A Trackless Domain - Dark Passage
This is the second part to the last bit I posted, the Epilogue. This is the penultimate resolution of the issue between Illya and Jess. If you haven't read the original first five books of "A Trackless Domain" it really won't make any sense so just skip it if that is the case. I know the books are still available in hard copy and on CDs and download form from Joyce and Bast. This entire section was cut out of the published version of Book 6 but it is close to my heart and I've never really felt that the whole story had been told. So here it is. A Trackless Domain Book 6 part 2.
Illya was working at the lunch table. He had been chewing, and thinking, and when the idea came he switched his sandwich to his left hand and began writing rapidly with his right.
Jess sat down across from him, amused by his complete absorption. After a few minutes, he leaned over and put his hand on Illya's paper. Illya pushed the hand away absently, then, when Jess repeated his action pushed it away again before registering who it was.
He was a little irritated at being interrupted, but he returned Jess's smile anyway. "I'm working," he said and Jess shook his head, pulled the pad away, closed it.
"All work and no play," he said lightly. "Eat your lunch."
Illya rolled his eyes and said nothing further. Jess stayed on his side of the table - no more did they sit side by side, whispering and giggling and touching. Illya was very correct with Jess in public now, keeping his eyes demurely downcast, keeping his hands in his lap, keeping himself strictly to himself. It was all very appropriate and it drove Jess wild. Illya properly untouchable was even more tempting than before. Like candy, Jess thought - sweet and delicious and just out of reach. It lent an illicit tinge to their private moments, and Jess found himself engineering them more frequently.
When they were alone, both dropped all constraints. They wrestled and cuddled; Jess rubbed Illya down and brushed his hair and it wasn't enough, it wasn't enough, it wasn't damn enough and it was too much too - not enough and too much and he was only human ...
"Jess?" Illya was looking at him oddly. "Everything all right?"
"Yes." Jess smiled to show he meant it.
"Is ... I haven't seen Alan in a while."
"It's not working out."
"Oh. I'm sorry."
"Jess - I am." Illya was hurt. He had really tried this time - had smiled and been pleasant to Alan every time they met, had resolutely ignored the snide remarks and hostile looks he received in return. "I am sorry. I hoped ... I hoped he would make you happy."
Jess looked at him, feeling the familiar pain. `It's quite a lovely feeling,' he'd told Illya but it wasn't, not anymore. It was a sick, gnawing wretched feeling, a lonely miserable hunger that was no longer appeased by the casual intimacies Illya permitted - it was encouraged, and strengthened. Jess spent a great deal of energy trying to conceal it, to control it.
Illya had changed. Jess reflected on that, too, watching the blue eyes shift, focus turning inward, mind clearly returning to the work he'd been doing when Jess came in. There was a new confidence about him, and with it the return of that cool composure he'd been noted for in the past. Illya was happy, secure, at peace with himself and it was everything they had all wanted for him. So why ...
"Jess?" Illya reached out to touch Jess's arm, hesitated, then went ahead. "Are we still on for tonight?"
"If you still want to. We'll have no chaperone."
"Chaperone? Oh, you mean Alan. Is that a problem?"
"Not for me."
"Me neither. So I'm following you home?"
"If you want."
"Don't you?" Illya was hurt again. "Just say so if you don't."
"Why wouldn't I?"
"I don't know. You're acting funny."
"I don't feel funny."
"All right. So I should come to your office after work?"
"If you're mad at me just say so. Let me fix it."
"You'll fix it?"
"Marry me then. Marry me and make me happy. That'll fix it."
"What ... oh, you." Illya laughed and blushed a little. "For a minute I thought you were serious. See you later."
