planning to get some sleep on the plane when he was finished.

"Three rooms, please."

Somehow Solo had ended up first at the reception desk and had turned up the charm as far as it would go. Not that this seemed to be having much effect on the lady who stood on the other side, given that she was eyeing the American like he'd just slithered out of her shoe.

"Two rooms," she replied. "And you are lucky to have them."

"Two then," Solo said, his smile diminishing a little under her unblinking scrutiny.

"And are either of you this young lady's husband?" the receptionist continued, as if Solo hadn't spoken. "No, then she will have a room to herself." She punctuated this statement by slapping a key down on the counter, sliding it in Gaby's direction. "Have a pleasant stay."

Once she had satisfied herself that their credentials were in order and they had signed the hotel register, the receptionist handed Illya another key but ignored Solo completely. She didn't wish either of them a pleasant stay, just turned her back on them and busied herself with paperwork as if they had never existed.

"What a charming establishment," Solo said, under his breath, a smile still fixed on his face. "Well, lead on Peril, I can't wait to see where we'll be sleeping."

---------------------

Gaby had already disappeared somewhere else in the building by the time Illya and Solo found their room. Illya wasn't sure what to expect given the condition of the outside but at least he could always sleep on the floor and give Solo the bed - the American looked more tired than Illya had seen before and he felt an unexpected twinge of sympathy. Perhaps he should stop needling Solo, at least until he was feeling a little better.

As he expected would be the case, the room was small. The bed, however, was not. It dominated the room, filling it from one side to the other to the point where Illya couldn't even begin to figure out how it had got in there in the first place. It had to have been brought in piece by piece, but then how had they assembled it? The only solution he could come up with was that somehow the hotel had been built around it... Anyway, so much for his well-intentioned plan to sleep on the floor - there was little floor actually exposed, with the bed itself so low-slung that Illya couldn't have got a thick hardback book under it, let alone a human being. There was no alternative, they would have to share.

"Door or window?" Solo asked, dropping his suitcase on the bed. He'd insisted on carrying it, leaning unsteadily against the wall and making slow progress along from reception, even though Illya could easily have carried all their baggage, not to mention Solo himself if he would have allowed it. "Your choice."

"Door." Illya chose quickly, deciding that if there was any trouble coming that was its likely source - the window was tiny, dirty shutters covering most of it and he was pretty sure that this side of the building dropped away steeply. Nobody was getting in there easily and there hadn't been a good vantage point for a sniper either, not that he'd done as thorough a reconnaissance as he would have liked. "I will look for bathroom," Illya continued, "lock door behind me."

He paused in the hallway till he heard the click of the lock. It was an added precaution, though anyone trying to kick that door open would get a nasty surprise - the edge of the bed was so close to the door that it would rebound right into the face of anyone trying to force it. Illya had seen something similar happen to one of his fellow agents early in his KGB career and the agent in question had been left with blood streaming down his face from a broken nose.

A few minutes later, having washed up as best he could in the hotel's rudimentary bathroom, Illya found himself outside the door again. He tapped quietly, listening for any sound of Solo moving - if the American had fallen asleep he could, of course, pick the lock but it would take some time and he hoped it wouldn't be necessary.

"Is me," he hissed, hearing the slight sound of movement behind the door and smiling to himself as Solo opened it. "You are too trusting." Illya slipped in through the small gap as Solo prevented the door from opening too wide, then stopped as he found the muzzle of a gun pressed into his ribs.

"Really," Solo said. "Besides, you make enough noise to wake the dead, Peril."

They swapped places; Illya half-climbed onto the bed to let Solo past, finding himself unexpectedly reluctant to let the American out of his sight. Before he could say anything, though, the door had opened and closed again and Illya was alone. It would take Solo longer, he calculated, pulling out a set of knives from his suitcase just in case he needed them during the night. It would be best to be prepared for all possibilities, Illya decided, as he tried to figure out just how long it would be reasonable to wait for Solo to return - he was injured, of course, so moving slower than usual, and he hadn't seen any women around so there was nothing else guaranteed to delay him.

Illya was just thinking about staging a possible rescue mission when he heard a shuffling step outside the door and recognised it immediately as Solo.

"You didn't lock the door," the American said, opening it as if in proof of his statement. Illya shrugged. "I could have been anyone."

"Bad enough it was you," Illya replied, backing onto the bed again so Solo could turn and lock the door behind him the way he so clearly wanted to do. If they'd also had a chair in the room - they didn't - Illya had seen enough bad spy movies to know that Solo would have propped it under the handle, just in case. "Now we get some sleep."

By the time Illya had finished his preparations - knife and gun under his pillow, since there was nowhere else in reach he could safely keep them - then stripped down, Solo was already on the bed. Not naked, this time, at least. He was wearing dark blue pyjama pants, soft and sleek-looking, dark enough that the colour was almost black, and was lying on his side, his back to Illya and the door.

