A Voice on the Wind (part 1)

by ChannelD

Napoleon Solo tipped his head back and looked up. Far overhead, dimly visible through the semi transparent substance of the Dome, black, purple, green and grey clouds raced. But below that, inside the Dome, a warm sun shone. He wondered, for the first time, why they didn't conceal the outside. Surely they could. Surely the Dome could be made from some opaque material, so the illusion of a beautiful day wasn't ruined by that roiling mass, whipped by winds that could reach speeds of over a hundred miles per hour. He said so to his friend, who was waiting for the public shuttle with him, and Gordon looked also.

"It's to remind us," he answered. "To remind us how it is Outside, so we know better than to think of going there."

"Who would go there?" Napoleon was appalled at the thought. All those open spaces, the foul poisonous air, the winds that would blow you down and scour you with grit ... he shuddered, and looked around the Dome to reassure himself. Safe and warm, the golden sun shining by day, and a full moon at night - enclosed, protected. "Not me."

"That's because you can see it. They know that if we couldn't see it, then maybe after a while we'd forget. We'd forget, and think of exploring it."

"Not me," Napoleon repeated, and then a shriek came to their ears. It was loud and wild and terror filled.

"No no no no don't make me go out there! Don't send me there! Have mercy!"

Napoleon and Gordon turned to see a man being dragged onto an otherwise deserted shuttle platform. His hands were cuffed behind his back and a green and white sign hung around his neck. "Litterer", the sign proclaimed.

"Son of a bitch," Gordon said angrily. "He throws trash on the streets of the City, and now he begs for mercy? Go where you belong!" he shouted at the crying man. "You want the old days back, when everyone threw their garbage everywhere? Go out there, then, and see what came of it!"

"I dropped it!" the man shrieked. "I was jostled in the market and I dropped it! I didn't mean to! I would never - speak for me, noble youths! I see by your clothing that your fathers are men of influence! Tell them! Tell them I dropped it!"

"Don't waste your breath, Gordon," Napoleon said. "See the marks on the side of his placard? It is his third offense. Three times he has thrown aside his garbage rather than carry it to a recycling basket. No one has three such accidents."

"Scum," Gordon said witheringly. "Don't people like that have eyes? Look up!" he shouted again. "See what those ways have brought us! Should we be wading ankle deep in filth? If people like you had your way, we would!"

"No! I can't live out there, no one can -" his words were cut off as he was pushed into the shuttle, and the automatic doors closed behind him. His forehead could be seen beating at the pane, then the shuttle went down below with a whoosh and was gone. It would take him to the perimeter of the Dome and beyond, far enough away that he couldn't come back because there wasn't enough air for anyone to walk any distance outside the protective confines of the Dome. He would be taken there, pushed off as he had been pushed on, and left to his fate.

But Napoleon Solo, twenty years old today, had more interesting things on his mind. Twenty, and a man. Twenty, and able to sign for his own funds, able to leave his father's household if he wished, and make his own way in the world. He wouldn't, of course. He was still in school, and hoped for University after that, like his brother Charles. And his father's rule was hardly onerous - the older man showed no interest in him so long as he did his duty. And he did. Napoleon Solo always did his duty, as his father did and his father before him.

All citizens did their duty now. The world had seen enough of what happened when men went their own wild way. Everyone knew his place and stayed within it, and women remained at home and kept their children and households, as it always should have been. Men served their society, and divided the fruits of that service according to a strict social hierarchy. Napoleon smiled, watching two men loading goods onto an electric trolley. It was a good system. It had served humanity well long before the Bad Times, in what had erroneously been called the Dark Ages. Now that everyone had returned to it, the Right Way was serving humanity again. And he, being on the top of that social hierarchy, had more of a responsibility than most for its maintenance.

"So," Gordon said after a pause. "You get your Companion today, don't you?"

"Yes," Napoleon said. All youths - men, he corrected himself - of his status received a Companion at the attainment of their twentieth birthday. A Companion was a servant, a helper, a fighter if need be - although that was an archaic usage and not expected anymore. A Companion was also, more importantly to Napoleon right now, a sexual outlet. Usually a girl was selected, but not always - sometimes it was an older woman, or a male - depending on what the youth's father felt was needed. That way a newly made man wouldn't be tempted into sexual deviancy by some loose woman. It wasn't allowed, of course, but it happened. Women were not to be trusted, always seeking to improve their situation, which had to mean improving their mate. And Napoleon would be a good catch for an ambitious girl.

"Far easier to get into trouble than out again," his father had counseled.

"An always available sexual outlet keeps young men from wrong thoughts and actions," his tutors had said.

Napoleon believed them. He had kept himself strictly to himself ... well, except for that incident at the party last year. He blushed now, thinking of it. How easy it had been, for that girl to arouse him past caution, past sense. And how good it had been, those few moments with her, buried deep in her warm woman flesh. But how wrong it had been. "I will have you strangled," he had hissed at her when he was finished, and reason had returned. "If I ever hear of this again, one word from me and you will be dangling at the Crossroads." She had nodded, frightened by his words and his eyes, and it was true that he had never heard of his indiscretion again. But he had never forgotten it, and it was one of the images that rose up when he pleasured himself, late at night, in the solitude of his grand bedroom. He would draw the shades against the ever present light and stroke his organ, remembering her wet slippery orifice, opening to him, closing around him. Just thinking of it now sent a frisson of pleasure down his back.

"Yes," he repeated. "Tonight. My father promised." And then he could do it all he wanted, and more ... could request - no, require - anything. Hands. Mouth. Tight puckered back entrance. He could do anything, anything at all. He swallowed.

"I spank mine," Gordon said, voice lower now. "When she's saucy or slow to obey, I spank her."

"You do? Why?"

"Oh, I don't leave any bruises ... just a reddening of her sweet little ass." Gordon laughed. "I spank her until she cries, and then I -" he had to stop talking then because the shuttle pulled in. Napoleon didn't say anything else. He didn't think he would want to spank his new acquisition - the thought was not pleasant, not pleasant at all. But if he did want to, then he could. He could do anything.

Dinner was a silent affair. His father ate and watched the daily news reports. Napoleon ate and studied. He was burning with curiosity and anticipation, but he pushed it down because his father would not be pleased if he appeared too eager. A man did not pant and strain at the bit, like a youth. A man waited for what was his. A man ...

"Your Companion is in your bed chamber," his father said abruptly and Napoleon barely refrained from choking on his meal. Even expected, the news was a jolt. In his bed chamber. Right now, waiting for him. Tonight, this very night, he would ... he could ...

"Yes sir. Thank you sir."

"You may be surprised at my choice." He wiped his mouth with his napkin. Alcott Solo was a dour and gloomy man. He strongly resembled portraits of the Puritan ministers Napoleon had seen in his texts. "I have purchased a young male for you."

Oh. Napoleon blinked. He was surprised, his father was right. He had been expecting a Companion like Charles had had, a giggling plump girl with bright wanton eyes and a ripe lush figure. He had had many hot fantasies about her, lying in his bed while Charles lay in the room next to his, the occasional shriek and whoop of pleasure coming to his ears. He hadn't expected a boy. But his father was looking at him under those heavy eyebrows, and he had to say something. "Thank you, sir."

His father grunted. "I was mistaken with Charles. That silly little harlot was no preparation for life. You need to learn to command men, to exercise authority over them. Any fool can command a woman. I want you to be a leader of men, not a follower. A weak willed follower."

"Charles?" Napoleon raised his eyebrows. "That doesn't sound -"

"Are you disputing with me?" His father half rose. "Are you? I tell you I want my son to be a captain over men, I tell you I have selected this boy to give you such experience, and you are disputing?"

"No sir," Napoleon said hastily. "Not disputing, of course not. I bow to your wisdom, I am grateful for your forethought." And he was, of course he was. No more did youth break free from family tradition. Youth followed age, and society remained orderly. "I am grateful," he repeated.

"Hmph. You should be. He cost me a pretty penny. Of good family, though a foreigner." He gave Napoleon another brooding look. "He is from the Others."

"The Others?" The war between the Righteous and the Others had been a brutal one indeed. There had not been many survivors - on either side - but the Others had been nearly wiped out. This would have cost his father a great deal.

"Of ancient noble blood. I did not want you saddled with some boor. He will be able to accompany you anywhere, and not disgrace you. He is not overly young - it is no more difficult to lead a child than a woman. He turned eighteen last month, and is extremely well trained in all areas. I do not think you will regret my choice."

Extremely well trained. Napoleon swallowed. "Yes sir."

His father leaned forward. "You have had the customary education, have you not?"

"Yes sir." Every male of noble family had a training session in his eighteenth and nineteenth years to learn what was and was not acceptable with a Companion. Advice was shared, the Laws explained. Injuring a Companion was forbidden - not out of compassion, but because it damaged one's character to exercise brutality without restraint. Any discipline that did not cause physical injuries requiring medical attention was permitted, however. Any sexual act whatsoever was permitted. The Companion could be - and usually was - required to perform household duties as needed. A Companion could be loaned out, but not taken against the owner's consent. A Companion accompanied you everywhere you went; to school, to the work place, on any errand unless ordered to remain at home.

"Start off strong," the instructor had said. "Begin on the very first encounter as you mean to go on. If you want a personal attendant, have your Companion draw your bath, wash your back, make up your bed if you do not have other servants to do that. If you want a sexual accommodation, require it that very first night. Give your orders. Do not ask. Tell. Command. If your Companion is a woman, she will be looking for weaknesses, so that she can exploit them and better herself thereby. If a male, he will not respect anything less than strength. Be strong."

Napoleon thought of that, and his voice firmed. "I understand what is expected of me."

"Good. You may go. I trust you will learn what kind of a man you are through this exercise. I trust you will not disappoint me."

Like Charles evidently had. Napoleon saluted his father, and pondered the mysterious matter of his older brother as he climbed the stairs. What had Charles done that was so dreadful? All Napoleon knew was that he had finished his studies with honors, and gone to university. He had boarded the shuttle with his Companion, his dark eyes eager, dressed in the new clothes their father had bought him, all the texts he would need already in his EE2. "Electronic Everything Squared," he had said laughingly to Napoleon, waving it triumphantly in the air. It was the latest model, and the initials stood for something so esoteric and complex that Napoleon hadn't been able to keep it in mind, so he always thought of it the way Charles described it. Alcott had embraced him, and Charles had embraced Napoleon, and then he had been gone.

He had not returned for the holidays, and when Napoleon had asked why, his father had growled at him to hold his tongue. Charles's name had never been mentioned again. For another moment Napoleon thought about his adored big brother, and wished that he could talk to him, find out what had gone wrong. Then, as he reached his bedroom door, the reality of what was waiting for him pushed aside all else. His Companion. At last. No more solitary nights staring at the ceiling and conjuring up imaginary bed partners as he brought himself to completion. No more would he be regarded as, treated as, a mere youth when he went abroad. He was a man now, and a man needed to learn to command others. Other men. Of course this stranger was not a man yet, nor would he ever be in the sense that Napoleon was. Companions were young, then they were too old. Once too old they became servants only. But that was the last thing on Napoleon's mind right now. Alive with anticipation, he pushed open his door.

The boy - for a boy he was by law and boy he always would be called, even when his hair had grayed in some master's service - was chained to the bed, kneeling beside it, His hands were cuffed in front of him. A collar circled his neck, and a short length of chain, so short that he could neither stand nor sit, connected it to the bedpost. Napoleon stopped, disconcerted. The cuffs were thick and padded so as not to cause injury, but the discomfort of the position was obvious. He recoiled when Napoleon entered, already pale face going whiter still, eyes enormous. And, when Napoleon only stood there staring at him, his lips trembled. But he didn't speak. He wouldn't speak first, he would never speak first.

What Napoleon had been expecting he wasn't sure - some painted courtesan lounging on his mattress in a tempting pose? A savage, feral being, visibly alien? Whatever it was, it hadn't been this ... this weary looking, frightened youth. It hurt him, and he moved forward quickly, hand outstretched. The boy flinched, but his chin went up in a pathetic attempt at bravado. "I won't hurt you," Napoleon said, and as he said it he knew it for truth. He would not harm his property. He wouldn't spank him, or shake him, choke him or push anything besides his own self up inside him. He wouldn't do any of the things he had heard his older friends talk about. Because ... because he didn't want to. He found no pleasure in the visible fear - quite the contrary. The excitement he had felt on opening his door was gone in the face of it. "I am not a cruel man." The sentence slotted itself neatly into his mind, into his view of himself. His father was right. He would learn more about himself from this experience than he ever had before. He was not a cruel man. He was not a bully, nor a brute. It was good to know. "Where is the key to your chains?"

"It is on your table, my lord." He inclined his head towards Napoleon's bedside table. Sure enough, a key lay there. Napoleon picked it up, leaned over and unlocked first the collar, then the cuffs. At the same time he was appreciating the accent. It was light, there would be no difficulty understanding him, but it was pleasing to the ears. He smiled.

"Is that better?"

