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The first time it comes up, Napoleon says, “You like it when I fuck you rough, don’t you?” He says it with the same gravity with which he talks about everything, which is the same gravity with which he talks about the weather. The way he talks always leaves Illya reeling. He doesn’t know what to think, and has to spend so much time figuring out if Napoleon is talking about something as simple as the weather or if there are many deep layers to his words.

“What?” Illya grunts noncommittally, looking up from his chessboard. Napoleon is standing in front of the nearby mirror, loosening his tie. He is always getting dressed, or getting undressed, stripping layers or putting them back on, for no reason. It is a frustrating trick he does to force Illya to be constantly aware of exactly how many pieces of clothing Napoleon is wearing at any moment. Illya looks back to his game so that he doesn’t do something rash and reward Napoleon for his manipulative tricks.

“When I fold you up under me and fuck your asshole with my fat, hard cock, like I did last night,” Napoleon starts, sounding still as though he’s talking about whether it looks like rain. The casual tone brings to Illya’s eyes the kind of blinding, frustrated, red fury that makes him want to strip every stitch of clothing off Napoleon’s body and pin him to the bed and reward him for his manipulative tricks. He clenches his teeth, and his fist where it rests on his knee, as Napoleon finishes his sentence. “You like it when I make it hurt.”

Illya stares at the board a while, realizing that he has no response to that. He might not even understand what Napoleon means, and that idea makes his neck feel too warm in his sweater.

His urge is to retort that it doesn’t hurt, but that would be a lie. It hasn’t occurred to him that Napoleon is particularly rough or gentle with him. He has been assuming that Napoleon just does what he does. It hurts, but Illya has never isolated the pain from the experience—the very pleasurable experience.

Illya was never expecting it to be such a pleasurable experience as it turned out to be. The first time Napoleon asked him for that, he agreed with hesitation, knowing that it would hurt. It wasn’t that he was afraid of being hurt, or afraid of how much it would hurt; it was just that everything else with Napoleon’s body felt so incredibly good, and he liked it that way, and didn’t want to lose the sudden, crazed magic of Napoleon’s every touch lighting him up. He wanted to keep feeling good, and he wanted Napoleon to keep feeling good, and he couldn’t imagine Napoleon feeling good being inside that dirty place. But Napoleon convinced him that he didn’t want it just for the sake of it, assured him that it would feel just as good to be inside of Illya as it did for Illya to be inside of Napoleon, and even promised that it would feel good for Illya too, and as he lay Illya facedown across the mattress and stretched him open with long and clever fingers, Illya discovered that Napoleon was right.

That first night, it hurt to have Napoleon filling him so tight, to feel as though his skin was fissuring under each impact of Napoleon’s thrusts, but it also felt so good it was easy to forget the pain and come onto the sheets with Napoleon still hard and stretching him open from the inside.

And it has only gotten easier since then. It has been some time since Illya was even distracted enough by the pain to even spare a thought to it.

Illya looks up to watch Napoleon putting on a new tie. “That is you trying to make me hurt?” Illya asks, hoping to shield his genuine uncertain curiosity with a jab at Napoleon’s prowess. The way Napoleon’s eyes flicker immediately to his in the mirror, however, hot and wide like a freshly lit flame, makes Illya wonder if Napoleon heard neither of those things, and picked up on something else entirely.

Their gazes rift apart again as Napoleon straightens his tie, his adam’s apple bobbing conspicuously. Before either of them can speak again, Gaby knocks on the door. Napoleon, tucking the end of his tie into his waistcoat, walks over to let her in, while Illya glares at his chess game, feeling puzzled.

 

Over the next days, Illya thinks about what Napoleon said. He rolls the words around on his tongue like something he’s trying to analyze the flavor of. After forty-eight hours of breaking into private Havana homes, nursing an ungrateful Gaby through a sprained ankle, and getting a few scattered hours of sleep in the cabin of their inconspicuous speedboat, he has thought about it enough to bring it up in the next moment he has alone with Napoleon.

Illya doesn’t know Spanish, so he’s hovering over Napoleon’s shoulder as he rifles in the dark through a file cabinet full of papers. There is no one in the house, so Illya has little to be aware of, aside from Gaby’s presence in the library two floors down and also on the communication line. Bored and ready to be done with the whole affair, Illya leans in toward Napoleon and puts his lips to his ear so that Gaby doesn’t have to hear. “You say I like you fucking me rough. Well, I think, you can fuck me very rough, if you want,” he whispers, watching Napoleon’s fingers clutch the piece of paper in his hand into a disastrous crinkle.

In the morning, Gaby wakes Illya to tell him, with a soft, understanding smile, that she is going to get a final taste of Cuban plantains before they were due to leave, and to ask if he wants anything from the market. As soon as she leaves, Illya rolls out of his tiny cot and drowsily crawls over to Napoleon’s. He drags Napoleon onto the cramped cabin floor and kisses him awake. Napoleon takes a moment to orient himself, and Illya watches with apprehension as his eyes flash open in the instant he remembers what Illya said the night before.

In the weak morning light coming through the cabin window, Napoleon fucks Illya in what he must esteem to be a rough fashion.

To Illya, it just feels like a particularly breathtakingly good fashion.

 

They sail up to Florida to spend a week in Cape Canaveral for the next errand U.N.C.L.E. needs them to run. Gaby knows the details; all Illya knows by the eighth morning is that they are on some kind of diplomatic social call rather than a real mission, and that the space expert who’s supposed to meet them is running very late.

Napoleon is looking with distaste at the pale yellow orange juice that was recently served to him by the waitress at the restaurant they were waiting in. “It seems the rumor I’ve heard about Florida oranges being the best never made it to this hole in the wall,” he says, grimacing as he takes a sip.