Illya watched him for a moment, again wondering if Solo really was already asleep but dismissing the possibility. He'd have had to be utterly exhausted to fall asleep that quickly and he would have seen that level of tiredness, even if Solo prided himself on never letting any weakness show. After one last check of his weaponry, Illya flicked off the light and climbed onto the bed. He was tired too and it wasn't the first time they'd shared a bed - they'd even shared one with Gaby, the three of them piled together like puppies, on more than one occasion.

There was nothing between any of them that made this at all awkward and particularly not between him and Solo. Even if he'd apparently found an effective way to get beneath the American's skin, using his physical advantages over Solo as a way to needle him and shake that smug composure that made Illya want to... what, exactly? They were partners, colleagues, nothing more was wanted or possible for either of them.

---------------------

The explosion blew him off his feet, sending Illya skidding across the concrete floor as the world spun around him. His ears were ringing, dust billowing around him like a sandstorm and he wasn't sure the world itself wasn't upside down for a moment. There was something pinning him down, a weight across his hips that meant he couldn't move his legs. Were they still there? He'd heard of men literally torn apart by explosions like this one, ripped in two and not realising they were bleeding to death till it was far too late.

He struggled against the weight on his back, hand reaching out for a weapon and slipping beneath his pillow to grab the knife he'd placed there. With an effort, Illya was able to push himself over onto his back, shifting the pressure across his spine and flipping them over. All of his weight was on one arm, his elbow pressing down, forearm across the throat, just the way he'd been taught.

Beneath him, there was an odd choking, gurgling sound as he pressed the sharp edge of his knife against the neck... he was awake now, discovering that he had almost slit Solo's throat, that the strange wheezing noise was coming from the American as he struggled to breathe despite the way Illya was pressing down on him.

He wasn't struggling in any other way. When they'd fought, destroying that toilet block in the process, Solo had been more than capable of giving as good as he got - this was a very different situation, where both of them had, Illya suspected, been sound asleep and his subconscious had sewn together the explosion at the abandoned factory with everything else and produced a nightmare.

Illya put the knife away, returning it with one swift movement to its former place under his pillow and also reduced the pressure on Solo's throat. The American took a deep breath, still wheezing a little, but otherwise didn't try to move.

"You like this," Illya said, suddenly presented with the evidence of just why Solo was being so compliant pressed hotly against his hip. He'd admired the way Solo's pyjama pants clung to every curve of his lower body and they left nothing to the imagination, even in the low light coming through the small window next to the bed. "But you like women."

It didn't make any sense. None of this made much sense and didn't seem like that was going to change any time soon.

"As well," Solo said, his voice a little croaky. "I like women as well." He didn't look embarrassed and Illya thought that helped a little - he'd seen Solo blush before and it seemed wrong somehow, something that just didn't fit with the persona on which the American worked so hard. "But it's difficult to find a woman who can... manhandle me," he continued. "Sometimes I get an itch I just need to scratch."

Illya was still leaning over him, the weight of his body pressing Solo down into the bed, and he was suddenly more conscious of his own size than he had ever been before. He hadn't felt this way when dealing with Gaby, not even when she'd had to stand on a table so he could adjust the tracker she was wearing and he didn't have to bend down at all to do so. He was used to being big, used to using it as an advantage in his job, but in bed? That was a new thought and he wasn't quite sure he was completely comfortable with it.

"Is dangerous," Illya said, feeling his own body start to respond to the evidence of Solo's interest where it pressed against him. Solo was solid, warm, and completely unpredictable. "In many ways."

He'd been taught to hurt, to use his strength to get people to do and say things they didn't want to, and that didn't combine well with the idea of Solo being in his bed. Particularly with whatever it was that Solo seemed to want from him. It left a sour taste in Illya's mouth, reminding him of things he didn't want to examine too closely.

"I've never made anyone do something they didn't want to," Solo said. He moved slightly, as little as Illya's weight would allow, rolling his hips a little and proving he was still very interested in the current status quo. "Not in bed, anyway."

"No," Illya said, putting his hands on the bed and pushing himself backwards till he wasn't in physical contact with Solo any longer. There was very little light coming into the room through the shuttered window, but he was certain he saw a fleeting look of disappointment chase across Solo's face. "I don't understand. Why do you want this from me?"

"Who else?" Illya felt Solo look him up and down carefully as he rolling onto his back and casually cupped himself through the thin fabric of his pants. "It certainly seems to do the trick."

It seemed like his plans had backfired, and in a way Illya had not foreseen. He'd thought he was the one calling the shots, as the Americans would say, not realising that every time he used his height to try and push Solo around, Solo had derived some unexpected enjoyment from it. All those times he'd thought he was pushing Solo's buttons and he was, but just not how he'd thought.

"Does... does Gaby know?" Illya asked, pushing himself as far back from Solo as the bed would allow.

