The Pathway To Your Heart (Jess's Story)
I saw Illya Kuryakin for the first time across a crowded room. Doesn't that sound like the beginning of a romance novel? The formula should flow smoothly from there—boy meets girl, boy loves girl, boy loses girl, chance or fate reunites boy and girl, they live happily ever after. All starting with that first look across a crowded room.
There are only a few problems with that. The most obvious one is that I am a boy, and so is Illya. Boy meets boy just doesn't have the same ring to it although it should, shouldn't it. Yes, it certainly should. As for the rest of the story—well, I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's just say that someone lived happily ever after, and someone else... lived. Happily enough.
Return with me to that first moment when I saw Illya, in that crowded cafeteria, putting lunch items on an already full tray. I thought he was getting food for more than one person—for his whole table, perhaps, because surely all that wasn't for him. Where would he put it? Is it time for the physical descriptions now? Him first, or me? Him. Most definitely him. I can see him in my mind's eye just as I saw him then. He stood there, slim and blond, smiling at Gladys, the cashier. That hair—calling it blond was a disservice, although accurate. It was the color of a wheat field in the sun, a beacon under the fluorescent lighting. It was somewhat overlong for an espionage agent, feathering around his ears and brushing his collar in the back, with deep bangs. My hands itched with the desire to touch it, feel it between my fingers, examine it to see exactly what shades of gold it contained. His skin was fair, almost translucent against the black turtleneck he wore over tight black jeans. Oh, those jeans... and the package that filled them. I see them in my dreams. I couldn't see his eyes from here, but surely they were blue. Or grey, I supposed, or even brown, but my mind painted them blue. As I watched him he paid for his tray, turned, and went to a table in the corner where a big man with short, bristly grey hair sat with a tray of his own in front of him. Was all that food really for my little moon sprite? Evidently so, because he tucked into it with a dispatch that clearly precluded conversation with his table companion.
"Stop the presses," I said, in my best Jack Nicholson as the Joker voice. "Who's that?" Let me digress here to explain that I like to imitate villains because... well, because I look like a superhero. Everyone says so. They call me Superman, although my name is Jess. Jess Coleman, newly appointed Head of Security in UNCLE New York. I had arrived the preceding Friday from Raleigh, North Carolina, taken the weekend to settle myself in to my new loft in Manhattan's garment district, and arrived at work bright and early this Monday morning. My nickname had preceded me—also my reputation, which was why Paul was sitting with me for lunch.
They call me Superman because I bear a striking resemblance to the young Christopher Reeve. I am tall, six foot four, to be exact, and keep myself fit by rigorous work outs in the gym as well as the extreme sports I pursue when off duty. My hair is so black it has blue highlights, and my eyes are a brilliant cobalt. I am handsome, if I do say so myself—and I would be a fool not to. Know your assets so you can use them. It is a credo that serves me well, both professionally and personally. So, because I look like one of the Super Friends, it amuses me to talk like a super villain. I know it sounds sort of lame. It probably is.
Paul followed the direction of my gaze and laughed. It wasn't a nice sound. "George Piper. Personal assistant to the head of Lab Sciences."
"George Piper," I repeated, and pushed back my tray. Paul looked piqued. I didn't care.
"Are you really going over?"
"I'm gonna bust that body," I said, again doing my best Joker. Paul laughed again.
"You go right ahead."
I did. I'm not shy. When I see someone who interests me, I move right in. Carpe diem, as they say. Or, in this case, carpe body. He who hesitates is lost. The worst that could happen is I get shot down. And in the rare instances when that happens, I know it's something about the object of my desire, and nothing to do with me personally. How could it be? I'm the real deal. Handsome, athletic, intelligent, charming, witty, with a good job and no unpleasant personal habits. Who wouldn't want me? So I strolled over and stood beside the pair at the corner table. Quickly, I sized George's companion up. Too old to be a romantic interest, I decided. Just a work friend. Besides, my much maligned but always accurate gaydar told me he wasn't the type. Probably married, I thought, and sent a quick look at his ring finger. Yep. Married. To a woman. I'd bet the farm on it. So I greeted him pleasantly, introduced myself, received a short nod and a "Coleman" and turned my attention on my true objective.
George Piper smiled at me, blue eyes—I had been right after all, they were blue, like an autumn sky—cool but not unfriendly. I smiled back.
"So," he said. "You're our new security chief. I've been looking forward to meeting you. Welcome to New York." I swallowed. An accent. To top it all off he had an accent; a delicious, exotic accent. Be still, my heart.
"Thank you," I answered. "May I sit down, George? I can pull another chair over."
The older man snorted. "Why are you asking me? I'm on my way back to work." Pointedly he addressed the blond. "You coming?" Without waiting for a reply he got up, shoved his chair in with his foot—all the way in, clearly disinviting me. "Well?"
I turned around and glared at Paul. Son of a... now I felt at a distinct disadvantage. I covered it up as best I could, and turned all my charm on my now nameless crush. "I'm sorry," I said and heard the awkwardness in my voice. George Piper. It exactly suited the pugnacious man who, now he was standing, turned out to be almost as tall as I was. Almost. I straightened slightly to drive that point home. "I was misinformed."
"Hmph. Illya. We need to get back to the lab."
"Yes, George," the blond... Illya... answered, and stood. His head barely reached my shoulder, and it gave me an excellent opportunity to see that there were strands of gold and red in that thatch of hair. I wanted to touch it more than ever. Then he tilted his head back and smiled right into my eyes. "It was nice to meet you, Mr. Coleman."
"Jess," I said hastily. "Please, call me Jess, Illya." I used his first name boldly. After all, it wasn't my fault I didn't know his last one yet, was it? And what a foreign name it was. Exciting... like his smile, which I could swear was just a little provocative.
"Kuryakin," Piper said pointedly. "Illya Kuryakin. Mr. Kuryakin, to you."
Illya. I refused to think of him by his last name. We had begun with the intimacy of firsts, and I wouldn't cede it. He smiled at Piper, and the trace of flirtatiousness was gone—if, that is, it had ever been there. I wasn't sure I was reading him correctly. I wasn't sure I could read him at all. My gaydar was strangely silent, although my hormones weren't. Every inch of my body was responding to him. "It's all right, George," he said gently. "I can handle this." And with that final word he sent me a sideways look, slanted up through his eyelashes, and my knees almost buckled. "Thank you," he added.
"You're welcome," I said stupidly, then flushed, because he hadn't really ever shifted his focus except for that quick glance. He was thanking Piper, not me, and now both of them looked at me... Piper with that unfriendly glare, and Illya with amusement. Then Piper turned his back on me.
'Well, you just let me know. I think Mr. Coleman here might benefit from a swift kick in the ass."
"Hey," I objected. This was unusual. Straight men usually like me pretty well—in fact most people usually like me pretty well. This open antagonism was not what I was accustomed to unless I had deliberately provoked it, and in this case I hadn't. And Illya clearly thought highly of George Piper, so I needed to make amends, and fast.
"Look," I said. "We seem to have gotten off on the wrong foot. I'm sorry. Someone..." I sent a scathing look Paul's way... "thought it would be funny to send me over here with the wrong name. Well, with the right name for the wrong person. I was introducing myself to Illya here because Laboratory Science isn't an area I've done security on before."
"Ah," Illya said, and by the glint in those blue eyes I could tell I hadn't fooled him one bit. But then he took pity on me. "I appreciate that, Mr. Coleman—Jess," he added, and gave me a distinct flutter of his eyelashes. Piper pushed him, hard enough to knock him off balance. Without thinking I shot my hand out, and steadied him. Before he could say anything further Piper grabbed his arm and pulled him away.
