(Better Cut Off All) Identifying Labels part 2

by ChannelD

Much later, as they sat over a late night supper Napoleon thought of Jess Coleman and had to laugh. I should do something for him, too, he thought, and smiled at Illya. "My love."

"Yes?" Illya smiled back.

"If you should happen to hear I sent Jess Coleman flowers don't be jealous. I owe him a thank you."

"Did he say something to you?" Illya looked indignant. "I told him not to."

"He loves you. Enough to ignore what you said and brave me in my den."

"So you're going to send him flowers?"

"Something showy and totally inappropriate," Napoleon said and laughed again before becoming very serious. "And there is an empty shelf in my living room that cries out for a pot of orchids. Just as there is an empty space in my life that cries out for you."

"Here I am," Illya whispered, and Napoleon removed his grandfather's ring, slid it onto the third finger of Illya's left hand. It was too big, and Illya closed his fist to keep it from sliding off.

"We can fix that," Napoleon said, and Illya's answering smile was radiant.

"And should I be jealous? Not of Jess, I mean, but of anyone?"

"No. No more empty pleasures. After tonight they would be intolerable."

"For me too, Napoleon. And speaking of pleasures—"


"I'm finished eating."

"I'll race you to bed," Napoleon said and Illya knocked his chair over to catch up with him. By the time they reached their bed neither one was keeping track of winners and losers, and once in bed they both won.

Napoleon went to work that Tuesday feeling dazed. Waking up with Illya, opening his eyes to see that familiar profile on the pillow next to him, pulling Illya nearer, feeling Illya turn to him in that first moment of waking as naturally as if they had spent their whole lives thus had filled him with such happiness that he wondered at it. He had always thought himself a man of real self knowledge, but he had been blind after all. Illya had been wiser than he because Illya had evidently known how he felt, what he wanted, all those years they had been together. Had known, and kept it secret for fear of losing what he had. "You loved me even when we were in the field?" Napoleon had asked curiously after shaving and brushing his teeth and Illya, still in bed, had nodded. "And you never said anything?"

"No—I thought you would end our friendship if you knew. To spare me pain."

"Did it bring you pain?"

"Yes—and no. Sometimes."

"Did it hurt you, seeing me with all those women?" He thought of how he had pursued them, kissed them in front of his partner without ever dreaming... "you certainly hid it very well."

"I never hoped for things to be different," Illya explained seriously, sitting up, pushing his hair behind his shoulders with both hands. "I never thought it would be different. And your friendship meant so much to me. You were the best friend I'd ever had. You were so kind to me, and so good—so honest and... you were everything I wanted to be. That you felt so strongly for me—it was a constant miracle. I wouldn't have presumed to want more. What I had was riches."

"Our friendship was riches to me too, Illya." Napoleon sat on the bed to tie his shoes. "I might never have seen how shallow the rest of my relationships were without ours to compare them to." He stopped. "Why aren't you dressed?"

"I'm not going in today. I have to move." Then, suddenly afraid, "don't I?"

"Yes." Napoleon kissed him. "You do. Bring whatever you want. We'll fit it in somehow."

"I won't need much, but still—my clothes and books and some furniture—it will take most of the day."

"I'll leave the address of a moving company I've dealt with. They're the best."

"Thank you."

"And I'll leave the jeweler's card so you can get that ring sized."

Illya held out his hand, cramped from sleeping with it clenched around the ring all night. "You really want me to wear it? On this finger?"

"Yes. I want there to be no doubt in anyone's mind, including yours," he flicked Illya's nose with his forefinger and Illya laughed, "that you are mine."

"Am I."


"Oh." Illya shivered. Jess had been right, then. All Napoleon's drive, his obsessiveness... Jess had had the right word there... was going to be set on him? He shivered again, with pleasure this time. Napoleon was watching him.

"Is that all right?"


"Good. I'll see you tonight." He rose, put on his suit jacket.

"Will you change my address on my records for me?"

"Yes. First thing. You know we'll be a nine days wonder."

"I know. Do you mind?"

"No. Not really."

"All those women are going to be disappointed."

"My women? What about you? Aren't your suitors going to miss you?"

"Greatly," Illya said and they both laughed. "Napoleon—what we did, that first time, and again last night—you know."

"We did a lot of things. And for the record I have a whole long list of things we haven't done yet that need doing."

"I mean that. You know."

"Help me out here, Illya. 'That' could be any number of delights."

Illya was crimson now. "You know."

"You keep saying that. Do you mean" he leaned over and whispered in Illya's ear. Illya blushed even more hotly.

