Illya bolted when he saw the coffin lying on the turf, the freshly dug hole right beside it. What did he have to lose at this point? He ran, but they brought him down quickly, tackling him, dragging him to the ground, pummeling him to keep him there. There were five of them and one of him, so he covered up as best he could while looking for an opportunity. He kicked one man's legs out from under him but then his own legs were grabbed, his arms pinned and he was lifted, carried across the field. He struggled wildly but they were too many for him and in a moment he was staring at the coffin again. They dropped him inside. He came up fast but was knocked back down by the heavy lid being slammed shut, striking his head, rendering him temporarily dazed. He lay there, blinking against the pain, fighting dizziness and then he shoved on it. He pushed with all his might but it didn't budge.
The coffin was lifted off the ground, then set down, jolted down, dropped and he hit his head again. In his mind's eye he saw the scene—the coffin now resting at the bottom of that new hole, himself inside it. He banged on the lid, fighting panic but the sound of dirt hitting the top nearly pushed him over the edge. He clamped both hands across his mouth to stifle the noise he seemed about to make, and also to keep from continuing to beat fruitlessly against the inside of his—his coffin. His coffin. Dirt still rained down, but already it seemed muffled, far away. Again he saw the scene, the coffin hidden from view now, buried deep, the turf being set back into place, tamped down and then them walking away, leaving him here, six feet under, screaming behind his hands.
No. He took his hands away and forced them down by his side. No. He wouldn't—wouldn't scream himself into a frenzy, wouldn't struggle any longer with the lid. He wouldn't be found with his nails torn and his fingertips bloody from a useless battle. They would talk about it, in horrified whispers back at Headquarters; how Illya Kuryakin had been buried alive and had tried to claw through solid wood in his death throes. He wouldn't. And after all, he could still be rescued.
He clung to the thought of rescue. Maybe any moment now he would hear the scrape of a shovel on the roof of his prison. Maybe between this breath and the next the lid would be thrown open and fresh air would flood in, replacing what was already growing stale. Maybe—he listened intently, and heard nothing.
Despair replaced hope. No rescue was coming. No one even knew he was here. He would have been reported missing, it was true, when he failed to arrive at the workshop he was supposed to be chairing right this minute. Napoleon would have the entire machinery of the organization working on locating him. Probably they would find him. But it seemed unlikely it would be within the next few minutes, and after that it would be too late. He shook his head in a wordless rebuttal, but forced himself to think it through anyway.
He was going to die here, and now. That was the most likely ending to this little scene. He would breathe the air until there was nothing left to keep him alive, and then he would die. Well, it could be worse. Apart from the innate horror of his situation—buried alive, buried alive under the weight of all that dirt—there were worse ways to go. And if all he had left in this world were the next few minutes, he didn't want to spend them contemplating his current predicament or, worse, in terror. He would—well, he would continue thinking about Napoleon. He would think about Napoleon's smile, and the warmth in his dark brown eyes when they rested on Illya. He would think about the tone of Napoleon's voice that Illya knew was for him alone. Napoleon was devoted to him, despite the continuing parade of female companions. There was always some woman on Napoleon's arm, some woman in his bed. But Illya was his constant. And Illya loved him.
Once, a female friend had commented, with a laugh, "You'll never be satisfied with any of your girlfriends, Napoleon Solo. I suppose if Illya here were a woman, maybe he'd live up to your standards."
"Well, if Illya were a woman," Napoleon began, and shouted with laughter. It took him a moment to compose himself, but when he did he continued where he left off, face trying for solemnity but mouth twitching, eyes dancing. "Obviously we'd be married already." He had laughed again and Illya had laughed too although he didn't think it was particularly funny, any of it—the idea of himself as a woman or the idea of him and Napoleon together. The former suggestion was offensive, the latter... he sighed, now.
There was a ringing in his ears that made it hard to concentrate. And his chest was starting to ache, his body wanting to gasp deeper, struggle somehow against death. He forced himself to lie still anyway. For as long as he could, he would control himself. At some point maybe he wouldn't be able to, but until then he would not give in to fear, or to sorrow over the end of his life, or to bitter regrets for a love he would never know. He would just think about Napoleon's face, and Napoleon's voice; about Napoleon's hands, strong, yet capable of so much gentleness. He would think about that with all his might. How he wished he could see Napoleon just once more, hear his voice again. Maybe if he concentrated hard enough he could. Maybe his oxygen starved brain would obligingly provide some hallucinations to accompany him on his journey.
