A Trackless Domain - The Epilogue
A Trackless Domain, Book 6, Part 1.
This is what I guess you could call the director's cut. A Trackless Domain is available from Joyce and Bast in 6 volumes. However, my original version of Volume 6 was rejected by the editors. They said there were too many OCs, too much OC involvement. They are surely wiser than I in the ways and buying habits of fandom, so I rewrote it extensively, mainly the first parts. However this is my true vision. I didn't see Jess just tipping his hat and disappearing from Illya's life, not without some sort of struggle, and I didn't feel that Napoleon had at all worked out his jealousy and possessiveness issues - what Illya called his darkness. So here is the original version; turmoil, angst, OCs and all. It will not really make sense without the original first 5 volumes, however, which will not be posted online until Joyce and/or Bast inform me that they are no available in print. They were the ones who published it originally and I honor that. Since they didn't want this version, however, I consider it my own to do with as I like. And I'd like to share them.
The air conditioning was blessedly cool against his face and Napoleon sighed with pleasure, setting down his briefcase and removing his jacket, tie and shoes. He had taken a cab from the airport when his rental had fallen through, and the cab had not been air conditioned in the steamy heat - only June, and already it was very hot, and humid. Not for the first time Napoleon thought about a second house out on the Island - not too far from Jillian's for Illya to drive over if he liked, and right on the beach. Looking realistically ahead at his career Napoleon saw more time away, not less, over the next few years. Illya liked Jillian - and she him - and, most importantly, living on the beach would make Illya happy. Napoleon made a mental note to look into it.
Illya wasn't home yet but he came through the door about an hour later, alerted by the absence of Napoleon's mail in the box, and jumped into his arms. Napoleon laughed and hugged him, kissing the top of his head, pulling the band out of his hair, running both hands through it. Illya closed his eyes and gave himself up to it. It was wonderful to have been missed like this, to be greeted like this - to be carried, and the cool sheets in Napoleon's darkened bedroom were a caress of their own on his bare skin. It was wonderful to be touched, and kissed, and held ... wonderful to be filled by - and with - Napoleon. He sighed at the end, eyes wide and dream filled, feeling Napoleon's mouth wandering across his face, tasting him, nuzzling him. Illya turned his head to look at him and smiled. "Hi."
"I missed you."
"I missed you too."
"How was your trip?"
"It was fine. How was work?"
"I want to talk to you about something, but I don't want you to get mad. If you start getting mad just tell me so and I'll stop. I don't want to fight with you."
"And if this doesn't involve Jess Coleman in some way I'll eat my hat," Napoleon said grimly. He kept thinking he'd adjust to that, and he kept finding out he was wrong. To be honest with himself, he'd expected Illya to adjust so he wouldn't have to. But Illya, blithely secure that he knew the rules, was following all George's rules, went right on lavishing his affections on Jess as if nothing had happened. He walked warily around Napoleon on the subject, aware that Napoleon's anger was always ready to boil over, but Napoleon knew that Illya regarded his jealousy as a mystifying aberration, to be placated and appeased but never understood, never in a million years would Illya understand so he kept right on. "Well, what?" Despite Napoleon's tone he still had Illya within the circle of his arms, and the embrace hadn't changed.
"Remember when I told you that Jess and I talked about going to Disney World for his vacation? Well, his vacation is next week. He wants to take me, and I want to go."
Napoleon smiled. And he had thought it was serious! He almost laughed out loud. "You are out of your ever loving mind, do you know that?"
"Because." Napoleon tugged on Illya's hair lightly, amused. "Because you're not going."
"But it would be fun."
"I'll take you, if you want to go so much." Napoleon put his lips on the strand of hair lying across his palm.
"It wouldn't be the same. You don't want to go. You'd just be taking me. Jess wants to go. He'd have fun too."
Napoleon did laugh then. "He thinks he would. Illya - you are not going off to a resort alone with Jess Coleman, period. You must have known this." He had stopped his caresses, but he was still smiling.
"Well -" Illya pulled free of the embrace and, amused further, Napoleon let him. "I thought maybe you'd be mad."
"I might be if there were any possibility of you going, but since there isn't ..." he saw Illya's mouth set itself in that stubborn way and kissed it. "No."
Another kiss. "No."
Napoleon drew back. "Because the thought of you actually doing it makes me angrier than I've been since Christmas Eve." His voice had hardened and Illya's mouth, which had softened under his kisses, hardened as well.
"Good. At least you've stopped laughing at me."
"I would think," Napoleon said deliberately, closing his hands on Illya's shoulders, "that you'd prefer that."
"I would too." Illya looked surprised. "But I don't. And get your hands off me if you think you're going to shake me. You promised you wouldn't. You can't just throw your promises away because you're mad at me."
"I really could have sworn I heard you say you would drop it if I got angry."
"And I will. Are you?"
"Good. Are we through with this nonsense yet? All the way home I've been thinking about getting you in the bathtub. And it was a long flight."
"Yes, we're through." Illya watched him go into the bathroom, and in a minute came the sound of the water running. A sudden chill shook him, and when Napoleon came into the bathroom doorway and beckoned Illya shivered. Napoleon was still angry, he could tell from his stance, and he didn't want ... "No. I don't want to."
"What?" Napoleon came all the way over to the bed and took Illya's hands, tugged him to his feet. "I know you don't mean that. Come on."
Dutifully Illya allowed himself to be brought into the bathroom, where he balked again. "No. Take your own bath. I don't want to."
"We are not playing this game," Napoleon said, feeling his anger rise. "I did not start this. You did. Now you're withholding because - no. What we do here," he pulled Illya close again, feeling his unwillingness, his own anger climbing. "Has nothing to do with any quarrel we might have over your outrageous expectations." Napoleon pulled harder, and Illya pushed back.
"But it is supposed to have something to do with whether I want to or not, and I don't! You're angry, I don't feel safe when you're angry, and I can't find that feeling if I don't feel safe!" Napoleon's hands dropped and they confronted each other across the space Illya had put between them. Illya stood his ground there, despite Napoleon's expression. He didn't have to. Not if he didn't want to.
"Where is this coming from?" Napoleon asked finally. "Surely even you can see that going on vacation alone with Coleman is out of the question."
"Why? I go away with George. Why should that be any different?"
"Because ... because it just is. And if you still don't - or won't - see it, I don't know how to explain it to you. And I'm tired of trying. The very idea makes me furious. I'm supposed to spend - what, Illya? How long was this going to last?"
"Three days thinking about that? And what about the nights?"
"What about them?"
"Where would you stay? What kind of arrangements would you have?"
"A two bedroom suite at the Contemporary Resort," Illya answered promptly.
"Ah huh. And he'd be brushing your hair and rubbing your back and all."
"Yes. Probably." Illya was stiff with anger himself now. "So?"
"And if you dream you'll crawl right into bed with him. Won't you."
"If I dream? I won't dream. I haven't dreamed since - since we came back from our trip." And he hadn't. It had been a good time, a time of real healing. Illya didn't think he would dream - not like before. He was free. Why would Napoleon even mention that? And if he did dream, if he was confronted once again by his uncle, how could Napoleon grudge him shelter in Jess's arms? And he had shared beds with so many fellow agents over the years when the job required it. In the field even one bed could be a luxury - and sometimes a necessity. Why, when he and Mark had been stranded in Mexico the floor of their hut had been alive with insects. They had shared a twin Army cot and been glad of it. He didn't understand. But he looked at Napoleon again and saw the pain behind the anger, and his own anger left him. He crossed the floor and put his arms around Napoleon's neck. "Only you," he said and felt Napoleon's arms come slowly around him in their turn. "I forgot that's what you were asking. Only ever you. Not anyone else. Not Jess Coleman. I never even think about doing that with him. Even when he's brushing my hair. Even when he rubs my back. Even if I crawled into bed with him. I never ever want that with him. I never even think it."
"He does." Napoleon thought of Jess, looking across a fog shrouded Ukrainian lake, saying `If Illya would let me take him away from you, and love him for the rest of my life I would.' He had never told Illya that, but he remembered.
"I've told you before, Napoleon, that really doesn't ... George says it's his little red wagon, not mine."
"George said that?"
"Yes, he said it was a very nice wagon, and nothing to be ashamed of, but I didn't buy it so I don't have to pull it. That's a funny way to talk about it, isn't it?"
"But it's true, Napoleon. I'm sorry Jess has that feeling for me because it has to hurt him, but I didn't set out to make him fall in love with me, and since he has it's not my fault I like it."
"I see." Napoleon did. He saw George filling Illya's ears with this claptrap and Illya believing it.
"It feels wonderful to be loved," Illya was going on. He had never gotten over the feeling that if he could just explain it well enough, Napoleon would understand. "I never knew. I'm not turning it away. It makes me feel I must be worth something if someone as good as Jess is loves me like that, even without ..." Illya stopped, remorseful. He hadn't meant to say that. Those words reverberated between them, bringing the past suddenly to life. Can't you love me without, he had asked Napoleon so long ago, when he had been afraid of it, when he'd had no idea ... and the answer had been no. Not for one minute, since that first kiss in Florida, had Napoleon wavered from his pursuit. His - relentless pursuit. But it was good, that he had been relentless. Illya was glad. He wanted to say so, wanted to say that Napoleon was as he was, and that he loved Napoleon exactly the way he was. But not now. Napoleon's face had closed, and although he would probably hear about this later, Napoleon was nothing if not focused and he was not going to be distracted from the current issue. "And I'm entitled," Illya finished instead, and set his mouth again.
