Another Reason to Be Cheerful
The air was thick with the stink of rotting flesh. No matter which way he turned, he stumbled over a rotting corpse. But he couldn't stop. He knew if he did, even for an instant, they would find him; they would have him.
Napoleon stumbled and crawled along the dim ship corridor, using the heavy teak rail to keep his balance as the ship tossed back and forth on angry waves. After they'd lost the captain and most of the ship's company, they went adrift. He'd tried twice to get to the wheelhouse, but there were too many of them.
He kicked as his ankle was grabbed and struggled forward another step. His cabin was right ahead. Once inside, he could barricade himself in and hope that his SOS got through. Once inside, he could try to raise Illya again.
With a sob of relief, he half pushed, half fell into his cabin and locked the door behind him. The gray light of day gave the room a sober look. It was as he was reaching for his communicator that he saw Illya, outlined against the sky as he stood at the railing.
"Oh, thank God," Napoleon whispered to himself. He put the pen away and walked to the balcony. "I'm glad to see you made it, partner."
Then Illya turned and Napoleon gasped at the lifeless countenance of his friend. Part of his lower face was gone and his irises were nearly colorless against the black of decaying flesh. Illya reached for him and Napoleon, screaming, drew his Special, aimed and pulled the trigger. The last thing he saw was Illya's head exploding and the look of thanksgiving in Illya's dead eyes.
"No!" He sat straight up in bed, his chest heaving, his eyes wide as he glanced around his... bedroom? What the hell?
"Napoleon?" Illya was sitting on the bed, his face concerned. "Are you okay?"
Napoleon wiped his face with a still trembling hand. "Thanks, you woke me up from the Mother of All Nightmares."
"Is that what was going on? I wasn't sure at first." Illya ran a hand through his hair and yawned.
"Sorry I woke you up..." Napoleon remembered now. They'd gone out for Thanksgiving dinner and come back here. When their drinking had gotten serious, Napoleon insisted Illya spend the night. That was why he was sitting in Napoleon's bedroom in nothing but his shorts.
"Want to talk about it?"
"Ah... no, not really." Napoleon darted a look into the shadows of his room. This was stupid. He knew there was no such thing as zombies—not really. Nor did they eat people's flesh and drink their blood. It was just a stupid dream and yet tendrils of unease still uncoiled in his stomach and a general sense of dread settled around him. "It was just really... ah, stupid."
"Okay, but if you don't mind me saying so, you seem quite distressed for a mere stupid dream."
"It was pretty intense..."
"Those happen, especially in our line of work. Do you want me to get you something?" Illya referred to the bottles of sleeping pills that UNCLE doctors routinely prescribed to agents. It was often a last resort when the dreams got too bad or too frequent.
"No, that's okay... Jeez, I feel like I'm four, but would you mind just sitting here?"
Napoleon smiled. That was another part of his partner's makeup that Napoleon treasured. Illya didn't pass judgment, didn't think less of him when Napoleon revealed an all too human side of himself. With Illya, Napoleon didn't have to erect any walls or maintain any kind of smoke screen. With Illya, he could be himself completely. Well, almost completely. But even that was okay.
He settled back down against the pillows as Illya began to sit, shivering slightly.
"It's warmer under the covers than on top."
"Are you sure?"
In answer, Napoleon peeled back the sheet and blankets. After just the briefest of hesitations, Illya climbed in between them and sighed happily.
"Much." Illya tucked his hands behind his head and closed his eyes. "And you? Better?"
"Much," Napoleon said with a smile, although he honestly was feeling a bit silly now. It had been a long time since he'd crawled into his mother's bed for comfort.
"You must be feeling better, you look more relaxed now." Illya reached for the light he'd turned on.
"Leave it on, just for the moment."
"All right." Illya smiled slightly at him and settled back against the pillows.
"Do you ever worry about dreams coming true, Illya? The good ones ,I mean?"
"I don't dream on the whole, Napoleon. Or if I do, I have no memory of it when I wake."
