1. “Agent Solo retrieved the package with minimal interference.”
All things considered, this is probably going to make it onto Napoleon’s top ten list of most spectacularly fucked-up missions. Considering the ten-plus years he’s put into this job, that’s saying something.
Then a bullet whistles by and smacks into the concrete not an inch from his head, and Napoleon revises. Definitely top three.
He ducks sideways down another hallway, the pounding of boots and the shouts of guards echoing far too close for comfort. Overhead, the flashing lights and wailing alarms send a thunderous, ringing cacophony through his head, bouncing about between his ears like hyperactive children. Christ, sometimes Napoleon hates his job.
Technically, it hadn’t even been his fault. How was he supposed to know Kaspar’s safe had been specially commissioned, and by the Israelis, no less? That definitely hadn’t made it into the briefing. Although Napoleon concedes he maybe hadn’t been paying too much attention during the briefing anyway, had pretty much tuned Waverly out the instant he mentioned a safe. After all, he was Napoleon Solo, master thief and spy extraordinaire. One Swiss-Made Incident They Will Never Mention Again aside, he can break into most vaults blindfolded.
The key word being most. God, Gaby is going to have his hide.
More shouts behind him followed shortly by gunshots; Napoleon sprints down the hall and skids around the corner, not even bothering to return fire. There are too many anyway, his only instinct is to get out.
The ledger, heavy and stark, pokes against his ribcage with every movement, and Napoleon grunts. He lost his earpiece a few turns back, so he can’t even report that he retrieved the package. And thanks to the goddamned safe, he’s seventeen minutes late to the rendezvous. Illya will be long gone by now.
Napoleon grits his teeth and puts on a burst of speed. There’s no point in hoping. Sure, it’s been almost six months since Rome, and in that time he and Illya have settled into a sort of tenuous partnership, like two acrobats balanced on opposite ends of an unsteady beam. They work well together (surprisingly well, actually, Napoleon honestly expected them to be reassigned within a few weeks of Istanbul, yet here they are) and they’re civil to each other now—Napoleon no longer uses his words like knives to slice under Illya’s thick skin, and in return Illya has allowed some of the coldness around him to thaw, to grant Napoleon quick, tantalizing glimpses of the pulsing warmth underneath. They’re not friends, but they’re working on no longer being enemies.
But that doesn’t mean Illya would jeopardize the mission for Napoleon. Eighteen minutes late, now, and Napoleon already knows, even as he finally bursts out the side door and turns into the alleyway, that the car will be gone, that Illya will be—
Right there, dressed in his black tactical gear, with his rifle propped up atop the hood of the car.
The sight hits Napoleon right in the middle of his chest, sure as a solid punch. He skids to a stop, stares. After a beat, Illya gives him a lazy wave from behind the scope of his rifle.
“Peril?” The nickname tumbles from Napoleon’s mouth, entirely unbidden. It is like something in the foundation of his world has just cracked, because Illya isn’t supposed to be here. He’s supposed to be gone, away, safe—
Shouts in Czech behind him, and Illya shifts. It’s a small movement, quick as an eyeblink: two centimeters to the left, three shots, loud and sharp in the night. Even though it’s impossible, Napoleon imagines he can feel the disturbance in the air as the bullets whistle by him, followed by three heavy, final thuds.
For a moment Napoleon just stands there, staring as Illya springs into action, disassembling his rifle with quick, efficient movements and moving to the driver’s side of the car. He pauses there for a moment, one hand on the door handle, and raises an eyebrow at Napoleon. “Coming, Cowboy?”
Like it’s nothing. Like they’re heading out the door after a mission briefing, or going to meet Gaby for lunch.
Napoleon slides into the passenger seat as Illya starts the car. He still feels disoriented, like Illya’s presence by his side is a dream he’ll be waking up from any moment now, and as they pull away from the curb and into the night, he glances down at his watch and then back up at his partner.
“I was twenty minutes late,” he says.
Illya shrugs, slowing the car to look both ways at the intersection because of course that’s what he does. When he speaks his voice is light and nonchalant, but there is no mistaking the slight upturn of his lips, or the way he glances briefly sideways at Napoleon, a flash of bright, soft blue.
“I trust you,” he answers, and accelerates again.
