Meant to be Here
Illya Kuryakin was terrified. He didn't even think he was doing a particularly good job of hiding it, but he had to. He had to. Because Napoleon was sitting right across from him, even now refusing ... or protesting.
"No," Napoleon said, and the desperation in his voice made Illya try harder to control his expression. "No - you can't. I mean I can't. You know that! You're making a big mistake."
"Oh, I won't make a mistake," Miles Denver said soothingly. "Don't worry about that, Mr. Solo - Mr. Kuryakin. I know what I'm doing. Just a little pressure, for a little while ..." his fingers tightened around Illya's throat and he gagged, tried to pull back. The fingers relaxed. "Just long enough."
"You know I can't tell you this." Napoleon's voice had a ragged edge to it that said he was trying to be reasonable, he was trying ... to stall, Illya thought. To buy time. But for what? No one knew where they were, this mission had been declared officially finished. They had been on their way to the airport when the car made an abrupt U turn into a seemingly abandoned garage. Gas filled the interior, and unconsciousness came swiftly. They woke up here - wherever here was - bound to chairs. Illya knew that when they didn't report to New York Headquarters on time a search would begin, but by then it would be too late. Too late for him, that was certain.
Illya wished he weren't so afraid. It wasn't fair to Napoleon. But what this man intended to do to him ... a tremor shook him and he knew Napoleon saw it. "I'm sorry," he said rather lamely, and then was struck across the face.
"No talking from you!" Miles bellowed and he squeezed Illya's neck hard, gave him a shake. "You have nothing to say! You are irrelevant, immaterial, and out of order! You are just my lever ... my pretty little lever," he added and released his grip, stroked Illya's cheek insinuatingly. Illya whipped his head around and snapped at him, bit his finger. Bit it hard.
The chair went over backwards with him in it, and his head hit the floor. The world swam away from him. When it returned he was upright again, and Miles was wrapping his finger in a handkerchief. Blood showed through the white cloth and Illya was glad, although blood was in his mouth, too. He spat it out. Then those fingers were around his neck again, squeezing, squeezing while Miles talked.
"Such a little span of time," he said and the anger was gone. "Just a little while, Mr. Solo, and irreversible brain damage will be the inevitable result. Will he know, I wonder? Will he know he's stupid? A drooling imbecile with just enough self awareness left to know that once something was different? It will be intriguing to find out. Talk to me, Mr. Solo. The clock starts now."
Illya couldn't breathe at all. He tried to jerk free but there was no place to go. No, oh no, he thought in despair. Not my brain, not my mind ... sorrow filled him. Brain damaged. Stupid. Imbecile. Retarded. He tried to reach for the mathematical calculations he had been working on just yesterday but his head was pounding, pinwheels were filling his vision, his chest heaved franticly - uselessly. His body arched and twisted in a desperate struggle for air and, most ominous of all, languor was replacing terror; an almost euphoric floating as brain cells died. His last thought, as he fell into the blackness, was of Napoleon. Oh Napoleon, I'm sorry. You'll carry this for the rest of your life and I'm so sorry. He had one very clear impression of Napoleon's voice, shouting something, and then there was nothing.
Consciousness came back in a wave of pain. His throat hurt terribly and his head hurt, too. His chest burned but he was breathing. He sucked air and then fear swept him, leaving him in a cold sweat. Brain damaged. Was he? Was he retarded now? Would he even know? How could he tell? Two plus two ... the square root of ... but his head hurt too much to follow those thoughts and he began coughing instead, deep painful coughs. The paper he had turned in before leaving on this mission, the one that was to be published in PloS ONE. If he could remember some of that, even the abstract, wouldn't that mean ... but what was that sound? What was happening now?
His brain seemed to click on and his physical state - on his back on the floor again, still tied to the chair - registered. What was going on? Where was Napoleon? More importantly right now, where was Denver? Someone was talking - Napoleon. Napoleon was talking, his voice going on and on while someone else - Denver? - made occasional sounds that seemed to indicate attention. Napoleon was ... Napoleon was describing the security arrangements for an upcoming UNCLE conference! Napoleon was ... Napoleon had surrendered. He was giving Denver everything he had wanted, everything he wasn't supposed to reveal. For him. To save him from ...oh, Napoleon. This must be killing him.
Napoleon Solo. UNCLE's top enforcement agent. Next in line to sit in Alexander Waverly's chair. Throwing it all away - for him. For Illya Kuryakin, his partner, his friend. His lover.