"This is all from George."
"Illya, on second thought I'm taking a shower. And then I want to have dinner. Is that acceptable to you?" This wasn't at all the way it usually went when he came home, and he was put out.
"Yes, Napoleon. You shower and I'll call Jess and cancel, then we'll go out to dinner. Just you and me. All right?" He had hurt Napoleon, he could see that he had; just because he didn't understand didn't excuse him.
"Yes." Napoleon was mollified and watched Illya leave the bathroom before going into the shower. `Only you' Illya had said and damned if that hadn't been what he had been asking the whole time, first with his laughter and then with his anger. Only me. Even if I couldn't love you without. And before we dress and go to dinner I'll show you, and this time you'd better not even think about saying no.
Napoleon stood in the shower, staring at his hands, which had clenched again, feeling his anger. Why on earth? I won. I won decisively. You're in there right now telling him no, and then you'll let me make love to you and I'll make damn sure you like it too, I know how. Then we'll go out ... and you'll push that food around instead of eating it because you're only doing it to please me and I am not pleased, not at all pleased.
Napoleon sat down and thought. Why am I still so angry? What more can you do? I won, the way we both knew I would, yet I am only confirmed in my righteous anger, not appeased. Because - because I didn't win. Because I'm angry that you wanted to go. And you still want to go. So I'm still angry. And why do you want to go? Because you think it would be fun. The thing was, it would be fun. He knew that. Jess would show Illya wonderful time, would flatter him outrageously and make him laugh, would coax him into eating everything offered, would shield him from any discomfort and distress ... and make him feel beautiful and special and loved. And that was all. He could trust Illya absolutely, he knew that. That was the basis for everything. Illya was his partner.
Napoleon examined himself carefully, and didn't like what he saw. It would be fun, and harmless, and beneficial and he was saying no because he was jealous and possessive and wanted Illya's smiles and laughter and beauty for himself. Why don't I just lock you up, then, and keep you close. Napoleon turned off the shower and, rubbing himself down, came into the living room where Illya was standing by the coffee table talking on the phone.
"No, I know. No - don't say that. I'm glad you asked me. It's all right. He just -he doesn't want me to go. No, I'm all right. Jess, I am. Yes, I know how I sound but ... you're crazy." He laughed and Napoleon reached out, took the phone from his hand.
"Solo - you'd better not have scared him out of it. He says no, but I think ..."
"Your trip is on. Go ahead with your arrangements. Illya will talk to you tomorrow." He looked at Illya. "Is that all right?"
"I couldn't hear him," Jess said, and Napoleon held the phone out to Illya who said again
"Goodnight," Napoleon said, and disconnected. Illya looked at him and started to speak, but Napoleon put a finger on his lips, stopping him. "No. It's an ugliness in me, this jealousy. It's all the worst parts of me - the worst parts of my feelings for you."
"It's your darkness," Illya said soberly. "It's all right."
"It may be human, and understandable - and forgivable?"
"But it's still ugly. And not to be encouraged. Not - not to be fed into. Go with Jess. Have fun. I know I can trust you. I know you won't do anything sexual together - and everything else is not for me to permit or deny. George is right. You're entitled, and I insult you by doubting you. Go. You have my blessing."
"You're the best man I've ever known," Illya said and came to him, tucking his head into Napoleon's shoulder, leaning against him. "And I won't go if you really don't want me to."
"If you want to go, I want you to go."
"I wasn't trying to withhold because we disagreed. I wouldn't do that."
"I know, sweetheart. I can be mean spirited when I'm angry. I thought that might make you feel guilty enough to say yes." But it didn't, did it. Napoleon smiled at him. "You deserve better from me."
"I want to say yes now."
"I want to get in the tub with you now. I want to take all that back and do it right. Can we?"
Take it back and do it right, Napoleon thought. A child still, in so many ways. "Yes," he said, and kissed Illya's forehead. "We can take it back and do it right. Yes we can." He walked with Illya into the bathroom, arm around his shoulders. The water had chilled, so Napoleon drained it, refilled it while Illya sat in his lap and kissed him, little brushes of contact on his throat, his shoulder, his chest, his neck ... he caught Illya's hair then and held him still so he could kiss his mouth, lifting him, still kissing him, bringing him down into the warm water. Illya moaned with pleasure as the water took his weight, making him light, his wet hair clinging to his back, Napoleon's arms so strong, his love so strong. There was safety, and then there was pleasure in the warm, sweet smelling water.
Napoleon saw Illya off for Florida at their front door with a kiss and a smile and, he whispered, "I put a surprise in your suitcase."
"How nice," Illya said, smiling up at him. He was excited, but hated to be leaving Napoleon. It seemed crazy, suddenly, that Napoleon was home and he was leaving when he didn't have to. For a wild minute he wanted to change his mind and cancel but how could he really, after all this? And Jess was meeting him at the airport - how could he not show up? But he clung to Napoleon before he left, and when he got on the elevator he was wishing that he had never heard of Disneyworld.
But Jess's enthusiasm was contagious, and they were both laughing when they boarded the private jet. Illya did indeed fly them himself, and did loops and spins and dives to both their hearts' content, landing them at a private airfield in Florida. A shuttle took them to their hotel, chosen by Jess because the Disney monorail ran through the lobby and the lights of the Cinderella castle could be seen from their balcony. They ate dinner in the hotel restaurant and Illya was hungry, and ate well - still flying high on adrenalin and the fact of their being there at all.
Jess had thrown all caution to the winds when he'd reminded Illya of their plan - and Illya could say no, couldn't he? But Illya hadn't, he'd said yes. Have you lost your mind? George had demanded, and I'll take good care of him, Jess had answered and he was resolved that he would.
He and Illya talked and laughed in their rooms until late into the night, but when Illya unpacked and found the gift Napoleon had for him both of them stopped laughing and just looked at each other. It was a comb and brush set, hand carved from sea green jade; fabulously expensive looking, fabulously beautiful and Jess, using them to brush out Illya's hair that night got the message, loud and clear. "A little more heavy handed than his usual style," he said aloud and Illya nodded but pulled his hair back behind his shoulders so Jess could reach it better. Jess shook his head and brushed on, enjoying it immensely. Illya's hair was like silk under his hands, soft and thick and alive, crackling slightly against his fingers, the pale green of the jade against it a work of art. At the end Illya kissed Jess's cheek, and Jess kissed Illya's forehead. They went off to their separate rooms, and if there were any dreams in the night they were pleasant ones.
Illya was bemused at breakfast by the Disney characters wandering through the restaurant. He sucked on grapes and watched children approach the costumed figures, getting autographs, getting their pictures taken, reaching out to touch them. It pleased him, but it made him sad too and he didn't want to be sad, so he pushed his chair back, Jess got to his feet and they joined the monorail line.
That ride was about as good as it got, Jess thought later on. The smooth gliding rush across the manicured landscape was fun, and the days ahead stretched like a glittering magic carpet of possibilities. They spent some time on Main Street, wandering up and down the cobblestone streets, looking in all the stores. "This is what I thought America would be like," Illya said, smiling at Jess. "I thought there was Manhattan, the Wild West, and places like this." Jess followed him around, took his picture at every photo stop they passed, bought him ice cream and finally sat beside him in the trolley that took them to Cinderella's Castle.
By the time they stopped for lunch Illya was subdued. He liked being with Jess, but the surroundings bewildered and confused him. He didn't understand. He didn't understand any of it, as lost in this cultural setting as he had ever been when newly arrived in America. He knew Mickey Mouse from television, but all the rest of it baffled him. He didn't enjoy most of the rides, and it all reminded him again, poignantly, of just how much he had missed. And there were so many children, and by late afternoon many of them were screaming. When a weary parent slapped a mouthy adolescent squarely across the face Illya flinched as though taking the blow himself. Jess called a halt then, and took him back to the hotel.
They sat by the pool, Illya sipping lemonade and saying little. Jess tried not to hover, not to show that he was worried, wondering what had made him think he could handle this without George, without Solo. Here Illya didn't even have his work, or his apartment to bolster his still fragile sense of self, and there was only Jess to keep away the bad dreams and the blues and the flashbacks, and if he failed only he himself to cope with them. After a while he became aware that Illya had pushed his sunglasses up on his forehead and was looking at him.
"I'm all right, Jess," he said gently. "I was tired, that's all."
"You don't look all right."
"It's like an elaborate joke that everyone is in on but me."
"I'm sorry, sugar."
"No, I'm sorry. I'm ruining it."
"Illya - I'd rather be sitting by this pool with you than anyplace else you'd care to mention."
"That's so nice. But you really wanted to come here. I feel bad. Let's go back."