"Yes, my lord. Thank you, my lord." But he didn't rise, didn't rub his wrists although they were reddened and chapped looking.

Start as you mean to go on, his instructors had said. "Stand up," he ordered. "Let me look at you."

Without a word the boy came to his feet, hands still clasped loosely before him. Napoleon studied him, and was satisfied. His father had indeed chosen well. His Companion was blond, hair catching the overhead lights. Neither too long, nor overly short, it brushed those slim shoulders in the back and feathered over his ears. Deep bangs shaded wide blue eyes, which were fixed on Napoleon's face with a gravity that tugged at Napoleon's heartstrings. No shrieks and giggles would come from this one. That mouth - sweetly curved, with a lower lip that looked made for biting - was firm too, and set as if its owner were facing some onerous task. Well, Napoleon supposed that he was.

His body was slim and fine boned, but the way he had come to his feet without reaching out a hand spoke of strength as well as grace. His skin was fair, very fair, face flushing now under Napoleon's continued scrutiny. He walked around, appreciating the straight back, narrow hips. Napoleon put both hands on them, then slid them lower. The Other didn't flinch under Napoleon's touch, merely waited for whatever would come next.

Napoleon came back around. The blue eyes were lowered now, giving him an excellent opportunity to see and appreciate the long golden lashes, just a shade darker than his hair. Napoleon studied him some more, thinking of all the things he had learned about the Others. More animal than man, he had been taught. Vicious, savage brutes. But this one didn't seem brutish. Captured young, Napoleon supposed, and trained rigorously. Still, it was something to think about, something to bear in mind. "You have no reason to fear," he said finally. "You are under my protection now, and if you serve me well I will treat you well. Yes?"

"Yes, my lord."

"I have schoolwork to complete. I do not wish to be distracted while I do so. There is your mat." He indicated it, on the floor in the corner. There was a small pillow, and a blanket on top. "You may sit there and rest from your journey while I work. When I am finished I will want a bath. Do you understand what I am saying to you?"

"Yes, my lord."

"You have no difficulty with my language?"

"No, my lord."

"Very well." He pulled out his desk chair, sat down, and began going over his notes from the day's class. At first he was only pretending, unaccustomed to feeling under observation. But within a few minutes, when he glanced up, as if casually, the Other was seated cross legged on his mat, regarding the fireplace with apparent interest. Well, good. He had the ability to remain silent and that was good. Chatter and constant attempts to amuse him would only irritate Napoleon, and he supposed his father knew that about him. Yes, his father had chosen well. He would thank him again in the morning.

At some point he became absorbed in what he was doing, and it was over two hours later that he stretched, put down his stylus and turned off his viewer. He heard a rustle of movement behind him, and when he turned his Companion was disappearing into the bathroom. In a moment the sound of the hot water tap came to Napoleon's ears, and he smiled. Yes, this was good. It was good to be a man, and a man of his status. It was worth all the effort it took to maintain that status, when moments like this one were his reward.

His new possession washed his back, using the brush, making circles that both soothed and aroused. Napoleon did nothing himself, just sat chest deep in hot water and let himself be cleaned. A man in his place was to be served. He was being served. It was good, when everything was neatly in order like that. How had people managed in the Bad Times, when anyone felt he could do anything ... and had to compete with women to boot? No wonder they drugged, and fought, and robbed, and killed. No wonder they warred one against the other. No more.

"Your hair, my lord?" his Companion asked and he nodded, having to bite his tongue to keep from groaning aloud with pleasure as strong fingers worked shampoo through it. He tipped his head back for the rinse water, then rose, stepped out of the tub. Then he was dried, and he stood there and thought ... every night. Every night after my studies I will have a bath, and he will wait on me. And then ... Napoleon looked down at that bent blond head and smiled. Begin as you mean to go on.

"Use your mouth," he said, because he had never had that, and it seemed a good place to start. Not too demanding, nothing for him to do but ... he sat down abruptly, on the cushioned heated chair provided as that warm, wet mouth surrounded his cock; surrounded it, licked it, sucked it. This chair, which he had always and only used to sit in while he dried his feet, would now be a place of pleasure for him - one of the places of pleasure. Much pleasure lay ahead. He tried to hold back, but couldn't, and came explosively into that hot mouth which didn't falter or try to withdraw, but sucked him hard, drawing the seed from him until he was finished. Then the warm tongue swirled around the shaft, bathed the head, and withdrew. Napoleon panted. He felt he should say something now, but wasn't sure what.

"Well done," he managed finally and his Companion looked up at him, blue eyes wide.

"Thank you, my lord."

"You may retire," he said abruptly because he himself was tired and wanted to sleep. Relief washed over the Other's face, and Napoleon saw suddenly that he dreaded what else might come, and that this was an unexpected and very welcome reprieve. "I will not harm you," Napoleon said again, and reached out, stroked his hair very lightly. "You need not fear me - or anything I may desire of you - so long as you obey me." He added that last because he didn't want to appear weak, didn't want this boy to begin seeking ways to take advantage of him.

"Oh I will, my lord. I will obey you. What else is there for me to do?"

What kind of a question was that? Napoleon frowned at him, but the blue eyes were guileless. Still, there had been something ... "Nothing else," he said sharply. "Remember that."

"Yes, my lord." The lashes were lowered again. "I remember."

"See that you do."

This was a good way to fall asleep. Instead of lying awake, restless, mind going over the events of the day, a sweet lassitude was pulling him down. Next time he would do it - whatever it was - in bed. Then all he would have to do was send the Other to his mat and roll over. Napoleon yawned, and pulled the covers tighter. The heat was reduced to a minimum for sleep but his bed was warm, and soft ... he yawned again, and fell asleep.

It was the noise that woke him. A rattling, or a clicking ... he lay there and stared at the ceiling. What was it? He propped himself up on one elbow and looked around the darkened room, shivering at the chill. He could see nothing out of the ordinary and now, damn, he had to piss. Wincing at the cold floor he made his way to the bathroom, used the toilet and came out. His eyes fell on the bundle on the floor that was his Companion, and realized that that was where the sound was coming from. What on earth was he doing? Napoleon leaned closer. Asleep, for certain, because if he was awake and heard Napoleon moving about he would sit up, signaling his willingness to offer assistance, or service. But he only lay there, drawn tightly in on himself, blanket wrapped around him, teeth chattering with cold.

Oh. Napoleon climbed back into bed and turned over, trying to ignore the sound. But he couldn't. His conscience smote him, and he tried to argue with it. All Companions slept on a similar mat, and many didn't even have a blanket or a pillow. It was no concern of his if this one was cold, and in fact he could be angry at having his sleep disturbed. But none of those thoughts rang true and finally he leaned far over, and poked the huddled shoulders.

"Boy." And did he have a name? He must. Of course Napoleon could assign him one - his brother's Companion's name had been unpronounceable, so Charles had called her Honey "because she's a sweet succulent little treat" he had said, laughing. But right now Napoleon's imagination was being singularly unhelpful. "Boy."

"My lord?" The boy sat up, rubbing his eyes. It was a childish gesture, and it softened Napoleon still more.

"You may come in with me." He lifted the covers to indicate what he meant, at the same time wondering how wise this was. An Other, in his bed while he slept ... but it was too late to take his words back now.

Without a word his Companion rose, crossed to the bed and slipped under the covers. Napoleon turned over, back to him. "Do not disturb my sleep," he said shortly.

"N - no, my lord. I will not." He was lying very still except for the shivering he probably couldn't control. Napoleon lay there, feigning sleep because it seemed the fastest route to real sleep, and after a few minutes heard a sigh. He turned a little.

"Are you well?"

"Yes, my lord. Thank you, my lord. Thank you very much," he added in a sudden burst. "It is so kind ... thank you."

"No need to thank me," Napoleon said gruffly. "It is cold in here, and you are warm. Between us, it is tolerable under the covers." It was more than tolerable, it was comfortable; warm, and peaceful, and ... his thoughts were disconnecting from one another now, and his last conscious awareness was of the Other pressing closer, and with that warmth against his back Napoleon fell asleep.

He woke to a consciousness of content, a warm sleepy feeling of good will that seemed to radiate out from the warmth at his back. Napoleon stretched, rolled over and pulled that lithe body close. In this early morning half wakefulness his desires were clear cut. No questions of how it appeared, of how it would clarify or confuse his position, arose. He wanted to be on top, he wanted to move ... he rolled over, covering him, pressing him into the mattress and moved against him. It felt good. Oh, it felt so good ... he groaned into that soft, sweet smelling hair and moved faster. The Other cooperated, hips arching to press them more tightly together and when Napoleon nudged at his thighs with one knee he opened them, allowing Napoleon to get even closer, his movements approaching frenzy now and then there was release. He cried aloud, getting his face into the pillow to smother the sound as his body pumped its seed against his Companion's groin, and then he collapsed. He felt hands stroke his back, the light caresses just what he wanted now. He turned his head, and kissed the smooth cheek to indicate that. The boy turned his head too, and their lips met briefly. Then Napoleon pushed himself off and fell onto his back, panting.

His pajamas were sticky. It was an unpleasant sensation and he plucked at them. His Companion rose without being bidden, and disappeared into the bathroom. In a moment he was back and easing Napoleon's pajama bottoms down and off, washing him with a warm wet cloth. Napoleon caught his wrist. "Enough," he said. "The house servants will change the sheets. That is not your job." No, it wasn't. It didn't have to be. There were house servants aplenty, his Companion was for his private use alone. It was a luxury, but he could afford it. "I will bathe," he announced. "You may come in with me."

No one was wealthy enough to waste water. In the Bad Times there had been showers. Napoleon had read about them, and wondered at the prodigality of water pouring down, pouring and pouring into the drain. It would feel good, no question, but he was content enough to stand in the ankle deep water and allow himself to be cleaned again. The boy washed himself afterwards, while Napoleon was dressing, and then Napoleon stood and frowned at him.

"Are you hungry?" he asked abruptly and realized the foolishness of the question as he asked it. Of course he would be hungry. He had eaten no dinner, and if he himself was now ready for his breakfast, then this Other was too. And that reminded him. "What is your name?"

"Illya," the boy returned. "My name is Illya."

"Illya," Napoleon repeated. It sounded like a name of the Others. But it suited his new possession, suited him well. "I will use it. And I will have breakfast brought up to you. I am quite sure there are clothes to fit you here somewhere?" His father would have seen to all of that. His Companion was to accompany him wherever he went, and today, as every day, he was going to school. The Other ... Illya ... was nodding.

"Yes, my lord." He indicated a coat rack with three garments hanging from it. Napoleon went over and inspected them. A rough shirt and pants for work, one respectable tunic with trousers for school, and another set, well made and finely wrought, for dressier occasions. His father had done well.

"After you eat put this on," he said, tossing the middle range garments onto a chair. "You will come with me to classes today."

"Yes, my lord."

Napoleon ate heartily and his father, who had been watching him closely, snorted. "You have a good appetite this morning, my son."

"Yes sir. Thank you sir." Napoleon put down his fork and leaned forward. "Thank you," he repeated earnestly. "You were very generous."

"So he suits you?"

"Yes, sir."

"And you remembered your instruction?"

"Yes sir. I began as I mean to go on. You may rely on me." He meant it. Whatever mysterious offense Charles had committed he, Napoleon Solo, would not do likewise. He would keep his family's place, he would do his duty, he would in all respects begin as he meant to go on. He father grunted.

"See that you do. I do not wish to be disappointed in my sons again."

"No sir."

"I will not interfere with you and your Companion. I will say nothing. You will reap what you sow. If you are overly indulgent, or overly brutal, you will not be served as well as could be desired. To err in either direction is counterproductive. But I will say nothing."

"Yes sir." Napoleon finished eating, and went upstairs to dress.

Illya was already dressed, and the navy shirt and pants made his eyes look even bluer. Napoleon smiled at him. "Well? Are you ready?"

"Yes, my lord."

"Have you eaten?"

"Yes, my lord. Thank you, my lord."

"Was it sufficient?" Food was not scarce in the Solo household, and even the servants should have plenty.

"Yes, my lord." There was a faint hesitation, and Napoleon cocked an eyebrow at him, then dismissed it.

"Very well. Here is my bag." He handed Illya his satchel full of books and they left, Illya following at his heels.

At school Napoleon's friends were all gathered outside and at sight of him they waved him over. Napoleon went, aware of their curiosity and more than ready to satisfy it. "A boy!" Gordon stared at Illya, who stood with eyes downcast as was proper. "I thought for sure your father would give you a woman! Charles had -"

"Yes, Charles did. And I have something different."

"He sure is!" Steve walked around Illya, staring up and down. "Is he good?"

"He is very well trained," Napoleon returned, using his father's own words but unable to resist a small grin at the memory of just how well trained Illya - and how easy it was to use the name, how much it lessened the feeling of Otherness - was.

"He must have cost a fortune," Larry said, and an awkward silence fell. Speculating on the cost of any possession was ill bred, and Napoleon ignored the statement. Larry's family was not on a level with his, and comments like this one only proved it.

