His garden is a ruin. Weeds sprout from overgrown bushes, stray leaves carpet the ground, and the grass is long enough to inhabit the kind of creatures Napoleon would rather remain unfamiliar with. He really should do something about it, after all, he does have appearances to keep up, and the wilderness that is his backyard is more ‘reclusive derelict’ than ‘suave international super spy’.
Yes, he decides as he closes the French doors leading out to the garden of his quaint but arguably extravagant Cheshire home, he’ll have to take care of it. He doubts Margaret, the little (and relatively ancient) housekeeper who looks after the house when he’s away for weeks, or often months, would be much of a gardener. In fact, he’s not entirely sure she’d even survive out there; it’s that much of a jungle. Although, he hadn’t anticipated that she’d still be alive and kicking at this point in time. He might underestimate her.
He sits down at the desk in his study (an antique, priceless, but Napoleon is an expert at driving a sale), and pulls towards him a pen and a piece of paper. He scratches his chin thoughtfully, and then begins to write in his elegant script.
In search of gardener.
Must be strong, able-bodied and willing to work hard.
Must be willing to respect privacy of resident.
Weekly permanent position.
Contact resident for further details.
Napoleon leaves his contact details and folds the paper in half. He reaches for an envelope and addresses it to the newspaper, and encloses a few notes. He tucks it into his jacket pocket and instructs himself not to forget to post it as he walks out the front door.
A few days is all he gets before he’s called back to HQ to be briefed on the next mission. It’s an extraction likely to involve a fair amount of surveillance and at least one interrogation. It seems he won’t be home as soon as he had hoped. He tries to repress his disappointment. The weather is beginning to heat up and he’d thoroughly enjoyed the past few days lounging around in the sun. Hopefully there will be time for that in Florence. He doubts it.
As much as Napoleon will complain about being torn from his quiet retreat, he is glad to be getting back to it. Napoleon would never be able to live the quiet life; he needs a certain level of excitement. That much would be obvious from his past career choices, and his current, although how much of that is choice he doesn’t like to dwell upon.
Gaby is already waiting for him that afternoon as he boards the plane. She has an eye mask on but she senses it’s him when he sits down.
“Solo,” she greets.
“My dear Gaby, how was your break?”
She hums, “nice, quiet. How about you?”
“Very relaxing,” he says wistfully, “I feel considerably refreshed.”
“You were bored weren’t you?”
He isn’t going to dignify that with an answer.
“Margaret has been taking good care of the house, except the garden needs a bit of tidying." He drums his fingers on the back of her seat. "I’m hiring a gardener.”
Gaby finally takes off her eye mask to look at him. “Are you now?”
“Yes, I’ve put an ad in the paper.”
“Why didn’t you just do it yourself?”
“Gaby,” he sighs theatrically, “do I look like I have the time for weeding?” Sometimes his partner says things that make him question whether she really understands him.
Gaby rolls her eyes before placing her eye mask back on. “Frankly, Napoleon. A bit of weeding might do you some good. God knows you’ve never done an honest days work.”
“Is saving the world not an honest days work, then?” Napoleon is suitably aghast.
“Napoleon darling, you’ve never been honest in your life.”
Napoleon opens his mouth to rebut, and then closes it. He isn’t going to argue with that.
Napoleon wakes up to bright light shining in his face. He groans and slumps over into his pillow. He’s never been a morning person.
He peers open one bleary eye to look at his alarm clock. 11am. Well, he did only get in at 6 in the morning. The mission took a month. An entire month. He’s elated to be back home, however brief it may be.
Napoleon crawls out of bed slowly and pulls on his robe. He makes his way to the kitchen and pours some coffee into his favourite mug. On missions, his body is always alert, even seconds after waking. But in his time off, he doesn’t truly wake up until he’s at least halfway through a coffee, and he’s exhausted this morning.
It’s a beautiful day outside. He peers out the French doors into his bright and sunny garden. He inhales the wonderful smell of coffee and takes a big gulp, only to splutter it all out onto the front of his robe and back into the mug.
There is a giant in his garden.
He blinks his eyes a few times and crouches a little to sneak closer to the door. It’s pulling weeds out of the bushes. Incredible. He squints in disbelief. Who breaks into another person’s house to de-weed their garden?
Has his identity been compromised? It can’t be, or he wouldn’t be alive to consider it.
He watches for a few minutes as the man-turned-cyclops continues to yank the weeds out and toss them behind him. He stops to wipe the sweat from his brow, and then resumes.
Napoleon is aware his mouth has fallen open and he closes it, tightens his robe more securely and opens the doors, stepping out onto the deck. The man doesn’t even turn around or acknowledge his presence. Bizarre.
Napoleon approaches him cautiously until he’s only a couple of metres away and then he clears his throat.
The man throws the next bunch of weeds over his shoulder and then turns to face Napoleon. He’s wearing gloves, Napoleon notes, gardening gloves. It isn’t the only thing Napoleon notes. The man is a particularly fine specimen. He’s all broad shoulders and powerful muscles, with full lips and spectacularly piercing blue eyes. His right eye has a prominent scar next to it.
“Good morning,” Napoleon starts. He’s not entirely sure how to go about this situation but he’s nothing if not polite.
The man just inclines his head in Napoleon’s direction. Well, a good start.
“I’ve just woken up to a beautiful day, you see, although I got in early this morning so I’m a little tired.” The man is looking at Napoleon like he’s mad, which is quite unfair really, seeing as Napoleon is not the mad one in this situation. “Hence, I ask that you bear with me as I find my grounding, so to speak. I am, very curious, as to why you are... tending to my garden on this fine morning.”
The man continues to look at him as if he’s lost his head. Napoleon blinks at him innocuously.
