Where the Truth Lies

by ChannelD

Part I - Follow the Thunder

Illya clung to Napoleon, legs wrapped tightly around Napoleon's hips, heels digging into his buttocks. One arm was around Napoleon's neck, hanging on to him for dear life, fingers gripping so hard he couldn't feel them anymore. It didn't matter. He was feeling enough already, feeling Napoleon's hot wet mouth on his throat, feeling Napoleon's flesh against his, feeling Napoleon's cock inside him. His whole body followed those thrusts, molding the two of them together because the smallest separation was intolerable. He moved with Napoleon, breathed with Napoleon, clenched around Napoleon until he couldn't tell where Napoleon ended and he began.

His other arm lay outstretched on the bed; only his hand, now closed into a fist, now spread wide against the sheets, mirroring their passion.

Napoleon was saying things now, incoherent words muffled against Illya's skin and Illya strained to hear them, to understand them, but as always only about one in ten reached him. "Sweet," Napoleon murmured, then there was a long string Illya couldn't catch. "Yes," Napoleon said, and ...

"Yes," Illya echoed. "Yes, yes, yes ..." he cried out. Napoleon slowed his motion and Illya, frantic, pressed himself even closer to him, urging him to greater speed, to harder, deeper thrusts. Napoleon chuckled, his warm breath making Illya shiver.

"So impatient," he chided. "Why are you in such a hurry? Aren't you enjoying this?" He punctuated his words with small revolutions of his hips, arousing such a medley of sensation that Illya cried out again, ashamed immediately of the naked pleading in the sound.

Oh, how could Napoleon put sentences together so clearly now, now of all times? Illya squeezed him, hard, clamping down on his cock, tightening his legs so his heel, pressed against the cleft of Napoleon's ass, pushed him in further. Napoleon lunged forward, body piston like now; no more subtlety, no more teasing. Illya clung and followed and begged until Napoleon's lips silenced him, until Napoleon's final exultant shout mingled with his own, both shouts lost in the other's mouth, and then Napoleon slumped, heavy and lax on top, and still Illya clung to him.

He couldn't help it. His need of Napoleon, which he normally kept wrapped up and secret in his closed off heart, opened into a ravening maw at these times and could not be concealed. It embarrassed him afterwards, and when Napoleon - or he, depending - left he stood in front of his mirror and castigated himself for it. He should be complete within himself. He should never, no never, let Napoleon know how Illya's heart beat in rhythm with his, how Illya's body lived in concert with his, how Illya's very soul cried out for his.

When they weren't making love, Illya kept his secret well. He guarded the open wound that was his love for Napoleon because Napoleon ... Napoleon didn't like being cared for too much. If Napoleon ever suspected that he was as necessary as air and light and gravity to his partner, Napoleon would end it.

It was all right that it showed now, and at all times like this. Napoleon took Illya's frantic clutching, Illya's utter and complete surrender, as a compliment to his own sexual prowess. It never failed to please him, and flatter him, and amuse him.

Napoleon would tease Illya endlessly, stroking him and fondling him ... but lightly, too lightly for satisfaction. He would prop himself up on one elbow and run one finger over Illya's body, openly reveling in Illya's helpless, shaking response. Then he would descend on Illya with a kind of fury, devouring him, taking him, whipping them both into a frenzy of passion until, like now, they lay sated, still wrapped up in one another, panting and sweating and exhausted.

But it was the contrast between that and Illya's usual cool, detached demeanor, that aroused him. Illya knew that was so because Napoleon had told him.

"It excites me so much," he'd whispered into Illya's ear, making Illya squirm against him. "The Ice Prince, coming alive in my arms. Stoic Agent Illya Kuryakin, throwing it all aside because of what I am making him feel. Oh, yes, like that ..." stroking Illya's buttocks lightly and Illya whimpered, quivered in Napoleon's arms which tightened ruthlessly, squeezing the breath right out of him and he loving it, loving it. "Like that," Napoleon had repeated and then he bent over, took Illya into his mouth. He had teased him then, too, until Illya, unable to bear it for one more minute despite his desire to make it last as long as possible, twisted, got his arms - both arms that night - around Napoleon's hips, pulled him in and engulfed him. He'd swirled his tongue around in the way he knew Napoleon liked and then they had descended into madness once again ... together, once again.

