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Careful of the Company You Keep

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It is one of many things concerning Napoleon Solo which Illya should have noticed but somehow missed. Evidence slipping past him like grains of sand in river water, too fine to grasp onto, instead collecting in palm creases until it was too late. Now here he stands, weighed down with silt and sopping wet, confused, stunned, thinking of course and why did I not know that sooner?

He’s not ready to answer that question because deep inside, he knows. He knows something is different when it comes to Napoleon Solo, but the area surrounding the infection is too tender to prod at, so he must leave it alone to fester out of his flesh like a splinter, a bullet, shrapnel.

The truth is that Illya doesn’t pick up on Napoleon’s unconventional preferences until they become mission relevant. Then it’s all ice water in his veins, heat on his cheeks, eyes cast to the splay of his boots on their hotel carpet because he does not want to be caught looking shocked.

It shouldn’t be shocking. So many small, confusing things about Napoleon are making sense now, converging and collecting to form a neat profile in Illya’s mind. Of course, he thinks again. Of course, of course.

It happens when Gaby returns from a gala earlier than expected. She was supposed to pose as a starry-eyed student with some questions for a certain Professor Clark Lawrence of the University of Sussex, but something clearly something did not go as planned. She stomps through the door and shuts it behind her with a frown, peeling her fake lashes off with one hand and gesticulating with the other as she paces the length of Illya’s hotel room. “Waverly was wrong,” she explains, sticking the lashes to the outside of a glass before she pours herself a finger of whiskey. “I am not the girl for the job. Lawrence was completely uninterested in me. We need Napoleon on him instead.”

Napoleon? Illya sits on the linen couch, a Baroque style thing with narrow, curly legs hewn from mahogany, the type of antique he always worries may buckle under his weight if he sits too heavily upon it. Baroque furniture is made much better than the chintzy shit they make now, Napoleon told him earlier, running a broad hand across the elaborate frame and its gold inlaid filigree. That’s the thing about Rococo. It looks delicate, but it’s sturdy enough for KGB giants such as yourself to abuse. Illya thinks of that now, as he stares at Gaby, trying to figure out why on earth she thinks Napoleon is a better match than she is when the mission involves flirting one’s way into a professor’s private research facility.

“I see,” Napoleon says, grinning and throwing back the dredges from his glass. “You were not his type.”

“Precisely,” she says. “I looked like an idiot. Your turn, now.”

Illya is still sitting there, yesterday’s paper folded in his lap, brows drawn tight together, the phrase not his type playing over and over in his head. His stomach begins to tighten, as if his body understands before the rest of him does.

“As much as it pains me to admit this,” Napoleon says, crossing one ankle over the his knee, the crisp, pressed leg of his trouser riding up an inch or to to reveal a strip of pinstriped sock, “I don’t think I’m young enough anymore to play a student. What’s my angle? Money-grubbing playboy type? Looking for sugar in all the wrong places, perhaps?”

It’s then that it hits Illya. Clark Lawrence is a homosexual. Napoleon’s expertise is seduction. Of course. It’s a simple thing, or it should be, but Illya’s face heats up spectacularly, blood thuds heavy in his ears and he cannot explain why, but a sudden, fierce anger overcomes him. His knuckles itch for teeth, for bone, and he does not want to look at either Gaby or Napoleon in this moment, lest they notice the color to his cheeks, the clench to his jaw. He casts his eyes to ground, and focuses on breathing.

“Or the right places,” Gaby says, shrugging and leaning against the bar as she pours herself another finger. “He is very rich. Strikes me as the type to throw away lots of money on gifts for blue-eyed boys such as yourself. I’m sure if you play that, he’ll jump all over it.”

Napoleon sighs, wrinkling up his nose. “Pity it turned out this way. He certainly is more rich than he is handsome. Tell me he’s better in person?”

Gaby makes a face. “I am immune to charisma. You’ll have to find out yourself.”

Illya, having recovered enough to formulate words, manages to grind out, “You have never asked that about a woman before.” They both look at him, like his contribution is strange, irrelevant. He’s not sure if it actually is; his mind is still clouded with a sick and misguided fury; he’s still stuck on how badly he does not want Napoleon to seduce some Sussex professor, no matter how logical a solution it might be, no matter how much it makes sense for the good of the mission. He shrugs, narrowing his eyes at them. “Well? He hasn’t.”

Napoleon takes it upon himself to explain, standing like he’s a professor himself, lecturing on the subject of his life’s work. “This is because all women are attractive, on some level, so seducing them for U.N.C.L.E is never a chore, be they old, or portly, or wearing too much perfume. A lady is a lady and ladies are sacred,” Napoleon says, making Gaby roll her eyes. “Men, however, are all dogs. There are rich dogs, and there are handsome dogs, and sometimes there are rich and handsome dogs,” he pauses, giving room for the unspoken like me, “but they are dogs nonetheless. As a connoisseur of many goods, I can appreciate a dog every once and awhile, be he handsome enough it doesn’t if matter he’s rich, or rich enough it doesn’t doesn’t matter if he’s handsome. I merely hope our Mr. Lawrence is of the latter persuasion. I am much better at these types of missions when I can actually enjoy myself.”

Gabby blinks and merely says, “Dr. Lawrence, actually. And good luck,” before she pulls out her earrings, wincing. “I’m going to shower. I smell like gala,” she says before she leaves them, along with her false lashes still sticking to her empty glass like spiders.

Once she’s gone, Illya can feel Napoleon looking at him, gaze burning uncomfortably into his bent head. “I’m sorry you had to find out about this particular predilection of mine under these circumstances,” he says after a moment, and that gets Illya looking at him. It’s a peculiar way to word things, he thinks, but he can’t say why, he can’t say much of anything right now, not with this fist closing in his throat.

He coughs, and thinks of calm, clear water. Of the way cities look so small and glittering and unreal from airplane windows. Of black trees against snow capped mountains, of white, and white, and nothing at all. “It is fine,” he lies, the words sounding tight and clipped and forced through his teeth. He does not want it to be a lie, but it is.

Napoleon widens his eyes, so blue but somehow warm, a shade of blue which does not exist in Russia. “Oh. Is it really?” He strides carefully back to the bar and pours himself another drink, sloshing it around in the bottom of his glass before he presses the rim to his lower lip thoughtfully. Then he looks long and hard at Illya, something strange and unreadable in the lines of his face. “I need to know if you’re going to have a problem with this, Peril,” he says, slow and even.

Illya shakes his head. “Not a problem.” This, too, is a lie. It might not be the type of problem Napoleon thinks it is, but it is a problem nonetheless; Illya would not be struggling to hide the tremor in his hands if it wasn’t.

Napoleon nods, but still does not drink. “Alright, then,” he says, sounding suspicious, grip tight enough on his whiskey to white out his knuckles.

Illya swallows thickly and looks away. Part of him wants to stride across the room to Napoleon and pry his fingers away from the glass, part of him wants to see the blood rush back into his broad joints, part of him wants to ask questions, pry deeper into the chasm he’s just realized and drag every secret into the light. Part of him wants to hold Napoleon against the bar by his throat and tell him you don’t have to seduce Lawrence if you don’t want to. You do not have to lie with dogs if you do not want to lie with dogs.

However, another part of him suspects that Napoleon does want to lie with dogs, and the issue lies somewhere else. Somewhere closer to home, somewhere too tender to touch.

---

 

Whatever Napoleon does to Dr. Clark Lawrence works spectacularly, and the following afternoon he returns from the professor’s office hours with more than enough information about the research in question that he didn’t even need to ask for a lab tour.

“It’s not him,” he tells Gaby and Ilya over the ear piece while they wait for him, strolling through a Brighton farmer’s market nearby campus. “It’s his protege, a Danish grad student by the name of Bent Overgaard. He’s currently on holiday in Germany, and I suspect it’s somewhat of a jolly holiday indeed, and by jolly I mean not jolly at all. Lawrence seemed completely unawares as to what his research is being used for, he was utterly horrified by the idea of biowarfare.”

“Great,” Gaby says, squeezing a beefsteak tomato to test for ripeness, grimacing when it gives too much, leaking juice onto her fingers.

“He was also an absolute delight, I’m beginning to question your taste, Isabella,” he chides, using Gaby’s mission name. “Old does not necessarily work against a fellow, think of a fine wine, if you will.”

Illya’s stomach drops. He had been hoping, (to a degree so small it might not even be fair to call it such) that Napoleon would not have to follow through with anything physical regarding Lawrence. It was an absurd thing to even consider, however; there had been plenty of times Napoleon did not actually have to resort to sex in order to procure information, but if he liked the target well enough, he often did so merely for the pleasure of it. Illya should not have assumed it would be any different in this case, but regardless, his gut churns at the realization, a heated sickness sinking deep inside of him. “You’re alright?” he asks harshly, knowing it’s an unwise thing to say but he cannot help it, men are cruel, men are violent. He knows because he is one, because he was trained by the KGB, because he applied Iodine to his mother’s bruises more than once when she could not reach her own injuries.

Napoleon snorts and it crackles over the ear piece, too loud and full of static. “Certainly. Fine wine, like I said. Speaking of food, will you two pick me up some fennel and leeks while you’re there? The thinner leeks, please, they have better flavor. Maybe a mechanic and a machine can’t tell the difference, but I certainly can.”

His voice cuts out and Illya picks out the thickest, whitest leeks he can, grinding his teeth all the while. Gaby watches him, and if she thinks anything of it, she chooses not to comment.

Chapter Text

After Brighton, Illya tries to forget about the Lawrence incident entirely, or at least file it away with the rest of the facts he has stored about Napoleon Solo, facts that don’t matter, don’t hold any particular meaning beyond the fact they exist and are sometimes surprising. He served in the army. He’s a fan of Rococo furniture. He loves women. He hates Nazis. He’s a pathological liar, a confirmed narcissist. He’s superb cook. May or may not have incidental homosexual tendencies. Just one of many smaller pieces which make up a greater picture, a puzzle of shadow and depth and hidden facets like a Cubist painting.

Were you raised in a barn? Napoleon hisses at him once, following a passing comment Illya makes about Cubism as they sneak through private basement art gallery. Ilya says something about it looking like nothing at all, a series of haphazard lines and shapes all stuck together like a child’s drawing, and Napoleon has a fit. Cubism is wonderful, you heathen. Napoleon told him. You see, it’s not just ‘haphazard shapes and lines’, it’s every possible side of the same figure. Picasso ignored physics, and point of view, and instead imagined every angle, even those we can’t see. It’s brilliant, actually. Napoleon talked with his hands when he talked about art, shaping the air like he could see things in it, misty-eyed and face soft like a boy’s with some distant kind of wonder. Illya remembers the first time he noticed this, how different the lines in Napoleon’s face looked when he loved something.

Illya too makes the mistake of thinking he is the only thing in the room with hard edges an exterior like iron, that he is the only one who wears a mask. Then he sees the cracks in Napoleon’s, and is unfairly surprised to see there’s something different beneath, glinting like gemstone in unhewn rock. In spite of himself, Illya wants to know what secrets lies beneath the mask, he wants to hear what Napoleon thinks of Cubism, or Rococo, he wants to know where his recipes came from and how many men he killed in the war.

It’s inconvenient, to say the least. Illya wants to know things about Napoleon, even the things he doesn’t want to know. Even his proclivities, his predilection, as he called it. llya tries to forget Lawrence, and he almost does, sometimes. But then he’ll catch Napoleon craning his neck to get a better look at their young bell boy, he’ll notice a certain slickness to his words as he talks to a stuffy old businessman and effortlessly picks his pockets in the meantime, a lean to his stance Illya might have missed before Brighton. He’ll notice, and the ice water courses through him all over again.

He wants to forget, but it’s always the things Illya tries to push down beneath the surface which refuse to stay lodged beneath ice.

---

The next time it happens, Waverly knows ahead of time. Their target is an Italian art dealer and a confirmed homosexual, so Napoleon is the obvious choice. Illya knows this but he doesn’t like it, and no matter how hard he tries to chase the stubborn cloud of furious red encroaching upon his vision with logic, everyone else can tell he doesn’t like it, either.

“I don’t see the problem,” Gaby snaps at him. “Do you have a better idea?”

Illya does not, but he can’t say that, not to Gaby. “Is it necessary?” He asks, arms crossed over his chest as they talk it over on the balcony. “There is no other way?”

