London (fall 1965)
Napoleon couldn’t believe he had agreed to go out in public like this. It was ridiculous. It was more than ridiculous, it was damn near a crime.
“You look fine,” Illya told him, not even bothering to look away from the street as he waved down a taxi. He kept his other hand on Napoleon's shoulder, partly to keep him upright and and partly, Napoleon suspected, just because he could.
“You put me in a Cardin suit with a Balenciaga tie,” Napoleon told him. “Let’s be honest, Peril, the only thing keeping this outfit from being a complete disaster is the fact that I’m the one wearing it and not you."
“Should have gotten up earlier. Then you would have had time to pick something else out. You sleep, you don’t get to complain about my choices."
“You don’t pull that argument on Gaby when she doesn’t like what you pick,” Napoleon muttered, still a little put out. And suspicious. Was Illya secretly mad at him? Usually when Napoleon let the other man near his own wardrobe, Illya made a point not to take Napoleon too far out of his comfort zone.
“Gaby does not sleep until noon given half the chance.” Illya replied. His words were mild, but two years with him had taught Napoleon how to find the hidden underlying fondness.
A taxi answered Illya’s hail before Napoleon could rehash his complaints.
“We are getting you coffee,” Illya told him as he opened the taxi door. The hand on his shoulder became a guiding pressure. “Stop whining.”
Napoleon grumbled, but climbed into the backseat all the same. As the car rumbled under him, he couldn’t help but lean back and rest against the padded seat. Once upon a time he would have never stepped foot outside-or inside for that matter-unless he was completely aware and ready for anything. Now, he was hard pressed to think of anyone getting the better of him with Illya at his side, no matter how inattentive Napoleon was.
With a tantalizing week of no plans stretched out in front of him, Napoleon had to admit a lack of proficiency in being inattentive. Even as he yearned for a piping hot cup of coffee, his mind ticked away inside the car. Carlocks on the door hadn't been tampered with. The window crank was sticky, but attached. The posted taxi driver credentials didn’t look like a forgery, and nothing about the accent seemed so overly exaggerated that it couldn’t pass for local.
Illya was on carbomb duty when Gaby was away, and Napoleon had caught the tilt back as the taxi pulled up that meant Illya had glanced at the undercarriage for any obvious signs. Now Illya was keeping an eye out the windows.
They were horrible at downtime, but it was nice to have someone to share the burden with.
He’d never had much in the way of leave between missions before, but U.N.C.L.E. mandated recovery time after any mission lasting longer than a month. He and Illya had shared an equally wide-eyed look of helplessness as they were sent away from Waverly’s office sans any kind of dosier and plus an in-tow Gaby, who bullied them into admitting that the last time either of them had a week of leave was far away and a long time ago. Napoleon couldn’t count their stop-off in Minnesota, which hadn’t so much been leave as a week of hell on earth.
He thought they would spend their week off in much the same way they spent nearly all their off time these days; however, Illya seemed to have different ideas.
And the morning had started so well.
With three bodies in one bed, it was almost a guarantee that their sleep patterns would rub off on each other. Napoleon couldn't drift off without hearing the beginnings of Peril’s soft snores, or feeling the sharp snag of Gaby’s fingernails dragging across his skin as she clung close in her sleep. Their combined heat could almost make Napoleon forget what it felt like to sleep in a cold bed.
He was so greedy for them he sometimes stayed awake for hours, trying to savor every small, insignificant detail: the way Gaby’s hair endlessly tangled and tumbled, no matter how well she tied it back. How Illya had started sleeping on his back but now slept on his side, curled towards them and quite a sight first thing in the morning.
He also learned pretty damn quickly how to sleep through their alarms. Napoleon never claimed to be a morning person. Sleeping in was a luxury he wasn't often granted between his time in the army then being at the beck and call of the CIA. So, with no mission pressing down on him and no demand to be up at the crack of dawn, Napoleon opted to stay asleep when he clocked Illya leaving their bed a 06:05 to go running, and again when Gaby tumbled out at 08:12 to start her own day. In return, they both had the decency to escape the covers with minimal effort, leaving Napoleon to slowly stretch himself out across their obscenely large mattress.
Their sheets smelled like Gaby’s engine oil and Illya’s cologne and sex. Napoleon burrowed deep into that odd mix as he drifted, warm and secure and most importantly not wanting to move.
Sometime later, a large hand folded around his shoulder, shaking him awake with surprising gentleness. Resigned, he cracked one eye open to see Illya towering over him.
"Time to rise."
"I can't find it within me to believe you."
Illya was never one for casual laughter, but even half asleep Napoleon could see a soft smirk fighting over his face. It did magnificent things for his eyes, and Napoleon wanted to count how many times he could make them light up today. His current best record was seven.
Illya was in a good mood. Instead of dragging Napoleon out of bed, he leaned down and pressed a kiss into his wayward curls. Napoleon hadn’t even run a comb through his hair yet, and he needed a shave, and the world was fuzzy around the edges without his first cup of coffee—but Illya and Gaby had no sense of decorum, always rampaging right through his defenses.
He didn’t articulate his thoughts more than that, but Illya understood anyway.
“She is out on her own shopping trip. You would know that if you woke up at decent hour.”
Napoleon should have seen that coming. Gaby had put her foot down on doing her own shopping nearly a year ago. Sometimes she was content, and even enjoyed, letting them dress her to their tastes; other times she told them in no uncertain terms that she would be the only one picking her clothes out. It seemed it was one of those days.
Napoleon supposed he and Illya couldn’t really complain. The last time Gaby shopped for her own clothes, she had brought back a little blue number they all enjoyed far too much.
“Or,” Napoleon countered, the words sharp in his mouth even as his brain struggled with wakefulness. “You could all stay put until a decent hour. You know, try to enjoy your vacation the way regular people do.”
Illya was in a very good mood, bestowing a kiss on Napoleon’s forehead instead of scolding him. Or maybe it was leftover good will from Madrid. Napoleon couldn't say that he minded .
Stumbling through his morning routine, Napoleon was able to make himself decent and presentable. He only questioned his willingness to put on the clothes left out for him after he looked in the mirror, the fantastic sharp lines at his shoulders and lepals tied down at the neck with a wavy, blue tragedy. A disaster.
But Illya caught him before he could enter the kitchen and demand why.
It was one suspicion of many. As entertaining as both Gaby and Illya found his morning behavior, they very rarely stood in his way to correct it, and that was definitely Illya's bus-like shoulders blocking his morning routine.
“Get dressed. There is a new cafe I think we should try."
“It’s too early for this nonsense."
“It’s almost noon and I am hungry. Clothes, now."
Which was how Napoleon found himself bundled into the back of a taxi, fiddling with his collar and distracted about the absolute indecency of pairing one of his most conservative suits with a tie that could casually be labeled as 'experimental'. He toyed with the idea of buying a replacement while they were out, but it never went past an idle thought. Illya had picked it out and, clashing or not, Napoleon knew he'd wear it all day.
The cáfe they visited was pleasant. Resting on the edge of Hyde Park, it was cozy and the tables spaced out enough from their neighbors that Napoleon and Illya could enjoy their own moment within the dim bustle around them. Their orders came quickly, so Napoleon enjoyed his first espresso with Illya's quiet company.
Illya kept glancing at him over the rim of his own cup, as if judging Napoleon's state of awareness. Part of his brain responded to Illya's full attention on him like a flower towards a sun, but the part of him that never completely managed to turn off (the one that kept an eye out for men in black suits and what kind of security a building posted) kicked him hard.
