Napoleon is attracted to art like flies to dying fruit. More than food or drink, he seems to feed off beauty in order to survive.
It feels, at first, very very American.
If Illya had angry twitches of the hand, than Napoleon had his anxious stillness. Within the first week together, when they stay in that hotel in Istanbul, Gaby and Illya can all hear Solo waking up in the middle of the night from night terrors - an after-effect of the shock treatment he’d been given, he promises them. Illya wakes up every time. If he and his partner are in the same room, he watches as Napoleon sits up from bed, and goes to the sitting area. There he will sit for hours on end, perfectly still until morning.
On the third day of this mission in Turkey, they pass a jeweler that Gaby likes. As she negotiates the price for a pair of earrings, Illya watches Napoleon stand very still in front of a large, abstract painting, as though lost in thought.
“Solo. We’re leaving,” Illya tells him as Gaby steps outside ahead of them.
Napoleon jolts, as if he’d forgotten where he was. “Coming.”
Smoothly, he runs his hand across the display table as he passes and snatches a fine gold chain, hidden into his sleeve. He even gives a flirtatious smile to the aging woman behind the counter - completely back to normal. The necklace is presented to Gaby as a gift a few days later and is declared “charming”.
To Napoleon and Gaby’s surprise, Illya is not entirely a clean person.
Of course, he keeps his clothes neat and put his trash away, but he does not make his bed every morning. Every little thing that he keeps out of order is a reminder to him of his new independence. The KGB required perfection, and he sees little bits of himself in every bit of mess. So long as he does not recognize his resistance for what it is, he finds it pleasing, and he takes advantage of it while he can.
Gaby is the messiest of them all: unaccustomed to living with others, she leaves her shoes strewn about and takes all of the towels in every hotel room they share. If allowed to, she would leave every glass she’d drank like a trail following her to bed. If is rather charming in its predictability.
Napoleon goes through phases, though it is unlikely that anyone but Illya would notice. His bed will be made, and then his clothes arranged and, in the final stages, he’d begin cleaning up his teammates’ messes for them. It will escalate until he takes a woman to bed, or steals something again: they’d come back to the room to see him draped across a messy bed with lascivious satisfaction.
It is perhaps because Illya recognizes the comfort that comes from military precision and repetition that he begins to worry.
"I see it and all I can think is that everything would be better if I had it. Just, taking this will make everything right.”
Napoleon explains himself very easily, like he has said it to himself a thousand times. It is the kind of thing, Illya learns, is only said in the very earliest parts of morning. It is unclear why Solo wants to tell him anything.
No one is spared nightmares, really. They are not what is so incredible about Napoleon Solo - no, Illya is no stranger to them himself.
He heats up milk on the stove usually. It’s a tradition passed down from his childhood with his mother. As with his father’s watch, the harmless traditions are the ones he holds most dearly.
Napoleon is already awake, and sitting by the windows again. He’s staring rather intenty at a framed etching. Because he looks so still and un-lifelike, Illya feels the terror of his dream all over again. In these moment at night together, he cannot help blurting out his own fears.
"I dreamt that I killed you. I stepped on your throat and-, I had no shoes. I could feel everything crush beneath my feet."
"It could never happen," Solo says, with his cool confidence. "You're always wearing socks."
Somehow it's as simple as that. Sitting on the floor beside Solo, he looks at his sleeping pants and socked feet, and tells himself that such a thing could never happen. He wears socks. Napoleon, glass in hand as always, is as unconcerned and concerning as always.
The dangerous thing about Napoleon, the thing that makes him dangerous at least, is his vulnerability. It is small and precise. It exists in the hours between midnight and dawn, in hands cooled with drink.
When Gaby is out doing surveillance, both of them decide to stay up late and wait for her. Although she had scolded them for treating her like a child, there was a sense of moorlessness to these jobs. They only have each other.
Napoleon has his drink and his odd stillness again. His suit has been hung and his shoes shined. He keeps a book in his lap like an accessory.
Illya has passed his time actually reading his book, until he notices the etching is not on the wall anymore.
