"Ooh, Illya, you are so cute," Miss Diketon told him and rammed the cattle prod—or whatever the hell that thing was—up his ass. He cried out against it, his whole body spasming in a vain attempt to rid himself of it. Then his penis rose to reluctant erection and she hiked up her short little skirt and climbed on top of him.
"Now give me a good ride," she cooed down at him, "or I'll flick the switch and really show you something. Unless you like that idea, you naughty blond sweetie you."
No, he didn't like that idea. He didn't like it at all. So he gritted his teeth as she moved on him, bringing herself to three climaxes before sliding down to bury her face in his chest. She panted there for a moment then rolled off him. Then she did flick the switch and he screamed...
Screamed, scrambled away from her and fell off the bed. A banging sound assaulted his ears and he covered them. Shaking sweat damp hair away from his eyes he looked around wildly and recognized his own studio apartment. Oh. A nightmare. Another nightmare. He exhaled, and then the banging noise came again—at his door. His door! He groped under the pillow, pulled out his gun, released the safety and pointed it at the door. Just before he pulled the trigger his communicator beeped at him. He snatched it off the nightstand table without moving the gun. "What?"
"Illya?" It was Napoleon's voice, and he couldn't remember ever being quite so glad to hear it. Still disoriented from his dream, under attack from outside his apartment... and here came Napoleon's voice, calm and inquiring.
"I'm at your door. Want to open up?"
At his door? Illya stared at the door, then at the gun, which he had been seconds away from emptying into—and probably through—his front door. Into Napoleon. He dropped it as if it had burned him.
"Ah, yes. Wait a minute." He stood upright and stumbled across the room, took a moment to collect himself, and unlocked the door. Napoleon smiled at him casually, as if a middle of the night visit were a routine event.
"Hi. Can I come in?"
"Um, of course." He stepped back and let Napoleon enter. He saw the quick glance Napoleon sent around the room, saw it pause at the bed, sheets and blankets in a wild tangle, saw it stop at the gun. Then those piercing dark eyes came to his face.
"What's going on?" Napoleon asked him directly. "You haven't been to work in a week, you didn't report to the counselor—"
"I have a cold. I called in."
"I do!" To prove it he coughed, rather unconvincingly. Napoleon raised an eyebrow at him.
"I've covered for you as best I can, but you're on the edge of real trouble. After torture you have to talk to them. You know that. Refusing—"
"I am not refusing! I've been sick!" He coughed again.
"Only makes them more convinced that something's wrong," Napoleon went on as if Illya had not interrupted.
"So, what? You've come to take me in? I'm not talking to them. I put it all in my report. A few jolts with a cattle prod—it's nothing."
"Ah huh," Napoleon said again. "That's why you almost filled me full of lead for knocking on your door?"
Illya flushed. He could no longer meet Napoleon's eyes, so he lowered his. "I didn't know it was you."
"I'm not your enemy," Napoleon said quietly.
"I said I didn't know it was you!"
"I know. I don't mean it that way. What's going on, Illya? Because you're right—a few jolts with a cattle prod is—well, hardly nothing, but not unprecedented. You've experienced worse."
"That's right." He folded his arms.
"So why are you hiding out in here?"
"I'm not..." but he was, and he faltered. How could he describe that scene with Miss Diketon? He couldn't. He set his mouth stubbornly. Napoleon sighed.
"I have an alternate plan," he said after a few minutes. Illya looked at him suspiciously.
"I thought we might take a little vacation. Just the two of us. We went to Sag Harbor together, remember? That was fun, wasn't it?"
"Yes." It was a reluctant admission, but a true one. It had been fun. He and Napoleon, day upon day, talking, laughing, strolling the sunny streets... yes. It had been fun. But saying it made him angry, as if Napoleon had won some obscure victory, so he turned his back on him. "I don't need you doing me any favors. As soon as my cold..." he coughed again... "is better, I'll come back to work."
"It's been a week, so now you'll need to be cleared by Medical. And they'll insist that you talk to a counselor. Why not just talk to me, Illya?"
"There's nothing to talk about!"
"Hmm." He couldn't see Napoleon anymore, but he knew just how he would be looking. He would be frowning a little, brow furrowed in... concern. Damnit. Real concern. Illya felt guilty now, and irritated afresh with Napoleon for making him feel that way. Damn him.
"Damn you!" he exploded. "Just leave me alone! I didn't ask you to come here, I didn't want..." he choked on the lie. Because he did want Napoleon here, of course he did. For the first time in a week he hadn't thought of Miss Diketon in however long it had been since Napoleon had arrived. Only Napoleon could do that for him. And if Napoleon took him away for a vacation he could really not think about her. For day upon day... then Napoleon came up behind him, very close, rested both hands on his shoulders. Illya tried to shrug them off, but they only tightened.
"I'm not feeling very good about that assignment myself," Napoleon said softly. Illya shrugged again, not so hard this time, and Napoleon's hands didn't have to tighten further. But they did anyway, squeezing him. It was comforting, and he felt a strong urge to drop his head to one side, rub his cheek against the back of Napoleon's hand. He didn't, and the wanting to made him angry all over again. But Napoleon was going on.
"I knew the rules of Sicilian society. I knew when I asked her to hide me what the consequences would be for her if I were caught. And when I was caught I let them think the worst, instead of turning myself in."
"It was necessary," Illya said. "The mission—not to mention your life. You had no choice."
"So they tell me. But I don't feel very good about it anyway. I'm taking some time off, to get the taste of the whole thing out of my mouth. And I don't want to take that time alone."
"You wouldn't be alone for long," Illya said snidely. "All you'd have to do is look around and you'd have all the company you wanted."
Napoleon shook his head. He was so close that Illya could feel him do it. It raised the hairs on the back of his neck and he shrugged once more, hard this time, dislodging Napoleon's hands. Before he had time to regret the loss they slid down his arms, all the way down his arms, making him shiver. Napoleon captured his hands, holding them enclosed in his own. "I don't want that kind of company," he whispered, right into Illya's ear, making him shiver again. "I want my friend there. I need..." he tightened his grip. "I need my best friend there."
"Oh," Illya said. They stood like that for a long time, Napoleon's breath hot on Illya's skin, Illya's cold hands enfolded in Napoleon's warm ones. Finally Illya nodded. "All right," he managed through the lump in his throat. "All right, Napoleon. I'll come with you."
"Thank you," Napoleon said softly. "Thank you very much."
"But I'm not talking about Miss Diketon," Illya warned. "I just want to forget it."
"If you do forget it, I won't remind you," Napoleon promised. "And I'll fix things at Headquarters for you. All right?"
He leaned his head back, resting it on Napoleon's shoulder, looking up into those brown eyes. They smiled at him, and he smiled back. "All right. Thank you."
"My pleasure," Napoleon said and there was a deep, intimate tone to his voice that plainly said that it was, it was his pleasure. Illya felt his face grow hot.
"I'm sure it will be mine, too." Mine too, he thought. For another moment they stood there, smiling at one another, and then Illya straightened. Napoleon released his hands, picked up the phone, and Illya went to the closet to take down his suitcase.
Napoleon's money certainly came in handy, Illya thought, as he stood on the balcony looking out over the ocean. Napoleon had rented a jet and flown them here, to this exclusive private club on one of the smaller Florida Keys. It was a place frequented by celebrities and politicians, and thus its security was as tight as could be humanly arranged. The Beatles had stayed here. Princess Margaret was a frequent visitor. Presidents and kings and prime ministers came here to golf, swim and relax, far from press reporters, far from the troubles of their worlds. Two field agents from UNCLE were small fish in this well guarded pond, and it was a good feeling, to be so anonymous. To feel so secure. Illya looked over golden sand to dark blue waters and realized he had not thought about Miss Diketon since getting off the jet from New York.
Napoleon had talked of it en route, beginning with his own guilty conscience. "I used her," he said, skillfully banking the plane as they climbed away from New York. "I used her to hide me, I left her when I escaped, and I used her again later, at Headquarters. When Waverly told me he was sending in the bombers my first thought was for you. My gut turned over, my whole world darkened. 'But Illya's on that island,' I said, and he gave me one of those looks. I knew I'd get no further with him on that score. So I used her. The innocent. The girl who didn't volunteer for this mission, who shouldn't be expendable. But the truth is all I cared about was you. Oh, I wanted to rescue her too, on that abstract level we protect all the civilians on. But it was you who weren't expendable to me. I used her, and what's more I'm pretty sure he knew it. What does he think of me? What can I think about myself? What kind of man am I?"
"It turned out all right for her," Illya answered. "She has a new pizza parlor to run, her grandmother is satisfied as to her honor and thus so is the rest of the village. They think you're another mobster, but that's all right. You're never going back there."