"Can I borrow him?" Gordon asked. "I'll be careful with him. I just want ... hey boy, look at me," he ordered sharply and Illya did. "They say the sky used to be that color," Gordon added. "In the viewers that's just how it looks. Well? You can use my island girl if you want. We can trade out for a weekend."

Napoleon almost said yes. An island girl - that would be different. Charles's Companion had been an island girl, and a juicier package it was hard to picture. And there was nothing untoward in Gordon's suggestion - Companions were often exchanged for a night, a weekend or longer. But a sudden picture of the relief in Illya's eyes when it had become evident that nothing beyond oral sex would be required of him last night, combined with something in Gordon's voice - "I spank her," he had said - made Napoleon shake his head.

"No. I will not be lending him out or sharing him around."

"Why ever not?" This from Larry, who at the same time reached out to catch Illya's shoulder. It was another breach of manners, true, but the anger that flared in Napoleon was out of proportion to the cause. He knocked Larry's hand away more roughly than was correct.

"Because I say so." His voice was hard. "And I do not have to explain myself to you."

"You're not going to be possessive, are you?" Gordon complained. "Because you know, that is not of the Law."

"He is my possession and I will do as I like with him," Napoleon answered harshly. "That is the Law. And what I like is to keep him under my eye."

"Under more than that," Aalen said, and laughed. Aalen, always uneasy with confrontation, always trying to defuse situations with a joke. Napoleon laughed too, grateful for the distraction.

"Under more than that," he agreed, and started for the door. Illya followed and, when they reached the classroom and Napoleon turned to take his satchel, he caught an odd expression on his face. It was impossible to decipher, but it wasn't the smooth mask either and Napoleon gave him a very hard look. For one moment Illya's eyes met his, and they were as unreadable as his face had been. Then he bent his head and went to the row of seats in the back of the room, to take his place with the other Companions.

Napoleon found it hard to concentrate on the lecture. The teacher talked fast, writing notes on the board with lightning speed and Napoleon, after several attempts to keep up, found himself hopelessly behind. His thoughts kept returning to last night, to this morning, to the coming night. He would insist on it all tonight. He would claim what was his, he would take it and he would sink inside that tight hot ... he became aware that the teacher was scowling at the back row. Whispers and giggles had continued throughout the lesson, and Mr. Morton had had enough.

"Silence back there!" he bellowed. "Else I will put you out of the room and you can wait outside!" Along with the rest of the class Napoleon turned. There were three boys and six girls sitting back there, and the girls were leaning together. It was from them the muffled laughter had come. The other two boys were leaning back against the wall looking sleepy. And Illya was staring at the board, gaze fixed and intent. Napoleon was pleased. His Companion was not disrupting class, nor did he sit slack jawed like a fool. He appeared compliant and well bred, and was in no way drawing attention to himself. His father had indeed chosen wisely. Silence had fallen, and everyone turned back around to resume the lesson. But within five minutes another stifled burst of merriment came from the clustered girls and Mr. Morton extended his arm, pointing towards the door.

"Out!" He snapped. "Out, all of you! And I hope your masters beat you thoroughly tonight, each and every one of you!"

Napoleon had turned again and saw a flash of disappointment cross Illya's face as he rose. The girls seemed pleased rather than otherwise at this permission to gather outside and talk as much as they liked, and the other two boys also looked relieved. But Illya... was he worried about the threatened beating? Well, he needn't be. His behavior had been perfectly correct. Napoleon would tell him so as soon as class was dismissed.

"You were not at fault," he said as they walked down the street. He didn't look behind him, so when he received no answer he pitched his tone louder. "I said, you were not at fault today. Do not fear that I shall beat you, as Mr. Morton suggested."

"No, my lord."

"You seemed sorry to be told to leave. I didn't want you to worry."

"You are very kind, my lord."

"Have I set your mind at ease?"

"Yes, my lord."

Nothing more was said. As they walked in the door the good smells of dinner made Napoleon's stomach growl. The housekeeper, Miss Giraud, met them there. She had been with Napoleon's father for many years, even before he had met and signed the contract with Napoleon and Charles's mother. That had been a five year contract, and not renewed. Napoleon had no idea what had happened to her. Miss Giraud had been the closest thing to a mother he had known, and in that he was more fortunate than his friends. Women usually weren't around for very long.

"Your father will not be home this evening," she announced. "I took the liberty of setting up dinner before the fire in the library. Does that please you, my lord?"

"Yes it does," Napoleon said, handing her his coat. It did. In the less formal setting of the library, with dinner set out on the big table for him to pick and choose as he liked, Illya could eat with him. He didn't know why that should please him, but it did.

At the buffet table Napoleon loaded down his plate with all his favorites, then handed an empty one to Illya. "Help yourself," he said, trying for off handedness. "It is only the two of us this evening." He settled himself in a big wing chair by the fire and rubbed his hands in front of it. After a moment he became aware that Illya was still standing awkwardly by the table, holding the empty plate. Napoleon lifted an eyebrow at him.

"Did you not understand me? I said ..."

"I understand you. But I don't ... what is for me? I don't want to take the wrong thing ... take too much ... offend you." He was trembling. "I'm sorry, I don't ..." the calm exterior had deserted him and Napoleon realized again what an enormous strain this transition must be. He rose.

"It's all right," he said quietly. "Here." He took the empty plate from Illya's hands and replaced it with his own still untouched one. "Take this. Sit there, by the fire. You're freezing." It seemed as good a reason to give as any for the shaking hands, the bluish lips. He didn't want to cause shame by referring to the fear so openly on display, not when he usually strove so hard to conceal it. "I am not offended. I understand. You are not sure what is expected, and you do not wish to anger me - me, in whose hands your life now rests. I understand perfectly. Go sit down and eat. That is what I wish from you now. Nothing more."

Obediently Illya took the steaming plate and sat where indicated. He didn't touch the food, however; waiting until Napoleon had gotten himself another helping and settled back in his wingchair. He still waited, until Napoleon had taken his first bite, and then he tore into his own dinner.

It was shocking. He ate with speed and dispatch - with perfect manners but with what was plainly a ravenous hunger. Before Napoleon was a fourth of the way through his own meal - with the usual hearty appetite of any twenty year old - Illya had finished his. Pretending not to notice, Napoleon murmured "You may have more, if you like. Any leftovers will no doubt be wasted."

"Really?" The incredulous tone made Napoleon look up. Illya flushed. "I mean thank you, my lord. I ... really? I can have more?"

Napoleon thought with sudden clarity of his lunch break, when he had sat in the cafeteria at school and eaten his fill. What had Illya had? Nothing. He hadn't thought to ask Miss Giraud to pack him a meal, so he had had nothing. And how much breakfast had actually been brought up to him? Well, this would not happen again. He rang for Miss Giraud.

Illya had returned to the buffet and Napoleon watched him fill his plate. He took exactly what he had had before, very carefully choosing as Napoleon had chosen, then given away.

"Yes my lord?" Miss Giraud stood beside the library door.

Napoleon indicated Illya, who was returning to his seat. "This is my new Companion, Illya. I wish a lunch to be packed for him every day. I wish his breakfast to be brought to him in the morning as I come down for mine. If I am dining with my father, I wish his dinner to be brought to him. I want his meals to be the same as the family's, and I want the portions to be more than sufficient. Am I clear?"

"Yes, my lord." Miss Giraud appraised Illya, who lowered his head under her scrutiny. "Don't fear, Master Solo, we'll put some meat on those bones for you." Then she crossed the room and put her hand on Illya's blond head. "Don't look so troubled," she said softly. "You've come to a good household. So long as you serve well, you will be treated well. I've known Master Solo since he was far younger than you are now, and there is not a cruel bone in his body. He was always a likely lad, and he's grown into a fair man. And you needn't wait for mealtimes. Let me know any time you want to eat, any time at all, and I'll fix you something." She didn't wait for an answer but patted his head, and left the room.

Napoleon frowned a little. He wasn't at all sure that she hadn't just stepped out of her place with that speech. It certainly didn't seem proper for her to be discussing his or his family's character with this foreigner so newly arrived. But she had meant well, he decided, and now he could put the matter of Illya's meals right out of his mind, which was good because it wasn't his place, either, to be worrying about domestic details.

Damn. Napoleon scowled at his homework. To answer the questions posed, he had to have kept up with the lecture today, and he hadn't. Pure and simple. He'd hoped that most of the homework would come from the text, but it didn't. He should have listened, but he had been thinking of other things - his Companion, mostly - and now he couldn't finish his work. Couldn't start it. Couldn't do any of it. Would get a failing mark and have to face his father's disappointment with him. Damn.

A faint rustle from behind him made him turn. Illya had risen from the mat and was walking towards the bathroom. He stopped when he caught Napoleon's eye, and paled.

"Your movements disturb me," Napoleon said through gritted teeth.

"I am sorry, my lord. But you said ..." he paled further, and bit his lip. "I am sorry."

He had said his Companion could use the bathroom whenever he needed to, without asking permission. Despite his irritation Napoleon knew he was being unfair, so he ground his teeth harder and waved a dismissive hand towards the bathroom. Without another word Illya went in and closed the door. Napoleon turned back to his paper. But after another moment he shoved it aside. He could stare at it till hell froze over and it wouldn't help. Besides, there were other things he could be doing - more interesting things. He dropped his robe.

When Illya emerged he looked at Napoleon, naked, fully erect, and, folding his hands in front of him, bent his head. "I await your pleasure, my lord."

"Lie down," Napoleon said. He'd been thinking of this act all day, when he should have been listening to his instructor. He might as well get the benefit of it. "On your ... yes, like that." Illya had stretched out on his stomach, legs spread, and the sight of him made Napoleon so hard he thought he would explode. Walking over to the bed he sat down and pushed Illya's legs open further before lying down on top.

It was incredibly arousing to be there, his weight pressing Illya into the mattress, the feel of those hard muscles, soft skin, under him. He gripped himself with one hand , probed for the entrance with the other. Oh, it was tight. Tight, and ... he began to push in ... hot. Hot, and tight and this was what he was made for, what his cock was made for. He was a man, and a man was made to take. And he would take, take what was his.

But carefully. He was as slow and as careful as he could be, feeling the resistance of the other's body despite the submission of his posture. It would hurt if he went too fast and too hard, it would have to hurt so he was as gentle as possible until the final frenzy descended on him. Then there was thrusting and panting and sweating, and finally he collapsed, groaning aloud, feeling gratitude whether he should or no. And he shouldn't, because this was Illya's duty, but he was grateful anyway. He rolled off and looked into his Companion's face. It was tight with pain. A lot of pain. Damn.

Napoleon opened his mouth, not even sure what would come out. "Are you all right?" Why would he ask that? Illya was breathing, wasn't he? Not bleeding, or weeping ... he leaned closer to be sure, but the blue eyes were dry.

"Yes, my lord."

"I wish it hadn't hurt you." Because he had promised, hadn't he, not to do that. He had promised.

Illya shrugged. "You tried not to," he offered, as if it were he giving comfort instead of the other way around. "I felt you trying. No one ever tried before. I am grateful."

So if they were both grateful, why did he feel so lousy? Why should he feel lousy? He had only done what he had every right to do, carried out the act that was fitting for his place, and his Companion's place too. "I didn't want to hurt you."

"I know." Those eyes looked very old, suddenly. "You couldn't help it. It's the way it is. It hurts. It has to."

Did it have to? Napoleon frowned. He wished suddenly that Charles was still here. He could ask Charles about it. He could always ask Charles anything.

"Did you enjoy it, my lord?"

"I did, yes."

"I am glad." And Napoleon got a smile, a small one, but genuine. "You have been very kind to me. I am glad I could give you pleasure. And it didn't hurt that much. It's been worse."

"Be that as it may," Napoleon said shortly because he was moved, almost unbearably moved, and even worse he wanted to draw Illya into his arms, comfort him for the pain he hadn't intended to inflict, hold him and stroke his hair and none of that was fitting, was it? Had Charles embraced Honey afterwards? There had been laughter, he had heard that much through the wall - laughter from both of them. And the girl at that long ago party - she had laughed too. Was it so different for a woman? Was there no way to carry out this other act without causing pain? He would call Charles, he resolved. His father didn't want him to, but he could borrow a friend's compatch and his father would never know. He would call Charles tomorrow at college and ask him. So resolved, he rolled over and sat up. His homework still lay on the desk, and he groaned.

"My lord? Is something wrong?"

"Nothing that need concern you. I am unable to finish my school work because I was not listening attentively, as I should have been."


Because he couldn't just give up, because maybe he could bluff this through, Napoleon went over to the desk, seated himself and scowled at the paper. The sex had been a brief - and very welcome - reprieve, but now the empty page mocked him. "Our new history began with ..." he stopped. He had an idea, certainly, but the teacher would want his own words parroted back to him as if he hadn't been speaking too fast, as if he had paused long enough for someone to catch up. "Began with -"

"Climate change brought on by an overuse of fossil fuels and an overabundance of internal combustion engines," Illya said, and if the painting on the wall had started speaking Napoleon wouldn't have been more startled. He spun about.

