Child of Morning, Child of Night—the Epilogue
Napoleon's hands were hot on the insides of Illya's thighs. Illya whispered something in Russian, and Napoleon smiled. Made little circles with his fingers there, where Illya's flesh was so smooth, and so sensitive. Illya's sensitivity still amazed him. His long time partner and new found lover appeared cool and passionless but he wasn't, not at all, he was warm and exquisitely responsive—to him. To him, and only to him. Napoleon was painfully aroused now but he held himself in check because it wasn't time yet, not nearly. He moved his hands up, and Illya jumped.
"Napoleon, Napoleon. Please—" he groaned as Napoleon pushed his legs open just a little bit more. He wished Napoleon would hurry, didn't think he could bear this one more second but Napoleon never hurried, Napoleon always took his time, drawing it out, making him frantic with wanting. Maybe if he—he reached out, to touch Napoleon in his turn, to bring Napoleon to a point where he would want to hurry too, but Napoleon shook his head.
"No," he said and Illya surrendered, clutching at the bedspread instead, letting Napoleon set the pace and finding fresh pleasure in that surrender. Napoleon watched him, smiling again. Illya's head was turning restlessly on the pillow, that magnificent blond hair tumbled around his face. He was breathing deeply, heart pounding so hard Napoleon could see it, in his chest and his throat—he moved up, pressed his lips to the spot under Illya's ear where he could feel the pulse throbbing and Illya cried out at the contact. Suddenly the blood was pounding in Napoleon's veins too, and he ground their bodies together, wrapping his legs around Illya's, feeling Illya's arms go around his neck, hips arching up to meet him. Illya turned his head so their lips met and Napoleon groaned too, into Illya's open mouth, and then the world was gone. They floated, encased in a bubble just large enough for two, their tongues entwined, their bodies close, so close, floating, spinning and floating, clinging to one another, sinking down, and down, and done.
Done. Napoleon lay heavy on top, gasping for air and Illya kissed his cheek. He too was panting and Napoleon rolled off him, gathered him close. Illya sighed with contentment, rubbing his cheek drowsily against the warm flesh of Napoleon's shoulder, feeling Napoleon's hands slide down his back, tighten briefly in a hug then relax again. After a moment Napoleon's breathing evened out and Illya knew he was asleep. He himself was too exalted for sleep.
How wonderful it was, this new thing between them. It had been growing during the last year of fieldwork but neither had mentioned it—it was against the rules, against common sense—against everything. Field partners couldn't be lovers. So they had eyed one another, and wondered, but never spoke. Napoleon had stopped dating somewhere in there, without ever saying anything about it and it took Illya a few weeks to catch on but when he did it sent a thrill through him. Napoleon was—could Napoleon be—or maybe he was just crazy. Crazy to think that Napoleon Solo would ever—but the way Napoleon looked at him was unmistakeable. There was admiration in those brown eyes, and warmth, an intensifying of that brooding protectiveness Napoleon had always shown for him. And then, one day as Illya was laughing at something Jess Coleman, UNCLE's new Chief of Security, was saying to him; as Jess was reaching out and untangling Illya's ponytail where it had gotten caught in his collar Illya had seen Napoleon watching them from across the room and the jealousy was plain to be read on his face. Illya had stepped back, away from Jess, deliberately putting space between them, and then had looked for Napoleon again but he was gone.
It had been that very same day that Napoleon had asked him out—to dinner, at an Italian restaurant he knew Illya favoured. And over dinner Napoleon had looked at him, face dark and intent, and said...
"Did you enjoy the pasta?"
"Yes. Very much. Thank you."
"Do you want anything else?"
"A cannoli, please. And coffee." Napoleon had ordered both, and they had sat and concentrated on their steaming cups for a while. Then Napoleon cleared his throat.
"Ah—I didn't realize you and Jess Coleman were so—were such good friends."
"How good, exactly?"
"Very good. He's a nice man—and he makes me laugh. We bowl on Wednesday nights, and skate."
"Ice skating?" And why was he asking that? What did he care what kind of skating Illya and Coleman did? What he cared about was Coleman's apparent freedom to touch Illya, to stand too damn close to him and touch him and...
"In winter," Illya was saying. "But we rollerblade, too, in the Park. It's fun."
"Fun." And maybe that was it. He felt himself suddenly old—too old to go rollerblading in the Park, that was for sure. "You know he's gay."
"Yes." Illya watched Napoleon finish his coffee. It was rare to see his partner unsure of himself but Napoleon was clearly fumbling, now, to find the right thing to say. Illya's throat tightened, and a wave of tenderness swept him. Napoleon was generally sure of himself because generally Napoleon didn't care, whether the woman said yes, or no—planned to move on one way or the other, sooner or later. For Napoleon to be hesitant meant—must mean—"No. And yes."
"No, I'm not having an affair with him. And yes—to whatever it is you want to ask me."
"How do you—" he stopped. Illya's face was soft, and open—vulnerable. His eyes were very serious. "You know me too well."
"Yes." And then it dawned on him just what Illya had said. "Yes? You said yes?"
"Yes, Napoleon. I've been in love with you since the day we met. So whatever it is—yes."
"You know what it is."
"Do I?" He blushed, because Napoleon, confidence restored, was smiling at him and Napoleon's smile made him weak, made his heart race and his hands shake, made him feel hot, and cold.