"What have I told you..." he scolded as they moved off. "You have no idea what guys like that..." I blinked at the open hostility in the glare he sent over his shoulder... "make of you when you're too friendly. You'll get yourself in over your head and then..." they went through the sliding doors of the cafeteria, and I never heard the rest of it. I shook my head. George Piper didn't like me, that was clear. Was he jealous? Could I be that wrong? I thought it over, and shook my head. No. His protectiveness seemed more paternal than anything else, and Illya didn't seem overly troubled by it. I also didn't think he was as naïve as Piper seemed to feel he was. I didn't see him getting in over his head inadvertently—in fact I felt I was the one barely treading water. But as I looked back over the encounter I was encouraged. Illya Kuryakin had been flirting with me, no question. I smiled. I'd let a couple of days go by, then find some work related reason to seek him out again. Meanwhile I'd tune in to the grapevine, and see what I could learn about him. Knowledge is power, after all. Knowledge is power.
The grapevine wasn't a lot of help, although it did give me his basic work information. Currently he was head of Laboratory Sciences, formerly he was an enforcement operative. But when I began asking more personal questions, casually, as if mildly curious about one of my new colleagues, the first thing I learned was that I wasn't fooling anybody. The second thing I learned was that no one thought I had a chance in hell.
"The Ice Prince?" Paul scoffed. "Want to get your dick frozen solid? Be my guest."
"But he was flirting with me," I protested. "I'm sure of it."
"Oh, he'll flirt," Paul allowed. "He'll bat those eyelashes and give you one of those sideways smiles, and then when you act on it he'll cut you dead." I raised my eyebrows.
"That sounds like the voice of sad experience," I observed. "Maybe I should talk to someone a little less biased."
"You go right ahead."
So I did. I talked to lab techs and office clerks. I talked to secretaries and linguists. I talked to women, and I talked to men. And I got the same response each time. Illya Kuryakin was cold. Occasionally he did sleep with women, and on other occasions he slept with men. It meant nothing, either way, and was never repeated.
Not that he didn't have friends. He was evidently a pleasant enough guy to work with, and never engaged in spite or gossip. But his friends wouldn't say anything about him at all, and after some digging I figured out that that was mostly because they didn't know anything. No one knew what Illya Kuryakin did when he went home at night. With the possible exceptions of George Piper, and one Napoleon Solo. And since Piper clearly couldn't stand the sight of me, and Napoleon Solo was out of town, that left me with no one who could give me a clearer picture of Illya than I had already formed for myself. And my picture was of someone who was interested. Interested in me, and what I might have to offer.
I went through his file. Sneaky, I admit, and probably a little unethical too. But as Head of Security I had the clearance, so I did it. And when I closed it again I was awash with fresh admiration.
The best field agent UNCLE had ever had. With his partner, Napoleon Solo, he had... no exaggeration... saved the world. Repeatedly. It was because of those two men, my blond Russian angel and the dark man who smiled confidently out at me from Illya's file, that I lived and breathed and walked as a free man, instead of as a hypnotized drugged zombie slave. Their doing that I lived at all, and wasn't dead, along with most of humanity. Dead in any one of a number of inventive ways—underwater, or at the bottom of an earthquake caused chasm, or... Thrush wasn't kidding around with its acronym. The nefarious schemes those two had thwarted seemed endless, and it made me shudder just reading about them.
Illya's combat ratings were as high as mine. His security clearance was higher. His IQ was not measurable by any assessment technique known to man. I thought again of the slim blond with the wicked smile, and marveled.
And he wasn't cold. He couldn't be, because his friendship with Solo was legendary. The only reprimands in his file were for going against regulations to rescue Solo, as Solo had repeatedly done for him. Anyone capable of that sort of devotion was capable of passion, too. Passion that evidently none of his one night stands had managed to ignite. I smiled. Igniting passion was my specialty.
I planned my strategy carefully. I'd slide in as a friend, I decided. Illya was loyal in his friendships, and did not cast them aside lightly. And besides, he sounded like a fascinating guy to get to know. His athletic abilities would be a match for mine, and that would be a rare treat indeed. So for our first outing I'd think of something sporting. Like hiking. Or waterskiing. Or...
"Rollerblading?" He looked at me in surprise. His arms were full of files, and I had intercepted him in the hall outside his office. I had seen the stacks of buff folders he was struggling to keep from spilling over, and calculated that for one thing I could offer to help, and for another thing he wouldn't want to linger overlong, so would have to make a quick decision. I smiled at him, my best easy grin.
"Sure. Hey, want a hand with those?" I reached out, but was careful not to actually touch anything without permission. This wasn't someone to even appear to push around. He visibly wavered, then returned my smile. My heart skipped a beat.
"Thank you," he said demurely, and let me scoop the top half of the stack out of his arms. I fell into step beside him, and we walked towards the elevators. "You mean, like roller-skating?"
"Only in the sense that surfing in a hurricane is like swimming," I answered. "I know a place that's set up like a skateboard park. Up and down and around—it's like flying on two wheels. I could teach you," I added coaxingly, and suppressed another grin when his eyes lit indignantly.
"I know how to skate, Mr. Coleman," he said repressively, and pressed the button for the elevator. "I don't think I'll need lessons."
I pounced on that. "So it's yes? Great. I'll pick you up at your place Saturday morning at nine."
"How do you know where I live?" He stepped into the elevator, and held the door open button for me. I hurried inside.
"I've made it my business to know," I admitted. His eyes glinted.
"Oh? Because you haven't done security there, either?" The elevator stopped, and the doors opened. He stepped out and moved along the hall with long strides. I had to hurry to catch up, despite the difference in our height.
"Ah, yeah. Right."
"I'll meet you at the park. Email me with directions."
"Okay." He had said yes, and wasn't that what mattered? But I couldn't keep from pushing it, just a little. "Worried that I'm a serial killer or something?"
"Not in the least," he returned. "Give me those."
"I don't mind -"
"Give them to me." His voice hardened, just a little but it was more than enough, and I hastily unloaded my files back onto the stack he still carried. Without another word he went into the records office and let the doors close behind him.
And now I come to my first date with Illya Kuryakin. Our first date. I didn't call it that at the beginning, because I wasn't sure... but I can call it that now, knowing how it ended. And the way it ended... hold on. Let me catch my breath and go back to the beginning again. Or I'll have to excuse myself from this keyboard and get behind a locked door somewhere.
He carried a pair of in line skates over his shoulder when he walked up to the park entrance. He wore no safety gear, so I hastily ditched mine. That was how he wanted to play it? Fine by me. I smiled down at him, and he smiled back up at me—both of us using our height difference to our advantage. "Ready?" I said, and he nodded and went in ahead of me.
We had a blast. Really. I couldn't remember ever having so much fun with anybody. He was that perfect combination of skill and recklessness, whizzing along by my side, laughing aloud for the pure joy of it. His hair blew in the wind, his face flushed an exquisite shade of pink, and his eyes were sparkling. I had to work to keep up with him, and soon I was laughing out loud too. We laughed, and exchanged rapid fire conversation, and sometimes we skated side by side, and sometimes I deliberately fell behind to admire his form. Oh, that form. If I close my eyes I can still see it.
When we left it was getting dark. A group of teenagers had come in, and they took up so much room that we had to slow down, and be careful, so by mutual if silent agreement we left. Out on the sidewalk he laughed up at me. He made me feel ten feet tall when he did that. I hunted about for some reason to prolong the evening, and remembered those stacks of food he had demolished in the cafeteria. "Want some dinner?" I offered.
