It was an almost affair or at least that was the way Illya would have described it. They almost evaded capture, they almost escaped and they were almost killed. Then, at the last moment of desperation, a light flickered and they grabbed it, almost blowing themselves up in the process of eliminating the THRUSH satrap. They'd almost escaped injury; he ended up with the usual assortments of bumps and bruises, Napoleon a couple of bruised ribs. They'd almost captured the head THRUSH alive and Waverly was almost pleased with them.
Illya stared into his glass of vodka and sighed. And another two or three of these and he'd almost not care. After their discharge, they'd parted ways, as was their habit after a stressful affair, each to hunt down his own form of comfort. Napoleon immediately started looking for a date, not one of the kinds of girls you'd take home to meet Mom; rather he was looking for one of a more agreeable nature. Illya had simply stopped at a store, bought the largest bottle of vodka they carried and went home.
Even after many years away from his home in the USSR, Illya relished the fact that he had his own space. He was fond of his partner and felt comfortable in his presence, but after an 'almost affair'; Illya preferred to share his evening with Comrade Vodka and some quiet time.
It was something of a joke back at HQ when Waverly had paired the two of them. Two more opposite agents would have been difficult to find, but they made it work, mostly because they weren't given the option. Waverly decreed they would be partners, so partners they were, at least before and during missions. Afterwards, each man went his own way to seek out his own form of entertainment.
He finished his second glass and Illya was wondering what his cupboard might offer in way of food when his communicator beeped. He groaned out loud and swore, for there was no one to hear him. Waverly usually allowed them a few days between assignments to heal and re-group, but apparently that wasn't going to be the case this time.
"Illya?" It took him a full three seconds to recognize his partner's voice.
"Napoleon? What's wrong?"
"Sorry to bother you, but I need a little help." The voice was raspy and weak and Illya started nodding.
"Yes, of course, where are you?" There was no response. "Napoleon?"
"I'm... here... don't know where... exactly... Upper East Side, I think, down by waterfront... I'm hurt..."
"Just keep your communicator open, I'll track you." Illya was already toeing into his shoes and reaching for his gun.
"Sorry... didn't know who else to call..."
"Stop apologizing, just keep your head low and I'll find you."
That was easier said than done, however. The signal was strong at first, but got muddled as he got closer to the water. He tried raising Napoleon again, but the man either couldn't or didn't want to answer.
Just as he was almost ready to give up the search, Illya saw a shape slumped in an alley that drew his attention. Unholstering his Walther, he slowly approached the form.
The figure shifted slightly and Illya moved to him. Once he was certain it was Napoleon, he turned the man over and grimaced. Whoever had worked the man over knew what he was doing. "Дерьмо, Napoleon, what happened?"
"Three big guys and three bigger baseball bats..."
"Let me call for some help." He started to dig his communicator.
"No!" Napoleon's near shout caught Illya by surprise.
"Napoleon, if THRUSH is in the area..."
"It wasn't THRUSH." Napoleon stopped to cough, holding a trembling hand to his side.
"Ah, I understand. Wait here and I'll get my car. I'll take you back to your place and we can get you cleaned up."
"They have my wallet; they know where I live."
"They break in and UNCLE is going to be very unhappy with them."
"Better them than me."
"All right, my place then."
Illya helped his partner down onto his couch and Napoleon slowly started getting out of his jacket as Illya headed into the bathroom for supplies. You weren't an UNCLE agent for very long before you accumulated your own weight in medical paraphernalia. Medical always sent you home with more bandages, ointment, and tape than you could ever possibly use. Agents became adept at dealing with their own minor injuries out in the field and they'd all had basic first aid training.
Illya dumped his armful of supplies down onto a second-hand coffee table and gently pushed Napoleon's hands aside.
"Let me." He quickly unbuttoned Napoleon's shirt and whistled softly. "Whoever worked you over knew what they were doing."
"Of that I have no doubt." He winced as Illya helped him out of his shirt. Already his stomach and one side were blossoming in vivid purples and red.
Illya ran a gentle hand along Napoleon's right arm and he hissed at the contact. "I think you might have a greenstick fracture there, Napoleon. This is out of my league. You need real help."
"You're a doctor."