Jess watched him go. Solo was, as usual, out of town and Jess and Illya had planned to go to Great Adventure Amusement Park in New Jersey the next day. Illya was spending the night so they could get an early start. Jess had been looking forward to it all week, but now that it was almost here he was filled with conflicting emotions. He couldn't wait to get his hands on Illya, couldn't wait to tangle his fingers in that thick, soft hair, to be close enough to smell Illya, feel him ... like candy, Jess thought again, and I'd eat you up if you'd let me. Solo should stay home more if he wants to keep you.
Jess had been convincing himself, slowly, that Napoleon Solo didn't really deserve Illya - that he left him alone too much, was too possessive and controlling. Why do you want to hook up with another powerful, dominating man? I've seen you afraid of him ... didn't you have enough of that? Maybe, back when you met Solo that was all you understood. But now - maybe what you need now is me. It was a dangerous state of mind and Jess knew it, knew it and increasingly didn't care.
Later, after they had made popcorn and eaten pizza and drunk far more beer than was good for either of them, Jess turned out all the lights and they played hide and seek in his enormous loft. They took turns going into the bathroom for a count of one hundred, then sought the other, concealed somewhere in the darkness. Jess had assumed he'd win easily, being that it was his apartment, but he had reckoned without Illya's ability and training, which enabled him to find Jess seemingly by scent, or some extra sense absent from most people's equipment. "Half bat," Jess teased and Illya pushed him as Jess went into the bathroom for his turn.
When Jess came out he stood still for a long time, just listening. But Illya, pressed against the floor directly behind the bathroom door was absolutely still except for his flying fingers. Quickly he untied Jess's shoe, waited for a few seconds, then tied one string to the already trailing lace of the other. Then he leaped to his feet and ran for the big sofa they had designated as base. Jess started to give chase but promptly fell flat on his face. He kicked his shoes off and dove onto the sofa, knocking Illya from his triumphant perch, tumbling them onto the floor.
Illya laughed aloud. "You're cheating! I was on base!"
"Me? You're the one who rigged my shoes so I'd fall and hurt myself." He was struggling to pin Illya by the shoulders and judged, rightly, that that would distract him.
"You hurt yourself?" Illya abandoned the contest and sat up, craning his neck to see Jess's legs.
"Yes - right here." Jess pointed to a spot just out of Illya's reach so he had to lean over, and when he was at the most awkward angle Jess pounced, pinned him flat on his back and fell full length on top of him, securely holding him down. Illya laughed, tried to wriggle out from under, tried to push him off. Jess gripped his wrists firmly, pinned them over his head with one hand and tickled him unmercifully with the other, tickled him until he was out of breath, flushed and laughing and quite unable to struggle further.
"Give up?" Jess demanded, smiling down into Illya's face, pleased with his success.
"Yes. I do. Get off of me."
"Make me." Jess was reckless now with the combination of victory and the sweetness of Illya's body, suddenly so vulnerable under him. A wild desire was sweeping through him, a need so strong, so long repressed ... Illya had stilled his attempts to break free.
"Jess," he whispered, and Jess brushed the hair off Illya's face, hand shaking.
"What, sugar?" He kissed Illya's nose and when Illya tried to turn away tightened his hold, holding Illya's arms so close together that they trapped his head between them, and kissed his mouth this time.
"You can't do that. It's against the rule."
"And this isn't? We're all rubbing up against each other and you think you're playing by the rules?" He kissed Illya's mouth again.
"Why should I?" He tickled Illya some more, but Illya didn't laugh this time.
"Because I'm asking you to."
Illya swallowed. He was beginning to be afraid, now - not of Jess, he couldn't be afraid of Jess, but of where this was going, and that something irrevocable was about to happen. "Please."
"Pretty please." Jess knew he was going too far, had already gone too far, but his blood was up now and ... and that wasn't the only thing that was up. No wonder I can't think ... all the blood is down there. He tickled Illya cleverly and Illya squirmed under him, helpless not to, despite the hardness against him that meant the situation was spiraling out of control. He squirmed again under Jess's fingers and heard him groan.
"With sugar," he whispered.
"What's the matter? Not having fun anymore?"
