Into the Black
Illya frowned at the meat on his plate. It was, like the sauce and the vegetables—and the soup, earlier, heavily salted. He sipped at his wine, not liking it, either—mulled with some ingredients he didn't recognize, heated until it was not refreshing at all. He touched the arm of the waiter. "May I have some ice water, please?"
"Sorry, sir, none available. Would you like more wine?"
"More?" Illya looked at his still full glass. "If I could have some cold?"
"Sorry again, sir. Can I get you anything else?"
"Fresh fruit? Fruit juice? Iced tea?"
"Let me top off your wine," the man suggested and did so. Illya sat back and folded his hands in his lap. He would do without, then—although he was so thirsty—surely a little wine wouldn't hurt. He drank, his thirst taking over despite the taste, and when he had nearly emptied the glass he set it down. He was aware of its effects immediately—he felt flushed, and dizzy—too much so, surely, for so small an amount. Perhaps it was because he hadn't eaten much—he nibbled on his bread and now why should that be salted too? He ate the roll anyway, wanting something in his stomach and now he was thirsty again. He reached for his glass which was somehow full but after two swallows set it down. His hair irritated his skin, suddenly, where he had tucked his ponytail inside his shirt collar and he pulled it out impatiently, let it hang down his back. Something was not right. His head was spinning and he pushed his plate away, looked around for someone to talk to—perhaps conversation would take his mind off his thirst. This dinner couldn't go on much longer and there was water in his room and an ice machine in the hall. He leaned across the table to talk to the man he'd spoken with earlier—a top Interpol agent whom Illya had known back in the days when he and Napoleon had worked in the field. But he was... Illya blinked and looked again. He was kissing the woman sitting next to him. Both must have had more wine than was good for them. Illya looked around and all around him people were kissing and, at the sofa by the fire, more than kissing. The wine, Illya thought, aware of a spreading weakness in his own body and he had had so little. It must be drugged—that was why the food was so salty—and no water.
Illya hadn't liked the sound of this gathering to begin with—friends and enemies, UNCLE agents and former KGB operatives, THRUSH and Interpol and the CID—but it was a different world now and there were common enemies they all needed to face—together—and so orders had come from the very top that a sampling of representatives from each group was to meet over the weekend. Security was very tight—so how had the drugged wine found its way in? He looked for Napoleon and saw him, two tables away, accepting a refill of his wine. His dinner companion was Jem—something, Illya had heard her last name but never the same one twice so he had given over trying to keep it in mind. She was a free lance agent, working now for one side, now the other; her dark sultry beauty making her an asset even without her razor sharp wit and photographic memory. She and Napoleon were old acquaintances and from the way she was smiling at him now Illya supposed the acquaintance would be renewed tonight. But Napoleon should be warned. Illya pushed back his chair and made his way over there, averting his eyes from the increasingly indecent behavior all around him. He tapped Napoleon's shoulder. "Napoleon?"
"Illya." Napoleon smiled at him and Illya's heart sank. Napoleon's pupils were dilated, making the warm brown eyes nearly black, and cold... his smile was different, too, wolfish. Napoleon didn't seem drunk—his speech wasn't slurred; his hands, as he set the empty glass down, were steady. He took Jem's hand from his thigh and set it on her lap. "One moment, my own," he said and gave her that feral smile. "This must be important. Illya. Have a seat. Have some wine."
"No thank you. Napoleon—can I talk to you?"
Illya looked at Jem, who was licking drops of wine from her lips. At least if this was a trap of some kind everyone was in it together. "Alone."
"I'm intrigued." Deliberately, Napoleon looked Illya up and down. "Go on. I'm all ears."
Illya flushed. Not alone, then. "The wine—I'm pretty sure the wine is drugged. You shouldn't... you shouldn't have any more."
"Drugged?" Napoleon frowned, eyes narrowing. "You're not serious."
"Look around," Illya said, gesturing. "Look at... at Mr. Davenport."
Napoleon did, and his eyes narrowed further. Jake Davenport, the most upright and dignified of men—and a faithful husband of twenty years—currently had his tongue down the throat of the female FBI agent who had been sitting across from him, and was now in his lap. "I see what you mean. Jem, my dear, do you know anything about this?"
"No, Napoleon. If you doubt it look at Ms. Breeland." Sara Breeland was, as far as anyone could tell, Jem's superior. She was currently stretched out on the sofa with a blonde from UNCLE's communications division.
"That's why the food is so salty, and there's no water," Illya said. "I think—I think we should leave."
Illya flushed again, more hotly this time. "I don't mean that. And neither do you. But it could be a trap—they could be taping—or... or something."
"And who is they? If they are the people who organized this, then they are here as well." Napoleon deliberately drained his glass.
Napoleon was right. Illya frowned. In any event, there was no stopping this, whatever it was. "Just be careful."
"I am always careful, Illya." Napoleon reached up, tugged at Illya's ponytail. "You of all people should know that."
"Well—I'm going up to my room."
"Yes, I suppose you would be. Alone?"
"Of course alone."
"You, Illya Kuryakin," Jem said, leaning across the table to point a scarlet tipped finger at him, "haven't had enough to drink."
"I've had all I care for, thank you," Illya said politely, and she laughed. "Goodnight, Napoleon—Jem. Napoleon—if you need me, I'm wearing my pen."
"As am I. And thank you for the warning. I will be on my guard. But Jem and I are old friends—I hardly think any surprises are hiding in her bed."
"You never know, Napoleon." She giggled, held out her glass for a refill. "But maybe you'll surprise me. I always suspected a beast of a man lurked under those suits and savoir faire. Maybe tonight I'll meet him."
"Maybe we both will. Goodnight, Illya. Sure you don't want company? The three of us could join forces."
Illya would have said he couldn't turn any redder but he would have been wrong. Even his ears were hot and Jem laughed again. "I'm quite sure. Thank you. Goodnight." He turned and made his way across the room, dodging the couples and, increasingly, groups that blocked his path. A woman he didn't recornize tried to slide her arms around his waist but he side stepped and kept going. Two people he knew from Science called and waved him over but he only shook his head and kept his eyes on the exit sign. His head was still swimming and his legs felt unreliable—he was terribly thirsty. Hands grabbed his shoulders, spun him around and before he could recover from his surprise a bulky male body was pressed up against his and lips covered his own. A thick tongue entered his mouth and he bit down, hard, at the same time jabbing stiffened fingers into someone's solar plexus. The man yelled in pain and lifted his fist. Illya dropped back a step, to prepare for the block, and tripped over something. He would have fallen if a strong arm hadn't caught him, set him upright and then Napoleon had the other man's arm twisted up behind his back. He whispered something in his ear that made the man pale, and shoved him away hard. Then Napoleon strode past Illya, caught another man who was trying to vanish into the crowd and hit him once, very hard, in the gut. The man sat down abruptly and then Napoleon had Illya's arm again and was steering him toward the elevator.
"I was afraid of this," he said. "I'll escort you."
"I don't need... thank you. Why did you hit that man? He didn't do anything."
"He's what you fell over," Napoleon said shortly, pressing the button for the elevator. "He was crouching behind you."
"Why—oh." Illya flushed again. "Thank you."
"That's what I'm here for." They entered the elevator and Napoleon put the heel of his hand against the nose of the man who tried to enter with them. "Wait for the next one," he advised, pushed hard and sent the man sprawling. The doors closed and they went up.
"Why did you do that? He wasn't... I don't even think he was in the dining room with us." Illya tried to ease his arm free from Napoleon's grasp and couldn't. "Napoleon—you can let go of me now."
"Not yet," Napoleon said and Illya swallowed.
"But..." then another wave of dizziness swept him and he swayed. Napoleon's fingers tightened, keeping Illya on his feet but hurting him, too—Illya tried to pry them loose but the elevator doors opened and Napoleon pulled him out into the hall.
"Got your key?"
"Yes—let go, Napoleon, and I'll get it."
"No. Tell me where it is."
Illya tried to remember through the mists in his brain. "In my inside jacket pocket. Let me..." Napoleon found the key, used it, pushed Illya ahead of him into the living room, came in behind him, shut and double locked the door.
"There," he said, and released Illya's arm. Illya gasped, rubbed the place. "Safe and sound. You get ready for bed while I secure your rooms."
"Th—thank you." Illya was grateful. Dizzy as he was, he would have been no match for two men and the thought of what had almost happened made him sick. He went into the bedroom. It felt wonderful to get his stiff business clothes off, to slip one of his favorite oversized T shirts over his head; the soft cotton a caress on his bare skin. Napoleon raised his eyebrows when Illya returned to the living room.
"That's better." He eyed his partner, in that simple white shirt, absurdly large on his slim body, covering him to his knees; feet and arms bare. Napoleon restrained the urge to lick his lips and shoved a chair up behind Illya, shoved down on his shoulders, making him sit.
"Napoleon—stop pushing me around. And could you get me something to drink? I'm so thirsty."
"As it happens, I brought something along," Napoleon said, producing a glass from his own inside pocket. Illya reached for it, took it and drank before realizing it was more wine. He started to put it down but Napoleon grabbed it, tipped it and poured the remainder into Illya's mouth while he was still trying to think of a way to protest. He choked, instead, and began coughing.
"I didn't want that," he gasped, wiping streaming eyes with the handkerchief Napoleon obligingly produced. "I don't like it. Now look." He clung to his chair to keep it from tilting backwards.
"Sorry," Napoleon said, not sounding sorry at all. "I just thought you needed to join the party."
"No, thank you. I'm going to bed."
"Of course alone!" Illya stood up again, steeling himself against the giddy, sick feeling. He looked up into Napoleon's eyes and what he saw there made him step back, only to stumble against the chair and Napoleon caught his arm—again, steadied him on his feet—again.
"You're not doing very well."
"I know. It's the wine. It makes me dizzy. Napoleon—thank you for helping me—and bringing me back here. I'm all right now. I just need to sleep it off."
"And all that wine doesn't make you burn, even a little bit?"
"Burn? No, I told you..."
Napoleon took a step closer, reaching around Illya to knock the chair out of the way. Illya backed up, frightened by something in Napoleon's eyes he had never seen there before. "Cold, then," Napoleon said softly. "Everyone is right about you after all." He moved closer and Illya backed away again. "Two more steps," Napoleon said, closing the distance between them, "and you're up against the wall. You'd better stop where you are."