"Of quantum mechanics and that's of little help to you."
"No UNCLE doctors."
Illya sighed and shook his head. "All right." He went to his phone and dialed a number. He waited for a moment and then spoke softly. "Eli, it's me. I'm in need of your services... my place... I understand... yes... thank you."
"Who?" Napoleon started.
"A friend of mine." Illya knelt to help Napoleon to his feet. "You'll feel better if you lie down."
"It's bad enough to impose on you; I'm not kicking you out of your bed."
"Don't worry about it. You'd do the same for me." Illya got him into the bedroom and removed Napoleon's shoes and socks, then his pants. That's when he saw the blood and a fist of fear slammed into his stomach. "Napoleon, were you raped?"
"But I can..."
"Not raped, Illya..." Napoleon's voice trailed off.
"Then... consensual?" Napoleon wouldn't meet his eyes and Illya nodded. "Now I understand your need to limit official inquiries."
"I couldn't risk..."
"Shh," Illya silenced him. "It will go no further. It is safe with me." There was a tap at the door and Illya stood. "Excuse me."
Swiftly he walked from the room, still slightly in shock from Napoleon's admission. While it didn't really surprise him, Napoleon had always seemed to prefer women. Just went to prove, no matter how well you thought you knew someone, you didn't really know them at all.
After a quick check, Illya opened the door and a rumpled-looking, dark-haired man slipped inside. He'd obviously just rolled out of bed at Illya's call. He dropped the bag he was carrying, but didn't bother to shrug out of his jacket before gathering a kiss from Illya.
"Thank you for coming so quickly." Illya touched his forehead to his and sighed.
"You surprised me tonight. You said you wanted to be alone and I thought..."
"Not that, Eli. I need your other talents tonight. Someone attacked my partner."
"Partner?" There was a long, almost painful pause. "Sexual?"
Illya shook his head slowly. "Business associate." Illya took Eli's jacket and hung it up. Normally, they would have been all over each other at this point, but all Illya could see was the shame in Napoleon's face at his admission. This would not be the most appropriate of times for any revelations of his own. "He was jumped, raped, and beaten up."
"Show me." Eli's entire demeanor changed. He grew serious and picked up his bag, following Illya wordlessly into the bedroom.
Napoleon's head came up off the pillow as they entered and Illya pointed. "Napoleon, this is Eli, a friend of mine and a very competent doctor. He'll take good care of you." To Eli. "I'll wait outside." He gathered up Napoleon's ruined suit and left.
He'd brewed and drank half a pot of coffee before Eli exited the bedroom, rolling down the sleeves of the turtleneck he wore.
"How is he?"
"Sleeping. He'll hurt like hell in the morning, but that should be the scope of it. I wrapped up his arm. Looks like a fracture, probably defensive. Good thing he's fit or he'd be dead."
"And the other?"
"Some mild tearing. Most of the blood was from a cut to the left gluteal cleft, probably got it when he fell. I left some ointment that should help keep it from getting infected." He sat and took the cup that Illya offered. "I gave him something to help him sleep, but I wouldn't recommend moving him for a couple of days."
"He can stay here as long as necessary." Illya pushed the sugar towards him. "There isn't any cream, I just got in tonight."
Eli glanced pointedly over of the half empty bottle of vodka and the glass. "I... ah... couldn't help but notice the similarities."
"Between him and me. We're about the same height, same build, same coloring. Something you want to share with me? Am I a stand in for something else?"
"No and we shall leave it at that."
Eli traced a circle on the table, obviously carefully considering his next words. "You know, he'll sleep through till morning now and I've got nowhere else to be."
"It's probably not a good idea," Illya said, smiling to ease the rejection. The younger man tended to wear his heart on his sleeve and Illya had no desire to hurt him.
"He'd never know and you look like you could use the release."
"I can't, Eli not this time, not with him sleeping in the next room. I do appreciate you coming so quickly though and I will make this up to you."
Eli drained his coffee cup and stood stretching his arms towards the ceiling. "Well, if I'm not going to get any action here, I might as well go home. I've got a cat who was keeping the bed warm when I left. I doubt he's moved a whisker. I'll check back in tomorrow, change his bandages and what not."
