The thing was, Solo could dance.
Solo could do a lot of things, and most of them were infuriating, but when their next con (Gaby was a spy but not an idiot; however many Paco Rabanne belts they put on it, this job was pure con artistry) involved infiltrating an embassy party, Solo was the obvious choice. He was oily, all smooth charm and slippery smiles, quick hands and quicker impulses. But it was a two-person job, a globetrotting couple-about-town, which meant Illya was out and Gaby was in.
Illya was not pleased.
Gaby also was not pleased. "Why am I always the fiancée?"
"Well, Teller, for all the complaining, you do the job beautifully." Solo was pouring a drink, but he paused to give Gaby a sideways look, an up-and-down assessment. Gaby frowned and the back of her neck prickled, went hot. "And it's wife this time."
She leaned in to take the glass from him – heavy, square-bottomed, filled with bourbon and cherries, an orange slice for garnish – and took a long swallow. "Just make sure you keep your hands to yourself, cowboy," she said.
Solo grinned at her.
The ring from Illya was still on Gaby's finger – but right hand, middle finger, no associations. She never minded that the first one was stolen; the second was more to her taste.
They were in Milan, which was close enough to Rome to bring up unpleasant memories all around. Gaby was Asta Sterling today, Swedish socialite wife to Solo's English gentleman. Her hair was bigger than she liked it, stiff and heavy as a hat, earrings like two gleaming buttons, absolutely dripping pearls. Illya was looking at her like a kicked puppy. "Are you sure you're going to be alright?"
It was easier to wear a costume, sometimes. Archly, she demanded, "Are you doubting my capabilities, Kuryakin?"
His expression evened out into one of pure exasperation. "That's not what I –"
Gaby decided to take pity on him – this time, at least. "I know," she said, less unkindly. "I'm fine." Her chin jutted up. "I'm better at this then the two of you put together, after all."
That soft smile curved his lips for a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment. "Don’t I know it, chop shop girl."
Gaby's patience was running thin, was going, going, gone in three, two –
She had put up with a lot of blowhards in her day but the ambassador at this party was taking the cake. If she had to chuckle dimly at one more snide sexist remark, she was going to end up head-butting this man and kneeing him somewhere unpleasant.
Gaby clutched her champagne flute so tightly that it seemed in genuine danger of shattering in her white-knuckled hand until Solo slipped it nearly from her fingers. He poured the contents into his own glass, and set the empty on the nearest waiter's tray.
"Now, now, darling," Solo said in his ponciest put-upon accent. He dipped at the waist like maybe he was bowing and Gaby had no idea what he was doing until his lips touched her bare shoulder. She hadn't anticipated that. She got gooseflesh all down that arm and tried very hard not to glare at him. "Let's cool off with a dance."
Solo put his arm around her. She was tucked right in the crook of his arm, her chest to his chest, and very aware of the gentle skritch of his suit fabric against the bare skin of her midriff, revealed on either side of her waist thanks to cut-outs in the gown. It felt very casual and very intimate at once. She let her arm rest atop his, fingers curled against the nape of his neck, pearl white nails in his dark hair. The other hand she left in his.
He was good, of course, which annoyed Gaby – of course.
"This isn't the kind of music I like," she sneered. Part of it was Solo's effortlessness and part of it was excess irritation from that idiot ambassador, but she was mostly aggravated because her pulse was hammering like mad.
"Yes, dear, I know," he said. He gave her a quick spin she hadn't been expecting and momentum carried her hard into his chest on the spin back. He sang a little Do You Love Me? at her, smirking all the while.
Gaby suppressed a smirk of her own, rolling her eyes. "That isn't charming."
"You saying so only makes me think it is," Solo replied knowingly. She anticipated the next turn so she even got to enjoy it, and they followed it up with a dip, his hand tenderly cupping the base of her skull. "Would you rather we were at a nightclub?" Those same hands, the ones she had trusted not to drop her, clutched the glittery beaded fabric of her gown, right at her hips – two lightning-quick fistfuls that lifted the hem an inch or two higher. It wasn't exposing, but it felt like it was. "You'd need a much shorter skirt."