So the Ice Prince had to hold sway, to keep Napoleon's ardor alive. Illya calculated it all out carefully. He wasn't available every time Napoleon called him; saying no, I'm busy, no, I'm working, no, I'm dating and then, because he would never lie to Napoleon, going to a movie, opening a formerly closed file to take it apart and analyze it once again, calling one of the men or women he knew would be available to him. He tried to maintain at least a three to one ratio of refusal to acceptance, but sometimes Napoleon didn't call him, sometimes Napoleon just dropped by his office. Once face to face, once within reach of that hard, muscular body, once looking into those dark eyes there was never any possibility of saying no. "Yes," he would say and know that Napoleon saw his quickened breathing, the slight tremor he couldn't hide. "Yes, Napoleon, I'll meet you tonight." Sometimes, when that had happened too often, Illya went away; volunteering for a courier assignment, or to present a workshop in a distant city, just to keep that mystique - that all too necessary mystique - alive.

Oh, but then there was the time Napoleon showed up unexpectedly at his hotel room in Boston. He had a bottle of champagne in one hand, and a pizza box in the other. Illya saw him through the peephole, yanked the door open and threw himself into Napoleon's arms without even stopping to think. The pizza fell sideways to the floor, the champagne rolled away, to pop in fizzing splendor, and Napoleon dragged Illya down too, beside the pizza, beside the bottle. He tore Illya's clothes off and Illya reciprocated, and they were together again; noisily, gloriously together in that anonymous hotel room, surrounded by Illya's colleagues, as distant as if they were on the far side of the moon.

Illya sighed and turned his head to study Napoleon's profile. He thought that maybe Napoleon was asleep - hoped so, because otherwise there would come the inevitable glance at the watch and the moving on, back into their regular lives, back into their separate selves. But Napoleon was awake, and he wasn't looking at his watch at all. He was looking at Illya, and the somber expression on his face said that he had been watching him for some time. Illya flushed under that scrutiny. What had he been showing, as he lay there and thought about Napoleon, and believed himself unobserved? He turned away from those sharp eyes that knew him too well, saw him too clearly, and Napoleon sighed.

"Don't do that," he said softly. Illya looked at the wall, and pretended not to hear him. He tried to even out his breathing, so Napoleon would think him drifting off into sleep and maybe wouldn't want to disturb him by moving. But Napoleon wasn't fooled, as evidenced by his next words.

"Illya. Please don't do that. I feel so close to you right now." As if to prove it he gave Illya a squeeze and Illya, helpless again, turned back, into the embrace. "Please let Agent Kuryakin take a break. He's entitled, and we ... we are entitled too."

Illya looked at him in surprise. Napoleon sounded almost wistful, as if ... as if this were the best part of their lives for him, too, instead of just a pleasant interlude. As if he cared. Illya felt his mouth curve into a smile. Napoleon smiled too.

"So," he said. "How's the arm?"

It was like being struck. Napoleon had softened him up with gentle words, with his continued presence, all and only for this moment when he would move in with his question. It hurt, and Illya struck back.

"What the hell do you think? It hurts! You know it hurts! It hurts every day, all the time, all the damn time! Why do you ask? You haven't bothered to ask before! Does Davenport want to know? Is that it? Are they counting down the days of my medical leave? Well you tell them, you just tell them ..." he choked on the words and turned away again, feeling lost, feeling wretched because even the pretense of Napoleon's caring had been better than this anger between them. He waited, body stiff, for Napoleon's returning blast.

But Napoleon didn't blast him. He only sighed. "So," he repeated. "The physical therapy isn't going well?"

Again Illya flashed out at him. "They certainly seem satisfied! They probe it and rub it and pull it and I show up for it faithfully three times a week and let them ... let them ... it's like being -" he choked again because it wasn't like torture, of course it wasn't, he knew torture, knew it well. A competent professional who would stop if asked to stop wasn't ... "I sound like a civilian," he muttered. "Ignore me. You took me off guard, that's all." On purpose too, he wanted to say, but didn't.

There was a long silence. Miserably, Illya waited it out. If he had felt raw before he was ripped open now, and the worst part was that he had done it himself. He couldn't even blame Napoleon. Napoleon had only asked how it was going. All Illya would have had to do was say fine, fine, and that would have been it. But instead he had spilled it all out and now he was at Napoleon's mercy.