"That seems sad."
"You wouldn't have said that five minutes ago."
"No, I suppose not."
"Go to sleep, Napoleon. I shall keep the monsters at bay."
Napoleon settled onto his side and studied Illya's profile. Deciding that it wasn't the worst he'd seen on his pillow, he let his eyes drift shut.
He woke, instantly aware that he wasn't alone. He was in someone's arms, held close, intimately close. He let a hand wander, expecting to find a mound of warm soft flesh to caress. Instead he found nothing but a flat broad plane, firm muscle beneath it.
There was a moment of confusion and then he realized, no, he wasn't alone, but it also wasn't some casual stranger in bed with him. It was Illya. He was cuddled up against his partner. Napoleon did notice Illya's respiration hadn't changed beneath his hand, so the man was still asleep.
While this gave Napoleon a chance to ease his hand away, he didn't. It had been a long time since he had such a feeling of comfort with someone in bed and he wasn't in a hurry to relinquish what he held.
The room was dark, so Illya must have fallen asleep after he did, probably smirking to himself that the big strong CEA was afraid to sleep in the dark because he'd had a nightmare. No, that's not right, he chastised himself. Illya wouldn't judge, not him, not like that. They'd been through too much, faced too many demons together to chide each other over something so trivial.
Napoleon slid his hand across Illya's chest, feeling a nipple come erect as he dragged his fingertips over it, feeling Illya's chest hair tickle his palm, feeling the chain of Illya's medallion warmed from his skin.
Still Illya slept, murmuring and Napoleon smiled. Doesn't dream, my ass, I'll bet he's having a lulu of one right now. Napoleon let his hand travel down, feeling the ripple Illya's ribs made beneath his skin to the concave dip of his stomach. He paused, listening for a moment before letting his fingers dip lower to find the first few pubic hairs that lead to... a flaccid penis.
That made Napoleon stop. If his touch wasn't bringing Illya pleasure, then... He rolled over onto his opposite side and mentally chastised himself. When had Illya ever given him any indication that he swung both ways? Never, that's when! When had Illya shown anything other than genuine brotherly affection towards him? Different question, same answer.
Napoleon was hard pressed to say which surprised him more, Illya's voice or his presence against Napoleon's back, warm and comforting.
"I'm the one who should apologize." Even now Napoleon's voice sounded strained, a little whiney, like a little boy who knew he had to turn over his favorite toy to his baby sister, but still resented it. "When did you wake up?"
"When you started rubbing my chest. Watch your eyes." The warning came just a few seconds before a bedside light snapped on. "Look at me, Napoleon."
Obligingly, Napoleon rolled over and looked into Illya's face. Illya raised a hand to cup the side of Napoleon's face. "Yes?"
"No, really look at me. I had to make certain promises to get Medical to release me and although I would not admit this to anyone else, my judgment was misguided. I... wish they'd been a bit more reluctant. I can't engage in physical activities that might worsen something that is already not very good."
"If you're still in pain, check yourself back in."
"Never." Illya shook his head carefully. "First there is a matter of my pride and, second, if I did that, they would never listen to my protests again." He released Napoleon's face and took his hand, bringing it to his mouth to kiss the fingers tenderly. "And as much as I would enjoy making love with you, I won't. Not until I can do it properly and as a fully involved player."
"Bastards," Napoleon spit out, still angry at the four who'd left Illya behind.
"Don't judge them too strongly, Napoleon. The need to survive often out-weighs everything else."
"I wouldn't have..."
"No, nor would I, but we are not them; we see the world differently." Illya smiled slightly. "Or perhaps I don't fear death when I know you are near at hand." He kissed Napoleon's fingers again. "You give me strength and a certain amount of reckless bravery."
"You could have died."
"But I didn't." Illya rolled over onto his back and closed his eyes. "Do you know why?"
"Because I would have kicked your ass if you had? Metaphysically speaking, of course."