"I hope so. Because I am in love with you, too." And it was out in the open at last, the words had been spoken, one to another, and returned and now—now what? "I don't really know what happens now. If things were different—I suppose this is where I would kiss you." He looked around at the crowded restaurant. "But things aren't different."
"I know. If we were alone—" he laughed when Napoleon promptly raised his hand to summon the waiter with their check.
"That can certainly be arranged. We can go back to my place."
"I like your place."
"I do too." He felt foolish, and was glad when the waiter arrived. They didn't say anything further until they were in his spacious penthouse apartment on the upper West Side. Napoleon took Illya's coat, hung it with his own in the hall closet and hesitated. "Do you—would you like something to drink?"
"All right." He accepted the chilled glass and sipped at the ice cold beverage. Then he put it down and looked at Napoleon, to find Napoleon looking at him. At the heat in those brown eyes Illya faltered, moved away to look at a picture on the wall. It was a seascape, wild white topped waves crashing against a rocky coast, dark clouds over head—one ray of moonlight shining through. "This is beautiful."
Thank you," Napoleon said and his voice was so close Illya jumped. Napoleon put a hand on his shoulder, turned him so they were again facing each other. Illya swallowed, and lowered his eyes. "Is this," Napoleon went on, voice very soft now, "where I kiss you?" And before Illya could answer Napoleon did kiss him. He kissed Illya slowly, both hands in his hair, holding him still while his tongue probed, and entered.
Illya tasted like the wine he'd just had, and there was a sweetness under that that was his own and Illya was, he was so very sweet. He wasn't responding to the kiss but he wasn't resisting it either; standing quietly, hands at his sides, head tipped back, letting Napoleon kiss him. Napoleon brought his hands down, moving along Illya's shoulders, gathering him in, holding him close and there was a flicker of a response, a warming, a softening of that cool mouth and then Illya kissed him back, his own tongue meeting Napoleon's and twining around it, body melting against Napoleon's. Finally he turned his head away, ending the kiss but not the embrace and Napoleon kissed that soft, fair hair, coming loose now from its ponytail.
"Yes?" He kissed Illya's hair again.
'I need to talk to you. Before—before we do anything else."
"All right." He released Illya, picked up both glasses of wine and followed him down the two steps into his sunken living room. Illya sat on the sofa, rather stiffly and Napoleon took a moment to light the fireplace before sitting beside him, handing him his glass. "I'm listening."
"I suppose you know that this is the first time I've ever done anything like this."
"I thought that might be so, but I didn't assume it. You're pretty secretive, Illya—it seemed altogether possible that you had a whole other life I knew nothing of."
"Do you see me that way? As secretive?" He had always felt like an open book where Napoleon was concerned, his feelings laid bare for anyone to see.
"Sometimes. I know so little about you, beyond the bare facts in your bio. And even that's unusually sparse—I know you're George Piper's ward, that he raised you from the time you were eight—but I have no idea how that came about"
George. What would George say about this? Illya was pretty sure he knew, and he pushed the thought aside. Later. He could worry about George's reaction later. Right now he had enough on his plate.
"Well, I don't. Have another life. What you know is all there is."
"All right." He moved closer, laid an arm across Illya's shoulders and, when Illya stiffened, tightened it. "It's late to be shy with me now."
"I know." Illya yielded to the silent tug and let Napoleon pull him closer. He laid his head on Napoleon's strong shoulder, and smiled. "If we're going to do this..."
"Since," he amended. "Since we're going to do this, I need to tell you—I mean, I need..." he stumbled, and Napoleon's arm tightened.
"Go on, Illya," he urged. "Because I can tell you right now that all I want in the whole world is to give you whatever you need."
Oh." How nice that was. "Are you really in love with me?"
"Hopelessly. And you?"
"Hopelessly." They smiled into one another's eyes, and Napoleon couldn't help it, he kissed Illya again and this time there was no holding back, this time Illya's lips parted willingly. They kissed for a very long time and when they finished Illya's head came back down on his shoulder as if taking its rightful place there, and Napoleon put the other arm around him and they sat like that, very close, watching the flames dancing in the fireplace.
"I need you to be very careful," Illya said finally. "I need—I need you to be slow, and gentle, and I may need you to stop sometimes. Because—because it's never been good for me, what you want to do."
"Yes. I'm—I'm afraid of it. Not of you," he hastened to add because Napoleon looked stricken. "I could never be afraid of you. That's why—that's the only reason I can do this much. Can kiss you."
"We don't have to do anything further, if you don't want to, Illya. I would never force anything on you, or pressure you or—anything. Surely you know that."
"I do know. But I want to. When you hold me—I don't want it ever to end. When you kiss me," he had no words for that, so he flushed and looked away. Napoleon had to kiss him then, because with his cheeks pink and his eyes downcast, thick gold lashes lying against his fair skin, he was irresistible, just irresistible. So Napoleon kissed him, and Illya's mouth was sweeter than ever and Illya's body was so lovely; hard, pliant, and, right now, yielding. He crushed it against his own.
"So I do want to," Illya continued when Napoleon's mouth reluctantly left his and Napoleon, enchanted all over again by the way he picked up their conversation as if nothing more than a casual greeting had interrupted it, kissed him some more. Illya was laughing a little when they parted. "Are you going to do that all the time now?"