“What has happened to the picture?”
“The one you have been looking at. It’s gone.”
“Probably the maids.”
Trusting his partner is vital to his job and while trust has been hard won, he trusts Napoleon. He does not trust his partner’s bad habits. He stands up and walks through the connecting door they have left open. He is not stopped as he searches and, after a few minutes, finds the piece hidden in the folds of his partner’s dress shirts.
“The maids gave it to you,” he notes, putting it on the table next to Napoleon. The American barely glances at it in his contemplation of the view outside. His face, in profile, is hard to look away from.
“They know what I like.”
“Why would you take the picture? It’s ugly.”
“Taking is what I do.”
“It is what you have always done,” Illya argues, “but not anymore.”
“I’ve been a thief longer than a spy.”
“But you were a soldier first.”
Napoleon has never mentioned his military service. He look surprised to hear it even mentioned, as though he rarely remembers it himself.
"There was the war,” he agrees. “My friends are all dead, and my unit..." He takes the last sip of his drink. Sets the cup on his leg in a careful balance, his hands always calm and tense at the same time. "And all that art we'd found. I guess the collection got out of hand."
Despite his nonchalance, it rather makes sense. Illya can almost understand it. A painting for a life. It did not work that way, but Napoleon would have those paintings still, even when they took the bodies away. He kept them like more precious memories and added, each one more and less satisfying than the next. Such a collection would never be complete: the only bright light in his time at war, he took and stole because it was all he could do for them. Hidden away but always on his mind.
But- Illya stopped that train of thought before he went too far. He alway assumed the worst of things. His Napoleon was probably just a spy. There was no need to remember the desperate men and women he’d trained with, who’d held onto things in order to survive. They were all survivors, there was no need to complicate things more.
Somehow, Napoleon was the one who took it upon himself to teach Gaby Russian.
He was an exacting teacher. Most of the time, he just speaks to her in Russian and waits for her to catch on. He does not offer any help when she fumbles with what little she knows. When possible, he brings her a newspaper in Russian. She learns curses first, so that she can shout at him when she's frustrated, which is often.
Illya teaches her words when Napoleon is not around to stare at him. Because of - or despite - her rather abrupt education, she picks up rather quickly. Illya suspects it's more out of spite than anything.
"It isn't fair," Gaby tells him. "It's not possible to learn like this."
"It's how I learned," Napoleon protests.
"Who taught you?" Illya asks. It is not the first time he’s spoken of his past life, but it is the first time it has not been in a story of some kind. And never in the light of day, when someone other than Illya hear.
Napoleon picks up his fork and begins eating. Gaby, after a moment, continues to complain.The moment, if it had ever existed, was over. In that moment, Illya realizes how much Napoleon must trust him, to have slipped and mentioned it at all.
At 2AM, Illya gets his answer. He does not like to think it, but he is glad he comes awake to hear these small tales of his partner.
"I had a lover in Berlin. He was Russian."
It is an offering to a silent room. Illya hadn't even been certain Napoleon knew he was awake, though it was likely. Men like them were sensitive to all kinds of disturbance in silence.
"He spoke no English, which was good. He didn't understand what I was saying most of the time, but I learned quickly. He was going to be a history professor. Had a fiance back at school in Leningrad."
"This was during the war?" Illya has heard what was done during the war between men, but it is different to hear it from another man’s lips. Speaking it out loud made it real, almost as though it was to be expected.
"At the end. My unit stayed in Berlin"
"Where is he now?" Illya asks.
"He was sent back to Leningrad. Probably dead by now." Napoleon, cigarette in one hand and drink in the other looks the image of luxury. He's sat on the floor by the balcony door with his silk robe and hair mussed to exaction. It is his hands that Illya is fixated on, as always, and that force him to move.
It is not the correct response, but Illya reaches over to take the glass out of his hand. Takes his face in one, broad hand and tilts it for a kiss. Keeps kissing when Napoleon surges up, when he leads him towards his bed. His skin burns with inactivity and need every time he pauses for a breath.