Napoleon stares. He can’t help it. Six months ago, they tried to kill each other in the musty back alleys of East Berlin. Six months ago, they were on opposite sides of a building war, two barely-tamed beasts with too-thin leashes and too-bloody claws.
Six months ago, Napoleon received an order to kill Illya and threw an old, battered watch across a room instead, fully ready to endure whatever consequences would come his way as long as his partner—his friend—could be spared.
He swallows. “Illya,” he says, and his partner’s name feels foreign on his tongue, but not wrong. At the second quick, sideways glance he gets in response, he nods. “Thank you.” I trust you too.
That earns him another small, almost timid smile, before Illya shifts his gaze back to the road and says, gruffly, “Eyes on the rear, Cowboy. We’re not out of this yet.”
As he obediently turns in his seat and lifts his gun, Napoleon can’t help but grin at the warmth blossoming in his chest. Maybe this mission wasn’t so bad after all.
2. “Our retreat from Hendricks’s base of operations was stealthy and well-executed.”
Napoleon is going to kill Illya.
The chatter of an assault rifle—an assault rifle!—explodes in the fading light. Illya grunts and leaps sideways just in time to avoid splinters flying from a nearby tree, and Napoleon revises his thought.
If the crazy American neo-Nazis don’t kill them first, then he is going to kill Illya.
“This is your fault!” he yells, firing his pistol blindly over his shoulder as the shouts and bobbing flashlight orbs continue to weave in and out of the trees behind them. His shots only appear to anger their pursuers. “I had it all under control but then you just had to go and open your stupid fucking mouth—”
“I did nothing!” Illya yells back, pausing just long enough to get off two shots of his own. “I was following you!”
Which, technically, is true. Illya had rather grudgingly ceded command on this mission to Napoleon, since it was on his home turf. And although Napoleon never spent much time in the backwoods of Texas—a little too into the moonshine, if you get his drift—he’d been all too happy to give Illya a few pointers on how to blend in with your typical band of ex-military White supremacist Nazi wannabe rednecks who may or may not have recently gotten their hands on a nuclear weapon.
Which is how they had gotten into telling war stories, to convince Hendricks and his men they really were who they said they were: a disillusioned American soldier (not that far off the mark, honestly) and his slightly slow cousin who didn’t talk much but really liked guns. And Napoleon had just finished weaving a great yarn about an epic bar fight in Nashville when Illya decided he needed to one-up him by telling them about that one time—
“You told them you tried to kiss me!” Napoleon snaps, leaping over a fallen tree and ducking to avoid another hail of angry Aryan Power bullets. “Are you crazy? You do not walk into a camp full of White supremacists and talk about kissing another man!”
“Is true!” Illya grabs his wrist and hauls him sideways, shoving him forward in the direction of their van. “You were running mouth as usual, was only way to shut you up!”
“But you didn’t!” And really, Napoleon will never admit it but he’s not sure what he’s angrier about right now: the fact that Illya blew their cover with his ridiculous story, or the fact that it never happened in the first place. Napoleon would remember if Illya tried to kiss him once. He would remember it very well.
See, the thing is, over the two months since Illya first told Napoleon he trusted him in Prague, Napoleon has maybe sorta kinda completely developed a bit of a crush on his partner. At first he’d written it off as novelty, his depraved brain latching onto the first person to ever seem to like Napoleon for Napoleon, to give to him without asking for anything back. People like Illya are a rare commodity for people like Napoleon, so it made sense that Napoleon would get attached despite his best intentions.
But then, as the weeks passed, other things started happening. He’s started noticing Illya’s eyes more, how they sparkle when he’s amused even if he doesn’t smile, how they darken in concentration when he considers the chessboard. Then it’s Illya’s shoulders, how they filled out his suit jacket so well on that one mission in Singapore. Then his hair, soft and almost boyish when Napoleon went to wake him up for their emergency briefing. And then his hands, solid and sure and capable of such wanton destruction, yet so unerringly gentle when they stitched up the knife wound in Napoleon’s side in Dubai, or pressed against his forehead to check his fever in Manila, or curled possessively around his hip as they fell back onto crisp hotel sheets, bodies alight with lust and—
“Git ‘em!” comes a shout from behind, followed shortly by another tree exploding. Illya swears in Russian and shoves Napoleon again, and it really is pathetic how that brief moment of contact sends yet another bolt of longing through Napoleon like an electric jolt. Okay, maybe the crush isn’t so little after all.
