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how certain the journey

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Illya Nikolaevich Kuryakin is born in the ashes of Leningrad. The city is rubble. Its people are starving wraiths surviving only on pride, on fear, on each other. He is born into the middle of a firefight, and his mother's hands, when she clenches them on a contraction, tighten about a rifle.

She has not been trained to fight, but the city is surrounded. All must defend themselves, for no one else shall do so.

Years later she will remember this lesson, too late.

Her right wrist is marked with the sigil of the pokornyy, those who yield. She hides this shame, as all members of the Party do, with wrappings on both wrists, and Illya's birth stains them red.

Illya's first sight is the bloom of red across the sky as the Wehrmacht spit fire, his first sound the bark of his mother's rifle.

His mother reloads, fires. Smoke blooms.

The cadaverous girl at her side bites the cord. Glances at Illya's tiny wrists, then wraps both of them. No one will speak his sigil aloud.

He is born in the ashes of Leningrad, into horror and hunger and tragedy.

Perhaps he is doomed from the start.

-

Illya is aware of how the KGB views pokornyy. How the State views them. Officially, they are equal; officially, they are accorded all the rights and privileges of a citizen, and all the attendant expectations; yet the State has always given with one hand and taken with the other, professed one truth and carried out another.             

The State mandates equality, but Illya has always known the truth of what it is to be submissive. In those lean years after the war, after his father's departure, no job would take a pokornyy when there were vladelets to be found. His mother abased herself to keep them alive, played the part of every master’s pokornyy, and they treated her as such people treat those weaker.

Illya sees. Learns.

The revolution had fought for equality. For a world without hierarchy, without exploitation. Yet for all that they tore down the old edifices, the old regimes, built everything again, the world is the same, and Illya is pokornyy, and lesser. No vladelet, no bond, can make up for that weakness. Can ease the sting of shame.

At fifteen, the KGB comes to him. A man, Oleg. He says that Illya can be useful to the State, that his strength and his rage and his determination can make up for Illya’s shame: for being pokornyy, for being his father’s son. All he must do is submit himself to the State. To the KGB. 

He agrees.

Whatever vladelet bears his mark’s twin must settle for loneliness, for Illya has no more of himself to give.

-

In a close-curtained room in Moscow, filled with smoke, he meets his vladelet and is ordered to kill him.

Oleg drones about mission parameters as the slides flick past: Napoleon Solo, art thief, indentured to the CIA, a lover of beautiful things, always impeccably dressed. The platonic ideal of a spy, the sort Illya is not. Illya is a weapon, a loaded gun to be pointed and fired, a creature without will.

The projectionist stops on an image of Solo in Saint Mark’s Square in Venice. His arm is lifted to throw seed to the pigeons, and his left shirt sleeve is rolled up to expose a muscular forearm dusted with dark hair, where swirls of gold curl across his skin.

Illya’s right wrist itches beneath the wrappings and his father’s watch. He betrays no emotion as the projectionist moves to the next slide. Oleg’s eyes are boring into the side of his head, waiting for him to flinch from the task.

The Second Directorate of the KGB keeps the citizens’ records: sigil location, what it looks like. The KGB knows what they are asking Illya to do.

Solo is handsome, broad-shouldered, with beautiful hands, an artist’s hands. Those clever hands and long fingers will be stilled by Illya’s doing. He will leave Solo’s dark hair matted in blood.

It may be better this way. Illya will kill the future here, before his vladelet has the opportunity to betray him. He will end it before Solo slips chains about him, thinks to claim him. He will destroy the possibility before Solo tries to own him, before Solo is unjustly saddled with a man who cannot control his temper, a man with his father's weakness in his blood.

Besides, Illya is already owned.

He belongs to the State, not a man.

Oleg asks him if he understands the parameters.

Illya nods. He may have dreamt in ages past, in the idle fashion of one whose weakness has not yet been eradicated by the Party, of clever hands in his hair, resting on his shoulder. A low voice praising him as the Party will not. A gaze at once amused and affectionate, kind and sure, that would hold him still. Bourgeois thoughts, born of weakness.

There is a statue in Moscow: the factory worker and the kolkhoz, striding forth into the equal future the Party will bring them. Their arms are upraised, holding hammer and scythe, their wrists conspicuously bare.

Their world has no room for pokornyy, so Illya will tear out his own heart.

-

He fails. Stands between the wires and walls and watches his vladelet, his shining eyes, the arrogant curl of his mouth, those beautiful hands, drive into the night.

When Oleg arrives and beats him about the shoulders with a baton, he submits to it. Lets the image of those eyes intent on his face, that mouth hot against his forehead, those hands on his shoulders, flicker through his mind and disappear, washed away in the white flood of pain.

He can bear pain. This, at least, he can do.

-

The first thing Gaby does in the back of the truck, after they've crossed the Wall, is strip off the oil-stained wrappings on her wrists.             

Napoleon pretends to avert his gaze in deference to Gaby's modesty, but he can see it, plain as day against the pale skin where sunlight never reached:

A harsh black and gray design, lines and angles, circling her left wrist.

Not his, then. Some part of him is relieved, and then a little sorrowful. Gaby has been resourceful enough, and certainly no hardship to look at.

"Have you found your partner, Miss Teller?"

"No, though there's numbers if you look close enough." Gaby twists her wrist to show him. "Maybe a banker or something." She glances at Napoleon's wrists, curious despite herself.

Napoleon wears his mark like he's stolen it. Flaunts it, the golden Art Nouveau lines curling about his left wrist, tracing the lacework of his veins. It marks him unmistakably as a Dominant: powerful, a collector, a lover of fine things, places, people. There's a strange sheen of red to it, in the depths of the mark: something foreboding, a streak of blood on the surface of water.

"What does the red mean?"

Napoleon leans against the walls of the truck. Lifts one shoulder in a shrug. "Don't know. Never found the one who matched."

Gaby turns away, looks apt to fall asleep, and Napoleon stares back at the Wall, at the man they left there, between borders.

The man had worn plain wrappings on both wrists; no surprise, if he was KGB. Though Napoleon can't imagine that hulking form in bed, either bending in submission or towering and in control; the man's enraged strength had seemed too much for either, unable to be harnessed.

Better the KGB have him. They know what to do with beasts.

-

When Illya enters the bathroom to see Solo standing there, his first, shameful impulse is to kneel. He takes a moment to look his vladelet over, from his bourgeois shoes - with sole stitching undone, and that, Illya could fix - to the suit that frames his powerful shoulders, and those eyes, wide now at his appearance. A heartbeat's time, wasted on a dream, and then he moves.             

Illya charges into Solo shoulder-first, bears him into one of the bathroom dividers. He fights like a wolf, savage. His chest is tearing in two. Each punch is a declaration to Oleg, to himself, that he will not yield, he will not be made to kneel, to give over, but every blow Solo strikes against him, the heel of his hand against Illya's chin, his knee in Illya's stomach-

They are the only touches he will ever receive from his vladelet, and he will keep them. Take them back over the Wall, into the horror of the Party's embrace, the vast expanse of the taiga. Back to his cold room and the mazes of the KGB, the jealousies of watching all those Party functionaries with their wrists unbound, their words lies against the truth of their skins.

His parents had believed in the revolution. Had died knowing it false, all their efforts betrayed, all their hopes spent.

For all his suffering in the Room, all the attempts to strip him of his sigil, to make him a better spy, he still has a mark. When he returns to the KGB, and has neither name nor face, no voice, no past, no strength, he will still have a mark. Will still be lesser.

A better world will still be a dream, and its leaders still corrupt, and its revolution still an extinguished dawn, perpetual night without stars.

It is, for all that, the only world he knows. His life is still the State's.

When he punches Solo in the teeth, it is not because Oleg is watching. It is because Solo made him dare to hope for another world.

-

Throughout the mission, Napoleon watches Illya, this weapon in the shape of a man. Learns him as best he can, though Illya, for all his rage, gives little away.             

His wrists are always impeccably wrapped in plain cloth, his watch fastened over his right wrist’s wrappings. Is that a sign that he's submissive, that he has another layer of protection on that wrist?

He would be beautiful, if gentled into submission: the whirlwind of his emotions controlled, his Siberian eyes warmed, those broad shoulders relieved of their burden. The line of his neck is made for a collar: something simple, of good taste, perhaps a deep navy leather, almost black, with golden fittings. But Illya trusts nothing, or as good as; he has been traded away, his mother betrayed, his father entombed in the gulag.

He carries himself as a dominant. Plans, snaps orders, offers his arm to Gaby. The USSR, for all its proclamations of equality between dominant and submissive, still is reluctant to send its submissives into the field. Stalin and Beria were widely known as dominants. It would be unusual for the USSR to allow a top agent to have a mark on the right wrist.

And yet.                              

Illya gives the watch away for the mission. Punches holes in the walls. Emerges with newly wrapped wrists and fingers, bloody streaks in the cloth.

Napoleon can't help but stare at his wrists, think of it: Illya in the washroom, unwinding the cloth, exposing wintry skin to the light. A mark there, on left or right wrist, and what kind? Something vast and solitary as Russia itself, or the steam engines and pistons of the Soviet future? If Napoleon reached out, touched that bare skin, would Illya shiver? Settle? Or pull away and accuse him of taking liberties?

He would like to find out, despite himself: curl his fingers about that broad wrist, tug Illya into his own body. Watch the fall of Illya's blond lashes onto his cheeks, the flush of color along his neck, the sharp indrawn breath.

It is not for those reasons that he retrieves the watch. More that Illya is a good man: the kind who lets those who betray him run, and who kills Vinceguerra rather than let Napoleon die. Wearied and a storm in human form, Illya may be, but for all that he is good.

Even as he watches the ice cloud Illya's eyes, his hand shake as he reaches for his gun, Napoleon tosses him the watch.

Illya catches it, buckles it on, frantic. The wolf beneath his skin fades away. He drags his gaze away from the watch, unassuming on his wrist, and to Napoleon's face, and his breathless smile is beautiful.

"I'd thought-" he pauses, says something in Russian.

"'Nothing I thought mine, out of my life, was mine to keep,'" Napoleon translates, smiling at Illya's consternation. "I know some Russian.”

Illya's mouth twists in a half-smile. He's thinking, wheels turning behind his eyes. The vastness of Siberia clouds his vision, makes him remote, untouchable. "You keep the tape, cowboy," he says, like it is simple. Like men have not died for the tape, like men will not continue to die for it. Like he trusts Napoleon, and so few do.

No one should say they trust Napoleon like it's a death warrant.

"You know what it means if you don't get the tape." Stories have filtered West: gulags in the vastness of Siberia, men and women stripped naked and sweating in mines, rooms awash in blood.

"I have been to the gulag," says Illya, measured. "I’ve seen the cells. I’ve seen the mines.  I also know that one may make a life in the gulag." He shrugs. "Besides." His smile is an awful thing, and Napoleon would do near anything to get that surprised bloom of delight back on Illya's face. "My father and mother are dead. My censure will harm no one."

Too good a man for the gulag.

Napoleon will survive his time with the CIA. Illya may survive the gulag, but not as a good man.

It is an easy choice to make.

Napoleon picks up the tape and a lighter and leads the way to the balcony.

Illya follows, silent, and the acquiescence of it, the obedience, dries Napoleon's mouth. He can dream - has dreamed - of Illya's obedience elsewhere, how he might unwind the wrappings about his wrists, slow, layer by layer, a tease. A mark across bare skin, and how Illya would shiver when Napoleon reached to press fingertips against it, how he would swallow. How his face would burn when Napoleon dared to circle his fingers about Illya's wrist and close them tight, the tension departing his shoulders despite himself. How he might kiss: clumsy, inexperienced, but hungry.

Illya carries himself like a man expecting a bullet at any moment. Does so, even now. They have been together for weeks, and he has never seen Illya look like he feels safe.

Illya's pale eyes shine in the afternoon light, piercing. He swallows, a faint flush stealing upon his throat, and that's unfair. Is there someone across the Curtain who's gotten to see Illya undone, been ordered by him, kissed the hollow of his throat where his few words wait to be born?

Illya squares his shoulders, ready for an unwinnable fight, draws a breath, but Napoleon is striking the lighter.

The tape is burning when Waverly arrives, and when Napoleon remembers to ask Illya what he had been about to say, Illya says,

"Nothing."

Napoleon knows a missed opportunity when he sees one. One day, he will prove himself trustworthy enough for Illya to speak.

-

Illya has yet to get over the habit of bugging Gaby and Solo’s rooms. They know it, tolerate it as one of his many eccentricities, and if they think that, so much the better; he can’t tell them of why, of the black KGB cars, the bright day and empty house in his dreams. That even this- they- may be taken.

It backfires one night in Krakow, when the mission is complete, they’re waiting for an extraction, and Solo brings a bellhop to his room.

Illya looks up from his physics textbook at the sound of a man’s gasp from the small television in the corner. The picture’s grainy, black and white, but he can see it clear enough.

Solo and a young blond man stumble into Solo’s room, the door clicking shut behind them. Solo rounds on his partner – shorter than Napoleon, as most men are, slender, the Platonic ideal of a sub – and crowds him up against the door, using his weight, his strength. His hands cup the man’s face, tilt it up, and Solo kisses him.

‘Kisses’ is too friendly a word. Solo devours him, licks his mouth open and consumes him, controlling hands on his jaw.

The bug is poorly placed to see the full view, but Illya can see enough: the man’s hands wrapped about Solo’s muscled wrists, the long leg thrown over Solo’s hip.

Solo lets go of the man’s face, twists their hands around until he’s got the man’s wrists in his grip, pushes them up against the door with a thump. Solo smiles, pleased and predatory, his mouth kiss-swollen, and he says, low, rough,

“There we go, beautiful.”

Illya is not beautiful. Illya is not slender, or small, or sweetly yielding the way this nameless bellhop is. He will never be what Solo wants, and yet he can’t turn away, can’t deny himself this chance to see what he could have had. If he were a different man. If this were a different world.

“Please,” the man says, dazed, and bares his throat, a long white expanse of unmarked skin. There is scarce an inch on Illya’s body that doesn’t bear the marks of violence.

“Lovely,” says Solo, and he gathers the man’s wrists into one big hand, drags his other hand down to curl gently about the man’s neck. “I’m going to give you so many marks – and you’ll let me, won’t you, because you want to be good for me.”

Illya has never been good, not for anyone. Even Oleg found him difficult to work with, a trial; he thinks too much, and such initiative is not good for KGB agents or pokornyy.

The man whines, and Solo bends to mark his throat. His hand drops to the buttons on the ghastly bellhop uniform, begins to undo them, exposes flawless skin, lean muscle, and all the while, Solo talks:

“I saw you watching me when I checked in. Shameless, you know, to be so forward.”

