'Tis the Season
Setting: In a time very like the present. The fieldwork is years behind them.
The snowball fight started by accident. They had been walking in the snowy field behind Napoleon's sister's Long Island home—the grounds were extensive, and they had walked for quite a while, side by side in the knee deep snow, breath floating out before them in great white plumes. It was bitterly cold, and windy, but they had been drawn from the warm house, from the noise and bustle of Christmas preparations by the deep blue sky above, the sparkling snow that lay before them. They walked briskly, fingers tingling in gloves, noses growing numb, drawing deep breaths of the icy air. Napoleon nearly stumbled on a concealed rock and irritably kicked at it, sending a shower of snow over Illya, who was a step or two ahead of him. Illya promptly bent down, gathered a handful, packed it and threw it in his face. For one moment Napoleon was torn between annoyance—the snow was cold, and wet, dribbling down his collar—and amusement. Illya, seeing the storm clouds threaten on his partner's face threw up his hands in mock terror and turned to run.
Napoleon tackled him, amusement winning out and they rolled around in the snow, scuffling and laughing. Illya wriggled free and, taking cover behind a tree proceeded to bombard Napoleon with snow missiles. Napoleon pulled his scarf up and returned fire. They threw fast and furiously until one particularly large, sloppy missile hit Napoleon full in the face, knocking his hat off. He lunged forward, caught Illya around the waist and brought him down again. They wrestled some more but Napoleon's superior weight combined with Illya's laughter put him at a hopeless disadvantage, and he soon enough found himself securely pinned. Napoleon rubbed a handful of snow in his face, scooped up another and held it threateningly close.
"No." Illya turned away and received the next handful on the side of his neck for his pains. He twisted and struggled, pushing at Napoleon ineffectually with his gloved hands and was rewarded with yet another mass of snow, right in the mouth. He sputtered.
"Give up yet?" Without waiting for an answer Napoleon captured both of Illya's wrists, pinned them over his head with one hand, leaving him a clear field. "You might as well."
"No! Get off me you big heavy ..." a mouthful of snow silenced him. Napoleon pulled off Illya's red hat and rubbed snow in his hair, breaking the rubber band that kept it confined. He stopped, then, grinning down at his partner, flat on his back in the snow; blond hair spread out around him, cheeks bright red with cold, eyes brilliant and laughing up at him. There was a long pause. Napoleon's smile faded as he stared into Illya's face. He never knew where the next words came from—and he gave it a lot of thought, later on, as they sat over Christmas dinner with his family, as they helped decorate the tree, as he and Illya said their goodnights.
"How beautiful you are." The sentence seemed to hang in the air between them, as if frozen solid by the twenty-four degree temperatures. Illya's eyes widened and they were so blue—as blue as the sky overhead.
"How odd you should say that," he whispered, not struggling anymore. "I was just thinking the same thing. You're very handsome."
"Well, you," he looked at Illya some more, used his free hand to lift a strand of that bright hair, stare at it against his black glove as if he'd never seen it before. "You take my breath away." There was another silence while they stared at one another. "Tell me something," Napoleon said, not knowing he was going to say it until he did and he examined these words later on, too, lying in his bed that night, he certainly did. "Illya Kuryakin—my long time partner, the best friend I've ever had," and Illya was blushing now, the color rising in his face quite apart from the cold reddening his cheeks. "Would you be very offended with me if—if I kissed you?"
"No," Illya whispered. "I'd like it. I mean, I think I would. I mean ..." and then Napoleon did kiss him, stopping his nervous burst of words.
Illya's lips were warm, the only warmth to be found in that frozen field, warm, and soft—and sweet—how had he worked with Illya all those years and never known his lips were so sweet? And the inside of Illya's mouth was even warmer, his tongue narrow and pointed and it twined around Napoleon's own as if they had been doing this all their lives. He kissed Illya slowly, and thoroughly, exploring every inch of that warm, sweet mouth, dizzy with it and then arousal stirred. Even through the layers of clothing—thermal underwear, sweatpants, heavy coat—even so Illya felt it, and at the same time Napoleon released his hands so he wrapped his arms around Napoleon's neck, arching up against him. They were so close—as close as all those winter garments would allow. There was a long moment when they just held onto one another and kissed—Napoleon drew Illya's tongue into his own mouth and sucked on it and both moaned at the feel, and then a sudden gust of wind stirred the tree over them and a big clump of snow fell onto the back of Napoleon's neck. He jumped, swore and the moment was over.
He got up, gave Illya a hand up as well and they walked back to the house. He had a strong, nearly overwhelming urge to keep hold of Illya's hand but they were out in the open again, and could be seen from the house and anyway he and Illya didn't hold hands. That was—but he and Illya didn't kiss, either, and his manhood didn't rise to attention for another man whoever he might be, however lovely he might look against a snowdrift, however deep the bond between them might run. It was—he stole a sideways look at Illya to find Illya looking at him, and both colored and looked away.
