He should have been born a Charmer.
It would have been…convenient, in a lot of ways. Most people assumed he already was one anyway, were always just a little surprised to find out his Gift actually had nothing to do with persuasion.
Well, Napoleon Solo did have a gift for persuasion, but he'd learned it. He wasn't born like that.
He wasn't above using that assumption. People tended to fear Charmers, stopped trusting their own motivations around them. Napoleon had exploited that to his advantage more than once: convinced someone that they were being very cautious and clever, when they were really eating right out of his hand.
But, no. Unfortunately, Napoleon was charming but he wasn't a Charmer, and his Gift was rarely useful and never convenient. Like now, for example. He'd known as soon as he'd sat down at the dinged, dingy, wobbly table in this dinged, dingy, wobbly Florence bar that he wouldn't be able to finish the poker game. Knowledge that was, of course, completely useless when there was no way he could easily remove himself from the situation. The last thing Napoleon ever wanted was to look suspicious. Especially since he was cheating.
It wasn't that he was normally dishonest. At least, not more than might be necessary. It was just that the men were bidding with their cigarette rations, and Napoleon had nearly run out of items he could barter. He was getting a little desperate, and desperate times called for desperate measures.
Unfortunately, he'd been fucked as soon as he sat down. He wouldn't be able to make use of the Ace he didn't have up his sleeve but rather on his lap under the table. He could only hope that the game would be unfinished because he left, instead of because he got cooled off behind the building. Napoleon was by no means small for his age, but he was only 17—well, 17 in a week—and the other men were all older, and heavier set, and a lot meaner as well.
And apparently more observant than he'd originally given them credit for, considering what his Gift had told him. Napoleon was willing to admit he might have gotten in over his head.
But he couldn't just leave, so he played as many rounds as he thought would make him look sincere when he extracted himself. Hopefully without bloodshed. He didn't palm the Ace and put it back in his pocket, though, because he knew it wouldn't make a difference. He'd tried that often enough to know not to bother anymore.
He was fairly certain there were other Clairvoyants who were able to change the future, not just be intimately aware of it. Napoleon was not one of them. Nothing he ever did mattered a good God damn to fate. If it was meant to happen, it would. He'd learned that the hard way, but he'd never forgotten it.
He'd thought that his Gift was a lot more of a curse, more than once. But he wasn't lucky enough to be able to turn it off, either.
That was why, when someone grabbed him roughly by the collar of his uniform jacket and hauled him off the chair, Napoleon was far more resigned than afraid. The Ace slid sadly to the floor, where everyone could see it.
"I knew I'd find you here, dumbass," The man holding his collar said. For an awful moment Napoleon thought that this was someone else he'd cheated. But then the stranger added, "Don't you know it's past curfew? We got a mission tomorrow!"
"Sorry," Napoleon squeaked. He had no idea why this soldier had decided to save him, but he played along for all he was worth. "Lost track of time."
Which of course was when one of the men at the table noticed the Ace on the floor. "Hey!" He stood fast enough to shove his chair over, "were you fuckin' cheating?"
"I have no idea how that ended up there," Napoleon said with as much big-eyed innocence as he could muster. "I must've dropped it by accident." He gave him one of his big, honest-looking smiles, though it lacked some of the impact since he was being almost literally dragged to the door.
"You aren't getting out of this that easy, you fuckin' runt!" The same man shoved the table aside, blowing like an angry bull. The two men flanking him looked just about as angry and ready to make Napoleon regret it.
The man dragging him stopped, letting Napoleon regain his footing if none of his dignity. "This asshole's one of ours. You fight him, you fucking fight the Howling Commandos. You want that, Mac? He said he dropped the fucking card. Leave it alone."
The bull's eyes visibly widened at 'Howling Commandos', and he took a step back. Napoleon couldn't tell if it was in awe or terror. "Well, he should be more careful next time. Sir." He sounded far more subdued than a moment ago.
"Don't call me 'Sir'. I work for a living," Napoleon's benefactor said. "C'mon, runt. We're gonna miss our ride." He switched his grip to Napoleon's arm, then continued hauling him to the back door.
Napoleon was not a member of the Howling Commandos. He hadn't even known they were in the same country. Not that he was going to complain. He'd follow this mysterious sergeant to the ends of the Earth, if it meant getting back to his billet intact.
The sergeant pulled Napoleon out into the alley, already shadowed with looming twilight. He pushed him against the far wall with less gentleness than Napoleon would've liked, but more than he probably deserved. "What the fuck did you think you were doing in there, you fucking meathead? You want to die, just go to the goddamn front!"
"I'm already been at the 'goddamn front', actually." Napoleon straightened his uniform while he spoke, tugging the sleeves back and fixing his collar. It helped keep his eyes occupied elsewhere than on the sergeant's body or face. He looked vaguely familiar, but Napoleon was far more taken with how beautiful he was: like one of the statues he'd helped liberate from the Nazis. He wanted to peel him out of his jacket and dress shirt with the sloppily-unbuttoned collar, pull off those too-loose pants and worship every bit of skin he could find.
