The Lonely Sea and the Sky
I fell in love with this boat of mine, the Pursang, the first time I took her out. I fell in love with my partner in this same boat.
I didn't mean for it to happen—or at least, not consciously. We had a few days vacation; the weather was fair and I wanted to take the Pursang round Long Island. On a whim I asked him to come with me.
Why that whim, I don't know. He'd never expressed any interest in my boat before. His experience of sailing was confined to a stint he did in the Soviet Navy—one of the many episodes in his life that he rarely mentions—and our occasional forays onto the water, in the course of our profession, in various kinds of craft. I had the distinct impression that he was happier in the water than on it.
He swims like a fish. That was my undoing—watching him flashing through the water, that glorious, neat body wearing only the briefest of black swim trunks, golden hair catching the sunlight. I'd seen him swim before, of course, but always for work, never for the sheer pleasure of it.
For a man who likes to give the impression of asceticism, he reveals a surprising joy in certain pleasures. I caught a glimpse of that side of his nature as he swam. Later, I saw it again as he strummed his guitar, singing a Russian song remembered from his childhood. Later still, when I loved him, I was privileged to experience his abandon, the passionate, warm sensualist that lies under that bland Slavic façade.
Can you blame me for wanting this new dynamic in our relationship to continue? For wanting to share again with the man I love best in the whole world, the person I love best in the whole world, that wonderful act which is the culmination of love.
I'm a rake. I'd be the first to admit it. Partially, it's because I have a reputation to keep up, begun when I was a young man, fresh out of Survival School, full of youthful enthusiasm and energy. I still have that enthusiasm and energy. I have it in spades. That's why I am a success at my job. I am Napoleon Solo, Chief Enforcement Agent and lover extraordinaire. I find romance wherever I go and I thrive on it. It's as natural to me as breathing. Partially, it's a release of tension and adrenaline. I can think of no better way of leaving behind the stresses and strains of my life as an UNCLE agent, than by making love to a beautiful woman. Or even a beautiful man. I'm highly sexed, I admit, but it goes along with the whole package that is me.
Marriage is not encouraged among Section 2 agents. Our survival's too tenuous. The risks are too great. Besides, once we work within a partnership, the partnership becomes like a marriage. But it's an open marriage and a risky one. Widowhood's the norm. Illya and I both know these dangers and we do everything in our power to minimise them. Love, of a kind, has to exist for any real partnership to work. To take this love one step further would come as naturally to me as rescuing him when he's caught, comforting him when he's hurt and, of course, celebrating our victories.
I'm not promising fidelity. That would be unrealistic of me. I wouldn't offer it and I wouldn't expect it back. Not in the sex department anyway. In the course of our work, expertise such as I possess in the field of love is as invaluable as his knowledge of pyrotechnics. We are absolutely faithful to each other as partners, but we each have our strengths, and affairs of the heart are one of mine.
Of course he doesn't live like a monk. I know he goes out with the odd girl. He's not gay, any more than I am, and I was surprised to learn that he had experience with men as well. I suppose that time in the Soviet Navy might have taught him something. Who knows? Anyway, it was obvious what we did here, aboard the Pursang, was not entirely new to him.
But it was unexpected. He was shocked. I could see it had never occurred to him how I felt towards him. Once he recovered from the surprise, though, he went along with it because he thought I needed the release. He was pretty wound up himself as it happens and what we did was cathartic for both of us. We both felt better for it and slept like babies afterwards.
Release. To him that was all there was to it. We were wound up and we had sex. No different from eating when we are hungry or sleeping when we are tired. I really think that's how he regards sex—as an appetite to be assuaged, an itch to be scratched as and when required. To me it's as important as breathing.
I know he loves me. He's shown it on countless occasions. He's gone the extra mile for me, above and beyond the call of duty, again and again. He's risked everything over and over, just to save my sorry hide from yet another Thrush prison, yet another impossible fight, another desperate struggle against stupendous odds. He hurls himself, like a small, blond tornado, into situations any normal man would do anything to avoid. Oh yes, he loves me. He's said it to my face. Said it aboard this boat. Likened his feelings for me to my feelings for the Pursang. He says I'm his security.