Inside the house all was heat and light and the sound of cheerful voices. Napoleon's older sister Jillian, her husband Lloyd, Napoleon's younger brother Charles were all calling out greetings and warnings that the turkey was nearly ready. He and Illya went up to their rooms, changed out of their wet things and the next time Napoleon saw Illya he was in shirt and slacks sitting next to him at the dinner table. They exchanged no surreptitious glances, but when their hands accidentally brushed while passing a gravy boat from one to another both jumped, and gravy spilled, so Napoleon mopped it up while Illya made awkward apologies and they didn't speak again until saying goodnight and retiring to their separate rooms.
Napoleon lay flat on his back in bed, staring at the ceiling. What had that been, today, he and Illya. Since when did they—how could it be, that he had, for that brief moment, actively desired—another man? How could something like that just happen? He had looked down into Illya's face, vivid against the snow, and told him—had said—where had that come from? Had it just appeared, springing full blown from his mind at that precise moment? No, it must have begun earlier—when he had decided to bring Illya along, perhaps.
Jillian had invited him out for Christmas weekend and since it was rare, that all three siblings spent the holidays together, he had accepted and then been faced with canceling already existing plans with his partner. "I'm sorry about Christmas," he had begun over coffee in the lounge and Illya's face had fallen. He had recovered quickly, had smiled and wished Napoleon a pleasant visit but it had hurt him, Napoleon could tell and truth be known he had been disappointed himself, that he and Illya weren't getting together as they had planned. So he had quickly proffered his invitation and Illya, after some polite attempts to demur, had accepted and they had beamed at one another—had it started then?
Maybe it had started three years ago, back when their work partnership had been officially dissolved and they had drifted apart, as people did, until an unexpected encounter in a hallway brought them together.
He was hurrying, on his way to a meeting, briefcase in one hand, cell phone in the other, talking and hurrying until he rounded a corner and collided head on with Illya, also talking on his cell phone, arms full of folders, struggling to hold them and keep his phone jammed into the crook of his neck. They both dropped everything, and laughed, and picked up the wrong phones, and laughed some more when the mistake was discovered. He helped Illya gather up his spilled documents and Illya retrieved Napoleon's briefcase and then they just stood there, smiling at one another. "Well," Napoleon said. "How long has it been?"
"Seven and a half months," Illya replied promptly and then flushed. "I mean—something like that. I think." It was a poor attempt at recovery, and Napoleon laughed at him again.
"You've been keeping track?"
"No, of course not. I just—you know I'm good with dates."
"I remember." They were silent then, but it wasn't an awkward silence—he and Illya had never been awkward with one another. It was comfortable, and pleasant—Napoleon cleared his throat. "You look well."
"Laboratory science must agree with you."
"I hear good things about your department. You and George Piper are quite a pair."
"Yes. And you, Napoleon. Head of Departmental Policies? That's quite a leap. Congratulations."
"Thank you." There was another silence, then "Illya"
"Napoleon"—they spoke simultaneously, then laughed again. Illya leaned against the wall and smiled up at him. "You go first."
"I miss—us. Being a team, I mean."
"I do too."
"Yes." Their eyes met, and held, then Napoleon's neglected phone beeped. He looked at his watch.
"Damn. I have to go."
"I should too. It was nice running into you, Napoleon." He laughed a little. "So to speak."
"So to speak," he echoed, then "Look. What are you doing after work?"
"Nothing particularly. Why?"
"Want to have dinner? We could catch up."
"I'd like that."
"Me too. Meet me in my office when you're finished for the day."
"All right." Illya smiled, and hadn't he thought then that Illya had a particularly appealing smile? It softened the austere planes of his face, warming and brightening it, making those blue eyes sparkle. He had wanted to touch Illya then, hadn't he; wanted to brush a loose strand of hair back behind his ear. But he hadn't, of course, had said polite farewells and left and there had been a lift in his step that hadn't been there before.
Since then, they had never let more than a week go by without getting together—for dinner, or lunch, or, occasionally, a symphony or museum tour. It had pleased them both, this rediscovery of their friendship, and if there was more to it than that it had certainly been a secret to him—and to Illya too, he was sure. Because he had never—had never once thought of his friend in a physical way.
But now he did. He couldn't stop thinking about that kiss, how Illya's mouth had softened and warmed under his, how Illya's lips had parted so willingly and how sweet that kiss had been. Through all the clothing he had been aware of Illya's body, lithe and elegant, hard and—and perfect. Illya's body was perfect, slim and long legged and Illya's hair had been a golden flood on the snow. Illya had looked at him as though he were the most wonderful person in the world. Illya had always looked at him that way and he had always liked it, hadn't he and furthermore he thought his partner was wonderful too, and he supposed that was no secret either. He wished—he didn't know what he wished for, but—and then came a tap at his door.