They shouldn't have done it. But it had seemed so reasonable at the time. The attraction between them was so strong, despite Napoleon's near constant womanizing, despite Illya's abstract affairs with men and women alike. It crackled between them, like lightning between storm clouds. And after the Viktor Karmak affair Napoleon had said that they might as well.
"They use you against me anyway," he had said oh so persuasively, running his finger down the side of Illya's face - like Denver had, just like that. "And when I thought you were gone I regretted so much ... not the things we have been to one another, but the one thing we haven't been. Illya." He had slid his hand around Illya's neck, behind his head. And Illya had closed his eyes for Napoleon's kiss, had given it up at that moment as he had given it all up from their first meeting. He had always been Napoleon's for the taking. All Napoleon had ever had to do was reach out and gather him in. And now that he had, now that he was, Illya melted against him, put both arms around him and oh, it was glorious, the two of them together. Their bodies in perfect harmony, their minds a perfect match, their hands and their lips and their hearts, too. They had been one then, in the inferno that was their lovemaking. They had been one afterwards, lying panting in each other's arms, falling asleep together, waking still entwined. They had been one ever since, despite the need for secrecy, despite Napoleon's continuing liaisons. Despite his own, although there were no more men in his bed. Only Napoleon. Women here and there because, after all, it was relatively seldom that they could safely ... but it was Napoleon he loved.
Napoleon loved him too, although he never said it. They never spoke the word. It was too dangerous. Common sense said the whole thing was too dangerous, procedure said the whole thing was too dangerous; and now here they were. He, held over Napoleon's head once too often. Napoleon, betraying everything he believed in. Miles Denver ... Illya opened his eyes just a crack ... sitting across from Napoleon, leaning forward, holding a tape recorder in his lap. Miles Denver, totally focused on Napoleon, on his own triumph. He himself, counted out.
Well, he had been counted out before, hadn't he. Illya tensed his muscles, testing just where he was bound, what kind of leverage he might have. His legs were tied to the chair by a rope around his thighs and calves but his feet ... he twisted them experimentally, planted them solidly on the floor. His feet were free. His arms were still tied behind him but maybe one good push off, propelled by desperation ... no. By rage. Better. He let the anger flood him - anger at Denver for what he had tried to do, for those hideous threats, for the caressing touch. For pushing Napoleon past the breaking point and reveling in it. Adrenalin was pouring into his bloodstream and at just the right moment he thought `You son of a bitch, take this', and launched himself across the space between them.
Chair and all he slammed into Denver's back, knocking him forward into Napoleon who - ah, Napoleon was good, he was so good - went with the momentum and sent Denver over his body, head first into the wall.
There was a crunching sound and he slid down to the floor and didn't move. Even from where Illya lay he could tell that Miles Denver would never move again. Napoleon was up, swinging the chair he was still secured to against the wall, swinging it so hard it cracked, then shattered. He rubbed the ropes against the broken chair leg and finally they parted, releasing his hands. He grabbed up the tape player, ejected the little cassette, yanking at the ribbon, pulling it out in great spools, tearing at it until it pulled apart. Then he dropped the cassette and turned his attention to the ropes binding his feet to what remained of the chair legs. He was able to pull first one foot, then the other, free. He returned his attention to the cassette tape, stomped it, grinding it into the floor.
"Burn it," Illya said. "He has a cigarette lighter in his shirt pocket - I saw it while he was touching me. Burn it."
Napoleon flipped the body over, extracted the cigarette lighter and came back. He held the flame to the tape ribbon and it twisted and curled, melting with an acrid smell. Not until it was completely destroyed did Napoleon turn to Illya. He pulled on the ropes, then used the cigarette lighter on them while Illya held his breath against the pain.
The rest of their escape was almost routine. Denver had a gun in his pants pocket, but as it turned out they didn't need it. There was no one on guard, no one in the hall, no one outside. "He didn't want to share his victory," Napoleon said shortly. "All the better for us." He looked Illya up and down, straightened his jacket, smoothed his hair. Illya did the same for him, and when both were presentable they strolled casually out onto the street, and hailed a taxi.
They caught a later flight to New York, and took another taxi from the airport to headquarters. All the way there they spoke not one word to one another, beyond Napoleon's abrupt "Are you all right?" as they boarded the plane.