"What? What did you say?"

"Despite decades of warnings, it was not until the seas began to rise and personal air filters became necessary that -" Illya stopped at the look on Napoleon's face. "I am sorry, my lord. I was only trying to help."

"How the devil do you know that?" Napoleon asked softly, but at the same time he saw his Companion, watching the teacher with that fixed, attentive gaze, and saw too the disappointment on his face when told to leave. "You were listening? To the instructor? Why?"

"I had to leave school when ... and I hate being stupid!" Those last words came in a burst. "I hate not knowing anything! So when I can I read, and I listen. I have a good memory, I remember everything I hear and everything I read and I want to learn! I know I'm not supposed to," he added, voice subdued. "I'm sorry. I won't do it again ..." and his voice broke, as he promised away his future education in order to defuse Napoleon's anger.

But Napoleon wasn't angry. He was stupefied. He had never thought, no never once thought, of anyone in a lower place wanting to learn. Wanting to ... to improve himself. Because that was what had caused all the problems in the world, wasn't it? People not keeping their place, people trying to change what they were born to be.

But on the other hand, Illya was of noble family. Napoleon's own father had said so. Before his country had been destroyed by war, his place would have been similar to Napoleon's own. Armies and weapons had battled, and one army and one set of weapons had overcome the other, but that wouldn't have changed Illya's nature, would it. His current station in life, as a Companion, as lower than a servant, had been imposed on him but his mind was still that of a ... Napoleon struggled with the concept. There were flaws in his thinking, he was sure, because otherwise ... well, otherwise it wouldn't be fair. It wouldn't be right. And his society was always fair, was always right. His father was always right. Moreover Illya was Other, and how could a family of the Others be noble, as Napoleon understood it? No. This boy was a servant and needed to remain one. Any attempt to change that was wrong. Wrong, and should be punished. He should be punished now. He should ... Napoleon refocused on Illya, right in front of him, and looked into his eyes. They looked back at him and he couldn't read one thing in them. There was no sign of fear, or of a consciousness of wrongdoing. There was no defiance, either, or anger. They were blue, and beautiful, and completely opaque. Napoleon reached out, and Illya didn't flinch. Gently, Napoleon laid the back of his hand against that young face, feeling how smooth his skin was, how soft.

"You remember everything you heard today?"

"Yes, my lord."

"Tell it to me, then, so I can finish this and go to bed."

"Yes, my lord." And Illya proceeded to repeat the entire lesson, up to the point where the Companions had been expelled. Napoleon wrote, and thought, and when he had finished the assignment he had come to no grand conclusions about his society and its rules and its laws, but he had decided that a mind like this, even one of the Others, shouldn't be starved of learning, and that he would be sure that Illya was permitted to remain in class until the end from here on.

It took three days to get through to Charles. Napoleon didn't understand why it was so difficult; why Charles's roommate faltered and stumbled and promised to get back to him - and didn't - and why the registrar at the school was downright rude until Napoleon threatened to report him, and why their great uncle, who lived in the Dome where Charles's college was located, wouldn't even take his calls. Napoleon zeroed in on the roommate, and called him several times a day, pretending to accept what were obviously excuses - Charles was asleep, with his tutor, in class, on a trip - promising to try again, and keeping his promise. He bought a compatch of his own, and registered it in his own name instead of his father's. Being twenty had its privileges, and this was one of them. He didn't leave his new number with the registrar or his great uncle's housekeeper, but he did leave it with the roommate

While he waited, he and his new Companion grew accustomed to one another. Napoleon was no longer startled to look over in class and see him, sitting in his new place right beside Napoleon, although cross legged on the floor and not at a desk, certainly not. Those wide eyes were always fixed attentively on the teacher. It was helpful, for Napoleon no longer tried to keep up with his professor's rapid fire lecture style. It was as good as having a recorder turned on, because Illya would give him the lecture verbatim later, and if he had formed opinions about anything he heard - much of which was about the Others and their despicable practices - he never indicated it by so much as a flicker of an eyelash.

Every night after Napoleon finished his homework he bathed, and Illya washed his back and hair for him, poured clean water over him, dried him off and then either went down on his knees to take Napoleon in his mouth, or Napoleon lay down on top of him and moved against him. Sometimes Illya used his hands, those surprisingly large, wonderfully capable hands and that was good too. It was wonderful being taken care of like this, it was wonderful to have such regular and satisfying sex, and as his father had promised, his new Companion never disgraced him when they were out and about together. Illya accompanied him wherever he went, always behaving appropriately and using those flawless manners that had, along with his other attributes, cost Napoleon's father so very much.

Napoleon hadn't tried penetration again. He wanted to, could remember clearly how hot and tight that entrance had been, how good it had felt, but whenever he thought about it he thought too of the pain it had caused, and his member shrank from it as his heart did. It shamed him, because it seemed unmanly, but he enjoyed the other ways too, and so they went on in this way together.

He brought Illya into bed with him every night as well. It was pleasant to feel that warm pressure against his back that said he wasn't alone. He had never fully realized how alone he was, until he wasn't. And sometimes he lay there and pondered the mystery of their relationship, and of Illya's current place in his life, so at odds with his birth and lineage. And he pondered the issue of himself, of his character, as he was beginning to understand it.

He was not cruel, but he was possessive. He was ... clearly ... a little radical in his thinking, to allow Illya an education. He had not suspected this last about himself, and it caused him some uneasy moments. Either his Companion was worthy of being taught - and he wasn't, because he was a servant, lower than a servant - or he wasn't. But he was, because he was intelligent and quick and ... and fine. There was no lewdness or coarseness in him as Napoleon had seen in other male servants - in fact his quiet elegance of manner surpassed many of Napoleon's own schoolmates. But how could that be? How could one of the Others seem superior in any way to Napoleon's own kind? How to reconcile this conundrum? And should he even try? It seemed that, in questioning this one boy's place he was questioning the basic tenets of his society, and that was unthinkable. Look where it led. It led to violence and rioting and robbery and murder and arson and the destruction of the planet. Because of those past errors, mankind was now limited to certain small areas of the earth that were enclosed in climate controlled Domes, and the remainder of what had once been man's vast domain was a lethal wilderness. It was wrong to question. It was wrong to think the way he had been thinking. And yet ... and yet when he looked into those blue eyes with their fathomless depths, he did question.

Charles called three days into Napoleon's campaign to reach him. At the sound of that familiar voice on his compatch Napoleon dropped the armload of books he had been carrying home from school. Barely noticing Illya hastily retrieving them, he leaned against a wall. "Charles!"

"Are you alone?"

"Yes. Well, my Companion is here, but ..."

"Where is her loyalty? To Father?"

"It's a he," Napoleon said stupidly, because he didn't understand the question. What did Charles mean? His Companion's loyalty wasn't divided, was it? To his father, to him, wasn't that one and the same?

"A male?" The surprise in Charles's voice was evident. "Father bought you a male Companion?"

"Yes. He said ..." Napoleon coughed. "He said he wanted me to become accustomed to leading men, commanding them, not ..."

"Ah. Not following them into error like your older brother?" And, when Napoleon said nothing, Charles laughed. It wasn't a bitter laugh, or a remorseful one. It was the full, rich sound of a man enjoying himself. "Ah, Napoleon. It is good to hear your voice. I didn't want to cause trouble by calling you at home. But you have your own compatch?"

"Yes. What's going on, Charles? Father won't talk about you - won't even hear your name mentioned. The school said - and your roommate - and Uncle Daniel won't take my calls."

"It is nothing," Charles said. "A difference of opinion, that is all. But I regretted losing touch with you, little brother. It won't happen again, so long as you keep this number."

"I will. I've missed you, Charles. There are many questions I wish I could ask you."

"Ask away."

"It's about my Companion. Illya." Then Napoleon looked at him, standing there with his arms full of Napoleon's books. "Fetch me a coffee from the shop on the corner," he ordered. "Here." He handed over his token.

"Yes, my lord."

"You may get yourself a drink too."

"Thank you, my lord." Napoleon watched him walk away, and turned back to his conversation. But Charles spoke first.

"You are indulgent, little brother. Is that no longer frowned upon?"

He was indulgent. The word slotted into place along with the others. Kind, possessive, radical ... indulgent. "It is. And I suppose that I am. It is difficult not to be. You were," he added defensively, because Charles had been. Napoleon remembered well enough Charles buying Honey a warm wrap when winter came, popping treats into her mouth at the table, taking her into the first class car with him when they traveled.

"So I was," Charles agreed. "And you see where that led me."

"No, I don't see. I don't see at all."

"I suppose not. What did you want to ask me?"

And his questions were too dangerous after all. How could he say out loud that Illya learned lessons along with him and he permitted it? If anyone suspected, they might take Illya from him, sell him to someone who would not be kind, who would not be indulgent. "When I had sex with him it hurt him," he blurted, because it was the safest question he had. "Inside. You know."

"I see."

"Does it have to hurt? I know it's different with a woman, but did you ever do that ... the other? With Honey? And did it hurt her? He says - he said it always hurts, that it has to. I tried not to, but it did. I ..." he flushed because this was a shameful admission, but if he couldn't confess his shame to Charles who else was there? "I haven't done it since."

"You are kind, Napoleon. I have always thought so. Kindness is not a weakness, whatever you have been taught. It is a luxury, and one only the strong can afford."

Napoleon flushed again. "Thank you."

"Yes, I have done that - with Honey, and others -"

"Others! But that is not allowed until ... unless you've signed a Contract? Without Father's consent? Or has he consented and not told me?"

"Yes, others. No, it is not allowed. And no, I've not signed a Contract. Napoleon, there are many things I cannot share with you. But I can tell you how to have anal intercourse with your Companion without hurting him - indeed, with mutual pleasure."

"Mutual? You mean - for him too? Pleasure for him? Why -" But Napoleon remembered hearing Honey's shrieks and giggles, and fell silent.

"It is better that way," Charles said. "Better for you. If he is aroused, he will be more relaxed, and you can penetrate deeper. If you can get deep enough, he will experience sensations that will set him aflame. He will respond, and you will enjoy it even more. Take the time to bring him with you on the journey to pleasure. It will be worth it. You will see."

"Um, all right. I don't know what ..."

"He is no different from you, Napoleon. What you like, he will like. And that will increase your pleasure - especially since you say you are concerned with his comfort."

"I can't do to him what he does for me!" The picture that had flashed into Napoleon's mind was Illya's bent head, Illya's hot mouth. "It wouldn't be right!"

"No? Well, that may be so. But there must be things that you could do without loss of your dignity. I'm not going to draw you a diagram here, little brother. Just search out his pleasure, within your own sense of propriety, and see if that does not help matters."

"All right." Could Illya even feel pleasure? Did Others feel pleasure? How surprised he would be, if Napoleon ... if Napoleon touched him, slid his hands up the insides of his thighs and ... and damn if he wasn't hardening. He adjusted his clothing, face hot.

"And one more tip. Find some sort of cream to make it easier. Any ointment will do. The lotion made for softening the hands will be perfectly adequate and can be purchased at any outlet. Apply it before you enter him."

"Oh." He hadn't expected such blunt instructions, and had to adjust his clothes again.

"You cannot call me, Napoleon. But I will call you again. I am glad that you are reaching out to me. I have missed you."

"I miss you too. I wish I understood why Father won't talk about you - or why you never come home anymore."

"I will explain it to you at some point."


"Yes. I promise. Take care, little brother."

"You too, Charles. Take care of yourself."

Again that rich laugh. "Oh, I do, Napoleon. You may rest assured of that." He disconnected and Napoleon stood for a moment, going over the conversation in his mind. When he turned his head Illya was beside him, holding two cups of coffee. Napoleon took his, then he took the other as well. "Go into the outlet store behind you and purchase a new tube of the hand cream I like."

"Yes, my lord." Illya gave him an odd look, but said nothing about the nearly full tube even now sitting on Napoleon's sink. Napoleon knew it was there and, moreover, that Illya knew it too, because it was Illya who rubbed it into his hands at night. He wanted a new tube for this new purpose, and he didn't have to explain himself either. So he drank his coffee, and waited some more, and when Illya returned they walked on home together.

That night, when Illya knelt in front of him, Napoleon shook his head. "No," he said. "Not tonight. Tonight I want everything."

"Yes, my lord." Illya rose and went towards the bed. He dropped his clothes, stretched out full length on his stomach, rested his forehead on his crossed arms, and opened his legs. Napoleon put the little tube on the bedside table and stretched out beside him.

Search out his pleasure, Charles had said. So, rather awkwardly, Napoleon stroked him. He ran his fingers down the boy's spine, felt him start. His buttocks were hard, telling of unsuspected muscle there, but his skin was soft, so soft. Napoleon caressed him, intrigued by the contrast, and again Illya jumped. "My lord," he whispered. "I ... I am ready."

"Are you? I am not so sure."