Ah. There's the difference. I'm the one who finds it hard to differentiate sex and love. I fall in and out of love as easily as I fall in and out of bed. I often love the person I'm bedding, but it rarely lasts longer than a day or two. With Clara it lasted, but look what happened there. I continued to love her, but she fell out of love with me. My love can be constant; it just isn't very often.
But my love for Illya is constant. We've worked together four years now and in that time my feelings have grown from respect, to liking, to loving that infuriating, irascible, talented, loyal partner of mine. Why else would I put up with his moods, his caustic wit and scathing tongue? Why would I sit by his hospital bed when he's injured, waiting on tenterhooks for him to come round? Why would I go back into a seething nest of Thrush vipers to rescue him, risk my life for him time and again, cover up for him, pick him up when he falls, laugh with him, cry for him, seek his company when I am alone?
That my love for him would suddenly manifest itself as sexual attraction is no surprise to me. I didn't want it to happen. It's not exactly convenient, being attracted to the person you work with. Especially if he happens to be a man. Love between two men, of the sexual kind at any rate, is frowned upon. Apparently, in his country, it's more than frowned upon. We would have to be careful, very careful.
And here we have the stumbling block. My partner doesn't share my job security. He's not an American. He's here because of an agreement between his government and Alexander Waverly and that agreement has strings. One step out of line, from either side, and Illya is straight back on the plane to Moscow. That was made clear to him in the beginning and he's made it clear to me. Indulging in a homosexual relationship and any resulting scandal would constitute a breach of that agreement. I'd not get off scot free either. My position as Waverly's successor would be compromised if we were to be found out. On the other hand, at least I'd probably keep my job; I would certainly keep my life.
But who are we if not men who live with danger every day of our lives? Couldn't we manage a few clandestine moments of passion now and again to seal our friendship? I'm not asking for us to set up house together. Heaven forbid. That would cramp my style and probably his too. No, all I am asking is that now and again, when we feel the need, we make love.
Last week was a case in point. We were in South America. Romantic Rio in fact. I'd managed to get myself shipped out in a cardboard box to a diamond mine. Naturally, I was accompanied by a beautiful woman—an English pudding maker. With his usual split-second timing, my partner arrived to rescue us from a rather nasty fate involving several cannon manned by umbrella-wielding British Mafiosi.
He was dressed in nothing but a ragged vest and a pair of the most disreputable trousers, but I've rarely seen him look so sexy. Something about those bared biceps and naked, golden chest turns me on in an instant. I was almost thankful when Mr Waverly arrived later and personally conducted the lovely Miss Pogue back to her puddings. Illya and I were left with an evening to kill in Rio. I was hot. Adrenaline was running high. I could have taken him right there in the caf. I'm almost certain he wanted it as well. He seemed wistful somehow. For two pins I would have tried to seduce him. It was a perfect opportunity. But he gave me no openings, and we had made that pact.
He said he had a headache, but I think it was an excuse. He could sense what I wanted, what he wanted, but couldn't admit it, even to himself. In the end, I went to a nightclub and he went to bed.
I'm beginning to think of nothing else. I'm obsessed with the man. Obsessed with that silky, blond hair and pouting mouth that was so sweet to kiss. I long to run my hands over that tight little butt, stroke those hard, lean muscles. But I know that if we do it once more, I'll not be able to let go again. His fears about our relationship changing will be realised. I must have him, or else request a change of partner. Both courses go against his specific wishes. At least here, sailing alone on the Long Island Sound, I'm able to allow myself the luxury of that sweet memory and perhaps a fantasy or two.
I first had sex with my partner aboard his boat, the Pursang. We were on a week's vacation and, because of the appalling heatwave in New York, Napoleon invited me to join him for a few days' sailing round Long Island.
I was apprehensive at first, mainly because I am somewhat prone to seasickness and I did not wish to waste my vacation feeling unwell. However, only light wind was forecast, and the prospect of fresh air to blow away the headache I had been suffering for days, was irresistible. So I went.
It was marvellous at first. I enjoyed learning to sail and I saw a side of my partner I had never witnessed before, completely relaxed and at ease. No façade, no act, no image to maintain.
But a tension began to build between us. It was nothing you could put your finger on really. He seemed quiet, preoccupied, not meeting my eyes. Then came the incident.
When Napoleon went overboard, I could not believe that he could be so careless. Naturally, I managed to rescue him, but I had hoped for a rest from that kind of activity on my vacation. We laughed and joked about it, partly from relief, partly from anger on my part that we should be in that position. But then, quite suddenly, he kissed me.