"Yes," Illya said because he was, he was sure of it. He had been able to calculate the ratio of speed per square foot of their journey, and they arrived at the airport right when he had predicted they would. He could remember his article in its entirety and all the other ones too. He had called up the three dimensional prototype he had been tinkering with in his off duty time and it had hung, perfect and complete, in his mind's eyes. Yes, he was all right. "Are you?"
"No," Napoleon answered, and that was the very last thing he had said until they stood outside Del Floria's. Then he addressed Illya.
"I have to tell Waverly. Only him, and I'm sure he'll keep it quiet."
"He'll split us up," Illya said, and recoiled when Napoleon turned on him.
"And don't you think he should? He'll do more than that, I'm sure. He'll pull us from the field. Both of us. If you hadn't ... they'd be raiding that conference now, with insider information. Information I gave them. What possible excuse can I give for that? "
"You can tell him the truth," Illya said, feeling a great calm descend on him. "You can tell him that we are together, that we plan to stay together. If we're out of the field anyway, there's no reason to lie anymore. Mr. Waverly - he's human, you know."
"Tell him that we're ... that in between assignments we're fucking one another? How can that possibly help?"
"No. Tell him that we're lovers. That we've been lovers for three years now. That we're going to be lovers from here on in."
Napoleon stared at him, then he laughed shortly. "Illya Kuryakin. Is this a proposal?"
Was it? Was that what he was saying? "Yes," he answered Napoleon and himself. "Yes, it is. I'm your weakness ... and you are mine. But together we're strong. Together ..."
"Forsaking all others, till death do us part." But Napoleon's mouth twisted as he said it, and Illya sighed. It was falling to ashes in his hands, he could tell. For one moment, he had thought ... but no.
"No," Napoleon said. "I'm not ... no. You and I ... we have a thing. A good thing. But the only way I can possibly salvage anything of my future with UNCLE now is to end it. For you too, Illya. For your sake, for your career in the Science Section ... for your masters overseas." His lip curled again but Illya couldn't be angry with him. How could he be angry with Napoleon for acting according to his nature? A thing, Napoleon called it. Well, all right.
"I have no masters anymore," he said softly. "I'm only sorry that you do. It's all right, Napoleon ..." forestalling the objection he could see forming on his lips. "I will never forget what you did for me. I haven't even thanked you. You saved me from ..." he laughed a little. "A fate worse than death. I will never stop being grateful to you. And don't worry. I will end it."
"After a while," Napoleon said uncomfortably, shuffling his feet on the sidewalk. "After a while, we can pick up our friendship. I shouldn't ... but I can't cut you out of my life completely. You're the only one ... I love you, Illya." The words were a cry of pain and Illya, who had never thought to hear them, reached out to touch him, to ease that pain somehow. But Napoleon held up a hand, stopping the touch before it could happen. "I shouldn't. But I do. And after enough time has passed, I'll call you. We'll ... we'll have lunch."
"You call me," Illya agreed. "Mr. Waverly will always know how to reach me. Call me and yes, we'll have lunch." He smiled at Napoleon and Napoleon smiled back at him, and then they walked into Headquarters together.
They separated immediately; Napoleon requesting and receiving a private meeting with Mr. Waverly, and Illya going to his office to pack up his desk. Much later that afternoon he had his own meeting with Waverly, and then he signed himself out.
Illya stepped out of the library into the biting cold, and pulled on his gloves. He took a deep breath of the air - so clear it was almost like drinking from a mountain spring. The sky was a deep blue over his head, and ice crystals danced on the breeze. It had snowed hard for two days straight, and then freezing rain and sleet had kept him homebound for three more, but today the sun was shining, and the plows and sanders had cleared the secondary roads, so he was finally able to get out, his car slipping and sliding down the hill from his house. His first stop had been here, the public library. It was a small branch library, but not limited - with a click of the computer mouse he could access not only all the other county branches, but the local state university's library as well.
This particular errand always left him filled with a deep contentment. Browsing the stacks, occasionally going to the catalog to search for some item that had brushed his mind and tickled up a desire for it, reading the front jackets, occasionally dipping inside for a taste of the writer's style; it was a timeless space in his day and he always emerged slightly dazed, blinking and having to reorient himself to the present. He smiled. He saw nothing but good things ahead. After this he planned to eat lunch out at a nearby diner with one of his new books. From there he would go to the supermarket. He'd probably have to leave his car at the laundromat, five blocks from his home, and hike up the ice covered hill. It would be a hard climb, with his library books and bags of groceries, but he had kept himself fit by rigorous sessions in the gym as well as by cross country skiing in the winter and hiking the Blue Ridge Trail in the spring and fall. In the summer he swam in cold mountain lakes. So the upcoming trek was not daunting. And once home he would light the fire and settle in with his books. Alone - he was always alone now - but not lonely. Not really.
