Napoleon peers through the window of the cab and stares up at the intimidating structure that's come into view. His vision of a small, intimate building is completely shattered by the huge edifice of stone and glass that rises before them. It's nothing at all like what he imagines his friend would want to marry in.
They pass by the sculptured landscape and through fields of spring flowers before taking the last curve of the drive. The taxi comes at last to a stop at the church's side entrance.
"That'll be twenty-nine seventy-five, Mister."
Napoleon hands over a couple of twenties. "Keep the change," he responds absently, his attention still riveted on the building in front of him as he slides out of the vehicle. Inside, the first chords of the Wedding March sound. He's late. Too bad he couldn't have been later.
He tried. He took the baby-sitting job, charged with making sure the young daughter of a diplomat arrived safely home, the kind of affair he usually avoids, just so he can legitimately say he won't be able to make the wedding. The look Illya gives him as he agrees to the assignment speaks volumes. But it's his luck that the girl was a model of good behavior. Creating no problems, doing exactly as she's told, she's now in the secure arms of her father.
Still, would a delayed flight or a traffic jam be asking too much? An inability to hail down a cab at the very least. But once again his "luck" stands him in good stead, so that his plane lands ten minutes early and a cab is waiting, as if for him alone. Traffic miraculously moves aside as he is driven to his apartment, the cabbie graciously waiting while Napoleon goes up to change. With the meter running, of course.
Napoleon realizes that he can't stand out here all day, as much as he prefers to. After a last look around, he nervously straightens his tie, pulls open the door and steps inside.
It's cool and dim, the light from the sconces that line the long vestibule doing little to chase away the gloom. Halfway down, Napoleon can see the last of the wedding party, all lined up in their places, waiting their turn to start down the aisle. He approaches as unobtrusively as he can, but waits until everyone is inside before slipping in unnoticed. He takes a place at the back of the church and settles in behind a huge arrangement of white lilacs.
He has a clear view of the front of the aisle. Illya stands there in his morning suit looking like a million dollars. There's a smile on his face. Napoleon can't help but wonder what it would be like to be up there as his friend binds himself to the woman he loves. He'd been asked; of course, he had. But he can't begin to imagine what kind of hell that would be.
The last notes of the March play and then die away as the bride reaches the side of her husband-to-be. As he takes her hand, Napoleon catches the look of overwhelming joy on her face. She loves this man, though Napoleon wonders just how much she really knows of him. Theirs is a dangerous profession and innocence is not a virtue. That does not seem to be a concern for them as they turn toward the minister.
Napoleon watches intently, but his mind is miles away, lost in regret and an envy that is tearing his heart out. Without his being aware of it the ceremony proceeds to its end, and the next thing he knows the couple is sharing a kiss. To the congregation's applause and cheers, they start back down the aisle, their arms linked.
As they pass by, Napoleon steps back so that he's completely hidden. He isn't sure why he does it; right now, they only have eyes for each other. But a very large part of him wants no part of their happiness, since it's a happiness that will be forever denied him.
He waits until the church empties before taking his leave. Out on the lawn a tent has been set up for the reception. Inside, he knows there will be champagne and, hopefully, something stronger. It's that promise that finally pushes him onto the stone path that cuts through the grass.
He walks slowly toward the tent, slow enough so that he's alone expect for a few stragglers. He hears the couple in front of him comment about the bride and groom. Don't they make the perfect couple? Aren't they lucky to have found each other? Napoleon can only take so much before he quickens his pace and leaves them behind.
Once inside, he wanders around, unsure of his destination. He passes a bar and grabs a drink as he works his way through the crowd of people. He's stopped twice, once by a fellow agent, the second time by the sister of the bride. He vaguely remembers dating her a couple of years before. His eyes wander as she talks, and he spies his name card. It's on a table near the wedding party, just a few steps away. Extricating himself from the woman, he approaches the table and, making sure he isn't seen, swiftly grabs the card. He pretends a nonchalance he doesn't feel as he sidles his way to the back of the tent. When he finds a table with several empty places, he settles into one of the chairs and places his name card in front of him. He can still see the front table, but he doubts they can see him.
People start for their seats as the wedding party enters and take their places. He catches Illya looking for him and feels a pang of sadness. Today of all days, Illya wants him by his side. He doesn't understand that they can never be what they were.
But what were they, exactly? Sex partners? A convenience when no one else was available? Napoleon hung onto that delusion for as long as he could. He knows now that he's only been fooling himself...and possibly Illya. He doesn't know what he'll do now.
He makes it through the toasts, the bawdy innuendoes no longer as funny as they once might have been. The best man's speech is sort of funny, though, and for a moment Napoleon forgets his pain. But then the couple walks out onto the dance floor.
He has to admit, they look good together. Light, dark, light dark, the bride's dark tresses a flattering contrast to her husband's light mop as he swirls her around the floor. Napoleon's unable to hold back the vision of him and Illya dancing together. Is that how they would look? He pushes away from the table and walks out.
The fresh air hits him and he takes several deep breathes. Off to the right he notices a garden and makes for it. It's in full bloom, and he knows the trees and bushes will make an effective screen from the people he wishes desperately to avoid. Soon, the music is but a muted background noise and the tent is completely out of sight.
He continues walking. Eventually, he reaches the center of the garden. A large gazebo, its sides bedecked with a riot of climbing roses that effectively obscure its interior, rises before him.