"I am always ready for you. Did ... did I offend you last time? Is that why ..."

"You did not offend me. Turn over, towards me. Yes, like that." Napoleon drew Illya closer to him, feeling that hard, thin body against his. It felt good, and he turned a little so they were facing one another. Then he again ran one hand down Illya's body, his side now, and Illya shivered. Napoleon did it again, then, as he had imagined while talking to Charles, he slid both hands up Illya's inner thighs, parting them, looking for any sign of arousal and not seeing it. Carefully he cupped his testicles, and Illya nearly arched off the bed.

"No!" he gasped, and a silence fell on them both. "I ... I mean I am sorry! I am sorry, my lord, indeed I am very sorry! I didn't mean ... of course you can. Of course you can do anything. Anything you like!"

"Shhh," Napoleon said softly. He hadn't had time to be angry at the refusal, he had been so astonished, and the frantic apologies disarmed anger before it could arise. "It's all right. I know you didn't mean ..." but he had, hadn't he. He had meant exactly that. He didn't want Napoleon to touch him there, didn't want Napoleon to stroke him, and why? Maybe Napoleon should explain himself. Maybe it would soothe Illya's fears to know that all this was for his benefit, not for his harm, or for his shame. Maybe he thought Napoleon was mocking him, or trying to torment him without any possibility of satisfaction.

"I will tell you something," he whispered, "but I must ask you to keep my secrets. What I am about to say ... my father would not be pleased." Where is his loyalty? Charles had asked. He looked hard into those blue eyes, which were not opaque now. They were uncertain, but at Napoleon's words a steadiness came into them.

"I would never betray your secrets, my lord. What you say - whatever you say, or do, remains with me. I do not chatter, nor do I gossip."

"It was my father who bought you. It may be you feel a loyalty to him that supersedes any you have for me. If this is so, tell me now. I will think no less of you for it."

"He bought me for you. I am yours. And you ... you have been more than kind to me, my lord. My honor binds me to you."

His honor? But a Companion had no honor to be concerned with, although surely a nobleman, even one of the Others, would. Animals, his teachers had said. Again that confusing dissonance.

"I spoke with my brother Charles today," Napoleon said, and the die was cast now. "I asked him ... it troubled me, that I had caused you pain before. He is experienced in many things. I asked him if the pain was necessary, or if it could be avoided. He said it could be avoided. He told me how. He said if you, too, were experiencing pleasure, then it would be better for us both. So I am seeking your pleasure, with my touch." He stroked up the lean thighs again. "Do you think I shall find it?"

"He said that would make it better?" Illya frowned in the way he had when considering one of Napoleon's school problems. "Really?"

"Yes. And now I find that I like touching you. But I do not like to see you so distressed, which is why I have explained myself." He leaned in, very close, so his breath touched Illya's mouth. "Let us try this," he whispered, and kissed him.

He kissed Illya, and his own body leapt in response. His whole body, not just his organ, which was stiffening and hardening against Illya's stomach. His arms, his hands, his mouth, his legs, his belly ... every part of him wanted Illya and furthermore he wanted Illya to want him too. He kissed Illya deeply, at the same time wrapping both arms around him and holding him hard, moving against him, wishing he were hard too because then it would be better, it would be so much better. His hands moved, up into that soft blond hair, down his back, up his sides, along his buttocks again. His mouth moved, across Illya's face, along his neck, up to his ear where he breathed his hot breath and heard him cry out. And there it came, harder against his hardness, more urgent against his own urgency. Illya's hands were moving too now, striking sparks off his flesh wherever they passed.

Napoleon rolled over on top and when Illya arched against him he felt the entrance again ... so it could be done this way, he could watch Illya's face and that would tell him ... would tell him ... it was getting hard to think now so he groped for the tube while he still could. Did it go on him, or on Illya? He hadn't thought to ask. Probably Illya, he decided, so he squeezed some onto his finger, and pushed it inside. Illya cried out again, bucking under him, wrapping his legs around Napoleon's waist, high around his waist so the aim was even better, was perfect.

When he began to enter it still seemed a little too dry, and he felt Illya falter, saw his eyes squeeze shut. So he braced himself and coated his organ with the cream, groaning hoarsely now, and tried again. And oh, it was tight, and oh, it was hot, and oh, it was much better this time with Illya squeezing him, every inch of him. Welcoming him inside, drawing him in. pressing his heel against the cleft of Napoleon's ass, making him lunge forward until he was completely encased.

There was a long, trembling moment. He forced himself to stay there, feeling Illya adjusting to his size, feeling him tighten, then relax. "All right?" Napoleon whispered, directly into his ear, remembering that he had liked that before and he liked it now too, no question.

"Yes," Illya whispered, and his face was rapt, as if he were listening to an internal symphony. "Yes, yes ..." Napoleon thrust, deeper still and suddenly Illya came alive under him, writhing and twisting and grabbing at his back, clutching and clinging and he was clinging too, they were clinging to one another, riding this feeling that had taken them both, taken them and thrown them into a maelstrom of sensation where the only solid thing was the other. Napoleon clamped his mouth down over Illya's, wanting to taste him, wanting to devour him, feeling the muffled sounds he was ... they both were ... making, glad they were muffled because surely his father ... and then there was nothing but glory.

Glory. They hung in glory, suspended in glory, breathing glory in and out, wrapped in glory and then they were falling, falling, still wrapped up together, falling into a soft darkness that welcomed them, drew them down, together.

Napoleon woke in the morning, his first awareness that of Illya's body wrapped around his, Illya's head tucked into the crook of his neck, Illya's arm draped across his chest. Napoleon turned his head and those blue eyes were watching his face, and when their gazes locked both smiled. Both smiled, both moved a little closer one to the other, both stretched languorously. Both of them. Both of them, replete and content and relaxed. Both of them. Napoleon felt satiated and a little drowsy still, and, from the faint smile Illya was wearing, from the warm laxness of his body, he felt the same. Indeed, even as Napoleon watched him, he yawned and smiled again. Napoleon felt closer to him, felt warm and tender towards him, the pleasure they had shared seeming to bind Illya to him in a way the mere fact of ownership had not. And, again, Illya must have felt the same way, because he was curled into Napoleon's embrace, because he was turning his head to deposit a soft kiss on Napoleon's shoulder, because he was moving even closer.

But ... if they felt the same way, about the same thing, then didn't that mean they were the same? And if they were the same, then how was it right, how was it fair, that one was master and one possession? Was it because Illya was of good family, just as he himself was? That would be an individual injustice, that perhaps it was his responsibility to correct. Because the other answer was that men - all men - were the same, and that wasn't true, certainly not true. Napoleon's whole upbringing had taught him that that was not true. But wouldn't any man - even a man of the Others - feel warm and sated and happy after such a night? And perhaps each Companion, each servant, each laborer, had his own tale to tell. You will learn about yourself, his father had said, and what was he learning now? That he was some sort of revolutionary? Surely not. His family was traditional, and conservative, and so was he. Yes he was. He didn't realize he was frowning until he saw Illya's eyebrows come together in the way that meant he was worried.

"My lord? Is something wrong?"

"No." Napoleon smiled at him to prove it. "Nothing is wrong. I was just ... tell me about your family, Illya. My father said you were of noble blood, despite being an Other. That was important to him, because he did not want me disgraced me by crude manners or low behavior. But if it is so, how are you a Companion? It ... it troubles me."

"My country was defeated in battle before I was even born, but it is vast. There are - were - many Domes, and the spaces between them are great. My family retreated to the most distant of those Domes, where they managed to hold on for four more generations before the Destroyers came. I am sorry, my lord. I mean your people."

"The Righteous," Napoleon said sharply and then - "what did you call yourselves, then, if we were the Destroyers?"

"We were the True Sons of the Land. And to you we were - we are - the Others."

"Yes. Then and now. You are ... Other." But he wasn't, not really. Napoleon frowned.

"Ah." Illya fell silent. When he spoke again his voice was very quiet. "How we hated you, for defeating us. And how I feared you. When your armies reached us, and burned our home, I was in a frenzy of terror. I fought until I was overwhelmed by numbers and then I was bound and dragged away. Later I heard that I was the only one saved alive from my family. Everyone else was slaughtered."

"Exterminated," Napoleon said because that was the word he had been taught. Slaughter - that sounded too much like what one would do to people like oneself. Extermination was for Others. Illya bent his head.

"As you say, my lord. I wondered why I was spared - children younger than I were not. Then I found out. It was because of the way I look. I was put on the block the next morning, purchased by a trader who kept me long enough to train me and then put me on a boat overseas. I remember nothing of the voyage. There is a black place in my memory and I have never desired to explore it. But I had two other masters before your father bought me for you."

"Why did they not keep you?"

"The first one died. He was old, and he taught me how to arouse him. It was difficult, and always took a very long time. He died at his table, and I was sold that afternoon. The second man took a dislike to me. He said I was above myself because I would not ... the thing he asked of me was ... I could not."

Napoleon cocked an eyebrow at him. "You refused him?"

"Yes, my lord."

"What did he want you to do?"

Illya whispered in his ear and Napoleon gagged. "He really wanted you to do that?"

"Yes, my lord. I could not. I would not." He lifted his chin. "I decided that death was preferable."

"But he did not kill you."

"No. He beat me, and gave me to the servants in the hall for the night. The next day he sold me."

"To my father."

"Not directly. To a house specializing in Companions for high born youths. I was retrained, and then it was your father purchased me."

The same thing could have happened to me, Napoleon thought. If the war had gone the other way, if the Others had won, if they had invaded our city and burned our home, killed my father and Charles and selected me for ... I too would have refused so foul a deed and been beaten, given to servants, sold, trained ... it could have been me, just as easily. But then ... again he struggled with the dichotomy. Struggled, and failed because there seemed no resolution. The bottom line was that he was noble, and Illya was a servant. He was a man, and Illya was a boy. If Napoleon rejected that, then he rejected everything his society was built on, and that would jeopardize the peace and stability the world enjoyed now. Well, his part of the world enjoyed it. Illya hadn't had much to enjoy. He shook his head. Deep waters, Napoleon, he could almost hear Charles say. And why plunge into them at all, when here, right here in his bed, Illya lay ready for anything he might want to do? Well, not anything. He would refuse - actually felt he had the right to refuse - an act that repulsed him. Napoleon frowned again. That was wrong, surely. Yet ... he shook his head again. Deep waters, yes. Too deep for him. He was too young, that was the answer. Too young, not enough schooling, to understand these matters. When he was grown, when his education was complete, all would be clear. Yes, that was it.

"I wish to feel your mouth on me," he said, and Illya turned in the bed and obeyed. Napoleon put both hands in his hair, liking the feel of it, the softness of it on his fingers, liking Illya's hot mouth, that warm tongue moving over the head of his organ, the sucking, sucking, sucking ... he exploded off the bed with a strangled cry, opening his hands flat as he did so he wouldn't pull Illya's hair in his final frenzy, then collapsing while Illya continued to suck, softly now, bringing another faint pulse from him, before he backed off and hesitated.

Napoleon felt the hesitation and opened his eyes. Illya was watching him, and there was a deep apprehension on his face. He's worried that he told me too much, Napoleon thought. He's afraid ... he gathered Illya in, held him tenderly, rocked him a little, kissed the top of his head. "It's all right," he whispered, not even knowing what he was comforting him for - his rash words, his burned home, his slave status? All of it? He kissed him again. "It's all right," he repeated and then his arms tightened fiercely because he heard the pledge as he gave it. He would provide safe haven, he would ... he would protect Illya from the consequences of his country's defeat. He would treat Illya well, he would hold Illya close and keep him safe. "It's all right," he said once more, and felt Illya nod against him, and then they drifted off to sleep again.

After that Napoleon applied himself to his studies with new resolve. He had always been a good student, garnering top marks without exerting himself. With the arrival of Illya, who removed the necessity of even paying minimal attention to the droning of his instructor, he had exerted himself even less. But now, shamed by his inability to make sense of his society's rules, mortified by the countless questions that now thronged his mind and his lack of answers for them, he listened. He listened, and he took careful notes, and he thought very hard about what his teacher was saying. At night in his room he listened to Illya's precise recital, thinking about it again. He thought aloud, and after a while Illya began to join him. They engaged in analysis and deep discourse and never once did it occur to Napoleon that while trying to understand and uphold his society's laws he was breaking them, by treating Illya as an equal.

What did occur to him, reluctantly, was that his teacher's lectures did not make a lot of sense. Even worse, they contradicted themselves. He sat one afternoon, and stared at his notes. "Illya," he began and Illya, who had been setting out the items required for Napoleon's bath, stopped and came over to him.

"Yes, my lord?"

"What did Mr. Morton say, that very first night that you recited his lecture to me? About the beginning of our new history?"

Our new history began with climate change brought on by an overuse of fossil fuels and an overabundance of internal combustion engines."

"But today he said that climate change was brought on by the foolish change to nuclear technologies instead of continuing to rely on the tried and true internal combustion engine."

