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Find The One Safe Way

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The world was bright and harsh and all the edges sparkled. The shift in Illya’s vision signified an episode, and his hands seemed to find their targets without any help from his conscious mind. Many things were happening at once: three men were attacking him, Napoleon was yelling, the half-constructed building they were in was threatening to come down around their ears. Illya’s elbow drove into the soft flesh of a man’s gut, the heel of his boot cracked against a knee, his fingers wrapped around a wrist (attached to a hand holding a gun) and snapped it.

Someone tackled Illya from behind and he was thrown forward. He and his attacker rolled until Illya was on top, and he watched his hands close around the man’s neck, watched as if his limbs were not his own. Cold fury drowned him. Gunshots rang out and Illya ignored them; the man he was choking fumbled with a knife, stabbing Illya in the arm before Illya disarmed him, then returned to choking him. He was going to kill this man. The clarity of this narrowed his vision to a pinprick, made his body heavy as marble. The psychosis was a blanket over his mind, covering everything and weaponizing him neatly.

He heard someone call his name. Napoleon. The panic in his voice made it through the red haze of Illya’s mind and he looked up, the world snapping into a different kind of focus. Napoleon was shouting and gesturing to something behind Illya, and instinct made Illya loosen his hands from around his opponent’s throat and throw himself to the side. A shot rang out, a bullet that likely would have gone right through Illya if he hadn’t moved.

Napoleon had saved his life again. Illya didn’t know what the life-saving count was up to now. It was aggravating.

Illya reached for his rage, because these people still needed to die. As he stumbled to his feet, he saw Napoleon’s opponent go down, and for just a moment his eyes met Illya’s.

There was blood trickling from Napoleon’s lip and a red mark on his forehead. Illya found himself staring dumbly for half a second and the world seemed to still, as if Napoleon was the eye of the violent storm they were both caught in.

Then he heard a loud crack and something started to scrape above them. The scaffolding was coming down, right above Napoleon, and Illya didn’t think first, just threw himself across the room. He caught Napoleon around the waist and they both went flying as the scaffolding slid down to crash where Napoleon had stood just moments before.

They rolled until Illya was on top. He pushed himself up on his elbows and blinked down at Napoleon, who was staring up at him. Illya had enough time to think, we’re even again, and then there was another loud crack from above them and something hit the back of his head.

Illya would have staggered, had he been standing. His vision blurred and skated sideways and Napoleon clutched his arm, called out ‘Peril’. Illya hunched over him further, because if this half-finished house was coming down on top of them then it was better for Illya to take the brunt of the damage. Napoleon was trying to push Illya off of him, but Illya was immovable, despite the ringing in his ears and the pain lancing out from his head through the rest of his body. Anything that was going to fall on Napoleon would have to get through him first--

Something else hit his head, and the world went dark.


Illya came to with Gaby’s hands on his face. He knew it was her even with his eyes closed: her hands were soft but her nails dug into the skin of his cheeks, her grip hard on his skin. When he opened his eyes, he could see that she was glaring at him.

“Your life expectancy is short,” she said. “Doesn’t that bother you?”

Illya covered her hand in his. There was a dull throb at the back of his head, and he could feel a bandage against his forehead. He was lying in a bed, and they were probably in a hotel somewhere--maybe still Barcelona, where that last confrontation with the falling scaffolding had taken place. Everything hurt, but a smile still pulled at the corners of his lips. “Hello.”

“‘Hello’? Is that really all you have to say?” Gaby withdrew her hand, her glare growing sharper. When Illya tried to sit up, she pushed hard on his shoulder, and he was weak enough that he immediately went down.

“I’m sorry?” Illya said the words but he wasn’t certain what he was apologizing for, and from the look on Gaby’s face, she could tell. She poked the bandage on his head, not gently, and pain flared. Illya winced. “Is Napoleon--?”

“I’m quite all right.” Napoleon’s voice was crisp, clear, and slightly amused, just the way he usually sounded. It was so rare for him to let that composure slip unless lives were on the line. Illya could hear him, but couldn’t see him--Gaby was the only one in his line of vision. “And I would probably still be all right if you hadn’t taken it upon yourself to act as a human shield while a house fell on your head.”

Illya’s smile widened. There was a time, not that long ago, when he would have resisted the ways Napoleon made him smile. But it seemed like lately, Illya’s resistance to Napoleon had utterly wilted. That was a concern, but not as much of a one as maybe it should have been.

Gaby was looking at him like she knew where his thoughts were. She didn’t seem to mind, and should that also be a concern? Illya wasn’t sure, and his head hurt. He reached for her hand again. To Napoleon, he said, “You wouldn’t be all right. You’d be a flattened cowboy.”

Gaby laughed, and leaned down to brush her lips against his forehead, more checking-in than an actual kiss. Illya cupped her cheek and tilted his face up until she was kissing his mouth. Touching her settled something in him, made it feel as though the episodes were far away and impossible, although of course they weren’t. She wasn’t going to fix him and he knew it, but he longed to pretend.

