The sounds of clinking silverware fill up the tiny house they’ll be staying in for the night, a rather ramshackle affair just on the edge of the city with chipped shutters and aging lace curtains in the kitchen window. Napoleon has been busy for the last hour moving between the small stovetop and the counters, handling knives and vegetables and cuts of beef like he was born to be a chef and not a spy. A game of chess is diversion enough, but he finds himself stealing glances when he can, unable to completely ignore the spectacle.
Now, however, he’s finding himself even more easily distracted. Because Napoleon is no longer in the kitchen, no longer humming under his breath as he chops and stirs and sautés. Instead, he is out at the table where four plates have been neatly set and three people have sat down for their meal. The one missing being Illya himself.
Napoleon spares him a curious glance and Gaby eyes him from over her plate, but it’s the third person who has Illya’s full attention. Because as much as Illya hates to admit, he’s become too used to the idea of Three. Occasionally two, he has no problem with that. But now there is four and he finds the picture very, very unpleasing, especially when the unwanted addition is seated at the table and mindlessly eating Napoleon’s carefully constructed meal like it’s something from a street cafe.
Their mission had been simple enough but a fourth man had been required for proper execution, something none of them had been entirely happy with but resigned to nonetheless. Working alongside the man, Illya hadn’t spared much thought towards him, negative or otherwise, but now he can’t stop the anger thrumming just beneath his skin.
Finally, the man realizes he’s being watched and glances up, meeting Illya’s eyes and noticeably freezing, fork halfway to his mouth. Illya’s lip twitches up in annoyance. This man, this supposed agent, is an even more terrible spy than he thought. He tells himself that’s why he’s so upset.
(Not because the man obviously doesn’t know what he’s being allowed to take part in.)
And of course Illya realizes it would be foolish for Napoleon to cook for the usual three and leave the new agent out, but it doesn’t stop him from glowering as if he’s been personally offended. He realizes after a few minutes that he’s not going to be joining the others at the table, not while the other agent is there, not while his hands are so unnecessarily close to shaking.
Napoleon’s laughing lightly at something Gaby’s said, dark hair perfectly slicked into place and eyes sparkling the way they do after a successful mission, apparently not concerned at all about his partner’s absence. Illya feels something twinge in his chest.
Standing abruptly, he turns and heads for the stairs, taking them two at a time and ducking into his room for the night, shutting the door solidly behind him. He can hear that the others have gone silent below and listens closely until the sound of cutlery and low conversation continues.
It’s so trivial, so inconsequential, yet somehow the simple sight of someone else at their table was enough to send Illya away. Now he would be the one without any dinner when it was the other who didn’t belong.
With a frustrated growl he rubs his hands over his face and pulls off his cap, tossing it onto the dresser before sitting on the edge of the bed.
“Почему?”, he huffs in frustration-- at himself, at the others. (At Napoleon, for being so infuriating that even something like this managed to get under Illya’s skin.) He doesn’t understand it.
There are footsteps on the stairs and he opens his mouth to turn whoever it is away, but before he has a chance the door swings open. No knocking, no hesitation, and Illya would be more upset at Napoleon’s easy grin if his untouched dinner plate wasn’t being deposited on the dresser with Napoleon’s usual taste for the dramatic.
“I would be offended if I didn’t know you better, Peril,” Napoleon says, that infuriating half-smile still on his face, one hand going to his lapel like this is a gala and he’s trying to impress a mark. Illya fights the urge to shove him. “I’ll leave the dishes to you, then, and when you bring yours down you can do ours as well. Room service does come at a cost, after all. Don’t worry, I won’t ask for a tip.”
Illya wonders how easy it would be to kill him.
The food is delicious though, so when he quietly makes his way downstairs in the dead of night and sees Napoleon asleep on the couch, he decides not to take the opportunity. And if he hears Napoleon give a little start when he tosses a blanket over the top of him, he definitely doesn’t retreat back up the stairs. He walks with a purpose. Because he has more important things to do then watch the sleepy way Napoleon settles back into the cushions.
“--and I told my uncle about the proposal for a new restaurant, but, well… He feels that the culinary arts are a poor investment. Chefs too expensive, clientele too limited. It’s a shame, really.”
There’s a careful pause and then the sound of a wine glass being set back on the table. “And I suppose that’s where you’d like me to come in, Mr. Holdman?”
