Child of Morning, Child of Night—the Story Continues
They lay together in the big bed, the early morning sun shining across their entwined bodies. Both were naked, both were asleep. A faint beeping came from the clock on the bedside table and Napoleon rolled over, tapped the side, buying himself an extra twelve minutes of sleep... or something. He looked at his partner, blond head still buried in the pillows, and smiled, ran his hand down Illya's bare side. Illya made a muffled sound of pleasure and turned towards him, reaching for him.
Early morning lovemaking had to be one of the best things about being married, Napoleon thought, using the word he always used to himself. Never aloud, because it was true they weren't—couldn't be—legally married. They were partners. 'This is my partner, Illya Kuryakin,' he would say when the need arose and partner was a good word too, of course, it was a fine word. Combined with the shared address, partner said it all, but married was how Napoleon felt, so married was his word. His private, secret word.
The alarm beeped again and he started, realized he had fallen into a doze with his hand still on Illya's hip, and that Illya was asleep again, too. Carefully Napoleon reached over, and turned the alarm off this time. Then he kissed the tip of Illya's nose.
Illya opened his eyes and smiled at him. Napoleon smiled back. Then Illya's eyes clouded. "You're leaving today."
"For the whole week."
Illya sighed. "I'll miss you."
"I'll miss you, too. I wish you would reconsider and come with me."
"There's nothing to reconsider. I can't. If I could I would, but I promised to give that workshop and it's too late for them to find a good replacement. Plus I have lunch with Mr. Waverly on Wednesday. I don't like to cancel on him unless I have to."
"I know." Since Waverly's retirement he and Illya had resumed their monthly lunches. Napoleon had never been invited, and that bothered him more than he liked to admit. It was all part of Illya's past, that only George and Waverly were privy to. That whole part of Illya's life that was closed off to him, because Illya thought he couldn't understand, and because Illya didn't like to talk about it and... and...
Here Napoleon's musing ended. Of course Illya didn't like to talk about it, and it was doubtless true that he himself didn't understand completely. But meanwhile here Illya was, looking a little anxious now at whatever he was seeing in Napoleon's face, so Napoleon put it aside and drew him close.
Both of them tried to prolong it, tried to make it last; Illya wanting to keep Napoleon with him, Napoleon not wanting to leave. But finally it rushed upon them, overcame them, swept them under, buried them deep. Napoleon floated, lost in sensation, aware only of the body pressed close against his own. Illya's body. Illya, his own... he kissed Illya, kissed him sweetly, and softly, and Illya kissed him back. Their lips clung as their bodies did, and then they slipped back into sleep.
The sound of the lobby buzzer woke them and Napoleon hurled himself out of bed, because what the buzzer meant was that his car was here and ready to take him to the airport. Illya talked to the driver over the intercom while Napoleon took a fast shower and pulled on his clothes. He had packed the night before, so Illya handed him his suitcase at the door and Napoleon ran for the elevator. Then he stopped, jogged back down the hall, and kissed Illya quickly. "I love you," he said, right into Illya's ear. "I'll be back this weekend."
"I love you too. And I'll be waiting for you. Take care, Napoleon."
"You too." He didn't run this time—just walked to the elevator with his usual confident stride, and he caught his plane with ten minutes to spare.
Alexander Waverly sat and watched Illya Kuryakin enter the elegant hotel restaurant. Waverly smiled. Now that he was no longer in the position of sending his agents out to live or die as the case might be, Waverly felt he could safely indulge the secret affection he'd always carried for this particular one.
Illya had paused at the door. Waverly marked and approved the sharp scan of the room, the quick recognition of the two agents assigned to guard Waverly, now eating doughnuts at a nearby table. Illya crossed the room to him, all lithe grace and poise, and Waverly found himself transported back in time.
Illya Kuryakin had always had that grace, even at an age when most boys are falling all over their rapidly growing limbs. As a child, he had been beautiful. Waverly could still see that delicate little face, the clear, almost translucent skin, those wonderful eyes. In adolescence he was a flame, intense and pure, focused entirely on the path he had set for himself. He'd burned so brightly that no undue influence on Waverly's part had been necessary to get him into advanced classes, to take his education as far as it could go in half the usual time, and then bring him into UNCLE.
Waverly had paired him with Napoleon Solo because Solo burned too, with a dark fire he kept well concealed under the debonair charm. It had seemed possible that together they could be remarkable.
And they were, of course, Waverly's judgment more than vindicated within the first year. They had fought on the side of right with courage, integrity and a brilliant meshing of minds and talents. They had literally saved the world, repeatedly. Saved it from destruction, from enslavement, from devastating wars and plagues and natural disasters.
Now... Waverly's gaze refocused on Illya, who was sitting placidly beside him watching the room. He and Napoleon Solo were lovers, long established lovers by now. Waverly had not been surprised by that announcement, coming rapidly on the heels of their reassignment from Section Two. No longer field partners, they could be together openly. Illya had moved into Solo's luxurious penthouse apartment overlooking Central Park and Solo had stopped chasing women . They had been together ever since.
Some had been shocked, and some had been angry, but all of that faded away over the years, and now their relationship was old news.
And both men were so obviously happy. That was the damndest thing about it, seeing Napoleon Solo smiling over his work, whistling softly to himself on the elevator, seizing a few moments with his partner in the cafeteria. And Illya fairly glowed. It did Waverly's heart good to see it.
He had never forgotten his first sight of that skinny little boy clinging around George Piper's thick neck, as if to release him would be to fall into terrible danger. Waverly, who had read all of the documentation on this deplorable episode, including Piper's impassioned diatribe of twelve closely written pages, sympathized. He said nothing about Piper's unauthorized presence beyond greeting him pleasantly, and turned without delay to the task of finding out exactly what this child with the big solemn grey eyes, and the hair that seemed to bring the sunlight right into Waverly's office, actually knew.
He knew a lot, as it turned out, and while not all was useful some was explosive. Waverly maintained his air of polite interest throughout, not seizing on any particular thing, nor seeming to dismiss anything, however irrelevant it appeared. Encouraged by that, the child talked until he clearly had nothing left to say. He was exhausted, lying against Piper's chest, and Waverly leaned over and patted his knee.
"You have done very well," he said, and the child gave him a small smile.
"Thank you. You are very kind. I thought... I was afraid you wouldn't be. I was afraid you'd shout at me, and not let George come in.
"It is understandable that you would feel that way. I am sorry that events in Moscow happened as they did."
"That's all right. George saved me." He said it very simply and Waverly saw Piper's arms tighten, squeezing the child hard. He didn't seem to mind, wriggling even closer with a sigh of mingled fatigue and contentment. Waverly and Piper had exchanged goodnights and Piper had carried the child out, heading for his old apartment for one more night. Tomorrow he—they—were driving to Long Island, and taking possession of the house UNCLE had purchased.
Waverly had not wanted to let the matter end there. He had felt strongly that UNCLE had a responsibility to Illya Kuryakin, whom they had plucked from the only life he had known. And in Waverly's stern view of the world and his place in it, that mandated a personal involvement.
He had enjoyed being involved, as it turned out, had enjoyed watching the child grow and mature. It was fascinating, and gratifying too, to watch him learn to control his flame, to keep it banked and only release it when needed. It made him an unnerving opponent, seemingly inoffensive and harmless, even a little alarmed by the prospect of violence, changing to a lethal force in the blink of an eye. In fact, if you blinked at the wrong time you missed it, and you might never open your eyes again.
One day and ever afterwards that same fire was in Illya's eyes when he looked at Napoleon Solo, and that had been Waverly's first indication that their passionate friendship was becoming more—at least on Illya's side. Solo's response was less certain. The parade of women continued, and that debonair insouciance, even with his trusted partner, remained unchanged.
