The Wilderness Affair
It was the feeling of dampness against his cheek that roused him. That, and the tingling of fingers denied circulation. Napoleon lifted his head from the ground. Blinking his eyes against the dazzling sunlight, he gazed at his surroundings as he came up on his elbows.
He was in a ravine of sorts, lying on his stomach in the water soaked grass. His arms were tied at his wrists. All he could see around him was grass. Here and there small trees dotted the area and broke up the expanse. Not far above a dirt road cut across the horizon. He lowered his head for a moment, gathering his strength. As an UNCLE agent, he'd found himself in situations similar to this more times than he could count. It never got easy.
He took a deep breath, lifting his head and struggling to his feet. His tied hands were a minor inconvenience but that, too, he'd learned through experience to deal with. Upright at last, he turned to get his bearings: more grass, and a line of trees that thickened to forest as they came up on the other side of the ravine. Between them, a stream cut through the depression. That's when he saw the car. On its roof, it canted forward so that the front was almost completely submerged.
Memory hit. Illya. He'd been in the back seat with Illya. He staggered over to the vehicle, looking for any sign that his partner was all right. Napoleon vaguely remembered being to Illya's right, so he made his way around to the driver's side back door. Inside, Illya, in a crumpled heap, his head at an odd angle, slumped against the roof. Blood covered most of his face and Napoleon couldn't tell if he was breathing or not.
Napoleon looked around and spied the remains of the side-view mirror. He gingerly slid out a piece of the broken mirror and began sawing at his restrains. Within seconds he had freed himself.
"I'll have you out in a minute, tovarisch," Napoleon promised as he tugged at his lifeless partner. His uncooperative hands weren't making it easy, but he finally managed to haul Illya from the wreckage.
He laid him out and bent over him to check his breathing. It was a bit shallow but definitely there, and Napoleon let out a sigh of relief. He felt around the gash on Illya's forehead and discovered a large bump. He prayed it wasn't serious. Cutting the ropes that bound Illya's hands, Napoleon knelt down to take his partner into his arms. Dampening his handkerchief, he began wiping the blood from Illya's face.
The paleness of Illya's skin bothered Napoleon as he cleared more of the blood. What if he didn't wake up? What if he was seriously injured? Napoleon eyed their surroundings. They could be anywhere; where would he find help out here?
"Come on, Illya, don't do this to me." Napoleon pulled his partner closer, trying to warm the too still body. He closed his eyes as he rocked Illya in his arms. "Damn it, Illya, wake up."
He kept talking, finding the quiet of the countryside and Illya's continued silence unnerving. "You wouldn't leave me like this, would you, Illya? You know how much I hate working alone." Unable to help himself, he brushed his lips across Illya's forehead. "Please, Illya, wake up."
He didn't know how long it was before he finally felt Illya stirring. He pulled back so he could see Illya's face. "Come on, partner, wake up. That's it, open your eyes."
The man in his arms groaned and squeezed his eyes shut. "Go away, can't you see I'm in pain? My head is killing me."
"Be glad you can still feel your head. You've got a gash I can lay two fingers in."
Illya reached up and grabbed Napoleon's wrist, pushing away his hand. "You're only making it worse," he groused as he opened his eyes and looked around. "Where are we?"
"That's a good question." Napoleon helped his partner into a sitting position. "Are you sure you're up to this?" he asked when he saw Illya grimace in pain.
"It's my ribs. I think a couple may be cracked." He straightened up, taking it slow this time. "What happened?"
"I'm not sure, but I think we were taken prisoner."
"Again?" He seemed to think about their situation. "Where are they?"
Napoleon nodded toward the car. "I think they're still in there."
Illya turned and stared at him. "You think?"
"Hey, I've been a bit busy taking care of you. Besides, where else would they be? They certainly wouldn't have taken off without us, not after all the trouble they took to get us out here."
"Yes, they do seem to have gone to a great deal of trouble. THRUSH, you think?" Illya tilted his head in question.
"Who else? And it makes sense. THRUSH would want us alive, would certainly pay to get us alive. We appear to be a long way off the beaten path. Why else bring us out here, if not to hand us over?"
"You wouldn't happen to know where 'here' is, would you?"
"Not a clue. I was knocked out, the same as you were. I remember at some point coming to in the back seat of their car. Before that, all I remember is leaving the restaurant."
He'd been having such a good time, too. With three days until they had to report in to headquarters again, both had decided to make the best of it. They so rarely had time to just enjoy being together. After dinner, they had planned to take in a show. The food had been excellent, the company even better. Napoleon had almost been satisfied.
"I don't remember being in the car," Illya confessed, cradling his head at the same time. "My head really does hurt."
"I'm not surprised. Look at me." Napoleon grabbed Illya's chin and brought his head up. "Your eyes look okay, but you might still have a concussion."
Illya impatiently pulled away. "You're not telling me anything I haven't already guessed. So, how did we end up in a ditch?"
"A ravine," Napoleon corrected, getting an expected glare from Illya. "Our driver was in a bit of a hurry. He must have been doing at least sixty over a dirt road."
"Uh huh. When a deer ran out in front of the car, he lost control. Next thing I knew, I was face down on the ground."
"How long do you think they'd been holding us?" Illya asked.
"Well, it was already dark when we left the restaurant. Now the sun's almost directly overhead, so....eighteen hours, maybe? That is, if we're only missing one night."
Illya nodded, then winced. "I wonder where they were taking us."
"All I can think is that there's either a THRUSH installation around here somewhere or a private airport. If that's the case—"
"—Then we need to get out of here." Illya started to his feet, using Napoleon as a prop. "Help me up."
"Wait a minute." Napoleon guided Illya over and steadied him against the nearest tree. "I'm going to check out the car, see if anyone's home. Maybe one of them has our communicators."
Napoleon approached the car. Grimacing, he proceeded to pull his socks and shoes off and roll up his pant legs before wading into the stream. The water was like ice. He leaned over and tried to see through the water made murky by the car's passage. Sure enough, their bodies half submerged, and unluckily for them the half that breathed, the two men sat in their seats, obviously dead. Hesitating only long enough to push his sleeves up, Napoleon plunged his arms into the frigid water and started groping around inside the vehicle. He found nothing on the driver, but their communicators turned up in the other agent's coat pocket. When his fingers started going numb from the cold, he gave up and waded out.
"Find anything?" Illya asked.