"I know all of that. It doesn't help."
"It should," Illya said, and saw Napoleon's eyes cut his way before returning to the view ahead of him, and to the screens above his hands. What capable hands Napoleon had. Illya watched them, remembered how they had felt sliding down his arms, and shivered again. "You're the one who made sure it did turn out all right for her. She's a heroine now thanks to you. Let it go. You'll be more careful next time whose bed you hide under."
"Maybe. She wouldn't have liked living in Strago's world
"No, I know." There was silence for a moment, then Napoleon exhaled. "I was going to come and get you out anyway," he said at last. "I was walking away from Waverly saying goodbye to my job, goodbye to my position, goodbye to everything. I was going to charter a plane much like this one and go on my own. I couldn't just let you go, like you were nothing."
"Thank you," Illya said softly. He didn't argue with Napoleon, didn't point out all the flaws in that scheme. "I would never just let you go, either. You have my word."
"A fine state of affairs," Napoleon said, but his mouth twitched upward, acknowledging Illya's words with a small smile. "We're quite a pair."
"They like us when we succeed. And part of the reason for our success is the way we can count on one another. They can't have it both ways."
"I know. I'm sure that's the only reason we're still together. But now there's something between us, Illya. When are you going to trust me with what happened?"
Oh, you're good, Illya thought with mingled admiration and resentment. You're really good. Look at me, relaxing, talking about the mission, opening up—and in you come with that question. "Did you promise them you'd get me talking?" he asked sharply. "Is that why we're both on vacation?"
"I told Waverly I'd do my best," Napoleon admitted. "I'm not going to lie to you."
"But you wouldn't have mentioned it if I hadn't asked."
"I'm not talking about it. And it's only between us because you're taking their side."
"Never." Napoleon turned in his seat to look at him, a hard, intense look. "Never on anyone's side but yours. If you do talk to me, and I don't think it's anything they need to know, I'll tell Waverly that I'm satisfied, and that will be the end of it."
"And if you do think they need to know?"
"I'll tell you first."
"Well, I'm not. Talking." Illya folded his arms across his chest. "If that's why we're on our way to some fancy resort, you might as well take me back right now."
"It's not. Not primarily. Primarily I want to see you get some sun, and some decent sleep, and some big meals before you have to go back to work. I want..." again that probing look. "I want that haunted look out of your eyes, and that tightness off your face before our next mission."
"I do not..." but he couldn't finish the sentence. Haunted was exactly how he felt, so it probably was the way he looked. He looked out of the window instead. "Leave me alone," he said, and was ashamed that it came out like a plea. "I don't want to think about it."
"Okay," Napoleon returned amiably and this time it was Illya giving a hard look. Napoleon looked back blandly. Illya narrowed his eyes at him, letting him know he wasn't fooled, not for one minute, and Napoleon grinned. "For tonight," he amended.
"Hmph," Illya snorted, and that was the last word either of them spoke for the rest of the flight.
On the ground a limousine was waiting for them. Inside, two glasses of champagne were cooling in the little refrigerator and Napoleon gave him one, touched his own glass to it. "To a vacation," he said, and Illya tipped his towards him.
"To a vacation," he agreed and they drank.
Now Illya stood with another glass of champagne in his hand and watched the sky darken over the water. A few stars could already be seen, and the beach was deserted. A soft breeze played in his hair and he tilted his head back, smiling. No more questions tonight, Napoleon had promised, which meant he could relax and enjoy himself. And he would. Napoleon had already ordered dinner, and they were going to eat it out here on the balcony. No one was better company than Napoleon when he was exerting himself to be agreeable, and he would, because he was trying to soften Illya up for tomorrow's further questioning. It was inevitable so he might as well... lie back and enjoy it, he thought, and laughed out loud.
Napoleon laughed too, from inside. In a moment he was at the door. "What's funny?" he asked, still smiling. He made a strikingly handsome figure, in his dark tailored pajamas and elegant dressing gown. Illya felt positively Bohemian in the blue linen pajamas that had been waiting on the bed when he came out of the shower. They were soft, and relaxed in cut, and he wore no dressing gown. His feet were bare and when he stole a glance at Napoleon's and saw the slippers that could almost be dress shoes he laughed again.
"You," he answered. "All you need is a briefcase and you could be in the board room at UNCLE. Unlike me. Why did you pick these out for me if that's your taste?" He indicated Napoleon's attire with a sweeping gesture, and spilled some champagne. Napoleon gravely refilled it for him, and handed him a napkin.
"Because they match your eyes," he said, and Illya's eyes widened.
"Really," he answered. "That sounds..."
"I don't know. Vaguely inappropriate."
"You can file a complaint when we get back, if you like. In fact, I'll give you more ammo. The way I feel about you is entirely inappropriate. I thought I made that clear before, with my talk of chartering planes and interfering with an UNCLE strike force."
His face was hot. Napoleon could keep up this sort of banter far longer than he. He wished he'd never commented on the pajamas at all. He didn't know what to say now, and was very relieved when a knock at the door announced their dinner.
Dinner was wonderful. Illya, who had only picked for the past week, rediscovered his appetite and ate steak and lobster and spinach and scalloped potatoes and broccoli with cheese sauce and rolls. He ate with focus and concentration as always—meals were no light issue for him, and he didn't care how it looked. He maintained his perfect table manners, but conversation could wait until he was finished. Napoleon, who generally made no secret of his amusement, said nothing tonight. He kept Illya's glass and his plate full, ate heartily himself and, when they were both finished, cleared everything away, leaving Illya to stare out over the water and sip his after dinner brandy.
As if sensing Illya's need for solitude Napoleon didn't come back to the balcony, instead spreading his papers out on the desk and working intently there until finally Illya couldn't keep his eyes open anymore, and came in to wash up for bed. When he emerged from the bathroom Napoleon had already put everything away, and went in to take his turn at the sink.
Illya stood and looked at the two beds. Both were folded down and he chose the one furthest from the door because Napoleon had already claimed the other one by putting his suitcase on it. He sat down, feeling and appreciating the excellent mattress, the fine cotton sheets, the goose down comforter. It was a big bed, and his feet didn't even touch the floor. He bounced on it a little, experimentally, and then looked up at Napoleon, who was standing over him.
"Have you been dreaming?" Napoleon asked bluntly. "Your bed didn't look as if you were sleeping well."
There was no point in lying. He would dream of her again tonight, as he had every night since the mission ended, and Napoleon would hear him. So? Nightmares were part of the job. He'd heard Napoleon often enough. So he nodded jerkily. "Yes. I have... I dream of her. Of it," he added hastily, wanting to bite his tongue off. "The mission. The cattle prod."
"Not tonight you won't," Napoleon said, and climbed right into bed with him. He settled on his side, back to Illya, ignoring his protests, ignoring the attempt to physically shove him off. "Cut it out, Illya," he said without turning around. "I'm trying to sleep."
Illya regarded him, lying there as if there was nothing untoward in their sharing a bed when they didn't need to. "I'll just go get in the other one," he threatened, and felt a pang of loss even as he said it. Because he wanted Napoleon to sleep with him, that was the pathetic truth. He was afraid of the dreams, and he shared Napoleon's opinion that they would not come if he could feel Napoleon all night, feel his warmth and his strength, hear his soft breathing. He scowled. But the scowl was wasted on Napoleon's back, and Napoleon didn't answer him, so after a moment he lay down himself, staring at the wall.
Napoleon moved a little, as if casually, and now their backs were touching. Illya wanted to protest—no, not really. He felt he should protest but it would be fruitless, he already knew it. Napoleon would just pretend to be already asleep, and even if Illya shook him he would yawn and blink and apologize, and then as soon as Illya was settled again it would be the same thing. Because Napoleon was concerned about him, cared about him, wanted to keep the nightmares away from him, give him time to heal. Because Napoleon felt... inappropriately about him. So Illya lay there, and listened to Napoleon's breath go in and out, in and out... and didn't even notice when his eyes closed.
When he woke the next morning sunlight was pouring in the window and he had moved—or Napoleon had—and they were tangled up in one another. Napoleon's leg was draped across both of his, Napoleon's arm was over his chest. His own arms were wrapped around Napoleon's waist, and his cheek was pillowed on Napoleon's hard shoulder. With every breath he breathed Napoleon's scent, that sharp, somehow spicy scent that was as familiar to him as his own. Moreover Napoleon's breath ruffled his hair, and Napoleon's other arm was under his neck, slightly crooked as if in the act of pulling him even closer. Flesh against flesh, skin to skin—it shocked his senses and filled him with such happiness he didn't think he could bear it. It pierced him, nearly making him swoon with joy.