Gaby stamped on his foot with her heel and twisted away momentarily. "You boys are always trying to dress me up like a doll. Do you think I don't know how to dress myself?"
"Oh no, darling." The absence of the English accent made the endearment sound at once sarcastic and tender, oddly personal. "There's not a thing I don't believe you can't do yourself."
"I'm glad to hear you say that," she said. "Because somehow they have just realized who we are, and security is coming to retrieve us as we speak."
Solo's eyes went wide before looking quick in the direction of her casual nod. "Well damn. That does put us in a pickle."
Tonight was simple reconnaissance so there was no obvious reason for it to have gone sour. Illya wasn't even on the other end of a communication line; he was off on his own mission, flying – as they say – solo. It was a figure of speech.
"I must say I'm very interested in what could've blown our cover." Solo was affecting some disinterest as they nonchalantly – yet nevertheless very quickly – made their way towards the balcony, which was one grand staircase away from the garden and, subsequently, escape. "Do you think my accent was off?"
"I think someone must have tipped them off," Gaby replied. She was going to have words with Waverly after this. "Walk quicker."
Once out in the warm, dark garden, fragrant with lush flowers, they made a break for the garage – and the rows of shiny cars parked within. It was a good stretch to sprint, but Solo was lagging, and if Gaby could manage it in her regrettably heavy gown and high shoes, then he had no excuse. She turned back to snap at him but then blinked, taken aback to see Solo pink-faced and short of breath. "Do you want to get shot, cowboy? Hurry up."
He could be babied when they were out of immediate danger.
Security must have been attempting keep a possible threat quiet so as not to ruin the party, which gave Gaby and Solo a nice head start – or it would have, if it weren't for Solo. He was now pulling fruitlessly at his bowtie to loosen it and Gaby hesitated just long enough to see the dark-suited guards stepping out onto the balcony. She was easily visible in her white dress – too visible.
She grabbed Solo's arm and jerked him forward even as he stumbled slightly. They were able to slide in the side door of the garage (thanks to Solo's expert-as-ever lock picking skills, though he still seemed to be having a remarkably difficult time breathing normally) and then Solo kept watch through the window while Gaby went about cracking open a steel gray Alfa Romeo.
"I can hotwire cars too," Solo muttered sullenly. "In a pinch."
Gaby rolled her eyes. She had no interest in banking on the incompetence of others with her life on the line. "Yes, but do you keep tools in your purse just for the occasion? And –" She smirked, smug, as the car purred to life. "Could you do it in under five minutes?"
"Credit where credit's due, Teller," Solo said. He hit the button to open the garage door and then slid into the passenger seat. "Now drive."
They roared out into the darkness, zipping down the long driveway of the upscale villa. Gaby ignored Solo's fidgeting for a solid minute before looking over to see he had divested himself of the bowtie and opened the top buttons of his shirt, gulping for air like a parched man for water. "What's wrong with you?"
"A question many women have asked me," he said. "In this case, copious volts of electricity."
"What?" The question was out of her mouth before she could swallow it down but she at least made sure to keep another sharp look to herself, focusing on the road instead of him. It was after midnight, pitch black outside, and the road was only just made visible by two glowing headlight beams; she needed to focus.
"You heard all about it, didn't you, Teller? It turns out that sort of thing can leave a mark on a man. It's rather embarrassing, really."
"You're hurt? Still?" For whatever reason Gaby was having trouble keeping the keen edge out of her voice.
"Oh, no, it's hardly as bad as all that. I just get these little spasms from time to time, and they make it rather frustrating to do utterly simple things like run from men with guns. But I'm fine. It's only sometimes."
Gaby dug her teeth into the tip of her tongue. "Is that it?"
"Yes. Well, I kept getting these love notes from an Italian receptionist but have no memory of any of the things she was referencing – specifically, of course; I do still possess my normal working knowledge – so I imagine I'm missing a few moments here or there. Luckily I still know how to make risotto."
Gaby fell silent. Then she offered, "I'm sorry."