Napoleon purposely brushed imaginary dirt off his Corporal's stripes, annoyed at himself for trying to impress him. He knew because of his Gift he'd be promoted soon enough, but naturally not how or when. "And I'd like to avoid dying at all, if possible. So, thank you for the rescue." He glanced up through his eyelashes. He'd been told many times that his eyes were his best feature, especially in contrast to his dark hair. And it didn't have to mean anything, unless someone wanted it to.
Napoleon hoped very much that this sergeant would want it to.
The sergeant hesitated for a fraction of a second, as if he knew exactly what Napoleon was doing and deciding how to react. "You're welcome. Just don't be so fucking stupid next time," he said, much less hotly than he'd spoken inside. Napoleon wondered if that meant he was interested, or if the man was just kind. He suspected both. Well, he wanted it to be both.
The sergeant leaned against the wall next to him, fished a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket and offered Napoleon one. "Your sergeant even know you're out here?"
"We're on furlough," Napoleon said easily. "And yes, he does." He arched an eyebrow. "I'm not A.W.O.L., if that's what you're thinking."
"I'm thinkin' you need supervision, before someone punches your ticket." The sergeant got his lighter out of another pocket and lit Napoleon's cigarette for him. He leaned very close, despite the alley being sheltered from the light breeze. He smelled good too. And Napoleon was sure there was…something between them. He just wasn't sure what, yet.
He wished he could predict how this would go. Naturally his inconvenient Gift wasn't telling him anything. Touching the sergeant would help, but that could also get Napoleon's teeth kicked in. It was better to wait.
Just like Napoleon badly wanted to say, Are you offering to supervise me? and look up through his eyelashes again, but he didn't. That would be dangerously to the point, and Napoleon liked his teeth.
"What's your name?" he asked instead. "I'd prefer to call you something other than, 'Sergeant' or 'My Hero'. Unless, of course, you like that." He grinned, just widely enough that his words could be taken as either a joke or an invitation, depending on what his audience expected or wanted. Napoleon was very, very good at walking that line. That was part of the appeal, after all, with beautiful men like this one. At least when he didn't know how it would end.
The sergeant straightened, taking a long drag. Napoleon's eyes were fixed on the way his lips puckered around the cigarette. "You really don't know who I am," he said. It was a statement, not a question.
The sergeant shrugged, as if it didn't matter one way or the other. "You can call me Bucky."
"Bucky?" Napoleon did his best to keep how unimpressed he was off his face. "You seem a little…old for that nickname."
Bucky smirked. "Well, you seem a little young to be in a war. How old are you, anyway? Twelve?"
Napoleon rolled his eyes. "I'll be nineteen in a couple weeks," he lied. "I just look young for my age."
That line had worked with the recruitment officer, but Bucky just smiled like he'd pretend to believe it. "Huh. My birthday's in a couple weeks too." He took another long, considering pull on his cigarette, while his astonishing, luminescent grey eyes swept Napoleon from head to toe. "March 10th?"
"March 9th," Napoleon said. He was quietly thrilled to have that in common. He'd believed in destiny for a long time. "How old will you be? 25?"
Bucky scoffed. "Nice try. 28." His mouth quirked in a tiny wince and he took a step back. "You're jailbait."
Napoleon smiled. He dropped his cigarette, then took a deliberate step closer and purposely ran his palm down the front of Bucky's chest. Bucky sucked in a breath that was both anxious and wanting, but he didn't step back. "I'm of age here and where I'm from," he said. "I'm definitely old enough to know what I want. And what to do about it."
"Yeah? Where you from?" Bucky licked his lips, looking like he barely cared about the answer.
"New York," Napoleon said. He left his hand where it was, caressing just a little bit with his thumb.
"Huh. So am I," Bucky said absently. "No wonder I like you: you're another fucking Gotham wise-guy." His hands twitched, like he wanted to reach but didn't quite dare to. His gaze kept darting from Napoleon's eyes to his mouth. "What's your name?"
Napoleon considered not giving it, or making one up, then dismissed it. He'd lied about his name plenty of times with his partners, but he didn't want to tonight. Not with Bucky. "Napoleon."
"Napoleon?" Bucky's lips twitched up on one side in a wicked smirk. "And you had the balls to criticize Bucky?"
"What can I say? My parents liked the classics." More like they had pretentions of a bourgeois life they were never able to achieve. Napoleon had been their first victim. He got bolder, ran his palm over Bucky's abdomen. He felt Bucky's breath hitch before he curved his hand around the trim, firm muscle of Bucky's waist. He was too thin. Napoleon could feel all of his ribs when he slipped his hand under his jacket to caress his side.
Bucky shivered. "We shouldn't do this. Not here. We'll get caught." But he didn't move, and he couldn't seem to tear his eyes from Napoleon's mouth.
Napoleon's smile became a wide, genuine grin. "Then we need to be quick."