"Our communicators. They're soaked, though," Napoleon added as he sat on the ground to put his socks and shoes back on. "Maybe when they dry out one of them will work."
"I'd be surprised if they work out here, in any event. We're probably too far out. Did you find the keys?"
"I don't think we'll have much luck getting the car started, Illya."
"Not to start the car, you blockhead. There might be something we can use in the trunk."
Napoleon made a face. "You could have mentioned that before I got my socks back on," he complained as he pulled them off, then got up and approached the vehicle again. He quickly extricated the keys from the ignition. Though somewhat dented, the trunk came open with just a little extra tug. Napoleon stepped quickly back as several items tumbled out.
"We can certainly use this," he noted as he picked up a worn but serviceable blanket.
Illya came up to Napoleon's side and bent down to pick up the tire iron. "I'd prefer a gun, but this will do."
Napoleon grinned. He'd seen what his partner could do with just such a weapon. A brown paper bag produced nothing but trash. "At least they weren't litterbugs." He tossed it aside and took a step back. "It doesn't look like there's anything else. I sure wish there had been a flashlight."
"If there's one, it's probably in the glove compartment." Illya moved toward the front of the car.
"Don't bother, it's under water. Let's just be glad for what we have and get out of here." Napoleon surveyed the area. "So, which way?"
"We should stay off the road. Once they realize we're not going to show up, they're sure to come looking for us."
"Into the forest would be our best bet, then. It'll give us cover, plus we're going to have to find or build some sort of shelter. Even though it's only mid-September, going by the temperature of the water I've got a feeling it's going to get pretty chilly out here come nightfall."
"Agreed." Illya took a breath, hugging his ribs at the same time.
"Hold on a minute." Napoleon quickly removed his jacket, shirt and undershirt. Re-donning his shirt and jacket, he started tearing his undershirt into strips. "Take off your shirt. I'm going to have to bind your ribs or you won't get very far."
Illya sighed and began undressing. "You're probably correct."
It only took ten minutes for Napoleon to tightly bind his partner's chest. He only hoped it was enough, though he was more concerned about Illya's possible concussion. The rest Illya needed, Napoleon could not give him. He motioned his partner forward and, with a final worried glance, followed close behind.
Napoleon couldn't help but be appreciative of their surroundings. Wherever here was, the scenery was spectacular, and this from someone who usually wasn't all that impressed by nature. Give him the city any day. If it wasn't for the fact that he was hungry, tired, dirty, and not just a little worried about his partner, he might actually be enjoying their little jaunt through the woods.
He gave Illya a quick inspection. His color wasn't good and he'd been holding his ribs more tightly the longer they'd been walking. They hadn't stopped once all afternoon. The danger was still present, as their spotting of a helicopter twice during the day could attest. Each time, they'd picked up their pace, trying to outrun their pursuers. But Illya needed rest. and lots of it.
Still, Napoleon felt they were making headway; the second sighting had shown the helicopter to be quite a distance from them. Circling high above, its path had taken it further and further away, until it had finally become lost from sight. That had been over an hour ago, if Napoleon guessed right. Along with their guns, their captors had relinquished them of their watches and his tie clip. He scanned the skies. There was nothing to see, other than the fact that they would soon be running out of daylight.
"We should stop soon. The sun will be down in a couple of hours." He turned once more as he spoke to his partner.
Illya didn't even lift his head, but kept plowing on, passing him by. "We can't afford to waste the time. Who knows how much further we have to go."
"Illya, we're going to need time to build some sort of shelter. Once the sun sets, we'll barely be able to see our hand in front of our face."
Illya slowed, and then finally stopped, allowing Napoleon to catch up. He sighed in resignation. "Perhaps you are right. Just what sort of shelter are you talking about?"
"I don't know." Napoleon looked around. "There are plenty of brush and dead branches. Maybe we can make some sort of lean-to." He pointed off to their left. "Over there looks like a good spot."
Taking the lead once again, Napoleon made his way over to a large fallen log. It was a good thirty feet in length, with a diameter of maybe three feet. It lay sprawled across the ground, slowly being blanketed with leaves. "Here will do, I think."
The look on Illya's face made it plain he wasn't thrilled with the situation. He winced, then pushed against his temple with the palm of his hand and closed his eyes. "What do you want me to do?"
Napoleon shook his head in exasperation and grabbed Illya by the arm. "I don't want you to do anything but sit down before you fall down." He led his unresisting partner over to a small outcropping. "Wait right here. I think I can handle this on my own."
The smile Illya gave him was weak. "I didn't know you were a boy scout."
Napoleon grinned. "Always prepared, that's my motto."
"Yes, but I don't think this is what you're usually prepared for, especially when it comes to sleeping arrangements."
"I think I'll manage. Just keep an eye out for company, will you?" He took off his jacket and handed it to Illya, then loosened his tie and rolled up his shirtsleeves. This was going to be dirty work. He walked back to the log and set to work.
He started raking up leaves and dead needles with his hands to create a bed of sorts by piling them against one side of the fallen tree. Once satisfied with that, he threw the blanket over it, then began collecting as many long branches as he could readily find. Using the tree as a prop, he created a framework over the pile of debris. Lastly, he gathered up brush for added insulation and camouflage. It took awhile. Napoleon was the first to admit that this sort of thing wasn't his fort. And while thoroughly covered with dust, sweat running down his forehead and dampening his shirt, he was rather pleased with himself as he surveyed the finished product. He turned to smile at his partner, only to find that Illya had propped his elbows on his knees and was cradling his head in his hand.
He moved quickly to Illya's side. "Is it getting worse?" He lightly touched his partner's head, unconsciously stroking the fine hair.
With a shrug, Illya looked up. "Not really. I probably notice it more now that we've stopped."
"Well, you're bed awaits. Why don't you go lie down? I need to wash up." Napoleon nodded to the left. "The stream can't be more than fifty yards in that direction." They had tried to keep it within sight all day.
"We shouldn't separate," Illya responded, though Napoleon caught him casting covetous eyes on their shelter.
"I won't be gone long. Besides, someone has to stay here to make sure some forest creature of refined taste doesn't try to take it over."
"You have a point." Illya gave a shelter another look, and then stood up. "Very well, but here, take the tire iron."
"You keep it. The shape you're in, you'd need it more than I would if something were to happen."
Napoleon thought Illya was going to argue with him so he was pleasantly surprised when his friend capitulated. "Very well. But do not stay away too long."