Five more minutes of sprinting through the woods and they finally burst onto the main road, diving into the van and tearing away with the screech of burning rubber. As the shouts and gunshots fade into the distance, Napoleon spares a glance at Illya in the passenger seat. His partner has his ridiculous legs folded up to his stomach, arms crossed, head down, glaring at the dashboard as if trying to set it on fire. The index finger of his right hand taps rhythmically against his elbow, and Napoleon swallows. Uh oh.
“Hey,” he says, keeping his voice as steady as possible. He’s rewarded a heartbeat later with Illya turning to give him an icy glare, but it doesn’t come accompanied by a punch, so that’s something.
“Look.” And goddamnit, he can’t look at Illya right now so he turns back to the road and tightens his grip on the wheel. “About the kiss. I know lying’s not a habit for you, Peril, so if you really were telling the truth…”
And he could have been. Napoleon can’t remember but that doesn’t necessarily mean it didn’t happen; he’s spent lots of time over the past few months in varying states of consciousness, so. It’s not impossible. Although why would Illya…?
The man in question harrumphs and slouches even lower in his seat. The finger-tapping stops. “Is true,” he repeats—grumbles, really. “Can’t talk if you are not awake.”
…Wait. Wait a minute. Napoleon temporarily loses his don’t-look-at-Illya rule and snaps his head around to do just that. “Not awake. As in unconscious?” Illya nods. “As in…standing up unconscious?”
Illya nods again. Napoleon throws his hands up and resists the urge to bang his head against the steering wheel. Repeatedly.
“Peril. Your English. I can’t believe our mission was ruined by your fucking English.”
Illya blinks, and Napoleon sighs. “Here’s your language lesson of the day, Peril. You attempted to employ the KGB’s Kiss on me, you didn’t try to kiss me. Got it?”
Illya stares at him for a moment. Then he wrinkles his nose. “Is long.”
“Is…long?” And Napoleon can’t help it; he laughs. He laughs until he can’t breathe, until he almost runs the car off the road, until Illya is watching him like he’s unsure of whether or not he’s better off hitchhiking his way back to the safehouse. He laughs because of course it would be Illya who does something like that. He laughs because for a moment he’d dared to hope, but now he knows it was nothing and surprisingly that’s okay, because as long as Illya is here by his side, Napoleon will take it.
When he finishes at last, gasping for breath, Illya is shaking his head. “You are strange one, Cowboy.”
“Right back at you, Peril,” Napoleon answers, still smiling as he nudges their van toward the highway. “Right back at you.”
3. “Only those hostiles deemed the greatest threat to the rescue operation were terminated.”
He lost track of time hours—days—years?—ago. He may have been here forever. It certainly feels like it.
He told them nothing. He’s proud of that, despite everything—that, even after the burning cigarette butts on his chest, the sharp snaps of delicate finger-bones, the blows to his face, his stomach, every inch of his mangled and weary body, he hasn’t given in. Napoleon Solo, one-time thief, conman and liar and the most selfish man alive, and he has kept his secrets. U.N.C.L.E. is safe.
Illya is safe. Napoleon hangs onto that with the tenacity of a man sinking in quicksand thrown a final, fraying rope. They were supposed to get out together, but he doesn’t regret it. He doesn’t regret slamming that final door shut, Illya’s wide eyes and panicked shout cut off by the resounding clang of thick metal. He doesn’t regret letting Legion have him. When it comes to Illya, Napoleon regrets nothing at all.
Well, except maybe the waterboarding. Legion may be a small organization but it’s got its fair share of criminal connections, the primary reason he and Illya were sent to investigate them in the first place. And now, over the last few hours—days?—Napoleon has been introduced firsthand to exactly what put Legion on U.N.C.L.E.’s radar in the first place.
He coughs, the sound wet and thick as fresh pain starbursts at the back of his throat. They’ve left him alone for now in his cold, damp cell, but any moment now they’ll be coming again, hauling him up despite his attempts to struggle, strapping him to the metal table and tilting him back, slapping the cloth over his face and—
He whimpers at the flash-memory, curls into himself at the echoes of terror and dark and can’t fucking breathe oh god please help me. That was the closest they ever came to breaking him, that moment when he couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think, nothing but the all-consuming terror and the realization of death, and he’d nearly told them that last time, when they finally ripped the cloth away and dumped him on the floor, choking and gasping for air. He’d nearly told them everything, anything to make it stop.
