A Beautiful Team
"Do you believe in love at first sight, Mr. Solo?" the elegant woman asked him. Surprised by the question, Napoleon fought the impulse to look towards the buffet table, where his partner, Illya Kuryakin, stood talking with a group of co-workers. Instead, he looked into her violet eyes and smiled.
"As it happens, I do." Again he resisted the urge to look at Illya. "Why do you ask?"
He didn't really listen to her response, something to do with the latest movie hit. Love at first sight. He had never believed in it, scorned it as just another cultural myth. Then one day, years ago now, Alexander Waverly had sent for him.
"I am tired of your excuses," Waverly had said tartly. "I have assigned you a field partner, like it or not. Make it work, Mr. Solo. Illya Kuryakin is the cream of our recruitment crop. Read his file before he arrives at your office this afternoon. I am depending on you."
Like it or not, Waverly said, and he didn't like it, not one bit. He preferred to work alone, or at the head of a team. But he had been outmaneuvered this time, so he retired to his office to read Illya Kuryakin's file.
By the time his secretary announced his new partner's arrival, he had gained a grudging respect for the man whose accomplishments made such impressive reading. Brilliant, no doubt, and with great self discipline. Top of all his unarmed combat classes. Speaking more languages and dialects than Napoleon himself. And so young—Napoleon shook his head. An asset—or a liability? Impossible to decide without meeting him. So when his office door opened Napoleon rose, and looked Illya Kuryakin over closely.
Fair skin, blond hair worn too long and tied back in a ponytail, neatly tucked into the collar of a lab coat. Blue eyes. Slight build—Napoleon thought again of those unarmed combat reports.
"An advantage, no doubt," he said out loud, and Illya tipped his head sideways.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Your appearance. You look harmless. An opponent would tend to underestimate you. But I've seen your files."
Color rose, warming and flushing up Illya's face, making him look even younger. He bent his head, then gave Napoleon a sideways look through his lashes. "Do you want to know something else?" His voice was soft, the accent light and pleasant. Intrigued, Napoleon came out from behind his desk.
"Well—I shouldn't really tell you this, but..." he looked up at Napoleon now, eyes wide, those thick lashes, only a shade darker than his hair, coming down again to cover them. Napoleon moved closer, leaned in.
Illya stopped batting his eyelashes and gave him a wicked smile instead. "You're rather vulnerable right now."
And damned if he wasn't. Napoleon laughed, a short, startled sound. "So you're aware of your advantages—all of them."
"One uses the weapons one has," Illya said, and smiled again.
"You came to this meeting armed?"
"I've heard about you, Mr. Solo. Word is you don't want a partner at all. I, too, would prefer to work alone. Mr. Waverly disagrees."
"Mr. Waverly," Napoleon began, and stopped. "Has an annoying little habit of being right most of the time. He thinks we will do well together." Reaching out, he took Illya's hand, as if to shake it. "What do you think?" He was exerting all his charm now, focused on Illya as if he were the only person in the universe. Their eyes met, and held. Napoleon swallowed.
Illya's eyes were beautiful, the blue of an autumn sky, wide and clear with an intriguing little tilt at the outer corners. The planes of his face were pure—he was very lovely, his new partner. Napoleon felt as if he were falling into those eyes, as if Illya's hand, warm in his own, was sending out an electric message that his whole body responded to. His grip tightened.
"I have been an enforcement agent for years," he said, not knowing he was going to say it until he did. "The assignments I am given are dangerous—far more dangerous than someone at your level of experience would normally encounter."
"Yes. So I've been told."
"I will do my utmost to both prepare you, and—and watch out for you."
"And I will watch out for you."
"Will you." He moved closer, looked harder into Illya's eyes. They gazed candidly back at him, and he could read not one thing in them. "You'll guard my back?"
"And I will guard yours."
"All right." There was a pause, but not an awkward one. Illya made no attempt to free his hand. It was Napoleon who let go, to pick up the communicators on the desk. They were standard issue, each one able to send and receive to all frequencies, but each one also with a direct line to the other—invaluable when time was of the essence. He tucked one into Illya's inside jacket pocket.
"Now that we've exchanged our vows," he said, smiling again, and Illya smiled too. He took the other communicator from Napoleon's hand. Napoleon stood very still, looking down at that blond head while Illya slid the device into his vest pocket. "As long as we stay alive and the mission permits," he added. There was a long silence while they just stared at one another. Then Illya smiled, a slow smile of such sweetness that it pierced Napoleon to the heart.
"For as long as that," he agreed, and they shook hands, solemnly, before going their separate ways.
Explosions lit up the night, as the chemical plant burned. The two men, crouched at a safe distance behind a rock wall, grinned at one another. Firelight shone in their hair, their teeth flashed white against the black camouflage paint on both their faces. Napoleon lifted one hand high in the air, and Illya slapped it. The mission had gone flawlessly from inception to this final cataclysm. Furthermore, it was only the latest in a series of successes. Their partnership was well on the way to becoming legendary.
"To think," Napoleon said, fastening his seat belt and checking his reflection in the passenger side mirror, "that I didn't want a partner."
"Neither did I."
"Another one for Waverly. Speaking of whom..." he opened the overseas relay. Illya drove, window down, hair blowing. Napoleon smiled at him. He reported in to Waverly, voice crisp, and Waverly's satisfied exhalation filled the car.
"Excellent, Mr. Solo. Good work, both of you." It was a rare accolade and Napoleon basked in it for a moment, still smiling at Illya who was smiling too, now.
"Thank you sir."
"You will fly out tomorrow morning. Report directly to me."
"Yes sir." He disconnected. "It appears we have the night off."
Illya came in to their hotel room and saw no one. Not surprised—he had watched Napoleon chatting up the pretty barmaid—he dropped his jacket onto the bed nearest the window. Napoleon always claimed the one by the door, never forgetting that he was the senior partner, that ultimate responsibility rested with him. Illya smiled at Napoleon's suitcase, on the other bed. Dropping his shirt to the floor, he stepped out of his shoes and pants. Naked, he went into the bathroom.
Hot fragrant steam obscured his vision and he backed up, fast. Something shifted in the fog and he knew the way Napoleon moved, so when he was grabbed and put against the bathroom wall he didn't resist. Napoleon's voice came right into his ear.
"This better be my partner."
"It is. You're crazy. I thought you were going out with that barmaid."
"I didn't really feel like it." He released Illya, but didn't move away. The steam had cleared out by now and Illya could see him clearly. Napoleon was naked too, his hair still wet and sticking up at awkward—and endearing—angles. The sight of him made Illya's legs weak, and he was glad he was still leaning against the wall. Napoleon, deceptively trim in his expensively tailored suits, was powerfully built. His skin gleamed in the half light and those dark eyes—they were gleaming as well. Illya could feel the color rise in his face because Napoleon was looking him over too, every inch of him, and making no attempt to conceal the open appreciation on his face. Napoleon took a step closer, which brought them very close indeed, and Illya looked up into his face, into his eyes. They were hot, and Illya's whole body responded to that heat. When Napoleon reached out his hand Illya stared at it, spellbound. It was as if he couldn't move, or was it just that he didn't want to move? Didn't want to interrupt this, didn't want anything to stop it.
Napoleon touched his hair, damp from the steam, and Illya swallowed. Every nerve in his body seemed to quiver at that touch. Napoleon drew his hand back, water droplets on his forefinger, and licked them off. Illya swayed towards him. Only a breath separated them. Only a breath between them—and an act that would change everything. He was painfully aroused and that made it hard to think—made it hard to breathe. Napoleon too was aroused. Illya realized he was staring and looked back up, in time to see Napoleon lean closer still, eyes openly drinking him in. Illya tipped his head back, and Napoleon kissed him.