"Yes, Mother." Napoleon waited until Illya had crawled into the lean-to before heading for the stream. He hurried, not any happier with separating from his partner than Illya had been. But he had to be careful. It would be dark soon; all they needed was for him to lose his way back.
He managed to find the stream with little trouble. He shed his shirt and knelt at the stream's bank. He dipped his hands into the water. Damn, it was cold! He wasted little time, rinsing off the dust and sweat with quick swipes of his hands, splashing the frigid water over his upper body. Once done, he used his shirt to dry himself before putting it back on.
As he stood tucking in his shirt, it occurred to him that he would be sleeping with Illya tonight. He chuckled despite himself. Fate had an odd sense of humor. Well, nothing to be done about it. He stayed only long enough to drink a few handfuls of water, then started back to his partner.
He had timed it just right. The sun was just beginning to dip behind the tree line when he reached their shelter. It would be dark very soon. Napoleon stooped down and crawled into the lean-to. Illya was already asleep.
Napoleon squeezed behind Illya to put himself between his partner and the tree, trying not to wake him. Illya had used their jackets as blanketing, one over his chest and arms, the other draped over his legs, so as carefully as he could Napoleon took Illya into his arms, spooning him against his chest and then maneuvering the coats to cover them both. With a contented sigh he relaxed into the nest of leaves.
He was almost asleep when Illya spoke.
"Here, I saved this for you." Illya took his hand and placed what felt like a candy bar in it. "I've already eaten my half."
He brought it up to his nose and sniffed. Chocolate! His mouthed watered. "Where did you get this?"
"It was in my pocket. I thought it best to wait until we were going to sleep to eat it. I hate going to bed hungry."
Napoleon thought that spoke volumes about Illya's past. Not for the first time he wished he could have been there for the cold, hungry little boy who would one day become his partner. "Here," he handed it back, "I'm really not hungry."
"Don't lie to me, Napoleon," Illya softly chided. "Eat it. You will need your strength perhaps more than I will since you appear to be saddled with most of the work."
"You've done your share plenty of times, but if you insist." He unwrapped the bar, then brought it back to his mouth and took a bite. The chocolate slowly melted, and Napoleon thought he'd never tasted anything so good. "Satisfied?" he asked between bites.
"Yes." Illya was silent for a moment. "You are a good partner, Napoleon. And a good friend."
"What brought that on?" Napoleon finished the candy, stuffing the wrapper in his coat pocket.
Illya shrugged. "I suppose because, lying here, I remembered once again how lucky I've been. You are always there for me. I think you always will be."
"Never doubt that, my friend." Napoleon cleared his throat. "Now, go to sleep. We'll need to make an early start."
There was no answer, but soon Napoleon heard Illya's breathing even out into sleep.
He'd been sleeping lightly, always in the back of his mind the need to watch over Illya, so at the sound of a twig cracking Napoleon was instantly awake. He strained to hear a repeat of the sound. What direction had it come from? Was it an animal or a man? He felt around in the shelter until he found the tire iron, tucked neatly under the blanket right in front of his partner. Napoleon yearned for a gun but would have to content himself with the heavy tool.
There was another crack, somewhere off to his left, fifty feet, maybe. Whatever or whoever it was, was being cautious. Napoleon felt Illya wrap his hand around his wrist in a silent gesture of assurance. If the need arose, his partner would be right there at his side.
Inside the lean-to, it was pitch black. There had been no sign of rain, but Napoleon had piled on the brush in order that their shelter would go undetected. Cocooned underneath, they're sight was completely blocked.
Minutes passed. Napoleon nervously licked his lips. Come on, if you're going to do something, DO something. The waiting had always been the hard part. He could feel a corresponding tenseness radiating off his partner.
There was a sequence of sounds, like the crunching of leaves. Their visitor was moving away from them. Napoleon let out the breath he'd been holding. He whispered in Illya's ear, "I think we're safe now."
Illya nodded but did not release Napoleon's wrist. Rather, he slid his hand into Napoleon's, relieving him of the tire iron and placing back in its hiding place. Then he tucked both their hands up against his body. In less than a minute, he was asleep again.
The same could not be said of Napoleon. Between the adrenaline now coursing through his system and knowing he needed to keep an eye on Illya, he was unable to relax enough to truly sleep.
Just who are you trying to kid?
All right, so maybe both those things were only part of the reason. A bigger reason was the feel of Illya's hand folded into his, his hair softly brushing against Napoleon's chin as he nestled within Napoleon's arms. He'd dreamed of something like this for longer than he cared to think about. It felt too good to forego just for sleep, even if he could manage it.
When had he first realized he was in love with Illya? It been at least a year, though as hard as he'd tried once he'd gotten used to the idea, he couldn't pinpoint an exact day or time. It just suddenly was. He'd been attracted to the Russian since their first meeting. Urges he'd thought he'd left behind in Korea came rushing to the surface. But urges he could control, and had, for the sake of the partnership and, later, for the sake of their friendship.
But suddenly he'd found himself wanting to be only with Illya, to spend as much of their free time together as Illya would allow. As the months had gone by, he'd surprised himself with how little he had dated, and how much he hadn't missed it. Napoleon had been dismayed to realize that lust had evolved into love. Against that, he seemed to have little defense.
As if picking up his tension, Illya shifted in his sleep, resettling even closer to Napoleon so that his buttocks were pressed against Napoleon's groin. Napoleon caught his breath and tried to pull away but the tree behind him prevented any escape. He closed his eyes tight and tried not to get aroused.
He almost succeeded. Except that Illya couldn't seem to get comfortable, squirming around and then shifting his hips back and forth as if trying to make the debris mold to his shape. Napoleon had to bite his lip to keep from moaning out loud. Heat suffused his face as his cock engorged. Illya was going to kill him-one way or the other.
But Illya didn't even appear to notice as he finally managed to find a comfortable spot and settled down again. It was all Napoleon could do to keep his hips from thrusting his cock against the lush backside pressed firmly against it. Instead, he tried to steady his breath as he rode out his arousal.
His balls ached so bad, he was sure he was going to end up ejaculating all over himself. He was practically shaking as time crept slowly by but, finally, he felt his organ begin to deflate. He took a shaky breath. This was Illya, his friend. And once more Napoleon had managed to keep that friendship, and his secret, safe. He relaxed against the warm body next to him and within a short time succeeded in falling asleep.
He woke with a start. The place next to him was empty.