Waverly shrugs, aviators reflecting in the sun. “Sure there are other ways, but this is certainly the simplest. Choose the path of least resistance. We have an attractive American art expert with us, let’s use him to our advantage.”

“Advantage,” Illya grumbles. He doesn’t like that word. It stings; it feels hard and impersonal like a fist.

“He’s a fine looking fellow too, don’t rob me of my fun, Peril,” Napoleon adds.

“He’s a fascist,” Gaby reminds him. “Don’t have too much fun.”

“It’s settled then. There’s an auction at seven tonight, Solo will be there,” Waverly announces cheerily, holding up his drink. “Toast?”

Illya feels very sick, but he manages not to shatter his wine glass to glittering dust in his fist, no matter how badly he wants to. He does not look at Napoleon as their glasses clink together, though he can feel his eyes scouring up and down him, searching for something, some crack, some fissure, the seam in the mask, perhaps.

---

Illya suspects that the fascist art dealer sparks something in Napoleon, because his preferences seem to shift in a troublesome direction after the mission is over. They remain in Italy for a few days following mission completion, and in the past, Napoleon would have spent those four days combing bars for rich tourists to swipe watches and jewelry from, finding the occasional woman to spend the night with if things worked in his favor. This habit distantly bothers Illya, the celebratory fucks Napoleon indulges upon, their golden skin and designer heels and giant hoop earrings glittering as he climbs into taxis after them, winking over his shoulder at Illya like this is all some sort of joke, something they’re in on together.

Truthfully, Illya greatly prefers the nights Napoleon spends in, celebrating with him and Gaby instead, listening to Frank Sinatra records and playing cards in their hotel room until the sun comes up, pale and shining over the horizon like a giant Champagne bubble. Illya actually laughs on these nights, lets himself drink a little until he’s warm and loose and comfortable, sprawled out on the couch. He lets himself slide an arm around Gaby’s shoulder and squeeze her toward him when she pulls off a particularly fantastic hand in poker, lets his gaze climb down the column of Napoleon’s throat where it disappears into his unbuttoned oxford, flushed and gleaming in a fine layer of sweat as he deals round after round of cards, words more slurred each successive hand.

However, Illya does not want to feel cheated when Napoleon goes to bars or dance clubs instead of staying at their hotels, so refuses to allow himself that indulgence. He commits to enjoying nights spent teaching Gaby Russian, to falling asleep early or reading novels in silence. It’s a different kind of celebration, a different kind of peace. Illya has been alone long enough that he knows how to avoid feeling lonely. After all, he is still not entirely sure the fondness and camaraderie he feels with Napoleon and Gaby on those other nights is entirely healthy, either. Not with what they do, who they are.

He thinks he has a balanced relationship with Napoleon’s extracurriculars. He thinks he does not care, and that even if he did, he resents that caring enough he can dismiss it, dispose of it. But in those days following the completion of their Italian mission, Napoleon ruins all of his carefully constructed apathy.

Instead of finding women, instead of stealing purses, Napoleon rents a Vespa and rides to a beach outside Lido, which is crawling with beautiful, sun-brown Italian boys. They laugh and play and jump all over each other in their black speedos, darting in and out of the surf and reminding Illya of school-children, especially since most of them could be. Gaby and Illya spend an afternoon at a seaside cafe sipping espresso, but when they head back to the hotel in Venice, Napoleon and his Vespa stay, having found company for the night.

The boy can’t be older than nineteen, with his wide soft mouth and eyes like flint, back broad and toned with that loose, easy muscle only young men have. Napoleon is discreet about it, at least, but Illya know what’s happening, knows where he’s staying and what he’s going to be doing. He knows, and he cannot stop thinking about it, obsessing over it, guts sick and twisted with it.

Illya spends the rest of his off-time in Venice on the verge of unwarranted violence, unable to sleep and constantly battling a tightness in his chest, the fierce desire to break something, to tear their hotel apart with his fists, his teeth, until there’s nowhere to sleep and he has to drag himself back to the coast and find Napoleon.Gaby shoots him a number of pained and long-suffering looks of distaste when they’re together, so to avoid them, he spends most of his time alone, behind locked doors, trying very hard to ignore where the terrible rage inside him is born from.

Napoleon comes back with a sunburn and a bright, lazy grin which Illya wants badly to slap off his face.

The sunburn eventually peels, little bits of skin rolling up and flaking off Napoleon’s shoulders and never in his life has Illya heard someone complain so much about a sunburn. “This is your fault,” Illya tells him one hundred times, gritting his teeth every time he sees a bit of Napoleon’s skin stuck to a piece of furniture in the hotel, forcing the whole two days of fury and agony back up to the forefront of his mind.

“Was worth it, though,” he’ll answer dreamily, shooting a smile in Illya’s direction, cocking an eyebrow. “The water was so clear. Just beautiful out there, Peril. You should come next time.”

Illya bites the inside of his cheek so hard that he tastes blood, and spends the thirteen hour flight from Rome to Buenos Aires miserably tonguing the raw hole in his flesh, thinking of Napoleon’s peeling sunburn stuck to his sheets, Napoleon’s skin rolled up under his own nails.

---

 

They don’t spend much time in Buenos Aires. The nature of the mission sends them out into a humid mess of jungle somewhere between Resistencia and the Paraguay border, where there is supposedly a Nazi bunker which may or not be serving as a safe haven for some missing war criminals.

There are no luxurious hotels or quaint bed and breakfasts in the Argentinian jungle. In fact, there is no suitable lodging to speak of. Waverly hires a Wichi guide to put them up in two shoddy, wood-paneled huts in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by dense green forest. It takes them a good hour to hike there, and if Illya thought Napoleon was absurd about his sunburn, he’s an absolute disgrace about this.

“I feel guilty for even thinking about bringing my Loro Pianas out here,” he grumbles, dabbing sweat from his brown as they trump after their guide in a line. Gaby’s nylons are full of holes and Illya is thoroughly stewed in his own sweat beneath the itchy black wool of his sweater, but they both keep their mouths shut, exchanging glances throughout Napoleon’s near-constant tirade. “I settled for the Hustman, but even that seems insulting to the garment.”

“Napoleon,” Gaby finally snaps, spinning on her clunky heel, which is caked in black mud. “We’re all dirty and and hot, but no one else is complaining like an infant.”

“No one else has as respectable taste as I do,” he replies, and Illya means to shoot him an exhausted look, but his gaze gets stuck. He stares at Napoleon for a moment, his most casual and American made suit rumpled in the humidity, bits of vegetation stuck in the black of his hair, strands of which have begun to come loose from the usually neat coif, falling into his face and adhering to the sheen of sweat upon his brow. His cheeks are flushed, and he looks very, very young. Illya smiles a small smile to himself, somewhat pleased to see Napoleon so unhappy, so terribly undone.

Gaby sighs, sounding exasperated. “Infant,” she says again. “I suggest you take this opportunity to learn a lesson in humility. Nature is much bigger and more cruel than you, and nothing else matters out here. No fancy suits, no designer watches.”

“Nature is also much dirtier than me,” he adds. “We will probably just be able to smell our way to the Nazis, unless they have running water in this bunker of theirs.Speaking of which, anyone here speak Wichi? I’d like to ask our guide if our huts have showers.”

They eventually make it to the huts in question, and they certainly do not have showers. They don’t have much at all, really. Just reed-frame cots beneath elaborate mosquito tents. Napoleon looks so dismayed Illya actually laughs at him, thumping his knapsack down onto the cot and unpacking the lightweight bedding they brought as he snickers. “Think of it as the wild wild west, Cowboy.”

“The west was not at all this wild,” Napoleon says, picking a bug off his arm and making a face as he crushes it between thumb and forefinger. “And it was dry. I feel like the air here is made from soup. Pea soup, the thick kind, and I’m the ham hock boiling away in it.”

Gaby rolls her eyes one final time, and waves over her shoulder at them. “I will be in the other hut if you need me,” she says. “Sorry Illya, but you’re babysitting him tonight. I cannot take another second of it.”

It’s only then that Illya really considers the fact that there are only two huts, only two cots. He swallows, fighting a wave of sick panic as Napoleon reaches for his shoulder and squeezes it, shaking him in spite of his sudden rigidity. “Just like the Army barracks, huh,” he says.

Illya stares hard at the space they are apparently meant to occupy together, chewing at the already ruined inside of his cheek, very aware of how very narrow this hut suddenly seems. “I’ll sleep on the floor,” he says automatically.

Napoleon looks at him like he’s crazy. “No you won’t,” he says, sounding incredulous. “After that hike that’s the last thing you need. You’re not in the Soviet Union anymore, you don’t have to force yourself into uncomfortable situations just to prove you’re Russian enough,” he snaps. Illya stares at his own hands, which are clenched upon his bedroll, white-knuckled and fierce. The cot is a more uncomfortable situation than the floor, he wants to explain, but before he can think of a less than incriminating way to phrase this, Napoleon’s face changes, his eyes turning to cold, narrow slits of blue and black. “I thought we weren’t going to have a problem with this, Peril,” he says, dropping that unspoken, unnamable this.

Grinding his teeth, Illya tosses his knapsack across the bed, turning on his heel and pacing the their tight, infernally hot quarters with his hands in his hair. His skull is slick with sweat, rivulets of it running down his ribs and he’s sure the same thing is happening to Napoleon under his wrinkled dress shirt, and he can’t stop thinking about that, the heat the the humidity and Napoleon’s flushed skin. He swallows, counting in his head, trying hard to force the storm to silence in his chest. “It is not that,” he manages to say.

“Then what,” Napoleon sighs, kicking off his shoes and plunking down on the cot, which whines under his weight. “If you’re not afraid you’re going to catch my perversion and it’s not some weird Russian thing, then why on earth would you rather sleep on a floor made from Argentinian dirt?”

Illya breathes. He counts. He thinks of ice, of sky, of silence. An exhalation rattles slowly out of him and he makes himself turn to face Napoleon, Napoleon who is sprawled messily across this terrible cot in this terrible hut, his legs in a loose, unconcerned splay and his hands braced on either side of him. His sleeves are rolled up to his elbow, and he still has a tan from Italy browning his forearms, and it feels like something is coming apart inside Illya’s chest.

He forces his legs to move, and sits gingerly beside Napoleon. “This cot,” he says slowly. “Is not late baroque. Can it hold our weights combined?”

Napoleon looks at him, and looks at him, and looks at him. Like dawn breaking, like Revelation, and Illya’s heart stops at the blue in his eyes, the mask cracking and coming away as he suddenly bursts into loud, hysterical laughter. Napoleon doubles at the waist, chest heaving in great, unguarded, hiccuping laughs. Illya sits and watches because it is a thing to behold, seeing someone so broken open, someone with bits of jungle stuck to his hair, the underarms of his shirt translucent with sweat. “Not late Baroque,” Napoleon manages to wheeze before collapsing onto his back, the cot squeaking under him as if to prove his point. “I’m imagining a Rococo love seat in this hut. It’s a beautiful thing.”

As are you. The thought comes unbidden, fast and awful and completely beyond Illya’s control. He forces it out, shaking his head, putting his newly hot face in his hands as he realizes that he might not be able to ignore the source of this discomfort, this rage any longer. Not here in this small, stifling room surrounded by miles and miles of wild, wet green. “It is a perfectly legitimate concern,” he tells Napoleon. “I don’t want it to collapse in the middle of night.”

Napoleon shakes his head, sighing weakly. “A beautiful thing,” he repeats. “And you, Peril, are a piece of work.”

“What kind of work,” Illya asks, bending to unlace his shoes, still perspiring so heavily a drip of sweat falls from his nose to the ground when he ducks. “Clerical work? Espionage? Manual labor?”

Napoleon waves his hand through the air, forefinger and middle finger joined into the loose pantomime of a gun. “No, no. Work of art. Cubist art, can’t see every side of you when I look, not really, but I can imagine them all there. I know you hate Picasso, but that’s how it is.”

Illya says nothing, merely grits his teeth hard to keep a fierce, feral smile from splitting his mouth like a wolf’s.

Chapter Text

The sun is acid-bright tangerine until it sets, and although the temperature drops minimally, Napoleon still falls asleep in nothing but a pair of short, clinging cotton briefs, temples shining with sweat. Illya does not fall asleep at all. He lies stock still on the cot breathing like breathing is not something involuntary, his right arm crossed over his chest like a corpse to avoid brushing against Napoleon’s fever-hot skin.