He feels Napoleon Solo, with all his masks and lies come back to life. And he doesn't stop.
Napoleon has cleaned everything already when he awakes.
He is woken by a flustered maid at 9AM. She has come to clean, having seen his companion leave some hours earlier.
Naked and displayed on vast, dirty sheets, he sends her into the hall so he can dress. There are bruises on his shoulders and neck, but they could mean any number of things. He did not expect Solo to stay, but it is now time to see if everything is worse now.
Gaby has not told him so in words, but she has shown what kind of woman she is. Pulled across the wall in Berlin, she will not see any other obstacle in her way. She will become powerful and independent. It is obvious.
So she does not have to say out loud to him that they will not be together. She is too much her own woman to be the one for him. He would be an obstacle for her, and he respects her more for it because he too knows what it's like to want to be free.
That's what makes the new bracelet Napoleon gives him so absurd. He is too good of a spy not to have seen what they are, but still - he acts the fool.
"You should give this to Gaby. Women love gifts."
Napoleon has been still and quiet for so long that his act of suave American is too much a relief to argue against. Illya takes it dutifully to Gaby.
"Solo got this for you."
She raises her eyebrows and lowers her tea. "Did he?"
"He didn't say where he found it."
"On someone wealthy undoubtedly. I'll get better use of it, I think."
"Would make a fine bomb,” he notes, thumbing at the larger stones.
Gaby looks it over thoroughly, but with approval. Of the three of them, she got the most enjoyment out of the gadgets U.N.C.L.E gave them.
"He thinks we are in love still?" She asks idly. He is not hurt by how amused she finds the idea.
"That we should be."
She sips her tea again, as if digesting the idea inside herself. "It would not make things easier."
"For him. He likes things to be clean."
"You would know better than me."
Illya pretends to not know what she means. Until then, he had not considered that for all he has been watching, and learning about Solo, someone could be watching and learning about him.
Napoleon is still avoiding him, in the cavalier way be prefers. And there have been 3 blondes in his bed inside a week. It is a statement he is not willing to try to understand.
There is also a Mucha painting lying on the bottom of Solo's suitcase, purloined in Hungary. Perhaps the night he'd stayed in Illya's bed even. It has a woman standing over a large green snake. Illya does not know what that means either, so he leaves it.
Solo is a container full of things with meaning he does not understand. Napoleon himself seems less than eager to delve deeper into his own meanings except in those early mornings. But if he has woken from his nightmares these past weeks, he has been too silent. Illya has slept through the night.
Napoleon owns dozens of suits in different colors and a scar on his inner wrist from scratching too hard. He never buys a watch he could not more easily steal. He is, Illya decides, terrified of his own fear and he knows it is his weakness.
Of course, there is no status quo in spyhood. There can be no comforting familiar. Except, of course-
"Illya, calm down."
He hears the dialtone noise in his head. He has put the phone down already but he hears not his superior's words, but the dial tone. He looks down to his hand, which he knows will be trembling.
The phone is gone. He must have done something but he doesn’t-, he doesn't remember.
He looks up at Solo's voice. His tone is steady where Gaby's is high and worried.
"Are you angry?" he asks.
Illya’s head is ringing and he's trembling like a child and Napoleon's question is so ridiculously stupid that he answers. "Yes. I am angry."
"Solo, what do you think you-"
He knows she has been pushed aside, even though he cannot see beyond his hand and head.
"Illya, what did they say?"
"I am being reviewed."
The USSR uses single words to speak pages, as if each letter cost too much. A review meant everything, it meant the end.
"Then you should be angry."
His hand is covered in another - not soothing, but possessive. He let's it move without protest, glad it was no longer under his control. It trembles in Napoleon's palm but does not move away. There is warmth to be found there, that he has never felt before.
He can see again, clearly, when Gaby steps forward to stand right beside him. Barely touching, she is warm too. Her hip rests against his thigh.
"Would you like to throw something?" she offers.