Illya helps himself to a taste as well, but hardly pays attention. He is impatient, bouncing his heel up and down as he does only when he can think of at least thirty things that would be better worth his time. His eyes wander around the restaurant aimlessly, until they land on Napoleon, who smirks at him from behind his orange juice glass and lowers his eyelashes. Napoleon had been under him in his own hotel bed only hours ago; that is indeed one of the more than thirty things that would be a better use of Illya’s time right now. He smiles back, and feels comparatively patient and content when Gaby suddenly stands and announces grumpily that she might as well go wash up since her makeup is likely to melt off her face by the time Dr. Williams shows up.

When Illya turns back from watching her leave, Napoleon is blatantly staring at him. Illya lifts an eyebrow in question, never sure whether Napoleon is imagining his naked body or laughing internally at a piece of food stuck between his teeth.

Napoleon conducts a shallow performance of mercy by lowering his gaze, but Illya knows he only does it when he’s certain that Illya will keep looking at him. It really isn’t mercy at all, just the relaxing of the line after the hook is deep in his jaw. “How did I get so lucky,” Napoleon says lowly, starting to shrug out of his suit jacket, “to have such a dirty little masochist in my bed.”

Illya stares dumbly across the rectangular table, his breath tight in his throat at the thought of Napoleon talking about this in public, even though he’s not quite sure what he is saying. With his jacket off, Napoleon twists around to hang it, only to crinkle his brow at the fact that they are seated in a large booth, with no chair back to use as a prop. Looking dismayed, he folds his jacket and places it on the plastic seat next to him. Illya squirms in his own plastic seat, and says, “What?” even though he suspects it is a probably bad idea to ask for clarification in this public setting.

Napoleon looks delightedly up at him, which is a bad sign. Turning to his wrists to unfasten his cuffs, he tells Illya as though beginning a new line of conversation, “It’s a real treat that you’ve been letting me hurt you more lately. Biting harder, scratching deeper.” Illya watches his fastidious motions of folding up his sleeve in a sharp crease below his elbow, and then start on the other side, while his own mind circles in a very un-fastidious way. He feels his face flush to realize that this change stands out to Napoleon as something worthy of discussion. Illya has been greatly enjoying himself in the hours he spends in Napoleon’s hotel room, but to him, it has just seemed like good sex. Very good sex.

And if it feels like fighting sometimes, well that’s just because they’re both men and men have hard edges, and because they’ve been fighting since the day they met, in one way or another. It isn’t anything as special as Napoleon is making it out to be.

Straightening the tight roll of his sleeve with one hand, Napoleon beckons Illya forward with the flick of his unoccupied fingers. “Come here,” he says mildly.

Perhaps more than he should, Illya trusts Napoleon’s sense of discretion in any country, let alone the one he grew up in. Illya leans forward and rests his forearms on the table. Napoleon mirrors the movement, so that their faces are inches apart. He parts his lips before he speaks, and Illya looks at the late morning sun falling in shafts across the planes of his face and neck, and thinks of how easy it is to strip off Napoleon’s shirt when the cuffs are already undone like that. “I love watching your hard cock leak so wet when my nails break the skin of your back.”

This is something Illya could stomach, if Napoleon didn’t also slide his fingers over to grasp possessively at Illya’s wrist and press his thumb down hard on an old bruise.

But Napoleon does just that, and Illya feels a sharp spur of arousal drag down his body and flay him open.

He pulls away abruptly in alarm, and glares at Napoleon for doing this to him in a public place. He feels like one of the hundred girls he has witnessed Napoleon flirting with in the same fashion. He hates that he feels special for feeling like one of those hundred interchangeable girls.

Napoleon makes a carefree gesture to accompany his self-satisfied smile, and picks up his glass of orange juice again.

Illya stares at the table’s surface and tries not to think about Napoleon’s hand on him, Napoleon dragging him down with his claws, Napoleon wearing clothes that are a thirty-second barrier between Illya and his bare skin.

 

Strewn across a bed on the other side of the world, Illya watches Napoleon shower without the curtain drawn on the other side of the hotel room. While Napoleon is rinsing his hair, Illya shifts over mere centimeters and bites down on an imprint Napoleon’s hard teeth made minutes ago, in the flesh of his bicep. Nothing happens. It stings, as any bite does. It does not excite him. He releases the bite and relaxes against the bed.

Napoleon comes back to the bed still dripping water and fits his mouth over the same bright red mark and tells Illya that he’s edible. Illya surges into that, and wonders, not for the first time, if there are words in any language to describe the way he feels about Napoleon Solo.

 

“I’m losing my figure, sitting around on all these trains all the time,” Napoleon announces, on a train from somewhere to somewhere else. Catching Illya’s eye, he complains, “I’ve probably already forgotten how to get a man in a chokehold. I’ll probably lose my left hook next. It’s a shame U.N.C.L.E. doesn’t ensure its agents get enough time for exercise.”

“Poor dear,” Gaby says facetiously.

From his window seat, Illya smirks up at Napoleon, who is leaning on the back of Gaby’s aisle seat and looking wicked. Illya understands where this conversation is heading, and plays along. “It is possible to exercise on a train, Cowboy.” Napoleon’s mouth softens and tightens at the same time as he strokes his fingers up and down the glass of liquor he brought from the dining car.

“Oh, it’s useless. No number of hurried push-ups in a borrowed sleeping compartment is going to correct the fact that I couldn’t even spar someone right now, let alone fight.”

Illya straightens in his seat, taking the bait and chewing on it savoringly. “Why not?”

“Oh please, Illya, don’t fall for that again,” Gaby says, turning to him imploringly, looking like a child pleading to be done with studying and go outside to play. Illya is startled that Gaby is inserting herself into the conversation, at least in part because he has a new tendency to forget who is in the room when Napoleon’s sparkling blue eyes are on him. “Can’t you tell he’s trying to goad you into challenging him to spar because he knows that if he asked you directly, you would stubbornly refuse?”