"I noticed that, my lord."

"But how can they both be true?"

"Or are either of them true?" Illya sat down beside him, cross legged. He reached for Napoleon's notebook, and it was a measure of how far they had come in their relationship that Napoleon didn't think to reprove him. "Because here, he states that it was overuse of electricity, and the debilitating effects of high transmission wires on dense population areas, that brought down the old ways."

"So he does." The world seemed to rock on its foundations. "But just last month ..." he pawed through his sheaf of hastily written notes and Illya leaned closer to read over his shoulder. And it was like that, with papers all around them and their heads together, that Napoleon's father found them.

He had come in without knocking, and the first either of them knew of his presence was his outraged bellow. "What! What is going on here, right under my nose! You are teaching this ... this creature? You ... my own son, in my own house ... well sir, I will deal with you momentarily. Boy!" He shouted at Illya, who had leapt to his feet at his entrance. "I will have you flogged to within an inch of your miserable life and then sold to a distant work camp! Don't think I have not noticed you giving yourself airs because my son fancies you beyond what is decent! A steady stream of dirty laborers paying a few pence for your time will take you down a peg - permanently! Giraud! Call for the Guard! Tell them to bring shackles and a whip! I will administer the punishment myself! By God, that you should dare ..." he swung, a great open handed slap, and without pausing to think Napoleon rose and pushed Illya aside. The blow nearly knocked him off his feet.

There was a horrified silence. Napoleon's father stared at his hand in disbelief and Napoleon stared at him. He had never been struck. It was painful, although he had experienced worse in his physical training classes. But it was humiliating, and an incredible shock. He resisted the urge to touch his face, and met his father's gaze implacably. The older man looked suddenly shrunken.

"I did not mean - how dare you interfere." But there was no force in the words, and Napoleon shook his head. A great stillness had filled him, and a rock solid resolve. "I did not interfere on purpose," he said steadily. "It never occurred to me that you were about to strike my property. But you shall not do this thing. It is not necessary. Illya is blameless."

"I tell you I know what I see." He indicated the papers strewn about with a shaking arm.

"I was not educating him." Napoleon put a sneer into the word. "What are you thinking? How could he ..." with a contemptuous gesture towards Illya ... "be educated? He is nothing, a trifle, a plaything. But he is a plaything with a freakish gift. He can repeat back everything he hears, word for word. But to call it education? That involves understanding, and comprehension. He understands nothing, no more than your recorder understands what it hears and then plays back. He is a tool for my studies, no more than that. And I am offended, that you think this of me." He met his father's gaze unflinchingly. "Ask him, if you don't believe me - me, your son. Ask him to explain ..." another sneer ... "what he has heard in my class today, or any other day."

"Tell me the lesson for the day," his father said sharply to Illya, who swallowed, put both hands behind him and began to recite. He gave the day's lesson and when Napoleon's father interrupted him with demands for interpretation, looked bewildered.

"Lord? I do not know what you mean. He said ..." and he began again, reeling off sentence after sentence, and as often as he was stopped, and questioned, he only trembled and shook his head in obvious confusion, and returned to his recitation. After several minutes, Napoleon's father waved a weary hand.

"Let be. I see I was in error. And I would not have struck you, my son. My only son," he added in a breaking voice, turned and left. Napoleon went after him, put an arm around his shoulders.

"Think no more of it," he said, filled with pity and a strange sort of fear - to see the old man like this, to see himself the stronger, the winner in this confrontation - it shook his foundations as deeply as the earlier discovery of his teachers' fallibility had done. "It was an accident, that is all. It is already forgotten."

His father straightened. "Thank you, Napoleon. You are a good son. And your Companion ... for a moment I thought I saw intelligence in his eyes. But I was wrong?"

"You were wrong," Napoleon repeated firmly.

"Yes, I see that I was. But be careful, Napoleon. Intelligence in a servant is dangerous. He would be looking to his own advantage, to his own best interests, instead of yours. In opposition to yours, because the two could never be the same."

"Doesn't every man look to his own advantage?" Napoleon asked, because he was genuinely curious, because this touched on the burning question that lay beneath all the others. "Is that not the nature of a man?"

"A man, yes. A creature like that, no. If you ever suspect that there is a mind there, working independently of the orders you give, be rid of him. Kill him, because such an unnatural thing could bring only disaster on any house in which he is given shelter. There would be no punishment for you, in such a case. It would be your duty."

"I see."

"You are a good son, Napoleon. A good son ..." again his voice broke.

"Charles?" Napoleon asked softly, and the old man - for so he seemed now, a very old man - shook his head.

"I have one son," he said, and went downstairs.

Slowly, Napoleon returned to his room and encountered Illya, standing in the doorway where he must have heard every word Napoleon and his father had exchanged. He mutely stepped aside, and let Napoleon enter. The papers had been tidied and put away, the bath was made ready. And as Napoleon stood and looked about him, Illya fell to his knees. He said nothing still, just kept his head bent, and waited.

Napoleon didn't even ask. He knew what Illya waited for. Illya did have a mind, and he knew that Napoleon knew it. He was, as Alcott Solo had warned, looking to his own advantage; as witness his listening to their conversation. Napoleon had lied to his father, because Illya understood everything he heard, and they both knew that too.

"So," Napoleon said at last. "Are you a danger to me and mine? Will you murder me in my bed one of these nights as you seek out your own best interests? Should I ..." he caught Illya by the hair, pulled his head back, laid the blade of his dagger against his throat. "Should I kill you here and now, to avert disaster?"

Illya didn't flinch from him. His eyes met Napoleon's, and there was no pleading in them. "I would die for you," he said quietly. "Whether that be in my own interests or no. You ... you treat me as though I matter. As though I count. You took the blow for me, you protected me from ..." a shudder went all through him, as the threats seemed to fill the room once more, and Napoleon shuddered too. "I would die for you," Illya repeated.

Napoleon nodded. He released Illya's hair, and laid the dagger down. "I don't understand," he said, and sat on the floor beside him. "I hear my father's words, and I know they are the accepted truths of men far wiser than I. But then I look at you ... is it that you were not born to this life? Is that the difference?"

"I don't know, my lord." Illya frowned in the adorable way that always made Napoleon want to kiss him. But he didn't this time, because he wanted to hear Illya's next words. "If this life is all I knew, if I had always been told I had no mind, no worth, no ... that I was not a man, but a creature..." he managed to put the same scorn in the word Napoleon's father had, and Napoleon winced. "Then perhaps ... I don't know. But I know about me here and now, my lord. I know that I think, that I feel, that I have dreams and wishes and that the thought of the life your father threatened me with made me want to open my veins with that very dagger. Is that not how you would feel, if you were in my position?"

It was, and again the question arose, stood before them both this time, looming large in the space between them.

"I don't know," Napoleon said finally. "I mean, of course I would feel as you do ... but what that means, I do not know. But I know this, Illya." He took both Illya's hands in his. "I will stand for you, I will protect you from the dangers of your position. I will ... I will keep you with me, and I will keep you safe. You have my word on it."

"And you have mine, my lord. You have my word that I will stand by your side and protect you as well, if the need ever arises. Your classroom lessons are not the only ones to which I have paid close attention. I could fight for you, if necessary."

"Could you." Napoleon eyed him. "A quick trip to a slow death, if you raised your hands against a citizen."

"To protect myself, yes. To protect you, my lord, no."

"True. But let us hope the situation never arises."

"Yes, my lord."

"I will have my bath now."

"Yes, my lord." Illya rose, and when Napoleon drew him down into the hot, fragrant water he stretched within Napoleon's embrace, returned it with fervor. There was no more talking, but there was much pleasure in the big tub and again after, in the big bed. And after that, there was sleep.

The discussions, the lessons, the ... education, because there was no other word for it, continued. But never again did they sit together, heads bent over the texts. Napoleon sat at his desk, and Illya sat on his mat, and they conversed that way. Napoleon's father never again entered without knocking, but he knocked often enough that both kept up the charade night and day. Only when the lights were turned off, when they lay together in bed, did they feel free from interruption, and then there were other things on their minds besides books.

But the matter troubled Napoleon. As they walked to and from school he found himself staring at people he had never noticed before - street sweepers, builders, servers and mechanics - and wondered. Were they mindless stupid things? But some of their work looked skilled. How had they learned their trades, if they had no brains at all? And how did they feel about their position? Napoleon had been taught that all were grateful for the new order, but now he had to wonder about that too. Illya certainly wasn't grateful for his murdered family, his burned home, his servitude. What of Miss Giraud? Was she grateful that she lived in their grand house without owning any part of it, that even the room in which she slept could be taken from her at any time, and she be turned out? What about the ragged youths who often eyed Napoleon and his well dressed friends with what looked like envy or even resentment? Were they grateful, that they could never aspire to such clothing, to such riches as Napoleon had always taken for granted? But how else could things be done? Everyone couldn't be wealthy. Someone had to serve the drinks, clean the streets, fix the machines. He shook his head. These were matters for minds wiser than his, he thought, but it was just those very minds which had written his textbooks, which he now found to be full of errors and contradictions. That was only because he did not fully understand them yet, he told himself, and tried not to think about it.

But he couldn't help it. And as he looked about him with new eyes, he saw other things, too. He saw signs of discontent - posters, put up in the morning and gone by nightfall, railing against the power structure; groups meeting, in defiance of the assemblage laws; meeting and then melting away at sight of police officers.

After one such gathering Napoleon picked up a scrap of paper from the ground. He meant to dispose of it - the sight of trash on the street deeply offended him. It was a sign of what sort of men these were, he thought angrily, that they would defile the very environment that sheltered them. But he looked at it, without really meaning to, and saw that it was a call to a rally later that night.

"Come! Make your voices heard! We are men! Eighteen hundred hours at the train station! Disrupt their journeys home to their soft beds. Are we men? We are men!"

He dropped it as if it had burned him and quick as thought Illya snatched it out of the air before it could touch the ground - and brand Napoleon a litterer. He tossed it into a nearby disposal chute and smiled angelically at the police guard standing by. Napoleon hadn't even noticed the man but he noticed him now, because he returned Illya's smile and more. His eyes went up and down Illya's body quickly, and the smile broadened to a grin. He looked at Napoleon, too, and for a moment Napoleon fancied he read contempt in his face. He blinked, and looked again, because why should this man, of a definitely lower status than Napoleon, feel contempt for him? And how dare he eye Illya that way, as if he thought ... as if he dared think ... he caught Illya's arm and pulled him away roughly. Illya went without demur, but he turned his head and sent another smile behind him. Napoleon shook him.

"What are you playing at?" he demanded. "Keep your eyes on the ground as is proper, and your smiles for me, as is required!

"Yes, my lord."

"He dared lift his gaze to you and you - you encouraged it!"

"It is not well to make enemies, my lord. He looks at me and smiles, and I smile back. What harm? If I had not been quick enough with that piece of paper, I might have been able to persuade him not to arrest you."

"He would not have dared!" But he would have, and Napoleon knew it. By one careless action he could have put himself in that man's power.

"And if he had read it, my lord, it would have been worse."

"You saw what it said?"

"Yes, my lord."

"What think you of such sedition?"

"I think it would be best if we went straight home tonight, my lord. I think the train station will be dangerous."

"I had not thought of doing anything else," Napoleon said haughtily, and Illya fell silent. But Napoleon knew he meant to go. He wanted to see, to understand, what was meant by those bold statements and see, too, just what sort of rabble would make them. H wouldn't get involved, certainly not. But he wanted to see.

"Today I will show you something of conditions before the fall of the past Age. It is called weather. Follow me." The teacher led them out into the hall, down a flight of grey concrete stairs, and into a basement. At the far end of it was a chamber, fully enclosed, with no windows. It was big enough for perhaps three men to be crowded in, but the teacher assigned them in twos. Pair by pair they entered, remained inside for about twenty minutes, then emerged, uniformly pale and shaken. They were wet, and rumpled, and many were staggering.

"Horrible," Aalen murmured. "Horrible. How wise of our forefathers, to bring us safely inside the Domes."

Napoleon disrupted proceedings slightly by refusing the partner assigned to him. "My Companion goes where I go," he said flatly and the teacher shrugged. The other Companions looked at Illya sympathetically, and one girl reached out and touched his arm, as if to give comfort. Both Napoleon and her master stared at her disapprovingly and she blushed, looked away. Then Illya returned the touch, a gentle pat and the disapproving stares turned to him. He returned their gaze blandly, and Napoleon was hard put to it to maintain his glare, it moved him so. After a moment three young men went in together. They emerged looking just as traumatized as the rest.

"I'm going home," one declared in a trembling voice. "I can't possibly be expected to sit through the day like this." He indicated his dripping garments. "They should have warned us."

"There are dry clothes for all in the schoolroom," the master assured him. "Of course, there are none for him." He waved a dismissive arm at Illya.