"Yes," he said, so promptly that I laughed again. He laughed too, and we walked together to a steakhouse on the corner.
How that man could eat. I never saw anything like it. He ate everything in sight, he did it methodically, and without interrupting himself for conversation beyond pass the steak sauce. His manners were faultless, but his attention was firmly set on his food. He ate two helpings of steak, far more than his share of the appetizer sampler I had ordered, five rolls, his salad and half of mine, two baked potatoes and didn't show any signs of slowing down until he was nearly finished with his apple pie. I was filled with admiration.
"Wow," I said, when he finally pushed his empty pie plate away. "What were you, a truck driver in a former life?"
He smiled at me. "It was very kind of you," he said, ignoring my feeble attempt at humor. "Thank you."
"You are more than welcome. Would you... would you like a ride back to your place?" I didn't really know how he had come here, whether by subway, or taxi, or even his own car. For all I knew he had walked the whole way from Greenwich Village. I hoped for a goodbye kiss at his door at the very least, and maybe an invitation to come in for a cup of coffee, or a glass of wine, which might lead anywhere... or nowhere. I was taking nothing for granted, and I already knew not to push. How I knew, I couldn't have told you. Maybe it was reading his file, or the tone of voice in which he had requested his folders back. He was regarding me coolly now, one eyebrow raised, and I knew that he was fully aware of what I was thinking. Then he smiled, that slow smile that took my breath away.
"I'd much rather come to yours," he said, and there was no mistaking the invitation in his voice, or his eyes, or his smile.
It was so unexpected, after all my hopes and plans and doubts, that I choked on my cake.
Literally. A chunk of chocolate cake slid halfway down my throat and stopped there. I coughed, and it didn't budge. Furthermore, the amount of air I was able to suck in was miniscule. It was as if there was a tiny clear space at the top of the cake and that was all. Dimly I heard Illya's voice asking me if I were all right, and I shook my head because I wasn't, clearly wasn't. I coughed again, as hard as I could. Nothing.
"All right," Illya said although it was getting hard to hear him over the pounding in my head. "It's all right, Jess. You're coughing, so you're breathing. Just keep coughing."
Cautiously I pulled in air, slowly, not wanting to make things worse. I coughed some more, hackingly. My eyes were bulging, and saliva was dripping down my chin. I could feel both those things, but my primary focus was on that tiny aperture through which I was taking in air. Just as I coughed again, I heard Illya, his voice sharper now.
"No! Don't touch him! He's still coughing, so we're going to leave him alone."
Oh please leave me alone, I thought. It terrified me that someone might grab me, shake me, pound my back, because it wouldn't take much to jog that little bit of cake, and then maybe there would be no air for me at all. But Illya's hand was resting lightly on my shoulder, and I had a sudden very clear picture of him standing over me, holding my would be rescuers off with the cold steel of his eyes and the force of his personality. I coughed some more, gagged, and in near panic I struggled to my feet, as if I could run from this enemy.
And the cake slid on down my throat. Kidding, it seemed to say as it went into my stomach, just the way it was supposed to go. I gasped.
"I swallowed it," I managed, and sat back down. "I really think I swallowed it." Illya patted my arm.
"Good," he said, and sat down beside me. He handed me my water glass and I took it. My hand was shaking so badly that the ice clinked against the sides. I drank thirstily. My throat was raw and throbbing. It felt hot. I touched it, and inhaled slowly, reveling in the pleasure of being able to do so. I coughed, drank a little more, and wiped my face. Then I looked at Illya.
"Well," I said faintly. "Have I impressed you yet?"
"You're irresistible when you're drooling," Illya returned drily.
"You know you want me," I said, and Illya laughed. It was an infectious sound, so I laughed too.
"Did you drive?" he asked, and I shook my head.
"Let's take a taxi then," he suggested and I nodded.
When he gave the driver my address I sat up straight. "Now how do you know where I live?" I demanded. He waggled his eyebrows at me.
"I made it my business to know," he answered, and that was all he said until we left the taxi. Then he looked up at the warehouse. "Here?"
"Here," I returned. I unlocked the door to the cavernous entryway, and led him to the back of the hall. I used my key on the elevator, shoved the doors over and bowed him inside. I was feeling much better—almost giddy with oxygen and life and excitement. Here we were, at my place. And remembering the way he had looked at me—just before I had interrupted things with my minor life and death struggle—made me shiver. The elevator went its slow and grinding way to the seventh floor, and again I pushed the doors open. We stepped out and into my loft.
It's enormous, and I know it makes a strong first impression. The floor is brick throughout, the walls and ceiling original wood beams. Workout equipment takes up fully half of the space, and it gleams under the skylight. My bed—an immense waterbed—fills the back corner. A cozy reading nook is in the opposite corner, with shelves of books, and a big recliner. The kitchen is tucked away against the far wall, consisting only of a hot plate, a microwave, and a toaster oven, plus a dorm sized fridge. I don't cook much, relying almost entirely on take-out. A small room intended for a study is my closet. I like nice clothes, and take scrupulous care of them. My computer station stands beside the recliner, the tiny bathroom with its stall shower hidden discreetly behind the only door.
Illya gave it a good look around, those eyes traveling over every inch of the place, missing nothing. I had no doubt that after the first five minutes he could have drawn a detailed blueprint of the apartment. Then he walked over to the bed, and sat down.
The waterbed took him by surprise. His eyes widened, and then he laughed. He burst out laughing and fell over backwards, laughing harder when I fell full weight beside him, nearly bouncing him off. I turned my head, and was looking right into those blue eyes. Then he climbed on top of me, and bounced some more.
I won't go into detail here. I'm not turning this into some sort of stroke book. Suffice it to say that within minutes we were naked, that it was hot and heavy, light and teasing, and that a riotous good time was had by all. When it was over we lay side by side, gasping and panting, and when I reached for him he came willingly into my embrace, and when my hands began to move he came alive under them, and we did it all over again.
The pattern for our relationship was set on that first date. We saw a great deal of one another, despite Illya's reputation for one night stands. We usually did something athletic first—bowling, Frisbee in the park, hiking all the way uptown to see the Cloisters, biking through Wall Street at top speed. I always fed him afterwards and he always consumed an astonishing amount of food, always with that single minded absorption that was only kept from rudeness by his exquisite manners. He never, as far as I could tell, gained an ounce. Then we went back to my place, or his place.
Illya lived in a fourth floor walk-up in the West Village. It was small but comfortable. His bed was a Murphy, and a single, which made it interesting to twine around one another on its narrow space. He had no more in the way of kitchen hardware than I did, and our bathrooms were nearly identical. He had no work-out equipment—he did all that in the UNCLE gym—but his book collection and computer system were equal to mine. Our similarities amused us both.
We never had intercourse. I brought it up after we'd been together for nearly a month—brought it up because I had learned that Illya didn't like being surprised in bed, that he liked to have some idea how it was going to go, that he liked to be in control, even if he then used that control to give it up, give it over to me. So one night after a rousing episode of frottage, I lay beside him on my bed, which was till rocking slightly from our exertions. I traced a delicate little path from one nipple to the other, and then down his stomach, and broached it.
"I'd love to be inside you," I breathed directly into his ear. He liked that, I knew, and indeed he gave a wriggle of pleasure before answering.
"Or you could come inside me," I suggested coaxingly, and my dick jumped at the thought. He felt it, pressed against his thigh as it was, and laughed softly.