“I couldn’t help it –“ the man arches and gasps as Solo’s hand delves into his trousers, the muscles of his shoulder working beneath his suit jacket, “-it’s been so long, and I knew-“

Solo smiles against the man’s neck, collared in bruises, his teeth a white flash. His voice is a low purr. “You knew I could give you a good seeing to, hmm?”

Illya should turn this off. Should stop watching this, and aching for something he can never have. But Solo’s voice keeps him there, rooted to the spot, listening. Pretending.  

“Roll over, yes, that’s it, good boy-“

The slap of a riding crop on yielding flesh, an ecstatic cry.

“Hands above your head. Don’t move.”

The wet and filthy sound of Solo eating the man out, making him wail for it, and Illya can barely stand it, the idea of something so intimate.

“God, if you could see yourself – the way you choke on my cock, you’re gorgeous-“

A litany of praise, of thanks, even as Solo brings the man to sobbing, patiently fingering him open.

“I’m going to fuck you now,” and later, gritted out, steel-cut, “Before you come, ask.

Illya could obey that order. He would be better than the bellhop, who comes without asking.

Solo punishes him, spanks his pale ass red and raw – punishment, Illya understands – but then is kind: brings him tea and pastries, runs his hands through that blond hair, speaks softly, warmly, benediction.

It’s that, that caring, that unselfconscious adoration, that makes Illya turn it off at last. Jealousy squirms in his heart. He’s hard – he can’t not be, watching Solo, beautiful and brilliant and commanding, push a man to his limits, then bring him back to Earth.

Yet he can’t bring himself to relieve his erection, because he remembers – will never be able to forget – Solo’s rasped,

Ask.”

Solo may never know that Illya obeys him in this.

Illya can be satisfied with that.

-

"So," Napoleon says, gazing over his glass of cheap Chablis the first night in Tangiers, "a question, if I may, Peril."

"You may not." Illya keeps his gaze on his dog-eared copy of The Fool. "But I doubt it will stop you."

"You know him too well," says Gaby. She uncaps her bottle of bright red nail polish. Pushes cotton balls between her toes. The acrid smell of the polish suffuses the hotel room.

"What are you?" It's an inelegant question, but everyone knows what it refers to.

"Napoleon-" Gaby starts, but Illya only turns a page.

"I am neither." Illya stares at the text, but his eyes aren't scanning. His shoulders hunch inward.

Napoleon swirls his drink in the glass. "So it's true, then? You Communists are so equal you don't even have a dominant or submissive dynamic?"

Gaby pauses, bent over her toenails. Flicks a warning glance at Napoleon.

"That is the goal. Full equality before the Party. No rich, no poor. No pokornyy to burden the vladelets," Illya says, and it rings hollow, rote. No doubt learned in the Little Octobrists - for Illya had been a good Communist - before they came for his father.

Even the way he says pokornny drips distaste.

"Is that what they teach you in the USSR? That submissives are burdens?"

"They start in primary school," Gaby says, absorbed in her nail polish. "They teach that submissives are weak, not through any choice of their own - they didn't choose to be lesser - but innately, they lack initiative, a certain strength. Independence. Hence the goal of reeducating them if they try to live out their dynamic too much. Partake in too many scenes."

The bottom of Napoleon's stomach falls away. The Chablis curdles in his mouth. He swallows. Says,

"Reeducating?"

"Under Stalin, the gulag." Illya's mouth is a thin white line. His eyes gaze somewhere else, somewhere cold, where no one has returned from. "These days, loss of jobs and housing."

"Does it happen the same way, for dominants?" Napoleon's mark catches the lamplight, glitters, and Illya's gaze darts to it, the intensity of his attention near physical on Napoleon's skin.

"Officially, yes." Gaby dips her brush into the bottle, examines her little toenail with a critical eye. "Unofficially, usually not. Dominants have more resources to marshal when the KGB or Stasi come calling, to say nothing of the respect accorded them by virtue of their status."

"But submissives aren't weaker-" He could be going mad, he must be going mad, to hear his two closest friends talking about half the earth in such clinical tones.

Illya rouses himself from his contemplation of Napoleon's mark. He looks Napoleon in the face, and there's only bone-deep weariness in his gaze. "They take orders. They kneel. They are easily led. None of this makes them fit for the world we are working towards." He says the words as though they’ve been beaten into him.

"Every submissive I've had the pleasure of spending time with only took the orders they wanted to. That's the point, that's what makes it meaningful. I mean, for God's sake, Illya, you must have experienced it from one side or the other."

Gaby glares at Napoleon, and if looks could kill he would be a smoldering stain on the carpet.

One side of Illya's mouth ticks up. It is nothing like a smile.

"The KGB," Illya says, each word crisp and brutal as a bullet, "is not fond of its agents who bear the shame of being pokornny fraternizing with anyone outside the KGB’s disciplinary vladelets. They are too easily broken. They give up state secrets at a kind word." He closes his book. His twisted mouth is pained, like the words tear his throat raw to speak. "They make good weapons, but a weapon must have only one hand on the trigger. That hand is the State's, and it will abide no other."

Illya swallows. Has, suddenly, the look of a man who has said too much. "I must prepare for the operation tomorrow." He departs in a hurry, and Napoleon watches him go, dumbstruck. It is not a feeling he's used to, or one he wishes to repeat.

"Dummkopf," Gaby sighs. "You always have to push."

"Illya is a sub." He has to repeat it, just to make sure it's true, that the world doesn't stop spinning at the truth.

"Yes, though he is not comfortable with it. Nor should he be. The State looks suspiciously upon the sons of traitors and prostitutes, and even harsher upon those that are pokornny. You can imagine what he had to do to prove himself worthy of life."

"He shouldn't be ashamed." Illya submitting would be a sight worthy of art: the brutal hands relaxed, the proud head bowed, the calm stealing into a man who's had so little calmness, so little certainty in his life. So little care, and affection, and Illya deserves those things. Deserves someone who cares about him.

"He shouldn't," Gaby agrees, "but he is."

Napoleon finishes his Chablis and dreams of Illya's wrists unbound.

-

The mission goes poorly, as they so often do.

Illya ignores the throb and gush of blood from his right wrist as he kneels to hook open the corpse's mouth. THRUSH agents often carry their intelligence ciphers and other valuable intel in false teeth.

The bathhouse floor is a lake of scarlet. Four other men sprawl around him, their necks askew, the same human wreckage Illya always leaves in his wake. One day, this brutal carnage will cease to hurt, to remind him of the beast he has been made to be.      

The man at his feet still holds a knife in his left hand: the same one that opened up Illya's wrist near to bone, drenched his sleeve and wrappings in blood. Illya can't get a grip on the tooth, his fingers too slick, his body trembling with the shock.

He marks Solo's entry into the room with lifted brow. There is, even now, a foolish part of him that greets the arrival of his vladelet with joyous anticipation. What they have now is all there will ever be, but-

Hope dies last.

Solo stops at the edge of the blood, still too fastidious for a spy. His black Oxfords reflect the red of the lake. "Illya?"

Illya reaches for the dead man's knife. His hands shake.

"I have it."

It is the work of moments to pry the false molar free - he is grateful for the distraction, as Solo is chattering on about bathhouse etiquette - and the tooth falls into his cupped palm, a shock of white against the smear of red.

A sudden silence, and he looks up.

Solo's face is bone-white. He gazes at Illya's wrist with something approaching horror, and not just for the great gouge torn through it.

Illya’s mark – Solo’s claim on his skin- is an ugly thing. In childhood it had shone like Solo’s, beautiful and good and bright, but then he had gone to the KGB, and there, they had tried to destroy the mark. To make him truly equal. His mark has burned patches outlining it, thin crosshatches of scars, pockmarked pits of white skin- and yet, the mark returned, every time.

Illya,” Solo whispers in a thin and breaking voice.

The man bore torture from Rudi, and yet, here, he seems shattered. His eyes shine in exaltation, and then his face twists with a sudden animal impulse, a rage Illya has never seen on another's face: fury on his behalf?

Solo begins to lift a hand, but Illya turns away, though it tears at him.

He has been breaking for months, in terrible, secret longing, for this man he wants but cannot have, but here, at last, he is shattered.

Resigned, he looks down at the tattered wrappings fluttering around his naked wrist, blood-soaked, exposing the traitorous glint of gold. Reaches for them and ties them tight. This sigil, this knowledge, is a mistake. A perversion to be hidden.     

"Illya?"

He looks up from the wrappings to find Solo close. His steady hands tremble.

"Illya," Solo says again. "How long-"

"Before Berlin," Illya says, and Solo makes a faint, wounded sound deep in his chest. "THRUSH will be here soon."

He leads the way - possibly, probably, for the last time, now that Solo knows he is meant to be led.

Solo follows, silent.

-             

At the hotel, Illya sits on the edge of the bathtub. Strips off his ruined shirt and tosses it aside. Begins to unwind the tatters of his wrappings, the remnants of his pride. So different from how Napoleon had imagined it: slow, in lamplight, each undone twist of cloth revealing untouched skin. Not this, in a dirty bathroom, to repair open wounds.

Napoleon hovers in the doorway, but Illya only stares at him, then at his wrist. He doesn't ask for Napoleon to leave, and it burns; does he think he can't, now that he is revealed?

Illya takes up needle and thread, to sew himself closed, to hold himself together, because he trusts no one to do it for him.

"I can go," Napoleon says at last, sickened despite himself by the tired efficiency of Illya's hands, the needle darting into skin, back out.

"Do as you wish." Illya's attention stays on his wrist. The needle flies like a fish hook. Ugly black stitching mars the curved elegance of his mark, Napoleon's mark.

"Why didn’t you-"

"I did not want to be anyone's pokornyy." Illya hunches over his arm, ties off the stitches.  He stares at his hands, dangling between his knees, and for all his fearsome height and strength, he is diminished. "The one who bears shame. The one who kneels. The one who burdens."

Napoleon has to close his eyes at that, stave off the sick twist of rage and grief. He struggles to keep his voice level, and fails. He's sure he must look wild, and his laugh, incredulous, sounds like nothing so much as a sob.

“You would never be my burden,” he says in a rush. “My partner, my treasure, my beloved, but not- never that. I would- I would adore you.”

The images unspool across his mind, now that he knows they might be made real: Illya at his feet, that proud head bowed against his knee; Illya's back arching as Napoleon snaps his hips into him; the rasp of Illya's stubble against his palm as Napoleon brings him in for a lingering kiss.

Illya looks up at him, at last. His eyes brim with grief.

"We wanted a world without hierarchy. A world where pokornyy would be equal. So many died for that world, and nothing- nothing they did was true, nothing others see of the Party is true. The Supreme Soviet members swank about in their dachas with their wrists unbound, and this is equality."

His fingers aren't twitching, and it would be easier if they were, if Illya were enraged, not this extinguished, deadened thing. "Our people renounced everything they knew for the revolution, and the revolution betrayed them." Illya's smile is a ruin.

"'What more could we have done than kneel before you, in this shame and agony-‘“  Illya breaks off, shakes his head. “Would you have me kneel like that?"

"It doesn't have to be like that," Napoleon says, helpless in the face of Illya's pain. Helpless in the face of his submissive's pain.

"They would not have carved my mark from my skin a hundred times if they weren't saving me from something-" Illya's mouth twists, his eyes shut, and Napoleon lurches into the bathroom to fall to his knees before Illya, heedless of his suit on the dirty tile floor.

Illya gazes at him, eyes like a cornered beast's, and he flinches as Napoleon takes his brutal, brutalized hand, cups it in his own.

"I would not have you kneel in shame."

The slow fall of Illya's lashes upon his cheeks. His voice, drained. "Solo-"

"Napoleon," he interrupts, breathless, and rubs his thumb across Illya's knuckles.

"Cowboy," Illya says with a flicker of his old spirit. "Do you not understand? You ask me to abase myself-"

"I ask only for your trust."

"Trust is not an 'only,'" says Illya. "Never 'only.'"

Sometimes Napoleon forgets where Illya is from, the untold terrors that weigh on him. It does him good to be reminded, and he acknowledges the error with a rueful smile.

"I would never want you to do something that you didn't want, Illya."

Illya looks down at where his hand is caught in Napoleon's. Curls his own fingers, one by one, awkward, inward, to rest warm and callused against Napoleon's.

"If I never wanted to kneel in public?"

"Then I wouldn't want it. Besides, it's gauche these days. Though, I do have an image of you at my feet in my flat. Just the two of us, some good wine, a fire in the grate."

Illya searches his face for honesty, and the fact that he still feels it necessary burns. But there's a flush at his throat at the words, and a faint shiver in his hand against Napoleon's. Beautiful. He swallows, manages,

"If I didn't want to cook for you?"

"Just as well, I'd get sick of soup and porridge every day. Besides, I find feeding my partners satisfying."

"We don't just eat shichi and kasha." Illya frowns down at him, but there's dawn in his eyes. "We also eat shichi and kasha with sour cream."

"Yes, of course, how stupid of me to forget."

Illya swallows. Licks his lips, a flash of wet pink that sets a low coal burning in Napoleon's chest. "The mark isn't a guarantee."

Napoleon knows that all too well: that it only indicates compatibility, the probability of future happiness. His parents' marks had remained even as they grew apart into separate beds and rooms and houses. A mark indicates the potential for love. Not love itself.

But he loves Illya, or might as well: the furrow between his brows when he hunches over photographs, the twist of his mouth into a surprised smile - as if even now he cannot believe that he's allowed - all his rage and all his sorrow and all his bad cooking and carefully darned socks and everything, everything he is.

"No." He works his fingers between Illya's, between the calluses of fingers used to guns and cold and brutality. "But I do."

Illya ducks his head, blond hair falling into his eyes, and Napoleon aches to reach up, push it back, run his fingers straight back to curl about the vulnerable curve of Illya's neck. "I could-" He swallows again, and the sudden shyness melts Napoleon's heart further. "But I do. I could try-"

"May I kiss you?" Napoleon blurts, and oh, if Sanders could see him now, fumbling like a teenager at his first dance.

Illya lifts his head, one brow raised. Skepticism in the twist of his mouth. "You ask?"

"Illya," Napoleon says, a hint of reproof, and Illya frowns at him. "When it comes to people - to you - I always ask."

"Oh." Illya absorbs this, and it makes sense, that he needs it, that he struggles with the idea of being asked and not ordered, not expected. Sets his broad shoulders. "Yes."

Napoleon untangles their fingers. He slides his hand down over Illya's, over the fine blond hair on the back of his hand, the bruised and broken knuckles, to wrap his fingers about Illya's wrist, grip neither tight nor loose, but undeniably there.