"You're done teasing me, is that it?" He wasn't angry, exactly, but... then his body moved of its own volition, the resulting jolt of pleasure further inflaming him.
"Yes - no. I'm not ..."
"What did I call you the second day we met?" Jess moved again and it was deliberate this time, the pleasure sharper. `George said it was an ugly name and maybe he was right, but it's true, isn't it. Look at us, and now you want me off."
"No," Illya said, and the sorrow nearly closed his throat. "Jess - stop."
"I can't." He abandoned all pretense. He was past stopping, past reason. " I can't - you're so beautiful, and I've wanted you so much for so long ..." moving faster now, and harder. "And I'm only a man, Illya - I'm only ..." he groaned, closed his eyes and increased his speed, face buried in Illya's neck, the scent of Illya's flesh and his hair intoxicating, the feel of his body ... he kissed Illya's throat and groaned again.
Illya made no further protest, no more attempts to break free. The failure of the magic word had left him without recourse. He could stop it, he supposed, but it would mean a real fight and it hardly seemed worth it to hurt Jess for this - this act that didn't hurt him, didn't really touch him at all. He loved Jess, and didn't want to hurt him, so he closed his eyes and waited for it to be over, hoping Napoleon would never find out. Napoleon might kill Jess, he really might.
Finished - sweaty, exultant, awash in pleasure - Jess lay limp and heavy on top. For a long time he indulged the fantasy that it had been mutual passion, mutual pleasure, that Illya had wanted it too, had enjoyed it too. Surely now he would leave Solo and ... Illya's voice in his ear was a breath of a whisper.
"What, Illya, my darling, my love ..." Jess kissed him. "So sweet," he whispered and kissed him again. "My little Russian candy bar, what?"
"You're hurting my hands."
Startled, sure he had heard wrong, Jess lifted his head and looked up to where he was still gripping Illya's wrists so tightly his knuckles were white. He let go. "I'm sorry, my own baklava, my poppy seed cake, my crumpet."
"Stop calling me food and get off."
"Don't say that." Jess kissed the marks his hand had left. "Don't ever say that. I'm sorry I hurt you ..." his lips were hot on the insides of Illya's wrists. "And I'll call you anything you want, my spun sugar delight ... just tell me what pet names you like and I'll use them."
"Sweetheart does it for me."
Napoleon Solo's own personal endearment hit Jess like a slap. He raised his head again to stare disbelievingly into Illya's eyes, which were sad, and that was all. "Illya ..."
"Please, Jess. Please get off me."
Jess rolled over without another word and lay flat on his back beside Illya. He stared at the ceiling. "You didn't want that."
"Well ... I asked you to stop."
"You didn't enjoy it."
There was only one answer to that. "No."
"You felt nothing of what I was feeling." It seemed incredible.
Illya bit his lip. "I love you."
"You love me." Jess lay with his arm across his face, feeling the stickiness slowly drying on his abdomen. "Illya ..."
"You heard me. Go home."
"But ... don't you want me to stay the night?"
"After this? Are you crazy?"
"Was it my fault? I'm sorry if it was."
"No." Actually he wasn't so sure of that, and it angered him a little "It was my fault. You asked me not to." But Illya could have stopped him, couldn't he? If Illya had really wanted to, that was. "I still want you to go home."
"Are you angry with me?"
"Yes. And I'm disgusted with myself. I don't even know myself anymore. I want to take a shower and clear my head and when I come out I don't want you here."
"But - don't you want to go to New Jersey tomorrow?"
"No. I don't want to go anywhere with you tomorrow." He got up and Illya did too, looking at him miserably.
"Illya!" Jess grabbed him by the shoulders and put him - not gently - against the wall. "What do I have to do to get through to you? Why won't you leave?" He shook Illya hard. `Isn't what I did enough? I assaulted you. I practically raped you. Why aren't you running for your life?"
"But you didn't ..."