"What?" Napoleon prodded. He was more coherent now, and with that brought a new wave of suspicion. Illya was far too quiet, even for his usual taciturn standards. He hadn't even teased Napoleon about the hastily recovered stumble he took out of the taxi when they arrived. And now that Napoleon was looking closer, he saw the telltale intensity around Illya's eyes that spoke to his thoughts going a mile a minute.
"Quite. We should come back with Gaby tomorrow." The front case displayed a tower of lemon bars he knew she would love. He expected the mention of Gaby to garner some positive response out of Illya but the other man did nothing more than smile and shrug.
Napoleon finished his food feeling more than a little on edge. Illya dropped some cash onto the table and rose to his feet.
"Let's walk. You still need to wake up, Cowboy."
Napoleon disagreed. He now felt wide awake. Part of him wanted to start running now, but he reminded himself that this was Illya, one of the only two people Napoleon still cared about and listened to.
Napoleon still wasn't quite sure what happened next: one minute they were walking down the street debating the merits of the latest Smith and Wesson line, and the next he was holding the open for Illya as he crossed the threshold of Graff Diamonds.
He blamed his suit for the inattention. And the coffee. And Illya having an endgame that relied on Napoleon staying distracted.
"This is unexpected," he said for lack of anything better. “What are we doing here?”
“May I help you, sir?” The attendant behind the counter asked.
“Engagement rings,” Illya told her shortly. He was always mindful that his accent often put people on the defensive in this part of the world.
Napoleon chose to focus on that rather than the warning sirens ringing in his head.
The attendant’s eyes were bright as her smile became sharp, like a shark who could taste blood in the water.
“Of course. Does the lady favor a particular style?”
Illya described a few styles. Napoleon barely heard him, other than to note that he disagreed with half.
As the attendant fluttered away to pull a selection, Napoleon leaned in as closely as polite society dictated he could in public. He metered his voice, refusing to acknowledge his rising panic out loud.
“What are you doing?”
“I have been thinking,” Illya said. “It may be time to…offer something more."
“Illya. What is this? Gaby would—would hate that you, you-,”
“How about this one?”
“No. That’s horrible, put it back. You know-,” Napoleon was cut off again by the return of the attendant. That was alright; it gave him time to disengage, stuff down his adrenaline. Come up with a plan.
He wasn't so distracted that he didn't amend his earlier opinion: he hated all of Illya's ring choices.
"No," he huffed, plucking the princess cut ring from Illya's fingers and putting it back in its setting. "Just, no. She'll hate that. It's way too big for her, and she hates wearing yellow gold with this season's fashions anyway."
"I have done this before, Cowboy."
"And she has miraculously lost every ring you've put a tracker in. See a pattern there, Peril?"
Napoleon didn't point out that he also switched out his shoes with untraceable replacements whenever the opportunity arose. He was sure that Gaby shared his appreciation for Illya's concern regarding their safety, but that didn't stop them from making it a challenge.
Was Illya trying to separate out their relationships? Marry Gaby and partner with Napoleon? It was smart. An unpleasant prospect, but smart.
"Are you being obtuse on purpose?" Napoleon asked when Illya's hand strayed toward the Chanel. "I know you have better taste than that."
What they had was—well it wasn't conventional but it was working. Why was Illya deciding to change the rules? Hadn't Vienna prove how far they had come towards being a compatible team? Hadn't Madrid?
Napoleon leaned in closer, spectators be damned, and hissed: “This is revenge for Madrid, isn’t it?”
“I do not know what you are talking about,” Illya replied. Napoleon could've clocked him.
"Madrid only happened because of what you did in Vienna."
"You mean my job?"
“Only if your job was to drive us insane."
“Takes one to know one, Cowboy. What about this one?”
Napoleon looked down at the offered ring, a silver number with a setting folded up like a bow, and felt his sanity slipping down.
Istanbul (fall 1963)
"You sure this isn't suspicious?” Gaby asked, even as she smiled for Illya's camera. Beside her, the sun shone off Napoleon’s sunglasses as he looked out over the Sea of Marmara.
"Istanbul couldn't care less about what three American tourists get up to at the beach on a sunny day," he commented. “As long as we buy some souvenirs, take lots of pictures, and talk loudly about nothing no one will pay us a second thought.”
“Shouldn’t be too hard for you, Cowboy.” Half of Illya’s face was hidden by his camera, but Gaby could see the faint twist of his lips behind his hands. She was happier than she thought she would be to see it.
Instead of responding, Napoleon sent him an exaggerated smirk. Illya’s camera gave a soft click. She supposed he had a point. They'd been walking across the beach for a half hour, and no one seemed interested in the three of them.
Gaby experimented with a few forays into the shallow waves, spinning and dancing through them as they lapsed onto the rocky shore. Her body remembered the old routines and techniques, even after nearly five years. Her antics barely drew anything more than a quick glance, but it eased her nerves. Her knowledge of America was limited to anti-capitalist propaganda, the magazines her classmates used to sneak in during breaks, and Napoleon Solo. She didn't know the first thing about holding up their cover.
Napoleon and Illya weren't as concerned as she was. Assuming that no one would bother them here, Gaby figured, was a strategy that would work right up until the moment it didn't.
But the beach was nice. When they first arrived, Gaby had given into temptation and removed her shoes, thinking she could carry them while she got her feet wet. After the second time she nearly lost them to the sea, Napoleon had snagged them from her.
“That’s no way to treat a pair of Viviers,” he said. Gaby smiled and tossed him her purse as well. Now he kept pace with her, though he stayed on dryer land with her things in one hand and his jacket slung over his shoulder as the only concession to the Turkish summer heat. Illya trailed behind them, the occasional click the only sound he made. When Gaby glanced back, she spotted her zigzag footprints slowly washing away in the waves, and Napoleon’s own line of designer shoe prints, but Illya left no trace of himself in the sand.
“How are you doing that?” she wondered. She had to weigh half of what Illya did, and her footprints were evident all around her.
“Balance.” was his short answer. Gaby shot him an unamused look. There was another click.
"He's cheating," Napoleon told her with a conspiratorial look over his sunglasses. "There's a trick to it, and it’s the reason he won't come play in the water with you. It only works where the sand is firm enough to hold him but soft enough to give and absorb his tracks."
“It is not cheating. It is skill."
“With a side of showmanship.”
Gaby let them bicker. They were still settling in with each other, and there was only so much she wanted to interfere with that process. They had a mission to keep in mind, after all.
In the decades since WWII, Istanbul had undergone a curious flux of minorities emigrating to escape political pressure; and a boom of industrialization boasting immigration, for both work and for play. It was the perfect mix of chaos between rushing exits and entrances where human trafficking rings thrived. Rings the size of the one infecting Istanbul were hard to squash; foot soldiers were easily recruited and just as easily discarded, while masterminds were harder to identify than shadows in a dark alley. Victims were almost impossible to find once taken.
U.N.C.L.E. was concerned. With each passing month the ring stretched its influence further and further, and the list of their targets grew across countries. They needed to be dismantled, and for that they needed information. So far, U.N.C.L.E. had scarce little of that.
Theirs was a much needed reconnaissance mission, though Gaby suspected Waverly of wading them into the proverbial shallow end of the pool while the three of them learned to function as a unit rather than two opposing agents and a withholding asset. Her skills in espionage rested mostly in the practical application of bluffing and stall games, while Napoleon thrived on contacts and confidence schemes to gain information, but surveillance was Illya's bread and butter.
