Actions

Work Header

The Tartarus Affair

Chapter Text

I.

Other than Napoleon and the CIA watchdog assigned to him, the prison bus was empty. It was once a schoolbus, but had since been rudely repurposed, painted a dark charcoal gray with the words Virginia Department of Corrections printed in neat white paint under the murky windows. Outside, flat, baked farmland went past, acres of it, dotted sparsely with trees. There was no air conditioning in the bus, and the windows were open only in varying slivers; Napoleon felt like he was baking, himself, in clothes that were three days old. His shirt stuck to his back, and his jeans felt uncomfortably stiff on his legs.

Napoleon watched the trees go past in a daze. His hands were cuffed to the chrome ring attached to the seat in front of him, and his legs were hobbled. It was hard to believe that only four days ago he had wandered through MoMa with a gorgeous leggy blonde on his arm, then wined and dined her at a nice French bistro. Strange how quickly the worm turned, just on the back of a single mistake.

“Right side,” the watchdog said. “Get your first look at your new home for the next decade and a half, kid.”

Napoleon looked. Rising out of the farmland, hemmed in by gentle hills, was an ugly scattering of gray blocks, like a movie version of a missile base, all concrete silos, towers, high walls and wire fences, linked with walkways. The next decade and a half. He sucked in a slow, harsh breath.

“That’s right,” murmured the watchdog. He was a lean, whippet-like man, with hard, cold eyes, dressed in a cheap suit too short for his wrists. It was cheap enough that it failed to completely hide the concealed shoulder holster, which was why Napoleon hadn’t tried to get out of his cuffs. “Pretty kid like you, gonna be real popular on the inside.”

“I’m always popular, Agent,” Napoleon shot back, with a bland smile, because if there was one thing that the Army and his subsequent life as a thief had taught him, it was the importance of faking the hell out of it even if you were scared.

“I bet,” the watchdog sniffed. “Ain’t too late, y’know. We could turn the bus around. Just gonna take one call. Boss thinks you got potential. In there, you’re gonna come out older and broke and fucked up. Or maybe you’d never come out at all. The boss doesn’t like it when people refuse a perfectly reasonable offer.”

“The CIA must be really desperate,” Napoleon said mildly, “If they’re trying to blackmail some ‘pretty kid’ into working for them. And that’s the thing about blackmail, Agent. I’ve seen how it works. The blackmailer always squeezes the victim until there’s nothing else left to give. I told Sanders that I don’t believe that the CIA will let me go after my sentence. So I’ll take my chances. Thanks.”

“Your funeral,” the watchdog said, and it was his supreme indifference that very nearly swayed Napoleon. The words were in his throat, on his tongue. Napoleon very nearly changed his mind, apologised-

But then the bus jolted over a pothole, and jarred his wrists against the cuffs, and Napoleon looked away, over at the state prison complex ahead. No. His instincts were usually right. And besides, there were worse things than prison. Better to pay out a debt all at once than dole out instalments forever.

So Napoleon stayed pointedly silent as they drove closer. Arc lights, razor wires, searchlights, sentries with rifles - Napoleon frowned slightly as the bus slowed, close to the giant outermost fence. Rings of fencing padded the outside world from the concrete blocks within, and Napoleon breathed out through gritted teeth as the bus came to a jerky stop. Outside, Napoleon could see a guard talking into a radio. Eventually, the guard signalled, and the bus drove into a long wire cage. The gate behind them closed, while another gate in front of them opened.

They drove through another long wire cage before finally emerging into the flat compound of concrete silos. The bus rattled bravely as it powered over to a blocky gray building, squat and unpainted, then it swung to a stop, shutting down. Over in the front, Napoleon could hear the driver getting out, pulling out his keys.

“End of the line, kid,” the watchdog said quietly.

Napoleon didn’t bother to answer. He was thinking. Beyond the last looming concrete silo, in one of the guard towers, he could see a stocky-looking guard cradling a rifle in one hand while eating something held in the other. An energy bar, maybe. Or a chocolate bar. The guard wasn’t looking outwards, but inwards, watching the bus come in. Napoleon guessed that the bus was probably the most interesting thing to have happened all day. Maybe all week. Napoleon smiled to himself.

“Something funny?”

He’d forgotten the watchdog. “No sir.”

“Well,” the watchdog grunted, “Glad that you’re finding it funny, whatever it is. Now move. Processing doesn’t like to work past six, because of the union. Go on. Hop to it.”

“Thanks for the company,” Napoleon said, with as much irony as he could manage.

“Don’t mention it. Be seeing you, kid.” The watchdog slouched into his seat and waited as the bus driver came over to unlock the cuffs and ankle shackles, leading Napoleon out to the concrete block to be processed.

Everyone at processing was bored. The guards who had watched him strip down and into the orange jumpsuit were bored. An equally bored, deep-jowled administrator took his picture again, left, front, right, with Napoleon holding up a printed card with a prisoner ID number and a date, just as the NYPD had, days ago, with a beat up little GoPro hooked up to a Dell computer that looked recycled. Napoleon went through the motions quietly and without fuss, projecting unobtrusiveness. The guards had glanced through the purely theft charges on his file and had clearly already lost interest. Just another perp, getting processed into a low sec floor. Napoleon hadn’t come up on their radar as remotely dangerous and he wanted to keep it that way.

The guards took their time with the paperwork. Then Napoleon was walked along a red line deeper into the prison, through corridors, up stairs, more corridors. He guessed that it was already lights out at the prison: the corridors were dark, all doors closed, only dim fluorescent lighting painting the occasional faint bar along the ceiling.

The guard in front eventually overrode an electronic lock with a key. Napoleon was careful not to look too closely, instead pretending to shrink back a little as the out door opened up and the stink of the prison surged through, sweat and human waste and uneven hygiene.

“Silence after lights out,” said the guard behind him, shortly, but it wasn’t silent as they walked out onto the row, a walkway that faced only inwards into levels dotted evenly with cell doors. The men trapped behind each door had gone to sleep, snoring, mumbling; somewhere high above Napoleon could hear the sound of broken whimpering, a whining scratchy record that looped like the start of sanity breaking.

They stopped before a dark cell. Like the rest, it had no windows. The guard opened the door with an electronic key, gestured for Napoleon to get in, then shut the door behind his back once he did. It locked automatically, with a faint metallic click. Electronic lock, on a general and override release system, Napoleon guessed. He stayed close to the bars as the guards walked away, then he looked at his cell.

There was a sink and a john, and the cell was narrow - Napoleon could touch both walls if he stretched out his arms, and the ceiling if he reached up. There was an upper and lower bunk bed, with worn sheets and blankets.

The lower bunk bed was already taken, and his cellmate was awake. The cell was too dark to make out his features: all Napoleon could see was that his cellmate was tall, very tall - the bed was too short for him, and his legs were curled awkwardly on the sheets. He was silent. Napoleon waited, but when the cellmate said nothing at all, Napoleon decided to follow suit, climbing up to the top bunk. He tied the laces of his shoes together and hung them off the rung at the foot of the bed, then he lay on the sheets, feet to the bars, and listened.

His cellmate was waiting too, still silent. Eventually, Napoleon gave in, and wedged his back against the cell wall, closing his eyes. He rather doubted that he was going to get much sleep anyway.

1.0.

At seven in the morning the prison was always abruptly flooded with light, like the timer going off on a fish tank. Illya blinked the spots away, as he always did, and then quietly sat up on his bed, keeping his back to the wall. Above, his new cellmate let out a soft yelp of surprise, then a bout of muffled swearing, as though he’d abruptly realized exactly where he was.

American. New Yorker, by the sound of the accent. Illya quietly put on his shoes, and sat cross-legged on the bed as the prison woke up, in a cacophonous echoing roar of thousands of people crawling awake into a new day of frozen life. Normally, Illya would take the half an hour before the general unlock to relieve himself and wash up. Today, he waited.

Illya’s cellmate was putting on his shoes. From the faint clunks, Illya guessed that he had tied the shoes to the bunk bar. This told Illya that either his cellmate was paranoid or he was a prison transfer from another pen, who knew that shoes were often a valuable prison commodity. He was leaning towards the latter conclusion when the cellmate finished putting on his shoes and clambered cautiously down, turning to face Illya.

The man facing Illya was a young man, possibly in his mid twenties, probably only a few years older than Illya, if at all. He was tall, though not as tall as Illya, with soft dark hair and soft pale skin over sharp cheekbones. Broad shoulders sloped down over a long, rangy frame; he was fit, but it was the sort of gym-made fitness that came from vanity rather than purpose. He was handsome enough that he seemed for a moment utterly incongruous in the orange jumpsuit against the thick concrete-and-brick walls, beside the steel sink and steel toilet pan. But there was a wildness in his eyes that Illya recognised. He had seen its ilk before, in the eyes of caged animals, particularly predators. Wariness, but no panic.

The panic would come, Illya knew dispassionately. His cellmate was pretty enough to ensure that.

“Hi,” the man offered. “Morning. Guess I’m your new cellmate.”

Illya shrugged. “So it seems.”

“You’re Russian?”

“You’re American?” Illya shot back dryly.

This got a wry smile. “Born in Minnesota.”

Illya nodded. He didn’t particularly care. His cellmate’s eyes flicked out over the rows of cells and back, as though checking for exits but keeping an eye on Illya - casing the joint, while being cautious. A career criminal of some sort. He did not look like a killer, however - there wasn’t that sense of poised eye-of-the-storm stillness to him that the truly violent tended to give off. That meant that Illya’s cellmate was quite likely going to end up at least in the prison infirmary by tonight, at the least.

“So, ah,” the man said, as the silence stretched, “Since we’re going to be, well, cellmates… I’m Napoleon.”

“Don’t use that name here,” Illya said curtly, before he could stop himself.

Napoleon blinked. “Why not?”

“Was it fun going through high school with that name?”

“… I see your point. Solo, then. That’s my surname.” Napoleon waited, but when Illya remained silent, he added, with a quick, charming smile, “I didn’t get your name.”

A serial killer, perhaps? No, probably not. Napoleon’s eyes were far too alive for that. “You can call me ‘Peril’.” Illya said shortly.

“How long have you been here, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“Half a year.” Illya was losing interest in the conversation. He glanced outside. The janitor was finishing his circuit, whisking his broom over the gray floor, avoiding eye contact with the inmates. No one wanted to get too close to lifers.

Napoleon tried to make more small talk, but when Illya ignored him, he gave up, relieving himself and washing his hands. He was wiping his hands dry on his jumpsuit when a loud, waspish electronic buzz told Illya that it was seven thirty. The general unlock. Their cell door twitched an inch to the right. Outside, the murmuring and clanging rose to a crescendo for a moment as people shuffled around, heading out of their cells and into another concrete-clad day.

Illya stayed where he was, and Napoleon eyed him curiously. He didn’t instantly head out on his own, which was probably a good move. There were no guards out on this section of the prison at this time of day: they were in a crew room, emergencies only. And generally, lifers doing what they did to each other in the course of their empty daily lives was not considered an emergency.

It didn’t take long for the cell to get investigated. A processing happening after lights out was a little unusual. That the new cellmate was dropped into Illya’s cell was stranger still. The prison was overcrowded, as were most prisons in the ironically-named Free World, but given what had happened to Illya’s last four cellmates, he had generally been given a cell to himself.

The first group to peer in were the Brotherhood. Neo-Nazis. Illya loathed them, but they generally stayed out of each other’s way. He wasn’t interested in meth, and as far as they were concerned, Illya perfectly fit their so-called ‘Aryan’ concept: blonde, blue-eyed and violent. So they left each other alone, usually by pretending the other party didn’t exist. There was a clump of them, big, thickly muscular, covered in rapidly discolouring eagle and swastika tattoos. They looked at Napoleon, then at Illya, who was still sitting quietly on his bed, and seemed to get the hint: they moved on. Napoleon clearly wasn’t Brotherhood or even Brotherhood material, and didn’t look like a possible customer or a rival pusher.

Trouble came with the second group. The Buitres were traffickers with roots in the cartels south of the border, their income streams particularly rooted in cocaine and crime-for-hire. So far, Illya had also managed to stay out of their way. The leader of the pack, a thickset, blocky man with a skull tattoo that covered his face, shoved the cell door wide open and looked Napoleon up and down slowly.

“Looks like they locked the two pretty boys in together.”

Illya swallowed a sigh, even as a chuckle rippled through the gang. Now he was going to have to get involved after all. Not for Napoleon’s sake, but for his own. The Buitres had linked them together and now Napoleon’s fate was tied to Illya’s own carefully forged place in the prison hierarchy.

“You’re all not half-bad yourselves,” Napoleon said dryly, which was possibly the worst thing to say. Illya rolled his eyes, under the bunk, as the Buitre leader bristled and sneered.

“Since you think so, puto, come over here. Get on your knees and show us how much you like us, hm?”

Napoleon tensed up, another bad move, then he tried more charm, which was worse. “How about a round of cards instead? I’ll be better at that.”

The Buitre leader growled, and took a step into the cell, at which point Illya grew bored of watching the train wreck and uncurled from the bed, blocking his way. He towered over the Buitre leader, and folded his arms, putting on a flat, thin smile.

“I did not give you permission to walk in here, mudak.”

The leader glared up at Illya, and leered. “You wait your turn-“

Illya was already moving. He grabbed the Buitre leader by the throat and took a long stride forward, shoving him up against the steel bolted pole of the bunk strut even as he snapped the heel of his hand forward, driving it up into the leader’s nose, crushing it up into the bridge even as the leader’s skull slammed into the hollow steel.

The Buitre leader fell, bleeding and poleaxed, and Illya stepped back, with the same flat, thin smile. “Anyone still interested?”

There was only a shocked silence.

“You.” Illya pointed at the closest Buitre man. “The other mudak. You leave rubbish in my house. I think you should pay a fine.”

Wordlessly, the Buitre man reached up one of his sleeves and handed over three cigarettes. As Illya glowered at the others, one by one, a total of four other cigarettes and a nailclipper were produced. Finally, Illya nodded, and the Buitres dragged the unconscious man out, leaving a smear of blood behind.

“Thanks,” Napoleon said quietly, behind him, and Illya nearly flinched. That had been a mistake. He’d let Napoleon stand in his blind spot.

“Didn’t do it for you,” Illya said shortly, and sat down on the bed again, hiding his ‘fines’ under the lining of his pillow.

“Won’t that get you in trouble?”

“Only if he dies. Many such incidents per week. Prison is understaffed.”

“I mean, with them.”

“Maybe. Maybe not.”

“I’ve never seen someone move like that…” Napoleon trailed off, with a rueful laugh. “Were you in the army or something?” When Illya said nothing, Napoleon added, “Well. Thanks anyway, Peril.”

Napoleon smiled, warm and friendly and still with that annoying, playful charm, and despite himself, Illya asked, “What did you do?”

“Sorry?”

“To get in here?” Illya clarified. Chances were, the word would spread and Illya, and Napoleon by extension, would now be left alone. The downside was, it was possible that Illya would have to do some work to keep that as the status quo, which would be annoying. Getting rid of Napoleon quickly might be necessary. And besides, there were some crimes that could not be forgiven.

“I was a thief.” Napoleon said wryly. “An art thief, if you must know.”

“Oh? Did you kill someone in your last job?”

“No? I don’t kill people.” Napoleon paused. “At least, not since the Army.”

Illya frowned at him. “How long is your sentence?”

“Fifteen years. They threw the book at me.”

“Fifteen years?” Illya tilted his head. “Only a thief? Then you should not be in this section.”

“What?” Napoleon looked outside sharply, then back at Illya, blinking in confusion. “Why not? What’s this section for?”

“Lifers,” Illya said succinctly.

To his surprise, instead of going pale and protesting, or spilling out his real crimes, Napoleon cursed, and slapped a hand against the wall. “Fucking Sanders and the goddamned CIA!”

Illya raised his eyebrows. “CIA?” he repeated warily.

“Long story,” Napoleon muttered, glaring out of the cell door.

“We have time.” Illya pointed out, narrowing his eyes. This was different. “Tell me.”

Chapter Text

II.

Napoleon’s mind was spinning as he leaned back against the wall. Lifers. He should’ve known. The CIA wouldn’t have just taken ‘no’ lightly for an answer. Napoleon was probably lucky he didn’t end up dumped in a ditch somewhere, or herded into a black site.

“There’s nothing to tell,” Napoleon said, still thrown by the revelation. “I was a very good thief, if I say so myself, and when they caught me the CIA offered me a choice between a job and serving out my sentence.”

Peril sniffed. “So you turn down a job offer in this climate? Strange choice.”

Napoleon wasn’t sure if Peril was joking. His cellmate was inscrutable: his expression hadn’t even changed during that sudden burst of violence just minutes ago that had quite possibly fractured his victim’s skull. “I thought it was a choice between sitting out a term in prison or spending a lifetime playing tango for Uncle Sam. At least in prison you can get paroled for good behaviour.”

“Probably good summary.” Peril had relaxed, almost imperceptibly: his shoulders had slouched slightly. “So they sent you to level three in punishment for declining deal? Interesting solution. Either you die or you get hurt or scared enough that you change your mind. Quite efficient. Very Russian.”

“Well I’m not changing my mind now,” Napoleon growled. “I don’t work for assholes.”

Peril’s lip curled. “CIA is desperate enough that they want to recruit a common thief?”

“I wouldn’t say that I was a ‘common’ thief exactly,” Peril said mildly. “Interpol certainly didn’t think so.”

“You got caught.”

“True, yes, I probably should have vetted my new fence a bit more thoroughly.” Napoleon sighed. “She was a little too beautiful and I got distracted.”

“So thief and womanizer,” Peril shook his head slowly. “Someone who does not kill. I think CIA is wasting time. Either that or scraping bottom of barrel.”

“Well thanks,” Napoleon said dryly. “I’m glad to see where I rate with you.”

“I think you need to understand that we are not friends,” Peril said shortly, getting to his feet.

“Where are you going?”

“Now? Now is breakfast. Guards did not tell you program?”

They had, during processing. Napoleon had forgotten, in all the excitement. “Ah, right. I’ll um, head out with you.”

Peril narrowed his eyes a fraction. “Suit yourself. But remember-“

“Yes, I know. We’re not friends.” Napoleon said, a little stiffly.

Peril stared at him for a moment, then he looked away. “Prison is not so bad. Maybe you made right choice. Your country is only country in the world that imprisons children for life with no parole. Also there are many here who are here because of nonviolent offences. Drugs. So. People here. Not all wolves. Mostly not.”

“You’re trying to tell me that a lot of the others in here are harmless?”

“Harmlessness is a matter of opinion.”

“Ah, a philosopher,” Napoleon grinned impishly, but only got eyeballed coldly for his trouble.

“Maybe I should explain another way,” Peril said finally. “We are not friends. And you are starting to irritate me. The moment you move from merely irritating me to annoying me, I will hurt you worse than I hurt that Buitre man. Yes?”

Napoleon held his hands up in a gesture of surrender, and said, “Yes, I understand,” in Russian.

Peril blinked at him, momentary blindsided, just as Napoleon hoped that he would be, then he retorted shortly, “Your accent is atrocious,” and stalked out.

Napoleon took the hint, though. Peril was most definitely a killer of some breed or other, and staying on his good side - or at least his neutral side - was probably where Napoleon should be, at least until he got a better feel for his new life.

A vast majority of the inmates in the lifers section were minorities. Young people, older people - Napoleon could see Peril’s point about danger. There were some tables which clearly ‘belonged’ to gangs: he recognised the tattooed neo-Nazis who had first peeked into the cell this morning, as well as the other gang who had paid Peril in cigarettes to remove their unfortunate friend, among others.

Most of the rest of the inmates just ate together, though, perhaps in shifts. There were hundreds of people, and the canteen was a vast, square room, with inmates doing kitchen service in a conveyor belt on one end, doling out food in plastic trays, and the rest of the room was filled with long tables and benches, bolted down. Above, four armed guards wandered around on walkways, openly bored, some even yawning.

Napoleon made sure to queue for food near but not too close to Peril. It was white bread, some sort of murky black coffee and eggs that were an uncomfortable shade of lurid yellow. He took his portion and left the queue and found that Peril had simply walked straight to the closest bench to sit down. Inmates had hurriedly faded out of his way, leaving an arm’s length space between Peril and the rest of the table.

Hesitating, Napoleon was wondering whether or not to join him when there was a surprised, “Well, I’ll fuckin’ be. That you, Solo?” from behind him and to his right.

He turned, and squinted for a moment at the mass of people in jumpsuits before noticing the waving hand, two benches away. Another glance at the tense arch of Peril’s back told Napoleon that he was most certainly going to ratchet up from being merely ‘irritating’ to being ‘annoying’ if he sat with Peril, so he headed off towards the waving hand, instead, and grinned when he saw who it was.

“Pablo. The hell are you doing here?”

Pablo Peña was a career criminal only in the way certain people could call spending a lifetime bouncing between oddball startup ideas an entrepreneurial career. Some people struck the lottery, some would muddle along, and some, like Pablo, forever eventually rolled back to square one. Thankfully, however, Pablo’s ‘square one’ was his natural talent: Pablo was one of the best forgers in the business Napoleon had ever met.

Pablo squeezed to the side, allowing Napoleon to wedge in beside him, and he clapped Napoleon on the back, grinning. It was Napoleon’s first encounter with genuine human friendliness in half a week, and he felt a visceral pulse of gratefulness towards the moon-faced, jocular forger.

“Eh, you know how it goes, dawg,” Pablo said expansively. “I had this really cool idea, y’know, and then I tried it out and then it turned out that the po-lice, they were real hurt by it. Real hurt. Hurt like, I-shagged-their-mothers kinda hurt, y’know.”