“You are Mr Solo, no?” The man says slowly in a heavy Russian accent.
“That would be me, yes.”
“You put ad in the paper for gardener.”
Napoleon shuts his mouth abruptly. Right, yes. He had forgotten about that. He must be more exhausted than he originally thought.
“Of course I did, but I hadn’t interviewed any applicants yet. I’ve been away.”
“I spoke to the resident,” the man says in his low, succinct speech.
Napoleon frowns. “I’m afraid you didn’t. I am the resident, and I never received such a phone call.”
The man just furrows his brow, scowls a little. “The person I spoke to was woman, she offered me the job.”
Napoleon knows exactly whom he’s referring to. He sighs, runs a hand through his uncombed hair. “Yes, yes. This has all just been a misunderstanding, you’ve already started doing a great job here so I’ll just…leave you to it.”
The man nods and immediately resumes his work, and Napoleon watches him for a couple of seconds before retreating inside. He catches a glimpse of grey hair disappearing around the corner and calls out before she can pretend not to have heard him.
The small woman reappears holding a duster and wearing a decidedly innocent expression.
“Yes Mr Solo?”
“The behemoth in the yard…” Her expression doesn’t change. “That was your doing?”
“Yes Mr Solo. You advertised for a gardener. There were people calling the telephone every day. I took care of it for you.”
He gives her a considering look. “And did you ensure that the applicant picked was the most suitable given my requirements?”
“Of course, Mr Solo. I made sure to pick the best person for the job. Mr Kuryakin will work hard.”
“And will he adhere to the need for discretion?”
“He says that he will.”
Napoleon glances out the window dubiously. The man has finished with the weeds and has moved onto trimming the rosebushes.
He looks back to Margaret who is watching him closely. “You said Mr Kuryakin?”
She nods. “Illya. He is Russian.”
Yes, he knew that. Margaret takes her dismissal and Napoleon watches the gardener take on the wilderness of his yard.
Illya Kuryakin. Napoleon will have to have a background check done, and he’ll consider this probation. But, he thinks as he resumes his now lukewarm coffee, he certainly makes a nice view.
Gardener Illya now has a special place in my heart
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The following day, Napoleon arises feeling considerably more refreshed. He’s pleased to see it’s another brilliant sunny day outside. He goes about his morning routine much the same as the day before, except this time he puts on the kettle. He can see Illya back at work through the window, and he still needs to discuss the details of the arrangement.
He throws open the doors and steps out onto the deck.
“Mr Kuryakin,” he calls. Illya turns to look up at him. He’s covered in a light sheen of sweat and looks positively sinful. Not that that is any concern of Napoleon’s. “Would you please join me inside for a minute?”
Illya nods and pulls off his gloves, tossing them to the side. Napoleon holds the door open for him as he passes through, and goodness; the man’s head nearly touches the top of the doorway.
“Take a seat,” he says, gesturing to his dining table, and Illya sits down carefully in one of the chairs. “Tea?” he offers.
“No, thank you.”
“Fine,” he says a little stiffly. “No sugar, dash of milk.”
Napoleon goes about making the tea, pulling out a mug with a polar bear on it for Illya. He bought it a few missions ago when he was in Brussels, but he’s never used it. He’s an impulsive buyer. It reminds him a little of Illya now he thinks about it.
He sets it in front of him, taking the opposite seat.
“I wanted to discuss the arrangement. Firstly, I’m sure Margaret explained this to you, but my work requires me to be away for long periods of time.”
Illya nods once. “She said.”
“Right, well once the original work is done, I would require you once weekly.” Napoleon waits for Illya’s assent before he continues. “I’m sure you’ve already arranged your weekly salary with Margaret?”
Illya nods again. He certainly isn’t much of a talker. Napoleon is going to have to check that wage with Margaret later, but he trusts her enough to assume it’s reasonable.
Well, he can’t think of anything else that needs urgent discussing. He gestures to Illya’s tea, which he is yet to touch, and picks up his own to take a sip. Illya picks up the mug with his, frankly enormous hand, and gives it a sceptical look before drinking it.
“So, Mr Kuryakin, Margaret tells me you’re from Russia?”
“Yes,” Illya affirms, “I have been here 2 years.”
“Only 2 years? Your English is very good.”
“What brought you here, if you don’t mind me asking?” Napoleon inquires curiously. “It’s a long way to travel.”
Illya watches him closely before answering. “I was looking for a different lifestyle.”
“Have you been a gardener your whole life?”
“No.” Illya drinks the last of his tea and places his mug back on the table, more gently than his great frame would induce to expect. “If there is no more to discuss Mr Solo, there is still much work to be done.”
“Of course,” Napoleon leans back in his chair. “Don’t let me hold you up.”
He watches as Illya heads back outside. He’s certainly a hard man to figure out, but Napoleon does love a challenge.
Life over the next few months continues as usual. Napoleon is sent on missions which, thankfully, progress without too much of a hiccup, he continues to fight crime and solve matters of international concern with only a ‘job well done’ from Waverly as acknowledgement, and he spends his days off, few and far between they may be, idling around his cosy home.
He doesn’t see too much of Illya. On the days he’s home and Illya happens to be working their only interaction is a brief greeting. He appreciates the fact that Illya seems to be rigorously adhering to his privacy requirement, but there’s something intriguing about the aloof man. He finds himself wanting to know more about him. Why did he really move away from Russia? What did he do before he became a gardener? Does he live alone? Is he married? He doesn’t think he remembers him wearing a ring.
He raises the subject on a mission with Gaby in La Rochelle. It’s a pleasant evening. They’re driving along the waterside and the lights from the buildings and restaurants that line the road are reflected on the water’s surface. People walk down the sidewalks; couples holding hands, young people laughing and mucking about; enjoying the night and each other’s company.