For all his identifiable traits—his height, his looks, the stiff accent—people ignored him when he melted into the background. It left Gaby endlessly impressed, and more than a little baffled. She couldn't lose sight of either Napoleon or Illya if her life depended on it. Napoleon was easier to explain on that front - the man shone like a beacon that even the most wayward of ships could sail toward. But Illya was a lodestone, solid and irresistible, with a pull that she couldn’t help but turn to time and time again.
"Tell me about the harbor," she asked when there was a pause behind her. They suspected the traffickers of using connections in the Istanbul harbor to ship out at night, and she wanted to find out just how much research Illya and Napoleon had put towards the theory.
“The Bosphorus is located on the Golden Horn, locally known as Haliç, and has stood as a testament to the diversity and cultural contribution of Istanbul, formally Constantinople, since the 7th century. Straddling Europe and Asia, it is the narrowest strait in the world. It functions both as Istanbul’s largest economic establishment and an important military stronghold. Exports include crude oil, minerals, and spices," Napoleon rattled off. He turned to gloat, but startled as Illya snapped another picture, aiming his camera so that the harbor docks would be caught in the frame.
Gaby rolled her eyes, and waving him off: Napoleon’s answer matched their intel dossier verbatim, and they both knew it.
In front of them, the sun set with slow grace, painting the sky red and purple. Across the harbor, the suspected hideout of their traffickers began to sink into shadow. They wouldn't get any more information on the beach today, though she pondered the possibility of sneaking into the harbor after dark.
Illya spent the time back to the hotel showing her how to roll her feet to distribute her weight, how to pick places in the sand that were packed enough to hold her without leaving much of a mark, and how to keep light and in motion so that her feet never settled into the sand. She couldn't completely hide her trail, but the story of their footprints shifted to show a pair of designer shoes walking with two ghostly companions.
They stopped at the edge of the shore so Gaby could slip her shoes back on, one hand on Napoleon’s arm for balance.
“Let’s talk about football,” she suggested. Napoleon raised an eyebrow.
“Good heavens, why?"
“It’s what Americans talk about, isn’t it?”
“Some of them, yes."
“We should. We are Americans, after all."
“Hopefully not that kind of American,” Illya muttered. Gaby ignored him.
She would admit that her lack of knowledge bothered her. Playing a group of Americans had seemed like the simplest idea, once Napoleon and Illya had been persuaded to reveal a few of their more flushed out covers to each other. With over a dozen passports from most major countries in the northern hemisphere scattered across the table, she was again reminded just how long Napoleon and Illya’s respective careers stretched.
In the end, Illya had produced a US passport that Napoleon then poured over before turning suspicious eyes up to him.
"Did the US government actually print this for you?"
"What do you think, Cowboy?"
Napoleon's face crumpled around the edges with petulance. Gaby suspected it was because he couldn’t boast his own USSR-made passport.
“Nice to see the spirit of cooperation is holding firm,” Waverly greeted them at the briefing. He had with him a new passport still hot from the press. When he handed it to Gaby, she discovered her new name was “Sarah Campbell”. Illya reached out and plucked it from her hand to scrutinize it himself.
“This is horrible picture," he decided, scratching at the surface of the photograph. “I will make you one better.”
“It doesn’t have to be good,” Waverly told them, shoeing them all out the door. “It has to be realistic."
Those were the words he used when he recruited her two years ago. Be realistic. Gaby had carved it into her body for how much she ruminated on them. If she was realistic, she was believable; and if she was believable, she stayed safe. Details were what kept her safe, so she collected them like a greedy crow with trinkets.
Details that included American football—only Napoleon wasn’t a well of information on that front.
“We can pick up a newspaper if you’re that determined about it.”
“Why would I need a newspaper?”
“To check the scores from last night. Just treat it like you would European football. It’s not that different."
“Untrue,” Illya countered as they made their way through the busy streets. “I have never been to football match that required helmets.”
“They wear helmets?” Gaby asked, her nerves kicked up and past rationalizing. Why had no one told--how was that not an important thing to know?
Napoleon spent the rest of their trip reassuring her that no one was going to ask them about American football, but by the time Illya unlocked their hotel door she was almost convinced that her cover could be blown the moment someone asked her how many yards were rushed during the weekend game.
Their rooms were tucked in the corner of the Istanbul Hilton, two bedrooms connected with a shared living room. Gaby had not volunteered as anyone’s finance, nor had she argued when Illya and Napoleon ended up bunked together. If they were going to be a team they needed to be comfortable around each other, and Gaby had no desire to mediate between their egos.
She dusted the lingering sand off her feet and legs before she stepped inside, but Napoleon didn’t bother to follow her example. He headed straight for the small bar in corner. Gaby caught the look of annoyance that crossed Illya’s face at the thin trail of sand Napoleon left in his wake.
She considered heading off the argument brewing in the air like a bad storm, but decided against it. They'd never be an effective team if she had to tackle Illya and Napoleon’s opposing natures every time they grated against each other.
“I’m going to check in with Waverly,” she said, turning to retreat from their suite. She was fairly sure their handler was somewhere in the building.
Napoleon raised his glass to her in farewell, just before Illya threw a coaster at him.
The fourth time Gaby tried to resituate herself under the covers, she gave up any attempt at sleep. She had been trying to drift for hours now, but every time she closed her eyes tension built in her chest. It became harder to breath. She kept seeing overturned jeeps and orange-tinted water that tasted like clay.
She crawled out of bed, annoyed at her limbs' sluggish reactions. She needed sleep, but it was exhausting her to try.
She wasn't alone. As Gaby searched out the bar in the living room, she was only slightly surprised to find Illya, still and quiet as a gargoyle perched in an overstuff chair, hovering over the table. His chess set lay spread across the glassy surface, and while Gaby couldn't tell which set was winning, more white pieces lined the side of the board than black ones. When his eyes snapped towards her, she saw all her own frustration mirrored back in his face.
She had to cross the room, and Illya's presence, to get to the small mini-bar, where she mixed together a Sidecar and dug out Napoleon's copy of yesterday's paper. But on her way to the couch, impulse overtook her- she reached out to brush her fingers across the exposed skin of Illya's neck. Ever since they arrived in Istanbul, Illya had worked to keep distance between them, to stay polite and attentive, avoiding any accidental contact. She hadn't minded at first; it would take time to rebuild an understanding between them. But as the week went on she missed the closeness they had shared in Rome, as duplicitous as it was.
Illya, who had been toying with a captured pawn while she got her drink, set it down with a firm tap against the table. He went still after that, though Gaby could feel the tension running through him tighter than a serpentine belt through one of her engines. She ran her fingernails in a gentle tease through his hairline and felt twin thrills of satisfaction and guilt when he shuddered under her. But he didn't turn around.
Gaby released him from her touch, like cutting an anchor off a boat, and sat on the couch with little grace. She was too tired for conversation.
She flipped open the paper, trying to concentrate on the words in front of her rather than what Illya was doing. It was maddeningly slow going. As she struggled with the newspaper being in English, beside her Illya resumed pushing his game pieces methodically across the checkered squares.
Eventually, she gave up, set the paper aside, and leaned over until she was stretched across the couch with a decorative pillow hugged to her chest.
Illya was resetting the game. She wondered which side had won.
"You're still mad at me," Gaby wasn't sure where the courage to say it came from—probably the fact that she hadn't slept a full night since Rome.