“Dare I ask?”

“Well, y’know what’s one thing that all our money has in common?”

“They’re… green?”

“No man, no. Like, what does our money have in common that few other money does?”

“They’re…” Napoleon thought about this for a moment. “All the same size.”

“Exactly, dawg,” Pablo said, with a sigh. “So I was at a kinda tasting fair with my friend Ella and we were trying this new sort of yuzu pulled pork paella, and she was saying, it ain’t paella if it don’t got prawn, and it struck me right at that point - what is authentic, yo, does it got to be made in Spain-“

“Pablo.”

“Sorry, sorry. Just some background, okay? About authen-teeee-city. The hardest thing to fake for money’s the paper, yeah? Hard to fake. The weight, the make, you can have the best print job on bad paper and it still gonna feel fake. So. If you were to get a huge bunch of dollar notes and bleach off the ink…”

“That,” Napoleon said, very seriously, “Is genius.”

“I know, right?” Pablo grinned at him for a moment, then he sobered up. “But the po-lice, shee-utt. You’d think I shit in their house and set fire to it or something, the way they jumped all over me. Real hurt.”

The others at the table, closest by, all also in their mid twenties to early thirties, nodded soberly at the grave injustice of it all. Like Pablo, they were hispanic, and seemed to be fast friends - Napoleon was introduced around as a ‘damn good thief. Like, the best thief ever if you wanna get yo’self some of them famous naked people paintings’. He told them how Interpol through the NYPD had caught up with him, which seemed suitably impressive - Pablo whistled and shook his head - and then one of the others, a skinny, narrow-faced man with a crew cut called Joey, leaned over and lowered his voice.

“Dat’s why they put you in with the Russian?”

Shee-utt,” Pablo blinked at Napoleon, his voice rising up a register. “You’re in a cell with the Russian? Man. You deeiiid, dawg.” He paused. “Sorry. But you really dead.”

“He seems all right so far.” Napoleon ventured slowly.

“I heard he cracked Big T’s ‘ead this morning,” piped in another of Pablo’s friends, Frankie, a short but heavily thickset young man who’d just been transferred here out of juvie to serve out his sentence. “Landed him in hospital. The Russian, he got no chill. Like. Zero chill.”

Shee-UTT.”

“He had his reasons-“

“Sure he did,” Joey said pityingly. “Sure he also had reasons for murdering the last four cellmates he ever had. He’s been in solitary ‘bout five times now. At least. Not even them Brotherhood boys wanna talk to him about him maybe joining up. He loco.”

Murdering the last four cellmates. Napoleon felt a cold finger of sweat edge down his spine. Was Sanders’ revenge so complete, then? Had Napoleon been sent to prison to die? He clenched his teeth to hold in the sudden spike of anger, and Pablo patted him on the shoulder, misunderstanding. “Hey man,” Pablo said comfortingly. “You still alive. Got all your fingers even. Maybe he’s mellowed down. People change. Right boys?”

“Day’s still young,” Joey pointed out cheerfully. “Still got night time, even.”

“ShutUP Joey, I sweartoGAWD,” Pablo hissed.

“Don’t worry about me,” Napoleon said, managing a smile, even if he didn’t mean it.

“Shit man. Maybe he’s right,” Frankie said admiringly. “I mean, you probably don’t get on the Interpol list unless you’re like, James Bond bad guy level, right? I seen all the movies. Whenever Interpol gets in on the shizz, you know that dude’s badder than the baddest.”

“S’right,” Pablo said loyally. “So y’know, Interpol Man. You wanna get your hands on some goods, like a ciggie or whatever, you hit me up first. I get you a deal. Old times, yeah? Old times.”

2.0.

For most of the lifers, Blake State Prison was a close security prison. That suited Illya’s purposes. He spent the day quietly assembling spectacles in the prison’s optical laboratory on autopilot. Napoleon had also been in the laboratory, but thankfully he had shown some degree of self-preservation and had opted to sit in a corner, along with the strange group of people he had run into at breakfast. Petty criminals, by the look of it, most likely collateral damage from the so-called American War on Drugs.

Illya had been stating a fact when he had implied that life in prison was not as dangerous as the morning made it seem. Most of the danger to Illya himself had been ennui. Six months, and not any closer to his goal. He assembled another pair of spectacles and put it aside. Maybe it was time for another trip down to solitary. How long before people cracked in solitary? Illya was running out of time.

No. Not yet. Illya would have the same problem as before. Not enough tools. Nothing to do but wait and seethe and have his mind turning in upon itself, buried deep in the ground. This time Illya needed a far better plan. The others left him alone during work and during the prison yard exercise, and even avoided Illya’s eyes during the shower shifts. Word of Illya’s attack on the Buitre leader had done the rounds.

At eight, the lifers shuffled back to their cell block. Illya went straight back to his cell. He wasn’t interested in socialising and it usually intimidated the other inmates. Hardly anyone simply went right back to sit quietly, unless they were one of the rabbits - Blake’s local word for those who had cracked and broken down - and Illya was most certainly not a rabbit. He was also not the only Russian in Blake, but after he had broken the jaw of the last man who had tried to use their shared country of birth as a topic for a friendly overture, they left him alone as well. In Illya’s defense, the man had approached him from behind and clapped him on the shoulder. Familiarity needed to be discouraged.

He expected Napoleon to stay away, particularly now that he seemed to have found friends, but to Illya’s irritation, Napoleon wandered back to the cell before even the first buzzer. He blinked as he saw Illya already there, then smiled a friendly, carefully non-threatening smile, as though they were acquaintances meeting on the street and not two cellmates in a cell.

“Got something for you.” Napoleon reached out, palm up in a playful flourish, and then, as though by magic, there were two cigarettes in his hand. When Illya didn’t make a move to take them, he tossed the cigarettes over, and leaned back against the cell wall.

Illya hid the cigarettes in the lining of his pillow with the rest. He didn’t smoke, but since cigarettes were banned in prison, they were now more or less legal tender where Blake Prison was concerned. “Do I want to know where those are from?”

“Here and there,” Napoleon said, with another light smile.

“Stealing from people here can get you killed, little jackal,” Illya said mockingly, though he lowered his voice. “Outside, you can steal something and run away. Here, people will find out. Then there is no running.”

“Maybe they will. Maybe not.”

Illya studied Napoleon more closely, suddenly curious. Perhaps here were the seeds of a better plan. “You said you were art thief. What did you steal?”

“Umm,” Napoleon seemed to have to think this over. “A number of pieces, here and there. But my last job was in Rotterdam. Handful of Monets, a Picasso and a Gauguin. Probably got a little too greedy. But I can’t resist a Monet.”

“How did you get caught?”

“I used a fence who turned out to be an undercover officer. Bad choice. Good work on Interpol’s end - they even got to the people I used as references. Normally, I’d take my time to scope it all out, but I wanted to fence the Picasso in a hurry.” Napoleon shook his head ruefully. “That’ll teach me to try and rush things.”

That was both encouraging and discouraging. Obviously Napoleon Solo was a singularly talented thief, if the CIA had seen enough use in him to try and blackmail him into working for them. But he was clearly also brash and far too sure of himself, even now. If Illya wanted to use him, Illya would have to be very careful.

Illya switched to Russian. “How good is your Russian?”

“I haven’t really had a chance to practice.” Atrocious pronunciation. But fairly fluent. “I’m good with languages,” Napoleon added, all false modesty. There. That ego again. Dangerous in an ally. Perhaps useful in a tool.

“I miss speaking in Russian,” Illya said, feigning slight wistfulness. Illya was fairly sure that very few people in the cell block spoke Russian, and none of them were in earshot: it would be a useful way to keep any deals Illya struck with Napoleon somewhat more secret.

“Surely you’re not the only Russian in this block.”

Illya shrugged. “The others are Brother’s Circle.”

“Funny story,” Napoleon grinned, though the wariness was back in his eyes. “I heard rumours that you’re from the Solntsevskaya Bratva.”

Illya shrugged again. He himself had planted a few false stories here and there, to avoid having to answer too many questions. “I have had dealings with the Bratva.”

“You’re a freelancer, then?”

“Sometimes.”

“What did you do to get in here? If you don’t mind me asking.”

“I like to kill,” Illya said flatly, in English, knowing that he was audible enough for the cells to their left and right to hear him. Napoleon blinked, then flinched as the early buzzer sounded. People began ambling reluctantly back towards their cells, in an echoing crescendo din of footsteps and chatter and the occasional voice raised in a shout of greeting or in protest. Finally, there was a second warning buzzer, then, after five minutes, the last, and the cell doors slid closed, locking automatically.

Napoleon edged over to the cell door, looking out. Prisoners were calling to each other, adding to the noise, mostly playful insults, and greeting the guard patrol with somewhat more animosity. The patrol ambled along slowly, checking each cell, then paused outside theirs, the guards glancing around. The dried bloodstain was gone, at least: the janitorial staff had cleaned the cells industrially during the afternoon while the prisoners were at work.

“You, the Russian.” Matthews was one of the deputy wardens, and was the warden in charge of the lifers’ block. He was a thin, stick-like man, with knobbly, gnarled fingers that could bunch up into heavy fists. Balding under his cap, he was in his late forties, fish-eyed and glacial. He was a cruel man, so Illya had learned to date, but usually fair.

“Yes?” Illya would have ignored the guards, otherwise.

“Heard you put one of the Buitres in hospital.”

“Warden,” Napoleon began, but Matthews snapped, “Shut up, newbie,” without looking at him. “Well?”

“If you ask the other Buitres,” Illya said neutrally, “I think they will agree that he had accident and fell badly. Very sad.”

Matthews’ lip twitched downwards. “That’s what they tell me. But you know what I think? I think they forgot what breed of crazy you were and stepped in here, didn’t they? I think maybe you got one of your ‘episodes’. That’s what the prison shrink calls them. Episodes.”

Illya narrowed his eyes slightly. “Is free country. Think what you like.”

“I know your sort. Just like I know how your new roommate’s probably going to end up having one of those ‘very sad’ accidents, hm? Listen up, asshole. ‘Accidents’ force me to do a lot of paperwork. And if there’s one thing I fucking hate, it’s paperwork. Maybe someday I might think you’re generating the sort of paperwork that can only be handled by a supermax facility. Might even be doing you a favour. You’d be around your own kind.”

Illya swallowed his retort, staying silent with gritted teeth, and Matthews glanced around the cell once more, then marched off, the other guards at his heels. Once Illya could hear the distant sound of the override allowing the guards out of the floor, he exhaled, in a low hiss, hands clenched in his arms.

“He wasn’t very friendly,” Napoleon said mildly in Russian, startling Illya out of his seething anger. At Illya’s sharp look, Napoleon grinned at him. The little jackal was afraid, but it showed only in his eyes. Interesting. “I mean, he could’ve at least wished us ‘good night’.”

“Never get on his wrong side,” Illya said shortly. There was a reason why Illya's cell was bare. “He can make life difficult. Is warden in charge of this block.”

“I understood that much.” Napoleon had some spine, then. Maybe useful. Maybe risky. Illya would have to think about it.

“Lights out soon,” Illya said finally. “Go to sleep.”

“Good night to you too, Peril.”

Chapter Text

III.

“Hey man!” Joey greeted Napoleon with a broad grin. “Still alive. High five!”

“Still alive,” Frankie echoed dourly, as Napoleon sat down next to them - Pablo had saved him a seat.

“Something I should know?” Napoleon asked curiously. Today’s breakfast was white bread with eggs again, and choice of coffee or no coffee. Clearly, the prison wasn’t quite interested in breaking what wasn’t nominally broken.

“Don’t mind that cabrón, he sore,” Pablo said, with a rude gesture at Frankie. “He bet me two ciggies that you not be here this morning. I say, hey, my man Solo, he so bad, only Interpol could get him, sure he survive at least one week with the Russian.”

Pinche Interpol,” Frankie said sadly. “The movies were right.”

“Nice to see that you gave me just one week,” Napoleon told Pablo dryly.

“Hey dawg. What friends for?”

“He’s really not that bad,” Napoleon said, even though this morning Peril had said maybe two words to him all through the wake up call, and then had walked out after the general unlock without a backward glance. “I’m even practicing my Russian.”

“You speak Russian?” Frankie frowned.

Da,” Napoleon grinned. “Though I’ve been told that my pronunciation’s not quite there yet.”

“He speaks Russian!” Frankie threw up his hands, glaring at Pablo. “Gimme back the ciggies, cabrón.”

“Hey, I made the bet in good faith,” Pablo protested. “How was I to know that there was some kind of trick to it, eh? The Russian broke that other Russian guy’s face! And he don’t talk to them. They dead to each other.”

“He don’t talk to no one,” Joey pointed out. “Except Interpol here. Pablo, I think the bet’s off. Your friend Solo, I think maybe he’s still gonna be here after a week. He gonna be here for years. He the lion tamer.”

“Years? God I hope not,” Napoleon muttered, though thankfully it was low enough under his breath that it was swallowed by the noise level in the canteen.

Pablo grimaced, scrunching up his face. “Maybe we wait three more days?”

Pablo,” Napoleon sighed.

“Okay man, okay. One more day. Just ‘cos it’s you, man.”

Napoleon gave in. “Anything back yet on my question?”

“Early days yet, dawg,” Pablo shook his head. “We been asking. Put out some lines, wait for catch.”

“Somebody around here got to know his real name.” Joey said doubtfully. “And what he ‘really did’. Don’t know why you want to know, though. I mean. Does it matter? An’ what if he finds out you been sniffing around? He squish you like a bug. Maybe us too.”

“He doesn’t talk to anyone, remember?” Napoleon said soothingly. “And I’m a naturally curious person.”

“Curiosity kills things, man. Like cats.” Joey told him.

“Maybe we could bet on that.” Pablo brightened up. “What he did, that is. Someone gotta know.”

Frankie pulled a face. “What he did? He probably murdered somebody with a chainsaw. Or a woodchipper. Or-“

“Do you mind?” Napoleon’s forkful of eggs had frozen en-route to his mouth as his imagination filled in the blanks. All the blanks.

“Sorry, man.”

“Only thing to bet on would be body count.” Joey added thoughtfully. “Or the way he did it.”

“Won’t that be in the news?” Napoleon asked. The limited network library computers did get the news - even if it was limited to a handful of local papers and CNN. “He’s been here for six months. Means he either pled guilty or they’re still grinding it through to the Courts.”

“Frankie’s gonna be looking that angle in the library since he’s assigned to work there,” Pablo said.

“I also want to know if he’s ever borrowed out any books,” Napoleon added. Frankie nodded, though he looked confused. “And if he’s had any visitors. Family. Lawyers.”

“Everyone knows the Russian don’t have visitors,” Pablo said firmly. “I heard that from Ray who heard it from Mikey who heard it from Gan. Legit.”

“None at all?” Napoleon raised an eyebrow. “Isn’t that strange?”

“Not unless the people he killed was his family,” Joey said ghoulishly.

“Maybe he did them in with a shotgun. Up close. Boom,” Frankie mumbled. “Sorry, sorry,” he added, when Napoleon stared down at his half finished bread and sighed. “But if you’re not hungry anymore man, I’m still hungry. Just saying. Don’t waste food.”

Napoleon pushed his breakfast over. “Or maybe he doesn’t have family here.”

That was a little sad. And too close to home. Napoleon was an orphan himself, and sometimes he was glad of it. His sober small town parents would have been very ashamed of their son. Whatever Peril might’ve done to land himself a life sentence in Blake Prison, he was still young, as far as Napoleon could tell, probably younger than Napoleon, even. To be absolutely alone at their age, forever? Napoleon couldn’t quite imagine it.

“Still think he killed them all, man,” Joey was warming up to his topic, and Napoleon let them squabble, tuning them out.

He was watching the guard patrols through the corner of his eyes while pretending to enjoy his coffee. The guard routine looked exactly the same as it had yesterday. The guards dragged their heels. They were bored. Probably grew up and lived in the tiny town that the prison bus had passed on the way to Blake. Small town boys, working in the only big industry around for miles. A small scuffle broke out at a bench to Napoleon’s left, with yelling and pushing, but the guards only glanced at it briefly before wandering on. Unless blood was being shed, and a lot of it, they probably didn’t give a damn.

In the late afternoon, Napoleon played some basketball with Pablo and the others in the yard court, a mixed group of people around their age. The gangs held court in their own staked out bits of ground in the large walled-in courtyard. Some other people worked out. Most just sat in the sun, against the wall, and stared listlessly at nothing, waiting for the buzzer that would summon them back indoors. Prison felt like a strange state of suspended animation, away from the convoluted richness of outside life. And the men against the wall were the furthest away. They were already dead, some of them, strangled by inertia and hopelessness. Their bodies just didn’t know it yet.

After their turn at the court, Pablo patted Napoleon sympathetically on the arm. “You may be some big shot thief but you suck at playing ball, dawg.”

Napoleon nodded. He’d actually been watching the patrol routes on the space between the inner fence that hemmed in the yard and the outer fence, the second buffer zone between the yard and another concrete block. Judging from the trucks that went in and out of the block, it was for deliveries, possibly connected to the main prison block through the kitchens.

“Hey. Hey man,” Pablo waved a hand in front of his face. “You there?”

“Yeah,” Napoleon smiled at him. “Sorry. Maybe I’m a bit tired.”

“From that?” Joey shook his head. “That was nothing. Me, I could play ball all day.”

“Still can’t shoot for shit,” Pablo fired back.

“Yeah? Who’s the, ‘Look-AT-me, look-AT-me, I’m gonna dunk, I’m gonna dunk’ and then crashes and buurrns huh?” Joey mimed an airplane crashing. Napoleon tuned them out again as Pablo indignantly started to defend himself, watching as one of the large white trucks drove slowly out, around the prison yard, until it disappeared out of sight. The sentry in the closest tower, next to the concrete bunker, didn’t even watch it go.

“Anyone know what a supermax is like?” Napoleon asked absently.

The question was strange enough that it cut right through Joey’s and Pablo’s squabbling. “Sure man,” Joey said doubtfully. “I watched Season One of Prison Break.”

Pendejo, that’s a maximum security prison, not supermax. Big difference. Supermax’s where they keep people like the Unabomber. What?” Pablo asked defensively, when Napoleon and Joey both stared at him. “I read wikipedia like everybody else.”

Frankie nodded. “This place ain’t even maximum security. It’s close security. We be living it up compared to them. We got cellmates. We can play basketball. But not like Norway. They live it real up. Like a hotel up. I seen the documentaries.”

“If we assume that the Russian’s here on a murder charge,” Napoleon said slowly, “And he’s already killed four inmates over six months, why is he still here? Doesn’t this kind of thing get aggravated?”

“‘Cos the Warden can’t prove shit,” Pablo pointed out. “He didn’t, like, pull off their heads and roll in their blood in front of everyone or whatever. First guy, we’d woken up and they were all, hey man, your cellmate, he not breathing, and the Russian was all, Really? Shit son, I never noticed. Pillow had a bit of blood on it but everyone thought maybe the guy just had a heart attack or something. That Russian. He cold. Ice cold.”

“Second dude, they found him stuffed in the laundry chute when the chute got blocked up,” Joey nodded. “Normal guy can’t fit in there unless you break a lot of bones, just saying. It was like human tetris.”

“Shee-utt. I remember that.” Pablo muttered.

“Third dude tried to whack him first. Got together two buddies already on the inside and tried to jump him in the showers.” Frankie shook his head slowly. “Wow. There was blood everywhere. He didn’t just off them, they probably had t’have closed casket funerals, y’know what I mean.”

“Fourth guy… somehow managed to hang himself on the cell door with his sheets. Except. He was way too tall to have done that to himself. ‘Sides, Jimmy heard from Xavier over in Cleaning that he heard Brucie say, the fourth dude’s neck was snapped first. Ain’t that way when you hang yourself without a big drop. Usually you choke an’ die.” Joey mimed a noose going around his neck, tugging at the air while he tilted his head to the side, sticking his tongue out dramatically.

“So they can’t prove that he killed the four inmates.” Napoleon concluded. “But he still got sent to solitary?”

“For the last two, he did. The rest of the times were for putting randoms in hospital but not really killing them. Also, I think he pisses the Warden off.” Pablo explained. “Being a murderous asshole kinda rubs some people the wrong way I guess.”

“Great.” Napoleon sighed. If Peril was smart enough to kill four inmates and not get pinned for any of them, then he was probably smart enough to avoid being manoeuvred into getting caught committing an infraction large enough to land him a prison transfer. So much for a simple Plan A. It looked like Napoleon was going to need a Plan B to survive Sanders’ revenge.

3.0.

Now that Illya was considering using Napoleon, he took some care to watch Napoleon more closely. It wasn’t uncommon for newcomers to the prison to watch guard patrols: after all, quite likely, their last encounter with enforcement figures was traumatic in some way or other.

Napoleon, however, wasn’t studying guard patrols because he was afraid. There was an abstraction in his expression as he glanced at the raised walkway in the kitchens, and again as he had studied the truck leaving, beyond the prison yard. He looked as though he was studying all the angles of some vast puzzle that was, though difficult to solve, not impossible to crack. The little jackal was thinking of escaping, perhaps, and might even already have identified the kitchen-to-loading-bay route as a possible way out. That was good.

Ever since Matthews had figured out that Illya was most likely behind the murders of his cellmates, Illya had been forced to alternate between anger management classes and sessions with the prison shrink, in the hour of time right after supper. Other inmates were usually free to attend religious programs, watch television in the communal room, attend Anonymous programs or literacy classes. Illya spent his ‘classes’ pointedly silent, and both shrinks had long given up on getting a response out of him.