Jess shook him again. "I might as well have! I might as well have! What are you suggesting, that we go on with our plans like that didn't happen?"
"Yes. Let's do that. Let's - just forget it."
Like it was nothing, a little faux pas on his part. Newly furious he pushed Illya back into the wall, crushed their mouths together, kissing Illya the way he'd always wanted to, thrusting his tongue deep into Illya's mouth, no endearments this time, no fantasies. Illya made no protest, shocked into immobility by this new assault. He only stood still, waiting numbly for it to end. When it did, Jess stepped away. "Now this," he hissed, "this was your fault. I told you to leave. In fact - you're right. It is all your fault. Maybe the next time you feel the urge to take some total stranger's cock and tie it in a knot for your own amusement you'll think twice! Maybe you'll remember that you've ruined my life and think twice!" Jess stepped back. "Now get out."
Without another word Illya picked up his bag and left. Blinded with grief he went out the door and down the stairs, into the street. As he fumbled with his car lock Jess caught him up, turned him around and held him tight. "I'm sorry, Illya, I'm sorry. It's not your fault, none of it's your fault, it's all me, my ... I am so sorry." He held Illya, thinking how familiar it was, thinking that this was probably the last time. I'll never hold you again, I know it. How can I bear it? He opened the car door, put Illya inside, crouched beside him. "But you have to go now. I have to have time to think."
"But maybe after you shower and all ..."
"Illya, there isn't enough cold water in the world. You ... you're not safe with me tonight."
Not safe with Jess? Illya stared at him, stricken. Jess patted his cheek, fastened the lap belt across his stomach. "I love you, Illya, and I'd give my life to protect you any time. I didn't mean it like that. But tonight - my body is on fire for you, and my heart is broken because you're not mine and never will be. I'm already thinking maybe you aren't leaving because you want more - that maybe you want it by force so you won't feel guilty about Solo. My mind is giving me a hundred reasons why what my body wants is okay. You need to go while I still know I'm wrong. And frankly I have come plastered all across my stomach and I need to shower. All right?"
"You going to be okay?"
"Yes. I am. I won't swim out or have a flashback or dream or kill myself. You don't need to worry about me. I don't do any of that anymore. I'm all right." He forced himself to smile. "You go shower. I'll see you at work Monday."
"Okay. Goodnight, Illya."
"Goodnight, Jess." Illya watched Jess walk away, put his car in gear and pulled out.
He stopped the car first chance he got and sat still, trying to pull himself together. Where was he going, first of all? He knew where he wanted to go, since Napoleon was away. He wanted to drive out to Staten Island and bury his shock and his sorrow on George's strong shoulder. He wanted to tell George the whole story, listen to George say it wasn't his fault, that none of it was his fault. Illya rested his forehead on the steering wheel and moaned because so much of it was. Everyone had tried to tell him and he hadn't listened. But Jess was a man like every other man and Illya had touched him and teased him and rolled around on the floor with him and of all people he ought to know better.
He wanted Napoleon. He wanted Napoleon so badly he almost called, actually had the phone in his hand, but that was something he had vowed never to do so he didn't.
The child wanted George. That little boy with the small pointed face from which bruises were slowly fading was lost again tonight, because the tall brave grown up who had calmed his fears and treated him as though he were special had - had wanted that. Again it came down to that. `It's the farthest thing from his mind,' George had soothed back in a Moscow hotel room but it wasn't, was it. It was the main thing on his mind and when Illya had refused him that, Jess had sent him away. So the child wanted to go to George and be held in those strong arms, to be petted and consoled by someone who didn't want that, never had wanted that, never even thought of that when they were together.
But it was - Illya checked - eleven thirty-four. Too late to come knocking on the front door of the modest house on Staten Island. Both George and Mae would be in bed. `It would break my heart if you needed me and didn't call,' George had also said but wanting and needing were two different things, weren't they. His own wants did not override George's right to an uninterrupted night's sleep, or Napoleon's need to finish out his business.