"We'll go back later. When it's not so hot. When a lot of the crowds have left, and the kiddies are tucked in their beds."
"Sure. The park is open till midnight. Meanwhile there's a pool right here - want to swim?"
So they swam side by side in the clear sparkling water, and later ate dinner in their own room. Illya seemed relaxed but Jess wasn't, couldn't, feared he wouldn't for the remainder of their stay.
The three hours between nine and midnight, before the park closed, were better. Most of the young children were gone, the lines were shorter, and the dark and the electricity made the illusion of a magical fairyland more real. They went first to Space Mountain, which Illya had enjoyed earlier. He also liked the cable car ride across the softly lit park, and he liked the Haunted Mansion and the Pirates of the Caribbean; Jess picking and choosing very carefully now.
By the time they returned to their rooms they were tired, and Jess was satisfied that Illya had gotten as much enjoyment out of Walt Disney's extravaganza as he was going to. He rubbed Illya's back for over an hour, feeling how tense he was, then feeling him sigh, and finally lie limp and contented under Jess's skilled hands. When Illya finally stood up Jess stood up too, smiling at him, reaching out to gather his long shining hair back behind his shoulders, looking down into Illya's face, not trying to hide the look on his own.
Illya smiled back, then moved closer, initiating and accepting the embrace. "I'm lonesome for Napoleon, and sad from today," he said into Jess's chest. "Can I sleep with you?"
"Of course you can." The answer came readily despite the quick stab of pain at Napoleon Solo's name. How could he say no? Illya nodded against him.
"Napoleon predicted this," he said sleepily, when they were together under the covers in the big hotel bed. "He said I'd end up crawling into bed with you." Jess had no response to that, but Illya didn't need one. They were back to back, the way he and George had been on the camping trip and it seemed one and the same to him. It was, as it had been with George, completely satisfactory to feel Jess against him, warm and solid and loving him. Illya yawned and fell asleep, and he didn't dream at all.
The next day went better still. They took the longer monorail trip to Epcot Center and Jess whisked Illya through the first half of the park, electing to go straight to the World Showcase, hoping he would like that.
Illya did. At first it was mostly to please Jess - he felt badly about yesterday and wanted to make amends, but it was interesting enough, and colorful enough to catch and hold his attention and it didn't make him feel so left out. He enjoyed the boat ride through Mexico's exhibit and the wild Norse water trip. He read all the information presented with utmost seriousness, and Jess was relieved. With relief his confidence rebounded. Of course he could handle this - handle Illya - and Illya was happy with him, felt safe with him, loved him.
In Mexico, the first pavilion on their tour, Illya had bought a Christmas ornament for George and Jess liked that idea so much he picked out another one. Soon they were enthusiastically decorating future trees with ornaments from each country. They shopped pleasantly together, buying gifts for family and friends. They had very different tastes and the disparity amused them both. Illya bought Napoleon a pair of opal cuff links that matched his own tuxedo and Jess had to turn away, jealousy bitter in his mouth.
They stopped for lunch in France and ate crepes out on the sidewalk, watching the artist drawing passers by. It took Jess nearly an hour to coax Illya into sitting but he persisted and finally won out. It drew a fair crowd as the artist mixed his watercolors to try and get Illya's hair right, then wavered among various choices for his eyes, settling finally for matching them to the sky which made up the background of the portrait. "I cannot duplicate that color," he explained to Jess, "any more than I can catch the depths of the sky and put them on paper, but by making them the same I suggest this, no?"
"Yes," Jess said, full of admiration for the way the artist had captured Illya's smile, and in a few quick strokes put those high cheekbones, wide set barely slanted eyes, and the fine curve of his jaw on the canvas in front of them. Jess paid the extra charge to have it framed, and arranged to pick it up when they left for the day. Illya shook his head at him as he got up.
"What on earth are you going to do with that?" he demanded. Seeing how well it was coming out had made him think of giving it to Napoleon, but when Jess ordered the frame, obviously for himself, Illya abandoned that idea. It was a thought, though, for Napoleon's birthday. There were artists aplenty in New York, and that would be better anyway than giving Napoleon something to remind him of this trip every time he looked at it.
"Hang it where I can see it every day," Jess answered and walked beside Illya into the stone sided streets of Morocco. "Having fun?"
"Yes." Illya poked through the wares tumbled on the table at the street market. "I am. This ..." he looked around and laughed, "is so American. This is the most American place I've ever been to."
"Even more so than yesterday?"
"Yes." The whole concept amused him and, his sense of fun once engaged he warmed even further to the whole day, warming Jess too.
They drifted on, stopping wherever they saw something interesting, leaving no country's offerings unexperienced. For dinner they ate hot dogs and fries while watching the crowds go by. Illya's face was sunburned and his nose was freckled and peeling. His eyes were still as blue as the Florida sky and that, along with the smile he gave Jess, reassured him that it was going well.
Jess got them back to the hotel by nine, time for a quick dip in the pool, and then they sat on their balcony with a bottle of wine and watched the fireworks over the Magic Kingdom. They looked much better from here than they had last night, while they were in the thick of the crowd and Illya rested his head on Jess's shoulder, waited for Jess's arm to go around him, sighed with pleasure when it did. Jess took Illya's hand with his free one and held it. The simple band on Illya's ring finger reflected the light from the room behind them, and Jess ran his thumb over it as he had once before, turned it on Illya's finger. Illya lay quietly against him, enjoying the show, enjoying the warm tropical night, the tart cold wine against his lips, the strength of Jess's arm around him. When Jess finally broke the silence his voice was soft, soft as the breeze lifting Illya's hair and stirring it around his face.
"Why did Solo change his mind?"
Illya thought about whether he could answer that and decided that no, he really couldn't. "It was personal," he said at last. "It had more to do with him than with you and me. It's all right. I wouldn't have come if it weren't."
"It is asking a lot of him," Jess said reluctantly and Illya nodded.
"Yes. But he asks a lot of me, too. What are we doing tomorrow?"
"I thought we'd rent a car and go over to Universal Studios. It'll be extra because it's not part of the Disney package, but you might like it more."
"If it's extra I'll pay."
"I can afford two tickets to Universal. You paid for the jet. Let me do this."
"All right. Napoleon and I had to work all that out, when we were friends and going places together. He could afford everything, but I was like you - if it was something regular, like Holiday Inn or pizza I wanted to pay, at least my share. If it was something extraordinary he paid. It worked out."
"Now - it's funny, but he still pays. If we're together he pays - even though it's the same money, the same account. Napoleon likes to be the one who actually swipes the card through the machine and signs his name." Illya laughed a little. "That's the way he is."
"I suppose he would be. May I brush your hair?"
"You don't have to."
"I want to."
"Well, no. Thank you."
"All right." Jess was puzzled, and hurt. "May I ask why not?"
"It makes me miss Napoleon too much."
There was a long silence, then Illya spoke again. "I'm sorry."
"You did ask."
"I know. It's okay, Illya. I know you miss him. See you tomorrow." He rumpled Illya's hair, went into his own bedroom, and shut the door. Illya stared at the closed door for a while, then went to bed himself. He left his door open.
He awoke briefly some time later, when the sounds of the big hotel and the bigger resort around them were silenced for the night, and no light yet showed in the eastern sky. Slowly he became aware that Jess had opened his door at some point, and the sound of his faint snores came clearly to Illya's ears. Illya smiled, turned over and slipped back into sleep.
Universal Studios turned out to be just what was needed. Illya had seen most of the movies featured and was delighted by this opportunity to reenact them. With his spirits rebounding even further the long lines, the heat, even the crowds of children didn't seem to trouble him. He teased Jess and laughed at him, pretended to be offended when Jess laughed at him in his turn, nearly fell out of the tram during the Earthquake ride trying to see where the gas leaks were coming from, and nearly fell overboard when the shark came up at them in Jaws trying to find its control system. They both enjoyed the exhibit of Alfred Hitchcock's work, and that inspired Jess to find the entrance for the tour tram that showed many of the secrets of movie making. That was an even bigger success than he had imagined.
They wound up the day making a video at the Paramount pavilion, dressing up in costumes and following the script; watching the finished product with glee. They ordered a copy for each of them and one for George. Jess bought Illya a Jaws T-shirt complete with large tears all across one side to simulate a shark attack, and Illya put it on right away; his golden skin showing through the crisp white cloth in a way that made Jess move closer to him, stay closer to him. They ate dinner by the water and had fine seats for the show which involved fire, crashing speedboats and explosions.
Illya called Napoleon that night while Jess was downstairs getting them drinks and dessert. "Hi," he said, smiling as Napoleon's voice came over the wire. "I'm coming home tomorrow. I just wanted to remind you."
"No need. But it's good to hear your voice. Having fun?"
"I didn't like Disney World after all," Illya confided. "It made me sad."
"I missed all of that. I just missed out on it, and seeing it made me sad."
"But Jess took me to Epcot, and Universal instead, and I liked that. We had fun all day."
"Good. As long as you're happy."
"I'm not really. I miss you."