"She has a pretty good idea," Solo said. "You know, I expected her to be much more prudish about my particular preferences but she surprised me. In a good way."

"Cheese," Illya said, suddenly, aware that it was a total non sequitur. "That little..."

"Hey." Solo had sat up now, his expression still unreadable. "She means well."

Illya shook his head, looking down at his lap and the evidence of his own interest in the current proceedings. He'd been fooling himself if he'd thought that he was just trying to score points over Solo - it was more like pulling pigtails in class, if he needed some kind of schoolyard analogy.

He had to admit, there was a part of him that wanted this.

Not that Illya could have ever admitted it to anyone, not even under torture - there was little tolerance from his masters for those who were different in any way and this could easily be a one-way ticket to join his father, if he was lucky. But he'd always felt this way, been attracted to both men and women even though he'd always had to hide the former. Even the latter had been suspect, depending on the woman, and he'd learned to suppress his own needs in service of Mother Russia.

And now Solo was watching like he could read every thought crossing Illya's mind, regardless of the darkness. Which he probably could, given that he'd already determined Illya wouldn't react violently to his interest and thought that offering him a chance to explore whatever-this-was between them was something Illya would be interested in too.

"I have... conditions," Illya said, finally, worried that the silence between them had stretched too thin.

"I'd have thought badly of you if you hadn't," Solo said. "Let's have them."

He couldn't see enough of the American's face, this wouldn't work at all - Illya shuffled across on the bed till he could reach the lamp that leaned drunkenly against the wall and flicked it on.

"If I say no," Illya began, when Solo had lowered the arm he'd put across his eyes, reacting to the sudden light even though it wasn't all that bright.

"We stop." Solo looked, if anything, a little exasperated and Illya found himself relaxing at this - that expression was one he was very familiar with, had often caused Solo to have in the past. That, at least, did not seem to be changing between them even if everything else in the world seemed to be upside down. "I told you: I don't do that sort of thing."

That, of course, didn't answer the unspoken question - just exactly what sort of thing did Solo do and what role did he expect Illya to play in it?

"You trust me," Illya said, hearing the words emerge from his mouth as a statement rather than a question, which suprised him a little.

Solo smiled, that familiar cocksure grin that made Illya's fists itch a little, but which was as good an answer to the question (if he'd asked it) as any words could have been.

"What was your first clue?" Solo asked. "How about you get back over here?"

It was there and gone in a heartbeat, the uncertainty threading through that question, and it was probably that alone which made Illya respond the way he did.

"Make me," he replied, dropping back onto the bed again and eyeing Solo carefully to check his response.

Solo's movement was careful, slower than usual because of his injured foot, but he still moved a little quicker than Illya had expected, their final position an echo of the one the two of them had been in just minutes earlier, except minus the knife. Solo's erection pressed hard against Illya's hip and he felt the American move against him, grinding slowly as a low groan came from his mouth. That was a familiar sound, with echoes of a bathroom door between them, though this time he didn't have to imagine what Solo was doing.

"No," Illya said, using the combination of surprise and the size of the bed to flip them over, leaving Solo's hips jerking against air, his face starting to flush. "You say you like this, then this is what we do."

"Damn it," Solo said, trying to move under the pressure of Illya's weight. He had the American pinned more effectively than he'd initially thought, one leg pressed across Solo's thighs and their faces close together, weight also on Solo's chest but this time without any impact on his breathing. "I want..."

"I don't care what you want," Illya said, deliberately lowering his voice till the words were almost a rumble, partly transmitted by the way their bodies were pressed together. "Maybe I keep you like this for a while."

This time, the noise Solo made couldn't be turned into words, at least no words that Illya could decipher. It was a groan, a sigh, all sorts of sounds mashed together as Solo tried in vain to move under Illya's weight, his erection tenting the thin fabric of his pyjama pants. If anything, they looked like they were under even more strain than before - Illya had heard the expression 'hard enough to hammer nails' but he'd never seen an example before now.

"Illya," Solo grated out, at least making a sound that could be understood. He thought the next word was 'please', because of the way the initial sound was almost spat out, but the word itself wasn't quite formed.

"Nod if too much," Illya said, after he'd counted to thirty in his head. He was starting to get hard too, unexpectedly - the sight of Solo at his mercy this way, dependent on his actions to get his satisfaction, was doing something to his own libido.

Beneath him, Solo shook, his head first flailing from side to side and then suddenly, unexpectedly, he was nodding. Illya moved, letting him go, lowering himself till he was pressed against Solo once more, this time the palm of his hand cupping the material of Solo's pyjamas, squeezing gently as he felt a wetness form beneath his fingers and heard the American's breath whine from his body.

"Better?" he asked, after a few minutes, when Solo's face had lost that reddish flush and his breathing had returned to something more normal.

"I think you killed me, Peril," Solo said, his usual smirk returning. "But what a way to go."