He heard movement, which must be Napoleon standing. “And that’s my cue to leave,” he said, and while his voice was still light, there was an undercurrent there that Illya didn’t understand, and it made him frown against Gaby’s mouth.

Gaby was pulling away from him, turning to look at Napoleon. “No it’s not,” she said, and when Illya followed her gaze he could see Napoleon hesitating in the hotel room doorway. He was looking at Gaby with a slight frown line between his eyebrows, and the line deepened when he looked at Illya.

Illya pushed himself up on his elbows. He didn’t know what Gaby was getting at, but he didn’t want Napoleon to leave, either. But he didn’t know what to say to make him stay, so he reverted to business. “What happened to the smugglers?”

Napoleon shrugged one shoulder and his frown line went away. “They all escaped, of course. I couldn’t do much to stop them while pinned by an unconscious Russian.”

Gaby’s hand found his shoulder and squeezed. “The mission wasn’t a total loss. We have a good lead on where they’re headed, likely Toulouse. Better yet, they think both of you are dead, so we have the element of surprise.”

“That’s not worth much if Peril can’t walk,” Napoleon said. He looked at Illya with a question in his eyes, and Illya looked back belligerently.

“I can walk,” he said, and tried to sit up and get off the cot to prove his point. The world immediately flopped over on him and Gaby was pushing him back down, angry.

“Sure you can,” Napoleon said, at the same time that Gaby said, “Don’t be an idiot.” Illya looked between them. They each wore a different expression on their face, Napoleon amused and Gaby annoyed, but they still came off eerily similar.

It used to make Illya jealous, how alike Gaby and Napoleon were and how easy they acted around each other. All sly professionalism and smirks and quick banter. Throughout their first couple of missions he had felt like an awkward lumbering fool around the two of them, too large and too emotional. That had changed after he finally worked up the nerve to kiss Gaby and she had kissed him back. These days it calmed something in him to see them working together, to see them reflected in each other.

Illya didn’t know how much of his thoughts showed on his face, but Napoleon was walking over to him, laying a careful hand on the shoulder Gaby wasn’t touching. Napoleon touched him all the time--because they were working together or because he wanted to get a rise out of him or when he didn’t seem to be thinking about it, automatically tactile--but there was a deliberateness to him now that Illya didn’t often experience.

“I’m not looking to have your corpse on my conscience,” Napoleon said. His voice was still composed, but there was that undercurrent again, something that Illya couldn’t quite define. It made Illya uncomfortable, so he didn’t meet Napoleon’s eyes and responded sarcastically.

“I didn’t think you had a conscience.”

Napoleon’s hand dropped, and Illya felt immediate regret. “I don’t. A devil on each shoulder.” Whatever the undercurrent had been, it was gone now, and Napoleon was walking from the room with a brief nod at Gaby.

When Illya looked up, Gaby looked like she would have been slapping him if it were not for his head wound. “Why do you do that?”

“Do what?” Illya wanted to be kissing her again, and he did not want to discuss Napoleon.

“Pretend like you wouldn’t die for him. You almost did, this time.”

Illya looked away, something sour in his stomach. “It’s just how we are.”

“Well, change how you are. I kissed him last night.”

Illya whipped his head back to stare at her, too surprised to be angry. “What?”

Gaby lifted her chin, staring him down. “We didn’t know if you’d make it. He was as agitated as I’ve ever seen him, and it started as a hug, and then he said that he’d really prefer it if you didn’t die, and so I kissed him.”

It hurt to think about that kiss, but the reasons why it hurt were murky and unclear. Illya grit his teeth. “If you’d rather be with him--”

“That is not the point I was trying to make.” Gaby’s face was stern but her hand on his cheek was gentle. “The point is that both of us care about you, and I know you care about both of us and I don’t know why you keep trying to hide it.”

“I don’t hide the fact that I care about you,” Illya said, knowing full well that it wasn’t what she meant. He couldn’t help but dig in his heels about this: he’d avoided looking at his feelings for Napoleon full on and he wasn’t ready to stop avoiding it. But Gaby, apparently, wanted him to be ready.

“Illya.” It was her sharp voice, the one he couldn’t help but listen to, the one that made his whole body stiffen when she used it in bed. He looked her in the eye and swallowed. “He loves you as much as I do. He loves you the same way as I do.”

The pain in his head was starting to throb, but it was easy for Illya to shove it down, because this was ten times more important. “You--” the word stuck in his throat, and he swallowed again. “You love me?”

Her hand slid into his hair. “Yes. And you love me, and you love him, and I love him. Don’t tell me you don’t see it.”

He reached up to her and she came willingly, her kiss softer than anything Illya had the right to experience. “I love you,” he said when they broke apart, even though she plainly already knew.

“Yes,” she agreed. “Make things right with him.”