"Really?" I propped myself up on one elbow and looked down at him curiously. "Not at all? Not either way? Neither catching nor pitching?"
"No. Not, neither, nor. No."
"Huh." I lay back down. My feelings were a little hurt, and he must have sensed it, because he kissed my cheek.
"Don't be offended, Jess. And don't take it personally. I already do far more with you than anyone else I've ever known. And more often. But I don't do that."
"You don't think I could change your mind?"
"No." Now he sat up. "And if you keep going on about it I'm leaving. And if I leave over that, it would take a lot more than... than a day at a water park and dinner at Tavern on the Green to get me back."
"A water park? What water park? When?"
"I thought next Saturday. It's warm enough now, and I think it would be fun. Don't you?" He smiled at me, and while it wasn't a placating smile—Illya Kuryakin never placated anybody—there was a touch of anxiety in it that made my heart skip a beat. He might be prepared to walk out over anal intercourse, but he didn't want to, that was plain. I looked searchingly into his eyes, and he looked back. For once he didn't veil them with those ridiculous lashes, or turn away. He just sat there and let me gaze into his depths.
It made me dizzy. I felt I was falling, endlessly falling, and with no more clue as to what he was thinking than when I started. So I let it go. "Saturday sounds great," I said gently. "And... Illya?"
"What?" He was still staring at me, and there was a definite apology in those eyes now. Then he stretched out beside me, and patted my hand. I turned it over, and our fingers twined together.
"If you ever want to talk about it, I'm here for you. You do know that, right? This..." I waved my arm, indicating the still undulating waterbed, our clothes tossed helter skelter on the floor—in fact wasn't that my sock on the ceiling fan? Yes it was -" isn't all there is to it. I like you. I consider you my friend. If this is an issue because of... well, because of some issue you have with it, you can tell me. I promise not to use it to persuade you otherwise."
For a long time Illya was silent. He turned his head and stared at the ceiling, and I watched his profile—pure, and clean, and perfect. "Don't care too much, Jess," he said finally. "I can only give what I can give, and if you really cared for me it wouldn't be enough. I don't... I don't have passion to give you."
It sounds like an odd thing for him to say, considering what we had just been doing... what, from the look of things—his thing, and mine—we were about to do again. But I understood what he meant. "What do you have?" I whispered, free hand tangling in the soft curls between his thighs.
"Friendship," he said, and the smile I got now was very gentle. "Affection, friendship, trust. Liking. Respect. Companionship. And..." his breath caught as I slid my hand lower, cupped his balls carefully in my palm. "Yes," he whispered. "Oh, yes."
I moved down, took him in my mouth, felt him grip my hips and move me so he could do the same. His strength surprised me, as it always did, and then his hot mouth surrounded me and our bodies moved in unison. In respectful, trusting, companionable, unison.
We didn't speak of it again. Instead, we had fun. I sensed that fun was not something Illya had had a lot of before me, and I dedicated myself to giving him plenty. We did indeed go to a water park that Saturday, and it was a day of blinding beauty. The sun was hot, the water was cool, the slides were fast enough to satisfy us both, and the supply of food such that even Illya, by day's end, told me he was too full to stop for dinner on the way home. I feigned a swoon against the car door.
"Too full? Hold on, let me record this momentous event." I fumbled in the glove compartment, pulled out a phone charger and held it up like a microphone. He was laughing so hard the car swerved a little, and he corrected.
"Cut it out, Jess. Unless you want me to get a ticket."
"Just a few questions. So, Mr. Kuryakin, you're full. How did you reach this state?"
"Well, Mr. Coleman, there were some hot dogs, and some hamburgers, and several orders of fries. Not to mention the ice cream and cotton candy and soda."
"And how long will this last?"
"Oh, till at least midnight. Then I'll want a quick..." he slanted a glance at my crotch and my organ obligingly swelled. He could get me hard just by looking at it. It was amazing. "Snack," he finished, and licked his lips.
"Well, this is unprecedented. Am I correct in assuming that this satiety is a novel experience for you?"
"What about the opposite state? Novel? Not?"
"Not." He jerked that out, and the smile was gone. I felt mine fading.
"Sorry," I said after a moment. "That was stupid. You were a field agent for how many years? Someone must have starved you at some point."
"At some point." He still wasn't smiling.
"Well," I said lamely, "well, I think I can promise you that your midnight snack will be quite filling. But I can put whipped cream on top if you prefer." And, when he didn't answer me, I grew alarmed. "Have I offended you? Because I didn't mean to."
"We don't have to have any snacks at all," I said gently. I didn't know what was wrong, but it saddened me that the joy of the day seemed to have disappeared. "We could just watch some old movies and drink some beer and go to sleep."
"Really?" He arched an eyebrow at me. "Don't you think that would be rather a waste of your evening?"
"Illya... time spent with a friend is never a waste."
"Even without the snack?"
"Yes. Even without the snack."
He didn't answer me for a long time. He drove, and I looked out the car window. When we arrived at my place I wasn't sure if he would even come up. He might just drop me at my door and go home. But he pulled into a parking spot, and got out.
There was a snack after all, and it was slow, and sweet, and seemed to last forever. I held onto him afterwards, breathing in the good scent of him. I could feel his arm over my waist growing lax, and whispered in his ear "I'll cook breakfast in the morning, okay?"
He gave a small chuckle. "Oh, really? And how will you manage this feat?"
"I'll slip out while you're in the shower and get bacon and egg sandwiches on Kaiser rolls from King's Deli. Good enough?"
"Put some hot coffee on that order and we've got a deal," he said and I kissed his forehead to seal it. His arm tightened. "You're a good friend, Jess," he said from the very edge of sleep. "A very..." his voice trailed off. "Good friend," he finished, and fell asleep.
I lay awake for longer. I should have been pleased. But for the first time, I began to think that being Illya's good friend wasn't enough. For the first time, I became aware that I wanted more.
I sought his passion, after that. I sought it in all the usual—and some unusual—places. I made love to him with a fervor that had him purring like a cat under my hands, under my mouth, but he never lost himself in it, never for one moment. If I had had any doubts of that they would have been laid to rest one afternoon when the phone rang.
We were in his apartment, watching the nightly news, when I slid to my knees. Tugging at the waistband of his pajamas, I put my face in his crotch, right in his crotch where the sharp scent of him always made me think of the outdoors, for some reason. Wild grass and heather, moss and... I drew him into my mouth, feeling him slip down on the sofa, legs falling apart. I sucked him with all my expertise and heard his moans of pleasure with satisfaction.
Then the phone rang. And he answered it, voice crisp and professional. "Kuryakin here."
I stopped, my erection shrinking away. I would have let that phone ring. I hadn't even recognized the sound at first, the ringing bewildering me as if it were a noise long unheard. Before I had even identified it he had answered it, and moreover he sounded just as if he were sitting in his office, even though my mouth was still around his hard organ, even though my finger was tracing delicate arabesques on his inner thighs. Even though... I looked up at him.
He was nodding, and taking notes. Taking notes! I ask you. In the middle of a blow job—a very good blow job, if I do say so myself—he was taking notes. "Fine," he said, and hung up. I sat back on my heels and sulked. I knew I was doing it, and that he would be able to see it, and that was fine. That was just fine. He'd have to ask, and then I could say... but he picked up the phone again and called someone else! I listened while he relayed a message, and my sulk turned to sullenness. I got up, and picked up my jacket.