He listens to the sound of insects outside, the high-pitched whine of their wings, a chorus of clicks and chirrups. It almost sounds like music, and he keeps inadvertently hearing melodies in their song, bits of old lullabies, things he half remembers from his brief, blood-stained childhood. Inhaling slowly and raggedly, he risks cutting his eyes to Napoleon in the dark, the jagged horizon line of his body, the slope of his shoulder and the cut of his ribcage, which rises and falls rhythmically.

Illya does not fully believe Napoleon is sleeping; any good spy can fake it, and as frequently as he says otherwise, Napoleon is a good spy. His stomach turns over as Napoleon’s arm shifts, too close, too real, and Illya’s breath catches as he sees it. His breath is always catching around Napoleon, it seems.

He doesn’t know how this possibly could have happened to him. Illya has always been very successful in keeping people out of his life, out of his heart, but here he is. Half-lost in the Argentinian jungle with these two people he cares for, two lives any enemy could easily bargain with, two sore spots, weak spots. And one of them is too close, too real, sweating here beside him beneath the mosquito tent smelling sharp and spicy and alive, perhaps sleeping, perhaps feigning it. Hell, Illya thinks, and rubs his face with hot and sticky palms, feeling lost.

He tries to roll over onto his side so that he does not have the option of looking at Napoleon anymore, but his shift of weight makes the cot squeak, buckle, and Napoleon wakes or at least pretends to. “Peril?” he murmurs. “Too hot to sleep?”

A something twists up in Illya’s gut, and he shuts his eyes so tight he sees stars. “Yes,” he says eventually. Too sick, too tense, too angry. Too much of every single thing, certainly too much of you.

Napoleon rolls over to face him, just hazy moving shapes in the dark but Illya looks anyway; he can make out the glint of his eyes and the darkness of his chest hair where it curls together into a thatch between his pectorals. “I keep listening to the insects,” he says quietly, thinking about how much easier things feel in the dark, lines blurring and their knees brushing and nudging against each other in the shadows. “Keep hearing my mother sing.”

“She sang to you? When you were a boy?” Napoleon asks, close enough his breath ghosts across Illya’s forearm.

I was never a boy, Illya thinks, but again, it is too much, so instead he says, “No. Never to me. But when she was doing things around the house, cooking, or getting ready. She would put on American Jazz records. King Oliver. Duke Ellington.”

“Really,” Napoleon says, grin flashing in the night.

“Yes,” Ullya says. “She called it the devil’s music, but she loved it. Always hummed along, made up words and sang them.”

“Huh. And the bugs out here, too. Everyone loves Duke Ellington. America really is the greatest country in the world, if only for bringing Jazz to the Ruskies and Argentinian mosquitos.”

Illya scoffs. “No, it is very bad if you’re trying to sleep.” He watches Napoleon nod, the cords in his neck flickering, sweat-damp and stubble rough and maybe because it is very dark and very late and he feels very, very tired, Illya imagines reaching out and resting his fingers on the flutter of Napoleon’s pulse, and does not not punish himself for the thought. It comes and goes, fast and hazy, and before he can stop himself he murmurs, “Tell me about art.”

Napoleon makes a quiet and wordless sound of surprise. “You want me to talk to you about Cubism some more? Can’t promise I’ll be polite, with your terrible taste.”

“Not about Cubism,” he says. “Something else. An American artist. I want to sleep, so bore me to sleep, Cowboy.”

He can hear Napoleon’s sharp intake of breath, imagine him biting his own lower lip as he thinks on it, tries to come up with an American artist, a lullaby.“Do you know Dorthea Tanning?” he asks after a moment. Illya shakes his head, and Napoleon continues. “Of course you don’t. You’d hate her. She’s a surrealist painter, sculptor, poet...everything else. A real Renaissance gal.”

“You think I don’t like talented women?” Illya asks.

“God, no. I just think you’re probably not very moved by rooms full of furniture which vaguely resemble nude and deformed human bodies. She paints a lot of grotesque figures, or sculpts them. Everything has too many folds, too many shadows. It seems like the kind of thing you’d turn your nose up to. I can see your face now, actually, you’d say that is disgusting. In Russia we would never put a disgrace like that in museum,” Napoleon mocks, messing up Illya’s accent so much his words slur together. He laughs at himself, and Illya’s heart pounds in the dark because again, again he is surprised.

“You are probably right,” he finally agrees.

“Her art would would make you too uncomfortable, I think. All those bodies. All those folds.”

Illya’s face gets hot, the flush of it hidden in the darkness and he wonders what he’s done to suggest to Napoleon Solo that he is the type of person made uncomfortable by the human body. “I have nothing against folds. Just bad art.”

“Well I think she’s brilliant,” Napoleon says. “Though not very boring. I’ll tell you about Pollock. You’d hate him too, and even I think he’s boring, just very popular.”

“I know Pollock,” Illya says, rolling his eyes. “Lots of paint splattered all over canvas. Like the drip-cloth for a construction worker. Very boring.”

Napoleon laughs and pitches forward, his calf sliding against the outside of Illya’s, hair and sweat snagging. “Drip-cloth, I like that,” he mumbles, and it is so warm in this hut, it is so warm that all of Argentina must be burning. “I’m gonna use that next time I meet one of those Pollock freaks who thinks he’s the picnic of genius. Picnicle... Pinnacle.” He yawns, voice getting high and reedy as it breaks. “See, bores me half to death too.”

“Go back to sleep, cowboy,” Illya says gently, pushing Napoleon away with a broad palm spread across the center of his chest, right over his heart which beats beneath it, like something trapped.

His hand burns for a long time after he touches Napoleon, and he wonders how this possibly could have happened, over and over again.

---

Illya does not feel like he sleeps at all that night, but he must because the following morning he wakes, Gaby’s fierce little fist rapping at their door until he staggers out of bed an lets her in, still tangled in mosquito net.

“Got a lead,” she says, elbowing her way in with two steaming tin army mugs of instant coffee. It smells dreadful, but he takes it anyway. “I chatted with some of the Wichi women this morning, there was certainly a language barrier but they did tell me with some clarity that they’ve seen people who ‘look like us’ hunting poorly in the vicinity. So I suspect there are some very hungry Nazis nearby. Here,” she says, jamming a piece of dark chocolate into his hand. “It makes the coffee go down easier.”

Mechanically chewing, swallowing, and sipping, Illya sits down on the edge of the cot to process what she’s saying. Napoleon is grumbling behind them, pulling his bedroll over his head to block it all out. Gaby walks over to him and sticks the coffee under his nose, which gets him moving. “Are you sure that’s not motor oil?” he says hoarsely, taking it from her and wrinkling his nose.

“As an ex-mechanic, I can confirm for you it is not motor oil,” she says. “Get up and debrief with us. I learned some things you will want to know.”

“It can’t wait a bit? Peril and I didn’t sleep too well.”

“Oh I know,” she says, widening her eyes and pressing her lips together. Illya feels warm fondness bloom in his chest when he notices that Gaby somehow managed to put on make up this morning, a bronze shimmer to her cheeks, eyes black-rimmed and lashes tarry. He imagines her sitting in a circle of Wichi women asking them about the bunker, with her painted face and bright orange and off-white dress like a creamsicle, and feels very lucky she is the one who handles their missions.

“You kept me up, too,” she says. “With your little slumber party.”

Illya’s throat clutches shut, stomach churning. “What kind of party?”

Gaby and Napoleon both look at him for a few loaded moments, and then Napoleon grins, turning to Gaby. “Remember, they don’t have fun in Russia,” before he addresses Illya. “Slumber party, Peril,” he explains. “It’s a very mysterious teenage girl ritual where they stay up all night, talking to each other about which of the Beatles they like best and putting sticky green stuff on their face. As a schoolboy it was one of my greatest pleasures to sneak to Ruth Carter’s window on Friday nights and watch her and her friends eating popcorn and tittering away. I always half suspected they were going to start kissing, but it never happened, much to my chagrin.”

“Common misconception,” Gaby says flatly. “I never went to a slumber party,” she tells Illya.

“Ruth Carter,” Napoleon sighs. “ Almost makes this coffee drinkable.”

Illya shakes his head, confused and resentful and feeling distantly and inexplicably attacked. He chokes down another mouthful, and thinks of a ten year old Napoleon Solo with his face pressed to window glass, eyes Christmas-wide as he watched slender legs and laughing, gap-toothed smiles, waiting for a kiss, stealing pencils and used tissues from Ruth Carter’s desk less than ten years before he joined the army. For some reason, the thought makes his chest ache like it was from his own memory, even though he knows it’s not.

---

When they find the bunker it’s empty, evidence of a hasty exit strewn about in dirty plates stacked on the table and fresh boot-prints in the mud. “Guess we had that slumber party for nothing,” Napoleon says, swiping his finger across the tabletop where there’s a handful of German coins, like someone had emptied their pockets and left in too much of a hurry to remember the loose change. “No dust.”

“Someone tipped them off,” Gaby sighs, picking up a silver reichsmark and holding it up to the light. “Back to the city.”

Illya says nothing, a strange numbness spreading in his chest like ice water. He’s eager to get out of the jungle, its oppressive wet heat and the constant insect hum, the call of birds like mourning sounds cutting through the thick vegetation, the rustles and snaps and feeling like someone is always following them, watching. Watching and cataloguing what’s happening in the dark, the expansion of sensation beyond Illya’s control like the steady spread of blood from a gunshot wound. Squinting in sunlight too bright, together they leave for the city, and Illya awaits a relief which never comes.

Chapter Text

Buenos Aires is crawling with dogs. Packs of strays skitter across the street and lay panting beneath the shade of parked cars, tongues pink and dripping drool onto the pavement. There are brown dogs, grey dogs, sable dogs. Once-white dogs stained a terra-cotta red from the dirt, trotting along on mud-black feet. They all look the same with their long legs and wrinkled foreheads and folded over ears, wise, wary eyes and and jutting ribs.

Illya finds them unsettling, unable to shake the feeling of being watched, scrutinized. He doesn’t particularly care for dogs, they are too trusting and too loyal for his taste, plus every American he has ever met reminds him of a dog, especially Napoleon Solo and his broad, easy smile.

One morning soon after returning to Buenos Aires to regroup, Illya and Napoleon are trailing a potential informant when a scruffy black and white mutt darts out into the road in front of them and nearly gets hit by a motorcycle, wheels screeching as the dog shoots out of the way, tail tucked. Illya’s heart stops. He may be able to choke the life out of a man without thinking, he may be able to fire shots and break bones and feel not a single drop of remorse for it, but there is something sickening about seeing an animals get hurt. And even if dogs are no better than cockroaches in this city, he does not want to see one killed.

Unexpected relief still blooms in his chest as the dog streaks across the curb and into an alley, clearly frightened but also alive. He watches, chest still tight, and Napoleon says, “Jesus, did you see that? You think it’s ok, might have gotten clipped.”

Then, as if they are not in the middle of a mission at all, Napoleon takes off after the dog, following it down the narrow alley it slipped away into, squeezing between trashcans and a stack of wooden pallets. Illya stops in his tracks, thinking that Napoleon can’t possibly be abandoning him to go check on a stray mutt who likely isn’t even injured at all, that he is a questionable spy, but not that questionable. But a minute passes, and then another, and finally Illya curses in Russian, rolls his eyes, and stomps off to go find Napoleon. He sidles down the alley where he sees him crouched down, shiny dress shoes toeing aside garbage so he can peer behind a dumpster where the dog is hiding.

“He’s limping,” Napoleon says without looking over his shoulder, tentatively reaching a hand towards the dog as if to test if it will bite. Illya is very suddenly reminded of the way Napoleon acted when they were first partnered together, the cautious attempts at touch, eyes narrowed like Illya was dangerous, less than human, capable of lashing out and drawing blood, but he wanted to try and get close anyway.

Illya doesn’t know why, but it makes him feel distantly sad to realize this, makes his heart clench in a strange brand of self-loathing as he prudently sidesteps closer to Napoleon, careful to keep slow, quiet, non-threatening. He doesn’t know how to act non-threatening, not really; he is too large and too lethal. “Is it hurt?” he asks, even though this whole thing is fucking absurd and they do not have time to save stray dogs.

“Not sure yet, got to check out this leg.” Napoleon has already coaxed the dog out of its hiding place with a piece of wet bread he found on the ground, and as the dog keeps one suspicious eye on Illya, he snaps the treat out of Napoleon’s hand. Very carefully, Napoleon guides the dog closer to him by his scruff, and gently drags his front paws up onto his knee so he can look at his injured leg.