Not a change at all, Illya thought, his head falling back as Napoleon's mouth moved softly on his own. Not the start of anything new, but a continuation of the pas de deux their partnership had become. He lost himself there, for an unknown time—lost everything except the firm warmth of Napoleon's mouth, the scent of him, the taste—he wanted more but then Napoleon straightened.
"If we do this," he said, voice hoarse, and Illya saw that his fists were clenched at his sides. "Can we absolutely guarantee that it won't make a difference? In the way we work together?"
"That's not a fair question," Illya said, and was surprised by how calm his voice sounded. "Absolute guarantee—what does that mean?"
"It means are you one hundred percent sure that on some visceral level our actions—and our reactions—won't be altered by what we seem about to do tonight?"
"No. Of course not. But—"
"They'd want to separate us."
That was true, of course. Illya nodded. Very carefully, without touching anywhere else, he laid his head down on Napoleon's shoulder. Napoleon turned his own head, and Illya felt those warm lips brush his temple. They stayed like that for a little while longer, and then Illya went on into the shower, and Napoleon went into the bedroom, as both had intended.
When Illya emerged Napoleon was in pajamas and bathrobe, sitting at the small table and reading the paper. He looked over it and smiled. "Hi. I've ordered dinner in."
"Good." He got into his own pajamas, and when dinner came he fell on it hungrily. Napoleon was laughing at him before he was finished. Illya pretended to be offended, and Napoleon swatted at him with the newspaper. They watched television for a little while, both yawning, and then they climbed into their respective beds. Illya lay on his side, back to Napoleon, listening to him breathe in, and out, and in...
"The moonlight is turning your hair to silver fire."
He nearly choked, and slid further under the covers. But his voice, when it came, was neutral. "Thank you."
"Goodnight." There was another long silence. Then, "Napoleon?"
"I like hearing your breathing in the night."
"Well, thank you."
"Goodnight, Illya. Sleep well."
"I will," Illya said, and he meant it. He always slept well when they were together. "You too."
"I'm sure I will. I'm with my favorite person in the whole world, and no one's currently trying to kill us. I'm good."
His face was so hot he turned the pillow over, seeking a cooler surface. "Thank you. Um, you're my favorite person too."
"Waverly knew what he was doing."
"Yes." And then there was silence.
Napoleon lay awake for a long time, watching the figure in the next bed. The current that had sizzled between them on that first meeting had nearly caused a conflagration tonight. That kiss—he touched his tongue to his lips, remembering. He was hard again and he reached down, stroked it consolingly. Illya had been hard too, for him, wanting him. He gave his organ a final pat and lay back, waiting for it to subside. What would it be like? Illya—how beautiful he had been, standing there with the light turning the drops of water in his hair to diamonds. How he had leaned into Napoleon's body, as if drawn, will-less and willing, towards his embrace. The infinite trust in that blond head on his shoulder, the sweetness of it. The promise. No words had been exchanged in that moment, but promises had been made.
The moon was behind clouds now, casting a series of shadows across Illya's hair. A great wave of longing rose up in Napoleon's heart, a need so powerful it seemed incredible that he would stay here, alone, watching Illya sleep so chastely in his own bed, and not bridge the space between them, pull Illya's body up hard against his, silence anything Illya might say in his own open mouth. Would Illya's voice be so cool and uninflected after that? They said, at headquarters, that Illya was cold and he could be, no question. You wouldn't be cold with me, he thought, and hunger rose again, a dark, swelling force. You're vulnerable to me, I've seen it. I'd melt that permafrost and then I'd... Illya stirred, then, stretched, rolled over. He pulled one arm free of the cover as if it were too warm, and then subsided. Napoleon could see his face now, pale and serene against the pillow and the moonlight shone on his out flung hand, curved fingers almost translucent in the glow. Tenderness closed his throat and he couldn't look away, couldn't think, could barely breathe. Illya, he thought, and the name hung in his mind, glowing too. Illya, I would be so good to you. You have no idea. I'd be—I'd be wrapped around your little finger, if you only knew it. He sighed, punched his pillow. Tomorrow they would fly back to New York, and there would be a new mission, and it would start all over again. But someday... he shivered away from the making of future plans. When every mission could be lethal, when you weren't sure at the rising of the sun whether you—or your partner—would live to see its setting, you didn't make future plans. This moment right here, lying right here watching the shifting shadows on Illya's face, was all he had. It was all he might ever have. It would have to be enough.
The first thing Illya saw when he opened his eyes was Napoleon, sitting in the chair beside his hospital bed, watching the door. The relief at sight of him was absolute. If Napoleon was here, if they had let him in, then it must be nearly over. Illya shifted position and winced. He hurt everywhere. Thrush's goons had worked him over savagely—no sophisticated torture techniques for this crew. They had jabbed their needles into his arm with needless roughness, and every shouted question had been punctuated by the sickening thud of fists on flesh. The drugs had been strong—the aim being the destruction of his mind as well as the extraction of information. But rescue had come in time—Napoleon breaking into his cell and taking him out. The mission must be over, too, or Napoleon wouldn't be here.
UNCLE's inquisitors had put him through their own wringer, question after relentless question but at least nobody was hitting him, and twice now they had yielded to the insistence of their doctor and let him sleep. It was really very straightforward—the drugs had been strong, and the punishment brutal, but they had only wanted to know one thing, and Illya hadn't known it. He didn't know, he had only been the driver. Thrush could give him all the drugs they pleased, they could beat him until the least movement hurt, until the dark bruises spread and covered his skin, but he didn't know. He had finally convinced them, and now apparently he had convinced UNCLE too. Because someone in intensive debriefing didn't get visitors, and here Napoleon was. Illya watched him for a little while longer, and then came a tap on the door.
Napoleon got up. "Come in," he called softly, then, as the nurse entered he turned to see Illya awake and watching him.
"Illya. Illya—I am so glad to see you conscious." He tousled Illya's hair.
"I didn't know where the hideout was, and that's all they wanted," Illya said as the nurse wrapped a blood pressure cuff around his arm. Napoleon patted him.
"I know. And it hardly matters now—everyone from both camps is accounted for, and no messages went out before it happened."
It hardly mattered? "Then why have they been hounding me ever since I got here?" He waited until the nurse had left, and looked accusingly at Napoleon. "Well?"
"I know." Napoleon patted him again. "You know how it is. They have to be sure, and they have to evaluate you—the important thing is it's over now. You're getting out of here today."
"Good. I've thought about my apartment this whole time." He had. Quiet, uncluttered—his apartment was a refuge to him at the best of times. Now it beckoned with a siren's call. "I can't wait."
"Oh." Napoleon shifted in his seat. "Well, as to that..." he was interrupted by the arrival of Illya's doctor with a group of students. They surrounded Illya's bed, and Napoleon was pushed aside. He added something, but Illya couldn't hear him over the conversations around him. He sat up and tried to see him, but only the sight of the door swinging shut met his eyes. He sighed, and lay back down, resigned to their poking and prodding, relieved to think it was for the last time.
Napoleon rose from a seat in the hospital lobby and came to meet him, smiling. Illya smiled back, glad to see him there. "Hello."
"Hello yourself." Napoleon took his overnight bag from him. "Why aren't you in a wheelchair?"
"I was, in the elevator. They let me out at the door. I'm just taking a cab home, nothing strenuous."
"Well, Illya, I was thinking.
"Well, I was hoping, actually, that you would consider coming home with me. You're off all weekend, aren't you?"
"Yes. Three whole days in a row, if you count today. I must have looked really bad coming in."
"You still don't look great." Napoleon frowned at him. "What do you say?"