"Yes. Stop saying it."

"Why?" Napoleon sat back down on the edge of the bed, interested. "I know you don't like vulgarities, but that was a perfectly benign description."

"I don't care. Don't say it."

"But you brought it up."

"I know I did. I just want you to know that I hardly ever let anyone do that. You're only the..." he counted quickly on his fingers "fourth."

"Huh. With Jess Coleman being third?"


"Who else?"

"Jeff Hardick? I don't think you know him. He was in my training class when I first joined UNCLE."

"That was a long time ago. No one between him and Coleman?"


"And before him?"

"His name was Don Grant. He was at Cambridge with me. I just don't want you thinking I let anyone do that. It has to be someone I trust."

"But I'm last."

"Yes." Illya smiled at him shyly. "You're last. And..." he looked down, his hair falling forward to hide his face, "best."



"I couldn't hear you."

"Yes you can!" He looked up again, delighted. "You certainly can hear me!"

"Say it again anyway."

"Best. You're the best."

"Well." He was pleased. "You were too."

"Was I?"

"Yes. And that's just technically. It's not even taking into account the fact that I love you. That would make it the best even if it wasn't."

"But it was."

"Yes it was."

"I love you too, Napoleon."

"If I kiss you again," Napoleon said regretfully, "I'm going to be late for work."

"You could kiss me very quickly."

"No I couldn't. If I kiss you again, I'm going to want to touch you. And once I touch you—I'll want to do more."

"What will you want to do?"

Napoleon whispered in his ear some more and Illya covered his face with his hands. "Stop that."

"I'll see you tonight." But as Napoleon was unlocking the front door Illya ran out of the bedroom and into Napoleon's arms, which had opened at sight of him. They kissed for a long time, then Illya drew back.

"I want to always kiss you good-bye," he said breathlessly. "And hello when you come home. All right?"

"What about when I'm home first?"

"Then you'll kiss me."

"All right." They kissed some more. "Now I am late," Napoleon said cheerfully, putting his keys in his pocket.

"I'm sorry."

"Don't be sorry. Look at me, Illya. Seriously." They stood and regarded one another. "You know me better than anyone on this planet. Have you ever seen me so happy?"

Illya smiled at him. "No. Well, you looked pretty happy last night when you..." he stood on his toes so he could whisper in his turn and Napoleon laughed out loud, kissed Illya once more, and left.

He'd only been in his office for an hour when he wondered what he was doing there at all. It seemed ridiculous to be missing Illya, but he was. He left his desk to go to Personnel and change their records, putting his—their—address in Illya's file, adding Illya as cohabitant to his own, and that pleased him so well that he called his condo management and added Illya's name to the deed. He put Illya on his life insurance, and his health insurance. He put Illya's name on his bank account and ordered a bank card with Illya's name on it. And now it was only ten o'clock and the rest of the day to get through.

He wished he had taken off too. He could have helped Illya with his move, although the movers would do the actual work. Illya would only have to direct. But Napoleon wished he could be there all the same. What a long day it was. If Illya were at work, they could at least meet for lunch. Tuesday was their usual day. Hard to believe that a week ago he was canceling so he could work things out in his mind. He thought of their camping trip, and the sight of Illya soaring through space to plunge into that pool. Thought of the two of them naked on that rock, talking and not touching. I promised you a five star hotel next time, he remembered and turned to his computer to make reservations.

The third weekend of the month seemed so far away. Why should they wait? They had just found each other. Why should they be apart day after day? Why shouldn't they have some time together? If they'd gotten married last night they could have taken time off, and no one wonder. Well, let them wonder. Napoleon made his reservations for the next day through the weekend then recklessly added another full week. Twelve days. Not so much, considering how many years they had been apart.

With a pleasant feeling of defiance he struck the key that finalized the arrangement, then called Jake Davenport, his superior, to make an appointment. Davenport would have to clear the trip, but Napoleon was well overdue for a vacation and Illya was too. Napoleon expected no difficulty and there was none, except that Davenport was surprised into speechlessness by the news. After a long pause while he visibly struggled for his composure he very graciously rose, shook Napoleon's hand, wished both him and Illya well, and signed off on their vacation.

"I appreciate you telling me yourself, Agent Solo," he said as Napoleon reached the door. "It was considerate to remember how I dislike being blindsided." Napoleon, who hadn't given it a thought, nodded gravely.

"You're welcome, sir. I'll spend the rest of the day clearing my desk."

"Agent Kuryakin didn't come in?"