Illya usually tuned his classes out. Today, however, he noticed Napoleon pulling up a seat, two chairs away from Illya. Napoleon grinned at him when Illya narrowed his eyes, and when it was his turn to introduce himself, mentioned only his surname and his place of birth. He volunteered no stories during the hour long session, and at the end, when it was time to return to the cell block, Napoleon jogged up to Illya’s side, a friendly smile on his face.

What was Napoleon up to? Illya shot him a warning glance, and ignored Napoleon when Napoleon greeted him in Russian, staying silent all the way back to his cell. Instead of sitting on the bed as Illya normally would, he leant against both bunks, instead, folding his arms. To get in, Napoleon would have to edge past, well within Illya’s reach.

The little jackal had good instincts. He stayed at the door, still with his friendly smile and his atrociously spoken Russian. “Do those sessions work for you?”

“I did not realize you had anger problems,” Illya shot back instead.

“Now and then,” Napoleon grinned, and he was lying, Illya knew that much.

Napoleon was affable not because he was good-natured or because he was masking some other animal inside: he was clearly one of those people who instinctively liked company. That was why he was so charming: as a whole, Napoleon genuinely liked people. Illya had no doubt that had the Buitres invited Napoleon for a card game, Napoleon likely would’ve gone along, danger signs and all.

“Remember what I said about annoying me?”

“I could hardly forget.”

“So what do you want?”

“I’m going to be your cellmate for fifteen years,” Napoleon pointed out. “I was kinda hoping that we could at least be on speaking terms.”

Illya sniffed. “And you intend to stay quietly in this place for fifteen years?”

“I might get paroled early, who knows.”

“Someone who is just going to wait for parole would not study guard patrols.”

Now Napoleon frowned slightly, the first crack in his amiable composure. Illya smiled sharply and coldly at him and folded himself under the top bunk, sitting on his bed with his back to the wall as before, allowing Napoleon to edge into the cell. “Professional interest,” Napoleon said finally.

“I’m sure.” Illya drawled. “The kitchen route is a good idea. But the kitchen shift is made up of inmates from the minimum security section. So none of them are lifers. All of them know each other. They are let into the shift at four in the morning, before our lights come on. They are signed back out by guards.”

“Which means the kitchen’s likely on the same central access override.”

“If you can get a card off one of the guards.”

“Peril, if I can get close to a guard, I can get a card.” Napoleon said, with a sharp smile of his own, and Illya believed that. Yes. He would like to use Napoleon after all. But there was no rush. He would watch Napoleon for a week and then make a final decision. And if Napoleon was too big a liability, then perhaps it would be best that Illya went back to having his own cell.

“You don’t believe me?” Napoleon asked, when Illya said nothing.

“I don’t know you. So I do not know what to believe. Also. Getting close to a guard to get a card, I could do that. The trick would be to get a card without the guard raising the alarm when he notices that it is missing.”

“I know that. What kind of thief do you think I am?”

Illya shrugged deliberately. “I don’t know you.”

“Give me a week. I’ll get a card. No trouble.”

“Do what you like,” Illya said indifferently. Napoleon had a large ego. A challenge to that might drive him more efficiently.

Napoleon sighed. “Do you have a problem with me generally that I should know about?”

“You talk too much,” Illya decided. “Also, I do not like Americans.”

“Don’t you at least have a green card?” When Illya said nothing, Napoleon added, with an irritating, impish grin, “Surely that’s a bit much. All Americans? Ever?”

“… Bobby Fischer is not so bad,” Illya conceded.

He had expected Napoleon to look confused, but instead, Napoleon laughed. “The chess master?”

“One of the greatest players of all time,” Illya corrected.

“He beat some Russian player in a Cold War match, didn’t he?”

“Boris Spassky,” Illya supplied, and despite himself, asked curiously, “You play chess?”

“I can’t say that I’m a Bobby Fischer or anything,” Napoleon said dryly, “But yes. When I was deployed in Afghanistan there wasn’t that much to do between waiting for action and everything else, and the commander of my unit thought that playing chess would help ‘improve our strategic thinking’, I do believe it was.”

“He was right.”

“Turned out he was just a chess fanatic. And he had a damned good memory. So while we were out on wide patrol the both of us would just play chess sans voir. Slowly. Maybe a few moves during the day, then finish the game on an actual board on the weekend. It took me a while to get into the swing of it. He kicked my ass for months.”

Illya straightened up slightly. Avarice had set root; he could not help it. “How good are you at it?”

“Visualising the board? Fine. I’ve got a good memory.” Again with that false modesty, but this time, Illya did not quite care. “Actually playing a decent game, though, I’m not so sure. I’m out of practice.”

“So am I.” Illya was precisely six months and three weeks out of practice. He missed chess.

“Can you play sans voir?”

Illya tried to pretend at indifference. He wasn’t sure if it worked. His hunger had grown too great. “Yes.”

“Well then,” Napoleon grinned playfully at him: the little jackal had seen through him - Napoleon could sense avarice, like any good thief. “White, or black?”

“White,” Illya decided. It had been six months since he had been free, longer since he had felt this warm curl of genuine pleasure, untainted by violence. It was a weakness, perhaps, but what harm could it do? He would allow himself this much for now. “E4.”

Chapter Text

IV.

Napoleon had been waiting patiently to be counted into the optical laboratory when he noted that there was an extra pair of guards today, one of whom was checking something on a tablet. The guard with the tablet glanced up at Napoleon when he was nearly through into the laboratory, and narrowed his eyes in sudden recognition.

“You. Step aside.”

“Is there a problem, sir?” Napoleon stepped out of the orderly queue. Out of the corner of his eyes, he could see Pablo giving him a sympathetic grimace.

The guard prodded at something on the tablet. “You’ve got a non-contact visitation scheduled. Your girlfriend’s here.”

Napoleon was surprised enough that he said, without thinking, “I don’t have a girlfriend.”

The guard rolled his eyes. “Wow. Why do I always get the asswipes? Look, son. If you’re not man enough to break up with her to her face, don’t do it through a fucking prison guard, all right? Jesus. The number of times I gotta do this, I swear to God…”

There was a faint, “Don’t be an asshole, dawg!” from deeper in the optical laboratory. Napoleon sighed.

“Nevermind. Sorry, I was just surprised that uh, that she came. Let’s go, sir.”

Napoleon followed the two guards past the shuffling line of prisoners, some of whom glanced at the guards with suspicion, others looking at Napoleon with undisguised envy. Like many State Prisons, Blake was in the middle of nowhere, which made visiting difficult for families that weren’t affluent or closer by. Weekends were probably visitation days, however, given how it seemed obvious to those Napoleon passed where he was going to.

He was led out of the cell block and back out, to the main Processing building with its red painted lines, where the two guards handed him over to another pair of guards before heading back into the cell block. This time round, Processing was brightly lit, and Napoleon was taken around a separate set of corridors and steps until he finally ended up at a door with a hatch. The guards unlocked the door electronically, cuffed Napoleon, then shoved him in.

This wasn’t a visitation room. Napoleon was fairly sure that real life wasn’t always like the movies, but he would’ve expected to see some sort of long bank of tempered glass, separating the contact room from the outside, chairs and benches on each side and phones or holes in the glass being the only way to speak to the outside, or something similar. This looked more like a police interrogation room. He tensed up, suddenly wary, the space between his shoulder blades itching.

The guards pushed Napoleon down into the closest chair, which was bolted down, and then attached his cuffs through a second set to the heavy chrome ring at the centre of the table. Then they backed out of the room, and left him alone.

After a few minutes, the opposite door opened, and a stranger let herself in, closing the door behind her. She was beautiful, petite and tanned, with slender, slightly muscular arms, and a red cupid’s bow of a mouth. Her soft walnut hair was caught in a thick, messy coil, bound with a yellow ribbon. She was wearing a sleeveless orange dress that rode up high over her knees and which cut down low enough towards her cleavage to straddle the gap between demure and suggestive, and she had a large black tote bag over one shoulder. As she sat down at the table opposite Napoleon, she removed her sunglasses, and her eyes were soft, dark, amused.

“I’m flattered,” Napoleon said, after a moment of startled silence.

“Oh?”

“FBI or CIA?”

“FBI. Good guess.”

“Not really. I don’t know anyone else who might be so invested in my welfare.”

“Well. Since we understand each other, I’m Agent Gaby Teller.” Gaby showed Napoleon her badge, taking the wallet from her bag. “Pleased to meet you at last.”

“I wasn’t aware that I had fans in the FBI.”

Gaby laughed. Like her eyes, the sound was soft, dark, amused. She was a rookie, Napoleon guessed: she had to be.

“Bit young to be an agent, aren’t you?”

“Bit young to be an international art thief wanted in six countries, aren’t you?” Gaby shot back.

“Ambition, my fatal flaw.” Napoleon tried his best smile, but Gaby merely chuckled again.

“Yes, I’ve heard about that. It’s why I’m here.”

“Speaking of why you’re here,” Napoleon said mildly, “I’ll like to file a complaint about my accommodations. It seems I’ve been placed in the wrong section of the prison.”

“Yes, about that.” Gaby looked Napoleon over, curious. “You seem to have fared surprisingly well.”

“That doesn’t mitigate the mistake.”

“As you’ve no doubt suspected by now, it wasn’t a mistake. By the way, Agent Sanders sends his regards.”

Napoleon swallowed his spike of temper, keeping his smile on. “The delightful Agent Sanders. Tell him I’m touched.”

“Moved enough to take him up on his deal?”

“Not yet.”

“Oh well, he’ll be disappointed.” Gaby shrugged, clearly indifferent.

“They send junior agents from a different agency to check on the people they’re trying to blackmail?”

“No. But they do occasionally trade the people they’re trying to blackmail for favours. Joint efforts, you might call it.”

“I’m not interested in working for the FBI either. Even if the blackmailer is far more charming. Top marks.”

Gaby grinned at him. “Why thank you. But I’m not here to recruit you into the FBI. Your, ah, natural talents would suit the CIA more than the FBI, actually. I’m here to make another sort of deal. One that might be more palatable to you than the CIA’s.”

“Does Sanders know that you’re here?”

“Of course.” Gaby gestured at the blank prison walls to her right. “There’s a reason why you were stashed here, Solo. Blake’s a very useful place for both our agencies. It’s in Virginia, a nice drive from Langley or Quantico, it’s cheaper than a black site-”

“You’re saying that I should possibly start up a class? Blackmailed by Federal Agencies Anonymous?”

“Maybe. You might find that such a class won’t get that big in your block. Here’s the deal, Solo. There’s a reason why you got placed where you are, and it’s not entirely because you pissed Sanders off.”

“Peril,” Napoleon said slowly, as realization started to dawn. “You wanted me in his cell? He killed his last four cellmates!”

“But he didn’t kill you,” Gaby pointed out. “Sanders was pretty confident that he wouldn’t. I mean, if you had died, I don’t think Sanders would’ve been heartbroken. But you were nothing like the previous four. You committed a nonviolent crime and, to quote Sanders, you’re an asshole, but you’re a charming one.”

“So what did Peril do?”

“That’s what you call him? ‘Peril’?”

Napoleon frowned. “That’s what he told me to call him. Everyone else just calls him ‘the Russian’.”

“Hmm.” Gaby took a small black notebook out of her bag, with a pen, and wrote briskly. “So what do you think of him?”

I think that I’m not particularly predisposed to be charitable towards federal agents right now.”

Gaby sighed. “I’m just working up to an important bit of context, Mister Solo. Don’t worry. The terms of the deal are coming up after this.”

Napoleon hesitated. The room didn’t seem to have cameras, and the walls were thick enough. This was clearly an interrogation room. Likely the guards outside would’ve been told to leave them alone. And besides. The way word got around when Pablo was involved, quite likely everyone in the lifers’ cell block would know that Napoleon had been called up on a girlfriend’s visitation.

On one hand, recent painful experience had told him not to trust the feds. On the other hand… this might be a Plan C.

“I’ve been asking around,” Napoleon admitted. “Just being curious. Everyone thinks he killed his cellmates, even if the Warden couldn’t pin him for it. He’s been in solitary five times-“

“I know all that. I asked you what you think of ‘Peril’.”

“He’s a killer and he’s dangerous. Probably should be in a maximum security prison, at the least. The other Russians, from the Brother’s Circle? They think he’s from the bratva.”

“What do you think?” Gaby pressed.

“I think he’s a freelancer,” Napoleon decided. He’d thought that over this morning, while waiting for the general unlock. It seemed like the most likely scenario. If Peril had been from the bratva, he would have operated like the others, used the six months to form his own smuggling power base. A freelancer would stay aloof. “I think he probably got bagged for his latest kill but the police didn’t realize that they’d caught something far more dangerous than usual. Instead of going to Court and naming his employers he probably just pled guilty. A professional.”

Gaby nodded slowly, and took a thick manila folder out from her tote bag. She opened it before her, then slid three photographs over towards Napoleon. Two were middle-aged men, white, one with wispy graying hair and a florid face, the other thin and wrinkled with a beaklike nose. The third was a tanned woman, in her late thirties or early forties, golden and smiling.

“Russian defectors. This one,” Gaby pointed at the florid man, “Aleksey Boyarov. He was from the FSB, financial crimes. Seven months ago he died of a sleeping pills overdose at home. His own pills: he suffered from insomnia. One week later, Vasili Lyalin, once an FTS analyst, hung himself in his garage. He left a suicide note. Something about being depressed. Two weeks after that, Vera Yemelin, once an FSB hacker. Drowned in her own bath. She was drunk when it happened.”

“Sounds like a string of unfortunate coincidences,” Napoleon said, blinking. Hung himself in his garage. Now that sounded familiar.

“So it seemed,” Gaby said grimly. She pushed over another photograph. It was a scanned reprint of a yearbook photograph, judging from the blazer, of a grinning, freckled boy with blonde hair and distracted blue eyes, hair that stuck out in odd tuffs from his head, snub nosed. “Do you recognise this person?”

“Never met him in my life.”

“That’s Russell Shannon. Local Virginia boy, born and bred. Barely passed high school, didn’t really bother to go to college. Fell into the wrong crowd, got into drugs. Sent to St. Bride's Correctional twice for minor drug-related offences, then finally got sent to Blake for life after committing armed robbery to get the money to buy another hit. He was homeless when he was arrested.”

“Still doesn’t ring a bell.”

“He should.” Gaby studied Napoleon closely. “On the records, he’s your cellmate.”

Disbelievingly, Napoleon slid the photo closer, studying it. People did sometimes change dramatically between high school and growing up. But he could see nothing of Peril in this boy. And besides - Napoleon had seen addicts before, and he had seen Peril in the communal shower. There were no needle tracks on his arms. That thick Russian accent. Playing brutally effective chess, sans voir. And Peril was superbly fit, all lean muscle. He looked young, while homelessness aged people quickly.

“That’s…” Napoleon hesitated. “Interesting.”

Gaby smiled at him, and this time, she looked triumphant. “Isn’t it?”

“So correct me if I’m wrong, but you think that… Peril is some sort of professional hitman who… killed three Russian defectors very subtly… and then suddenly decides to get rid of some drug addict in custody, then somehow assumes his identity without anyone noticing, just to get imprisoned?” Napoleon frowned. “Isn’t it easier to commit a relevant crime?”

“Only if you're an American citizen. For anyone else, it can get considerably complicated. Red flags get raised.”

“I still don’t see why he’d…” Napoleon trailed off. “You’ve got someone in here? Another defector?”

Gaby pushed a final photograph over from her folder. This was of an unremarkable-looking, bald man, with a furrowed brow, and cold, gray eyes. “Anatoly Shevchenko. SVR.”

“What’s he doing in prison instead of living it up in a nice house out in the countryside?”

“He started in a nice house out in the countryside,” Gaby said dryly. “Unfortunately, he couldn’t quite break the habit of occasionally murdering a hitchhiker or two. Sadly, since he’s quite useful, instead of putting him down the CIA decided to stash him in Blake. He has an ‘apartment’ in solitary. Nicer than the others, but the only guests he gets are agents and guards.”

Solitary. Peril had gone to solitary five times. Murdering his cellmates. Picking fights. Deliberately pissing off the Warden. Granted, Peril didn’t seem as though he was naturally any shade of sunshine and roses. But maybe there was a method there, behind all the savagery. “Why this sudden rash of murders?” Napoleon asked. “Didn’t Russia just wade into the Syrian war? Aren’t we friends again?”

Gaby let out a wry laugh. “Hardly. We’re nearly back at a Cold War footing, some days. And I have a feeling that the Russians started first. I think they’re cleaning house. So here’s the deal. I’m still trying to find out who your cellmate really is. But in the meantime, I need eyes on the inside.”

“Why don’t you just get Shevchenko moved? Or Peril?”

“It’s not that simple.”

Napoleon studied Gaby closely: the slight tense slope of her shoulders, her defensive smile, the hunger in her eyes. Ah. Now he understood. “You’re here on your own dime, aren’t you, Agent Teller. You’re a rookie. You’re looking for your first, big break. I bet the FBI thinks that all those defectors died of natural causes. Bet they combed the house and found no evidence of murder or even a break in. I bet this Russell Shannon’s paperwork seems perfectly in order, even in the prison records.”

Gaby stiffened up. “Does that matter? Look. If you can help me, especially if you can find some sort of hard evidence that your cellmate is not who he is? I can help you. I can get you moved to minimum security. It’s nicer there. They get outings, they get to go offsite. But first, I need that break.”

“Thanks but no thanks, Agent. I’m not exactly on the best of terms with federal agents right now. And I’d rather you didn’t visit me again.”

Instead of getting angry, or frosty, and storming out, Gaby grinned at Napoleon instead. “I think I will. And you can come up to see me again, or I could get a couple of FBI agents, dressed up in the vest and all, to go down and get you. That’ll be an interesting conversation to have with ‘Russell Shannon’, won’t it?”

“The carrot and now the stick,” Napoleon said wryly. He should have guessed. Sanders had simply worn his steel closer to the surface. “How did you get Sanders to put me in that cell?”

“Shevchenko’s informing for the CIA. The rest were working for us.” Gaby pulled a face. “Sanders didn’t think much of my story, sure. He’s not going to move Shevchenko unless there’s a clear and present threat. But he likes covering his ass.”

“So it seems.” That made sense. A grim sort of sense.

“I think you’re afraid of your cellmate. You’re right to be afraid,” Gaby said soberly. “And look. It’s not right for you to be where you are right now, all right? I can see that. I’m sorry. But I can’t help you. Unless you help me.”

4.0.

Napoleon wasn’t at the anger management class. Instead, Illya found Napoleon waiting in the cell block, outside their cell, with that irritating, ingratiating smile. He sighed, hesitating for a moment before walking in and sitting on his bed. The things that Illya would do for a chess game.

“I think it is your turn.” The game so far had been slow. Napoleon was not a confident chess player in the first place, and although he seemed to have no problem visualising the board, it was clearly hindering any attempts to think ahead.

“Before that,” Napoleon said, as he followed Illya into the cell, “I have a present.” He turned his shoulder away, facing inwards towards the back cell wall, and unzipped the collar of his jumpsuit, reaching in to something pinned under his arm. Illya raised an eyebrow, then straightened up sharply, nearly hitting his head against the top bunk, when Napoleon pulled out a small, battered chess box. It was a tiny set, not even as wide as Napoleon’s hands were long, and it was scratched alarmingly at the flanks, but when Napoleon tossed it over, Illya rubbed his fingers reverently over the black and white lacquer top before he remembered himself.

Switching to Russian, Illya drawled, “Stealing from the rec room? Also not clever.”

“Didn’t seem like anyone was using it.”

Illya opened the box. Almost all of the pieces were still there. They set the board up to their last move, using a couple of cigarette filters to stand in for the two pawns that were missing. Noting that Napoleon was bent awkwardly against the top bunk, Illya said carefully, “Sit down.”

Napoleon sat, if on the edge of Illya’s bunk, and grinned at Illya, clearly pleased with himself. And the little jackal should be pleased. He had seen a glimpse of Illya’s levers and had quite quickly done his best. The jackal, skulking carefully at the heels of a wolf, trying to seem useful enough to avoid its jaws.

“I hear you had a visit today,” Illya said, as Napoleon moved his bishop.

“Yeah.” Napoleon looked sheepish. “She isn’t really my girlfriend. She’s uh. You know those people who read about cases in the news and then get interested-“

“A journalist?”

“Not even.”

“A fan?” Illya asked, amused now. He could believe that. Napoleon was handsome, a gentleman thief. Some women probably liked that sort.

“Yeah. It was strange. But talking to her was better than assembling spectacles. She’d probably be back.”

“Pity close security prison, no conjugal visits.” Illya moved a knight, taking out one of Napoleon’s, setting it carefully on the small pile beside the board on the sheets.

“Eh,” Napoleon shrugged. “I wouldn’t go that far. It was just nice to talk to someone new, I guess.”

“What did she want to know?”

“About the thefts, whether I was single, why I ran away from the Army-“

Illya raised his eyebrows. “You were a deserter? You’re lucky they just charged you with theft.”

“The last person who got shot for desertion was some poor bastard in the last World War, Peril.” The second bishop countered, removing Illya’s knight from the board. “But yes. I left. Getting out of Afghanistan was tricky.”

“Why did you run?” Napoleon did not strike Illya as a coward. A little naive, perhaps. Certainly stubborn. But if he was a coward he would have long stopped trying to ingratiate himself to Illya so determinedly.