Illya regarded him. He had been entirely set on going home, on walking in his own front door to his own place. Now he considered. Home with Napoleon instead. He would be wrapped in luxury, he knew, ensconced in Napoleon's guest bedroom on a great antique sleigh bed with a feather mattress—he had seen it, on his occasional visits. Expensive linens, antique crystal for his meals. The absolute silence of a well constructed building. His own building was noisy. And Napoleon would pamper him disgracefully, he knew that, too. It was a weakness in him, that he relished it. On the other hand, Napoleon no doubt had questions of his own. He would want to know how Illya felt, what they had asked him, how he had been treated. He would want to apologize, that he had indirectly been the cause of Illya's capture, that Illya had been taken to use against him. He would feel guilty, and need to express that, to seek absolution and reassurance—Illya sighed. It sounded so much easier to just go home. He looked at Napoleon again.
Napoleon frowned, watching Illya consider his offer. He stood there, slim and elegant in his dark suit, only the rigidity of his posture betraying the pain he was in. The left side of his face was darkly bruised, and there were more, deeper bruises on his arms and legs—Napoleon had seen that much during his vigil at Illya's hospital bed. They doubtless covered his back and abdomen, too. 'Nothing more than a good old fashioned bare knuckle bashing' the doctor had assured cheerfully and Napoleon, who had been on the receiving end of those himself, winced in sympathy. Why was it taking Illya so long to make up his mind? "Come on," he said abruptly. "I have a cab waiting." He took Illya's arm and steered him towards the door, deliberately not looking at his face, ignoring the faint resistance to his pull. He opened the cab door and put Illya's bag in. Without another word Illya climbed in too, and Napoleon followed. He gave his address to the driver.
Inside Napoleon's penthouse apartment Illya was fuming as he shrugged out of his jacket and tossed it onto the sofa. Napoleon picked it up and hung it in the closet. "They won't give you any pain medication because of the drugs Thrush gave you," he said. "But a hot bath will help—and I have some lotion for those bruises. Then you can nap. You didn't sleep too well at the hospital, I hear."
"It all sounds like too much trouble. I'll just go get in bed now. That's what I was going to do as soon as I got home, not that you gave me the chance." His voice was sharp—he was angry with himself, for being so pliable, and irritated with Napoleon for taking over as usual. And now Napoleon was going to start bossing him around. He reached for his bag, and stared with indignation when Napoleon held it out of reach.
"It won't be any trouble at all." Napoleon's voice was soothing and he took Illya's arm again, guided him into the bathroom. "You just get undressed and I'll do everything else. You'll feel better afterwards, Illya, you'll see." He turned on the tap and hot water gushed into the enormous tub. "Now you just get in—do you need help with your clothes?"
"No!" Illya snapped. "I don't need help with my clothes, I don't need a bath, and I don't need you hovering over me! Go find some other way to absolve yourself. It was an assignment, that's all, just another mission and... and..." he didn't really know where he was going with that, and his heart smote him at the look on Napoleon's face. He was tired, and it even hurt to breathe much less carry on this discussion, and now he had hurt Napoleon's feelings.
"I know. But this will be better, Illya, I promise. Now come on..." Napoleon was immovable, behind his easy manner and Illya knew it. Sighing, he undressed and climbed into the tub. The hot water made him groan aloud with relief as he sank back, and Napoleon smiled. "See?"
"Leave me alone." He sounded sulky, he knew it and didn't care.
"All right. Whenever you're ready put on one of those robes over there and come out. " He waved a little tube. "I have the super strength prescription ointment for you."
"I hate that. It gets all over my hands and I can never really reach the sore spots and I hurt myself trying. Get rid of it."
"You won't have to do a thing," Napoleon promised him. "Call me if you need any help."
"All I need is some privacy, if you don't mind."
"I don't mind at all."
Illya washed himself as best he could with the big sponge provided, and then lay back again. It felt good, no denying it, and he hurt so much—he moved a little to ease the sorest spots at the base of his spine, where they had kicked him repeatedly. The water helped, and he slid deeper. He was tired of being beaten up. Sometimes he felt he couldn't face another mission, another frantic adventure, another beating. More drugs. He couldn't. He... he sank a little deeper in the water, head resting comfortably now on a cushioned shelf, body buoyant, aches relieved. He was drifting off, eyes closing, and it felt so good—there was a blank spot in time and then the bathroom door banged open again.
"Illya? Are you all right?"
"Cold," Illya said because he was, the water had cooled while he slept and now he shivered. "I'm cold, and I'm tired, and..." Napoleon was lifting him out of the tub by the elbows, rubbing him down with a big rough towel.
"Okay," he said, and his voice was very gentle. Illya sighed. Why was he making things so difficult? He was here now, for better or worse, and it would be so much easier just to relax into Napoleon's gentleness. So he let Napoleon rub his hair, and then drape a robe around his shoulders, watched Napoleon spread a sheet on the floor. He was disoriented from his brief nap and it was good to lie down, face down, on Napoleon's thick carpet. Napoleon pulled the robe away and climbed on top, straddling him.
"Am I too heavy for you?"
"No." Napoleon wasn't. His weight pressed Illya down, making him feel safe, the linen was smooth on his bare skin, making him feel cherished.
"Good." There was a brief pause, while Napoleon squeezed ointment onto his hands, then he set to work.
Bliss. It was bliss. Illya lay there and felt Napoleon's strong hands rub his shoulders, sliding smoothly over his skin, the lotion leaving a tingling warmth that took the pain and buried it deep, so deep he couldn't feel it anymore. Napoleon's hands moved down his back, along his sides. He found the sore spot on his tailbone and applied direct pressure with one palm, the ointment removing the pain, Napoleon's hand removing the sting of memory. He rubbed Illya's arms, and his legs, his feet and his buttocks, working the muscles. Then he turned Illya over and started again, chest and stomach, hips and knees, around his genitals without touching.
But it was already too late. The electricity that passed between their two bodies had awakened and Illya was fully aroused. He had tried to ignore it, told himself it was a normal physiological response, nothing more. But he couldn't ignore it. He was breathing in deep gasps, his body responding helplessly to Napoleon's touch. When Napoleon shifted position to lie beside him he moaned, beyond thought, beyond shame, beyond everything except his body's clamorous need. "Napoleon..."
"Do you want me to take care of that last sore spot?" Napoleon murmured directly into his ear. His hot breath there made Illya catch his breath. "Illya—I won't unless you say it's all right."
"I don't want you to do anything you don't want to do. It's all right. It'll go away by itself." He listened to his own voice incredulously—how had he managed to put that sentence together? And how calm he sounded—and what a liar he was.
"I want to," Napoleon said and his voice thickened. "I want to, Illya. But not without your say so."
Oh, he ached for that touch, long, slow waves of arousal running through him, cresting in that place where Napoleon's hands had come so close, so close without touching... "Yes," he whispered and Napoleon closed his hand around him there, slick with oil, hot, and strong. He clutched at Napoleon, wrapping both arms around his neck, body turned entirely into his body now, Napoleon's hand moving faster, fingers squeezing—he reached down with his free hand and cupped Illya's balls, rolling them in his palm.
Illya gasped, shuddered as the waves built, crashed, tumbled him under again, and again. Finally he was lying on the shore, ripples under him and in him and all through him. Napoleon got up, there was the sound of water running, then he was back. The washcloth was warm, and a little rough. Napoleon's arms were warm too, and not rough at all. Illya reached out and his hand was taken, cupped in Napoleon's own, and then he let sleep pull him down.
They stayed around Napoleon's apartment all day Saturday. It was raining, and Illya was still moving carefully, so Napoleon cooked omelets and toast and they ate cozily in front of the fire. They spoke little. Illya seemed content to just relax in this quiet, safe place, padding around in his bare feet and pajamas, hair hanging loose down his back. He didn't mention the night before and when Napoleon, unable to leave it alone, offered another massage he turned crimson and shook his head. Napoleon didn't press. The same difficulties remained, nothing had changed. But it was a pleasant day. Napoleon cooked dinner, too, and Illya perched on the counter stool and watched him. He had been reading, and still had one finger holding his place in his book. Napoleon turned the steaks.