"My Companion may return home during the lunch break," Napoleon said. "I will wish some hot soup instead of the cold meats I brought. Come." He stepped inside the chamber, not knowing what to expect, only knowing that Illya belonged by his side and not standing about in the hall, alone and unprotected. Not that anything could happen to him here, but it seemed good to maintain the precedent he had already set.

It was dark inside and they stood quietly, waiting for neither one of them knew what. Although Illya came from a distant land, he too had always lived under a Dome. Weather was a thing of the past, and of the Outside. So when a gust of air struck them both started. Then a loud crack and a flash of light came, while a droning voice labeled each occurrence. "Wind. Thunder. Lightning. Rain."

It was exhilarating. Napoleon hadn't expected it to be, but the wind in his face, whipping his hair about, the noise of the thunder and the flash of the lightning, even the cold spears of water that drove against him, made him feel more alive than anything ever had, except for those nights in bed with Illya. It was really the same sort of feeling, as if something bigger than himself had him in its grip and all he had to do was let go and glory in it. He heard himself laughing, and just as suddenly wondered if Illya were frightened. Remorseful, he turned his head and looked at his Companion, who was younger than he, and smaller, and ... Illya was laughing too! His hair was plastered flat against his head, water was streaming down his face, but in the next flash of lightning Napoleon could plainly see that he had his face lifted to it and was laughing with pure joy.

Just like him. They were standing there sharing this experience, sharing this feeling. On an impulse he couldn't explain, and feeling that this was a once in a lifetime thing and probably soon to end, he reached out, caught Illya into his arms, and kissed him. He kissed Illya's wet mouth and Illya threw both arms around his neck and kissed him back. There was a wild moment there, in the simulated storm, kissing and laughing, and then it stopped. The water stopped, the wind stopped, the noise stopped and the interior lights came on. They were standing in a perfectly ordinary little room, and the door was opening.

What instinct caused him to dissemble, Napoleon didn't know. But after everyone else had come out ashen faced and shaking, he didn't dare emerge flushed and laughing. So he disengaged from the embrace, bent his head and stepped out. Illya followed his cue - because he feels as I do, just like I do, that it would be dangerous to be so openly different.

No one said much after that. Napoleon and his friends put on dry clothes and resumed their lesson. Illya disappeared, to return about an hour later in a fresh suit and carrying a steaming bowl. Napoleon, who had actually eaten his fill of the sandwiches he had brought, tasted the soup, made a disgusted sound, and pushed it at Illya, who polished it off quickly. Their eyes met for a moment during the little charade and Illya's mouth turned up in a quick smile, which Napoleon returned. Then Napoleon settled into his seat, while Illya sat cross legged on the floor, and listened to the teacher discourse on all the disasters brought upon the human race by nature uncontrolled. He talked of tornadoes and hailstones, of hurricanes and tsunamis and earthquakes, and all the while Napoleon thought about the wind in his hair and the rain on his face, and about Illya, in his arms. Feeling just as he did.

When Napoleon turned his steps towards the train station Illya said nothing. He had clearly expected this, and moreover was prepared. He handed Napoleon a cloak with a deep hood. "Best that none recognize us," he said, and donned his own cloak. They stood on the outskirts of the station yard and waited.

They didn't have to wait for long. Just as the first commuter train pulled in and began disgorging passengers, a horde of men descended on the yard. They carried no placards, and were dressed in nondescript clothes. "We are men," they chanted. "We are men, we are men, look upon us! Hear us! We are men!" There was a little raised area where musicians sometimes played, and one by one speakers stood and exhorted the crowd. It was hard to catch the words from their discreet distance, but Napoleon could hear lines such as "children deserve schooling" and "right to own property". He puzzled over this, because their children had schools, he knew - where they learned the trades of their fathers and their grandfathers. And all were housed in these times. The city provided dormitories for men and women alike - no more did people live homeless on the street. Everyone had a roof over his head. What were they complaining about? And then another speaker leapt up onto the stage, and Napoleon clutched Illya's arm.

Charles! It looked just like his brother Charles! But how could that be? Charles was in college, far away, and moreover Charles would never ... Napoleon's hood had fallen back without his noticing and when the speaker - who couldn't be Charles, couldn't be - looked his way he began gesticulating wildly. It looked as if he were waving them away, and while Napoleon was still thinking about that a cordon of police officers, marching in lock step, shields held in front of them, invaded the square.

Chaos ensued. People ran in every direction, and screaming started as the police laid about them with their clubs, exercising little discrimination. Well clad commuters were felled alongside demonstrators. Demonstrators pulled clubs of their own from beneath their garments and fought back. Charles had disappeared, and before Napoleon could look for him he heard a terrified female scream that rose above the tumult around them.

"Betsy! Betsy! Oh don't hurt her, don't! Mama's coming, Betsy!" Napoleon turned his head and saw a woman frantically clawing her way through the crowd. Following her stare he saw a little girl clinging to a lamppost. She was right in the center of the battle, and even as Napoleon watched a backswing from a policeman's club knocked her off her feet. The mother's screams were harrowing now. "Don't tread on her! Oh don't hurt her! Betsy!"

Napoleon moved without thinking about it and, later, thinking about it he still didn't know what else he could have done. He barreled his way through the throng and in a moment was standing over the child who had curled into a tight ball and was crying "Mama! Mama!" Napoleon snatched her up and a blow hit him between the shoulder blades.

The pain was excruciating, and he nearly dropped his burden but he managed to hang on to her. In another moment there was pressure on his back and he tried to turn, to see what enemy was so close.

It was Illya. He had his back up against Napoleon's and was swinging a cudgel he must have gotten from one of the felled rioters. His face was resolute, and his blows surprisingly effective. Napoleon gave him a nudge with his elbow, and they began retreating towards the edge of the crowd.

They fought their way out - Napoleon tucking the little girl under one arm and doing battle as best he could with the other. He didn't have to worry about his rear - Illya was very effectively keeping them off him. At one point he thought he heard Illya laughing and tried to twist his head to see, but only a glint of blond hair met his eyes.

It seemed an eternity of yelling and pushing, his hair being pulled and blows hitting his side and his arm; Illya occasionally being jolted against him with force and once going down - Napoleon managing to grab him and yank him upright again - and then they were clear. Napoleon paused to breathe, and look about for the child's mother, but "Run" Illya said tersely and he did. They ran together, ducked down a narrow street, turned three corners in quick succession and were - for the moment at least - alone behind a loading dock. Without asking leave Illya pulled Napoleon's cloak down, stuffed it into a recycling basket. Then he stripped off his own. He stood on his toes and smoothed Napoleon's hair, straightened his collar, pulled his jacket back into place.

"Be quiet, child," he ordered sharply and the little girl fell silent. Illya brushed her curls back into some semblance of order and, licking the corner of his shirt, rubbed the dirt from her face. "No crying," he said firmly. "Put your arms about his neck as if he were your papa. We can't have anyone look at us too closely." He ran both fingers through his own hair, settled his shirt. The child whimpered.

"I want my Mama."

"We will find her," Illya assured her. "But first, my lord, we have to get out of the streets. They will be sweeping them clear, you may be sure, and we don't want to be swept up with the rest. By the time they sort out your status anything could have happened to her."

"Or to you," Napoleon said, and Illya grinned at him. He looked exhilarated, as he had in the weather chamber.

"Let them try," he said, and laughed - again, Napoleon thought. So they didn't feel the same way all the time, because he himself was sick and afraid and wanted nothing more than to be home. "Shortest route," Illya said, as if he had read Napoleon's mind, and they were off.

Napoleon shifted the child's weight so she was riding his hip. Her arms were around his neck, as Illya had told her and her little head rested on his shoulder. Illya was behind him. He still carried the cudgel and Napoleon had a strong suspicion that he was wishing for another opportunity to use it. Even as he thought that they turned the final corner and his home was ahead of them. Illya tossed the cudgel aside and nudged it with his foot until it slid down a drain. Then he reached for the child.

"Give her to me," he ordered and Napoleon had obeyed before he thought about it. She went to Illya willingly enough, and he patted her back. "I will go around to the servant's entrance. Miss Giraud will be able to help us find her mother, I am sure. You go in through the front as usual."

"Usually you are with me," Napoleon said. He didn't care much for Illya taking command like this.

"And this time I am not. Who will dare to question you?" A noise of shouting came from the north and Illya caught his breath. "Will you go, my lord?" he demanded and actually gave Napoleon a hard shove before hurrying away, ducking low as he went behind the house. Napoleon ground his teeth. Illya might need a sharp lesson tonight on who was in command and who was not. But as he climbed his steps the noise grew louder, and a mob of people appeared at the end of the block. They were running as if for their lives and behind them came the police on horseback.

Horseback! Napoleon stood and stared. Horses, in the streets of the City? Leaving their dirt on the ground? Unheard of! But there they were, and they were riding down the stragglers from the mob without mercy. People were scrambling for shelter, surging up the steps of the houses on the streets, surging up his own steps! He was still staring, dumbfounded, at this unprecedented scene, this vision from the old Bad Times when the door opened behind him and a hand yanked him inside. He fell, sprawling on the floor and saw Illya struggling to swing the door shut against the people outside, who were trying just as hard to get it open.

"Help me!" he gasped and Napoleon leaped up, put his shoulder to the door as well. They pushed, but they were outnumbered. Then two male servants joined them and Napoleon saw their faces, blanched with fear. He understood suddenly that if the people outside got in the police would follow, and then the horses and the clubs and the blood and the dirt would be inside, with them. He redoubled his efforts and slowly the door swung shut. Illya shot the bolt and silence descended. Outside the screaming and the crying went on. A window shattered and all of them ran over, closed the wooden shutters.

"Back doors?" Illya gasped as he wrenched the heavy bolt down.

"Locked," one of the servants assured him. All four of them stood back and listened to the sounds outside. Outside. Definitely outside and going to stay there because in here they were locked up and secure. Napoleon turned to see one of the servants slap Illya on the back.

"You can push like a man for all that you're such a stripling," he said approvingly. "And brought the young master safely through the streets as well."

"The young master held his own," Illya said, and laughed. "There are many wounded with his mark on them tonight."

"Napoleon!" It was his father, standing ashen faced in the hallway. "What is happening? And why is that brat mewling in my kitchen?"

The child was indeed wailing, clearly terrified by the sounds from outside. "Make her be quiet or I'll throw her out!" his father shouted and Illya slid around the walls of the living room, out of Napoleon's father's line of vision. He disappeared and in a moment the screaming stopped - abruptly and Napoleon knew, without being told, that Illya had clamped a hand over her mouth.

"Who is she!" His father demanded. "What is she doing in my house? And where have you been? Not out in this, surely! Not my son in the streets with the common rabble!"

"She is Miss Giraud's niece," Napoleon said quickly. "Don't you remember, Miss Giraud always keeps her on the off Tuesdays. You gave permission years ago, when the child was born," he added and saw his father blink. Alcott Solo paid no heed to the comings and goings of his servants so long as he himself was served. He might well have given such permission and forgotten it.

"Well, she needs to keep silence," he said gruffly. "Else permission will be withdrawn."

"Yes sir."

"Answer my other question!"

"I was coming home from school and we - Illya and I - got caught up in the riot. It spilled across my usual route. I had no prior warning."

"No, of course not," his father muttered. "How would you? How would a son of mine know of such doings? You were not injured?"

"No, sir. Illya - Illya guarded my back. I am newly grateful to you for gifting me with him instead of some silly girl, who would have been quite useless."

"Hmph. What is it these rabble want, that they disturb a gentleman on his way home from school, and swarm right to his doorway?"

"To be treated like men," Napoleon said and, at his father's sharp glance, he faltered. "That ... that is what they were shouting, sir. I could not help hearing."

"Men do not act so. Men go about their business, fulfill their duties, carry out their responsibilities. By their own actions they prove they are not men, not as you and I are."

"Your servants acted quickly and bravely," Napoleon said because he didn't know what else to say. His father was only voicing what all knew to be true, what he had been taught was true. "If not for them all of that ..." he waved towards the windows where the horses' screaming mingled with the people's screaming, and the smash of windows and thuds against doors and walls could clearly be heard. "It would be in here."

"I expect no less," his father said, and went upstairs. Napoleon hurried into the kitchen.

Miss Giraud was rocking the child on her lap, and Illya was starting dinner. "She is easier with her," he explained when he saw Napoleon staring. "And what I don't know about your kitchen she can tell me."

"Put the roast in the oven," Miss Giraud ordered. "It is already rubbed with herbs and ready. Now, little one. What is your mama's name?"

"Mama," the child whispered and Miss Giraud put her off from her, looked her up and down.

"She has a look of Liza the seamstress. Don't worry, child, we will find your mama for you. But for tonight you will sleep with me."

"I told him she was your niece," Napoleon said. "I reminded him of how he had long since given his permission for you to keep her on the off Tuesdays."

Both Illya and Miss Giraud turned to look at him. Then Miss Giraud bent her head to the child's ear. "Hear that Betsy? I am your Auntie Ruth. You come here often while your mama works. Remember?"