She left, despite Illya’s protests that he wanted her to stay. She insisted he needed rest and Illya knew she was likely right but he didn’t want to be alone with his feelings. Still, his injuries were bad enough that even his anxiety wasn’t enough to keep him conscious, and he soon drifted into an uneasy sleep.


Once Illya could walk, he sought out Napoleon. They had rented out a whole house in Barcelona, given that this mission was supposed to have been a long game before everything went belly up and Illya almost died. Napoleon spent most of his time in the library, improving his Spanish, and he didn’t look up from his book when Illya lingered in the library doorway.

“Nice to see you on your feet,” he said. “Were the doctors able to save what few brain cells you have left?”

“Yes,” Illya said shortly, although he didn’t know what conclusions their medical team had come to about his brain damage. It didn’t matter; he’d do it again. He shifted on his feet, his hands stuffed in his pockets, and took a moment to viciously hate the way Napoleon sometimes still made him feel like a shy schoolgirl.

“I apologize,” he said eventually, the words stiff and insufficient even to his ears. “For saying you did not have a conscience.”

Napoleon rolled his eyes and this time he looked at Illya, closing his book. “You don’t have to apologize for that. I’m not so easily wounded.”

Illya shrugged, and wished that this conversation was over, although that desire was at odds with his simultaneous desire to move into Napoleon’s space. He remained where he was. “I know. Still. It was…” There were too many words for what it had been--rude, ungenerous, deeply dishonest, and Illya felt like a fish out of water. “...wrong.”

Napoleon watched him, saying nothing. Illya waited for him to respond, because Napoleon was never one to let silence hang in the air, but he seemed to be waiting for Illya to continue.

Illya hated this. He wished that they were back in a combat situation, and that he could just show Napoleon how sorry he was by protecting him. That always felt easy, and this felt so frustratingly hard. He met Napoleon’s eyes, and said, “Gaby told me that she kissed you.”

For once, Napoleon seemed genuinely caught off-guard by something Illya had said. His eyes widened and his mouth fell open. “I’m sorry about that,” he said carefully, watching Illya like he was expecting to be attacked.

Illya shook his head. “You don’t have to apologize,” he said, echoing Napoleon’s earlier words. He thought about how easy it had been for Gaby to summarize the love they all had for each other, and how it would never be that easy for him. He took a couple steps into the room, and stopped. Napoleon still looked ready to fight or flee, and Illya was vividly reminded of that moment in the hotel in Rome, when Napoleon had leaned over his suitcase and Illya had told himself to be ready to shoot.

Instead he’d caught his father’s watch, and he knew that it had changed something in him. It was important that Illya to get his words right about this, it was important for him to speak the truth. “You make me better,” he said. “You and Gaby both.”

Napoleon looked up at him as Illya continued to move into the room, until he was standing over Napoleon’s chair. “Is that so.”

“Yes.” Illya let his hand rest on the back of the chair behind Napoleon’s head, and leaned over him. Napoleon didn’t move, his eyes darting over Illya’s eyes, watching him like a hawk.

Illya reached up carefully, half-expecting Napoleon to push his hand away, but Napoleon let Illya cup his jaw. He let Illya lean in, and he didn’t exactly kiss back, but he also didn’t pull back.

“Is that what you think this is?” Napoleon said, and his voice was rougher than Illya had ever heard it.

Illya didn’t move his hand from Napoleon’s jaw. “Yes.” He didn’t bother to explain himself further; either Napoleon wanted him, or he didn’t.

“Is that what Gaby thinks this is?” Napoleon said, and for the first time his eyes flicked away from Illya’s face, looking at something over Illya’s shoulder.

“Yes,” Gaby said from the doorway. Her footfalls were soft as she made her way towards them, and Illya smiled when he felt her hand rest on his back.

“You both want this,” Napoleon said, still skeptical after everything. “Want me.”

“That really shouldn’t be so hard to believe,” Gaby said, and her voice sounded breezy but if you knew her (and they both did, so well) the intent was unmistakable. She reached out to trace a line down the side of Napoleon’s forehead, her fingers brushing Illya’s thumb on Napoleon’s cheek.

“I see,” Napoleon said, and finally he smiled, just the slightest upturn of his lips but Illya would take it. He leaned in to kiss him again, and this time Napoleon went with it fully, his tongue slipping past Illya’s lips and his hands wrapping around Illya’s hips, pulling him closer until Illya was, well. Straddling him.

Gaby perched on the arm of the chair, her hand now in Napoleon’s hair. Napoleon slid his hand around her leg, palming the back of her calf, still glancing at Illya like he was expecting to get barked at.

Instead Illya smiled at him, as free as he knew how to be. He caught Gaby’s hand and brushed his lips over her knuckles, surrounded by warmth on all sides.

“A devil on each shoulder,” he said, and he loved it when he made Napoleon laugh like this. Gaby laughed, too, and Illya leaned in to them both.