"Be that way," he said and I turned to look at him. He was still sprawled out on the couch, pajama bottoms down around his ankles, hard cock glistening a little from my ministrations. "Go right ahead and be that way. This is work. My work. If you can't understand that -"
"How could you?" I demanded. "How could you even think straight enough to take that message? How could you hold that pencil, dial a number? What is wrong with you?"
He stood up then, and fixed his pants. I didn't look to see if he was erect anymore. I was looking into those eyes, which were regarding me as if I were a complete stranger... whoops, what are you doing here with your mouth around my dick, stranger? When I have phone calls to answer and notes to take?
"I'm cold," he informed me, and his voice matched his words. "That's how. Didn't they tell you about me? Didn't anybody warn you? I refuse to believe the term Ice Prince wasn't used. Did you think they were joking? Or did you think it wouldn't apply to you? Well, think again, Jess Coleman. Work is work, and important. This..." he waved his hand as I had once done. "Is extra. It's frosting. Nice, sweet, but in the end totally unnecessary."
"Like me?" I asked, and the hurt was in my voice. "Totally unnecessary?"
He shrugged. "Be that way," he repeated, and went over to his computer. He sat down, brought a screen up, and began to work. Really work, because I could see what he was doing and he wasn't just randomly tapping away to make some point. Numbers were flashing across the screen and he was studying them, changing them... and then a three dimensional image rose and he tinkered with it, making it revolve, frowning.
"Fine," I said, and he glanced up as if surprised that I was still present.
"The door's over there," he informed me, and without another word I went through it.
I got very drunk that night. I sat in my loft, feet up on the hassock, and drank whiskey until I could barely stand. I charted the progress of my inebriation by the increasing difficulty of my increasingly frequent bathroom trips. It was taking every drop of whiskey I could down to keep from thinking about Illya, about his... cold, he had that word right... dismissal of me, of my lovemaking, of our friendship. Friendship—ha. I poured myself another glass. Illya Kuryakin didn't know what the word meant. "I feel so used," I said aloud, and had to laugh. The laughter hurt my chest, and moreover it sounded more like a sob. I drained the glass I had just poured.
I wasn't so drunk that I didn't hear the elevator, however. It came grindingly up to my level, and then the gate was pushed across. I had my gun in my hand. "I'm armed," I said, although I think it came out more like "M'armed."
"Don't shoot me, Jess," Illya said and I threw the gun at him without thinking twice. My aim was wildly off and the gun hit the wall about two yards from him. Fortunately I had had the safety on. Fortunately for both of us, because if it had gone off who knew where the bullet would have landed?
"Screw you," I mumbled, then laughed again, that short, broken sound that hurt my chest like before. "Oh, right, you don't do that. That would call for some real involvement, wouldn't it, some real one on one interaction and oh no, heaven forbid. Get the fuck out, Illya. I didn't ask you here." And then, when he didn't move... "don't make me hurt you."
He did move, then, crossing the floor to stand in front of me. I looked up at him, and with my blurred vision, and the light coming from behind him he looked like an angel, so beautiful he broke my heart. I averted my eyes, and stared into the depths of my glass instead.
He sat in my lap. If he had sprouted wings and flown away I wouldn't have been more astonished. Illya didn't cuddle. He would lie next to me, or embrace me, but there was never anything that implied a leaning on me. His body never curved into mine, even when we slept together, our arms around one another. But now he curled against me, knees drawn up, head on my chest. Involuntarily, I put my arms around him. I could do nothing else. I'd have had to tie them to the chair to keep from reaching for him.
"I'm sorry, Jess," he whispered, and no one had to tell me that apologies didn't come easily or often from those lips that even now were depositing little kisses on my neck. "I'm very sorry. You... you're a good friend to me. I wasn't one to you tonight."
"So I'm not completely unnecessary?" I asked him and he wriggled against me in a way that made my cock stand up abruptly.
"You make me happy," he said, and managed to get his legs around my waist so our two organs were rubbing right up against one another. "You make me feel light, and happy in a way I've never known. You're one of the best friends I've ever had. I trust you." He moved again, and I moved too. We were both moving then, and in the hot hungry rubbing and moving and pressing I lost myself. Afterwards I think I passed out, because there are only jumbled recollections of him wrestling my clothes off, helping me to bed... how strong you are, I think I said, or maybe just thought. Then there was the softness of the bed, the cool of linens, the warm slightly nubby texture of a damp washcloth cleaning me. When the mattress dipped down from his weight I grabbed him, pulled him in and he went, letting me arrange our bodies so he was completely enfolded in me. I kissed his temple, and he kissed my shoulder, and sleep fell on me like a dark smothering weight.
It wasn't until early that morning, so early that the skylight only showed a pale grey glimmer, so early that he was still sleeping while I stood in the bathroom peeing like a racehorse, that I realized that with all the lovely things he had said, he had not said that I was necessary to him. I made him laugh, he trusted me, I brought happiness... but I was still frosting. Still... and always? Frosting.
Slowly I returned to bed and lay beside him. I wouldn't hold him, not if he didn't want me to, not if I wasn't... but he rolled over, seeking me, making a contented little sound when I embraced him. And he had come here, hadn't he, had sought me out because... maybe he needed a little frosting in his life. Yes, maybe a little frosting was just what he needed.
.We were sitting in the cafeteria one Friday, about a month later. Our relationship seemed to have solidified after that night. I hadn't been sure before, but I was sure now that he wasn't seeing anybody else. And neither was I. We were a couple. I was the envy of all my like minded friends. Even George Piper seemed to concede that my intentions were, if not, strictly speaking, honorable, they were decent; that I was a decent guy. We would never be buddies, but he greeted me cordially enough when we met. And if Illya's passion was still missing, well, we had all the time in the world for that, didn't we? All the time in the world.
So we sat together and ate lunch together. I was teasing him about the way the women in the serving line continually piled little extras on his tray—a doughnut, a cookie, a red apple just at the peak of ripeness—and never charged him for it. He was laughing, and eating, and then there it was. His eyes widened and shone, his face flushed up and his lips parted. Even his breathing seemed to come more quickly, and sitting as close to him as I was, I could almost feel his body temperature rise. Passion, I thought, and rejoiced. Passion after all. I had no idea what I had said or done to bring it about, but what a lovely sight it was. How lovely he was, staring at me... well, not directly at me, but... slowly I turned in my seat.
A man stood in the doorway. A dark haired, handsome man—but not a patch on me, I thought jealously—already I was jealous. Already. Napoleon Solo hadn't even taken one step into the room and I was awash with jealousy. Because the flush, the quickened breathing, the totally unprecedented blaze in those blue eyes, was for the man whose picture I had first seen in Illya's file. Stunned, I turned my gaze back to Illya and he was positively vibrating with excitement. He half rose, and when I looked back again Solo was smiling at him, and coming across the room towards us.
He's shorter than I am, I thought, outraged. And older. And... then Solo was standing by our table, and he and Illya were smiling at one another. "Illya," he said. "It's good to see you. How have you been?"
"Fine. It's good to see you too, Napoleon. It's been a long time."
"I know." He yawned, and Illya laughed. "I'm so jet lagged I can barely see straight. As soon as I finish my reports I'm heading home. I just stopped in here for some fuel. And to ask you if you want to come by for dinner tonight. I picked up a new recipe for beef stroganoff, not to mention some prime Kobe steak."
He cooked? The man cooked? And he was trying to woo Illya away from me with Kobe steak and a personally selected recipe? That didn't seem fair, when all I had to offer was take-out.
"Tonight?" Illya was saying. "I'd love... oh. No, I can't. I'm sorry. I'm going bowling with Jess."