He had always avoided such physical intimacy. With his lovers, male or female—it made no difference to him so long as they were clean and unobtrusive and gone the next day, although it would probably make a difference to Napoleon, so he only ever admitted to the female—he avoided intimacy as much as was possible, given the mechanics of the act itself. In fact it was more like mutual masturbation than any sort of coupling. Just like Miss Diketon he thought, and shivered. She masturbated with me like I do with them, only of course I never hurt them. He pulled his mind away from her. Why think of her when here was this pleasure, right here, in Napoleon's arms?
Napoleon must have felt something because he shifted position slightly, tucking his arm more securely around Illya's chest, turning him a little so he could look into his face. "Illya? Are you all right? Is this... " he gave Illya a squeeze to demonstrate what he was talking about... "all right? I didn't mean to accost you in the night. I just woke up this way."
"Me too. And yes, I'm all right. And this..." he squeezed back... "is fine."
"Good." Napoleon sounded relieved. "I've been lying here hoping you wouldn't wake up and sock me one. I know you don't care for this kind of canoodling."
"Neither do you."
"Is this all right with you?"
"Yes. It's wonderful."
"Oh." Wonderful, Napoleon had said. So it was wonderful for Napoleon, too. He sighed with contentment.
"You know," Napoleon was going on, "I never even asked you if you wanted to come to the beach. It seems I take you... we go to the beach a lot. Just let me know if you ever want to do something different."
"We do. Last year we went skiing."
"And three years ago we went to Paris."
"True again. I just don't want to be overbearing with you, Illya. I want you to tell me if you want to do something different. For every trip you've just mentioned we've gone to some beach or other four or five times."
"I know. I like the beach. It's as far away from our normal lives as you can get."
"Okay. Just as long as you know you can—we can—go anywhere. Anywhere at all, Illya. Just tell me."
Illya didn't answer. But he rubbed his cheek against Napoleon's shoulder, to let him know he'd been heard. Napoleon brushed his lips against Illya's hair in response, and they lay there quietly.
How odd, Illya was thinking. How odd, that we should be lying here like this. Napoleon Solo, who only ever touches women, and me—who touches as little as possible. Here he is, holding me, and here I am, positively reveling in it. How odd. And odder still that it doesn't really feel odd. I think it is odd, but I don't feel it. He wished suddenly that he could give Napoleon something, repay him for the enormous gift he had received, this gift of peace, and trust, and touch. How could he begin to repay Napoleon? What could he offer... but he knew the answer to that, didn't he. He could offer Napoleon the truth. He could offer the truth, and trust Napoleon to do with it whatever he thought best.
"She put the cattle prod in me," he said, voice harsh with all the things he was suppressing. "All the way up in me. It made me hard. She put me—my cock—in her until she was satisfied. She threatened to shock me again, inside, if it wasn't good for her." And that was it. Five blunt sentences, and it was out.
If he had expected Napoleon to be horrified, to recoil, to exclaim aloud, he was wrong. Napoleon just lay there, stroking his hair—had he been doing that before? Illya couldn't remember. But it felt good, and he was grateful to Napoleon for not leaping off the bed, with an oath, perhaps, and calling New York. He was very grateful. Here he had thought he was giving Napoleon something, and it was Napoleon giving to him again. Still. He sighed, a deep, shuddering sigh, and Napoleon's arms tightened.
"Did she?" he asked at last, in a carefully neutral voice. "Shock you again? Inside?"
"No." He hesitated, then went on. "In my dreams she does."
"Ah." There was another long interval of silence. Illya felt no need to fill it with more words. He had thought he might, had thought he might talk of his shame, which still burned within him, a hot ember of humiliation he'd been carrying around since the incident, but he didn't. He didn't have to. Napoleon would know he was ashamed. Why else hadn't he told anyone until now? He had thought he might express his disorientation and shock that after all that she had continued flirting with him, as if considering him a lover now, as if... as if that had been all right. But he didn't. He didn't have to. Napoleon would understand that, too. Even as he thought it, Napoleon spoke.
"Fucking little sociopath," he said, and his voice was as ugly as his words. "Because I saw her with you, and I thought you two had had a little fling of some kind. That's how she treated you, like you were her lover."
Napoleon understood. He hadn't had to say anything. Napoleon always understood him so well. Fucking little sociopath. He repeated it to himself. Yes, that was exactly right. And that was her, wasn't it. It was in her, and nothing to do with him at all. He sighed again, a sigh of release.
"Angelique did something like that to me once," Napoleon said then, and his voice was very low. "We were... the woman is insatiable. Over and over she wanted it and at first I thought that was great, you know? The ultimate fantasy woman. But after the fourth time I couldn't get it up, no matter how she played with it, no matter what tricks she used. I was just wrung out. So she... she was rubbing my back, and I thought it was to relax me. Then I felt this lubricant there and I thought well, all right, this is different but that's why I was with her in the first place, right? For something different?"
"For the spice," Illya said and Napoleon grunted.
"Yeah. Right. For the spice. Then she shoved this dildo right up in me, in one move she did it and it hurt like hell but it did the trick, too. I was hard and... but I was pissed. I reached around and pulled it out...bitch." He spat the expletive into Illya's hair and Illya pressed closer. Now it was he offering comfort, and he was so moved by Napoleon's confession, that Napoleon would tell him such a thing, that Napoleon trusted him to that extent, that he couldn't have spoken if his life had depended on it. He only held Napoleon tighter, wanting him to take whatever it was that would help. Whatever it was Napoleon was looking for in him, Illya wanted fervently to give. He hoped he had it to give. He hoped Napoleon wouldn't regret saying all this later. "I never saw her again," Napoleon went on. "She called me once, and I hung up on her. She didn't call again. And fortunately our paths never crossed again professionally. I wouldn't trust myself facing her with a gun in my hand."
Illya nodded. That was safe, he didn't have to trust his voice to do that. He nodded, and Napoleon squeezed him again. They didn't talk for a very long time. Illya would have thought Napoleon asleep except that his body didn't have the laxness of unconsciousness. He was just resting quietly, cheek on Illya's hair, Illya's face in his throat. They held one another and said nothing until finally Napoleon exhaled.
"Hungry?" he asked.
Napoleon chuckled. "One of the things I can count on," he said lightly and sat up. He smiled down into Illya's face, and Illya looked up at him and thought how good he was. How kind, and how good... Napoleon's smile faded, and his expression was curious now.
""What is it you're seeing, when you look at me like that?" he asked, and Illya flushed. But he didn't look away.
"The best man I've ever known," he answered, and his voice was steady after all.
"Even though I compromised an innocent girl and nearly got her killed?"
"Even though. Because you wouldn't be so troubled about it if you weren't such a good man. And you made it all up to her. She has her happy ending." And so do I, he wanted to add, but didn't. Bad enough, that his heart was on his face, without saying the words. But Napoleon leaned over, kissed his forehead lightly.
"And so do we," he said, and Illya nodded. "You brought Lucretia Borgia..."
"And you brought the Mafia..."
"And we're in great shape."
"Yes. Yes, we are."
It was over breakfast that Illya asked his question. "Do I have to talk to them, back in New York?"
"No." Napoleon speared a sausage.
"You can do that?" Illya crumbled a piece of bacon. He had been too nervous to eat, wondering if Napoleon would order him into counseling, order him to lay himself bare for some strange doctor. "Even though I've been out a week?"
"Yes." Napoleon pointed at Illya's plate with his fork. "So eat. I'll tell them I'm satisfied that all you needed was a little R&R, so I provided it and now—then, when we get back," he amended, "you're good to go."
"I know you are. I wouldn't put my life in your hands if I had the least doubt."
"Thank you." He felt shy with Napoleon now, and lowered his eyes to his plate which held a stack of pancakes, three more bacon strips and two fried eggs. His stomach growled and he crumbled more bacon onto the eggs, broke the yokes and soaked it all up with the toast Napoleon obligingly handed him. Napoleon passed him the syrup too, and he ended up eating everything on the plate and two apple turnovers as well.
Napoleon stretched out on the blanket and blinked drowsily at the dazzling blue sky over him. Beside him, Illya slept. Napoleon turned his head to be sure, and smiled. Illya's hair, drying after his swim, was stiff with salt and curling slightly around his cheekbones. His face was sunburnt. His long lashes, only a shade darker than his hair, lay on his fair skin. His lips were slightly parted in slumber and one hand, outflung, lay palm up, fingers slightly curved. It was pleasant to see him there. Napoleon yawned. It was pleasant to lie here, dozing in the sun. It was especially pleasant because it felt so safe.