"I don't want to be quick." Bucky tossed his cigarette butt away, then grabbed Napoleon around the waist and lifted him as if he weighed nothing. He slid his leg between Napoleon's then changed his grip, supporting him easily with his hands under Napoleon's thighs. Bucky pressed Napoleon's back against the wall, then moved in so close Napoleon could feel the ragged heaves of his breathing.
Bucky leaned in and Napoleon opened his mouth immediately, tilting his head so their kiss met like a lock and key. He put his hands on Bucky's nape, then slide his fingers up into his thick hair. Bucky made a pleased noise, then hefted Napoleon that much higher on his leg. Napoleon had been hard since he'd first touched him. The friction wasn't enough, but it was very, very good.
With the way Bucky had started this, Napoleon was expecting him to be rough and greedy, maybe even a little mean. Napoleon had no problem with that. Pain added to the excitement, as long as it wasn't too much. But Bucky's kisses were surprisingly sweet. He wasn't quite gentle, but there was an intoxicating softness to the give and take of his lips and tongue. It was as if Napoleon was important to him, as if Bucky wasn't promising a quick fuck, but something tender and real.
As if Napoleon was someone Bucky would cherish, even if it were only for one night. It was wonderful and awful, and reminded Napoleon of his loneliness like a blade lancing his soul.
He pulled back, startled and a little afraid. "Don't be gentle. I don't want gentle. Don't do that."
Bucky frowned. "I'm not going to hurt you." He was still holding Napoleon up. It was one of the sexiest things Napoleon had ever experienced. But there was something terrifyingly affectionate about it, especially with how Bucky's face creased in concern.
Why couldn't his Gift have told him this? How terrible an idea this was? No matter what happened, Napoleon wasn't coming away from this intact. This night would leave scars.
But, "I have a place we can go. It's not far," he said. Because what were a few more scars?
"Thank God." Bucky moved to kiss him one more time, but then pulled back sharply, eyes full of alarm. He put Napoleon down and stepped a few, careful feet away. "Straighten up. Someone's coming," he hissed. He took out the cigarettes again, fumbling because his hands were shaking. Napoleon didn't know if that was because of him or the arrival he couldn't even hear.
The door they had come through opened again, revealing a tall, wholesomely attractive man with blond hair. His face lit up in a wide, lovely grin when he saw the two of them. "There you are," he said to Bucky, crossing the narrow, cobbled street. "Jacques said he saw you come out here with your new friend." He was still all smiles, but there was something bleak in his eyes that flicked away before Napoleon could interpret it. He held out his hand. "Steve Rogers." He tilted his head towards Bucky. "Best friend and nominal leader of this idiot."
"Punk," Bucky said mildly around the cigarette in his mouth. He was leaning against the wall like he'd been there the whole time.
"Napoleon Solo." Napoleon shook Steve's hand. It was farther to look up at him than it was for Bucky; a bit like staring at the sun. Steve was undeniably handsome, but Napoleon preferred Bucky's honied twilight.
Steve didn't remark on his name, which was decent of him.
Bucky lit his cigarette, then casually offered his pack to each of them. Steve Rogers declined with a quick, smiling shake of his head. Napoleon took one, then stayed very still while Bucky lit it. This time Bucky didn't lean close.
"Have I seen you somewhere before?" Napoleon asked Steve. "You both look oddly familiar."
"He doesn't know who we are," Bucky said when Steve blinked at him. "I know." He grinned. "Maybe he was too young to get into the movie theater."
"I'm eighteen," Napoleon said automatically, frowning in confusion. "You were in a movie? What movie?" He looked at the two of them again: Steve smiling blandly like he was waiting to be photographed, and Bucky grinning like he was trying not to laugh. And Napoleon finally got it. "The Howling Commandos." He smacked his forehead. "Now I know where I've seen you before!"
Bucky laughed outright, then slung his arm around Napoleon's shoulders, jostled him a bit before he let go. "Hey, don't be too sore about it. Steve's hard to recognize when you can see his face."
"And you're hard to recognize 'cause the camera actually makes you look good." Steve grinned again. Napoleon was waiting for another flicker of something sad, but this time there was nothing. Maybe there hadn't been anything to see in the first place. Maybe Napoleon was just finding false echoes of a sorrow entirely his own.
"Everything makes me look good, Steve," Bucky said. He took a pull of his cigarette. "So, you were looking for me. You gonna spill the beans as to what for?"
"No beans to spill," Steve said. "I just wanted to make sure you knew what time we're leaving tomorrow."
Bucky exhaled a stream of smoke. "O-fucking-four hundred." His gaze slid to Napoleon and back. "I guess you're here to drag me home for curfew."
Steve smirked. "I'm pretty sure you can make it there on your own." He glanced at Napoleon as well, like he and Bucky were having another, silent conversation at the same time. "As long as you're ready to go with the rest of us."
"Yes, Sir! Ready at the fuckin' crack of dawn, Sir!" Bucky said, saluting sloppily and grinning.
"Glad to hear that enthusiasm, Sergeant." Steve rolled his eyes, then smiled and clapped Bucky on the shoulder. "I'll see you in the morning."