Napoleon looked away, out over Illya’s shoulder, his expression pensive, for a long moment, then he sighed. “Have you been to Afghanistan?”

“No.”

“The US Army…” Napoleon trailed off for a moment. “The local Afghan commanders in my base. There was one of them. He was… he liked little boys. Local boys, from the village. Fourteen, younger.” There was a tightness to Napoleon’s voice, all of a sudden, a cold bitterness. “The officers told us to look the other way. Said it was their culture.”

Illya nodded slowly. He was not surprised to hear this. “Bacha bazi.

“You’ve heard of the practice then.” Napoleon said quietly. “My God! At night, we could hear them screaming.

“No one tried to stop it?”

“A couple of people did. Special Forces. They were relieved of their command and shipped out. I don’t know what happened to them. After that, I ran for it, first chance I got.” Napoleon shrugged. “Guess they caught up with me.”

“Suddenly your decision not to work for the CIA seems less crazy.”

“Yeah. Fuck the feds, right? Fuck them. I'm done working for Uncle Sam.”

Illya nodded again. Perhaps there was no need to wait a week. “I have been thinking,” Illya said mildly, pitching his voice low, “Of a way to get out of here.”

Napoleon didn’t even blink. “Count me in.”

Chapter Text

a.

Gaby had just rolled out of the small hotel’s car park when her phone rang. It was a blocked number. Shrugging, she hitched the phone up to the bureau car’s dock and waited as it auto linked to the speakers, then she pressed the answer button on the wheel.

“Agent Teller.” It was Waverly.

“Morning sir.”

“Still nosing around Blake Prison?”

Gaby sucked in a slow breath, and eased the speed down. “Yes sir.”

“Sounds like you made the CIA worried.”

“Really?”

“I just had a very nosy call from our friend Sanders, wanting to know why the hell the FBI was taking a direct interest in a CIA matter.”

Oh hell. Gaby had been hoping that she had more time. “Um sir-“

“We’re not exactly meant to know that Shevchenko exists, Agent Teller,” Waverly said dryly. “Don’t think that your little jaunts into the CIA private cloud will go unnoticed forever. Especially if you insist on disregarding instructions.”

“Yes sir.” Gaby bit down a sigh.

“I might have helped you call in a favour to have Napoleon Solo placed with ‘Russell Shannon’,” Waverly said mildly, “But remember what I said that day?”

“That any overtly direct action will very likely tip our hand.”

“And?”

“With respect, that wasn’t a ‘No Agent Teller, you will not contact Napoleon Solo’. Sir.” Gaby waited, nervous, but defiant.

There was a long moment of silence, then Waverly started to laugh, all low, hoarse chuckles. Relieved, Gaby let out the breath she was holding in. “Regardless of whether your desire to interpret my instructions in a narrow manner to suit your purposes was founded in logic or sheer stubbornness, it seems that your decision has borne fruit. For half an hour or so there was an unheard of level of inter-agency cooperation. I’m still feeling quite faint about it.”

“You told him about the three ‘suicides’?”

“I had to.” Waverly said, a little testily. “Seeing as someone forced my hand.”

“Seems to me that agency pride is less important than catching the murderer, sir,” Gaby said brightly. “Fidelity, bravery, integrity, right?”

Waverly sighed. “He also told me about Shevchenko, though in a way that indicated that he highly suspects that we knew about it already. Not a bad thing. However, he agrees with me that the three deaths were indeed, on the balance of probabilities, unfortunate isolated incidents.”

“Not beyond reasonable doubt, though.”

“Quite. That is why Sanders has decided to give you some leeway in the matter.”

“‘Decided’, hm?”

Waverly sighed. “Do try to keep this civil, Agent Teller. I recall some comment you made in the very recent past about pride. So. Although the CIA is not quite convinced about your suspicions, it also acknowledges that should what you’ve predicted come to pass, it might be somewhat embarrassed. Therefore. Agent Henson will be waiting for you at Blake Prison.”

“What.”

“Think of it as an inter-agency friendship exercise.”

Sir-”

“Do us proud, Agent Teller. Do us proud.” Waverly said blandly, and hung up. Minutes later, Gaby received a text with a photograph, presumably of Agent Henson.

Gaby was still in a black mood when she pulled up in the visitor’s car park at Blake Prison. She found Agent Henson just outside Processing, waiting for her. Agent Henson was around Gaby’s height, but where Gaby tended towards waifish, Henson gave the impression of compact, honed power. She was African American, with straight black hair cut short into a sleek cap over her head, her lush mouth curling into a tight, calculating smile, her walnut brown eyes curious, but not quite friendly. She was dressed in a charcoal pants suit with a white blouse, and as she shook Gaby’s hand, Gaby could feel gun calluses and the strength in her fingers.

“Agent Teller,” said the CIA agent. Her voice had a thick, friendly Southern twang.

“Call me Gaby,” Gaby decided, because it wouldn’t hurt to be polite. Being placed here wasn’t exactly Henson’s fault.

“Joss Henson. Nice to meet ya. Sanders brought me up to speed.”

“About that,” Gaby began uncertainly. “Look, Joss. I’m trying to build up trust with Solo. I’m not sure whether your presence is going to help me in the room.”

“You wanna meet him alone, sure,” Joss shrugged. At Gaby’s blink, she added dryly, “Me, I think this is a bit of a wild goose’s chase.”

Gaby tried her best not to bristle. “Russell Shannon’s not who he seems.”

“If you believed that a hundred-per-cent,” Joss drawled, “Then we’d both be in there talking to ‘Russell’ and not to Solo. But you don’t wanna spook the rabbit. If it’s even the rabbit.”

“I believe in evidence.”

“Yeah. I get that. Go on. Do what you got to do, then afterwards, maybe we do what I got to do.” When Gaby blinked, Joss added mildly, “Ain’t the best evidence finding out what happened to the real Russell Shannon?”

“I’ve tried.”

“I seen your file, Teller. You’re a hacker. Bet you sniffed through the police database and came up empty and thought that was the end of it. Yeah?”

Gaby pulled a face, and Joss chuckled. “Fine,” Gaby said, trying not to flush. “Whatever you like.”

“Good luck in there,” Joss said absently, and whipped out her phone.

Trying not to feel dismissed, Gaby skulked into Processing, again having to go through the whole song and dance of showing the Processing officer her FBI badge and waiting for him to ring up Waverly for her credentials. She waited impatiently, trying not to fidget, and ignoring the way the guards in Processing were clearly checking her out. She’d gone for a somewhat more modest dress today, if only because it had been obvious yesterday that Napoleon had not been affected by the first in the least - after the first appreciative glance, his eyes hadn’t even strayed when he was talking to her. It wasn’t that Napoleon didn’t like women. He didn’t trust Gaby from the start. Good instincts.

Eventually, she was ushered into the same room. Napoleon was already waiting for her, as before, looking amused as she sat down. “I didn’t expect you back so soon,” he said mildly. “Agent Teller.”

“Good morning to you too,” Gaby said dryly.

Napoleon was clean cut today. He’d probably traded for a shower razor. Slouched in his seat and smiling at her, Napoleon’s charm was like a physical thing in the room; charm seemed to come off him like heat. Her story hadn’t been entirely true, but there had been some truth to it. Sanders had arranged for Napoleon to be placed in the lifers’ block, and although he hadn’t specified a cell, he’d expected Napoleon to survive the experience - and be humbled by it. The way Napoleon sat now at the table, as though he was doing Gaby a favour for being there: it looked to Gaby as though Sanders’ endeavour had not quite worked.

“Do you have the plans that we talked about?”

“I said I’d have them the next time we met, didn’t I?” Gaby pulled out the folded paper from her bag. She’d had to print it at a printshop on the quiet yesterday, but for a rush job it was quite crisp. As she unfolded the paper on the table, it showed Blake Prison’s architectural plan in all its functional glory.

“Not bad.” Napoleon leaned forward as Gaby turned the paper around to face him. “Working with the FBI seems to have its perks.”

“Of course.” Gaby took a red ink ballpoint pen from her bag and uncapped it, numbering the layout drawing of the solitary floor. “He was in this cell the first time. Then this one.” By the time she had finished, there were five neat small numbers on different tiny cells, with ‘2’ and ‘4’ overlapping.

“Where’s Shevchenko?”

“Not in the main solitary floor. Here.” Gaby circled a larger room deeper in the floor, past one of the spines of individual cells. Another spine that ran parallel to that were for prisoners destined for longer stints in solitary.

“Separate access point?” Napoleon pointed at a set of stairs marked near Shevchenko’s cell.

“CIA agents don’t really want to have to walk past the solitary floor each time. They like privacy. But the separate access needs a card that’s only in the CIA’s hands.”

“Could he get to Shevchenko through the main solitary floor?”

“Sure, if he has the right key. The usual override key won’t open this door, though.” Gaby circled the opening dividing the cell spine from Shevchenko’s section. “The Wardens have special keys. Those would work. There’s also one special key on the solitary floor for the usual guards to use.”

“Shevchenko doesn’t have guards?”

“Not assigned to him personally, no. Not anymore. Blake Prison’s been having some staffing issues. The guards in the solitary floor check in on him when they’re checking on the others.”

Napoleon nodded. “The Russian landed himself in the hotbox pretty often starting from four months back. Longest was for thirteen days. Shortest was five. Not so bad,” Napoleon said dryly. “Thought they would have put him in there for longer.”

“Matthews couldn’t prove that he killed his cellmates - other than the one who attacked him in the shower. Besides,” Gaby said dryly, “The UN recommends that solitary’s only used for a maximum of two weeks.”

“Since when have we been a country overly concerned with what the UN thinks? We’ve got eighty thousand people in long term solitary in this country.” Napoleon noted absently, studying the plans closely. “His last visit ended a month ago. Long stretch since.”

“Warden thinks he’s learned his lesson.” Gaby checked her notes. “Even though he hasn’t been responsive to the prison psychologist or the anger management classes.”

“I rather doubt it.” Napoleon said wryly. “Look at where he was on the fifth visit. Closest to the door leading out to Shevchenko. I think he figured out that Shevchenko really was still where he was meant to be. After that, he didn’t need to go back down there any more. Not like before. What’s the point?”

Gaby nodded. “Sounds reasonable. Tried talking to him?”

Napoleon sighed. “Can’t exactly rush these things, can I? Especially with a supposedly murderous Russian hitman?”

True. Gaby swallowed her impatience and disappointment. Napoleon was right. “Right. Well. Keep trying. Visitation days are only on the weekend. But if you really need to get in touch with me, when Warden Matthews patrols your floor at night, wish him good night. He’ll get you to a phone.”

“So a once-a-day panic button,” Napoleon said dryly. “That’s reassuring.”

“Best I can do given the circumstances.” Gaby started to fold up the map, and Napoleon flicked a last glance over it before settling back in his chair. “Naturally Matthews will also alert me if Peril gets put in solitary.”

“If you want to catch Peril red-handed, or whatever it is, do you think it’s really a good thing to make Matthews suspicious?”

“He’ll play along,” Gaby said confidently. Matthews, after all, had been the favour that Waverly had called in. “Anything else you need to tell me?”

“It’s only been a day,” Napoleon protested. “Slave driver. Prison is a long period of nothing happening. See you around, Agent.”

Henson was waiting in the same spot outside when Gaby emerged. “You drive,” she told Gaby, and they walked over to Gaby’s car, where Henson got into the front passenger seat. “Got anything?”

“Nope.” Gaby had been hoping for more from Napoleon, given how insistent he had been that she show him a map of the prison, particularly of the solitary cells and Peril’s incarceration pattern. Still, Napoleon had made a good point about Peril. Now that Peril knew where Shevchenko was, no doubt he would be planning a Stage 2. But what?

“Head out towards Richmond County,” Henson instructed, as Gaby started up the car.

“Where’re we going?”

“We’re gonna take a real close look at Russell Shannon’s background. Starting from the source.”

V.

“You been quiet all day, man,” Pablo said, sounding concerned.

Napoleon had been remapping Blake Prison in his mind to what he had memorised of Gaby’s plans. He smiled a little sheepishly as he paused, spoon dug into the hard rice and tasteless curry. “Sorry. I was thinking.”

Joey nudged Pablo hard in the ribs. “Can’t you see it, asshole? That’s the look of luurve.”

Napoleon sighed. “It’s not that at all.”

“Oh yeah? You say she’s not your girlfriend but you went up to see her again,” Joey pointed out.

“Which weirdass would work if he could spend some time slacking off talking to a girl instead?” Pablo retorted, with a sidelong glance at Napoleon. “Man, this girl must really like you. Blake’s in the middle of nowhere. She got to have driven down from Plover. Closest town. Maybe she stayed over there. They got a hotel.”

“Lots’a girls like them big shot bad guys,” Frankie said sadly.

“You here on drug offences, dawg,” Pablo said. “That ain’t what you call romantic.”

“Anything on what I asked you yet?” Napoleon asked Frankie, trying to change the subject.

“Stuff he’s borrowed? Nothing. News articles? I got nothing.” Frankie admitted. “Fact is though tons of these convictions just don’t make it into the paper, man. Our justice system, it so loaded… our con-stitutio-nal right to a lawyer don’t matter shit. The dude I got, he said hell, he got so many cases per day, he could only give me seven minutes of his time. Told me just to plead guilty.”

“‘Least you got a lawyer,” Joey said. “I was poor enough to be on food stamps but in Virginia that ain’t poor enough to get a state lawyer.”

Napoleon nodded. That made sense. If ‘Russell Shannon’ had just pled guilty on drug charges, that wouldn’t even have registered a blip in a local paper. If Peril had truly assumed Russell’s identity, he would’ve been careful about that. “So we’re still stuck.”

“Think you should let go of your ‘curiosity’, man,” Joey advised him. “Lots of other stuff out there to talk about. Why you wanna pull the tiger’s tail?”

“I’m terminally incapable of not pulling a tiger’s tail when I see it,” Napoleon admitted.

“Try to pull less hard, okay?” Frankie grimaced at him. “You willing to get eat, sure. Don’t drag us into it.”

“All right, Frankie. Don’t worry about it anymore,” Napoleon said, as reassuringly as he could. “We’ve all tried. Let’s just all leave it be.”

“Sure, dawg.” Even Pablo looked relieved. “Well, we happy to help. Right boys?”

Joey shrugged, and Frankie looked unenthusiastic. Soon they were discussing the current NFL season again, talking about the taped game they had watched during the after supper program hour yesterday, and Napoleon tuned them out, quietly finishing his supper. He spent the hour after supper in the library, reading the news from the slow, ancient Dell that squatted in a corner of it, then he returned to his cell at the warning buzz.

Peril was already there, cross-legged on his bunk. He glanced at Napoleon as Napoleon stepped into the cell, then reached between the mattress and the wall to pull out the hidden chess box. They reset the board - Peril had beat him soundly last night before they had gone to sleep, and this time, Napoleon played white. He moved a pawn to d4.

“Sit down,” Peril told him in Russian. “I don’t want to have to tell you each time.”

At this rate, Napoleon’s pronunciation was going to improve in leaps and bounds. He sat, even as Peril took a knight to f6. “The girl brought some maps of the prison. She showed me on her iPad. Through the glass. Funny what you can find on the internet.”

“The guards didn’t stop her?”

“They didn’t look closely. I was blocking their view, sitting down.”

“Your fan. Could be useful.” Peril sounded indifferent, and Napoleon pretended to frown in confusion. After all, if Peril was really freelancing, then he quite likely would have already memorised a map of Blake Prison.

“An architectural plan of Blake Prison isn’t definitely useful?”

Peril hesitated, then he looked back at the board as Napoleon brought another pawn up against his first, to c4. “Only if it is the real plan.”

“I think it is. I’ve been looking around. I still think getting out through the kitchens is the best way. Once I get the card, that’s most of our problems gone.”

“Only if you want to gamble. General access cards do not open everything. If you want to be sure, you will need a Warden card.” Peril was watching him carefully.

“Good point. But I’m going to need a whole different plan to get that.”

“Sounds impossible to get,” Peril said casually, moving a pawn as well, up next to his knight. “Wardens never appear personally during general unlock. They carry card at all times. That is why I do not think the kitchen plan will work. Too many variables. And you need Warden card.”

“Your Plan A has even more variables. If you don’t mind me saying.”

“Those are minor variables. They do not break the plan.”

“The kitchen plan also doesn’t involve possibly a lot of people dying.”

“Only if things go very wrong.” Again, Peril was indifferent. “So when can you get the materials?”

Napoleon thought over the architectural plans in his head, then the picture of the guard patrols that he had so far, overlaying them together. “I still need a week,” he said finally. “Just to be safe.”

“We’re not going anywhere,” Peril pointed out, and now he was amused, though his smile had no warmth in it. “But I am not a very patient person.”

Napoleon took a fresh pawn to g3. “I know. But you’ve already been in here six months. What’s a week more? Besides,” he added, “It’s not like you’re going to be totally bored.” He tapped the pawn he had moved.

“True.” Peril also moved a pawn. “But you are not good at chess.”

“I’m good at other things. Re-acquisitions… the bedroom…” Napoleon grinned when Peril rolled his eyes. “True story.”

“I do not want to know.” Was that said a little too quickly?

“I don’t even discriminate.”

This got him a raised eyebrow. “Don’t repeat that around here in English, little jackal. It’ll get you into trouble.”

“You don’t seem to mind.”

“Whoever you like to fuck is none of my business. Whether you can find me what I want is the only thing that I’m interested in.”

“Pity,” Napoleon said, with a theatrical little sigh, just for effect, because he could indeed never resist pulling at a tiger’s tail.

Peril frowned at the board instead of answering. “It’s your turn,” he said curtly.

“You’re just using me,” Napoleon said with arch sadness, “For thievery and chess.” Instead of snapping out a retort, Peril only flushed a little and scowled. A breach in the ice. Napoleon smiled to himself.

Chapter Text

b.

Gaby had been bursting to ask her new ‘partner’ questions, particularly about anything that the CIA knew about Shevchenko that hadn’t been in his electronic file, but to her annoyance, Joss had dozed off five minutes after telling Gaby exactly where to drive to, curling up between her seat and the window. The moment Joss had started to snore gently, Gaby let out a deep sigh.

So much for inter-agency friendship.

Hopetoun was a small township in the edge of Richmond County, and after driving for an hour and a half, Gaby was hungry, irritated and growing tired. She pulled over on the main street, between a barbershop and a diner, and, disturbingly, Joss went from asleep to awake with none of the start up in between. One moment she was asleep, the next she was looking alertly around, taking in the quiet street, the scattered cars, the waitress in the diner peering curiously out past clouded glass and a neon sign that didn’t look like it worked.

They took a seat on plastic benches in the diner and ordered coffee and burgers. Joss swept the diner with the same slow, considering glance, looking over the worn down waitress with the mousy hair and the old tennis shoes, and the steel door with the scratched glass panel that led out back to the kitchen. It was late for lunch and they were the only customers, and Gaby was acutely aware of how strange the both of them looked, how out of place. She wished that she hadn’t worn a dress today to go to Blake, for a moment, then she felt irritated that she had even felt that way, and waited in mulish silence until the waitress brought them both large mugs of coffee.

“By the way,” Joss said, once the waitress had left them alone. “What made you think of looking at Russell Shannon?”

“It was the pattern. The three people who died all defected within the last five years. They’d still have had useful information. Shevchenko’s the only SVR agent the CIA’s managed to flip in six years. If a hitman was going on a spree, chances are he would’ve snuffed the three people on his list who were easy to get to and left the hardest one to last.”

“I got that much. I didn’t ask why you were looking at Shevchenko.”

“Well,” Gaby said helplessly, “I tried to think, if I wanted to get at an SVR agent in CIA custody in Blake’s, what would I do? If he was in gen pop at a jail, that’d be easy, especially if he was in the lifers block. Killing someone out here, it’ll cost you a few thousand dollars, at least. In jail, it’ll maybe cost you two packs of cigarettes. So I looked further. Found he was in solitary. That meant the hitman would have to get his own hands dirty.”

“From then on,” Gaby added, as Joss nodded, “I went and looked over everyone who’d been transferred into Blake for the last few months. I looked at the inmates who kept getting sent to solitary for short stints, and then winnowed that down on the records. Russell Shannon’s was the only record that stood out as weird. He was no trouble during the last couple of times he was sent to jail. Seemed strange that he suddenly got so violent in Blake. When he killed those inmates in the showers by himself? That was when I decided that ‘Russell’ had to be it.”

“Russell was born here. Went to school here, too.” Joss said thoughtfully.

“He’s an orphan. No close relatives. Has an aunt living in Scotland. His first two arrests were from the Hopetoun PD. Outskirts. Drug offences.”

“Probably lived here too then. Though he was busted in the next town. Tried to hold up a gas station.” Joss said pensively, sipping her coffee. “With a knife. Poor bastard. That was enough to get him sent away for good.”

Gaby nodded slowly, wondering where this was going. “Yeah. Armed robbery.”

“I looked at his arrest photo and the jail photo. They were pretty similar.” Joss added. “Could say they were identical.”

“Doctored.”

“And what does that mean?”

“Well,” Gaby said impatiently, “It means that if my suspicions are right and ‘Russell’ is being impersonated, he did a proper job of it. Maybe it was a disguise. The switch probably happened after Russell’s arrest and before the trip to Blake Prison. He’d just have had to doctor the records just before he hit the prison bus.”

“An’ you think the bus driver would’a just sat quietly and let some hitman stop the bus, murder Russell and put his jumpsuit on, eh? You hackers,” Joss said, amused. “Always like to complicate things.”

“Then what happened?”