"All the time. And I will be careful, and I will stop whenever you want me to and—and I am so sorry, that it's been bad for you. Do you want to tell me about it? Because I'm here, to listen or—or whatever you need. Illya." He took Illya's hand in both of his. "Forever. I'm going about this backwards, I think. This needs to be said first, before anything else. Forever, Illya. I am here for you—forever."
"Me too, Napoleon." Illya brought his free hand up, touched Napoleon's face, lightly, and Napoleon shivered at the caress. "When you said you loved me, I knew. You're not doing it backwards at all. You told me that first."
"We can't be married."
'I know. That's fine. White's never been my colour." Napoleon laughed, the joy in the sound taking him by surprise and Illya laughed too.
"And you tell Jess Coleman—tell him to take his skates and a flying leap too."
"What do you mean, no? I don't like you spending time with him."
"Too bad," Illya said and Napoleon couldn't help it, he laughed again despite his best attempts to put on a ferocious scowl. "I know you're not really jealous of me because you know better, and I have fun with Jess and I'm not giving that up."
"Well—I didn't like seeing him touch your hair today."
"I won't let him do it anymore. All right?"
"Hmph." He tried again for the scowl but it didn't come off. Illya reached up and kissed him, and then they went into the bedroom.
Napoleon undressed himself first, then Illya, undressed him and removed the band from his hair, running his hands through it, spreading it out on his shoulders. When they came together on the big mattress he showed Illya how good it could be, rejoicing in his response, rejoicing in the whispered repetitions of his name, in the colour flooding Illya's face, in his breathless outcries. He was very slow, and very careful, knowing that the fear was just under the surface, just one rough move away;. He made love to Illya with his hands and his mouth only, saving the final act for another time because they had time, they had all the time in the world. So he took his time, using all his expertise, using all the knowledge of Illya he'd gained over the past years, using all the wisdom his new found love brought him.
Illya moaned, body twisting helplessly under Napoleon's hands. He'd never dreamed it could be like this—although reason and common sense had long informed him that it had to be good because so many people spent so much time pursuing it. But it was so intimate how—how could you do it with a stranger? How—why would you want to do it with someone unwilling? The sight of Napoleon's pleasure fuelled his own, the obvious delight Napoleon took in his response increased it. He shuddered when Napoleon pressed his lips to his stomach, then moved lower, and lower—when Napoleon's mouth closed around him the pleasure was so strong he thought he would faint. He reached for Napoleon, touched his hair with shaking hands and Napoleon's warm tongue caressed him, making him cry aloud. His fingers tightened and, abashed, he removed them because maybe that wasn't right, maybe... but Napoleon groped for him, took his hand, put it back on his head. Reassured Illya gripped it, held it there because if Napoleon stopped now he would die, he would—pleasure building and building, he crying out again and again and then once more, sharply, body arched, ecstasy taking all thought, leaving nothing but—he called Napoleon's name. Napoleon wrapped both arms around his hips, holding him hard against his hungry mouth and then Illya fell back and Napoleon turned, gathered him into his arms, held him against the shudders still racking him, held him as he shivered, pulled the covers up over him and just held him close.
When Illya recovered he proceeded to show Napoleon just how closely he had been paying attention, how well he remembered what had brought pleasure, what had held it off, what had rushed it on. Napoleon tasted good, and Napoleon's hands in his own hair were strong, and gentle too. The act that had always repelled him aroused him instead and Napoleon, feeling it, tugged at his hips, turned him, mouth engulfing him again so they were joined, bodies and hearts celebrating their union, and then they were quiet. Illya came back under the covers, into the shelter of Napoleon's arms and there was one more kiss, soft, lingering, and then there was sleep.
From that day to this one, two weeks later, they had not spent a moment apart except for work, and even there they met for lunch and rode in and back together. As soon as the apartment doors closed behind them they went into one another's arms, and it was better and better each time.
The telephone rang, interrupting Illya's pleasant musings and he turned his head, watching Napoleon lift the receiver. It amused him, because Napoleon, hair rumpled, face creased from the sheets, answered in the same crisp voice he would have used had he been sitting in his desk chair at UNCLE headquarters. "Solo here."
"Solo. Is Illya there?" It was George Piper and he sounded pissed. Seriously pissed. Napoleon frowned at the phone. He had urged Illya several times to call Piper, and each time Illya had demurred, on the grounds that he wanted to wait and tell him in person. Napoleon hadn't wanted to push, but it had seemed to him just a matter of time before Piper heard about them through the grapevine. He handed the receiver to Illya, not glad to be proven right.
It's Piper," he said and watched Illya blanch. He sat up in bed, pushing his hair back behind his shoulders and put his mouth to the receiver.
"George?" His voice was hesitant and Napoleon lay propped up on one elbow watching him. George was loud, and each word came through clearly.
"Tell me there's another reason for you being there at two o'clock in the morning besides the one I nearly broke Frank's jaw for repeating."
"I'll be damned."
"I was going to tell you when I came out there."
"Illya—I know I raised you better than this. What are you thinking?"
"Exactly which syllable of abomination do you not understand?"
"George! Don't—don't call it that!"