“Well,” Napoleon laughs, the perfect mixture of confident and abashed. “If you’d like to be upfront about it, then yes. I would very much like to gain your support on this.”
Illya sits in a room a few doors over and one floor up, listening carefully in on the conversation in case something should go wrong. The mark is an elderly woman this time, elegant and poised exterior masking one of the leading members of an organization that smuggles precious artifacts in and out of countries for personal collections. Not very dangerous, as far as their usual missions go, but there’s rumors that one of her fellow members is Henry Goldbloom, drug salesman and undercover weapons dealer extraordinaire. They only need information on his whereabouts, possible bank accounts or accomplices, anything they can find. Which is why Napoleon is currently charming her with a full course dinner while Gaby flirts her way past the guards at Ms. Merriweather’s estate. By the end of the night they should have what they need and be on their way out of the country.
A fairly simple mission. Practically a day off.
Yet Illya sits ramrod straight in his chair with a bitter taste in his mouth, glaring at the transmission device sitting on the table in front of him. The same anger he’d felt back at the safehouse weeks ago is returning now, directed this time at their unfortunate mark rather than the intruding agent.
“Well,” Ms. Merriweather finally says. Illya can only imagine the look on her face, probably something not entirely grateful enough for the privilege she’s getting. “I suppose something might be arranged, if the main course proves to be as well done as the soup and salad.”
“And don’t forget about dessert,” Napoleon says, voice low and intimate, like he’s leaning entirely too close to exchange used dishes for ones that he’s expertly plated.
Ms. Merriweather titters and begins the main meal. Illya refrains from punching a hole through the wall.
“Handmade ravioli in a white wine butter sauce, I hope you find it to your liking.”
“Handmade?” She asks, surprise and respect coloring the word. “You certainly wanted to make an impression, didn’t you Mr. Holdman?”
“Please, call me David,” Napoleon says. The compliment is brushed aside easily and an intimacy established. As much as it irritates him, Illya has to admit Napoleon is far better at these kinds of missions than he could ever be. Too much subtlety, too many mind games. He prefers action out of view over the careful maneuvering Napoleon does in plain sight.
He also prefers not dealing with their marks directly. And he wishes Napoleon were able to do the same. Talking, questioning, those he can accept. But Napoleon is asked to give far more. To give of his body, of himself, and Illya can only sit in his hotel room and listen as Napoleon describes the preparation and decisions behind each dish, sharing this important piece of himself with someone who doesn’t even know his real name. Will be in and out of his life like without a trace.
When Napoleon leaves for their rendezvous point Illya stands and stretches out his cramped muscles, paces around the room a few times before hastily packing and heading out into the bustling city streets. The air is cool and slightly clouded with smog but he isn’t deterred, takes his time walking along the streets, looking at buildings, letting some of the anger drain away before finally pushing open the door to the cafe where they will be picked up in less than half an hour. Gaby and Napoleon both look up at him expectantly.
“Trouble with the directions, dear?” Gaby asks, thick, syrupy sweetness a cover for the worry Illya can easily see in her eyes. He’s kept them waiting.
Napoleon crosses his legs carefully, leans back to look up into Illya’s stony expression. “Now Millie, I’m sure your fiancé here has his reasons. Was it one of the cabs, get stuck in traffic?”
Illya forces a grimacing smile, answers short and clipped. “No traffic. The city is beautiful, wanted to see as much as possible before leaving.”
“Ah, well there you go,” Napoleon nods graciously in Illya’s direction, eyes teasing when he turns to Gaby. “Who knew you’d find such a romantic?”
“Who knew indeed.”
Illya sits stiffly beside them at the table, briefcase set at his feet and cap laid on his upper thigh. “We still leave tonight, yes? Your father is coming here?”
“That’s right, darling,” Gaby places one hand at his wrist. “He should be here very soon, in fact. It’s a good thing you’ve shown up now or you might’ve been left behind.”
Illya ignores the jab and glares at the tiny cups and saucers in front of him, not caring to look either of his companions in the eyes when he still feels like he’s showing too much of his discomfort. His confusion is his to decipher, not for them to tease and pick apart.
The minutes pass slowly and Illya refuses the suggestion that he order some dinner, the very idea of it making him grimace. He’s certain anything this small establishment could produce would be like sawdust compared to what Napoleon had prepared earlier. He’ll wait until he’s back in his apartment with his own bread and his own butter. At least then he can eat sawdust without worrying about poison or subterfuge.