Illya shivers; his breath stutters; his attention is a cautious, knife-edged thing, tension ready to snap. His heartbeat thuds against the tips of Napoleon's fingers. Yet he holds, lets Napoleon bring his brutalized hand up, lets Napoleon look his hand over. Allows Napoleon to ask him to be vulnerable, to be still.

Scars wrap his fingers. Half of his palm is thickened with old burns, and his knuckles bloom blue-black, his fingernails ragged, the inside of his trigger finger one large callus. Nothing like Napoleon's hands, or Gaby's: whole and clean and neat, used to a world where one's hands are not the only salvation. Illya's speak of saving himself, alone, and they're beautiful.

Illya's staring at him, about to speak, a question rising in his eyes, and then he stiffens as Napoleon, holding his gaze, kisses each broken knuckle in turn, lips soft as he can make them over the abrasions. He's read Illya's dossier, he knows how much these hands have done, what crimes they have committed, and they, and Illya, are worthy despite them. 

Illya's face burns red, eyes dark, and the click of his swallow is loud in the dingy bathroom as Napoleon presses a last benediction to the warm hollow of his wrist, ignoring the faint smell of Betadine, the tremble in his skin.

Napoleon sits back on his heels to gaze up at Illya, savoring the unconscious drop of Illya's gaze to his lips, the faint sway forwards, as if to encourage more.

"That was... not what I expected," says Illya at last. He flexes his curled fingers, testing, and Napoleon uncurls his fingers from about Illya’s wrist, already regretting the loss.

"I live to surprise." Napoleon creaks onto his feet and meets Illya's direct gaze. The furrow in his brow that signals the approach of a question.

Illya's jaw firms, and he says with the brutal efficiency he has when fighting, "Do you want to fuck me?" As if that's all Napoleon wants, as if that's all anyone could want of him, of any sub.

Oh, Illya. How little he knows of what Napoleon wants to do to him, of what they can be for each other. Napoleon won't lie to him, not in this.       

"I want to seduce you into my bed very much," Napoleon says, and continues when he sees Illya's gaze flicker, "but not here. Not now. And not without your request." He bites the inside of his lip, then goes on, "I know something of what they've taught you. How the Party says I should treat you. I will never be that man, Illya. I’d give up everything I've ever stolen before hurting anyone that way."

Illya's frown eases, but his eyes- blue as winter- are sad, the thin skin about them creased with sorrow. His shoulders hunch. "I apologize. I should not- I should not expect those things from you."

Napoleon lays a hand on Illya's broad shoulder at that, can't not, hearing the self-recrimination in his voice. "It's all right, Illya. I'm not upset."

Not at Illya, no. But there’s a slow, cold rage in his gut at the world, at the Party, at everyone who has made Illya so ashamed of who he is, of his desires. He could yield so beautifully, if he thought anyone worthy of his trust, if anyone cared enough to prove it.

Illya licks his lips, and Napoleon wants to take that stubbled jaw in both hands and bend to kiss him, to lick him open, to learn his secrets. But he won't. He will wait for Illya to ask.

"What next, then?"

Napoleon shrugs. "We finish this mission, report to Waverly, and then, if you like, you can come to my flat for dinner. We'll talk, and if you ask for something, I'll see what I can do to make it happen."

Illya takes a deep breath, muscled shoulders rising, falling. "I used to dream of this. Of my vladelet. But I knew it was a hopeless dream. Not something I could ever have, that the State would let me have. And now you're here-"

He's so brave, so obviously out of his depth, so frightened of what Napoleon could be, that Napoleon has to lean down, press his forehead to Illya's, breathe the same air.

"I'm here," he whispers against Illya's mouth, meeting wary, wanting blue eyes.

They're both here. They're both alive. For now, that is enough.

-

Illya stands at the door to Napoleon's Bloomsbury flat and wishes for courage. He's showered, mended the holes in his threadbare coat, shined his aged shoes to a blue-black mirror, ironed his pants: indulged, in short, in all the bourgeois trappings of this unmistakably bourgeois relationship. He has even brought wine.             

Thus armored, he knocks.

The red door opens to reveal Napoleon, in, of all things, an apron over Savile Row shirt and trousers. His pinstriped shirtsleeves are rolled up, his muscular forearms bare, his left wrist gleaming with the red-gold mark.

What Illya's had mirrored, once.

His dark hair is falling out of its careful styling, a few curls slipping forward to lie along his forehead. His pale eyes look Illya over from top to bottom, missing nothing, and the raw desire in his gaze is like nothing so much as a kiss. Terrible in his perfection, and if Illya were maudlin he'd say Napoleon looks like a young god, a tempter, but he is not, so he does not.

Fool. Fool, to think that he, in his threadbare suit, his worn shoes, could be worthy of this, of him.

Illya swallows, throat clicking dry, and thrusts the bottle of wine out.

"Illya," Napoleon says, and smiles, reaching for the bottle held before Illya like a shield. "A Cabernet Sauvignon, excellent-"

Illya follows Napoleon inside. He catalogs, because he has never been able to stop, the rooms: an archway across from the entrance, leading to a kitchen, and beyond that a balcony spilling a riot of greenery. To the left, a hallway, the master bedroom at the end, what might be guestrooms or offices on the right side of the hallway. Only those two points of egress.

The flat is comfortable, in a way he would not have expected. Overstuffed leather furniture, paintings arranged as if in a gallery on the walls, blankets draped over a rickety ladder in the corner. He'd expected surface, a self-consciousness, but this is a home. Napoleon's home.

Which he has chosen to share with Illya, knowing who Illya is.

"What are you making?" he asks as he enters the kitchen. The warmth of the room presses in from all sides: the worn butcherblock island, the honed chef's knives in their block, a French press, and Napoleon, standing over a skillet. Heartbreakingly handsome, his dark hair falling forward as he frowns into the pan, prods the disjointed bird within.

"Duck confit with garlic potatoes and braised red cabbage - possibly overambitious, but then, I have someone to impress." He glances at Illya, smiling, and Illya can't repress the slow well of want, adoration, within him. He returns the smile, hesitant - this can still be taken, even this - and Napoleon's eyes flicker, darken. His wants are in his eyes, the hitch of his breath. Yet he says nothing.

He had wanted Illya to ask.

The responsibility - the control - is his own.

Illya's attention goes, inevitably, to the bookshelf groaning beneath the weight of cookbooks. Not fiction, but still, books, and those, he's always loved.

He steps closer, pauses, frowning. "You have a Russian cookbook?"

Napoleon doesn't look up from where he's plating the meal. "Yes, though I bought it at the Camden market, so I make no promises as to its authenticity."

Illya can't resist. He pages through it as Napoleon undoes his apron and brings the plates over. It is the best kind of awful.

"What is this, Napoleon? This is appalling, utter shit- you cannot make shchi without cabbage!" The idea of it - his mother would turn in her grave, all of Russia's mothers would!  "You cannot have a New Year's buffet without shuba-"

He glances up to find Napoleon looking back, his eyes alight, the skin around them creased with his smile. Napoleon looks at Illya as though Illya, and his opinions about Russian cuisine, are wonderful, are worthy, even though he's been ranting and the confit is probably getting cold.

"Whoever wrote this cookbook should be shot."

Napoleon laughs despite himself. "Such violence, Illya."

Illya smiles, ducks his head, embarrassed. He is a good spy, one of the best - can hunt and kill and strategize - but he doesn't know how to handle this closeness. This being in the same space as Napoleon. As his vladelet.

"I'll settle for burning the book."

"Done. We can burn it in the leftover duck fat."

The reminder of the waiting food draws Illya away from the abominable cookbook, and they settle in for the meal. Illya spears a piece of the confit and lifts it to his mouth. The meat bursts with flavor, rich, near-decadent, near-melting in his mouth, and he can't help himself; a low sound slips free of his control. He's never tasted anything so good, and not just because he rigidly controls his own diet. As a child, food was precious, the country burnt and blasted, and his mother and father, survivors of Leningrad, bolted their food, uncaring of flavor, until he lost them both.

He swallows down the piece of duck, opens his eyes.

Napoleon gazes at him across the table, lips parted, eyes near-black in the low light. A flush rides high on his cheeks, as if Illya indecently enjoying food is-

Is pornographic.

Illya swallows. Embarrassment rises in his belly. He opens his mouth to apologize, but Napoleon stops him with a soft,

"Don't, Illya. Please."

"It is." He halts, then manages, "Unseemly."

"You taking pleasure in something isn't unseemly." Napoleon smiles, a little rueful, a bit sad.  No pity in him, and Illya thanks every deity he knows, for he will not be pitied. "It's beautiful. You should have had it more often."

Illya hunches his shoulders: an instinctive, unhelpful tell, one that he thought he'd gotten over. "You'll make me a capitalist."

Napoleon laughs, and the naked pleasure in his expression is transfixing, captures Illya more than any snare. "I don't think any power in the world could make you something you didn't want to be, Peril. Besides," his expression softens, "you deserve to be spoiled once in a while."

It.

It might not be so bad, to let Napoleon be kind to him.

They talk of innocuous things - books, art - and get into a debate about the best museums that ends up with them agreeing to disagree, though the Prado is obviously the superior of the Louvre.

At last, dishes empty, Napoleon reaches for Illya's plate and cutlery. "Let me get the dishes-"    

"Nyet." Illya pushes his hands away, frowning. "You cooked. I shall clean."

"You're a guest," Napoleon protests. "I know I'm uncouth, Peril, but even I-"

"We're partners, are we not? Cowboy." Illya stands, gathering the dishes to himself, and Napoleon, outmaneuvered, acknowledges it with a wry smile.

"Yes."

"So I will contribute, and if you're so worried, you may watch me clean and tell me how to not destroy your bourgeois saucepans," Illya offers.      

"I 'may' offer direction. I see how this is going." But Napoleon helps Illya carry the dishes to the sink, get the soapy water started to let them soak. Leans against one of the counters. Watches, the heat of his gaze near palpable, as Illya rolls up his sleeves, exposing the ruined mark.

He reaches out, fingertips hovering in the air above it. His eyes, when Illya flicks his attention up to them, are dark with questions. But there is no pity on his face, no cruelty, and so Illya gives the barest hint of a nod. Holds still as best he can, though his curled fingers shake when the tips of Napoleon's fingers brush against the white-scarred skin, gold cut through with silver, with craters.

Napoleon's fingers warm his skin where they touch, careful over the pitted marks, and the fact of his touching Illya makes Illya shiver, a self-satisfied warmth curling at the base of his spine.

"Illya," Napoleon says, low, hoarse. It should be illegal to have such a voice. Yet Illya obeys the implicit request and meets Napoleon's eyes. They're blue, and dark, and hungry as the depths of Baikal, of the taiga. Waiting, warm.

Illya almost holds his breath, as Napoleon's hand curls about his mark, slips down to his wrist. Closes, holds. Confines, safe, protected, possessed: a simple statement of 'mine' in skin on skin.

Napoleon gazes at him as though he is an icon. Pride - not in himself, in Illya - curls the corners of his lips. The red flush crawls up from the space of skin revealed at the open collar of his shirt, the dark hair there, and Illya could kiss the hollow of his throat, taste the heat and life of him.

Stillness. The moment, lingering, swelling into a silence that encompasses the world. Them breathing in this warm kitchen, in this flat, as if the world outside has fled, as if it would not devour them whole, given the chance. Napoleon's thumb strokes Illya's mark, the curling licks of gold and red. Kindles flames in the skin that is whole, flames that break and die as warm skin passes over scarred.

When Illya was a child, in the ashes of the war, his mother had kissed him in the square where the Decembrists died, beneath the Bronze Horseman that both threatened and protected, and said that his mark was a shame, but that he was not, that he could overcome it. Would she be disappointed in him, that he stands here-

Illya breaks the silence, as he breaks all things precious and bright and worthy.

"Napoleon."

Napoleon looks up from where his hand curls about Illya's wrist, eyes soft, as if broken from a dream.  "Hm?"

"What do you want?" He is efficient. He knows no other way to be. He brought lubricant and condoms in the pocket of his trousers, because the KGB has taught him many things, and he will not be caught unprepared.

Napoleon's jaw clenches, but his voice is light when he says, "I want many things from this world, Illya, but if you're asking about what I want from you, specifically-"      

"Yes."

"-than I want to earn your trust. For you to have enough faith in me that you come to me willingly, without fear."

Illya doesn't laugh, for it does no one good to laugh at their vladelet. Still, to ask him to be without fear, it's absurd. He has grown up as the child of traitors, a pokornny. Every night for a year after that gray December morning when his father left, he had waited for that knock on the door, the black unmarked cars- had woken howling in the night, brow cold as an icon's kiss.

Then, the KGB, to be made new, made useful, in that sprawling capital, with its statue of the kolkhoz and factory worker, the brighter, better future waiting. He had left his mother's flat, and she had followed him to the door, eyes downcast, as if she followed a corpse.

"I can't ask that of you, can I."

He blinks awake to find Napoleon close, the warmth of other cities and other nations in his eyes. Swallows and looks down to where Napoleon's hand has folded closer about his wrist, pressure on the bones.

So. He has already failed his vladelet once, then.

"It would be unfair of you," he says, and Napoleon's smile twists, aches.

"All right."        

"The KGB taught me." He stops, and Napoleon's fingers, tight on his wrist, give him strength to continue, "The KGB taught me to- I hurt people, and they called me skotyna, beast, and said that I’d done well. I'm not some usual submissive, to be made what you want." He almost laughs, but the sound sticks in his throat, needle-sharp. "The KGB had the training of me, and what I am, they made me."

He will live, all the days of his life (he used to pray they would be few), as the product of the KGB. How else can he be?      

"If I didn't know better, I'd think you were trying to drive me away." Napoleon says this lightly, as if it doesn't matter, as if Illya is amusing, but the clench of his fingers about Illya's mark speaks the truth.

Illya closes his eyes. "Maybe."

“Please,” Napoleon says, and the strange word in his mouth opens Illya’s eyes. Napoleon tugs at his wrist with the barest of pressure, and Illya steps forward. Follows him to the living room, his gaze fixed on Napoleon’s face, on the awed hunger there.

They leave the dishes undone.

Chapter Text

Before the couch, Napoleon slips his hand up from Illya's wrist, to shoulder, to curve about the back of his neck, skin against skin. Illya tenses into his loose grip, shoulders rising, muscle coiling. It’s a sadness that even the faintest hint of possession, of desiring, makes him flinch, cast a wary gaze at the floor.

"You don't have to kneel." That is, as ever, the point: submission, trust, cannot be compelled. It can only be earned. It may be that he hasn't earned Illya's trust this far, this soon.

