Love isn't Easy
Being in love is hard. Well, the actual act of being in love isn't hard. Sometimes it happens so quickly and naturally that you aren't even aware of it. Staying in love can be a challenge, but if both parties are willing to make the necessary commitments, it, too, can be painless. Rather, being in love and the other person being ignorant of your feelings, that's the hard part.
It isn't his fault, not really. Napoleon is the sort of man who never thinks about love, at least not when it comes to another man. I hear him bandy the word about all the time and hear him profess love to some blonde, redhead or brunette, practically on a daily basis. As long as they are pretty, willing and available, he's not really all that selective. I envy him that. Aside from my mother, I can't remember telling anyone I loved them and meant it, not the way I feel it with Napoleon.
I certainly didn't intend to fall in love with my partner. You see, he's everything I'm not. When I was still new with UNCLE, I would tell people to think of me like the furniture. It wasn't that I didn't value myself or see myself as a person, it was merely easier than having to interact with people. Of course, I knew how to. I could work a cocktail party or embassy ball with the best of them; it didn't mean I had to like it.
Yet, with Napoleon at my side, I began to enjoy the socializing. His genteel charm and wit spilled over, washing over me and anyone else who ventured close to him. Still, at the end of the evening, I would watch him leave with a beautiful woman on his arm and my heart would crawl back into its hole and pull the covers over its head.
And he doesn't know, although I've tried to tell him, tried to show him how much he means to me and how much I cherish his friendship and time. He laughs it off, tells a joke, and starts to flirt with a secretary. At those times, it would be kinder if he just shot me where I stood.
Don't get me wrong; I'm far from being a monk, but the men with whom I spend time, well, they just aren't Napoleon. They are nameless faces, usually brunets, but not always. There are times when I just need... someone, anyone to physically connect with. I need to feel like I'm part of the human race, need to feel alive.
So, here I sit, staring out at the sunset in some tropical port, drink in my hand and feverishly hoping that the alcohol will make me numb by the time Napoleon returns from his night of wining and dining the pretty locals. Just once I wish he'd look at me the way he looks at them. Just once I wish I wasn't such a gutless coward and could speak my true mind to him. Just once I wish it didn't hurt so much.
I hear the key in the lock and know he's back. I feel myself start to shut down, reining in my emotions. When he sees me, he'll see the man he knows or at least the man he thinks he knows. It's a shame he'll never really know me at all.
Illya is about all that anyone could ever want in a partner or friend. I've never had anyone in my life quite like him and I've certainly never been as close to anyone as I am to him. Illya is what my dad used to call a man's man, a term he never used for me. Illya is tough like a bulldog, born to scrap, yet capable of thinking on his feet in a way that is truly frightening. He follows me without hesitation and rarely questions my actions or suggestions. He doesn't always agree, but he's always supports me.
What kills me is that most folks don't know the real Illya, but it's not like he's very generous that way. I've seen him steel-eyed and dangerous to the point where I feared for my own safety. I have watched him cup a baby bird in those baseball-mitt sized hands of his and speak to it in soft Russian as he replaced it into its nest. I watched him kill a man in cold blood, then turn around and weep because of it. He's a dichotomy, that partner of mine. What's not to love about him?
There are so many times I reach out, place my hand on his arm or his shoulder and watch his eyes light up. I think he's going to finally admit something to himself, the great admission—that it's possible for two men to love each other and have that love be just as right, just as perfect between any man and woman. Then it slips away and the moment is gone and Illya is back.
I've done everything I can to let Illya know what and how much he means to me, but I guess it's not enough. You see, I know he has been with other men. I'm not stupid and I'm not blind. I know the signs and I can't help but wonder what's wrong with me? Why doesn't he see me like that? I wish I knew.
I let myself into the hotel room we've been forced to share. How many nights we have lain in the same bed and I've longed to reach out, touch him, let him know my mind, but I wouldn't insult him like that. That's the thing about Illya. If he wanted me, he'd tell me straight up and without fear. Why he doesn't want me is a mystery, but there you have it.