“I think this ‘Peril’ person sniffed around until he found a homeless person who roughly matched his description, killed him, then allowed himself to be arrested, using the homeless person’s ID.”

“How could he be sure that he would end up at Blake?”

“Blake’s the closest facility these parts. Besides, if he’s as good as you think, good enough to get three FBI assets under the radar, then he’s probably good enough to escape some two-bit town PD’s little station jail if it turns out he ain’t going to Blake’s. From his record he just pled guilty quietly at the arraignment. No skin off his nose. If he’s a pro, he’s in it for the long game.”

“Sounds like you’re warming up to the idea,” Gaby ventured, and Joss smiled tightly and humourlessly at her.

“Let me get back to you on that after we check out the local hobo community.”

“Last I heard it’s illegal for the CIA to investigate any US citizen inside the US,” Gaby said sourly.

“Only if it ain’t part of foreign intelligence.” Joss said calmly. “Sure we ain’t law enforcement. I ain’t got no authority to arrest anyone, or enforce any laws. I’m here as an observer.”

“Sure,” Gaby said dryly. “An observer.”

“But the way I see it,” Joss ignored her, “You’re young. Way too young. Must be some big shot hacker, to get placed into the FBI so young. Usually people get into the FBI as a second job, when they’re in their thirties or older. You’re so fresh outta college and Quantico I can still see the polish on yo’ shoulders, sister.”

Gaby bristled. “I’m a full agent.”

“Sure,” Joss waited, as the burgers were served, and smiled until the waitress bustled away again. “I served ten years in the military. Most of that while you were still moseying through high school. For over half of that time I was in the military police. I’m good at catching perps. Especially those trained up to be killers. I been an agent for five years after that. So I might not technically be here as anything more official than an observer, Agent Teller. But I ain’t gonna let that keep me from busting yo’ ass if I think you’re trying to give me shit just for the sake of it. I don’t wanna waste my time, and I don’t wanna waste your time. We cool?”

“Yeah.” Gaby blushed a little, to her mortification. “Sorry. This all got jumped on me this morning. I was…” She smiled sheepishly. “I was kind of hoping to crack this myself. You’re not the only one who thinks I’m too young. Or worse,” Gaby added bitterly, “That Waverly took me under his wing because I’m fucking him.”

“Are you?”

“No!”

“Then who gives a fuck what they say,” Joss shrugged. “Your boss used to be MI5 and he’s an old, conservative white man. That tells me that you’re probably pretty fuckin’ good to get accepted this young. Everyone else talking shit is just jealous. You wanna get back at them? Do your job.”

“I wasn’t expecting the pep talk,” Gaby blinked.

“Yeah, well, I wasn’t expecting to get pulled off my downtime,” Joss retorted. “Shit happens. But the faster we get this done, the faster we can pretend it all never happened.”

Lunch made Gaby sleepy, so they decided to walk it off. It was a cloudy day, a little humid and chilly, so Gaby took a light jacket from the car, then they headed down main street, taking it slow. The few people they passed all spoke in the same Virginian drawl, more curious than friendly, and by the time they reached the abandoned old warehouse on the township outskirts, Gaby was frowning to herself.

“Something wrong?” Joss asked.

“I’ll tell you later.”

The warehouse was heavily graffitied, with overlapping coats of tags and the occasional mural. The roof was a webwork of old rusting struts and the occasional plate of corrugated steel, and the cavernous, weed-grown edifice smelled unpleasantly of stale urine and unwashed skin. It was a tent city. Sections had been cordoned off with old boxes and with strung up old sheets, and Gaby could count maybe ten, fifteen people at a first glance, maybe more. Most of them ignored them, barely stirring from their nests of old blankets and clothes. A wrapped up, whiskery old African American man in a spotted shawl was the closest, next to a blackened oil drum by an old support pillar, and he took a step over then stopped, uneasily.

“Afternoon, sir,” Joss had headed straight over to him. “Pleased t’meet ya.”

The old man seemed unconvinced by Joss’ jovial smile. He glanced slowly between Gaby and Joss, craning his thin neck, suspicious. “Y’all feds?” he asked finally.

“Good guess.” Gaby fished out her wallet. She noticed a couple of the people near the back starting to shuffle carefully towards the back exit, and raised her voice. “Agent Teller, FBI. Just want to ask some questions about someone who used to live here.”

“People come and go,” the old man said indifferently. “Who’s to check.”

“Seems like you been here a while, sir,” Joss said, all friendly smiles. “Seems like you might know everyone worth knowing.”

“Can’t say that,” the old man shrugged, though he straightened slightly as Gaby watched Joss discreetly pass him a greenback. “Who’re you gels looking for?”

“Ever heard of Russell Shannon?” Gaby asked. She offered the old man her yearbook photo.

He squinted at it, bringing it closer to watery eyes, then he nodded and handed it back to Gaby. “Him? Sure. We called him Tallboy. Quiet. No trouble at all. Nice kid. Liked shooting up more than talking to anyone. Did jobs when sober, shacked out in the corner when not. Family used to live in town.”

“Know what happened to him?”

The old man shrugged again. “Since his things still here and he ain’t, I guess he got arrested. Best bet.”

“Worst bet?”

“Maybe he done owed some people money that he shouldn’t.”

“Any idea who?”

“Dunno. Before he disappeared he was being followed. Said he was, ‘neways.”

“Was he?”

“Dunno.” The old man said, but perhaps sensing Gaby’s disappointment, added more gently, “Well, small town like this, strangers stand out.”

The others weren’t any more forthcoming, even with bribes, though in the end they generously turned out what little of Shannon’s possessions that had been left behind that they hadn’t sold. There wasn’t much. Two old baseball cards, much loved, scuffed at the corners, the printwork fading. A tin box with a pencil and a movie ticket, yellowed and faded, for last year, Guardians of the Galaxy (“Used to be a fan, he said,” murmured the old man, “He saved up.”), and a spoon, bent and nicked.

“What did he talk like?” Gaby asked.

The question bewildered the residents. “Talk like?” the old man repeated.

“Did he have any strange um… the way he talked, would it stand out?”

“‘Round here? Naw.” The old man said dismissively. “Virginia kid, born in Hopetoun. Same old. He didn’t have no speech impediment or what y’all thinking.”

“Did he keep to himself normally?” Gaby asked.

“Some. If he wasn’t trying to score, he was here.”

“Where would he have tried to score?” Joss asked, but nobody seemed to know that answer - or want to hand it over to the feds.

They thanked the group and headed gratefully back out into the sunshine. Joss kept glancing between the warehouse and Hopetoun, her lips pursed. Finally, she said, “Well shit.”

“Must be nice to be right,” Gaby offered. “If he was followed beforehand-“

“You told your boss the other inmates called him ‘the Russian’. Said he was a piece o’ work.” Joss interrupted. “That ain’t Russell Shannon fo’ sure.”

“Could’ve seen that without coming all the way down here,” Gaby pointed out, irritated. “The other Russians in Blake assumed he was from another Russian mafia. If he had been faking an accent they wouldn’t have been fooled. Besides, where would a small town Virginian boy learn how to speak native-level Russian?”

“Never know these days with kids. I’ve seen people fake good accents just by watching YouTube. We’ll be laughed outta court hinging a case on something small like that, an’ I don’t think them Brother’s Circle Russians would’a been forthcoming in court as witnesses. ‘Sides, I want to know what the people who actually lived with him thought of him.”

Gaby jerked a thumb back at the warehouse. “Well, now we know.”

“He ain’t been homeless that long,” Joss pointed out. “Few months. Before that, he was living with a girlfriend in town.” She shot Gaby a meaningful look.

“You want to go door to door?” Gaby asked, horrified. She had never had to do something like that before.

“I think you should go door to door, Agent Teller. Remember, I’m just an observer.”

“What for? We already know he’s an impostor.”

“You rookies,” Joss shook her head. “If you wanna fuck someone up on circumstantial evidence then you better bury him in it, just saying. And besides,” she added, “The ex might know where our friend Shannon scored his drugs.”

“Why would we need to know that?”

Joss sighed. “You really too young for this. If we get an idea of Shannon’s patterns, we might find out where he got killed. And if we do, we might find out where ‘Peril’ hid his body. After which we’ll sure as hell have enough grounds to ask this ‘Peril’ some serious questions rather than having to rely on some Russian gangsters to testify in Court or some art thief to cough up the goods. Satisfied?”

Gaby blushed, embarrassed. “Sorry. I see your point.”

“No foul.”

“What’re you going to… are you just going to follow me around town?”

“Nope. I think you can swing this one yourself. Imma sit in the car, make some calls.”

“If you move Shevchenko-“

“We won’t spook the rabbit,” Joss interrupted. “But we might have a list of Russian, tall, blonde and blue-eyed assassins currently on the market. Congratulations,” she added, with a faint smile. “You’ve made me curious.”

VI.

It didn’t take Napoleon very long to bypass the ancient firewall on the library computers that prevented users from looking at anything other than basic news sites. He pretended to surf CNN while accessing the dark web, where he put out a few feelers to his contacts. Then he shut it all down and replaced the old firewall and went to join Pablo and the others playing cards on one of the few tables in the library.

“Want me to deal you in?” Pablo asked, as Napoleon sat down.

“Tempting, but no.” Napoleon smiled. “I don’t play cards with my friends.”

“Why’s that?”

“I have this uncontrollable urge to cheat, so they don’t tend to stay friends with me afterwards.” Napoleon admitted, and Joey laughed. “I know, I know. It’s terrible.”

“Shit, dawg. You better get that checked by the shrink,” Pablo crouched against his cards, holding them close to his chest. “I’m gonna raise. One ciggie.”

“Asshole,” Frankie muttered. “Check.”

Joey squinted at the cards he had cupped in his big hands. “Check.”

“Shit, back to me? Raise another ciggie.”

“Your hand ain’t that good,” Frankie said belligerently. “I raise another ciggie.”

“I’m foldin’,” Joey slapped his cards down on the table. “Shit, you two. You play cards like a pair o’ sharks. Stresses me out. I’m gonna talk to Interpol instead.” Turning archly to Napoleon, he asked, “So what’s on the news?”

“War and ugliness and American politics, what else?” Napoleon shrugged. “Though it seems the Pope is here.”

“He’s a good man,” Pablo said, still peering suspiciously at Frankie over his cards.

“Sure, he seems nice an’ all, but if he had his way we wouldn’t have divorce an’ birth control an’ gay people,” Frankie rolled his eyes. “My papa used to say, if some dude rolls up and says, hey son, I wanna feed the poor and heal the sick by God’s Grace amen, that’s when you smile an’ wave an’ back away very slowly. ‘Cos you know they gonna ask you for money next. Nice people can’t be trusted.”

“Says the man who thinks Trump should be President,” Pablo shot back. “Check.”

“Really?” Napoleon blinked. “Doesn’t he hate, well… even when I was trying to evade arrest in Rotterdam I heard something or other about building a wall between us and Mexico-“

“Shit, man,” Frankie said, with affected weariness, “This country’s gonna go to Hell anyway. We’ll just get there faster with President Trump. Me, I just wanna watch the world burn, dawg.”

“You loco, that’s what you are,” Joey muttered. “Who do you like, Interpol?”

“I don’t know,” Napoleon admitted. “I haven’t really been following it. Never voted before.”

“Everyone should vote.” Joey paused. “Well, not that it matters now. Can’t vote in prison unless you’re in Maine or Vermont. An’ since we’re in Virginia, we’re shit out of luck. Can’t vote forever, even if we get out on parole. Prison’s mostly full of black or brown people. Dat’s a hella lot of us that’re SOL for life.”

“Land of the free,” Napoleon said, with an ironic smile.

“World’s ending,” Frankie declared. “S’obvious. I raise one ciggie.”

Pablo glared furiously at his own cards, as though personally willing them to get better. “Fine. Fine! I fold. What cards did you… the fuck? You had fuck all!”

“What’s one ciggie more or two when the world’s gonna burn?” Frankie asked, world weary. “We’re here for life… the environment’s fucked… the government’s fucked…”

Pablo shot Napoleon a plaintively beseeching glance, and he sighed. “All right, fine. I’ll play. But I don’t make any promises about doing it fairly.”

“This ain’t a trick deck,” Joey said, puzzled. “So how you gonna cheat? There’s three of us watching your hands.”

“A magician never reveals his secrets,” Napoleon told him, now amused. It had been a while since he’d turned a card trick or two, and he found that he missed it. “Deal me in.”

Chapter Text

c.

No one in town seemed to remember having seen any strangers loitering around, tall, blonde or otherwise, and were bemused by the questions. The little slum where the homeless lived in was largely ignored by the town, an invisible bubble of hopelessness that everyone else just tried to evade. Hopetoun PD wasn’t much help either: it had only one officer who was there full time, one part time and the third officer worked on some sort of strange voluntary basis, with a day job elsewhere in town.

“He was pretty out of it,” said Officer Luther, the aforementioned sole full time defender of law and justice for tiny little Hopetoun. “That’s all I recall. Shaking and sweating. He wasn’t any trouble at all, miss.”

Gaby nodded and pretended to make notes, gritting her teeth. Officer Luther, for all that he had been impressed by her badge, was a blocky man in his forties going onto his fifties, running to fat thanks to one too many beers, and he had what Gaby’s mother would’ve called A Roving Eye. Gaby personally thought of it as the Pervert Asshole Stare. Dresses seemed to bring out the worst in some people.

Agent Teller,” Gaby corrected Luther curtly.

Unfortunately, this didn’t faze Luther. He smiled more widely at her, far too comfortable in his office in this poky little copshop. “You’re real young for an agent, if you don’t mind me sayin’. Say, you gonna be in Hopetoun for long?”

“I think not,” Gaby said, as frostily as she could. She kept the rest of the interview short and retreated hastily before Luther tried to get her number, and was in a bad mood by the time she met Joss back at the diner for supper. Joss had a burger again, while Gaby wavered between the pork chops and crab cakes and settled on the chops.

“The girlfriend doesn’t live here anymore,” Gaby said firsthand. “Name of Barbara Sellers. She’s moved to Richmond for work. I got an address from her parents. They were pretty glad she broke up with Shannon. Said he was bad business.”

“Did he turn her into a user?”

“I gathered that the parents weren’t willing to say something like that to the FBI,” Gaby said dryly. “But I had a feeling that she did use, and then got cleaned up, kicked him out, then moved. Want to follow her to Richmond?”

“Only if we got no other leads here. Tell me about Sellers.”

“Barbara Sellers grew up with him. Their families were friendly. Seems the parents died in a car crash when Shannon was halfway through high school. The Sellers parental unit think that the crash contributed to Shannon’s downward spiral. The loan on the house defaulted and the life insurance payout didn’t last too long.” Gaby checked her notes. “The Sellers don’t know much about Shannon otherwise. They didn’t really talk to him much. All they remember pre-accident was that he was a quiet kid.”

“They have a photo of him? It’s the age of Facebook.”

“Her Facebook’s locked. Not a problem for me, but I’ll need time.”

“Or we could head up to Richmond and talk to her.”

Gaby pulled a face. “Sure. I guess.”

“Unless you already know who’s dealing around here.”

“Nope. The local police don’t know anything.” Gaby summarised her unpleasant interview with Luther, and at the end of it, Joss chuckled.

“Did you get the name of the volunteer?”

“Yeah. He’s uh… he runs the newsagent by day. Name of John Mason. Pitches in as the night shift sometimes.”

“He’ll probably know where the dealers are,” Joss predicted. “You don’t volunteer for sheriff duty in a sleepy little town like this unless you’re a certain sort of person.”

“So we should go talk to him now?”

“Nah. We’re going to eat, then drive up to Richmond and talk to Barbara Sellers, then sleep up there and head back here in the morning. No use trying to bust rats in the dark.”

Dinner turned out to be surprisingly decent, and Gaby was in a better mood as they headed up towards Richmond, this time with Joss driving. “Why’d you go from the MP to the CIA?” Gaby asked, as she watched Hopetoun recede into a small puddle of lights behind them. “If you don’t mind me asking.”

“You mean, why didn’t I join the FBI?” Joss asked, chuckling again.

“Well… or the NYPD, or something. Law enforcement.”

“I was thinking about the NYPD,” Joss admitted. “But it felt a bit like… hell. The army’s this highly compartmentalised place. Everything’s in order. Highly controlled. Coming out of the MP felt like wadin’ into chaos.”

“And then you went to the CIA…?”

“They approached me first. I guess I realized that one of the reasons why I stayed so long in the Army is because I liked to travel. I didn’t like sitting on my ass in one country for too long. The CIA offered me that. What about you?” Joss asked. “You could be in Silicon Valley right now, rolling in money.”

“Sexism’s a big problem in Silicon Valley. Especially if you’re a programmer. I went to a conference there once, while I was still in college. Everyone there either assumed I was someone’s girlfriend, or press, or had this ‘aww, you like programming? That’s so cute’ air to them. Guess I probably shouldn’t have been wearing makeup and a skirt.” Gaby rolled her eyes.

“And you thought you could escape that by going into the FBI?”

Gaby managed a sheepish smile. “Clarice Starling’s kinda one of my favourite characters.”

“In the books she didn’t do so well at the end. Got brainwashed.”

“The movie wasn’t the same. But I figured, I’m pretty happy where I am right now. It’s challenging doing what I do, and I think it’s more fun than just coding the next Big Money App, or working for Google to find bugs in its system or whatever. Personally, anyway.”

“Still young enough to want everything to mean something,” Joss said, amused all over again. “Well. I hope it all works out for you, Agent Teller.”

Barbara Sellers turned out to be a nervous, pale slip of a girl who was living with her current boyfriend, a burly, crew-cut guy who towered over Gaby and Joss, and had been on his way out to his bouncer job when they showed up at Barbara’s doorstep. He lingered around, suspicious, until Barbara shooed him pointedly away, then she let them into the tiny apartment, waving them nervously to the couch while she pulled up a chair from the kitchenette.

“This about Russell?” Thick Virginian drawl.

“That’s right, Miss Sellers,” Gaby said, if gently.

“Something happened to him? He’s in jail, ain’t he?” Barbara looked between Joss and Gaby. “I heard he’s been put away for life. Don’t sound right to me.”

“Ma’am,” Joss said patiently, “He got put away for armed robbery.”

“With a knife! And ‘sides,” Barbara shook her head slowly. “The Russell I knew would never do that. He’d never hurt anyone. What’s this about?”

“Just following up some loose ends,” Gaby assured her. “Like you said. Some things didn’t look right on this file. I spoke to his… friends, in the uh, commune, and they said that Russell was never any trouble.”

“He wasn’t. He just… got into bad times, that’s all. But I had to leave,” Barbara added defiantly. “I couldn’t just keep feeding my habit. Seeing him shoot up was making me want to shoot up. I was never gonna get better.”

“Do you know who was supplying him?” Joss asked, in the same gentle tone that Gaby was trying.

“Nope. I never wanted to know that bit of it.” Barbara bit her lip. “If I did, I probably would never have gotten clean, y’know?”

“Do you have any recent photos of Russell? For our records.” Gaby added quickly, when Barbara started to frown.

“Uh, sure. I deleted them off Facebook after the arrest. But I’ve got one still on my phone.” Barbara said, sounding embarrassed. “Just a little memory. Here.”

It was a photograph of a gangly young man, lying on the grass, grinning up at the camera, reaching for it. He was thin, laughing, handsome. Blonde and blue-eyed. The veins close to his wrist, up off focus at the side of the camera, were dotted with old needle tracks. After showing them the photo, Barbara’s eyes welled up with tears, and she rubbed them away angrily with the back of her hand.

“He didn’t want to see me. Y’all know that? It was his birthday two months ago. I drove all the way down to Blake just to talk to him. But he wouldn’t come up.” Barbara offered them a watery smile. “I guess that was closure for me. Hard as it was to have to just turn around and drive back.”

“One last question,” Gaby said soothingly. “And thanks for all your help so far. Does Russell speak any other languages?”

Barbara stared at Gaby in surprise. “Well no,” she said, blinking. “Not that I know of.”

They thanked her and left. A small hotel close by had space for the night, and Gaby paid with the expenses card for a room with two beds. Too tired to talk about the case further, Gaby washed up and went to bed, and fell asleep quickly.

She was rudely woken up in the morning by Joss shaking her by the shoulder. “Hey. Get up. We’re leaving.”

“What?” Gaby grabbed for her phone, peering at the screen as she tapped it. “It’s not even eight yet.”

“There’s been a riot over at Blake. Get up.”

5.0.

Illya should have seen trouble coming. Instead, he had allowed himself to be distracted, by Napoleon, by chess. It had been amusing to play with the little jackal. But in doing so Illya had turned his back on the pack, had seemed less forbidding. He had not lied when he had told Napoleon that most of the lifers were not wolves: at least, not compared to Illya himself. But there were predators among them still, ones who did not forget insults.

The prison shower complex was a communal room with half walls between each stall, solid brick tiled over with the odd, olive green tiles that covered most of the chamber, smelling strongly of disinfectant. Illya had never been entirely sure what the point of the walls were. It wasn’t as though there was actually any privacy, since there weren’t any doors or curtains. The showers were metal nozzles overhead with just off/on buttons that now gave only a lukewarm shower - apparently some inmates had murdered someone else a few years back by boiling him alive on the hottest setting. There was a high shelf for clothes and the prison-issue towel. Everyone showered in their boxers. The other inmates referred to the shower chamber as the ‘carwash’, a nickname that still amused Illya a little whenever he stepped into it.