But sometime around midnight when they’re high over the Atlantic Illya wakes to the smell of something warm and decadent right beneath his nose. He blinks the sleep from his eyes and looks down at the seat beside him, empty save for a steaming plate of ravioli and a smaller dish with panna cotta and raspberry sauce. Hair slightly ruffled, Napoleon appears to be sleeping a few aisles back, but the pattern of his breathing isn’t quite the slow, measured pace that Illya knows from sharing missions and safehouses and many things in between.
There’s a small note tucked under the panna cotta dish and Illya reads it carefully in the dim light of the cabin, un-amused scowl twisting his mouth at the corners at what he finds. It’s a drawing of a bear, presumably himself judging by the cap on its head, lying on its back and holding its stomach with a sign in front of it that reads “Do not Feed the Animals”. He’s about to crush the crude thing in his fist when he catches something on the back, a message written in Napoleon’s looping scrawl.
It’s a good thing I’ve never excelled at following the rules.
Illya lets out a huff, anger draining from him and something else rushing in instead, something warm and slightly unfamiliar and it scares him with the possibilities. He shoves the note into his coat pocket and finishes the dessert, stacking the dishes together when he’s done and wondering where in the world Napoleon had gotten them from in the first place, how he’d gotten them into Illya’s space without waking him up.
Something about his subconscious trusting Napoleon so implicitly irks Illya and he leans back in his chair to brood the rest of the way home. When the plane touches down, he’s out the door and walking across the tarmac before the other two can make a move to stop him. His apartment holds the promise of peace and quiet...and time to reflect on the treachery his own mind seems intent on carrying out.
He misses the curious, wistful look Napoleon gives his empty seat and the way it gets slightly brighter when he sees the used dishes. He misses the curious, questioning look Napoleon and Gaby share.
“Che vuole questa musica stasera, che mi riporta un poco del passato, la luna ci teneva compagnia, io ti sentivo mia, soltanto mia, soltanto mia.”
Napoleon is singing in the kitchen, keeping time with the melody as he mixes crisco and flour and salt. There’s a small girl sitting on the countertop, scuffed shoes tapping against the cupboards and cheeks flushed as she watches Napoleon with wide, delighted eyes. She’s an unfortunate and unforeseen variable in their latest assignment, the daughter of a now very much deceased nuclear scientist. They’d stumbled across her on their way out of the burning building and, not seeing any other options, had brought her back to the safehouse.
“You did what?” Gaby demands, voice rising in pitch but staying at a whisper.
Napoleon skirts past her and sets the little girl down on a chair in the living room, patting her head once before murmuring something in Italian that Illya can’t quite catch. But the girl nods, tiny teardrops still glistening in the corners of her eyes, and stays put as Napoleon makes his way back to where Illya and Gaby are still standing in the entryway.
“There was no other option,” Napoleon says. “I’m sure Waverly can find a place for her.” He seems completely nonplussed about the entire affair and that only makes Gaby’s eyes grow wider.
“Not in the middle of the night!” she shakes her head and walks over to the phone, dialing their secure line and relaying the story to Waverly in clipped phrases. “I understand,” she finally says, reattaching the receiver before turning to glare at Napoleon and Illya. “Someone will come get her after breakfast.”
Illya remains silent at Napoleon’s side, not sure where he stands in this argument. He knows that Napoleon is right and they could not leave the girl to die, but he also understands Gaby’s frustration. They are not equipped to deal with a child.
“I will not play nanny,” Gaby continues. “You brought her here, you are responsible.” With that, she walks up the stairs, bedroom door shutting resolutely behind her. Illya thinks to go comfort her but realizes she probably needs her space. It had been a tiring day for all of them. Instead, Illya tries to wrack his memory for Russian games, nursery rhymes, anything that could be used to entertain a young child.
But before he has the chance to think of a single one, Napoleon’s across the room kneeling in front of the girl, taking her small hand in his and saying something to make her laugh. She nods silently and lifts her arms, letting Napoleon carry her to the kitchen.
Illya’s sitting at the rickety table between the kitchen and the living room, chess set a plausible distraction in front of him but most of his attention focused on the pair in the other room. Napoleon’s still singing, voice softer as he guides unsure hands. (They’re making a pie and the crust is nearly ready to enter the oven.)
Vorrei tenerti qui vicino a me, adesso che fra noi non c’è più nulla, vorrei sentire ancor le tue parole, quelle parole che non sento più.