Illya is stunned. Dried mud crumbles off onto Napoleon’s designer dress slacks; the dog’s paws are filthy, furthermore it likely has worms, fleas, a myriad of other diseases and impurities and Napoleon Solo, with his his perfect suit and his perfect hair, is carding broad palms through its mangy fur, carefully examining its potentially damaged leg with care. Illya notes the line of concern through his brow, the way his fingers are dark with dirt, and his stomach turns over with a wave of coupled surprise and affection.

He bends down next to him and although the dog is trembling, it does not try to get away. “I did not know you liked dogs,” Illya says, and it hangs in the air like a confession.

Napoleon shrugs, releasing the dog after patting it on the head. “I’m more of a cat person, actually. Cats are cleaner, more dignified. Doesn’t mean I like to see assholes on motorbikes run over dogs in the street though, Jesus.”

The dog sniffs at Illya’s shoe before backing away into its hiding spot and squeezing past the dumpster, trotting away. “It’s not favoring its leg,” Illya observes.

“Was mostly scared, I think. Ugh,” Napoleon says, brushing dirt from his slacks as he stands, flexing his filthy fingers. “I need to wash my hands, stat,” he says. “Could use some coffee too, shall we stop at a Cafe? I think the informant can wait.”

And Illya feels exasperated, he really does, but he also feels a million other things, all unnamed and warring in his chest like a flock of birds. He shakes his head. “No, Cowboy. We’re already running behind, plus no one made you touch that dog.”

“Well sorry I happen to have a heart. I know those are forcibly removed upon entry into the KGB.”

Illya knows it is a joke, (Napoleon’s eyes are bright and flashing and his shoulder brushes against his as they start down the alley together), but regardless it stuns the birds to stillness inside him with a quiet, muted pain. He doesn’t know how to be nonthreatening; he doesn’t know how to touch things without breaking them; he doesn’t know how to coax wounded dogs from hiding with old bread and gentle hands.

For reasons well beyond his control he thinks of beautiful brown Italian boys, beautiful brown Argentinian boys, and then in spite of himself he even thinks of Napoleon and his broad, sure, pale hands flickering through the air as he talks about art, about sex, about anything he loves. Illya knows little of touch, not even how to receive it, nothing of those hands dirty from petting strays, grit-caked and black and beautiful.

He wonders if there is anything left to do about this, any remaining way to save himself, or if it is time to resign to the permanent ache of loss, of absence.

---

One of the Nazi war criminals from the bunker manages to shoot Illya in the shoulder, and it wouldn’t slow him down, he could grit his teeth against the searing pain and keep going, if it weren’t for Napoleon.

“Jesus Christ, you’re hit Peril,” he says, fingers shining with Illya’s blood as he grabs him by the elbow and drags him behind a cement wall in the warehouse they’re in. “When you’re hit you gotta act like you’re hit, you don’t actually think you’re going to be effective if--”

“What are you doing?! He’s getting away.”

“Being reasonable,” Napoleon scoffs, ducking his head so he can bark into his earpiece that he needs backup, Peril is hit. Illya rolls his eyes, thinking that Gaby will probably think this is a more serious wound than it actually is given the way Napoleon is acting, thinking that if Gaby was shot in the shoulder, she would keep going, she would at least let him keep going if it were her here instead of Napoleon. Gaby does not stop to help strays. Frustrated and angry and pain-dizzy, he twists out of Napoleon’s grip easily.

In seconds, Napoleon is on him again. “Don’t be stupid,” he says.

“Stop,” Illya growls, wrenching his arm away, stomach lurching so horrifically he has to bite back bile. “I could have had him by now and you’re--”

“Just shut up” Napoleon hisses through his teeth, grabbing a silk kerchief from the front pocket of his suit jacket and using it to blot Illya’s arm briefly before tying it off below the gunshot wound. “I’m sick of you acting like you’re beyond human somehow, like you’re a machine when I know you’re not, know you sleep and sweat and even laugh sometimes, they don’t program robots to laugh so I know you’re just like the rest of us, Peril,” he grumbles. “I see you. Just let me see you,” he says then, eyes flicking up to Illya’s so clear and blue and full to the brim with pupil, his fingers still resting on the knot in the kerchief like he’s not sure he wants to quit touching.

Illya doesn’t know what to say. His heart is pounding with pain and adrenaline and overwhelm, Napoleon’s lips are too close to his face, and on top of it all, everything hurts. “Let me go,” is all he manages to grind out, shoving Napoleon off with his one good arm.

“Never,” Napoleon snaps. “You’re stuck with me.”

Illya stares hard at Napoleon then, gritting his teeth against the frantic thudding of his own blood in his ears. There’s a flush across Napoleon’s cheeks and a few strands of his hair have come undone and stuck to the sheen of perspiration beading at his temple. Illya’s eyes drop involuntarily to his mouth, parted and panting, then lower, to the wild flicker of his pulse, and it’s only then that he realizes Napoleon is scared of something.

Certainly not scared of the Nazi they’re letting get away, certainly not scared of this mission, of this chase. Probably not even scared that Illya has been shot in the shoulder; they’ve both sustained far worse. What, then? Scared that he’s scared? Scared by his own compassion, his inconvenient weakness, the terror born from the terror born from watching someone you care about take a bullet and bleed?

Illya swallows, shutting his eyes tight enough he sees stars, because he cannot look at Napoleon for another second and trust himself to stay braced against this wall.

Seconds pass and eventually, Napoleon pushes off of him, cursing, and it is a long time before Illya opens his eyes again.

Chapter Text

Gunshot wound aside, in several days they successfully find and apprehend their targets and leave Argentina, along with its dogs, its orange sunsets, its mosquito choruses. The whole mission seems like a dream to Illya when he thinks back on it, hazy and surreal and sun-washed in ways he can’t describe. Needless to say, he’s looking forward to being in Europe again.

After Argentina, Napoleon seems to take a step back from Illya, like he passed too close to fire and is now suffering through the burns, nursing the blisters. Part of Illya wants to follow him, push his fingers into the lymph of those blisters and beg, although he does not indulge this fantasy in enough detail to know what exactly it is he would beg for.

Illya thinks too often of things Napoleon said to him at that warehouse, I see you, just let me see you, and you’re stuck with me. They repeat endlessly, roil inside him like a storm, tying knots and pulling them ever tighter. He wishes he was only relieved by Napoleon’s newfound coldness, but there is a sting curled up alongside the relief. Most often he tries to drown it, though rarely does he succeed. This is the way he is now.

---

For months there are no Oliver Lawrence’s, no seaside Italian boys and Illya could almost forget about that facet of Napoleon if it weren’t for his own shameful interior, which never fails to remind him. Most often in those liminal moments between sleep and wakefulness, when Illya is not in control of his mind enough to force unbidden images of Napoleon out.

Regardless, it hits him like a punch when Waverly brings that particular talent of Napoleon’s up while debriefing them for their next mission. “We need you on Geoffrey,” he says, pushing a snapshot towards Napoleon across the glass-topped coffee table at their hotel, which is another infuriatingly luxurious place full of late baroque furniture, endless Rococo curls and filigree for Illya to worry he will splinter.

“Rene Geoffrey,” Napoleon sighs, squinting. “Not the most tempting of fellows, but I can make it work.” The man is short and fat, with a heavy white mustache which covers his pursed lips. He’s wearing spectacles in the photo, and shaking hands with a well-known and recently incarcerated illegal weapons dealer. Illya does not like this Geoffrey, does not like his beady black rodent eyes, the smug lines around his mouth.

“Be careful. We just want you to let him think he’s got you, but I don’t recommend actually bedding this one, Solo,” Waverly warns.

“Not planning on it, don’t worry,” Napoleon says, voice clipped and sharp.

“What’s he done?” Illya asks, peering down at the picture and frowning. He can feel Gaby’s eyes on him, burning fierce holes into his shoulder with a decisive glare, and on his other side, Napoleon is deliberately avoiding his gaze. The room is very tense, but if Waverly notices, he says nothing.

“He’s got quite the reputation, already made ripples at a nearby brothel for using their boys too harshly one time too many. He also was accused, but never charged, for assault and battery on more than one occasion. Most likely paid the Gendarmerie off. In other words, he’s potentially dangerous, and we don’t want to engage him any more than we need to for the mission.”

Illya is shaking his head, about to protest when Gaby steps in, much to his relief. “Does Napoleon have to? Illya got shot in Argentina and I feel like I am always cleaning up messes. I don’t want this to be more messy that it needs to be, and rubbing elbows with some sadistic man seems like we’re asking for mess. No offense, ” she adds, eyes cutting briefly to Illya and Napoleon. He isn’t sure which of them she’s apologizing to.

Illya thinks Napoleon is about to defend himself, make some completely unfunny joke about how his seductions never end messy, at least not figuratively, but remarkably, he sounds hesitant, too. “Am I even his type?” he asks, thumbing through the police reports concerning the prostitutes. “Both of these boys are that skinny, puer delicatus type Roman senators liked to keep in their bed. I’m not quite sure I have that appeal.”

Waverly looks thoughtful for a moment, like it never really occurred to him there could be a range of preference among homosexual men, just as there were among heterosexual men. “Have you seen him?” he says eventually, pointing to the photo again. “Remember, beggars can’t be choosers. You might not be his his dream but you’re undeniably handsome, Solo. I doubt you’ll completely disinterest him.”

“Thank you,” Napoleon says slowly, a strange, pained sort of tightness around his jaw. “I think.”

“This is dangerous,” Illya grumbles, crossing his arms, hating this whole thing so passionately his stomach aches with a deep, profound sickness.

“I agree,” Gaby says. “Seems risky. You wouldn’t have me do it, Waverly, so why are you having Napoleon do it?”

Waverly shakes his head. “But Teller,” he sighs. “There’s where you’re wrong. If Rene Geoffery preferred little doe-eyed girls who fixed cars, I’d be be giving you the same orders. Battery and assault charges or not. You two are professionals, can’t we keep it professional? Kuryakin, you understand.”

Illya has been mostly silent this whole exchange, grinding his teeth and attempting to calm the scarlet tide of rage threatening to spill out of him at any moment. He swallows, eyes locked on Napoleon. “I understand,” he forces out.

---

They have one night before Napoleon is supposed to meet, sweet talk, and ideally lure Geoffrey into a private hotel room where Gaby and the remaining back-up team will be waiting to detain and interrogate him. One night, and naturally, Illya cannot sleep. He doesn’t even really try, just leaves Napoleon and Gaby around midnight to retire, by which he means stand outside his own room and watch Paris bustle below the balcony, hoping the fragile and elegant thing doesn’t buckle under his weight and shudder to dust in the night. Hoping this mission does not buckle under his weight, either.

It’s well after two am when someone knocks on Illya’s door. He knows with a deep, reflexive instinct that it’s Napoleon; something about his own body is fine-tuned to the details of Napoleon’s, the sound of his knuckles against the door, the way floorboards creak under his weight. Jaw set tight, Illya opens the door without unlatching the chain, peering down at Napoleon’s slightly disheveled hair and too-bright eyes. He smells like he’s been drinking, too much for the evening before a mission like this and Illya would say something about it if the whole night didn’t feel strange, loaded, tightly wound like a spring poised to snap. “Yes?” he asks sharply.

“For godsake, Peril,” Napoleon sighs. “Unlock that chain.”

Illya does it somewhat grudgingly, letting Napoleon in and watching him kick off his shoes and head straight to the minibar, where a die-cut crystal bottle of scotch sits untouched. “I knew you’d have more,” Napoleon says.

Alarmed, Illya watches him messily pour himself a shot. “Are you drunk?” He asks, voice coming out too loud, too harsh, and he actually sees Napoleon wince like it hurts.

“Not yet,” he answers.

Illya rolls his eyes, chest tight with helplessness, frustration. “If this is about the mission tomorrow--” he starts, but Napoleon cuts him off, waving a hand through the air dismissively.

“Peril,” he says, rubbing his face with one palm, holding his drink at an angle so slanted it’s worrisome with the other. Illya waits for some scotch to drip onto the carpet while Napoleon unconvincingly explains, “you’re way off the mark.”