"There's wine chilling, if you want some," he said and Illya obligingly got the bottle and two glasses. He poured one for Napoleon and, as he handed it over, their fingers brushed. Their eyes met. Napoleon set his glass down.
This is how it would be, he thought. The two of us sharing a bottle of wine and a rainy weekend—this is just how it would be. All the time. His heart constricted. "Someday," he said aloud, still looking directly into his partner's eyes, "when things have settled down..."
"Our lives. When our lives have settled down, this will no longer be the exception."
"Tempting fate, Napoleon? Not like you."
Future plans. A superstitious shiver ran down his spine. The folly of future plans.
"Things change," Illya was going on, and he had put his wine glass down now too. "Things happen—anything could happen."
"Anything could. And things do change." He took Illya's hands, and Illya allowed it. "But we won't."
"Neither will I. And that's all we can control. You, and me." Illya raised his eyebrows. "Not that I think I control you," Napoleon went on hastily. Why was Illya blushing so furiously? Was he thinking of last night? Napoleon had been in control then, no question. His own face felt hot now. "But I am in control of myself, and I trust you when you say..." he stopped. What exactly had Illya said? Not a hell of a lot. "When you say you won't change. Towards me, I mean. I assume that's what we both mean." He was stumbling over his words, to his mortification. Where was the smooth talking Romeo when needed? "Isn't it?"
"Isn't that what we both mean?"
"Mean about what?"
"You know. I mean that we both, that we're... help me out here, Illya. I seem to have lost my train of thought."
"You certainly have. And those steaks smell done."
He accepted the change of topic with poor grace, serving the meal in silence, eating it the same way. Illya ate his own steak quickly, then, when Napoleon uncharacteristically ignored his empty plate, reached out with his fork and stole a large piece of his partner's. Napoleon sat up, startled out of the brown study he'd been in. "Hey."
"Hey what?" Illya was all innocence as he slathered steak sauce onto his newly acquired portion.
"Hey, that's my steak."
"Here." Illya extended a dripping piece. Napoleon shook his head.
"Not now that you've ruined it. Good meat, which this is, doesn't need garnishing."
"Try it, Napoleon. It's good." He poked the piece of meat at Napoleon's face again. Napoleon knocked his hand aside, spilling his wine in the process. Illya came around the table at him, pulling him from his seat, rolling him onto the floor, still trying to get the steak into his mouth. Napoleon grabbed it from the fork and threw it across the room. Illya tried to reach his plate, to get another sample and Napoleon dragged him down again. He dug an elbow sharply into his ribs to keep him there, and Illya cried out in pain. Both froze.
"You started it," Napoleon said, laughing but worried, too. For a moment he had forgotten Illya's injuries, forgotten that he had spent several days in Thrush's hands, being starved and beaten and drugged... how could he have handled him roughly? He was trying to pull Illya's pajama top up now, so he could inspect the area and Illya let him. He was gasping for breath, and his face had whitened. Napoleon ran a hand along his side, checking for damage, but aside from the bruising there didn't seem to be any. "That wasn't very smart," he said, shaking a finger in Illya's face. They were still sprawled out on the floor, Illya flat on his back, Napoleon on his side, weight resting on one elbow, hand exploring Illya's belly now.
"I know. Napoleon, I understood you before. And I promise—I won't change either. Not towards you. But if you change your mind, I'll understand that too."
"Why should I change my mind?" He moved his hand to Illya's face, brushed a wisp of hair away.
"Well, you could meet someone else. You certainly have the opportunity."
"So do you."
Illya laughed. "Napoleon, many things may intervene between now and—whenever. But I can assure you that me meeting someone else, falling in love, and wanting to settle down is not going to be among them."
"Falling in love," Napoleon repeated. "That seems unlikely to you?"
"It seems unlikely I will do it more than once in my lifetime."
There was a long silence. Napoleon's finger was tracing Illya's face, along that fine jaw line, over the hard, stubborn edge to his chin, the back of his hand now against Illya's cheek. "My next remark will call for a kiss," he said finally. "I want to clear that with you before I go on."
"Full speed ahead," Illya said, and closed his eyes. Napoleon leaned even closer. His breath was hot on Illya's lips.
"I love you too," he whispered. "Illya Kuryakin, I am head over heels in love with you. Everything else—" he waved his arm, meaning all his women, meaning his dating and his wining and dining them—"is meaningless." He did kiss Illya then, their lips meeting and, this time, parting. Their tongues met, twined. Passion flared up so quickly that Napoleon wrapped both arms around him, holding him hard and Illya gasped.
"Napoleon—ow. Not so hard. I'm still—thank you." Napoleon had gotten to his feet, bringing Illya with him, keeping him within the circle of the looser embrace.
"I know. It's all right. I thought we weren't going to do this. Because it might affect our reaction time. Or words to that effect."
"At this point in our partnership do you really think that's a concern? I can't imagine us not fitting together like hand in glove, whatever we might be doing in our spare time."
"I thought you said they'd want to separate us."
"Only if they find out."
"You don't think that they will? They already wonder."
"I know." He sighed.
"Also," Illya went on, "conventional wisdom dictates that if we were intimate, it would make it that much harder. For me to see you go into danger, I mean."
"And for me to send you." This time they both sighed. Without another word, they separated. Illya returned to the sofa and his book, and Napoleon cleared away the remains of their meal.
The next morning, Napoleon watched Illya prowl the apartment. They had spent the previous evening in companionable silence, retiring to their separate rooms without further conversation, and certainly without touching. Now he drank coffee and observed in continued silence as Illya checked out the contents of the refrigerator, closed it without taking anything, moved on to the dining room, around the table, down the steps into the sunken living room. He sat on the couch, turned on the television, flipped through the channels. Put the remote down and rose. Went down the hall to the spare bedroom, stood outside the closed door for a minute, then turned. Back down the hall. Out onto the balcony. Napoleon picked up his phone and called his brother, Charles.
"Are you up to date on the latest exploit over there at the CID?"
"Yes. I must say, Napoleon, that the two of you are getting quite a reputation—and not just for your work ."
"We won. That's all that matters. Charles—I need a favor."
"I think it would do Illya good to get outside. He hates being confined under the best of circumstances, and since the prison cell he's had a hospital room and my apartment. Someplace secure, where he doesn't have to look over his shoulder every damn minute. A break from it for the day, Charles. He's entitled."
"I'll get back to you."
They walked side by side through the tall grass and wildflowers. Their path led upward, and the sun beat down on them as they went. There was a breeze, enough to stir the fine gold wisps around Illya's face, but it was warm work nonetheless. Napoleon glanced sideways at his partner, and smiled. Illya was looking at the mountain range in the distance, the sun striking sparks off his hair, his face pink with sunburn. They had been walking for over two hours since parking their car and inspecting the house. An unused safe house, with Level One Security. He had expressed his gratitude to Charles, who had made a clicking sound with his tongue.
"Just be aware, Napoleon," he'd said. "Be aware that your actions—all of your actions—are of interest. There has already been gossip. Taking your partner away, even for the afternoon, even if you do not spend the night—"
"We are not spending the night. We both have to be at work in the morning."
"And after this recent adventure," Charles continued, as if Napoleon hadn't spoken, "will only encourage this speculation."
"Let them speculate. Thank you again, Charles."
"You are more than welcome. Do give my regards to Illya."
