Illya's breath was warm on Napoleon's throat, their bodies pressed together. Illya's ponytail tickled Napoleon's palm where it was clamped around his partner's waist. Illya, fine boned and slim, was feather light in Napoleon's arms but insubstantial, too, as if he might slip away at any moment and disappear. Napoleon tightened his grip. They had been alone in the tiny elevator; Illya standing by the control panel, Napoleon lounging against the back wall when the building shook as if hit by a gigantic fist, swayed, shook again. The elevator leapt upward then dropped. There was free fall then the rear of the car was caught—and held—by the emergency brake. Napoleon grabbed onto the center pole, saw Illya hit the call button before the floor buckled and with a hideous sound of shrieking metal the car broke up.
One minute Illya was standing right in front of him, the next he was falling. Napoleon leaned out, one hand still gripping the bar and caught him, arm around Illya's waist, getting a clear view straight down the shaft. He pulled Illya back in, hard against his own body, Illya's arms around his shoulders. The remainder of the elevator plummeted down, and it was a dishearteningly long time before the crash came to their ears. It had been the hotel's pride—an Art Deco masterpiece, shaped like an elaborate bird cage. Now all that remained was the center pole, the roof, and the floor directly under Napoleon's feet. There was no other footing that he could see. Maybe he was wrong. "Illya."
"Yes?" Illya was being as still as possible, not wanting to disturb Napoleon's balance.
"Please tell me there's something under you." Illya peeked, his eyes confirming what he already knew.
"No. Well—air. Lots of air." He felt Napoleon shift position, getting his bearings.
Napoleon considered. He could lower Illya so he was standing on Napoleon's own shoes, but they were dress shoes, with a high gloss. They would be treacherous footing, and if Illya slipped he would be out of reach too quickly. No. Illya needed to be higher up on his body, and better supported. It would help if he could take some of his own weight. "If you reach up very slowly with your right arm," he instructed, "behind my head, I believe you can get a hold of this bar too. It's as solid as anything else around us, and if it goes this whole thing is going with it anyway. Put your other arm around my neck."
Illya did, gripping a decorative curlicue, hoping it was firmly attached, trying to lift some of the strain off Napoleon. It was awkward though, his wrist taking the brunt of it, and he knew Napoleon was still half carrying him. Napoleon changed his own hold just a little, his arm against the small of Illya's back now and they were looking directly into one another's eyes. "Well." Illya gave him a rueful smile. "This is unfortunate."
"Yes." To say the least. "Do you have your communicator?"
"Yes. It's in my inside jacket pocket."
"Do you think you can activate your emergency signal? We need to alert someone that we're here and we need help."
They certainly did. Illya released the bar and Napoleon's arm tightened fiercely. Illya held on around Napoleon's neck with all his might while he reached in his jacket. "Done," he gasped. "Back the way I was?"
"Yes—now." Napoleon pushed upward on Illya's back and Illya managed to grab hold of the bar again. The entire structure swayed and they looked at each other with increasing dismay. "Illya."
"Behind me and over my head—what do you see?" Perhaps an opening to which he could boost Illya, who could climb out and then...
"The steel walls of the elevator shaft," Illya said flatly and Napoleon felt a first touch of despair. This really might be it. He could see no way for them to free themselves, and the odds against help coming in time were—well, who knew? Anything could be happening outside. Right now he felt powerful, and capable of holding on for both of them—holding on to Illya—forever. But that was from the initial surge of adrenaline. How would he feel later? Tomorrow? And that was assuming their situation remained stable, which it very well might not. As if in confirmation the metal above them screeched and both looked up, then back at one another.
"You could hold on for longer without me." Maybe he should just let go. This was really an untenable situation he had put Napoleon into.
"No. And don't try anything funny. Because my first, instinctive response will be to grab onto you. With both hands."
"You can't hold on forever." Illya abandoned the idea of trying to slide out from under Napoleon's arm. "If you let go of me, you could get a better grip and then you could..." he was silenced by Napoleon's mouth on his and, too surprised to react he let Napoleon kiss him. Napoleon did it thoroughly, not deterred by the lack of a response, kissing Illya slowly, as if they had infinite time and finally Illya's lips softened and warmed under his and then Illya kissed him back.
"Why did you do that?" He rested his head on Napoleon's shoulder and breathed in the good clean scent of him. But he could feel, too, the first faint trembling that showed the enormous strain on Napoleon's muscles. He tried to put more weight on the bar.
"Did you like it?"
"I did it because in the face of imminent death my chief regret is that I never—we never acted on those feelings. That attraction, between us."
Illya swallowed. They had never discussed it—this awareness each had of the other, that fairly crackled in the space between them. "There were good reasons for that."