He was better, it seemed. Illya had to smile a little at himself. It'll just have to be you and me, he told the little boy inside him, and there'll be no one to hold us close tonight but we'll be in a safe, nice place - our place - and there'll be no one to hurt us or be cruel to us either. He sighed and pulled back out onto the street. It would have to do.
At home there was a message on the machine. Illya's heart leaped when he heard Jess's voice and he stood, keys in hand, poised to leave immediately, to go right back.
"Illya? I can't sleep not knowing where you are or what you're doing or if you're all right. If you're safe at home for the night give me a call. Just ring once and hang up - I'll know it's you."
So Jess didn't want to talk to him, didn't even want to hear his voice on the machine, just wanted to be able to turn him off and go to sleep, his conscience clear. Illya rang once, as requested, and hung back up. No one to hold me, no one to love me ... he indulged the self pity as he showered, got into pajamas and climbed into Napoleon's bed, with Napoleon's old coat clutched close to him. He didn't dream, not that he remembered, but when he awoke in the morning his cheeks were wet with tears.
Monday morning Illya was pale and quiet. George took one look at him and swept him up in some overdue reports that involved a great deal of cross checking with other departments and kept them together all morning long. As lunch time approached Illya grew agitated - if he was going to see Jess today it would most likely be at lunch. And he wanted to see Jess. He had stayed in the city all weekend, despite a real desire to go out to the beach house, just in case Jess called or came by.
Now he sat at his desk and tried to concentrate on work. He had thought and thought about their situation over the past two days and it seemed clear to him that they had broken some important rules and this was the price. He had tried to come up with new rules; no wrestling, no tag, no overnights ... but they all made him sad, so he finally decided to let Jess decide, to let Jess set the terms and he would follow them. He would not be that ugly name. So he was nervous but receptive, ready to hand it all over to Jess and let him decide what he could live with.
But now as the time approached his nerves wound tighter and tighter until finally he dropped the file he'd just finished working on and George came over and took it all from him.
"What's going on?" he asked directly, bringing his own chair around to face Illya's, sitting down right in front of him. "Didn't you and Coleman have a good time Saturday?"
"We didn't go."
"You didn't? But you were really looking forward to it."
"I know. But we didn't go. I didn't even spend the night. It ... it all fell apart long before that."
"Did it now."
"Well ..." the door opened and Jess walked in. Illya stood up, wanting to go to him, but hesitant. George stood up too. "Want me to leave?"
"No," Jess said before Illya could answer. "No, George. I want you here."
"Jess? Is everything all right?"
"Oh." It wasn't the answer Illya had wanted. "I'm sorry."
"I know you are. Illya - there's no good way to say this so I'm just coming right out with it. I've thought and I've thought and last night I called Solo in Manila."
"You - you called Napoleon?"
"I asked him if that position in Glasgow was still open and if he would expedite it for me. He agreed, and I'm leaving today."
"No!" Illya gasped, put a hand to his chest. "No, no, you can't mean it!"
"Yes, I do."
"But - but you don't understand! I was going to do whatever you wanted! I know I did the wrong thing - I know I broke the rules but I'm sorry! Just tell me - just tell me what you want and I'll do it!"
"You'll do whatever I want?"
"Whatever would make me happy."
"Oh, yes. I want you to be happy. Tell me how."
"Leave him. Tell him it was a mistake, tell him you were too young to know what you were doing, tell him whatever you want, but tell him goodbye and come with me. We can't very well stay here, but you'd like Scotland and I'd take care of you, Illya, my own heart's darling, I'd take such good care of you. I'm not a millionaire but you'd never want for anything, or have cause to fear anything - that's what I want. That's what would make me happy. Come with me. It would be - it would be glorious."
"No," Illya said, because it was all he could manage to say. Leave Napoleon? Was Jess insane? The thought was clear on his face and Jess laughed shortly.
