Illya was pacing, back and forth. She had known him long enough now to recognise the behaviour as annoyance, with a silent request that she ask him about it. Gaby let him pace a bit longer, turning a few pages in her book for effect although the words were flying in and out of her head with no comprehension.
At last, she set the book aside and raised an eyebrow at him.
"I do not like this assignment," he muttered.
"You don't want to bring down a blackmailer?" It was not the specific nature of the crime that had caught U.N.C.L.E.'s attention – blackmail would usually be handled by the police – so much as the fact that the man had several local diplomats in his pocket. Along with an arrest, U.N.C.L.E. was very interested in knowing exactly who had done favours for one Hugh Boniface.
He shook his head. "I dislike the plan."
She gestured for him to continue. Illya was good at spotting obvious inconsistencies in their plans and it had saved their hides on numerous occasions.
He hissed. "I do not like you and Napoleon having affair. Russian wife would not cheat."
... However, he was also capable of getting stuck on minor details and refusing to come unglued.
"Never?" she said archly. He glared at her. "If it really bothers you we could flip it and have you cheating on me with Napoleon."
Illya considered this. "No," he said. "The mark is a coward. He would never dare approach me." While Gaby was preparing to tease him for implying she wasn't dangerous, he continued, "You, he will underestimate."
She nodded, pleased. "Then it's settled. We proceed as agreed."
He folded his arms. "Is not cheating when it's consensual."
"It's just pretend," she says. "It's not real."
"But it is real," he points out. "You, me, him. That part is real."
"You and I are not married. Our names are not Veronique and Sergei. Napoleon is not your secretary, thanks be. We do not laugh and cuddle in public. When Napoleon smiles at me, I don't cast my gaze down and blush." She tapped him on the nose. "That is the lie we are selling the mark."
He looked at her a moment. She was conscious of his breathing, the intensity of his gaze. She was suddenly aware of her own heart rate increasing.
The sound of keys in the door snapped them apart, not in defensive stances yet but ready to take one at the first sign of trouble.
Napoleon entered and looked the two of them up and down. He smirked. "Did I miss something?"
"Tell Illya I'm not cheating on him," said Gaby.
Napoleon's brow furrowed. "I thought we had an arrangement?"
Illya blew out his breath in a huff and stalked into the bathroom.
"He's having some trouble accepting the plan," she said.
"There is no way I would not realise that my wife is sleeping with my secretary!" Illya yelled through the bathroom door.
"Sometimes we have to sacrifice realism in the name of getting the mark's attention," said Napoleon, loud enough that Illya could still hear, although he didn't respond. "Besides, it's only the mark's small mind that makes him think anything untoward is going on."
"But it's sweet of you to want to protect our honour, Illya," added Gaby.
Illya opened the door to glare at them both. "I do not need to protect Napoleon's honour. He has none."
"Perhaps you just don't know how to recognise honour, Peril," Napoleon suggested helpfully.
"What did you find out at Boniface's office?" Gaby interjected.
"It's a nice enough building. The interior decor is exquisite. I do appreciate a blackmailer who cares about appearances." He dangled a set of keys between two fingers, then vanished them back down his sleeve. "I borrowed the key from the building manager just in case. What did you two get up to?" He raised an eyebrow.
Illya rolled his eyes and slammed the bathroom door closed again.
It was five days of fluttering her lashes and blushing at Napoleon before she had a note in neat handwriting suggesting that it might be in her best interests to meet the sender at a cafe the next day while her husband was at his business meeting.
Long practice meant that she barely reacted when Illya slid the listening device onto her thigh. When Napoleon did this he always pressed a kiss to the spot before sliding it into place. Illya just held her like she was made of glass.
She kissed him as she stepped down from the table, taking advantage of the extra height. "Did you want to give Napoleon something to listen to when he tests the equipment?"
Illya flushed and stepped away. "Be careful," he murmured.
Gaby was armed, of course, but the average person would never be able to tell by looking at her. "I'll be fine. Blackmailers are cowards, like you said."
"A cornered dog..." he began.
She pressed his mouth closed with her index finger. "I can handle him."
Gaby never felt like herself when she was dressed for a job – which was, she supposed, the point. She stepped lightly down the street, for all the world a young wife taking advantage of some unexpected freedom. It was early autumn, but she could still feel the heat of of the sun through her hat and radiating off the concrete.