“Am I?” Illya asks, finally stepping in, elbowing his way into Napoleon’s space and taking the glass from him. Their fingers brush and Napoleon glares at him, eyes flashing and tongue darting out to wet his lips and Illya turns away sharply, setting the glass down upon the coffee table with a muted clink.

“Yes. I’m sure you think it’s simply awful that Waverly is always shoving me at these grotesque low-lives, exploiting my aberrancy or whatever you Ruskies think it is. And I suppose I’m not particularly looking forward tomorrow, but that’s not why I came to raid your bar. I just wanted a drink,” he says, eyes narrowed at Illya.

It is such a terrific load of lies Illya just rolls his eyes again. “I do not think you’re aberrant.”

Napoleon is the one who rolls his eyes this time, before he swigs messily from his glass, which he managed to snatch back. “Right,” he says. “You only visibly shudder every time this comes up. You’d rather sleep on the dirty floor of some hut in the middle of the jungle that share a bed with me. I know you think you’re the world’s greatest spy, but your disgust is barely concealed, just so you’re aware.”

Something snaps inside of Illya then. Perhaps he has put so much energy into silencing the things he thinks about Napoleon that they are too pressurized, the area too infected and swollen that it finally ruptures. “You have no idea what you’re talking about,” he says, voice low and dangerous as he jabs an index finger into Napoleon’s chest. “If you’re so good a spy, maybe you’d know what I was barely concealing. It’s not what you think, not at all.”

He pushes away, carding his hands through his hair, breath coming out too hot and strangled. Napoleon follows him, reaching for his elbow and spinning him around, eyes wide and stunned and disbelieving and so, so full to the brim with pupil Illya has to back away, lest he fall in and drown. There is something heated and feral in the air between them, the whole room is charged and magnetic and Illya wants so badly to wrench himself from Napoleon’s orbit, but he cannot.

A stillness settles over them. Napoleon is searching his face with such intensity that it feels like being burned and Illya squirms beneath the heat, pulse pounding. “Do you see?” he asks thickly.

“I don’t know,” Napoleon says, voice quiet and wavering with the disbelief of a man whose convinced himself that something cannot happen, no matter the circumstance, but is realizing he may have been wrong. He turns away, face in his palms and hair worked to chaos. “Never know what you’re trying to say, you’re so goddamned impossible,” he grumbles, voice coming out muffled from behind his hands.

Illya sinks to the couch, suddenly exhausted, resentful, sore all over like he’s just been in a fight. His pulse is wild from having revealed so much only to have it meet resistance, fists raw from pounding upon the wall he feels forever trapped behind. He is sick of his his voice not getting past this barrier of ice, of iron, sick of his mask fitting him so very tightly he cannot pry it from the bones in his face, even when he wants to. He makes fists in his hair, and listens to Napoleon pouring himself another drink.

After a long silence, Napoleon eventually speaks. “Have you ever been in love?” He asks quietly.

Illya takes a deep breath, and then another, staring hard at his reflection in the glass tabletop. His knee-jerk response to this question is no, but then he realizes a more honest response would be not until now. Not until you. But he does not feel like he owes Napoleon honestly in this moment, so he says, “I joined the KGB when I was a boy. Fifteen, maybe. I didn’t know what love was before then, so, no,”

Napoleon comes to sit gingerly beside him, nodding. He sets his glass down on the table, right on top of Napoleon’s reflection. “You weren’t allowed to fall in love once you were in the KGB?”

 

Illya shrugs. “No time. No...room.” He wants to tell Napoleon other things, but he can’t make his throat work. There was a girl, from my home town. Elsa, blonde hair in pigtails, face like a rose. I wanted to love her, but I didn’t know how, I was ten, eleven maybe, too young to understand such things. And then, in the KGB, there were men. I remember looking at them when we showered, thinking about them before I slept, sick and confused and wondering how men ever touched women without breaking them, knowing they must touch each other, that must make sense, even if it bruised. But it was unheard of. I couldn’t, we didn’t. So, no. There was no room. There is still no room, but here you are.

“You should try it sometime,” Napoleon says after a moment. “It hurts, but it’s also worth it.”

Illya cannot remember the last time his eyes stung like this, but here, perched upon a late baroque couch with its curly birch legs and sea foam upholstery, beside Napoleon Solo on this furniture which should not be able to hold him, his eyes are stinging. He doesn’t have anything to say, so he just nods, a movement so subtle he’s half-sure Napoleon missed it.

Another few moments pass. Napoleon spins his glass on the table top, fingers tapping nervously, and then, like he’s about to make a very rash and potentially regrettable decision, he picks up the drink and downs the rest of it, shuddering. He sets the empty glass down on the table and announces, “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were jealous. About Lawrence, about Italy. About tomorrow.”

And Illya feels like he’s losing his mind, heat is coming off of Napoleon’s body in waves and he smells dizzying with scotch, Illya is drunk off the fumes, the warmth, all of it, so his gaze moves swiftly over Napoleon's body, no matter how hard he has trying to keep it from doing exactly like that.

He perceives it in fragments: his unbuttoned shirt-collar, the line of his clavicle, his black hair all a mess, a line through his forehead like he’s so goddamned concerned all the time, and for a moment Illya forgets all the reasons he’s been hiding from this, all the things he does not know. He laughs, a raw, broken open thing, and says, “Why do you think you know better?”

Napoleon blinks once, then again, mouth parted around some word unsaid and Illya is reminded very briefly of that stray dog, scared and hungry, before he takes Napoleon’s drink-flushed face between his palms and kisses him.

Chapter Text

Even as Napoleon shoves him hard up against the love seat, fist at his throat and mouth open and gasping against Illya’s, he is trying to resist. “No,” he says thickly, shaking his head, all the blue of his eyes nearly lost to pupil. “No,” he hisses, as he mouths down the stretch of Illya’s throat, teeth and tongue filthy at his pulse.

Illya doesn’t know what to do. His heart pounds in the cage of Napoleon’s arms, flat and hard against his chest as Napoleon pins him, holds him down, chokes him. Illya’s voice is stuck in his throat and he can’t think straight with Napoleon so close, hard and heavy and bearing down upon him, so he just cants up against the solidity of his body, a mess of breath and heat and confusion. In his haze of hunger, he somehow manages to free a hand, the one Napoleon isn’t crushing into the cushions, and rucks it up his neck, into his hair, where he makes a fist. “Napoleon,” he mumbles, and it comes out like a prayer, like a scrape.

“Don’t call me that,” Napoleon grinds out, thumping him hard against the loveseat, which whines in protest. “And do not fucking use me to figure out your confusion, your--” he cuts himself off, swallowing thickly.

That’s not what this is, Illya thinks desperately, but it comes out stunted, jumbled. “No,” is what he says, fingers curling tight in the sweat-damp mess of Napoleon’s hair so he can drag him closer, get at his mouth. “это не то, что вы думаете, это,” he breathes then, and Napoleon makes a strangled noise, bares his teeth against Illya’s throat desperately.

“Fuck,” he swears, releasing the biting grip he has on Illya’s wrist to fumble gracelessly up his chest, his ribs, to his mouth, which he pushes inside with clumsy fingers. Illya sucks at the salt of them, tonguing mindlessly at the loose slide of skin over broad knuckles. He wants Napoleon's fingers in his mouth; he wants to suck them down until his lips bump up against the crease of his palm; he wants that and anything else Napoleon can give him. He is done with fighting that want; he can’t even remember why he was fighting it in the first place, everything leading up until this moment seems meaningless now.

“Jesus christ,” is the last thing Napoleon manages to get out before he allows Illya to put him where he wants him, pull him up fiercely by his hair and kiss him like kissing is murder, like kisses are meant to bleed.

Their teeth knock together; Illya digs his nails into whatever skin he can reach. They kiss and kiss and Napoleon tastes like fire and scotch and feels like heaven and Illya has never thought that about a single thing in the entire world before.

Napoleon gets his hands under Illya’s turtleneck, thumbing over the taut ridges of muscle and groaning like he hurts to touch. Every sound makes Illya’s stomach drop, twists knives in his guts and he can’t remember the last time he was so hard, so aching, the last time someone else’s hands felt so incredible on his body. Please echoes on repeat inside him, please anything, please everything. There’s nothing he does not want from Napoleon in this moment and it should terrify him, it does, but alongside that terror there’s something else, too.

Napoleon wrenches away at some point, brow grinding against Illya’s, hair wrecked and mouth swollen and shining and wet as he stares down at him for moment, face a mess of flush, of skepticism, of awe. “Shouldn’t do this,” he says, eyes hazy and unfocused. “You’ll break me, I know it, always get broken.”

“No,” Illya tells him, even though he’s not entirely sure he’s telling the truth, not sure he knows how to touch things without breaking them. But before he can spill more lies, more uncertainties, Napoleon is kissing him silent again, groaning deep into his mouth, sucking at his tongue. Illya forgets what he was trying to say, lost again in the heat and pressure of Napoleon’s body, the slow, desperate drag and grind of his thigh between the splay of his legs.

Illya has not devoted much thought to what sex between two men might look like. All his shameful, half-realized fantasies concerning men blurred the reality of it, relying heavily on vague, senselessly universal things, skin and sweat and spit and breath. But here, now, with the hard line of Napoleon’s cock pressing into him every time they shift just so, the truth of it begins to sink in, hitting him deep in the gut with all its raw, human splendor.

It seems agonizingly dirty, nervy and base and terrible and wonderful, to feel Napoleon like that, his vulnerability grown hot and steel-hard and wanting for him, an impossible thing to hide, to conceal. Illya fumbles across his back with searching hands, clawing down the ripple of muscle, the planes working and flickering beneath his palms. Then, experimentally, he works two fingers under the waistband of Napoleon’s slacks, as deep as he can go given the little room his belt allows him. He wants to touch all of him, he wants Napoleon's flesh in his fists, bruised, tender.

Cursing, Napoleon sits up, clumsily unbuckling his belt and pulling it free from the loops. Illya stares at him while he does it, the neck of his dress shirt rucked open to reveal pale skin scoured in marks from Illya’s nails, his mouth, a damp sheen of sweat shining in the hollow of Napoleon’s throat. Too beautiful to look at, absolutely unbearable, and before Napoleon can properly get out of his belt, Illya is upon him, hauling him up by his ruined shirt collar and throwing him down onto the loveseat.

Air huffs out of Napoleon, his eyes wide and stunned as Illya fits himself between his parted thighs, thrusting against him there where he’s split like a wishbone. “Fuck,” Napoleon says for at least the hundredth time that night, riding out the wild, desperate snaps of Illya’s hips, clutching at his shoulders, his ass, the tense lines of muscle framing his spine. The loveseat creaks and groans beneath them, rocking in time with the graceless bucks of Illya’s hips until eventually, the distinct sound of cracking wood snaps through the air.

Illya pauses for a moment, teeth grit and one arm shooting out to brace himself against the floor, which seems quite suddenly nearer to them then it did a minute ago, but Napoleon shakes his head, makes a frustrated sound low in his throat. “Don’t stop,” he hisses, arching up off the loveseat to bring their bodies flush again, electric friction blurring out Illya’s vision with a haze of white. “I’m gonna come here under you like this, don’t stop.” And that is such a lovely, awful thing to hear from those swollen lips that Illya very nearly comes himself, trapped and working against the perfect heat of Napoleon’s thigh.

They dry-fuck on the loveseat until it all but buckles under their combined weight, until Napoleon is gasping and swearing and eventually, crying out into Illya’s neck, shuddering to finish beneath him while the loveseat cracks and splinters. Illya finishes soon after, silent and moved, biting down hard on Napoleon’s bare shoulder as he comes. His teeth dig deeper than he meant to, so deep there’s a neat half-moon of indentations there when he pulls away. They lie there for a moment, on this piece of furniture hardly left standing. Illya breathes, and waits.

“Get off,” Napoleon says eventually, shifting under Illya’s dead weight.

“What?” Illya asks. The room is still materializing from static; he still doesn’t know what to do. He’s limp and heavy and panting and one of his knees stings from bring braced against the carpet.

“Get off. It’s gonna collapse if we stay here, I don’t want Waverly to have to pay for any more damage than he has to,” Napoleon snaps, voice cold, clipped. Nothing like the crushed, bleeding groans Illya had been swallowing only moments before. Chest suddenly tight with a muted kind of panic, Illya sits up, peels himself off of Napoleon’s body, hastily buttons his pants. He turns away from Napoleon towards the adjacent wall as a strange, chilled emptiness begins to creep into his gut.