If he let his thoughts return to the past, then the sorrow of parting, the grief of separation, would close in, but he had become very good at not doing that. He was adept at skimming the surface of this new life he had built for himself, and on that surface he wasn't lonely at all.
He had made friends - in his photography classes, at the book club he had joined - but he didn't date. It wasn't for lack of opportunity. He didn't have the heart for it. His heart had been given away and spurned, and he wasn't inclined to risk it again. He took care of his own physical needs in the privacy of his bedroom, and as for the rest he had his books, "and my poetry to protect me" he thought, smiling at the echo of an old song. He didn't write poetry, but he read it.
Twice a week he taught a class at the local community college, and he enjoyed that thoroughly. Touching those bright young minds, feeding their hunger for what he had to offer, was very rewarding. And the extra money supplemented his pension in a way that enabled him to take the occasional trip - to Charleston, to New Orleans, but never to New York, no, his life there was over. He glanced into his book bag at the new bestseller resting on top. He would read that while he ate, and save the new edition of Thoreau's Walden, with its full color photographs, for later beside the fire. "I am a rock," that old song whispered, but the smile came harder this time. "And a rock feels no pain. And an island ..." a man stepped out from the corner of the building, where he had evidently been waiting.
Old reflexes never lost, old weapon never abandoned - Illya had dropped the library bag and was reaching for his gun when he recognized the man. Napoleon.
Napoleon Solo. And Illya's first reaction was joy. Joy that sprang up inside him, filling him, making a mockery of every aspect of his new life because it was all merely a stop gap, wasn't it, a way to fill the emptiness left by Napoleon's refusal of his ... well, of his proposal. It shamed him, and he shook his head, picked up his library bag again and walked around Napoleon, to his car.
"Illya," Napoleon said as the trunk opened, and Illya stopped. That voice, oh that voice ... he set the library bag in the crate that waited for it, that would keep books from sliding out and all over the trunk - how neatly he had his life arranged, how he planned for every contingency! Except for this one. Not this one. Never in a million years had he thought that Napoleon Solo would walk back into his life. And that he was glad to see Napoleon, that it was taking every bit of self control he possessed not to turn to him, smile at him, receive and give a hug if that was Napoleon's intention, made him so angry ... no. Not angry. He couldn't muster up anger. He should be angry, but he wasn't. So ... all right. He was happy to see Napoleon again and that was all there was to it. He turned after all, and smiled.
"Napoleon. You look ..." but the words caught in his throat because Napoleon didn't look well, not at all well. He looked haggard and grim, a hard dark scimitar of a man and if he had smiled during the intervening years it had left no markers on his face. "Fit," he finished lamely. That was true enough. Napoleon moved with the ease and grace he had always possessed, and he obviously kept himself in shape with the same dedication Illya himself had.
"Illya." And Napoleon's voice broke. "Illya. You look wonderful. Just wonderful. This ..." he waved an arm, indicating the quiet little library, the near empty parking lot, Illya's little Toyota sedan. "Must suit you."
"College professor, book club treasurer, local cross country champion ... all of that. It does suit you."
Illya's eyes narrowed. Napoleon certainly had done his research. "What do you want, Napoleon?" Then, suddenly suspicious, "is it work? Do they want me to come back? Because let me tell you - " I'll punch you right in the jaw, he thought. If this is just a ploy to bring me back, I'll knock you on your ass.
"No. It's not work. It's never work again, for you obviously, and for me now, too."
"You've left UNCLE?" It was incredible. "But I heard you got your promotion when Mr. Waverly retired." He saw Napoleon's eyes sharpen, and shrugged. He had his sources, he kept up ... although not with everything, obviously. This new development ... "why?"
"It was killing me," Napoleon said flatly. "It's changed, as I suppose you know, since you know so much. Thrush is gone and we ... we are not so very different from all the other government agencies nowadays. Men like Mr. Waverly, with their integrity and their passion for justice ... they're gone."
"Men like you," Illya said softly, and Napoleon smiled at him. It was a twisted smile, but it was genuine.
"If you say so. But it's been heading south for a couple of years now. We are no longer an autonomous international agency."