Illya backs up against the train window away from Gaby’s intense dark eyes. He glances up at Napoleon, who offers him no help at all. “I would not be stubborn,” he protests.

Gaby makes an exasperated sound and continues. “It’s the same game, over and over again. He knows you’ll resist anything he asks you to do, so he finds a roundabout way to get you to ask for it yourself. He does it all the time. He did it when we ordered coffee this morning. It’s pathetic, Illya,” she explains, turning back to the magazine in her lap and refusing to look at either of them.

Illya once again looks up for guidance; he is unsure whether Gaby is truly trying to protect him from being embarrassingly tricked into athletic activity, or whether she knows that they were not actually talking about sparring and is trying to protect herself from having to witness any further flirtation. Boys, it’s…fine. I don’t care what you do, as long as I don’t have to hear about it, or seeit, is her official policy on the subject. Illya had blushed, the one time she brought it up to them, feeling like a young pupil in a headmaster’s office for the entire ten seconds of the impromptu conversation, before she dropped the needle on the record she had just turned over.

Neither the playful twinkling nor the shameless, smug brightness that would give Illya an answer is present in Napoleon’s eyes. In fact, Napoleon is turned toward the aisle, smiling a smile Illya can tell he is trying to fight back as he sips it down with his whiskey.

 

They do, eventually, spar in someone’s unoccupied sleeping compartment. Illya pins Napoleon four times, and comes against Napoleon’s tongue. Napoleon remembers how to get a man in a chokehold, and returns Illya’s no-longer-clean handkerchief to the pocket he must have stolen it from.

 

There were instances in Illya’s past that he became aroused during a fight—especially sparring, or tussling, with other trainees. At the time, Illya had believed it was an effect of being pressed close against skin, when pressing close against skin was such a rare occurrence. Later, after Napoleon taught him at least one thing about himself, he started to wonder if was an effect of being pressed close against male bodies, but there is no reason for him to spend much time considering that possibility. Regardless, it does not seem likely that, as Napoleon seems to be pushing him to understand, it was the beating and hurting that had such an effect on Illya.

Also in his youth, Illya would sometimes lose himself when exercising—usually when he was exercising too much, to the point where it was breaking his body down rather than building it up. Sometimes it would happen when he stretched a muscle too far, and kept stretching it.

Occasionally, with his hand on himself in the shower, the sensation of scalding water on his back helps him to get there, and he turns the heat up even higher before release.

Since those are the only examples Illya can gather of pain and sex being related, he is skeptical of Napoleon’s take on the situation. After all, Illya has been through torture and torture simulations that tested his pain tolerance, and he certainly never responded to those the way that he responds to Napoleon’s touch.

 

“I have been thinking,” Illya tells Napoleon in the next bed they share.

Napoleon has Illya’s arm spread out across his chest so that he can play with Illya’s watch, slipping it on and off. Illya can feel the breaths that haven’t quite calmed and the heartbeats that still haven’t slowed against the pulse in his own wrist. “And here I was, thinking I was doing a good job of keeping you occupied.”

“What if I like you hurting me because it means I am not hurting you?” Illya says, keeping his face pressed to Napoleon’s shoulder and his gaze on their entwined hands, nervous to admit that Napoleon’s well-being is so fiercely important to him, after months of it going unspoken.

Napoleon’s deft fingers go completely still and press Illya’s palm down so it scratches against the dark hair on his chest. Illya feels panicked and trapped, not ready for Napoleon’s very serious response to this inquiry.

But there is laughter in Napoleon’s voice when he responds. “Is that how you feel about the girls you fuck, Illya?” Illya realizes that the firm hold on his hand is pitying, and he lifts his gaze to see Napoleon’s alarmingly pleased and amused expression. “When they lightly scratch your shoulders with their manicures, when stilettos dig into your back? You’re making reparations, for being so huge you could split them in half?”

Illya feels himself blushing madly, and glares to make up for it; he does not like it when Napoleon brings up the subject of women. Each time, it makes him realize just how long it has been since he has been with a woman, or even how long it has been since he has thought about being with a woman. It makes him feel lost, to realize that he is so content with Napoleon’s company while Napoleon finds time for the occasional lady. It makes him feel guilty, to know that Napoleon trusts Illya to be still interested in the company of people outside of their professional trio.

Suddenly, Napoleon curls forward to kiss Illya’s mouth. “You are precious,” he sighs, and fits their lips together again.

Illya melts against him, overwhelmingly content.

 

Illya is not used to having things that make him happy. Enjoyment of life is something he always imagined belonging to decadent, hedonistic, self-serving Westerners with no respect for duty or family or the simple pleasures of playing out one’s role in society.

He never could have expected that one of those decadent, hedonistic, self-serving Westerners with no respect for duty or family or the simple pleasures of playing out one’s role in society would be the thing that would make him happy.

Illya knows that it’s more complicated than that. In fact, he has depended on the fact that it is more complicated. Gaby makes him happy, the three of them working together makes him happy, the loyalty he is able to fulfill to them and be reward for makes him happy, and working for an organization that requires him to kill fewer people makes him happy.

But what began as the acceptable infiltration of Napoleon into his bed—as they worked through different facets of their antagonism, and as Illya was gradually introduced to Western practices that he knew little about—has become Illya’s favorite thing about life. And Illya has never before had a favorite thing about life. He has heard about capitalist propaganda that depicts people like him: people who have nothing and are unhappy, but then suddenly have everything, and learn to enjoy life. It is an uneasy thing, to relate to propaganda. He feels very foolish, and uncertain.

But also, happy.