"I'm right here." A mop of blond hair appeared at the opening of the lean-to down near his feet. "I was beginning to wonder if you were ever planned on getting up."
Napoleon came up on one elbow, scratching ineffectively at the day-old growth of hair on his chin. "What time is it?"
Illya made a face. "How should I know? They took my watch, too."
"I figured you'd have made a sundial by now," Napoleon responded as he crawled out of their shelter, bringing the blanket and tire iron with him. "Have you been up long?"
"No, not long. Perhaps an hour or so." Illya looked up into the trees. "The birds around here are quite noisy."
"You should have woken me." Napoleon stretched and tried to work the kinks out of his back. He was getting too old to be sleeping on the ground.
"You needed your rest. Besides, I don't believe we're being followed anymore," he added as he handed Napoleon his coat.
"Why's that?" Napoleon asked as he shrugged into his jacket.
With a nod of his head, Illya led him over to a patch of dirt several feet away. Scattered throughout was the evidence left by their nighttime visitor. Napoleon wasn't sure what it had been, but what it hadn't been was human.
"THRUSH may have finally realized that there's too much ground to cover. As long as we stay off the roads we should be safe."
"That's good to hear." Napoleon studied his partner. "How are you feeling?"
"My headache's gone. My ribs still ache, but I think they're only bruised."
"You want me to rebind them?"
"It would probably be a good idea." Illya gazed toward the direction of the stream. "And since it's not too cold, I'd like to wash before we start off again."
Napoleon sniffed. He could probably use a more thorough cleaning than he'd given himself the night before, too. And it would give them a chance to drink their fill, since who knew when they'd get another chance. If they were to find civilization, they were going to have to move out of the forest and away from the stream.
In silent agreement, they made their way through the underbrush, reaching the stream within minutes. They walked along its bank, hoping to find a sunny spot where the water might be slightly warmer.
"Up there." Illya pointed to where the course of the stream had opened up, creating a small inlet not more than twenty feet across. The water was only partially shaded and sunlight streamed in, warming the rocks that lined its side. It would do perfectly.
It was only as Illya began pulling off his clothes that Napoleon realized exactly what it was he'd agreed to. His mouth slipped open as he watched Illya uncover more and more of himself. Pale skin pulled tautly over his partner's athletic body; the sparsely haired chest tapering down to slim hips and a rounded ass Napoleon longed to touch.
He swallowed, unable to pull his gaze away. Illya stood at the water's edge, his arms above his head. He stretched from side to side, twisting at the waist before bending forward to touch the ground. Between his slightly spread legs his uncircumcised cock dangled long and heavy. In response, Napoleon felt his own awaken.
Rising up into a standing position, he turned to Napoleon. "Aren't you getting in?"
Illya's question broke the spell and he looked up into his partner's face. "Uh, yeah,' he managed to stammer. He turned and quickly began removing his own clothes, his hands shaking as he worked on the buttons of his shirt. Behind him he heard Illya splash into the water.
He didn't know how he was going to do this. His cock was fully erect, pressing painfully against his trousers. How in the hell was he going to be able to get in the water without Illya seeing the state he was in? He pulled off his shirt, and then began working on his socks and shoes. Maybe by the time he got to his pants he'd manage to get himself under control.
"What are you doing over there?" Illya called out.
Counting to ten-very slowly.
"Um, my shoelace has a knot in it." He sat on the ground and pretended to be working on it.
"Just take your shoe off. You can fix the lace later."
Napoleon sighed and pulled the shoe off. Removing the remaining sock, he stood back up and slowly pulled his pants off, but made sure to keep his back to Illya. He took his time folding his clothes and placed them on a boulder he'd appropriated. His briefs were all that stood between him and total nakedness.
He fidgeted with the waistband, while at the same time watching Illya out of the corner of his eye. Then he waited. When Illya dunked his head beneath the surface, Napoleon made his move.
Okay, here goes.
He didn't give himself time to rethink his actions, but, quickly removing his underwear, turned and raced into the water. It wasn't deep, no more than three or four feet, but it was enough. It was also very cold.
Napoleon let out a whoosh of air as he settled in the water. Well, he guessed he wouldn't have to worry about Illya seeing him with an erection. The cold also offered the added benefit of allowing him to enjoy the view without fear of his body betraying him.
And what a view; Illya had a swimmer's body and he was using it to the greatest effect, no matter that a handful of strokes would take him from one end of the pool to the other. Napoleon smiled as his partner glided through the water, obviously enjoying himself. Finally, Illya swam over to him.
"You need to wet your hair."
"I was planning on it, you know."
Napoleon didn't see the attack coming. The next thing he knew, he was underwater, his partner's laughter ringing in his ears. He came up sputtering and gave chase.
They were like a couple of kids, each trying to outdo the other. Napoleon was at a disadvantage because he couldn't stop worrying about Illya's ribs. Illya didn't seem to have any qualms in taking advantage of the situation and managed to dunk Napoleon twice as often.
By the time they trudged out of the water and laid out on the rocks, they were both tired but clean.
The sun beating down on them only added to the indulgence of the moment. When Illya put his hands behind his head and closed his eyes, Napoleon rolled onto his side to face his partner. He studied every feature: the high brow, most noticeable when Illya's hair was pulled back; the finely drawn nose, the strong jaw; but mostly, the pouting lower lip that Napoleon would give anything to taste.
It was funny, Napoleon thought, how right now he could be so happy, yet feel like his heart was breaking. It was getting harder and harder to resist expressing his feelings to Illya and, truthfully, he didn't know how much longer he could continue things the way they were. Sooner or later, he knew he'd tell Illya. No matter how much he vowed not to, he knew someday he'd weaken. And then....
And then he'd probably lose Illya altogether. As a friend, and as a partner because, once the truth was out Napoleon saw no way they could continue working together. Chances were very good he'd have to leave UNCLE, too. He'd certainly made a mess of things.
But he wouldn't think of that right now. Right now, he'd enjoy what he had. If all he could do was look, so be it. It was worth it to keep Illya's friendship. He smiled at his friend, then rolled back and closed his eyes.
"It that a road?" Illya asked, surprised pleasure in his voice as he pointed ahead.
Napoleon looked toward the direction Illya was pointing. The forest had opened up into a small meadow and, sure enough, about fifty feet in front of them, barely discernible through the tangle of brush, was the remains of what once had been a road.