"I am not," Illya replied immediately. A simmering bubble of relief popped in her chest when he glanced at her again. Illya wasn't like Napoleon, who could hide his thoughts behind a saucy smile and an all-too-knowing look. When Illya spoke, he spoke with his eyes, and his mouth, and every muscle in his body. He couldn’t lie like he breathed.
After a moment, his attention turned back to the game, but he did reach over to pick up the remains of her newspaper. He carefully refolded it into a neat rectangle, which he set on the other side of the table.
"Then why won't you talk to me?"
"I did not know you wished to talk,” he told the chess set. “What do you want to talk about?”
She stuck her foot out to poke at his arm. She thought Illya would bat her away with a gentle, giant hand, but instead he simply grasped her ankle. If he tugged with just a portion of his strength, he’d easily pull her off the couch. With a care that still startled her, he set her back to rights.
“Italian architects?” she offered.
“Not as good as Russian ones.”
“Cowboy not enough for you?”
“He is. How about we talk about you?”
“You know me.”
Gaby scoffed. She knew about Illya’s parents, and his career at the KGB. She knew about his control issues. She didn’t know what food he liked. Which colors he favored if given a choice. Which cities he liked to be in. Which dress in her closet he liked best.
She wanted to know all of those things, and so much more. But Illya looked nervous and suspicious and hopeful and curious all at once and she worried the wrong thing would chase him back down his bolthole.
“Tell me how you play chess,” she said instead.
Gaby got enough sleep to function. She celebrated that and the fact that she got Illya to sleep before dawn, after they had worked their way through two rounds of chess. He won both times, but beating him hadn’t been the point. She wanted to understand why he loved to play as much as he did. What pieces he favored and what strategies he liked to use. She couldn’t say she got all those answers last night, but it was a start.
She was pulled from her thoughts when a handful of tiny surveillance bugs landed next to the cup of coffee she had called up for twenty minutes ago. The round plastic pins rolled every which way across the table. Napoleon, looking more irritated she had ever seen him, settled into the chair next to her.
“Good morning,” he greeted with false cheer. “I hope you ordered enough for all of us.”
“You’re up early.” He also looked ready for the day, despite the hour. His suit was perfectly pressed, and not a strand of hair was out of place. His brilliant blue eyes were sharp as shredded steel.
“Only because I have to be if I want to stop Peril from planting a bug in everything I own. This,” his fingers ran through the pile of trackers. "Needs to stop."
"He's only concerned," she muttered as she picked one up. They were remarkably light. "And they helped in Rome, if I recall."
"They did. One I could swallow." Gaby doubted that. Napoleon looked like even that concession grated him. "Not one in every piece of clothing I own. I keep debugging myself in the morning only to find more in the evening. I don't need someone knowing every step I take. The CIA wasn't even this bad."
"They just let you run wild, didn't they?” She supposed there was a certain expectation to be had with agents whom had no problems running cars into buildings to achieve their mission goals. They could never hope to control Napoleon Solo any more than he wanted to be controlled.
"You know that's not true," he said, though his eyes were already tracing the room. Tension was building across his tailored shoulders.
"Let's go out for breakfast," he suggested. "Peril can fend for himself for the morning. Feel free to leave your ring on the bureau."
They found a small café around the corner from their hotel. Gaby didn't have much of an opinion on Turkish food one way or another, but Napoleon seemed to love it and was verbose in sharing his opinions. She couldn’t even pronounce what he ordered, and declined a taste of it by virtue of wanting to keep her own breakfast in her stomach.
After, Napoleon offered her his arm and they wandered aimlessly through the market. She suspected he didn't want Illya overhearing their conversation.
"There's something else," Gaby decided to confront the problem head on.
"We've been in the hotel room for a week and it looks like we just arrived yesterday."
Gaby suppressed a wince at the tension in his voice. She aimed for neutral. "Illya likes to keep things tidy. I can't say I mind."
"Tidy isn't a problem. Obsessive control, however, tends to set my teeth on edge. You're supposed to be able to relax at home base, not stress over a little mess."
"Are you complaining because Illya cleans too much?"
"I'm pointing out that functioning on constant alert isn’t my idea of a productive mission."
“Have you brought it up to Illya?” she knew the answer, but enjoyed the twisted look on Napoleon’s face when she asked.
“I’m not—I usually work alone."
“So does Illya. So do I, actually.” Two whole years on her own, constantly on alert to any of her father’s old connections approaching her.
Part of it, she figured, was them adapting to Waverly’s style of handling. She was used to it; light touches and subtle prompting at the best of times, and complete silence at the worst. Her handler was not one to get in the way of what a field agent thought best. He provided her with the tools to function without him and checked in only at intervals he deemed safe. He trusted her judgment past that.
Gaby thrived under his management. Illya and Napoleon, on the other hand, were acting like dogs just let off their leashes. Without an omnipresent hand on his neck, Illya was becoming more and more frustrated with his perceived lack of direction. She had the impression the KGB did not allow him much room for deviation when they let him out on missions. She didn’t mention it to Napoleon, but she suspected much of their current tension stemmed from Illya’s growing apprehension over it.
Reversely, Napoleon was slinking around the edges of everything. As if he had just realized how much freedom he had and was afraid to point it out. If he made too much noise about it, someone may try to put his collar back on him.
Honestly, Gaby just wished they would both realize she would never allow them to go back to what they were like before. She planned to keep them close. They wouldn't be leashed again.
Gaby took a breath to speak, and ended up swallowing it when a pair of hands reached out from the alley. One snagged the collar of her dress, and the other slapped itself over her mouth before the scream got past her throat. Napoleon’s hand reached for her arm with bruising strength, and she tried to cling to him as she was dragged backwards. But whoever had a grip on her wasn’t alone, and two burly figures descended on Napoleon from behind.
She didn’t want to release Napoleon, but it freed up her hands to claw her fingernails up her assailant’s arms. She felt a moment a triumph when she felt blood under her fingers but another man popped up in front of her and grabbed her wrists. A gag was pressed against her teeth, and fingers pried her jaw open to shove it further into her mouth. It tasted like smokey cotton and sweat. Her vision was narrowing down to the shadows and the sky, but she could feel scratchy rope wrapping around her wrists.
“Careful!” she heard one of them hiss in her ear. “We won’t get a penny for you if you’re covered in bruises, now will we?”
She didn’t particularly care about that, though a far off part of her wondered why they spoke English. That, though, was for a time when they weren’t trussing her up like a prized hog and dragging her to the open car trunk further down the alley. She caught one of them in the eye with her elbow and tried to make a run for it as he yelped and flinched away from her, but the second one caught her around her waist and plucked her off her feet. A thick arm encircled her neck, making it harder to breath.
“Mind you, a pair of good-looking Americans will fetch a good price in our market, no matter how beat up you are,” he snarled. Gaby struggled to escape, but her small frame worked against her when he hefted her up and dropped her into the trunk. She twisted to climb back out and was pushed deeper into the rough upholstery for her efforts.
The thug grinned down at her, most of his face covered by a dark patterned scarf. Gaby devoted herself to hating him in that moment.
The thug glanced over his shoulder, and that was all the opening Gaby needed. She let her temper and adrenaline carry her though her fear, because she refused to go down without a fight. She couldn’t see where the thug's nose was, but the heel of her foot swung close enough that she could see blood starting to soak into the dark material around his face. As he reared away, Gaby rolled and pushed herself over the lip of the trunk. There was a ripping sound she was fairly sure was her dress, but if she had to sacrifice it to get away she would. Once she was on her feet, another kick to his groin put the smarmy thug down, letting her address the next problem.