 

Illya can’t stop grinding down against the silky hard heat of Napoleon’s cock. He tightens his spit-wet hand around them both and fucks into the sweet drag of it, and positions his knee further up on the bed for a better angle, and groans at how perfect Napoleon looks: rucked-up hair, the wreck of black lashes kissing his cheek, the flush on his face that makes the rest of his skin look so pale, the sweaty hollow at the base of his throat that flickers frantically under his panting breaths—the supple curve of his sculpted lips as he blindly leans in to wrap his mouth around the open knife wound stretched across the inside curve of Illya’s shoulder.

Illya’s hips stutter as he watches Napoleon do it, and come back to life the instant Napoleon bites down and sucks hard at the torn flesh. It is a long gash, but not deep enough to have warranted stitches when they returned from their mission. It hasn’t even hurt much until this moment, with Napoleon’s brow knitted in hungry dedication to deepening the wound with his sucking mouth.

There is blood seeping out from the corner of Napoleon’s lips, and Illya cries out wordlessly when he sees it, stunned and so suddenly close to coming as he was the first time Napoleon put his mouth on Illya’s cock, on his ass, doesn’t he think that’s dirty?

Napoleon groans as Illya comes, and it pushes shards of vibration up through his exposed capillaries and makes him sigh out Napoleon’s name.

Minutes later, sitting on the bed while Napoleon kneels on the floor to re-clean his wound, Illya struggles with how to bring up the truth. It is humiliating enough to admit that the responses Napoleon believes to be specific to pain are actually just specific to Napoleon; admitting that is admitting how much Illya enjoys everything Napoleon does to him, how much power Napoleon holds over him.

But as long as he can admit this without explicitly saying I am just in love with you, he thinks the humiliation will be worth it.

When he says it, Napoleon pulls back and meets Illya’s eyes solemnly, as though he heard exactly that sentiment Illya didn’t want him to hear.

He visibly tucks away the look though, saving Illya’s vulnerability for later like the magpie he is. Illya swallows gratefully as Napoleon’s face lights up. “No no no, Illya,” he says, sounding like it’s a matter of life and death that he communicates this. He pulls the alcohol-soaked rag away from where it pressed into Illya’s shoulder, and gestures excitedly with it. “If you bit me on my open, bleeding wound when I was about to come, it would pull me back from the brink. Not send me over it.”

Illya thinks about that while tasting Napoleon’s breaths on his lips. Napoleon finally looks away and reaches for a bandage. Illya smiles. “But you are ok when I bite your skin when it is not a wound. Less pain that way. I am just stronger than you, I can take more,” he says, pleased to take the opening Napoleon left him. Such openings are becoming more and more uncommon the better they get to know one another, and the more Illya finds himself paying more attention to the suggestion in Napoleon’s eyes than the challenges in his words.

Napoleon looks up at him coyly while opening the bandage with his teeth. “Maybe,” he says when he’s done, and presses his lips together firmly to iron out the wrinkle of his smile.

It’s the shortest sentence Illya has heard from in a long time. Seeing all the unspoken retorts and checked amusement in the tense lines of Napoleon’s face and neck, Illya feels happy, and like he wants Napoleon to know all of his secrets without words.

 

The next evening, Napoleon is gone and Gaby drags Illya out into the Athenian streets, encouraging him to spend money on things he does not know how to spend money on. It is an exciting game, being pressured to indulge himself by people who have his best interest in mind. They have been in this city for three days doing nothing yet but a single back-up operation, and Illya has not grown bored of eating Greek food, walking aimlessly, and sleeping with Napoleon’s naked body pressed against him every night.

As the sky darkens to midnight-blue, Gaby stands outside a night club oozing percussive music out into the street, and tries to convince Illya to come in with her. It does not sound like an enjoyable form of indulgence, to him. Watching her enter through its smoky doorway, he considers going with her just to make sure nothing happens to her, but he has been trying to let go of that urge, in light of her undeniable ability to take care of herself. Besides, he imagines Napoleon is back at the hotel by now, and he loves the sounds Napoleon lets himself make when the adjacent room is empty.

But Napoleon’s room is also empty.

His absence should not mean anything to Illya. After all, he has had three nights of nothing but Napoleon, which means that Napoleon has had three nights of nothing but him. He can imagine it being natural for an American to want something, someone, different after three nights.

Still, he regrets not going with Gaby when each passing hour floods his mind with more fruitless questions, which all rise up in the wake of remembering his conversation with Napoleon the night before.

Does Napoleon so badly want him to enjoy pain that he will get bored if Illya doesn’t?

Could Illya’s potential enjoyment of pain really be that attractive to Napoleon? Is that something that people can find attractive?

Does Illya enjoy pain?

Does he enjoy pain because Napoleon wanted it that way?

Could he be so pitifully needy for Napoleon’s attention that he wants to do whatever will bring Napoleon back to his bed? If Napoleon told him that he enjoyed pain, would Illya start hurting him, just to keep being the thing that Napoleon enjoyed most?

Is he even the thing that Napoleon enjoys most?

Illya does push-ups until he bleeds through his bandage and loses sensation in his muscles and his erection brushes the floor on each low sweep, and he comes grinding against the carpet with his face pressed and gasping against the spot where Napoleon had made him spill that morning.

 

“We are in Athens,” Napoleon replies when Gaby asks where he was the night prior. “I couldn’t resist helping myself to a handful of ancient masterpieces.” Illya has his eyes on the street, but looks over for a second to see Napoleon’s eyebrow quirk during his all too audible pause. “And maybe one or two modern ones.” Illya’s stomach coils in pain as he turns back to the poorly lit street.

Gaby leans back on the door Napoleon is working open. “You’d better not be stealing from—or upsetting—anyone important, Solo, or we’ll have an extra sarcastic Waverly to answer to.”