"It is, though," Napoleon said finally, at the same time trying to turn Illya towards him. Illya resisted, then melted, and let Napoleon roll him back over. Napoleon's hand slid up the arm, found the spot right at Illya's shoulder blade and rubbed gently. Not hard and deep like the therapist, fingers digging unerringly at the sorest points, but flat palmed and careful. It felt good, and Illya made a small sound to communicate that. "It is like being tortured. I know, I remember when I was shot in the hip that time. You have to lie there and let them, just let them hurt you, and it brings up all these memories and they don't understand. No one understands, except someone else who's been through it."

How could he ever stand against this man? Napoleon was like the physical therapist that way, knowing the vulnerable places and reaching them seemingly without effort. Illya didn't know what to say, so he said nothing. Napoleon kept rubbing his shoulder. Then he sighed again.

"They're not going to let you return to the field," he said finally, and the pain of that statement was so savage that Illya cried out against it.

"No! No, you don't know that for sure, they don't know that for sure!" But even as he said it he knew it for folly. Napoleon would never say such a thing unless he did know it, know it for sure. They had told Napoleon what they hadn't told him, and the mix of emotions that brought was so complex and so overwhelming he didn't know which to respond to first. Anger, fear, sorrow ... he didn't want to say anything at all until he had them sorted out, but he couldn't keep quiet, the torrent of feeling wouldn't be kept inside so he opened his mouth and it was the fear that escaped first.

"Then they'll send me back! I'm only here on loan, and only as a field agent, so if that's over it's all over! I'll be on a plane back to Russia before the end of the week! And what then? I've been here too long, you know they won't want me contaminating anyone else with whatever Western ideas I've picked up! I'll be tried and convicted and -" Napoleon's hand on his mouth silenced him and he sputtered against it, outraged.

"No one is sending you anywhere. Waverly took care of that before he retired. I thought you knew. There is no Soviet Union to send you back to, to begin with."

"Oh please," Illya said, having yanked his head aside to do so. "The name of the game may have changed, but all the old players are still there."

"Be that as it may. They don't particularly want you back, you're right about that, and Waverly made them a deal they couldn't refuse. You're free. You should have gotten a notice."

"Well, I didn't believe it." His voice was sulky now, he knew it, and it made him angrier than ever because it always amused Napoleon when he was sullen and he didn't want to amuse Napoleon right now.

"I'm sorry. I didn't know that. You can believe me, Illya. Over my dead body would they deport you anyway, and they don't want to, they want to keep you. They have all sorts of plans for your future in science."

"Well ... well ..." he was sputtering again, and if it was anybody else with him he'd have already walked away. But it wasn't anybody else, it was Napoleon, and it was good news that he wouldn't be sent back, of course it was. It had been a nagging worry for as long as he'd been in UNCLE and now it was lifted, just like that. "As what? A resident alien? Renewing my work permit every year? Until a change in supervisory personnel changes that too, and I'm on my way back after all?"

"Illya." Napoleon sounded exasperated with him and Illya pulled free of the embrace. A white hot bolt of pain went through his arm at the motion and he gasped, dropped back onto the bed. For a long moment there was nothing but the pain, and the nausea it always brought, and when his vision cleared he was alone. Napoleon had left the bed, had left him. Illya had to clap one hand - his good hand, the other one now lying uselessly beside him - over his mouth to keep from calling him back. Napoleon wanted to leave? Fine. He'd delivered his message, jettisoned his partner, and now he was free to leave, if he chose. Except that this was his apartment. So Illya should leave. Well, he would then. Illya rolled over towards his good side, began to get up, and then Napoleon was back. With an icepack.

Oh. Illya flushed. He let Napoleon help him the rest of the way until he was sitting up and leaning against the pillows and then Napoleon put the pack on his shoulder. It was actually a bag of frozen peas, Illya noted, and had to laugh a little. Napoleon laughed too.

"First thing I grabbed," he said, and sat beside Illya. "Just keep that on there for a while. You're supposed to be icing it three times a day, anyway. Are you?"

"Yes. I've done everything they've told me to. I want it to get better."

"And it will," Napoleon soothed. "They all say that it will. But it's taking longer than expected, and they think that's due to the other injuries; the bullet wounds, and the dislocated shoulder you had a couple of years ago. You're just not bouncing back the way you used to, and so they think it's time. And if you want American citizenship all you have to do is ask. I'll have you down there getting your picture taken first thing Monday morning. All right?"