But let Illya be injured or missing and Solo dropped all pretense. He prowled the corridors, pouncing on any scrap of information, his feelings blazing on his face for all to see. Had they been lovers over those years that they were out in the field together? Waverly had never thought so, despite the rumors, but if they had been he wouldn't have objected. It was against regulations of course, but when either you or your partner might well be dead before night fell again, regulations would be cold bedfellows. The job had never suffered, the missions had never failed, and that was the important thing. The only thing.
And how pleasant it was now, to watch Illya and see how happy he still was. It was good, Waverly reflected, to be able to look back over his life with UNCLE and see that some things had turned out so very well.
"Are you well, Illya?" he asked, deliberately using the name and Illya smiled at him again.
"Yes, thank you sir."
"I have some information for you." He had felt, strongly, that this was news that needed to come from him, especially with Solo out of town. He had heard of recent events, when Illya had come face to face with Ivan Petrovich and only Solo's fast thinking and decisive action had saved UNCLE from a very awkward situation indeed. He couldn't blame Illya for it, but it was good that Solo's cooler head had prevailed.
"Your uncle is dead."
Illya stared at him. His eyes widened, but otherwise there was no trace of emotion on his face. He just sat there for a long moment, then spoke. "How?"
"What?" It was a sharp cry and other diners turned around The two security guards started to rise. Waverly shook his head, and they subsided. Illya flushed, and the next time he spoke his voice was quieter.
"Suicide? How could that happen? He was supposed to be under top security."
"He smuggled a pill in with him."
"Wasn't he searched?"
"Not thoroughly enough, obviously."
"He killed himself."
"So he wins. He goes by his own choice and he wins after all. Napoleon should have let me kill him when I saw him. That was the time, that moment when he thought he was getting his terms met, that he had come out on top again, had turned the situation to his advantage again. That was the time for me to come and take it all away from him. He would have known why, he would have known he was getting his just desserts and I... I would have known it too. Instead he takes the easy way out and I'm... I'm..."
"Hardly the easy way out," Waverly said dryly. "Retrieval of the hidden vial was undignified, to say the least, and probably painful. He would not have chosen this death freely."
"But he did choose. He got to choose. I never got to choose. All the power was always his, and nothing has changed."
"You are wrong."
"Do you think so?" Illya leaned forward and stared into Waverly's eyes. "Is that really how you see it, that this is the happy ending? He's dead and I'm alive... I'm happy, respected and successful..." he stopped, as if listening to his own words. Then he sighed. "I suppose it is the happy ending. I suppose it must be. But if so, then why don't I feel happy? Why do I feel empty, and tired, and... and sad? Why is that?"
"It is natural. He was an enormous force in your life. The removal of any such force leaves an empty place." It reassured him, and amused him too that throughout the conversation, despite the subject, Illya had eaten everything on his plate. Now he signaled the waiter to bring the dessert cart, and again Waverly found himself looking through time's lens, seeing that little boy licking clair cream from his fingers. He smiled, and Illya paused while inspecting the pastries and smiled too.
"Thank you, sir," he said.
"You are more than welcome." They sat in silence for the remainder of the meal, said their goodbyes and went their separate ways. Two days later, Napoleon came home.
He was early, so Illya, not expecting him until well after dinner, was standing on the balcony looking over the city. It was just getting dark, and lights were both coming on and going off as people left work or came home. Usually it was one of his favorite sights, but tonight he stared at it unseeingly. He was thinking about Napoleon's imminent homecoming, and how he wouldn't talk about his uncle at all tonight, nor would he discuss the other problem that was making the whole world look as grey as the steel and concrete below and around him. He would just welcome Napoleon home, let Napoleon talk about his trip, make love... he wouldn't do or say anything to spoil this time.
So lost in thought was he that he didn't hear the soft click of the opening lock, nor the light, quick footsteps across the thick carpet. But he knew the way Napoleon smelled, the way he felt, was as familiar with that touch as with his own, so when Napoleon's arms came around him from behind he turned without alarm into the embrace.
It felt good to be in Napoleon's arms again. Illya squeezed him hard, and was very satisfactorily squeezed in his turn. He rubbed his cheek against the rough fabric of Napoleon's coat, and Napoleon kissed his temple, mouth lingering. "Welcome home, Napoleon," he said and was squeezed again.
"Thank you. It's good to be home. I missed you." As if to prove it he kissed Illya's temple again, and Illya sighed with pleasure.
"I missed you too."
"Anything going on I need to know about?" It was Napoleon's standard question and it could encompass a great many things. Illya's equally standard response was always truthful, and it was tonight too, despite his earlier resolve to the contrary.
"Not at work. But my uncle died. And George hates all the apartments I showed him." Over the lonely hours both events had assumed equal weight and, indeed, seemed interconnected. Hadn't it been the very night he saw his uncle again for the first time that he also was made aware of George's unhappiness? And now his uncle was dead, and George had refused the offer Illya had made with such high hopes.
It had never occurred to him that George would say no. He didn't know how to get past George's gruff rejection, and he didn't know how to feel about the fact that his uncle was dead. So he put both issues on Napoleon his first hour home after all, and now felt as if a weight had come off his shoulders. He couldn't have deceived Napoleon successfully anyway. Napoleon would have known something was wrong. Napoleon always knew. And Napoleon would know how to fix it, too. He always did.
"Died?" Napoleon said and the barely controlled fury in his voice made Illya feel better right away. "Peacefully in his sleep, no doubt? That son of a bitch. And who told you when I didn't know yet?"
"Mr. Waverly told me."
"Oh." Napoleon relaxed a little and Illya found himself smiling. Evidently even Napoleon couldn't find fault with Alexander Waverly knowing something before he did. And it was good that Napoleon was angry. It wasn't just him, after all. "But not in his sleep. Evidently he died with his hand and arm covered with shit from rooting around up there for his suicide pill."
"Waverly said that?"
"No, but I got the picture. It's about time he found out how that..." he trembled all over and Napoleon's arms tightened, offering a wordless reassurance. With that reassurance, Illya felt able to go on. He wanted to go on, didn't want to think about the image he had conjured up, his uncle, and himself... he trembled again. "And cyanide is fast, but hardly peaceful."
"No." Napoleon caressed his face, fingers cupping it tenderly, as if trying to shield him from further pain.
"It was still more choice than he ever gave me."
"But now he's dead, and you're alive. It's over."
"Closure, you mean? More closure? And if I need more, then it wasn't really closure in the first place, was it? Even if I thought it was? And now is it? Or will it never be over, and he's won after all?"
"Nonsense," Napoleon said firmly. "There is no way on this earth that him lying dead in UNCLE's morgue while you're standing here in our home, in my arms, means anything but defeat for him and victory for you. You won. You won all those years ago, when Piper carried you out of that hospital room. You won when you joined UNCLE. You won when we moved in together. You win every minute of every day of your life. And the fact that you can't see that right now only means that you're not yourself. In fact, I'll bet you're —" the buzzer rang.
"What?" Illya demanded, without acknowledging the buzzer. "I'm what?"
"Hungry." Napoleon released his shoulders and went over to the intercom. He spoke briefly into it, then pressed the door release button.
"Hungry? What a thing to say! That has nothing to do with —"
"Ah huh. Then you are. You forgot to eat lunch, and haven't had dinner yet, and I'll bet you had a doughnut for breakfast. Didn't you." He was standing by the front door, and when the bell rang he looked through the peephole, opened up.