That kiss caught me completely by surprise. It stunned me. It was so unexpected, so sweet and so intense that I did nothing to resist. I felt myself responding instantly and I could feel him hard and urgent beneath me. To my amazement, I began to melt into those sensuous lips, revel in his probing tongue and a fire started in my loins. And then he stopped.
He stopped as suddenly as he started. I had no idea what to think. My heart was pounding, I was rock hard, I desperately needed to go on, but something snapped in him. He was mortified by what he had done. Almost in tears, he broke down and admitted that he'd wanted to do it for some time, and now he was disgusted with himself.
I, too, was almost in tears—tears of frustration. What we had started, I for one, wanted to finish. I told him to get on with it. At first he was reluctant, but when I made it clear that I had enjoyed the experience he resumed with renewed enthusiasm. I have never experienced such urgent, intense sex. I could feel his heart thundering beneath mine, and the flush of satisfaction and the sweet smile on his face were a revelation to me. I realised, after those kisses, why my partner was such a success with the ladies, but also how much he had come to mean to me.
Call it love if you will. I have little experience of love. The only love I have known has been that of my mother. I hardly saw my father and remember nothing of him. I have only the vaguest of images left of my mother, but certain situations bring her warmth to mind and I treasure those feelings. They are all I have to remember of love. What I feel towards Napoleon has a similar effect on me. It makes me feel secure. And for someone for whom security has generally been in short supply, that is paramount.
We had sex again on the beach at Montauk. It was even better the second time and I felt wonderful afterwards. It was incredibly relaxing and energising at the same time. I really don't indulge enough I know. Napoleon indulges quite enough for both of us and I suppose I just have too many other interests.
But afterward, things changed between us. Napoleon wanted us to continue the sexual relationship beyond the vacation. He wanted us to become lovers. How can he be so blind?
I tried to explain to him the consequences of our being caught together. It would almost certainly mean my instant dismissal from U.N.C.L.E. New York, deportation back to Moscow and inevitable imprisonment there, possibly even execution.
He was so taken aback at my refusal, so hurt, that I finally agreed, against my better judgement, to one more time. It was a mistake. I knew it was a mistake as we did it but I could not stop myself. I was angry and hurting and desperate. I think I wanted it even more than he did and that frightened me. Our last time together was rough, hard and wrought of sorrow and frustration. But afterwards, he held me and I felt the sorrow melt away. I felt instead that warmth that always radiates from my partner. I felt secure because he had promised me it would be the last and I was not going to lose him.
But during that moment of closeness, I understood what love really is and that I love him.
His friendship has meant everything to me for a long time. The difference now, after we have been so intimate together, is that I can't stop thinking about him. Even at this moment, I know he is somewhere in the Sound, sailing the Pursang. I can picture him at the helm, thick hair whipped up by the wind, eyes narrowed, watching the trim of the sails, that curve on his lips; while I sit at home surrounded by busywork that I should have left behind on my days off, but which keeps my mind from straying to thoughts of my partner. Except it doesn't.
Each report I write has his name in it. Just now I am dealing with the paperwork pertaining to my part in the King of Diamonds Affair, as we called it. We ended up in Rio with an evening to spare. It was all I could do to keep my hands off him and I know he was struggling with the same feelings, but his integrity is such that he will keep to his promise. We will not make love again unless I agree.
In the end, he went out seeking his pleasures elsewhere. He came back to the hotel in the early hours of the morning. He had that satisfied look that told me he had been lucky. He did not realise I was awake. Did not know about the empty, desolate mood that came over me after I brought myself to climax with his name on my lips, remembering our sweet coupling on the beach at Montauk. By that time, my headache had cleared but my heart continued to be heavy. I attributed my red eyes and pallor in the morning to the cold I had acquired in London.
So here is my dilemma. I find myself ridiculously in love with my partner, unable to enjoy my leisure time because I am not in his company. Yet the alternative, if we were to spend intimate time together, could nullify everything I have striven for all these years. It could put my freedom and even my life in jeopardy.
But what life? Surely this is no life, this constant longing for something I deny myself because prudence dictates it. I have tried everything to forget that time with Napoleon. I have been on dates with some very nice women. I have even taken a couple to my bed, something I rarely did before Napoleon and I made love.