As always, Illya was one of the first into the shower complex in the mornings - at least when he had shower privileges - and he went to a stall at the end, where he could shower with his back to two walls and keep an eye out in a single direction. He stripped down and turned the shower on, thinking of chess, something that he did whenever he needed patience and calm, playing out some of the great games of the century in his mind until the violence that simmered ever-present under his skin died to a whisper.

Napoleon’s flirting needed to be stopped. Not because it was irritating, but because, to Illya’s own surprise, it wasn’t. Napoleon had a rare charisma that sometimes felt just as physical as his personal charms, a tool that the little jackal was clearly well-versed at using. Illya had never really looked at men before, and until now hadn’t actually even been very interested in sex; it was just something he did now and then to scratch an itch, and rarely. Playing with Napoleon, allowing him to flirt, was getting dangerous - for the both of them. Particularly given where they were.

There were a few outraged yelps and cursing further down the chamber which Illya registered for a moment then ignored. Swearing and blips of outrage were part of the normal rhythm to Blake, but usually, this rhythm swerved around Illya, giving him a berth.

The yelps were getting closer. Then Napoleon abruptly backpedaled into view, frowning. He was still in his jumpsuit, and he looked worried. “Peril. I think you’d better finish up. Really quickly.”

Illya bit down on his retort, frowning. He dried his hands off on the towel and stepped out of the stall. If this was Napoleon’s problem, Illya was going to be angry. He had no intention on allowing a thieving little jackal to hide behind him. Especially since Illya had already warned Napoleon to keep his light fingers to himself around the others.

A quick glance indicated that Napoleon’s thievery almost certainly hadn’t been the issue. It was the Brother’s Circle. Four of the largest men were advancing up the walkway between the stalls, two apiece. Two of the others were busy hauling people out of the stalls, most of them still soapy and confused. One of the men coming up towards them was new to Illya, and by his position and air, seemed to be the new leader, bald and of average height, with a star tattooed over an ear. Illya had been distracted enough not to keep an eye on the gangs over the last few days. A mistake.

Illya swallowed a sigh. He hadn’t planned on going back to solitary. At least, not yet. There was a short window of time between the guards noticing trouble and appearing, and understaffed as this prison was, it varied. If Illya could delay a fight-

“You are new,” he told the new guy, in Russian.

“And you are not Russian,” said the leader curtly. “I have some friends on the outside who can check such things for me, Russell Shannon.”

So much for not going to solitary. “Who I am or am not is none of your concern.”

“Your Russian is very good. But we do not like people pretending to be one of us,” said the tall one, the one whose jaw Illya had broken.

“So what are you going to do about it?” Illya asked challengingly, and made a show of glancing up at the overhead camera. “We are being watched here.”

“My friend on the outside is also going to make sure that we have some privacy,” said the leader, and cracked his knuckles pointedly.

Illya smiled. “Perfect.”

He took a long step forward and used his reach to grab the leader by his collar, yanking him over, using momentum and their combined weight to pitch him down, shattering his skull against the tiled floor. Someone grabbed him, yelling, hooking an arm under Illya’s neck, but Illya was still slippery from the shower and he wriggled out of the grip, even as he saw Napoleon tackle the fourth, head tucked down, shoulder up. The little jackal had teeth.

People were shouting further away in Spanish, Napoleon’s friends, perhaps, piling on, but Illya shut that out as he twisted back and slammed the heel of his hand up into the soft flesh of the grappler’s neck, then as he reeled back, Illya punched him in the solar plexus, hammering blows that staggered him back into a tangle with the third man, sprawling on the tiles and struggling to get up. Before they could, Illya was on his feet, ramming the heel of his foot into the grappler’s throat, crushing his larynx.

The third man was heaving up, roaring, but though he was bulkier than Illya he was shorter, with a smaller reach, like most, and Illya braced his feet and lunged, clamping a hand over the man’s eyes and snapping his skull back against the edge of one of the solid stall walls. He had to do it twice more before the man dropped, twitching, blood coming out of his nose and mouth. Then Illya uncurled to his feet.

Chaos had broken out in the rest of the shower chamber and had spilled out into the corridor. Everyone seemed to be fighting everyone, a pressure valve of violence that had burst like scattershot, infecting everyone within its radius. Illya could see Napoleon’s friends in the scrum, and the Brotherhood, more; he headed over to where Napoleon crouched, having just knocked out the fourth man, and hauled Napoleon to his feet by the scruff of his jumpsuit.

“Best to disappear now, jackal,” Illya told him in Russian, with a sharp smile.

“What about you?”

“I have not finished my shower.”

Napoleon blinked at him, wide-eyed, then he let out a shaky laugh and backed off, melting into the chaos. Illya went back to his stall, washing quickly. He could hear the guards starting to get involved, the faint roar of the guards calling order, laying into those still brawling. By the time he dried up and dressed, the sound of the the scrum had faded.

Illya pretended to turn at the sound of heavy footsteps. Matthews peered into the stall, his face stormy. “You. Of-fuckin’-course.”

“Is there problem?” Illya asked curiously.

“What do you call that?” Matthews jerked his thumb to his right. Illya made a show of looking, then he shrugged.

“How should I know? I was in shower.”

“All right, wiseass,” Matthews said tightly, staking a step closer. “You think I’m a fuckin’ idiot?”

Illya stayed silent and stared Matthews in the eye. It was tempting to step forward, to grab the pistol wired to Matthews’ holster and pump it into the Warden’s stomach. Hell, Illya wouldn’t even need that to kill the mouthy guards. Perhaps that showed on his own face: Matthews glared for only a moment longer before he stepped away.

“You lucked out today, asshole,” Matthews growled. “CCTV had a glitch. But we’re watching you. You lot!” Matthews raised his voice. “Get to work! No breakfast. That includes you, wiseass.”

Illya shrugged, even as the other inmates still in the vicinity mumbled angrily but didn’t meet Matthews’ stare. Napoleon and his friends were now nowhere to be seen. Clever little mice.

On Illya’s way out, heading towards the optical laboratory, Napoleon fell into step beside him, looking none the worse for wear. Illya didn’t bother to greet him, watching the crowd. Violence always made him hyper alert. The guards were on edge. A little confused. Deviations in the prison routine were making them antsy. Everything was off-script.

As they turned a corridor, away from one of the overhead cameras, Illya felt something thin and rectangular press into his hand. He turned his palm up, very slightly, and saw a small printed photo of Matthews’ scowl on the corner of the white card.

A Warden card.

Illya glanced at Napoleon, who grinned at him. The jackal was pleased with itself again, and for a brief, confused moment, Illya felt a surge of warmth, part pride, part possessiveness. Then he looked away, forcing it down until his mind was clear again, thinking, slowing his step. Ahead of him was a pair of rookie guards, looking away at the crowd, nervous and tense.

“Ready to get out of here?” Illya murmured.

“I thought you’d never ask.”

Chapter Text

VII.

Napoleon hadn’t been entirely sure what Peril was thinking of doing, but he certainly hadn’t thought that Peril would simply escalate. Silly Napoleon. Wasn’t it already obvious that there was no such thing as ‘moderation’ where Peril and violence were concerned?

A second after Napoleon’s flippant agreement, Peril had simply walked quietly over to the closest pair of guards. The moment he was within range, he struck like a viper. One moment Peril was seemingly on his way with the others to the laboratory, the other, he had one guard’s arm wrenched around his back, the officer’s taser in hand, firing it - the two electrodes hit the second guard squarely in the face and neck. As the guard collapsed, convulsing, Peril kicked out the knees of the officer he was holding, and smacked his head with a swift snap against the wall. Then he grabbed the second officer’s taser, pivoting, and threw it overarm behind him, the weapon glancing off an officer’s forehead, downing him. The second officer started to pull out his taser, but then the rumble of the inmates around them grew to a roar, and he was swamped.

Napoleon stared, and resisted instinctively as Peril grabbed his elbow. “This way,” Peril said curtly, scooping up the unconscious guard’s shotgun, and started to thread around the growing scrum. They reached one of the restricted access doors, Peril swiping it open with the Warden's key, then he shoved it open and beckoned for the closest inmate to hold it for the others. It was one of the Brotherhood.

“Exit is that way,” Peril jerked his thumb down the narrow corridor beyond. “Follow red line. I will go and open gates.”

“Knew you were one of us, brah,” said the Brotherhood thug gleefully, and Peril didn’t answer, looking around and heading up the narrow steel steps. Napoleon tagged at his heels, curious again, trying to place himself within the map in his head.

When they were up two levels, Peril muttered, “Nazis,” with obvious loathing under his breath, and Napoleon chuckled. That got him a sharp glance over a shoulder. “You should go with them.”

“So far sticking close to you seems to be a safer bet. And I don’t like Nazis either.”

Peril opened his mouth to argue, then he sighed, and turned away, coming to a stop before a steel door with a swipe pad. “Suit yourself. But be quiet and don’t get in my way-“

A cry of “Hey, my man Interpol!” interrupted Peril, and Napoleon glanced down the stairwell. It was Pablo and Joey, peering up worriedly at them. “Shee-utt,” added Pablo, wide-eyed, in a stage whisper. “It’s the Russian. Slowly does it. Nobody make any quick moves. Just smile an’ wave guys. Smile an’ wave.”

Joey held his hands palms up. “We uh, come in pe-a-ce?”

“Go with your friends.” Peril told Napoleon, exasperated.

“Maybe later. I’m going this way,” Napoleon called over the rail. “Where’s Frankie? Is he all right?”

“He said outside, inside, all the same to him, so he ain’t budging.” Joey explained. “You sure ‘bout this? Could come with us.”

“Yeah. Thanks for everything,” Napoleon said warmly. “Hope things work out for you guys.”

“Okay, Interpol,” Pablo said feelingly, with a broad smile. “See you on the other side, dawg. Even if you are a pinche card cheater.”

Peril raised an eyebrow at Napoleon as Pablo and Joey clattered back down the stairs, but he said nothing as he swiped the door open and pushed it in. A klaxon alarm had sounded, the prison gearing into riot control, all hands on deck. This top floor seemed empty, and Napoleon felt disoriented again in new ground, blinking dumbly out of the narrow windows at the wide open land beyond, the rows of fencing, the towers.

His companion had no such hesitation. Peril looked around, as though reorienting himself, then he started briskly down the corridor to his right. It took a few twists and turns, sometimes with them hiding from briskly passing patrols, but eventually they got to another steel door with a swipe pad.

This door, Peril kicked open, after unlocking it. There were two guards within, rising up in shock, hands going to their guns. Peril was already swinging the shotgun like a club, clocking the closest guard sharply across his jaw and knocking him spinning. Napoleon went for the other, grappling for the gun and managing to jam his wrist hard against the edge of the bench. The guard let go of the gun with a yelp and Napoleon kicked it away, trying to grab for purchase on the guard’s neck, his shoulder, but the guard managed to shove free, snarling, only to jerk and twitch as Peril stepped up behind up and broke his neck.

Napoleon sat up, breathing hard, getting slowly to his feet. Peril was already shoving both bodies off the desks and to the floor, stepping over to the closest keyboard. They were in the control room. Steel barred glass windows looked out to the other side of the block’s corridor and beyond, and against the windows was a two-tiered bench, running wall to wall, in between the top tier, which held stationery, and the bottom tier, which held phones, were eight security screens that flickered between locations in the prison. Laptops and phones were hooked up under the desk, and there were two large black control banks, with coloured dials and switches. A fire extinguisher sat bracketed to the wall in the corner, dusty and unused.

“Strip off their uniforms. But watch door,” Peril told Napoleon curtly. One of the guard’s guns was already in his hand, muzzle down: he had left the shotgun on the desk. Peril headed over to the control banks without checking to see if Napoleon had obeyed, swiping Matthews’ access card on a sensor pad. Grimacing, Napoleon obeyed, getting off the guards’ shoes, then their belts. He was working on the first officer’s trousers when the klaxon alarm shut off, to a small grunt of satisfaction from Peril. When he had stripped both guards to their underwear, he got up, wordlessly handing Peril the set from the larger guard.

It was still comically small on someone as tall as Peril, the sleeves very short at the wrists, but with a cap over his eyes, Peril would pass as a guard from afar. Napoleon pulled his own cap over his eyes and peered at the closest screens. Chaos was on every monitor. Peril had not only opened the gates, he had unlocked everything. Including the solitary floor, which was emptying out, the prisoners charging and overwhelming the guards. From the monitors, Napoleon couldn’t quite tell where Shevchenko’s cell was. Was this Peril’s plan? Intercept Shevchenko during the riot and kill him, pretending to be an officer? That had a certain crazy logic to it-

“Now what?” Napoleon asked Peril.

“Now we find car and get out.” Peril paused. “After picking up someone.”

“Who?”

“A friend,” Peril said shortly, to Napoleon’s surprise.

“You have friends?”

“I said you should be quiet, no?” Peril pointed out, though he sounded amused rather than annoyed. “You know how to use gun? You were from Army.”

“It’s been a while.”

“… Then try not to shoot unless absolute emergency,” Peril decided. “No silencer. No earplugs. Will briefly lose hearing if fired indoors.”

“I know that much, I’m not a total newbie,” Napoleon said dryly, still a little disoriented. So the FBI was wrong about Peril all along, then. He hadn’t been here to get rid of Shevchenko. Peril was here to extract him. “By the way. Your real name’s not really Russell Shannon, is it?”

Peril actually paused to glance at him, his face carefully neutral, and for a moment, Napoleon regretted his question, preparing to flinch away from any violent outburst. Then Peril sighed, and started to open the door. “If we get out of here safely, I will tell you. Now be quiet.”

6.0.

They weren’t challenged on their way out from the control room’s fire escape, which was a relief. Illya had been hoping not to use the guns. They were .38 Special revolvers, cowboy guns, common for corrections officers, and Peril had always had a very low opinion of both their stopping power and accuracy. Thankfully, they didn’t have to put his low opinion to a field test.

Once outside, they headed briskly to the staff car parking lot, behind the medium security block. The riot was in full swing, orange-suited inmates tussling with guards, spilling out, tower guards firing into the scrum with hard-nosed rubber bullets. They didn’t have much time. Soon the tear gas would come out and someone would close the gates and do a head count. Illya patted his pockets and found a set of car keys. He pressed the large button on it and heard a car beep him two rows down.

It was a dusty gray Range Rover, probably second hand. Napoleon tried his uniform’s car keys. It signalled a beat up green Toyota sedan, far more the worse for wear. They got into the Range Rover, Illya in the driver’s seat, Napoleon in the front passenger’s, and started up the car. The engine coughed once but rumbled obligingly to life. They swung around out of the car park, avoiding the knots of chaos, heading towards a small shed-like concrete building that sat innocuously at a corner of the main compound, a small isolated blip next to the huge silo-like buildings before it. Illya parked the car facing the door of the shed and waited.

They didn’t have to wait long. Eventually, the door opened outwards, cautiously, and a man in a corrections officer uniform stepped out. There was a brief, surprised gasp from Napoleon, then he relaxed, as the officer glanced at them warily then jogged over to the car. He was stockier now from confinement, with a thin cap of black hair over his high forehead. Thick black brows arched out over his deep-seated eyes, etched with wrinkles, and he had two days’ worth of stubble on his angular jaw. The corrections officer’s uniform was stained slightly at the neck, a dark splotch of what might’ve been blood, from where it had been stripped off its original owner. Like officers stationed within the facility, the belt had no gun, and even the taser was missing - likely recently used and discarded.

He paused as he noticed Napoleon in the front passenger seat, and shot Illya a querying glance. “Is a friend,” Illya said, and the ‘officer’ nodded, getting into the back seat, just as Illya noticed something, finally, that made his next breath catch tight in his throat.

Napoleon had thought that the ‘officer’ was an actual corrections officer. But then he had relaxed, before Illya had even said anything.

Napoleon had seen the face of Illya’s mark before.

“Finally,” the ‘officer’ growled from the back seat, in Russian. “You took your time, Illya.”

Too late now. And besides, maybe it would be good to keep Napoleon’s trust - for now. “I have no excuses, Oleg.”

There, again that brief flicker in Napoleon’s eyes. Surprise. Napoleon knew Oleg, but by a different name. The one on file with the CIA, perhaps. Illya should have known that the story about refusing to be blackmailed by the CIA was untrue. Which sane man would decide to go to prison over a job in the CIA?

“Napoleon, give Oleg your gun,” Illya said offhandedly. “Since you say it’s been a while.” He waited. If Napoleon refused, Illya would kill him right now. Grab his gun arm and choke him. Snap his neck.

“Sure,” Napoleon said, sounding relieved about it. He passed the gun over, stock first, and even handed over the spare ammunition.

Oleg snorted as he checked the .38. “Useless gun. Typically American. You know all their correctional officers in here carry this? Is not even the improved version.”

“If it’ll help,” Napoleon said doubtfully, “You can have this one as well.” He passed over the taser and the spare cartridges. Illya stared, trying not to seem confused. Why would a CIA or FBI agent completely disarm himself? Napoleon noticed, and smiled sheepishly, misinterpreting his puzzlement. “If your friend is anything like you then I think we’re all better off if you guys are both armed.”

What game was Napoleon playing? Or was he just too confident? Illya kept silent as he drove. They were unchallenged on their way out - the guards had more troubles than stopping three officers who were heading out at a purposeful speed, perhaps to catch up with and coordinate reinforcements. Illya kept an eye on the road and watched Napoleon through his peripheral vision. He felt cold rather than angry. Disappointed with himself. It had been too neat and Illya should have seen it. The trap had been too elegant. What were the chances that Napoleon could play chess? Speak Russian? Acquire a Warden card? Know the layout of the prison? Illya should have seen it. He had underestimated the CIA and had nearly paid for it.

They skirted the first town in silence. Too dangerous. At the second, Oleg said, “Drop me off here.”

“You are sure?” Illya asked, though he was relieved to hear it. This mess with Napoleon was something that Illya wanted to fix alone.

“Three men travelling in a car is too obvious.” Oleg frowned at Illya, clearly surprised that he had asked.

Illya nodded, and let Oleg off at the bus stop. He could see the bus plodding closer in the distance, anyway, a small speck, but still good timing. As Oleg sat down at the bus stop, they drove out again, this time aimlessly. Illya was trying to remember what he had memorised of the surrounding state. He’d have to find somewhere quiet-

“Where are we going now?” Napoleon asked.

“Somewhere to change clothes.”

“And then?”

Illya shrugged. “If you want me to drop you off somewhere, say so.”

I think we should leave the country,” Napoleon said mildly. “I have a friend who might let us borrow a light plane. We could get to Cuba.”

“‘We’?”

“If you don’t want to come along, that’s your business. Personally, I’ve kinda had enough of Uncle Sam for now.”

Illya pretended to think this over. “Fine. Where is this plane?”

“It’s near Hopewell. You’re going to have to head east.”

Illya tuned in to the radio as they headed east. The local news was starting to latch on to the prison riot story, calling it one of the worst riots in recent Virginian history. They were playing it down, not naming the number of escapees, but it sounded grim. There was talk of calling in the National Guard.

Napoleon seemed amused, relaxed in his seat. “Maybe Pablo and Joey got out fine.”

Illya nodded. Were Napoleon’s friends planted agents as well? Illya would have to find out. This had all been meant to be an easy extraction. He could see his plans crumbling. Gritting his teeth, Illya’s hands tightened on the wheel, but then he forced himself to relax. No use spooking his prey as yet.

“That guy called you ‘Illya’,” Napoleon said, after they had driven in silence for a while. When Illya said nothing, Napoleon added, “You said you were going to tell me your name if we got out.”

“Illya is my name.” Illya said shortly. What did it matter? He was going to have to get rid of Napoleon, after all. Disappointment choked him for a moment, unfocusing his vision, but he shook it off, the angry tension, the poisonous clouding edge of a growing rage.

Napoleon paused, clearly about to ask another question, but then he swallowed it, and looked out of the window at the road. They drove along the road in silence, at one point even passing speeding cop cars, going the other way. Congregating towards Blake.

Illya found a suitable spot an hour into the drive. It looked like an abandoned old BP gas station, the ancient sign gray with dust and several rebrands behind. The gas station was a sturdy brick building with a gray tiled roof, the windows boarded over. Someone had broken in more recently, the door left ajar, but judging how weed-choked and overgrown the station was, it seemed empty.

When Illya pulled up, Napoleon reflexively checked the gas level in the car. “Why are we-“ he cut himself off, wide-eyed, as he saw Illya pointing the revolver at his head.

“Open the door,” Illya said curtly. As Napoleon obeyed, Illya added, “Get out of the car. Hands where I can see them.”

Illya climbed through the front passenger seat to get out behind Napoleon. “Illya,” Napoleon began, finally realizing the danger he was in. He sounded frightened. Good.

“Walk.” Illya nudged the car door closed with his foot and forced Napoleon to walk into the empty gas station. Within, the gas station was in just as much disrepair as the outside, and had been thoroughly cleaned out. Its shelves were empty, its counter bare even of a cashier.

“Illya,” Napoleon said again, plaintively, once they were out of sight of the street.

“Hands up, little jackal. Good. Oleg was right when he said this is a useless gun,” Illya said mildly. “I think even this close it might take more than a few shots to your head to kill you. You will feel the first four, I think. Maybe I will stop there and leave you here. Or just shoot you in the stomach. You will take some time to die.”

“I helped you, didn’t I?”

Illya let out a bitter laugh. “Oh yes. And you were very good, little jackal. I did not suspect you at all. Your story about the CIA, about your ‘fan’ showing you the map… you could speak Russian, play chess. Produce a Warden card, just like that.”

“Look,” Napoleon began, incredulous.