But then he’d thought of Illya. Just as he thinks of him now, his partner who right this moment must be tearing the entire city apart looking for him. Illya is coming, and that thought kept him quiet. Illya is coming, and Napoleon will hold out for him.
It scares him sometimes, the extent of his faith. He’s never been much of a believer; his mother had tried her very best to instill some religion in him as a child, but then had promptly given up when he’d stolen half the earnings out of the church’s coffer. Then any remaining faith he’d had in anything other than himself had been burned away by the war, by years of thieving and conning and, ultimately, betrayal.
He shouldn’t believe now, in anything other than his sharp mind and his own two hands. But then Illya came along with his stupid hat and bright blue eyes and strong, unflinching spirit, and it was like everything Napoleon ever taught himself about trust just flew out the window. It’s why he slammed that door so long ago, locking himself in so Illya could escape. It’s why he refused to talk despite everything Legion’s handymen with their sneering laughter and their sharp knives did to his failing body. It’s why, even now, he thinks of Illya’s eyes and his soft smile and knows he will die here, broken and alone, and it will be okay so long as Illya continues to live for both of them.
Napoleon’s loyalty doesn’t belong with the United States, or with Waverly, or U.N.C.L.E., or even Gaby.
He will die thinking of Illya, and he can’t imagine a better way to go.
He coughs again, pain ripping through his chest, and in the distance something explodes with an echoing boom. Napoleon thinks, Huh, and loses track of time for a moment.
When he comes back, it is to the loud screech of his cell door being forced open. He groans, trying to curl into a ball as he prepares for the rain of blows that is about to come.
Instead, something touches his shoulder, amazingly gentle. “Cowboy?”
And even through the thick fog of fear and pain, the voice lights something in him, something deep and bright that no amount of agony could stamp out. He forces his head up and cracks his eyes open, and—
Illya. God, he’s here. And it’s like something in Napoleon just breaks, everything that crystallized and hardened over the past few days of endless pain and torture just melting in the wake of Illya’s gaze, the worried downturn of his mouth, the way his fingers flit over Napoleon’s body. And Napoleon wants to tell him everything, You’re here and I’m sorry and Don’t leave me, but his mouth doesn’t seem to be working and all he can manage is a tiny groan that for some reason only makes Illya’s expression crumple like fragile glass. When his partner speaks again, his voice is soft and trembles with something that isn’t anger. “Let’s get you out of here.”
The journey out of Legion’s compound is nothing but a haze of pain and flitting lights. Napoleon tries to stay on his feet, he really does, but in the end Illya half-carries him to the van anyway. He can’t say it’s not welcome though, the feeling of his partner pressed up firm and sure against him like a wall against the world, and after being alone for so long it is all Napoleon can do not to cry with how relieved he is that Illya is here with him, that he doesn’t have to suffer through the agony and terror by himself.
He isn’t even fully aware anymore of what’s going on, black fuzz collecting on the edges of his vision, so when Illya settles him gently in the back of the van—with a sharp, shaky gasp from Gaby—and then starts to retreat Napoleon moves without thinking, grabs Illya’s wrist as panic seizes his throat and whispers, “Don’t leave me.”
Illya freezes. His eyes go wide for a moment, shocked and pained like that moment so long ago when he activated Rudi’s electric chair and scared the shit out of Napoleon, and his wrist beneath Napoleon’s fingers trembles, once. Then he slides his gaze over to Gaby, and maybe they talk about something and maybe they don’t, Napoleon doesn’t know because he’s too busy watching Illya, grasping at his warm skin to keep him here because the whole world can burn around them and still Illya will keep him whole, Illya will keep him safe.
Then, like a shift of the light, something changes in Illya’s face. His eyes darken like an ocean before a storm. His jaw sets. His entire body goes still, eerie and dangerous.
But not to Napoleon. Never to Napoleon.