"Not any more. Not since they reassigned us and broke up the team." This was supposed to be their last "mission", this weekend symposium on organizational restructuring. Anticlimactic, really—typical of everything these days. Their last field assignment, the end of their partnership. The last time they would travel together, stay together—UNCLE always reluctant to pay for two rooms when one would do.
Napoleon had resisted this, at first—had considered paying for his own room but that might look as if he had personal issues with his new partner and he didn't, of course—he liked Illya, what he knew of him. Over the years that initial liking had grown, deepened and lately he had hoped that with the work part of their relationship ended, perhaps they would—could—have more. Now here they were, perhaps only their next breath away from dying, and if not now, when? So he had kissed Illya, and spoken of the formerly unspeakable and now nothing was the same between them. He was newly aware of Illya's body, right up against his, each embracing the other, and what a lovely body Illya had. He sighed.
"It's still inappropriate," Illya was saying, voice uncertain now.
"Maybe. But I find, as I contemplate my own mortality..."
"We might be rescued."
"I know. We also might plunge to our deaths at any moment. That's why I wish you'd let me finish."
"I'm sorry." He tried once more. "If you could hold on with both hands you might be able to..." Napoleon kissed him again and Illya surrendered.
"No. Stop saying it."
"All right." How strong Napoleon was. That first moment, when the floor had disintegrated from under his feet had been one of cold terror, and when Napoleon had snatched him up he had clutched at Napoleon without thought. Even though it would have been better if Napoleon had missed, with his grab, because this couldn't end well; even now he couldn't help being grateful for the strong arm around his waist, the powerful body he was pressed against, the muscles under his arm and his fingers. Under his feet there was nothing but in Napoleon's arms he was safe, despite the swaying elevator cage, despite the constant unnerving scrape of metal on metal.
"Inappropriate." Napoleon sounded reflective.
"And are you content to sacrifice our life's joy to that?"
"Our—our life's joy?"
"Is right here," Napoleon said and managed to give Illya an extra squeeze. "Right here. You know it. I love you."
"I love you too, Napoleon." Illya turned his head, pressed his lips to Napoleon's neck. "And all my life's joy is here as well."
"I wish—I really wish the circumstances were different." He thought his heart would break, saying it, trying to keep it light, wondering how exactly it would happen. Wondering if it were his fate to have Illya slip from his grasp, either through the failure of his own body or another jolt from the structure around them; his fate to watch Illya fall—or would they go together, shaken loose, plunged into the darkness below, no doubt to be impaled on the remainder of the car at the bottom of the shaft? His grip tightened convulsively. Then a curious blip came to his ears and he blinked, looked around. "What..."
"It's my communicator!" Illya released the bar, groping in his jacket pocket. The sudden shift caused his body to swing out, out of Napoleon's arm, towards the void. Napoleon grabbed him back and Illya clung to him, gasping.
"Don't" Napoleon began and had to stop. "Don't do that again. Did you respond to the signal?"
"Yes. They're close, Napoleon..." a clanking rattle interrupted him and both looked up to see a giant metal hook lowering itself, hooking onto the ribs that formed the delicately curved roof, and lifting.
It happened so fast—as the cage pulled away their perch swayed and spun. There was nothing to do but hold on as tightly as possible, Illya with both arms twined around Napoleon's neck now, Napoleon's against his back, the other still clamped around the pole. Napoleon managed to hook one leg there too, as they ascended. Then they were out in the blinding sunshine, and cheers came from below. Napoleon hung on grimly. The street was alarmingly distant, but then it wasn't quite so far, and then they bumped against the ground and he let go. Both of them sprawled onto the concrete. They were surrounded by passers by, who were in turn quickly moved aside for UNCLE's medical team. He and Illya were strapped to stretchers and lifted into the ambulance. As they pulled away Napoleon looked at the paramedic.
"Earthquake. A small one, really, but it rattled a few bones all right. You guys were the worst of it."
"Is my partner all right?"
"You're both fine. I doubt they'll keep you. Hope you didn't have any valuables in your room. Hotel's off limits right now."
"No," Napoleon said, because it was the truth. "I left nothing valuable behind." He looked over at Illya, and their eyes met. Napoleon smiled. "Hey," he said softly.
"In the nick of time once more."
"Yet again," Illya agreed. Napoleon was smiling at him and his eyes were so warm—Illya blushed, under Napoleon's warmth, and looked away. Napoleon lay there and watched that delicate profile, thinking about second chances, and about his life's joy.
The cabin they were offered as a substitute for their original room was dismal—a former gardener's shack. It contained a double bed, a battered dresser and matching night stands, one with a broken leg. A tiny bathroom with a tin shower barely large enough to turn around in completed the accommodations. Napoleon scowled. This was not at all what he had in mind for their first night together. "It's not even heated."