"So much for what I want."
"But - how could you think I would leave Napoleon?"
"I don't know, Illya. How could I have gotten that into my head? Maybe you should look to your own behavior for an answer."
"No," Illya said again. He was on surer ground here. "I know I never gave you any reason to think I would ever do that. I may have let you think I'd do ... other things with you - I don't know. I do the wrong thing sometimes, and I like being close to you, so I may have done that, I may have led you on, and I'm sorry if I did. But I know, I know full well I never gave you cause to think that Napoleon and I were anything but forever. And it's not fair of you to say that I did."
"Illya - I didn't come here to fight with you. I'm sorry. You got my hopes up with that `Jess just tell me what you want' stuff." Illya had. For one moment his fantasy of Friday night had washed over him again, and now his heart broke afresh. "I came to say goodbye."
"No! No, you can't be leaving! You said you love me! How can you leave me if you love me?"
"I don't know. I don't know the answer to that. All I can tell you is that I do love you, I love you with all my soul. And I am leaving you. I have to."
"No!" Illya went to Jess, reached out, clutched at his arms. "You can't - please don't - I'll beg you if that's what you want, please please don't leave me, Jess. Please!"
Jess swallowed hard and patted Illya's hand, tried to pry his fingers loose. "Let go, Illya."
"No!" Illya looked up at Jess and Jess looked back. Illya was so close - close enough to touch - and Jess did, stroking his cheek with the back of one hand. "You promised," Illya said finally, pleadingly. "You looked right at me just like this and promised you'd never leave me. You promised. How can you just take that back? You promised me!:"
"Sometimes," Jess said, hating himself now, and hating Illya, too, a little, for pushing him to these extremes. "Sometimes grownups make promises to children that they then find themselves unable to keep. This is one of those times."
Illya gasped again. That Jess could say such a thing proved his intent - he was leaving, he must be, or he wouldn't be so cruel. Wild with fear he threw his arms around Jess's neck and clung to him, standing on his toes to get closer, pressing their bodies together, burying his face in Jess's shoulder. "No no no no I won't let you go! I won't - no, stop that. Stop it!" Jess was trying to pull Illya's arms down and Illya resisted desperately. If he didn't let go, if he could just hold on Jess couldn't leave - it wasn't as if Jess would hurt him. If he could just hang on to him hard enough ... Illya gritted his teeth and tightened his arms, fingers clutching at Jess's jacket, holding on with all the strength in his body.
Jess, who had known this would be bad, was nevertheless unprepared for how very bad it had gotten. He reached up, tried to pry Illya's fingers loose but couldn't, tried to back away and couldn't, tried to push Illya off and couldn't. "George. Get him off me."
"Gladly." George came forward and Illya moaned, shaking his head.
"No, George, no - don't," but George was pulling Illya's arms down and he couldn't fight George, Jess knew that. "Jess tell him to stop, tell him you didn't mean it. Oh, no, no - George stop - please stop. You said you'd always take my side. How can you listen to him instead of me?"
"I am taking your side," George said and pulled Illya free, holding him hard as Jess stepped out of reach. "This is your side. What the fuck did you do to him?" he demanded of Jess.
"Too much, and not enough - like the whole damn thing. Illya - I'm running for my life here. Can't you accept that I wouldn't say that if it weren't true, and tell me goodbye in a way we both can live with? Please? I'm begging you now. Don't send me away like this."
"I'm not sending you away! How can you say that!"
"Will you be with me?"
"Then you're sending me away, Illya. None of this can change that. It's just making it so much harder."
"It should be hard!" George flared, unable to keep quiet any longer. "It should be hard! I hope it kills you!
"George ... stop. Stop and let me go. Please."
"No. Coleman is right about one thing. You need to say goodbye and end this." Bastard, he mouthed at Jess over Illya's head. I'd kill you if my hands were free, you're damn lucky they're not. Jess looked away from the silent diatribe.