"Hmph." Illya adjusted the pack, which was sliding. "And you? Out there on your own? It's your dream, I suppose. You never wanted a partner, that was no secret, and now ..." Napoleon kissed him. It was such a surprise that Illya couldn't do anything but sit there and let Napoleon kiss him and, after a few minutes, he kissed Napoleon back, he couldn't help it. When Napoleon lifted his head the rage was gone, and the fear was gone too. But he still felt irritable. "It's so stupid," he grumbled. "After all those really serious injuries, to be invalided out because of a torn rotator cuff."

"Being hung by your wrists for five hours, and beaten with a strap by two Thrush thugs spinning you between them is no joke."

"No." Illya turned back into Napoleon's embrace. He wished Napoleon would rub his shoulder again because it had felt so good, but Napoleon began stroking his hair instead and that felt good, too. Napoleon certainly was being nice to him. He must feel badly about the end of their partnership. Even as he thought that, Napoleon spoke again.

"As to my working alone - and I only didn't want a partner until I met you, Illya, you know that. I've never for one moment regretted Waverly putting us together. Surely I've made that plain enough over the years." He kissed Illya's cheek.

"Hmph," Illya said again, and Napoleon laughed softly.

"My prickly stubborn Russian bear of a partner," he said, and kissed Illya's temple this time. "I wouldn't trade you for anything. I wouldn't trade what we had together for anything. And I won't be out there by myself. I'm coming in too. I'll be forty in a couple of years anyway. I can do a lot of good in Section I, and when Davenport moves up I'll have his chair. Waverly's chair. It's all I've ever wanted. Well, and you. You and Waverly's job."

"They're not going to give Waverly's job to someone who sleeps with another man." Listen to Napoleon. He was talking as if he - as if they - had a future. As if this wasn't just one of Napoleon's liaisons, a way for Napoleon to step out of his usual sexual pattern and stroll on the wild side for a change. "All those women are bad enough," he added spitefully. "All that tomcatting around hardly spells Section Chief to me - or to them."

"All those women are bad enough," Napoleon agreed equably. He ran one hand down Illya's bare back, and Illya arched against him. He couldn't help it. It made him angry all over again. "You're certainly making this very difficult, Illya."


Napoleon laughed. "So," he repeated. He pulled Illya closer, hard against him and the ice pack fell, unnoticed, onto the mattress. "Illya Kuryakin, given that we are now retired field agents, would you do me the considerable honor of accepting my proposal and becoming my ... I believe domestic partner is the politically correct phrase. Forsaking all others? That means no women for me, in case you're not sure. And nobody else for you either, my friend. Let all those casual acquaintances whose phone numbers and work schedules you carry around in that blond head know it's over. For good. Till death do us part."

Illya was struck silent. What on earth ... why would Napoleon say such things? Was he teasing? Trying to get Illya to say yes, so he could finally and triumphantly have him where he wanted him? Which was ... in his life? In his home? In his bed ... every night? Till ... till death did them part? Was he serious?"

"Please?" Napoleon said, and his voice was uncertain now. "Illya? I thought ... I always hoped that we were just waiting for this day. I hoped that everything else, your withdrawals, your so effortless dismissals of me, of ... of us, were just your way of coping. Of waiting, like me. Both of us, waiting for this time when we were finally in from the cold, in where it's warm, keeping one another warm for the rest of our lives. Was I ... was I so wrong? Don't you ... Illya." His voice broke. "Don't you love me at all?"

It was the catch in his voice, more than the words he was saying, that did it. Illya flung himself into his arms, embracing him fiercely, opening his mouth to say yes, yes Napoleon, I love you, yes yes yes but instead he cried aloud as his arm sent its own reminder that it did not care for being lifted that way, that it did not care for being bent around Napoleon's neck that way, that it hurt, it hurt, it hurt ... he gasped and clutched at it.

"Okay," he could hear Napoleon saying. "Okay, Illya, it's okay. Here" He groped behind Illya, found the icepack and put it back on. "There you go. Better?"

"No." It wasn't. His arm throbbed and ached fiercely and the icepack didn't help at all. "It felt better when you rubbed it." He heard it as he said it, a naked plea. It shamed him and he flushed, but then Napoleon was easing him down, onto his stomach, and his strong competent hands were working the muscle but gently, not like the physical therapist did but smoothly and caressingly. It did feel good, so good, and Illya groaned under it.