He feels something lightening inside him, like pressure being taken away. The twitching and the ringing feel farther away. He has reached the other side. "Not now," he tells her. "But thank you."
The clock reads four AM when he feels his mattress move.
His gun is extended before his eyes fully open. When they do, he lowers it. Napoleon is sitting on the edge of his bed.
"You are not leaving. "
It's said in such a voice that Illya hardly understands him. It is quiet and firm and roughed by drink. It is also, he realizes, horribly desperate.
"You are not leaving."
Pulling himself from the blankets, he moves towards the end of the bed slowly, like approaching a spooked cat. In the light of the moon and the stars, Napoleon is looking right at him and not seeing him at all. The same staring as at the moon and the pictures he wants to take.
"You can't go. You don't want to."
"I don't want to," he agrees. He would not have admitted it so easily in the light or day but it comes easily to this frightened thing. He stops inches away from his partner.
"Jesus Christ," Napoleon says, for a moment more like himself. "I can’t-"
He shifts and moves something that's lying at his feet. It's large and completely indistinguishable on the carpet. Illya knows what it is...
"What do you like best?"
"What?" Illy had been watching their target. They had not spoken since they'd slept together.
"Art." Napoleon waves rather grandly at the pieces displayed on the wall of the bar. None of them are of his usual taste, but perhaps his standards were lower than Illya had thought. "What do you like?"
"I do not care for art like you do," Illya tells him.
Napoleon puts on an act of great offense, which makes Illya smile as he turns away. He protests, "You must like something."
Illya has to think of what he's seen. His trainers and handlers for the KGB had not been very interested in educating his mind, but he'd been in galleries for missions many times before. More still, he'd learned quite a bit in his time with Solo as his partner.
"Mihaly Munkacsy. We saw him yesterday in the gallery. I like him."
For some reason, this makes Napoleon laugh. It is not cruel, but Illya still is annoyed to be mocked for an opinion he'd been asked for.
"Is that not good?"
"It's perfect," Napoleon insists. "I could not have picked it better myself."....
…."I took it before you told me you liked it. It reminded me of you."
Illya takes the painting from its paper wrapping and lays it on the bed besides him.
"I can get you more, if you like."
"You cannot buy me," Illya protests.
Napoleon looks chagrined, either from the accuracy of the accusation or the possibility of it. He does not deny it. "I know."
"I am not part of your collection," Illya insists, anger rising. He presses his hands to the bed. "You cannot do this."
"You cannot stop."
He has never said it before - spoken of this thing they both know outloud. Perhaps it has never been said before, from the way Napoleon flinches at the blow. Napoleon's voice cracks as he repeats, "I know."
Illya sighs and takes his hand, beginning to shake, to gently press at Napoleon's head, carding through his hair. The man is shaking as well from whatever it is he feels when these compulsions take him.
"I am not leaving," Illya promises. It is a lie they both know. Neither feel better for it, except that he is glad he said it. Even if Napoleon cannot yet say the same
Napoleon falls asleep on the end of his bed, so Illya stays there and, eventually, falls asleep too, arms wrapped around his partner so he could not escape for at least a night
He wakes up the next morning to knocking on the door. This time, it is Gaby. He is not the one to open the door.
He's pulled himself upright when he hears the door opening. Gaby's voice, always cheerful in mornings she's not hungover, echoes into the bedroom.
"Good morning Gaby."
Illya pulls himself out of bed more quickly, unconcerned that he's hardly dressed. Gaby has never seemed concerned or impressed when they appear half (or completely) naked.
He arrives in the kitchen to a scene out of a farce of some kind. Napoleon, in only the sleep pants he'd had last night, was at the table with a breakfast he'd clearly already ordered from room service. Gaby, across from him, looked as lost as Illya felt.
"What are you doing here already?"
"I'm an early riser," Napoleon explains blithely. He flips open the Parisian newspaper.
"Why are you in Illya's room?"
Illya has taken a cup of coffee, waiting for him on the breakfast tray, and sinks against the counter. He is too tired still to try to understand what is going on.
"I like company in the morning."