“Oh, what kind of U.N.C.L.E. agent would I be if I didn’t put everything right back where I found it?” Napoleon says innocently. Less innocently, he adds, “Some of them in much better condition, you might even say.”

The tips of Illya’s ears are burning. He has felt embarrassment before when Napoleon speaks so suggestively in front of Gaby, when he knows that he is the person Napoleon is talking about, when he worries that Gaby might know whom he is talking about. He has heard his own body anonymously described, his own stamina alluded to, in conversation with Gaby on occasions that made his stomach flutter: that peculiar rush riding the line between pride and embarrassment. Maybe she could tell it was his mark Napoleon was making such an innocent display of by bringing his hands repeatedly to his collar for no reason. Maybe she could tell Napoleon’s complaints of his tender backside correlated with the noises coming from Illya’s room the night before. Or, maybe she did not assume such things, and the sparkle in Napoleon’s eye was just a private thing, for him.

This feeling is different from that pride-embarrassment. This is a complicated shame: Gaby knows that Illya was alone last night. She knows that whoever Napoleon is bragging about is not him. She may even know that Illya wishes it was him; she is a pretty good spy, after all, and spies read hearts instead of stealing them.

“Funny,” Illya says, still facing the empty night, “I thought you enjoy leaving things in damaged, hurt condition.”

“Only the real masterpieces, Peril,” Napoleon replies just as the door clicks softly open. “I’m only a vandal for the irreplaceable.”

With that, Gaby and Napoleon are off into the depths of the building, leaving Illya to try to figure out what that means.

He can’t, so his mind drifts and sticks to the possibility that neither Napoleon nor Gaby was aware of Illya’s humiliation. Perhaps neither of them knows that Illya is invested in what Napoleon does with his spare time.

It’s like having two little brothers, Gaby expressed once.

Brothers—is that what he and Napoleon are supposed to be? Illya does not know what to think of their friendship. They have been enemies, partners, and rivals. They have been at each other’s throats to kill, for pleasure, and for work. They have shared lies, secrets, and everything in between. They are more familiar and intimate than Illya has ever been with anyone else. But does this make them friends? Brothers? Partners? Lovers?

If Napoleon was a woman, Illya would know what to expect. He would tell her he was in love with her, devote himself to her, probably ask her to be his and his alone, and certainly be jealous of her other lovers.

But Napoleon is not a woman, and Illya does not know what to do. Sex between men was something Illya thought was merely a joke before he met Napoleon, who made it seem like something easy and natural. Napoleon has told him stories of nights in the army, exchanging favors with boys who fought for their lives by his side in the daylight. Illya wonders often if that is what he and Napoleon are: soldiers who save each other’s lives and also take comfort in one another sometimes.

He doubts that any of Napoleon’s soldiers got jealous when he spent the night with someone else. Napoleon would certainly have laughed if one of them had asked him to choose to skip an opportunity to sleep with a beautiful woman.

“We’ve got it, Peril,” says Napoleon, coming back through the door with Gaby, who is carrying a briefcase they didn’t have when they entered.

Illya meets his wide blue eyes and thinks that anyone else who was made so very happy by so beautiful a man as Napoleon Solo would probably fall in love with him, too.

As planned, Illya takes the empty briefcase, while Napoleon keeps the intelligence that used to be in the briefcase tucked inside his jacket. They part ways, and the person who has been tailing them all night follows Illya, while his partners go back to their hotel undetected.

Illya walks, and the person in the dark follows. Illya walks, and walks, and walks. It starts to rain. He walks some more.

 

“I told you to wear a coat, you stubborn Russian…Russian,” is what Illya thinks Napoleon says. It doesn’t quite sound like Napoleon. His words are rushed. Or Illya’s hearing is fuzzy. He’s not sure.

“I put briefcase down and then turned…three lefts, lost him,” Illya says through chattering teeth.

Gaby’s voice, somewhere in front of them—driving the car: “Yes, you’ve said that. Three times.”

“The plan was that you would put briefcase down and then turn three lefts, lose him after a couple of miles. Not after four hours,” Napoleon says, and Illya’s hearing is fuzzy, but Napoleon’s words are also rushed.

“I was walking,” Illya explains.

Napoleon puts a finger on Illya’s brow and lifts it, forcing his eyelid open and making Illya realize that his eyes have been closed. “You were walking, and we were waiting at the car at the rendezvous point for four hours. And now you’re soaked to the bone and running a fever that could burn down Siberia,” he says, spreading his whole hand, instead of just his thumb, across Illya’s brow. Illya looks up at Napoleon’s frowning face, and thinks it’s unfair that Napoleon’s brow is so deeply furrowed, while Napoleon is holding his brow straight.

Illya tries to lift his hand to smooth out Napoleon’s brow and even the score, but his arm is strangely heavy, and also shaking uncontrollably. It doesn’t want to move. His eyelids don’t want to stay open either, so he lets them fall shut again.

“Honestly, Peril.” Napoleon shifts, making it suddenly apparent that they are both crammed in the backseat of a very small car, and that Illya is draped across as much of Napoleon’s lap as space will allow. “Who knew the giant who could take down a tank with his bare hands could be incapacitated by a little stroll in the rain.”

“You are not little,” Illya says, smiling even though he can’t remember what he means by that. He drifts off into barely conscious shivering while Napoleon’s hand slides from his forehead up into his dripping wet hair.

 

Heat hugs Illya’s skin as Napoleon pours another panful of boiling water into the tub. He sighs into it, feeling somewhat better than he was feeling an hour ago, when they arrived at this abandoned farmhouse. The aspirin from the medicine cabinet is sinking in, and the well water than Napoleon has been boiling on the stove is slowly melting the ice in Illya’s bones. He is beginning to come to his senses.