"No, sir. He had to arrange for his personal possessions to be moved. I'll speak to Mr. Piper in Laboratory Sciences myself. He and Illya work closely enough so there shouldn't be any problem with him picking up the slack."

George Piper scowled at Napoleon when he entered. He already knew about it, Illya having called him that morning. Illya had been bubbling over with happiness and George had said nothing to dim that joy, only congratulating him and saying he was sure they would be very happy together but he wasn't sure, not at all sure, and that was in his frown now. Napoleon, who was feeling full of good will, ignored the frown.

"Mr. Piper. Good morning."

"If you make him unhappy you'll answer to me."

"What?" Napoleon was taken aback. "I don't..."

"Illya told me all about it. You better treat him right. And keep your damn pants zipped. Illya isn't one of your fluffy little beach bunnies."

"Beach bunnies?" Napoleon, who only dated sophisticated, intelligent, successful women, was bemused by the phrase. But he wouldn't pretend not to know what Piper meant. "I won't. I mean I will—treat him right."

"You better not dump him when you've had your fun like you usually do."

"I won't."

"Yeah. You bet you won't. And don't you yell at him."

"I don't..."

"And don't you make him feel bad. Illya is very sensitive."

"I know."

"Yeah. You better know."

"I do."

"I've never cared much for you, Solo. But I love Illya and I don't care who knows it. Mae and I never had any children, but if I had a son he couldn't mean more to me than Illya does, or be closer to my heart. You fuck around with him and I'll show you."

"I won't." He was touched as well as amused. "You have my word."

"I better."

"You do."

"What do you want?"

"Illya's taking off the next twelve days. He'll be back a week from Monday. I hope that isn't a problem."

"Why isn't he telling me himself?"

"He doesn't know. It's a surprise."

"Where are you taking him?"

"To Alieno's."

"Never heard of it."

"It's a beach resort."

"As nice as the places you take your bimbos?"

"Nicer. Much nicer."

"You told him to move in with you?"


"You better not throw him out on the street."

"I won't, Piper. I've already put his name on the deed. I couldn't. I wouldn't."

"Do you love him?"

"Is that any of your business?"

"Damn straight it is."

"Then yes, I love him."

"You better."

"I do. Can you hold up the department while he's gone?"

"Yes. Tell him I said to have fun."

"I will. Thank you, Mr. Piper."

He had cleared his desk by six-thirty. As he was packing up his briefcase his phone rang. It was the moving company. "Mr. Solo?"


"I know you called this morning to let us know a Mr. Kuryakin would be needing our services?"

"Yes." He had. He'd wanted Illya's call to receive the highest priority.

"Well, he never called us. I didn't want you to think we blew him off. He never contacted us."

"Are you sure? Maybe someone missed a message."

"No sir. I've reviewed every call."

"Thank you." Napoleon hung up and scowled. Why hadn't Illya called the movers? Had Illya changed his mind? The thought made him sick with fear. All the way home he tried to reassure himself. He went over every word they'd exchanged that morning, reviewed those kisses, reminded himself that Illya had actually scrambled out of bed to run to the door and kiss him good-bye. Why would Illya change his mind? Could someone have called him during the day? Coleman maybe? Or could one of Napoleon's women have dropped by? Illya was sensitive, as George Piper had said. Maybe Piper had said something to him that had made him think twice.

By the time Napoleon was putting his key in the lock it was taking all his self control to keep his hand from shaking. Had he been making foolish empty plans all day long? Plans for the two of them, when Illya had already decided he didn't want... a wall of noise struck him as the door opened. Music—loud music. Lots of voices. Blinking, Napoleon looked around the living room. What looked like half of the security section was here—big muscular men, strong, wiry looking women. The stereo was on top volume, pizza boxes and beer bottles were scattered everywhere. And Illya was sitting with his legs folded on the sofa laughing at something Jess Coleman was saying to him.

The relief at sight of him was absolute and Napoleon put down his briefcase, feeling he was laying down a very heavy load. Illya looked up and saw him and his face lit. He came to his feet and for a long moment the rest of the room fell away. The noise faded, all awareness of other people vanished. If someone had snatched Napoleon up at that moment and demanded to know where he was and who else was there he couldn't have answered them. There was only Illya in the whole world—Illya and him. And Illya's face said the same.

They stood there and smiled at each other and it was only gradually that the music, the strong beery smell, the dying conversations gradually swam back into focus. Napoleon cleared his throat and looked around again. It was really only five men and three women, not the crowd he'd first thought. All looked uncomfortable now and Napoleon smiled, wanting to put them at ease. Someone jumped up to turn the stereo off.