They quickly approached it. Deeply rutted, it disappeared in both directions. Illya frowned. "Which way?"
Napoleon shaded his eyes from the noonday sun as he peered off in first one direction then the other. If they picked wrong, they could end up even worse off, traveling deeper into the wilderness. He shook his head in frustration. "There isn't any way to tell."
"Perhaps then we should continue in the general direction we've been going. It brought us to the road."
True enough. Napoleon motioned for his partner to lead the way and followed Illya up the slight incline the road took as it veered to the left. It crossed the remains of the meadow and then continued back into the trees.
At least we're back in the shade.
They'd been walking for a couple of hours and even when out of the direct sun Napoleon had found himself perspiring. He'd taken off his coat awhile back, draping it across his arm with the blanket as he pushed his way through the heavy forest growth. The cooling dip of that morning was a quickly fading memory.
But at least he had managed to control his libido. The sun had dried them off within minutes and Napoleon had made sure to keep his eyes averted as they'd quickly dressed. There had a been a minute or two when he hadn't been sure he'd be able to as he rewrapped Illya's chest. It had been too big a temptation to not allow his fingers to lightly skim over the soft skin as he'd rewound the makeshift bandages.
He glanced up at his partner. His ribs hadn't really been bothering Illya this morning; apparently, he had been right about them being only bruised. That was one piece of good news, at least. They could certainly use more because the communicators were still not working and they were going to have to find another source of water soon. Napoleon didn't relish the idea of trying to hike out of here without anything to drink.
The hours passed. Napoleon found himself drifting, his attention only minimally focused on his partner. He was thirsty. His stomached growled. God, he was hungry. In the last thirty-six hours, at least, all he'd had was half a candy bar. He grinned in spite of himself. He could imagine what Illya was going through; his bottomless pit of a partner was probably feeling it even more. He sobered. They would have to stop soon. It couldn't be more than late afternoon but without food they couldn't keep up this pace for much longer.
But for some inexplicable reason, Illya had pulled quite a bit ahead of him. As Napoleon watched in confusion, his partner put on a burst of speed until he was practically running. Napoleon shook himself out of his lethargy. "Illya, wait up."
"Hurry up, Napoleon!"
Illya's voice floated out from deeper in the forest and it took Napoleon a few minutes to catch up. He finally spied his partner as he rounded a curve in the road. Illya was standing about twenty feet away and was staring away from the road and into the trees. His hands were in front of him, resting on the top bar of a split rail fence.
Napoleon closed his eyes for a moment, and then walked slowly over to join his friend. As he approached, Illya turned and smiled. "I think we're going to make it."
"I never had a doubt," Napoleon smugly responded. "It's just a fence, but where there's a fence, there has to be something it's fencing in."
"You don't see them, do you?" Illya was almost gleeful.
Illya brought one hand up to Napoleon's face and gently turned it toward the other side of the fence.
Napoleon's eyes went wide. Not six feet away, tree after tree was festooned with ripening apples.
"God, I don't think anything's ever tasted so good." Napoleon took another bite of the apple in his hand, savoring its flavor as he sat beneath the heavily laden boughs.
Illya tossed a couple more apples down to the ground from his perch above. "Don't eat too many at once-and watch out for worms."
Napoleon grimaced as he swallowed. He gave the apple another inspection. Except for where he'd already bitten, the skin was unmarked. He happily took another bite.
Two more apples followed before Illya himself landed gracefully in front of him. He dusted off his hands, and then gathered up his harvest. By the time he took a seat next to Napoleon, a good dozen apples were piled between them.
"I thought you'd already checked these out," Napoleon groused.
Illya took an apple, rubbed it on his coat sleeve and proceeded to devour it. "I did," he finally responded while he continued munching. "But it can't hurt to double check."
Napoleon finished the first apple. With a shrug he tossed the core off into the woods and away from the road. No sense making it easy if someone was still looking for them. He studied their haul, then grabbed himself another apple. He examined it thoroughly before taking a bite.
For a while, the only noise breaking the silence was the contented sounds of their chewing. It was nice, sitting here with Illya, Napoleon thought, again struck by how much Illya's presence made even the most difficult situations almost a pleasure. They were alive, both in relatively good shape and no longer in any danger of starving to death. Life was good.
"I saw the stream off in that direction." Illya twisted around and pointed behind him. "I think we should leave the road, cut through the trees and see what's on the other side. This was obviously a cultured orchard at one time. It follows that the farm house would be in that direction, considering that's where the water is."
"Makes sense." Napoleon scanned what little he could see of the sky through the tree branches. What had started out as a clear expanse of blue was beginning to disappear behind the slowly thickening clouds. "I wonder if it's going to rain."
Illya looked up. "It does seem to be getting more overcast."
"You'd better hope there is some sort of house nearby. My skills don't run to building any sort of watertight structure."
"No, I didn't think so." Illya sighed. "Perhaps we should be on our way, then. I don't relish the idea of spending the night out in the open, wet and cold." He quickly got to his knees and, spreading the blanket on the ground, gathered up the remaining apples. He tied the corners together to create an easily carried bundle.
Before Illya had a chance, Napoleon swooped it up and held it firmly in his arms. "I'll take that."
Illya scowled. "I'm not an invalid, Napoleon," he protested as he got to his feet. "I'm perfectly capable of carrying a dozen apples."
"I didn't say you weren't. But you collected them; I'm just doing my fair share of the work. Besides, you've got the tire iron."
Unable to argue with the logic he gave in, though Napoleon could tell his partner was not happy with the arrangement. He knew Napoleon well enough to know there was another reason, knew that Napoleon was still worried about his ribs. But Illya couldn't very well bring it up without calling attention to them. So, casting a last disgruntled look, Illya turned and proceeded deeper into the orchard. Napoleon grinned and followed after.
As bad as the road had been, with its ruts and layer of dust that kicked up with every step, it was a cakewalk compared to what they were now contending with. The ground was littered with land mines, apples in varying degrees of decomposition buried beneath years of accumulated debris. It only took a second's inattention for Napoleon to find himself on his backside, his foot sliding out from under him when he accidentally stepped on the rotting fruit.
"Are you all right?" Illya turned back and stood over him, snatching the precious cargo that Napoleon had managed to keep from dropping.
"Yeah," Napoleon gingerly got to his feet. "Only my pride is slightly bruised." He dusted off the seat of his pants. "Well, maybe not just my pride."