"Yes," he whispered. "Oh, Napoleon, that feels wonderful. Thank you."

"Sure." Napoleon kept it up for several minutes, then his hands stilled. Illya made a muffled sound of protest and Napoleon stretched out beside him, still rubbing his shoulder blade. "So what do you say?" he asked, trying too hard to sound casual. "Want to? I mean ..." again his voice broke. "I really need you to say yes," he said. "I can't pretend anymore, I can't carry on acting as though you weren't the most important thing in my life. I love you. I need you. Please, Illya. Please say you'll spend the rest of your life with me. I'm begging you."

I need you, Napoleon had said. Napoleon needed him? So the light, mocking tone, the amusement ... was an act? I can't pretend anymore, Napoleon had also said. So Napoleon had been pretending he didn't need Illya, just as Illya had pretended not to need him. And underneath was ... was raw need. Mutual need. What other answer could there be, but yes?

"Yes, Napoleon," he said, and his voice was steady and sure. "Yes, I'll be your domestic partner. Yes, I'll forsake all others. Yes, I'll move in here with you. And yes, I love you. I have always loved you. If you want me, I'm yours. It's disgraceful, how much I'm yours, Napoleon. I've tried to hide it, because I thought you'd think less of me. But if you're sure ..."

"Oh, I'm sure." Napoleon kissed the injured place. "I've always been sure. And you don't have to move in here if you don't want to. I'll move in with you, if you prefer. I'll buy your whole damn building and tear it apart, put it back together again just for you. For us. Whatever you want, wherever you want, whenever you want. For the rest of our lives."

"I want you," Illya said, and kissed Napoleon's cheek. "Just you. For the rest of our lives."

They clung together, bodies twined around one another, mouths hungering on one another's mouths. Napoleon had one arm holding Illya hard against him, as Illya had one arm clutching at Napoleon. Illya's other arm, the injured arm, was outstretched on the bed as before, but this time Napoleon's free arm was stretched out along side of it, and their hands were clasped. They breathed into one another's mouths, uttering incoherent gasps and endearments and outcries. Napoleon was buried deep within Illya's flesh and Illya was following every move, both of them mirroring one another's moves. They breathed together, moved together, came together in glorious abandon and then settled in together, settling down for the night, for the rest of their lives, forever.

Part II - Follow the Wind Song Napoleon held on to Illya with all his might, arms wrapped tightly around his back. He was buried inside Illya's sweet, yielding flesh and Illya was clinging to him, too, arm hooked about his neck. Illya smelled so good ... Napoleon groaned. He felt complete, whole, satisfied even as his body strained for completion. These were the only times he truly felt that Illya was his, these times when their flesh was one. He wished he could hold on to this moment forever, with Illya gasping against his skin, with Illya clasped in his embrace, with Illya ... with Illya... he cried out and heard Illya cry out too. Words were escaping him now, incoherent endearments, expressions of love that he repressed at all other times for fear of driving Illya away. "Sweet," he heard himself gasp. "Yes ..." he would have said more, might have said too much but Illya was echoing him now.

"Yes," Illya said. "Yes yes yes ..." he ground against Napoleon, hands moving, trying to urge him on, trying to hurry him up. Napoleon wanted to hurry but he wanted it to last, too, because once it was over Illya would withdraw from him, and that was so painful he wondered how he bore it. But he did bear it, because the alternative was to end it. So he slowed his pace, because he could, because he could control it, could control himself. He brought it down until he was barely moving inside Illya and he was driving Illya wild, he could tell by his frantic clutching fingers, by his hips, rising and falling, urging him on. He had to laugh a little, because if he didn't laugh he might weep from the knowledge that Illya wanted this to end whereas he himself ... "So impatient," he murmured. "Why are you in such a hurry? Aren't you enjoying this?" He rotated his hips, knowing what that did to him and sure enough Illya cried aloud, beyond words but begging him all the same. He choked back a sob of need, of want, of grief, and then Illya squeezed him, hard muscles clamping down on every inch of his cock, and strong thighs close around his hips, one heel pressing at Napoleon's entrance and there was no holding back now, that drove him over the edge. He pumped himself into Illya, pumping his soul along with his seed, stopping Illya's mouth with his own, making Illya his own, making them one.