The ropes were bound tightly around her wrists, but they were tied in front and the knot was sloppy, so Gaby took a deep breath against the pain and twisted until she had enough slack to rip them off. The gag was next and she spat it out with relief, though the taste stayed in her mouth as a rough and raspy reminder that she wasn’t out of danger yet.
The three remaining thugs were manhandling Napoleon,. Bound as she had been, they had an easy time hauling him away from the mouth of the alley—and the gun, which she saw sitting shiny and useless far out of reach past them. They pushed him up against the wall and held him there, the three of them enough to overcome his struggles. She realized they wanted to tire him out, so he would be easier to subdue, but they seemed as reluctant to brutalize him as they had been with her. Gaby wasn’t playing by those rules.
There was a tire iron in the trunk. She used it to drop the one closest to her, aiming for his knees and then his face once he dropped low enough for her to put most of her weight into the swing. Napoleon, wrestling free in the opening she created for him, rushed her the moment she straightened.
She had never been thrown before, but Napoleon tried his damn best to rectify that as his shoulder hit her gut.
“Don’t you dare!” she barely had time to snarl, and in the next moment she flew.
Spotted sunlight and summer air rushed by in flashes before her body met the cobblestones. Pain flared across her knees and her still healing shoulder, and the warm, sticky sensation of blood spilt down her legs.
Someone hovered over her. For a brief moment, she thought it was Napoleon, and made to grab his hand and run, only to realize it was a man she didn’t recognize. She flinched away when he stretched his hand out to her, though he made no move to grab her. His face wasn’t hidden with a scarf but she could see herself in the reflection of his brassy sunglasses. After a moment, the stranger's hand still patiently outstretched, she took the offered hand. The man pulled her to her feet. She tilted her head down, clenching her teeth, and head-butted him like Illya had taught her to do.
“Napoleon!” she called out, rushing past the cursing man in sunglasses to find her partner. If she was going to be kidnapped, she was determined to make them work for it.
“Gaby!” Napoleon answered, and she followed his voice until she found him walking on his own power and battling against his bonds. He shouldered his way to her, relief evident on his face. No one stopped him.
“Stop,” she ordered when she saw his mangled wrists. Whichever one of the thugs who bound him knew more than the one who handled Gaby. The knot had only tightened around his wrists as he fought to get out of them. She didn’t bemoan the nails she broke working the knot out, concerned with how quickly Napoleon’s wrists were bruising and how thin trails of blood trickled down his forearms. Would that hinder them from escaping?
That was when Gaby realized the noise had stopped, or at least died down. There were still masked men in the alley behind them, but their attention was focused on the sudden apparition of many disgruntled men in dark suits around them. They looked much less sure of themselves than they had when taunting her. No one seemed to be paying much attention to either of them, but more importantly no one was making a move to grab them.
“Are you alright?” Napoleon asked as if he wasn’t a complete mess: along with his wrists, the seam of his jacket shoulder was ripped, his tie was gone, and he was bleeding from a nasty cut across his temple. His eyes seemed a little unfocused. Did he have a concussion? Was he hurt anywhere else? She expected him to hide it, if he was. She’d have to figure out a way to get his jacket off to be sure. She’d get Illya to help her if Napoleon put up a fuss about it.
“I’m fine,” she said. He didn’t believe her, if the way his hands were tracking over her was any indication.
“Well, when I tasked you with weeding out a contact in the smuggling ring, I didn’t expect you to achieve your objective by being abducted by it,” scolded a familiar voice, and Waverly appeared beside them as if summoned by the wind. He was light and airy in a linen summer suit, as if he had just run into them during a pleasant garden party.
Gaby looked down, and a pair of curl-toed shoes stared back up at her from Waverly’s feet. Somehow, she wasn’t surprised.
“How did you get here?” Now that she had Napoleon back at her side, her focus was returning. And the burning embarrassment at almost being kidnapped by the same human trafficking ring they were surveilling. It would take forever for them to live this down.
“Your surveillance team alerted me to your, ah, sudden indisposition,” Waverly explained with aplomb. "I must commend you on your skills, Ms. Teller. I do believe you broke Mr. Ryan’s nose with that headbutt.”
Gaby didn’t feel too bad about that. He had been between her and Napoleon; she had needed him to move.
“Our surveillance—you’re having us followed?” Napoleon sounded miffed, impressed, and disgruntled all at the same time.
"It’s your first official mission with U.N.C.L.E. as a team,” Waverly replied. “S.O.P. requires that all probationary teams are monitored in case extraction becomes a concern. I must point out, Mr. Solo, you’d know that if you’d read any of the paperwork I had you sign when we arrived.”
“I knew I forgot to do something,” Napoleon said. Gaby leaned into his side to soothe his injured tone.
“Are you taking them in for question—,” she started to ask, only for Waverly’s eyes alight on something behind them.
“Ah. Hello, Mr. Kuriyakin!”
Gaby’s stomach dropped like a stone. She wondered if she and Napoleon could make it down the street before Illya had a chance to catch them. It was a vain hope—she knew Illya was faster than either of them could ever hope to be—but anything would be better than turning around and admitting to Illya that they’d almost been kidnapped when they had snuck away from him.
“Good to see you, Peril,” Napoleon said cheerfully, unable to resist poking the bear. Gaby gave in to temptation and buried her face into the wrinkled fabric of his shirt.
She felt Illya loom in behind her, closer than expected. A shadow blocked out the heat of the dappled sun only to be replaced by the simmering furnace that was Illya. One hand landed on her bare shoulder where her dress ripped and fluttered down her back. Glancing up, she saw Illya’s other hand on the side of Napoleon’s face, tilting it up so he could see the bleeding cut there.
Illya’s face was neutral. It worried her more than the menacing of their would-be captors.
“We will be leaving now, Mr. Waverly,” Illya told the man over his shoulder. “This will not be problem?”
“Hmm? Oh, no, dear boy. Go right ahead. I know where to find you when I need you.”
Gaby’s dress was a disaster. Napoleon wasn’t sure how she had managed to rip a hole in the bright fabric from collar to hip, but decency had him shrugging off his jacket and dropping it around her shoulders for the walk back to the hotel. She snapped out of her quiet contemplation long enough to tell him to stop straining his wrists.
He tried to ignore Illya, an impossible task when the other man never let Gaby or Napoleon slip more than a few feet away from him. If either of them strayed too far ahead, a freakishly long arm immediately grabbed them and dragged them back into Illya’s space. Napoleon had never been on so short a tether, not even during his first outings with the CIA.
Thankfully they made it back to the hotel with little incident. Who knows what would happen if anything got in Peril’s way right now. But his partner was staying calm; Napoleon supposed that counted for something.
As soon as they got back to their rooms, Napoleon poured himself a finger of scotch and tossed it back without tasting it. It was early even by his standards, but what a day it had been already. Almost a victim of a human trafficking ring, and he hadn’t even noticed until the attackers were upon them. Waverly was having them followed. Gaby had nearly paid for his mistakes because his attention slipped.
He kept stuttering over that last part.
Istanbul had been one big game, and Napoleon took issue with not knowing what rules he was playing by. Harder to ignore was the building tension in one Illya Kuriyakin, Red Peril of the USSR.
"How did you let this happen?” was Illya’s opening salvo. Napoleon, cringing against the embarrassment flooding through him, refilled his glass.