Illya walked him to the door and kissed him, softly, so there was no mistake of him wanting to do more than express his gratitude. Eli stroked his whiskered jaw for a moment, smiled and was gone.
After his friend was gone, Illya slipped back into the bedroom and regarded his partner. Napoleon shifted in his sleep, still struggling with a demon Illya knew all too well. He wasn't sure what bothered him more, that Napoleon was gay and he didn't know or that Napoleon was gay, but didn't feel comfortable enough to tell him. Of course, that cut both ways. It was just something he'd, likewise, never felt quite able to discuss with his supposed very heterosexual partner.
Be realistic, Illya Nichovetch, he thought to himself. Who would go up to his partner and tell him he was in love with him? Well, Mark, but the rest of us were restricted to sloppy seconds. He caught himself then as he dumped more vodka into his glass. Eli was hardly a sloppy second, but the resemblance was a bit uncanny, although he'd never thought about it until Eli mentioned it this evening. This was going to be difficult, no matter how he handled it.
The groan brought him upright off the couch, his hand already reaching for his weapon before reality and his hangover flooded back. He made a face at the crick in his neck and rolled his head from side to side to ease it. This settled it, he was just going to have to break down and buy a decent sofa, maybe something like Napoleon's over stuffed one. Something that didn't make you want to kill yourself after spending a night on it.
There was another groan and Illya reckoned that Napoleon was awake and discovering, contrary to popular belief, surviving isn't always the best option. Still massaging his neck one-handed, Illya walked quietly to the bedroom door and looked in.
"Awake?" he asked softly, just in case Napoleon wasn't.
"Shoot me now." Napoleon grumbled from his sprawled position on the bed. "You need a new mattress."
"Like I'm ever here to use it. I am somewhat of the opinion, however, that it is not my mattress that is the cause of your stiffness this morning. Why don't you trying sitting up first and then make a decision?"
He helped Napoleon up, but placed a restraining hand on Napoleon's chest when he started to swing his legs over the edge. "Eli said you should stay in bed today and take it easy."
"I have to pee, Illya."
"That you would need to get up for then." Illya got him to his feet and helped him shuffle to the bathroom.
"I'll manage from here."
"Not likely. The last thing you need is to pass out and hit your head on anything in there." He pointedly avoided eye contact with his partner as he took care of urinating, but he could feel the tremors running through Napoleon's body. "If I see blood, you are going to the hospital, Napoleon, no arguments."
"No blood, everything just... hurts like hell."
"Having been on the business end of a bat myself, I do understand." Napoleon brushed his teeth and washed slowly, carefully, wincing as the cloth brushed tender skin. Illya took over when it became apparent Napoleon was struggling.
"You don't need..."
"Be quiet, Napoleon. You called me for help; allow me to help you."
He got Napoleon settled back in bed and then turned to his own morning rituals. It felt odd, but for some reason, he pulled on a robe before he walked back into the bedroom. Napoleon had seen him naked a dozen times over, but this morning, he felt strangely reserved. If Napoleon noticed, he said nothing.
"Breakfast?" he asked as he slipped into in a pair of jog pants and a tee shirt.
"You don't have to wait on me, Illya."
"Napoleon, you can barely move. I rather think I do have to. Later I will go over to your apartment and get you some fresh clothes. I am afraid that the ones from last night are beyond repair."
Illya's communicator beeped and he hurried snatched it up.
"Kuryakin." He waited for Waverly's voice, but was surprised to hear Hamilton's, the head of Section Three.
"Illya, do you happen to know where Napoleon is? I've been trying to raise him for an hour. There was an attempted break in at his apartment last night."
"Napoleon is fine. He..." Illya meet Napoleon's eye. "We tied one on last night and he wound up sleeping on my bathroom floor."
'Thank you,' Napoleon mouthed and Illya nodded, "Sadly, my partner cannot hold his vodka."
"Not the rot gut you drink. No one outside of Moscow can. As long as he's okay, we'll follow standard procedure.
Illya was walking through his tine apartment to the kitchen. "Dick, did you happen to capture any surveillance video?"
"Yup, although you can't really see their faces clearly. We're running them through our files now, but at this time, I'm not expecting a THRUSH connection. These guys were too green for that."