The words are deep, tinged with sadness despite the playful way Napoleon sings them. He places the crust in the oven with a flourish and his voice rises in volume. The girl’s face captures Illya’s attention, the way she’s watching the man before her. Enchanted-- That’s the only way Illya can think to describe it.
Suddenly, he isn’t so sure about his place as spectator, feels an urge to stop Napoleon’s theatrics because Napoleon’s cooking is one thing but this is entirely another. This is a part of his partner that even he rarely sees.
Il mondo intorno non esisteva, per la felicità che tu mi davi, che me ne faccio ormai di tutti i giorni miei, se nei miei giorni non ci sei più tu.
Napoleon catches his eye and gives him a wink as he continues to sing. Illya startles, schools his features, is more careful to seem enthralled in his game rather than the man before him. It takes some discipline, but it isn’t impossible and before long Napoleon is repeating verses and the girl is giggling and Illya can mostly tune them out, only allowing himself to look again when he hears the crust come out of the oven.
The filling has been made in the meantime and it’s poured carefully into place. Napoleon holds the bowl and coaches the girl to make sure every drop has made it into the dish. Well, nearly every drop, a few might escape between Napoleon’s lips and the girl’s smiling mouth, all while Illya tries very hard to tear his eyes away.
It’s a unique kind of torture, unique and frustrating just like the flare of anger that burns in his chest as soon as the first slice of pie gets put on a plate and it’s the little girl who gets it. Objectively, Illya knows this plan is brilliant. The girl has been sufficiently distracted for nearly an hour, will hopefully stay distracted for awhile more, and then they will have to pray she sleeps. But she is comfortable with them, or at least with Napoleon, and that should work wonders for keeping the nightmares at bay.
She’s been through an ordeal and Illya knows he shouldn’t feel the way he does, but he can’t help the way his eyes want to narrow when he looks out into the kitchen. “Дурак,” he shakes his head and pushes a pawn forward, resolving not to look again if he can’t stop himself from feeling such foolish emotions.
His determination is worthless, though, when he sees the girl walking timidly his way with a plate held carefully in her small hands. Napoleon is grinning at him from the kitchen. The piece of pie is set carefully on the table near his elbow.
“Grazie,” he mumbles.
The pie is delicious and the girl watches him curiously from the kitchen, visibly less wary of him now. It’s another deliberate move on Napoleon’s part and Illya can’t help but feel like he’s part of a game of chess he hasn’t even been aware he’s playing.
Finally, Napoleon takes the girl upstairs and gets her settled in bed, the house going quiet without the clinking of dishes or Napoleon’s entrancing voice. The stairs creak even under Napoleon’s careful feet and Illya refuses to look up as he passes. Water rushes out of the faucet as Napoleon starts in on the dishes. His voice picks up again.
“Che vuole questa musica stasera, che mi riporta un poco del passato, che mi riporta un poco del tuo amore, che mi riporta un poco di te.”
Quietly, Illya stands and takes his place at Napoleon’s side, drying the dishes Napoleon rinses free of soap. Napoleon grins at him but Illya’s face is still stuck in a glower, each item he dries a reminder of that bitter feeling that lingering in the back of his throat. He hates it not because he can’t understand it, but because he’s beginning to and he’s not sure he likes the answer.
“Che vuole questa musica stasera, che mi riporta un poco del passato, che mi riporta un poco del tuo amore, che mi riporta un poco di te.”
It’s Saturday morning and Illya is already up, sitting with a cup of extraordinarily strong tea and staring out the window at the rising sun. He doesn’t anticipate either Napoleon or Gaby will be up any time soon so he takes his time sipping at the hot liquid, letting it chase away the last remnants of sleep. His thoughts have been turning over in his head since their last mission, a constant grinding of gears that he can’t quite manage to settle. It hadn’t helped that Napoleon had stayed in all night, not going out for his usual galavanting with the local women and instead staying in his and Illya’s shared suite, leaving Illya to wonder why, and then wonder why he even cared. He can hardly look Napoleon in the eye without feeling something squeeze in his chest.
Napoleon is the first to make his way into the shared living area, stepping out of his room as perfectly put together as when he had first entered. A suspiciously unsolicited grin is already on his face as he takes the seat across from Illya and steals his cup. The drink is no doubt more bitter than expected but Napoleon masks his reaction well, simply lifting one eyebrow and setting the now empty cup back on its saucer.