“Terrible idea,” Napoleon says from the love seat, body still prone and vulnerable even as the rest of him is not, stained slacks and hair in disarray. His voice is hushed, but loud enough Illya is certain he was intended to hear.

His hands shake and he grits his teeth, thinking what? what was I supposed to do? How am I supposed to exist around you, how could I possibly stand it? He thinks of the mission tomorrow, Napoleon’s part in it, and feels a wave of sickness crash over him like the tide. How?

Napoleon composes himself and leaves without a word before Illya gets a chance to hit him, smash his perfect jaw so that it is not perfect any longer, blood on his knuckles as he begs him, what was I supposed to do?

---

Illya plays terrible idea in Napoleon’s voice over and over again after he leaves, sitting statue still on the edge of a hotel bed beside his unpacked suitcase, head in his hands. Terrible idea, terrible idea, terrible idea. He knows why it’s a terrible idea, he didn’t need Napoleon to say it to him in order for that reality to hit him. Regardless, it aches inside, hot and painful like a fever. Terrible idea, like Napoleon regretted every second of their bodies flush and grinding, every second of their breath combined.

Illya rubs at his temples with open palms, fingers still itching to make a fist and smash it through something. The snapped and splintering leg of the loveseat they already ruined, perhaps. Terrible idea.

It’s a terrible idea because they work together, risk their lives together, and can’t possibly avoid any further complication of that dynamic. It’s a terrible idea because Illya desperately wants things he does not want to want, things he wouldn’t know what to do with if he had them. It’s a terrible idea because Napoleon Solo is a dangerous person to feel deeply for; he’s too close and too far away all at once, he’s too bright and too cruel and too guarded and too fragile. It’s a terrible idea because Illya has never done this before; he has never been in love and he has never felt a force powerful enough to make him risk his carefully hewn armor of ice. It’s a terrible idea; he knows it, but here he sits, rubbing his fingers over the places Napoleon has touched him, grieving. He cannot regret their bodies flush and grinding, not a second of it.

--

Napoleon doesn’t look at him the following morning during briefing. He drinks two double shot espressos, throwing them back like they’re liquor then casts his gaze at his shoes until Waverly’s done setting him up. Illya can’t stop staring at him, eyes roving across his bitten shoulder, his scraped back. So many things hidden, as if they’re not there at all, and Illya is sick at the thought of every one of them. Still, he cannot stop imagining flashes from the night prior, the smell of Napoleon’s sweat or his fierce weight atop him, crushing air from his lungs. Their teeth clacking together, Napoleon’s skin under his nails. Things he can’t get rid of, all rising unbidden in his mind like bones in flooded grave dirt.

Gaby keeps looking at him across the table with narrowed eyes. He pretends it is not happening.

“You be careful, Solo,” Waverly says as he adjusts the bug inside Napoleon’s lapel. “Geoffrey is a very bad man.”

“Aren’t they all,” Napoleon grumbles. “How do I look? Good enough to eat?”

Gaby rolls her eyes. “You’ll do.”

Illya says nothing.

---

Fifteen minutes into the mission and already, it’s potentially compromised. Geoffrey takes Napoleon’s jacket upon entering so they lose that bug, and soon after that their other lines of communication go strangely, suddenly silent.

“Something is wrong,” Illya says, ripping out his ear piece and pacing. “We need to go in.”

“Not yet,” Gaby scolds him, but she looks impatient too, glossed lips forming a thin, flat line as she makes a mistrustful face. “Give him a minute.” Her eyes flick to her watch, and she squints. “Give him until twenty five, then we move if there’s still no word.”

It’s an agonizing ten minutes; Illya worries his lip to near bloodiness with his teeth, eyes flashing, hands shaking. Still, there are so many terrible things flashing across his mind, though this time they’re all of Napoleon hurt, Napoleon’s eye swollen shut like the grainy crime scene pictures they saw of Geoffrey’s brothel boys. His stomach turns over, and he digs his nails so deeply into his palms they sting.

Finally, Napoleon comes back over the radio, two minutes and fifty three seconds before their agreed mark. “Jesus christ,” he coughs, voice scratchy and full of static. “Waverly was not kidding, Geoffrey is a very, very bad man indeed.”

“Are you ok?” Gaby barks. Illya is speechless, heart thudding and relief flooding his chest.

“Sure. Had to knock him out though, which is better than putting a bullet in his leg, which I almost resorted to. He’s fast for a short fat type guy. Anyway, I’m heading to you. We need to leave.”

“What happened?” Illya manages to grind out, working hard to keep his voice even.

“He knows I was undercover but he doesn’t know what for. Seems like he suspected I was with that brothel he was in trouble with? I doubt he knows anything about U.N.C.L.E. but still, we need to get out of here.”

“Ugh,” Gaby sighs. “Alright. I’ll alert Waverly, you get back here.”

Illya lets himself breathe, a sick thrill spreading in his chest as he realizes with a new clarity that Napoleon is not going to have to fall to his knees for some man with money and a cruel, complacent mouth. He is not going to have to touch flesh he does not want to, pick fleas from a dog he would not lay with given the choice. Part of him wishes he had put a bullet in Geoffrey’s leg, but it is a part he can silence, at least for now.

Chapter Text

That night, Illya can only stay inside pacing for so long before he worries he will single-handedly demolish what is left of the already damaged loveseat, along with everything else in this hotel room. The elegant four poster, the mahogany table with its absurd pearl inlay, the clock tick-ticking away on the wall, three minutes slow. He can too easily imagine it all in pieces, just as he can too easily imagine the sting of wood and glass splintering beneath his knuckles. Don’t want Waverly to have to pay for anymore damage than he needs to is one of the things Napoleon said last night which has since been indelibly seared into Illya’s brain.

He is finding it vert difficult to regret everything that happened between them the night prior, just as he is finding it very difficult to be anything other than profoundly relieved that their mission today did not go according to plan. Illya is realizing with increasing clarity that ever since he figured out in Brighton that because of his predilections, Napoleon could exist as something more than a remote, abstract fantasy, he has been steadily losing his mind.

It is far easier to ignore one’s inconvenient and idle fantasies about another man, (the kind which come unbidden in the moments just before waking when thoughts are still hazy and indistinct with dream), when said man is impossible, unattainable. Whatever subconscious notions of unattainability Illya had been adhering to were shattered by Brighton, however. He could no longer write Napoleon off as simply his partner or even his friend, not when Napoleon was bedding professors for U.N.C.L.E or spending weekends chasing Italian boys through sun and sea spray. He had been forced to consider Napoleon in such compromising situations, forced to examine his own tumult and rage of feeling which stormed inside him every time this particular issue arose.

It wasn’t supposed to happen, he didn’t want it to happen, but it had. The formerly crushed, long since atrophied vine of desire inside Illya’s gut had uncurled beyond his will, growing new leaves, new thorns. And now it clutches around his heart, tearing holes in thawed flesh no matter where he turns, how he twists. There is no escaping it. Illya’s want has grown more vast than his self-control, his better judgement, and he no longer feels capable of running from whatever is thundering between him and Napoleon, furious and unspoken. Not with the memory of Napoleon’s eyes wide and shot through with pupil-black, not with the memory of his mouth bitten and flush and open and panting on the swell of Illya’s shoulder. It is too much; he’s been ruined and cannot recover.

Illya clenches and unclenches his fists, well aware that he is mere moments away from breaking something expensive if he sends much more time pacing across this room, wondering what he should do, wondering what Napoleon is doing. It’s agonizing, not to mention dangerous, so he leaves. Storms out into the hallway mindlessly, and before he can think better of it, heads straight down the hallway and to Napoleon’s door.
Napoleon is likely drinking alone tonight, but it still crosses Illya’s mind that there could be someone inside with him. Gaby, discussing their action plan. Some woman he picked up from a restaurant, a bar. Or a young man. The doorman at the hotel has turned his head more than once as Napoleon passes; Illya notices these things now, even if he doesn’t want to. Still, he bites back every image, every potential mess of tangled limbs he does not want to see, and knocks on his door anyway, breathing hard.

Pacing in the hallway for what seems like a full minute but it likely closer to ten seconds, Illya wonders what he’s doing. Where this could possibly go, when he knows, knows, that this is a terrible idea. Anything between them is a terrible idea, for it can only end in blood. Always get broken, Napoleon had said, and Illya can promise him no more than that. He doesn’t have a reasonable plan for where this could go, any map he intends to follow or even a grasp on what Napoleon wants, if his heart is similarly ensnared in thorns or if it looks different for him, feels different. It’s all gun-smoke and itching scabs but he doesn’t care anymore, he can’t live like this, not knowing. He cannot.

He knocks again, more fiercely this time, and Napoleon finally throws the door open, eyes narrowed and his shirt unbuttoned, thrown on hastily. Illya stares at him, caught off guard as if he didn’t know Napoleon would eventually answer.

“I knew it was you,” Napoleon says. It doesn’t come out cold, or even clipped, though Illya suspects Napoleon might have meant for it to. He just stands there braced in the doorway, voice strange and unreadable and brows drawn tight together, lips pursed into a bloodless line. “What do you want, Peril.”

Illya elbows his way in, thinking, you, you, you. You alive and breathing, you spread out under me and begging, you sleep warm and bleary eyed and curled under the weight of my arm every morning from here until someone shoots us dead, until this blows up in our faces, leaves one hundred scars, shrapnel in our skins. I don’t care, I don’t care about the consequences anymore. Can’t live like this, not knowing. Illya stares, and swallows, knowing full well he wouldn’t be able to get any of that out even if he tried, not even a solitary ,you because he does not know how to speak, he does not know how to take what things for himself, does not know how to take at all. He swallows again, throat aching, and eventually decides upon, “I don’t know.”

Napoleon fakes a smile at him. “Great. Then you can leave. I’m still reeling from nearly getting drugged and or beaten over the head with a Vodka bottle by some old pervert, and I don’t have time or energy to figure things out for you that I figured out myself a long time ago,” he says flatly, but there’s something flickering in his temple, something vulnerable flashing in his eyes. “I’m not the guy, Peril. Not for you.” He says it, but it comes out forced, regretful, and it’s not what Illya wants to hear.

Static momentarily whites over Illya’s vision. He and he can’t take this, not another second of it. “Stop,” he grinds out, shoving past Napoleon and into his hotel room. Napoleon could easily stop him, but he doesn’t. He stands there and rubs at the crease on the bridge of his nose, eyes shut tight like this entire exchange pains him.

Taking a deep and shuddering breath, Illya makes himself admit at least a fragment of the truth. “I can’t stop thinking about you, ”he forces out, voice shaking. It sounds so strange, so weak and pale and shameful out in the light, such a small thing for how vast the feeling is inside him, a terrible and huge blade rending him open.

Napoleon laughs cruelly, head still bent, eyes still shut. Illya stands rooted to the carpet with a ruddy pinkness climbing up his cheeks, expecting some ill timed and flippant quip, I do have that effect on people or that’s what they all say. Instead, Napoleon murmurs, “What does that mean?” It sounds crushed, wounded, and Illya wants to take it in his palms; he wants to try to touch something without breaking it to pieces. His hands clench and unclench at his sides, becoming fists before they fall trembling and slack again, and all he wants is to reach out, push Napoleon’s shirt from his shoulder, slide it down to his waist.

Illya swallows. “I don’t know,” he repeats.

“Peril,” Napoleon sighs. “I’ve done this before, with men like you. Men who think they want something like this, or do want something like this, up to a point. Up until it gets messy, or painful, or too much, and then they’re backing out. Running back to their wives and government jobs and mortgages.” He finally looks up, eyes hard and wet at the same time, a failed attempt at remaining guarded even as the truth leaks though. “I’ve done it before, and I swore I’d never do it again.”

Illya nods, suddenly able to move again, though the whole of him is trembling like something electric. He paces to keep from grabbing Napoleon, putting him up against the wall. “What if I didn’t run?” he grates.

Napoleon scoffs. “You think I haven’t heard that before? You’ll run. They all run, You, especially, Illya, will run.”

His own name sounds so strange and forbidden and dirty on Napoleon’s lips that it makes his stomach plummet, makes his blood surge with such a deep and profound want that he feels bowled over by it. He does not want to run. He wants to fall to his knees, he wants to stride across the room and bite Napoleon’s lips apart, he wants to lick so deeply into his mouth neither of them can breath.