"But you would like it if I did." Illya glances down at the plain pillow Napoleon keeps on the floor, in the same spot it's always been in, a signifier of vain hope. His brow furrows, but there's no fury in it, only an ancient ache in the twist of his mouth.

"Very much, but only if you want to." The world outside is full of lies. Here, he will tell Illya only truth.

Illya swallows and folds onto the pillow, Napoleon sitting as he goes, keeping his hand on Illya's neck. He does not go down gracefully, as so many of Napoleon's partners have, concerned first and foremost with display; he doesn't hold Napoleon's eyes through demure lashes and bite his lip; merely falls, rote and military and trained, to his knees.

Still, Napoleon draws in a breath at the sight of him: shoulders hunched in instinctive defiance even as he presses back into Napoleon's grip, gaze searching for approval, those killer's hands lax on his thighs. The storm waiting, half-tamed, at Napoleon's request, and the power crackles inside him.

"Dangerous," he breathes, and Illya's mouth twitches into a smile.

"I am, after all, a spy."

Napoleon brushes his thumb over the short hairs at the nape of Illya's neck, and Illya tips his head back into it, eyes heavy-lidded.

"And what, oh most dangerous of spies, do you enjoy in bed?"

Illya frowns again, drops his gaze. Humiliation burns red in his face, simmering in his voice. "I haven’t much experience, outside the mission.”

Not surprising, considering how carefully he’s guarded his status, but still, to not know is a tragedy.   

"Then what did you do, when you needed to relax?" The KGB had in-house dominants, but he can't imagine Illya making much use of them; wound tight as he is, has always been, he can't have. The shame Illya feels over being who he is, what he is, would not have permitted him much.

 He’s been ill-treated and ill-kept, neglected. Some part of Napoleon has always known this, because when they met with Illya’s old handler – which they did infrequently – Illya’s gaze would follow Oleg about the room, waiting for orders (dispensed with snide digs at Illya’s patrimony) or praise that never came.

Illya’s spent his whole life looking for a leader, someone he can trust, and the USSR has failed utterly to provide it.

Napoleon will just have to be that person, and the USSR’s loss shall be his most precious gain.

Illya's fingers twitch. He leans back into Napoleon's hand harder, until his weight forces Napoleon to tighten his grip.

"Confinement helps," Illya says, and oh.

Napoleon spreads his legs and pulls Illya forward between them, letting him settle again on the pillow before he closes his thighs about Illya's ribs, letting Illya rest his arms on either side of his hips.

Illya swallows at the motion, licks his lips, leaves them shining in the lamplight.               

"You like confinement. Any kind?"

"No." llya's denial splits the quiet. "Being tied down, tied up - not having an out - I don’t like these things." He twists, tenses, and even Napoleon's thumb stroking his neck doesn't seem to calm him.

"Did the KGB's dominants do that?"

"Yes. No sex - unnecessary - but their job was to take care of our needs-" Illya spits the word, "-as efficiently as possible."

"How?"

"Floggings, sometimes. Stress positions."            

Napoleon keeps his hand from clenching on Illya's neck, but it's a near miss. Forcing someone down with pain, pushing them past all boundaries until their body reacts to the assault with endorphins - it's an artless, brutal thing, and he can imagine it all too well.

Illya fighting back against the restraints or the pain of kneeling with teeth bared - because he has never known how to not fight- and behind him, some faceless KGB officer, disinterested, dispassionate.

He swallows. "I'm guessing those KGB officers were not particularly interested in caring for you, afterwards."

Illya snorts. "Of course not. We were pokornyy, and if we had to be pokornny, we should have at least been able to handle our needs without their intervention." He holds Napoleon's gaze with appealing directness, his tensed shoulders dropping. A bit more relaxed, at least. "A dominant who goes too long without playing out their dynamic becomes aggressive, searching for something to do. They make good front-line operatives when they're in such a state. But we-" his mouth twists in something Napoleon can't call a smile, "-we become emotional, needy, wanting orders. Not so useful."

Napoleon can see it, even now. Illya hanging from the cuffs as the anonymous officer steps up behind him to unbuckle them, the proud head bowed, sensual lips chewed raw. Bare back striped with crimson rising through the sweat or muscles spasming out the last agonies. The way he would pick up his carefully-folded shirt without betraying an ounce of pain and stride out of the room as though nothing could touch him.

He would bend close to kiss Illya, to whisper apologies against his grieving mouth, but Illya is not a man for apologies or pity, and so Napoleon only keeps his hand on Illya's neck and drops his other hand to rest on top of Illya's, where it rests on the couch.

"So no physical restraints, understood. But being told to keep your hands in one position or holding onto something, that works for you?"

Illya's pupils dilate. "Yes." His voice is gruff. His hand flexes beneath Napoleon's, nails scratching against the leather.

"Is there anything else you want me to avoid?"

Illya frowns at him, the furrow of his brow more puzzled than annoyed. "You make those decisions, unless I've misread what it means to be a vladelet in America entirely."

Oh, Illya. Napoleon's heart twists in his chest all over again, close to pain. They're speaking two entirely different languages: his own is one of care and protection and partnership, and Illya's, pain and control and forced surrender.

"In the contexts we agree upon, I make the decisions, yes. But I would never want to make a decision that would truly harm you, or cause you to do something you truly felt you couldn't endure."

"I can endure much," Illya says, searching his face.

"I know you can." Napoleon keeps up his rhythmic stroking of Illya's neck with his palm, dips his thumb into the hollow of Illya's throat to feel his pulse beat there, the ripple of his swallow. "But I don't want to cause you true pain."

"Why not?" Illya jerks up onto his knees, about to get up, but Napoleon slides his hand up into Illya's hair and tugs, just a bit, enough to get Illya's attention.

"I know you can handle pain, Illya. More than most people, enough that most people would die doing what you've done. But do you enjoy it?"

Illya starts to withdraw into himself, but Napoleon catches him by the jaw, careful to keep his grip firm, not tight: possessive but not cruel. Never cruel. "If I were to ask you to lie over my knee right now so I could spank you until you cried, would you enjoy it? Would it get you hard?"

Illya's eyes, blue as Siberian winter, shutter. He pulls back, but Napoleon has him by neck and jaw, holds him still. Illya stares at him, searching, trying to divine Napoleon’s secrets, his wants – trying to figure out what he needs to do, who he needs to be, as though Napoleon needs him to be anyone other than himself.

The world outside can have their lies, their disguises. In here, Napoleon needs Illya’s honesty.

"I would do it, if you asked it of me."

"Not what I asked."

Illya swallows. Grinds his teeth, and Napoleon can’t bear it, the pain this man feels at having to admit that he doesn't enjoy being hurt, as though it's a flaw, or a failing, as though this man has not hurt enough for a lifetime. Silence.

“What do I need to do,” Napoleon asks at last, “to get you to stop weighing every answer?” He gentles his grip, but doesn’t let go; he can’t imagine ever letting go of this beautiful man, as long as he’s willing to be kept.

Illya looks down at the floor. His jaw clenches, muscles tight against the inside of Napoleon’s fingers. His voice is a raw whisper, but there’s no artifice in it. “I would enjoy where the pain would take me. The confirmation of your control. But the pain itself, no. It would not teach me anything."

"Then I won't do it."

Illya's gaze flicks to Napoleon's face, his brow furrowed once more.  "Even though you would enjoy it." His hands begin to curl into fists beside Napoleon's thighs, frustration bleeding from his pores. His hand trembles.

"I wouldn't."

Illya's jaw clenches, a hard breath whistling through his teeth. He starts to jerk to his feet, to shake off Napoleon's hands on him, and he's slipping through Napoleon's fingers like sand, like smoke. What has Napoleon said wrong, where are they splintering against each other? He would clutch at Illya's hands, pull him down, but Illya hates confinement-

"Illya. Illya, stop." He infuses every bit of control he's ever possessed into it, every shouted order across a battlefield, but it all means nothing if Illya chooses not to listen.

Illya halts. Stands, quivering, over him, his nostrils flared, his eyes two chips of ice, incandescent rage filtering into the air, and Napoleon is never more aware of the differences between their skill than at this moment. He can forge an identity, unlock a safe, but he cannot kill five men with his bare hands in minutes, like Illya can, like Illya has.

"What did I say?"

Illya leans back. "Lzhets. Liar. You said you wouldn't like it, but I've heard you so many times - that bellhop in Krakow, the bartender in Rome - spanking your conquests or flogging them, and you liked it."

Ah. The man before him is a man used to betrayals, to lies, and he must think Napoleon another in a long series of traitors. Yet - Yet for him to be so upset, he must trust him, must have felt that trust betrayed, and he is staying, waiting, wanting to believe the best of Napoleon.  

"Illya." Napoleon reaches for that shaking hand, and Illya gives it into his grip with only a fractional hesitation. He runs his thumb over the knotted metacarpals, the twined scar tissue; keeps his gaze on Illya's face, the better to catch the widening of his eyes, the sudden flush at his throat.

"I didn't lie. I liked it because they did." He curls his fingers into Illya's and bends to kiss the back of his hand, the warm thin skin there.

Illya's breath hitches.

Napoleon looks up, holds his gaze. Weighs his words, because Illya, for all his love of books, has never trusted words. "You've been taught that dominants get their pleasure out of ordering subs around, forcing them to endure things they don't want. That doing so proves their control."

Illya's frozen. His chest rises and falls near-imperceptibly.

Napoleon rises from the couch to face him, mouth dry. He’d pray for Illya to stay, to believe him, but there is no God in this room: just two men. He lets go of Illya's hand to settle his hands on Illya's narrow waist, where the breath strangles in him. He would slip his hand into Illya's hair, cup his jaw in his palm, but Illya is, in this moment, fragile.

Napoleon is not the sort to break things.

"You asked me once if I wanted to fuck you." The word is sharp, vulgar on his tongue. "I did. I still do. Not for my own gratification, but for yours. The control I have - the power you give me -" and he dares to slip one hand beneath Illya's shirt to rest on his hipbone, the warm skin there, and Illya shudders, sways into the touch, " - is pushing you to want, to be greedy for more, and then to fulfill that want. My pleasure, my gratification, comes from taking care of you."

Illya’s eyes, full dark now, search Napoleon’s face for falsehood, and Napoleon hides nothing – not his wants, not his fears, not the aching desire for Illya, spread out beneath him, that burns in his blood. Illya's hands, steadier now, settle at the small of Napoleon's back. They’re heavy, warm even though the good fabric of Napoleon’s shirt. His eyes shine feral in the lamplit room. He says, as if daring something dangerous,

"If. If it is as you say, then- I want something."

"Tell me," Napoleon says, even as he untucks Illya's shirttails, runs his thumbs over the sweat-damp hollow at the small of Illya's back, just to watch him shiver. The fine hairs there brush his palms, and Napoleon wants to pin him down and bite-

Illya bites the inside of his lip. Says, quiet, as if even now he thinks Napoleon will take this away from him,

"Kiss me."

He extricates his hands from beneath Illya’s shirt, keeps his eyes on Illya’s face the whole time to mark the nervous click of Illya’s swallow, the pulse beating in his throat. He drags his hands up Illya’s sides, the quivering valleys of his ribs, across his chest, where his heartbeat races – palms brushing Illya’s nipples, dragging coarse cloth against them, and Illya shivers deliciously, temptation in every motion – up his neck, to cradle Illya’s jaw in both hands.

Illya’s pulse beats hummingbird-wild against his skin. His dark eyes drop to Napoleon's mouth, his face hard with hunger, yet shy - a wolf half-tamed, wary of the kind hands that reach for it. His hands strain against Napoleon's back, rigid with the need to not clutch, as if Napoleon doesn't have ten more fine shirts, as if he wouldn't sacrifice them all for Illya.

“Yes,” he says, and “Always,” and he tilts Illya's head gently, carefully, and urges him down a few inches. Steps into his space, until they're chest to chest. Strokes his thumbs across Illya's stubbled cheeks, and kisses him.

Illya gasps, the sound lost in Napoleon’s mouth, but doesn’t pull away. His hands curl into Napoleon’s shirt, and he sways forward, stops himself. His eyes fall shut, and that evidence of trust – that he can close his eyes around Napoleon – encourages Napoleon more than anything else he’s seen tonight.

Napoleon kisses him slowly, thoroughly, the way he is sure Illya has never been kissed before. He does not conquer, never forces, merely asks with tongue and teeth and lips, and Illya yields: cautious, unsure, but brave in his willingness to allow it, when the tension trembling in his frame speaks to his instinct to fight back, to turn this into a battle. Sweet, almost, the whine in the back of his throat as Napoleon draws his lower lip between his teeth, a faint hint of pressure; the hitching gasp as Napoleon draws back to kiss the corner of his mouth, returns to his lips, licks them open, bites.

Illya’s narrow hips arch against Napoleon’s belly, cock already rigid beneath the cheap fabric. Not so unaffected, or sterile, as the USSR liked to pretend, and Napoleon smiles against Illya’s mouth.

Napoleon draws back to look him over, and is undone.

Illya's mouth shines red and swollen in the lamplight. His eyes glitter black, fixed on Napoleon's face, and the naked yearning there twists Napoleon's heart. His chest jerks with uneven breaths, the cause obvious when Napoleon drops his attention to the erection tenting the worn gray cloth of his trousers.

Already? Though he is inexperienced-

"Do you see?" he says, low, rough, returning his gaze to Illya's wondering face. "I don't need pain to show that I control you, or ropes, or cuffs. I control you because what I ask of you, you give me. Because-" and he leans in to kiss the spot between Illya's jaw and his ear, to scrape teeth until Illya whines, hands clenching in his shirt, "-you’ll be so good for me, won't you?”

"I-" Illya's coiling into a knot of tension in his arms, the old fears rising. Freeing him from them will be a challenge.

"Hands behind your back. Cross your wrists." Napoleon says against Illya's jaw, gratified and unsurprised when Illya snaps to attention, into a picture-perfect presentation. "Good, well done," and he seals the compliment with a kiss to the corner of Illya's mouth. "Keep them there until I tell you to move them."

Illya swallows. "Yes."

With other subs, Napoleon’s usually asked for some form of ‘Sir.’ Not possible here – Illya’s spent most of his life thinking only in military contexts, in steel and blood, and Napoleon won’t give him a reason to connect this to the past, to bring old scars into this fragile thing they’re building together. So he says nothing. Steps back.

He drops his attention to Illya's cock, which twitches beneath his gaze. He's seen it, a few times, on missions - commensurate in size with the rest of him - but never hard, never waiting for him, for his command.

“How long-?”

“Since Krakow,” Illya says to the air over Napoleon’s shoulder, gaze flicking to Napoleon, then away.