"I miss you too. When are you coming home, exactly?" He knew, of course, but found himself wanting to hear Illya say it.
"I'll get into New York at about five in the evening if all goes well. I'll take a taxi from the airport."
"No, let me send the car."
"All right. Thank you."
"Everything else going all right?"
"This whole place makes me sad, really, so I crawled into bed with Jess our first night here, and I might again tonight. I wanted you to know. But it's all right, Napoleon. It's all very appropriate."
"I'm sure it is, sweetheart."
"I'm lonesome for you."
"Are you. I'm lonesome for you too."
"I liked it when all four of us went away together."
"I'm sure you did."
"I think Jess did, too. He has that look you all get like I'm an unexploded missile or something."
Good, Napoleon thought, and forgave himself the uncharitable thought.
"I like it best of all when it's just the two of us."
"I do too."
"Thank you for the hairbrush and comb," Illya said then, and Napoleon had to laugh. "They're very beautiful. Jess says that against my hair they look like a Japanese painting."
"Yes. He said it was a bit more heavy handed than your usual style." They both laughed then. "I'm going to say goodnight now, Napoleon. I just want you to know I'm saving up that feeling for you. I hope you're getting plenty of rest because when I get back you won't."
"Just keep saving it. We'll put it to good use when I see you. Where is Jess?"
"He's getting me something to drink, and eat - it's too late for room service. If I make kissy noises at you like they do in Hollywood will you do them back at me?"
"No. No kissy noises. That's completely out of the question."
"Not even a little one, like this?" Illya kissed the receiver softly, hearing Napoleon laugh out loud. It pleased him to think of Napoleon sitting in their apartment - he could picture Napoleon exactly, in his office with his computer on, holding the phone in one hand, working with the other, having to stop to laugh at him.
"Not even a little one. Although it sounds fine coming from you."
"Well, then here's another one." Illya sent it. "Goodnight, Napoleon. I love you."
"I love you too. See you soon."
"Yes." Illya hung up, and when Jess returned, carrying two cold bottles of beer, and a large ice cream sundae on a tray his heart quickened at the sight of Illya sitting cross legged on the bed waiting for him, wearing the nightshirt Jess had picked out, face brightening at Jess's own smile.
"Thank you." Illya dug in without even waiting for Jess to open their beer. "This is wonderful." He offered Jess a spoonful and they shared the rest, getting sticky with fudge and dizzy on the beer after a long day in the hot sun. When they had cleaned up they went back out onto the balcony, and Illya talked. He spoke of things he would never mention to Napoleon or George because the shame went too deep. He talked of the men - all those men who'd bought a portion of his time from his uncle as well as the ones who'd not known he was their price until he showed them. Jess listened, trying not to appear shocked or even surprised and, reassured by that, Illya put his head on Jess's shoulder and talked on. Jess had heard of a vast number of perversions Illya had believed were his own secret knowledge, and that relieved him. It made it all seem less personal, and thus less terrible. He ran out of words, finally, and just lay there, letting Jess stroke his hair. Jess had no words either, so he continued petting Illya and holding him and after a while realized he was asleep.
They slept together again that night, starting out primly back to back, ending the night tangled up in each other. In New York Napoleon fell asleep thinking of them that way, trying to push the darkness back down inside him where it belonged.
They said goodbye at the airport, in the deserted private parking lot where Jess had left his car. The limousine waiting for Illya had obligingly taken them to it, and now Jess stood outside his own car, keys in hand. "Here." Illya handed him the bag of Christmas ornaments they had collected. "They're for you. They were always for you. That's why I kept asking you which ones you liked best."
"But - but I thought you wanted them." Jess took the bag carefully - there were over five thousand dollars worth of fragile baubles in it.
"Napoleon's been a good sport but I know he doesn't want me to start decorating with souvenirs from trips I take with you. Does he?"
"But you will. And I'll get to see them. And if you really love me you'll give me that one from China back as my gift next year because I do like it - no, not now, you nut." Illya began laughing as Jess rummaged through the bag, opening several tissue wrapped packages until he found the exquisite blue and green porcelain dragon suspended on its silver chain. "Thank you." He studied it. "I'll hang it in my room so I can see it all the time."
"And think of me?" Jess whispered, and Illya looked up into his eyes.
"Do that, please. I'll like thinking of it."
"All right. And will you think of me?"
"You know I will." Jess had carried the bag with Illya's picture on the plane, not trusting it to any other hands. Now he held it up. "I'll hang this in my bedroom where I'll see it every day too."
"So now your boyfriends can hate me before we even meet."
"And then I'll know not to waste my time. Goodbye, Illya. I had fun, once we got ourselves sorted out."
"I did too. Thank you."
"Well." Illya watched Jess put his belongings in the trunk, except for the two gift bags which he carefully tucked behind his seat. "Will I see you at work?"
"How about lunch Thurs.? I'll come by your office at twelve o'clock sharp."
"Oh, yes. That will be good. Maybe George will come with us."
"Maybe he will." Jess got into his car. Illya stepped back, watched him pull out, waving until he was out of sight. Then he turned, got into the back seat of the limousine, still cradling the dragon in his hands. He knew just where he would hang it. He would put a little hook above his window seat so the dragon could fly. The green of its wings would match his walls, and the trees outside and below his window.
Illya watched the familiar streets go by and his anticipation rose sharply. He was going home to Napoleon and oh, he had missed Napoleon, Napoleon's body pressed against his, Napoleon's mouth, hot and demanding on his mouth, on his throat, behind his ear ... Illya let his mind go on that way all the way home, let his body heat up, let his blood start to race.
At home he got out at the curb and the doorman got his bags - except for the bundle Illya held in his hands, the little dragon safe in its nest of white tissue paper. By the time he was on the elevator his breathing was quicker, and he hurried down the hall, followed by the porter, opened the door, tipped the porter and carried his bags inside, closed the door and locked it behind him.
Their apartment was empty. A message blip was steadily flashing on Napoleon's computer screen and Illya activated it, already knowing what it would say.
"Flew out at three-thirty. Last minute notice. Love you. Miss you."
The depression fell like a heavy cloak dropped on him from above. It settled in every corner of his soul, making him feel heavy, making him feel tired, making him feel sad. Napoleon was gone. Gone for who knew how long. Gone. And he was alone. And maybe Napoleon was still mad at him for going with Jess. Maybe that was why he wasn't here. Maybe Napoleon wasn't coming back at all, ever. Maybe ... the phone rang and he picked it up. "Yes?"
"Napoleon." Illya tried to control his voice, to keep the unhappiness from it but Napoleon heard it, he always heard it.
"Sweetheart? Are you all right?"
"I can't believe you're gone." His voice broke and Napoleon winced. He'd been afraid of this - had almost turned the trip down. Illya coming home to an empty apartment - it had haunted him. But he had never turned one down, and someday he might really have to.
"I can't believe it either. I am sorry."
"You're not angry with me again, are you?"
"No, I'm not, Illya. I miss you. I wish I were right there with you right now."
"So you are coming back?"
"Yes, of course I am. Did you really doubt it?"
"For a minute I did."
"Well, I am. Did you have a nice time?"
"Yes. But I missed you all the time, Napoleon - and in the car coming home I thought about how it would be, and when I came in I was ready - and you weren't here."
"Now there's something for me to think about," Napoleon said and his voice was deeper. "Thank you."
"Well - you're welcome, I suppose. You'd better hurry home, Napoleon. I don't know how much of this feeling I can keep stored up before I die of it."
"You won't die. You'll just want me more, and more, and more - and when I come back I'll have you at my mercy."
"Feel better now?"
"Goodnight, Illya. Sleep well, my sweetheart, my treasure, my own true love."
"Listen to you," Illya said, smiling into the phone. "You'll be making kissy noises next."
Napoleon laughed and obliged with one, a loud sucking one. Illya laughed too. "Now I've heard it all. Goodnight, Napoleon. Sleep well."
"You too. Goodnight."
They hung up and Illya went into his room and unpacked. Carefully he installed a little hook in his window seat, up by the light, and hung his dragon there. Then he went back down the hall and got into Napoleon's bed. The sadness was still on him - he still missed Napoleon and wished he were there, but it was manageable now and oh, how his body ached and oh, how it would be when Napoleon came home again. He fell asleep thinking that, and smiling.
Thursday at lunch he was edgy and he didn't look rested. When Jess asked he smiled a little. "I'm not sleeping well. Napoleon isn't there. He's on a trip."
"I know. It was in the Security data banks. I was sorry, when I read it. I know you were disappointed." It was a lie and Jess knew it. He hadn't been sorry, he'd been glad - savagely, selfishly glad that Illya had slept alone last night, Jess's hands the last ones to touch him.
"Yes, I was. For a little while I was afraid, too - that he'd left mad and maybe wouldn't be back, but then he called and it was all right."
"Good." Then, reluctantly, "Illya - even I have to tell you that Solo will always come back to you. Never doubt that."
"That's what he says."
"And he's telling you the truth. So why couldn't you sleep? Bad dreams?"