"I'm not the one who called it that. The Bible calls it that in case you've forgotten—which I know you haven't!"
Illya twined the phone cord between his fingers and after a moment George went on, his voice a little softer. "Did Solo pressure you into this? Because this can't be your idea. Did he? I'll take care of it, Illya, just tell me."
"No!" Illya stiffened, and his voice firmed. "I love Napoleon. And he—" the bang of the phone on the other end being forcibly replaced on its cradle interrupted him. He stared blankly at the receiver for a moment before letting it drop, bending his head so Napoleon couldn't see his face. Napoleon put both arms around him, tried to embrace him, but Illya turned away. Napoleon patted his back.
"He called us an abomination."
"I heard. Is that what you think?"
"No." Illya looked up at him. "I—no. This—you and me—this is the best thing that's ever happened to me. Well, besides George saving me. Since that. This is the most wonderful—I love you so much, Napoleon."
"And I love you, Illya." He patted his back some more. "With all my heart."
"I know." Illya leaned against him. "And it's such a good heart, so kind and... good. You're a good man, Napoleon."
"And so are you." Napoleon brushed Illya's cheek with the back of his hand. "Illya Kuryakin—you are the finest man it has ever been my privilege to know. It was an honour to work with you, and an even greater honour that you have entrusted me with your heart, and your life. And if George Piper can't see that right now, well..."
"He has to. He just has to—or I can't bear it." His voice shook and he rose abruptly. "I'm going to take a shower."
"You do that." He turned Illya towards the bathroom, gave him a gentle push and waited until he heard the water running before picking up the telephone again.
"Yes?" Piper sounded wary.
"Look, Piper..." bang! The phone was slammed down. Napoleon gritted his teeth and tried again. Busy, this time, so he hung up and waited, snatching it up the moment it began to ring.
"Talk to him, Piper," Napoleon said, talking fast to get it in before Piper hung up again. "I don't like seeing him this unhappy."
"Talk to him." The bathroom door opened and Illya came out, in one of Napoleon's bathrobes, rubbing at his hair with a towel. "Put him on," George snapped and Napoleon held out the receiver.
"George," he mouthed and Illya's eyes widened. He reached out, took it from Napoleon in hands that were not quite steady.
"George?" Napoleon moved a chair up behind him, pushed him down into it and leaned over, not even pretending not to listen.
"You should have told me about this yourself instead of letting me hear it from Frank Jordan. And you know it's a sin, Illya—all those years at camp and church—you know better."
"I know I've never been so happy," Illya said. "And you said I deserve all the happiness that comes my way."
"This isn't what I meant."
"I'm sorry I didn't tell you. I should have. I was—I was a coward, not to. Napoleon kept saying I should and I kept saying wait. I was going to come today—do you still want me there? Is that still my home?"
George snorted. "Of course it is. Don't be so dramatic. You come on out and we'll talk."
"Can Napoleon come?"
"Does he have to?" Napoleon shook his head at Illya, who bit his lip.
"He says no, he doesn't. But—you like Napoleon, don't you? You're always saying..."
"That was before."
"What if I come today and we have supper and talk and everything, and then I can spend the night and Napoleon can come out tomorrow for Sunday dinner?"
"Will you come to church with me? You could talk to the pastor."
"Yes I'll come with you, and no I'm not talking to the pastor." Illya's mouth set. "It's none of his business. He's not even my pastor anymore."
"Would you mind if I talked to him? I'm having a hard time with this, Illya. It's not something I ever expected to have to deal with and—I can't help feeling I've failed you."
"Don't say that! How can you say that? You've been everything for me. If it weren't for you—please don't say that. Don't even think it. It's not your fault—what am I supposed to do, George? Be alone my whole life?"
"Women mean nothing to me. You know that."
"If you'd been adopted by a married couple, like I said in the beginning..."
"Are you wishing you never took me?"
George exhaled gustily. "No, of course not. I'm just afraid it's my fault, that you're—that you and Solo—maybe if I had dated, brought some women into the house."
"It was too late for that before I ever saw you," Illya said. "And I can't wish it different. I'm so happy—or I was."
"You can still be happy," George growled. "You know I want you to be happy. You come on out and I'll fix breakfast. We'll talk—and maybe drive out to the beach. Solo can come tomorrow, after church."
"And I can sleep in my old bed?"
"Yes. I even promise to snore. All right?"
"All right. Thank you. I love you, George."
"I love you too, honey. I can't wait to see you."
But George wasn't there when he arrived. Illya came in, using his own key and looked at the note on the refrigerator door.
Went to talk to Pastor Smith. Back soon. Coffee cake in the fridge. Love, George.
The word love had been underlined and Illya smiled, seeing it. He ate the coffee cake, drank some juice and went upstairs to his old room.
It looked exactly the same. The same four poster twin bed, the same dresser—his awards and diplomas framed and neatly hung on the wall. The photograph of him and George still kept its place of honour over the desk and Illya stared at it, at the thin, fragile looking little boy leaning against the big man sitting in the chair. How young he had been. And how George had loved him. The child in the picture was too pale, and too thin, but his eyes were brilliant with happiness and his whole body inclined towards the man beside him. When had it happened, that he became too big to sit on George's lap, to curl up in his arms? He didn't even remember. Turning, he looked again at the bed, where George had heard his nightly prayers. The maple tree still stood invitingly by his window and he climbed out, climbed higher. The tree had grown over the years, and now he could look down on their roof, look far down the street and, as he had so often during his childhood, he watched for George's car and waited for him to come home.