How Solo puts innuendo in the most innocent of phrases is a marvel. Illya rolls his eyes - a habit he has taken from Gaby in response to Napoleon's particular brand of ridiculous.
Gaby, having rolled her own eyes, takes the last coffee and seems to give up on the idea entirely. In an amused tone, she asks, "Do you come here often then?"
Illya interjects, "No," emphatically.
"I wouldn't call it often," Napoleon agrees.
"You. Stop," Illya warns. There is a stolen painting on his bed and Napoleon is acting like nothing has happened again. He wants this nonsense to stop before it begins again and more national treasures disappear.
Napoleon raises his hands in defeat, but is smiling at some hidden joke. It is impossible to tell that he even remembers what happened.
"I love Paris."
Illya huffs in annoyance. Napoleon has the gait of an excited child, constantly turning around at whatever caught his attention. It didn't help that Gaby seemed just as charmed with the city. The two of them would stop at shop windows and chitter like birds at every new and exciting thing they saw.
When his irritation was reaching dangerous levels, he stopped them at a cafe to eat something. The added sugar would only hurt in the long run, but he was desperate to sit down.
Seated at one of the dozen small, crowded tables, they ate a slice of cake each. At the very least, they were not too sweet, as the American treats always were.
"I bet I could make this," Napoleon declares of his mille-fois cake.
"You could not," Illya protests.
Gaby laughs and Napoleon puts on his look of extreme offense. It was, they'd discovered, his odd way of smiling.
"I certainly could. I am a very capable chef."
"He is quite good, Gaby chimes in, "even if it's usually too expensive to eat."
"You hate baking. Too much like a science." Illya has never heard Napoleon say as much, but he is certain that the man does not possess the patience for dozens of layers of crepe.
Napoleon laughs and actually smiles this time. "You've found me out," he says, like it was a great big secret. Illya rolled his eyes and secretly holds his victory warm and close. There is great satisfaction in reminding Solo that he is a person, despite everything he says to the contrary. And here, during the light of the Paris sun, of it feels a bit like progress towards something.
Spies are beings made of secrets. Even the common become secrets in their hands. Illya gets no joy from holding the secrets of Napoleon Solo but he knows what comes next. Spies cannot stand weakness in others, let alone themselves.
And Illya knows when he is being seduced, even if he is unaccustomed to it. He can read it in the casual slant of Napoleon’s shoulders, and the light in his eyes. He hates how strange it looks even after he’s seen it a thousand times. And how captivating it is.
"Is that what you want? To be a shallow playboy?" He snaps, when Napoleon puts a hand on him one evening. Because of course that is exactly what Napoleon has always wanted. To be nothing but the image he projects, with none of the troubles inside. "My Napoleon is not like that.”
It is not something that can be unsaid, even when he fully realizes what it implies. He has never tried to possess something as desperately as he has tried to hold on to his Napoleon; the one that came to him in the night and slept on the foot of his bed. The desperate fool who made him sick with the secrets he had to keep.
"I can’t give you anything else,” Napoleon tells him, voice very quiet and calm. It makes Illya quake with some foreign feeling, just like the anger he’s always trying to hide.
Napoleon has always wanted to be the shallow playboy, the man he used to be. He misses being stupid and naive. And Illya wants to be trusted by this fool he’s discovered, hidden under all the neat hair and pressed clothes. Napoleon’s desperation to return to what he understands, at the risk of ruining everything, is almost enough to make him furious.
But Solo is one who always presses his advantage, and so he presses forward against Illya. He sits on the arm of his chair and pushes forward until they are touching only at the forehead, looking warily at one another. The foreign feeling Illya hates makes him reach out and hold Napoleon steady above him.
“I’d like to keep you in my collection” Napoleon says, like this is one of his usual lines of flirtation. “In perfect condition.”
“It doesn’t work that way.” Illya presses their cheeks together now just to feel Napoleon shiver against him. His own thrill comes double, knowing that he can make Napoleon act without his careful deliberation. This is not what he wants them to be, but when it's tempting him like this he cannot help but move in closer.