"No, I don't dream anymore. I mean - I have nightmares, sometimes, but it's not like having it happen all over again. It's like a dream. I don't think I will dream that way again. I think I'm free." He was the first time he had said it to anyone besides Napoleon.
Jess looked at Illya and hoped so. He hoped so from the bottom of his heart. "So why aren't you sleeping? Lonesome?"
"No - yes - oh." Illya was blushing furiously, to Jess's surprise. "Never mind why I can't sleep. It's none of your business."
"I'm not saying a word."
"Good." Illya stirred his soup, then looked up at Jess from under his eyelashes. "Well? Aren't you going to say something terrible?"
"No. It's perfectly natural. You're young, you're healthy, you're used to a steady diet ..."
"And you were expecting some and you didn't get any. Now it's all you can think about."
"Shut up! How do you know?"
"We all know, Illya. We all know what it's like to want - and not have." His face grew somber as he said it and Illya swallowed.
"But tell me." Jess's eyes began to dance wickedly. "Tell me something."
"Is Solo so very jealous and possessive that he objects to you yourself and you? Does he really make you save it up?"
"I don't know what you mean. Napoleon did say once that it was good for us to wait - but he was right about that, Jess. It did make it better later on."
"Yes, but can't you ..." Jess put his mouth to Illya's ear and whispered. Illya pushed him away and got up.
"No you didn't. Shut up. Leave me alone."
"It might make all this waiting easier. And it's fun."
"You are the most inappropriate person I've ever met. Thank you for lunch. See you - are we still bowling tonight?"
"Yes. Meet you there at seven-thirty?"
Illya said goodnight, went back to work and finished out the day. Then he played a blazing game of handball before going home, where he showered and tossed and turned for another night.
That Friday afternoon Illya was eating alone in the lunch room. Jess pulled up a chair and sat down, waiting for Illya to return from wherever he was. Illya's face warmed and he smiled. "Hi. I missed you at bowling."
"I had to work. Where are you headed after lunch?"
"George and I are in the middle of something. Next time call me. Bowling's no fun without you. I would have skipped it."
Jess was pleased and tried not to show it, falling instead to teasing. "So - you sleeping any better?"
"I sleep fine, thank you."
"You don't look it."
Illya flushed. It had indeed been a difficult few days. He wanted Napoleon urgently - he couldn't get over the fear that Napoleon had left angry, that he wasn't coming back. He missed their easy banter, missed the way Napoleon's eyes would lift from whatever he was working on whenever Illya entered the room, missed the way those brown eyes warmed when Napoleon smiled at him. He missed everything. And separate from that his body clamored for Napoleon's touch - just thinking about it made him weak. "Mind your own business."
"So you still haven't tried my home remedy for these lonely days and sleepless nights?"
"Jess Coleman, if you don't leave me alone - I'm not the least bit interested in discussing this."
"Ah, I get it. You don't know how."
"Yes I do." Illya smiled suddenly. "I mean shut up."
"I'll teach you."
"No thank you." He eyed Jess askance. Surely this was inappropriate. He didn't need George to tell him that.
"I'll show you," Jess was saying, and Illya's eyebrows rose further. But it amused him, and he leaned his elbows on the table and batted his eyelashes shamelessly.
"Really? You'll show me?"
"Well ..." Jess visibly faltered. "I would show you except that I'm shy."
"Oh." Illya looked disappointed. "I had just decided that's exactly what I need, a hands on demonstration. You were right before. I don't know how. Show me."
"Illya - it would serve you right if I took you up on it."
"When? Tonight? Come over after work and show me."
"And who would blink first?" Jess wondered, reaching across the table to tug at Illya's ponytail.
"You think so, huh."
"I know so." Illya smiled sweetly at him. "Come over tonight and try me."
"Wipe that look off your face before he sees it," George growled at Napoleon who was standing in the doorway watching Jess whisper in Illya's ear and Illya blush and push him away.
"George - look at them. For Pete's sake. People are talking."
"I'll speak to him," George promised. "But Illya's been worried since you left. If Coleman can get him to laugh a little more power to him."
"I told Illya he didn't need to worry."
"And if he looks up and sees you scowling at him like that he'll never believe it. Smile. When he sees you're here he's going to be freaking ecstatic, so you better deserve it."
"Mmhmm." At that moment Illya did see Napoleon standing talking to George. His face lit up, and he pushed his chair back quickly, leaving Jess without a backwards look.
"Hello." He smiled at Napoleon, and his eyes were luminous with joy. "You're home."
"Yes, I am." Napoleon smiled back. George was right. "I missed you."
"Did you? I missed you too - so much." Seeing Napoleon here made him feel foolish for worrying. Of course Napoleon would come back. Of course he would. Illya smiled again, so happy he could barely contain himself. "Are you at work now?"
"No, I'm off - and I'm hungry. Come back over with me and have lunch."
"All right." Illya trailed Napoleon to the line, stood with him while he waited. George put his briefcase down by Jess and dragged over two more chairs.
"People are gossiping about you and Illya," he said in Jess's ear. "Solo says so, and he wouldn't if it weren't true. Plus I've heard some talk myself. You need to back off. Act like his co-worker, not his prom date."
"Look, Piper. This really isn't your business." It had never been the same between him and George since Christmas Eve. "Illya's fine with how I act."
"Illya doesn't know any better. Solo thinks I'm talking to him, but I'm talking to you. I don't want to upset Illya, and I don't want Solo fighting with him. You back off. Have some respect. You have no business in their relationship. Look at Illya right now and tell me if he's looked like that since Solo left."
Reluctantly, painfully, Jess had to concede the point. Illya was following Solo back to the table now, smiling and nodding at something Solo was saying to him. "Illya trusts you," George went on, "and you're leading him the wrong way. I don't care how goofy you two act when you're away from here, but this is our work place, and Illya is peculiarly vulnerable between his own past and Solo's position."
"Yes. All right, you're right." Jess stopped as Illya and Solo sat down and Illya pushed aside his untouched tray.
"Napoleon's done something and he won't tell me what it is," he said to George.
"And what makes you think that I don't know," Napoleon said and began eating his sandwich.
"I can tell. You have that look like you're trying to decide the best way to tell me something."
"Do I?" Interested, Napoleon looked at him. "Do I really?"
"I'm right, aren't I."
"Yes. But I may just be picking and choosing my time and my location. This may not be it."
"Is it that bad?"
Napoleon sighed, put his sandwich down. "All right, if you're going to make an issue of it here and now. I've accepted the extension of my current position for the next five years."
"Five more years? But you said only for a couple of years. And that was last year. And ..."
"And my goal is to extend it well beyond that, into the foreseeable future. I've built this job into something far more comprehensive than they'd envisaged, and I'm still consolidating my position." Napoleon had said all this in a carefully neutral tone, and when he finished he went back to his lunch. Illya stared at him.
"The foreseeable future? Are you serious?"
"But you said ..."
"I was wrong."
"Oh." Illya folded his hands in his lap and looked at them. He hadn't realized how much he had counted on Napoleon's assurances that this was only a temporary phase in their lives, his being away so much. "You already accepted it?"
"You told me not to say I have to check with you. So I didn't." He was annoyed that Illya had insisted on discussing all this here, in front of George and Jess, but if that was the way Illya wanted it so be it. Just as well, really - get it all over with before they got home.
"Is this a good thing for you?"
"Yes. It's extremely good for me." Napoleon let his self satisfaction show. "Extremely."
"Oh." Illya wished they were alone. Napoleon had been right. But he could be gracious - as George would say it wouldn't hurt him. For once. Illya smiled at the thought, and at Napoleon. "Well, I'm glad then. Congratulations."
"Thank you." Relieved, Napoleon pushed back his plate and rose. "Can you take the afternoon off?"
"Yes." Illya got up too. "I can."
"Good." Napoleon smiled at him. "Come on. Walk with me to my office."
"All right. Bye, Jess. See you tomorrow, George." He followed Napoleon out of the room and George and Jess shook their heads simultaneously.
"You're right, George," Jess said after a minute.
"See you later, Coleman." George walked away and went back down to the labs where he finished his work, and Illya's, and cleared up before going home himself.
In Napoleon's office Illya sat on the desk and watched Napoleon log in and check his mail. Illya swung his legs and thought. Napoleon was home. He had been worrying for nothing, just like George said. He would not spend this precious time thinking about the lonely years ahead. If it was to be long term he would have to do more than get through it. He would have to make it work for them, this life that was so different from what he really wanted, which was Napoleon with him all the time day and night ... he smiled at himself. The times they were together would have to count for it all. It would be hard. Napoleon was a man who - Illya had had to accept it - brooded over his wrongs in solitude and held long grudges. It was his darkness, as much as the jealousy that was still triggering it. So Napoleon often came home and said hurtful things to him, because Napoleon had been thinking about whatever it was all that time apart when Illya himself had only been thinking how much he missed Napoleon. He had thought he would just wait it out, but now ... he looked at Napoleon again.
Napoleon was clearly absorbed in what he was reading on his screen. Illya sat and swung his legs and watched him, letting the sight of him, the reality of that living solid presence, fill his eyes. "How long will you be home?" he asked finally, as much to make Napoleon look at him, and to hear his voice, as for information that could change any time.