"No! I won't say goodbye, I can't!" Maybe if he didn't, Jess would stay. It seemed important to him. Maybe he would stay. "I can't lose you how can I be losing you? You said I couldn't lose you! You lied?"
"I changed my mind." How hard it sounded, right out loud like that. But it was true. He had thought he could live like this. He had been wrong. "Right now I have to think of myself. This is - this is poison to me. Look at what I did. I can't be the person I'm turning into - jealous, resentful of your happiness, hating Solo - I have to go. Please, Illya, please tell me you understand."
"No! No I don't! You said you would always be here! I don't understand at all! I forgive you! I forgive you for that! Please, please ..." Illya was wild with despair and terror and if it had been anyone but George holding him he would have broken free.
Jess stood in the doorway, feeling that terrible familiar pity fill him. How could he be leaving? Everything Illya said was the truth. He had promised. How could he walk away now, knowing Illya the way he did? How could he not? "I'm sorry. If you're ever in danger, and you need a bodyguard, call me. If you ever again have to go back to anyplace that scares you, call me. Otherwise don't. I love you, Illya. I'm sorry. Goodbye."
Illya cried out in pain and when he heard the door close behind Jess he went down, knees giving way. George sat down beside him, and put an arm around his shoulder. Illya leaned against him, trembling so hard he couldn't even think of standing up again. If Jess could leave him then anyone could. There was no security or safety anywhere except right here in these arms which might release him and let him fall any time, any time at all because if Jess could leave him anyone could. He must have said it aloud because George shook his head.
"No, honey, I promise. I promise you I will never leave you. I love you, Illya - it would be like leaving part of myself."
"But Jess loved me - he promised me - and he left me."
"You are the best friend I never had, the brother I never had, the child I never had. You're far too many precious things to me for me to leave you for any reason on earth. Now come on. I'm taking you home." Illya had calmed under his firm voice, the steady reassurances, and found himself able to rise, and, when George took his arm, to walk. George led him through the hall, waving away the people who tried to stop them for whatever reason. He drove Illya home in his own car, brought him upstairs and sent him into the shower while he called Mae.
"I'm at Illya's. I'll be here all night."
"May I ask why?"
"Jess is gone. He took a transfer to Glasgow and left today. Illya's taking it hard."
"So hard that you have to stay and hold his hand all night?"
"You got it."
"All right, George. It's been a while, I'll give him that. See you tomorrow. Sleep well."
"Somehow I don't think that's in the cards, but thanks for the thought." George exhaled. "I think this is going to be bad, Mae, and it's going to stay bad for quite some time. I hope - I hope you'll be okay with it."
"I hope so too, George. You don't think a good smack and a stern talking to would do it? I'll be glad to volunteer for the job."
"No. I'm not even tempted. This is - this is terrible for him. You have no idea."
"I love you," she said. "I'll be okay with it but for you, not him. Not him for one second. Goodnight, dear."
"Goodnight, Mae. You sleep well too."
In the shower, Illya had started shaking again, frightened by now at his own inability to control himself. But it was so sad - all that friendship and fun and love and caring and now Jess was gone. His mind kept showing him pictures, as if trying to refute the undeniable fact. Jess, with him on a balcony overlooking the Magic Kingdom, arm around his shoulders, listening to the sordid details from his past, accepting and lightening them by his acceptance - and then leaving him. Jess, locking their wrists together, calling Illya his most precious cargo - and then leaving him. Jess, standing in the elevator with him, teasing him about his bare feet - and then leaving him. At that point George opened the shower door unceremoniously, pulled Illya out and handed him a towel and his pajamas, frowning at him while he dressed and rubbed his hair.
"How can he be gone," Illya burst out when he had finished. "How can it end like this? How can he leave me if he loves me, when he promised me?"