"That I knew. Under the Department of Homeland Security. I wondered, when I heard that, what it would mean."
"Well it means a lot of things ... none of them good. But at the last meeting we were told that, as per the Presidential Commission, certain techniques of so called intensive interrogation, including water boarding, were not to be considered true torture. Neither was sleep deprivation and a long list of other procedures that I didn't even bother to read. Ah. I've shocked you with that one, haven't I."
"It was the last straw for me. I stood up and said, "What are we, Thrush?" and I walked out. I didn't go back, I didn't answer their phone calls or their texts, and next thing I knew my termination was on my desk. Also my resignation. My choice."
"I see. And you ..."
"I resigned. I was tempted to make the bastards fire me, but then I'd lose my health benefits and pension. As you may or may not know, my trust fund was heavily invested in what were supposed to be secure companies. In reality, they were run by crooks as big as if not bigger than the ones we spent our youth chasing."
"Oh, Napoleon." Impossible to imagine Napoleon without that trust fund, without its vast store of wealth that, as he had so often said, paid out more in interest than he could spend in a lifetime. Napoleon must have kept this very quiet, for Illya's contact not to have known. "I'm sorry."
"Thanks. But I still have my private bank accounts, and some bonds that haven't suffered too badly. With my pension I'm comfortable. But I need the health insurance. It's a good plan."
"Yes it is." Illya smiled at him again. "Listen to us. We sound like a pair of civilians."
"Well, we are. And a ten dollar co-pay on all office visits and medications looked pretty damn good to me once I sat down and went over everything."
"Plus no deductible."
"Right." Napoleon laughed. "Illya. I feel ten years younger just talking to you. But it's freezing out here. Where were you headed after this?"
"Lunch," Illya answered. "There's a diner up the road, and I like their home fries. Then I have to go to the supermarket. I've been snowed in for almost a week and my cupboards are bare."
"Heaven forbid," Napoleon said. Then his face darkened. "I might as well come right out with it, because if we're sitting across from one another in some little diner or other I don't want there to be anything unspoken between us."
"I would prefer that also. You and I - we never had secrets from one another."
"No. Illya - I made the biggest mistake of my life all those years ago. I've regretted it ever since. It's been a hard bitter lonely time for me. I tried to throw myself into my work, but then even my work betrayed me. You've made a pleasant life for yourself here."
"Is - is there possibly room in it for two? When I first thought of coming home to you - because that's always how I thought of it, as coming home - I planned on asking you to join me. I still have the penthouse, NYU is always looking for good professors - but the more I researched your current status the better it looked. Everything about it looks wonderful to me. And you - " Napoleon brushed Illya's cheek with the back of his thumb, and Illya had to close his eyes against the piercing sweetness of it. "You look best of all. May I join you, here, join my life to yours, here?"
"Napoleon Solo," Illya said, trying to keep his voice light while his heart thundered in his chest. "Is this a proposal?"
"Yes," Napoleon whispered. He reached for Illya's hand, brought it to his mouth. Kissed his palm. "Yes, it is. And if you want to tell me to go to hell I know I deserve it. But I love you. I loved you then, when I put my career first - although to give me some credit I thought my career was important. I thought I could possibly save the world again even if from behind a desk. And I have loved you through all the dark lonely days since then. I love you now, more than ever. I haven't dated, if that makes a difference. I didn't have the heart for it. My heart was gone. I had given it to you, and didn't even know it." He brought Illya's hand to his chest, holding it between both of his now. "But maybe I'm too late. Is there ... is there someone else? I know you live alone, but that doesn't necessarily mean ..." his voice trailed off and he just stood there, the self confidence gone from his eyes, his mouth uncertain. Illya took a step closer to him so now they were standing very close indeed.
"No," he said softly. "And yes. No, there's nobody else. I had no heart for dating either, Napoleon. My heart is yours. And yes, I accept your proposal. Yes, there's room in my life for you. I'll even go to New York with you, if you want, and live in your penthouse, although I would prefer to remain here."
"We'll sell the penthouse," Napoleon said, and his eyes had brightened. "We'll sell it, and use the money for vacations. Palm Beach, the Bahamas ..."
"Manhattan," Illya said, and Napoleon laughed at him.
"Manhattan," he agreed. "The Plaza Hotel. We can go see Waverly and his wife at their retirement village, and my sister Jillian out on Long ... aha!" He pointed a finger at Illya. "She was your source, wasn't she? I never saw her once without her nagging at me to get in touch with you."
