So This is Christmas
Illya stood in the empty conference room, staring out over the city. His forehead was pressed against the glass and he was looking down, down onto the streets far below. Christmas lights glowed and twinkled, and even the room he stood in was decked with tinsel and poinsettias. He had been looking forward to the holiday, to a few days off, to some time spent with Napoleon. Napoleon had promised to cook him turkey with all the trimmings for Christmas Day, and there had been other promises, too - unspoken, but real. Napoleon had touched Illya's face very lightly, Napoleon had stroked Illya's hair back, Napoleon had ... but that was over. Down the hall, in Stoddard's office, his world was ending. And there was nothing he could do to change it. He was simply waiting.
At nine o'clock this morning, everything had been fine. He had been working in the physics lab, creating a three dimensional computer prototype of the model he was crafting for an upcoming science symposium. It was an enormous honor, that he had been selected to present it. He was determined to show himself worthy.
It was just the sort of work he liked - difficult enough to present a challenge, new enough to be exciting, complex enough to draw him in and wall him off from everything around him. He was completely absorbed. Then had come the summons to Elliott Stoddard's office.
Stoddard had only recently taken over from Alexander Waverly. He was newly arrived from the New England branch and he looked the part - very buttoned up, very stiff, very correct. Not for Stoddard the rumpled suit, the unlit pipe. Not for Stoddard the twinkle in the eye that softened any acerbic pronouncement. Stoddard looked things over with a cold, jaundiced view, and then he acted. While Waverly had tolerated no slacking off, no deadwood, he had tolerated humanity. Stoddard did not. Within two weeks of his arrival staff had been cut, people had been demoted, and nerves were shredded.
Illya, whose job performance was stellar, had watched all this with detachment. He wasn't worried about an eagle eye being turned on his performance. Let Stoddard sniff through files, dig out old phone records and expense accounts. He might make secretaries weep over their coffee, he might send some entrenched staff member into early retirement. He couldn't touch Illya Kuryakin. Or so Illya had thought, until that very morning
"I have been through your original records," Stoddard began without preamble, and Illya stiffened. So those bad old days were to be thrown up to him once more. Very well. He had nothing to hide. Alexander Waverly had hired him, tainted background and all, and that was not something that could be undone by this man. He made a noncommittal noise.
"I find myself surprised that you were brought in to UNCLE, considering everything," Stoddard continued.
Considering everything. Yes. Considering that he had been a KGB lure. Considering that he had seduced, slept with, blackmailed, far too many men to count, at the behest of his masters overseas. Considering that he had been brought to UNCLE's attention as a cast off whore, an embarrassment to a new régime. Considering all that, yes, it was remarkable that Alexander Waverly had accepted him, trained him, trusted him. But then Waverly was a remarkable man. Illya didn't even trouble himself with a noncommittal sound this time. He merely looked at Stoddard levelly. And then Stoddard said it.
"And Agent Solo, your senior partner, was not informed?"
Illya fought to control himself. He fought to keep his face impassive, not to give Stoddard even a glimpse of what a deadly blow that had been. His voice, when he spoke, was expressionless. "No."
"May I ask why not?"
"Mr. Waverly did not feel it was necessary." Waverly had thought that Illya could tell Napoleon, had thought that Napoleon would understand, but he had bowed to Illya's adamant - near frantic - refusal.
"Ah." Stoddard fell silent. Illya put his hands behind his back, to conceal the way his fists were clenched, the way his nails were biting into his flesh. He would not beg, he would not.
No, Napoleon didn't know. Napoleon had no idea. Napoleon thought ... Napoleon thought Illya was a good person. A trustworthy person. Someone worthy of his friendship, his trust, his ...
"You look pale, Agent Kuryakin," Stoddard went on, with a solicitousness in his voice that Illya didn't believe for a moment. "Would you like to sit down?"
"No, sir. Thank you. I'm fine." Was he pale? Impossible to tell. He couldn't control everything, after all, but on the other hand he wouldn't put it past Stoddard to be trying to rattle him, either.
"How do you feel about my telling him? Don't you think that would be best?"
"No." Stoddard was toying with him now, and it made him angry. "No, I don't think that would be best. It's over."
"So you would prefer it if I did not tell him."
Hadn't he just said that? Illya stared stonily back. He wasn't going to repeat himself.