And so those dark eyes turned on me for the first time. He looked me up and down, and I returned the scrutiny. Napoleon Solo was powerfully built—I wasn't fooled by the trimly tailored suit. He was good looking, no question, and I had already heard about his reputation with the ladies. With the ladies. So why was Illya, my hell on wheels in the sack lover Illya, looking at him as though he were the answer to a young man's wet dream?
"Jess," Solo said carefully. "Jess Coleman? New Head of Security? I've heard good things about you from Raleigh." His eyes went from me to Illya and back again, and it was clear it wasn't only my job performance he had had reports of.
"I've heard about you too," I answered, giving it right back to him. "The great Napoleon Solo. The ladies," I hit that word hard, "must be swooning in the halls even as we speak."
"I see," he said, and that could mean so many things that I didn't have a ready reply for him. Then he looked at Illya again. "Bowling?" he repeated. "How long does that usually take?"
"Oh, all night," I cut in. "All night long." Now Solo and I had locked eyes. "We bowl ten frames, and then we eat"—see? I can feed him, too—"and then we go back to my place and..." play some more, I almost said. It was on the tip of my tongue but then Illya kicked me, hard, under the table. "Ow!" I exclaimed with more volume than necessary, making it obvious that Illya had deliberately silenced me and, no doubt, why. Solo's eyes narrowed.
"Do you," he said. "All right. Saturday and Sunday I'm at a conference. Hmm." He was clearly going through his mental calendar, and Illya's face had fallen. It hurt me to see it. Illya wouldn't cancel on me at the last minute because he was a good friend, but did I really want to spend the evening with him when he wanted to be somewhere else? Wouldn't I gain more ground in the long run by being gracious?
"But we can go bowling tomorrow," I said, and the way Illya's eyes lit hurt even more. But I concealed it. I was the good guy here. I'm always the good guy, despite my super villain impressions. It's my thing. "I don't mind."
"Thank you, Jess." Illya beamed at me. "And on Saturday it's all you can eat ribs."
"Yeah, I'll turn you loose on that. That'll teach them to make the offer. So there you go, Solo."
"Mr. Coleman," Solo said, hitting my title rather harder than necessary. "It's generous of you. Illya, want to come up to my office? It won't take me long to finish the reports and we can leave right from there."
"All right." And just like that, without so much as a fare thee well, Illya was out of his seat and walking beside Solo. They paused at the coffee machine while Solo filled a cup, put the top on and smiled down at Illya. Illya smiled back up at him, and for that moment it was clear that no one else existed for either of them.
I sat there, alone, and watched them go. I didn't look around to see the reaction to my having been ditched so publicly. I didn't have to. They would be gloating, and maybe I deserved it. I had been doing some gloating of my own, over my unprecedented relationship with UNCLE's Ice Prince. And I shouldn't feel this way about it. I had read those files. Illya and Solo had been through hell and back together, had saved one another's lives on countless occasions. I could do myself no good by trying to get between them. And Solo was straight. More than straight. He was a notorious ladies man. He wouldn't be interested in... in returning Illya's passion. Would he?
I busied myself in clearing the table, and then suddenly Illya was beside me. "Thank you, Jess," he said, and lifted those eyes to me. "That was very nice of you."
"That's me," I said lightly. But he didn't laugh. He regarded me soberly for a moment and then, quite deliberately, stood on his tiptoes and kissed me on the cheek.
"Yes it is," he said right into my ear. Then he turned on his heel and crossed the room to rejoin Solo, who was staring at me. Everyone else was staring at me too, with renewed respect for the man who could elicit a PDA from Illya Kuryakin. I touched my face where Illya had kissed it, and finished cleaning up, whistling a little. I'm a helluva guy, and that's a fact.
Illya was on fire Saturday afternoon. He bowled like the devil himself was behind the pins, his ball positively smoking as it spun along the alley. He was flushed and laughing, eyes brilliant. And he was so sexually revved up that when I accidentally on purpose brushed his hand he nearly jumped out of his skin, and gave me a smoldering look. I gave it right back to him.
I wasn't fooling myself. He was hot for Solo, and an evening of this unrequited... passion, I made myself think the word... had him fairly humming with pent up desire. And I would get to reap the benefits. Why didn't I feel better about that? Just because I was second choice, clearly second choice, clearly if Solo had shown the least interest Illya would have thrown me over in a heartbeat, why should that make me feel badly? It wasn't as if I were in love with Illya. I had thought about that a lot last night, and I really didn't think I was in that place. But I liked Illya, liked him enormously. I liked being with him, liked talking to him and looking at him, and I liked that we were together. And if Illya and Solo got together, then Illya and I wouldn't be. But it wasn't very likely. It was too bad, that Illya had such strong feelings for that man, a straight man, a man who probably never gave him a thought beyond friendship. Yes, it was a shame. Just then Illya made his fifth strike of the afternoon, and turned to me.
"I'm done here," he said bluntly. "I'm starving." And the way he looked me up and down told me it wasn't just ribs that he hungered for. It was me, too. I grinned down at him.
"What's the rush, sugar?" I enquired. "We have the whole night ahead of us—and all of tomorrow if you like."
"I do like," he said, and headed for the dining section. "I like ribs, and I like you, and I like that it's only dinner time on Saturday."
I hurried to catch up. "Speaking of dinner," I drawled as we gave our orders at the counter, "how was the stroganoff last night?"
"Wonderful." Illya filled a mug with beer and followed me to our table. "Just wonderful. I never had such steak. And the cream sauce... mmm." He licked his lips and I laughed at him.
"I've never been able to figure out which you prefer, eating or sex."
"Oh, eating," Illya said promptly—too promptly. "You have to eat. You can do without sex."
"Really? And how do you manage that?"
"You'll never know," he said, laughing at me. He was in rare form tonight, I reflected, and was delighted. No matter what—or who—had sparked it, the fact remained that he had brought it all to me. And still I couldn't leave it alone.
"So Solo cooks? I had no idea."
"Napoleon is a wonderful cook. His kitchen is full of gadgets, and he's always replacing them with the newer model. I think he likes the process more than the product. Unlike me," and he laughed again. I laughed too.
"He always cooked for me. Right from the beginning. When I first started in Section Two, and we were introduced, it was actually the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. We didn't have any assignments coming up—Waverly wanted us to have some time to get to know one another, and Napoleon wanted to show me how he did his paperwork so I could take it over from him as soon as possible. So we worked late Wednesday night, and then he invited me over to his apartment for Thursday afternoon. I thought it was for more work. But when I got there he had roasted a turkey, and made this incredible stuffing, and gravy, and sweet potatoes -" here I interrupted him.
"But you hate sweet potatoes."
"I know. But he didn't. And he never made them again after he saw me eat my way around them. But wasn't that nice of him? He didn't want me being alone on the holiday, even though I would have told you I didn't care about it. He sat across from me and watched me eat, and asked these subtle little questions and I found myself sharing things I'd never told anyone. And he saw more than that, I could tell. It was as if for every sentence I gave him, he heard whole paragraphs of what I wasn't saying."
"Yes." And Illya's face was softer than I'd ever seen it, and his eyes... his eyes were positively dreamy. Oh, you've got it bad, I thought. It's a shame. A damn shame. I cleared my throat.
"Well. Here come our ribs. How many do you think you can eat?"
"More than you," Illya said promptly, and dug in.