It was intolerable now, the bells in his ears, the frantic gulping of air that could not sustain him. He reached out, because when had he ever reached for Napoleon and come up empty? Never, so he reached out, hand only touching the cold side of his coffin.
Napoleon leaped into the hole. The grave had been shallow, due to the abrupt scramble for escape when the UNCLE helicopter came into view. Napoleon hadn't wasted any time on them—there were others here for that and indeed the escapees were being apprehended even as he scraped away the final layer of dirt. His hands were shaking. Was this really Illya's coffin? Had all Illya's bright promise, his brilliance, his sweetness and his courage come to this lonely grave in the middle of an abandoned cemetary? And for what? For nothing. For a mistake. Thrush had thought that Illya, two years retired from the field, had nonetheless been sent to the conference as a courier. When they discovered their mistake, the informant had told UNCLE's search and rescue team, they would kill him and bury him here, where they had buried others.
Napoleon's courage failed him. His hand gripped the latch convulsively as he tried to brace himself for the sight of Illya's dead body. He took a deep breath. Then he heard someone shouting. Someone was running and shouting, and as the words became clear he tore at the catch, bloodying his fingers in the process.
"Alive!" The man shouted again as he dropped into the hole beside Napoleon. "They put him in there alive!" He shut his mouth at the look on Napoleon's face and wrenched at the hasp himself. It creaked open and Napoleon threw back the lid.
Illya lay there, blue with cyanosis, eyes wide open and staring, body twisted in that final struggle.. His head was thrown back and one hand had risen in his last extremity to do—what? Push against the lid? Appeal for mercy? A great wail rose up inside Napoleon and he held it back with an effort, his training taking over even as his mind reeled under the blow. You never gave up on an operative without overwhelming evidence so he pulled Illya out, laid him flat on the ground and began CPR. He gave the first two breaths, his mouth warm on Illya's cold one, trying desperately not to think about the horrid looseness of Illya's body as he came out of the coffin. Expecting nothing, he felt for a pulse.
It was there! It was there under his fingers—thready, but there! He breathed some more into Illya's mouth, watching his chest rise and fall, hearing the exclamations around him as the blue faded , replaced by a healthier flush. But when he paused, and waited, Illya made no attempt to breathe on his own. Napoleon felt his pulse again and was cheered—stronger, definitely stronger. He leaned forward and began rescue breathing once more.
Illya had thought about Napoleon as everything else faded, had thought about him and wished he were there, reaching for him, loving him with everything in his being. So when Napoleon's lips on his, warm and strong and life giving became his first awareness he didn't wonder at it. He accepted it, welcomed it. He kissed Napoleon back.
There was a moment when everything stopped. The only thing there was in the whole universe was the press of their two mouths together. The scent, the taste, the feel of the other filled both their worlds. There seemed endless time. Napoleon lingered, falling and falling and Illya fell with him.
Napoleon drew back. Before he could think of anything to say the four men and two women gathered around him began cheering. Someone slapped his back, and the paramedics surrounded Illya, going over him thoroughly, peering into his eyes, listening to his heart, asking him sharp questions. It was only then that Illya seemed to realize what had happened. He inhaled, a great gulp of air and sat up, looking around wildly.
"I'm alive?" he said and his voice was faint. "I'm—" he saw the coffin and scrambled to his feet, backed away as if the object had the power to capture him and trap him again. He had turned very pale, and was decidedly wobbly on his feet. The paramedic gripped his arm and firmly brought him back to a sitting position. "What's wrong with me?" He gasped some more. "Am I really alive? Or am I dying and imagining all this?"
Napoleon knelt beside him. "You're alive and well," he said firmly. "You got up too fast, that's all. Now just stay still for a minute, and then we'll get you loaded on the chopper."
"Napoleon." Illya looked at him curiously. "I—did I dream? Of you?"
"Solo got to you first," the paramedic told him, wrapping a blood pressure cuff around his arm. "He performed CPR."
"He gave you the kiss of life," the woman pilot said, and laughed. "No wonder you swooned, Illya. We all do." She laughed again and Illya frowned at her. Then, as she got up and walked away he looked at Napoleon again and blinked. His mouth fell open and the blood rushed to his face.
"Oh," he said and looked away. He bit his lip. "I thought—oh." A fresh wave of color flooded his cheeks and Napoleon leaned in closer.
"I said I'm sorry." He wouldn't meet Napoleon's eyes. The paramedic got to his feet.