Bucky nodded and smiled back. The affection between them was a heavy, solid thing, so obvious that Napoleon felt like an intruder. He had no place here, coming between these men.
And yet Bucky had chosen him, and Steve was letting them go.
"Good luck tomorrow," Napoleon said sincerely. He offered his hand again. "Give those Nazis hell."
"You betcha." Steve clasped his hand to shake it, and that was when Napoleon's Gift decided to rear up and fucking clean him out.
He wasn't a Clairvoyant in the actual 'clear seeing' sense of the word. He didn't get visions; he just knew. Normally it was small, useless, inconvenient things, like how he'd never finish that card game. The knowledge would just appear in his head, like something he'd forgotten and then suddenly remembered.
Sometimes, though, his Gift blasted the information into him like shrapnel inside his skull.
The world flickered back in slow bits and pieces. Napoleon was sitting on the cobblestones, listing heavily against Bucky who was crouched next to him. Bucky's arm was around Napoleon's shoulders, his eyes huge with concern. Steve was standing next to Napoleon's splayed left leg, looking like he was about to run for a medic.
"Hey, hey, wake up!" Bucky was patting his cheek. It felt like he'd been doing it for a while.
Napoleon grabbed clumsily for his wrist, caught it and held on for dear life. "Don't go. Don't go. Don't. Please." He pawed at Bucky's collar with his other hand, then gripped it just as tightly. The cloth fluttered against Bucky's neck with how badly Napoleon's hands were shaking. "Stay here. Please. Don't go." He was crying, he realized dimly, clinging to Bucky like a child.
"I'm right here. I'm not going anywhere." Bucky looked at Steve, his face full of worried incomprehension. "We need a doctor. I think he's having some kind of fit."
"No!" Napoleon's shout barely qualified as a whisper, but at least it kept Steve from running off. He shook his head frantically, still holding on to Bucky with what little strength he had left. "It's my Gift."
"Oh!" Bucky's face brightened with understanding, before dropping back into concern. "Shit. Wait." He dug in his jacket pocket and pulled out a metal tin of sugar pills. He gently disengaged Napoleon's hand from his collar, then dumped at least six of the pills onto his palm. "I got a Gift too," he explained. "I heal quick, but sometimes it takes a lot out of me."
He helped Napoleon get his shaking hand to his mouth without scattering the pills, then waited until he'd grimaced them down. "Whatever hit you must've been a real doozie, huh?" He poured out another half dozen, then helped Napoleon get those to his mouth too. "Get him something to drink," he said to Steve. "Something sweet. Juice if they have it."
Steve nodded and bolted back inside.
"How you feeling? That help?" Bucky asked.
Napoleon nodded. He sniffed, then finally let go of Bucky's collar to wipe his eyes with one hand. He had a handkerchief in his pocket, but getting it would take too much energy. He found a lopsided, watery smile somewhere and fit it to his mouth. "Thanks. I'm sorry about bawling all over you. Sometimes it hits me like a brick."
"Don't worry about it." Bucky helped Napoleon sit up straighter, then deftly got his own kerchief and pressed it into Napoleon's hand. "What the hell happened anyway? You shook Steve's hand, then, bam! You drop like a fucking bag of dirt. And your eyes were open, but you weren't looking at a damn thing, and crying like your mom just died. What the hell kind of Gift does that?"
"Mine," Napoleon said. He swallowed, then used the handkerchief to wipe his eyes and nose. "It tells me the future. It's always stronger if it happens when I'm touching someone, but it doesn't usually do me in like that." His hands were still shaking. It was difficult to ignore the urge to grab Bucky again, hold him still as if that could actually keep him safe. It was difficult to keep from crying.
"I noticed." Bucky looked at him, then at the closed door Steve had gone back through. "What did you see?"
Napoleon shook his head. "I don't see anything, I just know it. But it's never anything really important." He wiped his nose again because it gave him a moment to avoid Bucky's eyes. "It just takes a lot out of me." He fixed another smile to his face. "Tears included. I'm just glad it didn't happen inside."
"Yeah." Bucky smoothed a stray tear away from Napoleon's cheek with the pad of his thumb. The small gesture felt more intimate than when they'd been kissing. Bucky kept his hand on the side of Napoleon's face. "Are you really okay? Is there someone we should find for you? I—" He sucked in a breath and yanked his hand away just before the door opened again.
Steve came out, holding a coffee cup. "The bartender said this is what they usually give to people when their Gifts exhaust them. It's coffee with Sambuca in it." He knelt carefully, then fitted the cup into Napoleon's hands. He made sure Napoleon held it securely before he let go. "I should warn you, he put a whole shot in it."
"Perfect," Napoleon murmured. It wasn't hot so he drank it all at once. The warmth of the drink and the burn of the alcohol settled like wool in his stomach, warming him from the inside. "That is better, thank you." He put the empty cup aside, wondering if he should try to stand.
"He's a Seer," Bucky said to Steve. "Turns out his Gift always fucks him up."