It was safe. This hotel was always safe, but today it was even more so because Frank Sinatra was here with enough guards—goons, Illya had called them last night in the dining room. "I feel as if we're still in Chicago, Napoleon, now why is that?" They had both laughed, then looked up as the maitre de approached with a bottle and two glasses on a tray.
"I didn't order..." Napoleon had begun, then blinked at the bottle. It was a fabulously old, fabulously expensive brandy. "Where...?"
"Compliments of Mr. Sinatra," the maitre'de said, and nearly genuflected at the name. Napoleon looked over at the boisterous table near the bar and Sinatra rose, came over to them.
"Your uncle Alexander has been very helpful to me on occasion," he said pleasantly. "So any time I see his boys I try to return the favor."
"Ah, thank you," Napoleon said, torn between amusement at being one of Waverly's boys, and surprise at this glimpse into his superior's past.
"I already told my pals that you two are under my umbrella," Sinatra went on, looking pleased with himself. A man who liked bestowing largesse, Napoleon decided, and moreover one who could become quite unpleasant if that largesse seemed unappreciated. So he smiled and said thank you, and reflected that if he and Illya had felt secure before, now... looking at the hulking men surrounding Sinatra's table and the other ones, stationed at every entrance, all clearly well armed... they could feel positively cozy. It was an inviting prospect, so the warmth in his smile was real.
"We appreciate it," he said. "It's a rare treat for us."
"I'm sure it is." Sinatra eyed Illya, who so far had said nothing. But on finding himself the object of scrutiny he rose ably to the occasion.
"I like your records," he said politely.
"Yeah?" Sinatra challenged. "Which ones?"
"I like them all, but the ones you did for Capital are my favorites I admire the way you manage to make each one a complete story without being obvious about it."
"Not too many people catch that," Sinatra observed, visibly warming. "So tell me, smart guy, are you two working or on vacation?"
"Vacation," they said simultaneously, looked at one another and laughed. Sinatra didn't laugh with them.
"Cause if there's some kind of showdown going on I want to know about it," he said. "I don't like surprises."
"Neither do we," Napoleon assured him.
"I've heard of you, Mr. Solo. You're quite the ladies man. This one I don't know about. You're not some kind of a fairy, are you, Mr. needs a haircut?"
"I assure you," Illya said solemnly. "I am not any kind of a fairy. And the hair helps me blend in on certain missions, among certain types of people. I'm sure you understand."
"Oh yeah, these whadda they call themselves, beatniks. I guess you got a point. Enjoy the brandy, boys, and if you want more just let the bartender know. I put you on my tab." With a final jaunty finger to his forehead salute, Sinatra returned to his table, and four of his "pals' shifted position slightly to better cover the two UNCLE agents. Napoleon poured two glasses of brandy and they lifted their glasses in a toast to Sinatra before drinking.
So now they could nap on the beach, as securely guarded as was possible. Sinatra and his coterie of noisy friends held court at a beach table closer to the hotel, and his bodyguards were at both ends of the private beach, repulsing any advances from that quarter; standing at the steps leading to the hotel entrance, and scattered very conspicuously among the other guests, most of whom seemed to be made nervous rather than otherwise by their presence. Napoleon chuckled and Illya stirred.
"Right here." He turned so he could see Illya's face again. He had been very concerned about his partner's reaction to this latest mission. He had suspected more had occurred than Illya had put in his report, alerted by his white faced silence unless directly addressed, by the grim set of his mouth, by the shadows in those blue eyes. When Illya had not come in to work, not reported to the post torture counseling UNCLE insisted upon, Napoleon had at first wanted to give him the time and space to do so on his own, then finally been driven to his apartment by his gnawing concern and growing fear. He thought of Miss Diketon now and silently cursed her. Bitch, he thought. Crazy nympho bitch. And he'd had no idea, even after meeting up with them.
She had flirted with Illya and he had, incredibly given what had happened between them, flirted back. They had needed her, of course, had needed her knowledge of the installation and its personnel. So Illya had put his personal issues aside and given her what she wanted, so she would give them what they needed. And in the end she had gotten everything she wanted.
"I saw you fail," she had whispered to the corpse of the man she had loved and hated. "I saw you die." And then had died herself. Napoleon shook his head. And he had had no idea. He had been horrified, on returning to UNCLE, to hear about and see Illya's injuries; his body welted and burned, little blackened places testifying to her pleasure in his pain. And to think... he shook his head. Bitch, he thought again.
Illya was sitting up now, staring placidly at the water. The marks were still there, though less noticeable with the new tan. Illya was turning a light gold, the hairs on his arms and legs catching the sunlight, that thatch on his head streaked with honey. He looked good enough to eat.
No. Napoleon resolutely turned his mind away from that thought. Where had it come from, anyway? He looked at Illya again, and found that Illya was looking at him.
"I'm all right, Napoleon," he said gently. "I see your concern, and I appreciate it more than I can tell you. But I'm all right now. It was just her. It had nothing to do with me, really, except that she found me attractive."
"Yes." That was always the first step, in getting past the outrage of deliberate torture. It was such an intimate relationship, with the torturer trying to get inside your mind, to manipulate you with pain and fear and the desire for the pain and fear to end. It was easy to fall into the trap of taking it personally. But it wasn't personal. The interrogation might have taken a different turn, if Illya hadn't been blond and blue eyed and physically fit, thus rousing Miss Diketon's overactive libido, but there would still have been pain and fear because she wanted to know what Illya knew, and Illya wouldn't tell her. It was a good sign, that Illya had made that step on his own. Some people didn't need counseling. For some people... he looked at Illya again... it made things worse.
"Thank you for this," Illya said then. He was looking out to sea now, and Napoleon could watch that pure, clean profile all he pleased without being caught at it. "This..." he took in a deep breath of the salty air... "is just what I needed."
"You're a good friend, Napoleon." Now Illya turned those blue eyes on him, and Napoleon felt he was falling into them, plunging headfirst into some exotic ocean. "I want you to know how much I appreciate it." Then he frowned. "Napoleon?"
"Are you listening to me?"
"Yes," he said, because of course he was, he heard every word Illya said and more, heard the ones he wasn't saying, too. This was dangerous, he thought, dangerous to try and put words to the thing that sizzled between them, dangerous to gaze into one another's eyes for too long, but he felt no inclination to look away. "I am. You—you're a good friend to me too, Illya. I don't forget all the times you've been there for me." He was still falling, still drowning and Illya's eyes had widened, softened. Napoleon tore his away, and now he was looking at Illya's mouth instead. Generous, inviting... he swallowed.
"Do you want to go back to the room?" Illya suggested, and Napoleon almost jumped at the eerie way Illya seemed to have of reading his thoughts right off his face. Because of course he wanted to go back to their room. He wanted to close the door behind them, and lock it, and then take Illya in his arms—not in a brotherly way, nor even a protective way, but as a lover would, with passion and tenderness and... and trust. Trust. How would it feel, to make love where there was this profound level of trust? Because that would be the big difference. Not Illya's gender. Gender would be merely a matter of accommodating physical differences, similarities. Illya would be hard where women were soft, Illya would be his match in physical strength. Illya would... he exhaled, surprised to find he had been holding his breath.
"Yes," he said hoarsely. "Yes, I do. Want to go back to the room." He looked at Illya again, or was it still? He had no idea. But how beautiful Illya was, with the sun striking red gold sparks off his hair, with sand lightly dusted across his nose, with a touch of salt on his lips. Napoleon wanted to lick the salt off, wanted it so badly that sweat sprang out on his body. But he hesitated, forced himself to hesitate because this would be epochal, if he and Illya... it would shake the foundations of the world they had built for themselves.
"It would have to be a secret," Illya was saying seriously. "If UNCLE knew, they would separate us. If Thrush knew..."
"Surely we can keep a secret. It's our profession, after all."
"After all," Illya echoed. "You should keep dating. It's a perfect cover, and no one would ever think we were... if you were still... well."
"Won't you mind?" And how odd it was, that they were sitting here on this beach blanket talking about such things. Of course he would have to keep dating. For him to suddenly stop would be tantamount to an announcement. He and Illya were already so close... everyone knew how close they were. The only reason no one seriously thought they were lovers was all those women Napoleon dated. Besides, did he really want to give that up? Was he ready to give that up? He loved dating, loved the pursuit and the victory, loved wooing and wining and dining and winning. Childish of him, he supposed, and someday maybe he would outgrow it. But right now inclination matched discretion, and the dating would continue. "Won't you mind?" he repeated.
"Yes," Illya said, and laughed. "I've always minded. I'll be sarcastic and snide and everyone will just think I'm jealous because it's you getting the girl. Although sometimes I do, and that will be all right too because I'm human, Napoleon. I can't—I won't languish around waiting for you my whole life. Sometimes I'll get lucky."