"Do you need a stretcher, Agent Kuryakin?"
"No." Illya kept his face averted. "I can walk." As if to prove it he struggled to his feet, swayed, nearly fell.
Napoleon caught him, wrapped one arm around his waist, supporting him. "Don't do that," he said softly, right into Illya's ear.
Napoleon craned his neck to peer into Illya's face, under cover of helping him to the chopper. Illya ducked his head, and Napoleon made a clucking sound. "That. Don't do that."
"I made a fool of myself. Let it go." He stumbled and Napoleon steadied him.
"We're almost there. And for your information," he lowered his voice still further as they reached the helicopter. "That was the sweetest kiss of my entire life. If you're a fool then we both are. Furthermore, this conversation is not over."
"Not," Napoleon repeated as he boosted Illya up the steps into the waiting arms of two agents who deposited him in his seat, "over at all."
Illya left the debriefing room with a feeling of relief. He had signed his statement and he was free to go home. He had forgotten how it felt after a beating. He hurt everywhere. Sighing, he went to his office. Work was over, and now he could turn his attention to other things. Personal things.
Napoleon's lips on his. He stood still and thought about that. Napoleon hadn't been kissing him at first, of course, he had been performing CPR but then Napoleon had kissed him. There had been that brief undeniable moment when they were both kissing, kissing one another. He couldn't even think about that, not in words. He had no words. It had been—it had been—he shook his head.
Napoleon had found words. 'The sweetest kiss of my entire life,' Napoleon had said. Illya shivered a little. Sweet—yes, it had been sweet. He touched his tongue to his lips, remembering. It had been the sweetest kiss of his life, as well. It had been the only sweet kiss of his life. Kisses were—they were like the whole thing, a means to an end, the satisfaction of that need that rose periodically and had to be dealt with like any other need. He had always refused to let it touch him more deeply. But that kiss—he sighed, thinking of it. Then he was mortified. Look at him, standing here heaving longing sighs. Ridiculous. He had much better employ his time by—by—well, by thinking about what would come next. 'This conversation isn't over,' Napoleon had also said, and Napoleon was not a man to say things he did not mean. Napoleon would not say such a thing to him, would not arouse such expectations, unless he intended to fulfill them. It was only a matter of time.
Illya considered. Where did he want to finish the conversation? Not here, in his office. Not in Napoleon's office either. Not at work at all. It didn't seem appropriate and besides, how could it go—anywhere, here at work? Talking about the sweetness of a kiss past was all very well, but then it would lead to more kissing. At least he hoped so. He wanted to kiss Napoleon again, so privacy was called for. That meant his apartment, or Napoleon's. His lips curved upward. Napoleon's, by all means. Napoleon had the space, and the luxury—Napoleon had the king sized bed and the whirlpool tub. Furthermore Napoleon was a wonderful cook, he himself was hungry, and his own apartment only boasted a microwave oven and a hotplate. If this conversation were going to lead to more kissing and beyond, Napoleon's place was the obvious choice.
Illya frowned. That meant he shouldn't go home. Napoleon would eventually seek him out, and then there they would be, in his studio apartment with a single bed. It would be awkward, at that point, to suggest a relocation. No, he would wait here.
The frown deepened. He didn't want to wait here, in his office. Why was he waiting anyway? He was through with work. He wanted to leave. And what was keeping Napoleon? He would seek Napoleon out. That was the obvious solution. He nodded once, then picked up his jacket and went out the door.
They met at the elevators. Napoleon was just getting off and the open dismay on his face at sight of Illya dismayed Illya too. What was wrong? Napoleon was clearly not pleased to see him. Was Napoleon trying to leave without seeing him? But then why would he get out at this floor?
"Illya." Napoleon cleared his throat. "Ah—you're not leaving?"
"No." Napoleon thought it was Illya trying to avoid him! And that was why he had looked so glum! How wonderful, that Napoleon should care so much. Illya smiled, letting the happiness that brought him show, and saw Napoleon's face relax, the lines around his mouth vanish. Napoleon smiled back at him.
They stood there in the crowded hall, smiling at one another. Time had stopped again, and the other people jostling past, the noise of many sided conversations, the occasional greeting—all faded into an indistinct background hum. All there really was, was the other.