She could feel Solo eyeing her but she did not react. "Whatever for?"
Gaby cleared her throat. "My culpability in what happened. I blew our covers. That makes me responsible for the fallout, at least partially."
Solo stared. "Don't be ridiculous, Gabrielle."
"It was my uncle," she insisted.
"I have an uncle who works behind a deli counter," Solo said. "Does that make me responsible for every sandwich eaten by my acquaintances?"
"That is a faulty metaphor," Gaby grumbled.
"I stand by it." Solo, apparently somewhat recovered, had twisted around to look out the back window. "Cut the headlights."
"I'll run us into a tree."
"Pull over and cut the headlights."
Gaby guided the car off the road, wincing as it started to jolt and lurch over the bumpier terrain. There wasn't a hell of a lot of cover – some skinny trees, a couple of bushes – but the negligible light picked out a ditch behind some overgrown greenery that would do. Gaby cut the lights, slid into the dip with a worrying thump, and cut the engine. "Now what?"
Low on patience as ever, she said, "And if they find us?"
Solo slouched in his seat, eyes on the rearview, and pulled his gun from where it had been secreted in his cummerbund. "Guess."
Gaby had her doubts about this. No one wanted an all out chase, and it would be no good to lead their pursuers back to the hotel, but hiding here just made her feel like they were sitting ducks. Her nerves lit up with every sweep of high-speed wheels down the road not so very far off, but no car stopped. They just barreled on, chasing a ghost.
"You see, there's a turn just ahead," Solo told her. "They probably think we took it."
"Your map-reading abilities are unparalleled," Gaby said dryly.
"Thank you," he said. She rolled her eyes but didn't bother telling him it wasn't a real compliment; she was sure he knew. Solo didn't seem to distinguish much between real admiration and sarcastic admiration. It drove Illya crazy.
They sat there semi-secluded in the total darkness for more than an hour but after twenty minutes she was practically clawing the leather interior. Solo wasn't very helpful. "Sometimes spy work is a waiting game, Teller," was all he would say, followed up by an obnoxiously significant look.
By the time he deemed it safe to leave (Gaby had felt safe for at least fifteen minutes but Solo was impossible to argue with even under the best of circumstances), Gaby was eager to get moving. The Alfa Romeo had other ideas.
"What happened to hotwiring a car in under five minutes?" Solo wondered – not without a note of smugness.
Gaby glared at him.
By the time they made it back to the hotel, they were a sight to behold.
Gaby's hands were streaked with oil, the nails broken on three fingers. She was dusty and dirty, her skirt was torn, the fabric stained beyond rescue. The gigantic braided hairdo had collapsed, and all of the interwoven synthetic hair had been left behind in the ditch – out of which she and Solo laboriously pushed the car until Gaby's heel went out from under her and she landed in the mud. Solo wasn't faring much better; he was just as dirty and disarrayed as she was, but something about the hard line of his jaw set off the smudges of mud to advantage. Objectively speaking.
The pushing had only come after Gaby spent God knows how long trying to fiddle with the engine in a night barely even lit by stars, Solo hovering with his lighter to provide the most meager illumination without blowing them up in the process. It had been a night.
Having had no idea of the trials and tribulations they endured, Illya looked faintly surprised upon seeing them. "I thought you were going to a party."
"I'm going to take a bath and then I'm going to bed," Gaby said with a great helping of unnecessary attitude. "Solo can fill you in."
Gaby and Solo were sharing a room this time, with a connecting door to Illya's that she now opened and then slammed behind her. She stripped off right there, a pile of glitter and dirt at her feet, and could still hear Solo faintly through the door: "Sometimes I think she's got a worse temper than you, Peril."
The best benefit Gaby had found so far to bedding down opposite Napoleon Solo was that he was about as vain as a person could be, and so the bathroom was stocked with all manner of luxurious nonsense. He had some kind of bath oil that smelled of cinnamon and cloves that Gaby helped herself to, as well as a bar of expensive soap with a fresh, citrusy scent. She found she liked it better than all the floral miscellany she had splurged on in the last few months, though a little part of her wondered if she liked taking Solo's things just because she knew it annoyed him. She could never tire of annoying either of them, him or Illya.