He crosses his own arms and grips his elbows, and says, “And whatever might happen before that. Is that not worth it?”

Suddenly Napoleon’s gaze is on him like fire, pupils flint-black in their ring of terrible blue, heat climbing visibly up his cheeks. He stands there for a moment, pulse flickering wildly in his throat as he contemplates Illya’s question, then, clearly loses whatever battle he had been fighting in his head. “Fuck,” he says, pushing a silver bucket full of ice off the top of the mini bar. It clatters to the carpet and he turns away from it, pacing, reeling, stuck. Ice is littered across the floor, shining like diamonds, and Illya stares. “It shouldn’t be, you always tell yourself you won’t get hurt--” Napoleon spews nonsensically, to himself, to God.

Illya can’t stand it. Beyond his will he closes the distance between them, laying a hand on Napoleon’s shoulder and digging his thumbs in deep enough to bruise, ice crunching under his boots.He half expects to get shoved off, but that is not what happens. Napoleon Solo stops cold, looks up at him stricken and ruined before grabbing two fistfuls of his shirtfront and hauling him across the room, teeth bared. “I want you so badly,” he hisses. “It’s the absolute worst and stupidest thing imaginable.”

Illya grabs his forearms, drags his nails across the frantic thrumming blood in his wrists. “You have me,” he tries to tell Napoleon, even though he’s sure he can’t hear him, won’t hear him. “You have me, just--”

Napoleon kisses him, mouth rough and hungry and sharp with teeth, and it is like the entire tide. Too much, such an enormous swell that Illya is shaking as he kisses back, desperate and messy and overwhelmed, throat working as if he is swallowing the ocean. They kiss and they kiss, pressed up against the wall, Napoleon’s hands under Illya’s sweater, shoving down his waistband. With their brows together and their breath all over the other’s lips, Napoleon murmurs, “What are you doing.” It is not a question.

Illya thumbs across his swollen mouth, pulling it open, feeling the slick softness inside with the pad of his thumb. He is so in awe of the shape of Napoleon’s lips, so dizzy with feeling he can hardly stand, and somewhere in the fevered thrill of it all he manages to say, “I won’t run. Can’t.”

Napoleon whimpers then. A feral, broken sound deep in his throat before he pitches forward, tongue flicking against Illya’s teeth, the roof of his mouth. Napoleon doesn’t believe him; Illya can feel the doubt in his furious rain of kisses, can taste it in his spit. He twists a hand in Napoleon’s hair to pull his head back and make room for words as they fall out of him, messy and fraught. “You think I’m confused,” he says.

“Yes,” Napoleon murmurs, the raw, hopeless voice of someone who has given in, someone willfully committed to pain, to loss.

“You’re wrong.”

“I don’t care anymore Illya, I don’t care, just kiss me, please. Kiss me until you can’t anymore,” Napoleon begs, jamming a knee between Illya’s legs, tilting easily towards the fist in his hair. “Fuck all of this. Just want you.”

Illya kisses him, thinking, I want you, too. You, you, you. You alive and breathing, you spread out under me and begging, you sleep warm and bleary eyed and curled under the weight of my arm every morning from here until someone shoots us dead, until this blows up in our faces, leaves one hundred scars, shrapnel in our skins.

-

Somehow, they end up on the bed in a haphazard mess of limbs. Napoleon is on top of him, arms bracketed on either side of his body and mouth open and wet down the ladder of his ribs, mapping out the trail of golden hair beneath his navel. Illya stares, awed by this hazy, surreal image of a man praying between his own knees. Over and over again, he cards his hands through Napoleon’s hair to make sure he’s real, fingertips bumping along the ridges of his skull, the top-most knob of his spine. Though every touch, Napoleon stays.

Illya is dizzyingly hard under the heat of Napoleon’s hands, so hard it hurts. He doesn’t remember ever having felt this way, so sick and desperate, so willing to follow a single person into any dark room, no matter the consequences. He will do anything Napoleon wants in this moment, anything at all. The notion terrifies him on some level, but his awareness of such terror is indistinct, far away, something he can only half-see through a fog of desire. He’s feels blind, and subsequently committed to that blindness. Head lolling in the sheets, he lets it happen.

Napoleon drags rough palms over Illya’s skin, up the outsides of his thighs and down his sternum, nails leaving trails of pink in their wake before he palms back down to Illya’s cock, straining against the zipper of his pants, lewd and obvious. Napoleon touches him, but he doesn’t linger for more than a few seconds so Illya hooks his legs around Napoleon’s body, heel digging into the small of his back to drags him closer. Stay, he thinks brokenly, head reeling and abdominals heaving.Stay.

Finally, Napoleon unbuckles his belt with trembling fingers, and Illya stills beneath the touch, propping himself up on his elbows so he can watch. There are so many creases through Napoleon’s brow, some hidden by the mess of his hair rucked down across his forehead but still, Illya can see them, all his uncertainty, his self-recrimination. He wants to smooth the lines away with his thumb, with his tongue, but he can do little else besides fist helplessly into the sheets, for he’s worried much else might shatter whatever is happening unspoken between them. Napoleon looks beautiful with his soft red mouth parted in awe, in hunger, and he wants to save this picture of him forever, the black of his hair and the blood on his cheeks.

Napoleon works with the speed and resolve of a man who is half-certain this will be be his last supper. It won’t be the last time, not if you let me, Illya thinks of telling him, but he does not trust his voice, nor does he trust Napoleon to keep touching him if he says anything Napoleon is afraid is a lie, something he can deny. So he remains silent, thrusting uselessly into the air as Napoleon pulls his belt off, works his pants down over his hips. There is nothing but breath between them for a moment, but still, Illya feels like he’s coming apart, spread out and naked and obscene before Napoleon.

“Jesus,” Napoleon mumbles as he gets his trousers down to his knees. He mouths up the inside of Illya’s thigh, breath infernally hot against his skin before he thumbs up the shaft of his dick, eyes half-lidded and hazy with want. Illya flinches and hisses at the touch, wrecked and ruined and so, so far beyond any willpower he had left to stop this from hurtling into shambles. Napoleon touches him slowly, hungrily, self indulgently. “You’re...” he says in a hush, but he does not say what Illya is, cutting himself short. Whatever it is it’s too much, and Illya is too choked to beg right now, to press on it, so he just shakes his head mindlessly, all static and sensation and broken, stuttering breaths.

Napoleon jerks him off in heavy strokes, mouth open and beautiful and swollen from kisses as he stares at his hand and its needy, rhythmic motion, at this place where their skin is touching and sweat-slick and burning. llya wants to watch every second of it, he wants to drown in the black of Napoleon’s pupils, the flush of his cheeks. He wants to stare and stare, but it also hurts. Napoleon stings his eyes, bright and awful and glowing like the sun, too hot and too perfect to sustain. Eventually he looks away and grits his teeth to keep from crying out, so it’s a surprise when he feels Napoleon’s lips close over the head of his cock, trapping a wet, eager groan against his skin.

Everything is unbelievably slick, unbelievably warm. Illya’s done this before but it’s never felt like this, like the world coming down around him, like the sky cracking and pouring straight into his gut, splitting him open. Napoleon sucks him down a few inches and licks messily up the underside of his cock, one hand jerking lazily up the base, the other splayed wide and heavy atop his quadriceps. He hits the back of Napoleon’s throat and gasps. He’s no longer capable of keeping silent, no longer capable of keeping his hands off Napoleon’s skin, out of his hair. He pulls his plush, wet mouth down around him, fucks up into the perfect heat of it and Napoleon is moaning around him like he’s getting off on it too, like Illya’s dick in his mouth is the single best thing he’s ever felt. Those wrecked, hungry sounds alone are enough to make Illya’s stomach drop and twist, but then there’s Napoleon’s nails in his skin, Napoleon’s broad shoulders spreading his thighs wider, demanding a lewd splay and its all too much to endure.

He bites down hard on the inside of his own bicep and comes hard, without warning. He feels Napoleon gag around him, his throat humming with a ripped groan as he swallows and swallows, thumbs deep enough in Illya’s flesh to bruise.

Illya shudders and flinches as he recovers, arm stinging and thighs spasming. He imagines the marks Napoleon has left on him, the nails-furrows and bites he has weathered in this storm, and his stomach rolls over shamefully as he wishes there were more. He wants more, more of everything. Even now, as he twitches under Napoleon’s hands, against Napoleon’s tongue. Even now, after coming harder than he has in recent memory, than he has in his entire life, perhaps. Not enough, is his first coherent thought as the haze of white clears from his mind, and it’s a terrible, gut-wrenching thing to think.

Napoleon stays where he is, mouth soft and almost unbearably gentle against Illya’s skin, lips pressing slow, idle kisses to his spent flesh, tongue tracing lazily. It’s very suddenly too much sensation to endure, and breath hisses through Illya’s teeth as he winces, squirms away and up the bed. “Solo,” he murmurs, holding out a tremulous hand. “Come here.”

Tentatively, Napoleon does. Rises unsteadily and clambers onto the bed beside Illya on his knees, hair a mess, clothes still on but in disarray. Illya looks at him, takes the whole picture in now that he’s allowed to look. His unbuttoned shirts in a pathetic tangle off his shoulders, spots of bright, hectic color in his cheeks, pupils dilated, mouth swollen from sucking, from teeth. Illya stares unguardedly for a few pointed seconds, then breaks out in broken, breathy laughter without meaning to.

“That good?” Napoleon says, like he’s trying to sound his usual smug self, and failing. His voice cracks, snags in his throat and he coughs, hoarse from the way Illya fucked his mouth, and the memory of that so raw and fresh and close stuns them both to silence.

“Yes,” Illya manages to say then, very quietly. Then, after swallowing, “You’re real.”

It feels like an epiphany, hanging in the air between them, and Napoleon blinks, looking kind of stunned. “Mmhm. At least I think so,” he says. He shifts close enough his chest presses into Illya’s forearm, and even that contact, a simple brush of skin and hair and sweat, renders an involuntary, cut-off sound from him. Illya wants to hear it again; he wants to memorize it. He wants every single thing.

Because it seems like Napoleon is waiting for something, some cosmic end, some display of terror or disgust or regret, Illya reaches out, and cups the side of his face. His skin is hot and damp and he thumbs into the flush of it, licking his lips. “Can I touch you?”

Napoleon flicks his gaze down, lashes creating a half-moon of darkness against the cut of his cheekbone. “Give me your hand,” he says, lacing his fingers through Illya’s and bringing them to the hem of his pants, which he unbuttons deftly with his other hand. “Feel what you do to me.”

Illya has never touched a man like this before. It feels strange and surreal and hot and perfect, warm skin stretched taut over hard planes of muscle, curls of dark hair against his fingertips as he fumbles into the humidity of Napoleon’s trousers. He stops when he feels slickness. A messy smear of come all over the inside of Napoleon’s clothes, hot and wet and it sends knives twisting into his guts, as terrible and profound as hearing Napoleon say his first name, as raw, as filthy. He bites his lower lip, shuddering with a sharp intake of breath. “You...when?”

“When I was sucking your cock,” Napoleon murmurs, covering the back of Illya’s hand with his own palm, cringing and hissing as he drags his fingers through the slickness, making him smear it up into the hollow of his hip. “I ground myself against the carpet. Didn’t last as long as you did, even. You...” He stops again, teeth cutting into his lip for a moment before he inhales, long and slow and ragged, forehead dropping to Illya’s shoulder. “Fuck,” he says quietly.

Illya stares as the semi-translucent trail of white glistening on Napoleon’s skin, the shine of it on his fingers. The room smells salty and musky with sex; his own sweat and sharp and nervy and there Napoleon is, face buried in it, breathing wet and heavy and scared against him. He can hear their dual heartbeats, not quiet in tandem, but almost. “Worth it?” he manages to ask, dropping his lips to Napoleon’s hair and inhaling, stomach flipping over because what if the answer is no, what if this is the thing that breaks whatever thin, tenuous strands of trust are stretched thin between them?

Napoleon laughs, teeth scraping against Illya’s skin. “I don’t know yet,” he mumbles. “Depends on you.”

Illya kisses Napoleon’s temple, and feels his breath stop short, his muscles flicker and tense like he is surprised it doesn’t hurt.