Gaby and Napoleon are dressed to the nines, having just attended a lavish ball hosted by the mayor and attended only by the rich. The job tonight was mainly to network with the right people, to find an in with which to carry out the rest of the mission. With Napoleon’s charm and Gaby’s allure, the task had been a simple one.
Gaby takes a turn and the car responds effortlessly. Napoleon would complain that he’s not the one that gets to drive the Maserati, but he knows Gaby can drive it better than he ever could. He knows never to broach the subject of driving if he doesn’t want a blow to his ego.
“I told you I hired a gardener, didn’t I?”
“Yes,” Gaby says, “the Russian.”
Napoleon hums in assent and Gaby glances across at him.
“He’s not causing you any trouble is he?”
“No, no,” Napoleon says quickly, “no trouble. He’s very good… half the time I don’t even know he’s there.”
Gaby looks at him curiously. “That’s what you want, isn’t it?”
“Well, yes, it is.” It is what he wants, what he advertised for. He’s forgotten why he brought it up in the first place. He doesn’t know what he meant to say.
He can feel Gaby shooting him strange looks.
“He’s just… intriguing is all. He’s very mysterious.”
“Ah,” Gaby says.
“What do you mean ‘ah’?”
Gaby shrugs, drumming her fingers on the wheel, “nothing. Why don’t you tell me more about him?”
“It isn’t important,” Napoleon turns to look out of the window, “anyway,” he runs a hand along the car’s sleek interior, “I’m not sure you’re making the most of this car. I made the acquaintance of a lovely woman from Paris tonight and the night is still young.”
Gaby stops looking at him strangely and scoffs, but she puts her foot down and accelerates.
Napoleon has been home for a couple of days the next time he sees Illya.
It’s been relentlessly pouring since Napoleon arrived and he’s been stuck inside, mainly doing a bit of reading and testing out some new recipes. The fridge is stocked with food he’ll never be able to eat before he leaves. He’ll have to leave a note for Margaret.
The kitchen is a bit of a mess, and he sets about cleaning it up. He’s almost done by the time he glances out of the window at the catastrophic weather and spots movement. He pauses in the middle of wiping down the bench and drops the cloth, moving covertly to the window.
There is definitely something moving out there. If he looks a little closer it almost looks like—
A man. It’s a man. More specifically, it’s his gardener.
Illya is standing out in the pouring rain, his black long-sleeve shirt soaked and sticking to him. He’s hacking away at Napoleon’s Azalea with a pair of heavy-duty garden shears. Napoleon can’t quite believe what he’s seeing.
He watches for a while until he decides he’s had enough. He’d suspected the man was quite mad before, but this is insanity.
He edges toward the door and opens it enough to stick his head out.
“Mr Kuryakin,” he calls out. Illya doesn’t even hear him over the pounding of the rain. He yells louder, “Illya.”
Illya turns around, shears still in hand and squints at him through the rain. He motions for Illya to come inside and the man hunches over and trudges towards him through the mud. He takes off his shoes at the door and steps inside, and Napoleon closes the door behind him.
Illya stands there looking at him, soaked to the bone and dripping enough to create a puddle on Napoleon’s wooden floor. He looks pitiful. Napoleon wants to wrap him in a blanket and towel-dry his sodden hair.
He doesn’t know where that came from.
He eyes Illya’s saturated clothing and holds up a finger. “One second, I’ll get you a towel.”
He hurries off to grab a towel and hesitates when he closes the cupboard. He looks over towards his bedroom and deliberates on whether to get him some clothes. He doesn’t know if Illya would even wear them if he lent them to him. In the end he decides the politest option is to offer them, and he gets out a pair of his longer pants and a shirt that’s a little big on him. It’s soft and warm and he definitely didn’t choose it out for this reason, it was only the size.
When he comes back Illya is standing in exactly the same position, looking a little lost. Napoleon places the clothes on the table near him and hands him the towel. Their hands touch and Napoleon jerks back a little; Illya’s hands are like ice.
Illya shrugs a little. “Is much colder in Russia.”
“Of course.” Napoleon steps into the kitchen to put on the kettle while Illya dries off with the towel. “I didn’t think to mention it, but I don’t expect you to be here when the weather is as disastrous as it is.” He opens the cupboard to get down two mugs, reaching for the polar bear mug before he even realises it.
“It is no bother,” comes Illya’s gruff voice from over his shoulder, “I can still work.”
“Well, for my sake, I’d rather you didn’t. It’s a recipe for disaster.” When he turns around Illya is staring hesitantly at the clothes. Napoleon watches him as he stills and then slowly takes off his shirt.
There are two things Napoleon immediately notices.
Firstly, Illya’s body is a work of art. His back is toned, and his muscles flex as he pulls the shirt over his head and reaches for Napoleon’s.
Secondly, he is covered in scars.
They litter his back, differing in size. Some are light in colour, old, forgotten. Others are darker, newer. He is unexpectedly overwhelmed with the desire to know where every one of them came from, the circumstances that led to each individual scar. He can’t remember the last time he wanted to know something this much, which is peculiar given his career.
He also wants to touch, but that isn’t something he’s going to think about.
“You can change into those in the bathroom,” he nods to the pants sitting on the table, “it’s just down the hall.”
Illya leaves and Napoleon sits down on one of his armchairs and places Illya’s mug on the coffee table, drinking his own. When Illya returns Napoleon gestures to the lounge across from him, and Illya perches himself on the edge of it.
He looks….good in Napoleon’s clothes, although the pants are still a little short. His hair is fluffy, but he’d obviously tried to pat it down in the bathroom, it’s no longer sticking up in every direction. Napoleon mourns the loss.
“I can still pay you weekly even if the weather is too dismal to work, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“No,” Illya shakes his head, “I do not need the money.”