“Rough night?” he asks.
“Night was fine,” Illya grumbles. “You cannot handle Russian tea.”
“I believe I handled it perfectly well, Peril,” Napoleon says, something sparkling in his eyes that Illya is certain he should be wary of. “In fact, I don’t believe there’s anything Russian that I haven’t been able to handle.”
There’s a beat of silence, Illya’s hands twitching on the table before he starts to stand, ready to do something to wipe the look from Napoleon’s face, but a knock on the door snaps him back into focus. Into reality. He turns away from the table without another words and checks the door, opens it to let Gaby in. She opens her mouth to say something then notices the look on his face and turns to Napoleon instead.
“What could you have possibly done this early in the morning?”
“I haven’t the faintest idea of what you’re talking about,” Napoleon’s made himself a drink and he takes a sip from it as Gaby gives Illya a peck on the cheek, turning to narrow her eyes at Napoleon before taking Illya’s former spot at the table.
She looks back over her shoulder and gives Illya another once over, “You’ve definitely done something.” There’s a brush of concern across her features and Illya finds himself grumbling and turning away, finding a spot on the opposite side of the room where he can possibly get some work done in relative peace. It’s moments like those when he remembers the relationship that had nearly bloomed between them, the small spark of affection that had ultimately dwindled back to ash. They quickly realized they were best as partners, friends, and nothing more.
“Regardless, I wanted to let you know about last night.”
“Oh?” Napoleon asks, eyebrow arching as he takes another measured sip. “Did your friend like it then?”
The ‘it’ in question being a chocolate tort and accompanying homemade whipped cream. Needing something for a friend’s birthday, Gaby had asked them for ideas and Napoleon had offered to make the treat. A simple act of goodwill between friends. And somehow, Illya’s hands had clenched when he’d watched Napoleon’s hard work go out the door.
His eye twitches at the reminder, same bitter feeling creeping up his spine.
“She wasn’t too impressed, actually. Thought the cream was too heavy for such a rich dessert. And she said the crust was too dry,” she’s clearly amused at the review. “I told her it was from a corner shop, so that might’ve colored her opinion.”
The pencil in Illya’s grip creaks and snaps.
“Ah, I see,” Napoleon seems relatively unbothered as he takes another drink and replies, “Well, can’t please them all I suppose. Right, Peril?”
Illya’s head jerks up at the mention and he stares between the both of them, cataloguing the matching amusement in both of their expressions. It’s subtle, but it’s there. He feels as if he’s been left out of a joke.
“I am working,” he answers shortly. There’s no reason to continue to entertain them at his own expense.
Napoleon isn’t deterred, and instead keeps his eyes firmly trained on Illya’s face as he says, “Some people just don’t appreciate the effort of homemade food, the technique and thought involved. Maybe I should just keep my abilities for my own enjoyment.”
Illya allows himself to consider that for a moment and finds that he’s not terribly displeased. It would mean he would no longer be able to enjoy the fruits of Napoleon’s labor in the kitchen, but neither would any of the other ungrateful individuals he’s encountered over the past two months. It may very well be a sacrifice he’s willing to make.
“But then, what would be the point in having them in the first place?” Napoleon muses. His eyes are calculating now, amusement replaced by a hint of something else that Illya doesn’t like.
“To waste time and resources on decadence, as is the capitalist way,” Illya retorts, closing his book and standing resolutely, ignoring them both as he crosses the room and shuts his door behind him.
He hears Gaby mutter out in the room, “Well, that settles that I suppose.”
“Maybe,” Napoleon hums. “But our Russian friend has never been quite so simple, has he?”
Illya feels his face go hot, with anger or something else he isn’t sure. Because Napoleon’s voice hadn’t been mocking or condescending, it had been almost...fond.
He shakes his head at the thought, dislodging images of Napoleon speaking to dates and marks and passing fancies with that same sort of voice. It is impossible. But it isn’t unpleasant.
He sits heavily on the bed, “Боже мой.”
Maybe he should ask for a transfer.
Weeks pass before Illya takes any definitive action. He analyzes and considers and dissects every possible angle of the situation, but he always seems to come to the same conclusion. The bitterness in the back of his throat and the tightness in his chest have turned into something much more formidable, less easily ignored. He’s still not certain what he feels but he knows it isn’t right. It is a distraction. It affects his ability to carry out missions objectively. He knows a transfer is the safest, most responsible option and he plans to discuss it with Waverly on Monday.