Napoleon did stop and look his way, and Illya's smile brought his own to his face. "I'm sorry to be keeping you waiting."
"I don't mind. I'm just glad to see you."
"Hopefully I'm here for a few weeks. And I have a surprise for you."
"Oh." Illya smiled again. "Good."
"I'll show you when we get home." He stopped, and when he spoke again his tone had changed. "You got some sun in Florida."
"Yes. It was very hot all the time. Even when it rained it was hot." Remember what he's asking, Illya thought, seeing where this was going - and so fast, too. He's asking if I love him. Amazing, that he has to ask.
The tenderness in Illya's face stopped Napoleon in his tracks. He too had heard the danger signs yet in response Illya was just looking at him with that sweet yearning in his eyes, that softness around the mouth that meant he wanted to be kissed. Napoleon left his work and did kiss him, gently, carefully, and when it ended Illya reached up, laid his hand on Napoleon's face. "I love you," he whispered and Napoleon reached up in his turn, covered Illya's hand with his own, brought it around to his lips, kissed it.
"Do you? Even though it turned out that no, I couldn't love you without - " his voice was cut off when Illya kissed him again, kissed him deeply, twining his arms around Napoleon's neck. He was right, wasn't he. Napoleon had been thinking about that careless slip of his this whole time, going back to it over and over, like a tongue to a sore tooth until finally it had come out now. Well, he knew what he wanted to say about that. He arched up to Napoleon, fitting their bodies together, wrapping his legs around Napoleon's legs, pulling him in.
"I'm glad, Napoleon. I'm so glad. You must know I am. When I said those words I didn't know how wonderful it could be. You ..." he kissed Napoleon's neck. "You made it wonderful. This thing that was always so dark and terrible and painful, you made it - made it sing. Made my body sing." He kissed Napoleon's neck again. Napoleon returned the embrace but it had hurt him, all this time it had hurt him and knowing it Illya clung tighter. "I'm glad," he repeated. "I didn't know how it would be. I was saying no to you because I was afraid. I wanted it, I wanted your touch, I wanted it that whole time. I was just afraid. I'm glad you didn't give up on me - on us." He began kissing Napoleon's jaw. "I want you now. I've been wanting you since I left for Disney World. Take me home, Napoleon. Turn off your computer and take me home now." Illya unwound his arms and got up, walked to the office door. "Take me home and to bed. Or to the carpet. Or the sofa. Or the bathtub. I haven't slept right since I went away."
That's not what you told me on the phone, Napoleon thought. They stepped into the elevator and it began to descend. You slept just fine with Jess. This too had hurt him the whole time, but he bit back the words because they couldn't keep having the same fight over and over again.
"Are you taking your own car or riding with me?" he asked instead.
"With you." And there was that tone of voice again. Illya tried once more. "Tell me about the surprise."
"I'm not doing that again," Illya said much later, the two of them curled up together in Napoleon's bed, Napoleon twining long strands of fine, silky blond hair around his fingers, admiring the patterns they made. The lovemaking had been passionate, and intense, and very satisfactory except for the edge that remained in Napoleon's voice, the smallest hint of brusqueness in his caresses.
"What, this? You're not doing this again?" He ran his free hand down Illya's side tickled him.
"No. Don't be silly, Napoleon." Illya rolled onto his back and smiled up at him.
"Going away with Jess. I'm not doing it again." He waited, then reached up, kissed Napoleon's mouth. "You can say it, Napoleon. It's all right."
"Good. Don't you want to say good?"
"Yes. Good. Why? He didn't ..."
"No, of course not. And if he did - I can say no, Napoleon. I've had lots of experience saying no." His face had darkened and Napoleon kissed him again.
"So why aren't you doing it again? Didn't you have fun?"
"Yes - no. Disney World made me sad."
"So you said."
"Jess was nice about it, but still - it was like we were comforting each other the whole time. I was comforting Jess because what he really wants is for it to be like it is for you and me when we're together, and I don't have that to give him. All those feelings - not just that feeling, but all those couple feelings, they're only for you, and Jess knows that. So he was sad, even though he had fun. And he was comforting me because I was lonesome for you, and you weren't there. And there's no sense in it. Jess will never meet someone if he spends his vacations with me, and he needs to meet someone. He deserves to have what we have - what George and Mae have. He needs to meet someone who likes me, don't get me wrong, I'm not that generous as to give him up completely, but he needs to meet someone. Someone good, because he's good. I don't want to ruin all his relationships."
"Illya - Jess Coleman has been in and out of short lived relationships since long before he met you. That's his pattern. Now he has an excuse and if that works for him - if this wonderful unrequited passion helps justify his own behavior fine for him, but I don't like seeing you feel guilty about it."
"Is that what you really think?"
"In large part, yes. I do."
"You know a lot about people. I'll think about it. I'll ask George about it."
"You do that."
"But that wasn't really my point."
"What was, then?"
"If it makes no sense for Jess to be with me and be sad because I'm not his, then it makes less sense for me to be sad because you're not there when you were home all that time and I could have been with you. So I'm not doing it again."
"Good. Illya - do we have to talk about Jess Coleman all the time? Even in bed?"
"Oh. No. Of course not." He stroked Napoleon, wanting to distract him; using, as Turnbull had put it, `all those skills I still remember even after all these years,' using them expertly. He watched Napoleon, knowing what this did to him, knowing just when to stop.
Napoleon groaned, aroused beyond stopping. He pulled Illya down into his arms, rolled him onto his back. He started to push Illya's thighs apart and Illya stiffened under him.
"Be easy," he whispered, suddenly sorry he'd steered events in this direction. "I know how that makes you but I don't want you to be rough with me tonight. Just love me, Napoleon. I need your love so much and sometimes I can't find it." It seemed he had spent most of this long anticipated time skirting the edges of Napoleon's anger without ever finding his place. He felt wretched, and it was in his voice.
Napoleon hated himself then, hated himself completely, and made the only amends he could at that moment. He kissed Illya, kissed him gently, so gently, reining his own body in. He loved Illya so completely, and so well that the finish came for them both in a great rush of emotion and passion. The emotion remained after the passion had ebbed and they kissed again, kissed long and slow and soft. Words were so hard, but this was clear and without misunderstanding. How could he misunderstand the way Illya's mouth yielded to his, how Illya's lips parted, how Illya sucked on his tongue as if he could never get enough of him; how could he misinterpret Illya's hands still clutching at him, Illya's head falling back onto the pillow, turning to let Napoleon kiss his neck, the back of his ear. "Love me," Illya whispered finally.
"I love you," Napoleon answered, and kissed him again. "I can't stop kissing you, Illya, and every kiss says the same thing. I love you." He kissed Illya all over, loved him all over, kissed each long finger, kissed his cupped secret navel, kissed the arches of those elegant fine boned feet, kissed his shoulder, kissed the small of his back. He kissed him everywhere until Illya cried out and fell back on the bed, and then Napoleon put both arms around him and held him close, close, as close as he wanted. Illya lay inside that iron circle and felt loved, and safe, and at peace.
Later that evening they sat on the sofa and Napoleon turned on the television, and put a tape in the VCR. "This is film," he began as the camera began a sweep across the blue waters of Long Island Sound, "of three of the houses I have looked into over the past couple of weeks. All three are on the beach, and access is restricted to the home owner. All three are within Level One Security compounds. All three have a pool on the property, all three are within two hours drive of Jillian's and not more than three hours by car from Manhattan. I thought we'd look at these together and if there's one you like more than the others we can drive out tomorrow. What do you think?"
"I don't know. You want to move? Why? Not just to put me on the beach - it's nice of you but a three hour commute - stop laughing at me!"
"I'm not laughing."
Napoleon was, and now he did laugh, leaned over and kissed him. "A second house, Illya. A beach house, weekend house, vacation house. A just for fun house. What do you think?"
"Show me." Delighted, Illya sat forward and watched the tape. All three houses were beautiful but the last one had a hidden and private beach ... "where I can swim naked if I want, and you can make love to me right there if you want. I remember, Napoleon. I see why this one is last." He squeezed Napoleon's hand and the camera showed the house itself. It was smaller than the other two, and instead of being surrounded by manicured grounds the woods came right up to the building on all three sides except the one with the flight of steps leading down onto the beach.
"It only has two bedrooms," Napoleon said as the camera entered the house, "but it does have a fireplace." It also had a hot tub, cathedral ceilings and floor to ceiling windows on three sides, offering panoramic views of the Sound and the woods. The camera finished on the wrap around deck and Illya sighed. Napoleon smiled. "Well? What do you think?"
"I love it, Napoleon. Let's go and see it tomorrow. This is the nicest thing you've ever done for me and that's saying a lot, you know. It really is."
"Nicer than this?"
"Surely not nicer than this. Or that."
"Don't forget the other," Illya said, abandoning the conversation and taking the remote control from Napoleon's hand, setting it on the table, pushing Napoleon down onto the soft leather cushions, shaking his hair forward so it fell over Napoleon's face.