"Unless that's what you want." He moved forward swiftly pushing Illya back until he was indeed against the wall and no place to retreat to. Napoleon was so close that only a breath separated them. "You do know what they call you, don't you?"
They called him the Ice Prince—Illya did know. "Yes. Napoleon—I want you to leave."
"Since when?" He reached for Illya's face, Illya turned away. "Don't think I haven't seen the way you watch me—even if there's a woman there—sometimes especially if there's a woman there." He ran a finger across Illya's lips—Illya jerked back and hit his head on the wall. "Ah ah," Napoleon said, and with that same swiftness reached behind him, closed his hand over Illya's ponytail, held him still. "You watch me—even when I kiss them, I feel your eyes on me." Deliberately he unfastened the band Illya wore around his hair, letting it spill onto his shoulders, framing his face in sunlight.
"Well," Illya said defensively, not sure why he was on the defensive when it was Napoleon who was wrong, clearly wrong... "you're the one kissing them in public. Leave my hair alone. Leave me alone."
"You'd send me away?" Napoleon stroked Illya's hair, tangled his fingers in it, pulled Illya's head back hard. "You'd send me back to Jem—or whoever else I may find down there? Into the arms of the enemy?"
"No—I mean yes. I mean do whatever you want but I want you out of here. Get away from me, Napoleon!" Illya pushed him, hard, in the chest and Napoleon almost stepped back, then his eyes narrowed again and he released Illya's hair, caught his wrists. Twisted them. Illya gasped, tried to pull free. Napoleon twisted harder. "Napoleon—you're hurting me."
"Am I," Napoleon said, voice silky. Deliberately, he twisted harder. "How thin your wrists are," he said then, turning them up for inspection. "It seems I could break them with my bare hands..." his grip tightened. "I burn, even if you don't. I'm on fire—and you're so cool—let me douse my flames here, Illya. Don't send me back to Jem—she's on fire too and I find—I find I prefer ice to fire." His hands had relaxed and Illya pulled free and ran for the door, not even knowing where he'd go once he got out but there would be somewhere to hide, surely, until morning when this madness had abated. Then Napoleon tackled him from behind, slamming him into the floor, knocking the breath out of him. Before he could catch it Napoleon had pinned him on his back and was groping for something on the table with his free hand. Illya found his breath and fought but he was hampered by not wanting to hurt Napoleon where Napoleon—Illya gritted his teeth, refusing to cry out under Napoleon's weight—had no such scruples. Napoleon shook him, hard, then grabbed his wrists again, knelt on them and Illya did cry out.
"Napoleon! Stop—stop that!" The pain was blinding. "You're hurting me!" It was incredible that Napoleon would hurt him—Napoleon, who was always careful with him, careful, and kind—the change made Illya so wretched that tears blurred his eyes, then Napoleon caught his face, held it with punishing fingers.
"Then—you—stop," he hissed, hitting each word hard, fingers squeezing, brutally tight. "You—just—stop. Here." He brought his other hand around and in it was a bottle. "Let me make sure it's the same..." he took a swig. The pain was shooting up Illya's arms, and his hands were numb and each separate spot where Napoleon's fingers were on his face was pain. "Yes, it's the same. Cold by now—but you're thirsty, aren't you? Maybe a little more will make you burn, too—but I doubt it. It doesn't affect you that way, does it, my little Russian glacier. But it weakens you, so drink up. Drink up and I'll let you go."
"No," Illya whispered, trying to turn his face away and Napoleon's fingers tightened. "No—I don't want any."
"But I want you to have it." Napoleon jammed the bottle between Illya's teeth, fingers squeezing even harder, forcing his mouth open. Illya choked, tried to pull free but Napoleon's grip was inexorable and it was either drink or drown so Illya drank, and drank some more, tried again to turn his face away but the dizziness was a great dark wave, taking all his strength from him. Napoleon was holding him easily now, rubbing his throat, making him swallow again, and again... when Napoleon set the bottle down Illya's tears had spilled over. "So this is how the ice melts," Napoleon jeered, and licked the tears away.
"Please," Illya managed, unable to turn away from Napoleon's tongue, barely able to speak at all. "Please get off my hands. Please."
"It's hurting you as much as that?"
"Will you say thank you if I get off?"
"If that's what you want."
"It is, oh it is, Illya. I like hearing you say please and I think I'll like hearing you say thank you too." He shifted position, removing his knees from Illya's hands and Illya groaned aloud as the blood rushed into the crushed nerves. Napoleon stretched out next to him on the floor. "I didn't hear thank you," he said, that dangerous edge in his voice again.
"There we go." He lifted Illya's hands, studied the dark indentations there. Illya tried to yank them free and Napoleon hit him. He cuffed him almost casually, but hard enough to snap his head to one side. "Now we're not going to have any more of this," Napoleon said in the same dangerous voice. "Is that clear?"
Illya was beyond words. That Napoleon would hit him was the final proof that anything could happen now, that the drug had Napoleon so thoroughly in its grip that no appeal would reach him. So when Napoleon got up, pulling Illya with him, pulled him across the room Illya went unresisting. His knees buckled and Napoleon caught him, tossed him onto the bed, began undressing.
Illya lay on his stomach, grateful for the soft mattress after the floor. He felt ill; dizzy and sick to his stomach and then Napoleon settled over him, tugged at his nightshirt. Awareness burst in and with it panic, raw panic and Illya lunged forward, clawing at the edge of the bed for leverage, actually getting free for a second but then Napoleon grabbed his arm, forced it up behind his back, bending it, and when Illya cried out Napoleon clamped his hand over Illya's mouth, hard, fingers digging into flesh. "Now stop it!" he rasped, struggling to regain his position. "Stop it I said!" He pushed harder on Illya's arm but Illya, maddened with terror twisted over, onto his back, trying to get his legs up to push Napoleon away. Napoleon, still lying full length on top, cuffed him again, much harder and for a moment Illya fell into blackness. In that moment Napoleon released his arm, grabbed both wrists again, pinned them behind Illya's back, under the combined weight of their bodies and, one hand still over his mouth, waited until Illya's eyes opened. When they did Illya struggled uselessly, panted, struggled some more but he was well and truly pinned and, knowing it, Napoleon relaxed, smiling. "This is all right," he said, and moved against him, hard, and urgent. "Keep that up if you like. It excites me—" he moved again. "But tell me, partner mine—why are you making it so difficult?" Illya made a smothered sound against his hand and Napoleon smiled again. "Don't yell," he cautioned, and lifted his hand a little. "Well?"
"I don't... I don't want... please, Napoleon. Please don't... don't do this." Illya was trying to lie still because it was dreadful, that his struggles pleased Napoleon so. "I don't want to."
"I see this," Napoleon said, amused. "But you could have some consideration for me, you who love me well. When tomorrow comes, and I am myself again—a state I can almost touch, like putting my hand through a mirror and feeling the real world on the other side—how will I feel? When I roll over in bed in the morning and see you—" he traced the bruises his fingers had left on Illya's face, "how will I feel? You know how I'll feel." He put his mouth against Illya's ear. "I'll want to cut my heart out, won't I," he whispered. "And it's you forcing me to it, my own partner, the best friend I have in the world, taking what could have been a playful interlude and turning it into... well, it's up to you, Illya. Will it be rape? I'm up for it," he grinned, moved against Illya again. "Struggle some more," he whispered, mouth wet on Illya's neck. "It felt so good when you did." He waited and, when Illya only lay still, lifted himself again to look into his eyes. He laughed. "And you're thinking it over, aren't you," he said, amused afresh. "I can see it in your face. Even now, that mind is working. Weighing the pros and cons, deciding—what?"
"That you're right," Illya said. "Tomorrow—when you're yourself again—you'll suffer for this far more than you're hurting me now. Let go of my hands. I won't fight you anymore."
Napoleon wavered. "Don't try anything funny," he warned, laying his fist against Illya's face. "Don't even think about it. I'll knock you out if I have to, and tie you down and then wait until you're awake to fuck you so you don't miss anything. Do you doubt me?"
"No," Illya said and closed his eyes against the pain of it. Napoleon released his hands, then reached under, grabbed him intimately, squeezed—not hard enough to hurt—yet.
"Don't try anything," he whispered again. "I'll show you pain like you've never dreamed of."
"Napoleon—you are my partner. And you're right about me—I love you well. I've always loved you. And—and tomorrow..." he slid his arms around Napoleon's neck, leaving himself vulnerable, "when you wake up, remember that you took nothing from me that I did not give you of my own free will." He tightened his arms. "It's all right, Napoleon. It's not your fault. You're the best man in the world to me and I'm already sorry for the grief you have ahead of you."
"What a fool you are," Napoleon said, and moved his hand from between Illya's legs, replaced it with his knees, shoving Illya's thighs apart. "You love me—still? You love me—" he rammed himself in, and Illya cried out in agony. Napoleon covered his mouth again, squeezing hard. "Still?"
Illya couldn't answer through the hand gagging him—couldn't even nod his head so he kissed Napoleon's palm instead, forgiving him even as the pain increased, growing with each stroke until with the final flurry came merciful unconsciousness.
Illya awoke to pain, pain in his jaw and his wrists and his arms, pain deep inside him, and he moaned, opened his eyes. Napoleon was watching him, face dark and intent and Illya closed his eyes again. He was tired—sickened by the forced intimacy with this stranger who wore Napoleon's face and had Napoleon's voice—used Napoleon's knowledge of him so cleverly and so cruelly. "Look at me," Napoleon said and Illya obeyed. Their eyes held for a long time. "All the years I've known you," Napoleon said finally. "I've never known you be with any woman—or any man either. Do you have a long complicated history I know nothing of, or was this your first time?"
"First time," Illya said, using the minimum of words because it hurt to talk just like it hurt to move and to breathe and to look into Napoleon's eyes.
"Why? Are you truly as cold as that?"
"I suppose so. I've just never... never been interested." It was true. He hadn't.
"It's not for lack of offers."
"Well, you're not getting off this easily," Napoleon said. "Giving yourself to me like some sacrificial virgin and nothing touching you at all—oh no. I'm not having it." He ran his hand across Illya's stomach and Illya stiffened, started to roll away, stopped as Napoleon grabbed his shoulders, shook him, slamming him into the mattress. "Don't start!" he shouted, directly into Illya's face. "Don't start now—I'm more on fire than ever and I've been waiting for you to wake up because I wouldn't take you unconscious and bleeding—I've cleaned you up and I've waited so don't make me break your damn neck! Think how bad I'd feel then, in the morning!"