Made love. There's the difference. What I did with Tavia and Lorraine was sex. Very satisfying sex—they were lovely girls—but there was no love. At first I thought that was how it would be with Napoleon. When we grappled together after the man overboard incident I was convinced we needed to assuage our appetites, use up the adrenaline coursing round our systems. I had occasionally done something similar with some of the boys in the Navy. Those first kisses should have told me otherwise, but until that last, desperate coupling in the cabin the next day, I did not understand the depth of feeling I was experiencing.
Now my heart and my body cry for more. If only I had the courage.
Napoleon lay on the deserted beach at Montauk, the evening sun warming his back. The Pursang bobbed at anchor a little way offshore. He was asleep and having a wonderful dream. In his dream he was standing by the door of the shower room at HQ—the one beside the gym. Illya was having a shower after a tough workout. He was letting the warm water wash over tired muscles, running his hands up and down his body in a sensuous fashion. He was completely absorbed in the feel of his own body.
Napoleon, unseen by his partner in the dream, watched, fascinated, as the Russian began to soap himself. The warm suds ran down over his pale shoulders, down his arms. He paused, soaping his nipples, both together. His eyes closed and his genitals stirred a little. He massaged the nipples lazily and his cock lengthened.
Napoleon felt his own cock stirring. He swallowed, watching intently as the warm water washed the soap from the golden hairs on Illya's chest. His partner took the soap in his hands again and began to soap his abdomen, his hands lingering as they approached the reddish gold pubic hair, from which sprouted his half erect member. By the time those talented hands reached the rising cock to cover it in soap, Napoleon was as hard as he had ever been.
Riveted, he gazed as Illya slowly slid his right hand along the length of his now erect penis. With his left hand he soaped his balls, sliding the fingers between his legs. His right hand began to move up and down, up and down. The water cascaded down over Illya's upturned face. His eyes were closed and there was a smile on his face. His hand moved faster. Napoleon gasped and ground his own hard cock into the sand.
Suddenly Solo became aware of someone beside him, stroking his back, breathing on his neck, now kissing him lightly behind the ears. He felt a warm body drape itself over his back. Could feel a hard penis pressing into the cleft of his buttocks. "Don't stop . . ." breathed a dark voice in his ear. He could feel the accelerated breath, the movements, but he couldn't turn round, he was too intent on his dream.
The figure in the shower was groaning softly as his right hand moved faster and faster, his left cupping his balls and rolling them with soapy fingers. Suddenly, with a cry, he sprayed a stream of ejaculate, which mingled with the water cascading down on top of him. Napoleon groaned and thrust into the sand, sending his own seed shooting beneath him. There was a moan from the person draped over him, and Napoleon felt a warm wetness between his thighs . . .
Illya's eyes flew open. Heart hammering, bathed in sweat, he looked in dismay at the tangled bedclothes. Somehow he was clutching the pillow and his pyjama trousers were soaked with semen. With a groan, he disentangled himself from the wreck of his bed and plodded dismally to the bathroom. This would have to stop. It was the third wet dream he had had this week.
Stripping, he turned on the shower. He considered for a moment having it cold, but it was too late. He should have had the cold shower last night. As he stood beneath the flowing water, images of his dream flashed back.
There was to be no more sleep for him that night.
It had been a mistake to come to this beach where he and Illya made love last time. Napoleon felt empty. He wished he could stop himself thinking about the Russian. Illya would most likely be absorbed in some dry journal about modern physics or sitting in a jazz club drinking vodka, or doing whatever else he did in his spare time when he wasn't actually working.
Illya had the right idea, keeping himself busy after their aborted love affair. They had both been upset. Emotionally wrung out. But Illya had been adamant. He could not enter into any kind of sexual relationship with Napoleon, wonderful though it had been. It was a mistake.
They had tried to make the best of it. They'd spent a couple of days in the Hamptons with the boating crowd. They had picked up some dates and had some delicious meals and by the time they sailed back to Manhasset, on the surface at least, their relationship was restored to its old self, with the banter and the backchat, the joking and the jibes re-established.