"Napoleon." Illya was flushed with pleasure. "You're home."


"I didn't think you'd be so early."

"I hurried."

"I'm glad." They smiled at each other again. "Do you know—I mean, of course you know Jess. And this is Danielle, and Morgan and Darla. Napoleon Solo." Napoleon inclined his head gravely to the three women, and they said polite hellos. He knew them all, of course, made it his business to know everyone in the organization, but the introductions were setting people at ease so he waited through them. Illya was continuing. "And this is Steve, and Nick, and Jason and Stephen. We call him Stephen to keep him separate from Steve. But they're both really Stephens."


"They helped me move."

"Didn't you see the flier I left for the moving company?" As simple as that, then. Relief weakened his knees. All his fears, and Illya had only chosen to have his friends help him.

"Yes I did, Napoleon, but did you look at their prices?" Illya was indignant. "They have a nerve charging that much for a few hours work."

"I see."

"All this crew wanted was pizza and beer."

"Pizza and beer! Pizza and beer!" Coleman started the chant and everyone took it up, waving the items for emphasis. Illya laughed.


"I do. Is there anything left?"

"Oh yes." Illya sat down on the floor and Napoleon sat cross legged beside him. Someone passed him a box with four slices of pepperoni pizza still inside, and Coleman handed him a cold beer. Napoleon thought of the enormous showy bouquet he'd had delivered to Coleman's office that morning, and had to grin. Coleman grinned back.

"I got them before I left to help Illya," he said and gave Napoleon a napkin. "I didn't know you cared."

"I am very much in your debt, Mr. Coleman. I want you to know I am aware of that."

"Just treat him right," Coleman warned and Napoleon had to laugh, thinking of Piper. But Coleman wasn't laughing. "I mean it, Solo. I see any more bruises and you and I are having it out."

"Fair enough." Napoleon raised his beer bottle and Coleman did the same. Their bottles clinked together and Illya, who had been listening to Morgan, turned back.

"What? Jess, what are you saying?"

"Nothing, sugar. Thanking Solo here for the flowers."

"You're crazy, Napoleon. He told me he was sending them, Jess. He told me not to be jealous." Jess shouted with laughter, then someone turned the music back up, drowning conversation. Napoleon ate pizza, and drank enough beer for his head to be buzzing pleasantly.

When people finally started leaving Illya rose. He held open a large plastic garbage bag and everyone pitched in their trash so by the time Jess, who was the last guest, went to the door, all was immaculate. He took the bag from Illya.

"So what'd you think of Nick?" he asked.

"I liked him." Nick was by far the largest member of their party, even taller than Coleman and much broader through the shoulders and arms. "Is he the latest?"

"The latest but not the greatest," Jess said, and smiled fondly at Illya. "But I guess I have to settle now."

"Shut up." But Illya was smiling too.

"Tell me something." Jess jerked his head at Napoleon, who wanted to pretend not to listen but couldn't take his eyes off Illya's face because Illya's beauty took his breath away, and how had they worked together so long and his heart stayed his own? "Do you let him..." he leaned forward and whispered. Illya pushed him away, hard.

"Shut up! It's none of your business! And don't say that word! And yes. Now go home. I'll see you tomorrow."

Napoleon cleared his throat. "No you won't," he said and both turned to him.

"What do you mean?" Illya's eyes were very wide and Napoleon wished Coleman would leave because he wanted to kiss Illya, to fall into those eyes again, to take him, flushed and rumpled as he was, with pizza stains on his shirt and beer on his breath and bring him down onto the carpet... he cleared his throat again.

"Because we're going away. To the beach. For twelve days." For the first time he faltered. Illya looked so surprised, and maybe he should have asked Illya. He really should get used to consulting with Illya instead of just ramming his own plans through—but then Illya smiled again.

"Really? We're going away? Together? Tomorrow?"

"Yes, if you want to. I can change it if you don't." But Illya's face was glowing, and Napoleon relaxed.

"Of course I want to! That's wonderful, Napoleon. I missed you so much today I didn't know how I was going to stand it."

"I missed you too. That's why I did it."

"On that note," Jess said rather pointedly, well aware that both of them had forgotten him, "I'll make my farewells. Illya—I'll see you when you get back. Have fun."

"Thank you, Jess. And thank you for helping me today."

"Any time little brother," Jess said, and kissed Illya's forehead. "Any time at all. Goodnight. Goodnight, Solo."

"Goodnight." Illya closed the door behind Jess and turned, his heart beginning to pound at the look on Napoleon's face. He came closer and Napoleon untied his hair, spread it out on his shoulders. Illya reached up to stroke Napoleon's face, and Napoleon took his hand, kissed it. Then he stopped.