He pretended that he couldn't move. He lay on top of Illya and panted and hoped he hadn't given it all away, hadn't let Illya know that he was as essential to Napoleon as the air he breathed. Right now Illya was still clinging to him, but at all other times Illya eluded him. He was aloof, independent, arrogant in his self contained perfection. Only in the throes of sexual pleasure did he let that go. Only when Napoleon aroused him, using all his skill, using every bit of expertise gained over the years, using every bit of love he kept hidden in his heart, only then did Illya reach for him, hold on to him, give himself up to him. So Napoleon always tried to stretch it out, loving the sight of Illya, barriers dropped, ice melted, warm and responsive and alive under his hands. He loved it so much that sooner rather than later he would fall on him again, devouring him, slaking his passion in Illya's body, in Illya's mouth, against Illya's hard organ.

Then, when it was over, he knew it was only a matter of time before Illya would roll over, roll away. Napoleon would make an excuse, then, for leaving because he couldn't bear it. Couldn't bear to see Illya withdraw from him, for who knew how long. Because he could never count on there being a next time. Illya was just as likely - more likely, in fact - to say no as he was to say yes. Napoleon called him several times a week and Illya would say `no, I'm going out" - with somebody else and that knowledge ate into him like acid. Or he would say "no, I'm working" because work was important to Illya and Napoleon Solo ... wasn't. He just wasn't. Worst of all were the times when Illya went away, never telling Napoleon ahead of time, just disappearing without a word.

Once Napoleon had tracked him down, because the loneliness that rode him had become intolerable and he needed Illya, needed to see him, talk to him, hold him close against the dark night. So he had followed, so uncertain of his welcome that he had brought food, had held the pizza out as a propitiatory offering.

And then Illya was so glad to see him! Illya had hurled himself at him, clutched at him, gone down to the floor with him, made love with him all night long. It had lifted Napoleon's heart, had given him new hope for their future. But the next time they met, back in New York, Illya had given him one cool appraising stare and gone his way as if ... as if he had never met Napoleon Solo in his life and didn't care to meet him now. It tore Napoleon up. It nearly destroyed him. And the next three times he had called Illya, Illya had said no.

And then Illya had hurt his arm. He had been taken in a sweep of Thrush's always unexpectedly long reach, and disappeared for a week. When rescued he had been hanging in chains by the wrists. His rotator cuff had been torn and he hadn't been able to use the arm properly since, despite weeks of physical therapy. He wouldn't talk about it to Napoleon, but the time had come when it had to be talked about. Napoleon sighed, and looked at him.

Illya was staring at the ceiling. His mouth was drooping, and he looked so unhappy that Napoleon's heart broke for him. He knew Illya was worried about the arm, worried about his future. And it was true that things would change for him, and very soon too. He had a right to know. Even as Napoleon thought that, Illya turned and looked at him.

He flushed up and the mask dropped into place. First he tried to pretend he was almost asleep, then he began to roll away.

"Don't do that." Napoleon thought his heart would break saying it, that he would even have to say it. "Illya. Please don't do that. I feel so close to you right now." He hugged Illya hard, silently rejoicing when Illya turned back to him. He tried for a lighter touch. "Please let Agent Kuryakin take a break. He's entitled and we ... we are entitled too." Not light after all. The hopeless longing was clear for anyone to hear - certainly it would be clear to this man who knew him so well. And Illya was staring at him in surprise. Then he smiled. It was a beautiful sight, and it emboldened Napoleon to ask the next question.

"So," he said. "How's the arm?"

That broke the mood. Illya sat up, fairly spitting with rage. Even half prepared as he had been, Napoleon recoiled. "What the hell do you think?" He threw the words at Napoleon. "It hurts. You know it hurts. It hurts every day, all the time, all the damn time! Why do you ask? You haven't bothered to ask before! Does Davenport want to know? Is that it? Are they counting down the days of my medical leave? Well you tell them, you just tell them ..." he nearly strangled on his anger and his words, his harsh hurtful words, and turned away, away from Napoleon again, the way he always did.

Napoleon sighed. He tried to ignore the pain, tried to get past it because they had to have this conversation, and now it was begun he might as well finish it. "So," he said again, feeling clumsy. "The physical therapy isn't working?" Stupid question. Everything Illya had just told him confirmed that it wasn't working. And a stupid question got ... not a stupid answer, but one dripping with acid.