When the familiar SUV pulled into the driveway George got out, stretched. He looked around, then up, smiled and held out his arms. Illya clambered down and went into them, feeling them close around him. He buried his face in George's neck, breathing the safe, familiar scent of him. "George. Oh, George." He laughed at himself. "Please tell me you're not mad at me. I can't bear it. Look at me." He laughed again. "You yell at me and I'm seven years old." When George didn't answer right away Illya looked into his face, alarmed. "George?"
"Congratulations," George said stoutly. He had been rehearsing the word all the way home. Pastor Smith had not been as shocked and condemning as expected. He was familiar with Illya's story, as George had confided in him often over the twenty-seven years he had pastored their little Congregational Church. "It seems to me you have two choices, George Piper," he had said, after he and George had prayed together. "You can welcome this man into your life—or you can lose your son. And, in Illya's case, maybe destroy him as well. That he can love at all—that he can trust, and enter into an adult relationship—with anyone—is a testimony to your stewardship."
"But isn't it a terrible sin?"
"That is not for you nor I to judge, is it. It is for God to say. And Illya is of an age to have his own relationship with God. He will have to work that out for himself. All you can do is love him."
"Oh, I love him," George said, and his voice was thick. "You know I love him."
"Then go home, hug your child and congratulate him. Greet Mr. Solo, when he arrives, with a handshake and a smile. Trust God for the rest."
"Thank you," George said, and he meant it. "Thank you very much." So now he hugged Illya, and congratulated him and saw his face light up like the dawn, just as it had when he was little and he saw George coming to fetch him after a long day at school. They held one another for a few minutes out there on the green lawn, under the shade of the maple tree, then they walked inside, arms around each other, Illya's body still inclined towards the man beside him.
Illya lay in a pool of moonlight. He was deeply asleep, and George stood over him and had to smile. It was three in the morning, and he had gotten up to use the bathroom and then had padded softly into Illya's room. It was such a joy, to have him here, sleeping in his old bed . He slept as always, curled onto his side, one hand tucked under his cheek, the other outflung; fingers slightly curled, translucent in the moonlight. His breath came easily, softly, and his cheeks were slightly flushed.
He had learned the knack, over the years, of blending in—tying the blond hair which he still insisted on keeping long back into a tight ponytail, tucking that under his jacket collar, maintaining a cool, professional manner. That perfect bone structure had only become more elegant and pure with the years, his blue eyes were still wide and the little slant that had been engaging in childhood now could be positively seductive. George had seen the way Illya looked at Napoleon Solo, had seen it and wished he were wrong or, at least, that Solo's well known romantic proclivities would prevent any reciprocal interest. But it had happened, and neither Illya nor Solo were men to give their affections lightly.
George sighed. The thing was, he did like Solo. He had been glad in the beginning that Illya had an experienced partner, since he had insisted on such dangerous work. George had been well aware—as had the rest of the organization—of the many times Solo had risked life and career to save Illya; had had to be proud, in the long run, of their string of successes. They were the best damn team UNCLE had ever had, and everyone knew it. Yes, he had liked Solo but now—this is a lot to swallow, Illya, he thought. Even for you, it's a lot.
He and Illya had not spoken of it today—had talked of work, and George's church activities. It had been a very pleasant day. They had stayed around the house, and Illya had helped with some repairs George had been putting off . They ate hot dogs and drank beer, and laughed at some television sitcoms before turning to the ball game. And now here Illya was, sleeping in his old room and he had left the door open just as when he was younger and George had too. George bent over, kissed his forehead gently and, half asleep, Illya turned, reached up with both arms to catch George around the neck. George hugged him, and then eased him back down, drew the blanket up over his shoulders, and left as silently as he came.
Church was crowded, and Illya and George sat closely together. Illya watched as two young girls walked solemnly up the aisle to light the altar candles—it was a task he had performed many times in his youth. It was pleasant, being here with George—he sang the old hymns, sharing a hymnal with George, keeping his own voice low so he could hear George's deep bass booming out the familiar words. His mind wandered during the sermon—Pastor Smith was a good man but he was a little slow in speech. Illya thought about his past, and all the years he had belonged to this little church, and about the present—about Napoleon's arrival, which was in two hours and how would that go? George hadn't mentioned it—but neither had he. He was worried, a little, and stole a look at George's face but George was absorbed in the pastor's message and Illya could read nothing there. He sighed, and felt George's surreptitious pat on his knee in response. It would be all right. George still loved him, and that was all that mattered.
As they left the building they stopped to speak to the pastor. George and he shook hands, then Pastor Smith turned to Illya. "Well, young man—it's good to have you back here."
"Thank you." He knew George had spoken with him, and felt awkward. But then, to his surprise, Smith pumped his hand vigorously.
"Welcome back, Illya. Remember that this is your home church, and we are always blessed to see you here."
"Thank you." Something that had been tight within him relaxed. However far he had left his childhood behind, it was reassuring to know the important parts of it were still there. Pastor Smith gave him a pat on the back, and turned to the next parishioners waiting in line.