"It does, but I'm not a Seer," Napoleon said. "Technically I'm a Clairvoyant, though the only thing I get is information."
"That's rough," Steve said. "And you can't turn yours off?"
"No. I really wish I could." That at least was true. He tried to smile again, but he couldn't really find one. Not when Steve was right there with his kind, honest face, and the longing he thought he could hide.
"What information did you get, anyway?" Bucky asked, still crouching like he'd be comfortable there all night. "You said it wasn't important, but it had to be something since it put you on the ground like that."
"I told you. It's nothing, really." Napoleon finally straightened. Between the alcohol and the pills he was almost certain he could stand, maybe even get all the way back to his billet. "The gentildonna who owns the house I'm currently billeted at is going to be sad when I don't have anything to bring her. I needed the cigarettes for barter," he explained. His smirk was entirely self-depreciating. "A few of the men in my unit were lucky enough to find an unopened crate of Alkermes. They were willing to trade a bottle for cigarettes." He shrugged. "She's a nice woman who lost both her sons. I think she considers me one, in a way. She's been very kind to me. I promised I'd bring her something. I was hoping I'd have the chance tonight."
All that was also true, except for how he hadn't needed his Gift to know any of it. But there was no way in hell he'd let either of them know what his Gift had really told him.
Steve reached into his jacket pocket and held out an unopened tube of M&Ms. "Here. I was going to give it to someone, but she wasn't around. Sounds like you'll make good use of it."
Napoleon blinked at Steve, dumbfounded. "You're just giving this to me?"
"Yeah." Steve nodded, then grinned. "Like I said, I can't use it. And if it'll make your landlady happy, I want you to have it."
"You could've given them to me, if your sweetheart stepped out without you. I'd make good use of 'em," Bucky said. His grin was bright, easy and teasing, and so fake it was hard to look at.
"Peggy's not my sweetheart. She's a friend," Steve said. The way his cheeks pinked betrayed him. This Peggy might be a friend, but Steve wanted more than that.
But Napoleon had also seen how Steve looked at Bucky. And he knew how deeply Steve would mourn him.
"Yeah, well, I'm your friend too. That's all I'm saying." Bucky grinned again, full of moxie and concealed hurt.
"Thank you," Napoleon said to Steve. For a second he almost gave the candy to Bucky, to try and pull some of that pain from his smile. But he knew Bucky would just give it back, and the gesture wouldn't change anything between him and Steve. Napoleon pocketed it instead.
"Think you can stand if I help?" Bucky asked him. "We should take you home."
Napoleon nodded and lifted his hand. Bucky clasped his wrist and levered him to his feet, then pulled Napoleon's arm across his shoulders and held him around the waist. "That all right?" he asked softly.
"It's fine. Thank you." They locked eyes for a second too long, the air still charged between them.
Bucky was the first to look away. "I'm going to make sure he gets back to his billet," he said to Steve.
"Yeah, sure." Steve's eyes darted between Bucky and Napoleon and then away. "I, uh, should be getting back for curfew. Just be ready when we need to leave."
"Sure thing. O-fucking-four hundred. I'll be there." Bucky gave Steve a sharp nod and another smile full of everything he'd never say. "Better go before you turn into a pumpkin."
"Fuck you," Steve said pleasantly. "Good night, Buck. I hope you feel better, Napoleon." He didn't look like he wanted to leave.
"Thanks," Napoleon said. Steve was a nice, but Napoleon wished he'd never met him.
"Night, Steve," Bucky said. He started off down the cobbled alley, towards the nearest cross street.
Napoleon didn't have to look back to know Steve was watching them go.
Napoleon's billet really wasn't far. It was in a house that was part of a long row, attached to other houses on either side in a flat rectangle. This part of Florence was far enough from the city center to have avoided the bombings, so it was an easy route for a soldier helping his wiped out friend home.
The drink and sugar pills had definitely helped. Napoleon could have walked, albeit unsteadily. He was sure Bucky was as aware of it as he was, but neither of them said anything. Bucky seemed to want to hold him, and Napoleon never wanted to let him go. It was perfect.
The house was almost pitch dark, and very quiet when Napoleon unlocked the door and eased it open. Bucky finally let him go because it was easier to navigate the narrow house. Napoleon felt instantly much colder, and bereft in a way he did his best not to think about.
His landlady had left an oil lamp and matches for them by the door. Napoleon lit it, then held it so he could see Bucky's face in the flickering flame. "Thank you for bringing me home," he said softly.
"You're welcome," Bucky said, just as softly. He looked ethereal in the lamplight, his eyes reflecting the flame like glass. He curved his fingers around Napoleon's jaw, then kissed him on the lips. The sweetness of it slid a blade through Napoleon's heart. Oh yes, he would have scars tonight. "Do you want me to stay?"
Napoleon swallowed. "I honestly want that more than anything."
Bucky grinned. "Good. 'Cause I sure as hell don't want to leave."
Those words shouldn't have hurt that much. But Napoleon still took Bucky's hand and led him upstairs.