They sit quietly, the only noise the hammering rain. Illya picks up his mug and takes a sip, he looks a little surprised that Napoleon remembered how he likes it.
“Do you live close by?” Napoleon asks.
“Warrington,” Illya replies.
“And do you live alone?” Napoleon might be overstepping the boundaries here, but he’s curious.
Illya frowns at him. After a moment he answers. “Yes.”
Interesting. It’s quiet again, and Napoleon looks to the side where his ornate clock ticks on the wall. Illya follows his gaze and scoffs quietly.
Napoleon raises his eyebrows. “What?”
Illya shakes his head. “You Americans, always need to have the best of everything. It is like you are all overcompensating for something.”
“Overcompensating?” Napoleon repeats in disbelief, “let me assure you, I have nothing that requires overcompensating.”
Illya smirks, “alright Cowboy, that is what they all say.”
“And what about you, Red Peril? Are you really above any fine possessions? I find that hard to believe.”
“Why?” Illya asks, “why is that so difficult to believe?”
Napoleon considers the question. “I suppose it isn’t, objectively, but I have a… penchant for beautiful things. It isn’t something I find shameful.”
“It has not got you into trouble?” Illya asks, his expression politely inquisitive.
Napoleon leans back in his chair. If only Illya knew.
Illya sits back in his own chair, looking satisfied.
“Why leave then?” Napoleon asks, tilting his head to the side, “if it wasn’t the politics that disagreed with you.”
Illya’s expression looks a little pensive, almost regretful. “I never said they did not disagree.”
They watch each other for a moment, and Napoleon wonders about the scars. His eyes trace the scar by Illya’s temple and he wants… but he doesn’t know what he’s wanting.
They drink the rest of their tea in silence, but Napoleon thinks he might know Illya a little better than before.
I never knew how many gardening innuendos there were until I started this
I meant to keep this super light but....alas.. it will be light again in the last chapter
Things are different after that day, where Illya nearly drowned in his backyard.
Not substantially so, but the change is noticeable. For one, Napoleon starts to invite Illya inside for a cup of tea when he’s home and Illya is done in the garden. And, more importantly, Illya often consents.
He isn’t any closer to finding out about Illya’s past, and a quick background check (which he asserts was entirely necessary for security reasons), doesn’t return a whole lot. Still, he’s content for the time being to carry on as they have been. Which mainly consists of Illya mocking Napoleon’s exorbitant ways, and Napoleon defending them with exaggerated fervour.
Illya never asks what Napoleon does for work, never asks why he’s away for such long periods of time. Napoleon wishes he would, in a way, but he’s not sure why. He wouldn’t be able to tell him anyway.
Perhaps, it’s because he wants to know that Illya is just as fascinated by him. Though, he doesn’t put a lot of confidence in that. He’s a lot less mysterious than the Russian man, at least on the outside. He’s very good at pretending his companions have all of him, even when they see only a section of the whole.
He thinks he might want to give more of himself to Illya, share more. It’s a dangerous thought, one he can’t afford. But he can indulge himself for a little longer, can’t he?
Napoleon has currently been home for a few days. He’s sitting in his armchair with a glass of scotch; while Illya stands inspecting his impressive art collection. He’s been staring at the painting above the fireplace for a while now.
“Monet?” he asks.
“The Thames Below Westminster,” Napoleon confirms.
“The very same.” Napoleon swirls around his glass. He can feel Illya looking at him.
He waits, but Illya doesn’t ask.
After a moment Illya comes to sit down on the lounge across from him.
“Do you want a drink?” Napoleon offers.
Illya shakes his head. Napoleon isn't surprised, Illya has never accepted his offers.
Napoleon sighs and tilts his head back onto the chair. He’s leaving tomorrow for Valencia, and he already knows it’s going to be a difficult assignment. There’s a family involved. A father who had gotten involved with the wrong people, namely a man; Barros, who illicitly trades in blood diamonds among other stones, and his wife and children used as leverage. There’s too much at stake, too many people involved. It’s messy.
It makes him want to stay for longer.
He looks back at Illya just in time to see Illya’s eyes snap up from his neck. He files it away to think about later.
“I’m leaving tomorrow,” he tells him.
Illya nods slowly. “How long?”
Napoleon shrugs, “it could be months.”
He takes a drink. The sun is beginning to set and the room is gradually darkening, but Napoleon doesn’t want to stand just yet, wants to stay right where he is.
“I will keep watch of the house,” Illya says.
It isn’t what he wants him to say. “I know you will,” he says anyway.
He leans forward to pour himself another drink. He’s well on his way to tipsy, and he welcomes it. He wants to forget for a little while, about the impending mission, the quiet of his house.
He stands and walks over to his record player, pulling a record out of his collection and putting it on.
“What are you doing?” Illya twists around to face him and the sound of soft jazz fills the room.
“What does it look like I’m doing, Peril?” He tosses back the rest of his drink and puts his glass down, then turns to face Illya. He dips into a little bow and extends a hand. “Would you like to dance?”
Illya snorts. “No.”
“Suit yourself,” he says, and he closes his eyes and sways a little in time with the music.
“You’re drunk,” he hears Illya say.
Napoleon hums, “not quite.”
He can feel Illya’s eyes on him. He pretends the heat he can feel on his skin, and the warmth that spreads throughout his body is all due to the scotch.
After a while Napoleon hears the couch shift and then he senses Illya’s presence in front of him.
“Cowboy,” Illya says, close.
Napoleon blinks open his eyes.
Illya looks solid in the dying light, firm. Napoleon wants to reach up and touch to make sure.
The song finishes and the silence that descends upon the room feels heavier than before. They stand, watching each other in the quiet.
Illya is the first to speak.