"And I'll hate that," Napoleon said, and he laughed too. "I'll be hostile and sarcastic too, and everyone will think I'm just piqued and jealous because you won this time around. But when all is said and done..."
"It will be you and me. Under everything, despite everything, against everything... you and me."
"You and me," Illya agreed. "And someday..." he stopped talking, and he wasn't laughing anymore either. Napoleon too was somber.
"Don't say it," he said. "Never say it. Today is all we might have."
"If that is the case," Illya said, and he was studying the sand now as if it held infinite mysteries for him to probe. "If that is the case, then why..."
"Why are we still sitting on this blanket instead of in our room tearing one another's clothes off?"
"Beat you there," Napoleon said and he snatched the blanket out from under Illya, toppling him, sending him rolling over in the sand, and ran. Illya was right behind him, complaining about the sand, laughing some more. They stood sedately in the elevator under the watchful eye of another of Sinatra's pals, who had somehow materialized as they entered the lobby, and they strolled casually along the hall to their room, but once inside Napoleon grabbed Illya, and Illya melted against him, and there they stood, locked in an embrace.
Illya was covered with sand and it scratched Napoleon's skin. They shivered in the air conditioning while Napoleon brushed Illya off and Illya peeled Napoleon's swim trunks down. He went down with them, onto his knees, and rubbed his cheek against Napoleon's organ, which was at full erection. "How beautiful you are," he whispered, and breathed on it lightly. "How very beautiful."
Napoleon spared a moment, in that final moment before Illya's lips closed around him and thought became impossible, to wonder at Illya's ease. One would think he had done this before. One would think... then Illya did take him in his mouth and thought did flee. He could hear himself crying out hoarsely, the pleasure of this act so strong, so strong... he clutched Illya's head, gripped his hair in both fists, held him there as he thrust deep, deep into his welcoming throat. There was no tenderness now, his need savage and urgent and when he came he gave Illya no chance to pull away even if he'd wanted to, but he didn't seem to want to, he sucked and swallowed and there was tenderness again, tenderness and acceptance. Napoleon sighed at the end and released Illya's hair, dropped to his knees, legs suddenly boneless.
They were face to face now, and Illya smiled at him. Napoleon again had the odd thought... one would almost think you've done this before. Have you? He really knew nothing of Illya's sex life except when it involved a mission. Because Illya did occasionally get the girl, no question about it, and when he did the girl always tried to hold on to him, calling and coming by if at all possible, so he must know his way around a woman but he knew his way around cock too, and when had that happened?
Illya's smile had faded and he was waiting, waiting for Napoleon to speak. And Napoleon suddenly knew, very clearly, that it was no accident that things had gone in this direction, that Illya was laying his skill and previous experience bare for him to see and react to. And that reaction would determine where things went from here, if anywhere. Napoleon cleared his throat, not knowing what he was going to say, but knowing he had to say something and say it right away.
"Was it consensual?" he asked, because he knew who Illya's masters had been before he joined UNCLE and knew, too, how they operated. Illya's eyes widened a little, as if the question surprised him. It wasn't what he had expected to hear, that was certain. Well, good. It never hurt to keep Illya off balance a little, otherwise that ability to look right into Napoleon's thoughts might prove too uncomfortable.
"Not always," he answered finally and Napoleon touched his face. He wanted to make up for that, wanted to make up for it all.
"Not since you joined UNCLE," he said, and Illya shook his head.
"No. Mr. Waverly doesn't operate that way. Was that... was it too professional for you? I didn't want any secrets between us. Between us and the world, that's one thing. Between the two of us... no. But if you don't want to continue, just say so."
"It wasn't too anything. It was wonderful. I loved it. I love..." he stopped on the very brink of the next word. How vulnerable Illya looked now, waiting to hear it. Waiting to be dismissed, or not. Braced for it, whatever it was. So Napoleon put both arms around him, held him close, and finished his sentence. "You. I love you. I've never said that to another living being in my life. I love you. All of you, everything about you, your past, your present, your everything. Everything about you. You. Illya Kuryakin, I love you."
"Oh," Illya said, and put his head down on Napoleon's shoulder. He shivered, flesh chilly against Napoleon's hands. "And I love you, Napoleon." His voice broke as he said it, as if he were tearing himself open to get the words out, and Napoleon's arms tightened. "All of you, everything about you, now and forever. I've never said it before either, but it is true. You are the love of my life." He pressed his lips to Napoleon's throat, and Napoleon kissed his temple. Then he rose to his feet, lifted Illya up with him, led Illya over to the bed, and brought them down together.
He covered Illya with the comforter against the air conditioning. Then he made love to Illya with all the skill at his disposal, all the love in his heart. He stroked Illya and caressed him, watching the whole time to see what he liked, what he didn't like, what made him shiver and arch upwards, what made him twist to the side, thighs parting. He rolled over on top and moved on him, moved against him, Illya's hardness pressing against his own reawakened hardness. They moved together, gasping, crying out, whispering frenzied endearments, grinding together and at the very end Napoleon held Illya's face between his strong hands, feeling their strength, feeling Illya's strength meeting his, and kissed him. He opened Illya's mouth and their tongues entwined as their lives did, as their destinies did, against the odds, against the world, together. Together. It pulsed through them, their hearts beating as one. Together. Together.
He rolled off and lay flat on his back, panting for breath. Then he slid one arm under Illya's shoulders and pulled him in because even that brief separation was intolerable after the pinnacle of togetherness. He held Illya against his body, feeling the length of him, the hardness of him, the beauty of him—of them. The beauty of them, together.
It was a halcyon time. They baked in the sun, swam in the sea, scuba dived off the coral reef. Illya's hair floated out around his head like a halo and Napoleon, looking up at him, felt a surge of emotion so powerful it literally took his breath away. He nearly choked on his mouthpiece trying to remember to inhale and Illya swam closer, gave him the "need help?" gesture. Napoleon shook his head then put both hands together over his chest, mimed his heart beating, pointed back at him. Illya blinked behind his face mask, then put his own hands to his chest, indicating his own heart, then held them out to Napoleon, offering. Napoleon reached for his hands, took them in his own, brought them back to his chest. Accepting. They hung there in the sunlit water and beamed at one another.
They wrestled in the surf, tackling one another, ducking one another, each trying to trick the other into being surprised by the oncoming waves. Napoleon dove under, grabbed Illya's ankles, pulled them out from under him. A large breaker surprised them both, tumbling them head over heels, scraping them along the bottom, depositing them in the shallows, both laughing breathlessly, while hard eyed men with prominent bulges under their arms stood watch over this stretch of beach.
They wrestled in their hotel room too, later on; naked now and rolling one another over and over in the crisp white sheets, the great soft mattress. They grabbed and tickled, using holds that would have gotten them banned from any respectable gym. Illya was quick, and possessed of a seemingly bottomless bag of tricks, but Napoleon's superior size and weight won out in the end and he lay across Illya, holding both his wrists securely in one fist, pinning him to the mattress with his hard urgent body and Illya twined his legs around his waist and they were making love again, hot sweaty love, muffling their cries in one another's mouths because, after all, they weren't the hotel's only guests.
Napoleon found himself poised on the brink of entry and Illya widened his eyes at him. Napoleon panted, holding himself in check with an effort. "Is this all right?" he managed and Illya hesitated.
"Well..." he began and Napoleon slid down, put his mouth there. Illya made a strangled sound and when Napoleon peered up at him he had pulled the pillow over his face. Taking that as encouragement Napoleon kissed him, feeling him melt, feeling him open. He used his tongue delicately, preparing him with such infinite care that when he reclaimed his position Illya spread his legs willingly, arched up to him willingly, accepted him willingly.
It was like flying. Like swimming, like flying... like love. He gasped out words to that effect and Illya shook off the pillow and answered him with his own words, with his own gasping, with his own love.
The last night they lay and made their plans. "We can't do this while we're on assignment," Napoleon warned and Illya nodded.
"And I'll still have to date."
"I know. And sometimes so will I."
"I'll hate that. No more men, all right, Illya? Would you... do you mind very much? Women... I can bear that. But you being with another man—no. I think it would kill me."
"All right," Illya said and his brilliant smile showed how little he minded. "No other men. Just you."
"Just me," Napoleon agreed, and kissed him. Illya kissed him back and they kissed for a while, too sated for the moment for it to go any further and that was sweet too, Napoleon thought. Just lying there and kissing because they wanted to. It was the sort of thing lovers did. "We'll just have to seize our opportunities," he went on. "Vacations..."
"Extended leaves of absence..."
"Those boring intervals between missions..."
"Missions that turn out to be nothing..."