"I don't know, Napoleon. This, that and the other. I don't know what the other is." Napoleon had pulled Illya down so he was stretched out on top, smiling down into those brown eyes, kissing Napoleon's chin, wondering how long it would take before Napoleon reversed their positions, laughing silently when Napoleon did.
"What? What's funny?"
"Nothing. I'm just happy."
"I'm so glad you're home."
"I'm glad I'm home too. I don't think I could do this job so successfully if I didn't have you to come home to. It centers me. It gives me a solid base. I always know where I am. I don't get distracted. And I don't waste any time because when it's all over ..." Napoleon kissed him, "I come straight home to you." He stopped. "And then I say unkind things to you."
"Sometimes. But it's all right now."
"Yes. As long as I know you still love me. You just have to keep telling me that, Napoleon. Telling me, or showing me ... yes, like that."
"I love you," Napoleon said, and spent the next hour telling Illya so with his hands and his mouth and his arms and his teeth and his hot breath and his tongue, and finally he declared his love with his whole body, telling Illya that he was loved, and cherished, and adored. Illya sighed at the end and closed his eyes, arms still around Napoleon's back, Napoleon still heavy on top of him. The hiss of the tape rewinding roused them and they went to bed, falling asleep in each other's arms.
Monday at lunch Illya was excitedly telling George and Jess about the house. He had loved the place as soon as he saw it and Napoleon had bought it on the spot - no haggling, no discussion.
"You like it?" Napoleon had said after they had toured the building, wandered through the woods and swam off the private beach.
"You want to look at some others before you decide?"
"All right." Napoleon had made the necessary phone calls, standing there on the sand while Illya sat on the blanket and watched him, and then Napoleon had closed the phone and put it away. He joined Illya on the blanket and made slow, hot love to him until Illya was taut, trembling, begging, crying out in ecstasy. Then they both were crying out, on the scratchy blanket in the sun, and then they were quiet.
George was enthusiastic about the purchase and Illya smiled at him affectionately. "This is one of the times you're liking Napoleon, isn't it," he teased and George chuckled.
"Yes it is. It was a good idea."
"My own beach. My very own. I can get up at night and walk right out and swim. Or first thing in the morning, when I wake up. I love it."
"I'm surprised Solo is encouraging you this way," Jess grumbled. "Doesn't he think it's dangerous?"
"I think Napoleon worries as much about the subway ride," Illya said, and laughed. "And I know that's why all of the houses he showed me were on the North Shore instead of the ocean. But that's all right. That's fine. So what about you two? What did you do over the weekend?"
"Mae and I went deep sea fishing," George answered and nothing would do but he give Illya a full description and a promise to take him next time Mae was unavailable. Jess said little. This past weekend he had actually been with someone, someone he'd met here at work, and he wasn't ready to talk about it. Instead, when George left Jess leaned over to Illya and said,
"So did you ask Solo about that little item we talked about last week?"
"No, but I know what he would say."
"What would he say?"
"To save it for him."
"Stern advice. I still think you need a demonstration. Why don't I ..." Jess put his mouth against Illya's ear and whispered. Illya laughed and pushed him away but not very hard, and Jess held Illya's ponytail and whispered something else. Illya whispered back and they both laughed before Illya got up and followed George back to work.
Alan Morrison buzzed at Illya's office door. He had waited until George Piper was at lunch because the word was that no one got to Illya without going through George, and Alan's current business was private. The elusive head of UNCLE's science division was also the elephant in the living room with Alan and Jess, and Alan wanted to clear the air.
Illya's welcoming smile made Alan feel at ease and he sat down, facing Illya across his desk. "Yes?" Illya smiled again. "You're new here, aren't you? Alan Morrison from Charleston. Medical unit."
"Yes." Alan wasn't surprised. Illya Kuryakin knew more than he had any business knowing, and his formidable lover Napoleon Solo knew everything.
"Can I help you?" Illya eyed Alan askance. He was well aware that Alan and Jess had been seen together frequently over the past few weeks, but Jess hadn't mentioned it to him.
"You can tell me what the deal is between you and Jess Coleman."
"And that's your business why?"
"Jess is my business," he answered and Illya's eyes widened. They were striking eyes, Alan thought; exotic, enigmatic, sky blue and fringed by those long lashes.
"Let me put it this way. I've seen your picture on his wall."
"Oh." Illya flushed. His picture hung in Jess's bedroom, and the only clear view of it was from the bed. It actually made Illya uncomfortable, but he could think of no grounds for protest. "I see."
"You're sleeping together." Illya shrugged. "So? What does that have to do with me?"
"Word is you're sleeping together too. I'm not comfortable asking Jess about it so I'm asking you."
"Get out," Illya said furiously. "How dare you say that to me? Who do you think you are?"
"I think I want a straight answer and that wasn't one."
"I don't have to answer to you." Illya's eyes had changed, darkened, more grey than blue now. It was like watching a storm gather on a summer day.
"It's not a secret," he answered, still staring at those eyes. "Everyone knows."
"But ..." Illya sputtered. The sheer outrageousness of it left him speechless. "I'm ... what everyone knows is that I'm not ... I'm with ... I'm ..."
"Cheating? Is that the word you're looking for?" The storm broke so suddenly it caught him unprepared. Illya came around the desk, snatched Alan up by his shirt front and threw him into the wall. He hit bruisingly hard, slamming his head against it, coming up with fists clenched.
"Come on," Illya invited. He looked relaxed and unprepared for battle but somehow Alan knew he would do better to decline. He started to answer, but stopped suddenly.
"You didn't know?" he said in astonishment. "You didn't know that's what people are saying?"
"It is not! No one could think that! Why should they?"
"Ah, because you and Jess spend half of lunch time whispering sweet nothings into one another's ears, and the other half with you practically sitting in his lap? Could that be it?" "No," Illya said. He was stunned past anger now, sick with a dawning realization that Alan was telling the truth. He sat back down and after a minute Alan did too. "How could anyone think that?"
"So you're not."
"Of course not. I would never ... is that why you didn't want to ask Jess? Because you didn't want to tell him they were gossiping about us?"
"No." Illya looked at Alan earnestly. "You're wrong. He has no idea. He'd have told me."
"I'm sorry." It was all Alan could think of to say to that, because he knew better. "So Jess's affections aren't otherwise engaged?"
"His affections? I don't know. I ... I'm not discussing them with you. I suppose it's a good thing you told me this, but right now I want you out of my office."
"I just want you to know that ..."
"Now." Illya's voice hardened and Alan rose, looking him over once more as he did so. He could see why Jess was caught - he supposed bitterly that a part of him would remain so. He left, wondering just how long it would take Illya to tell Jess about his visit.
It took all of twenty minutes. Illya sent for Jess as soon as Alan left, and Jess came straight over. He came in smiling and Illya regarded him doubtfully. Jess was so good - there must be some mistake. He would listen. He wouldn't get angry - it was as much his fault really, he should have seen - but if Jess did know? Why wouldn't Jess warn him? Jess initiated a great deal of it. Why would he do that if he knew?
"Did you know that people are saying you and I are sleeping together?" Illya asked and saw his answer in Jess's face. "You did?"
"Well - George mentioned it."
"George?" Another lightning strike. "George knew? And didn't say anything to me?"
"George told me to cut it out - this was a couple of weeks ago. I did tone it back a lot, remember? You kept asking me if everything was all right."
"So I did. Why didn't you tell me?"
"I didn't want to ... to upset you. Like you're upset now."
"I am upset - of course I'm upset. You both let me go right on making a fool of myself in front of everyone?"
"You weren't making a fool of yourself," Jess was saying but he looked uneasy. And suddenly Illya heard Dr. Ludvic's voice. `You need at least one person who is not so afraid of upsetting you as to keep from you truths you are entitled to know, and need to know.' But he didn't have that person, it seemed - unless he wanted to spend the rest of his life in therapy. I need to be that person, Illya thought. I need to see for myself. "Jess, why did you keep on? Even after George talked to you, you did tone it down but you didn't stop."
"I couldn't bear to give it up."
"I'm sorry ... I know I've done you a disservice. I just couldn't bear to lose it."
"Oh." Illya looked at Jess with compassion. "I'm sorry, Jess. But you know we have to now, don't you?"
"Yes. I know. I'm sorry. Are we all right, Illya?" Jess knew how he sounded but it was suddenly right in front of him, losing Illya, losing even what he had which seemed infinitely precious to him now. How he could have ever jeopardized it he couldn't imagine. Illya touched his arm.
"Of course we are. I forgive you. I wrong you too, I know."
"It's a tangled thing between us, isn't it Illya."
"It's beautiful to me. It's strong, and sweet - I like it. I need it. I need you. But I don't like people saying that. What if Napoleon heard it?" As soon as the words were out of his mouth Illya knew their folly. Napoleon heard everything. Napoleon would certainly have heard this - long before he did. Before George did. And Jess's words only confirmed what Illya already knew.
"It was actually Solo who spoke to George, Illya. Solo wanted George to talk to you, but George wouldn't. He talked to me instead, for all the good it did."