They had a light lunch—George was broiling steaks out on the grill later, when Napoleon would be with them. When Illya had finished, George put out an arresting hand. "Hold on a minute. I want to talk to you."
Illya regarded him warily. Was George going to start lecturing him about Napoleon again? He steeled himself, but the doorbell interrupted them. It was Mrs. Peterson from down the block.
"Illya—I saw your car and my gutters are all clogged up again. There are plants growing in them for pity's sake. You know I can't climb up there with my vertigo—would you do them for me since you're here? Since my Jack died I'm just at the mercy of those home repair men and who knows what advantage they take of a poor widow. Not to mention how I hate letting strangers inside—please?"
"Of course I will, Mrs. Peterson." Illya rose, not sorry to be called away. "George—Napoleon will probably be here before I get back."
"I won't run him off."
"Thank you." At the door, Illya hesitated. "I suppose you could tell him about me a little," he said, elaborately casual. "I mean—if you want to. If it comes up."
"If it comes up," George promised solemnly.
Napoleon parked in the driveway, behind Illya's car, careful not to block Piper in. He was very unsure of his welcome and didn't want to start off on the wrong foot. Standing on the front walk he looked up at the house. It was small, and neat—he tried to picture Illya here, a little boy, running across the lawn, climbing the big maple tree that shaded the roof. He smiled at the image and when he looked back at the front door Piper was standing there, his expression unreadable. Napoleon straightened his shoulders and went on up. "Mr. Piper."
"Solo." Piper stepped aside and Napoleon came in. He looked around for Illya, didn't see him, didn't like to ask.
"He's helping the neighbour clear her gutters," Piper said, answering the unspoken question.
"Oh." Well, this was awkward. Piper shuffled his feet, plainly uncomfortable too.
"Is there anything I can get you?"
"No, thank you."
"Would you—would you like to see Illya's old room?"
"Sure." Relieved to have a destination Napoleon followed George up the stairs, stood in the doorway and looked around. It was small, and plainly furnished. A single bed, made up with a red corduroy bedspread stood against one wall. There was a desk, and a bureau—shelves lined with athletic trophies and books. "He picked all the furniture out himself," George said from behind him. "Before we even moved in. Especially the bed. He really liked that." Napoleon looked at it again—a small four poster, made from maple wood. He nodded.
"It's nice," he said lamely. The room was clearly untouched from the days of Illya's residency, and that in itself told him a lot. The large portrait caught his attention and he moved over to look at it.
Illya, and George. George, younger but still a formidable looking man, bulking large in the chair he sat in, hair dark brown where now it was iron grey. The child standing beside him was much too thin—hollows in his cheeks, the delicate bones of his wrists showing past his long sleeves. The blue eyes were enormous in the pale little face, and alight with happiness. Napoleon became aware of George looking over his shoulder. "That was taken right after we moved in here," George said gruffly. "I'd only had him about two weeks then."
"I don't want you to think I'm the one starved him like that."
"I would never think that."
"Illya was eight when I got him."
"That's how he always puts it. When George saved me, after George saved me..." Napoleon looked again at the picture. "It must have been pretty bad, whatever his situation was."
"Yes. Here." George hurried from the room, and returned with another framed picture. "This is about a year later. He looked better by then."
He certainly did. Illya was standing with a baseball bat raised to his shoulder, smiling directly into the camera. His cheeks were flushed and glowing with health and good spirits; he was slim still, but that was now clearly a matter of bone structure and genetics, not lack of food. Napoleon smiled too, looking at it. "This is a rare treat for me," he said, and meant it. "Illya never talks about his childhood except to sing your praises."
"Well," George laid the picture down. "He gave me permission to tell you about it, if you want to hear it. It's not a pretty story," he added warningly.
"Anything you're willing to tell me I want to hear. And if you have any more pictures, I'd love to see those too."
"Come on downstairs. I'll open a couple of beers—you drink beer? Or some sparkling fizzy bottled water crap?"
"A beer will be fine."
"I have a scrapbook in my bedroom. I'll bring it."
By the time Illya arrived home, George and Napoleon had polished off two six-packs and were working on the third. Napoleon had deliberately cast off his usual caution where alcohol was concerned and allowed himself to get pleasantly tipsy with this man who, in some way, felt related to him now. George showed him pictures of Illya throughout his childhood—Illya at camp, clutching a raggedy looking grey cat, hair dishevelled, face dirty—and radiant. Illya with his swim team, a skinny little boy wearing blue trunks and a smile that stretched from ear to ear. Illya in the church Christmas pageant, in one of George's bathrobes, holding a bottle of aftershave, a paper crown on that blond head. Illya in his acolyte's robes, blue eyes luminous, the flickering candle reflected in them. Illya holding up his first driver's license, looking more the way he had when Napoleon met him. Illya graduating from high school, and from college. Napoleon had enjoyed the retrospective journey immensely—George was an enthusiastic and unabashedly biased narrator. Now, as Napoleon closed the album, George sighed.
"It all went so fast—sometimes I still expect to walk into that room at night and see him there. He always liked the door open—in the beginning he had a lot of nightmares. He liked to hear me moving around, and snoring after I went to bed. Last night—it was nice, having him there." He gave Napoleon a stern look. "It better not be for the last time."