She put on his robe when she was done because it was three sizes too big for her and therefore irresistibly cozy. Napoleon was milling around the room when she came out, dressed in just his tuxedo trousers and undershirt. The mud had mostly been rubbed from his face, but not entirely: there were still little flecks here and there, like stray freckles along the line of his jaw. He tipped his face in her direction and sniffed delicately.
"And they call me a thief," he said. "You smell very familiar, Teller."
She blinked at him innocently. "I don't know what you mean."
Solo smiled just a little, a very slight curve of the lips. "Come have a conciliatory drink with me. After the night we had, we deserve it."
Gaby accepted the glass before dropping into the nearest chair and putting her feet up on the coffee table. "I can't wait until the rendezvous in the morning," she said, a touch bitterly. "Waverly isn't going to know what hit him."
"Now, now, things go wrong all the time." Solo took up the seat next to hers, stretching his long legs out too. He was always so unflappable, so cool and calm. "We were having a nice time before all that, weren't we?"
Solo turned towards her, smiling slowly and easily now. "I certainly didn't mind having you pressed up against me."
Gaby's jaw clenched ever so slightly. "I'm sure."
She gave a little jerky shrug, fingers fanning out in a dismissive fidget. "I've had worse but I've had better."
That answer seemed to please him, smile going so wide she saw teeth. "Are you sure? I thought I saw a little color in your cheeks. Maybe felt your heart race a little."
"Perhaps you mistook your own for mine."
"Perhaps," he allowed. "But do you know, when I touched your neck –" His hand lifted in her direction but didn't make contact, though Gaby drew in a breath as though it had. "Well, I could have sworn I felt your pulse going crazy."
Gaby narrowed her eyes at him. "Is this how you go about things with women? This works for you?"
Solo laughed a little, delighted. "Usually."
Gaby hummed disinterestedly and shrugged. "Color me unimpressed."
"Actually, I'd color you rather pink." Solo nodded at her and touched his own cheek; Gaby angrily tried to will the color from her face.
"My bath was warm," she said.
"You're wonderful, you know, you never stop fighting. Not even for a minute."
"And you always think you know everything about everyone all the time."
"Do I, Mrs. Sterling?"
Gaby let out a surprised, unwilling laugh, which appeared to be Solo's design. "You are," she said, "without fail, the worst and most incorrigible flirt I have ever encountered."
"Thank you," Solo said, pleased.
"That wasn't a compliment."
He was unconcerned. "Even so."
"Were you always?"
"Always what? An incorrigible flirt?" Solo considered this as he took a slow sip of his drink. "I suppose. When you're always in trouble, it helps to have a way to wriggle out of it. And it's good misdirection, you know. If you can get someone to focus on your face they aren't looking at your hands."
Gaby could understand that. She found herself somewhat distracted by the line of his bare arm: the bicep that occasionally seemed to strain the seams of his dress shirts, the dark hair dusting his forearm, the quick-fingered hand holding his tumbler of bourbon. Unfortunately for her, Solo noticed, and when she met his eyes again, he was smirking.
"Like that," he said.
"What, you're the only one who can do all the flirting?"
He tipped his head ever so slightly towards the door that led to Illya's room. "Are you sure it's wise?"
She and Illya still hadn't so much as kissed, but that wasn't a fact she was about to share with Solo any time soon. "The irony of you asking me that," she mused. "Anyway, I thought I was your wife. For the next week at least."
Her eyebrow lifted a little, challenging, and Solo was not a man who backed down from a challenge. He leaned forward to set his drink on the coffee table, glass hitting glass with a soft clink and faced Gaby, expression open and more than a little curious. "What do you have in mind then, Mrs. Sterling?"
Gaby's skin prickled along the back of her neck and she thought of Solo bending to kiss her bare shoulder. Fantasy carried itself farther, and she imagined Solo's mouth on her collarbone, sternum, stomach. Gaby bit her lower lip and let one of her legs drop from the table to the ground, knees just slightly apart. "Don't use your hands."