"Where's your ring?"

"I took it to the jeweler this morning. He said it would be about a week."

"Like hell," Napoleon said, and led Illya by the hand into the sunken living room. He pulled Illya down onto the couch beside him, picked up the phone. Illya curled up against him with a sigh of contentment, and Napoleon put an arm around his shoulders. "Gracie's Jewelers? Napoleon Solo. Illya Kuryakin brought a ring by for sizing this morning. You told him a week. You were unaware that it was my order? Yes it is. I understand that but now you know... yes. That will be acceptable. Thank you." He hung up. "They will deliver it within the hour."

"They will?" Illya looked at him with respect. "Then I can wear it on our trip."

"Yes. Illya—sweetheart—we could have afforded the moving company. I mean if you wanted to do it with your friends because it was more fun that way or what have you that's fine, but please don't think the money matters."

"But Napoleon—it would have been nearly five thousand dollars!"

"You," Napoleon told him, tightening his arm so Illya's head was securely held in the crook of his elbow, beginning to stroke Illya with the other hand, finding ways inside his clothing, hearing Illya's purr of response with satisfaction, "have a lot to learn about being the pampered darling of a wealthy and powerful man."

Illya shook with laughter and for a while couldn't answer. "Pampered darling? Is that what I am?"

"Among other things."

"What other things?" He opened his legs so Napoleon's questing hand could reach him better, and gasped when it did.

"My sweetheart, and my partner..."

"Mmm. Do that again, Napoleon, that's really good. Tell me more."

"Love of my life, keeper of my heart, source of erotic pleasures hitherto undreamed of..."

"I love you too, Napoleon," Illya whispered, lying back, pulling Napoleon down on top of him.

"When the mover called," Napoleon whispered in return, settling himself very carefully on top, taking his weight on his elbows, kissing Illya's throat, "and said they hadn't heard from you I was afraid—I was so afraid you'd changed your mind."

"I'm sorry." Illya turned his head so Napoleon's lips could caress the side of his neck. "I didn't."

"I'm glad. Illya, if you ever want—I mean, I don't want you to think—if you decide you want to be the one who—the one on top..." he swallowed because the very idea made his palms sweat with nervousness but he felt he should offer... "just tell me."

"No. I don't want to. It would make me think of... make me feel like... no. I don't want to. But thank you." That Napoleon had offered such a thing touched him so deeply it was almost painful. He put his arms around Napoleon's back, raised his hips, offering in his turn, moaning softly when Napoleon accepted his offer and again Napoleon couldn't tell where he ended and Illya began, and it didn't matter in the slightest because at the core they were one.

The lobby buzzer roused them and Napoleon went to the intercom, answered it, admitted someone while Illya lay against the cushions and waited. After a moment Napoleon opened the front door, spoke briefly, and closed it again. Coming back over to the sofa he sat beside Illya and took his left hand, again sliding the star sapphire onto the third finger. It fit perfectly this time, and Illya held his hand out, admiring it. "It's beautiful, Napoleon."

"It was my grandfather's. I always thought of your eyes when I looked at it, although I didn't know why. It made me uncomfortable, actually, and then I persuaded myself that it was because I was so secure in my own masculinity that I could think that way."

"And now?"

"Now—I'm secure in us. What more is there?"

"And have no fear, Napoleon." Illya leaned his head against the sofa back and smiled. "You're very masculine still."

"Well, thank you. Illya—tell me something."


"Before he left, Coleman called you little brother."

"Yes. He told me he'd think of me that way, and did that make it all right for him to still love me."

"What did you say?"

"I said yes, of course. Love hasn't come my way so often that I'm turning it away. And if it's like that, like he's my brother, well, that has nothing to do with us, does it."


"Well, then."

"It's just that earlier, when Piper was reading me the riot act—"

"I was afraid of that. You weren't offended, were you? It's just because he cares about me."

"He doesn't care much for me."

"I wouldn't say that."

"You wouldn't. But he did."

"Oh. I'm sorry."

"It's all right. He thinks I might not be good for you—or to you."

"He's wrong, Napoleon." Illya looked at him very seriously. "You will be good to me. I know it. I'm not worried in the least. I trust you."

He had to draw Illya close, at that, and hold him fast. "I will, Illya. I swear it. I will never give you cause to regret entrusting your life to me."

"I know. And I'll be good to you too, Napoleon."