So here they were. They had walked, and talked idly and he could almost feel Illya unwinding. They crested the hill, and started down the other side. Their path led them into a wooded area, the shade a welcome relief from the sun. Illya moved closer to him. "Thank you, Napoleon," he said, without lifting his eyes from the trail. "This is..." he stopped, looked around him. Looked up, at the sunlight filtering down through the leaves. He sighed, and rotated his shoulders as if they were stiff. Napoleon moved behind him, placed both hands at the base of his neck and rubbed, thumbs making little circles, fingers working muscle and Illya sighed again, relaxing under his hands. Napoleon turned him, then, and they were facing each other. Napoleon's hands tightened.
"Tell me something," he said softly, and Illya met his eyes. They stared at one another for a long time.
"Could it be any harder?"
"You know what I mean. Going into danger. Together. Could it possibly be any harder than it is right now?"
"No. I mean—I don't know." Illya was trembling now, he could see it. His own hands were shaking with the need to tighten further, to pull Illya in, to overcome any further objections with his touch and his mouth and his hard, strong body. He let go instead, and stepped back.
"I hear water," Illya said suddenly, whirled, and was gone. Running away again, Napoleon thought. Last night it was with words, and now... he ran along the track after him. He too could hear water now, water moving quickly. He rounded another bend and found himself on the banks of a small river. It rushed along, leaping down rock faces, racing between boulders, spilling into a little pool and then emptying out the other side. Illya was already stripping off his clothes.
"Illya—I'll bet that water's cold."
"Yes," Illya said. "That's the idea." He kept his sandals on and waded in, gasping. Even from the shore Napoleon could see the goose bumps leap up on his flesh. Illya beckoned to him. "Come on in, Napoleon. It's wonderful." He spread his arms wide and fell backwards with a great splash. Napoleon shuddered in sympathy as he came up. "Come on."
"I don't think so."
Illya stood there and regarded him, plainly exasperated. Then he smiled. Turning sideways he looked back at Napoleon from under his lashes. "Catch me," he said, and dove under.
He didn't even undress. He charged through the undergrowth and plunged in after Illya without a moment's hesitation, surprising him underwater, grabbing him. Illya twisted free and came to his feet, trying to run back upstream. It was slow going and before he had gotten more than a few steps Napoleon grabbed him around the waist from behind, pulled him over. They wrestled in the water, bodies sliding easily against one another, gripping and tickling and pulling, carried with the current, tumbling suddenly head over heels down an embankment, ending in the shallow, sun warmed pool. The water moved on past and around them, but they were at rest on the bottom, water washing over them.
"Hmm?" He was lost in admiration as he gazed into Illya's eyes, so very close to his, seeming to reflect the changing surface of the river in their blue depths.
"You're right. It couldn't be harder."
"No." He moved even closer, bent his head so Illya's lashes brushed his lips. "It couldn't."
"I want you so much," Illya whispered and Napoleon drew back, startled by the open admission of need. "I can't pretend anymore, I can't wait—oh, Napoleon." He twined both arms around Napoleon's neck. "Would it be so terrible—so very terrible of us—if we stole an hour or two? Would it?"
"No." His voice caught. He smoothed Illya's wet hair back from his forehead, kissed water drops from his temple. Illya laughed a little. Napoleon smiled too. "What?"
"Look at me," Illya said, and laughed again. "I'm too easy. You won't respect me in the morning, you won't return my calls, I'll just be one more—" Napoleon's open mouth silenced him and they kissed, there in the water, sun baking their shoulders and Napoleon's back; Illya's hair, loose now, moving with the water around them . They kissed for a very long time and then they stood up. They waded back to pick up Illya's clothes. He had some difficulty getting into them, wet as he was, so Napoleon, shivering in his own dripping clothes, helped him, then took Illya's hand in his. When Illya's fingers curled around his own, he lifted them, pressed his lips against them. They walked on in silence, holding hands.
Inside, Illya shivered at the air conditioning. He followed Napoleon into the bedroom. Napoleon seemed intent on wasting not one minute of the hour or two allotted. He rummaged through closets, came up with two big towels, tossed one to Illya, and peeled off his own wet clothing. Illya did the same, rubbing himself down vigorously. Then Napoleon was there, face dark and intent, eyes burning. He took the towel away, tossed it across the room. Taking Illya's hand, he drew him over to the bed, drew him down. Drew him close. And Illya was lost again, desire a warm tide that stole through his veins, making it impossible to resist this—Napoleon's hands that were moving over him, touching him, stroking him, teasing a little. Impossible to resist—impossible, too, to control. For a man who prided himself on his self control it was a shattering experience. He clung to Napoleon as pleasure deepened, pulling him with it, pulling him along, faster now. He pressed his face into the crook of Napoleon's shoulder, breathing the scent of him—clean, and sharp. Then Napoleon was on top of him, urging him without words to open his legs wider, to lift them higher and he followed Napoleon's lead without wondering why, still clutching at him. He wanted—he wanted so much and only Napoleon, only Napoleon could give it to him. He cried out, pleadingly and Napoleon answered him, still without words, filling him, taking him. He groaned softly, and Napoleon paused.
"Illya," he whispered.
"You're shaking," Illya said, and ran both hands down Napoleon's shoulders, along his arms which were indeed trembling where they were braced, holding his weight. "Are you all right?"
"Yes. Oh," he quivered as Napoleon pressed again, and again he stopped.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes. I'm—" he arched his back in rapture. "Yes, Napoleon, like that." He inhaled sharply. Napoleon came down on top of him, full weight, pressing him deep into the mattress as his cock pressed deep—deeper—he groaned again and Napoleon groaned, too. There was a wild, glorious time when they clutched at one another, grappled with one another, ground against one another and then Illya groped for Napoleon's head, dragged it down, sought his mouth and found it, lips and bodies hungering on one another, fingers digging in. They held on one to another through the cataclysm, and into the shuddering aftermath. Finally they lay still. They lay still for a long time, and when Illya finally found the energy to turn his head and look at Napoleon, he was asleep. Good, he thought and managed to curl even closer into Napoleon's embrace, falling asleep himself.
They ate dinner later, at the big table in the dining room. Illya concentrated on his food, sending occasional surreptitious looks at his partner, at the other end of the table. Once when he did so he found Napoleon looking at him and he blushed, looked away. There was a scraping as Napoleon dragged his chair around and then he was right beside him. "We could stay the night," he said into Illya's ear. "We could sleep here, and drive back to the city in the morning. Come in a little later—what the hell."
"I thought we only agreed to steal an hour or two."
"It seems to me that a team like ourselves," he laid one hand on Illya's knee and Illya jerked at the heat of it, "shouldn't be satisfied with petty theft."
"So you want us to steal a whole night?"
"Yes." He walked his fingers up the insides of Illya's thigh and Illya felt the muscles there loosen, weaken, his legs falling open without his volition. Napoleon stroked the bulge there, then unfastened Illya's fly, lowered the zipper. Illya knew he should protest. An hour or two was one thing, but a whole night—but he couldn't find the words, couldn't think, couldn't do anything except breathe. Napoleon slid his hand inside, found the opening of his briefs, worked his fingers in there too, wrapped them around the hard shaft. It felt so good, it felt so good—Illya slid down a little in his chair, head falling back. Useless, he was useless, he was putty in Napoleon's hands, that was clear and so what? So—Napoleon went to his knees, and then Illya was engulfed in warm, wet—he cried aloud, closing his hands on Napoleon's broad shoulders. Napoleon began to suck, hand still delving into Illya's briefs, caressing him and squeezing, pumping and sucking, Illya cried out once more, body rigid, arched like a bow under those hands and that mouth, and then he crumpled, and slid off his seat onto the floor. Napoleon caught him up, held him hard against his own body, reassuringly hard. Illya laid his head on Napoleon's shoulder and panted, heart pounding. Slowly, as the world swam into focus around him once more he became aware of Napoleon's own arousal, urgent against his hip. He shifted position so he could reach it. It throbbed under his exploring fingers, and he ran one over the tip.