“It was an unpredictable twist, Illya,” Gaby commented from the couch. She had kicked off her shoes the moment they crossed the threshold, but hadn’t changed out of her torn dress, opting to curl up on the couch with Napoleon’s jacket wrapped around her. Napoleon passed his drink over to her, and poured another one for himself. “We couldn’t expect that they’d try to kidnap us.”
“Agents should expect anything,” Illya snapped. “You did not even have tracker.”
“Yes, let’s talk about the trackers,” Napoleon had to fight to keep from baring his teeth. He never enjoyed being chewed out.
How could he admit that he had been distracted? That he was more focused with Gaby on his arm and Illya on his mind? How puzzling was it that he was so wound up by a KGB agent when he was able to shrug off any annoyance the CIA saddled him with? How Gaby listened to his complaints but didn't back down from them?
Napoleon set his drink down as he circled the room. He thought better when he was moving.
“We’ll come back to that later,” Gaby cut in before Illya could respond. “Why don’t we concentrate on what we learned?”
“Why bother? Waverly will just sweat the ones we caught for information.”
“Amuse me,” Gaby replied sardonically, taking a slow sip from her drink before settling it down on a nearby coaster. Napoleon suspected she wanted them focused on anything that wasn’t tearing each other apart.
But it wasn’t Illya who Napoleon wanted to tear apart, it was himself: part of him wanting to explain that he would never deliberately put Gaby in danger, or be so sloppy as to assume he needed Illya to pull him from the fire. Another part of him wanted to defend his actions and save what little regard Illya still had for him. Neither side won out; all Napoleon could do was keep moving.
“They spoke English,” he pointed out. “That means the ring leaders are outsourcing their dirty work.”
“Or that the ring is centered further west than we originally thought,” Gaby countered. Napoleon reached for his drink, only to find empty air where he had left it on the table. It had taken up residence on a coaster a few feet further down the table. He made a noise of frustration and grabbed for it.
“Or that there’s something else going on,” he said after he took a long swallow. He abandoned his drink on the bar counter as his legs took him around the room again. “Who grabs their targets in the middle of broad daylight? They couldn’t have been following us for long."
“Do you remember anything else about them?” Illya prompted. “Accent? Distinctive piece of clothing?”
“They didn’t sound American,” Gaby said.
“No, but they’re more than common thugs. They found my shoulder harness and my back-up piece fast—points for potential military training."
Napoleon’s drink had moved again. This time back to the table, again on a coaster. Napoleon picked it up and took another sip. He dropped it back on the table with a clunk as he collapsed onto the couch beside Gaby. He winced as his wrists throbbed, his sleeve sliding up against raw bruises. He should get those bandaged.
“Doesn’t mean that they—,”
His instincts may have failed him an hour ago, but they were kind enough to warn him now. His glass was too far away to rescue, but he saved Gaby’s as Illya’s hands wrapped around the table and, with what seemed to be only the slightest amount of effort, flipped the table away from them.
Gaby rocked back into the couch cushions, bloodied and bruised legs drawn up to avoid the mess of glass and wood that went flying. Her face was closed off, but there was no fear or surprise on it. She had seen Illya’s reaction coming just as Napoleon had.
Napoleon rose to his feet as Illya stormed across the room, mouth twisted in a half suppressed snarl and hands twitching.
“We’ve really got to work on your coping skills, Peril.”
“This is not—KGB agents do not run around half-cocked!” Illya pushed out. “You both just vanished. It, it is not Russian way.” Illya fell silent as he struggled to articulate his thoughts.
“We’re sorry we didn’t tell you, Illya, but it wasn’t something we planned when we left for breakfast this morning," Gaby tried again. Napoleon’s concern grew when her words flew right past Illya without stopping to calm him down. Soft-boned Italians and Roman hotel rooms were enough to show the kind of damage Peril could do during an episode.
The night he escaped from East Berlin, Napoleon had spent far too long elbow-deep in the KGB identification records. Once he had a name to go along with Illya’s face, he had read everything he could find on the man. It had evolved into a hateful, sleepless night but the benefits outweighed the inconvenience.
Illya despised feeling powerless. Napoleon knew it when he deliberately pushed his buttons in a West Berlin cafe, Napoleon knew it when he caught Illya staring at him across the hotel room with regretful murder in his eyes, and Napoleon knew it now. He could see the faint tremor starting in Illya’s fingers, and the way his eyes kept shifting to the available exits in the room.
It made sense. The CIA micromanaged Napoleon to a fault when they wanted to, but once he was in the field he was usually left alone to work off his instincts with outside support at his discretion. He was willing to bet the KGB had never been so liberal with Illya. He likely had no idea how to handle being left alone in the field with the only order being to make do.
All of this passed very quickly through Napoleon’s mind as he scrambled for a way to keep Illya in control—anything for him to focus on that wasn’t his building rage and helplessness. Handing Gaby back her glass to free up his hands, he approached Illya.
Napoleon knew there was no way he could go toe-to-toe physically with the Russian and stand a chance of winning. But there were still options, because as long as Napoleon’s mouth wasn’t duct taped shut he could manage a lot.
“Really, Peril, and here I thought you had moved past property destruction to express yourself."
Illya didn’t respond. He didn’t even glance towards Napoleon. That wouldn’t do at all.
“Are you upset that we found your trackers? It’s not like you’re making it difficult for us anymore. It only took ten minutes to dig them all out, and most of that was spent on the one you got into the lining of my jacket.”
Still nothing. Illya paced back and forth, and the only acknowledgment was a deep, soft growl that sent Napoleon’s flight instincts on edge. He dug for something he figured would at least get a reaction.
“I was going to keep the watch,” he said in a rush. In retrospect, he thought, it was not the best way to contain Peril's rage. But it had the desired effect of redirecting Illya's cold gaze onto him. Out of the corner of his eye, Napoleon saw Gaby’s face turn pale in shock.
“Your father’s watch. I was going to keep it."
“…Why?” Illya sounded—well, he sounded hurt. Almost. There was still a lot of anger there, but he didn’t sound like murder dragged along a gravel road anymore, so Napoleon counted it as a win.
“I thought it would go well with my suits.”
Napoleon honestly expected a pair of hands around his neck for that, but Illya surprised him. Again. That was becoming a bad habit. Instead of his neck, those strong, scary, large hands dug into the material of his rumpled shirt as Illya dragged him closer.
"Stop lying. Why?"
Napoleon told him the truth because sometimes—not often, but sometimes—it was the better option. And he hoped it would take away at least a little of the haunted look in Illya’s eyes.
"Because I thought I was never going to see you again."
Illya blinked at him. Napoleon's mouth kept running without much input from his brain. His survival instinct was screaming that this was one of those times he needed to talk about something substantial rather than distract and run.
"I was trying for Gaby's Gucci glasses, too," he continued, ignoring her sound of protest. "She never wanted to let them go after you picked them out. She loves them. I thought, you'd disappear back behind the Iron Curtain, and Gaby was—well I had no idea what Waverly had planned for her. I just thought..." that he was still a thief at heart. That he wanted mementos from people who he actually managed to work with and not completely infuriate or run off. People who could keep up with him, but weren’t like him. People that held his attention for longer than a day.
Illya’s stare seared into him. "We spent week together. Not much to go on, Cowboy."
Maybe Illya didn't see it. The man was surprisingly blind to a few things for how perceptive he was about others. "You came back for me. You didn't have to."
"And you did not leave me to drown. You do not leave your team behind,” Illya said, even as he sent them both a strong look.