"What—what time is it?" It wasn't morning? It seemed an age since he'd walked over to warn Napoleon about the drugged wine.
"Twelve forty-five AM."
Illya shuddered. An eternity to go, then. He turned his face away. "All right," he said, voice dull. "I just—I thought it would be over, when you were done. Do what you want, then. I won't try to stop you."
"You kissed my hand, when it was on your mouth," Napoleon said, beginning to move his palm in slow, lazy circles on Illya's abdomen. "Now it's my fist in your face." He pressed it against Illya's lips. "Will you kiss me now?"
It was Napoleon's smell, still—and Napoleon needed to remember, tomorrow, that Illya loved him, so Illya did kiss it, lips brushing his knuckles. Napoleon's other hand on his stomach felt good—his body was bruised and sore and grateful for this gentle touch—around, and around, warm and sweet—Illya sighed. Then the hand left him and its loss was a piercing sorrow, a sweetness and a bitterness, too. Napoleon stroked Illya's sides, trailing his fingers up, then down, Illya whispering to himself in Russian now, head turning restlessly on the pillow, brushing against Napoleon's fist, still there and ready, rubbing his cheek against it and Napoleon's hand opened. He stroked Illya's face, running a finger over his lips, making him shiver. "So you can burn, too, wine or no," he whispered and Illya flushed but he couldn't help it, he couldn't... Napoleon stroked the insides of Illya's thighs and they parted for him. Napoleon slid down, put his mouth on Illya's abdomen, then lower and Illya cried out, not in fear, or pain now but pleasure. Napoleon brought him to the very brink then stopped. Illya gasped, reached for him pleadingly.
"Where is my Ice Prince now?" Napoleon mocked him and Illya's eyes opened.
"I don't know," he whispered, shivering. "Oh, Napoleon..."
"You begged me to stop. So I'm stopping."
Illya reached for him again and he gripped Illya's hands, squeezed hard. "Just so you can't blame me tomorrow," he said, and climbed on top again. "Just so you know—you're no better than the rest of us. Beg me, Illya. Beg me to do it, like you begged me to stop."
"Please... touch me... please..."
"No," Napoleon said and took him again, just as hard, and just as rough and Illya, pleasure swamped by pain, lost in pain, turned his face aside and wept, feeling shamed, and lost, and wretchedly alone. He wept through the whole thing and when it was done he put his face in the pillow and wept some more. He felt Napoleon get up but didn't run for the door, as he would have earlier. He'd never make it, probably wouldn't get two steps and he didn't want to be hurt anymore—it had been so sweet, for those few minutes when Napoleon had handled him gently. "Open up," Napoleon said, and cleaned the insides of his thighs. Shamed further, Illya let him. "Now," Napoleon said, coming back into bed, pulling Illya hard against him. "I'm going to sleep. You stay here, and be still because if you move, during the night, if you move a muscle, you'll wake me up." He gripped Illya's face again. "And if you wake me up, I'm going to want to start all over again. You don't want that, do you." And when Illya only closed his eyes, Napoleon shouted at him. "Do you!"
"No," Illya said hastily. "No, I will—I will be quiet."
"Good." Napoleon fell asleep, just like that, between one word and the next and Illya, lying in his arms, tried to stop crying because it would surely wake the man next to him, wake this terrible stranger and oh, Illya didn't want to wake him so he lay still and quiet as he had been told.
Illya didn't know how long he lay there, eyes burning from all the tears shed, exhausted but fighting sleep because who knew what he would do in his sleep? He might roll over, or cry out—waking Napoleon and Napoleon would want to start all over again. Sleep offered the only escape from the pain, and the sorrow, and the terrible memories that kept playing over and over in his mind, but sleep was too dangerous. A sob escaped him, finally, then another, and Napoleon did stir.
"Illya," he muttered, voice thick. "Illya—don't cry. What's wrong?" And, when Illya said nothing, body shaking with the sobs he could no longer control, Napoleon repeated his question. "What's wrong? Whatever it is, tell me. I'm here. I'm right here. It's all right. Don't cry, Illya. Tell me."
What was wrong was so complex and thick with grief that Illya didn't know what to say but he had to say something so he opened his mouth and what came out was "I'm thirsty."
"Yes." He was. He was terribly thirsty, had been thirsty since dinner and the wine had helped not at all, only making him thirstier.
"Oh." Napoleon scrubbed at his face with his hands. "Wait a minute." He rolled off the bed, landed on his hands and knees, pushed himself to his feet. "I must have drunk way too much," he said, making his staggering, looping way to the bathroom. "Not like me..." his voice trailed off as he disappeared inside, and Illya heard the sound of water. He licked dry lips and then Napoleon was back, dropping clumsily to his knees again. "Here." He held out the glass and Illya struggled to push himself up. "Let me help you." Napoleon slipped an arm behind Illya's neck and held his head while he drank greedily. "There." Napoleon put the empty glass down and peered at Illya's face, only a pale glimmer in the dark room. "Better?"
"Good." Napoleon crawled across Illya to get to his own side and Illya bit his lip against the pain on his sore body. Napoleon patted him awkwardly. "Okay?"
"Yes..." but his voice broke.
"There now," Napoleon said, and pulled Illya against him. "Don't be sad, Illya. I'm here. Drunk and not much use," he laughed a little, then winced, putting a hand to his head. "But here. Not sure why we're in bed together either, but you can fill me in tomorrow."
"All right." It was Napoleon, really his Napoleon, really there with him, and Illya turned his face into Napoleon's shoulder and cried some more while Napoleon kept patting him and said things like "there there" and "it's all right" and "don't cry" and after a little while he quieted. Napoleon stroked the wet hair back from Illya's face.
"It's nice being together," he said and Illya nodded against him. It was nice. "You don't have to cry any more," Napoleon went on, pulling the covers up around them. "I'm here."
"All right. I won't. Goodnight, Napoleon Thank you for the drink of water."
"No problem. Goodnight, Illya. Sleep well. Sure you're all right now?"
"Yes." He was, and this time when sleep tugged at him Illya surrendered to it gratefully, safe in the security of Napoleon's arms.
Napoleon awoke to a headache—a pounding headache worse than any he'd ever known. He moaned and turned his head, then clutched at the bed as it pitched and rolled beneath him and his stomach rolled too. He tried to scramble out of bed but was sick before he could, managing to hang his head over the edge while he vomited until he thought his insides would tear apart and come up with his dinner and the foul tasting wine. Midway through he heard Illya's voice, fuzzed with sleep, concerned, and he reached for Illya blindly, grabbed Illya's hand, clutched it while he heaved and heaved again until finally it was done and he hung there, gagging and spitting. Illya lifted him, laid him on the bed. "Wait," he said and disappeared.
Napoleon groaned. "Illya—don't go... don't leave me like this" his stomach turned over and Illya was there, helping him lean over the side again but there was nothing left to come up. Napoleon retched uselessly for a while then lay back. Illya wiped his face with a damp cloth. The smell rose from the floor and made Napoleon gag.
"Come," Illya said, and rolled Napoleon over, towards the other side of the bed. "I'll take you to your room. We'll never get that smell out of the carpet. Let the hotel worry about it." He draped a hotel bathrobe over Napoleon's back, took Napoleon's weight on his shoulder and half carried him out the door, down the hall and to Napoleon's own room. "It's a good thing we always get them side by side." He brought Napoleon into the bathroom, turned on the shower. "You'll feel better," he said and helped Napoleon climb over the lip of the tub. Inside, Napoleon sat down, head on his drawn up knees and Illya adjusted the temperature. He washed Napoleon all over, gently, lifted the toilet lid and held Napoleon's head while he retched and choked some more. Then he helped Napoleon out into the bedroom, dried him off and folded back the covers. Napoleon exhaled with relief as he sank onto cool clean sheets. Dazed he let Illya help him into clean pajamas and wipe his face again. Then Illya stood and regarded him. "Do you want the hotel doctor?" he asked, and Napoleon shook his head.
"Serves me right for drinking all that wine—it wasn't even that good, hot slimy stuff. I just couldn't seem to stop drinking it. Illya..." he looked curiously at his partner. "I dreamed—I think I dreamed—of—of you?"
Illya sat down next to him and Napoleon's hand came up to touch his face. "Illya—what happened to you? You look like somebody beat the hell out of you. What..." then his expression changed. "No," he whispered, and snatched his hand back. "No, no—Illya tell me it was a dream, tell me I didn't... I couldn't have..." memory was flooding back and he groaned, turned away. "I did, didn't I. No dream—oh, no, Illya I'm sorry" he laughed shortly. "How ridiculously inadequate that sounds. I'm sorry I hit you. I'm sorry I hurt you, and laughed at you. I'm sorry I... oh, Illya, my friend, my best friend I've ever had—I'll request a transfer, all right? Or if you want to press charges I won't... I will resign, I will go away, you'll never have to see me again." Illya, who had tried to interrupt several times, finally managed to get a word in.
"No, Napoleon—no, don't do that. I don't want you to do that. I don't want you to leave." He leaned over, touched Napoleon's shoulder and his eyes widened with horror as he saw that Napoleon, proud, brave Napoleon was crying now, shoulders heaving as he tried to control it. Without hesitation Illya crawled into bed, put his arms around Napoleon, tried to lift him, couldn't, and just held him, stroking his hair, rocking him. "I didn't want you to feel this way—don't you remember? I gave it to you, you didn't take it, I let you, don't you remember?"
He remembered—remembered Illya's arms going around his neck, remembered Illya's lips on his palm, on his fist... Napoleon wept harder but he clung to Illya too, arms suffocatingly tight but Illya didn't struggle, didn't try to twist free, just held on and gasped for breath. "I love you," he said into Napoleon's hair and there was such tenderness in his voice that it broke Napoleon's heart again. "I love you, Napoleon, everything I told you was the truth. I love you and it wasn't your fault, it was the wine, it was the drug—please don't feel bad, Napoleon, I love you so much. The only thing that could make this worse is if you turn away from me. I'm so afraid I'll lose you now and how can I live without you?"
"How can you ever forgive me? I was so cruel to you—I even..." he remembered the end, when he had touched Illya with all his skill and had Illya twisting and moaning under him, clinging to him, pleading with him not to stop and he had... "how can you forgive me?"
"I do, I do forgive you, Napoleon, that wasn't you, not you at all you're always so good to me—look at me, Napoleon. Look at me."