The cafe was busy, and she lowered her sunglasses to get a closer look inside before stepping up to the hostess.
"Are you Mrs Ivanov?" asked the hostess. When Gaby admitted she was, she continued, "Your companion has already arrived, I will show you to your table."
Gaby followed the hostess to the table, and let her eyes widen in confusion when she saw Boniface there.
"Mrs Ivanov," said Boniface. "Please, sit down."
This she did, carefully settling her purse on her lap. "You seem to have me at a disadvantage," she said, smiling.
"I've been watching you, Mrs Ivanov," he said. "But please, let us have some coffee." He waved a hand at the counter, and the waitress came over to fill their cups.
Gaby wrapped her hands around her cup, sure to let it shake a little as she lifted it to her mouth. She let the hot liquid touch her lips and placed it down again, undrunk. "Why did you ask me to come here?"
Boniface steepled his fingers over his cup. "Before we begin, Miss Teller, you should know I have sent an envelope to Christiana Valentine at the Times with instructions to publish the contents if anything were to happen to me."
Gaby furrowed her brow in her best expression of confusion. "I don't know what you—"
"And my secretary has similar instructions," he continued, as if she hadn't spoken. "I know exactly who you are, Gaby Teller, and why you are here."
Gaby widened her eyes and scrambled back, her chair falling over behind her.
Boniface smirked. "I have connections everywhere, Miss Teller." He snorted. "As for your ruse, it was pathetically simple to see through. You, the Ice Queen, sleeping with your partners?"
She kicked the chair into his shins, and while he was gasping she followed it up with a blow to the head with her purse and a jab in the neck from a poisoned dart. A woman screamed behind her.
Gaby fell to her knees and began to cry. "You— What he said to me— I— Did I kill him? I didn't—"
"Someone call an ambulance!" cried a woman's voice.
A helpful stranger bent over and took Boniface's pulse. "He's just knocked out."
"It's all right, miss. Shh, don't cry," said another stranger. "The ambulance will be here soon."
It was only a few minutes before she heard sirens blare and two men in uniform were bustling in with a stretcher and rolling Boniface onto it.
"Did you want to go with us in the ambulance, miss?" asked a more familiar voice.
She turned her face into Illya's chest and nodded, still crying.
Illy and Gaby secured Boniface in the "ambulance" while Napoleon got them out of town.
"That could have gone better," said Napoleon. "We were supposed to obtain his list of victims before apprehending him."
"I can convince him to help with that," Illya offered.
Gaby slumped against the side of the van and watched the city disappear. "How many envelopes did we seize from the post box this morning?"
"Three, sent to the Times, the Sun and the Mirror."
"And the secretary?"
"I think I'll pop by Boniface's office and have a little chat with her," said Napoleon. He let his foot off the accelerator and nodded at the window. "How do you two feel about barns?"
"Well?" Gaby prompted, when Napoleon returned. Boniface had regained consciousness once and made it through half a conversation with Illya before Illya lost his patience. Boniface was sleeping peacefully again on a hay bale.
"Lovely girl," said Napoleon. "We just had a nice conversation. She's very interested in not going to trial for treason and knew where Boniface hid his safe. I left her with the local police."
"Waverly is sending a team to take care of Boniface," said Illya.
"Wait," said Napoleon. "We don't know who tipped off Boniface yet."
"I do," said Gaby. "It was Avery. He's an MI5 agent based in London." When they stared at her, she said, "Boniface called me Ice Queen. That's what Avery called me when I turned him down."
"Do lots of agents proposition you?" asked Napoleon.
"Most are too polite. Sometimes they think they are too handsome to resist." Napoleon smirked, and she elbowed him in the side. "I make special note of the ones who grow aggressive when I turn them down. Sometimes they don't take me seriously until I give them a practical demonstration of my training."
Napoleon gained the expression that meant he'd just seen something found extremely attractive. Illya's face stiffened into the vacant look that meant basically the same thing.
"How long until Waverly gets here?" murmured Napoleon.
"Another hour, probably," said Gaby.
"Will not be waking soon," Illya promised, with a smug little smile that Gaby felt compelled to kiss away.