"Like the time we trailed Gordon all the way across country only to find out he was meeting his mistress."
Illya laughed at the memory. "Yes. Like that."
"And one day..." Napoleon began and Illya put a finger to his lips, silencing him.
"No," he said, and his eyes had darkened. "You were right before. "We won't look ahead like that. We won't wish our lives away. Right now, this is good. And right now..."
"I know. Is all we have." He kissed Illya again. "I love you," he murmured and Illya stretched against him, purring with satisfaction.
"I love you too, Napoleon." Somewhere in the talking and the kissing and the embracing both had recovered, so they made love again, slow easy love, rocking against one another, whispering endearments into one another's ear, clutching one another at the end, clutching and rocking and whispering and then lying still once more in the big hotel bed.
A knock at the door roused them. Napoleon sat up. "Just a minute," he called. "You go into the shower," he directed and Illya quirked an eyebrow at him.
"No. What if you need me?"
"I can't imagine any enemy getting onto this floor past Frank's goons. But I can imagine how awkward it would be for you to be discovered in my bed."
"I'll get in my own then," Illya said and leaped over. He disarrayed his sheets and blankets and Napoleon threw a hotel bathrobe at him. He himself dressed quickly in his swimsuit and sandals, as if he had just come back from the pool, and Illya buried his nose in a newspaper. Napoleon looked through the peephole.
After all this time he still couldn't tell one of Frank's boys from the other. But that was unmistakably who it was, so he opened up. A package was thrust at him.
"Mr. Sinatra's flying out tomorrow," the man informed him. "He says do you want him to leave some extra protection."
"No thank you," Napoleon said. "We're leaving first thing in the morning ourselves. What..." he hefted the package inquiringly.
"For your pal there. With Mr. Sinatra's compliments." The man gave him a brief nod and walked away. Napoleon came back into the room, shaking the package near his ear.
"What do you think?" he asked Illya, who sat up and took it from him.
"Well, it could be a bomb..."
"But it's hard to see why. He could have just shot me where I stood." He handed Illya a pocket knife and Illya made a neat slit down the side. He poked the fingers of one hand in.
"Oh," he said and pulled the contents out. Albums. Record albums. Frank Sinatra albums and all signed. Napoleon lifted an eyebrow.
"Those must be worth a pretty penny," he observed.
"Imagine him doing that," Illya said. "Just because I said I liked them." He was going through the stack. "They're all here, Napoleon. Every one of them, and every one autographed. That's really nice of him."
"Yes it is. I wonder what it was Waverly did for him. We'll have to ask him when we get back tomorrow."
"Tomorrow," Illya echoed. "Are you sorry?"
"No, not really. I'm ready to get back to work. You? Are you all right?"
"Yes. I don't know why I let it bother me so much. It just got to me."
"You're entitled. But if something ever gets to you again, come to me. Illya? Don't hide out all alone in your apartment. Come to me."
"I will. And you too, Napoleon. Any time at all, you can come to me."
"I know." They smiled at one another, and then Illya put the albums in his suitcase.
Neither one wanted to leave the room so they ordered room service and ate on the balcony overlooking the ocean, as they had that first night. They ate steak, and pasta, and baked Alaska. They drank wine and when everything was finished they cleared it all away and went to bed. There was no more lovemaking—both were sleepy, and content just to settle into one another's arms and drift off to the sound of the ocean, and the feel of each other.
They did, of course, come together on missions. Not right away; they held firm to their resolve for some time, waiting until they were home, waiting until they were off duty. But then came the mission that ended right on schedule, but their departure was delayed by snow. Napoleon knocked at their connecting door that night and Illya welcomed him in, welcomed him with an embrace, and a kiss, and then they were rolling around on the hotel bed together because after all, as Napoleon said afterwards, they weren't really on assignment anymore. Illya agreed, and they kissed some more, and then Napoleon had Illya in his mouth and Illya's fingers were tangled in his hair and there was no more discussion of an issue that seemed so clear cut.
A month later there was a mission that was really just a bodyguard assignment. They rotated three eight hour shifts with two other sets of operatives, so once their shift was over they were, as Illya pointed out, really off duty. They were sharing a room that time so it was an easy matter for Illya to come into the shower while Napoleon was washing his hair and go down on his knees, and now it was Napoleon's fingers in his hair and afterwards, breathless, they agreed how fortunate it was that for their first eight hours off they weren't even the back up team. "When we are," Napoleon said, "we shouldn't do this. We might be called in at any time."
"All right," Illya agreed because he never argued with Napoleon, he just waited; and the next day, when they were the back up team, he pointed out that whether in one bed or separate ones they could be on their feet, dressed and out the door just as quickly. "And I sleep so much better like this, Napoleon," he said as they snuggled drowsily together. "Surely I'm more fit for duty when I've slept so very well."
"Surely you are," Napoleon said and kissed his temple and they did, they both slept very well indeed.
Then came the house on Long Island. They had followed Waverly around on that first day, cutting their eyes at one another, not sure whether this was a test of some kind, or what, because they would clearly be on duty full time on this mission so it was good that they had separate bedrooms. There could be no personal involvement in these circumstances and they both knew it. There was no justification for it. Just because they were living together, eating and sleeping and watching television and cooking together, didn't mean they could...
But they did. After the days and nights of inexplicable rage, after shouting at one another and storming away from one another and finding themselves furious each with the other for no good reason; after all that, once they lay in their beds in the cool quiet dark it was only a matter of time before one of them made the first move.
It was Illya. He came down the hall barefoot, in pajamas, wracked with remorse for his surliness. He tapped on Napoleon's door, and when it swung open he found Napoleon tying the belt to his bathrobe, preparatory to coming and seeking him out. They went into one another's arms without a word, made fierce silent love there in the dark. Each tried to apologize to the other, and each forgave the other. But each wondered privately if any unspoken future plans they had dared to make were doomed to failure, because it seemed obvious they couldn't live together, couldn't even plan a meal without snarling at one another. It frightened them both, neither one having fully realized how much reliance he had placed in those plans, in the vision of a shared future, until it was so cruelly snatched away.
They fought every day, blaming the other, and made wild searing passionate love every night, blaming themselves. When the mystery was revealed there was enormous relief—nothing to do with them after all, nothing personal, just another fiendish Thrush device of uncertain value—but, on Napoleon's side, there was also profound guilt.
When Illya dropped by his apartment that night with a bottle of brandy and a cheerful..."Well, we're really off duty now, Napoleon, and for the whole weekend," Napoleon received the remark and the bottle in silence.
"What's wrong?" Illya asked him directly after he had opened the bottle and they were settled on Napoleon's balcony drinking brandy.
"We shouldn't have done it. We were right in the first place, to keep work and our... whatever this is... separate."
"All right," Illya said slowly. "Maybe we shouldn't have. But—"
"We might have solved it sooner if we weren't so focused on ourselves, and why we were so angry with one another. If I weren't taking the phenomenon personally, I would have figured it out much more quickly."
"You don't know that."
"I don't know that I wouldn't have, either. We risked discovery..."
"How? You carried out your role very well. You flirted with her shamelessly." Without meaning to Illya's voice had sharpened. "You were most convincing."
"Was successful. No loss of civilian life, a commendation from Mr. Waverly... what more do you want?"
"I want to feel like a professional. And I didn't. We're not doing it again while we're even remotely on duty. No more excuses, no more looking for loopholes. I don't care how exciting it makes it. We're risking failing at our jobs, and we're risking discovery. If they found out they'd surely use you against me—far more directly than they do now. And I... I don't know how I'd stand up under that, Illya." It was a cry of pain and Illya responded to it as he always did to Napoleon's pain. He put down his glass and touched Napoleon's arm.
"All right," he said, as he always did, but with no ulterior motive this time. All he wanted to do was take that pain out of Napoleon's voice. "We won't. I won't come to your room at night, I won't... we won't." He looked deeply into Napoleon's eyes. "You're so good, Napoleon. You want to do the right thing—by UNCLE, by the world, by your own sense of duty. I understand that. I admire you for it. I... it's one of the things I love in you. I won't undermine you. I won't tempt you." Because he did, he knew he did. When he gave Napoleon a sideways look slanting upwards through his lashes, when he said Napoleon's name in that certain way, when he stood a little too close... "I won't," he repeated and Napoleon laughed a little.
"So you'll stop breathing in and out?" he said, and touched Illya's face with hands that shook a little. "Because that's all it takes. It isn't just UNCLE or my duty I want to do right by, Illya. It's you, too. I want to protect you from the feelings I can't quite hide. I want to live up to what I see in your eyes when you look at me. I want..." he stopped talking then, because Illya's eyes on his were very dark, and very soft and he couldn't resist it, he couldn't and besides, Illya was right. They were indisputably off duty now. Right now and all weekend long. So he kissed Illya, and the conversation ended.