Napoleon did, because the least he could do was whatever Illya wanted of him now so he looked into those blue eyes and saw the bruises all over Illya's face and remembered his fingers digging in, remembered himself pouring the wine down Illya's throat, making Illya choke and cough and still he poured it... Illya was wiping Napoleon's tears away with his fingers but they came too fast so Illya drew him close again and Napoleon pillowed his head on that hard shoulder and wept. Illya said nothing more, just laid his cheek on the top of Napoleon's head and let him have it out.
It took a long time but finally Napoleon lay exhausted in Illya's arms, feeling sleep pull at him. "Don't leave me" he said, ashamed of his neediness yet helpless to control it. "Don't leave me yet, Illya, please, let me fall asleep and wake up in your arms even though I don't deserve it, don't deserve you at all."
"Yes you do," Illya whispered, kissing Napoleon's head. "Do you think I'd set one night of... of madness over all the years we've been together? That's you, that's who I... I love. Last night was the drug, that's all. Just don't drink it again, Napoleon, if they offer it to you. That's all."
"I feel like a coward blaming it all on the drug. It was me, doing those things to you, saying those things... it was me."
"Was it?" Illya drew back, stared at him. "Was it you? You're yourself now, with no drug or wine or much else left in you. Do you still want to hurt me? Hit me? Make fun of... of the way I feel about you?" His own voice broke and Napoleon touched his face, hands shaking.
"Of course not. Never. You—don't you know I... I cherish you?" He was caressing Illya now, hands moving across his jaw, his cheeks, stroking back his hair, cupping Illya's face between his hands. "All I want in the world is to see you safe, and happy—I could have killed those men last night for daring to touch you. If I could wipe it all away and make it never have happened, I would. I can't." His voice caught. "I can't."
"No. All we can do is go on from here and I won't be able to bear losing you. I love you, Napoleon. I've always loved you. You were right—I've always watched you, and wondered... I tried to hide it but now I have to know. Was last night only the drug or do you want me too?"
"I want you," Napoleon whispered. "I think I've always wanted you. But you seemed so unapproachable, so..."
"Cold?" Illya said with a very small smile and Napoleon smiled too.
"No. I never thought that. Pure. That was the word I used to myself. Pure—and untouched..."
Illya laughed shakily. "Not anymore."
"No. I'm sorry."
"I know you are. Napoleon—what do you want to do now? Do you want to pretend it never happened? I will, if you want... as long as we're still friends, as long as you don't leave me."
"It would kill me, to leave you. You—you're the only person in the world I've ever loved."
"Napoleon—if it had been you last night, really you, I mean—I wouldn't have said no." Illya swallowed. "Maybe you should know that, too, while you're deciding what to do. I wouldn't say no to you now. You frightened me because you were so—it wasn't you at all. That drug—it's a terrible thing."
"Maybe," Napoleon said painfully, "maybe it wasn't the drug that was terrible. Maybe it brought out the ugliness that's always been in me. Brought it out, then turned it on you."
"Well, we did an ugly job for many years. And better me than someone who would have you thrown in jail."
"How can you joke?"
"I don't know." Illya put his head on Napoleon's shoulder. "Already last night seems far away. I had wine too, you know."
"But it brought out no ugliness in you," Napoleon whispered. He stroked Illya's face again. "Because there's none there to bring out."
"Yes there is. It affected me differently, that's all. It made me dizzy, and faint."
"It made you want me. For a few minutes there, before I ruined it, you wanted me."
"Oh, Napoleon." Illya put his arms around Napoleon's neck again, as he had the night before. "That wasn't the wine. I told you. I wanted you before. Can you still be my friend, knowing that?"
Napoleon's arms closed around Illya in his turn, holding him carefully because Illya was so thin, felt so fragile in his arms. "I want you now," he said hoarsely. "Can you trust me again, knowing that?"
"You want me now?"
"Yes." It seemed a terrible admission, with the bruises still fresh on Illya's body. But Napoleon made it because there would be no more hidden things between them. "I want you now."
Illya put his mouth against Napoleon's ear. "Can I tell you something?"
"Of course you can." And how had Illya managed to make this all right? How had Illya healed those wounds? Because Napoleon did feel better. "I don't deserve to feel better," he said aloud, and Illya stroked his hair.
"Yes you do. You're a wonderful man, Napoleon. You're the best man I've ever known. That wasn't you, that wasn't your fault. And—and I really liked it when you rubbed my stomach and all."
"You did, did you."
"Is that bad of me? When everything else was so wrong? Your hands on me felt right."
"Even so. I would never have thought I could feel like that. But when you touched me it was as if I were melting. And when you stopped" Illya fell silent, remembering that sweet yearning pain. "When you stopped—I didn't want you to."
Please, Illya had begged him. Please, touch me. "And now? I won't lay a finger on you without your permission."
"Touch me," Illya whispered, trembling again but not in fear, not at all. "Touch me—but with love, this time. With love, Napoleon. I'll know the difference."
He touched Illya then, touched Illya with all the love in his heart, touched Illya's back and his wrists, kissed the dark marks there, kissed the marks on Illya's jaw and his cheekbones, kissed Illya's mouth, finally, and Illya kissed him back, and then Napoleon slid his hands across Illya's body, making Illya cry out, and clutch at him, and soon Napoleon was clutching back and there was nothing hidden between them, their hearts were open each to the other and when they slept again they lay each folded in the embrace of the other and both were at peace.
They showered together, by mutual if silent consent, neither ready to be apart from the other. As the hot water hit Napoleon's back memory flashed, of early this morning, himself huddled on the bottom of the tub and Illya washing him, hands so gentle and he himself unaware—yet—of just how undeserved that gentleness was. He turned and found Illya right there, ready for the embrace, pressing against Napoleon's body, tucking his head into the crook of Napoleon's neck. They stood there for a long time, until the water began to cool. Napoleon laughed shakily. "We better hurry up with this. You go ahead and wash your hair—you did mine earlier."
"But you've been sick. You go first."
"Yours takes longer. Here." He turned Illya so Illya's back was to him. "I'll do you." He lathered up Illya's long hair, piling it on top of his head with shampoo. He rinsed Illya off and let Illya do the same for him. They brushed their teeth, shaved and got dressed all in silence, neither sure just what came next. What did they do now? Illya kept peeking at Napoleon under his eyelashes while he brushed and tied back his hair. What would happen now? Would Napoleon want them to go back to their friendshp as if nothing had happened? Would Napoleon want to put this behind them as if they had never slept in each other's arms, had never kissed, had never... peeking Illya caught Napoleon smiling at him, and smiled back.
"I don't know," Napoleon said as if he'd heard Illya's thoughts. "I don't know. Let's get out of here first."
"This is supposed to last until tomorrow afternoon."
"Like hell. We're leaving right now and I bet we won't be alone either."
They weren't. The elevator was full of people and their baggage and everyone looked uncomfortable. One woman swore to herself all the way down, and no one seemed to notice. Jem was standing right outside the elevator, and at sight of the two of them, together, her pretty face twisted. "You!" she spat at Illya. "I should have known, I did know, when he didn't come back and I ended up..." she swung at Illya, wanting to slap him but Napoleon caught her wrist, held it.
"No," he said and she pulled free, looked at Illya again, at his face, darkly bruised, his eyes, shadowed and with bluish circles under them, speaking of his broken night's sleep.
"I see I was lucky. So you met the beast inside the suit. How was it, Mr. Kuryakin? Hardly the answer to a maiden's prayer, I gather."
"Are you all right?" Illya said because her own eyes were swollen with tears. She swiped at them.
"Always so polite! Were you polite last night? Did you say please, and thank you last night?"
I liked hearing you say please, Napoleon had said, in that voice that sent chills down Illya's spine, and I think I'll like hearing you say thank you too. Illya couldn't answer her, then Napoleon cupped Illya's elbow in his hand, steered him around Jem, and they went into the lobby.
The lobby was jammed. "I'll check out," Napoleon said, "if you'll get us a cab. My car is parked at headquarters. We'll go there then I'll drive you home."
"All right," Illya agreed and turned to go. A man stepped in front of him, blocking his path.
Illya looked at him blankly for a moment before recognizing the man who had accosted him the night before. He stiffened. Then Napoleon was there, catching Illya's arm, pulling Illya behind him. "What do you want?" Napoleon's voice was cold and the echo of that cold stranger made Illya shiver. Napoleon patted him reassuringly.
"I..." the man fumbled. "I wanted to apologize to Agent Kuryakin. I don't... I don't know what came over me. It's like I lost my mind. I've never... I've never even thought... I'm sorry."
Napoleon patted Illya again. "Want to accept his apology?"
"Yes," Illya said, coming out from behind Napoleon, offering a smile. "I understand. We all... we all... none of us know what came over us. It was whatever was in the wine. It's all right."
"And thank you," the man said to Napoleon. "Thank you for stopping me. I don't know how I'd have lived with myself if I'd... if we'd... Frank says he's sorry too. He's the guy you hit. He left early this morning, as soon as he stopped throwing up."
Napoleon grimaced. "I've been there myself. You're welcome."
"Well—I just wanted to say that. I sure hope someone's going to catch holy hell for this."
"I'm making it my personal mission," Napoleon said and his face had hardened. "Good day, Mr. Alcott."
"You know me?"
"Personnel, Section Three Group One. Yes, I know you, Mr. Alcott.
"No hard feelings, I hope? I mean, I've heard..." he blundered to a stop. Napoleon Solo's feelings for his partner were well known, and retribution for anyone who injured Illya was always swift—and unpleasant. But Napoleon was shaking his head.
"No hard feelings. The circumstances were extraordinary. And it took courage to apologize. I consider the incident forgotten."
"Well, thanks." Alcott was obviously relieved. "Good day to you, sir—both of you."
Neither spoke in the cab. Each stayed to his side of the back seat, and when they got out Illya paid the fare while Napoleon went in to bring his car around. He drove Illya straight home.
"Goodbye," Illya said, not wanting to say it, not wanting to leave at all but Napoleon—Napoleon clearly didn't feel the same way. He didn't even walk Illya up the four flights of stairs to his apartment the way he usually did, standing in the downstairs hall to say his farewells.
"Goodbye, Illya. Are you sure you're all right? You're not—" he flushed, but forced himself to go on—"injured?"
"No, I don't think so. Sore..." he was more than sore, each step was painful and cramps knotted his belly with savage frequency, each one worse than the last and it was harder and harder to hide them. "I'm not bleeding or anything."