Napoleon kneels to slide his hand beneath the surface of the water, brushing his knuckles against Illya’s side, and Illya flinches away from the contact.

That makes Napoleon go still, which makes Illya feel some small satisfaction.

A moment passes, and Napoleon resumes swirling his hand around in the water, mixing the hot water into the rest. “Gaby went out in search of a phone to update headquarters,” he says casually, just barely low enough to be suggestive. Illya scowls, angry that Napoleon would assume that the only reason Illya would not want his touch is the fear of being walked in on.

More boldly now, Napoleon slides his palm atop Illya’s stomach. Illya shudders again and grunts involuntarily in pain, because it hurts. He closes his eyes and waits for Napoleon’s touch to go away.

It does, and Napoleon stands. “Ok,” he says, his dripping hand raining from above onto Illya’s chest. “I’m going to draw some more water.”

“Maybe you will also find someone else to hurt, in the well,” Illya pushes out through an extremely sore, swollen throat.

Napoleon pauses by the door. “Excuse me?”

Illya swallows painfully. “I would not want you to become bored, waiting for me to enjoy pain,” he says, knowing on some level that the intentional cruelty in his voice is unfair.

It is so rare to hear confusion in Napoleon’s voice, but Illya doesn’t feel as victorious as he would like to when he hears it: “You’re right, I’ll keep my eyes peeled for a more magnificent, sullen, Russian Adonis who can take a beating even when he’s running a fever.”

The next time Napoleon comes in with a new batch of hot water, they don’t speak until Illya says, “How many people did you sleep with the night before? Was it one or two?”

Napoleon sighs, and perches on the edge of the tub, peering at Illya like he’s searching for something that shines. “None,” he says, and Illya is surprised to find that he believes him. “Do you really think I sleep with someone every single time I suggest that I did? Because your tally is quite off, if that’s the case.”

Illya lowers himself so his mouth sinks beneath the surface of the water and his knees rise further above it. He doesn’t think Napoleon should see him smile.

“I’m curious, and an opportunist, if an interesting situation arises,” Napoleon says, looking off in some other direction. “But I hardly like people enough to seek out their company.”

Illya feels energized for the first time in hours. He knows these things about Napoleon, but feels somehow as though he’d forgotten them, and the revelation surges through him. He pushes his lips up above the water line and says, “You seek out my company.”

Napoleon smiles first, and then meets his eyes.

 

“Did I ever tell you about my childhood cat, Antoinette?” Napoleon asks a little later as he cooks some eggs Gaby brought back from the nearest town. Illya takes a sip of hot water from his tin cup and shakes his head, watching the muscles in Napoleon’s back move liquidly under his shirt and tight trousers as he shifts back and forth across the stove.

He then realizes that he is watching the muscles in Napoleon’s back, and therefore can’t see Napoleon’s face, which means that Napoleon can’t see him shake his head. “No, you did not,” he replies hoarsely.

Gesturing with a spatula, Napoleon tells him about his childhood cat. “The only woman to steal my heart, Antoinette. She had a mean temper, didn’t really like anybody, except yours truly. She had exceptional taste.

“She was slow to warm up to me, though. She was just a stray when I started feeding her. I fed that cat every day, and I pet her when she would let me. I eventually made a bed out of my own shirts for her, to encourage her to sleep in the house. That left only one shirt for me to wear to school every single day. I had to stop playing baseball after school, so that one shirt didn’t get dirty more often than I could wash it.”

Illya presses a smile to the rim of his cup; he likes this story.

“She was still rather indifferent towards me, despite my sacrifices. She let me pet her all right, but she went stiff when I tried to pick her up. It only made me want to win her over more, though. I loved that damned cat, and I wanted her to love me too.

“Then one morning, Antoinette was hit by the milk truck.” Here, Napoleon paused to sigh. “She survived, poor girl, but her leg was injured, and she was in a great deal of pain. I skipped school that day, in order to play nurse. I kept her curled up on my bed for days, petting her and bringing her food and water and cleaning up after her. And then, out of the blue, her growls of pain were replaced by purring. And the thing is, she slept in my bed every night after that, from the day her leg healed to the day she got hit by the milk truck a second, more fatal time. And that was how she won my heart, and I won hers. Do you want two or three of these?”

Illya grins at Napoleon, who is leaning over him with the frying pan and spatula in hand, offering to serve onto his plate. Illya holds up two fingers. As Napoleon serves him, he says, “So you go around breaking women’s legs in order to keep them in your bed.” He watches the blue in Napoleon’s eyes shifting like so much sky, and takes pleasure in imagining him as a young boy in a dirty shirt, being spurned by a small animal. He does not fully believe that the story is not completely invented, but the thought warms him either way.

“Now, Peril,” Napoleon says with false sternness, “I rather think you missed the moral of the entire story.”

“No,” Illya starts, sitting back and looking coyly up at him, “I did not.”

 

When Illya wakes next, it is dark outside the window. Napoleon is reading by lamplight, seated on top of the blankets near Illya’s head.

He sets his book down almost the instant that Illya opens his eyes, and slides down to lie on his side, offering a glass of water. Illya’s throat is still terribly sore, and he accepts it. He is not too sick to accept the view of Napoleon’s shirtless body stretched out before him as well.

Napoleon puts the glass away and brushes his knuckles gently across Illya’s forehead, his cheek, his neck, his shoulder. Illya’s skin is so sensitive that the brushes hurt, just as the cling of the blankets to his legs hurts. But Napoleon’s touch no longer burns him like traitorous hands, like hands that do not feel for him what he wants them to feel. He’s not entirely sure why, but that is the truth.

He allows Napoleon to cup his burning throat with his cool palm, and rolls over onto his stomach so that Napoleon can rub his aching lower back, and doesn’t mind the scrape too much when Napoleon lowers his coarsely haired chest down onto his own when he gets cold.