Bucky tried to kiss him again as soon as Napoleon shut the door. Napoleon dodged out of the way. "I want you to fuck me." He began unbuttoning his jacket, fingers uncharacteristically clumsy in his rush to get it off. "And, don't be gentle. I don't need gentle, all right? I Just…I want to feel you. I want to remember it—"
"Whoa, hey. Hey. Hold your horses." Bucky put his hands over Napoleon's, stilling them. "It's all right. We got time."
"No we don't!" Napoleon hissed. He pulled his hands away from Bucky's, but now they were shaking so badly he couldn't work the buttons. "Damn it!"
"It's okay. Let me." Bucky took over, taking Napoleon's wrists and unbuttoning the cuffs, something Napoleon had forgotten. Then Bucky undid the jacket front for him. He slid it slowly off Napoleon's shoulders, then kissed Napoleon's nape before carefully hanging the jacket over the back of the wooden desk chair.
When he came back, Bucky cupped Napoleon's face and kissed him again, as thoroughly and tenderly as he had in the cobbled alley behind the bar. "We got time, darling," he said, smiling at him. "I promise, we got time."
"Shut up." Napoleon reached for Bucky's jacket. He managed the buttons this time, though with far less care than Bucky had used. "Get this off. Come on, please. I don't…." He gritted his teeth, breathing harshly as he tried to choke back the sudden onslaught of new tears. "Please," he rasped. "Please, Bucky."
"What's wrong?" Bucky looked concerned again. "Why are you crying?"
That wasn't right. This wasn't working at all. "Nothing. Nothing's wrong." Napoleon swiped quickly at his eyes. "I'm fine. It's just my Gift. It doesn't matter."
Bucky put his hands on Napoleon's shoulders, rubbing warmth into Napoleon's chilled skin. "You can tell me, it's all right. We don't have to do anything if you're not feeling well."
"I'm fine," Napoleon snapped. "Just…stop being nice. I don't want it! I don't want—" His voice cracked, throat aching like it was full of stones. "Fuck." He turned away, squeezing his eyes shut and covering his mouth with his hand. He clenched his jaw, but he couldn't keep the sob locked in his chest. He started crying again, despite the burn of humiliation and how it was the last thing he wanted.
"Fuck," Bucky murmured, but then wrapped Napoleon in his arms. "Shh. It's okay. You're all right. It's gonna be fine."
Napoleon squirmed his hands out from between them and around Bucky's back. He held him desperately, muffling the hitch in his breathing against Bucky's shoulder. Bucky rubbed his back and petted his hair. It was sweet and kind and tender, and Napoleon couldn't stand it.
He pushed away from him. "I'm sorry." He used his shirt sleeve to clear the water out of his eyes. He swallowed; it still hurt. "I'm really sorry. I don't know what's wrong with me."
"It's all right," Bucky said again. He checked his pockets, then grimaced. "Must've left my kerchief in the alley." He carded his fingers through Napoleon's hair. "Your Gift just wiped you out, huh?"
Napoleon nodded, taking the excuse. "It must have, yeah. I'm sorry." He mustered up a smirk from somewhere. "I really didn't bring you here to watch me be a blubber-mouth."
Bucky shrugged. "Hey, I've had worse." He was still stroking through Napoleon's hair. "You gonna tell me what's wrong, though?" he asked quietly. "'Cause my Gift wipes me out too sometimes, but it's never made me cry over nothing."
"You're not a Clairvoyant," Napoleon said.
"Yeah, well, you ain't that good a liar."
Napoleon sucked in a breath, but Bucky's expression was nothing but kind. "You should go back to Steve," he said. The way he had to sniffle and swallow right afterwards took all the command out of it. "He loves you. Just as much as you love him."
Bucky went still for a second, then he stepped back, his expression cold. "Fuck you, if you think I'm dumb enough to let you feed me a line like that. You want me to take a hike, just say so."
"It wasn't a line, I swear!" Napoleon shook his head, still using his sleeves on his eyes. "That was my Gift. Not…nothing about my landlady. I mean, what I said was true, about her. But, it wasn't my Gift." He sniffled again, then tried to compose himself, look like he actually meant what he was saying. It'd be the worst kind of irony if Bucky didn't believe the truth. "He loves you. Steve Rogers loves you."
Bucky's expression softened into something wistful and sad. He put his hands on his hips, turned his head to look at the night-shadowed wall. "Sure. Like a brother. Peggy's the one he's hot for."
"Not just her," Napoleon said. "You as well. More. He's only with her because he thinks he can't have you."
"Bullshit. He doesn't go for men," Bucky said, but there was a tone to his voice like he wanted to believe it.
"Yes he does." Napoleon took a breath. "I know he does, Bucky. It was part of what my Gift told me."
Bucky snorted. "You had a vision that Steve's…like us, as well as normal. And that's why you're crying?"
"It wasn't a vision," Napoleon said tiredly. "I just know. And…" He swallowed. "And I was crying because…because of how much he'll miss you—" His voice creaked dangerously and he snapped his mouth shut, breathing through his nose until he was almost sure he wouldn’t embarrass himself yet again.