"Well, good. I—you know how sorry I am."
"Yes. It wasn't your fault, Napoleon."
"Whoever put the drug in the wine."
"You really forgive me."
"You don't hate me—or fear me now?"
"No—oh, no, Napoleon. I" Illya wanted to say I love you again, but Napoleon hadn't spoken the words since they woke up in each other's arms late that morning, so Illya bit them back. "I don't."
"Well—good. Thank you for your forbearance."
"Um, you're welcome." He hated to leave Napoleon, but they couldn't stand in the hall forever and Napoleon was jingling the keys in his pocket, clearly ready to be off. Illya turned and climbed the stairs, feeling, with each step, a tearing pain—separate from the other, physical pain that threatened to bring him to his knees there in the stairwell. This was a new pain, as if he and Napoleon were bound by a cord that now stretched, pulling at his heart, pulling and tearing... Illya forced himself not to look back, just to take one step at a time, and not until he had rounded the first turn that took him from Napoleon's sight did he grab the railing, lean against it while he gathered his strength, and even he didn't know which pain had sapped it.
"Illya!" The cry was torn from Napoleon's heart because not having Illya there, right there where he could see him and feel him and touch him was... "Illya!"
Illya came back around the corner, hesitated at the top of the stairs. "What?"
"Don't leave me!" He had no pride left, it seemed, he who had lived by his pride, had used it as a shield and a fortress. He held out his arms pleadingly. "Don't leave me, Illya."
Illya flew down the stairs, pain forgotten, and into those outstretched arms. They closed around him, holding him so close—Illya's head fell back and Napoleon's mouth came down on his and they kissed, there in the hallway, lit only by one bare bulb; kissed without thought of where they were or who might see... the door opposite opened to the extent of the chain, a woman's voice said explosively, "Well!" and the door slammed shut.
Napoleon lifted his head. "Who on earth..." the door opened again and a face peered through the gap left by the chain.
"And I always thought you were such a nice boy!" she said accusingly to Illya and shut the door hard. Illya began, helplessly, to laugh, doing his best to smother the sound in Napoleon's shoulder.
"Mrs. Fisch, my superintendent. I'm sorry, Napoleon..." the door banged open once more, all the way this time.
"He is a nice boy!" she informed Napoleon wrathfully. "But you! I've never liked you! Never!" She slammed the door and didn't emerge again. Now Napoleon was also struggling not to laugh out loud.
"Maybe we'd better go somewhere else. Come home with me, Illya. I don't know what's going to happen now, or what we should do, or anything. I only know I can't bear to be without you. I need you. I love you. Please come with me."
"Oh yes, Napoleon." Illya rubbed his cheek against Napoleon's shoulder. "Yes. I can't bear to leave you either. Take me home with you—and keep me there. I love you too." Napoleon kissed him again, at that, and they kissed for a very long time and if Mrs. Fisch looked out her peephole to see them kissing there, neither of them knew or cared.
Napoleon's car—as familiar as Napoleon's home. Illya sighed, rested his head on the back of the seat. As he sat quietly, eyes closed, another cramp went through him, making him grit his teeth and hold his breath to keep from making a sound because he didn't want Napoleon to worry, to feel badly—didn't want to spend another moment dwelling on the night past—but the pain was huge, suddenly, and it frightened him. He didn't want anything to be wrong, didn't want to have to go to the hospital, make impossible explanations... he breathed deeply, fists clenched, and after a few minutes it passed. Only then did he become aware of Napoleon's voice.
"Illya? What's wrong? Illya—answer me or I'm driving you straight to UNCLE's ER."
"No," Illya said and another wave of pain ground him under, starting up near his chest, traveling downward, finishing low in his belly, like teeth rending him and he put his hand over his mouth to keep silent. He heard Napoleon swear beside him and then the car stopped and Napoleon put Illya's seat down so he was lying nearly flat on his back.
"Tell me if this hurts," he said and put his hands on Illya's stomach. Illya flinched, expecting the pain, but it didn't come. Napoleon pressed hard, with both hands, pressed everywhere—up near Illya's breastbone, in the middle of his stomach, low on each side and in the center and the pressure was uncomfortable but not painful. "Well?"
"No. I mean, I wish you'd stop, Napoleon, because it's not pleasant, but it doesn't hurt" and then yet another cramp made a liar of him, another wave of agony traveling through his body, leaving him sweating and moaning against his palm. Napoleon felt Illya's pulse, laid the back of his hand against Illya's forehead.
"I think," he said at last, "it's a reaction to—to what I did, and how I did it. I don't think you're bleeding internally. You're not feverish or in shock—your body was grossly insulted and needs time to recover. Unless you want a doctor to check you..."
"I think I can take you home and nurse you myself and we'll see what tomorrow brings. What do you say?"
"Yes. But you don't have to do anything."
"Illya—the only thing on this earth that will make me able to live with myself even a little bit is if I can take care of you. Will you grudge me that?"
You could show some consideration for me, Napoleon had said last night, and now he was saying the same thing, and even the reason behind it was the same, to manipulate Illya into doing as Napoleon wished, but the idea of having Napoleon fuss over him as he always did when Illya was sick or injured was very appealing. "All right. You can nursemaid me."
"Thank you," Napoleon said, and pulled back out into traffic, leaving Illya lying on his back in the seat. Illya closed his eyes and waited out another wave of pain, and another, and then they were in Napoleon's parking garage. Napoleon got out first and Illya struggled to sit up, to unfasten his seat belt. "No you don't," Napoleon said, pulling Illya's door open. He leaned in, unlocked the buckle, scooped Illya up. "Can you get your arms around my neck?" Illya tried, but lifting them made the pain start up again and he moaned, unable to help it. "All right," Napoleon said, cradling Illya against him. "It's all right. I've got you." He managed to get the door open and carried Illya into the back entrance, pressing the button for the elevator. Illya put his face in Napoleon's shoulder and sagged with relief because it was good not to have to walk, or even sit up, it was good to do nothing but lie here in Napoleon's strong arms... he heard the ding of the elevator as if from very far away, and was aware of nothing more until he felt a shift and was deposited on Napoleon's sofa. "A warm bath," Napoleon said, also sounding far away. "That should help. And I have some pain pills left over from my accident last year."
"That wasn't an accident," Illya protested. "Someone shot you."
"Either way. They gave me some pills and I only used two of them. You've had them before. Hold on." Napoleon went away and Illya felt lonely, and sad—so sad, to be alone and lying on this cold impersonal surface, however soft and yielding, instead of in Napoleon's arms... he heard the sound of water running and then Napoleon was back. He sat on the sofa—Illya felt the edge go down and he rolled a little towards the dip, towards Napoleon's body, warm and solid, right beside him. "Here." Napoleon supported Illya's head, as he had done the night before. "Open your mouth." Illya did and two tablets were placed on his tongue. "Now drink this." The water was cool and delicious and Illya realized he was still abnormally thirsty as he swallowed it—and the medicine—down. "You too?" Napoleon held him until the glass was empty. "I've been drinking water all day. The tub's filling up—I'll bring you in when it's ready."
"Don't leave me," Illya said, ashamed of his weakness but those few minutes had been too sad. "Please—don't leave me alone again. "I—I need you."
Napoleon bent over him. "Do you?"
"Yes. I'm sorry."
"Don't be sorry." Napoleon stroked Illya's hair back from his face. "When you disappeared around that corner I—I was alone. I don't know how I ever bore my life without you. I can't imagine ever letting you out of my sight again. I've never felt like this—always looked down on anyone who did—and that's why you're apologizing, isn't it. Because you know me, and you think I... but I need you too, Illya. Our neediness is mutual. Now your tub is ready. Come on. I'll try to go easy." He lifted Illya from the sofa and Illya cried out, buried his face in Napoleon's shoulder, ashamed anew.
"I know. But you don't need to be. Let me help you get these things off."
The warm water helped immediately, relaxing sore muscles, inside and out, and the next cramp, when it came, was less intense. Illya gripped the side of the tub and caught his breath, but it passed quickly, and he put his head back against the little pillow Napoleon had there. He lay quietly in the water while Napoleon sat beside him and made small talk about the conference, and who might have drugged the wine, and what department of UNCLE would be appointed to find out and how much cooperation they might expect from the other organizations that had been represented. "Everyone was drugged," Napoleon said, adding something to the water. A delicious apple fragrance drifted up and Illya smiled at the sweetness of it. "If someone was only pretending, they were doing a hell of a job."
"I know. Jem looked upset."
"Yes she did, didn't she. I wonder if it affected anyone else the way it did you."
"I don't know." Illya was growing sleepy, and the pain... the pain was gone. "These are wonderful pills, Napoleon. Thank you."
"You're welcome. Ready to come out now? I want you to eat something before we go to bed."
"I'm not..." but he was, he was ravenous, how could he not have noticed? "Yes I am so, Napoleon."
Napoleon laughed, gave him a hand getting out of the tub. "You are so what?"
"Well, think about it." He wrapped a towel around Illya's hair, gave him a robe. "You've had nothing today and as for yesterday—you didn't eat dinner, really, did you?"
"No." Illya made a face. "It was terrible."
"And lunch was very light—just that clear soup and some fruit."
"And you worked through breakfast—I saw you in the computer room."
"That's right. What about you? Whatever you did eat came up this morning."
Napoleon grimaced, remembering. "I don't think I've ever been that sick. It was as if I'd been poisoned."
"It was like a poison. I thought that too, while I was helping you."
"I could do with an omelet. Sound good to you? With some toast and orange juice?"
"Yes, please. Napoleon?"
"I can put my arms around your neck now."
"Can you." Napoleon smiled, leaned over and let Illya do just that before picking Illya up again, carrying him back out into the living room, settling him on the couch. "Now I'm going into the kitchen to cook."
"Can't I go with you?"
"I'm afraid you'll slide off the chair. But you can see me from here—and I'll talk to you. I'll keep up a steady patter of nonsense that you won't even have to try and follow too closely. But I want you to say yes, and no, and you don't say every now and then so I know you're still with me."
"You don't say." That struck both of them as funny and they laughed together, then Napoleon went into the kitchen. True to his word he chatted about the weather, and the recent football playoffs and the latest gossip about who was being promoted and who had been written up and Illya, also as promised, said yes and no and every time he said you don't say they both laughed again. Napoleon brought out their plates, set up a folding tray for Illya and one for himself and they applied themselves to the food. Illya was having difficulty—his vision kept blurring and sometimes he saw two or three forks which made it difficult to get the right one to his mouth, but he managed.