Chapter Text

They lie together, skin cooling, breath catching. Illya can feel the warm, sticky press of Napoleon’s skin against him where they’re still touching. Crossed ankles, shoulders, the length Napoleon’s forearm brushing his own ribcage where he is still fevered and heaving. He wants very badly to prop himself up onto his elbow and bear down upon Napoleon, trace the lines of his pectoral muscles, find all his old knife-scars or bullet-grazes and learn the shape and texture of them beneath his lips. He wants to hold Napoleon’s jaw steady and kiss him deep, he wants to suck on his tongue, crush the breath out of him until he’s panting again, until he’s begging.

Instead, he lies on the rumpled sheets of Napoleon’s hotel bed, and waits for something. A question, a confession, an explanation, an apology. Anything. Illya imagines what Napoleon must be thinking now, beside him, eyes shut and a crease through his brow. Napoleon who has laid with men before only to be abandoned, Napoleon with his mask, facets of his face hidden like gem inlaid into a ring’s moorings, one side always concealed, always rooted to something solid, something safe. But Illya has seen him undone; he’s seen the things Napoleon tries in vain to keep forever hidden. The parts that bleed, old knife scars, bullet-grazes. He waits, staring at the ceiling, for what feels like a very long time.

It must not be very long, because eventually Napoleon sighs deeply, and rolls away from him, standing. “I have to shower this off,” he mumbles, gesturing to his abdominals, where his come is now crusted to the dark hair beneath his navel. He shucks his pants off, watching Illya all the while, a curious prudence drawing his features tight and guarded. He smiles a strange smile. “You’re still here.”

Illya lets his gaze rove over Napoleon’s body. The broad stretch of his shoulders as they cut down into a narrow waist, all the hard planes of muscle dusted in dark hair, his skin pale and flushed pink in the light from the bedside lamp. Napoleon lets him look. “I could leave,” Illya murmurs, eyes still climbing up Napoleon’s spine, the ripple of tendons in his throat as he swallows. “If you wanted me to.”

“Peril,” he answers, sounding tired. There’s a peculiar softness to his voice, one Illya has heard very few times, something raw and inflamed like the skin beneath a newly picked scab. It’s the way Napoleon spoke to him about art that night they laid side by side, listening to the mosquitos sing in Argentina. It’s the way he spoke to that stray dog, the way he once told Illya you’re a piece of work. “You know I don’t want you to leave,” he adds, and there is an unspoken but I know you will tacked onto the end of it. Something fierce and wild spikes in Illya’s chest, a desperation to crack through the ice and the barrier of bone so that he can wheedle the shrapnel from flesh himself, so he can suck the lymph from the wound. He wants Napoleon to hear him, to listen. He wishes he knew how to speak better; he wishes every word didn’t feel stuck in his throat, lodged into a snow-bank of terror, of silence.

Illya sits up, starts to tuck himself into his pants before he thinks better of it and instead kicks out of them. He stands, nude and still shining in a cooling layer of sweat, and walks into Napoleon, who does not back down. Even as their chests brush, even as their breath mingles and Napoleon’s eyes grow hazy and dilated, fixed upon Illya’s mouth. They stand, like two men poised to fight. “Have you ever been in love?” Illya asks. “You asked me last night, I did not ask you.”

Napoleon is visibly stunned. He was clearly expecting something different; he was expecting a question, a confession, an explanation, an apology. Anything but this, Illya can see it hit him in the gut; he can see it flay him open. And there is his answer, right there, something he has known at least subconsciously about himself since Italy, since Brighton, if he’s honest. “Illya,” Napoleon says, that unbearable word flickering in his throat and Illya can’t hear it without touching, without breaking. He grabs Napoleon by the forearms and slams him hard into the wall beside the bathroom door, watching his head crack against its frame. He forces Napoleon’s hands above his head, holds both his wrists bound in one fist as he fits his other palm over the frantic, longing thud of Napoleon’s heart.

He’s moved by Napoleon’s willingness, how easily this man, this killer, lets him put him where he wants him, lets him touch him how he wants to. “Have you?” he breathes, lips moving against Napoleon’s.

“Did you lie to me when you answered?” Napoleon whispers. “Illya, if you--”

Illya kisses him silent; he can’t hear his name in Napoleon’s voice and sustain distance, he can’t pretend that there is anything else on this earth he wants to do save for kissing Napoleon Solo. Napoleon buckles and opens up under him, all groans and spit and want and there are a few moments of blind, searing heat between them before Napoleon bites into Illya’s lower lip so hard he tastes blood, cries out ragged and broken. They fall apart. Napoleon shoves out from under Illya, twists his hands out of his grip in favor of grabbing him by the throat, hard.

Suddenly, it is a fight. They grapple and struggle and before Illya can deflect it, Napoleon has him in a headlock, the length of his body hard and hot behind him, his face pressed hard into the bedroom wall. “You are so fucking impossible,” He grinds out, choking the air out of Illya, jamming a knee hard into the back of his thigh. “Don’t do this to me. Don’t do this if you’re not going to do it, don’t act like-- ” his voice gives in, collapses into a low hum and he jerks his hips against Illya’s the cleft of Illya’s ass, pinning him against the wall. The hot line of his erection is pressing into him, hot and throbbing and Illya smears a mouthful of blood against the wall paper, shifts so Napoleon fits more closely against him, rending him apart, splitting him. He groans, drooling thick, frothing spit onto Napoleon’s forearm, half-hard between his tense thighs.

Napoleon’s breath is all over his ear, low and labored and confused. They stand like that for a moment, locked together and grinding messily against the wall, blood on Illya’s teeth, vision whiting out in hazy white flickers as he loses air. Finally, Napoleon slackens his grip, opens his mouth along the line of Illya’s jaw, panting so hard it almost sounds like sobbing.

“You don’t have to fight to keep me here,” Illya wheezes, turning his head in the millimeter of space Napoleon allows him, tongue metallic with copper as he wets his lips.

Napoleon lets him go, and before Illya can spit out his mouthful of saliva-diluted blood, they’re kissing again. “Fuck, fuck,” Napoleon says between wet, bruising drags of his mouth. “Yes, yes, I’ve been in love. Yes it’s you, that what you wanted to hear?” He spits out. “Is that what you wanted? Or are you going to run now?”

Illya’s heart stops, and he can’t do anything but press his face into the junction of Napoleon’s neck and shoulder and breathe in. His mouth is open, tongue lashing mindlessly for a moment before sucks a spot of color there, heart pounding against Napoleon’s chest. Then Napoleon makes a fist in his hair and pulls him back so he can look at him, eyes blown wide, lips ruined. “It is what I wanted to hear,” Illya murmurs. And it’s the truth. I love you too. I don’t know how it happened; there shouldn’t be room for it, but here it is. And I have never been in love before, I hardly know what it is, but I know. I know now. He thinks, but before he can confess anything more, Napoleon is crushing their lips together again, Napoleon is pulling him back down to the bed.

Everything tastes of copper; his mouth stings and his throat aches but Illya, at least, knows with certainty that this is worth it. Whatever scars may come, whatever glass shards may imbed themselves in his palms. The vine tightens, the thorns snag, but at least Napoleon’s hands are there to collect the blood.

---

At some point, Napoleon reaches for the light and shuts it off. It hurts to much to see you, he says. Illya does not know how to respond, so he doesn’t. Now he lies in darkness, curled up against Napoleon’s back, arm draped across his ribcage to keep him close. Their fingers are interlaced, and it feels more like they are forming a fist together than it feels like holding hands. But still, it is something. Some brand of tenderness, forged here in the dark.

Illya’s skin is so sensitive it hurts. He feels wrung out from having come twice in the course of an hour, something he has not done since he was a boy. Everything about this seems impossible: the thud of Napoleon’s heartbeat beneath their joined hands, how deceitfully easy it is to touch like this, when there is no light and much shadow. Illya thinks of cubism again, hidden sides and bodies and folds. He thinks of the way Napoleon’s cock felt in his hand only minutes prior, the steel-hard heat of it, raw and real and terrifying and life changing. He thinks about how everything has changed between them, and how at the same time, nothing has. He was lost to this a long time ago, back in Rome on their first mission together, when he was willing to defy orders, to defy years of formerly unshakable loyalty if it meant he did not have to kill Napoleon Solo. His heartbeat beneath his fingers does not seem so different a thing.

“I’ve wondered about this for a long time. Tried not to think about it, tried not to imagine, but I did anyway. I always do,” Napoleon murmurs in the dark.

“Wondered about what?” Illya asks, although he knows.

“What it would feel like to be with you,” Napoleon says. He pauses and allows it to hang in the air, suspended between them before he eventually adds, “I never thought it would be like this. Had it all wrong.” His voice soft around the edges, like melting ice held too tightly in a warm palm. He slurs his words, and Illya is so very in love with him in this moment it hurts to breathe.

“How did you imagine it?” He asks, breath ghosting across the back of Napoleon’s neck. “Not so good?”

Napoleon laughs, and it rumbles against Illya’s chest. “No, I always knew it would be good. I just thought you’d be...I dunno. That it would be like we were on the wall, one of us bleeding, the other close to it. Thought you’d have some crisis in the middle of it, snap my neck halfway through. Thought it would be a fight.”

“You’re the one who is making it a fight,” Illya reminds him. “Not me.”

Napoleon shrugs in the cage of his arm. “It’s something people like me have to do. Hurt before we get hurt. I’ve had men make me come, then try to kill me. And none of them were former KGB.” Illya frees his hand so that he can card it through Napoleon’s hair as he talks, so that he can trace the bones in his face, all the angles and shadows half-hidden in dark. Napoleon grabs his wrist, stills his hand to he can tilt into it. “See, like this. Never thought you’d touch me like this, didn’t think you could be sweet. Thought it would be all fists and bruises.”

“Are you disappointed?” Illya asks, thumbing hard into Illya’s pulse so he can feel the blood quicken under the pressure. “Would you rather I fight you?”

Napoleon looks at him like he’s crazy, and then his mouth breaks into a crooked smile. “No. Not disappointed. Just quite surprised. Floored might be the word, actually.” He raises tentative fingers and gingerly touches the wound on Illya’s lower lip, the one from his own teeth. “Sorry,” he murmurs. Another thing which seems impossible, fragile and new and alive only because it is dark.

Illya shakes his head, smiles a very small smile. “You don’t need to be.” I want you to break the skin, he thinks. I want proof you’ve touched me. I want scars of this just like I have scars from every single thing that hurt but did not kill me. Want to be covered in you. He cannot make himself say these things; they will choke him and he knows this, so instead he just swallows, and forces out a truth that will not get stuck. “Last night, when you asked me about love.”

Napoleon gets very still, lips forming a flat line, which Illya bends to kiss. He pulls away enough he can whisper, close enough their lips are still touching, brushing together like something secret, something accidental. “I have never been in love before you,” he murmurs, eyes shut. Napoleon says nothing, just lets out a long, ragged breath, which Illya instinctually inhales, wanting all he can get of Napoleon inside him. “Is it too much? Does that scare you?”

Napoleon laughs a raw scrape of a laugh, hands trembling all over Illya’s back. “Nothing you could say or do is too much. Now tell me, is that too much? If someone told me that after we’d only fucked three time and they’d nearly choked me to death halfway through one of them, It would be far, far too much. I’d be packing my bags. I’d be booking a flight to Morocco.”

Illya shakes his head. “It’s not,” he says.

Napoleon sucks in a nervous, stuttering breath, eyes flashes of reflective blue in the night. “This is still a terrible idea, Peril. It’s stupid and reckless and you are exactly the type of person I swore I’d never get close to, never again.”

“But here you are,” Illya reminds him.

“Dignity and self-preservation have never ranked highly on my list of virtues,” he mumbles, lips all over Illya’s jaw, fingers curling in his hair. “I’m very good in bed, though. I’m very good at throwing myself headlong into the types of situations which will likely end up killing me.”

“It’s why you’re a terrible spy, cowboy,” Illya says, suddenly completely helpless, completely unable to keep from smiling stupidly, childishly. Dignity and self-preservation have been strengths of his in the past, or perhaps weaknesses. Limitations, keeping him from feeling anything, from breaking free of the suffocating crawl of ice, of glass. He kisses Napoleon Solo, and wonders for the first time if this is such a terrible idea, or if it’s actually some type of cosmic balance they’re fated to find in one another. They break apart to breathe, and again, Illya asks, “worth it?”

And this time, Napoleon sighs, tilts his head back to that the sliver of moonlight leaking in from the balcony window catches along his profile, a beautiful, jagged, unmasked thing in the night. “Yes,” he says then. “I suppose so.”