"Of course not." Napoleon waved a dismissive hand and spilled some beer. He mopped it up with the paper towel George provided. "Illya can come out here any time you want him." He looked again at the album. "He's so happy in all of these."
"He deserved it." George poked under the album's cover, withdrew a small snapshot. "Here's how he looked when I first saw him, more or less." Napoleon took it, and the smile left his face.
The child in the photo was clearly terrified. His eyes were wild and a pair of large hands visible on the thin shoulders held him pinned to the chair. His own hands were cuffed in front of him, his hair was tangled. Napoleon looked at it for a long time. "Tell me," he said finally, and George did. He told Napoleon about Illya's arrest, and detention in UNCLE's medical wing.
"It made me mad," he said and took a long drink from his can. "The way they talked about that poor little kid—like any of it was his idea, or his fault. They even considered killing him but too many people knew he was there. I was supposed to convince him to talk to us—he'd shut his mouth and was keeping it shut. Scared to death of Petrovich."
"And Petrovich was...?"
George told him the whole story, then. He told Napoleon about Ivan Petrovich and the way he had used and exploited the little boy George had met in the hospital room. He talked of the dreadful punishments, finishing his can and popping another. "He was starved half to death, and covered with bruises—and our people calling him names and threatening him." He told Napoleon about his doubts, and about the revelation he'd had while reading his Bible. "Suffer the little children to come unto Me," he said, jabbing his finger into the sofa back for emphasis. "I knew right then and there that God wanted me to take him—that I'd been sent to Russia especially for that." He said all this defiantly, as if daring Napoleon to scoff, but Napoleon only nodded. He understood a little more now what a blow it must have been, for this man to hear about him and Illya.
"I'll take good care of him," he said earnestly when Piper had finished. "I swear to you, Piper—I will spend the rest of my life doing my utmost to make him happy. I know this isn't what you wanted for him—and I'm sorry, for that. But I swear to you, Illya will never have cause to regret it. He will never know a sorrow or a pain that is in my power to prevent."
George was silent. "It isn't what I would have chosen for him," he said finally. "I mean—I always hoped he'd marry, and give me grandchildren. But I couldn't really picture it. He wasn't ever interested in girls—they liked him, though."
"Tell me about it," Napoleon said wryly. "They still do."
"They like you too, Solo. That better be over and done with."
George drank his beer. He couldn't deny that it had been a pleasure to talk about Illya with someone who cared as much as he himself did. And he had always worried about the future, how Illya would manage if—when George was no longer there. Now here was Napoleon Solo, promising to take care of him, to love him and make him feel loved—to protect him. Solo was a strong man, a wealthy and powerful man, a man—everyone acknowledged it—of integrity. A good man. George lifted his beer can in silent recognition of all that and Napoleon clunked his own against it. That seemed funny to both of them and they were still laughing when Illya came in.
He stood in the doorway, so surprised he nearly dropped his keys. George and Napoleon were sprawled out on the couch, beer cans in their hands and a paper bag nearby half full of empties. Napoleon never drank like this—he'd done it to put George at ease, Illya knew it, and the smile he gave Napoleon was brilliant. Napoleon smiled back. Illya was dirty, his clothes rumpled and sweat stained. His hair was a mess and, thinking of the little boy in the pictures, Napoleon laughed out loud. "You haven't changed that much," he said affectionately and George snorted.
"Go take a shower," he directed. "You can't sit at the table like that. Gutters all cleaned out?"
"All," Illya said, starting for the stairs. "And I'm starving, George. Put the steaks on while I'm upstairs." He went on up and George looked at Napoleon, face dismayed.
"I didn't even start the charcoal yet."
"Well," Napoleon said, and struggled to his feet. "I'll help you."
Illya complained, when he came down and was told it would be over an hour before the steaks could be eaten, but Napoleon found him a bag of potato chips, and George pressed beer on him and they watched a ball game companionably enough until dinner was ready. They ate out on the patio and afterwards Illya sat next to George and teased him about the late meal.
Napoleon watched them together. Illya was turned towards George, and his face was bright with happiness. Napoleon thought of the things George had told him. 'It's never been good for me,' Illya had said, and that that had been an enormous understatement Napoleon understood now. He wondered if Illya would ever be ready, to take their lovemaking to that final level, and resolved to wait as long as need be. Forever, if need be.
It was a remarkable story, and George Piper was a remarkable man. Because the little boy in the pictures had been happy. His happiness blazed out of every one of those old photos, and it was all due to the heavyset man sitting next to him now, arm draped over his shoulders. Illya laid his head down on the sofa back and sighed with visible contentment. All was clearly right with his world. Napoleon thought of the child he had been, sleeping in that little room off the stairs, wanting the door open so he could hear the night time noises of the man who had—Illya's word was the right one—saved him. He smiled.
"I guess you two have to get back to the City," George said finally. "It's a work day tomorrow."
"I had fun, George. I'll do it again soon."
"I go to Lake Bell for that conference in two weeks," Napoleon said. "I'll be gone for five days."
"I'll come out then," Illya agreed, then frowned at Napoleon. "But I don't think you should drive. You had—" he looked at the paper bag "a lot to drink."
"You can drive," Napoleon said amiably, and Illya's frown deepened.
"But both our cars are here."