"They certainly seem satisfied! They probe it and rub it and pull it and I show up for it faithfully three times a week and let them ... let them ... it's like being ..." he stopped talking, and flushed. "I sound like a civilian," he said, and his voice was low now. It hurt Napoleon even more to hear it. He preferred Illya angry rather than defeated. "Ignore me. You took me off guard, that's all."

Napoleon couldn't stand it. He lay there and tried not to reach for him, tried to control himself but he couldn't stand the misery in Illya's voice, couldn't stand the distance between them when they had just been so close. "It is, though," he said finally and reached out after all, trying to coax Illya back and, incredibly, Illya came. He let Napoleon roll him over, let Napoleon gather him in and that in itself told Napoleon how wretched he was. Napoleon cupped the shoulder and stroked it, trying to soothe and comfort, rewarded by the faint pleasured noise Illya made. "It is like being tortured," he said finally, because he knew just what Illya meant. "I know, I remember when I was shot in the hip that time. You have to lie there and let them, just let them hurt you and it brings up all these memories and they don't understand. No one understands except someone else who's been through it."

Illya said nothing, but he didn't pull away, either. Napoleon rubbed his shoulder some more, and the next sigh came from the depths of his soul. "They're not going to let you return to the field." He had to force the words out because he might as well be slapping Illya across the face as saying them, and sure enough Illya cried out in pain.

"No!" He was talking so fast now Napoleon could barely understand him, could only hold him and listen, listen to the jumbled torrent of anger and fear and grief.

The fear took him by surprise. It had never occurred to him that Illya felt insecure about his status with UNCLE, after all these years. It shamed him, because surely if he were a good enough friend, let alone lover, Illya would have confided in him and he could have fixed it sooner. When he couldn't bear it for one more moment he put a hand over Illya's mouth, because to hear Illya's fear when it was in his power to ease it was intolerable.

"No one is sending you anywhere," he said with all the intensity he could muster. He was going on but Illya jerked away.

"Oh please," he scoffed, and the knowledge that Illya didn't believe him, that Illya thought Napoleon would deceive him, stabbed him to the heart. Why are we doing this, he thought dully. Why do we keep hurting one another when all I want is to cherish you, and ... he was uttering platitudes now, about deals that couldn't be refused, and he could hear for himself how lame it sounded.

"You should have gotten a notice," was the way he finished it and that was where he should have started it, shouldn't he, because Illya had been notified of the former Soviet Union's lack of enthusiasm for his return, Napoleon knew that for a fact.

"Well, I didn't believe it." Illya sounded sulky, and usually that amused Napoleon but tonight it didn't, tonight it only made him want to make it better.

"Over my dead body," he swore and if it would have convinced Illya he would have opened a vein, made a blood oath. But it wouldn't have, because here Illya was arguing some more. "Illya," Napoleon began, trying another tack but Illya wasn't going to stay for a new tack. He jerked away and then cried aloud. He gasped, a ragged intake of breath, and cried out again. He collapsed back on the bed, one hand rubbing the injured shoulder, face white. Napoleon flew off the bed to get an ice pack, and when he returned Illya was struggling to a sitting position. Napoleon helped him, propped pillows behind him, then put the bag of frozen peas, which had been the first thing his fumbling fingers had grabbed, against the injured spot. Illya looked at it in surprise, and laughed a little. Relieved, Napoleon laughed too.

"You're supposed to be icing it three times a day," he said, and was sorry because it sounded like he was scolding Illya and he wasn't, of course. So he hurried on, talking of past injuries, talking of American citizenship. "I'll take you," he promised, and Illya snorted.

"And you?" he asked nastily. "Out there on your own? It's your dream, I suppose. You never wanted a partner, that was no secret, and now ..." Napoleon kissed him. He kissed him because he had to stop Illya saying those things, stop Illya hurting him again, hurting him more, hurting him deliberately so he kissed him and after a moment that hard angry mouth softened under his, and then Illya kissed him back. They kissed for a while, and then Illya pressed against him. Napoleon, relieved, stroked his hair. It was so soft under his fingers, soft, and fine ... when he thought his voice was under control he spoke again, a jumble of assurances and refutations of the accusation that he would be glad on any level to be rid of Illya. He kissed Illya's cheek when he ran out of words, and Illya snorted again. But he hadn't moved away and, relieved, Napoleon kissed his temple.