“The CIA would have,” Napoleon said, ignoring the bait. It was something he had known from the beginning about his employers. He was expendable, and they would drop him in a heartbeat if it meant keeping their hands even a little cleaner. It was why he had striven to be the best because maybe, when it counted, they would decide the benefit of saving their finest would outweigh their effort to come get him.
“The CIA would have left you in that man’s hands?”
“What, are you saying the KGB would have come back for you?"
“Waverly came back for me,” Gaby piped in.
“Yes, Gaby. We’re well aware of that,” Napoleon tossed over his shoulder without looking her way. Illya’s hands were still on his shoulders, but the rigid tension was gone from his grip. He looked more in control now; the twitching was minuscule at best and he met Napoleon’s eyes instead of avoiding them.
Napoleon hoped that baring a part of himself he didn’t like to examine was about to pay because he couldn't believe he had actually admitted to planning to keep the watch. After Rome, he figured he’d take that to his grave. Nice to know he’d lasted a week and a half on that.
“Well,” Gaby said, saving them both from the awkwardness of continuing their conversation. “I guess it’s my turn, isn’t it?”
“For what?” Illya moved his hands down Napoleon’s arms to his wrists, encircling his forearms to closer inspect their damage. With a faint ‘tsk’ sound, he shoved Napoleon toward the couch and sidestepped into his room. Gaby tipped back the rest of her glass in one go, then tilted her empty glass toward Napoleon. He took it with a flourish and refilled the glass with scotch, not paying particular attention to how many fingers he poured.
“To share a secret.” Gaby explained.
Illya reappeared, medical kit in hand. He dropped it on the couch next to her, but she waved him off in favor of taking the glass back from Napoleon.
“Is that what we’re doing?”
“Yes. Trade with me,” she ordered, making grabby motions with her other hand. Napoleon took the hint and helped her to her feet. He even let her shove him down into the couch in her place. Illya immediately tucked his fingers under Napoleon’s chin, pulled him closer, and stuck an antiseptic patch on the cut across his temple. Another was used to scrub at the trail of dried blood down his cheek and chin. He knew he shouldn’t have gone near the couch.
Napoleon thought Gaby would toss back the glass again (he was learning how well she held her liquor), but instead she circled the couch, placed her empty hand on the low back of it, and rose her other arm in a graceful arch above her head. With absent care, she settled the half full glass onto her tangled mass of hair. Napoleon’s jacket billowed around her, but she paid it no mind as she straightened her spine. She pointed a slender finger downward and Napoleon craned his neck over the back of the couch to spy her bare toes in the plush carpet.
“First position,” she muttered, setting her feet in opposite directions. “Second,” as she eased them apart. “Third,” she drew them back together to touch heel to arch. “Fourth,” while she slid one forward. “Fifth,” as she twisted her ankle in a way Napoleon couldn’t find completely natural. “Sixth,” when she brought them both pointing forward again. “And seventh.” She rose up to the balls of her feet, tension running easy through her body as she kept her head forward and level. The half full glass of scotch barely moved.
“Adagio,” she explained. She returned her heels to the carpet, only to twist her torso and raise her leg behind her in a graceful arch while her spine curved and carried her chest and shoulders forward.
“Barre,” she started, shifting her leg to the side, only to quickly regroup and snatch the glass off her head before she stumbled forward a bit. She winced and took another sip as she returned to the couch, dropping down next to Napoleon. "I'm a little out of practice."
“You have training,” Illya muttered as he began unbuttoning Napoleon’s sleeve. Napoleon was struck speechless enough to let him roll it up to his elbow.
“First soloist with the Berlin Ballet,” Gaby told them, looking into her glass rather than meeting either of their gazes.
“Prestigious position,” Illya praised. Gaby snorted as she drew her feet up. One of Napoleon’s hands was at the mercy of Illya’s iodine, but he used the other to pull her ankles until her legs were draped over his lap. If nothing else, it would make it easier for Illya to get at her battered knees.
“It was a rut. Two weeks after I was promoted I knew I’d never become a principle dancer. Too much was wrong with me.”
“I find it hard to believe anyone could find fault with you,” Napoleon said. Gaby rolled her eyes and wriggled her toes at him.
“Too short,” she explained. “My leg to torso ratio is all wrong. My chest was too big. My arms were too short. I can’t hold my face still when I dance. There was more, but I forget exactly what. It’s been nearly five years since I left.”
Illya finished wrapping one of his wrists, so Napoleon took his hand back and skated his fingers in a gentle tease over the skin above Gaby’s knee. His gambit worked when she smiled and kicked at him in return. Illya ignored their scuffle and reached across Napoleon to snag his other wrist.
“Is that why you left?” he asked. The flicker in Illya’s eyes told him the Russian was just as curious, even if he didn’t voice it.
“Part of it,” Gaby admitted. She didn’t complain when Napoleon stole the glass back and took his own sip. It strained at the bandages around his wrist, but he could admit they did feel better. He only winced when Illya prodded a bruise too deeply. “Anton's health was starting to fail even back then. The other shop hands were idiots, so I spent more of my time in the garage after he lost his bookkeeper. No one else could keep the ledgers straight. He never thought a career in ballet would support me anyways. He only let me continue because I started when…well, before he became my foster father. He wanted to teach me how to fix things so that I’d have a real skill.”
She dragged Napoleon’s hand over to her by the cuff of his folded up sleeve, and took another swallow of scotch directly out of his hand.
“He told me he just wanted me prepared. That he didn’t want to die not knowing I’d be alright.”
“He loved you,” Illya muttered, tying off the last bandage. The envy in his voice was undeniable. As was the smile, however small it was, when he leaned forward and ran his fingers up her calf. Napoleon let the moment pass without comment.
“He did,” Gaby agreed, releasing Napoleon so he could take another drink, a little bigger than it needed to be. In a show in solidarity, he offered the glass to Illya as well. Once again, the Russian surprised him by taking the offer, stealing his own sip with only a slightly disgruntled look.
“Vodka, next time,” he ordered as he reached out and rummaged around in the medical kit at his feet. The damp cloth he found went to wiping the blood and grime off Gaby’s knees.
They sat in companionable silence while he disinfected and bandaged Gaby up, though Napoleon could help but encourage her when she danced her toes up the inside of Illya’s elbow. The awkward face he made was just too much to resist, as was the mischievous smile across Gaby’s face when she stole the scotch glass back.
None of them said it, but they all knew it. It was Illya’s turn next. He could stall all he wanted, but there were only so many bandages that could fit around Gaby’s knees, and only so long before Napoleon started testing his boundaries.
Finally, Illya was out of things to bandage. They both looked at him in expectation. Untangling himself, Illya rose to his feet and walked back to his room. When he returned, he did not retake his old seat, instead reaching down to righten the overturned coffee table. He dusted off the imaginary debris from its surface and took a seat on it so he sat across from them both. In his hands were two envelopes, one of which tossed into Gaby’s lap.
"What are these?” she asked as she passed the glass back to Napoleon to better unwrap the envelope. Inside was a stack of photographs, only they didn't look very much like the harbor they had been covertly eyeing during their walk. The first few were a little blurred, but then she got to a handful that made Napoleon’s eyebrows reach his hairline.