"I'll drive yours in in the morning and take the train back out," George said, then, "unless I can take yours, Solo. I always wanted to drive one of those."
"Sure," Napoleon agreed and George beamed.
"All right then." He walked them to the door, shook hands with Napoleon and returned Illya's extravagant hug.
"No more secrets," he said sternly when it was over and Illya nodded meekly.
"All right. I'm sorry."
"See you at work tomorrow." He tousled Illya's hair, and Illya kissed his cheek.
"I love you, George."
"I love you too honey. Good night." He stood in the doorway, framed by the light coming from the vestibule and watched them climb into Illya's little Saturn. Napoleon got in on the passenger side, and Illya waved once more before pulling out.
Napoleon napped on the way home, window open and by the time Illya pulled into his parking spot in the underground garage he had shaken off the beery mist and was sober once more. He followed Illya into the lobby, onto the elevator. He kept seeing that little boy, pinned to a chair and frightened out of his senses—then seeing George Piper, sitting by Illya on the sofa that night, arm around his shoulder, beer can in hand. And now—Illya unlocked their front door—here they were. It was more than domestic, he thought, watching Illya hang up his coat, cross the room to turn the potted palm so the off side would catch the morning sun. It was downright cosy, he and Illya—his own bachelor days put by, Illya's long solitude ended. They were together. He reached out, caught Illya's arm, and Illya stopped. Turned towards him, walked into the embrace.
"George Piper is a good man," Napoleon said finally, and Illya nodded against him.
"Yes. He told you...?"
"Good. I wanted you to know—it seemed dishonest, that you didn't—but I don't like to talk about it."
"I understand. But Illya—if you ever do feel the need, or even the desire to talk, I hope you know I'm here to listen."
"Yes." Illya leaned against Napoleon and Napoleon tightened his arms, accepting his weight. "Do you know what I want to do?"
"What?" He enjoyed the feel of Illya relaxed against him, trusting him, even now nuzzling at his neck. He squeezed him, and Illya squeezed back.
"I want you to make love to me. You know—all the way. I want to do that tonight."
Napoleon swallowed. Illya could still surprise him. He wouldn't have thought—after the things he had heard that day from George Piper he would never have expected—"Are you sure?"
"Yes." Illya lifted wide, clear eyes to Napoleon's face and smiled. "I trust you. I trust you not just that it won't hurt, but that you'll make it wonderful. More wonderful than I can even imagine."
"Well, as long as there's no pressure," Napoleon said and laughed. He was only half joking. But even that seemed too much for Illya, who bit his lip.
"If you don't want to that's all right, Napoleon. I mean... George told you every gory detail, I can tell. It's all right."
"I know it is." Napoleon squeezed him again but this time Illya didn't squeeze back, he just moved closer. "But if you want to—if this means something to you, right here and right now, then of course I want to. I just hope I can live up to whatever it is you're expecting. We can always stop, if it isn't—just say the word."
"I'll tell you what I'm expecting," Illya whispered, breath warm against Napoleon's throat. "I'm expecting it to make me feel loved, and special—as if I'm everything to you, and not just a pretty receptacle."
"You are everything to me, Illya. That's the truth. And you are special, and I love you so very much—I hope you always feel that, not only when we're in bed together."
"I do. And you too, Napoleon. I love you, and I think you're wonderful. I hope you feel that even when you're away from me, in the car, or at work, or..."
"Taking a breath in and letting it out," Napoleon said. "Your love surrounds me wherever I am. As mine surrounds you."
"Yes. Napoleon—I can barely stand up anymore, I want you so much. Please—please take me to bed. Please love me. He told me no one would ever love me, and then George proved him a liar. For years that was enough, but now I want more. I want you ."
"And I want you." He drew Illya towards the bedroom.
Illya stood still, and let Napoleon undress him—like the first time, he thought as Napoleon gently pushed him down onto the big soft mattress, stretched out beside him. He was naked. When had Napoleon gotten undressed? Napoleon was smooth, he thought, and suppressed a laugh. Napoleon laughed too. "Now you tell me," he instructed, smiling, and Illya felt his lips curve upward at the words. "Tell me if you want me to stop or—anything. Anything you want that I'm not doing, you tell me.
Illya nodded because he knew Napoleon was waiting for an answer, but he had no intention of saying or doing anything to interfere with whatever Napoleon had planned. Napoleon would make it good for him, he knew it. Napoleon knew all about him now, and he would understand how important it was to be careful, and gentle so he would be both.
And he was. As if he knew, without words, that Illya needed to remain in the security of his embrace Napoleon kept him there, leaning over him, pinning him into the mattress with his own strong body. His lips brushed Illya's jaw, his ear, his temple; his fingers brushed the tight opening, preparing him, letting Illya find his own way, following Illya's cues. Finally, at the very end Napoleon settled himself on top, between Illya's legs and Illya opened to him, smiling up into his eyes.
Then Napoleon filled him. Illya cried out, clutching at him, wrapping his arms around Napoleon's neck, his legs around Napoleon's waist, his head falling back as Napoleon pulled him up, hard against him. He would have screamed aloud at the end if Napoleon hadn't been kissing him, but Napoleon was kissing him so he kissed Napoleon back and he was, he was everything to Napoleon as Napoleon was everything to him—as they were all the world to one another.