"So? What does that have to do with —" he broke off when Napoleon turned from the door with a large covered tray. He closed the door, locked it and carried the tray to the dining room table. Despite himself Illya was drawn by the enticing odor, and came over. Napoleon lifted the lid and there was a perfectly baked chicken, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce and corn on the cob, all neatly arranged on a platter. Illya's stomach growled and he glared at Napoleon, ready to take his head off if he so much as smiled, but Napoleon gravely filled two plates and set one in front of Illya. While Illya seated himself and poked sullenly at his corn Napoleon opened a bottle of wine, poured two glasses and seated himself across the table from his partner. He lifted his glass.
"To coming home," he said softly and Illya lifted his glass in reply because he was glad that Napoleon was home, of course he was. He had missed Napoleon terribly. They drank, and Napoleon turned his attention to his meal, leaving Illya little to do but follow suit. And he was hungry. He was very hungry, and the food was delicious so he ate everything on his plate and scowled at Napoleon, waiting for him to comment. But Napoleon only refilled his wine glass.
"What do you mean, George didn't like the apartments?" he asked. "Didn't you show him 16F? With the built in barbeque grill and garden flats?"
"He hated that one more than all the others. He wouldn't even go inside. He just stood in the doorway and looked. Then he grunted and left. He wouldn't speak to me all the way back to Long Island, and he didn't invite me in." Illya looked anxiously at Napoleon. "What do you think is wrong? Do you think he's changed his mind about selling the house? But he's still so unhappy. And -
"I'll talk to George," Napoleon said firmly. "I think I know what he might be balking at. I'll fix it."
"You will? How?"
"All right." And how much better he felt, with Napoleon's righteous indignation over his uncle's fate to bolster his spirits, with Napoleon's sympathy and promise to make things right with George to lift his heart, with warm food in his stomach and Napoleon sitting right across from him, smiling at him. He smiled back.
Napoleon rose from the table, and Illya pushed back his chair and stood up too . Napoleon extended his hand and Illya took it, walked with him to the bedroom. They undressed separately and went through their usual bedtime routines, coming together again in the big bed.
Napoleon made love to him slowly, carefully, almost the way he had in the beginning. He stroked Illya's back, sliding both hands, fingers spread wide, down, across, up his spine, making him arch and twist, rolling over so Napoleon's hands were on his stomach, his chest, pinching and rolling his nipples but carefully, very carefully. The pressure made Illya cry out, made him pull Napoleon's head down and kiss him, hot searing kisses. Napoleon's own kisses turned harder, more demanding. He laid a path of fire along Illya's throat, pausing to kiss and tongue each hard nipple until Illya was gasping and twining his fingers in Napoleon's hair, combing through it, feeling it tickle his palms. Napoleon turned then, turned so he was on top, so his mouth was breathing hot delight onto Illya's cock, so his own cock was bobbing against Illya's lips.
Illya opened his mouth and let it slide in, drew it in, sucking, whimpering when Napoleon reciprocated. Now it was his inner thighs that Napoleon's hair was tickling and it drove him wild, making him cry out, bucking against Napoleon, driving himself deep in that welcoming warm wetness, sucking frenziedly in his turn, sucking and twisting, drinking and coming. Napoleon's finger tickled his entrance, just barely touching, tickling and touching and he screamed against Napoleon's flesh, hearing Napoleon screaming too, feeling the vibrations on the head of his cock, coming and coming, endlessly coming.
When it was over he lay with Napoleon slipping from his throat. He kissed the tip as it shrank into itself and it responded with a weak twitch. He kissed it again. Napoleon kissed him, too, and he groaned with pleasure. Then Napoleon turned, scrabbling at the covers until they were face to face again. He kissed Illya's lips, and they parted. Their tongues touched lightly, each sharing the taste of the other and his own, then the kiss ended. Napoleon tucked Illya's head into the crook of his neck, holding him close. Illya slipped one arm around Napoleon's waist and, feeling very much as if he had indeed won a great victory, relaxed into sleep.
Napoleon rapped sharply on George Piper's front door. He had been here many times, since that first time, but never again alone—until this time. He had driven out straight from work, stopping only to pick up what he hoped would be his passport inside. When he saw Piper's silhouette peering through the frosted glass door panes he waved the six-pack in front of him like a flag of truce.
Piper opened the door and stepped aside. Napoleon came in, handed over the beer and accepted the can Piper wrenched free of the plastic and gave him. He sat on the sofa, but Piper didn't join him. Instead he walked over to the window and stood looking across the street, his back to Napoleon. Napoleon drank his beer and waited, but after a little while it became evident that Piper wasn't going to speak first.
"So what's wrong with 16 F?" he asked. "Illya was sure you'd take that one, since you like grilling out and having a few tomato plants in the summer."
"Nothing wrong with it," Piper growled. "It's not for me, that's all."
"And why is that?"
"None of your business."
"Is it the money?"
"Shut up, Solo. I said it's none of your damn business where I live or why."
"So it is the money. Cut it out, George. This is making Illya very unhappy, and I don't like seeing it. Cut the crap and talk to me."
"I've never taken anybody's charity before, and I'm sure not starting now. With you," he added pointedly.
"It's Illya's money just as much as it is mine, and if you look at it rationally it isn't charity at all." Piper snorted but Napoleon persevered. "UNCLE may have paid for this house originally, but it wasn't especially expensive then. You've paid the taxes and the insurance, and done all the upkeep."
"But I have no equity in it. In fact, now Illya's gone I keep expecting somebody to ask for it back. It was only so I could give him a good place to grow up. He's grown."
"George, this house is yours. It's in your name. You know that. You see the tax bill."
"Thought maybe that was just a formality." He shifted from foot to foot, still not looking at Napoleon. "Didn't like to ask. Didn't want it to look like I thought somebody owed me something for taking Illya." He stopped again, then jerked out, "Taking Illya has brought me more joy than anything else in my life. Don't want him to ever think that I did it for money. Or a house."
"Nobody thinks that, George."
"Now this property is easily worth ten times what UNCLE paid for it, and that's due to your..." Napoleon stumbled, trying to find the right word.
"Stewardship," Piper said. "That's what I wanted, to be a good steward of what the Lord gave me. This property, and Illya—when the day comes to face Him I want to be able to render good accounts." Another pause. Then, "ten times?"
"Yes. Enough to buy that condo. But I think it would be better to let Illya do it because he wants to." Piper finally turned around to look at him. "He wants to do it, George. He loves you. He wants you to be happy. It's breaking his heart that you aren't." For the first time Napoleon smiled. "And count your blessings. It's not every adult who wants a parent living only a few floors away."
"And how do you feel about that?" Piper may have turned around, but with the light coming from behind him Napoleon still couldn't read his face. George Piper was a big man, tall and thick. With his rough manner and harsh voice Napoleon had always wondered how a frightened, abused child could have trusted him enough to form any sort of bond. "It's not like we're buddies. It'd be like having your in-laws right next door."
"I'd be proud to have my father-in-law as my neighbor," Napoleon said. "And we're as close as you let us be. But above and beyond all of that, I love Illya, and I want him to be happy." He paused and let Piper chew on that before adding, "Illya's uncle died yesterday."
"What?" Piper came away from the window and for the first time Napoleon could see his face clearly. It was twisted with concern and anger. "Died? That son of a bitch! How dare he die? He should have rotted away in jail for the rest of his life! He should have been sent to a state penitentiary where he could get butt fucked the way..." he choked, and turned away again. "How's Illya taking it?"
"He phrased it somewhat differently, but generally he feels as you do. So do I. But cyanide isn't a good death."
"Too good." He shook his head. "Too good for that bastard."
"I agree. But however he died, this isn't the time for Illya to feel he can't come to you."
"Why should he feel that way? He can always come to me. He knows that."