"I think I'm all better, Napoleon," he said while Napoleon cleared up the empty plates. "Nothing hurts at all anymore. I think I can go back to work tomorrow even though I'll miss you."
"You don't say," Napoleon said and Illya put his face in the sofa cushion and laughed some more. "That's the medicine, I'm afraid. I'd love to think I had a magic touch but you'll be sore again tomorrow. And tomorrow is Sunday. Want one more pill before we go to sleep?"
Two had been good, three would no doubt be better. "Yes please."
"That way the pain shouldn't wake you up in the night."
"All right." Illya swallowed it with the last of his orange juice. "Napoleon? Can I sleep with you again?"
Again, Napoleon thought. Just last night I was... I was hitting you and laughing at you and... he felt close to tears once more. "Let me lock up," he said hastily and went into the living room to do so, hearing his bedroom door open, then the creak of bedsprings as Illya settled in there. Napoleon washed up and changed in the bathroom, uncomfortable suddenly with his nakedness around Illya and when he came back out Illya's relief was palpable.
"I thought maybe you changed your mind."
"No. Oh, no. Here." He handed Illya a pillow and got into bed behind him, up against Illya's back, draping an arm around his middle. Illya curled around the pillow thankfully—he hadn't even known he'd want it but now it felt wonderful and so did Napoleon at his back, and Napoleon's breath on his neck, and... he wriggled a little.
Illya sounded so content just to be in his arms—Napoleon tightened his hold. "Yes, sweetheart?"
"I want—I feel—would you touch me again?"
"You want me to?" Illya's trust in him seemed to Napoleon his best, most valued treasure and how wonderful that he hadn't lost it, that Illya trusted him still, and now turned to him for help, and consolation and... pleasure, as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
"Yes. Unless you don't want to."
Napoleon let his hands answer for him, moving over Illya's body, light and caressing, showing Illya just how much pleasure he was capable of, pulling off the robe, tossing the pillow aside, finally, to turn Illya, shifting to end it with his mouth because that was where he had abandoned Illya last night, right on that pinnacle and tonight he finished it, making Illya cry aloud, calling Napoleon's name and Napoleon answering him without words, and then Illya turned over and Napoleon tucked the pillow back in its place, drawing Illya up against him, holding Illya close and they fell asleep together.
Napoleon woke once, in the middle of the night, and propped himself up on one elbow, studying Illya's face, open and defenseless in sleep. I woke last night, too, he thought. I remember hearing you crying. It hadn't seemed strange at all that Illya was lying there crying his heart out because he was thirsty; Napoleon hadn't wondered at it, had only been glad it was something he could fix, and now he was glad again, that there had been that little interlude, that Illya had gotten his drink and been able to find peace in Napoleon's arms. There were no tears tonight—in fact, Illya was smiling in his sleep and how beautiful Illya was, how very beautiful—how had they worked together all these years and he never really noticed how beautiful his partner was? Now he admired the sweet little indentation under Illya's lower lip, that lovely mouth—admired those eyelashes, long and black against Illya's fair skin and Illya's skin was so smooth—he touched it—and so soft—and Illya's hair was a golden waterfall on the pillows. Illya's body fit perfectly against Napoleon's own and could he ever bear to sleep alone again when the fit was so perfect? No. He couldn't. He wouldn't. He would keep Illya safely here, with him, and Napoleon would be safe, too, within the fierce protective strength of Illya's love—love a far better fortress than pride ever was. Napoleon laid his head back down, feeling Illya's hair against his face, smelling the good clean scent of him and even sleep didn't separate them, twined together body and spirit as they were.
Illya woke first. He lay for a moment, trying to think of where he was, and why... he turned within the circle of Napoleon's arms and found himself looking into Napoleon's face, barely an inch from his own. He watched Napoleon sleep, lost in the wonder of it. Napoleon's face, so familiar—so long beloved, now so close. Napoleon's mouth was curved faintly upward, indicating his happiness, even in sleep. Was Illya the cause of that happiness? It seemed presumptuous to think so, yet... Napoleon's arm was still around Illya's waist, Napoleon's other arm under Illya's neck, and they had slept all night long, together. How could this be? And what did it mean? Illya didn't know and Napoleon's face told him nothing—except that Napoleon was happy. The violence of two nights ago seemed far away now—and Napoleon was right, the cramps were gone. Illya was still sore, a little, but not too much. He'd been sorer after a day of horseback riding—the thought almost made him laugh and he suppressed it, not wanting to wake Napoleon, not yet; who knew what this day would bring and right now it was perfect. He watched Napoleon sleep some more.
Napoleon was so handsome. Illya had always thought that about his friend, had never wondered at the way women fell all over themselves trying to attract him—not that the pretty ones had to try very hard. No, that wasn't fair. Pretty wasn't enough—Napoleon's standards were high. They had to be intelligent, and well bred—Napoleon liked a sense of humor, too. They didn't necessarily have to be good—indeed, often they were on the opposite side—but they couldn't be narrow minded or intolerant. And even with all of that, none of them had held Napoleon's interest for more than a week or two. Once, there had been Jerry—long legged red headed Jerry and Napoleon had been as serious about her as Illya had ever seen him. They had dated for several months—not exclusively, but steadily, and Illya had hidden his jealousy and his fear—what place would there be for him in Napoleon's life if Napoleon were married? What would become of the late night talks, the frequent sleep overs in Napoleon's spare room, the shared weekends away, if Napoleon had a wife? But Illya had liked Jerry—he couldn't help it, and she had liked Illya too, and to give Napoleon credit that was another requirement. The woman who made spiteful or catty remarks to or about Illya—and some of them did—found herself out the door with unceremonious haste. 'This is my partner,' Illya had heard Napoleon say to one as he handed her her coat. 'You are only my date. And now my former date.' Illya had said nothing, had hidden his blushes by pretending to be very interested in the view out Napoleon's penthouse window, but he had been pleased.
Given all that, Illya supposed it wasn't such a surprise that he had ended up here, in Napoleon's bed. With the caveat of gender, he knew he met all Napoleon's criteria. He was intelligent—and had seen far too much of life to be judgmental. He supposed he had a good sense of humor—many things made him laugh and Napoleon could always tickle his funny bone. He made Napoleon laugh, too—they often laughed together, the way they had last night. And Illya knew he was beautiful—enough men—and women had told him so and he wasn't blind, he could see for himself in his mirror that his hair, and his eyes surpassed the accepted standards of beauty, that his features were perfect, his body slim and graceful, effectively camouflaging the lethal weapon it actually was. Now, with gender apparently a non issue, he lay in Napoleon's bed where so many women had lain before him, and was glad to be there. Napoleon had been right about him—cruel to say it, but right. He had watched Napoleon kiss his women and wondered—what was it about those kisses that brought the women to Napoleon's feet? Napoleon must be one hell of a kisser—a phrase Illya had picked up from the movies. And Napoleon was. Illya touched his tongue to his lips, remembering. He was glad Napoleon hadn't kissed him that first night. He supposed it was because Napoleon wasn't trying to seduce him then, Napoleon was taking him although all Napoleon had ever had to do was ask—well, he had asked. 'Don't send me back to Jem' he'd said. 'Let me douse my flames here, Illya. You're so cool.' Illya supposed he was. Cool, cold—the Ice Prince—but that was hardly his fault, was it? He'd never learned to be anything else.
Illya hadn't known his parents—his father dying before he was born, his mother dead in childbirth. His only surviving relative had been his maternal uncle—his mother's older brother. He had left Illya at the hospital until he was three years old. He had come to see Illya, then—Illya remembered a very big man, with coal black hair and black eyes that had bored into his. His uncle had turned his back and left without a word, and the next day Illya had been packed up and sent to school. He had grown up at school—moving from grade to grade, primary to secondary—without ever setting foot in his uncle's home back in the Ukraine. He had only seen the man once again, at his graduation from secondary school. Illya had applied to Cambridge on his own, winning a full scholarship. His uncle hadn't attended the graduation ceremony, had had Illya sent to the school office the day after.
"So," he had said, in perfect English and Illya had answered him in the same language.
"Why are you here?" Now, he had meant, when he had done his grieving over the family life he'd never known, when he'd resigned himself to a solitary existence because there was something wrong with him, there must be, for his only relative in the whole world to be so indifferent towards him. Illya had already begun forming the protective layers around his wounded spirit, layers of cold courtesy, not making enemies but making no friends either. The child who had wept in the night for someone to love him had grown into an adolescent resolved to love no one. Now, after all this time, here his uncle was again, and the impossible hope stirred.
"I had to sign the permission for you to leave for England."
"Oh." Illya supposed he should have known there was a reason for his uncle to be here. A reason that had nothing to do with Illya personally and how was it possible for that to hurt him still? "Why have you never come before?"
The man came closer, reached out, gripped Illya's chin, held it while he turned Illya's face from one side to the other. Then he reached behind Illya, unfastened his ponytail, spread his hair out on his shoulders. Illya, frozen by surprise, stood still for it.
"I knew you would be beautiful," the man said finally and a black fire blazed up in those eyes. Illya stared into them, frightened suddenly, very frightened and very glad that his childish wishes to be taken from school and brought home by this man had never come true. "Even as a child you were beautiful. Beautiful, and helpless—and in my power. It was better—for you, certainly, and for me, too—that we stayed apart. Do you believe me?"
"Yes," Illya whispered. He did. There was something terrible in the air between them, and his uncle was right, better they had stayed apart.
"Go to Cambridge. Never return. If we meet again" the man's hands closed on Illya's shoulders, squeezing, hurting him but Illya kept his pain to himself and kept his eyes and his face unreadable—he had been working on that, in his isolation, because if no one knew when they were hurting you it was almost as good as not being hurt at all. "We will both have cause to regret it. Yes?"
"Good." He had turned and walked away, without a backward look, and Illya had left the next morning. He had not wished for love again, and when UNCLE had recruited him Illya had accepted gladly. But then he had been assigned to Napoleon. His defenses had crumbled in the face of Napoleon's smile, and Napoleon's warmth, and love had found him after all. Now Illya thought of that night at the hotel, and wondered. If he had said yes, the whole thing might have been different. But he hadn't really known what Napoleon had wanted, had only known that Napoleon's voice and Napoleon's eyes had frightened him, as his uncle had frightened him years ago, and he had run. After that Napoleon hadn't bothered to ask again. Illya looked at Napoleon some more, at Napoleon's dark, curling eyelashes, Napoleon's mouth, firm even in sleep, his determined chin with that cleft that Illya had always wanted to touch—to kiss—did he dare? Would it wake Napoleon up if he did? Perhaps if he did it very lightly—he leaned in a little closer and deposited a soft kiss right there, and Napoleon's arms tightened.