"Miss me?" Bucky repeated. Frowning. "Why? Where am I…." His eyes widened. "You mean, after the mission, don't you? You mean I ain't making it back."
Napoleon nodded mutely. "I'm sorry," he croaked. "I didn't want to tell you."
"Fuck," Bucky said softly. He ran his fingers through his hair, left his hand on the back of his neck. "You…you're sure? I'm gonna die?"
"Yeah." Napoleon nodded again. "My Gift is…. It's not wrong very often." It was never wrong, but Napoleon couldn't bear to say that out loud, rip away any shred of hope Bucky might possess.
"Oh my God," Bucky breathed, eyes still wide and haunted. "How does it happen?"
"I don't know," Napoleon said. "I only ever know that something will happen. Never how. I'm sorry. I wish so badly my Gift worked differently." God in Heaven, how he did.
"Damn it," Bucky said. He turned away, one hand on his hip and the other over his mouth. Napoleon could only make out the sleek lines of his back, and dimly, but he could tell Bucky squared his shoulders before he spun back around. "Okay. You don't know, fine, it doesn't fucking matter. I ain't dying. Know why?"
Napoleon shook his head. "No."
"'Cause the future hasn't happened yet, right? It's always in flux. So, I can change it. Whatever your Gift says. I can change it." He bit his lip. "What happens if I don't go on the mission?"
Nothing will change what happens, Napoleon thought. "I don't know," he said.
Bucky winced and shook his head. "No. Fuck that yellow bullshit. I ain't making one of the Howlies die 'stead of me." He nodded, as if encouraging himself. "It'll be okay."
"Sure." Napoleon tried to sound like he meant it, but whatever he had on his face made Bucky give him a small, gentle smile, as if he were the one needing courage.
"It will. I promise." Bucky took Napoleon in his arms again, kissed him like they had all the time in the world.
Napoleon hated it—they had no time at all—but he let Bucky set the pace. It was the least he could do.
"Want to see why I know it'll be okay?" Bucky asked when they separated.
Bucky lifted Napoleon as easily as he had in the alley and sat him down on the bed, then sat next to him. He took out his pocket knife and unfolded the blade. "Watch." He cut a long, deep gash down the center of his palm.
Napoleon cried out, but the wound started closing even as he reached for Bucky's hand. The blood had barely pooled before the skin was whole, no sign of injury at all.
"See?" Bucky grinned at him. He wiped the blood off on his pants, then closed the knife and tucked it back into his pocket.
"Fucking hell." Napoleon took Bucky's hand in both of his, smoothing his thumb over where the cut had been. There was nothing, absolutely nothing. He stared at Bucky. "I've never seen a Healer this good."
Bucky's mouth twitched in a humorless smirk. "Can you keep a secret?"
Bucky leaned close, even though Napoleon was the only one who could possibly hear him. "I was a P.O.W. of Hydra for a while, in '43. They guy we're going after, he…did something to me. Gave me something like what they gave to Steve, to make him Captain America. So, I'm like him. 'Cept, I had Healing already, so now it's souped up." He leaned back, grinning again, though there was something brittle in it. "See? I don't even know if I can die. But I sure as hell ain't buying the fucking farm taking down the asshole who did this to me." He gave Napoleon a firm, chaste kiss to the corner of his mouth. "And I'm going to be extra careful now, 'cause of you. So, I'm not dying, darling. You saved my life."
Napoleon made a noise he pretended was nothing like pain, then took Bucky's head in his hands and kissed him for real. He wanted it to be rough. Cruel, maybe. Anything that might save his already aching heart. It wasn't, of course. It was gentle, and sweet, and loving. Like every other time Bucky had kissed him.
It didn't matter anyway. Napoleon didn't need his Gift to know there was nothing that would save his heart. But what were a few more scars?
They hadn't fucked. Bucky had made love to him. As if Napoleon was really his, and not just a stupid kid he'd literally picked up at a bar.
It had been a beautiful Hell. Napoleon was desirable, he was very aware of that; he'd made use of it more than once. But he wasn't lovable. He might be a consummate liar, but never to himself. He knew exactly what kind of shallow, pretentious magpie he was. He was a lovely portrait with nothing real behind the eyes.
But Bucky treated him as if he were lovable. As if Bucky thought he was precious, as if Bucky cherished him.
It was terrifying, and heartbreaking. Napoleon didn't deserve it. He wasn't the one Bucky really wanted. He wasn't good. Not like Captain America or the heroic Sergeant Bucky Barnes himself. But Napoleon was very talented at taking things he didn't deserve.
And he only had this one night; just a few hours that had to last forever. Because in the morning Bucky would leave, and Napoleon would never see him again.
He hadn't wanted to fall asleep, hadn't wanted to waste what little time they had. But his Gift and the sorrow had exhausted him. He'd told himself that he'd just doze for a few minutes, but Bucky had tucked himself in behind him, and Napoleon had felt warm and sated and maybe loved. And the next time he'd opened his eyes it was past dawn.