He reaches up to rest his hand in the juncture of Napoleon’s neck and shoulder and squeezes slightly. “You should get some rest.”
Napoleon nods, a little dazed. This is the first time Illya has touched him. It’s a little hard to digest. Illya’s hand lingers for a while and then he drops it back to his side.
“I will see you when you return.”
It sounds like a promise, of sorts. Right now Napoleon will take anything he can get. Which is… worrying, but it’s something he can worry about when he gets back.
“I know you will,” he says again.
A couple of weeks into the mission Napoleon is feeling a little despondent. They haven’t gotten too far with the assignment. They have the location of the hostages pinned down, to a mansion on an estate owned by one of Barros’ men, but its… delicate. Any wrong move could mean the loss of innocent life.
And, Napoleon isn’t enjoying the prospects of Spain as much as he could. He finds himself missing home like he hasn’t before. If he really thinks about it, it isn’t the house he’s missing. But he’s trying not to think about it.
Gaby picks up on his melancholy mood right away.
“Solo,” she says, through the earpiece he’s wearing as he scopes out the perimeter of the estate where the hostages are being kept.
He’s crouched behind the bushes 200 metres from where the guards are patrolling the border. He surveys the two guards at the post nearest to him. Their guns are resting over their shoulders as they laugh and smoke; not on high alert, then.
“You’ve been off, lately. And I know you’re trying to hide it from me.”
Napoleon sighs. “Gaby, is this really the time.”
“You’re not going to talk to me about it any other time,” Gaby says indignantly.
“Well, I can assure you darling,” Napoleon drawls while he continues to observe through his binoculars, “I’m not seeing anyone else, promise. You know you’re the only woman for me.”
He can practically hear Gaby rolling her eyes.
She stays silent.
He sighs, again. “I’m not off. I’m just concentrating on the mission.”
“You’re very stubborn, you know.”
“Yes. I know that. Why do you think U.N.C.L.E. took me on?”
“Because you’re a damn good spy.”
“That too,” Gaby says, a little smugly. Napoleon laughs. “Anyway, I know what you’re doing, and I won’t let you.” Her tone changes, becomes a bit softer. “I just want to know that you’re alright.”
Napoleon melts a little at the admission. He loves her, he does. He drops his binoculars. The guards aren’t going anywhere anyway.
“Do you ever… wonder if there’s more outside this? More than jetting around the globe and saving the world one egomaniac at a time?”
“I’m not sure what you mean.”
“I mean, do you ever want more?”
There’s a pause, and Napoleon can hear Gaby’s soft breathing.
“I… I don’t know.”
Napoleon shakes his head, even though he knows she can’t see him. “It doesn’t matter. This is a pretty good life for a thief isn’t it?”
“Oh, Napoleon,” Gaby says softly, and it sounds too much like pity for Napoleon’s liking.
He squares his shoulders and picks the binoculars back up.
“The guards at post B are rotating.”
There’s a pause before Gaby replies. “Copy that.”
It’s another 3 weeks before they’re ready to put the plan into action. Not as ready as Napoleon would prefer, but they’ve taken enough time as it is. They can’t afford anymore. The situation is like a ticking bomb, and they need to defuse it now.
Napoleon is dropped a kilometre from the estate with part of the extraction team, and they move forward and spread out in the darkness, until they’re almost at the point Napoleon was yesterday. Snipers crouch forward and take out the guards at the post. They go down near-silently, like Napoleon knows the guards at the other posts will.
When they’re given the all clear they move forwards, onto the estate and up towards the house, and its now that the actual gunfire starts. Guards are yelling out in Spanish and driving out in hordes, but Napoleon knows his task. Knows he isn’t to get involved.
He winds his way past the action, taking out a couple of guards that get too close. In a few minutes he’s inside the mansion, landing lightly through the window on the balls of his feet. The room is deserted, which isn’t strange, seeing as all the fighting is happening outside. He heads down the corridor. He has this place mapped out inside his head, and he knows exactly where he’s heading. He takes a left, a right; taking down a couple of guards as he goes.
He heads down the stairs but only gets down a few steps before bullets whizz past him, entirely too close for comfort. He twists around and crouches, firing a few shots towards the guards at the railings, and then he continues down the stairs, faster, needing cover. A bullet tears through a step a second before his foot reaches it and his foot sinks, making him tumble forward. He hears a distinctive snap from his ankle before he rolls down the rest of the staircase.
He bites down a groan when he reaches the bottom and instead reaches for his gun lying on the floor next to him and hauls himself to his feet, taking out the remaining guards at the top of the stairs.
He limps onwards towards his destination, the adrenaline pumping through him numbing most of the effects of what he’s sure is a broken ankle.
He takes out the 4 guards outside the room with skill he’s sure even Gaby would be impressed with and barges into the room without hesitation.
Barros stands in the centre with one of the children clutched in his arm, and a gun pressed against her temple. The girl is shaking and crying. She looks so young. 12, Napoleon remembers that from the file.
Barros looks at him and smiles cruelly.
“And so,” he says, in accented English, “you are here. This is what you have come for, yes?”
Napoleon doesn’t answer, just watches. Doesn’t lower his gun.
“You will not shoot me,” Barros says, “You will not let the girl die.”
Napoleon takes a breath, aims, and shoots Barros between the eyes.
Later, Napoleon finds out that the other child didn’t survive, and neither did the wife.
He doesn’t flinch as his ankle is poked and prodded by the medic. Doesn’t say a word until Gaby flies through the door and throws herself over him, murmuring that she’s so glad he’s okay, that it wasn’t his fault, that there’s nothing they could have done.
He tries to give her a smile and lets her smooth a hand over his forehead.
“I know,” he says.
She nods. And she stays with him for the night, curled up next to him with her head resting on his chest.