Illya failed miserably to hide his smile. "Next time, be more careful. Now, come along. It's getting darker."
That it was, Napoleon noticed as he took off after his partner. And as they left the protective cover of the orchard, the shelter they had been hoping for came into sight. Backlit by the setting sun, no house had ever looked so welcoming.
The rain started just as they approached the remains of the farmhouse. It was only a slight drizzle, but it further subdued their spirits as the explored the decaying structure.
It was hard to tell just how long the house had stood empty; what damage time had done had only added to what fire had consumed. The charred remnants of furniture and household items gave testament to a sudden abandonment. Nothing of any worth remained.
"I hope the barn is in better shape," Illya commented when a slight push sent part of a wall tumbling.
"It didn't look like the fire had touched it. If nothing else, we'll have a roof over our heads-though how safe a roof will be anyone's guess." Gingerly picking his way through the roofless building, Napoleon continued on to investigate the rooms in the back, while Illya made a turn to the right through what had once been a doorway.
Two twin beds, their mattresses moldering in the shadows, caught Napoleon's eye.
Must have been the kids' room.
He bent down and picked up a leather bag that had somehow escaped the conflagration. He emptied it out into his hand. Marbles. With a sudden sense of loss, he let them fall and they disappeared into the thick detritus. Not just a building had been destroyed.
He heard Illya call out. "I think I've found the pantry."
Napoleon joined him and found his partner inside a small room that had escaped the damage done the rest of the house. It even still had its roof. Illya squatted down on his knees amid a sea of cans. He picked one up and presented it to Napoleon. "I'm pretty sure the food would still be good."
"'Pretty sure'?" Napoleon handed the can back. "I think I'll stick with the apples. All we need is for one of us to end up with ptomaine poisoning."
Illya studied the can. "As long as we heated it, the food should probably be okay." Then, with a sigh, he tossed it back on the ground. "But you are probably correct. There's no sense taking the chance, especially now that we seem to be getting close to civilization."
"Don't be too sure about that. Some of these old farms were settled quite a way from any town." Napoleon looked up as the sound of the rain intensified. "Come on. Let's get to the barn before this turns into a downpour."
They managed to reach the barn before the skies opened up completely. Napoleon rolled the large door aside and they hurried in. The building appeared structurally sound, the inside dry even if somewhat dark once the door had been closed since little light filtered through the dust-coated windows.
Illya contemplated the big, empty space that surrounded them. "The place must have thrived at one time to have such a big barn."
Napoleon had wandered off to the back where the stalls were situated. He placed the bundle of apples on the floor and leaned against the wooden barrier, his arms resting on top. "Most barns are about this size. When I was a kid, I used to visit an aunt and uncle who lived in the country. They had two sons about my age." He spotted the way up to the loft and smiled. "In fact," he commented as he approached the ladder and started climbing, "most of our time was spent up here."
Reaching the top, he stepped off the ladder and walked out onto the loft. It was even darker up here, what light coming in the doors being cut off by the floor beneath him. Stacks of hay filled most of the space on either side. Only a narrow pathway cut through the bales, allowing access to double doors set in the far wall. Napoleon made his way over and pushed them open. The soft light that suffused the area was enough for a good look around. The open area near the doors was inches deep in loose hay and it would make a good place to bed down. He sniffed, and smelling nothing untoward, nodded in satisfaction.
"What are you doing?"
Napoleon turned. Illya stood on the ladder, visible only from the waist up. "Come on. I think I've found the perfect place for us to sleep tonight."
Obviously reluctant, Illya climbed the rest of the way up and joined Napoleon at the back of the loft. He eyed their surroundings suspiciously. "You expect us to sleep here? It's probably infested with mice."
"It's surprisingly clean. I've got a hunch this place wasn't abandoned all that long ago. The hay is still relatively fresh and I haven't seen evidence of a mass infestation-certainly not more than were probably sharing our shelter with us last night."
Illya shivered. "Don't remind me."
"Hey, what's with the bucket?" Napoleon motioned toward Illya right hand, only now noticing the pail he was carrying.
"I found it below. There's several more but this was the best one." Illya raised it to eye level. "Much better than the blanket for carrying food."
"Good idea. Hey, maybe we could try some of the canned food after all. Going by the state of this place, they can't be that old. They should be safe enough."
"Are you getting tired of eating apples already, Napoleon?"
"I know an apple a day keeps the doctor away, but four might be pushing our luck."
"This is true. Very well," Illya hooked the bucket on a nail sticking out of one of the rafters then turned to leave. "I'll go drum up dinner while you make the bed."
"This is the life." Napoleon ate another spoonful of soup. He scooted a little closer to the fire they'd managed to start with the matches he'd found in his pocket. Built inside an old metal horse trough they'd found near the back, it gave warmth while at the same time removing the danger of burning down the place. And they had both felt better about the food once they'd been able to heat it up.
His partner nodded in agreement. "We are managing quite nicely, aren't we? Food, water, shelter, what more could we ask for?"
Illya had found five undamaged cans, along with a couple of spoons, in the kitchen. Unfortunately, there was no sign of a can opener, but by using a rock and an old screwdriver they'd found in the barn, they'd been able to open the cans without spilling most of their contents.
Napoleon scraped the bottom of his can, trying for the last remnants. "For one of the communicators to work." He licked both sides of his spoon then looked inquiringly at Illya. "What do we have left?"
Illya leaned over, surveying the rest of their haul. "A can of green beans and two more of soup, both chicken noodle."
"Have you opened any of them yet?"
"The green beans."
"I'll take some of the green beans, then."
Illya motioned for his can, then proceeded to share the repast between them, pouring half in Napoleon's can, half in his. "We'll leave the last two for in the morning. Be careful," he put down the empty can and sucked at his fingers, "it's hot." He ate a mouthful of food before continuing. "As for the communicators, I was thinking I'd take them both apart. Maybe all they need to do is dry completely out. Or maybe I can get one to work by using parts from both."
"It's worth a try. We've been really lucky so far but we can't count on that continuing. And who knows how far we still have to travel. We could be days away from civilization. I just hope the rain lets up." Sporadic at first, it had turned into a steady downpour as the evening had progressed.
"It feels like we're a million miles from nowhere," Illya mused as he watched the rain come down. They had left the barn door open for the light, though that was all but gone now.
"When I'd visit my cousins, sometimes we'd sleep outside. We'd pitch a tent away from the house and it was so dark, you could barely see your hand in front of your face. But the stars," Napoleon shook his head, reliving the awe he'd felt at the sight, "they seemed to go on forever."