"One of them," Illya said serenely. "I wasn't going to lose track of you. Anything could have happened to you. I had to know that you were alive and well, at least."
"Alive, and well, and home at last."
"Home at last," Illya echoed, and they smiled at one another for another moment before Napoleon indicated the Jeep parked beside Illya's Toyota. "Mine or yours?"
"Oh, yours," Illya said promptly. "Then we won't have to walk up to the house. I'll just let the librarian know I'm leaving it here. You can move my books." He hurried into the library, feeling as though his new happiness was blazing on his face for all to see. The librarian smiled at him.
"I ran into an old friend, and he has four wheel drive. Would it be all right for me to leave my car here until my road is plowed?"
"Sure thing, Illya. Just bring it around back and park in Betsy's spot. She's completely snowed in and has already called to say she won't be here for the rest of the week." She inspected him. "Must be a good friend. You look really pleased."
"A very good friend. Thank you, Jennifer." He left on buoyant feet, drove around back and slid a little as he backed into Betsy's spot. When he got into the Jeep Napoleon had the heater going full blast, Illya's book bag was tucked behind the seats, and Napoleon was smiling. Illya smiled back. They sat there, smiling at one another, and then Napoleon put the Jeep in gear and swung out of the parking lot, following Illya's directions to the diner.
So they had lunch, just as Napoleon had said all those years ago. They sat across from one another and watched the short order cook fry bacon, turn eggs, lift the mounds of home fries onto plates. Finally Napoleon sighed. Illya reached across the table, and patted his arm.
"You hung in there as long as you could, Napoleon. I wouldn't expect anything else. If you had left too soon you would always have wondered whether you might still be saving the world instead of settling down with me. Now you're not wondering." Illya snorted. "Water boarding indeed. I'd like to see them try it, and then say it's not torture."
"Me too." Napoleon ate his egg white omelet in silence for a moment and Illya too focused in on his lunch. Finally Napoleon cleared his throat. "So ... how will this work? I mean, do I just move in, bag and baggage?"
"Bag and baggage," Illya agreed. "I have a two car garage, and although one half is full of boxes and crates we can get a storage shed for those. It will be good to have four wheel drive available. It's a small house, but there's room in the spare bedroom for another desk - I use it as an office," he added, and Napoleon nodded. "And the loft holds a queen sized bed. There is plenty of closet space - everything is built in, Napoleon. Dressers, cupboards, bookshelves - everything. It's almost more like a ship than a house. And it's all wood; floors, walls, ceilings, all oak. I loved it when I saw it and bought it outright with my settlement from UNCLE."
"They didn't offer me a settlement."
"Mr. Waverly made sure my parachute was golden. He was so good to me that last day. I told him why I was leaving and he said he wasn't surprised at all."
"You told him it was because of me?"
"Because of you ... and of me. I was afraid I'd lost my nerve, Napoleon. Denver frightened me very badly. I don't think I've ever been that afraid for myself. I told Waverly that, and of course he already knew that that you ... you didn't want me anymore." And his voice broke as he said it, just as it had broken when he had said it to Alexander Waverly. Napoleon covered Illya's hand with his own.
"I was sorry even as I did it. I was ... I was cutting out my heart to spite my head and it worked out about as well as might have been expected."
"I know," Illya repeated, and gently slid his hand free. "We're not in Manhattan, Napoleon. You'll have to remember that if you ... do you really want to do this?"
"Oh, yes. Yes I do. Do you? I know I kind of sprang this on you out of the blue sky. At least I've had plenty of time to think about it, although every time I thought about it I got this sick feeling in my stomach that it was too late, that you were either involved with somebody else or so content in your self contained perfection that there was no room in your life for me anymore."
"There's room," Illya said softly and this time it was he who reached out, covered Napoleon's hand. "There's always been room." He signaled the waitress for the check and she brought it.
"Illya, it's about time you got yourself somebody," she declared. "You've ate too many meals alone in here."
Illya laughed at her. "At least you let me use a booth. They're supposed to be for two or more people," he explained to Napoleon. "But you know I never liked being crowded at the counter. No one's ever bothered me about it in here."
"Well you sit like you're one but you eat and you tip like you're two, so it all evens up," the waitress said and took Illya's money, even as he shook his head at Napoleon, who was opening his wallet.
"I've got it," he said. "You can buy mine next time."