This time Illya's smile blossomed into a wide grin. "Metaphysically speaking. No, because it wasn't time and I would never leave without saying goodbye first."
Napoleon's kiss was gentle, just a whisper against Illya's lips. "Don't ever say goodbye, partner, I am no good without you."
"You're good, it's just with me, you are better. And I know you can kiss more convincingly than that. My mouth, unlike other parts of my anatomy, is working just fine." Napoleon grinned and propped himself up, reaching for the light. Illya caught Napoleon's hand and lowered it to his chest. "Leave the light on."
"I want to see you."
"All right, but any particular reason?"
"Because you are Napoleon Solo, my friend, my partner, and I suspect in a very short period of time, my lover."
Napoleon smiled at that. "Promise?"
"You have my word."
The end of a long day at the end of an even longer week and Christmas loomed just around the corner. In spite of a night of very delightful groping and whispered promises, nothing had come out of their evening together.
The next day, it was business as usual. Napoleon returned to the office, Illya his apartment. UNCLE had managed to stay standing without them being there, but Napoleon swore the paperwork had tripled. He'd spent that day and the next just trying to clear a spot down to his desk blotter. He'd had a staff meeting, debriefed a dozen agents from this or that assignment.
Illya returned, but seemed somehow different, distant. Medical fussed and tutted over him, but finally field certified him and the Russian was out the door on assignment before the doctors could tuck their pens back into the pockets of their white coats. As much as Napoleon dreaded having Illya go back out into the field, there was nothing to be done. They had a job to do and in the end, the job was everything.
Napoleon unlocked the door and stepped inside, freezing at the sight of lights on. He'd not left any... that was when he heard noises... music and something else...
He pulled out the Walther and slid the lever over to sleeper bullets, just in case, and walked fully into the apartment. The living room stretched out in front of him, a fire crackling in the fireplace. Music played softly and Napoleon had the distinct impression he'd entered a lair of purposeful seduction.
He followed the music to the kitchen where Illya, smiling, momentarily glanced over at him as he entered, then returned to his task of stirring whatever was in the pot. Napoleon grinned at the sight, glancing downward.
"Barefoot and in the kitchen, what would your mother say?"
"Probably the same thing yours would. Here, taste this."
"And you cook?"
"As do you."
Napoleon took the spoon, blew on it, and swallowed the broth. "Mm, I haven't tasted proper borscht since I was in Moscow. Your mother's recipe?"
"Papa's actually. The men in my family like to cook."
Napoleon looked over at the counter. "And you bake bread as well?"
"No, that I purchased. I am competent, but limited."
Napoleon gestured around him. "This is all very nice, but why? It's not like you to play Suzie Homemaker."
"I knew what sort of day you were in for when I saw the duty roster yesterday and thought you'd enjoy a night in. You can open the wine if you'd like."
"And something else, perhaps?"
"Well, yes, traditionally vodka or tea would be served with this, but I didn't think you wanted either. You Americans have peculiar tastes."
Napoleon came up behind Illya and leaned in to nuzzle his neck, kissing and licking at the sweat that had accumulated there. "That's not what I meant."
"So I have gathered."
"Put that on low, for I have been on simmer for a long time now and I'm about to boil over."
"This is not indicating that we will need to engage in various culinary terms as we make love?"
"Only if that's your wish."
Illya set the spoon aside, turned off the heat beneath the pot and turned to face Napoleon. "There is but one thing I wish for at the moment and, miraculously, he seems to be in my arms."
"Just like it was meant to be..." Napoleon leaned in to momentarily suck in Illya's bottom lip, then slipped his tongue into a willing mouth. "Let me make love to you, partner, on the floor in front of the fire." He started to unbutton Illya's shirt.
"And after that?" Illya was making equal inroads on Napoleon's tie.
"You can make love to me... providing you have enough strength left to try."
"I'll have enough strength left." Illya wrapped his hands around either end of the tie and pulled Napoleon in for a long kiss. "Promise."