Then someone touched Illya's arm, breaking the spell. A young woman was standing beside him, holding a clipboard. "Sir?" she asked, with the air of someone saying something not for the first time. "We need you to sign another copy of your statement." She looked embarrassed. "Steve thought only Records Maintenance needed original signatures but of course Personnel does too—so if you'll sign this one for us?" She gave Illya the pen but before he could accept the clipboard Napoleon had taken it from the young woman's hand. He cast his eye over it and Illya watched him. If it had been anybody else he would have been offended. In fact anybody else might have had a wrist broken before the transfer of the clipboard had been completed, but it wasn't anybody else. It was Napoleon, so Illya only watched and thought about what was coming once this annoying business with the clipboard was over. If one kiss had felt like that, if one smile could make the world fall away like that, then what would it be like when they—what could it possibly be like?
"This is all right," Napoleon said and handed him the clipboard. "It's a true copy of the original." Illya stared at him, then raised an eyebrow. What do you know about the original? his silent stare challenged, and Napoleon shrugged his shoulders very slightly. I made it my business to know, the gesture said and Illya scowled. Napoleon reached out, straightened Illya's lapel. Because I care, the gentle touch reminded and Illya was warmed and disarmed all over again. He signed the document and handed it back to the young woman, who gave an audible exhalation of relief. With a quick goodbye and an eye on her watch she hurried away.
"Must be time to go home," Napoleon said and Illya looked up at him. "May I—er, may I offer you a ride? Since you were snatched from the conference and your car is in transit?"
"Oh. Yes. Thank you." No word yet of a destination.
They said nothing further. Illya followed Napoleon through the corridors, onto the elevator, out of the lobby and thought that no one looking at them would think anything extraordinary was going on. He and Napoleon often walked through the halls together, often left together. But tonight was extraordinary. He knew it, felt it in every fiber of his being and Napoleon, from his silence, from his frequent sidelong looks at Illya, felt it too. The conversation continues, Illya thought, and tingled with it.
In his car Napoleon turned so he was facing Illya. "Your place or mine?" he asked directly.
"Yours," Illya replied with equal directness and they stared at one another for a minute before Illya fastened his seatbelt, and Napoleon started the engine.
Illya gazed out the window, finding himself looking directly into the car beside theirs. Its driver was eating, which reminded him that he was hungry.
"Hungry?" Napoleon asked and Illya almost jumped at the eerie aptness of it. But he didn't jump, he controlled himself and answered
"Pancakes and eggs okay?"
"Oh, yes." He said it so quickly that Napoleon laughed, and Illya laughed with him. Then they were quiet again as Napoleon concentrated on weaving his way through the Friday night traffic.
How would it be? Illya stole a look at Napoleon's profile, set and intent as Napoleon focused on the task at hand. Napoleon would be a skillful and considerate lover, he knew that already.
"The woman's response is everything," he'd said to Illya once, early in their partnership. "If she's good with her hands and her mouth that's a bonus—obviously a much appreciated bonus. But it's seeing her cast off any reservations or inhibitions she came in with—seeing her throw all that aside because of what I am making her feel—that's an aphrodisiac for me. And when it culminates I feel so close to her because I was with her every step of the way." He paused. "But then it's over. I lie there and my body quiets down, and I turn my head and there's this stranger beside me. We were never close. It was only an illusion."
He refilled his wine glass, offered some to Illya and Illya shook his head. He felt honored that Napoleon was confiding in him, but he didn't really want to think about Napoleon making love to some woman. He didn't want to think about his own liaisons. He didn't want to think about anything outside this magic circle of him and Napoleon, reclining on their separate double beds in the Holiday Inn, mission successfully accomplished. They didn't have to be back in New York until the following afternoon. It would be so pleasant if Napoleon would only stop talking about his sex life.
"Is it that way for you, Illya?"
This was worse. Illya rolled his eyes, but when Napoleon kept looking at him, as if he really wanted to know, he answered as best he could. "No. I have no illusion of closeness. I don't want closeness. And I don't think overmuch about my partner's pleasure either. I look out for myself. Let him do the same." He said that bluntly, wanting to be sure Napoleon knew what they were talking about. He would, of course—Illya had been honest with UNCLE about his sexual preference. But he and Napoleon had never discussed it. So now he threw the gauntlet down and looked Napoleon in the eye.
But Napoleon only nodded. His eyes were troubled, but his next question showed it was another part of Illya's statement altogether that was causing it.
"If there is no feeling of closeness, or even the illusion of one, then what do you feel?"