"Will you? My life is so dark, sometimes, all ambition and work—and intolerance for anyone else who falls short. You seem so bright, so full of life and laughter—and yet you're as dedicated to your work as anyone I've ever known. I don't know how you do it. Will you bring me your sunshine, Illya? Will you teach me to laugh and play and help me make a life outside of work?"

"I had no idea you felt that way. Your life always seemed so ordered to me. You had a place for work, and for dating—you slotted me and our friendship in so neatly—it never seemed dark to me. And I'm not as light as you think. I have dark places, weak places. I want to—to get inside your strength, to feel it close around me and keep me safe."

"You'll come inside and bring your brightness with you," Napoleon whispered. "And we'll both be safe, and happy. We'll laugh..."

"And play..."

"And make love..."

"And work..."

"And you'll understand my work, won't you Illya? You won't resent it, or mind when it consumes me?"

"No. And if it consumes you too much I'll draw you back out to me."


"Is this what you wanted to ask me about?"

"No, although it's good to put it all into words. It's so good, Illya, that there is this trust between us. It's always been there, from that very first day."

"Yes. I looked into your eyes and you were so kind, and so good—I was really nervous about working with you. Everyone said you were terrible."

"Everyone was right. I was terrible. But you never saw that, did you, sweetheart. You looked at me and made me want to live up to whatever it was you were seeing. You looked at me as though I were a hero."

"You are, to me. I couldn't imagine what was wrong with everyone, to talk about you that way. You wanted the best from them, just as you gave the best of yourself. And you were right. The job—the job was important. It required the best. I was glad that you demanded that from me. I was proud to give it."

"And give it you did," Napoleon whispered. They were very close now, Illya's head on his shoulder, Illya's hand still clasped in his, his other arm around Illya. "And your best mingled with mine—and we were the best."

"Yes we were."

"We were the best team they ever had. Even Waverly said so."


"Piper talked about you as if he were your father. He said if he had a son he couldn't be closer to his heart than you are."

"George said that?" Illya flushed with pleasure. "How nice."

"What about your real family, Illya? That's what I wanted to ask you. Why do you feel the need to acquire family through your friends? You know all about me. I've told you everything. But I know nothing of your past. Your records are coded so deeply I still don't have access to everything. For all I know you sprang into being fully grown at Cambridge."

"In a way I did."

"Tell me."

Illya was silent. There was no question of not answering, of course—Napoleon had asked and he would give Napoleon what he wanted, as he always did, but it frightened him. Napoleon was bound to think less of him. Who wouldn't? Even though it hadn't been by his choosing, he had been a whore. He had slept with all those men for—well, for whatever his uncle got from it. But he had pleasured them for money. Had exerted himself—for money. Had done whatever filthy thing pleased them—for money. But Napoleon had just spoken of trust. "You might not love me anymore, if I tell you," he said, trusting Napoleon with his fear. Napoleon's arm tightened.

"I will," he said, and kissed Illya's temple. "Of course I will. I don't give my love lightly, Illya—and it's not conditional. I've opened my heart to you, and you've come inside. You're safe there. The walls have closed up behind you and nothing can open them again. I promise." He'd never thought of Illya as being insecure. Fragile, Coleman had called him, and Napoleon hadn't been sure what he meant. He'd thought maybe Coleman was referring to Illya's appearance. Illya had always struck Napoleon as being supremely self possessed and confident. But now he was trembling, and he had drawn his knees up as if trying to get even further into their embrace. Napoleon wrapped him up, holding him hard against his own body because something important was coming, he could tell and he wanted it to come because there should be no secrets between them.

"When I was little I lived with my uncle," Illya began, and shivered violently. Napoleon gently disengaged himself, got up, and started a fire. He poked at it until it was roaring, throwing off waves of heat, and then he went into the bedroom and got an afghan. Coming back he wrapped Illya up again, closing them both up inside the cover, shocked at the iciness of Illya's hands, his blue lips, his chattering teeth.

"Yes, that much I know from your file. Your parents died, and your maternal uncle raised you."

"Yes. And he—he hurt me."

"I'm sorry."

"He hated me—and he hurt me. He hurt me all the time. I don't know why. Except that he liked to. And when I was six he raped me."

"Oh, no. When you were six?"


"You must have been so little. And so scared."

"I was scared. And he was heavy—he crushed me. I couldn't even breathe, not really. Even when I was older, he was so heavy. I always hated having him on top of me. It was like I was nothing, under him. He didn't care if I could breathe or not—sometimes I thought I was dying. I never ever let anyone do that, before you. Even Jess. I almost killed Jess one day for being on top of me and not getting off when I told him to. He didn't know why, of course. But I did."