Even though he is almost certain he has figured it out, Illya asks, just to be absolutely clear, if Napoleon only likes touching him because he enjoys pain, if he would tire of Illya’s company if he didn’t enjoy pain.

Napoleon leans his head down and brushes his lips so soft against Illya’s, so soft that Illya’s not sure it isn’t just the touch of his breath. He kisses him again, and again, and the fourth is wet, and the fifth draws out Illya’s tongue, and every swallow stings and Illya can’t breathe through his nose, but he feels like Napoleon might lap delicately at his mouth like this forever, and Illya pulls away only to ask I am your best lover, yes?, to which Napoleon replies breathlessly, As long as you don’t count Antoinette, and Napoleon’s smirk tastes delicious when Illya kisses it off his face.

 

The trans-Atlantic flight back to New York is long, and every moment the stewardess is out of sight Napoleon spends gently brushing his thumb across the bones of Illya’s wrist. Illya is antsy from having been sick and unable to move much for two days. He could run fast for hours, if he were not inside a small airplane. Napoleon’s touch almost tickles, it is so light. He recalls a time not too long ago when Napoleon, in public such as this, touched his arm bruisingly hard. Illya could take so many bruises. He longs to be exhausted more deeply than the fatiguing aching of his skin.

With a smile, he turns his hand under Napoleon’s fingers, exposing his inner wrist, and makes a decision. He closes his eyes to sleep, sinking down in his seat as much as the confining space allows. Napoleon’s soft stroking against his offered skin continues.

 

When Napoleon calls from his apartment late the next day to ask how he is feeling, Illya invites himself over for dinner. When Napoleon offers him whiskey to pass the time it will take the salmon to marinate, Illya removes both glasses from Napoleon’s hands and sets them on the table.

When Illya arches his back into Napoleon’s palms under his shirt, silently begging for more pressure, Napoleon pulls back. When Illya lies on the bed and pulls Napoleon on top of him, Napoleon braces himself over him with a respectful amount of distance, so as not to smother him. When Illya tries to make himself ask for what he wants, his blood flushes to his face and closes his throat. When he moans into the clamp Napoleon’s teeth have on his lip, Napoleon tells him how much he missed having him like this. When Illya grows increasingly frustrated and makes a fist in Napoleon’s hair, Napoleon grimaces but does not respond in kind. When Illya next groans impatiently at the light tracing of fingertips down his chest, Napoleon must figure out what is going on, because his touching becomes hovering, and his pace slows further still. When Illya realizes that Napoleon has undoubtably won this game, he finally sinks into his shame deeply enough to find his voice, hiding within.

When he grits his teeth and asks Napoleon if he will hurt him, really hurt him, Napoleon gasps so hard and his eyes spread so wide that Illya doubts his earlier assessment, wonders if Napoleon wasn’t playing a waiting game and expecting this. When Napoleon hesitates only a second before grabbing gracelessly for his own belt, and his jaw tightens in this way that Illya would kiss if he could reach, and he pulls his belt from his loops and turns Illya onto his stomach in the same hungry motion—then, Illya knows that he doesn’t care whether it was a game or not or whether he lost or not, doesn’t care about anything but getting this.

“What do you want?” Napoleon prompts. Something cold—the metal buckle of Napoleon’s belt—licks up the length of Illya’s thigh, driving Illya crazy enough to beg, “Hit me.”

The other end, just the leather tip, grazes his leg back and forth like the pendulum of a clock. “Like this?” Napoleon asks, and Illya may be out of his mind, but he thinks Napoleon sounds as desperate as he is.

“Please,” he asks, making Napoleon’s free hand clench darkly around his hipbone.

It feels so maddeningly good to wait for this, to wait for Napoleon to decide where and when to administer pain—Illya could wait for an eternity, or else, he might explode if another moment passes.

 

Illya’s body sings under the first lash across the backs of his thighs and the deep, throaty groan from Napoleon’s lips. Under the second lash, higher up, he grinds his erection into Napoleon’s mattress and rubs his open mouth against Napoleon’s pillow. He arches up into the third, while Napoleon says Fuck and tells him You need it so bad, even more than I knew you would, take it so beautifully.

Illya’s body trains quickly to anticipate each blow the way his mouth knows to anticipate Napoleon’s kisses. Napoleon makes him wait, and his skin aches as impatient lips ache.

He pushes his moans into the pillow until he runs out of breath, and then he pushes up and back enough to hang his head between his shoulders, to inhale and to watch the flesh of his own thigh shudder under the impact of Napoleon’s belt striking his ass.

Napoleon stops to drag his lips and tongue across the stinging welts he has left behind, murmuring all the while how good they look, and making Illya’s breath run shorter and shorter. He feels Napoleon’s cock settle hotly against one of the welts on the back of his thigh when Napoleon moves up to bite hard into Illya’s shoulder blade, and he feels it twitch and harden pressed against him when Napoleon reaches around Illya’s hips to stroke his hand up Illya’s aching, leaking erection.

God, you like this so much, Illya, Napoleon marvels against his back.

Illya lets his head hang limp and groans into the familiar shape of Napoleon’s palm striking down against his inner thigh, thinking Yes, yes I do.

Napoleon bends him far enough to break, and covers every stinging stripe with a layer of white handprints, and fucks Illya open on his cock, and cries out breathlessly every time Illya clenches in pain around the full stretch inside of him, and blurs all of Illya’s sensation until pain and pleasure are indistinguishably satisfying, and makes Illya feel as though the closer he comes to being completely broken, the closer he comes to being the most desirable thing in the world.