He enters. Light barely filters through the vines and flowers overhead, so that the entire area is cast in shadows. He sits on the bench that circles the inside wall and cradles his head in his hands. He wishes he could turn back time, to before he realized what it was he felt, before he could no longer deny the fact that he was in love with Illya. That he had been in love with him for years. Perhaps, always.
A memory surfaces of that first time between them. They had been dancing around each other for months, yet Napoleon was still surprised that it was Illya who made the first move. The feel of Illya's lips on his completely undid him. He surrendered himself and his body without a second thought. He can't believe that he deluded himself into believing that what he felt was anything but love.
He feels the presence of another person. Even before he lifts his head he knows who it is.
"What are you doing hiding out here?" Illya asks. He stands in the doorway, his expression a mixture of annoyance and concern.
"I'm not hiding."
Illya walks over and sits by his side.
"You could have fooled me, my friend. Where have you been, anyway? I didn't know you were even at the wedding until I saw you leaving the reception."
Some spy he is. He can't even sneak away without being caught.
"I was there, at the church. Near the back."
"Ah, then you caught the ceremony. What did you think of it?"
Napoleon shrugs. "What's there to think? Two people in love got married."
Something in his voice alerts his partner. "What's wrong, Napoleon? You've been like a bear with a sore paw for weeks, since..." He stops and his brow crinkles in thought. "Since I told you about the wedding." Illya places his hand on Napoleon's arm. "What is it?"
Napoleon shoots to his feet and moves to the other side of the gazebo. He's held this in for so long, but he knows that Illya won't give up, not now that he knows that something is troubling him. Still, it's the hardest thing he's ever had to say.
"I'm almost afraid to tell you."
"Why? Is it that bad?"
"Not...bad. Just hard to say. It's not something I thought I'd ever tell you."
"So far, you've told me nothing."
"It's stupid. I never should have brought it up."
"Napoleon, will you just say it?"
"It's—it's that I love you." He turns and scowls at his partner. "Satisfied?"
Napoleon expects just about anything, but not the mild bemusement that sits on Illya's face.
"I already knew that."
Now Napoleon doesn't understand. "What do you mean you already knew? I've never said a word to you about love."
"Come, sit." Illya motions him over and doesn't respond to his question until Napoleon is sitting back at his side. "You were the one who told me that actions speak louder than words." He beams at Napoleon. "It's been years since your actions have said anything else."
Napoleon shakes his head. "I feel like a total idiot."
"Well, yes, I suppose you should have caught on before now. But why would being in love with me upset you? It's not as if you don't know that the reverse is true."
He chuckles at that, and it's the first time he's laughed in weeks. He looks fondly at his partner and raises his hand to brush his fingers through Illya's hair. He's always loved Illya's hair, probably before he loved Illya. "You've never been shy about saying it."
"Then what's really bothering you?"
"You're going to think I'm crazy."
"I already do. Whatever you say isn't going to change anything."
"I suppose not," Napoleon muses. "I envy them. I envy them so much it's making me sick."
"Who? Mark and Natalie?"
His throat tightens and all Napoleon can do is nod.
"But why?" Illya suddenly straightens and Napoleon sees the panic he's unable to hide. "You wish to marry?"
Napoleon clears his throat. There's no way he's going to let Illya think what he's thinking. "Yes, I wish to marry. But I wish to marry you."
Illya smiles then. Napoleon is his and he knows it. Napoleon doesn't know why that doesn't upset him but it doesn't. Quite the reverse.
"I know we can't. Why do you think I'm so mad? I hate it, Illya. I hate that now that I've accepted what I feel, I can't ever tell anyone else. I have to lock it away like some dirty, little secret."
"It's only dirty to some. I can't believe that they would all condemn us for what we are."
"That's not much of a consolation."
"Maybe not." Illya has taken his hand and is absently playing with his fingers. "But it is certainly more than I ever imagined having. No, we can't marry, but we live together and, though there may be those who suspect there's more there than meets the eye, we're left alone to live our lives. In my country, we'd probably be sharing a bunk in the Gulag."
"So I should be happy with what I have?" Napoleon snorts. "If that were the case, we wouldn't be having this conversation."
"Don't ask for the moon, Napoleon. You won't get it." Illya looses Napoleon's hand and turns towards him. He slips his arms around his waist. "And we're alone right now." He nods his head in the direction of the tent. "Everyone else is far away. We don't have to worry about what they think."
Napoleon returns the embrace and lets his lips settle on Illya's. It's only a light kiss at first, not much more than a pressing of lips. He can't help himself and lets it deepen, drowning in the taste, the feel of Illya's tongue as it explores his mouth. He feels himself harden; he wants more but reluctantly pulls away. They may be alone but this is a spy's wedding after all. Nowhere is completely safe outside of their home; perhaps not even there but that's a worry for another time. And though he knows it has to be done, his arms feel so empty when Illya pulls away, too.
They sit for awhile, and neither speaks. What needs to be said between them will wait until they get home. Napoleon still feels envious of Mark, still wishes they could have what their friend has, but it's no longer eating him up. The world isn't fair and having Illya at his side is worth more than any ceremony.
"You want to go back now? I'm the best man, after all. Mark is probably wondering where I got off to."
"I doubt Mark is noticing much of anything besides his bride."
"So much the better. If he doesn't miss me, then we won't have to stay too much longer."
"That would be impolite, don't you think?" What is he saying? To hell with manners. Napoleon stands and starts toward the exit. "Coming?" he asks, but he doesn't have to look to know that Illya is right behind him.