“I’ll trade it all for you.” Napoleon’s mouth rests on Illya’s neck, breathing wet against his skin. His hands tremble as they brace him still. “My whole collection.”
Napoleon kisses him. He presses in again with tongues, falling gracelessly into Illya’s lap and almost pushing them both to the floor. It causes a flush on his fine skin that Illya wants to keep safe inside him somewhere, even when the buzz of arousal and drowning disappear. Once together again, they can arrange themselves so Napoleon can sit carefully on his lap, hips pressed awkwardly together.
It feels exquisite to tremble with pleasure, hands gripping at the edges of Napoleon’s pomade hair and nails scratching the surface of his skin. Where he is silent, Napoleon makes small, involuntary sounds that escape like bubbles bursting, sounds like he’s never heard before. Each one is captured by his mouth or skin as they fumble and grab for one another. He thinks of Napoleon pulling him from the ocean and pulling him back under again, where they can only breathe into each others mouths.
He can only groan when Napoleon’s hand finds the shape of his cock in his pants, with a firm kind of pressure that makes him breathless and leaves him panting into Napoleon’s mouth. He manages to pull away only for a moment to survey them both; rumpled, sweating and completely undone. Helpless, he grabs the edge of Napoleon’s shirt as he speaks.
“Marvelous suggestion.” Napoleon gasps louder when Illya’s fingers skate right under the waist of his pants. “I knew I kept you around for something.”
They pull apart entirely to take everything off, layers peeled and dumped at the foot of the bed. It is no difficulty to crawl into bed together, or for Illya to bracket Napoleon’s head and hover above this time.
“You’re so polite,” Napoleon mocks.
Illya leans down to nibble at his ear, just to hear his gasping noise again. It is useful when his partner is sounding too cocky. “You do many things you do not want to do. I was just checking.”
Napoleon is a wonder to look at like this. It is almost like his natural state - here, laid out on a hotel bedspread with the flush of lust down his chest, his cock proud and his eyes bright. It is the eyes that frighten Illya the most because he has seen them so many different ways, but never quite like this. He has never been looked at so intently before. Not at his body, or his strength, but at his face like there was something in him worth adoring. He has never been adored before.
Illya leans down and presses them together from head to foot. They do not fit, but they move against each other like it is natural to them. They bruise and break and come together again.
The next time Napoleon stands before a painting and stares and waits, Illya leads him away. Gaby is always ready with a cup of tea and a complaint to keep his mind from whatever it is in his head that makes him need to take. His partner cannot be fixed any more than he can be.
When Illya wakes up in the middle of the night, it is because his bed has moved. Napoleon perches at the edge of his bed with that same, odd look on his face but he is naked now, and there are scars and bruises on display. Illya has stripped everything away entirely, but he knows he must keep it safe.
He wakes up, and asks Napoleon if he might stay in bed this time, beside him. And lies down with his head against his partner’s side as he falls back asleep, no longer worried where he’ll be that night. Napoleon is not easily predicted or understood, unless you show him where he wants to be.
“You will be reviewed,” Napoleon reminds him one day, because he too understands what that means.
“I am exemplary agent. I will be fine,” he assures Napoleon, who trusts him. Here, at least, there is someone who believes in him completely. It is because of that that he will see his old handlers, and come back safe.
“I trust you,” Napoleon tells him. This will be the first time something he has taken for himself will leave his collection - he must trust that Illya will come back again. It is moments like these that Illya cannot tell if Napoleon still sees him as a possession.
Neither of them are to be trusted with this small, fragile thing between them. But they must trust that it will survive being apart. Illya knows that he has always wanted to be trusted, more than anything. This is, he knows, part of what made him see Napoleon as he really was - someone who needed to escape from himself. Neither of them are without blame if something goes wrong between them.
But on the bottom of his rucksack which he unpacks in Moscow is a rolled painting that he has never seen. There is a note inside it: “Please return if you get the change. I don’t need it.”, signed with Napoleon’s elaborate hand. It is enough at least, for a start.