He's sitting out on the balcony and the setting sun is making him practically shimmer, gold against the white of the building and the blue of the sky. I wonder if he has any idea how beautiful he really is.
"Hey, partner," I say by way of a warning, even though it's apparent he is aware of my presence.
"No luck trolling?" It almost sounds bitter, but it's probably just me. He never looks at me, just keeps staring out at the horizon.
"Just couldn't find anything I was interested in, so I came back here. Have you eaten yet?" He holds up a water glass filled with amber liquid. "Why don't we order some room service? It's the least UNCLE can do for us, since we saved the world again."
"You go ahead; I'm fine."
I go to the phone and place an order, making sure to include items I know he'll favor. One thing about Illya, as a rule, he doesn't usually turn down food.
"It'll be about half an hour." I watch him pour more whiskey into the tumbler, amazed at how steady his hand is. For someone as small of stature as he is, his ability to handle alcohol is nothing less than noteworthy, but again, that's Illya for you.
I change out of my suit into something more casual and then pull up a chair beside him, determined to see what's so interesting about the vista that he can't pull his eyes away from it. He offers me the bottle, but I shake my head. For what I'm about to say, I need all my wits about me and I don't want it to be blamed on the ramblings of liquid courage.
"Illya, have you ever wondered about destiny?"
"I do. I wonder why we are here."
"Waverly sent us here." His voice isn't without amusement. He's baiting me; it's an old, familiar game.
"You know what I mean. You and me, together the way we are. Don't you ever wonder—" I trailed off and watched a seagull ride the air currents.
"What?" He asks after a moment, after it becomes apparent that I'm not going to say anything.
"If it's a cruel trick of fate or if this is the way it was meant to be?"
Finally he looks at me and there's such sadness, almost a longing, in his eyes, but it's gone the second he realizes I've seen it. "No, we are where we are because it is where we are."
"Hmm, that's very Nietzsche of you." I try to make it a joke, but he's not buying it, not for a minute and I start to wonder if I've been reading him wrong all these years. Could it be that he's as afraid as I've been of an admission of anything other than friendship between us?
"What are you trying to say, Napoleon?"
That's my partner, right to the quick. That's when I abruptly see him, or at least I hope I do, in the same light as he sees me. Suddenly, I'm done with being patient, with being understanding about how cavalier he is with my heart. I take his face and kiss him. At first he struggles because he's an agent after all; resistance is our first lesson.
I release him and look into those blue eyes, suddenly so conflicted and confused. "Tell me this is a mistake, tell me to stop, or tell me to go to hell, I don't care anymore. Just say something."
For a long moment he just looks at me, his breath coming hard enough to make his chest heave. Fight or flight, I'm guessing, then he grabs me and kisses me back. "What has taken you so long?"
My last thought is that room service is going to have to leave our tray outside the door that night because there is no way I intend to let go. Not now, not ever.
Napoleon's kiss is a surprise, and, after all this time, I didn't think he could ever surprise me, not really. I'm stunned, I'm confused, I'm elated, and the combination is enough to make my heart want to explode. For a moment, just a moment, I don't understand. Could it be that I've been reading him wrong all this time? Or that he's not known my true heart?
I can see my feelings mirrored back to me—he's as afraid as I am. For some reason, that gives me courage.
"Tell me this is a mistake, tell me to stop, or tell me to go to hell, I don't care anymore. Just say something."
It's hard to hear him, the blood is pounding in my ears and making it hard to think, but perhaps thinking is not what it's all about right now. It's time now just to feel, so I grab him and return the kiss.
"What has taken you so long?"
He laughs and I can't think of a more beautiful sound. He gets up and starts into the room, I follow a second later, remembering to close the patio door behind me and to flip up the 'do not disturb' latch on the corridor door. Room service can leave whatever they are bringing outside. Tonight, I intend to feast upon something much more palatable. Tomorrow we can face the consequences and realities; tonight I intend, for the first time in my life, to see what love really feels like.