He did eat more than me. He ate so many ribs that the servers were cheering him on by the end, refilling his beer mug for free even though that wasn't part of the deal. His good humor was infectious and I was carried along with it, laughing with him, leaning across the table to wipe sauce from his chin... oh, and the look he gave me made me so hard I was seriously worried I wouldn't be able to rise from my seat and cross the room. But when he declared himself finished; tossing his napkin down, and acknowledging the standing ovation he received with a bow and a flourish, I got up so hastily I knocked my chair over. We left on a wave of laughter, ours and everyone else's, and I put him in a cab, took him home, and had my way with him.
Not entirely. It looks good, though, doesn't it? And we did indeed begin pulling at one another's clothing on the elevator, stumbling across my floor to collapse on the water bed, rolling and laughing, tickling one another and caressing one another, but when I found myself on top of him, both our bodies so ready, urgent and hot and ready, he shook his head.
"No," he said and I forced myself to slide off him, wrap my arms and legs around him, feeling him twine himself around me and we writhed together, rubbing and moving, gasping and panting, and the finish was a cataclysmic rush of satisfaction that left me sprawled out on my bed, grinning so widely it made my face ache. I turned my head and looked at his profile.
He was not smiling. There was a wistful droop to his mouth, and I knew with absolute clarity that he was wishing for something else—or, more precisely, someone else. And I knew too that if it had been Napoleon Solo on top of him in that moment he wouldn't have said no. He would have opened his thighs and welcomed him in. Not me. Never me. Never in a hundred years would it be me. And as I watched Illya's eyes close, heard the very faint sigh he always gave on slipping into sleep, I knew something else, too. This was the last time.
How I knew that, I couldn't have said. It didn't even make sense. Solo slept with women. Illya was a man. How often in my life had I known a truly straight man to change teams, as the saying went? Never. But still, I looked at Illya lying there, beautiful and brilliant, sardonic and sweet, possibly the best friend I had ever had, definitely the best lover I had ever been with, and knew it was over. I had had tonight, and I would have tomorrow, and then I would have nothing.
Oh, we would still bowl, and eat ribs, and joke and tease one another. We would still be friends. But after this weekend we would not be lovers. The knowledge was so strong, and so deep, that I didn't even try to reason myself out of it. I just resolved to savor it, to enjoy every moment of it, and when it was over to let him go in a way that would enable us to remain friends.
Because Illya was in love with Solo, and I am a nice guy. And despite Solo's reputation with the ladies, when I thought of the way Solo had looked me up and down, it didn't seem that far fetched at all. If there was any chance for those two to come together, then I needed to get out of the way and let it happen.
And I did enjoy the rest of the weekend, enjoyed it thoroughly. Illya woke me up Sunday morning with a blow job that nearly took the top of my head off. I reciprocated as soon as I recovered, and the day went from there. We walked out for breakfast and lunch, to the little deli on the corner, but otherwise we stayed in bed. I held Illya and kissed him, touched him and stroked him, aroused and satisfied him and each and every move had the same resonance—last time, last time. I made it count.
He left Sunday night, with a kiss and a promise to meet me Wednesday evening for a beer and more. I accepted his promise, returned his kiss, and then pulled him in for another one, harder, deeper, memorizing his scent, his taste; the feel of him, supple and hard against me. Then I watched him walk onto the elevator, pull the gate across with a final wink, and disappear from view.
I didn't even shower. I went to bed with his scent still on me, and on my sheets, and didn't wash it off until just before leaving for work Monday morning.
Solo stopped me in the hall. I had seen him coming, and moved aside. The man had a way of demanding space, demanding precedence, without having to say a word. He was striding rapidly, face set in those hard lines. Like a shark, I thought. And does he ever sleep, or does he have to keep moving? Illya would be good for him, I saw that with sudden clarity. And he... would he be good for Illya? Would he cherish Illya the way Illya deserved? I thought of all those meals Illya had been talking about the other night, and hoped so. I really hoped so.
He had passed me by and I was walking on, thinking these things, when suddenly he was back. He said my name, sharply.
I turned, surprised, and was abruptly against the wall with him right in my face. He hadn't touched me, nothing so crude as that, but he flattened me with his presence all the same. I didn't even think of pushing him away, although I am taller, and more obviously muscular. It was those eyes, and the grim set to his mouth, and his personality, which fairly exuded power and authority. I blinked at him.
"Illya spent the weekend with you?"
"Well, not the whole weekend. Friday night -"
"I know about Friday night." He made a chopping motion with his hand. "Saturday, I mean. And Sunday."
"Hmm." He looked me over, and I returned the stare. Then he moved even closer. It took everything I had not to flinch.
"You'd better be treating him well," he said tightly. "You'd damn well better appreciate what you've got, and take care of it. Of him. Because Illya is..." here he stopped, visibly casting about for a word. Then he shook his head. "Because if I hear you're not, we'll be talking again. And it won't be this civil."
I could have told him to mind his own business. I could have told him to get out of my face. I could have questioned his professionalism. I didn't. I only nodded. "Yes sir," I said. "I mean .. of course I appreciate Illya. You don't have to tell me. Illya is..." and now it was my turn to be at a loss. I floundered. "Well, you know."
"Yes. How serious are you two, anyway?"
Again, there were many responses I could make to that. What came out of my mouth was... "Not all that serious."
"The devil you say," he said softly. "Why not? Don't tell me this is just a casual fling for you, because Illya deserves better than that. He likes you. Hell, he trusts you. If he offers you his heart, and you don't want it, but you keep on... well." He stepped back. "I'm not repeating myself. I think we understand one another." He turned, and I may never know what made me stop him. But I did... not with my hands, because it never occurred to me to touch him. But I called after him, very quietly.
"Illya's heart isn't up for grabs. It's yours."
That did stop him, just as if I had grabbed his shoulder and yanked him around. He turned, and those brown eyes bored into mine. "Mr. Coleman?" His voice was dangerously polite now. "I think I must have misheard you. Because some things... some things aren't a joking matter."
"Illya is in love with you," I said, throwing in the towel. And if I was wrong, and if this got back to Illya... I shivered. But I plowed on anyway. I've always gone with my instincts, and never regretted it. "All you'd ever have to do is reach for him."
"He told you that?" The open disbelief in his voice nettled me, even though it was accurate.
"No. Of course not. But it's in his voice when he says your name, it's on his face when he looks at you. A blind man could see it with a cane."
He gave me one more hard look, turned on his heel and walked away. I stood there, wondering what on earth Illya saw in the man, wondering if I had done the right thing, wondering what—if anything—would come from this conversation.
I saw Illya at lunch and, unable to resist, asked if he'd seen Solo.
"No," he said, forking some of my potato salad onto his plate. "He's locked in his office and won't open up. To anyone."
"Not even to you?" I asked in honest surprise.
"Not even to me." He stole my roll. "But—oh, here he comes." He smiled towards the door, and his face flushed up. "Did you need to talk to him?"
"No," I said hastily. "Not at all."
"Napoleon. Are you having lunch? Come join us."
"Ah, I was just leaving," I said and pushed my chair back, picked up my tray. Illya stared at me.
"No you weren't. You just got here. But if you really are leaving, put that tray back down. I'll eat your sandwich. And your dessert."
I couldn't help it. I laughed out loud. Here all this tension and repressed emotion were roiling between Solo and myself, and Illya was worried my leftovers might go to waste. Solo laughed too.
"No need to get up, Mr. Coleman," he said, and his voice was positively genial. I looked at him in surprise. "I'll only be a moment." And, before Illya's disappointment could be too blatant, Solo added, "I just wondered if you were free this evening, Illya."
"Yes," Illya said immediately. "I am."
"Good. I'll pick you up at your office when I leave for the day."