Krakow- wait, the bellhop, who’d asked to be forced to fail, to be punished-

“That order wasn’t for you,” is all Napoleon can think to say, even as a hot rush of joy fills his chest, has him brimming with it. What a priceless gift Illya’s given him, this obedience, this desire to please, and all the better for being a gift that can’t be stolen: only surrendered.

Illya shifts back. His mouth twists, his eyes drop to the floor between them. Hunching into himself again, so ready to take everything for the worst, a one-man army undone by kindness.

Napoleon’s eyes burn with it. He starts to say something.

“I wanted to do it,” Illya interrupts, glancing up at Napoleon with a mulish jut to his jaw. “I know it wasn’t for me, but I could- I could pretend that you’d given me the order, because I was yours.” He shrugs, ashamed. “I was yours even then.”

"Thank you," is all he can say, all he can think to say. Most of him is taken up with thinking, plots. Illya is used to self-denial, and no doubt in the KGB, he'd been efficient with his needs: a means to an end. Asking him to restrain himself will be easy, might push him back into old patterns, and Napoleon doesn't want that: wants Illya freed of shame, able to receive pleasure without fear.

Illya shrugs, ducks his head. "It was nothing." The same reflexive denial, the refusal to take credit, because credit, praise, was so rarely offered. How long has Illya been starving for kindness?

"Illya," Napoleon says, level, a hint of command.

Illya meets his gaze, brow creased - of course he doesn't see the problem.

Napoleon steps forward, back into his space. Lifts his hands to cradle Illya's face, thumbs stroking his sharp jaw. "Don't undermine yourself. You chose to give your pleasure to me, even though I hadn't asked, and that's a gift - one I'm sure was difficult for you. Don't tell me that I shouldn't value it, or you."

Illya stares at him, red wet mouth half-open, and Napoleon wants, badly, to kiss him again. Won't, though - not until Illya asks.

"Yes," Illya says, and his breath licks warm against Napoleon's mouth. The surrender settles in Napoleon’s bones, the certainty that he can handle this, handle Illya.

Illya’s gaze drops to Napoleon's lips, to the open collar of his shirt, and he swallows, the motion pressing against Napoleon's fingertips. The heat of him soaks Napoleon's skin, and Napoleon wants to devour him, embrace him, keep him safe, let him run wild, secure in the knowledge that he has a place, a person, to return to-

"What do you want?" Napoleon asks, when the silence stretches, when Illya's blown-black eyes lift back to him.

Illya tilts his head into Napoleon's left hand, stubble a rasp. His voice is low, raw, scrapes at Napoleon's spine.

"You say I'm yours. Prove it."

-

Illya lets the words slip free into the air, birds loosed into flight, and the nervousness swelling in his throat dissolves at the slow curl of Napoleon's mouth. The light blazing in those blue eyes, triumph, tenderness - no one has ever looked at him like his surrender is worth something before.

Napoleon's fingers firm on his jaw, and he holds Illya steady as he leans in, close, and closer, and kisses him again, until his lips bruise with it, until he strains against Napoleon's careful grip.

Illya's hands tremble behind his back, where Napoleon's put them, where Napoleon's ordered them, and Illya wants to touch, to have, to control, but he's given that to Napoleon. The willing surrender, the giving over, lights him up, has his cock jerking in his underwear.

Illya whines - and fuck, how weak - into Napoleon's mouth, and Napoleon gasps, laughs - draws back enough to moan, "God, Illya," before darting back in, nipping at his bottom lip, then slicking tongue and teeth over the line of his jaw, his neck.

Napoleon sinks teeth into the top of his shoulder and sucks a bruise there, a possession, and Illya jerks, knees going weak, held up only by Napoleon's careful hands. The warmth of Napoleon's mouth, his desire, blooms red-warm in his blood, and he sighs into the close air. Curls his fingers into his palms to keep from reaching.

"If you need me to stop," Napoleon starts, the warmth of his breath harsh against the new mark.

"I'll say 'Red.'" Illya refrains from rolling his eyes - honestly, he isn't completely inexperienced - though it is a kindness that Napoleon cares about his comfort.

Napoleon works the first button on his shirt through the hole, pushes the fabric back to expose Illya’s skin and – just looks. The dark heat in his eyes sinks into Illya, into the deep place that has always wanted, more than anything, to be wanted.

“Lovely,” Napoleon says, and keeps going, the slide of metal through fabric somehow loud in the silence between them.

Air licks cool at Illya’s skin, his nipples drawing tight beneath the exposure, and Napoleon notices, his smile slow and smug and consuming. The surprised delight in it, the possession, stokes the slow burn in Illya’s belly, in his chest, and he has to clench his hands to keep from reaching, kissing that disarming mouth. His nails dig into skin.

Illya knows, of course, that he meets baseline standards of attractiveness. The partners he’s had on missions have had no complaints, and while he has scars aplenty – Napoleon skims fingertips over the worst of them, a pale zigzag low on his flank – they’ve been explained away easily enough. He may not have the utterly unfair beauty of Napoleon, but Napoleon looks at him like he might pretend to.

Not that he’s getting to see much of Napoleon at the moment; he is near-naked from the waist up, but Napoleon is still fully clothed. The contrast settles the need in him, to be claimed, to be taken, but he does want to see-

Napoleon pushes his shirt off his shoulders and down his arms, until it bunches at his crossed wrists. “Let it fall.”

Illya does, then returns to his previous position. Wrists crossed, shoulders back, head held high – it’s a standard pose, and Napoleon studies him, those incisive eyes sweeping him from sole to crown.

“How long could you hold this position?”

Odd question – Illya’s done security work at Politburo functions where pokornny served as furniture, the taboo of having another Communist as property titillating to those in attendance, but Napoleon doesn’t seem the type. If Illya’s still, then he can’t attend to Napoleon’s needs.

“Hours.” He has, before, waiting for Oleg to finish paperwork, to hear Oleg’s opinions on his performance: neutral, at best. “Why?”

Napoleon’s hands settle, warm and sure, on his hips, the contact of skin to skin a shock to the system. One thumb strokes at his flank, as if he’s a skittish creature in need of gentling. Perhaps he is. “Feel free to tell me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think I am. Seems to me that all anyone has ever been interested in having from you is your obedience to the state. For you to be a skotyna, and to suffer for it. Has anyone ever wanted you to feel good, just because you deserved it, because you are good?”

Illya’s swallow clicks in his throat. He frowns down at Napoleon, because only Napoleon would think to ask such a bizarre question. “Oleg once gave me three days off for keeping the daughter of a Politburo member from embarrassing him at a social function.” Not at all what Napoleon wants, not at all what he’s driving at, but he can’t help but feel some need to defend his old handler.

Napoleon sighs, but gentles his frustration with a smile. “Oleg never valued your loyalty enough, did he?”

Illya bristles. “I don’t-“

“Unfair question, never mind.” Napoleon dispels it with a shake of his head. “Step out of your shoes, please.”

Illya toes them off without moving his arms from behind his back, and Napoleon watches, brow raised.

“Impressive balance, Peril.”

“I’ve had practice.” He can still feel the cold of the KGB cells in the soles of his feet. But shit, he shouldn’t have said that, because Napoleon’s smile has dimmed at the reminder of who Illya is, what he is. It’s too easy to forget himself here, with Napoleon, to forget all his craft, the things he has to hide. Too much trust, already.

Napoleon takes a breath, straightens his shoulders. “Everyone who’s wanted your submission wanted you to suffer,” Napoleon says, flat. “Asking you to hold a stress position for me, or take a whipping for me, or humble yourself for me- those aren’t difficult for you, because you’ve done them, you’ve been required to, and I’ll be damned if I ever do a thing to you that reminds you of them.”

Illya stiffens, opens his mouth – he isn’t something to be coddled – but Napoleon puts a finger over his lips – shushes him – and it’s so unfamiliar and unexpected that he shuts up, unsure whether to be insulted.

“You’ve had enough of pain. You can endure pain, it’s no struggle for you-“ and Napoleon’s heavy hands slip further down his waist, rest on the waistband of his trousers, thumbs meeting at the top of the zip. The weight and warmth of his hands has Illya interested, and he flushes as his cock twitches, precome rolling wet and warm down the shaft, molding the cloth of his underwear to him.

Napoleon’s slant of a smile promises the world. “How many times can you come?”

 Illya gulps a breath. His skin tingles at every brush of air, every nerve awakened by the path Napoleon’s hands have traveled, stoking a fire in his bones. He’s hard, aching now, and he wants, and he doesn’t- “I don’t know.”

“Would you let me find out?”

Illya curls fingers into palms. Presses the insides of his wrists against each other until he can feel the blood pulse in them. Swallows. How can he allow this, this selfishness, this greed of wanting more, more pleasure, when he's meant to serve-

"Please," he says, surprising even himself. Yet another way he's fallen farther from the motherland- but his father is long dead in the gulag, his mother buried beneath white nights in Leningrad, Peter's great creation, city of fog and curses. There is nothing left for him there, and everything here, in this warm flat, this man watching him with hopeful eyes.

Napoleon leans up to kiss him, and with thief's hands slides his zipper down.

Illya closes his eyes, memorizes the brush of Napoleon's stubble on his chin, the warmth of his lips, the-

Napoleon's hand slips inside his trousers, hot, heavy, and cups him over his soaked underwear. The cloth slides against him, and Illya tears himself away from Napoleon's mouth to gasp, rock forward into Napoleon's hand.

"There we go," Napoleon murmurs, low, deep blue gaze fixed on Illya's face. Color rides high on his cheeks, the flush spreading down along his neck, into his shirt. He tightens his grip, and Illya drops his head to Napoleon's shoulder. The heat of his breath dampens the fine pale silk of Napoleon's shirt, ruffles the sweat-dark hair curling behind his ears.

"You're so wet," Napoleon says against Illya's ear, the utter filth of it making Illya jerk. What kind of man just says things like that?

Then again, Napoleon has never been the paragon of restraint.

Napoleon lets go and Illya whines, starts to lift his head-

"Easy, easy, I'm not going anywhere, just let me-" Napoleon hooks his thumbs into Illya's underwear, slips it and his trousers down in one move, urges Illya to step out of them.

He does, dazed, and watches Napoleon shove them away to some far-away corner. His freed cock bobs into the air, deep red, slick at the tip, and as Napoleon stares at him, nostrils wide, teeth bared in an avaricious grin, his slit opens enough to drip another few beads of precome down the shaft, the swollen veins there. Embarrassment flames into roaring life in the pit of his belly, but snuffs out at Napoleon's low moan.

Napoleon closes his eyes, as if the mere sight of Illya, naked, is enough to pierce him to the quick. His cock twitches beneath his clothes. "God," he says, hushed, raw, ravenous, "you're lovely."

Illya opens his mouth to object - men are certainly not lovely - but he'd promised not to undermine himself, and so he closes it, words trapped behind teeth.

Napoleon smiles at him. "Good."

Illya curls into himself at that, his cock jerking, and Napoleon closes with him in one stride. One arm loops about Illya's back, settles at the small of it, the other hand falling to fondle him once more.

Illya starts to say something - he'll never remember what - but the words splinter into a sob as Napoleon presses his mouth about Illya's nipple and sucks. Closes his teeth about it, the threat blazing - a false threat, because he trusts Napoleon, foolishly, fondly, believes in him. The pressure of his mouth makes Illya bend into Napoleon's forearm, trusting him, somehow, to hold him steady, hold him up.

Every slight move of Napoleon's hand, the calluses of his gun, every touch of his teeth, the soft warmth of his tongue, makes Illya gasp for breath, fire burning beneath his skin. Napoleon slicks his thumb over Illya, gathers the liquid welling there, smooths it down as he strokes.

Napoleon's mouth is fire, every deep pull of suction making Illya's hips roll into his grip. Sweat slicks the small of Illya's back, where Napoleon's arm braces him, and he wants it to burn, wants Napoleon to seep into his skin, into his bones-   

Napoleon rubs his thumb across his slit, and Illya’s knees buckle. He keeps his wrists together through will alone, though he feels like flying apart, like he's too big for his skin, all his muscles winding tight, caged. It's been months, and he can't catch his breath, there's rivers in his bones threatening to crest the banks, and Napoleon touches teeth to his skin, tip of his tongue curling about him, and Illya breaks.

Please-“

Napoleon pulls back, whispers, ‘Yes’ into his skin, and drops his mouth to Illya’s other nipple.

He twists in Napoleon's hands, arches, muscles thrumming, eyes blind. He gasps a sob. The air is close, and hot, and still, and all his bones have become water. He is empty, shaking, held up only by will and Napoleon. His vladelet, who's brought him here, to this surrender, this emptiness. His heart roars in his ears as he pries his eyes open, images filtering to his stunned mind in fragments.

Napoleon's dark head still at his chest. The white gleam of his own come streaked across Napoleon's curling gold mark, rolling in fat drops over the tinges of blood Illya brought to the mark. Napoleon's hand still cupped about his trembling cock, long fingers following the tracery of veins. And now, Napoleon's pale eyes, wild, meeting his as he pulls away, leaving Illya's nipples swollen and stiff and bruised, throbbing with heat.

"Beautiful," Napoleon slurs past reddened lips. His voice is a rumble in the sudden stillness. "How anyone could have ever-"

"Napoleon." It's not a protest, not quite. Turning aside his vladelet's anger at those who've had Illya before is impossible, but he can't yet spurn them, reject where he has come from, what he's been.

Napoleon's lips twitch into a smile, but his eyes speak sadness. He lifts his hands to cradle Illya's face once more, skims callused thumb across Illya's lips, sparking fires. "You are not a skotyna."

To be something other than a beast seems impossible as killing Koschei the Deathless, as finding the island where Koschei keeps his soul. If such things are real. If such fairy tales are permitted, in this brave new world of men, of gulags, of KGB cells and KGB works and KGB training.

His lips tremble beneath Napoleon's finger. Words shatter behind his teeth like breaking ice.

“You have a mark, you have a soul,” Napoleon whispers, and leans his forehead into Illya’s, until they breathe the same air.

Would it be worse, to have a soul and do what he has done regardless? Would he be worse, or damned, all his rage a permanent blot of blood upon snow? Will his fury, like a stone in the riverbed, turn aside Napoleon's hopes into horrors?

He closes his eyes, lets his head sink into the cradle of Napoleon's hands. "I may forget their lessons," he says, a last warning, and Napoleon's thumb touches the fragile skin inside his lips, leaves salt behind. "But they haven't forgotten me." Still, Napoleon wants him, wants this, and he is-

He is so tired of these iron laws, and if he may take this, may lay claim to one thing of his own, then he will take Napoleon, and defend him as long as he remains alive.