Later, lying in the dark with Illya beside him, he felt his heart swell nearly to bursting at the memory of those days out in suburbia. Because underneath everything else, besides the mission, and the obligatory flirting with the girl next door, besides the artificially induced fighting and the ridiculous parrying over that damn souffl, underneath all that had been bone deep satisfaction to be living with Illya. Illya was there when he woke up. Illya was at the breakfast table with him. Illya came home to him from whatever little errand he was running. Day into night into day again, they were together. Who knew when—or if—it would happen again? Those forbidden dreams stirred once more. He didn't really wish the fieldwork would end—not yet. He wasn't ready yet. He loved the danger, the excitement, the not knowing when he woke up what any given day—or night—would bring. He loved it all, and having Illya by his side made it perfect. He couldn't imagine wanting it to end, although he supposed he would, one day.
He'd seen it over and over in agents older than himself. At some point you seemed to stop reveling in it. At some point you were ready to let it go and... and come in from the cold. If you lived that long. If you and your partner lived that long. He turned his head and looked at Illya, deep in peaceful slumber. His lips were slightly parted, and his hair was still tousled from Napoleon's hands. If we live that long, he promised Illya silently, and if you still want me, I'll take you in my arms and bring you in, too. I'll bring you in and we'll both be warm. Warm, and together, forever. Day will go into night and into day again, and we'll be together. He squeezed Illya hard and Illya made a contented little sound, moving even closer into his arms. Napoleon squeezed him again and fell asleep, smiling as he did so because they were indeed off for the entire weekend, so this night would go into day into night and day again and they would still be together.
Napoleon lay in the hospital bed. He had spit out the thermometer as soon as the door closed behind the nurse, and now lay grimly contemplating the ceiling. He was on disciplinary leave, of course—what else could Waverly do, really? He had ordered Napoleon not to act alone, and Napoleon had acted alone. Because what else could he do, really? And Waverly understood, he must, because three days leave without pay was a small consequence for so glaring an act of insubordination. Waverly understood how it was between him and Illya; even if he didn't know how far things had gone, he understood. Hell, everyone understood.
Viktor Karmac had understood.
"Twelve o'clock or Illya dies. Illya dies." It had been melodramatic, contrived, stupid—and stunningly effective. Because once Illya was dangled as the bait, once his life was on the line, Napoleon had followed through, helpless to do otherwise. Waverly had known that, else why had he removed himself from the scene? He had given his impossible order, and left.
All those years of restraint, useless. They hadn't slept together on missions after that last one, they had waited until they were off duty, waited until presumably their time was their own, but that was as stupid in its way as the bird's chant. An agent's time was never his own. An agent was never off duty. They both knew that. But they had pretended they were playing by the rules, had held off, had let opportunity after opportunity pass by and in the end Illya had been used against him anyway. Blatantly. Overtly. No earth shaking mission, this latest one, no great matters at stake. Only one thing at stake, and that the most important thing to him personally. Illya. Illya, abducted from the hospital—Napoleon had cursed himself repeatedly for not having insisted on better security. An armed guard stood outside his room now—talk about locking the barn door. Illya, the tethered bait. Napoleon, the hunted prey. Karmac the hunter, absurd with his leashed jaguar and movie style dramatics.
But he had sadly underestimated his prey. Napoleon had leashed his rage and his grief and his guilt, and honed it into a diamond bright sense of purpose. He had been at the height of his form, and he knew it. One would think that the world was indeed at stake.
His world was.
"Think about it, Mr. Solo," Waverly had said in that final meeting, before they had allowed Illya in to see him. "This is only the latest, most outrageous attempt to use the two of you against one another. I am very much afraid that it won't be the last. Perhaps you should be separated."
"Would that make us less of a target?" Napoleon had asked harshly. "Would Thrush let it go then? It's too late for that, sir. Far too late for that. All separating us would do is leave each of us out there with no one guarding his back. We're the best team UNCLE has ever had. This personal involvement goes along with that."
"Not always, Mr. Solo. I could name you several teams—oh, none so successful as you and Mr. Kuryakin, I will grant you that, but high performers all the same—who manage to achieve a good working rapport without the passion you two seem to feel for one another."
Passion? What an odd word for the old man to use. Napoleon gave him a sharp look. Waverly looked back at him calmly. How much did he know? He and Illya had tried so hard to be discrete. Had they failed? Or was it just an expression, as in a passion for their work, a passion for justice, a... but Waverly was still looking at him, clearly waiting for a response. "Yes sir," he had said, not quite knowing what he was agreeing with—or to.
He still didn't know. But Illya was safe, and wasn't that the most important thing? And furthermore Karmac was dead, a stern lesson to anyone else thinking of trying the same thing. Napoleon shivered, remembering the man's collapse. It had almost been Illya, inhaling the lethal cyanide gas. How close it had been.
And how fetching Illya had looked, in those blue pajamas. Napoleon had bought him those pajamas for his birthday last year, the original pair having finally worn out. They had taken the whole weekend off, and flown to the Bahamas. Illya had put the pajamas on and Napoleon had toasted him with champagne before removing them and teasing Illya until he was begging for it, pleading for it. Writhing and moaning and gasping Napoleon's name, reaching under to cup Napoleon's balls, those hands so unexpectedly gentle, so fantastically skillful that soon enough Napoleon was gasping too, gasping and moving and crying out, both of them crying out.
Illya had looked good in that tuxedo today, too. Napoleon remembered his parting smile, saying everything; saying 'thank you', saying that the date with the pretty young artist didn't mean anything, saying that he couldn't wait for Napoleon to get out of the hospital, saying 'I love you'.
"I love you," he had whispered in Illya's ear just before they were separated at headquarters for their individual debriefings. "I was afraid I'd never get to say it again. I love you. They're probably going to hospitalize me for this arm. Come see me before you leave."
"I will," Illya had promised, and he had. He had sat on the edge of Napoleon's bed and held his hand and they had reveled in one another's company—in one another's continued existence. Now Napoleon thought of all those lost opportunities in the name of duty and swore to himself that it would not happen again. Just like that, Illya had been gone. Just like that he could have been dead. All the restraint and waiting in the world hadn't prevented it. All the professionalism in the world hadn't protected Illya from the consequences of Napoleon's passion. Waverly had had the right word after all. Illya was his heart, and evidently their enemies knew it. Waverly knew it, Thrush knew it. All they could do was protect one another as best they could, kill anyone who tried Karmac's game, and live every moment as if it were their last. Because it damn well might be.
He was released from the hospital the next day and Illya was waiting for him. "Have fun last night?" Napoleon asked, because he still never knew, really, what Illya's sex life consisted of, besides him. And Illya, who knew full well what Napoleon was asking, gave him an ambiguous look.
"No," he said, and held the door open for him. "But maybe tonight will prove more entertaining. We're off duty, after all."
Napoleon didn't answer him then, because they weren't alone. But when they were, when the door to Napoleon's apartment closed behind him and they went into one another's arms, he did answer.
"The hell with it," he said into Illya's hair. "The hell with being on or off duty. What difference did it make, all those nights lying in adjoining rooms, or in the same room, so self righteously apart? The hell with it." Then, when Illya didn't answer, he was alarmed. "Unless you—do you want to end it? It would be safer for you if we..." that was as far as he got. Illya kissed him fiercely, with that controlled savagery Napoleon usually only saw in the heat of action. He kissed Napoleon hard, hungrily, opening Napoleon's mouth, tongue seeking his. Napoleon kissed him back, and they sank to the floor.
It was harsh and rough, as if they were fighting instead of making love. Their hands gripped hard, leaving bruises; their mouths clashed, teeth grating together, drawing blood. Illya fought to be on top, and Napoleon fought back. They wrestled, first one then the other having the advantage. They used techniques and holds both fair and foul, seizing and twisting and scuffling for precedence. But Illya was careful of Napoleon's injured arm and in the end Napoleon used that care ruthlessly, taking advantage of a moment's hesitation, a second of holding back to finally pin Illya securely on his back, to shove his thighs apart with both knees while keeping one arm over his throat, groping with his free hand, holding himself, pushing his cock against Illya. And Illya bucked against him, as intent now on completion as he'd been on resistance earlier. He arched his back, twined his legs around Napoleon's waist, accepted him, drew him inside.
Then everything stopped. Napoleon was on the razor's edge and he stayed there, letting Illya adjust to him, letting Illya catch up and join him there, on the razor's edge together now, holding on, holding on... and falling over.