“But you slipped up,” Illya interrupted coldly. “Not your fault. When Oleg came out of the shed, you looked surprised at first. You thought it was a guard. But then you saw his face and relaxed, before I even said anything. You have seen his face before. And then when I called him ‘Oleg’, you were surprised again. You knew him, but by another name. Let me guess. The cover name in the CIA’s file. Anatoly Shevchenko.”

Napoleon’s shoulders slumped, and then he started to laugh, rueful and wry. A jackal, laughing into the dark, with nothing left to lose. “I suppose I should’ve known that trying to play all sides was going to come back and bite me in the ass.”

“Oh?”

“The CIA really did offer me a job. And I really did turn it down, okay? Not just because of what… what happened in Afghanistan. I thought maybe I could either escape or get out early on parole. I really didn’t expect to get placed where I was. I mean, Virginia’s meant to classify inmates based on shit like offense, length of sentence and behavior. I was really surprised.”

Illya said nothing, but Napoleon kept talking. “It was a bit of a bad shock. But it turns out the CIA didn’t actually arrange for me to be placed in the cell with you. All they wanted was for me to get a taste of life on the inside and then go back to them with my tail between my legs. But a FBI rookie got involved. Trying for her big break. Three Russian defectors died under seemingly normal circumstances. The FBI put it aside but she wanted to sniff it out further.”

“What is this rookie’s name?”

“Agent Gaby Teller.”

Illya nodded. The name was unfamiliar. “And?”

“She found an anomaly in your cover and wanted to check it out. So she arranged for me to be put in your cell. I was meant to tell her if you ever made a move. She thought that you were in Blake to kill Shevchenko.”

Illya let out a harsh, barking laugh. “Good.”

“You’re not a freelancer after all, are you? Or bratva,” Napoleon said, in a stumbling burst. “Shevchenko was from the SVR. What is he, a double agent? You’re SVR too, aren’t you?”

Curious. “You thought I was a freelancer? An assassin?”

“Yeah. That’s what I told Agent Teller. I think that’s what she expects too. I mean. Hell, all this Cold War sort of direct foreign agent license-to-kill shit isn’t supposed to happen nowadays.”

“You’d be surprised.” Illya was starting to waver. He tried to hold on to his temper. Napoleon wasn’t acting like a cornered CIA or FBI agent. They would have tried to make a play for the gun, or strike a deal. Napoleon was acting like a man standing unexpectedly at the brink of death, knowing that he was going to tip off at any time, no longer caring.

“Yeah. I guess I was, wasn’t I? Fuck.” Napoleon said, defeated. “I wish I’d thought that through. The FBI told me that Shevchenko was some kinda crazed serial killer. I thought that maybe if I helped you escape and some murderer got shot, it wouldn’t really matter in the scheme of things if I got out as well. I didn’t realize that you were going to let him loose.”

“What’s in Hopewell?”

“I told you. A plane. Private airfield on the outskirts. I have a friend who does black market runs to Cuba. The trade embargo, you know? Usually he just runs meds. I sent him a heads up on the dark web when I was in the library one day. Got around the firewall.”

Illya wasn’t sure whether he could believe that. Perhaps it was an ambush. “Tell me why I shouldn’t kill you.”

“I don’t know,” Napoleon admitted. “What do you want me to say? You seem to have already made up your mind. I swear I’m not an agent or whatever you think I am. But I don’t know how I can make you believe me.”

“You should have told me that your ‘fan’ was an agent.”

“I would’ve, if I could’ve been sure that I wouldn’t have ended up dying suddenly in the night! Look. I knew that you were trying to escape. Hell, we were making plans. If I was an actual agent, why didn’t I contact someone? They could’ve been waiting outside to jump on us or something. Why the hell would I have given your friend all my weapons?”

Illya had no real answer for that. It was true. If Napoleon had been working for the CIA or the FBI, then a dragnet would have already been in place. If Matthews had given Napoleon his card, then they would have been better prepared for a riot. But there had been chaos on the radio, in the courtyard. He started to waver.

“Check your pockets. Is there a phone?”

Napoleon obeyed. It was a scratched up old iPhone 4. Napoleon tabbed the screen, but it was locked.

“Press Emergency Call. Now enter three hashes and press ‘call’. Now press the lock button.”

Napoleon stared in surprise as the phone unlocked to a basic page. “I didn’t know it could do that.”

“Every phone model has secret codes. Most operating systems are compromised. Now call this number.” Illya rattled off a phone number. “When you reach the operator, tell her this number.” He gave Napoleon a short code, all numbers and alphabets. “Then at the second operator, ask for Agent Gaby Teller. Understood? And put phone on speaker.”

Napoleon obeyed, though his fingers shook slightly, from nervousness. His voice was mostly steady when he told the operator the code, and when he told the second operator Teller’s name. Then they waited, as they were put on hold.

Finally the phone clicked through, and the voice of a young woman asked, “Who’s this?”

“Agent Teller?” Napoleon asked.

“What the… Solo?” Teller demanded, incredulous. She sounded as though she was driving. “Where the hell are you? You’re in so much trouble.” She paused, as though listening to someone in the background, and as she spoke again, she was calmer. “Russell Shannon’s missing. So is Shevchenko. Anything to do with you?”

Napoleon glanced at Illya, who shook his head. “Nope. You can’t blame me, right? I mean, I saw the door open so I just went for it.”

“How the hell did you get this number?”

“I know a lot of numbers,” Napoleon said glibly.

“Why’re you calling?”

Illya mouthed deal, and Napoleon said, “I uh, I want to cut another deal.”

“Maybe.” Teller said skeptically. “What happened, anyway?”

“The Brother’s Circle tried to jump Peril in the showers. Something about how they’d heard that he wasn’t Russian. Apparently they paid off one of the guards who checked the prison records. They thought he was some Virginian kid called Russell Shannon, faking being a Russian,” Napoleon said wryly. “Funny world, huh?”

“So a fight broke out?”

“Yeah, and it spread like crazy. Then the Warden said nobody was going to have any breakfast. That didn’t go down well, and it kinda pissed off everybody. On the way to the lab, Peril attacked a couple of the guards. Think he picked up their pass or something. Unlocked the door and let everyone out. After that he went off somewhere. Did he kill Shevchenko?”

Teller let out a sigh. “Right now we’re assuming that he did. So what deal do you want to cut?”

“I might maybe know what escape route he was planning. Assuming that efforts to catch me and put me back in jail become token.” Napoleon glanced at Illya again, who smiled at him. Clever jackal.

There was a long silence, then Teller said, “Okay, I’ll try.”

“Doesn’t sound like a definite.”

“Solo,” Teller said, exasperated, “A Russian assassin is on the loose and a lot of actually violent inmates are on the run. You’re really far down on the FBI’s priority list right now, okay? I’ll do my best to make sure you stay there, all right?”

“Okay. He told me the best way to break out was to steal some guard’s uniform. Then drive out and head south. Cross the border. There’s some sort of ‘underground’ that he’d use to head back to Moscow.”

“He told you all that?”

“People like to tell me things. Besides, I think he missed talking to people in Russian.”

“Okay.” There was a deep breath. “Stay out of trouble, Solo.”

“You too, Agent.” Napoleon hung up. “Happy now?”

“Drop the phone and step on it.” Illya watched as Napoleon obliged. Slowly, he lowered his gun. “Fine. Maybe you were not lying.”

“So now what?”

Illya thought about it. It would still be easier and neater to get rid of Napoleon. Leave him here, where it would be a while before anyone might even find the body.

“Sooner or later they’re going to find out that I helped you out,” Napoleon added, when Illya was silent. “I mean. The inmates are going to tell them that I was also fighting in the shower. And then they’re going to realize that the phone I called Teller on belonged to a dead control room guard. They’d put two and two together.”

Illya nodded slowly. Napoleon was indeed in far more trouble now than he was before. “This plane in Hopewell. You are sure that it will get us to Cuba?”

“I’ve used it before.”

Illya holstered the gun. “Get us to Cuba. And then we will see.”

Chapter Text

d.

“If you play this right,” Joss said, as they rolled into Blake Prison, “You could probably get a promotion out of this. You were the only one to see the danger and nobody wanted to listen to you. Couldn’t have foreseen that it would escalate like that. You did your best. Push that line.”

Gaby grit her teeth. “I don’t really care about that promotion right now or covering my ass, all right? I just want to catch the Russian.”

Joss looked at her appraisingly, but said nothing more as they got out of the car. The prison had already been locked down, the remaining prisoners hauled back to their cells. The yard was bristling with police and corrections officers. Gaby flashed her badge and they were hustled through the blue and gray crowd, into the Processing building and further up, until they were at the top floor. A couple of bodies were being stretchered out by paramedics, covered in white sheets. Gaby swallowed hard: death was still not an easy sight for her - but Joss merely glanced at the bodies and marched past, absolutely unfazed.

They found a gray-faced Matthews and the head Warden, Coates, standing grimly in the control room with a couple of police officers. Matthews nodded at Gaby in tired greeting as she approached. “This is the FBI agent that Agent Waverly was talking about,” he told Coates. “Miss… er, Agent Gaby Teller.”

Gaby solemnly shook hands all round, even as she added, “And this is Agent Joss Henson from the CIA.”

“I’m Moss Kowalski, Plover PD,” said one of the police officers, a skinny, sweating man in his forties, with a large liver spot over his cheekbone. He looked worried and pale and out of his depth.

“Michael Walker, VSP. Nice to meet’cha.” The state trooper seemed more relaxed, though not by much. He was younger, handsome and tall, ginger-haired, with an easy, toothy smile.

Coates sighed. He was an old man, running to fat, rotund and pink, dressed in a suit whose cut had fallen out of fashion years ago. Coates had presided over Blake Prison for decades. “Matthews tells me that you suspected that there was something strange about Russell Shannon’s documentation.”

“I was investigating a lead on behalf of the FBI,” Gaby said, deciding carefully not to point fingers for now. “It was a bit of a long shot.”

“Well it panned out. By God, how it panned out. Matthews, rewind the footage.”

Matthews obligingly typed briskly on the keyboard. As he did so, Gaby asked, “Fingerprints?”

“Everything’s being dusted. The Russian’s cell, the access card he stole from Matthews, the lot.” Coates looked grim. Tired. Here was a man who knew that his career was over. “We’ll have DNA too, much help that’d do. My God. Six officers dead. More injured. We’re still doing the headcount but we think at least thirty inmates got away.”

“We’ll round up most of those over the day,” Walker assured them briskly. “Not much ground hereabouts to hide unless they can jack a car. Lot of them ran out on foot. Weren’t thinking straight.”

“I guess so,” Coates said gloomily, refusing to be comforted. “Here. Look at this.”

Matthews had brought up a clip on the nearest console screen, and Gaby and Joss clustered close. The cops didn’t bother: they’d clearly seen it before. On the screen were the two corrections officers sitting at the security control desk. They were bored: nothing much usually happened in the prison that was really out of order, and they probably weren’t paid that highly to begin with. Abruptly, the door was kicked in. A tall man - the Russian - stepped in, swinging a shotgun like a baseball club, while, to Gaby’s surprise, she saw Napoleon grappling with the other guard until the Russian finally intervened. The fight was one-sided and over savagely quickly.

“A pro,” Joss said, watching, her expression thoughtful. The Russian said something, a revolver already in hand, and Napoleon bent to remove the prone guards’ uniforms.

“Son of a bitch,” Gaby muttered. “He lied.”

“Thought that was obvious.” Joss said. When Gaby stared at her, she added dryly, “Solo was shit-scared when he was talking t’ya over the phone an’ he was trying to hide it. But I could tell. I bet he was probably talking while he was facing down the barrel of a gun. That story about heading over to Mexico is worth fuck all.” On the screen, the Russian bent over the control bank for a while, then both Napoleon and the Russian dressed in the guards’ uniforms. “Think he helped the Russian get out and then regretted it later. Became a loose end. We might be looking for two bodies.”

“Shevchenko and Solo?” Gaby felt sick. She hadn’t meant to get Napoleon into this much trouble, even if Napoleon might have contributed. He was only an art thief, who’d had the bad luck to catch the eye of the CIA: he had seemed relatively harmless. Gaby hadn’t meant to cause his death.

“Is Shevchenko dead?” Joss asked Coates.

Coates shook his head. “No. He killed an officer on the way out and took his uniform as well. But after that we don’t have any idea where he went. Or where his body is, if he’s dead. That entire area has no CCTV remember? CIA requirements.”

“Fucked by our own paranoia,” Joss said, shaking her head. “Shit. Sanders ain’t gonna be pleased.”

“Talk to your sentries. The Russian was wearing a uniform. He must have gotten out somehow…” Gaby trailed off, remembering Joss’ exhortation to keep things simple. “Car keys. He would’ve driven out. Which cars belonged to the officers here?”

At the parking lot, they discovered that the late Raymond Simmons’ Range Rover was missing. Walker turned on his heel, calling it in, putting a statewide APB involving the Range Rover, along with its license plate. A brief questioning of the sentries indicated that yes, one of them had seen the Range Rover drive out, but hadn’t thought much of it, since he had been busy being under fire by inmates at the time. There were two people in the front, the sentry said. He remembered that, though he didn’t remember much else about the car. The Rover hadn’t been speeding out or anything. He had just assumed that the Wardens had sent out a couple of guys on an urgent errand, maybe to organise the reinforcements.

“Solo and the Russian,” Joss decided. Gaby nodded numbly. “Shevchenko’s body was probably in the boot.”

“How’s that list coming along? About freelancers?” Gaby asked.

“Nothing yet.”

The day wore on. Joss insisted on studying the CCTV clip of the Russian’s last fight in the shower stalls, involving his late third cellmate and two others. Gaby couldn’t watch. There was a certain sort of brutal efficiency to it all. One moment he was standing still, the next, he seemed to turn into some sort of destructive force of nature, aimed at doing murder.

A call came in, from a couple of FBI agents nosing around Hopetoun. They’d found what was possibly Russell Shannon’s body, or what was left of it anyway, being the form of a ‘suspicious sludge’ substance in an oil drum with a burnt out fire underneath it, a mile away from the gas station which he had supposedly held up.

“Standard disposal,” Joss had said, when Gaby told her. “In Mexico there was a guy who did it for the cartels. Melted about five hundred bodies. He’d put a body in a fifty-five gallon drum, add bags of lye, add the body, fill it up with water, then build a fire under it. Easy.”

“Dead end,” Gaby said, resigned, and felt sick all over again.

“Guy’s a pro.” Joss shrugged. “Question is whether he’s even a freelancer at all.”

“You think he’s not?”

“The way the world is nowadays? Can’t be sure. My guess is, there’s gonna be two more oil drums with ‘suspicious sludge’ to be found, maybe soon.”

There wasn’t much else to do in Blake. Joss was clearly impatient to be off. She had been summoned back to Langley, apparently. So Gaby offered to drive. Quantico probably wasn’t a good place to be right now, even if she didn’t say ‘I told you so’ to Waverly’s face.

They were an hour into the drive when Walker called Gaby. “We’ve got someone here who called in with a tip when he saw the news,” Walker said without preamble, when Gaby picked up and put the phone on speaker. “He’s a Greyhound bus driver. Said he picked up a corrections officer during his day route. Dropped him off near Greensboro. Said he thought it was a little weird at the time, why an officer was taking the bus, but only realized how weird it was when he read the news later and saw that a riot was on.”

“Bus route makes sense,” Joss frowned. “If the Russian ditched the Range Rover-“

“Beggin’ yo’ pardon, Agent Teller, but the bus driver said it definitely wasn’t no blonde tall guy,” Walker interrupted. “It was an older guy. Late forties, maybe early fifties. Black hair. Cold eyes. I showed him that photo that you got on file and he said that was it. It’s Shevchenko. He’s alive.”

“He got away?” Gaby asked, surprised.

Joss chuckled. “Old Russian agents. Can’t beat them for bein’ wily. Better put an APB on him. We’re gonna have to catch up to him before the assassin does.”

“Or maybe he killed the Russian. And got away.”

Joss shook her head. “Doubt it. Not with the timing of that weird call we got from Solo. The way I see it, Shevchenko slipped out, or made a run for it somehow. The Russian decided to just go and try again another day. He drives out, forces Solo to call you, then he caps Solo and keeps on goin’ it alone.”

Something about Joss’ theory didn’t sound right, but Gaby shook off her doubts. There was something fiercely self-assured about Agent Joss Henson that Gaby admired. “Okay. Sounds good to me.”

Joss eyed her for a moment. “Look, Teller. We got this far ‘cos of a hunch that you got. Obviously, you got pretty good instincts. So if you get another hunch? Lemme know. I ain’t gonna be precious.”

“There’s just…” Gaby hesitated, then shook her head. “Let’s do it your way for now. I don’t have any other ideas yet.”

VIII.

The trip south was made in silence. Illya was still tense, even though the meeting at the airfield had gone as Napoleon had expected. The little six seater Mooney was a sturdy, small plane, the propeller at its nose thrumming as they cut down over the sea, heading due south. Technically Napoleon was working a favour - cardboard crates filled the rest of the plane, contraband headed towards suppliers in the south, following an approved flight plan paved by bribes.

Napoleon had flown the route before, although in the opposite direction, hopping from Cuba to Virginia and then heading north, a year or so ago. It had been a fun thing then to do, practicing his new piloting skills while getting involved in another aspect of the black market network. Now, his hands felt clammy and his borrowed clothes were already soaked with sweat. The smuggler had assured them that the Range Rover and the officer uniforms would be safely disposed of. Illya hadn’t seemed to care. His face was empty, inscrutable.

They landed in an airfield near Santa Lucia. Napoleon handed over the keys and waited as the ground crew checked the boxes and called Virginia. Then they shook hands all ‘round, and one of the ground crew handed over a set of car keys. The last part of the transaction. Wordlessly, they walked off the airfield, leaving the ground crew to unload the plane, and Napoleon meekly handed the keys over to Illya as they headed into the car park.

No electronic car fob, but it didn’t matter - there was only one car waiting for them in the dirt square that served as the car park, next to a truck that was clearly for the goods. It was a yellow classic ‘50s Chevy, clunky and big, a máquina, as they were locally known. A side-effect of the embargo. Someone had lovingly restored the Chevy, and even polished it, but it was clearly old, and possibly not fully road-worthy. The seats were patched over with quilted squares, and one of the headlights was cracked.

“Now we’re in Cuba,” Napoleon said, as Illya opened the door to the driver’s seat.

“Obviously.”

Napoleon swallowed a sigh. “No CIA agents have burst out of the shrubbery to arrest us. Am I off the hook now?”

Illya turned to study him thoughtfully. “Why do you ask?”

“Maybe here’s where we should part ways. No offence.”

“Where will you go?”

“I’m not sure. Maybe a couple of days in Santa Lucia would do me good. White beaches, big blue ocean, a cold drink.”

Illya smiled at him. It was not particularly a friendly smile. It was a wolf’s smile, prowling around prey. “I have better idea. We drive two hours or so. Get to Havana. SVR has nice safehouse there. I will be in Havana for a while, waiting for instructions.”

“And… I’m meant to be doing what exactly, in this scenario?”

“You once said you were good in the bedroom. Was that true, little jackal?” The wolf was grinning now, teeth bared, amused, so very predatory. “I think we should test that.”

Lust blindsided Napoleon in a crazy, sudden pulse under his skin that made his cheeks grow hot. What the hell? Illya had almost killed Napoleon only hours ago. Napoleon had to be going crazy to even consider it. “Er. Just checking. I’m really off the hook?”

“If you want to go, you can go. But I am keeping car. You can ask them for another one. Or walk to Santa Lucia. Should not take you too long from here.”

Napoleon rubbed a hand slowly over his face. He felt lightheaded, insane. But this was the problem with Illya all along, the reason why Napoleon had been sucked so close that he had, for a moment, near an abandoned gas station, forgotten to watch his own back. There was something about Illya that called to the troublemaker in Napoleon’s soul, like fire to a moth. The tiger’s tail was just temptingly within reach, yet again.

“Havana it is.”

The SVR safehouse was in old Havana, a colonial apartment on a quiet side road between Calle Obispo and Parque Cristo, in a corner building on the second floor, overlooking a perpendicular street in Obispo. It was dusty and sparsely furnished, mostly cheap wicker furniture with gray floor tiles, and the overhanging balcony that Napoleon could see from the entryway was lined with black steel rails. The walls of the entryway were painted white, but the living room beyond was in an alarming shade of sunflower yellow.

Not that Napoleon had the chance to look more closely. The moment Illya closed the door behind them, he had Napoleon pinned to one of the white plaster walls. He smiled as Napoleon froze up, like stunned prey, then Illya was kissing him, demandingly, growling as Napoleon tensed up for a moment before kissing him back. Napoleon squeezed his eyes shut and moaned and a thigh shoved up between his legs, long fingers squeezing his ass, and he took the invitation for what it was, riding up against the hard muscle, gasping, begging for more.

“So far not so much different from women,” Illya said, only a little breathlessly, as he nipped down to Napoleon’s throat, sucking a bruise into his skin.

“You’d maul a girl like this?”

Illya chuckled, low and harsh, clenching a hand up over Napoleon’s hip. It would leave a mark. “Depends on what she likes. But usually no. Tell me. How good are you at sucking cock?”

Napoleon shivered, licking suddenly dry lips, then he managed a challenging grin. “Depends. How good are you at holding it in? Because if I’m going to have to go to that kind of trouble,” Napoleon added playfully, “Then I’d rather have it done properly.”

Illya’s eyes blazed for a moment, hotly, then he smiled, that lupine, predatory smile. “On your knees, little jackal.”