Not so green that they didn't nearly beat Napoleon to death. Illya thought as he went through the routine of making coffee. "Thanks, Dick. I'll be over in a little bit as soon as Napoleon is conscious enough to function."
"No hurry, they didn't get much past the front door."
He set the tray on the night stand and poured a cup, keeping a firm grip on it until he was sure Napoleon had it. Pouring himself a second cup, he settled onto the bed beside his partner.
"Want to tell me what happened?"
"Not really. I made a bad choice and it came around to bite me in the ass, in a manner of speaking."
"In a manner of speaking. Did you pick up this bad choice in a bar?"
"Along with his escorts, although I wasn't aware of it at the time. Suffice it to say, there are certain positions in which a man doesn't want to find himself when attacked." He shifted painfully at the memory and then dropped his gaze to study the bedspread, an intricate quilt sewn by Illya's grandmother and mother. "I suppose you'll be talking to Waverly about a new partner now."
"And why would I do that?"
"Because of my...proclivities."
"They are of no matter to me or our partnership."
"You put a robe on this morning. I can count the number of times you've worn a robe in front of me on the fingers of one hand with three fingers missing, Illya."
"I was cold."
"Alright, I was uneasy, but it was rather the newness of the situation rather than a cause of it."
"I'll go to him instead."
"We're partners, Illya. A moment of uncertainty could mean life or death. This last affair, if we had hesitated even for a moment, we wouldn't have had the same outcome."
"Stop being so melodramatic." There was a knock on the door and Illya rose to answer it. "I do not want a new partner, I want you."
He could feel Napoleon's eyes on his as he walked from the room and to the front door. Very well, Illya thought as he went turned off the alarm and permitted Eli to enter. As was their habit, they kissed the moment he cleared the threshold and the door was firmly closed behind him. But this morning, Illya lingered, kissing him with an intensity that couldn't be mistaken for anything else than desire.
"I told you to let me take you last night," Eli chided softly as they parted. "You always get so horny when you send me away like that."
"We have an audience," Illya murmured back. "And I need him to know that I am okay with his choice." He pushed Eli back against the wall and kissed him even more thoroughly, welcoming the familiarity of the man's taste and smell as their tongues battled. "Enough." His breath was starting to come deeper, more hurriedly.
"I don't think so." Eli held him still and went for his throat, knowing it was the Russian's weakness. Sure enough, Illya's Adam's apple bobbed convulsively as Eli's tongue suckled it and his hand slipping inside the thin cotton of his jog pant to cup Illya's genitals.
"Please stop or please make you come? Tell me, Illyusha, tell me what you want." He was working his hand steadily up and down Illya's penis, his thumb rubbing over the slick tip.
Illya always hated when he got to this point because it was as if his common sense took flight and sheer craving took over. He knew Napoleon was watching. Why was it he denied himself relief last night while his partner slept, but was willing to let him watch him being jacked off this morning?
He tipped his head back, unable to even articulate. His mouth opened in a voiceless scream as his climax pounded through him. It was only sheer will and Eli's supportive arm that he remained upright at all.
"You need to listen to your doctor more often, Illyusha," Eli chastised, holding his hand still as Illya's nerves and breathing calmed. "Is he still watching?"
Illya glanced through hooded eyes at his partner. "Yes."
"And you know what I want."
"Yes." Illya dropped to his knees. It was a game they played many times and in practiced moves, he had Eli's penis free from his jeans and in his mouth, working it in exactly the way Eli preferred. He was as close as Illya had been and it didn't take but a few minutes before Eli was clutching his head and thrusting deeply into his mouth. Then he stilled and Illya gulped convulsively to keep from choking as ejaculate coated his throat. After a moment, Eli slid down the wall and caught Illya in a tight embrace, kissing him as he backed down from his climax.
"That gave him an eyeful," he muttered softly. "I imagine he's seeing you in a whole new light right now."
"It seemed easier than words," Illya confessed. "So why do I feel like such a coward now?"
"Because you're going to go get me a cup of coffee and I'm going to have to face your partner on my own."
"That too," Illya agreed with just a ghost of a smile. They stood and parted ways, Illya to the kitchen, Eli to the lion's den, as it were.