Gaby nods and moves from the front seat. A moment later, her gentle hands wrap around Napoleon’s fingers, coaxing them from Illya, and she cradles his head in her lap, surrounding him in the warmth of her body and the soft scent of her perfume. It’s enough to temporarily quell the worry and panic rising in Napoleon, a swelling wave calmed by the steadiness of Gaby’s shores.
Illya fades into the darkness. Safe in his teammate’s embrace, Napoleon goes away for a while.
He awakens with a jolt sometime later to a confusing mix of darkness, blurred light, and rumbling movement. Sounds and smells assault him: engine oil, dust, the whistling wind, the creak of metal, and he doesn’t know where he is, what’s going on, he won’t tell them anything, he’ll die first—
“Cowboy.” Fingers in his hair, gentle. “Napoleon.”
He blinks up and sees Illya in the half-darkness, looking down at him, and the calm he feels is better than any drug. Illya is here. He’s safe.
Illya hums and lifts his head for a moment, calling out toward the front seat, “He’s awake.” A moment later Gaby’s soft affirmative drifts back to them. Napoleon barely hears it.
He stares up at Illya, at his blond hair loose and a little wild, at the flecks of blood that dot his cheek. Did he get in a fight recently? The hands that hold him gently against Illya’s chest are bloody at the knuckles. Why did Illya get into a fight by himself? He should’ve taken Napoleon with him. Together, they are unstoppable.
Above him, Illya tilts his head. Then, slowly, a smile breaks onto his face—not his usual half-smirk, exasperated and long-suffering, but a true smile that softens his eyes and makes Napoleon’s heart do funny things in his chest. He touches Napoleon’s face, gentle, like something precious, and says, “Yes, Cowboy. We are.”
When Napoleon falls asleep again a few moments later, he carries Illya’s smile with him into the welcome dark.
4. “Agent Kuryakin’s condition remained stable until evac.”
Illya’s blood is everywhere.
It’s all Napoleon can think about as he hauls his partner up the steps of the safehouse, Illya nothing but deadweight against him. Deadweight, and so much blood.
How can one man contain so much blood? Napoleon’s jacket, his shirt, his very skin feels soaked through with it, Illya’s life spilled out all over him as he shoves the door open and stumbles inside. He has to stop it. The blood—he has to stop it.
The kitchenette is bright and homey, just the way they left it this morning. Napoleon sweeps their breakfast plates off the table—as they shatter to the floor he remembers how Illya smiled at him that morning: Who puts chocolate in his pancakes, Cowboy, you are like little child.
Illya doesn’t smile now. He doesn’t move at all as Napoleon sets him gently down on the table, face smoothed out in complete unconsciousness. Blood begins to pool on the wood below him.
Napoleon swallows and hurries to the phone, dialing Gaby from memory. She picks up on the first ring. “Solo, where the hell have you two been—”
“Illya’s been shot.” The words burst from his throat as if torn from somewhere deep inside him, wavering and tight. “Two bullets to the chest. He’s fading, we need an evac, Gaby—”
She swears and gets off the line; in the background he can hear her shouting at someone else, giving out coordinates and orders like a general directing troops. A moment later she returns to tell him they’ll be there in twenty minutes.
Napoleon thanks her and hangs up, and doesn’t tell her that may not be enough time.
He rushes back to Illya’s side then, checks his pulse, and allows a rush of relieved hope at finding his heartbeat still thudding stubbornly away. Thank god for Illya’s tenacity, Napoleon thinks as he grabs the medical kit, he’ll never tease Illya about his hard-headedness ever again, he’ll never tease Illya about his anything ever again, so long as his Peril makes it through this. Oh god, Illya, please make it through this.
He drops the first packet of bandages, hisses out “Fuck!” as he retrieves them, and tries to force steadiness into his shaking hands. Funny, he thinks, that he is the one whose hands are shaking, he is the one no longer in control. Illya destroys things when his hands shake; will Napoleon destroy him now too, laid out so pale and still on the table?
No, he can’t—won’t think like that. Napoleon grits his teeth and grabs the scissors, cutting away Illya’s shirt, ignoring how it leaves blood smears on his hands. What kind of partner would he be, letting Illya bleed out and die here after his friend went through the trouble of taking those bullets for him in the first place? And really, when Illya wakes up he and Napoleon are going to have words, you don’t just fucking jump in front of your partner like that, not when you’re the important one, you’re everything, you’re…
Lying still. Too still.