"Illya," Napoleon breathes, voice cracking, as Illya bends his neck to kiss Napoleon's unscarred palm, where no bones have broken, no ill-aimed tawses have snapped skin apart. Kisses the rivered lines, dares to lick the warmth of life from the hollow of his hand, the tips of Napoleon's fingers scraping rough against his stubble. Even drags his mouth up Napoleon's forearm, kissing his own come off that golden skin. The taste isn't unfamiliar - he has done this before, for the mission - but this is the first time he's done it because he wanted to.

He drags open his eyes to find Napoleon's expression wrecked, cracked open, naked adoration in the lamplight. Silence in Illya's head, and not the frozen crazed emptiness of gulag tundra, but the warm silence of nights with Napoleon and Gaby on the beaches of Tangiers. He doesn't smile, for smiles seem too light for a moment like this.

"I hope I won't be the only one to lose clothes tonight," he says, and the deep pools of Napoleon's eyes flash hungry. His smile is a white razor.

"At ease," Napoleon says, and drops his hands from Illya's body, fingertips glancing over bruises and scars. He walks backward through his flat, a showman even here, undoing the buttons of his shirt. Shakes it off, silk crumpling somewhere in the hallway with a rustle. The lamplight gilds the cords of his muscles, the fine dark trail of hair slicing down into his trousers, the hollow of his throat.

Illya stalks after, mouth dry with wanting him. Shakes out stiff arms, the pleasant relaxation of post-orgasm settling heavy on his limbs. His eyes stay fixed on Napoleon's, the triumph there, the pride - not pride in himself, in having Illya tamed, a pet to bid, but in Illya, and that is what makes Illya obey. He could lunge, rip the shirt apart bare-handed, take, but Napoleon takes nothing about him for granted, and that is what lets Illya rest, secure.     

Napoleon leads him into the bedroom - a mirror across from the opulent bed, thick curtains drawn - and to the foot of the bed. "Sit, please."

Illya sits, but even then reaches out to settle his hands on Napoleon's waist. The warmth is still a shock, that Napoleon is letting him, is staring down at him with affection in the curl of his mouth even more so. Illya’s not sure how to bear it: this improbable, incomparable gift of touching someone and leaving them unhurt.

"Unzip me."

The metal teeth of the zipper part beneath Illya's hands, and the pinstriped trousers fall down Napoleon's muscular legs to puddle on the floor. Illya takes a deep breath, the warm scent of Napoleon's arousal curling wetly across his palate. He dares to flick a glance up at Napoleon, half-afraid of his response at the animalistic act, only to find Napoleon looking down at him, the thin skin about his eyes crinkled with his smile.

"Steady, now," Napoleon says, and so Illya bears up beneath Napoleon's hand on his shoulder as Napoleon steps out of his trousers and toes off his shoes and socks, content, in this moment, to be useful, to be wanted. Napoleon wears briefs, dark blue, silk, and a dark patch spreads where the curve of his cock ends.

Illya swallows. Napoleon could just order him to open his mouth, he could swallow him down, the weight and warmth of him on his tongue - it's been years and yet he wants.

"You're already hard again,” Napoleon purrs, the curl of his mouth about the words sin itself.

Illya hasn't noticed, too caught up in Napoleon, in the rise and fall of his chest. The desire in his eyes. His wicked mouth. But yes, he can feel himself now, the heavy line of his cock along his thigh, the need returning.

Napoleon drags his other hand down his chest, slips it into his own briefs. A low groan rumbles from Napoleon's mouth as his fingers curl about himself beneath the silk. His thumb juts into the cloth as he draws the nail about the head, the skin of his arms goosebumping, the hand on Illya's shoulder clenching, palm pressing into the mark he left there. He drops his head back to stare down at Illya through heavy-lidded eyes, black in the dim light of the bedroom.

Illya gazes back, enraptured, possessed. Words don't seem sufficient to express the sheer gratitude of the moment, of seeing Napoleon naked, wanting him. He settles for turning his head aside and kissing Napoleon's knuckles on his shoulder, the trailing golden edges of the mark.

"Oh, look at you," Napoleon says, hand stilling in his briefs. "So good for me, aren't you?"

Illya smiles against his knuckles and slants his gaze at Napoleon's briefs. "I could be better for you, if you want."

"Oh, Peril," Napoleon manages around his laugh, "that line is why we never put you on the honeypot missions."

"In the USSR, Cowboy, that would have been considered the height of romance between pokornny and vladelet," Illya sniffs, though he isn't insulted; Napoleon speaks the truth. He doesn't have Napoleon's ease with people, the ability to blend into any crowd. KGB training focused on efficient destruction of places and people, not on concealment.   

Napoleon rolls his eyes, but lifts his hand to run a fond thumb over Illya's scar. "Hence them needing to provide awards to get the birth rate up."

Illya snorts, and then feels bizarrely unpatriotic.

"Speaking of your homeland, their bugs are wonderfully made. You mentioned seeing me in Krakow and Rome." Napoleon's thumb slips warmly over Illya's lips, his own mouth quirked in a soft smile. "When you listened, or saw, whatever voyeurism you engaged in - was there anything you wanted to try? Anything new?"

Krakow. The bellhop, spread eagle on the bed, the long pale line of his spine writhing as Napoleon knelt behind him, spread him open with thumb and fingers, and devoured him.   

Illya has never seen anyone do that, before or since. It looked filthy, sounded worse, and Illya should be ashamed of wanting that, no matter who it came from. But he isn't, because Napoleon is his vladelet, and he's promised no shame between them.

"I would-" Illya fumbles, mouth dry with longing for Napoleon, "I'd like it if you would get me wet there." He doesn't know the proper English term.

"You want me to eat you out?" Napoleon says, low, and it shouldn't matter that much, Illya's heard him say far worse, but never to him. That rough, lazy voice has never been for him. "Lick you open until you're dripping, until you're crying with the emptiness, with how much you need this-" his hand, trapped inside his briefs, flexes on a squeeze, "-inside you?"

He draws his hand away from Illya and hooks his thumb in the corner of his briefs, pulling them down and kicking them off. His cock, curved, thick, shining wet at the tip, juts into the air, cradled in his clever fingers.

Illya swallows. Manages to say, old shame prickling at his neck, "Please."

Napoleon's expression softens. "Nothing would make me happier, Illya."

They may be spies, their identities in flux, living between borders and names, but here-

Illya believes him.

Chapter Text

Napoleon sits back on his heels to study the lay of the land, as it were, satisfaction warm and lazy in his chest at Illya, here in his bed.

Illya's spread out before him, facing the mirror, his chin on his crossed arms and his blue eyes meeting Napoleon's in the mirror. The pale plain of his back sprawls to meet Napoleon's fingertips where they dip into scars, into the strong rivers of muscle beside his spine.

"I don't understand the need for the pillows," Illya says, rolling his hips into where the pillows are stacked beneath his belly. His cock presses into them, but he seems uninterested in it at the moment, more curious about how Napoleon will handle him. "I can hold myself up."

"Of course you can," Napoleon agrees. The warm solidity of Illya's muscle and bone beneath his palms attests to that, to say nothing of all the times Illya has held up he and Gaby both. "But I intend to take my time-" he skims his hands downward, into the hollow of Illya's back, sweat-sheened, and onto the round of his cheeks, thumbs dipping into the crease, "-because I want to make you sob for it." He curls his fingers and gazes, silenced with the urge to lunge into that dry furl of pale rose muscle.

"Napoleon-" Illya starts, and then shivers as Napoleon drags the tip of his thumb across him, the tiny muscles there clenching as if to catch Napoleon, pull him within.

Napoleon groans, shot through with need, and has to bend to kiss the dip of Illya's spine. Sweat dapples his lips as he says into Illya's skin,

"God, Illya. I'm going to make you howl, make that perfect little hole gape wide for me, red and wet and tender- you should be in the Met."

Illya's fists ruck up the sheets, his heel pressing into the side of Napoleon's calf. He's blushing, the heat spanning his cheeks, his muscled shoulders, and the incongruity of it, this shyness on so dangerous a man, seizes Napoleon with tenderness, with the need to keep Illya, to comfort.

"How dare you," Illya says, attempting irritation, "I should at least rate the Prado."

Napoleon laughs against Illya's tailbone, catching Illya's eye in the mirror. "My mistake."

Illya grins at him, then starts to hunch, duck his head as Napoleon kisses further down. Not surprising, considering how he thinks of submission, of how hard he's fought to keep his vulnerabilities hidden, and this act is certainly vulnerable. Still, Napoleon wants to see his reactions, the surprised bloom of pleasure in his expression.

"No, Illya." Napoleon feels Illya shudder beneath the heat of his breath, keeps his gaze on the mirror. "I want to see your face."

Illya's head stays low, broad shoulders curling inward. His hips twist, muscle bunching, swelling beneath Napoleon's hands. Napoleon keeps his grip light, not wanting to seem pressuring, but strokes with his thumbs, trying to communicate patience, the steady expectation of obedience.

At last, Illya swallows, the pale line of his throat bobbing, and the coiled tension in him eases, moment by moment, encouraging Napoleon. His toes uncurl in the coverlet, and he raises his flushed face to meet Napoleon's gaze in the mirror. His lips shine red, slick, and God, the sight of him earlier with his own come glazing his mouth-

"Good," Napoleon says, soft, low, and Illya shivers, deep eyes going heavy-lidded, the tight line of his mouth slack. "Thank you."

Then he drops his mouth back to the rise of Illya's spine, kisses a slow sucking line down, firms the grip of his thumbs, and flickers his tongue out to taste Illya’s tension, begin the slow process of persuasion, coaxing into surrender. Illya tastes of heat, salt, arousal, and Napoleon could stay here for hours. He makes a pass with the flat of his tongue, soft, wet, a coax and a tease at once.

Illya's eyes go wide at the first touch, breath hitching in his chest on a low sob of something Russian. He untangles one white-knuckled hand from the sheets and reaches back, imploring, and something in Napoleon's chest comes undone at the sheer sweet plea of it, the unselfconscious trust in Napoleon to be his anchor.

Napoleon meets Illya's hand with his own, tangles their fingers together. Adoration cracks him open, brims in his chest like tears. How can he be so fortunate to have this man in his life, in his bed, willing to trust him with his body, his heart?

He may never be able to let Illya go, not now.

Illya shivers as Napoleon curls the tip of his tongue across his rim, the tight ring of muscle quivering, trembling about Napoleon’s swift kiss. Tension races down through his shoulders, the sculpture of his back twisting, petering out where his toes dig into the sheets beside Napoleon's hip.

Napoleon lifts his head to meet Illya's eyes in the mirror.

Napoleon looks a wreck already: lips slick and swollen, tender, eyes hooded, glittering with want, the muscles of his shoulders tense. His hair has fallen forward to brush the rising red of lust in his cheekbones. "All right?"

The long line of Illya's bare throat works in a swallow, and that's it, Napoleon's fucking done, so done in by the sheer glory of this man submitting, giving him this. "It is good, it’s new, but- I am unsure how this will go, but if you could-" he hesitates, gaze flicking away from Napoleon's.

Napoleon squeezes his hand, palm to palm, scars to scars. "Tell me what you need."

Illya swallows, and all the old terrors crowd his expression, every demeaning stereotype, every comment Napoleon's sure he's heard. But he summons up his courage, the courage that means more because this is something Illya can't fight with fists or weapons, and rushes, "Hold me down."

“Oh, sweetheart,” and he can’t stop the way his voice breaks, "Of course, and thank you,” already letting go of Illya's hand. He slips both arms beneath Illya's powerful thighs, the golden hair there teasing the skin on his biceps, and curls his arms around to hold Illya open, press him down, forward, leave him exposed. His hands span the narrow expanse of Illya’s waist, thumbs dipping into that slick dark crevice, pink now with stubble burn. To be asked, to be trusted to hold him down, hold him still, when Napoleon has seen Illya caught and restrained and hurt, every single time-

Illya sags into the bed on an exhale of "Thank you," the sudden tension released, given over to Napoleon to carry. One knee begins to press into the mattress, testing, but Napoleon tightens his grip, leans in to breathe hotly against Illya's entrance, and Illya sighs, leg going lax.

Lovely. Napoleon closes his eyes and settles into his task. He learns Illya's tells: the thrum of desire beneath his skin, against Napoleon's fingers, as Napoleon gets him wet, sloppy; the low sob of his breath as Napoleon breaches him for the first time with the tip of his tongue, curling about that delicate muscle to coax it wider, and wider still; the desperate clench of him around Napoleon's tongue and the thin whine when Napoleon pulls back enough to breathe.

"Please," Illya manages through gritted teeth, hoarse, near a whimper, as Napoleon lifts his head to see Illya in the mirror. His eyes are blown wide, his hairline dark with sweat, and he meets Napoleon's dark eyes with utter desperation.

Napoleon can't remember the last time he's been this hard, the silk sheets drenched where his cock digs into them, and he can't remember the last time it's been this unimportant. The only thing that's important is the man staring at him with something damn near worship.

"Please?" His own voice shocks him: rubbed raw, low and liquid as underground rivers. "Please, what?" He drops his gaze to where Illya's held open, to the red vulnerable entrance to him, tightening and loosening, the flash of pale pink within. "I wish you could see it, see yourself: you're so wet, darling, so beautiful, how you're opening up for me-"

Illya makes as if to duck his head, a low burning groan of embarrassed want shaking free as Napoleon lets go of his thighs and kneels up. "Napoleon," he manages, but he keeps his eyes on Napoleon's in the mirror.

Napoleon slips his finger down over Illya, leaves the pad of his index where his tongue has just been, and at that small touch Illya's fingers fist in the sheets, one leg curling sideways, his heel pressing into Napoleon's. "You're trembling around my finger," Napoleon says, baring his teeth in pride, in triumph - he brought Illya to this, made a space for Illya to lay down his burdens and be free. "Just one finger, just my tongue, and you’re already this sensitive. God, I’m going to take you apart."

The backs of Illya’s ears burn red, but he meets Napoleon’s gaze in the mirror, licks swollen lips, manages past the embarrassment threading his voice, "Yes, da, just please-"

Illya hasn't gone nonverbal, good; Napoleon can handle nonverbal partners, has done so before, but he doesn't want Illya unaware yet. It's obvious what Illya's begging for by how his hips hitch backward, pressure against his fingertip.

The slight press of his finger inward, into that space he’s persuaded open, and Illya sighs, opening where Napoleon's worked him, all clinging heat that makes Napoleon swallow down a predatory groan.