Which is why he’s on his way to Napoleon’s on a Sunday afternoon. He could certainly leave it to Waverly to give both Napoleon and Gaby the news, but somehow that just doesn’t seem right. It feels cowardly.
So he’s here at Napoleon’s door, listening to footsteps approach from the other side and trying to school his features into something appropriately detached.
“Peril?” Napoleon asks once he sees who’s on the other side, brow furrowing in concern. “Has something happened? Did Waverly-”
“Waverly did not call. I am here on my own business, cowboy,” the nickname slips off his tongue and the warmth it leaves on his lips convinces him that he’s made the right decision. This is no way for partners to behave, to feel.
Napoleon looks at him, obviously trying to parse out what’s going on. “Alright, nothing serious I hope?” He steps to the side and lets Illya into the entryway.
He can smell something cooking on the stove. “No, not serious.” He’s about to continue when he notices the extra set of shoes at the door, the jacket hanging on the wall. A woman’s.
“Ah yes,” Napoleon says, apparently noticing what’s caught Illya’s gaze. “A friend is over for dinner. Unfortunately I wasn’t expecting your company or I would ask you to stay.”
“I did not expect to stay,” Illya’s face is carefully blank as he explains, “I will request transfer tomorrow. Wanted to give warning.”
He steps back towards the door but Napoleon doesn’t let him go, follows him forward and puts a hand on the doorknob, smooth as silk but Illya doesn’t miss the hurt that flickers behind his eyes. “Transfer? Surely your time with Gaby and I hasn’t been so intolerable?”
“It has not.”
“For my own reasons,” is the explanation he choses to give. It’s vague, but he hopes his expression is enough to dissuade further questions.
Napoleon stares at him for what feels like ages, eyes carefully studying every line of his face, every curve of his posture. Illya forces himself to remain still under the scrutiny. Part of him wonders what Napoleon’s date is doing, part of him is pleased that he’s stolen the other man’s attentions. He quickly forces his eyes to the wall behind Napoleon’s head.
“I’ll tell Waverly not to let you go.”
It’s not the response he had been expecting. He hates to admit that it catches him off guard, especially since he is no stranger to Napoleon’s inability to let things go once he has them in his sights. “You cannot do that,” Illya growls. “It is my decision.”
“It’s our team, Peril, or has that escaped you? I believe I’m at least entitled to know why you’re trying to resign.”
Allowing himself a few moments to calm down, Illya comes up with an answer slightly more descriptive but no less vague. “I feel it is best option for all involved.”
“Impossible. There’s no scenario where you leaving is the best option for me. If that’s all you’ve got, then there’s no reason for you to bother Waverly in the morning because I’ll already have convinced him not to listen.” He’s overconfident as usual, eyes bright and cloying, and Illya can still smell whatever he’s got going on the stove. “You can’t resign, Peril, because I won’t let you.”
The twisted truth is that Illya knows he’s right, deep down he knows that if Napoleon is truly against him leaving, looks at him with that same wounded and hopeful expression masked beneath layers of pompous overconfidence, he knows that he’ll fold like a house of cards. It’s too much for him to consider. He can’t stay because he’ll end up hurting them both, yet he can’t leave without incurring the same result.
A hand touches his and he realizes his own have started to shake.
“Peril?” Napoleon asks.
Illya’s eyes are trapped on the image of Napoleon’s hand in his, delicate thief’s fingers that could be so easily crushed in a sudden fit of rage. His hands are still shaking when Napoleon gathers them together and holds them carefully against his chest. Right over his heart. Delicate ribs and lungs and dangerously close to his neck, spine, face, so many ways Illya could damage him forever.
“Peril,” Napoleon says again, one hand on the side of Illya’s face to guide his eyes up. “You can’t leave, not yet. Give it one more month and I promise you’ll have changed your mind. Can you give me that?”
It takes him only a moment to consider before he nods, clearing his throat and trying to regain some of his composure. But he still feels lost, stuck on the edge of his rage, sitting on a knifepoint.
Napoleon steps back and stares at him resolutely, “Wonderful. Now stay put for just a moment longer while I grab something from the kitchen.”