It’s an afterthought, really, just a reassurance, Napoleon thinks to himself as he presses his fingers once again to Illya’s neck. Of course Illya’s stillness is entirely natural, he is unconscious after all. Any moment now, he’ll feel his partner’s pulse. Any moment now.
Nothing. Silence beneath his fingers and, under the torn shirt and oozing blood, Illya’s chest has ceased to rise.
In that instant, Napoleon’s entire world crumbles.
A keening, animal sound echoes in the room, and he doesn’t even realize it issued from his own mouth as he drops everything, slams the heels of his hands down against Illya’s chest, and starts compressing. The movement sends fresh blood seeping out of Illya’s wounds but Napoleon doesn’t care, can’t care, not with Illya lying here dying, dead, all because of Napoleon, all because Napoleon couldn’t save him—
“Come on,” he begs as he seals his mouth to Illya’s, forcing breath into his lungs. “No, Illya, please—”
Please so many things, and it seems so stupid, now, that Napoleon never told him. Never told Illya how his heart expands in his chest every time Illya smiles at him, how receiving that grin is like basking in the sun. How every nerve in his body lights up when Illya touches him, a casual clap on the shoulder or a brush of fingers exchanging mission files. How by simply being Illya has cast light into all the shadowed corners of Napoleon’s life, lit everything up inside Napoleon and made him want to be more than just the thief or the spy, someone who deserves Illya’s loyalty and respect, someone worthy of walking by Illya’s side.
He’s been a coward. Never wanted to lose Illya’s smile, never wanted those blue eyes to watch him with mistrust again, and so Napoleon never said a word and now Illya is limp and lifeless beneath his hands and he doesn’t know, he’ll never know—
“Illya,” Napoleon cries, the name torn from him like a physical thing as he drives his weight down onto Illya’s chest—
And then Illya is coughing, jerking awake and gasping for breath and his eyes are wild and there’s blood everywhere and Napoleon suddenly can’t see through the tears, tasting nothing but salt and blood as he presses his lips to Illya’s over and over, whispers, “God, I’m sorry, Illya, please, god, I love you so much, Illya, Illya—”
And Illya doesn’t push him away, just curls his fingers weakly in Napoleon’s hair and kisses back and murmurs “Yes” and “Napoleon” over and over.
He loses consciousness again a few moments later, but his heartbeat beneath Napoleon’s hands is steady once again, and remains so as Napoleon applies pressure and bandages and runs trembling fingers through his hair. Five minutes later, when the noise of chopper blades cutting through air drifts to them from the distance, Napoleon grasps Illya’s hand and kisses his fingers and keeps a steady hand on his pulse the entire ride to the hospital.
5. “We spent the two days prior to extraction examining the intel, restocking supplies, and preparing our debrief.”
Napoleon keens, arching his spine and scrabbling at Illya’s shoulders as pleasure explodes behind his eyelids. His limbs give out and they tumble back onto the sheets, a mess of naked skin and sweat.
It takes a long time before he gains enough awareness to move, and then it’s just so he can turn and curl into Illya, nosing at the warm juncture between his partner’s neck and his shoulder and murmuring, “Mm, if this is your idea of mission debriefing then I’m definitely on board.”
He feels more than hears Illya’s chuckle, a deep rumble up his chest that vibrates against Napoleon’s cheek. “Might be awkward, if Gaby and Waverly wanted to join.”
“I dunno, sounds like fun,” Napoleon answers, and grins when Illya smacks his shoulder.
They settle into comfortable silence for a moment. Napoleon is still getting used to that, to be honest. He’s had his fair share of partners but all of them involved a certain level of noise, be it joking and laughter, quiet conversations, or sounds of the much more erotic variety. And he has all that with Illya, has over the past three months steadily cultivated a beautiful mental anthology of Illya’s voice and soft laughter and sighs and moans, but never before has Napoleon experienced this kind of silence before, lying here sated and happy and not feeling the need to talk at all. Illya joked once that he finally found the way to shut Napoleon up without resorting to the KGB Kiss. Napoleon replied that he was more than welcome to test the effectiveness of the other kind of kiss, and their night had sort of derailed after that.