When he finally came out and closed the door behind him, Eli wore a bemused expression on his face. He took the cup Illya offered and sunk down onto the couch.
"Does he always apologize that much?"
"I blame in his Catholic upbringing. They seem to be forced to feel at an early age that it's their fault for everything. Remind me again how this makes you a better person."
"Talking to the wrong guy, my friend. He does have a couple of questions for you though."
"I would imagine..." And unease silence grew between them and it was Eli who finally broke it.
"So what about us?"
"What about us? I don't understand."
"Illya, don't play me for a fool. I know I'm just a stand in for what you really wanted."
"Eli, you are many things, but not a stand in." And that was the truth. As much as Illya loved and cared for Napoleon, he felt equally towards the younger man. Eli had proven himself a loving and loyal friend, one of his first outside of work. He never questioned Illya's long absences, never demanded to know of parts of his life best ignored and never ever tried to play upon their relationship. He was one of a few Illya felt comfortable with enough to lower his defensives for a little while and at least play at being part of the human race. Now with Napoleon's admission, Illya wasn't exactly sure where he stood. Yes, he wanted Napoleon, but that was no guarantee the man felt the same towards him, probably even less after that little demonstration in the hall. Moreover, did he really want Napoleon like that? Or was it more a case of wanting being more desirable than the actual having?
Illya drew Eli down into a comfortable embrace and kissed his forehead, settling them back on the couch. "His questions can wait for a few minutes, I think. Yours, I fear, cannot." Even though Eli bested him by a good five inches, he molded himself against Illya and Illya tightened his arms. "No one can take your place, my love," Illya assured him.
"You can't have your cake and eat it too, Illya. Sooner or later, you will have to make a choice."
"Yes, but not today." He moved his hands down Eli's back to his waist, holding him still as he moved beneath him. "Today, I don't want cake, just you."
Illya watched Eli disappear down to corridor and sighed. The bedroom door had remained closed during their lovemaking, but Illya suspected Napoleon knew exactly what he and Eli had been up to... or down on, depending upon your position. Quietly, he stole up to the door and listened for a moment before opening it. Napoleon was on his side staring at the wall.
"Is he gone?"
"Yes, he is gone."
"Why what, Napoleon? Why didn't I tell you I prefer the company of men in my bed to women? Why didn't I tell you about Eli? Why did I let you watch?"
"Yes to all of the above." Napoleon rolled over and Illya felt himself flushing under his partner's gaze.
"You are as guilty of the sin of omission as I am. Eli represents a part of me that is free from UNCLE, free from the bureaucracy and the insanity that is almost the entirety of my life. As to the rest, I admit it was the coward's way out, but I wanted to show you that you had nothing to be ashamed of or anything that might cause you doubt with regards to our partnership. "
"It's not fair." The words were so soft that Illya nearly didn't catch them.
"Life seldom is, my friend." Illya settled on the bed beside him. "And that is an absolute."
"Do you love me?" Equally soft and halting.
It took Illya a moment to gather his emotions into adequate words. "There is no one I hold more dear in my life than you, but as a brother and an equal, but not as a lover. I trust you with my life."
"But not your love."
Illya smiled sadly at him. "I'm sorry."
"I thought that was my line," Napoleon said after a moment. "We really are a pair, aren't we? Both looking for something that was right in front of us. At least one of us had the good sense and luck to find someone worthy." Hesitantly, Napoleon reached out and touched Illya's arm. "Is it too much to hope for that... maybe one day..."
"I will never say never, Napoleon, but for now, I think yes." Illya covered Napoleon's hand with his and squeezed it gently. "But I will always be your friend and your partner."
"And my almost lover."
"Almost, yes." He settled back against the pillows and half stifled a yawn. "Now I think some sleep would benefit both of us." He slipped underneath the covers, not surprised to find Napoleon lurking close at hand. The man was a closet cuddler; it had made Illya a bit uncomfortable at first, but now he accepted it as just a part of his partner.
"Would you mind if I...?"
"It would be like denying water to a thirsty man, Napoleon. No, I do not mind." And as Napoleon settled against him, Illya almost convinced himself that it didn't matter... almost.