"He doesn't understand why you won't even consider moving, after everything you said about being lonely, and it hurt his feelings when you didn't invite him in. He's been brooding over it ever since. Now, with Petrovich's death he's brooding more, and it's darker. I want to end it."
"So what do you need me for? Why don't you end it?"
"Because Illya needs you. For this, for anything to do with his uncle, he needs you. He's never said so because he doesn't want to hurt me, but I know. I wasn't there, so he thinks I can't understand. No one understands about his uncle but you." The pain of that made his voice harsher than he intended, and he saw Piper bristle. "And now Illya needs you," he went on, angry himself now, "and you're shutting him out because of some stupid pride over money."
"It's not stupid!" Piper shouted and Napoleon stood up and yelled right back.
"Yes it is! It's stupid pride! Stubborn selfish pride!" His voice echoed in the quiet little house, and he flushed. They stood there awkwardly, glaring at one another until finally Piper stomped away into the kitchen. Napoleon waited, and accepted the cold can when he returned. They sat side by side on the sofa, and drank silently.
Piper emptied his can and set it down, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. "So Illya buys the condo. As a gift."
"Yes. He's already put a deposit on 16 F—that's how sure he was that you'd like it. It would have been gone already if he hadn't."
"And it won't be some sort of financial hardship for him?"
Napoleon kept a straight face. "No. Not at all."
"So I sell this house and what? Live off the proceeds?"
"You sell this house, and let me invest your money and you can live on the interest. Leave the capital to Illya, if that makes you feel better."
"The hell you say. I can live off just the interest?"
"Yes. Besides, didn't you want to work part time? You can do that easily living in Manhattan."
"Huh." There was a long silence. "Okay," Piper said finally. "Okay. I guess you're right. Why make Illya unhappy if he can afford to do it, and he wants to do it?" He looked uncertain. "You sure he wants me living so close?"
"Yes, I'm sure. He'll be ecstatic."
"Good stewardship," Napoleon teased gently and was glad when Piper smiled a little.
"Guess so. Tell him I'll come in Saturday and see 16 F again."
"I will." There seemed nothing more to say so Napoleon rose, put their empties in the trash and went to the door. As he was turning to say goodnight Piper put out an arresting hand.
Piper squared his shoulders, giving the strong impression of a man forcing out words he felt might choke him. "I'm proud to be your neighbor, too."
He cleared his throat. "And your damn father-in-law."
"Thank you again."
"Don't hug me."
Napoleon laughed. "I won't. Goodnight, George. I'll see you Saturday."
"Get our picture off your wall!" George yelled up the stairs. "I don't trust the moving men with it! We'll take it in the car with us!"
"All right," Illya called back, and went into his old room.
It was bare. Every piece of furniture, every area rug, every sports item, gone. He had expected it, of course—the heavy moving had been done that morning by the top flight moving company Napoleon had recommended. Everything was gone except for a few personal items like the portrait, too precious to travel any other way but with them.
Empty. Illya stood there and looked around, feeling suddenly and unexpectedly bereft. This hadn't been his home for many years. He had first left it for Cambridge, with never a thought of how George must have felt, watching him go. He had left it, and then outgrown it. When he came back he never felt like the room's owner again. He felt like a guest. A guest—not of George, but of that little boy whose belongings still stood on the shelves, hung on the walls.
This room had meant everything to him. It had been his first experience of physical comfort, and physical security. He had felt safe there right from the start, just as he had felt safe in George's arms from that very first hug. This room had become so linked with George in his mind that the room had almost seemed an extension of George's arms. Seeing the room empty made Illya's blood run cold, as if from some glimpse into a future containing a loss so great he couldn't bear to see it. Not yet. He didn't have to see it yet. He lifted the picture off the wall, and stared at that instead.
George, and himself. George and the little boy he'd rescued in Moscow, on what was supposed to be a routine business trip. George stared pugnaciously into the camera and the child leaned against him, incandescent with joy. Illya reached out, touched the little face with the back of his forefinger. How happy George had made him. He remembered it well, day after halcyon day. Surrounded by love, the child had bloomed. For as long as he could remember there had been only fear, and pain, and shame and sorrow. He was wretchedly afraid of his uncle, his uncle and his uncle's clients hurt him badly and then laughed at his tears, and that this was the substance of his life had always seemed so sad he could hardly bear it.
Then George had come. That one event had changed his world. Everything had been better even after that first visit. No one had yelled at him again, or called him names. Food became plentiful, and there was always George's next visit to look forward to. And then one day George had come in, wearing his coat and carrying another, smaller one.
"You're coming with me," he had said, buttoning the coat all the way up to Illya's chin. It was too big for him, but he was used to that. Everything in the world was too big for him, it seemed. Even George was big, bigger than most of the men he knew. But George's size wasn't threatening, it was—George stood, then scooped him up. Instinctively he snuggled closer, pushing his face into George's neck, breathing in the already familiar scent of him. Then George had started walking, and they had left the hospital room behind, were walking down a hall. Coming with me, George had said. Where? Not... surely not back to his uncle, surely George wouldn't do that to him, but just the thought frightened him so badly he began shaking. When they got onto an elevator and it went down, down towards the street, down to where his uncle might be waiting for him, he cried aloud. "Where? Where are we going? I don't want... I don't want to go back to him!" He burst into frightened tears, wanting to jump down and run away, unable to let go of George's neck. The elevator doors opened and George carried him out into the lobby. He sat down on the first bench they saw.
"Illya." He pushed the child away from him just enough to look into his face. "You're coming with me. To America. I'm taking you to America and you'll live with me there. You'll never see your uncle again. I'll take care of you from now on."
"America?" This was so far outside any ideas he might have had that he didn't know how to feel about it. It didn't alarm him further, but it didn't reassure him either. "America? With... with you?" He hoped he had heard that part right.
"Yes. I'm taking you..." he stopped, and smiled into Illya's face. There was so much tenderness in that smile that Illya found himself smiling back. "Home," George finished softly. "I'm taking you home, honey."
"Yes. Home with me."
"Oh." It was all so strange, and very confusing, but he trusted George. George had brought him food just as he'd said, George had kept Grant out just as he'd said, and if George said he was taking him home, then he believed it. He did. But it all rested on George, on his physical presence, so he tightened his arms around that thick neck and held on for dear life.
A heavy arm went around him and he smiled, rubbed his cheek against George's shoulder. The arm tightened and Illya looked up at him. His smile faded. "Don't get old, George," he said. "I mean, not yet. It's too soon. It makes me sad."
"Honey, that makes about as much sense as me wanting you to stay little because those were the happiest years of my life. Life just keeps going on and we either go with it and age, or we die."
"And now he's dead. Dead and gone and at peace with it all. Of course, he always was at peace with it all. What he did didn't trouble him one bit."
"Well, it's troubling him now," George growled, and Illya looked at him curiously.
"Do you really think so?"
"Illya, he's burning in hell. Burning in hell this minute, and forever."
"Forever," Illya echoed, and frowned a little. But he said nothing more, just followed George down the stairs, and out the front door. Still silent, he watched George lock the door for the last time and put the key under the mat for the real estate agent.
He only looked backward once, at the tree, growing well above the roof. It seemed the strangest thing of all, that he was leaving that behind. But he was, and when George turned the corner the tree was gone, the house was gone, and there was no point in looking backwards so he turned around in his seat and looked at George instead.
"Burning alive forever," he said. "Tortured forever. I don't know, George. I've been tortured. Being tortured, deliberately tortured—it's a terrible thing. To know it would go on forever, with no possibility of rescue or even death—I don't know. I'm not comfortable consigning anyone to that."