He bends forward to blanket Illya with his own body, kiss the sweat at the top of his spine. His whisper is a voice he barely recognizes. “I wish I could show you, make you feel it, how you’re trembling with the need of me, how you’re giving in-“ and his finger slips within, into that scalding shivering channel that clenches onto him, “-how your body surrenders to me.”

Illya's head drops down, cheek pressed to the sheets, his eyes a thin slit of blue. A low moan pulls free of him, drawn up from the depths, past shame, past fear. His spine rolls, not even trying to get Napoleon's finger towards his prostate, just for the sensation of it. So fucking beautiful, how he's opened up to accept everything Napoleon's given him.

God, and there's Illya's cock, clear liquid welling in the slit, a strand connecting it to one of the pillows.

"Illya."

Illya rumbles something inquisitive, fists kneading at the sheets, sweat slipping up his spine to puddle in the dip of his neck. He's starting to slip, if the languid sweetness of his motions are any indication, so he might not be registering any stress on his neck from the position; Napoleon will have to keep him safe, entrusted with this vulnerability.

"Knees and elbows."

Illya obeys, pushing up to allow Napoleon to sweep all the pillows off the bed. They thump onto the floor, the sound rousing Illya enough to find Napoleon in the mirror and arch a brow.

"The amount is excessive."

Napoleon grins. "But without them, I wouldn't have made you beg for just-" he withdraws his finger just to the tip, just to feel Illya's body strain to keep him in, the way he near-whimpers, all artifice fallen from his face, "one-" slips it back inside that clinging crushed-velvet heat to find Illya's prostate, wraps his other hand about the head of Illya's cock and rolls his palm, "-finger."

"Napoleon-" Illya twists, doesn't seem to know where to go, tosses his head back. Sweat-dampened blond hair slaps against his neck, the sound animal, so elemental it sets Napoleon's nerves on fire with the need to be inside, be closer. "I need, please-" The long lines of his thighs tremble when Napoleon slicks his precome up along his shaft, draws his thumb across the small dip of his slit.

"I know," Napoleon murmurs, bending to kiss the hollow of Illya's spine. "I know what you need, trust me." He sucks a bruise, lifts his head enough to say, "Bear down," as he slips another finger into Illya, his rim stretching wider, paler, quivering. He presses into Illya's prostate, rubbing in a widening circle, and Illya drops his head on a swear and a sob, hitches back into Napoleon, clenching, thrusting, all of his worry and all his nightmares caught, held back, leaving him a live wire of need.

A fierce tenderness seizes Napoleon, hollows him out; there is a space inside him that is Illya's, now, that will never be full when he doesn't have Illya beneath him, gifting him with this trust: the knowledge that he has been measured and found worthy of the priceless gift of this man's belief.

“I could do this for hours,” he whispers, low, greed curling hot within him as he watches his own fingers penetrate Illya, his own body play Illya’s like a beautiful instrument. His own cock hangs neglected between his legs, precome welling at the tip, dripping to the dark silk sheets. He can feel his own smile, the razored desire of it. “Keep you on the edge, just like this, and I could milk you dry, until you come on nothing, until your body gives it up at my word, because it knows you’re mine, my sub, my perfect beautiful Illya.” The tip of his index, curling in, massaging, and Illya shivers, cries out, a thin stream of milky fluid dripping forth.

“Yellow,” he manages, a bare husk, and Napoleon twitches back, drops his free hand to Illya’s back, spreads his fingers in comfort even as he begins to pull the fingers inside Illya back out.

“Too possessive?”

“No.” Illya drops his dark head between his arms, braced upon the sheets. His shoulders tighten as if pulling control back upon him like a mantle. Solitary and solid, once more, the glorious heat of his surrender fading from view with each passing moment. “It would be- it will be foolish.”

His voice shakes, whole body twisting, as Napoleon eases his fingers out entirely. Illya’s widened entrance gapes, just a bit, slick red, swelling inside, and he wants to test it once more, fit fingers and tongue and cock into that clutching heat, but Illya needs him. Napoleon rests his clean hand between the span of Illya’s shoulders, thumb tucked at the hinge of his jaw. Were they in America, this gesture would be one of complete dominance, a hand over the vulnerable column on the neck, a thumb where the pulse beats. Who knows if Illya understands the significance?

“Let me judge that.” How to pitch his voice, how to signify certainty, calmness, control, to a man who has been controlled beyond all boundaries and hope of freedom? How can he promise the control Illya needs to give up his terrors and the freedom to not pile more upon already strained shoulders?

Illya presses up into the palm of his hand, as if to feel Napoleon hold him still. “Earlier. What you said.”

“Which one, Illya? I say quite a lot.”

Illya huffs, the roll of his eyes visible in the mirror, but a reluctant grin captures his lips for a moment. “You called me. You called me yours. Your sub.”

Napoleon swallows. He says that often, a casual claim, a momentary possession of whoever has blessed him with their presence in his bed for a night, but this- this means more. Has to mean more.

“I would have you, if you’d have me.” It has to run both ways, he has to make this clear- it is a new thing, these days, to believe that subs have claim upon their doms, that the power doesn’t flow one way, but Napoleon is all in favor. All loves require sacrifice, and devotion, and it was the lack of devotion that drove his parents their separate ways.

He strokes the fine fuzz behind Illya’s ear. ‘’I would wear your bracelet, if you asked.” The first time Illya saw a dom wearing their sub’s bracelet is forever etched into his memory: the widening of his eyes, the rear back like a startled creature, and the shy flicker of his attention back to that dom and sub, even after they’d passed by.

The Soviets, for all their proclamations, have little love for equal power, and Napoleon’s heart twists. He bends to press his vows into Illya’s spine, the scars there. “I would wear your bracelet, and cook for you, and be happy, all the days of my life, for your gift.”

Illya stills, barely breathing, a sculpture of ice and uncertainty. “In the field.”

Napoleon pauses with his lips brushing the starburst crater of a bullet exit wound. Closes his eyes to release the building rage. Illya is who he is because of doms like Oleg, who have harried and demanded and pushed him to the outer bounds of human morality, of humanity itself, and Napoleon cannot promise him otherwise.

“Illya,” he says, and the name is a defeat. “I can’t- I can’t promise you I will never give you an order in the field, if it’s an area I understand.”

Illya swallows. Warmth cracks the frozen surface of him. “But you will not force me?” There’s uncertainty there, and Napoleon hates it, hates that the world has made Illya aware that to some he is a weapon, a tool, to be aimed and fired with judicious application of dominant personality, the subvocal registers doms carry in their arsenal. Gauche and uncouth, these days, to use it, a reminder of times better left forgotten, but still: they both know who can use it, and on whom.

There are some mistrusts, some wounds, even time and love cannot heal. Napoleon takes his time, strokes hands and mouth over Illya’s back, kisses each and every scar he finds, from the white serpent curling from the base of his skull to the knife slash at the small of his back. This will be his answer. This will be his vow, as much as either of them may make vows.

“This, I promise you,” he says at last against Illya’s shoulder, pressing lips to the shell of his ear. “I will never force you. Not even to save your life.” Some promises, some trusts, are worth more than life.

Illya stills. Breathes, the fragile spans of his ribs swelling, contracting. His heart thunders against Napoleon’s lips as he brushes them down Illya’s spine, waiting for fear, or faith, or rage, to win out inside this ragged dangerous body. Illya’s surrender is slow, and hard-fought, and worth all the more. “Please, Napoleon.” His voice is ragged, hoarse with need, sends lust curling through Napoleon’s spine: the victory that he’s won, that Illya’s won, that they can take the next steps together.

"Oh, Illya," he breathes, and at the lick of his breath across Illya's delicate entrance, Illya's whine takes on a frantic edge, "you've ruined me, darling, I hope you know that." He bends his head, slips and spreads his fingers within Illya, and presses his tongue between them, lapping, animal, ravenous for more of those little hitching sobs, the rarity of Illya's gasps. His own saliva wells back out of Illya's raw reddened hole, slick and tender from Napoleon's attentions, and he finds himself half-drunk on it, on the knowledge that he did this-

"Please, Napoleon, please-"

Napoleon jerks back to himself, lifts his head to say through numb and tingling lips, "Yes, anything," and Illya gasps, strains to lift his face to Napoleon's in the mirror, his eyes wide and dark, fringed with wet lashes, his lips red and glistening, and he says in a voice Napoleon will remember forever,

"Please, may I come?"

Oh, God. Oh, God, every time Napoleon thinks he has gotten a handle on this, knows the shape of this most precious jewel, Illya changes, becomes somehow more valuable, more beautiful-

He will die with this man's name on his lips.

"Yes, darling, yes, Illya-" and as Illya's face crumples, a fierce shudder seizing him, Napoleon ducks down to seal his mouth as best he can about Illya's rim and suck.

Illya comes in a shudder of his whole body, nothing hidden or false, near-silent but for a choked gasp that makes his broad shoulders quiver. His expression is ecstasy close to agony, something near Bernini's Saint Theresa, a beauty Napoleon will keep for himself. He hangs, suspended on shaking limbs, for enough time that Napoleon can extricate himself, and then collapses to the side. It is like a building falling, the sudden sprawl of his long limbs across dark sheets. He's shivering, still, even as Napoleon pulls him close, wrestles him to the head of the bed and enfolds him in his arms. Heat against heat, heartbeat against heatbeat, Illya’s slowing breaths sighing against Napoleon’s neck.

Illya mumbles something, his head thrown back on Napoleon's shoulder. His long legs are caught on the outsides of Napoleon's, held open, and his hands, for once shaky, lie on Napoleon's hips. There's serenity to him, even as Napoleon eases the overstimulated shivers out of him with careful pressure, something delicate, almost shy, in the way he presses his face to Napoleon's neck.

"What, Illya?"

"Two times for me. Are you planning on being unsatisfied all night?" His eyes remain closed, the pulse slowing in the thin blue shadows beneath his eyes. His voice is a low rumble, a warm caress of smoke against Napoleon's skin.

Napoleon slips his hands down from Illya's shoulders, where corded muscles have begun to relax beneath his grip, and over the musculature of his arms - that beautiful, scarred mark- to entangle his fingers with Illya's. Napoleon's fingertips are sensitive, befitting a thief, and the cuts on Illya's palms, the thickened knuckles from years of war, press against them.

"Questioning me already?" Napoleon murmurs, pressing a grin to Illya’s temple. ‘Unsatisfied,’ as if having Illya gift him with this tentative, careful surrender isn’t enough.

Illya half-opens one eye, a thin line of glittering blue, fixed on Napoleon's face. A faint tension gathers in the line between his brows, in the fingers pressed to Napoleon's. The warmth of his skin recedes.

"I do trust you."

That's an odd non-sequitur; Napoleon frowns and presses a kiss to the tip of Illya's ear, squeezes his hands. "I know."

"I wasn't-" Illya's thumb presses into the jut of Napoleon's hipbone. He bites his lip, clears his throat, that pleasant post-orgasm lassitude departing his voice. That thin line of blue eye through pale lashes seems cold, distant. "I was not second-guessing your decisions. I know we already discussed the scene."

Oh. Another new minefield to navigate, and one that no glibness or wit will help Napoleon get through.

“I didn’t think you were, Illya.” Napoleon continues to stroke the back of Illya’s hands, take solace in these dangerous limbs quieted in his arms. “Just because I’m your dom doesn’t mean you can’t ask questions if you’re truly concerned or confused, here or anywhere else. I know we trust each other on the field, but this is different. You’re trusting me not to take you beyond your ability to bear; I’m trusting you to tell me where that line is. Is one of your lines my not coming in a scene?”

Illya opens both eyes now to gaze up at Napoleon. “I. I think so. For now. I need to feel that I was useful, that I did this right, and you coming makes me feel that I was-” He trails off, then, coils into himself, the vulnerable shyness of him stirring old protective instincts in Napoleon.

“That you were good? That you pleased me? Here.” Napoleon takes his grip on Illya’s hands to move one behind, to wrap Illya’s fingers around his own cock, a low groan escaping his iron control.

Ilya takes a deep breath. His eyes are awash in black, his fingers tightening around Napoleon, warmth unfurling through his body.

Napoleon keeps his hand over Illya’s, presses to feel how Illya’s fingers shine wet with his own precome. “This is how much you’ve pleased me, Illya, and whether I come tonight or not, I want you to remember that I will never stop wanting you.”

“Then.” Illya shifts, starts to angle Napoleon downwards towards his waiting entrance, but Napoleon stops him with a clench of his fingers.

He noses into the damp hair behind Illya’s ear, says in a low raw voice, ravenous, “On your back, this time; I want to see your face as I slide inside you the first time, as I open you on my cock, as I fill your hungry body up with my come.”

The words are easy to say, God knows Napoleon has said them often enough to other partners, but Illya’s response is new: a whole-body shiver and an uncertain whine, the hand caught on Napoleon’s hip pressing a bruise into that skin.

“You want to-“ he cuts off as if the words burn.

“I want to see you. I want to see the way your mouth falls open as I press inside you. I want to watch these-” and Napoleon brushes a fingertip across Illya’s nipple to savor the full-body shiver, “-swell and darken beneath my mouth. I want to feel the tremble beneath your skin when you’re not certain you can take all of me inside you, the way I’m going to fuck you, and the triumph in your eyes when you do, when you have me caught inside you, wanting you. I want to hear you sob when I thrust in, not sure you can take it, and beg when I pull out. I want to watch your hands clench into the sheets because you want to be good, my beautiful sub, and I know you will be.”

Illya groans something profane in Russian, nearly breaks Napoleon’s nose scrambling off of him and rolling to one side to sprawl on his back, inviting, delicious. His soft cock, still trying to rise, lies quiescent along one muscular pale thigh. Not surprising; Napoleon and Illya are both beyond the age of easy orgasm, and to force one more would be overstimulation. The red flush of arousal spreads from his face down, over the tight tender pebbles of his nipples, swollen and red still from Napoleon’s mouth, the strands of white come streaking the flat of his belly that beg to be licked off, the golden curls of his pubic hair that Napoleon wants to scratch his fingers through.

Napoleon makes his way on his knees to kneel between Illya’s spread legs, watches Illya extricate one hand beneath the pillows to trace his long brutal fingers over his own throat, pausing to circle in the imitation of a collar – and the mere hint of the honor that would be, Illya giving him that, near stops his heart – before dropping to roll and pluck a nipple.

Napoleon enfolds his fingers about one unexpectedly fine-boned ankle and pulls one of Illya’s legs about his own hips, settles the other leg on his own shoulder. The silent submission in Illya’s deep eyes, the delicate curiosity, makes him kiss the jut of bone at Illya’s ankle, unexpectedly fragile.