"Mmm," he said, and the smile deepened. Illya lay very still within the smaller circle, hardly daring to breathe. Then Napoleon's eyes opened and he was awake, with that ability he had to rise from sleep fully alert. The brown eyes smiled into Illya's, and Illya smiled back. "Hi." Napoleon smiled again. "This is good."
"Yes." Illya laid his head down on the pillow of Napoleon's shoulder and was drawn closer still. "Good morning."
"Are you all right?"
"Are the cramps better?"
"Yes, thank you. Did you?"
"Yes, I did." Napoleon laughed a little. "I certainly did. Until someone kissed me."
"I'm sorry I woke you up. I thought if I was really careful I wouldn't."
"Don't be sorry. I liked it. Feel free to kiss me awake any time."
Any time, Napoleon said. Did that mean there would be more after today? I need you, Napoleon had said. I can't bear to be without you. Napoleon didn't say those words lightly, or often or, as far as Illya knew, ever. But maybe Napoleon had still been under the influence of the drug, or felt guilty, or... "All right."
"Does it seem strange to you, Illya, that we're here—together? In bed—together? Me in my pajamas, and you, in nothing?" He slid his hand down Illya's back, daring, and Illya arched against him.
"It seems that it should," he answered seriously. "But—it seems natural, too."
"As if we've always been together."
"How could something this good come out of something so terrible? I was terrible to you. I hit you. I can't believe I hit you. Twice."
"I know. I couldn't believe it either. That's when I really knew the drug had you. Before that I kept thinking if I could make you listen to me for a minute, you'd stop. But when you hit me, I knew—I knew there was no use trying. Because if that could happen, anything could happen."
"And it did."
"And I made fun of you. I made fun of you crying—Illya—you know I wasn't in my right mind, don't you? Because the thought of you crying—it tears my heart out. Hearing you cry later that night—it tore my heart out."
"I know. When you said don't cry, like that, I was relieved. I knew it was over. You said don't be sad and I wasn't, not anymore. And I really was thirsty. I've never been so thirsty. But I was afraid to get up because... well, you know."
I'll want to start all over again, he had threatened, seeing the fear in Illya's eyes, enjoying it... "Yes."
"But you got me a drink, and petted me and said I'm here and you were, you were there and I was glad. It's all right, Napoleon. I don't hold it against you. Maybe—maybe I should have just said yes when you asked me. Like you said, it could have been a playful interlude."
"No. It wouldn't have been. Because I wasn't playing. It isn't your fault, Illya. You had every right to try and send me away. I was ugly, and unpleasant, and drunk."
"All right. It wasn't my fault. But it wasn't your fault either. And it's over."
"So I'm back to my original question. How can something this good..." he stroked Illya's hair, soft, and thick, and fine under his fingers. "Have come from something so... so evil?"
"I don't know." Illya considered it gravely. "It seems to me, Napoleon, that it was up to us. I mean—we could have turned on each other—you could have blamed me, for leading you on, or sending you away..."
"And you could have had me arrested, and been perfectly within your rights."
"Or we could have just been too embarrassed to face each other, and been awkward with each other, or tried to go back to the way it was..."
"Would we have failed?" Illya looked anxiously into Napoleon's eyes. "You don't think we can be friends again?"
"I don't think we could have succeeded in pretending that never happened. I think it would have been between us, unspoken—like so much has been unspoken between us."
"Some things—maybe some things should be."
"Such as the fact that I love you? And you love me? Were we really better off keeping that secret, each from the other?"
"But it wasn't secret—you knew. You knew all about me. You told me."
"It came to me in a rush, watching you walk away from my table that night. I thought—why am I with this woman when I want him? And he wants me? I was on my way to you even before Alcott grabbed you. But I twisted it somehow, made it ugly. When it's not. When it's the most meaningful, true fact of my life, that I love you."
"I love you too, Napoleon. I can't say I wanted you, because until you touched me I didn't really know what that meant. I used to watch you kiss them—you were right about that, too. I wondered what it would feel like. I knew that whenever you touched me—by accident, or on purpose I felt—I didn't have words for what I felt. I only knew I liked it—and was sorry when it ended."
"I was afraid of offending you. You always froze up, when I touched you."
"I didn't want to move or do anything to make you stop."
"It still seems wrong that it took violence to bring us together. Violence between us is wrong."
"Yes. But it's up to us what happens, just like it was up to us yesterday morning. What are we going to do now? What are you going to do? Do you want me to stay? Leave? Are you going to date me, now, like you do them, for a while? Or—or did you mean what you said last night, about not letting me out of your sight?"
"I meant it. But what do you want, Illya? You might want to think and think again before you commit yourself to me. I've always been casual in my relationships because I didn't care. But I know I am obsessive about things I care about. I know I'd be obsessive and demanding and—possessive about you."
"I don't really know what that means."
"I'd want you to live here, with me. And... and spend all your free time with me. And... not with anyone else. I'd want Jess Coleman to stop chasing after you, for one damn thing. And you spend too much time with George Piper, for another. And..." Napoleon began to laugh at himself. "Hear that? That's nice talk, isn't it."
"You're crazy." Illya was laughing too. "Jess is my friend, that's all. And I'll spend as much time with George as I please. I love George. He's my best friend, besides you. And I go bowling on Thursdays, and play softball on Saturdays in the nice weather, or ice skate in the winter. And sometimes George and I go camping, and sometimes Jess and I go dancing."
"I know you do. I've never liked that. You have no business in those bars."
Illya laughed again. "It's fun. And men think Jess and I are together so they don't bother me, much—and when they do..."
"I make them stop."
"I bet you do." Napoleon eyed Illya with respect. "I just bet you do."
"But I still don't like it."
"All right, Napoleon. I can see that's like a date. So unless you'll be dating too?"
"I'll tell Jess no more bars unless we're in a group. Is that all right?"
"No, because you won't be here with me. But I'll live with it."
"You work late a lot. I won't like that either."
"So do you."
"I know. Are we really going to do this?"
"Will you? Illya Kuryakin, my partner, my best friend, and now my lover—will you live with me? Will you be faithful to me, and grow old with me? Will you bring your sunlight into my dark, obsessive life? Pull me from the black pit I fall into on occasion? Because if you will—Illya—I love you with every fiber that is in me. I'll take such good care of you—you'll never know a sorrow or a pain that is in my power to prevent."
"And I can kiss you awake in the mornings? And kiss you when you come home? And sleep in your arms just like last night? Just..." Illya moved even closer "like this?"
"Just like this. For the rest of our lives."
"I love you too, Napoleon. I'll wrap myself around you and keep the dark away from you as best I can." Napoleon kissed him, then, and Illya kissed Napoleon back, and they made love, there, in the big bed with the covers thrown to the floor and the sunlight streaming through the windows. They made love each to the other, and when they were through they slept again in each other's arms and the sun made dappled patterns of light and shadow on their bodies and now they were both smiling in their sleep.
Napoleon was working at his computer, late that Sunday afternoon. With part of his mind he was analyzing the information before him, trying to pinpoint who was responsible for the debacle of Friday night. The other part of his mind was thinking about power. When he had to pause, and wait while the data reconfigured itself on the screen his eyes went to Illya, curled up on the sofa, absorbed in a science journal. Illya, who now lived with him. It was a thought so large it was hard to get his mind around it. In the course of the past two days Napoleon's life had changed—changed hugely and each step had seemed right, and inevitable, but now the cumulative effect of those steps had him reeling. In effect, he had gotten married. Married—without any of the preliminaries that could have—in a different relationship would have, allowed him time to change his mind, to back out. No engagement, no waiting period—not even a trip to city hall to obtain a marriage license. 'Live with me, be faithful to me, grow old with me' he had said to Illya and Illya had agreed and that was that. Far too late to back out now, if he wanted to—not that he wanted to. But even if he did want to, it was too late. Why had they moved so fast? They could have dated, as Illya had suggested; they could even have lived together without those vows of only and forever. And now the power—his power—where was it? Napoleon had never been in a relationship where all the power hadn't been conclusively on his side. He had initiated those relationships, he had set the pace, dictated the level of intensity—and he had been the one to end them. But now—he looked at Illya again.
Illya seemed to share none of Napoleon's turmoil. He was curled up against the cushions, wearing a T shirt he'd had there because he frequently slept over. Napoleon had to smile, looking at him. The T shirt was, like all of them, huge—shoulder seams down around Illya's elbows, sleeves ending near his wrists, all so the shirt itself could reach his knees. Napoleon looked at him some more and decided he'd order some nightshirts made to fit, and how had his mind roamed this way? He'd started by wondering if he had done the right thing, and was now planning gifts—he shook his head a little and tried to focus on his work.
He had laid out the organizational charts of every group represented but the problem remained that everyone who had had anything to do with planning the event had been there, had drunk the wine, had, well, the results made for sorry reading. There had been three deaths—one overdose, one heart attack and one strangulation. A respected Interpol agent had discovered a hitherto unsuspected passion for repeatedly choking his partner out during sex, and at some point had carried it too far. He was in jail now, his remorse terrible. Napoleon thought again of that night and was profoundly grateful that such a desire had never stirred in him because if it had—no amount of pleading or suffering on Illya's part would have stayed him. He saw again the terror in Illya's eyes as he recovered consciousness to find himself trapped under Napoleon's weight, heard that cry of agony and his only concern had been to silence it. He unclenched his fists, took a deep breath, looked again at the screen. If he had woken up that next morning to find Illya dead at his hands he wouldn't have lived to see the inside of a prison cell. He would have... but it was over. Over. And Illya forgave him. Loved him—still. Trusted him—still. He took another deep breath.
Five men and six women were also in jail on lesser charges—assault, kidnapping, terrorist threats. Rape. Napoleon was thankful too that Illya had wanted to retire to his own room, leaving himself and Napoleon two of the only people whose reputations were undamaged by the night's events. Most of the activities had occurred right there in the private banquet hall—the security that had been established earlier effectively keeping out any hotel workers or other guests who might have called a halt. Napoleon shook his head again. How could he assign responsibility when the bare fact remained that everyone had been affected—and in the same way? If any besides Illya had only been made dizzy and ill it hadn't been reported.