"The floor is hard," he said, and Napoleon nodded.
"Yes it is."
"There is a very comfortable bed in the other room."
"Hardly seems worth it to get back into bed if we're leaving right away." He gave Illya a grin that held more than a hint of triumph. "Are we?"
"No," Illya said. "We can stay. We—we can do whatever you want, Napoleon." It was surrender, as naked in its way as his earlier cry of need. "Whatever you want," he repeated, and felt Napoleon turn his head to kiss his cheek. It was brief, and very sweet... he had to close his eyes against the piercing sweetness of it.
"You know what I want?" Napoleon whispered, right in his ear, making him jump, and tingle. Now how could that be, so soon? He shivered.
"Not really, no."
"I want to make you happy." Illya turned his head at that, and found himself looking directly into Napoleon's face, into those dark brown eyes. The expression in them was as naked as Illya felt. "I want to see you smile, hear you laugh. I want to feel you sleep in my arms, and know your dreams are sweet because I am there. That's it, Illya. That's all I want in this whole wide world. To see you happy. A reprehensible admission for a man in my position, isn't it."
Napoleon had surrendered, too. Illya couldn't even speak. All he could do was touch Napoleon's face, brush the hair back from his forehead, trace his lips with one finger. Napoleon kissed it. "Let's go to bed," Illya whispered, and Napoleon nodded. They struggled to their feet, each leaning on the other, and made their way in to the bedroom, where they made love off and on all night long. Mutual surrender leading to mutual victory, Illya thought, feeling Napoleon rise and swell in his mouth, letting Napoleon turn him, draw him into his own mouth, holding him with arms like iron bands and he holding on too while the outside world fell away and all there was was the bed, and the darkness, and one another.
They got up and dressed early, locking the house and climbing into their car in the pale light of morning. Neither said a word all the way back to the city. As Napoleon parked his car in UNCLE's underground garage he turned to look at Illya. Illya looked as cool and unruffled as if nothing had happened. But the hunger was still in his eyes as they rested on Napoleon, and Napoleon supposed his own looked the same. He swallowed. "Illya—"
"You were wrong, you know," Illya said. "We both were."
"It will be harder, now. Don't you think?"
"Yes." He forced the word out.
"Are you sorry?"
"No. If we hadn't seized this opportunity, if we had let it slip away—and then something happened, I'd be sorrier for the wasted chance. And if—when—the opportunity arises again, we're taking it."
"Good." Illya sounded relieved. "I'm not sorry either. But it is harder."
"Yes." He looked into Illya's face again. "Much harder."
Seven years later:
The knife traced a path of fire along Illya's ribs, and he closed his eyes. A sharper pain brought them open again. "That's better," Riley Nor whispered. "I want to see them—such pretty blue eyes." He made a smacking sound. "Maybe I'll keep them, in a jar on the shelf. What do you think, Mr. Solo?"
"Go to hell," Napoleon said. He was bound securely into a wooden chair which in its turn was bolted to the floor. He wrenched at the ropes, but there was not the slightest bit of give to them. He tried again, and Riley laughed.
"You won't get free, Mr. Solo. I think we all know that. There will be no last minute rescue, no final acts of derring do." He scraped delicately at the inside of Illya's elbow. "I will carve him slowly to pieces, little bloody pieces." Carefully, he laid the flat of the blade along Illya's cheekbone. "It will take him a very long time to die, Mr. Solo, and his present silence, though admirable, won't last. Unless..."
"Go to hell," Napoleon said again. Riley smiled into Illya's eyes, and Illya stared stonily back at him. He was naked, wrists manacled high over his head, forcing him up onto his toes. His legs were free, but the long night in this position had left them weak and trembling just from the effort to support some of his weight.
He had been captured yesterday, soon after getting off the subway in his neighborhood. A savage blow to the head had driven him face down into the street, unconscious before he hit the ground. He had awakened here, and spent the night in isolation, trying to breathe through the enormous strain of his position. Early this morning they had brought Napoleon in, also unconscious, and secured him to the chair. The horror in his face when he woke to see Illya had given their captor a great deal of satisfaction.
"Yes," Riley whispered. "Look at me. Look at me well, Illya Kuryakin, for I am the last person you will see in this lifetime. You and I—we are bound together now, for the next several hours. I will know you intimately. I will take you to places you have never been, not in all your years of espionage. Together we will explore depths of pain that you cannot even imagine right now. Unless..." Illya spat at him. He jerked back, wiped his face. Then he moved in. "Do that again," he whispered. "I'll cut your lips off." He waited, very close, then placed the point on Illya's lower lip, pressed. A drop of blood oozed out, dripped down. Riley caught it on his tongue.
"Get away from him!" Napoleon snapped, pulling again at his ropes. "You—you need to think very hard about what you're doing, Nor."
"But I have thought about it." He leaned in even closer. The knife was on Illya's stomach now, not pressing, just tracing arabesques on his abdomen. "I will gut you like a fish," he breathed, "but slowly—oh, so slowly." He sighed. "Unless, Mr. Solo, you tell me when and where the conference is to be held."
"You know better than that," Napoleon said and Illya tried to meet his eyes, to send him the message that he would stand, until the end, that he knew as well as Napoleon did that this was information Napoleon couldn't give out. But his view was blocked by Nor's malevolent countenance.
"No no," Nor said, rapping Illya on the arm with the blade. More blood welled up. "No fond looks of farewell. You have already seen Mr. Solo for the last time—have seen everything for the last time. Mr. Solo? No? Very well." He stepped back a little, although not enough for Illya to see past him. He looked Illya over, thoroughly, then came in again.
It was on him. Illya swallowed, lifted his chin, shut his eyes. He had no hope for rescue. This was where and how he would meet his death. He had faced torture before, but this was different. He had been beaten, flogged, burned, shocked, starved. He had been injected with various unpleasant drugs. But now—here and now, he was to be butchered. He would scream away his life until it ended in a bloody horror that Napoleon would carry with him for whatever remained of his own. Illya shrank from what lay ahead of him, he couldn't help it, squeezing his eyes more tightly shut.
A sharp pain in the left one made him start. Nor had gripped his eyelashes and was pulling the lid straight out. "I'll cut it off," he hissed in Illya's ear. "If you close them again." Illya blinked, tried to pull free but Nor pinched harder, then let go. "Or I'll take them right now." The blade of the knife dug in at the corner of his eye socket, and Illya could feel how easy it would be, how the blade would dip in and scoop his eye out like... he clenched his teeth and kept very still. Perhaps he could turn his head quickly, and impale himself, end this. Even as he thought it, the knife was gone. He gasped, sagged a little against the wrist manacles.
A sickening, white hot jolt to his stomach made him hiss. The knife dug in, then was twisted. Illya turned his face into his arm, trying to hide the pain, knowing he couldn't for very long. The knife slid to the side, opening a hot trench in his flesh. The warmth of his own blood sheeted over his belly. He inhaled through clenched teeth because he wouldn't scream, he wouldn't give Nor the satisfaction or Napoleon the agony, he wouldn't—but he would, and he knew it. Sooner or later he would start screaming, and then he wouldn't be able to stop. When it got really bad, when the knife was inside him, still moving and twisting as it was doing now , then he would...
"Stop." Napoleon's voice had a desperate edge to it. "Nor—I—all right!" He shouted it, a sudden burst. "All right! I can't—all right! I'll tell you. Nor!"
There was a pause. Nor stared directly into Illya's eyes and Illya, who was ashamed of the relief flooding him, spoke calmly. "Napoleon."
"Napoleon. Don't do this to yourself."