"But this is California!" The agent smiled widely, wiped his bald head. "Land of sunshine!"
Dank and cold still in mid April—"I'm sorry. This is not—"
"You must understand, Mr. Solo that rooms are at a premium now with so many having to leave their homes. UNCLE has done the best it can..."
"The hotel needs to do more. I intend..." the front door burst open and Illya came in.
"Napoleon," he demanded. "Did you see? We're right on the beach—that back door opens into a sand dune!" He smiled brilliantly at the agent, who beamed.
"That's right, Agent Kuryakin, that's the spirit. What can't be cured, you know..."
"I know," Napoleon said resignedly. He looked around the room again, with its shabby wallpaper, faded by the very sunlight Illya was even now bringing in by throwing open the shutters. "Please let there be screens at least," Napoleon murmured and Illya stopped, turned. Looked around again, seeing things through Napoleon's eyes, and flushed.
"Well then. That's fine." He was sorry, that he had put a cloud on Illya's pleasure. He smiled, wanting to reassure him but Illya frowned.
"We don't have to, if you—but you haven't looked out the back yet."
"All right." He walked to the door Illya was anxiously holding open for him, and did indeed nearly stumble into the sand. Beyond the tiny square of yard, fenced off and planted in various wild grasses lay the Pacific Ocean. The sun slanted fiery red glints off its restless surface and Napoleon had to shade his eyes. He looked up the beach, and down—it appeared deserted. "Quiet spot."
"The estate is closed right now—it is not quite the season, you understand."
Cold, and dank—he did understand. But Illya, who would travel for hours just for the chance to swim off a crowded public beach, was enthralled. "See, Napoleon?"
"Really?" Illya's relief was palpable.
"Yes." He smiled again, to prove he meant it. And he did mean it. He abandoned his fantasy that he and Illya would take that final step—that first step—on expensive linens, surrounded by every accouterment of luxury. Because Illya liked being here, and he wanted above all to give Illya whatever he liked. He looked at Illya's face, bright with pleasure, and it was wonderful. Wonderful that they were alive, wonderful that they were together. Alone, together, as soon as he got rid of the agent, which he did; signing the agreement, accepting the keys. Finished, he came back over to join Illya at the back door.
"I have to say, Napoleon, I prefer being on the ground floor. Just for a little while."
"So the next earthquake can bring in a tidal wave to sweep us away."
"Don't even say that!" Illya pushed him. "What a terrible mind you have."
"You have no idea," he said, and looked Illya up and down, slowly, deliberately, remembering how it had felt, to be so close.
Illya didn't move. In a way, the floor was gone from beneath his feet again; the comfortable security of his friendship with Napoleon suddenly shaken. Napoleon's romantic track record didn't inspire confidence and yet—"I love you," Napoleon had said and as far as Illya knew Napoleon had never said those words before. He wouldn't say them lightly.
"Come with me," Napoleon said then, and held out his hand. "Let's explore our beach."
Illya hesitated for another long moment, regarding Napoleon's outstretched hand. A thousand questions rose up, arguments, barriers—fears. Napoleon seemed to understand, reaching up instead to stroke the loose hair back from Illya's face. "You will never regret it," he promised, meaning—so much. Meaning that he would wrap Illya up in his own personal power, and wealth, indulge him and guard him and cherish him. He would devote the remainder of his life to making Illya happy. All that was in his voice, and his touch—in his eyes and Illya looked into them and nodded. Under his feet there was nothing again, but Napoleon's eyes promised everything.
"Yes," he said and Napoleon leaned in to kiss him. It was brief, and sweet, and when it was over Illya took his hand and they walked down to the water's edge. They left their shoes and walked along the shore, ankle deep in cold salt water, occasionally soaked to the knees by an errant wave. They walked very close together, shoulders brushing, hands still clasped. Illya sighed. "I wish we didn't have to attend that symposium tomorrow," he said and Napoleon shrugged.
"Then we won't. The doctor warned us we might be sore. He said not to hesitate to let him know. Seems to me a day off isn't that much to ask for, after today." He tightened his hand and Illya squeezed back.
"Really? We don't have to go?" To spend the day here, with Napoleon—he smiled, and Napoleon was delighted.
"No we don't. I'll call my doctor in the morning and he'll fax over a medical leave form and we'll just spend the day resting up."
"I'd like that." They had turned, and were at the cottage again.
"Good." He opened the door and Illya started to go in. Then he gave an exclamation and headed back towards the beach. Napoleon's arm shot out and he caught Illya around the waist, pulled him in hard, just as he had done before.