“You have a choice,” he begins, and the exertion of his power makes Illya melt into the bed, his unoccupied hand lax beside his head. “I’ve opened you up, so now the question becomes how you want me to fuck you. I can fuck you as you are now, which should be tight, possibly uncomfortable at first, but not painful-“ he can imagine it, the gritty slide of it, the trembling heat of Illya, “-but you won’t have to come again. Or I open you up further, work you until you’re ready to come again, and take you that way: easier at the first, but not the last.”

Illya glances down at where his cock, pink and soft and vulnerable, lies against the pale skin of his thigh, the slit holding one last bead of precome. His jaw firms, a pale flame lighting his eyes, fascinated delight rising through Napoleon’s body. A challenge, a target- this, Illya can do.

“Could we try both?”

Napoleon’s laughter rings off the walls, and then he bends to kiss Illya’s yearning mouth, to lick open those kiss-swollen lips, to grin into those pleasure-dazed eyes. He is the luckiest man in the world, in this moment, in this universe, and the joy in his chest is enough to stop a heart.

“Oh, my sub, of course.”

Chapter Text

"Breathe," Napoleon says, and Illya does. It's impossible to disobey an order so kindly given, when Napoleon is bent close over him, the breadth of his shoulders blocking out light; when his eyes, full dark as a sky without stars, dart from scar to scar and look at Illya as though he's wanted despite them. His hair curls dark against his forehead, sweat gilding the corded lines of his throat, the tempting curve of his lips.

Unyielding heat and pressure against raw skin, forcing him to take a breath, and then Napoleon slips in, just a bit, the tip of him holding Illya open. Caught, speared, vulnerable- sudden panic flares wild inside his chest, his body rigid and thrumming, near-pain where he clenches around Napoleon.

Napoleon, thank whatever god one might name, sees the fear, sees him, and leans close to press his palm against Illya's crossed wrists. "Stay," Napoleon says, soft yet steel, and Illya gazes up into that certain gaze and lets himself unknot, muscle by muscle. He can take this, accept it, enjoy the vulnerability of it, for here, he can believe that this vulnerability won't be used against him, won't exist outside this room, this moment.

"Color?" Napoleon asks.

Illya takes stock for a moment, then says, "Green."

"All right, thank you, Illya-" Napoleon presses a little further in, a gritty slide, a burn, and every motion punches a sob, a gasp, a moaned "Illya" out of him. His fingers flex against Illya's wrists, his expression wrecked. "You're so tight, like you were made to fit me-"

Illya dares to test the theory, clenching down on Napoleon, the heated hard bar of him settling into Illya's body, keeping him spread wide. The width of him is delicious, burns up Illya's spine, oversensitive now with how Napoleon's lingered at his entrance, kissing him open, making him wet. Even the lingering soreness of being penetrated is a gift.

Napoleon makes an animal sound close to agony low in his chest, halting, trembling. The veins in his powerful shoulders and chest stand out beneath flushed skin. He drops his head forward to gaze down at Illya, his mouth soft, half-open, his eyes dazed, as if drunk. It is strange, terrible, awe-inspiring, to see his vladelet's expression, the naked honesty of his feelings, when Illya is so used to the surface of him. His dark hair has fallen forward into darker eyes, the hollow of his throat red and slick with sweat, his nostrils flaring to breathe in great gulps. His gaze darts over Illya's face.

Illya's never seen him like this: the wild desire that burns to look upon, the painful adoration in his gaze that is keen as a blade. It matches nothing he's known, no data point: Napoleon has always been put-together, in control, and isn't that what the vladelet is supposed to be? Oleg and the KGB's disciplinary vladelets were always so. Another change- that vladelets can be honest, can lust. Illya starts to turn away, undone by the honesty in Napoleon's face, the near-pain of the tenderness in his gaze, but the hand not occupied with Illya's wrists skims up Illya's chest to cradle his jaw, palm rasping against stubble.

"Look at me," Napoleon murmurs, thumb brushing Illya's lower lip, bruised from kisses. "Did you think you were the only one undone? That I couldn't want you this much?"

"I-" Illya swallows, frowns. Pushes his wrists up just to feel Napoleon's weight press them down, hold him still, steady, safe. "I don't know what I thought."

"You ridiculous man," Napoleon says, hips rocking, making a space for himself. There's no mockery or pity in him, only a fond amusement, his smile a promise of further delight. "How could I not want you?"

"You'll make me not only a capitalist, but a capitalist with an ego," Illya retorts, grinning despite himself.

"You deserve one. Hell, you deserve everything."

Illya laughs, and as he relaxes, Napoleon slides all the way in him, the tops of his thighs flush with Illya's rear. He presses right into Illya's prostate, still sore, and Illya moans and trembles, strains against Napoleon's hand on his wrists. Starts to close his eyes, only for Napoleon to stoop, conquering, and seal his talented mouth about one already sensitive nipple, drawn tight and tender in the cool air of the room.

"Napoleon-" he starts, but it dissolves into a long cry as Napoleon curls his tongue about that point of throbbing need and heat and sucks, hard, unrelenting, a demand. His cock stirs again against his thigh, half-hard, the slow process of rising again a persistent raw ache of liquid heat.

Time extends, curls in on itself. Napoleon's mouth, wet fire, turning his chest into one expanse of desire, his nipples so oversensitive that the slightest brush of Napoleon's skin against them has Illya shivering, a low whine caught in his throat. The inexorable slow slide of Napoleon into Illya, opening him up, leaving no room for fear or doubt in his battered frame, and the way Napoleon's nostrils flare with every inch of ground, the possession in the delighted twist of his mouth. The confident claim in the curl of Napoleon's fingers into his own, caught above his head.

He realizes at last that he's trembling, senses overwhelmed, his fingers entangled with Napoleon's hand. He can't stop shaking, too tense, too poised to chase the slow-building tide of pleasure Napoleon's stoking inside him, to drown in it.

"God, you're beautiful," Napoleon says, low, as if it's a secret meant only for the two of them. Triumph so close to love that it makes no difference glitters in his dark eyes as he looks Illya over, from his bitten lips to the bruise-purple pebbles of his nipples, and further on to Illya's cock, damp with precome, half-hard.

"Almost there, aren't you?" Napoleon's voice is a low whisper, resonating across Illya's skin. His hips roll smoothly, tidal in their easy motion, not swift but controlled, collected, and every thrust stokes the fire inside Illya a little bit higher, winding him down into a thrumming wire of need. Sweat slicks his hair to the back of his neck, dampens his grip on Illya's wrists.

Illya can't find the words to answer him, isn't sure it's meant to be answered. Everything in him is attuned to the clarion pulse of heat beneath his skin, the need so fierce it's near pain. Words slip into his mind and back out, his eyelids heavy, all of him caught, focused, between Napoleon's hand on his wrists and Napoleon driving into him. He drags his eyes open to stare up at Napoleon, and Napoleon looks back, into him; he's not smiling, expression grave, but there's a cast to his expression, something about the eyes, that speaks of fulfillment, and Illya could spend all his days gazing at that face.

"God," Napoleon says, as if to himself, somehow overcome by Illya's silence, the pliancy of him, "you're so-" and he leans down to capture Illya's moan as he thrusts right into his prostate, his grip on Illya's wrists slipping.

Illya twists one hand to grab Napoleon's wrist, hold him there, keep his weight steady, and Napoleon laughs into the kiss. Tears in the sound, and Illya has never expected to live a long life, but Napoleon's laugh has enough joy to live for.

He twists, whines, as Napoleon's belly brushes his cock, leaves a shiny trail behind through the scratching trail of dark hair, the sensation sharp and neither pleasure nor pain: only a twist and curl of heat flaring beneath every inch of skin. Too much, too much honesty, all his masks torn off, torn down and burned, and him - too tall, too serious, too dry, too academic, too much a beast - left naked and shivering and keening between his teeth in their wake, and yet-

Napoleon stoops to kiss the cries right out of his mouth, takes the fist he's planted in the bedcovers by Illya's head, and curls his fingers about Illya's cock. The touch is so hot on oversensitive skin that Illya jolts, moans, and the clench of him has Napoleon hissing.

He lets go of Illya's wrists - Illya doesn't even think to move them, because he's good, he can be good for Napoleon - and drops that hand to curl about Illya's shoulder. Hitches Illya's hips up - near folds him in half - and says,

"Illya."

Illya manages to come back to himself enough to meet Napoleon's ravenous gaze. Sees, fragmented: the flare of his nostrils, the thud of blood in the veins at his throat, the sweat dampening his hair to his forehead, the white slash of his smile, near a snarl of lust.

He makes an inquisitive sound, and Napoleon's mouth curls in a smile that could hold all the joy and sorrow in the world. One fine-boned thief's hand slicks fingers over Illya's lower lip, and it seems the most natural thing to turn his head and kiss fingertips, savoring the way Napoleon sucks in a hard breath at the action.

"Hands against the headboard, you're going to want to hold on," Napoleon says, surety in his eyes, and Illya would say something about American egos, but it seems easier to trust Napoleon's word, so he does so, palms flat against dark wood.

Is immediately glad he did so, as Napoleon settles both hands on his hips, thumbs pressing shadows into flesh, and fucks him in earnest, hard, fast, stripping him raw, until he burns, until he near catches flame. Illya writhes, sobs for breath, the heat filling him up, stretching him until his skin can't contain it-

Napoleon withdraws, and Illya growls, presses his heel into Napoleon's back, fingers clutching at the smooth wood in a vain attempt to anchor himself.

There's savagery in it, but when Illya sees them in the mirror, there's glimpses of beauty: the hollow of Napoleon's back as he thrusts, the swelling and release of the powerful muscles of his ass. The bellows of his ribs expanding, contracting, harsh, animal breaths panting into the space between them - Illya's foot, pale, toes curled, tucked over Napoleon's tan calf. Sweat slicking the spaces where their skins touch, Illya's back raw against the silk sheets as he slides up the bed. The valley of Napoleon's spine-

Then Napoleon strikes his prostate, and Illya is torn from sight, from hearing, becomes only a wire burning electric, a chorus of sobs, eyes clenched shut, whole body strung tight and-

"Come on, darling, come on-" Napoleon's voice blots out the world, his heartbeat, the jagged breaths that turn towards sobbing. The tidal warmth uplifts him towards a precipice. His vladelet begging him, and not to endure, but for him to take pleasure-?

Illya arches, shoves his hands flat against the headboard, and comes apart on a ragged cry, cock jerking, heat spattering his belly, his chest, the sensation as if from a distant planet. Breaks apart from the inside to the endless whispered praise of Napoleon over him, around him, within him. The engravings on the headboard have impressed themselves into his palms, a dull ache.

His heart slows in his ears. He opens his eyes to the sight of Napoleon over him. Lifts one hand, slow, as if in a dream, to curl it about the back of Napoleon's neck, the short hair there brushing his palm. The world is warm, and slow, and safe, with just them two-

Napoleon thrusts again, and again, tension trembling in the muscles beneath Illya's hand, his leg, teeth bared, still pushing, still trying to prove himself worthy of this, of Illya-

"Napoleon," Illya whispers, his throat sore, "please."

Napoleon stiffens, grinds in, impossibly further, fingers digging into Illya's hips. He groans, face seized, twisted in an agony of ecstasy, and his cock jerks inside Illya. His sigh of "Illya" is low, and lost, and twists Illya's heart with something that could kill.

He falls on top of Illya, heartbeat to heartbeat, somehow uncaring of how the position must jostle his cock inside Illya. His nose, where it tucks into the crook of Illya's neck, is cold, and his eyelashes fringed with wet.

So. Vladelets even weep.

Illya closes his eyes and runs his hand up from Napoleon's neck into his hair. It is, of course, ridiculously soft, and he cards his fingers through it wonderingly.

"You realize, don't you," he says to the darkness and the warmth and Napoleon, breathing hard in his ear, "that you're getting my come in your chest hair."

Napoleon's mouth curls into a smile against his neck, and Illya can't help but do the same. Napoleon lets go of Illya's hips, strokes up Illya's sides.

"Is this your vaunted Soviet romance, Peril?" Napoleon murmurs.

"Even the Soviets wouldn't call that romantic." Illya shifts, hisses as Napoleon's cock inside him jars. It's been years since he's come three times in one evening, and the overwhelming sensory input reminds him why he doesn't do so very often.

"Sore?" Napoleon props himself up on his elbows, and his face, when Illya opens his eyes, is a strange mixture of smug and concerned.

"Don't fish for compliments, it's unbecoming."

Napoleon laughs. "I am that." He drops a fleeting kiss onto Illya's lips and sits up, pulling out in one smooth motion that leaves emptiness behind and startles a faint sound of protest out of Illya's mouth.

He can feel Napoleon's come inside him, slipping free, and where before he's hated the sensation, found it appallingly physical, the ownership of it, now it's pleasant, a reminder that he is wanted, loved, kept, that he keeps Napoleon in turn.

A soft touch at his entrance makes him prop himself up on his elbows and glare down the length of his body at where Napoleon is staring at him, one hand tucked between him and the sheets.

"What are you doing?"

Napoleon flashes him a smile, and even though he is unmistakably worn out, his hair in disarray, his eyes heavy-lidded, there's still a hunger in him. No wonder his old CIA profile marked him as having possible sex addiction. "Just checking you over. You were tight, I want to make sure that I didn't hurt you."

"Do I look like the type to suffer in silence?"

Napoleon's finger slips inside, the path slick with saliva and come, and Illya shifts, takes a deep breath as worn muscles try to tense once more. There's a faint burn that could become pleasure if tended over hours, but mostly only the pleasant ache of muscles well-used.

"Just for you," Napoleon says, flushed face turned downward to admire where his finger sinks into Illya, "I won't dignify that with a response."

"Much appreciated," Illya says, and sighs at the distant burn as Napoleon pulls out.

"Bath," Napoleon decides with a high-handedness that shouldn't be as attractive as it is. "Wait here." He rolls off the bed and pads, naked, all sleek muscle and long lines, to the master bathroom. Leaves the door open for Illya to watch after him, and whether he's doing it because he thinks Illya the type to suffer clingy subdrop or because he knows Illya needs to keep tabs on his partners, it's appreciated either way.

The water starts to run, and in a moment the scents of eucalyptus and lemon waft out of the bedroom on clouds of steam. Napoleon appears in the steam like a young sea god, the droplets glistening in his hair, his eyelashes. His eyes traverse over Illya's body one more time, searching out his marks. Though the popular conception of subs is that they are conquered, tamed, Illya has never felt more unconquered. Strange how freedom can be found.

"Illya," Napoleon says at last, holding out a hand. His smile promises the world, and love to outlast nations.

Illya rises from the bed and takes his hand. Lifts it to his lips, and kisses the thief's fingers that have, at last, stolen his heart.