"Don't say that. You did try. I thought maybe you were mad at me, then I thought it was because of Alan."
"Ah. I was going to tell you."
"He came to see me today. That's how I heard. He wanted to know if it was true."
"He should have asked me."
"He said he wasn't comfortable doing that." Illya smiled faintly. "He wasn't entirely comfortable with me by the time he left. I roughed him up a little."
Jess had to laugh. "What did you do to him?"
"I'll show you." Illya repeated it, in slow motion and Jess, amused, let him. "Only harder," Illya concluded and sat back down. "But I said I was sorry - or maybe I didn't - and we had a fairly pleasant few words before I threw him out."
"Was he nice to you, Illya? Tell me."
"Yes," Illya said stoutly. Nice wasn't exactly the word, and he wasn't sure Jess's new friend cared for him very much but he wasn't going to be the one ... Jess caught Illya's chin in his hand, squeezed hard. Startled, Illya sat still for it and looked at Jess, wide eyed. "What?"
"If he's not nice to you he's gone," Jess told him fiercely. "Don't doubt it. Without a second's thought, Illya. Got it?"
"Good." Jess released him. "This won't happen again, you have my word. I won't put my own needs ahead of your best interests again. I promise."
"All right. I believe you. I'll try harder too, Jess. But I have to go now." He stood up and they walked to the door. "I have to talk to Napoleon."
"Yes, I can see that you would. Don't let him hurt me, Illya. He wants to, I know." Jess was laughing a little and Illya laughed too.
"All right. I won't. He may want to but he won't. He said he would never deprive me of anything I valued." Illya smiled again, softly, and more to himself. "Isn't that nice?"
"Yes." No it wasn't, it wasn't nice at all, it was patronizing, condescending, arrogant ...
"Goodnight, Jess. I'll see you tomorrow." Illya saw Jess out, locked up and went straight home.
He was glad Napoleon wasn't away, but he would make sure, before he spoke, that Napoleon wasn't leaving tonight. He wasn't nervous, exactly, but he was very conscious of being in the wrong, of being completely and totally wrong. So he sat on the sofa, and waited for Napoleon to come home.
Napoleon walked in around eight o'clock and smiled to see Illya already there. "Hello. The bank faxed the final papers to my office today. We can sign them and fax them back tonight and that will be it. We can pick up the keys tomorrow. Go out there this weekend." Napoleon had removed his tie and frowned slightly at Illya's lack of response. "What?" He came over and sat next to Illya on the sofa. "What's wrong?"
"Are you leaving tonight?"
"No. Not that I know of. Why?"
"I need to talk to you but I didn't want to if you were leaving right after."
"I'm not. Go on."
"I've wronged you," Illya said and his voice was contrite. "I see now I should have stopped it, but I didn't think, so I just went right on and now I've wronged you."
Wronged me, Napoleon thought. What does he mean, wronged me? Has it happened at last - they've gone too far in their fooling around and ... and - did they? Did you? The thought of Jess Coleman making love to Illya hurt him terribly. There was, surprisingly, no anger, just this raw blinding pain.
Illya had stopped talking, unnerved by his expression. "Napoleon? Are you going to be angry?"
"No," Napoleon said, reached out, touched Illya's hair. "I won't. I will forgive it, I will - I will never mention it - just please don't be saying you're leaving me." It suddenly seemed possible, that Illya had found Coleman's lovemaking good, less obsessive, perhaps, lighter. And Coleman would be home all the time, able to give Illya far more ... Napoleon swallowed. "What?"
"I knew you weren't listening. Napoleon? Talk to me."
"Are you leaving me?"
"I said," Napoleon repeated, keeping his voice patient - he would not be angry, he had done this with his temper and his ugliness - he had driven Illya away with his jealousy. "Are you leaving me? Don't lead up to it. Just tell me."
"What on earth?" Illya stared at him. "Of course I'm not leaving you. What do you mean? Why would I do that? Where would I go? How would I live without you? You can't be serious." He put his arms around Napoleon. "I love you." He kissed Napoleon's cheek. "I love you."
"Well, good." Napoleon held Illya in his turn, the relief making his legs weak. They were still together. Everything else could be managed. Even though Illya and Coleman had ... he would forgive it and overlook it and never mention it again. He would find out why, what Illya needed that he himself hadn't given, and fix it. He held Illya closer.
"Why would you even think that?"
"You said you wronged me. I assume that means you, and Coleman - and we'll deal with it somehow. I won't be angry, I promise, Illya - don't ever be afraid to tell me anything. I promise I'll never give you cause for it again. Just tell me."
"You think ... you think ..." Illya choked, outraged. "You're saying Jess and I ... we ... you ... I think I'm offended, Napoleon. I really do. Yes." He pulled free, folded his arms. "I am."
"Don't be offended." Napoleon reached out and patted Illya's leg thankfully. "Please don't be. I'm sorry. So you didn't?" He patted Illya again. "I'm completely off base?"
"Yes you are. You're out of the ballpark, Napoleon. That isn't at all what I was going to say, and I'm offended that you think so." But Illya leaned back against him, arms still folded.
"I'm sorry." Napoleon patted him some more, placatingly. "Truly sorry."
"Well - all I wanted to tell you was that I heard today that there's been gossip about me and Jess, that people are talking and saying we're, you know, what you said, and that it's because of the way I act - and he acts - and I'm sorry. This is where we work. I shouldn't be causing gossip by my behavior. Especially that kind. I wasn't thinking. I didn't know. I won't do it anymore - I already talked to Jess and told him so."
"How long have you known?"
"Several weeks now."
"And that's not right. I'm sorry. I wish someone had told me. I can see why you didn't - you wouldn't want it to look as though you were forbidding me to do something. You're so good." Illya smiled at him, eyes tender. "And I know I'm not exactly what you expected when we started out together."
"Neither am I."
"True. You're better. You're far better than I could have ever imagined. You're the best man in the world." Illya kissed him. "You were going to forgive me, weren't you. Even if I had done that."
"Of course I was. Just as long as you weren't leaving me. It would have broken my heart. I could feel it, in that minute when I was sure that was what you were going to say."
"No. Only you, Napoleon. Only you forever. If you stopped loving me I wouldn't go right out and date Jess. I'd die. I'd just die. I'll never leave you. I'm yours forever. I promise." Illya put his head down on Napoleon's shoulder and was silent for a while. "Napoleon?"
"I asked Jess why he didn't tell me what people were saying, and he said he couldn't bear to give it up. He wronged me, too, like I wronged you. But I don't understand why George didn't tell me. I don't want to ask George, I don't want to hurt his feelings, but if I was breaking one of the rules why didn't he warn me?"
"George has decided that you should be allowed to do exactly as you please because of the way you were brought up. He always leaned that way, and our trip to the Ukraine finished it. He thinks anyone who doesn't like what you're doing or has anything to say about it should get an ass kicking and that would solve it. It's admirable, it's just - not always not in your best interests." Napoleon said this last reluctantly, but Illya only nodded. "And George doesn't like to upset you. George adores you, but that makes him biased and as a scientist you know that skews his findings."
"I suppose. It's nice, though."
"Yes it is. You're entitled, to have someone in your life who feels that way. And I didn't mind as much as you seem to think I do. People have been gossiping about you, and about us, since the beginning. Since before the beginning. I knew you weren't having an affair behind my back. I knew that if anything like that ever happened you'd come to me. That's why when you did, tonight, it ..." Napoleon groped for a word. "It scared me. The thought of losing you scared me breathless. Tell me again, Illya. I need to hear it again."
"Only you." Illya put his arms around Napoleon's neck, laid his cheek on Napoleon's shoulder, very gentle, very vulnerable. "Only ever you." He kissed Napoleon's throat and Napoleon bent his head, cradling Illya in his arms.
"Come to bed," he whispered. "Come to bed and let me love you."
"Love me," Illya whispered back. "Yes, oh yes." He leaned on Napoleon all the way in and let himself be undressed and laid down on the mattress. Napoleon made love to him slowly, very slowly, like drifting on the ocean, Illya thought, arms and legs spread wide, hair loose around his face, stirred by Napoleon's hands ... drifting, rising and falling with the swells deep underneath, rising and falling. Pleasure mounted, then slid back down, centering then diffusing, breath quickening, then catching, then slowing.
He was closer to shore now, rising and falling more insistently, caught up in the power around him and in him and over him - holding on, holding on until the final wave took him. It carried him in a rush of sensation to the crashing finish and then he was held tightly, gripped with all Napoleon's strength, gasping for breath. Napoleon kissed him, kissed him while their bodies slackened, their hearts pounding in unison, then Napoleon collapsed on top of him and within a minute he fell asleep.
Illya lay awake for a little while longer. Napoleon's head was heavy on his chest and he stroked that dark hair, crisp under his fingers, ran his fingers down Napoleon's back, his body echoing from that final note. Napoleon's weight was the safest thing in the world, Napoleon's breath on his skin the sweetest, Napoleon's love the strongest. Illya sighed with contentment and fell asleep too.