"I'm sorry." Napoleon thought of their lovemaking and stroked Illya's hair. "I'm sorry if I do that to you. I didn't know."

"I like it when you do it," Illya said, and Napoleon hugged him. "Your body on mine—it's so sweet, and strong—it makes me feel safe. Don't be sorry. If I didn't like it, I would tell you. But I do like it. I'm not nothing, under you. I'm—it feels like I'm everything."

"You are."

"Then when I was about twelve, he—he sent me to someone else. Another man. He told me to be nice to him."


"Yes. I didn't know what he meant, at first, but when that man looked at me I knew. I knew what he wanted, so I did it." He swallowed, then forced the word out. "I was a whore."



"No. You were a child. You were a victim. There was no one to help you, was there."

"No. My uncle was a powerful man, high in the Party. Everyone was afraid of him. My teachers knew—they had to know, I was always coming to school bruised and beaten—but they could do nothing. Anything they did would have made it worse—for me, and for them. But they arranged things so I could get away, to school. They wrote the letters, and recommended me, and gave me the forms to fill out, even though it would have looked much better for them if I went to a State university. I will always be grateful to them.

"But Napoleon—I need to tell you. The first time I did what that man wanted because I knew I had to be nice, and he gave me money. It wasn't as bad as it was with my uncle, and he gave me money. I knew I needed money if I was going to get away. I'd need to buy a plane ticket at least, and who knew what else. So I took his money, and I remembered what he liked, and the next time I did it again. I got very very good at it because the better I was, the more money I got. I was a whore."

"No. Not a whore, Illya. And not even a victim. A child in an intolerable position who took the reins into his own hands. Because you won, didn't you. You saved your money, and you got away."

"Yes. When I was seventeen my teachers told me I had the scholarship to Cambridge. A full scholarship—roomand board as well as tuition. All I had to do was get there. And I had enough money for that."

"Good for you."

"Really? You really think so?"


"I let them touch me. I let them give me pleasure. It felt so good, to have someone touch me gently—and it gave me something to think about besides them. And they liked it. They always gave me more money for it. Is that still good for me?"


"I'm glad that you're petting my hair. It makes me feel like you still love me."

"I love you, Illya. My heart is broken for that frightened little boy, and filled with admiration for the way you got out—and for the man you became."

"Thank you. I did want to be a good man. When I read Plato, and Marcus Aurelius—and history texts—I knew I wanted to be a good man. Not a cruel man, or a bully, or a pimp. But a good man, an honorable man whose word could be relied on."

"You succeeded brilliantly."

"A man like you."

"You do me too much honor."

Illya shook his head. "Do you want to hear about the day I left?"


He told the story and, to his own surprise, when he told how he had threatened to kill his uncle he began to laugh at the memory of his face. "He was amazed. He'd never once thought that I hated him. I could see it in his eyes. He never once thought of me as a human being at all. When I started throwing things at him he barely got out of the way in time, he was so amazed that I was doing it at all. If his—his furniture had suddenly risen up and attacked him he couldn't have been more astonished."

Napoleon smiled, still stroking Illya's hair. "What a monster he must have been, to treat you that way." He could almost see Illya as he must have been back then, when he was six—with those big blue eyes, that soft blond hair—a fairy tale child, a tiny thing because he was so small now, pinned under the weight of a grown man, tortured for that man's pleasure... "I am so sorry."

"Thank you." Illya snuggled closer. It was wonderful, to be comforted for his uncle's actions, to be held and patted, soothed and... and now Napoleon was rocking him and that was wonderful too. "And you don't mind that I took their money."

"Good for you."

"Or that I liked what they did."

"You didn't like it, not really. Would you have continued on with it if you had a choice? A real choice?"

"You mean if it weren't for him making me?"


"No, of course not. I hated them, really. But my body liked it."

"That's perfectly natural."

"He found out, from one of them. It made him so angry—he didn't want that from me, he didn't want to please me, he wanted to hurt me and terrify me and shame me. But it made him feel cheated somehow anyway. He..." Illya's voice dropped, and Napoleon had to put his head down to hear him. "He locked me up—he had this little metal storage shed and he locked me in there all day long. It was so hot—I was so thirsty, and I could hardly breathe..."

"Illya—you're lucky he didn't kill you." I'm lucky, he thought, and pressed his lips to the top of Illya's head.