"Oh," Illya said, rather faintly, and then Napoleon's other arm was around him and Napoleon was kissing him, hard this time, bruisingly hard and Illya's whole body responded to it, melting, knees weakening—he managed to get his arms around Napoleon's neck and clung to him. Napoleon's hands were moving now, one up Illya's spine, making Illya arch against him, trapping Illya's head in the crook of his elbow, still kissing him while his other hand moved down to grind their bodies together. When Illya's legs gave way Napoleon moved him backwards enough to deposit him in a kitchen chair, where he left him while beginning to close the shutters.
"Where did you think you were going?" he asked, amused. Illya's hair was loose now, spilling onto his shoulders, his mouth still bore the imprint of Napoleon's kisses. He was watching Napoleon with wide, startled eyes.
"Um—I don't—oh. I was going to get our shoes."
"You were." Napoleon was startled in his turn. "Right—we left them on the beach."
"I was afraid the tide would take them away in the night."
"You are absolutely right." Napoleon bent over, kissed him again—hands behind his back, sending his tongue exploring this time and Illya's mouth was so sweet—he groaned with pleasure at his sweetness, touching Illya's tongue with his, coaxing it back into his own mouth. Sucking on it, his legs in danger of buckling now so he drew back, a last brush of lips and then he straightened, shaken. What would this be like, what could it possibly be like—he cleared his throat. "I'll—ah, I'll get them. Wait here." He hurried, wanting to get back, wanting to find out just how it would be, making love to Illya. Illya making love to him. He picked up the two pairs of shoes and carried them back to the cottage, banging them together to knock off the loose sand before bringing them inside.
Illya was in bed. He had been wondering just how they would make that transition, worrying a little so when Napoleon left he pulled off his clothes, looked around blankly, realized he had no pajamas, of course, had nothing, so he grabbed for his clothes again but at the sound of Napoleon at the door he dropped them and dove into bed, under the blankets, jumping at the feel of the cold sheets.
"Well," Napoleon said, seeing him there. "That was quick."
"Um..." Illya slid deeper under the covers. "We have no pajamas."
"True." He unbuttoned his shirt.
"Well—I just thought I'd remind you. Before you undress all the way."
"I know. But I didn't realize..."
"We don't need pajamas." He finished folding his pants and sat on the edge of the bed, naked. "Are you going to let me in? Or are you going to play hard to get now?"
"Yes. I mean—no. Of course not." He was mortified and looked away.
"Illya. Look at me." Napoleon tugged at the blanket and Illya released it, still keeping his face averted. He felt Napoleon come in beside him, the resulting flood of sensation overwhelming, disorienting. He was falling again, but safety was near at hand so he reached for Napoleon, the scent of him, the feel of him reassuringly familiar even as the strangeness of bare flesh against bare flesh made him tremble. Napoleon was talking now, his voice soft, telling Illya it was all right and it was, of course it was. Napoleon caressed him, hands skimming across his body, memorizing every contour and memorizing, too, what Illya liked, that Napoleon's mouth on his stomach made the breath catch in his throat, that just by trailing two fingers up the insides of his thighs they would part for him.
He settled himself carefully, smiling down into Illya's face, kissing his cheek, his nose, his forehead, looking into his eyes for a long moment before kissing them closed and then their bodies met and were one. The ground disappeared from under them once more but they weren't falling, they were flying, wrapped around one another, mouths together, tongues joined, each gripping the other with everything he had and when it dissolved they were left on the lumpy mattress, still entwined.
Illya's breath was warm on Napoleon's neck, and their bodies were pressed together. His head was securely tucked into Napoleon's shoulder and Napoleon was stroking him lazily, pleased with himself because he had undoubtedly made it good for Illya and nothing, now, would part them. Even as he thought that Illya sighed, turning even more fully into the embrace, which tightened.
"I love you, Napoleon. And you won't regret this either. I'll—I'll do everything to make you happy."
"I am happy." He tugged at a strand of Illya's hair. "I am happy with you."
"I'm happy with you too. And thank you."
"Don't mention it."
"I mean for before. In the elevator."
"I know what you mean. Don't..."
"You saved my life."
"You saved mine long ago," he answered, thinking of the man he had been assiduously striving to become—unmoved by softer emotions, utterly dedicated to his work. How bleak it seemed to him now.
"Yes. From my ambition, my drive to power."
"You still have a lot of both." Napoleon was heading towards great authority and high position—Illya knew it as surely as Napoleon himself did.
"I have enough of both."
"Enough?" Illya drew back a little to see his face. Napoleon looked at him soberly.
"You told me once there was no such thing as enough."
"I was wrong." He gathered Illya in again because this was enough, the two of them together; they would make a world of their own and it would be enough. More... he kissed Illya's lips before letting sleep take him—than enough. Illya moved a little closer and then he fell asleep too.