Napoleon doesn’t get to go home for another 2 weeks. His ankle was thankfully not bad enough to need surgery, so he's discharged from the hospital after a couple of days, but there's a lot to be done in HQ; a lot of paperwork, days of post-mission briefing.
Waverly gives Napoleon a regretful look as soon as he arrives back in London.
“We can’t have them all,” he says, “but no one but Barros is to blame for this.” And he claps Napoleon on the back on his way out.
When Napoleon arrives home, he’s exhausted. Waverly has given him 6 weeks leave to recover. It’s the longest time Napoleon’s had between missions. The sun has just begun to set and Napoleon drags himself off to bed, dropping his suitcase at the front door and resting his crutches up against his bedroom wall on the way.
When he wakes the sun is high in the sky, but he spends another hour in bed before he gets up. He’s on holidays, he reasons, he deserves it.
He eventually gets himself upright and into his robe, and struggles to make coffee and toast while hopping around the kitchen. He settles down on a lounge near the windows, and drifts in and out of sleep, the sunlight warm on his face.
When he wakes up fully, the light suggests late afternoon, and there is a familiar man standing at his back door. He blinks his eyes open fully, and pulls himself up, reaching for his crutches. When he opens the door Illya looks him over, an unhappy frown on his face.
“You are back,” he says.
“Indeed I am,” Napoleon says, and steps back to allow Illya inside.
Napoleon hobbles back towards the lounge room and drops into a seat, gesturing for Illya to sit down, which he does, hesitantly.
Napoleon pours himself a drink from the decanter on the coffee table. He isn’t meant to be drinking with the medication he’s on, but he was never one for following the rules.
Illya continues to watch him and it makes Napoleon feel prickly, on edge. He doesn’t feel much like company right now, not even Illya’s. But he knows he has to do this, keep his cover. This is why he never should have pursued any relationship with Illya outside of what was professional. He knew that, but he did anyway.
“Drink?” he offers Illya. He can’t quite bring himself to meet his eyes.
Illya doesn’t answer for a while and the silence that descends upon the room is taut.
“No,” Illya says eventually.
Napoleon shrugs, leans forward to pour himself another.
“You are hurt,” Illya says, and Napoleon waves a hand dismissively.
“Ah yes, fractured an ankle unfortunately. Nothing too dire.”
“There is something more,” he murmurs.
Napoleon huffs a laugh, but there is no humour in it. “No, nothing more. Why don’t you have a drink?”
“You are a good liar, Cowboy. But not today,” Illya says.
Napoleon feels a spark of annoyance, he knows he isn’t really angry with Illya, knows this is much larger. But Illya is here, and pressing, and Napoleon doesn’t want to deal with this today.
He brings his glass up to his lips with a hand that isn’t as steady as usual and downs the rest of it.
Illya just watches him calmly, and it does nothing to suppress the anger that is building up inside of him. He’s full of resentment, and frustration, and Illya sits there.
“You do not want to talk?” Illya shrugs, “That is fine, we can sit here while you get drunk.”
Napoleon snaps his head up to look at him.
“You don’t get to say that to me.” His voice is steadier than he feels.
“Don’t I?” Illya tips his head to the side. “What is it, Cowboy?”
Napoleon stands, and sways on one foot before he limps painfully over to Illya.
Illya remains sitting, and looks up at him impassively.
“Stand up.” Napoleon says firmly.
Illya shrugs, looking unconcerned, but stands. It puts them only centimetres apart, and Napoleon takes a second before he steps back, and then goes to shove him. Illya’s hands close around Napoleon’s wrists and hold them to his chest.
Napoleon tries to free himself but Illya’s hold is iron-fast. Steady. Anchoring. Illya slowly lowers them onto the couch and doesn’t let up his grip on Napoleon’s wrists.
Napoleon feels the fight drain out of him and Illya finally drops his hands and raises one of his own to the back of Napoleon’s neck, applying enough pressure to guide Napoleon’s head onto his shoulder. Napoleon breathes in, and he can smell something distinctly Illya, something comforting.
They stay that way for what might be hours, not talking. And Illya doesn’t ask again.
Illya comes over almost every day for the next 3 weeks, even when he isn’t working.
Napoleon’s ankle slowly begins to heal and he’s getting the hang of his crutches, except he still prefers to forego them in lieu of hopping around on one leg. Illya chastises him every time Napoleon does this while he’s around, reminding him that the crutches were given to him for a reason.
Napoleon always responds by asking Illya to carry him to where he’s going instead, to which Illya fervently declines and turns away, but not before Napoleon can see the faint colour dusting his cheeks.
To save Napoleon the trouble, or, as Illya says, because Napoleon takes too long, Illya always makes the tea. And he always uses the mug he’s come to claim as ‘his’. Napoleon tells him, one day, that the bear on the mug reminds him of Illya and Illya snorts, spraying tea everywhere. Napoleon laughs while Illya grumbles and cleans up the mess.
Today is a day that Illya is working, and Napoleon eats a sandwich at the back door while he watches Illya wield a garden saw outside. It’s certainly a sight.
“Good afternoon Mr Solo.”
Napoleon turns around and smiles at Margaret who is standing by the kitchen, watching him.
“Hello Maggie, how are you?”
“Very well Mr Solo, thank you. I trust you are finding Mr Kuryakin to be doing a good job?”
“A very superior job indeed. Thank you again, for hiring him.”
“You are very welcome,” Margaret smiles at him, and it seems to be a little secretive. “I thought he would be a good fit.”
“Is that so?” Napoleon muses, looking back at Illya. “Well you weren’t wrong.”
The doorbell rings and Margaret is smiling at him fondly when he turns back around.
“Would you like me to get that for you?”
“Oh no need, thank you. I know who that is.”