This thing between them was old enough that it felt quite natural to fall between them into a makeshift bed of hay and their coats, but new enough that they still had plenty to learn about maximising the experience.
Afterwards, she lay with her head nestled into Illya's side, Napoleon doing something with her hair she hoped she wouldn't regret later.
Almost in unison, they sighed and rose, finding clothing and complaining about the state of it to the person responsible for said state.
Once they were dressed and respectable again – a skill Gaby had perfected of late – she took stock of the situation. Waverly was probably still a quarter hour away. Boniface was in custody. They had the incriminating list.
"If only he knew how wrong he was," said Napoleon, smirking at the unconscious Boniface.
"The mission would have gone better if he'd believed it," Gaby observed.
Illya was frowning at Boniface's lifeless form. She poked him in the side until he looked at her. She raised an eyebrow and he shrugged, moving away to tidy up the mess of hay on the floor.
Gaby finished giving her report to Waverly and headed back to the hotel room.
Napoleon was lounging against the arm of the sofa, a newspaper open in his lap and a cup of coffee in one hand, the picture of American comfort. On the other side of the sofa sat Illya, stiff as a board and staring at point on the carpet.
The carpet was solid brown, so bland that even a Russian couldn't find it interesting.
Gaby perched on the arm of the chair next to him and drew her feet up so she could slip them under his thigh. He hissed at the cold.
"Is there a bug on the carpet?" she asked.
"I am thinking about Avery," he snapped. He shuffled over, which only brought him into Napoleon's orbit. Napoleon took the opportunity to wrap his ankle around Illya's.
"What a waste of thoughts," said Gaby.
Illya scowled. "He chose to betray his country rather than tell his employer he was being blackmailed. Perhaps it is not worth having vices." He pulled his leg away from Napoleon's.
"Then isn't it fortunate Mr Waverly already knows about our little 'arrangement'," said Gaby.
Both men stopped and stared at her. Napoleon carefully put his coffee cup on the floor and folded the newspaper.
"Don't tell me I'm the only one who said something to him," she said. "It was in the contract we signed. Sexual relationships between agents must be declared to their handler."
"And he is... fine with this," said Illya.
She shrugged. "He seemed surprised, but he said he would factor it into our missions." She hadn't asked what that meant, but so far nothing had changed. She trusted Waverly to know when not to mess with a thing that worked.
"I wouldn't have thought it of him," said Napoleon thoughtfully. "I guess I misjudged him. That doesn't happen often."
"You realise, of course, that the whole," she waved her hand in the air, "silly Englishman thing is an act?"
"And will Mr Waverly feel the need to share this information with other intelligence organisations?" asked Illya. His jaw was tense.
"I think he knows how to keep secrets," said Gaby. "And he doesn't trust either the Russians or the Americans enough to let this one go."
Illya snorted. His gaze was still fixed on the carpet.
Napoleon and Gaby exchanged glances.
"Well, even if Waverly is fine with it, I know someone who isn't," said Napoleon.
Illya's fists clenched before he consciously relaxed them.
"I am ashamed," he said, at last.
Gaby opened her mouth to argue and Napoleon stepped on her foot.
"I am ashamed," Illya repeated. "Because I am afraid. If something happens to you because of this..." He clenched his fist again, so tight she could see his knuckles turning white. "I will have failed."
"Well, I can tell you right that nothing's going to happen," said Napoleon. "Because I won't let it." The simple arrogance of him, ready to take on the world and confident in his ability to do it, made Gaby want to laugh. She bit her lip to stop.
"Would you rather give in to your fear and stop now?" she asked. "Or continue and face it head on?"
He glared at her. "I am not so easy to manipulate."
"But which would you rather?" she prompted.
He snorted. "What do you think?"
She'd thought, at first, that this was just a fling of passion, a way to channel their adrenaline into something more enjoyable than bickering. But somehow in the intervening months it had mellowed, strengthened, into this thing that was only now teetering on the edge of definition.
"I think I like having both of you in my bed," drawled Napoleon.
"I think," said Gaby. "That the two of you would rather cut off a limb than admit to any genuine feelings." She cracked her knuckles. "And I think of it as having you in my bed."
"I would like to continue," Illya snapped. "To have you both. In my bed."