"You're not consigning anybody anywhere!" George said sharply. "It's God who made hell, and God who says the sinner goes there, and if he isn't a sinner who deserves hell, if that bastard doesn't deserve hellfire then who does?"
"Maybe nobody does. If even I don't want that for him, then how..."
"Well let's just throw it all out, then," George snapped. "We threw out the part about two men having relations is a sin, now we throw out hell—so there goes heaven too, right? We're no more than the rocks or the bushes—but answer me this, Mr. too big for the faith he grew up in, too big for the church he was confirmed in!" His face was red now and Illya stared at him, astonished. He hadn't meant to enter this explosive territory, had carefully avoided it all these years since he and Napoleon had been together. He'd been more or less thinking out loud, and now look. He reached out, touched George's arm.
"George, I didn't mean —"
"Answer me this," George went on. "Why would God point me to that particular Bible verse that particular night? 'Suffer the little children' it said, right when I was praying for guidance about you! Wondering whether I should take you, if it was the right thing—for you and for me, both. Or are we throwing that out too? I suppose you say now it was all coincidence!"
"No," Illya said, and he patted George's arm again. "I don't throw that out. I believed it was a miracle when I was little, and I still do. All right?"
"And Jake told me way back in camp that my uncle had to work out his own salvation, and it had nothing to do with me. Or you. So why are we fighting about it?"
"Because you said you didn't believe in God or anything else I tried to teach you!"
"Well, you said you didn't believe in hell!"
"What I said was that I am not comfortable picturing someone—anyone—being perpetually tortured because I've been there. I've been there, and I wouldn't wish it on... on my worst enemy. I'm not saying anything else. What do I know? I believe you that God told you to save me. Beyond that, I do the best I can, George. All right?"
"All right." It was grudgingly conceded, but Illya accepted it with another pat and settled back in his seat. After another moment George spoke again. "You never told me you'd been tortured."
"I wasn't allowed to talk about my work. You know that."
"But who..." George sputtered in outrage. "Who would... tell me about it."
Illya considered, then told George a very mild story which evoked such wrath that he had to laugh out loud, and George laughed too. They were still laughing when they pulled up in front of their apartment building. The doorman opened the car door, and Illya got out, still holding the picture. George followed him inside.
Napoleon entered softly, because it was late. He had been working long hours, catching up on the work which had accumulated during his recent trip. Illya had taken off the past two days, helping George move. Napoleon missed him. Without even the possibility of a chance encounter in the hall, a staff meeting which both were required to attend, or a quick lunch, the day seemed endless. By the time he got home last night Illya was already in bed and asleep, having spent the day heaving furniture around according to George's directions. Napoleon had thought the same might hold true tonight, so he eased the door closed behind him and didn't turn on the hall light, but then he saw Illya's blond head over the top of the glider on the balcony. He was sitting there looking over the city, but one hand came up to acknowledge Napoleon's presence.
Napoleon got two glasses of chilled white wine and came out on the balcony too. He handed Illya one glass, sat beside him on the glider and touched their glasses together. They made a faint ringing sound, and Illya smiled at him over the rim as he drank. They sat there in silence. Napoleon took another sip of wine, appreciating its tart coolness in his dry mouth, and set the glass down. He reached over and stroked Illya's hair lightly, caressingly, loving the feel of it between his fingers. Then he turned Illya's face to his, kissing his eyes closed. He kissed Illya's cheek, the flesh cool and soft under his lips. Illya made an encouraging sound and Napoleon kissed his mouth, sharing the taste of the wine, sharing his own taste. Then he drew back.
"Hi," he said softly, and Illya smiled again.
"George all squared away?"
"Pretty much. We spent most of the day unpacking books."
Napoleon winced in sympathy. Illya too had a lot of books, and when he moved in it had taken days before all were arranged to his satisfaction.
"I ordered two new bookcases to flank the fireplace in the living room, and they came today."
"Did he like them?"
"Yes he did." Illya's mouth curved upward and Napoleon kissed it again. Illya kissed him back, and they kissed for a moment longer. "He really did. And I think everything is where he wants it now."
"Does he seem happy?"
"Yes." He stopped, sniffed, and tilted his head. Napoleon waited and then it came to him, too. Drifting on the breeze, almost lost in the myriad other odors of New York City, it came. "Chicken," Illya decided. "I saw some marinating earlier."
"I'm glad he's using the grill."
"Yes." There was a long silence, then Illya spoke again. "My room is exactly the same."
"I said, my room is exactly the same. You know, that second bedroom. He has it set up exactly the way my room was at home—at the house," he amended hastily. "I saw it today when he asked me to hang up the picture. There's even a red bedspread, a new one by now, it must be, but you couldn't tell by looking. My sports trophies—everything. Except of course there's no tree. There's a big skylight, and floor to ceiling windows, and it's very bright—much brighter than my old room was."
"I think the previous tenant used it as an art studio. Does it bother you?"
"Not in itself. I mean, of course George can do what he wants. It's his apartment. His furniture. But when I asked him about it, you know, trying to be casual?" Illya laughed a little and Napoleon laughed too at the image of Illya trying to be casual and George...
"What did he say?"
"He growled at me that it was his business, and when I came to stay I'd be glad not to be bunking on a couch. And that's true, of course. But then he said again that those were the happiest years of his life, and I have no answer to that."
"Isn't it sad?" Illya went on, and his face had darkened. "Isn't it sad that those were the happiest years of his life, and now they're irretrievably over? And I can't even tell him I feel the same way because this..." he turned suddenly and put both arms around Napoleon's waist, holding on fiercely and Napoleon embraced Illya in his turn. "These are the happiest years of my life," Illya finished, voice muffled in Napoleon's shoulder. "Right now, back when we were field partners, looking ahead. My years with you are the happiest in my life. But where does that leave George?"
"It's natural," Napoleon said comfortingly, stroking Illya's hair again. "Children grow up and move on, and parents have to let them go."
"That's the saddest thing of all, that it's just part of life's grand scheme, and now George is being left behind while you and I move ahead and someday he'll..." Illya stopped talking then. Napoleon said nothing, just brushed Illya's hair aside so he could kiss the nape of his neck. Illya bent his head so he could do it again and Napoleon obliged, inhaling the good scent of him.
"It may not be as bleak a prospect as you think," he said after a few minutes.
"Now there's a new bachelor in the building. A bachelor in good health, with a pension, who cooks. He'll be fighting the women off. You know, you've seen it."
"You're right." Illya turned his head a little so Napoleon's lips could travel around his neck to his ear. "They'll be knocking at his door, bringing casseroles and desserts..."
"Calling him in the night to kill bugs and fix plumbing..."
"Are you saying he might meet a woman?" Illya pulled away and sat up straighter so he could look directly into Napoleon's eyes. "Is that what you think is going to happen?"
"I wouldn't rule it out."
Illya frowned. "It seems unlikely to me. But just in case, have all the women in the building been checked on?"
"I'm sure they have, but we can recheck. We'll make it our mission to protect George from unscrupulous agents who might try to get at us through him. If anyone is still in the building tomorrow night at this time we'll know they're clear. All right?"
"Yes. But I doubt it will happen. George is so... he doesn't make friends easily."
Napoleon snorted. "No, I can see where he wouldn't. He's pretty off-putting."
And here it was, the opportunity he'd waited for. After all this time the question came easily. "In fact, he's so off-putting that I've always wondered how you felt you could trust him. How you were able to get past that roughness and that harsh voice, especially considering... well, considering everything."
Illya frowned at him. "I don't know what you mean."
"When you first met him. When you were little. Because it seems to me that George is loud and aggressive and has a rather brutal way of expressing himself, and I would have thought that would have scared you off."