He’s gone just long enough for Illya to start to calm, breaths evening out and hands going still in time for a porcelain dish to be placed in them. The dish is wrapped in a carrying cloth to help keep in the cold and protect his skin from catching a chill, an additional act of kindness that he’s sure he doesn’t deserve. Their fingers brush as he takes it and Napoleon holds his eyes for as long as Illya allows, the air between them thicker than it’s ever been before.
“Cowboy?” He finally asks.
Napoleon gives him an easy smile, relief creeping in at the corners. “Peril?”
“You are certain, one month?”
“I’d dare say less than that,” Napoleon’s fingers trace over the backs of Illya’s knuckles as he pulls away. “If it all goes correctly, you’ll be seeing the error of your ways as early as next week. And be careful with that tiramisu, I made it for you this morning.”
Illya feels like his entire being is slightly off balance so he merely nods and mumbles something along the lines of a promise, slipping out the door and heading on his way home with a dish in his hands and the ghost of Napoleon’s hands against his fingers. Somehow, he can’t make himself regret it.
A month passes and true to Napoleon’s word, Illya no longer has any plans of leaving. It had taken slightly more than a week, but only because they’d been called on a mission early Tuesday morning and been up to their elbows in some kind of illegal medical testing ring. Not ideal for what Napoleon had had in mind, which was to invite Illya over, make him dinner, then casually mention he had decided to stop cooking for anyone else (unless the situation was truly dire). The given reason was that no one else could appreciate his culinary abilities the same, but the look in his eyes had said something entirely different, something much more teasing and fond.
They had eaten dessert with their feet just barely touching beneath the table, Napoleon casually knocking them together and Illya deciding not to pull away. Napoleon’s fingers had brushed across his temple when they said goodbye.
Something had changed between them that night and Illya hadn’t been entirely certain of how to face it. For months he had agonized over what he was feeling, had denied himself any possibility once he had realized the treachery of his emotions, but now he’s beginning to let himself hope, to trust Napoleon with his heart the same way he trusts him with his life. It’s not been an easy process but they’re both learning. Taking it slow.
He’s sitting at Napoleon’s table now and watching as the other man cooks, moving around the kitchen like a performer on stage, ease and confidence and an energy that says he knows he’s being watched. It’s not until Illya sees him turn down the heat on the stove that he stands and joins him, as close to his side and the stove as he dares. Whatever Napoleon is making it’s supposed to be a surprise and he’s curious to know what it is. (He’s been threatened with knives should he try to look before Napoleon has finished.)
It’s a testament to how much trust there is between them when Napoleon asks him to close his eyes and he does so easily, other senses still alert but not on edge. “Alright, now you’ll need to open up. And I do know that you’re perfectly capable of feeding yourself but I want you to taste it before you see it, so we’re going to do it my way.”
Illya rolls his eyes beneath his eyelids and does as he’s told, one hand coming up to help with the angle of the spoon as he takes his first bite. His eyes immediately open in surprise.
“Well?” Napoleon asks. “Did I get it right?”
It’s borscht- beef, cabbage, carrots, potatoes, onion and beets. He hasn’t had any since he left Russia over a year ago, not having the heart to try whatever the Americans could come up with and not seeing many establishments willing to sell the ‘communist’ dish regardless. But Napoleon has made it. Has managed to get the recipe right. With that taste on his tongue all Illya can think is home.
He takes the spoon from Napoleon’s hand and sets it back in the pot, uses his other hand to pull Napoleon closer by the waist. Napoleon’s got the slightest, smuggest of smiles on his face and Illya doesn’t try to resist the temptation anymore, just leans forward and kisses the smile right from his lips, pulling Napoleon in those final few centimeters until they're lined up from head to toe. Napoleon’s hands find his back, his shoulders, his hair, before finally settling on his biceps, pulling him closer until they’re pushed up against a wall with the line of Illya’s body keeping Napoleon’s firmly in place.
When they pull away for breath, Napoleon’s hands frame his face and he’s grinning like a Cheshire cat.
“You did okay,” Illya murmurs, “For a cowboy.”
Napoleon laughs and Illya gets to taste that as well, feel it turn into a muffled groan as he bites at Napoleon’s lower lip then soothes it with his tongue. Their mouths and chests and hearts align and Illya knows they’re both falling faster and harder than any parachute can save. He pushes into the cut of Napoleon’s jaw, breathing against the skin there as Napoleon’s fingers start carding through his hair. He feels the press of lips against his temple and the murmur of words into his ear, “Все твое.”
Napoleon’s cooking is one thing, but this. This he never plans to share.