"I thought we could combine our money," Napoleon said as they got into the Jeep. "What's mine - such as it is - is yours. Those bonds aren't bad performers."
"And I'm bringing money in from the college," Illya agreed. "We can combine it if you like. Whatever you want." He heard the words as he said them - whatever you want, Napoleon - and hated himself just a little bit. How easy he was. Napoleon strolled back into his life and he was falling over backwards to welcome him - planning storage bins, planning joint bank accounts - he should be ashamed. Napoleon had put the Jeep in gear and was following Illya's terse directions to the supermarket in silence. He said not a word as he followed Illya around the store, adding items periodically - mostly grooming and health supplies. Illya quirked an eyebrow at the little bottle of low dose aspirin, and Napoleon inspected the label on the glucosamine and chondroitin capsules Illya selected, but neither man commented. Illya paid for it all with his debit card and Napoleon handed him some cash. He accepted it, put it in his pocket, and they loaded up the Jeep and drove away.
"Put it in the garage," Illya said as they made the final turn up the steep ice covered road. There had been some slipping and skidding and once, when the car in front of them lost momentum and began sliding backwards down the hill Napoleon had had to do some fancy maneuvering to get out of the way, but they arrived safely and pulled into Illya's driveway. "It's supposed to sleet again tonight." He turned his key chain around, and pressed the button. When the Jeep was snugly tucked away out of the weather, they unloaded the groceries, Illya carrying the library bag in the crook of his elbow.
Inside Illya put away the groceries while Napoleon wandered around the house. When Illya had finished he went looking for him and found him standing in the small bedroom Illya used as an office.
"This is quite a set-up for a college professor." Napoleon said.
Illya smiled. "I know. I like to keep my finger on things."
"I do too. Illya -" Napoleon turned to face him. "I want you to know I am not doing this half heartedly. I am doing it with my whole heart, my whole mind, my whole everything. I am dedicating myself to you entirely. For better, for worse, for richer for poorer. Forsaking all others. As long as we both shall live."
"As long as that?" Illya said, and it was as if a weight was lifted off his shoulders. Napoleon was going to dedicate himself to him? Entirely? All that sharp diamond bright intensity, focused on him? Well then, he would welcome Napoleon home. He would trust Napoleon, he would trust this new thing between them. "And I dedicate myself to you, Napoleon." Here they were, saying their vows, in the little spare bedroom of his little house, in this small town, surrounded by ancient mountains. And now Napoleon was leaning towards him, a kiss on his mouth, a kiss in his eyes and Illya closed his and leaned his head back for it.
It was like a thousand times before, and it was brand new. Napoleon's mouth moved on his; warm, sweet, but with a new tentativeness. Whatever had befallen Napoleon in the years since they had last embraced had stripped him of his arrogance, left him unsure and vulnerable. Illya put both arms around him, wanting to protect him, wanting to enfold him in the strength of his love, his heart breaking at the thought of Napoleon, hesitant and uncertain ... of him. Oh, Napoleon could be certain of him. "I love you," he said, to convey that and Napoleon's arms tightened fiercely.
"I love you too, Illya," he said, and now it was his voice that broke. "I can't believe you're taking me back. I can't believe that I'm getting a second chance at this. I am so very grateful."
"Me too," Illya said, and laid his head on Napoleon's shoulder with a deep sigh of satisfaction. "I'm grateful too."
They stood like that, holding and being held, and then Napoleon kissed the top of his head. "So," he said, obviously trying to sound casual. "Where is this queen sized bed you were talking about? Because I have linens that size that will knock your socks off, packed away in New York. Silk, and satin, and Egyptian cotton."
"Well, I have flannel," Illya said, and laughed. "It gets cold in here at night. You'll learn to love flannel sheets, at least in winter. The bed is up here." He led Napoleon back into the living room and pointed upward, to the loft. Napoleon blinked.
"Well, I heard you say loft but I thought you meant ... something else. Is there a ladder or what?"
"I should make you climb the ladder. You'd appreciate me when you got up there."
"Oh, I appreciate you." Napoleon kissed his cheek. "I appreciate the hell out of you."
"There are stairs," Illya said and sure enough there were, a spiral metal staircase off to the side. They climbed up and Napoleon ran his hand over the drawers that matched the gleaming hardwood they were built into. The bed took up most of the space but there was room to undress, and when Illya pulled on the handle that opened the laundry chute Napoleon laughed.