He'd bolted out of bed, but it was far too late. Bucky was gone.
Bucky had left a small magpie hoard of things on Napoleon's desk. It looked like he'd emptied his pockets and made a gift of anything he thought Napoleon might find useful or just enjoy. Bucky had left his pocketknife, and his lighter, and a nearly full pack of gum, and his tin of sugar pills with a stylized wing he'd carved into the metal, and one of his branch of service lapel pins: an eagle with its wings spread.
Napoleon wondered if Bucky suspected in his heart of hearts that he wouldn't be there to catch hell for losing it. And then Napoleon had to look at the wall for a long time and think about anything else.
There was also a torn piece of notebook paper, with Bucky's full name—James Buchanan Barnes—and his unit and battalion. For mail. And under that, a note:
Consider this an early Birthday present. We'll do it right for both of us when I get back.
I had a great time last night. I didn't want to scram on you, but you were so sparked out I wanted to let you sleep. I'll make it up to you when I see you again.
Don't do anything I wouldn't do,
He'd drawn a stylized wing, probably the emblem of his unit. Napoleon might have been entirely self-educated, but he knew enough about art and artists to see that Bucky had talent.
Napoleon's jacket was still over the back of the chair. He reached into a pocket and took out the handkerchief Bucky had lent him. Napoleon knew he shouldn't have stolen it, but at the time he'd thought it'd be the only souvenir he'd have. He placed it next to the lapel pin, far more carefully than the wadded cloth needed. He'd wash it later by hand, to make sure nothing happened to it. Not that he planned on using it again.
For a long time, his mind was a cold, quiet blank as he read the note over and over. Bucky had good handwriting, the way artists often did. He wondered if Bucky's optimistic promises were for Napoleon's benefit or his own.
We'll do it right for both of us when I get back.
I'll make it up to you when I see you again.
But Bucky wasn't coming back. Napoleon would never see him again.
Napoleon was not lovable, and he'd learned the hard way that falling for someone just meant you hit the ground. He spent his life trying to avoid pain, not searching for it.
He hadn't fallen for Bucky Barnes. But he could have. He could have so easily.
Napoleon gripped the back of his desk chair, creasing his jacket that Bucky had so carefully hung there for him. And he wept: grieving for a man he barely knew but could have loved, for the future Bucky would never have, and the life Napoleon would never share with him.
He was in Italy when S.H.I.E.L.D. fell.
Napoleon watched it happening live on Italian T.V., grateful that Gaby and Illya hadn't lived to see the organization they'd been so proud of fall apart.
He'd retired more than thirty years ago, right after U.N.C.L.E. had become part of S.H.I.E.L.D.. He'd never much cared for institutions. He'd been in the spy game for Illya and Gaby, and when they'd been given the option of deskwork or retiring, he'd retired. Illya and Gaby had stayed, but they'd always been far more invested in the fate of the world.
Napoleon was too cynical for that. It was hard to hold on to one's sanguinity with a Gift like his.
His Gift had said nothing about S.H.I.E.L.D. Then again, it had become increasingly erratic as the years wore on. These days he was lucky if he knew ahead of time if he should bring an umbrella, or if his favorite bar would be out of the gelato he liked.
So five months later when he got a package in the mail, he had no idea who might have sent it. Not until he opened the card he found inside.
The card was blank, with a picture of Avengers Tower on it. And this was the note:
You probably know about the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D. by now. I don't know if you know about me, though. It's selfish of me, but I hope you don't.
I've done a lot of terrible things. I didn't die on the mission, just like I told you I wouldn't. Only I got captured by Hydra. The ones we were going after. I was their prisoner for a real long time. They forced me to hurt people for them. Kill people. I never wanted to, but I did it. Steve says it’s not my fault. I've been trying to believe him, but it's hard.
But, I wanted to tell you that I'm alive. I survived, for what it's worth. And maybe it's stupid, but I wanted to wish you Happy Birthday for real, since I never got the chance. So, here's a present. I know It's really late, but I hope you like it anyway.
P.S.: I told Steve. You were right about that too. Thanks.
Napoleon spent a long time reading the card over and over, then just holding it in his hands. And then he stood it up next to his metal tin of glucose tablets; The one with the wing on the lid that he'd kept for 70 years.
There was a solid rectangle covered in brown paper in the bottom of the box. Napoleon was very, very careful when he unwrapped it, because of how badly his hands were shaking.
It was a framed pencil drawing of Bucky and Steve, sitting together on a couch. Steve's arm was around Bucky's shoulders, and Bucky's left arm was behind Steve's back. Bucky was leaning against Steve, with a soft, contented smile on his face.
He was a little older, and his hair was longer than Napoleon remembered it, but otherwise Bucky looked almost exactly the same.
The drawing wasn't perfect. It'd clearly been done by a talented amateur who still needed practice. But the love between the two men was palpable. It warmed Napoleon to see it.
It was signed by Bucky Barnes.
Napoleon hung it in his living room, where he kept his prized possessions.