"As little as possible," Illya said shortly and saw Napoleon's eyes narrow. Napoleon stared at him for a long time, and Illya looked straight ahead and pretended not to see him. But when Napoleon offered to refill his wine glass Illya accepted, and when Napoleon began an unrelated conversation about work Illya accepted that too, and the remainder of the night passed pleasantly. But Napoleon never talked about his women again, and from then on it seemed to Illya that there was something new in his manner. Illya understood that he had touched something in Napoleon that day, had reached some hitherto closed portal of his being and that Napoleon, far from minding the intrusion, had drawn him in and closed the door firmly behind him, keeping him there.
In Napoleon's apartment, finally alone, they stood and faced one another. Illya had draped his jacket across the chair, and Napoleon put his briefcase on the floor. They stared into one another's eyes, searched one another's faces, and then Napoleon smiled. The smile transformed his face, as it always did when he smiled at Illya, and Illya smiled back and went into Napoleon's outstretched arms.
Home. He was home. He rested his head on Napoleon's shoulder and felt the solid security of it. He thought about how it would be, and turned his head so his lips brushed Napoleon's ear. "I am not generous by nature," he warned, thinking of all those women, how Napoleon flattered them and teased them, danced with them and made love to them. He had no intention of sharing any of that and lifted his head, letting his eyes confirm what he was saying. Napoleon smiled again.
"Neither am I," he said and Illya nodded. Then Napoleon tightened his arms, drew Illya in and his mouth came down on Illya's once more.
I've been in a box my whole life, and didn't even know it, Illya found himself thinking as Napoleon's lips moved on his, already finding out what he liked—and didn't like, coaxing and promising rather than demanding. He answered with a sudden arching upward of his whole body, his arms tightening too. Sunlight streamed into his solitary existence, and fresh air. Napoleon was lifting him out of that box with the strength of his love and he was lifting Napoleon too, his own love equally strong. Napoleon's lips were lifesaving as before, they were his whole world and then Napoleon broke contact.
There was no more need for words. They went into the bedroom, each removed his own clothes and they climbed together onto Napoleon's big bed.
Napoleon plotted out Illya's arousal the way he'd plot out a mission and Illya helped him, the way he always had, with flashes of brilliant innovation and that controlled ferocity that had captivated Napoleon from day one. He sucked Illya slowly, using what he knew he liked, what he wanted, what had felt good to him in the past, using things he'd only wished for. Illya's body, taut and trembling under his hands, under his mouth, under his own urgent body was the center of the universe. He focused entirely on Illya's breathing, the way he arched upwards or twisted to the side, the hammering of the pulse just behind his ear. He watched the color come and go in his face, observed his hands twining in the sheets. Moving down, he prepared Illya with lips and fingers and tongue, taking his time over that as well. When the time was right he rose up, opened Illya's thighs. Illya welcomed him, reached up, grabbed him by the back of the neck and dragged him down, pulled him in. Their mouths came together as their bodies did and they were falling again, falling together, falling into eternity.
Illya stirred, turned his head and looked at Napoleon. Napoleon smiled at him. "Hello partner."
"Hello, Napoleon. That was—it was wonderful."
"I'm glad. For me, too."
"And now? You were with me every step of the way. Do you still feel close to me? Or was it an illusion after all?"
"What do you think?" Napoleon moved closer so their mouths were almost touching and he could practically taste Napoleon as well as smell him. "You were there."
"I think—no. It wasn't an illusion."
"No." Napoleon kissed his upper lip, very lightly and Illya sighed under the sweetness of it.
"It was real."
"Yes." Napoleon kissed the lower lip, drew it into his mouth, sucked on it gently. "I love you, Illya. That is the most real thing in my life. It always has been. I've loved you for a very long time without speaking it or," he licked along the line where upper and lower lips met, "showing it. This would be a hard door to close, Illya, now we've opened it."
"Do you want to close it?" He shivered because Napoleon's mouth was so close now, their lips brushed as they spoke.
"No. I want to open everything to you—my life, my home, everything. I want us to be together every minute that is possible for the rest of our lives."
"Napoleon—" Napoleon drew back.
"Be sure, Illya. Be very sure before you say anything. You may not want this after all. You may find me too controlling, too obsessive. You may—"
"I love you too, Napoleon." Illya moved that last fraction of an inch and they were kissing again. The conversation became disjointed and incoherent then but neither minded, and when the glory and the frenzy and the clutching and crying out were over they settled back into the embrace. Illya inhaled the good scent of Napoleon with every breath, Napoleon pressed his lips against Illya's temple, and the scent and the taste of each followed the other down into into sleep