"Once while at Cambridge, I accompanied a friend to his family's home," Illya remarked, almost hesitantly. "It was a huge place but rather removed from the nearest village. Nothing like this of course, but quite remote. His parents were abroad at the time, so we had the place to ourselves and at night it seemed very dark and very quiet."
Napoleon looked up from his food in surprise. Illya rarely spoke of his past. The few times he had, there had never been mention of anyone in particular. "You went with a classmate to his home?"
"No, one of my professors."
"Who lived with his parents?" Napoleon asked in surprise.
Illya shrugged. "He was quite young, really, and not much older than I at the time. I stayed one day after class to ask him about an assignment and we just..."
"I suppose you could say that. We became...quite close."
Napoleon stared at his partner. Was Illya saying what he thought he was saying? "Did you keep in touch?"
"No," Illya answered almost pensively, "I thought it best to break off the...the friendship. I was returning to Russia and I didn't know where I would be sent next. The chances of us ever seeing each other again seemed rather remote."
"Didn't you ever wonder what happened to him? I mean, once you joined UNCLE it would have been easy enough to find out. For all you know, he could still be teaching at Cambridge."
"I have a very different life now, Napoleon. There would be no room for him in it, or me in his. Besides," he reached over to grab Napoleon's forearm and shook it playfully, "I have you."
Napoleon smiled. 'That you do, tovarisch, that you do."
Illya didn't let go. If nothing else, his grip seemed to tighten, an almost imperceptible spark flowing from one to the other. Napoleon's smile slowly faded, to be replaced with a question he knew Illya could read.
With a widening smile, Illya finally let go. "It's getting late," he casually commented as he looked out the wide open door. "And it's been a long day. Perhaps it was time we called it a night."
"I think that's a great idea." Napoleon stood up. "Why don't you go on up while I put this out and close up? I shouldn't be a minute or two."
Illya put out his hand and Napoleon helped him to his feet. His smile was more subdued, yet Napoleon could see how very happy Illya was...perhaps as happy as he was himself.
He watched Illya approach the ladder and start his climb upward, still slightly in shock. That it had been that easy, a passing comment, the smallest of clues that Illya could possibly feel what he did. And then with a look and the sure knowledge that what Napoleon saw written on Illya's face was a mirror to what was on his own. Finally, finally, what he had wanted more than anything else, though never believed would happen was going to happen. The thought of who and what waited for him finally shook him out of his revelry.
Napoleon quickly turned to get the pail they'd placed outside the door to catch the rainwater and brought it in to put out the fire. He replaced the bucket outside, stopping only long enough to take a last look around. The clouds were breaking up and moonlight illuminated the surrounding area. The burnt out remains of the house was only a dark silhouette against the even darker forest that lay like a barrier behind it. Napoleon shivered and stepped back inside. He closed the barn door, securing it as best he could.
He let his eyes adjust before slowly working his way over to the ladder. Taking a deep breath, he started the climb up.
It was almost warm in the upper level of the barn, the heat of the day caught within the rafters that spread out above them. Napoleon slowly approached their makeshift bed near the loft doors where Illya lie. Illya had propped open one of the doors and the moon's rays, diffused yet heightened by the remaining clouds, slanted in, highlighting Illya's naked body, its whiteness a stark contrast to the blanket beneath him. With slightly trembling hands, Napoleon began to remove his own clothes.
He took off his shirt and placed it on the bale of hay next to Illya's, then unzipped his pants and pushed them down and off. As his own body was exposed, Napoleon could feel Illya's gaze rake over him. He shivered again, this time in expectation of what was to come.
"You've probably heard it more times than you can count, but you are really quite beautiful."
Napoleon stilled, surprised by the sentiment. In reality, he couldn't remember anyone ever telling him that. It wasn't something a woman was inclined to say and there had been very few men in his life. That Illya found him so, was a delight he hadn't expected.
He approached to stand in front of his partner. They were both naked, and both very hard. Napoleon fell to his knees between Illya's wide spread legs. "It's you who's beautiful," he remarked as he placed his hands on Illya's knees. "I've thought so since the moment we first met. Your skin is like—"
"If you say alabaster I think I'll shoot you."
"You're not very romantic, are you?" Napoleon said with a grin.
"Is this what this is, Napoleon? A romance?"
"Why not? I've waited long enough for it. I suspect you have, too. Don't we deserve that it be something special?"
"I'd like that." Illya's tone changed then, becoming almost somber. "But whatever this is, however long it lasts, I'll never regret a moment of it, Napoleon. I need you to believe that."
"'However long it lasts'?" Napoleon tried to hide the hurt he felt, but knew he wasn't doing a very good job of it. He kept his eyes trained on Illya's body as he scooted closer and rested on his heels. Unconsciously, his hands began stroking up and down his partner's inner thighs. "You sound as if you don't expect it to."
"Nothing lasts, my friend. However much one might want it to."
"Why not? I know what I feel, Illya. That's not going to change anytime soon." His eyes locked with Illya's. "It can be whatever we want it to be. Maybe even something," he hesitated, "something to last a life time."
Illya didn't respond, not verbally, anyway. But the look on his face told Napoleon everything he needed to know. He let his hands slide all the way down the soft inner thighs to cup Illya's genitals. The testicles were full and tight against his body, while his cock tapped against his taut stomach. Without a second's thought, Napoleon leaned down and took it into his mouth.
Illya cried out and he buried his hands in Napoleon's hair, encouraging him. Not that Napoleon needed any encouragement. His senses were on overload. With ever breath his nostrils took in the smell of Illya's musk. His mouth, filled with his partner's cock, tasted the sweetness of Illya's skin, overlaid with the slight bitterness of his precum. His hands grabbed convulsively at whatever part of Illya's body they could reach; the rounded buttocks, his fingers skimming the hidden cleft, then up Illya's flat stomach to tweak his nipples. All the while Napoleon worked his tongue around the shaft pistoning in and out of his mouth.
He was so caught up in what he was doing, it took several seconds for him to hear his lover's words, or react to Illya tugging at him. "Wha—" Napoleon responded stupidly, feeling almost drugged.
"Come up here. I want to see you this first time." When Napoleon didn't respond, only continuing to gaze at him, Illya colored slightly. "Never mind. It was stupid of me—"
Napoleon finally shook himself out of his languor. "No, not stupid at all." He leaned forward, watching Illya's head fall back as Napoleon lowered himself to cover his partner's body.