Illya had actually already knocked twice but his hand was shaking and it wasn't loud enough, he knew it. He had been lying in bed thinking about that afternoon, about the feel of Napoleon's lips covering his, about the weight of Napoleon's body pressing him deep into the snow, about Napoleon's arousal, hard and burning against his—his own, meeting it. He had flushed, thinking of that, his body aching for more. The ache had grown until it was intolerable so he had gotten out of bed and, just as he was, in the oversized T shirt he always slept in, his hair loose and falling down his back, barefoot on the cold stone floor he had gone down the hall to Napoleon's room, knocked at his door with trembling hands, knocked again and, finally, rapped sharply enough for Napoleon to hear him.
"Come in." Napoleon sat up, expecting Jillian, expecting Charles, drawing the bedcovers into a bunch to hide his erection which he hadn't even realized he had until he heard that knock. But it wasn't Jillian, and it wasn't Charles. It was Illya, and he had seen Illya in that ridiculous shirt more times than he could count without ever noticing how it clung to his thighs and slipped off his shoulders, without ever wanting to take it off of him. He had seen Illya's hair down, too, on countless occasions during their time together and had never been aware of this urgent desire to put his hands in it, to wrap it around his fists and hold Illya's head still while he ... he swallowed. "Hello."
"Um"—Illya stopped, swallowed, began again. "I wanted something to read."
"The library is downstairs."
"Right." He shifted his feet. "I thought, I mean, I wanted ..."
"Illya." And how delightful, to see his cool composed partner blushing and stammering, ducking his head now so his hair swung forward and hid his face.
"What?" He didn't look up.
"Um—come there?" He gave a quick glance in Napoleon's direction. Napoleon held back the bedcovers and patted the spot beside him.
"Yes." He patted the mattress again. "Right here."
"Well—if you're sure ..."
"Isn't that why you came?"
"Yes—I mean no ..." he was moving towards the bed. "I mean ..." Napoleon reached up, caught his hands, pulled him down, pulled him in.
Their bodies were together, only two thin layers of nightclothes between them and all doubts or embarrassment vanished. Illya sighed, a deep hitching breath and Napoleon smiled, drew the covers up over them both. Then he hesitated. "Ah—did you think to lock the door?"
"Maybe we should. I'll get it."
"No, I will."
"You stay here. You're freezing. Why do you insist on wearing that thing in the dead of winter?"
"It's warm under the covers."
"So stay put." He climbed out of bed, wincing at the coldness of the floor on bare feet. "Jillian and her flagstones," he grumbled, and crossed to the door. "If we were at my place we'd have carpet."
"If we were at your place—I mean if you were at home, I wouldn't be here."
"So you say." He slid the bolt across, hurried back to bed and oh, climbing into bed next to Illya was wonderful, more than wonderful, was bliss. Was like coming home. Both their feet were cold now and it made them laugh, which was good because he felt Illya relax a little. Why had he been going over it and over it in his mind anyway? This made perfect sense. They had gone from work partners to friends, to best friends, to more—and now, here they were. About to become lovers. Lovers. He tasted the word, rolling it around, liking it. Lovers. His lover, Illya Kuryakin. "So," he said, propping himself up on one elbow, smiling down at Illya. "Here we are."
Illya smiled back at him. There was no sense, now, of nervousness. "I love you, Napoleon."
Napoleon felt dizzy, as if he were falling, falling endlessly—he took Illya into his arms and they were falling together, Illya's mouth warm and sweet under his, Illya's body hard and urgent against his and when Illya's legs opened for him Napoleon groaned into his open mouth and Illya cried out, softly, pleadingly, the two of them wrapped up in one another, still falling. He kissed Illya's throat, inhaling deeply, savoring the good familiar scent of him, kissed the delicate line of his collarbone, at his shoulder now, back up to his neck, still so slow—he'd had no idea it could be this slow, or this good.
He gasped Illya's name, and Illya twined both legs high around his waist so he could sink deeper. It was a slow, sweet descent that finally brought the fall to an end, leaving them panting and shaking, Illya with arms and legs spread wide, Napoleon heavy on top. He managed to lift his head, finally, and looked into Illya's face—flushed, eyes brilliant, hair strewn about on the white pillowcase. He said, as he had said before, "How beautiful you are," and then "I love you, Illya" which led to another kiss.
Bells rang in the distance and Napoleon kissed him again. "Merry Christmas," he whispered and then began tugging at the ring on his pinkie—a simple gold band sealed with his initials—a Christmas gift from Jillian. She had had their grandfather's massive signet ring melted down and fashioned into two smaller ones for him and Charles, and had nearly wept with frustration when Napoleon's had proven too small. He had assured her it didn't matter and it didn't, because it fit Illya to perfection, sliding onto the ring finger of his left hand as if it had been made for him. "Merry Christmas," Napoleon said again and Illya caressed his face. They kissed some more before sinking down into sleep, curled up under the warmth of the bedcovers, curled up in the warmth of one another and it was, it was a very Merry Christmas for them both.