Except it hadn't been. Time and again, Napoleon caught himself gazing at his partner. He took every excuse to touch him, stand near him. Illya actually went on a couple of dates and Napoleon found himself insanely jealous. For his own part, he took out every available girl he could lay his hands on; but all the time, his mind and body longed for that hard, muscled torso, long sinewy legs and that neat little ass which he found it so hard not to stare at. He wanted to smell that unique Illya smell of plain soap and cheap shampoo, not expensive perfume. He wanted to run his hands through soft, silky fine hair, not tangle them in a backcombed coiffeur.
He killed the motor of the dinghy and climbed up the stern ladder back into the Pursang. Making the dinghy fast, he headed below to the comfort of his bunk. He didn't much feel like eating tonight. Tomorrow he would turn around and head back to Manhasset. If he started early he could make it in a day, providing the promised south-easterly materialised.
Illya stared jadedly at the breakfast on his plate. He could no more eat it than make it disappear. This was quite ridiculous. He never lost his appetite unless he was sick. Well maybe he was sick. Lovesick.
He shovelled the Cheerios into the kitchen bin and wondered what to do. He could not settle to anything. The report about the King of Diamonds Affair was still lying unfinished on his coffee table. He really would be better off going into the office where he could sit at his desk and concentrate. But it would cause trouble. Waverly had recently sent round a memo, exhorting all Section 2 agents to take any vacation time owing to them before the end of next month, otherwise they would lose it. It was something to do with the financial year. Illya wasn't quite sure—he had not taken much notice. He and Napoleon both had two days of vacation owing and had asked permission to add them to the weekend. Things were fairly quiet and permission had been granted. Napoleon had gone off in the Pursang and Illya had opted to clear his paperwork at home.
Illya sat down on the sofa dejectedly. He really didn't enjoy vacations, which was why he often managed to accumulate so many days. He liked working and, specifically, he liked working with his partner. He was honest enough with himself to admit he missed Napoleon. Oh well, only today and tomorrow, then they'd be back at work. He wondered where Napoleon was right now. He wished he could hear his partner's voice, feel that comforting presence. Just talking to him on the communicator would be preferable to this aching loneliness. Chiding himself for stupidity, he turned his attention to South America.
Napoleon was, by that time, surfing along at seven and a half knots on a beam reach; Pursang's spinnaker was up and the other sails set perfectly. He should have been joyously exhilarated, but instead his face was set and his heart heavy.
He had spent a hot, restless night tossing and turning in his berth. He couldn't drive away the longing for his partner and he was rapidly coming to the conclusion that their partnership was becoming untenable. He would have to speak to Waverly about it. He resolved to go back to HQ tomorrow if he made it back in time. With this wind, if it kept up, he should be in Manhasset by evening.
He wondered what Illya was doing now. Was he in any way still affected by their brief intimacy? He didn't show it—except maybe for that time in Rio last week.
He sighed. Just thinking about Illya had made him semi-aroused. He sat down dejectedly. As he sat, he became aware of a two-tone sound coming from his pocket. His communicator. He delved for it beneath his waterproofs and lifejacket. It was on Channel A, the one he and Illya used between them. His heart gave a sudden lurch.
"Hello Napoleon. How's the weather on the Sound? Where are you?" The brown baritone of his partner was a little distorted, but what a welcome sound it was. Napoleon's face lit up into a smile.
"I'm going so fast we're surfing. The wind is just right for the homeward run."
"You're on your way home?" Illya sounded surprised.
"Ah—yes. I need a day at home to, um, tidy up." Napoleon lied, lamely. He didn't fool his partner.
"Hmm. Your apartment was neat as a pin on Thursday. When do you expect to be back?"
"Oh, latish tonight. Why are you calling me? Don't say there's a crisis. Waverly hasn't been in touch."
"I'm afraid the crisis is all mine and very minor. It would, however, be useful to have some information so I can get this report finished. It's been annoying me since yesterday."
"What, the King of Diamonds Affair? I've done my part. It's all there."
"Huh. All except one very crucial part. How, exactly, did you come to be in that cardboard box?"
"I thought we'd agreed we would leave it out. Ah—Mr Waverly isn't going to find that part edifying at all."
"I have to write something. Otherwise, how would you have come to be up the Amazon?"