"I couldn't even move. I was lying on the ground because there was a tiny little crack there and I had my face pressed to it. I cried, and I begged him to let me out and then after a while I couldn't even do that. I don't think I've ever suffered so much. It was pitch black in there except for that little strip of light underneath, and you'd expect the dark to be cool but it wasn't, it was hot and heavy and suffocating. I had to think about every breath, force every breath, and it hurt my chest—people say I'm brave, Napoleon, because when we've been captured or whatever I could act like it didn't matter but that's because nothing could have been worse than the things he did to me. Nothing could have been worse than that day lying in that little shed, dying. I knew my body was dying, I could tell and I didn't want to die. I wanted to live. It seemed so sad that I was dying, that my life had brought me nothing but suffering and fear and shame... that all my hopes and dreams were ending there in that dark place where I was all alone and no one had ever loved me." His voice trailed off and he lay for a long time in Napoleon's arms while Napoleon stroked his hair and rocked him and said nothing. Finally Illya sighed. "Can I have something to drink please?"

"Sure." Again Napoleon left the soda, and returned with a glass of ice water, the cubes crackling and dancing in the clear liquid. Illya drank deeply and burrowed back under the afghan, back into Napoleon's arms.

"When he finally opened the door I couldn't help it—I was glad to see him. He picked me up and I held on to him—I couldn't help it, even though I hated him, even though I knew he was just going to hurt me more I couldn't stop holding on to him and then he..." he began to cry then, abruptly, harsh racking sobs that sounded as painful as the memory that evoked them. "You're not going to let go of me, are you, Napoleon? You're not going to suddenly decide you've heard enough and let me go are you?"

"No, sweetness. I'm not."

"He stood there and he put his mouth on mine and stuck his tongue in my mouth. I always hated that, and I still did but I couldn't help it—I sucked on his tongue like I was dying of thirst."

"You were."

"I know, but it shamed me so much to do it and he was laughing at me. He carried me into his bedroom so I knew what was coming, he never brought me there unless he wanted to do—that, and he had a glass of water by his bed and all through it he drank his water and then let me suck it from his mouth. I was grateful for it even though I was ashamed... I hated him so much, Napoleon. How could he face me when I was grown, and be surprised that I hated him?"

Napoleon shook his head, and kissed Illya's cheek. "I don't know. How could he have done that to you? I don't know."

"I told him I was leaving, and I stole his money. When he tried to stop me I threw rocks at him until he went away, and then I ran. I ran away from him and his house and I never looked back. And in school, in England, when Carl wanted me, I thought—why not? It felt good, I liked it—and now I was the one to say what we did and what we didn't do. I never let anyone crush me or take my breath, and I only let people I trusted do that—why not?"

"No reason on earth why not. Good for you."

"Yes." Illya smiled a little. "Good for me. And now—now we're together."

"Yes we are."

"And you still love me?"


"Respect me?"

"More than ever. Because I always knew what a fine man you are, but I had no idea of the terrible road you had to take to get there."

"Thank you. I love you, Napoleon. I never thought I could ever tell anyone about him. I thought he would be my dark secret locked inside me forever."

"Well. I love you too, Illya. I never thought I could be like this—" he tightened his arms. "I never knew I had this in me. Thank you for bringing it out."

"You're welcome. Are we really going away tomorrow?"

"Yes. I'm sorry I didn't discuss it with you first. I should have. It's going to take some getting used to, this business of being a couple."

"We are a couple, aren't we."


"It's all right that you surprised me. I like it when you surprise me. Do you still want to make love to me? Even though now you know everything?"

"Do you really want me to? Don't feel you have to, just to please me."

"So you don't want to?" Illya looked anxious. "You don't have to pretend. It's all right."

"I want to." He caressed Illya gently. "I will always want to. Observe," and he took Illya's hand, placed it on the evident proof that he wanted to, and Illya smiled. He stroked it, and then Napoleon stood, took Illya's hand when he too stood. "I have to take care of the fire," he said. "You go on ahead."

"All right." Illya went to the bedroom, pulled off his clothes. He got into bed, and when Napoleon came in about fifteen minutes he was carrying a new glass of water which he put in Illya's hands. Illya drank while Napoleon undressed, and then they were together in the big bed. Napoleon kept it light, teasing and tickling, rolling Illya over, playfully pretending to pin him, allowing himself to be pinned in his turn, but when Illya rolled them over again Napoleon hesitated.

Illya pulled him down until Napoleon's full weight was on him and it was sweet, so sweet. They sealed their mouths together at the end and Napoleon sucked on Illya's tongue as if it were he dying of thirst, and when it was over Illya slept in the close circle of Napoleon's arms, and Napoleon slept wrapped around his love, and both were smiling.

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