"And what exactly would you be prepared to do, Agent Kuryakin, to prevent that information from reaching Agent Solo's ears?" Stoddard was watching him now as if he were genuinely curious, as if he just really wanted to know. What did he think, that Illya was vulnerable to blackmail on this point? That he would betray UNCLE? Well, he wouldn't. But he would ...
"I'm prepared to give you the blow job of your life," he said, and had the dubious satisfaction of seeing Stoddard's eyes widen. He hadn't expected that answer, that was clear, and it was good to see him off balance a little. It felt so good that Illya pushed a little harder. "Or the best fuck you've ever had."
"I hardly think ..." Stoddard began, flushing now. Illya arched an eyebrow at him.
"Oh? Why not? What did you think I'd be prepared to give? Top secret material? Classified files? No, sir. What is mine to give I would give. Beyond that, no."
"Agent Solo has been offered a prestigious position on the West Coast. He has declined."
"Napoleon wants New York," Illya said. "He's always wanted New York."
"We feel there are other reasons for his refusal." Stoddard looked Illya up and down. "There have always been these rumors. Ugly rumors, that the two of you are more than friends. And now -"
"Not true!" Illya flashed. "Field partners aren't supposed to be ... more. Napoleon would never break that trust."
"But you are no longer field partners. And from remarks he has let fall, we believe he is about to take an unwise step, one that would confirm those rumors. The two of you certainly spend a great deal of time together."
They did. Since the fieldwork had ended, Napoleon and he got together every weekend, and frequently during the week too. They ate lunch together in the cafeteria. They watched movies late into the night in Napoleon's apartment. They ate out, or Napoleon cooked for him at home. Napoleon's single minded focus on him was flattering, and Illya had allowed himself to be wooed by it, to respond to it. But he had no right, did he. He was a whore. And Napoleon didn't know.
"We feel," Stoddard went on, "that before he makes a decision that will impact the remainder of his work career, he deserves to have all the facts at his disposal. Don't you agree, Agent Kuryakin? It only seems fair."
Yes, it did. It did seem fair. Put like that, the issue sounded clear cut. Right or wrong. Truth or lie. Knowledge or ignorance. Friend - or not friend. Illya couldn't speak.
"You may wait outside my office. Agent Solo may have questions for you after we meet."
"Yes sir," Illya said. He had no more sharp answers, no more anger. All he had was this dull, hopeless despair. And to think he had entertained hopes. To think he had contemplated that next step, that unwise step. To think ... As he left the room he heard Napoleon's voice in the hall. He was talking to someone - Illya turned and saw that Waverly was with Napoleon. Bile rose in his throat. Waverly was in on this too. For whatever reason, Waverly agreed with Stoddard's assessment. That hurt so much he couldn't see for a moment, and he wondered why. Why had it all gone dark? Then Napoleon's voice came again, much closer this time.
"Illya? Are you all right? Do you have a headache?"
Illya opened his eyes - oh. No wonder he couldn't see. He flushed at his own stupidity, and then was looking directly into Napoleon's face. Napoleon's kind, concerned ... dear face. How he loved Napoleon. It seemed his heart would break open with the yearning he felt. And it was all over. The next time he saw Napoleon, Napoleon's face would be cold and condemning. And he deserved it. That was the thing. He would have no defense to offer because he deserved it. He knew it, Stoddard knew it, Waverly knew it, and soon Napoleon would know it.
"I tried to call your office," Napoleon was going on. "But they said you were in a meeting. I didn't know it was here. Are you coming in with us?"
"No," Illya said with an effort. "No, I'm just waiting."
Napoleon looked puzzled. "Waiting for what?"
"For ... in case I'm needed. To clear up any loose ends afterwards."
"You ... you called me? Did you need something?"
"Oh, I need something," Napoleon said, and his voice was very low now. Low, and vibrating with intensity. "I need ... but this isn't the place. I'm glad you'll be here when I come out. I'll try to hurry things up if I can but you know," he grinned. "The wheels of administration grind exceeding slow."
"But exceeding fine," Illya returned, and he couldn't keep the bitterness out of his voice. Napoleon frowned, but then Waverly called him.
"Mr. Solo. Sooner begun, sooner done." He looked at Illya, and there was compassion on his face. Illya averted his eyes from it. "There will be plenty of time afterwards," Waverly went on. "Mr. Kuryakin? There will be plenty of time. I am quite sure of it."
Waverly was trying to reassure him, he could tell, but he couldn't imagine how that could be so he only nodded and turned away. Turned away, and rested his forehead on the glass of the window, staring out and down.