Napoleon went. It felt inexorable, and he was lightheaded again, mad with want. His fingers shook against the button of Illya’s borrowed jeans and he groaned as he pulled down the zip. Fear had meshed hotly with desire and Napoleon wasn’t entirely sure what he was doing here, and it was exhilarating to be this off-balance, to be anchored down only by the big hands curled lightly against the back of his head, hands that Napoleon had seen murder a number of people over the past few days, so very casually.

Pulling Illya’s jeans and boxers down, Napoleon got one hand over the thickening cock, wide-eyed. Illya was just as big down there as he was all over, thick and long, bigger than what Napoleon was used to. He wet his lips, all tense anticipation, then when Illya’s hands tightened lightly in his hair, Napoleon bent to it, licking a wet stripe up the vein, then obligingly taking the cap into his mouth when hands tightened warningly further. He wasn’t that out of practice. It took a moment to control his gag reflex, then Napoleon was tucking his lips over his teeth and choking down all that he could, easing into it, his jaw aching as he took Illya all the way in, heavy on his tongue.

Illya was chuckling, his voice going husky, guttural, “Look at that. All the way. Clever little jackal.” One of the big hands against Napoleon’s head fell away, curling against the wall, while the other threaded through his hair as Napoleon moaned, flushing. “If the others had known that you could do this you would have been very busy in prison,” Illya groaned, as Napoleon started to suck, eager, sloppy, closing his eyes. “Is that what you want? To be ‘done’ properly?” His hips twitched forward, and Napoleon choked, then muffled a whine, and he heard Illya chuckle again, all low, hard coughs, thighs pressing against Napoleon’s shoulders. “I think I am glad that I did not kill you after all.”

Napoleon moaned, desperation humming tightly close to his skin, scrabbling to hold on to Illya’s hips as Illya started to move, carefully at first, but when Napoleon merely whined and relaxed further and tugged at him he started to thrust, the grip on Napoleon’s skull turning to iron, forcing Napoleon onto his cock with each shove down his throat. It was brutal and his jaw was starting to hurt and Napoleon was fighting his gag reflex again, tears in his eyes, and he could hear the eager urgent whines that he was pressing into the flesh in his mouth, throat convulsing over the thick cap spreading him open. This was going to tear his voice raw and Napoleon didn’t care; it had been a while since someone had held him down and made him take it like this, taken control, and Gods did his own cock ache.

Craving relief, Napoleon reached blindly down for his own jeans and heard Illya laugh again, a black breed of savage humour, and he should have expected it, but the moment he freed his own cock Illya’s hand tightened over the back of his neck. “Don’t touch yourself and don’t come,” Illya told him, and chuckled as Napoleon whined in protest, pleadingly. “Soon, my little jackal.”

It wasn’t ‘soon’ by any means of the word. Illya slowed, sometimes, whenever he himself was getting close, growling when Napoleon made a grumbling sound. Once he pulled out entirely and made Napoleon lick after him, lap at the cap and tongue the foreskin before shoving back down Napoleon’s throat. Another time, as Illya’s breathing edged higher, closer to orgasm, he simply stopped, holding Napoleon to him, buried deep down Napoleon’s throat, letting out a rumbling satisfied groan as Napoleon whimpered and scrabbled blindly at Illya’s knees. It was the longest blowjob Napoleon had ever had to give and he had no control over it; his knees hurt and his cheeks were wet with tears and still he was not allowed to come, his cock already leaking onto the gray tiles.

The next time that Illya was close, he pulled Napoleon off again, and Napoleon let out a broken sound, a hoarse sob, dazed. He didn’t fight it, and he heard Illya whisper something, in Russian, perhaps, or deeper, in the primal consonant tongue of lust, a groan. He was stroking himself off, roughly, and at Napoleon’s unhappy whine Illya started to laugh again, hoarse and low, and Napoleon blinked dumbly as a hot spurt of thick fluid painted a filthy line for his cheek to his jaw, his throat, before Illya caught the rest in his palm, gasping. He leaned back against the wall, catching his breath, then chuckled as Napoleon nosed forward, to lick Illya’s soiled hand clean. A thumb smeared come over Napoleon’s cheek and pressed briefly into his mouth, and Napoleon rasped his teeth greedily over the calluses on the pad.

“Hmm.” Illya hummed, straightening up. “I told you not to come.”

Napoleon blinked, and looked down. He hadn’t even realized. He started to say something in his defense, and let out a croak instead, coughing. Long fingers caught his jaw and tipped his chin up, almost tenderly.

“Something to work on, I think,” said the wolf, and when he smiled, Napoleon gasped and licked his lips.

Chapter Text

Illya.

Illya was quietly building a shortwave radio from parts that he had salvaged out of electronics purchased at a couple of pawn stores down the block when he heard Napoleon stir in the bedroom. He got up, leaving the guts of the radio behind, and padded quietly out of the small living room, barefoot. The bedroom had a couple of windows with blue slats that looked out over the quiet street, sunlight painting two bars over the bed. Napoleon was curled naked under the soiled sheets, yawning, and despite the open windows the room smelled of sex and sweat. Illya smiled.

Napoleon squinted at the window. “Good Gods. What time is it?” His voice was still hoarse.

“Probably closer to lunch. I have bought food.” Illya added, though he sat on the edge of the bed and pulled the sheets down, baring the sleek line of Napoleon’s thighs. Napoleon chuckled as Illya rolled him over onto his front, then gasped as Illya pressed a thumb deliberately over his puffy, pink hole, still wet from lube.

“Again? You’re insatiable,” Napoleon breathed, as Illya toed off his shoes and started on his belt.

“Trying new things.” Illya stepped out of his jeans and boxers and unbuttoned his shirt, but didn’t shrug it off, getting onto the bed. Napoleon grinned slyly at him, cheek pressed to the pillows. Pressed to the sheets, Napoleon’s cock was getting hard, and he watched avidly as Illya tore open a new condom packet and rolled it on, lubing up.

“Sore?” Illya asked, as he started to push in. Napoleon was still loose, and Illya’s cock slid in far more easily than it had the night before, though when Napoleon purred and clenched down, the friction caught and grew gritty.

“Mm. Bit late to ask, isn’t it?”

“I was going to fuck you anyway,” Illya conceded, nipping at the back of Napoleon’s neck. “But whether it is fast or slow…”

“Probably… best to take it easy for now,” Napoleon said, wincing a little as Illya pushed in all the way to the hilt, balls pressed against Napoleon’s flesh, and Napoleon started to chuckle again, even as he braced himself against the wooden headboard and the side of the bed, spreading his thighs wider, arching up. “Somehow I really didn’t think… ngh… that this was what I was really going to do all the time in Havana.”

“Seems efficient,” Illya pointed out, as he started to rock gently into the eager body beneath him, holding Napoleon up easily by the hips. “I was thinking maybe it does not only have to be Havana.”

Napoleon groaned, bucking back against Illya, closing his eyes. “Probably not a good time for this conversation,” he said breathlessly.

“Oh?” Illya asked, amused. “Seems relevant.” He ground deeper, just to hear Napoleon gasp. This was good too, even slow, to have Napoleon like this, bared to Illya’s hunger and vulnerable.

“I don’t know if - ohGod - an SVR agent really, ah, earns enough to have, what would you call it, a kept man in Moscow,” Napoleon drawled breathlessly. “Besides. Isn’t it illegal over there?”

“Not illegal. But very… complicated.”

“Pretty sure you’re using an euphemism there.”

“I know,” Illya said seriously, and kissed the back of Napoleon’s neck again. “I do not actually spend that much time in Moscow. And I will not be staying for long in Havana. But I would like to go somewhere where we could both get reliably tested.”

“Why’s that?” Napoleon asked, though he was grinning again, wickedly. The little jackal had enough wildness to spare, enough mischief.

“I want to fuck you without a condom,” Illya bit down, harder, on a fresh spot on Napoleon’s sweat-sheened shoulders, marking him. “Fill you up. Keep you wet all the time.”

Napoleon flushed, with a low moan that Illya was pressed low enough over the arch of Napoleon’s back to feel. “That’s… Illya… I-“

“Finally that silver tongue is broken. I like that.” Illya bit Napoleon again, on his other shoulder, and Napoleon whimpered, ducking his head, submitting. The wolf within rumbled its satisfaction and Illya bared his teeth, scraping a line down Napoleon’s spine and back up again.

“I…” Napoleon whined, then he thrust his hips back, fingers curling into the sheets. “Fuck. Fuck me harder.”

“You are sore.”

“I know.” Napoleon shivered. “I don’t care anymore.”

“Good,” Illya growled, up next to Napoleon’s ear, and smiled as Napoleon trembled again. Then he reared up and pulled Napoleon’s hips higher and Napoleon buried his mouth in the pillow to stifle his yell as Illya shoved roughly deep. When Illya was savage like this pleasure seemed brighter, a heady sort of unfocused intoxication shot through with bloodlust, fingers clawed into Napoleon’s flesh, breathing in gasps and growls.

This was not the little jackal just submitting after all. Napoleon was worming his way under Illya’s skin, cleaving closer with every breath; he might be baring his throat to Illya but it was a baited gift, this offer, one that Illya could not help but take. They were, in a way, one and the same and yet apart. The wildness in Napoleon was what called to the black beast that slept in Illya’s blood.

As though Napoleon had heard, he began to laugh, hoarse gasps punctuating the staccato thumping of the headboard against the battered wall. Napoleon was close, so close; Illya could feel his body tightening up, his breathing going shallow, and Illya curled his hand under Napoleon’s belly, tugging roughly at his cock until he spent himself with another shout muffled into the pillows. Illya slowed down, riding it out, sucking a reddened mark onto Napoleon’s back, then kissing it, salt on his tongue, as Napoleon moaned, breathless and lazy, all unfocused satiation. Then it was Illya’s turn to moan, as Napoleon clenched down and tipped up his hips to take Illya deeper, still with that unselfconscious eagerness, and that was enough for Illya give in, to shudder out his own release.

By the time Illya tied off and disposed of the soiled condom, Napoleon had managed, rather shakily, to get to the shower, where he leaned on the blue tiles and soaped down, grinning as Illya leaned a shoulder against the door to the bathroom and watched, already fully dressed. The little jackal, proud of itself again.

“Maybe there’s something to your offer,” Napoleon made a show of conceding.

“Do tell.”

“You could keep doing what you do and I could keep doing what I do,” Napoleon was testing out the idea, out aloud. “Isn’t that what people normally do?”

Illya had not known what was ‘normal’ for people for years. He knew that Napoleon was likely the same. “Maybe.” It seemed like a better proposition. If a riskier one. But to keep the jackal by his side, Illya knew that he could not try to pull its teeth, or it would run from him, away and into the dark. “I will keep working for my country and you can keep being a small time thief.”

Napoleon sputtered, outraged, then he glared as Illya started to laugh. He wandered back to the living room and to the guts of his radio, and had assembled it from heart by the time Napoleon reappeared in a new white shirt and gray jeans, also barefoot. The clothes fit well, at least. Illya motioned at the sandwiches on the other end of the table and Napoleon nodded, limping over to the kitchen to get a glass of water from the kettle.

“What are you building?”

“Shortwave radio.”

“That’s an interesting hobby.”

Illya sniffed. “Shortwave radio is how I get instructions. Encrypted message. Complete anonymity. Luxury in modern world.” He switched the completed radio on, and tuned it to a frequency that spat and crackled with what sounded to the untrained ear like common static. Now he could only wait.

“That… doesn’t sound right,” Napoleon said dubiously. “Does it?”

“Not yet the right time.” Illya cleared away the debris and moved the radio closer to the window. Then as Napoleon limped over to sit gingerly down at the small desk, by the wrapped sandwiches, Illya brought out his other purchase, a small box, the wood on the top stained in black and white squares.

“Sooner or later you’re going to get bored of kicking my ass,” Napoleon told him, though he obligingly helped Illya set up even with a sandwich in one hand.

“Never.”

Gaby.

Shevchenko fled west, and then south. They nearly caught up with him in Tennessee, and got closer yet in Louisiana. Gaby could see what Joss had meant about ‘wily’. Shevchenko was giving them a masterclass in evading the radar, even in a modern world where Gaby was, through the NSA, linked up to just about every surveillance network out there. He was heading towards the Mexican border.

“Doesn’t matter,” Joss said, when Gaby pointed this out, as they spent the night in a bed and breakfast in Beaumont. “If he jumps south there, then I can take over.”

Gaby scowled, disappointed. She was sitting cross-legged on her bed, her laptop on her knees. “Still no sign of the Russian - whoever he is.”

“He’s not on the usual lists of assassins for hire that we got.”

“Meaning he’s someone new?”

“You saw how he moved. He ain’t new at the game. Young as he looks.” Joss pursed her lips. “I got another theory about that one. But we can’t prove it.”

“What is it?”

“Call it a suspicious mind,” Joss said finally. “But I can’t really see a guy who’s careful to kill three people and stage it like accidents, and then check himself into prison and wait six months for an opportunity just… spend it on a grand move like this and not have plans to get results.”

Gaby nodded slowly. She had been thinking about that. “Too many variables.”

“If it was me, and I wanted to whack some old man in his cell? I would’ve just unlocked the CIA door down to his section, not the final one up top. The Warden card was good enough for that. He could’ve kept him in that general area and gone in an’ whacked him, then come out nobody the wiser.”

“And the other missing cars have all been found,” Gaby added. “Other than the Range Rover.”

“An’ he definitely didn’t get the better of the Russian in that area before escaping,” Joss nodded. “So I been thinking. I’ve sent word back to Langley. We’re going to go through all the information that Shevchenko gave us with a fine comb.”

“You think he was planted?” Gaby frowned. “It was a rescue mission? Not an attempted assassination?”

“It’s a possibility,” Joss conceded. “It’s bad news. That means two SVR agents on the loose on home soil. Both of them stone cold killers. Pretty much Sanders’ worst nightmare.”

“Well,” Gaby said firmly, “We’re getting closer to Shevchenko every day. When we find him, maybe we’ll get some answers.”

“Just wonderin’ whether we should be watching our backs,” Joss said pensively, as she turned over in her bed, staring out of the window. “Y’know,” she added. “You’re not half bad, rookie.”

“Thanks,” Gaby said dryly.

“If you ever wanna see the world, do something else? Lemme know.”

Gaby laughed. “Thanks. But I think my boss is probably nicer than yours. Just saying.” As she curled up, getting ready to sleep, her phone went off.

It was Waverly, probably checking in. The entire matter of Shevchenko and the Russian had given Waverly a sort of neurotic complex of trust issues after all. As Gaby groaned, Joss smirked. “Think about it.”

Pablo And Friends.

“Got an email,” Pablo said, as he lay on the beach next to Joey, the both of them toasting gently under the Mexican sun in Cancún. “Interpol says he’s O-K. Hoped we got out fine and all that.”

“Told you he would be okay,” Joey said, without opening his eyes. “He got away from the Russian?”

“Didn’t say.” Pablo admitted, loopy and comfortable. “You know dawg. I think maybe we need to rethink our life priorities.”

“Say what?”

“Y’know I been doing the good stuff on the beach, at that quiet corner where the yellow palm is, two weeks I didn’t know my name, making friends wit’ this long haired sunburned dude-“

Joey frowned. “The guy you thought was Jesus but turned out to be some Harvard professor?”

“-well yeah, and we talked y’know, philosophy and Gödel’s theorem and shit, I think it changed my life,” Pablo said, very seriously.

“Oh yeah? What was it about?”

“I don’t remember. But it was about logic and it was profound, dawg. Something about how you can’t ever prove shit.” Pablo said reverently. “I think we should go into legit business. We could make money and then spend the rest of our lives sitting on a mountain, meditatin’ about the meaning of life.”

“… okay,” Joey actually blinked. “But what kinda business you wanna do, man? We barely passed high school. We didn’t go to college. We can’t head back to the USA. All my entrepreneurial experience comes from dealin’ drugs. And you’re a forger.”

“Yeah dawg. I was thinking. What kinda business nowadays will work with all of our current skillsets? How do we monetize lyin’ through our teeth while making a shitload of legit money? And it hit me, dawg. It hit me when I was on that beach with the professor I thought was Jesus but was really a very educated hobo. It hit me.”

“So what are we gonna do?”

Pablo hooked himself up onto his elbows, and stared out pensively over the brilliant blue sea. “Joey, we’re gonna go into advertising.”

Napoleon.

Prague was lovely in the springtime. Napoleon had his hands in the pockets of his white coat, admiring a set of small paintings from a street vendor on Charles Bridge. The paintings were amateurish compared to the sort of work that Napoleon generally liked to steal, but the colours were vibrant and there was an energy to one that he particularly liked. So he paid, and as he headed away from the vendor to the next stall, long fingers plucked the brown paper packet from his hands.

Illya glanced at the painting as they walked, sniffed, then wrapped it back in the packet and handed it back over. “You? Buying painting? World is ending.”

“There’s not much sport to robbing a street vendor, is there?” Napoleon pointed out facetiously.

“I thought you would be in the National Gallery,” Illya said, with a sharp little smile. “Monets and Van Goghs, a room full of Picasso paintings-“

You said to keep a low profile,” Napoleon pointed out. “Because you were busy with some ‘very delicate business’, I do recall.”

Illya shrugged. “Buying painting of Lady Liberty. Strange.”

“It’s pretty good.”

Illya shot Napoleon a sidelong glance. “You miss home?” The question was blunt, typically Illya.

“Not at all. Though did you know - there’s an inscription on her pedestal. A poem by Emma Lazarus. Part of it goes:

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles.

The painting just made me a little nostalgic. That’s all.” After all, Napoleon himself was now effectively an exile, from his own country.

“Mother of Exiles,” Illya repeated, and now his smile was a faint ghost. “Yours is a country that loves its irony. Do you believe in a greater power?”

Illya was in a strange mood again. “I suppose I’m more accurately an agnostic. I can’t really prove whether there is or isn’t anything out there. Why? What about you?”

“I think I’ve seen enough of the worst of the world to know that it doesn’t matter,” Illya said brusquely. “But churches have power, in your country and mine. It is said that it will be very difficult for someone not of some sort of Christian faith to be an American President.”

“Oh yes. We’ve got a whole party full of the specific faithful, and all that. Both parties, technically. I think there’s only one Muslim guy and he’s a Democrat. Naturally.”

“And yet they major on the minor things. The New Testament’s focus is on healing the sick and helping the poor. The rest,” Illya shrugged. “I do not like hypocrisy,” he said finally.

“We’re very much into the golden calf, us capitalists,” Napoleon said facetiously, and tried a grin. “If I could, I would probably steal it.”

“You? I’ve seen you turn your nose up at things that you think are ‘gaudy’.”

“Well,” Napoleon pretended to give this some thought, “Maybe if it was made by Barye.” He studied Illya closely, when Illya didn’t laugh. “You’re in an odd mood.”

To Napoleon’s amusement and surprise, Illya eyed him for a moment, then curled an arm around his waist. Some tourists glanced at them both, in surprise, but most passers-by ignored them, unconcerned. “I met you a year ago today.”

“In prison,” Napoleon noted, his grin widening. “Fancy that. And I’m pretty sure it was too dark for me to see anything.”

“You are ruining the moment,” Illya told him, though he smiled, and although there was no humour in it there was something of warmth in its possessiveness, and Illya’s hand crept further to press lightly over Napoleon’s hip, where their play the night before had left a crescent of bruises. Napoleon pushed lightly into Illya’s grip, and smirked as Illya’s gaze darkened visibly.

“How’s your business going in Prague?” Napoleon inquired.

“Concluded for now. Things are on stand by.”

“Do we need to flee the country?”

“Mm. Probably not yet.”

“Let’s go to the National Gallery then. I haven’t been there before. Then perhaps the Alcron, for dinner.”

“This is how people can find you,” Illya drawled, though he brushed a kiss against Napoleon’s temple. “You have habits. Like a cat.”

Napoleon sighed, all playful, mock exasperation. “What do you suggest then? If you want to celebrate an anniversary?”

“Mm.” The wolf was awake, rumbling against Napoleon’s flank, thinking. Play, for the wolf, was rooted forever in the hunt. “I think we should go to the gallery. Take a look. Then we have a light dinner. After that, maybe we go back to gallery,” Illya said, with a sharp smile. “‘Re-acquire’ a Monet.”

“Why, Illya. I’m shocked,” Napoleon said, and surprise was an unfolding curl of warmth and startled pleasure. “What happened to keeping a low profile?”

“That was before.” Illya’s kiss pressed lower, seemingly with a lover’s casual tenderness, though Napoleon felt a faint, promising rasp of teeth against his jaw before Illya leaned back. “Well?”

“Glad to see,” Napoleon said dryly, “That I’ve finally pulled you down to my level. ‘Small time thievery’, was it?”

Illya shrugged. “You probably got caught before because you were sloppy,” he said, and smirked at Napoleon’s indignant glare. He was still smirking as Napoleon, growling, pulled Illya down to kiss him, on the back of a bridge built over six centuries ago, still standing defiantly against time. Then Illya drew away for breath, and the wolf was in his eyes. Waiting.

“I normally work alone,” Napoleon noted, and he felt Illya chuckle, pressed against him, noiseless and hungry, a slow tidal rumble, richly intimate. “But I think - today, I’ll make an exception. Just for you.”

“Lucky me,” said Illya, and there was an odd soberness to his words, without the playfulness that Napoleon had been expecting; a defiance of Illya’s own, against circumstance, against time. Napoleon smiled. How else could he answer but in kind?

“To luck,” Napoleon whispered, and nuzzled Illya’s jaw, then brushed his lips lower, and lower yet, as Illya’s chin tipped up without a thought, to bare his throat.