Falling and falling, endlessly falling. Illya squeezed him, the whole length of him, squeezed him with strong muscles and hot darkness. He ground against Illya, feeling as if he could never get far enough inside him, wanting to lose himself there, lose himself in Illya's strength, Illya's heat, Illya's darkness. And from the sounds Illya was making, from the frantic way his hands clutched at Napoleon's back, he too wanted to lose himself; their strength one, their heat one, their darkness banished in the blinding white hot glare of their coming, coming, endlessly coming.
He was sore. That was Napoleon's first clear thought after the nova faded. He flopped over onto his back and groaned. All his muscles hurt, his arm throbbed fiercely, he could taste the copper of his own and Illya's blood in his mouth. And if he was sore... he propped himself up on one elbow and peered into Illya's face.
He looked like a cat who had been into the cream. So to speak, Napoleon thought, and laughed out loud. Illya laughed back up at him. "It's a good thing I'm off tomorrow," he said, and laughed again. "Or everyone would wonder why I was walking so carefully."
"Are you all right?" Napoleon said, concern and guilt pushing out the laughter. Damn, he thought. I just... no lube, no prep, no nothing. "I'm sorry," he said awkwardly.
"Then why are you smiling?" Illya countered, then, at whatever he saw in Napoleon's face, his own softened. "Yes, Napoleon. I'm fine. But a hot bath would be very welcome right now."
"I'll start it," Napoleon said and began to push himself up. But his arm protested, a white hot jolt of pain and he fell backwards with a cry. Instantly Illya was up on his knees, leaning over him. He reached for the arm and Napoleon shook his head. "It's all right," he said. "I shouldn't have put my weight on it, that's all."
"Let me decide that," Illya said, and when he reached for it again Napoleon let him. Illya frowned. "I'll fill the tub," he decided. "And do you have any pain pills?"
"In my jacket pocket. But..."
"No buts." Illya shook a finger at him. "I'll get them."
He got the pain pills, and a glass of water to take them with. Then he went off to fill the tub, and if he was walking carefully Napoleon couldn't tell. They lay in the warm water together, exploring one another's injuries with gentle fingers. Illya had been roughed up during his abduction and afterwards, and Napoleon had more than his share of aches and pains from the prolonged pursuit with its accompanying running and falling and fighting and... "fighting jaguars at my age," he groaned. Then he was mortified. At his age? What the hell did that mean? And how much longer could this go on? How much longer could they continue to cheat fate?
But Illya was trailing light fingers up the insides of his thighs, and he turned into that hand with overwhelming relief. And as Illya coaxed response from his weary body, as Illya held his face and kissed his cheek all the while squeezing and caressing and, finally pumping, pumping, drawing the orgasm from him with such skill, and such love, that it was like coming home. Like coming... he cried out hoarsely and would have slipped under the water in that final moment if Illya hadn't been supporting him... home.
There should be some sort of ceremony, Illya thought as Waverly shook first Napoleon's hand, then his. This final debriefing, this last day as field agents, should be marked by more than a piece of paper enclosed with their paychecks, and a handshake. Of course, it was an honor that Waverly had come in. He had retired last year, but had clearly considered this his responsibility, decommissioning his most famous team.
It was that fame that decided things. They were so recognizable it bordered on the absurd. Illya had left headquarters last week on a routine courier mission and narrowly missed being abducted by two Thrush agents who had been hanging around, watching the building. Napoleon had escorted a visiting dignitary to a country club yesterday, been lured out for a phone call, then a sack had been dropped over his head. He had fought free, but the point had been made. They were targets. Walking, talking, breathing targets. How could either one of them successfully complete any assignment, or infiltrate a Thrush cover operation, when their faces and habits were part of Thrush's training manuals? How to be a spy, when everybody knew your name?
So it was over. Just like that, it was over. Waverly had come in, they had been reassigned—Napoleon to Section One, continuing on that hard track for promotion he had always been on, and Illya to Science. He had been nervous about being reclassified, but Waverly had, without any prompting, mentioned that Illya's past association with the Soviet Union had ended with the collapse of that entity, and an American passport was just waiting for him to complete it and get his picture taken. If he wanted it. Illya had been so relieved his knees had almost buckled, and he had laid his hand on the back of a chair, as if casually; had taken a deep breath or two before agreeing that yes, he wanted it.
"Thank you," he added with heartfelt sincerity, and Waverly twinkled at him.
"You will of course keep us informed of any changes in your living arrangements," he said, and Illya had blinked at him. Across the table Napoleon too looked nonplussed.
"Ah, changes?" Illya repeated.
"Yes. If, for example, you should move." Now those grey eyes were on Napoleon. "Or change your marital status. We would need to know that. Do sit down, Mr. Kuryakin."
"Yes sir." Illya took a seat, and without being bidden Napoleon did the same.
"Well, Mr. Solo?"
"At least let me ask him first," Napoleon said. "And these..." he gestured at the table, the chairs neatly arranged around it, the map on the wall... "are not the circumstances I had in mind. Sir."
"Well, play the game out as you choose, Mr. Solo. Just so long as you understand that I am not as blind as I may appear."
"Yes sir," Illya echoed.
"The two of you will continue to be tempting targets, despite this change in your job descriptions. You will live under Level One Security for the foreseeable future. But once it is known that you are no longer being sent on covert operations, the pressure should ease."
"Yes sir," they said, together this time, and Napoleon sent Illya a quick grin. Illya smiled back. Waverly rose, and they did too.
"Putting the two of you together was one of the best professional decisions of my career," Waverly said then. "It was good for UNCLE, and for the civilized world as well. Nothing has occurred to change my opinion of that—or of the two of you. My very best wishes to you both."
"Thank you," Napoleon said and Illya, who didn't trust his voice right then, nodded. Waverly nodded too, and they left.
They walked through the hall in silence. Then, as they reached the elevator, Illya arched an eyebrow at Napoleon. "These circumstances you mentioned. Do they involve food? Because I haven't eaten since breakfast and now it's nearly six-thirty."
Napoleon laughed. "I was thinking soup, salad and beef stroganoff in my apartment. A glass of wine, a loaf of bread..."
"And you," Napoleon agreed. "The hell with the circumstances. And you. For the rest of our lives."
"For the rest of our lives," Illya agreed. Unnoticed, the elevator doors opened. The three people inside waited with increasing impatience, and then the doors closed again. Napoleon cleared his throat.
"Maybe I should go tell Waverly after all," he suggested. "You can alert the laboratory staff that come Monday morning you're here full time and it's a whole new ball game."
"Monday? Why Monday? It's only Wednesday now."
"I thought we might take a few days off. Not to travel, just so you can get settled in."
"I'm already pretty settled." He did indeed have a great many of his possessions in Napoleon's apartment—it was so much easier than carrying everything back and forth every time he stayed over. "But that's fine. Monday morning, I mean. Monday morning is fine."
"Meet me there," Napoleon said. "You have your key?"
Dinner was superb. Napoleon had cooked it himself, and everything from the salad to the soup to the stuffed mushrooms to the entree was perfectly done. Illya ate until he couldn't eat any more, then leaned back in his seat. He lifted his wine glass to Napoleon, who obligingly returned the toast. There was no need for words. Everything had long ago been worked out between them. They had only been waiting for this day. It had been long in coming, and life had been fine and full of adventure in the meantime, but now that it was here, there was nothing to say. All the important things had been said already.
They went into the bedroom together and removed their clothes. Napoleon finished first, and he helped Illya with his pants and briefs, Naked, they embraced.
They stood there in the middle of Napoleon's bedroom and held on to one another with all their might. They clutched at one another, pressed against one another, put damp kisses on the other's skin and inhaled the scent of one another. Illya felt he could never get enough of Napoleon's taste, Napoleon's smell, the hard solid good feel of him. He had rather expected Napoleon to take the lead, this time out of all those other times, to take the lead and take Illya, too, and that would be good. But instead Napoleon lay down on his back on the bed and pulled Illya down on top of him, head to foot. Illya smiled at Napoleon's organ, straining towards him, and placed a kiss on the tip.
"I love you, Napoleon," he said, and Napoleon kissed him, too.
"And I love you, Illya. I have loved you for all these years and now, with more years ahead of us, I love you more." He drew Illya in, sucked him in and Illya, with a choked exclamation, took Napoleon in too.
Just as they had been over all the years past, and just as they would be for all the years to come, they were one. One entity, one flesh and blood mind and spirit being. Each one's joy was the other's joy, the pleasure of one permeated the other with pleasure beyond belief. When the finish came neither one could tell where he ended and the other began because they were one in their joy, one in their pleasure, one in their flesh.
One. They lay panting, twined around each other. Their heart beats said it, their gasping breaths said it, their sweat damp flesh said it. One. One before, one now, one forever. One.