Illya sobs into the wet spot of drool on the pillow when he feels Napoleon come so deep inside him, moved by the hot, slick release of it but also achingly frustrated by the fact that Napoleon won’t be able to stay inside him and fuck him as hard as he—mindlessly, shamelessly, now—needs. But before Napoleon even softens, he pulls out, guides Illya to lie on his back, and fills Illya with his fingers. Illya feels the wet Napoleon left there against his insides as those fingers push up painfully hard against that spot that makes Illya’s vision weak. His beaten legs shake with the strain of bearing down onto the pressure—or pulling away from it, Illya’s not even sure what his own muscles are doing—and Napoleon relentlessly shoves into it, and clamps his lips around the head of Illya’s cock, and scrapes his nails against welts to bring them back to life until Illya comes, loses himself completely to the shapeless sensation of dying immersed in pleasure.

 

“I’ve never heard you scream like that before,” Napoleon says. It’s the closest thing to cooing Illya has heard from him. Some moments later, “I’ve never seen your face so flushed.”

Illya is slowly surfacing from his thorough drowning. He starts to feel his limbs, and then he can tell that Napoleon’s voice is not far from his ear, to his left.

And then, with sudden clarity, making him feel a fool for not knowing before, Illya realizes that this is the part he has been afraid of, all these days, weeks, all these months since he started wanting Napoleon’s company. This is the moment when Napoleon has utterly won the game, when Illya has given up every fissure, every vulnerability. He has been avoiding this moment without realizing it: he is afraid that once Napoleon has him broken, figured out, with no new secrets to give up, he is going to lose interest, leave him flayed open, and go find some new safe to break open.

Before opening his eyes, Illya takes a moment to imagine what that will feel like, what it will feel like for the cold air to sting in the cuts Napoleon left behind, what it will feel like to brace himself against that unpleasant pain the same way he has braced himself against every other thing in the world. He has been doing it all his life. It will be no different to be suddenly not made happy by Napoleon Solo than it was to have never had anything to make him happy.

He opens his eyes. Napoleon is lying relaxed on his side, and his hand is stroking lightly across Illya’s chest. Now that Illya sees it, he can feel it too; his senses are coming back to him so gradually.

Napoleon shifts his body closer, dragging his legs up against Illya’s. He traces Illya’s muscles with his palm and his gaze. Illya feels warm under the touch, even before Napoleon stretches to brush tenderly across the scratched, red skin just below Illya’s hips on either side. “My beautiful boy,” he mumbles almost thoughtlessly.

Letting out a breath he has been unintentionally holding, Illya releases his fear along with it; Napoleon has him flayed open, and he is not acting as though he has had his fun and is through with it now.

With that, all the euphoria of every sensation Napoleon just carved into his body comes rushing into Illya’s blood, making him feel light and stupid, giddy. Not trying at all to fight his smile, he grabs Napoleon’s wrist as hard as he can manage and lifts his hand off his hip. Napoleon meets his eyes curiously, and Illya says, “I am not a boy.”

“Hm, I suppose not,” Napoleon replies, ceding the point of Illya’s superior strength. He looks directly into Illya’s eyes in a way that feels full of something. Feeling, maybe. “But you are beautiful.”

Illya drops Napoleon’s hand, satisfied. He rolls onto his side, wincing at the stickiness of satin sheets on his battered flesh. “Napoleon.” He traces his fingers through the hairs low on Napoleon’s belly and props his head up on his hand, mirroring Napoleon’s position. He knows Napoleon will make a show of not responding to that name, so he continues. “I find it sexually arousing to receive pain from you,” he admits plainly.

Napoleon lays his palm across the side of Illya’s throat, and tilts his head up so their eyes meet again. Naturally, Napoleon looks very pleased with himself—but not so pleased with himself that Illya regrets giving him what he wants.

“Well, if you ever feel the need to repeat the experience,” Napoleon starts smugly, “I happen to have picked up a couple of modern pieces in Greece, with you in mind.”

Confused, Illya scowls through his stubbornly smiling face. “Modern masterpieces,” he works through. “Not people, then…Tell me what you mean, Solo.”

Napoleon strokes the ridge of Illya’s throat with his thumb, appearing to be considering something even though Illya can tell his words are already well planned out. Illya does not roll his eyes, if only so that he can watch the shifting of Napoleon’s eyelids as he says, “Oh, just a couple of things that might be more fun than, say, my belt, for example. From a nice shop I know in Athens.”

Illya does roll his eyes then. “Oh, a nice shop,” he repeats skeptically, secretly thrilled that Napoleon is already planning to do this again.

“Mhm. But they didn’t have anything suitable for right here,” Napoleon says, pressing his thumb down harder, digging under Illya’s adam’s apple.

“My neck?” Illya grumbles, struggling to swallow around the pressure of Napoleon’s thumb.

“Mhm. See, I want something I can slide my hand under and get a grip on,” he says, making a fist around as much loose skin as he can get from Illya’s neck. Illya’s mouth goes dry, and he’s very aware that it’s not a purely physiological reaction. Napoleon is still studying his neck as though it is a particularly engrossing puzzle. “I figure, if I could jerk you around with a little pressure on your throat, you might enjoy that, wouldn’t you?”

He tugs at the skin between his fingers, and Illya groans, definitely enjoying it. “Maybe,” he says when he can remember to breathe.

“I thought so. We might have to stop at a pet supply store, though,” he says, making Illya’s stomach drop unreasonably and dangerously low, and he continues without giving Illya time to recover, “maybe when you go out shopping to replace that perfectly nice leather belt I ruined against your ass.”

Illya has nothing smart to say to any of that, in light of the fact that his own body is betraying him by responding quite positively to Napoleon being the Devil. So he settles for, “Don’t push your luck, Американец.”

But when Napoleon makes a point of pushing him down, knocking him flat onto the bed and crawling over him to kiss him deeply, Illya says nothing at all.