He never knew how long it was, that he stood there surrounded by Christmas cheer, his heart desolate and empty. How could he have allowed himself to believe in a happy ending? For him? Never. His life had begun in bitterness and misery, and that was how it would end. For one shining moment it had been different. He had been respected, admired even. He had excelled at his work, and he had had a friend who cared about him ... passionately. Passionately. Napoleon's feelings for his partner were no secret. But Napoleon was not a man to be trifled with. He would be furious, that Illya had lied to him. He would be disillusioned, that he had considered joining his life to ... to ... Illya was tired of thinking the words but they pounded in his head anyway. Honey trap - what a pretty phrase that was. Lure. Whore. Whore. He brought his hands up, fists clenched, and let them rest on the window. If it were open he would go through it. He would just step out ... and then there was a commotion behind him. Voices, raised in anger. Napoleon's voice. It was on him, then.
He should turn. He should face Napoleon, let Napoleon say what he needed to say. It seemed the very least he could do, and it was more than he was capable of. He only stood there, waiting for the final blow.
"Son of a bitch," he heard Napoleon say, and flinched. This was going to be very bad. He drew a deep breath.
"Mr. Solo." Stoddard now, sharp and angry sounding too. "We have not finished our discussion."
"Oh, we'll finish," Napoleon snapped back. "Believe me, we'll finish. But I am doing this first. Illya."
No. Illya shook his head. He couldn't, he could not force himself to turn around and take Napoleon's anger like a man. The way he should take it. He couldn't. And when Napoleon touched him, hands resting lightly on his shoulders he drew them in tightly, defensively. He couldn't take another deep breath, couldn't breathe at all. How convenient, if he just fell unconscious here and now. How convenient, if he could just die.
Maybe he had. Because Napoleon was turning him, hands very gentle, Napoleon was gathering him into an embrace, arms strong and somehow tender. Napoleon was holding him, rocking him a little, stroking his hair. The breath he couldn't find before came now, in what sounded disgracefully like a sob.
"Illya. It's all right. It's all right, Illya. I know he let you think ... but it's all right. I understand."
Napoleon understood? How could that be? Illya lifted his head and he was facing Napoleon after all, looking right into those brown eyes. The love in them was unmistakable. Napoleon loved him, still. Napoleon knew ... but wait. Maybe he didn't. Maybe Stoddard hadn't told him everything yet, or maybe Napoleon didn't believe him. Illya's heart sank. That was it, no doubt. Napoleon didn't believe Stoddard. Napoleon thought he knew Illya better than that. Napoleon trusted his own understanding of his partner, and had refused to credit Stoddard's words. That was why Stoddard was so angry now.
"It was the truth, Napoleon," Illya said because it was terrible to think of Napoleon making a fool of himself in front of Stoddard and Waverly. "Everything he told you. I ..." I'm sorry sounded stupid at this point, but he said it anyway because he was, he was desperately sorry. "I'm sorry. He's right about me. I'm a ..." he nearly strangled on the next word, that hated word that had defined him for as along as he could remember. "Whore," he finished, forcing it out and again it sounded treacherously like a sob. "He's right."
"I love you," Napoleon said, and Stoddard's sharp exhalation was clearly audible. "This isn't the time or the place I would have chosen, but you'll never need to hear it more than right now. I love you. Illya Kuryakin, I love you with my whole heart. You ... you are the other half of my soul. You are the warmth of my humanity. You are the very best part of me. This ... this new data about your past ... I won't say it doesn't matter, because it does. It matters terribly to you, and I wish you had felt safe in confiding it to me but that you didn't reflects on me, not on you." Illya shook his head at that, because Napoleon blaming himself for any of this was clearly absurd. But Napoleon was going on.
"As Stoddard said, we're not finished here. But you are. I want you to go home, Illya. Not to that fourth floor walk-up in the Village. To the penthouse. I have a Christmas present for you - for us - there. You go and see what I've done, and then when this is over I'll come to you and we'll take it from there. Together. Yes?"
Illya laughed a little. The sound astonished him, because who would have believed ten minutes ago that he could be laughing now, but that `Yes?" was classic Napoleon. Stronger than a suggestion, slightly less than an order, it had punctuated many of his statements when they were in the field together. `I'll fade left and you infiltrate the group to the right. Yes?' `I'll distract the girl and you plant the bomb. Yes?'