He smiled. "Fine. Don't make it easy on me."
"Wouldn't dream of it," she replied.
Solo slipped from his chair to his knees and Gaby's breath caught a little in her throat just at the sight of it. Sometimes she forgot Solo was a tall man just because there was always Illya around to compare him to, but there in front of her on his knees, he seemed larger instead of smaller, too big for the space he was in. His hand felt big on her thigh, brushing aside the navy robe of his she was wearing. "Last time, I promise," he said, putting his hand on the cream carpet so he could lean forward to nudge her legs apart with a touch of his nose.
Solo's mouth dragged slowly from her knee up along the inside of her thigh, soft warm lips and rough stubble, heat and shivers. Gaby slouched in the chair, settled in low until her leg was resting on Solo's shoulder and the robe was gaping open totally, just barely held together where it was loosely tied.
Gaby tipped the heavy glass against her lips again, swallowing a mouthful of burning whiskey as Solo's tongue slid against her for the first time.
She had always wondered whether Solo's alleged skill in the bedroom was genuine or overblown, the kind of swaggering confidence carried by men who were too stupid to realize they weren't any good. But Solo wasn't stupid, that was for certain.
The skills that aided Solo in business seemed to help him here as well; he was quick to take note of little hitches in her breathing, the tensing of her thighs, and respond accordingly. He seemed to do quite alright without his hands, too, tongue firm and slow over her folds, but teasing and soft around her clit, working her up and up without an end in sight.
Gaby couldn't keep quiet. "Mmm." Noises kept leaving her like little gulps, moans trapped in her throat. "Just like that. Yes. Just like that –" She buried her hands in his slick black hair, messing it up, wrecking it.
Solo hummed against her, deep and thoughtful, before he leaned back just enough to say, "Quiet, Teller. Do you want Peril to hear?"
A desperate little moan escaped her.
"Though I'm sure he can," Solo continued. "The walls are terribly thin. And there's still your ring – you do still wear it, don't you?" Gaby looked at the hand clenched tight around the arm of the chair, dark pearl gleaming. "Do you think he's upset? Perhaps he'll get so upset that he'll come in and teach us both a lesson. Would you like that?"
Interest piqued by his use of the word both, Gaby pushed herself up a little, face flushed and strands of damp hair sticking to her forehead. "Would you?"
Solo smiled a smile just this side of wicked. "I wouldn't mind. I imagine he can be very…forceful."
They both went still, listening, waiting to see if perhaps Illya was listening, if the doorknob would twist and door open to reveal him standing there. But when no Illya was forthcoming, Solo sighed and shrugged. "Oh well." And his head bent back down, mouth working against Gaby again.
The threat of Illya's interference seemed to have done its job on Gaby and it wasn't much longer before she was arching insistently against Solo's mouth, tugging at his hair so hard he grunted softly in pain. He bit the inside of her thigh sharply in retaliation and Gaby laughed, still with something of a groan in it.
"I see force is something the two of you share," Solo said. "I think I might be bald now."
"Oh, you're fine." Gaby melted into the chair, eyes closed, and patted absently at the crown of his head. "Stop complaining."
Quite unexpectedly, he put his arms around her and swept her right off her seat and into his lap, a pile of limbs and fabric. "Don't be mean, Teller."
Gaby looped an arm around his neck. "Why not? You seem to like it."
He placed an arm under legs and then carefully got to his feet, hoisting Gaby up with him. "Be that as it may. It's just not polite, especially after someone has done their very best to please you."
"Hm, was that your best?" she wondered. "I think you should always try to be better, Solo."
"Napoleon," he corrected. "I think it might be alright for you to call me Napoleon now."
He deposited her gently on her bed, but Gaby kept her hand curved around his neck. "Alright, Napoleon." She arched an eyebrow. "Are you going to try and prove me wrong, then?"
"Prove you right, I imagine," he said, lowering himself onto the bed with her. "I agree; everyone should always try to outdo their best."