"I can't—Illya, I simply cannot sit and watch this."
"You can't tell them about the conference, either."
"I'll work something out," Napoleon said, and Illya shook his head. Nor had raised the knife, and was moving it in front of his face in a slow, deadly arc.
"He'll do it anyway." The knife paused, came to rest on his lips. Pushed inside his mouth. Illya forced himself to speak through the taste of metal. "He wants to." The knife slipped sideways, cut his tongue. Just a small cut, but the blood came quickly. Illya hung his head forward, spitting it out, choking and coughing.
"Yes," Nor said. He regarded the knife thoughtfully. "I do want to, Mr. Kuryakin, that's quite true." He gripped Illya's face, turned it first one way, then the other. "I want to do it. I want to see how long—how long before you scream out your pleas for mercy. How long before you can't scream anymore. How long before you die. Yes, I want to." He cleared his throat, and stepped back. "But I assure you, Mr. Solo, that I am a professional. You have information that I want—I have something that you want, undamaged. Surely we can do business on that basis."
"Yes," Napoleon said. "But I'm not saying a word like this. Untie him. Bandage those cuts. Let him—"
"No, Mr. Solo. I am not such a fool as that. He will remain here, as he is, while we go talk to the representative from Thrush Central. He didn't believe that I could break you. I will show him." He cut Napoleon's bonds, gun steady in one hand, knife less so in the other. When Napoleon rose he moved back. "Don't try anything, Mr. Solo. I am an excellent shot, and I will be sure to wound you, not kill you. Then you can watch while I eviscerate your good friend here, and he can watch you bleed to death. And..." the words broke off in a surprised grunt as Illya threw his legs around him from behind, dragging him backwards.
He squeezed with all his might, twisting his body, trying to break Nor's neck, or at least to throw him to the ground. Nor slashed at his legs with the knife and he cried out in pain but didn't slacken his grip. Pain and more pain—his legs falling, useless now, darkness rolling over him like a great wave, rising high, its black shadow covering him, stealing his light, stealing his strength, stealing everything until there was nothing but darkness and pain. He thought he could hear Napoleon shouting his name, and then the wave came down on him, covering him, smothering him and then there wasn't anything at all for a long time.
Illya was sitting up in his hospital bed, relaxing after a stiff rehab session, eating lunch. He was doing well, and expected to go home soon. He hadn't seen Napoleon since waking up in the hospital. He wondered what Napoleon had told them, when he brought Illya in. Thinking about what had happened in that prison cell made him think about the knife, too, and the awful fear, so he tried his best not to think about it, and mostly succeeded. Whenever Napoleon returned, that would be time to worry about potential repercussions—if any. If Napoleon had told anyone. If... a tap at his door made him look up.
It was Napoleon, lounging in his doorway, with the elegantly casual posture that usually meant he had a very definite purpose indeed. Briefly, Illya wondered what it might be but the thought was washed away by the joy that flooded him. How good it was to see Napoleon. How wonderful that it was over, and they had once again cheated fate to escape unscathed, together. He smiled at Napoleon, and Napoleon smiled back at him.
"Illya. They told me you were making a good recovery, but it's a relief to see you for myself. Last time I saw you you were drenched in blood and out cold."
The blood, and the knife—and the fear. Illya shook his head against it. "I'm fine now." And he was. Napoleon was here, and the past was the past.
"Here's a copy of our official report." Napoleon tossed a thin sheaf of papers onto his lap. "For you to read, make any additions or corrections you deem necessary, and sign."
Illya read it through. Napoleon's report was very detailed, very thorough—but it did not mention that moment in the prison cell. The report had Illya catching Nor off guard from behind, and Napoleon getting free of his bonds in time to kill him, and bandage Illya's wounds before making their escape. Illya read with interest that he had been taken out of the Thrush complex in the passenger seat of a jeep which Napoleon had hot wired and driven directly through the main gate. An UNCLE airfield was twenty miles away, and they had been at the New York UNCLE ER entrance before dark. Napoleon had left immediately to lead the assault on the satrap. Illya plucked the proffered pen from Napoleon's hands, and signed his name. Then he handed Napoleon the papers.
"I spoke to Mr. Waverly personally," Napoleon said, tucking the report into his inside jacket pocket, hooking a chair over to Illya's bedside, and sitting down. "I told him everything. He and I agreed that it was best that nothing be in writing—for your safety, if for no other reason."
"But you must have had a plan. We were going to overpower him, and escape. And that's what happened. So—"
"I had no plan. I had nothing, Illya except the gut knowledge that I could not sit there and watch him butcher you. I couldn't. If he hadn't untied me, if he had just turned on a tape recorder and said go, I would have told him everything. Maybe we could escape later and kill him, destroy the tape. Maybe he'd have a fuckin' coronary arrest and save us the trouble. I was desperate."
"And that's what you told Mr. Waverly?"
"So, we're not working together any more. That's what you're saying."
"No. We're not. And you know as well as I do that we shouldn't be."
He couldn't speak through the pain. Napoleon pulled the chair closer, reached for his hand, held it between his own. "Illya. Don't look like that." He took Illya's other hand, chafed them gently in his. "There's more."
"Nor really got in a few good ones with his knife before I reached him."
"They are concerned about residual muscle weakness."
"But in rehab I'm—"
"Doing very well. I know. Illya—they're not going to clear you to return to Enforcement. Even without a limp."
The world was falling away from under his feet. He stared at Napoleon, who was saying these incredible things with a crisp efficiency that stung, despite the hands that still enfolded his own. "But maybe if I—if later on I—I could take the test again, and show them—"
"No. It's not going to happen. It's over. For both of us.
He went on talking, details about their new positions, but Illya didn't hear him. There was only the void where his professional life used to be, and he couldn't picture anything replacing it. But Napoleon looked almost glad. He forced himself to return his attention to the words that were still coming.
"Think of it, Illya—to be able to use my experience at that level. I can't be sorry. And I can't—I can't even pretend to be sorry that you won't be out there without me. I'm sorry that it hurts you," he laid his cheek against the back of Illya's hand and Illya watched him, not knowing what to say, how to feel. Everything was changing so fast. He felt he was still dealing with the shock of seeing Napoleon again, and that nothing else had fully registered. Napoleon seemed to sense that, for he turned his head, kissed Illya's palm.
"I'm sorry. I came in here, while you still aren't fully recovered, and tore it all down." He kissed Illya's palm again. "But now we can begin to build. Build our lives again."
More change, and faster than ever. Napoleon, kissing his hand here, in this hospital room where anyone could come in at any time. Napoleon—Illya blinked. Sliding off his chair, onto the floor. Onto one knee. Illya blinked again, then met Napoleon's eyes. They hadn't changed. Napoleon's eyes, and the love in them, were still the same. The void was gone, and the world settled into this new configuration as if it had always been so, and always would be.
"This wasn't the setting I had in mind," Napoleon said, and flicked a look at the door.
"They'll knock," Illya offered because they always did, and Napoleon smiled faintly.
"All right." He hesitated. "Illya..." his voice shook and he stopped, looking astonished at himself.
"Yes," Illya said softly, and Napoleon's smile twitched upward at the corners.
"I had a speech."
"You don't need one." No, Napoleon didn't. Not after all the years between that first linking of eyes, that first touch of hand to hand and this one. Not after that glorious moment in the river, or the weekend in Paris, when Napoleon had ordered whipped cream and strawberries from room service, and they had eaten them off one another with much giggling and a final, stupendous burst of passion. After all the stolen hours, minutes, days; after the kisses, the caresses, the whispered endearments, the occasional hint at the forbidden future plans, no more words were necessary. They knew.
Napoleon got up and sat on the edge of Illya's bed. They smiled at one another some more. "Now what?" Illya asked. "I'm leaving here today or tomorrow."