Not that Napoleon’s complaining. These past three months with Illya, having his partner in every way Napoleon has ever wanted and knowing Illya wants him back, have been nothing short of the best in Napoleon’s life. He’s not sure whether that says more about how dull his life was before Illya, or just how stupid Illya has made him, but Napoleon realized long ago that he wouldn’t trade it for the world. He’s spent his entire life analyzing safes and vaults and all the ways to keep precious valuables hidden, and all Illya had to do was smile at him and Napoleon handed all of himself over without protest.
He’s a damned terrible thief after all.
“Why are you smiling?” Illya asks, without opening his eyes.
Napoleon hums and curls closer. “Just…thinking.”
He’s rewarded with one blue eye cracking open. “Don’t strain anything,” Illya says, deadpan, and Napoleon chuckles. Before he can reply, though, the phone rings.
Illya grumbles in Russian and pulls the comforter over his head; for someone who claims to be a so-called super spy and the KGB’s best and all that jazz, he becomes surprisingly lazy when he’s got his guard down and there’s nothing immediately mission-relevant. And Napoleon knows he has it bad when all he can do is shake his head helplessly, pat Illya’s shoulder, and slide out of bed to answer the phone himself.
It’s Waverly, voice tinny with miles and encryption. “I trust you got the intel?”
“Yes, sir.” Napoleon glances at the black briefcase, which they’d tossed carelessly into the corner of the room after arriving in the safehouse last night, too preoccupied with other things. “Safe and sound.”
“Hm.” A soft shrring noise, as of flipping papers. “Do the codes check out?”
“Ah.” Napoleon glances sideways at Illya, who has poked his head out from under the covers in order to listen in. When he gets nothing but a raised eyebrow in response, he turns back and clears his throat. “We, uh, haven’t had a chance yet. Had to clear the place and make sure we weren’t followed.”
“I see.” Waverly’s voice doesn’t indicate whether he actually does or not. “That’s good. Is Kuryakin there?”
Napoleon suppresses a sigh and pointedly doesn’t look back at Illya as he answers, “No, sir, he’s out getting supplies. Shall I have him report in when he gets back?” Because Illya may have made him stupid, but not that stupid.
“Please do,” Waverly answers, “preferably with the codes. An unauthorized nuclear launch is certainly not the way I’d like to start my morning tomorrow, thank you very much. Within the hour, please.”
He hangs up and turns to see Illya watching him from the bed, unabashedly checking him out. Napoleon grins and stretches, cat-lazy, and has the satisfaction of seeing Illya’s eyes darken. Then, reluctantly, he jerks his chin in the direction of the briefcase. “Waverly says we should get to that.”
“Hm.” Illya yawns, then turns and burrows back into the pillows. “Okay.”
So apparently the codes are going to be Napoleon’s job. Ah, well. Illya was the one who tumbled down half a building yesterday in order to get the briefcase, so Napoleon can take the hit.
He’s just picked up his robe when Illya shifts again to face him, blue eyes mischievous. “Or,” his partner says, “you could come back to bed. Help me with…supplies.”
It’s probably one of the worst lines Napoleon’s ever heard, so it’s really rather pathetic how sudden heat licks down his spine to pool deep in his stomach. Illya continues to watch him, smile turned just this side of wicked, and Napoleon sighs and drops the robe.
“We have one hour,” he says, sliding back under the covers and into Illya’s waiting embrace.
6. “Dubrovnik was largely uneventful.”
They don’t call it a vacation, but that’s what it is. The city spreads out before them in all its quiet decadence, all nostalgic little buildings and white sandy beaches and blue, blue ocean as far as the eye can see. Waverly sent them here for surveillance, to scout out areas for potential U.N.C.L.E. safehouses. Normally that sort of work would take them two days. They got a whole week.
Not that Napoleon’s complaining. The past year has been nothing but mission after mission, from Lisbon to Tehran, Shanghai to Bogota to Miami to Riyadh. They’ve impersonated drug smugglers, been shot at by terrorists, blown up neo-Nazis, and once, in a very memorable week, done all three in the same day.
He never thought saving the world would be exhausting, but that’s what it is. Napoleon doesn’t regret it, oh no—he likes his earth without a global war and his winters nuclear fallout-free, thanks—but after that last mission in Sao Paulo, where he killed that drug lord with the same knife he’d used on Shadid’s trigger-happy minion the week before and realized he hadn’t even had time to clean the blood off between uses, he started to think they were getting a little in over their heads.