"Can't you use that fertile imagination of yours?" Napoleon heard Illya sigh gustily at the other end. He smiled. "Well, OK. Here's the story. Now make sure you get it right . . . "
Illya looked at his watch. Only 10 a.m. His heart was pounding. Slow down you fool. Steady, steady now. He forced himself to sit down and finish the report on the King of Diamonds Affair, adding the slight alteration to the facts that he and Napoleon had discussed. As he wrote it, he could hear Napoleon's voice in his head and a small smile played around his lips.
It was dusk by the time Napoleon reached Manhasset Yacht Club. It had been a long day, especially after his poor night, but he had an odd feeling of elation as he motored in towards the Pursang's berth. The wind had remained steady at Force 3 and the bay was choppy. Handling Pursang in this weather was exciting but picking up the mooring was tricky single handed. It had been so much easier when he had his partner as crew.
It took Napoleon almost an hour to stow the sails, tidy up and leave the Pursang shipshape. At last he climbed into the dinghy and fired up the Seagull engine. The short, choppy ride to the shore left him wetter than he'd been all weekend. He stepped out into the shallow water and prepared to drag the dinghy up onto the shingle.
"Do you need any help with that?"
Napoleon spun round at the familiar voice. Illya emerged, cat-like, out of the shadows.
"Illya! What the . . . How do you do that? Are you sure there are no burglars in your ancestry?"
"Probably. We Kuryakins are a diverse lot. Aren't you going to pipe me aboard?"
"You're too late. What are you doing here?"
"Waiting to board your boat."
"But . . . how did you know?"
"Napoleon, please. I am a spy. I have my ways. Now take me aboard the Pursang."
A grin spread over Napoleon's face and a small nugget of hope formed in his gut. "Alright then. Get in. There's no point in both of us getting wet. But I warn you, it's very choppy."
Illya picked up a duffel bag and jumped nimbly into the rubber dinghy. He fished in his pocket and brandished a small packet. "See, I came prepared. Dramamine worked rather well last time I thought."
Napoleon shook his head, grinning wryly. "Smart Russian." He pushed the dinghy back out into the waves.
Back on board the Pursang, Napoleon unfastened the hatch. "You realise this would have been a whole lot easier if you had let me know you were coming."
Illya looked bland. "That would have spoiled the surprise," he deadpanned.
"Hmm. Well I have a surprise for you. I've nothing to eat aboard. I was going to have dinner in town."
Illya climbed below into the cabin and dumped his bag on the chart table. "What do you think this is—my pyjamas?" He opened the bag and took out a bottle of wine and several deli bags. "Sorry it's not exactly gourmet fare but I had to carry it."
Napoleon sat down on the bench seat and kicked off his wet deck shoes. He looked ruefully at his soaking trousers.
"Keep going." Illya didn't look up from the table where he was laying out the food, but waved a hand in Napoleon's direction. "And you won't need the shirt either."
Napoleon's heart gave another small lurch. Did Illya mean what he thought he meant? Could he . . . Slowly he began to strip off his trousers and shirt.
"Uh—you still haven't told me what you are doing here."
"I'm renewing my acquaintance with the seafaring life. You're still wearing too much."
Napoleon's heart was pounding as if it would burst from his chest any moment. Wordlessly he removed his underwear.
Illya glanced up from the table where he had finished laying out the food. He nodded approvingly, then approached his partner. Stretching out a hand, he brushed back the wayward forelock which had fallen over Solo's forehead. He gazed down into the large brown eyes, holding them in his glittering blue gaze for a moment. Then a small smile crept onto his face.
"Now, would you mind undressing me?"
With a sigh and the utmost tenderness, Napoleon pulled him down onto the seat beside him. Never taking his eyes from his partner's gaze, with shaking hands, he undid the buttons on the blue, plaid shirt. As he peeled it back from Illya's shoulders, he ran his hands over the incredibly soft, white skin there, gently touching the scars from old injuries with careful hands.
He pulled the shirt farther down and removed Illya's arms from the sleeves. Napoleon allowed his fingers to brush the golden chest hair, so different from his own naked chest. The Russian caught his breath as the fingers lingered on already erect nipples. "Still ticklish then, I see," Napoleon breathed as he moved in to kiss each pink circle.