"This is amazing," he said. You're right, it is like a ship."
"And there's a lap pool and hot tub in the basement."
"Your parachute must have been huge."
"It didn't cost as much as you'd think. It's an eccentric house in a traditional, middle income neighborhood. Rich people don't buy here. It went for a lot less than it would have in a different location. You like it?"
"I love it. And you're right about the sheets, too." He was sliding under the covers, naked, and holding them open for Illya who dropped the last of his clothes down the chute and closed it. He joined Napoleon in the bed and they were together again, at last.
It was almost shockingly different. Always before Napoleon had set the pace, led the way. He had seduced Illya with practiced moves, well honed skills. He had aroused Illya, then satisfied him, making love to him with a reined in ferocity that always made Illya wonder what would happen if those reins slipped, if Napoleon ever lost that perfect control. Furthermore Napoleon was always the one on top, always in the dominant role. Illya had never protested this - in part because Napoleon did it so very well, what was there to complain about? But it was also impossible to picture it happening any other way, impossible to imagine Napoleon Solo letting himself be taken, letting someone else ever take control. Sometimes Illya had thought about it, because he was human after all, and what would it be like to be inside all that hard hot power, to drive that power, to feel Napoleon from the inside? To fuck Napoleon? But he had never mentioned it because who knew how Napoleon would take it? To mention it might be to end it.
But now, tonight, there was a reciprocity Illya had never experienced with Napoleon before, coming from that heartbreaking sense of insecurity. Napoleon wasn't sure of him, despite the words of mutual devotion and commitment. Napoleon touched him hesitantly, as if Illya might at any moment knock his hands away. Napoleon held him tentatively, as if Illya might twist free if squeezed too tightly. If Illya had wanted to take the initiative, if he had indeed wanted to dominate Napoleon, Napoleon would have let him. It filled him with so much tenderness that he felt his heart would burst in his chest. He wasn't sure how to respond to this new, anxious Napoleon, how to reassure him, so he mirrored every move back to him, touched as he was touched, kissed as he was kissed, gripped as he was gripped and, when Napoleon still seemed unsure of the next step - the final step - he turned in the bed and took Napoleon in his mouth. They had done this before, of course, but tonight, like everything else, it felt different.
Now it was Napoleon's turn to mirror him and he did, drawing Illya deep into his throat, sucking as Illya sucked, moving his lips up and down the shaft when Illya did. Illya tried to hold back but it had been so long, so very long since he had been made love to and this was good, it was so good, so very good ... he came with a great groan that vibrated along Napoleon's cock and then Napoleon was coming too.
They came together, writhing and gripping and sucking and swallowing and coming, coming, endlessly coming. Illya rode the waves, aware of Napoleon's legs locking around his head, of Napoleon's hair on the insides of his thighs Their final triumphant cries were loud in the small space, even muffled as they were in flesh.
It was Napoleon who moved first, turning to draw Illya into his arms as he always had, gathering Illya close, pressing Illya's head down onto his shoulder, stroking his hair, rubbing his back, kissing his forehead.
"Thank you," he said hoarsely and that was so atypical that Illya turned a little so he could look into his eyes. Napoleon had never thanked him for it before and, in fact, Illya had always suspected that Napoleon felt he had bestowed largesse upon his partner, by gifting him with the exquisite skill of his lovemaking. When he looked into Napoleon's eyes they were red, and tears were running down his face. "Thank you," Napoleon repeated, and Illya kissed the tears away.
"You are more than welcome," he said softly. "And thank you, Napoleon. Thank you for coming back to me. You have made me very happy." And what a ridiculous understatement that was. He was absurdly happy, soaring with happiness, giddy with joy.
Napoleon looked hard at him, into his eyes, into his soul. Then he smiled, a softer smile than Illya was accustomed to seeing on that smooth, handsome face. "We," Napoleon said, and there was a new confidence in his voice now. "We will make one another happy. For the rest of our lives."
"For the rest of our lives," Illya echoed, and pressed closer. And as he slid down into sleep, as he felt Napoleon's body grow lax and heavy in his arms, he thought that maybe next time he would put Napoleon on his back, he would penetrate deep into Napoleon's most secret core, that he would feel Napoleon from the inside, know him, as Napoleon had so often known him. Would know him again. For the rest of their lives, they would know one another. For the rest of their lives, together. Illya smiled faintly, saw that Napoleon too was smiling in his sleep, and joined him there.