Illya, as always, has been his saving grace. His partner’s taken to their busy schedule with about as much complaint as you would expect from a former KGB agent, and having Illya at his back to watch his six during missions, to patch him up in safehouses and hotel rooms, to hold him close and remind him of what they’re fighting for on nights when Napoleon’s down to nothing but dregs, it’s priceless. It scares Napoleon sometimes, how much he’s come to rely on Illya, how so many things in his life have come to revolve around his partner like a system of planets orbiting a bright, unwavering star.
It scares him how he looks at Illya sometimes and can’t breathe for how much he loves him.
And he knows, with the certainty of an uncrackable safe, that Illya loves him back. They haven’t said it, not since the words were torn from Napoleon that fateful night when Illya’s heart stopped in the safehouse, but they know. It’s in every look they share, every wayward brush of hands, every time they finally get a room to themselves and can lock the door and pull the curtains and fall into bed together. It’s in the space between them, as breathable as air, and Napoleon thinks that he couldn’t live without that now, that if Illya were to be taken from him he would lose his breath and suffocate and simply cease to be.
It’s there in the way Illya looks at him now, soft, as they lean against the edge of the balcony of their hotel room, the afternoon sun catching his hair in golden light. Illya smiles and asks, “What are you thinking, Cowboy?”
Napoleon thinks of telling him. That I love you, he wants to say. I love you and it’s terrifying, it’s perfect, it’s everything I never realized I wanted till now. I love you and I don’t know how to stop, I don’t want to stop, it’s driving me crazy but sanity now seems so dull. I am a terrible spy because I love you, and I am a better man because I love you.
And it is all true and more, but it is nothing Illya doesn’t already know. Napoleon can see it in his eyes, soft with affection, and knows he could say those things to Illya until his mouth ran dry and still it wouldn’t even come close to encompassing the depth of what he is feeling. His love for Illya is like an exploding star, ever-expanding into infinite space, and for a man who has built his entire career on words, Napoleon finds that right now, in this instant, he has none.
But in this, as in everything, Illya is patient. His partner merely smiles and nods as if Napoleon actually said something profound, before turning to rest his back against the balcony and taking a sip from the amber liquid in his glass. It takes Napoleon back two years to that balcony in Rome, their little bonfire burning merrily on the table, the sun in their eyes, Waverly and Gaby and the promise of an uncertain future.
And maybe that’s what Napoleon wants; maybe that’s what’s missing. A promise. A future. And it is as if, in that moment, everything just falls into place. Clouds withdrawing to reveal the sun. Invisible ink manifesting on old parchment. An unbreakable vault sliding open with a soft, inviting hiss.
He’s never been more ready to walk inside.
Illya blinks when Napoleon reaches for his hand. He glances around for a moment, checking to see if anyone can see them, but their room faces the ocean and Napoleon figures he doesn’t mind a few wayward seabirds witnessing this moment. Illya seems to agree because he relaxes in the next instant, letting Napoleon take his hand, Illya’s skin rough and gun-calloused beneath his own.
Napoleon takes a breath. “I was thinking,” he says, counting Illya’s fingers with each word, “about our future.”
He stops at Illya’s ring finger, looks up, and watches his partner as he traces a gentle, meaningful circle with his thumb.
He sees it the moment Illya understands. His eyes light up and he breaks into a wide grin, brilliant and beautiful as he huffs out a laugh. “Oh,” he says, a little breathless, “okay,” and then recovers himself a little to watch Napoleon, gaze soft. “Yes,” he says, and it sounds like a promise.
Warmth expands in Napoleon’s chest and he can’t help his own smile. It won’t be official, he knows, may never be official, not in the world they live in. No one will know: not Gaby, not Waverly, not Illya’s aging mother in Moscow nor Napoleon’s last surviving uncle in Boston. There won’t be any fancy ceremonies or exchanging of vows or even any mention of it at all. But it will be a truth they carry for themselves, a future they will build together.
It is all they need.
Next to him, Illya shifts, intertwines their fingers, and tugs. Napoleon smiles and goes, and thinks, as they close the distance between them, that all those years his mother dragged him to church, she might’ve been on to something.
It’s an incredible thing, having something to believe in.