The first photograph showed Gaby crouched down beside a gentle wave caught in the action of rolling onto shore. Her arm reached out for it while the wind kicked up her ponytail and the hem of her dress, revealing the bend of her knee and a generous portion of her thigh. In another photo, taken further away, she played among the shallow waves on a sand beach. The water was captured in the act of licking her legs, headless of the expensive dress she wore. The wind tossed her artful curls and pins into the air in complete disarray, as if strong, burly fingers had been racked through it. Her smile was evident even from the distance. And that was just the start of the stack. In each and every one she looked lovely and ethereal and open, all taken through the lens of Illya’s camera. Not a single one of them showed the dock they were supposed to be surveilling.
“Illya…” Gaby trailed off, slowly going through them. She raised her head to stare at him, before her eyes landed on the second envelope. “That’s not all, is it?” Illya hesitated, and Napoleon could see he was starting to back out.
He tossed the mostly empty tumbler at Illya, using the distraction to snatch the envelope from his giant hands and grinning at the resulting look of exasperation.
“You said you wanted vodka,” Napoleon pointed out. "I think I saw some at the bar.” Illya glared, but tossed back the remainder of the scotch and rose to his feet. Napoleon considered his strategic retreat while he worked the other envelope open. Gaby leaned in to peer over his shoulder.
The first one took his breath away. The sunset stretched from edge to edge, with the rocky shore dancing along the bottom in piles and pulls. A silhouette that could only belong to Napoleon stood in the foreground, effortlessly striking with the outline of his pressed shirt and waistcoat snug against the lines of his body and his head down as if in prayer to the sun. Another had him smiling head on to the camera, the sun, the beach, and the horizon mirrored back into the camera by the reflection of his sunglasses. He looked suave and mysterious in a way he often felt but his mug shots failed to capture. He flipped through photo after photo, more than a little touched that someone found him that deserving of attention.
Illya slinked back to the coffee table, deliberately avoiding their eyes as he resumed his spot and set a very full glass of vodka and ice down beside him. Napoleon kicked his feet up to rest on his other side—the only way he would be able to escape would be over Napoleon or by Gaby. Illya didn’t complain as he winnowed down his vodka.
Quite a few pictures were of Gaby and him together, though a particular one caught his attention. It portrayed Gaby, who during their walk had gotten annoyed and tried to tackle Napoleon in the spirit of American football, wrapped clinging around his shoulders. He had been prepared for her and managed to catch her by her waist and plant his feet firm enough to keep them both upright. He had slipped for just a moment, and a true smile snuck out, stretching his face a little too wide behind his sunglasses. Illya stole their image in a perfect moment, catching that smile and Gaby’s exuberance within the frame. Napoleon set that one aside, planning to sneak it into his own things later.
“I didn’t realize you took this many of us,” Gaby admitted. She had reached the end of her own stack, so she plucked Napoleon’s out of his hands and traded them for hers. They were a treasure he never knew existed, and he paged through them with undisguised glee.
“I did not either until I developed them,” Illya admitted. “Then, I did not…I thought I would get rid of them when we left."
“Here’s to your horrible plan not succeeding,” Napoleon stole the glass from his hand and toasted, only to remember why he and vodka almost never agreed. Gaby stole the tumbler from him, too.
“I think we need a few of Illya,” she suggested with a wicked smile that curled around the rim of the glass with little trouble. Illya made a disgruntled face that Napoleon wished he could capture on film. Then, another picture caught his eye.
“This one,” Napoleon decided, poking at a picture of an unamused Gaby glowering into the camera.
“That one what?”
“That’s the one for your new passport.”
Napoleon barely held back a laugh when Illya’s face finally transformed from self-conscious and cloudy to thoughtful and intrigued. Mission success.
Illya’s photographs ended up splayed across the floor. Gaby and Napoleon traded and bartered from their respective stacks like seasoned hagglers while Illya sat between and worked his way through the vodka. Somewhere along the line, the tumbler transformed into a bottle. The face Napoleon made every time he took a swig made Gaby laugh, though the vodka may have contributed to it.
“Making a new one would take me an hour,” Napoleon told her. “All I'd need is a heat lamp and a laminator."
“It would take you an hour, Cowboy?” Now that it was clear Napoleon and Gaby embraced his photographs with open arms, Illya was much calmer.
“There is no way you can forge a passport in under an hour,” Napoleon accused. Somewhere along the line he had moved to the floor, back braced against the couch and his long legs stretched out before him. If Gaby reached out, she could run her fingers through his hair.
“Poland, two years ago,” Illya boasted. He looked looser than Gaby could ever remember him being. “I created new papers in twenty-three minutes."
“Because I had twenty-five minutes to get out of country.”
Napoleon grilled him for more information, but a knock at the door distracted Gaby. She stumbled to her feet before she realizing that she still hadn’t changed out of her ripped dress, or given Napoleon back his jacket, the sleeves now rolled back to free up her hands.
She checked the peephole, and a flood of chagrin course through her. Opening the door, she smiled tightly at Waverly’s unassuming face.
“Hello, my dear,” he greeted. “Time to see me?”
“Of course, Mr. Waverly,” she said, louder than she needed to. Behind her, she heard rapid shuffling and by the time she turned back to the living area all the pictures were gone.
“Good afternoon, gentlemen,” Waverly smiled brightly. “Here I was expecting to find the furniture in complete disrepair. Good to see all that suffered was a bit of glass.”
Illya’s face closed off again, and Gaby stifled a frown. That little comment better not have sent them backtracking.
“Waverly,” Napoleon said, bright with enthusiasm as he rose to his feet. His voice drew attention away from Illya. “So good to see you and not your shady shadows.”
“Oh, Mr. Solo, you’re not still sore about that, are you? It all turned out for the best."
“Well, I got exactly what I wanted. A toe-hold in a major human trafficking ring and a newly graduated team for U.N.C.L.E. A very successful mission, all told.”
“Such a prestigious title,” Napoleon said. He was pacing now, and Gaby settled back down on the couch to stay out of his way. “May I ask how many we share that honor with?"
“Why, you’re one of the first.”
“Well, there is a lovely pair of ladies in Paris who recently cleared my tests. And a five-man band down in Peru. Then you three,” Waverly told him with a sunny look. Gaby felt the tension rising and immediately wished for the vodka bottle back, but it seemed to have disappeared along with the photographs.
"You are creating an international spy web," Illya accused softly. Waverly didn't seem dejected by his harsh tone, nodding with the air of one confronted with a pesky crossword clue instead of an internationally denounced idea.
"Why, yes, I rather suppose that is the idea. The world's become a much larger place since the war ended, and like good neighbors, we do enjoy to be in each others business."
"What you want already exists," Napoleon pointed out. "It's called Interpol."
"Good point, Mr. Solo. However, please tell me: how effective were they at catching you?"
"Please don't stroke his ego," Gaby asked with a stern glare at Napoleon.
"Dissidents against world order move fast and small. Interpol handles liaisons well, but they can't react quickly to a threat the way the world needs right now."
"I don't pretend to have a law degree," Napoleon drawled. "But I'm fairly sure what you're talking about is illegal in more than a few countries."
"All the more reason not to get caught, isn't it?” Waverly told them as he dropped a dossier onto the table. Gaby leaned forward and flipped through it, pushing the information over to the others when they didn’t move.
“Dublin,” Waverly explained. "A gun runner who's getting his hands on weapons far easier than he should be. Not just toys, either. At the rate he's going, the IRA could take over most of Europe with little opposition."
"Good for them," Illya replied promptly. Gaby pressed her eyes closed to keep her reactions in check; had Waverly really expected Illya to not sympathize with one of the strongest communist resistance fighters west of the Iron Curtain?
This wouldn’t end well.