She nods and disappears down the hallway, and Napoleon goes to open the front door.
Gaby stands on the other side, bright orange umbrella in one hand and an enormous bag in the other.
“Solo,” she greets with a grin.
“Miss Teller,” he replies.
He steps aside to let her in and then pulls her close, wrapping his arms around her petite frame.
“How are you?” she murmurs into his hair, and the question is loaded.
He leans back to look at her properly.
“I’m fine,” he says, and he smiles at her reassuringly.
She studies him for a few seconds before she returns it.
He takes her bag from her and places it in the spare room that she’ll be staying in for a couple of nights. When he comes back out, Gaby is standing at the window watching something outside. He knows what she’s looking at even before he comes to join her.
“That would be the Russian gardener, yes?”
Illya has finished with the saw and is cleaning up the mess, muscles clearly on display as he picks up piles of branches and throws them into the bin.
“Yes. That’s Illya.”
“Illya?” Gaby repeats. “I don’t think you ever told me his name.” She pauses. “Nor did you tell me he was so good looking.”
“I must not have thought it relevant.”
Napoleon can see Gaby smirking at him out of the corner of his eye but he refuses to look at her. He won’t fall victim to her juvenile taunting.
When Illya finishes cleaning up he looks up at them and glances at Gaby curiously. Napoleon waves at him to come inside, and meets him at the door.
“Be nice,” he murmurs to Gaby before he lets Illya in.
“Illya,” he says as he shuts the door behind him, “this is my colleague and dear friend, Gaby.”
Gaby holds out a hand for Illya to shake.
“Pleasure,” she says sweetly.
Illya takes Gaby’s hand. “I did not know the Cowboy had friends.”
Gaby laughs. “I like him already,” she says to Napoleon, who sends Illya a wounded look. She turns back to Illya. “You have to stay for dinner. Napoleon will be cooking, and he’s okay at it.”
“Much better than okay, I can assure you,” Napoleon huffs.
Illya looks at Napoleon hesitantly. “I do not want to impose.”
“Of course not,” Napoleon assures, “it isn’t a bother.”
As soon as Illya nods Napoleon retreats into the kitchen to prepare, and Gaby follows him to pour wine for the three of them.
While Napoleon cooks Gaby chats to Illya animatedly, throwing in a few jibes at Napoleon, which induce him to rise to the bait and defend himself. Illya listens intently to what she says, laughing and occasionally asking questions which contribute further to the slander Gaby is divulging.
Napoleon hasn’t seen Illya laugh like this before, so openly. He almost burns the risotto because he’s watching so intently.
When they sit down at the table Gaby positions herself at Napoleon’s side, leaving Illya to take the spot opposite him. They talk throughout the meal and Gaby praises his cooking profusely. It isn’t particularly like her but Napoleon isn’t complaining. Illya nods along with her compliments and eats appreciatively, and Napoleon tries not to feel too pleased with himself.
They finish eating and stay at the table, sharing around the rest of the wine, and Napoleon is surprised to see Illya drinking.
When there is a lull in conversation Gaby leans closer to Napoleon and places a dainty hand on his knee.
“That was wonderful, darling. Thank you for cooking.”
She kisses his cheek and winks at him before leaning back in her chair, but keeps her hand on top of his knee. Napoleon raises an eyebrow at her questioningly. She’s not normally this handsy, and he’s pass it off on the wine but he knows for a fact that Gaby could probably drink him under the table.
“You’re welcome, darling. I aim to please.” He smirks at her and turns back to the table, where Illya is watching them with a… decidedly grumpy look on his face.
He doesn’t have much time to ponder the matter before Gaby is yawning loudly, taking her hand off Napoleon’s knee to stretch her arms above her head. When she lowers her arms Napoleon is unsurprised to see her looking perfectly alert. He’s starting to cotton on to what she’s up to.
“I’m sorry to cut this short, boys, but I’m exhausted. It was a long day of travel.” She blinks wide eyes at Napoleon. “Do you mind if I skip out on the cleaning tonight? Promise I’ll make up for it tomorrow.”
“That is fine,” Illya cuts in before Napoleon can even respond. “I will help.”
“Excellent,” Gaby chirps, and she whisks off to bed, leaving Napoleon feeling a little bemused.
The room descends into silence after her departure, and Illya sits staring down at the table as if he can bore a hole in it with his eyes.
“You don’t have to help clean,” Napoleon ventures cautiously, “You’re my guest, after all.”
“No,” Illya says firmly. He stands and begins to collect the plates, carrying them into the kitchen.
Napoleon follows at a distance, watching as Illya begins to fill the sink and wash the dishes with a lot more vigour than necessary. He isn’t entirely sure what brought on Illya’s sullen mood. He can only think that it’s because—
But is it really?
There’s only one way to find out.
He grabs a tea towel and stands next to Illya, who hands him a plate without a word.
“I’m glad you met Gaby,” he starts, over the racket Illya is making in the sink, “she’s very important to me.”
Illya grunts, handing him another plate.
“We have to spend a lot of time together at work, so it’s a good thing we get along so well. A lot of late nights in the office, working hard.”
Illya doesn’t even respond to this, just shoves another plate into his hands with a hint of aggression.
“I thought you liked Gaby, do you not? I had the impression that you did.”
“Yes,” Illya mutters, “She is lovely girl.”
There is a sad frown on his face, and Napoleon can’t stand looking at it anymore.
“We’re not together,” he says casually, and Illya slows down the washing.
“But you like each other.” He doesn’t look up at Napoleon.
“No, it isn’t anything like that,” Napoleon assures. “We’re friends, nothing more.”