Illya was shivering now, but not from cold. Napoleon loved the way his cool Russian partner trembled and twitched when he was aroused. And he was very much aroused now. As Napoleon carefully unfastened the button on his jeans, a healthy erection bulged beneath the white undershorts. The pale flesh of his torso was flushing red and his breathing was ragged. Napoleon held his own breathing in check while he applied his lips to the hard muscles of his partner's abdomen, then blew gently on the wetness he had made with his saliva. Illya moaned. He lay back, wriggling to make himself more comfortable on the bench seat. Napoleon followed him, pulling the jeans down further.
"This reminds me of how it all began," he whispered, and slipped Illya's jeans and undershorts over the slim hips and off in one practised movement, taking his sneakers with them. Then he moved up and covered his friend's lips with a long, grateful kiss.
Afterwards, they lay entwined on the narrow seat. Pursang rocked as she rode up and down on the waves. Each was reluctant to break the magic. At length, Napoleon sat up and stretched himself, grimacing a little.
"You know, this bench becomes a double berth if we use the table. We don't always have to perform a balancing act."
"Hmm. I thought that was all part of the fun. Shall we use the table for its alternate function? I'm ravenous."
"Aren't you always?" Napoleon walked naked into the galley and located a corkscrew, which he applied to the bottle of wine.
Illya gazed hungrily at the spread on the table. "Oddly enough, I've not had much of an appetite of late. I find it has suddenly returned, though."
"Me neither. Strange, isn't it?" A smile crossed Napoleon's face and he poured some wine into the plastic cups. "Well, it's not the best crystal, but here's to restored appetites." He held up his cup and drank. Then he put it down and fixed his partner with an enquiring look, raising one eyebrow.
"May I ask now what brought this on . . . this—ah—anxiety to renew acquaintance with the seafaring life?"
"Indeed you may. You see I've been . . ." Illya took a drink of his wine and broke off a piece of bread. He chewed it thoughtfully while he chose his words.
"I've been . . . well, thinking about you. I can't seem to . . . " He broke off. The words wouldn't come. Somehow he didn't seem able to swallow the bread he had been so hungry for a few moments earlier. He took another drink of wine and tried again.
"As you know, my life has never been easy and it has left me with a certain degree of . . . shall we say, pessimism. I see traps round every corner. I read danger into everything. I am wary of where I tread and, so far, that has stood me in, well, good stead."
He fiddled with the bread, breaking it up into small pieces on his plate. His eyes were downcast. With a small sigh he went on. "Everything I do is carefully considered. Even writing those reports—I am careful to make every word count. Then, when we were on this boat together, suddenly the spontaneity of what we did, when we . . . you know . . ."
"When we made love, you mean." Napoleon reached out and put his hand over his partner's nervous one. Illya looked up into his eyes and gave his half-smile.
"Yes, when we made love. It took me by surprise."
Napoleon grinned. "It most certainly did. I remember. But I also remember you got over the surprise rather quickly."
"Yes, I did, didn't I?" Illya poured himself some more wine and took another swallow. "But then, when I had time to think, I became afraid for our partnership, as I explained to you."
Napoleon squeezed his hand. "I understand, of course. But I've been finding it very hard, after what happened between us. I love you, you know."
Another sigh. "And I love you, moy droog. That is the trouble. I cannot get you out of my mind. If something were to happen to you—well, we live dangerous lives." He dropped his gaze to the table again. "Something could happen to either one of us any day. And so then I thought . . . I thought . . ."
"Seize the day? Yes, that's it." Illya looked up again and blinked.
"Exactly. Why waste time worrying about the future when there might not be a future?"
The Russian shook his head. "Yes, that's it. I wanted you so much, dushka."
"As I wanted you. I thought you were coping. I thought you had put it all out of your mind. Do you know I've been utterly miserable all weekend? I went to Montauk beach and moped around feeling sorry for myself, thinking about what a wonderful time we had there last month. All the time I wanted to feel you in my arms."
He grasped Illya's hand and pulled him towards him. "Oh God, Illya. Give that bread a break and come here. I love you so much, you wonderfully unpredictable partner of mine."
Illya found himself once again in his partner's arms. They kissed deeply. With a sigh of happiness, he arranged himself so that he was comfortably draped over his lover and reached a hand up to caress the dark hair. Then he looked down at their nakedness and grinned.
"I have bared my body, bared my soul, there is just one more thing I would like to strip naked before we make love again."
Napoleon nibbled his ear. "I think I can guess. All right. Let's make a start on stripping this table bare. I've a feeling I may have worked up quite an appetite at last."