"Today. You buzz my office when you're ready to go, and I'll drop everything and come get you." He paused. "And take you home." Then, hastily, as if afraid Illya would misunderstand him, "with me. I'll take you home with me and we'll..." he floundered. "Both be at home," he finished lamely and Illya reached out, stroked his face.
"We'll both be home," he agreed quietly and Napoleon's face cleared.
"Home for good," he elaborated and Illya leaned in closer so his head was on Napoleon's shoulder just as he had all those years ago, when they had first stood, naked and yearning, in that anonymous hotel room.
"Home for good," he agreed. Napoleon put both arms around him and they sat like that, wrapped up in one another, until the tap at the door signaled the arrival of the nurse. They said their goodbyes, and Napoleon went back to his office to wait for Illya's call.
Illya turned sideways and smiled. Drops of river water hung from his eyelashes and his lips were blue with cold. "Catch me," he said, and dove under. The water around him turned red, blood red and Napoleon couldn't run towards him, his legs wouldn't move. He cried out.
"Illya!" His own voice woke him and he bolted upright, gasping. For a moment he sat there, then he bent over, put his face in his hands. He had only dozed at his desk for a moment, and here was this dream again. Over and over again his sleep was torn apart by visions of Illya, bleeding and dying. It was intolerable. Over and over again he saw Illya suspended by his wrists, struggling to stay on his feet, struggling for each breath. He saw Illya turn his face into his arm to hide his pain. He saw the blood.
"It was driving me insane," he had said to Waverly at that meeting, a week ago now. "Literally. I couldn't... I couldn't let it happen. Any minute I was going to start screaming out details—anything. Everything. So I capitulated. I thought I could at least try and control the circumstances of my surrender. Maybe..." he had lowered his head. "It doesn't matter. I had no idea what I was going to do next. I only knew what I could not do. I could not sit and watch him carve my partner to ribbons, not when there was something I could do to stop it. I acknowledge my culpability in this matter. I allowed myself—I allowed us—to get too close. As senior partner, I was responsible for establishing and maintaining the appropriate degree of friendship."
"Yes, you were."
"Instead, we've been lovers." He didn't lift his head. Truth was necessary here, and now—but he didn't have to see Alexander Waverly's disappointment as he told it. "On and off. For the past several years. We've, as far as we dared, we talked about the future. Illya—he became as essential to me as the air I breathe. So when Nor—I couldn't do it. I can't even say I'm sorry, because Illya is alive and well, and no harm done, after all. This time."
"This time," Waverly echoed quietly. "And having said all the above, you surely know that there will be no next time. The two of you cannot continue to be partnered together."
"Yes." He still didn't look up. Then, entirely unexpectedly, Waverly leaned forward and laid a hand on his shoulder. The contact was brief, but it brought Napoleon's gaze up, and their eyes met. Waverly didn't look disappointed. He looked tired, but that was all that could be read in those mild grey eyes.
"Do not be so hard on yourself, Mr. Solo," he said. "You are human, after all. You were together too long, I suppose—it's only natural. We will find another way to use your talents—both of you. I will confer with the Board, and we will let you know. But the exact circumstances will remain between the two of us. Anything else would be tantamount to painting a target on Mr. Kuryakin's back. Dismissed.."
Napoleon shook his head now, staring across his office. His new position was the direct result of Waverly's conference with the Board, and the work both challenged and excited him. And now Illya was coming home from the hospital and surely once they were living together, sleeping together, day in and day out, the nightmares would stop. Surely they would.
The buzz of his intercom came as a confirmation. "Napoleon?"
"Illya." Just saying the name, just the sound of that name... "Everything on schedule?"
"I'm packed up and ready to go. Come take me home."
"I'm on my way." And as he strode through the halls, as he nodded and greeted colleagues, he felt the cobwebs of this past mission fall away. Over and done with, like the rest of it. They would need to use caution, of course, security measures would be a part of their lives always. Trouble could find a man wherever he was, and whatever the details of his job description. But they would no longer go out looking for it. They would live their lives with reasonable care, and... the sight of Illya standing by the window, fully dressed, suitcase by his side, made his heart lift. Here it was. Here was the future at last, right in front of them. He grinned at Illya, who smiled brilliantly back at him.
"Ready to go?"
"Yes." Illya picked up his suitcase and followed him out the door. The nurse was waiting there with a wheelchair and without any of his usual protests Illya sat in it. She pushed it while Napoleon carried the suitcase and they made their way down the hall, onto the elevator and into the lobby. Napoleon went to get his car, the ordinariness of it all making his steps light, his spirits buoyant. He remembered that last time, when he had brought Illya to his apartment, protesting and resentful, and they had ended up... he tooted his horn.
Illya came out on his feet, having abandoned the wheelchair in the lobby. Napoleon caught a brief glimpse of the nurse pushing it away and then Illya was beside him, buckling his seat belt.
Nothing else was said, not during the ride home, not in the elevator going up to their apartment, not as Napoleon unlocked the door and let them in. As before, there was no need for words. He locked the door again behind them and they kissed, briefly, before leaving the suitcase and going into the bedroom, closing that door too, closing the world out. Illya unbuttoned Napoleon's shirt, pushing it off his shoulders, unfastening his fly with deft fingers, reaching inside. He leaned his cheek on Napoleon's chest, breathing in the good rich scent of him, stroking him lightly.
"Maybe you'd better not do that," Napoleon said, and Illya smiled to himself.
"I might lose control. I might..." Illya did something else then, and Napoleon gripped his wrist, pulled his hand free. Illya stood there, still smiling faintly while Napoleon kicked away his pants and shoes and reached for him. He pulled Illya's clothes from him, brought him onto the bed, came down on top. Illya opened to him, and Napoleon controlled himself after all, watching Illya's face as he teased a little, then there was another kiss. He sent his tongue exploring as he sent his cock, deep, and Illya was hot around him, under him, sucking on his tongue, body taut, and hard, and ready, both of them ready. The night lit up, an explosion of light, beating wildly through them, through them both, joining them and binding them together before slowing finally, slowing and stopping. They were gasping and shaking on the bed, separate again but still together, still wrapped up together.
As he slid down into sleep, Illya draped across him, breath warm and soft on his throat, Napoleon inhaled the fragrance of his hair and smiled. "I love you, Illya," he whispered and felt Illya's lips brush his skin.
"I love you too, Napoleon. See you tomorrow."
He caught his breath at the beauty of it. Tomorrow. They would see one another tomorrow. "Yes," he managed finally, voice ragged and Illya hugged him. "I'll see you tomorrow."
And then there was silence.
The violet eyed woman was still talking, and Napoleon smiled and said the right things, but when his eyes met Illya's across the room he touched his watch, and Illya nodded. They met at the door, and left together.
In the car, Napoleon looked at his partner and smiled. "Seventeen years," he said. "And you are more beautiful than ever."
"Thank you. What were you thinking about so hard earlier?"
"I was thinking about love at first sight."
"Were you? That sounds promising."
They said nothing more until they were in bed, and then Napoleon moved up behind his partner, who was curled on his side, and nudged him gently. Illya yawned, and complained about the lateness of the hour but Napoleon was persistent, and within a very short time the complaints had ceased, Illya was clutching the pillow to his face, and Napoleon was bringing it to a noisy, raucous finish. When all was still, Napoleon drew him close. "Love at first sight," he said again. "When you walked into my office that day, my brand new partner, I was lost before I even knew I was in danger."
"And now?" Illya turned his face to look at him, his hair tickling Napoleon's chest. "Are you still lost?"
"Lost—and found, Illya."
"Yes. See you tomorrow, Napoleon."
"See you tomorrow, Illya." They kissed once more, and fell asleep together.