"I don't know." It was all he had to say, and he knew it wasn't enough. Illya stared at him, and his mouth shook. Turning, he went out and into Napoleon's bedroom. There he curled himself up on the bed, back to the door. George hesitated, then crossed the room, sat on the bed himself. He was rubbing Illya's back because he couldn't, he just couldn't, walk away from that mute misery when he heard the sound of a key in a lock. In another minute Napoleon Solo came through his bedroom door.
"I've never been so glad to see your face in my life," George growled. "Here. Do something. Make this all right."
"Illya. Illya, sweetheart." Napoleon gathered Illya up into his arms and held him. "It is all right. I'm here."
"Oh, Napoleon." Illya turned into Napoleon's embrace, already feeling the free fall end. "You're home. I didn't think you'd be home so soon."
"Did you think I wouldn't come, when Coleman told me he was leaving today? I dropped everything. I got here as soon as I could. I'm sorry, Illya. I hope you know I didn't want it to come to this. I hope you know I never wanted to see you this unhappy."
"I know. Did - did he tell you what happened?"
"No. He didn't hurt you, did he?"
"He hurt me when he left."
"I know that, but he didn't ..."
"All right. I didn't really think so." `Did you hurt him?' he had asked Coleman on the phone and `I didn't rape him, if that's what you're asking' Coleman had snapped. It was, and now Napoleon was asking it again, and Illya would tell him, he knew.
"I wouldn't have let him do that, Napoleon. I'm not crazy."
"I know you're not, sweetheart."
"He was calling me all kinds of pet names. He thought I would leave you for him. I told him I only want to be called that, what you call me. Say it again."
"Sweetheart. My own sweetheart."
"I told him I could never leave you."
"He actually had the nerve to ask you ..." So if Jess Coleman had had his way Napoleon would have walked in the door tonight to find Illya gone? For a minute Napoleon wanted to get his hands on Coleman with a fury that shook him up badly. His arms tightened.
"Yes. It made me so sad. I would have given him anything he wanted, but he wants that. He wants all of that. And that's the only thing I can't give him. So he left me. Will you leave me too, Napoleon?"
"Jess said grownups make promises to children they can't keep. Is it like that?"
"He said that to you?"
"It was that bad?" He saw George's emphatic nod before Illya answered.
"Oh, it was worse. I was terrible." He had been. He was ashamed and appalled at the scene he had made, was still making.
"No you weren't. You were afraid, that's all."
"Yes I was. I was afraid of him leaving. If Jess could leave, anyone could leave."
"No. And our promises, yours and mine, are not children's promises. We are adults, and we have joined our lives together and that is forever, Illya. That is something you can count on absolutely. You know this."
"Are you still afraid?"
"No. How can I be with you holding me? But I'm still sad."
"Of course you are. You have every right to be sad. It's a normal reaction."
"A normal human emotion?"
"And it won't destroy me."
"No. I won't let anything destroy you."
"You came home - early?"
"Because you knew I'd need you."
"Any time. Any time you need me, I'm here. Never forget that."
"I won't. Is George still here?"
"Yes, honey. I'm right here."
"You can go home now if you want to. Tell Mae I'm sorry it's so late."
"Thanks for the thought, but I have no intention of going home at this hour. I'm bunking on your couch if that's okay with you, Solo."
"Of course it is. Thank you for being here."
"Well." They sat in silence and finally Illya's breathing evened out and he fell asleep, holding Napoleon's hand. George exhaled. "And now we are two," he said and Napoleon nodded. "It's for the best."
"In the long run, yes. But I hate to see it."
"You're not glad, even a little bit?"
"No. Nothing that does this to him could make me glad. Goodnight, George. Thanks again for taking such good care until I could get here."
"What have I told you about that? I don't do it for you." But George was smiling, and Napoleon smiled back at him. Then George went to make up the sofa bed and fall gratefully to sleep, and Napoleon slipped out of his clothes and climbed into bed, letting Illya twine himself around him, and both were at peace in the embrace.