"Yes," he said, as he had said then, as he would be happy to say for the rest of his life. Napoleon had opened his heart to him here, in this conference room so gaily bedecked for Christmas, and were those bells he heard ringing? Or just the song rising from inside him? Because Napoleon ... Napoleon loved him. Knew about his sordid past, and loved him. Had proclaimed that love in front of Elliott Stoddard as if ... as if calling him to witness these vows. Could he himself do less? "Yes, Napoleon. I ..." he swallowed, because words had never come easily to him as they did to Napoleon, but this he would say. "I love you too. And when you come home, I'll be waiting."
"Our present is at the end of the hall, in Aunt Martha's rooms." And then Napoleon kissed him on the forehead, a benediction and a promise. Illya melted, closing his eyes against the piercing sweetness of it, and when he opened them again he was alone. Napoleon and Stoddard had gone back into the office where Waverly was no doubt waiting for them. Napoleon was going to give Stoddard hell, Illya knew that much from his tone. Well, good. Good.
He took a taxi to Napoleon's building, and once again the Christmas lights and the holiday music playing on the cabbie's radio lifted his spirits. He didn't know what form or shape Napoleon's gift would take, but he knew already what it would mean. Home, he thought as he paid the driver. Home, as he walked through the door and into the lobby. Home, as the elevator rose to the penthouse floor. Home, as he stepped inside, turning to close and lock the door behind him.
The apartment looked as usual, except that it was set up for a celebration. Champagne was on ice on the kitchen counter, and the fire was already laid. Illya poured himself a glass because he was celebrating, he was celebrating the start of the rest of his life. And when he walked down the hall to the back bedroom suite, which had been Napoleon's Aunt Martha's domain, and unlived in since her death, he saw that the door was decked with an enormous white ribbon and bow.
He pushed it open and stood still in wonder. All the heavy drapes and bed coverings were gone, all the little tables that had stood about covered with Victorian knick knacks were gone, the thick maroon carpet was gone. Gleaming hardwood stretched out underfoot, and in the center of the room stood an enormous bed. Not the prim single Aunt Martha had slept in all her life, but the biggest bed Illya had ever seen. A white comforter covered it, and several pillows were stacked against the headboard, also sheathed in white. The thick drapes were gone too, replaced by thin wafers of blinds that did nothing to block the full panorama of New York's skyline.
Two matching dressers stood against one wall, and, in the adjoining sitting room, two elaborate computer systems backed up against one another, just the way his and Napoleon's desks used to do, in the days when they shared an office.
He hadn't heard Napoleon come in, but he knew the way Napoleon felt and smelled so he didn't jump when those strong hands settled once again on his shoulders from behind. He leaned back into them, against Napoleon's hard warm body.
"Yes?" Napoleon asked, and once again Illya had to laugh.
"Yes," he answered, and turned to face Napoleon. "Yes, yes, yes."
Napoleon kissed him again and it wasn't on the forehead this time. Their lips met, and clung, and before the kiss was finished their arms were wrapped around one another and their bodies were pressed together. Then Napoleon was moving forward, nudging Illya back, back towards the bed which received them into softness and warmth, comfort and darkness.
Desire was warm too, but there was no darkness there. It seemed they moved in light, breathed and touched and kissed in light. Napoleon mapped every part of Illya's body with hands and mouth, lips and tongue and Illya opened to him, offering everything he knew, everything he was, everything he would ever become. Napoleon took it all, offering in his turn until taking and giving became a perfect circle of desire, twining them around one another, binding them together, wrapping them up in love.
Illya stood on the balcony, gazing out over the city. The darkness of Central Park stretched out before him, and the Christmas lights Napoleon had fastened around the railing sparkled against the night. Napoleon was in the kitchen, putting the finishing touches on the meal he was preparing, so for the moment Illya was alone. He extended his left hand, and looked at the ring there. Napoleon had produced it as they lay in the warm glow of aftermath, had slid it onto his finger, and kissed him. Then he had handed Illya a matching ring, and after Illya had put it on him they had kissed some more.
Now Napoleon was coming out onto the balcony. Illya turned, and smiled at him. Napoleon smiled back. He had two glasses of champagne in his hands, and he gave one to Illya, touched his to it. "Merry Christmas, Illya," he said, and drank.
"Merry Christmas, Napoleon," Illya answered, and he drank too. Then they kissed again before going inside, closing the door, shutting the world out, leaving them alone with one another. With one another, forever.