Illya always had been unique in his drug reactions. He was allergic to many antibiotics, and general anesthetic made him violently ill. The last time he'd been put under to repair a ruptured spleen he'd been so sick afterwards that he'd torn his sutures open, and they had had to use a local to replace them. Napoleon smiled grimly to himself. No one in the Thrush enclave where that beating had occurred had lived to tell the tale. And—he blinked—here he was thinking about Illya. With all of his mind, not just part, and meanwhile the cursor was blinking patiently on his screen, calling him to attention.
He worked for a while longer, then his hands paused again. He looked over at Illya, who was clearly not distracted from his reading by extraneous thoughts. Well, Illya would make a quiet roommate—but where was the power? Too much of it was in Illya's hands for Napoleon's comfort. Illya would not be a malleable partner. Illya was stubborn—despite his fragile appearance Illya was steel all the way through. 'Unless you'll be dating too?' Illya had inquired in that ingenious voice that hid—what? 'No' Napoleon had answered and with that one word had cut himself off—forever. No more dating. No more women. Because Illya's question had had only one answer. How could Napoleon see other people unless Illya could do the same—could continue with Jess Coleman, who had been in hot pursuit of Illya since his assignment here as head of security eight months ago? And Illya had apparently welcomed that pursuit, had laughed at Jess and teased him—had encouraged him and outright flirted with him. Napoleon hadn't liked it from the start, had told Illya so; had told Illya it was unprofessional and unbecoming and Illya had listened and smiled and gone his own way as usual. Well, one thing was for sure, Napoleon thought and he was watching Illya again instead of his screen. Jess Coleman was fresh out of luck. Napoleon had the right, now, to say so, and he would.
Illya moved then, stretched his legs out in front of him, curled his toes, uncurled them, folded his legs again and continued reading and Napoleon's breath was lost somewhere, his heart racing. How beautiful Illya was. His hair was pulled behind his shoulders, spilling down his back except for his bangs, which almost touched those fair, winged eyebrows. Illya's eyes, with their faint but definite upward slant, and his cheekbones, high and elegant, spoke of his foreign origins as clearly as that delicious accent did. Napoleon was smiling, watching him, and in a moment Illya lifted his eyes. The sight of Napoleon's smile brought an answering one to his face. Impulsively Napoleon held out his arms and Illya smiled again, put his magazine down and rose, the grace in every move going straight to Napoleon's heart, so when Illya crossed the room Napoleon reached up, tugged at his partner's hands, pulled him down onto his lap. Illya laughed.
"What are you doing?"
"Do you mind?" Foolish question, because Illya was already adapting his position to Napoleon's, drawing his legs up, head resting on Napoleon's shoulder, arms loose around his waist.
"No. I just didn't think you went for this kind of thing." He kissed Napoleon's neck.
"Well, to be frank with you, most of my girlfriends were too big to fit so comfortably."
Illya laughed again. "True. Really, Napoleon, when you come down to it, I'm not your type at all. I'm too short, and too thin—apart from the obvious difference."
"You're perfect." He kissed Illya's cheek, smooth and cool under his lips.
"And you're not sorry? That you moved so fast? That I live here now and we've promised—well, promised all those things? You can still change your mind, you know. I don't want you to feel trapped, just because you felt guilty about what you did. We can try to go back to the way it was, if you want." He was trying to keep his words cool, because it was true, he didn't want Napoleon to feel he had been pressured into something, but his hands belied his words; they had closed around the fabric of Napoleon's shirt, clutching it as if Napoleon might stand up suddenly, dumping him onto the floor. Illya didn't notice, but Napoleon did.
"No." And how uncanny it was, the way Illya always seemed to know what he was thinking. Had he really been having second thoughts? Doubts? When all Illya had had to do was change position to set his blood pressure climbing? When Illya's smile had made the space between them intolerable, when Illya's head fit into the crook of his shoulder so precisely, when Illya's hands were clinging to him now as if the very thought of separation terrified him the same way it terrified Napoleon himself? "I won't deny feeling a little overwhelmed... I mean look at us."
"I know." Illya's fingers tightened further.
"But this is the best thing that's ever happened to me." It was. "And it's as you said this morning. It's up to us, where it goes now. We can have—Illya—we can have something so wonderful. You and I—together—we can have it all."
"Everything." He laughed at himself and Illya laughed too, his grip loosening a little. "What's sleeping around with every woman who appeals to me compared with that? What's..." Napoleon tried to think of all the things he had felt he was giving up, and couldn't come up with one. "Anything, compared with that? We can love one another so well—Illya, sweetheart, we are going to be so happy."
"Will you call me that?" Illya turned his head so he could watch Napoleon's face.
"What you just called me. What you called me last night."
The endearment had slipped out without his thinking about it, so now he did think. "Hmm. Yes. Yes, I am. Because that's what you are to me. Unless you object."
"No. Oh, no. I like it. Do you want me to call you something?"
"Well, that won't be hard to get used to."
"I love the way you say my name. If I could eat your accent up I would, like some exotic Russian dessert. When you say my name—it's a love song."
"Yes it is, Napoleon. That's the truth. Every time I say your name, I'm loving you. And when I'm not saying it, too. And you won't mind, not having those women?"
"No. And that was the truth too. With Illya in his arms he couldn't imagine wanting anyone else there. "And you won't mind, leaving your apartment to come live with me? I know you like your neighborhood."
"Yes, I do. And I suppose I'll miss it. But I don't mind. I'd rather be here, with you, than anywhere else in the world alone."
"Me too." He squeezed Illya and Illya squeezed him back. They sat for a while, then Napoleon became aware that Illya was craning his neck to see the computer screen. He turned his chair, and they studied it together. "What do you think?"
"Let me see what you've done." Napoleon backed up a few screens, then scrolled forward, letting Illya view the accumulated data. He paled at the description of the murder. "I'm glad you didn't want to do that."
"I didn't. I wouldn't have." That had to be the truth, because any other thought was intolerable. He kissed Illya's cheek again.
"So the end result is—what? Everyone looks bad."
"All the organizations represented have several key people whose careers are now effectively over. And that effect seems..." Illya brought up another screen, stared at it. "Random. It is random."
"That makes me think you need to look internally, Napoleon. Who planned the menu, with no other drinks or even fresh fruit? Who salted the food? Look for an employee—or former employee—of any one of the organizations, or of the hotel, with a recent disciplinary action on his or her record. That's my suggestion."
"Hmm." Napoleon frowned at the screen. He thought about what Illya had said for a few minutes, then slowly became aware of a new development. The combination of their usual working rapport and their current position; Illya's cool analysis and his pliant body, his soft skin, was incredibly arousing.
Illya registered his recognition of that fact by caressing Napoleon's back. He was aroused himself now, Napoleon's desire contagious. That interested him, and he considered it while Napoleon put his arms around his waist, pulling Illya tightly against his chest. Their mutual desire seemed to feed on itself, reverberating between them, intensifying as it did so. Illya rocked a little on Napoleon's lap, curious to see if the effect would continue and Napoleon groaned, turned his head to press his lips against Illya's ear. The resulting jolt of sensation made Illya jump. His fingers tightened again on Napoleon's shirt and Napoleon smiled. He cupped Illya's head between his hands, held it back a little. Teased, with his tongue, tracing the delicate ridges inside Illya's ear, exhaling again, heavily.
"Oh," Illya whispered. "Oh, oh..." Napoleon turned Illya's head, Illya gasping even before Napoleon's lips touched him. "Oh, Napoleon. Stop for a minute."
"Why?" Napoleon whispered, directly into Illya's other ear and Illya tried vainly to get closer. "So impatient," Napoleon said, again using only the tip of his tongue, making Illya shiver.
"Because... because I want to ask you something."
"Go on. I'm listening." Napoleon deposited a wet kiss there, then moved to Illya's throat, nuzzling him, kissing the side of his neck, behind his ear, the nape of his neck as Illya bent his head for it, then back to the other ear.
"Um... oh. How can it be, that you're kissing me there—"
"Yes and—oh, yes, there, kiss me again there, Napoleon."
Napoleon did, then Illya turned his face up and their lips met, clung. By the time the kiss had finished Napoleon was past teasing, so he lifted Illya from his lap, got up himself and led the way into the bedroom. He unfastened his own clothes with hands that were shaking with impatience, while Illya pulled his T shirt over his head and together they fell onto the mattress. Napoleon reined in his desire, wanting to be sure Illya was ready, that Illya wanted him as much as he himself... and evidently Illya did, twining his arms around Napoleon's neck, his legs around Napoleon's waist, arching his back, offering... and Napoleon stopped. "Are you sure?" He looked directly into Illya's eyes. "If not, say so. We can do something else."
"Will it hurt again?"
"No," Napoleon said, hoping he was telling the truth. He had done this before, many times, and... "I've never had any complaints yet."
"Then yes," Illya said, wanting to give himself, wanting Napoleon to possess him completely, wanting them to be together. He arched his back again and Napoleon took his time, watching Illya's face for his cues and Illya's body was open, and welcoming. They were together, then, for an unknown period of time; hearts joining as their bodies did. Afterwards they collapsed onto the bed, gasping, panting, still wrapped up in each other, still together.
Some time later Napoleon turned his head so he could see Illya's face. "Are you all right?"
"Did I hurt you?"
"No—oh, no." Illya turned his head too, smiled into Napoleon's worried eyes. "It was wonderful."
"You are wonderful."
"So are you."
"Thank you. I guess—I guess we're wonderful together, Napoleon."
"Yes we are. Come sit on my lap any time."
"Didn't you have a question before?"
"When I was kissing your ear."
"I don't remember... oh. Yes. I just don't see how you can kiss me there" Illya touched his ear "and I feel it—not just there but here, too." He wanted to show Napoleon where he meant, couldn't, blushed and hid his face in Napoleon's shoulder.
"Here?" Napoleon stroked him.
"Don't start that again, Napoleon."
"Because... because... oh, yes. Do that. And that."
"What about this?"
Napoleon chuckled. "Jem was right."
"You are very polite."
"Shut up. But Illya was smiling, and then they stopped talking and only held on and there was another lapse in time.
"Any more questions?"
"I love you."
"I love you too." And then there was silence."