"God, you feel good." Napoleon let his forehead rest on Illya's chest as he was pulled into an embrace. They lay like that for long minutes, as if wanting to freeze this moment in time. Held between the man's thighs, Napoleon felt as if he had finally come home.
But eventually their bodies demanded more. Propping himself up on his elbows, Napoleon studied the lean line of Illya's neck and found it too hard to resist. Beginning there, he softly kissed his way up. Encouraged by his partner's moans, he sucked at the tender skin while Illya undulated beneath him. Napoleon could feel Illya's cock next to his own, branding his stomach with its heat as their bodies moved together.
"Napoleon." He heard Illya whisper in his ear at the same time he felt a slight tug at his hair.
Napoleon looked up for only a second, already knowing what it was his partner wanted because he wanted it, too. He lowered his head and brought his mouth down to capture Illya's.
Illya's tongue teased into Napoleon's mouth, wetly exploring. His hands dropped down to settle on Napoleon's ass and pulled him even more tightly against him. It was all Napoleon could do not to come at that very second. But he wanted this to last, their coupling frenzied as they drove against each other.
But it couldn't last; they'd both wanted this for far too long, so, too soon, there was a strangled cry from Illya and Napoleon felt the hot come against his belly. In answer, he shoved both his hands under Illya's buttocks and, pulling his partner against him, delivered half a dozen hard thrusts before his own orgasm washed over him. With a muffled groan, he held onto his lover, riding out each spasm as his cock released his seed between them.
He collapsed onto his lover, panting, adrift in the sated aftermath of their joining. Napoleon was sticky with sweat and semen, and he imagined the place now reeked of sex, but he couldn't remember ever being so happy.
So happy that even the fingers poking at his ribs and the 'get off me, you weigh a ton' from Illya could put a dent in his mood. Instead, he raised his head and placed a light kiss on Illya's lips before rolling off him. He lay there, his eyes closed, a smile he couldn't seem to lose on his face, content.
He heard Illya rise, the soft rustle of the hay the only sound as he moved away.
Napoleon opened his eyes and sat up. Illya stood at the loft door, using his shirt to catch the rain. He held it out only long enough for it to dampen then padded back, scrubbing at his stomach with the shirt as he approached.
Illya sat down and handed the garment to Napoleon. Without a word, Napoleon took it and cleaned himself off. That done, they stretched out on the blanket, Napoleon on his back, Illya on his side pressed against him. Taking one hand, Illya managed to blanket them with their coats before settling down. Then his arm draped possessively across Napoleon's chest.
Napoleon's eyes were drifting shut when Illya came up on one elbow.
"Yes?" He absently caressed Illya's cheek.
"A life time, then?" Illya questioned, though, in truth, it was stated more as a fact.
Napoleon smiled and pulled his lover back down in to his arms.
It was raining again when Napoleon woke, the empty place beside him still warm. He looked over and noted that, except for the jacket that still draped Napoleon's body, Illya's clothes were gone. Napoleon thought about staying where he was; it was cozy under their coats and he didn't think that many hours had passed. It was lighter outside but not so much that, cloud cover or not, it could be much past daybreak.
He was dozing off when he heard voices, Illya's and the slightly mechanized sound of a voice coming through a communicator. With a sigh, he got up and quickly dressed.
Descending the ladder, he walked over to his partner who was standing at the barn's opened door. He handed Illya his jacket. "You got through."
Illya nodded as he shrugged into his jacket. "There were enough usable parts from both to get one working." He looked at Napoleon. "They will be here in a couple of hours."
"Where is 'here,' exactly?" Napoleon stepped nearer the doorway and peered out.
"Northern Connecticut. Near somewhere called Canaan." Illya motioned with his head to the burnt out house. "It seems the place hasn't been abandoned after all. They used my signal to triangulate our position to within a mile but were able to come up with an exact location by pulling up property records for the area."
"It's going to be rebuilt?"
"Yes, UNCLE contacted the owners. They plan on rebuilding next spring."
"That's good to hear. It deserves a chance to be a home again." He looked back at his partner. "Speaking of which, how far away from home are we?"
"Not far. A hundred miles or so." Illya hesitated. "Napoleon—"
Napoleon turned and pulled Illya into his arms. Holding on tight, he whispered, "Don't. Don't change your mind."
Illya pulled back but stayed in his arms, wrapping his own around Napoleon's waist. "Don't be ridiculous. I have no intentions of changing my mind. But," he looked pointedly at their joined bodies, "we're going to have to be very careful."
"I know that, Illya. And I know it's not going to be easy. For one, I'll probably have to continue dating, at least for a while. Dating," he pressed two fingers against Illya's lips to stop the protest he saw in his eyes. "Nothing else. A chaste kiss at their door and then I'm home. To you."
Illya scowled. "I still don't like it. I've seen how women look at you, Napoleon. Like a-a juicy bone."
Napoleon threw his head back and laughed, delighted. He hadn't expected jealousy from his normally reserved partner. He hugged him tighter. "Ah, Illya, I do so love you." He kissed the pouting lips. "They can look all they want. You're who I want."
Illya seemed to ponder the notion, then reluctantly let his irritation go, though he remained pensive. "I suppose a few women will be the least of our worries. Until the day before yesterday, I never hoped we'd be together at all."
"The day before yesterday?" Napoleon pulled out of Illya's arms and eyed his partner suspiciously. "Is there something you want to tell me?"
Illya had the grace to look abashed. "My injuries were perhaps not as severe as I let on. I came to in your arms and I felt you kiss my forehead."
"Why, you sneaky devil." Napoleon thought a moment. "Any chance that little performance at the stream was for my benefit?" His eyes went wide. "And the other night in the lean-to?"
"Perhaps." There was uncertainty in Illya's voice. "Would you mind terribly if they were?"
Napoleon didn't even have to think about it. "No, how could I mind? I hadn't been able to work up the nerve to do anything about the way I felt about you. If you hadn't started sending out signals, who knows how long we would have waited, if we'd done anything about it at all."
Napoleon shivered at the thought. What if neither of them had never had the courage to make the first move? He glanced at Illya, who was staring out the doorway. No, he wouldn't think of what might have been. They were together. They would stay together. He threw his arm over his partner's shoulders and, forever and always together, they waited. They were going home.