"I'm coming in too," he said, and then he talked a little bit about his career plan because it was easier than getting to the core of what he wanted to say. So he talked, and he stroked Illya, who arched under his hands like a cat and clawed him like one, too, hurling the tomcat label at him, taunting him for even thinking he could get Waverly's job and sleep with him at the same time. Napoleon maintained his cool because this was important, it was. He was going to spring the question on Illya now, because if not now, when? But Illya certainly was making it difficult. He said that.

"So?" Illya snapped back at him and it was so typical of him that Napoleon had to laugh. It was a painful laugh, hurting his chest as it came out, and he squeezed Illya against him to ease it because he didn't want his voice to shake or sound uncertain, he wanted Illya to know he was serious.

"Illya Kuryakin," he began, and his voice was steady after all. "Given that we are now retired field agents, would you do me the considerable honor of accepting my proposal and becoming my ..." he faltered. "I believe domestic partner is the politically correct phrase. Forsaking all others? That means no women for me, in case you're not sure. And nobody else for you either, my friend. Let all those casual acquaintances whose phone numbers and work schedules you carry around in that blond head know it's over. For good. Till death do us part." There. He'd gotten it all out. Now it was up to Illya. Napoleon drew back a little so he could peer into Illya's face.

He couldn't read anything there. Illya was staring at him in ... what? Anger? Joy? Refusal? Acceptance? "Please?" Napoleon said, and his voice trembled. He forced himself to go on anyway ... spilling my guts, he thought. And maybe he was wrong after all. Maybe he had given his heart away, and for nothing. "Illya." And his voice wasn't just trembling now, it broke as if ... as if he were about to weep. And he might. If Illya turned him down, he just might. "Don't you love me at all?"

Illya came into his arms, just like that; clutching at him, and then he was writhing in pain, clutching at his own arm instead. He had forgotten it for a moment, clearly, had thrown it around Napoleon's neck and now he was gasping and sweating in agony once again. "Okay," Napoleon said, and put the icepack back. "Okay, Illya, it's okay. There you go. Better?" And how banal he sounded. He'd be saying `there there' in a moment.

"No," Illya said resentfully and then, incredibly, "It felt better when you rubbed it."

If Illya had ever asked him for physical comfort before, Napoleon wasn't aware of it. It took his voice completely but his hands were moving, settling Illya on his stomach, rubbing his arm, long flat strokes, no deep pressure, just gentle massage, trying to put all his love into touch, since words were failing him over and over again. Illya groaned with pleasure. "Yes," he whispered. "Oh, Napoleon, that feels wonderful. Thank you."

"Sure." He rubbed for a while, then stretched out beside Illya, still caressing the shoulder. "So what do you say?" he asked, trying desperately to sound ... not to sound ... "Want to? I mean ..." then he lost it again. "I really need you to say yes. I can't pretend anymore. I can't carry on acting as though you weren't the most important thing in my life. I love you. I need you. Please, Illya. Please say you'll spend the rest of your life with me. I'm begging you." And it was out. His raw need, his pathetic, laughable need ... surely Illya would pull away now. Surely he would look at Napoleon Solo, reduced to pleading for love, curl his lip in scorn, and walk away. Napoleon tried to prepare himself for it.

"Yes, Napoleon," Illya said, and it was his voice that was calm now. "Yes, I'll be your domestic partner. Yes, I'll forsake all others. Yes, I'll move in here with you. And yes, I love you. I have always loved you. If you want me, I'm yours. It's disgraceful how much I'm yours, Napoleon. I've tried to hide it, because I thought you'd think less of me. But if you're sure ..."

"Oh, I'm sure." Napoleon kissed Illya's shoulder. So all this time they had both been pretending, both been shielding their hearts, one against the other. How foolish. How incredibly foolish of them. They talked some more, about living arrangements and other assorted minutia, but they kept coming back to each other. Each other, together, for the rest of their lives. The rest of their lives, together.

They made love in a kind of frenzy, each clinging to the other, each holding on to the other with all his might. Napoleon laid his arm straight out alongside Illya's injured one, keeping it still in case Illya forgot again, because he couldn't bear Illya's pain. Illya's pain hurt him more than he would have believed possible. He clasped Illya's hand and moved against him, moved inside him and Illya moved too, following his lead precisely, mirroring his every move until Napoleon couldn't tell where he began and Illya ended because after all these years, after all the pain, they were together. Together, forever.

The End

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