"Yes. Considering your uncle, and what he and his coterie of allies did to you. Weren't you afraid of George, at least in the beginning?"
"No. Because I never saw that side of George, not aimed at me. He yelled at the dieticians because they wouldn't increase my meal allotments, and he shook Grant and threw him out of my room when he insulted me, but to me he was always gentle and soft spoken and kind. I liked his roughness because it seemed like a shield, or walls. I was inside them, and his roughness was between me and everyone else." Illya stopped and Napoleon, who had been listening intently, nodded.
"So he protected you right from the start, when no one else would."
"Yes." Illya smiled at some memory. "He called me by my name. He was the first one to do that—I won't even repeat what they had been calling me. But George used my name. And he told me that no one would hurt me again, and no one ever did. He told me he'd get me more to eat, and he did. He told me someone would love me one day, and that was true too." He looked at Napoleon, and his face was very soft.
"You should understand about George, Napoleon. You're the same way. It was the same thing, when Mr. Waverly assigned me to you. Everyone said you were hard, and ambitious, and that you didn't want a partner. They all said they wouldn't be me for the world, because you never forgave a slight and that's how you would see me, as a slight, as Waverly saying you weren't good enough on your own."
Napoleon shifted, uncomfortable with the conversation. "And when you realized they were wrong?"
"Oh, they weren't wrong. That's exactly how you are. But you never turned that on me, not seriously. It was just like with George, like you drew me inside, like our spirits were one from the very beginning, and all your ambition and your danger was directed outside." He flushed and looked down, as if fearing he had said too much, or said the wrong thing. Napoleon put a finger under his chin and lifted it.
"Yes," he said, so moved by Illya's words that he could barely speak, and deeply satisfied that Illya had actually discussed his past, that past which had always been a closed book to him, that past Illya thought he didn't—couldn't—understand. "We were one from the very beginning. And we are one today."
"I love you Napoleon." He yawned. The scent of cooking meat had gone. Napoleon nuzzled at Illya's throat again, and Illya arched against him. They kissed for a little while longer, cozy on the glider, then they went inside.
Napoleon undressed Illya slowly, then eased him down onto the bed while he removed his own clothes. By the time he had finished Illya had turned over and was lying on his stomach, legs spread. Napoleon sat down beside him and spent a long time arousing him, taking infinite pains, preparing him carefully, bringing him to the peak. Then he knelt behind him, put an arm around his waist and pulled him up onto his knees, shoulders pressed into the mattress, face buried in the pillow now.
He had prepared Illya so well that there was no pain, no resistance, just hot welcoming tightness. He made himself stop then, just the head encased, waiting for Illya to make the next move and he did, pushing himself back, drawing Napoleon in. Napoleon reached around in front and grasped him, squeezed him, and madness engulfed them both.
They thrashed against one another as if fighting, but their goal was the same so they strove together, writhing and pushing and holding on, holding on through the sweaty incandescent finale, holding on as Illya crumpled onto the bed and Napoleon fell beside him, clutching one another as the world settled into its rightful place once more, still clinging to one another as they fell asleep.
"He wants us to come over and meet a female friend of his." Illya put down the phone and turned to Napoleon. "He says it's a special occasion, so will we please dress up a little."
"Ah." Napoleon looked up from his computer. "So he has met someone."
"It's been three months. Don't worry, whoever she is I'm sure we've seen her dossier."
The security check of the building's eligible female residents had been quickly done, but then they couldn't leave it alone. Lying side by side on the big bed, propped comfortably against pillows and one another, they had made lists—lists of the most likely, the least likely, the wild cards. Illya thought George would be traditional in his choice, and Napoleon yielded to his presumably greater knowledge of their subject.
"So you really think Mlle Gloney is out?" he had asked just this morning before they got up.
"She's three inches taller and seven years older than he is. Even if George were going to make a date, which he isn't, he would never do something that far out of the norm."
"He took you," Napoleon pointed out and Illya gave him a startled look.
"It's hardly the same thing. We're talking about a..." he stumbled. Napoleon obligingly finished the sentence for him.
"A wife! No! I was thinking more of a companion, a friend, a..." he saw Napoleon laughing, and scowled. "A wife! I don't think that's such a good idea, do you?"
Napoleon laughed again. "And you think he'll consult you?"
"You don't think that he will?"
"No." Illya bit his lip.
"Wouldn't it be the best thing? No loneliness for George, no worry for you—so long as she's not a Thrush agent what more do you want?"
"I don't know."
Napoleon turned onto his side so he could look into Illya's face. "You want George to be happy, right?"
"Of course I do."
"Well," he reached out, ran one finger down Illya's arm, watched him shiver. "Wouldn't it be good if George could have what we have? He's a healthy man, he must have needs of his own. He was pretty isolated out there in suburbia. Now he's meeting all these women —"
"Who has he met recently?"
"Hilda Owens and Joan Redding have both brought him casseroles this week. Maria Rosenblum had a broken intercom yesterday, and Mlle Gloney has had, in alarming succession, a mouse, a spider and two rats invade the sanctity of her boudoir."
"How do you know all this?"
"I keep up with our missions, Illya."
"Our mission was to keep George safe from double agents, not fix him up!"
"I didn't fix him up. I'm just reporting back."
"Well... " Napoleon began stroking Illya's stomach, fingers following the little trail of blond hairs that tickled his palm when he laid it over them. Illya shuddered.
"Now don't you think," Napoleon said, moving down so he could press his lips to the spot, tasting his flesh, "that George is entitled to... how long has it been for him, anyway? What does he do—I mean, given that his religion forbids casual sex—about that?"
"I don't know, and if you were trying to break the mood you could hardly have found a better topic. I don't know about George's sex life, and I don't want to know. I've never thought about it, and I have no idea what he does, if anything. But I do want you to kiss me there again."
"Here?" He kissed Illya's knee.
"No." Illya raised his hips a little as if trying to clue him in but Napoleon pretended not to see. Instead he moved his kisses to the inside of Illya's knee. "Here?"
"No..." Illya's voice faltered as Napoleon's lips drifted up, up his inner thigh.
"Here?" he asked, voice muffled in flesh and Illya moaned.
"Yes, yes..." he pulled a pillow over his face and all Napoleon could hear after that were occasional smothered cries and, at the end, his name. His name, over and over and over again. His name.
Now they were getting ready to go downstairs. Both wore button down shirts and sports jackets because when George said dress up a little he meant it.
"Maybe you're all wrong," Illya said when Napoleon had set the alarm and they were walking to the elevator. "Maybe she's just a friend. Maybe —" they were alone in the elevator so Napoleon used the opportunity to kiss him thoroughly, silencing him for the remainder of the ride, and for the walk to George's apartment too.
"This is Mae Paseur," George announced as soon as they entered. "Mae, this is my son Illya Kuryakin, and his partner Napoleon Solo." He made the introductions without a trace of discomfort and Napoleon, who knew what it had cost him over the years, smiled at him with genuine warmth. But his mind was racing. Mae Paseur? Mae Paseur? He turned to Illya, but could tell from the furrow between his brows that Illya was drawing a blank too. Napoleon ran over the lists in his mind, all of them, including the wild cards. No, and this pleasant faced, plump little woman with the dark curly hair wouldn't have been a wild card anyway. She was entirely suitable for George Piper, he could see that at a glance. But then how... he ran over the similar list they had made for women George might meet at work, but came up similarly blank. Who the devil was Mae Paseur?"
"I met Mae at church," George was saying as he mixed drinks, and Napoleon groaned inwardly. Church, of course! How utterly predictable. He must be slipping. Meeting Illya's eyes over Mae's head, Napoleon saw the same chagrin there. Then Mae was talking with the air of a woman who expects everyone's attention when she speaks.