Illya gives up on the pretence of cleaning and stops, but keeps his eyes downcast. “The way she was touching you…”
“Ah, well, that,” Napoleon says, and now it’s his turn to avoid Illya’s eyes and try desperately not to redden. “She did that on purpose.”
He can feel Illya looking at him beseechingly. He doesn’t know why this is suddenly so difficult.
Because it matters, his brain unhelpfully supplies.
“She did it to try to make you jealous, because she knows that I’m… attracted to you.”
He decides to stop being a coward and face Illya, who looks a little like a deer caught in the headlights.
“You are attracted to me?”
“Yes… in fact I’m more than just attracted to you.” When Illya continues to stare at him with wide eyes, Napoleon starts to question whether he’d read the signs wrong. “If that makes you uncomfortable…”
“Not uncomfortable,” Illya shakes his head slowly.
“Okay…” Napoleon says uncomprehendingly.
“I…” Illya’s face has gone a rather fetching shade of red, but he keeps his eyes on Napoleon’s, “You are not so bad yourself, Cowboy.”
“Really,” Napoleon smirks, and he leans in a little closer to Illya, “that’s all you have to say.”
“Well,” Illya shrugs feigning indifference, “we can keep talking if you like.”
There’s a suspended moment where the room is still, and then Napoleon can’t tell which one of them moves first but suddenly they’re kissing. Napoleon’s hands are fisted in the front of Illya’s shirt and Illya’s fingers are pressing against the back of Napoleon’s neck, wet and firm, and there is water dripping down the back of his shirt.
Napoleon opens his mouth to deepen the kiss and presses Illya back against the counter, pushing a thigh between Illya’s long, long legs. Napoleon releases Illya’s shirt and winds his hands around his neck, running his fingers through Illya’s soft hair.
The kiss begins to slow and they lean back to breathe, remaining close enough that Napoleon can feel Illya’s breath against his forehead, warm and steady.
“I didn’t know gardeners could kiss like that,” Napoleon says after a moment, fingers still toying with the hair at the back of Illya’s neck.
“I told you I wasn’t always a gardener,” Illya says, and there is a serious edge to his words.
“No,” Napoleon agrees, “but you didn’t tell me what you did before.”
Illya watches him carefully. “No, and you did not tell me what you do, either.”
Napoleon frowns at him, “you never asked.”
“I never had to.” Illya squeezes the back of Napoleon’s neck where his fingers rest and then he reaches down to lift up the front of his own shirt.
There is a scar on his lower abdomen, one of many, Napoleon knows. He traces his thumb over it gently. If Napoleon had to guess, he’d think it was from a bullet wound.
“We are good at knowing our own kind.”
Napoleon glances up at him with confusion, until he starts to connect the dots.
“You know what I do.” It isn’t a question, but Illya answers.
“Yes,” he nods, “what I used to do.”
Napoleon touches his fingers to the scar again. “What were you?” he says, “KGB? NKVD?”
“KGB,” Illya says. “Their youngest and their best.”
He says it so matter-of-factly and Napoleon doesn’t doubt him for a second. Can see it more clearly, now. The dangerous edge about him, the strength that seems to emanate from his core.
“And you left? Defected?”
Illya nods. “It was… difficult, but the level of control…”
His hands have begun to shake, Napoleon notices, and he drops the front of his shirt to curl them into fists. Napoleon closes his hands over them and holds tight until they steady.
“Do you miss it?” he asks.
Illya pauses, and then exhales. He wears the same regretful look Napoleon saw on him the day he asked why he had left Russia. “Yes,” he says. “At times. I was good at what I did.”
Napoleon gives him a considering look and thinks over a few things in his head. “You know, Peril. I might have a solution for you. A job offer, of sorts.”
Illya looks at him inquiringly but Napoleon shakes his head.
“We can deal with that later. Right now…” he lets go of Illya’s hands and instead grasps Illya’s waist, “we have much more important things to be doing.”
Illya smirks, “slow down Cowboy.”
“Do you really want to slow down, Peril? I’m sure we could take it slow if you’d like.”
Illya’s smirk drops and he growls, surging down to drag Napoleon into a kiss.
There’s a tapping sound from the back door. Illya stands there with one hand raised to peer through the door and the other clasped around a bunch of roses. Napoleon opens the door and lets him in, raising an eyebrow warily.
“Are those my roses?”
Illya holds them out to him, “yes.” He looks a little pink in the cheeks.
“You brought me roses from my own garden.” Napoleon takes them from him and tries to look exasperated instead of hopelessly in love. He knows he’s failing miserably.
“Yes,” Illya repeats, and his smile is impossibly warm.
Napoleon returns his smile, thanking him with a kiss, and then he frowns. “I hope you didn’t do any work while you were there. You know you don’t do my gardening anymore.”
Illya pouts, “The new gardener does not do as good a job. The orchids are not as happy as they were.”
Napoleon sighs and draws him closer by the waistband of his pants. He’s sure his smile is stupidly fond.
“Well, the orchids will have to survive without you. We aren’t going to be home for weeks, you heard what Waverly said.”
Illya reaches his arms around Napoleon’s waist. “Then we make deal,” he says. “When we get back, you fire this useless gardener and let me do it.”
“Hm,” Napoleon pretends to consider the offer, “I have a better idea.”
“And what is that?”
“When we get back move in with me. Then the garden is yours too.”
Illya blinks at him in surprise and then smirks, “is that so I do the work for free?”
Napoleon laughs and puts his arms around Illya’s neck, still holding the roses tight in his hand. “Why is it that you always know my ulterior motives?”
“Because you are too easy, Cowboy.” Illya leans down to breathe against his mouth, “I will agree on one condition.”
“Which is?” Napoleon flutters his eyes closed.
“We fire the gardener.”
Napoleon snorts, “agreed.” And they’re both smiling too widely to kiss.
I do love a happy ending