"Mr. Coleman," Solo said courteously, and went his way. Illya took my sandwich.
"Hey," I protested.
"You said you were done!" He held onto it, and stared at me in disbelief. "You were going to throw it away! Now you want it back?"
I laughed again, and tweaked his nose. "No, you're fine. But I wasn't really finished. I just thought maybe you and Solo wanted to talk in privacy."
"Oh." Illya frowned at me over the disputed sandwich. "That was thoughtful of you, but not really necessary. Napoleon would never have a private conversation here. I'll tell you what. We'll split it." He cut it neatly in two, pushed half over to me and bit into the other. "So what are we doing Wednesday night after the beer?" His eyes danced. "I need to know how to dress."
"We'll talk Wednesday at lunch," I answered. I had a strong feeling Illya might be otherwise engaged this Wednesday night. Solo had looked... positively human. Whatever he had been cogitating while locked in his office seemed to have come to fruition. I'm a damn fool, I thought. Here I am, practically pushing the best thing I've ever had into the arms of another man. But watching Illya finish off my sandwich, I found myself hoping that those arms would be open. I am a nice guy, I thought. I really am.
That was the last I saw of Illya that week. He didn't come in on Tuesday, and when I looked at his records—Chief of anything hath its privileges, and Security hath more than most—I saw that he had taken leave. Through the upcoming weekend. I whistled softly. I didn't check Solo's records despite the temptation. It was all too possible he would find out, and I didn't want... although what if Illya were taking off because whatever had happened between the two of them last night had crushed him? What if he were alone right now in his apartment, wretched and alone, and it was all my fault? I had to know. So I called Solo's office, and got his personal assistant, Janet.
I like Janet, and she likes me. Everybody likes me, it's part of my stock in trade. I put a smile in my voice. "Hello beautiful. Your boss in?"
"No, Mr. Coleman." Her voice was prim as she used my last name and honorific, and I had to grin. "He isn't in. In fact, he won't be in all week. He's on vacation."
"No!" I feigned disbelief. "Solo? On vacation? You're putting me on."
"No, really. He went to Bermuda."
"I'm sure I couldn't tell you," she said, and I laughed.
"Okay, Janet. Thanks."
Well, well, well. Bermuda. Surely even Napoleon Solo wouldn't break his long time partner's heart and then blithely go on vacation. Surely they were together. Surely... and then my phone rang. I recognized Illya's cell phone number on my caller ID, and opened the case.
"Yes?" I drawled. "Jess Coleman, master bowler and whatever else you need here."
"Hi Jess." Behind his voice I could hear the sound of an engine. Not a car engine—more like a small plane. "I'm calling about tomorrow. I won't be able to make it."
"Oh, no," I said, feigning surprise. "Are you sick?"
"No. I'm on vacation. With Napoleon. We're flying to Bermuda."
"Ah. I see."
"Yes, sugar. I think I do. Can I at least reschedule our bowling date, or should I cancel us altogether?"
"Of course I still want to bowl with you. Next Wednesday. Bowling, beer, and..."
"No. No more. Just... just friends, Jess. All right?"
"Fine. Can I say congratulations, or is this top secret?"
"Thank you and no, it's not a secret. So you don't mind?"
"I mind like hell," I said. "But I'll get over it. Have fun in Bermuda."
"Oh, we will. See you Monday."
"Monday," I echoed, and hung up.
Monday morning he strode into the cafeteria, tanned a glorious honey brown, hair sun streaked, eyes alight. He looked indecently happy. I waved him over, and he dropped into the seat across from me. "How did it go?" I asked, and then I saw the ring on his left hand.
It took my breath away. I'd thought I was prepared—I'd set this up, hadn't I? But seeing the simple gold band circling the fourth finger of his left hand struck me dumb. He laughed at me.
"I don't think I've ever seen you speechless before," he teased. "And by the way, I'm moving. I'll send you my new address on your email. Although you'll probably sneak it out of my file before then." He shook his finger in my face. "Don't think I don't know when you snoop, Jess Coleman, because I do."
"Ah," I said weakly. "You do?"
"You never said anything."
"No. Because I know you only do it because you care about me. So it's all right. I don't mind." He laughed again. "Right now I don't mind anything."
"Really?" I leaned closer. "Even if I ask you something personal?" Because I couldn't help wondering if that stricture against penetration held even for Napoleon Solo. I just couldn't help it.
He looked wary. "How personal, exactly?"
I leaned even closer, and whispered in his ear. He turned crimson.
"What a thing to ask! How is that any of your business?"
Despite his pretended outrage he exuded good will. His eyes glowed blue against the new tan, and there was a serenity there I'd not seen before. I felt wistful. He'd never looked that way with me. Never again, I had thought the last time I kissed him, the last time I held him, the last time I stroked him. Never again. And I'd been right, hadn't I. And it was my own choosing. Gosh, I'm swell. I would have patted myself on the back if it wouldn't have looked so strange. Even as I thought that Solo joined us.
He too had a touch of sun. But not too much, and I had a sudden image of him carefully applying sun screen, wearing a hat, staying in the shade. It made me grin. He grinned back, and the shock nearly knocked me off my seat. "Illya," he said then. "Would you mind getting me a small coffee? Black? To go"
"All right," Illya said obligingly, and went to the counter. I looked up at Solo, and my smile faded.
"I hope you appreciate what you've got," I said and there was a warning in my voice now, just as there had been in his. "He says he's moving in. I need to see him keep smiling about it."
"You verge on insolence, Mr. Coleman," he said, but his voice wasn't angry. He reached across the table to move Illya's empty chair out of the aisle and, incidentally, gave me a very good look at the ring on his finger. The matching gold ring, on his left hand.
It was all right. I knew it absolutely. This was not a man to make vows he didn't plan to keep, not a man to use such symbols lightly. "Congratulations," I said, and the warning was gone. He inclined his head.
"Thank you," he answered. Illya returned at this point.
"Here you go Napoleon," he said, then twinkled at me. "And the answer to your question—your extremely personal question—is yes. Yes, yes and yes." He laughed, and I laughed too. Solo raised an eyebrow.
"Jess just wanted to know how I take my coffee," Illya said innocently, and Solo shot me a suspicious look. I gave him a wide eyed stare in return, and he snorted. They left together.
I sighed. Well, there went the best thing I'd ever had. I sighed again. It had been rather a dreary week, going home alone every night, picturing Illya and Solo on some tropical beach somewhere. I was getting ready to sigh once more when a faint commotion around me attracted my attention, and I looked up.
A man stood in the doorway. A very big man—maybe even bigger than I am, although it was hard to tell at this distance—with flaming red hair. Powerful biceps bulged against the sleeveless vest he wore, and the buttons strained across his wide chest. I sat up straighter. My gaydar was going off, bells ringing, alarms clamoring, and in my mind I had a sudden vision. A vision of two men, two big muscular men, naked, writhing on a bed, gripping and struggling and wrestling, fucking and being fucked... I pulled out the chair next to me and he crossed the room, all animal grace, like a big red lion, I thought. He sat down and gave me a self assured smile. I smiled back.
"Well hello, stranger," I said. "Of all the gin joints in all the world..."
"I walked into yours," he finished. "Want to waste time sitting here talking about it, or want to help me move? I've got a lot of boxes in storage that need to go to my new place."
Two big men wrestling heavy boxes upstairs... I stood up. "Let's go," I said, and followed him out the door.
I told you it was like a romance novel, and in the best romance novels everybody gets to live happily ever after—or at least happily enough. And we did.