"So you're Illya," she was saying. "I've heard a lot about you, of course. And Napoleon Solo. I've heard about both of you." George was out of earshot but she leaned closer and lowered her voice anyway. "I know George has had issues with his church out on Long Island because of you two, but our congregation is more inclusive. I think it will be easier on him."
"What kinds of issues?" Illya demanded. "Did that new pastor try to make him uncomfortable about it? When George has been a member there longer than he's been out of divinity school?"
"It's one of the reasons he was glad to move. And don't worry about me. I don't think your private life is any of my business." She didn't add that neither should George's be Illya's, but it was clear in her tone, and her look, and before either man could respond she had moved away in answer to George's call.
"Mae? Taste these drinks and see if they're okay." He handed her a glass and she sipped, smiled up at him and nodded. He beamed back at her. Beside Napoleon, Illya made a faint choked sound and Napoleon looked at him sharply. But Illya's face showed only polite appreciation of the glass George was placing in his hand.
It was a pleasant evening. George and Mae sat close together at the dining room table, and when George said grace they held hands. Over dinner George scolded Illya for looking too thin, gave Napoleon a look that clearly said he was failing in his responsibilities, and pointedly loaded down Illya's plate.
After dessert Napoleon and Mae went out on the balcony, and George drew Illya aside. "I wanted to ask you something," he said awkwardly and Illya nodded. He was ready to say how much he liked Mae, always assuming she passed her security check, but George's question had nothing to do with that.
"Would you mind if I changed your room around some? Mae thinks it'd make a nice home office and guest room if I put a foldout couch on the far wall. That way if she happened to stay over she'd have someplace to be a little more comfortable. And if I put my desk and file cabinet and computer station in here, that'd open the living room up more in case we had company."
"Is she going to be spending that much time here?" Illya said without thinking, then flushed. "Oh. Is she—might she be moving in?"
"We're leaning that way. She's alone, I'm alone... we have so much fun together. I didn't know I could laugh so much with anyone. Is this a problem for you, honey?" George's voice had softened. "You know there'd be no funny business until—I mean if—well. And I hope you'd never think I'd care less about you. You're the most important person in the world to me. But Mae is my age, she understands the same things I do. We speak the same language, like the same music."
"If you're happy then I'm happy," Illya said stoutly. "And you can change the room, of course you can. It's not really my room, anyway. It hasn't been my room for a long time." He smiled at George, who tousled his hair roughly.
He and Napoleon said their goodbyes at the door, and after shaking both their hands briskly, Mae walked off to let George hug Illya again. Then, as they were walking out into the hall, George cleared his throat. "By the way."
"Yes?" Illya looked at him inquiringly and Napoleon, who was already mentally compiling lists of church going women in their late fifties, paused.
"Mae works for the State Dept. doing data entry. She has an A2 Security Clearance." He watched them both for a moment then laughed out loud. "Ha! Got you!" He pointed a finger into Illya's nonplused face. 'Even better, got you!" This time the big forefinger was in Napoleon's face. "Got the world famous team of both of you! Ha!" He shut the door and Illya began laughing. He laughed all the way to the elevator where Napoleon once more took advantage of their solitude to kiss him breathless.
As they got off at their floor they separated, but walked closely side by side, shoulders touching. They spoke little while they got ready for bed. There was a contentment between them that had no need for words. Once their separate nighttime rituals were complete, and they were together again under the covers Illya snuggled closer and Napoleon held him fast. There was still no talking, and soon both were asleep.
George and Mae were married on a sunny June morning in a little wedding chapel nestled in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York, not far from Illya's former camp. Napoleon sat alone in the front right hand pew, the sole representative of the groom's family since Illya was standing with George at the altar. There was no one on the corresponding pew because Mae's only sister Olivia was even now advancing down the miniscule center aisle. But behind him both sides of the church were packed with friends and well wishers. People George or Mae knew from their respective jobs, people from George's old, and the couple's current churches were out in force. Pastor Smith was there, and Alexander Waverly. But right now Napoleon saw no one but his partner.
Illya was watching George, who was watching Mae come towards him in an ivory floor length dress. She had no veil, but carried a bouquet of summer flowers and her smile was as radiant as any bride half her years. George was beaming too, and when she reached him he took her hands in his and lifted his face in a visible prayer of thanksgiving. Illya smiled, and his eyes met Napoleon's. At whatever he saw there the smile softened. Napoleon smiled too, and they stood there smiling at one another while the minister spoke about the promises being made that day.
When the time came for the exchange of vows Napoleon found himself saying the words silently, not moving his lips but not taking his eyes from Illya's, either. George's voice broke midway through and he had to stop to clear his throat, but Illya's gaze never faltered. 'As long as we both shall live' Napoleon told him without speaking, and saw the same pledge in Illya's face. It was a timeless moment, seeming to surround them and envelope them, separating them from everyone and everything around them and binding them together. Illya's eyes, so clear and serious and so very blue, filled Napoleon's world, and the rapt expression on Illya's face said the same was true for him. Then the minister said, "You may kiss the bride," and the moment was gone. George kissed Mae and back down the aisle they went, George and Mae, Illya and Olivia. They made a short reception line and when Napoleon came through Illya caught his arm and pulled him in, against him, so Napoleon found himself shaking hands along with the rest.
The reception was at a lodge nearby. There was a buffet, and a wedding cake. The wedding party posed for pictures and everyone else moved around and talked. Waverly greeted Napoleon.
"Where is Illya?"
"Getting his picture taken," Napoleon answered and laughed a little because Illya was even now casting longing looks at the buffet despite the photographer's pleas for him to 'Smile for the camera now, Mr. Kuryakin'. Then George leaned over and said something into his ear and Illya's eyes snapped front. He smiled pleasantly enough and Napoleon, grinning, looked at Waverly and saw that he was smiling too.
"Mr. Piper always did have a firm hand," he said and Napoleon grinned again.
"That was probably just as well."
"Yes, it was." Waverly chuckled at some memory. "It certainly was. You look well, Mr. Solo. Domestic life seems to agree with you."
"It does," Napoleon said fervently. "It does indeed."
"I am glad. I didn't foresee this, when I put you two together, but I am pleased that it has worked out, and that he—that both of you—are so happy."
"Thank you. And now," he laughed as Illya was finally released from wedding duties and headed for the buffet table, "Illya is even happier." They waited for the wedding party, then filled their own plates and settled at their table.
Waverly cleared his throat. "Mr. Solo, I wish you would come the next time we have lunch. I would enjoy seeing you again."
"Thank you." He was enormously touched, far more than a simple lunch invitation would normally account for. "I would like that, too."
Illya made a toast for the new couple. He stood at the head table, graceful and elegant in his tuxedo, blond hair shining under the lights, and Napoleon watched him. He kept it brief, speaking of his love and gratitude for George, his high regard for Mae, and his best wishes for their future happiness. Then he drank from his glass and while everyone else was still drinking from theirs he set it down, and returned to his dessert. Napoleon laughed at him from his seat before turning to watch George lead Mae out for their first dance together.
How happy they looked. Napoleon sat and smiled at them, feeling full of good will. Illya came over and sat next to him, took the last bit of icing from his plate. Still smiling, Napoleon rose and got them both more cake. Then Mae came over and joined them.
Napoleon congratulated her again, and she thanked him before turning to Illya, and laying her hand on his arm. He looked startled, but didn't withdraw although Napoleon knew he was itching to. "I just wanted to tell you," she said intensely, "that when George told me how he got you in Russia I got goose bumps. See? I'm getting them now, just thinking about it." She extended her free arm and they all regarded the pimply flesh rising there. "It was a miracle."
"Yes it was," Illya said politely, and Napoleon shot him a curious look. This seemed a very personal subject to him, but Illya showed nothing but courteous attention.
"I mean, for the Bible to fall open to that verse! That verse out of all those verses!"
"Yes. I know."
"Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not! That's what it said, right under his finger!"
"Yes, it did."
"You poor little thing." She patted Illya's arm. "And to think there was no one you felt you could go to. Looking back as an adult, of course, you know there were teachers, and policemen and doctors you should have told but you were too little to see that, weren't you." She didn't wait for an answer. "Thank God He brought you out of there, and gave you to George."
"Yes." Illya's face had closed, and Napoleon sympathized. He remembered Ivan Petrovich's file. This... civilian had no idea what she was talking about. But she meant well, Napoleon knew and Illya clearly knew it too because he had found a smile for her, and when she gave his arm a final pat he put his hand over hers and squeezed it briefly before releasing it. She beamed.
"Well. I just wanted to share that with you. I've never been so inspired by anything I've ever heard."
"Thank you." She patted Napoleon's arm too, and went back to where George was sitting with Waverly. Napoleon cocked an eyebrow at Illya, wondering if Illya were offended, or hurt, or if he shared Napoleon's shock that George had talked of something so intimate. But Illya seemed just as usual, and he met Napoleon's raised eyebrow with a shrug.
They finished their wedding cake and had more champagne, and then Mae threw her bouquet. There was a flurry of excitement, another flurry of goodbyes and finally he and Illya were in their car and driving back to New York.
There was more champagne there, in their bed. The moonlight was pouring in the window, and Napoleon left the blinds up so nothing would block it. Their bodies met in the easy way of lovers who know one another very well, and they rocked together as if floating down that silvery moon stream. Illya gasped out something incoherent and Napoleon looked down at him, his head thrown back, his lips parted, his thighs parting too. Napoleon moved on him, wrapping Illya's hair around his fists and kissing it, burying his face in it finally as he buried his body in Illya's body, and was reborn there.
Afterwards they lay side by side. Napoleon kissed Illya's hair again and smoothed it down, twined it around his fingers, smelled its fresh wild scent. Illya made a contented sound, and Napoleon smiled.
"You looked wonderful today," he said.
"Thank you. So did you."
"It was a nice wedding."
"Yes, it was."
"I was surprised that George told Mae that story about how he got you. Do you mind? I mean, you gave him permission to tell me all about it, but..." He stopped, then, and peered at Illya, whose lips were twitching. "What's funny?"
"First of all, Napoleon, it's not a story. Don't let George hear you call it a story or you'll never hear the end of it. It is his testimony. Or his witness. Even his prayer of praise. But certainly not a story."
"Hmm. I stand corrected."
"And he tells everyone. He never says exactly what my uncle did to me, you're right, he got my permission before he told you any of that. But that my uncle hurt me, and that George prayed about it and opened his Bible and read that particular verse—that's his shining moment, Napoleon. That's the moment when just like with Abraham or with Noah, God put a finger right on George Piper's heart, and told him to save me. And George went straight to Burt Conrad's room and told him so, that same night. Everybody who knows George knows about that."
"It just seems so personal."
"That doesn't matter, because George's obligation to share God's glory with others takes precedence over any need for privacy we might have." He said this as if it were something learned by rote, and at Napoleon's surprised expression he laughed. "George and I had this discussion many times while I was growing up. I wasn't overly pleased by his telling all and sundry, but to him it was a sacred duty so after a while I gave up arguing and now I'm used to it. In fact, I have to be glad of it. Because you can think what you like about George's religion, Napoleon, but the fact is when George saw that verse he heard God's voice, and he obeyed it. He obeyed it not just with his actions, but with his heart. He didn't just rescue me. He loved me. George's religion is everything to him, and it's a good thing for me that it is."
"I know. I have the nothing but respect for George's faith. And his story... sorry. I mean his testimony is only the truth, right? That verse..."
"But I didn't like Mae implying that it was your fault for not telling anyone."
"I don't think she meant it quite like that."
"No, I know. But who could you have told? Surely everyone knew who your uncle was."
"Yes. They knew him."
"His authority at that time and in that place would have been complete."
"Yes, it was." He couldn't begin to decipher Illya's expression now. Funny how that still happened, even after all this time. It made him uncomfortable. Was it he offending Illya now? Touching too roughly on a tender subject, and maybe hurting him? Then Illya reached out, touched Napoleon's face and the look in his own made Napoleon swallow hard.
"I forgot you would know about him."
"Yes. I read his file. He was a very dangerous man, in a position of absolute power. And you had none."
"No. You understand that, don't you."
"Yes. I'm a professional, remember? I know about men like that."
"Of course you do." Illya smiled at him. His eyes were very clear, and it was as if that lost little boy spoke directly to Napoleon, without words but with an outpouring of pain, fear and sorrow. It was such a strong impression that when Napoleon spoke next he couldn't have said which one of them he was addressing—the child saved by a miracle, or the partner whose presence in his life was a miracle of its own..
"You lived with him twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. All those fine people Mae mentioned—the teachers and doctors and policemen—they slept in their own beds at night. You slept in his."
"Yes." Illya bent his head. "That's just how it was."
"And then our people blamed you. When they were probably afraid of him too—at least of what he knew, and what he might do with that knowledge. But still they blamed you." He rubbed Illya's back, unable to keep from touching him. "I wish I'd been there."
"I know you do." And then Illya smiled at him again, a smile as pure and sweet as the moonlight now dappling his hair. "It's almost as if you were there. You understand how it was, and how it wasn't fair for them to blame him. He was so little, Napoleon. And so sad and so scared all the time."
Napoleon put both arms around him, and it was as if he were embracing both the adult and the child. "I'm sorry."
"I know. And thank you." Illya kissed his cheek. They lay quietly in one another's arms for a long time. Napoleon rested his cheek on Illya's hair. It seemed that momentous events had occurred during that quiet conversation, events that went too deep for further talk. Illya must have felt the same way, because his next words were, "It was a nice wedding."
Napoleon accepted the change of topic with a kiss. "Yes it was."
"You know what George told me?"
"He said that maybe the happiest years of his life are ahead of him after all."
"I hope so."
"Oh, me too. Wouldn't that be wonderful, if the best years aren't behind him but with him now, and in front of him too?"
"Just like us."
"Just like us," Illya echoed and lay quietly for a while. "So this is the happy ending," he said finally. "You were right."
Napoleon, who didn't remember saying that exactly, was nevertheless glad to take credit. "Yes it is."
"George said that when I bought his new apartment it was like I brought him home. Just like he brought me home when I was little."
"That's a nice way to think about it."
"Mmm." Illya yawned. "You looked very serious during the ceremony, Napoleon. Are you sorry that you can't have any of that because of me?"
"Everything I need in the whole world is right here, in my arms. What more could I ask?"
"Nothing," Illya whispered, turning so his lips brushed Napoleon's ear. "Nothing at all."
"And, as long as you feel the same way?"
"I do." He kissed Napoleon's ear. "You know I do."
"Well then." He drew Illya closer, pressed Illya's head against his shoulder, and sleep began to take him. "I love you, Illya," he said from the very edge and with his last consciousness felt Illya tuck one arm around his waist.
"I love you too, Napoleon." He tightened the arm briefly, then it went lax and Napoleon smiled and fell asleep too,
They lay in a pool of moonlight. Their limbs were intertwined, darker and lighter against the sheets. The lights of Manhattan obscured any falling stars there might have been, but it didn't matter. In the other each had everything he needed, and with the other each had found joy.