The child lifted her head and stared at her. Then she looked about the kitchen, at Napoleon, standing stiffly by the door. Lastly she looked back at Miss Giraud. "Yes, Auntie Ruth," she said obediently.

"Your mama cannot come tonight, because of the trouble in the streets," Miss Giraud went on. "So you will sleep in my bed with me."

"Yes, Auntie Ruth."

"Now I need to make supper. You sit right here and be a good child. Thank you," she said to Illya, who stepped aside. "And thank you," she added to Napoleon. "You were always a kind hearted youth. It is good to see that the man you have become is equally kind hearted."

And for a moment Napoleon remembered her, wiping his forehead with a cool cloth when the fever burned, welcoming him and his noisy friends with cookies and juice when they came home from school, holding him and rocking him when he woke with nightmares. He smiled at her warmly.

"Thank you," he said. "You have taken this matter well in hand."

"You may be sure of that. Now you should go and clean yourselves up. Supper will be ready in half an hour."

Upstairs, Napoleon stood still while Illya washed him all over, and applied ointment to the bruises. Then he took the tube.

"You must be battered as well," he said. "Let me see."

"Yes, my lord." Illya stripped and washed quickly, then stood still while Napoleon went over every inch of him, applying ointment where needed.

"It was good to turn and see you there," Napoleon said after a while.

"Thank you, my lord."

"You ... you seemed to be enjoying yourself?"

"It was mad of me, was it not? Yet it felt so good to strike out, to strike back. It seemed to make up for all the times I could not, all the beatings I had to take in silence, all the filthy ..." Illya fell silent as Napoleon rubbed ointment into his shoulders, then made a pleasured sound. Napoleon smiled, leaned in and kissed the nape of his neck. Illya turned and twined both arms around his waist, pressing against him, kissing his throat. They fell together onto the bed, and Napoleon was late to dinner, but since his father kept to his room that night nobody said anything about it.

.Charles called on the compatch the very next morning, while they were on their way to school. The streets were clean and empty except for the orderly comings and goings of ordinary people. No sign of yesterday's strife was visible. Napoleon might have thought he had dreamed it, except for his sore muscles. It hurt every time he moved, and he could see Illya moving equally stiffly.

"Still enjoying yourself?" Napoleon had asked rather snidely as they dressed that morning, and was nonplussed by the quick grin he received in return.

"They feel worse," he said and for a moment Napoleon grinned too. He supposed that was true.

"Napoleon!" His brother's voice was urgent. "Are you all right? Did you make it home safely?"

"Yes. All is well."

"I am so glad. I never dreamt ... what were you thinking, to be there?"

"What were you doing up on their platform? Charles? What's going on?"

"You had a blond warrior at your back," Charles said instead of answering him. "Is that the Companion Father purchased for you?"


"You are well served, then."

"Yes, I am."

"I am glad. Napoleon - there is much I would tell you, much I dare not say on this line. But it is growing too warm for me where I am and I must leave. I wish you could join me, little brother. I would bring Father too, but the very notion would appall him."

"Where are you going?" Napoleon felt suddenly lost. He had always counted on Charles's resolute presence even when he wasn't there. He could picture Charles sitting in class, working late into the night at his desk ... but that wasn't so, was it. None of that was true. Charles was not in college. Charles had ... had joined the rabble and that was why his father said he only had one son. But why? "Why, Charles?"

"I have no time. I will find a way to get back in touch with you. In the meantime think on this. There are more ways to live than you know of. More ways to live than you have been taught."

"More ways? What ways? How else is a gentleman to live?"

"Like a man," Charles said, and disconnected.

"Charles!" But he was gone. Napoleon put the compatch back in his pocket slowly, and began walking again. Illya followed behind, in silence. Just as they entered the school Napoleon turned to him.

"How else is a gentleman to live?" he asked again.

"I don't know," Illya said. "But if there is another way, my lord, I would not mind hearing about it."

"You would leave me?" Napoleon asked, wounded. But what else could he expect? Illya had been bought for him like his clothes and his school books and his meals. Small wonder if, given the chance for another life - a life as a man, Napoleon thought - he would take it. But Illya was shaking his head, and his eyes were curiously tender. He reached up, touched Napoleon's cheek lightly.

"Never, my lord," he said softly. "I have given you my heart, my mind, my flesh and my bone. I am yours entirely, and not because of the price your father paid for me. Where you are, is where I want to be. Unless you say otherwise, and send me away, that is where you will find me."

Napoleon couldn't speak. He had no words for the upwelling of emotion that clogged his throat and choked off his voice. He could only reach out with shaking hands, take Illya by the shoulders and grip them hard. "Never," he managed. "Your place is by my side. That will not change."

Illya covered Napoleon's hands with both his own, and squeezed them. They looked at one another for a long moment, then went into the school building, side by side.

There followed a quiet time. They went to school and came home, ate dinner and retired. Napoleon spent some afternoons in his unarmed combat classes and Illya sat cross legged on the sidelines and watched. Napoleon often wished, as he sparred with his classmates, that he and Illya might do the same. It would be fun, he thought, to wrestle with Illya. But there was no place safe enough for that. No place at all.

In the evenings Illya repeated the instructor's words to him, although it was no longer necessary. Napoleon, desperate to understand the life he had always taken for granted, paid close attention in class. But the continual contradictions and outright stupidities wearied him, and saddened him too. If this drivel was the justification for the inequities of society, then that society rested on a shaky foundation indeed.

The little girl had disappeared from the kitchen the day after the riots, and when Napoleon asked about her Miss Giraud had put a finger to her nose and winked. She had smiled, too, so Napoleon knew the tale had had a happy ending. He thought of that mother holding her little daughter in her arms after she must have given her up for dead, and of the child reunited with her parent, and it made him feel good all over. But the whole time he knew this was only a hiatus. Something else was coming, some change. He couldn't have said how he knew, but know it he did.

One morning Illya was too ill for school. He had been fine when he woke, but soon after breakfast he became wobbly on his legs, and despite his best efforts crumpled against Napoleon when they started down the stairs. Napoleon barely caught him in time, and brought him back to his room. `Stay here," he said firmly. He settled Illya on his mat because it wouldn't do to have someone come into the room and find his Companion in his bed when he was not there. But he added a bigger pillow, and an extra blanket. "I will see you after school. If you are no better by then, I will have Miss Giraud fetch the physician."

"I am sorry, my lord." Illya clutched the mat as if to hold the earth still. "I don't know what is wrong with me."

Napoleon leaned in and kissed him on the forehead. "I will see you after school," he repeated, and left.

His compatch beeped just before lunch. When he looked at the number it was his home. Startled and alarmed - was Illya worse? - he answered it. "Yes?"

"Young lord." It took him a moment to identify the voice because he had never heard it over his compatch before, but then it clicked.

"Miss Giraud?"

"Come home, lad."

"What is wrong?"

"Just come home. But don't say I called you. Think of some other reason for returning." She disconnected, and Napoleon stared at it blankly. Then he left school.

He hurried. Was Illya sicker? Dying? What could be amiss that she would be so bold as to call him? In secret, obviously, or why tell him to say nothing? A reason, she had said. Think of a reason.

He hadn't by the time he turned down his street. There were two unfamiliar vehicles out front, and he frowned at them. Taking the front steps two at a time he strode into the living area.

His father was sitting with two other men. Illya was standing before them, naked, wrists manacled behind him. When he looked up at Napoleon's step the hopelessness left his face, and his eyes brightened. "My lord," he began and a whip flicked out from one of the strange men so quickly Napoleon didn't even see it until it had struck, raising a bloody welt on Illya's chest.

"You are right," the man said to Napoleon's father. "He is insolent. I have a remedy for that, boy, as you will soon see."

"What is this?" Napoleon asked sharply. He gripped Illya's arm, moved him out of range of the whip. "How dare you strike what is mine?" He rounded on the offender so suddenly and so fiercely that the man drew back. "I will have you flogged!"

"I have decided to sell your Companion, Napoleon," his father said. He sounded brisk and full of his authority, but there was an uneasiness in his eyes.

"What? Without discussing it with me? You told me he was mine."

"The purchase papers are in my name. I am within my rights."


"You have learned from him what I wanted you to know. You carry yourself with a new assurance. Your teachers say the same. You command the younger pupils in your class effortlessly, and some of the older ones too. Your grades have never been better. It is time for you to learn how to deal with a woman. This boy will fetch a high price. I will use that to buy your new Companion, and there will be ample left over for your own use. He grows above himself. I have noted it with displeasure."

"A few nights in my brothel will take care of that," the other man said. "He will be very popular, and with looks like that he will remain popular for two years, perhaps three. After that ... well, it is a hard life. Beauty doesn't last."

"He remembers everything he hears and sees," Napoleon said, throwing himself into a chair with apparent indifference. "After his looks go you could still sell him for a good price as a records keeper of some sort. That should raise the initial bid considerably." Illya shot him a stricken look, which Napoleon pretended not to see. Illya bent his head, and didn't raise it again.

"Does he really?" The first man looked Illya up and down.

"Yes. And I cannot do without him till the end of term. My final exams are next week - all week. I have counted on this freak of his to see me through them. That is why I am here. Ill or not, I want him at the afternoon lecture. After my exams are finished ... Father, if I may be so bold?"


"One of my classmates has a girl with very dark skin. Almost black. It is intriguing. Might I request such a one?"

His father laughed, but with pride. He got up, clapped Napoleon on the back, clearly relieved at this development. "I will do better than that, my son. There will be a large market at the end of next week. We can drop this one off with Pierce here ..." he indicated the first man ..." for training and some discipline ..."

"Much discipline," said the brothel owner. "I do not wish him to ever dream of speaking first again."

"I will have his tongue branded if he does," the trainer said indifferently.

"And then you can make your own selection," his father went on. "I might even choose a Companion as well. It is not good for a man to sleep alone overlong. What say you?"

"Yes sir." Napoleon grinned at his father, and if there was no warmth in it the older man didn't notice. He slapped Napoleon on the back again.

"Very well. Keep him till your exams end. Then it will be time for you to look to college. A pretty little girl will be just the thing to warm your bed there."

"Yes sir. Thank you sir."

"You may go," his father said to the two men.

"I would leave the manacles on for a time," the trainer advised. "Remind him of his place."

Napoleon cleared his throat. "He does certain things with his hands that please me," he said diffidently, and all three men laughed.

"Does he now," said the brothel owner. "I will want a demonstration when you bring him to me." He unlocked the cuffs and Illya clasped his hands before him and stood, head still bent.

"Dress, boy," Napoleon ordered him sharply. "And hurry. The afternoon lecture starts in twenty minutes."

While his father escorted the two men out Napoleon went into the kitchen. Miss Giraud was cooking dinner, and she gave him a warning look. Napoleon nodded. Crossing over to the stove he helped himself to a spoonful of stew.

"I need to speak to Charles," he said. He didn't know what she could do about that, but she had surprised him repeatedly over the last few weeks and sure enough she surprised him again.

"He will call you."

Impulsively Napoleon hugged her, then left the kitchen. Illya was waiting by the front door, face averted. Napoleon snapped his fingers at him and left, Illya hurrying behind him.

Napoleon didn't slow his pace until they had rounded two corners and his house was well out of sight. Then he reached out, caught Illya's hand. It was icy cold, and Napoleon squeezed it.

"Fear not," he said, and his voice was strong and steady. The voice of a man, he thought. And a man ... a man keeps his promises. "I have sworn to protect you, and protect you I shall. All that ..." he waved his arm behind them "was an act only. I will not see you sold to some whorehouse, and I do not wish another Companion. Do not be afraid."

"Thank you, my lord." But Illya didn't look at him, and Napoleon stopped and turned. He put one finger under Illya's chin, and tilted his head back. Illya's eyes were dark and revealed nothing - neither fear nor trust. But his mouth trembled slightly and Napoleon kissed it. "I will protect you," he repeated, and Illya nodded. Napoleon squeezed his hand once more, then released him, and they went on to school together.

Charles called before they arrived. "It is dangerous to involve Miss Giraud," he said without preamble. "What is it?"

"I need out," Napoleon said tersely. "I - we - need to get out. Wherever you are, whatever this other life is you spoke of, I need it now."

"You said `we'."

"My Companion, Illya. He ... Father is selling him. It was to be today - they took advantage of his being home ill. Or they made him ill ..." something in his breakfast, Napoleon thought, because they had wanted this done quickly, and secretly. "The trader was there when I returned for lunch. I persuaded our father to leave it till week's end, after my final exams. But he is to be whipped, and sold to a brothel."

"So?" Charles said, and his voice had a note Napoleon hadn't heard before. "He is chattel, Napoleon. What matter if he is sold or not? Why should you leave everything for that?"

Napoleon ground his teeth. Beside him, Illya turned away. He was staring at something across the street, and when Napoleon followed his gaze he saw the bridge, and the drop off to the concrete highway far below. He closed one hand on Illya's arm, gripped him hard. "No," he said into his ear, then spoke to Charles again.

"I have given him my word," he said tightly. "I have promised him he is safe. A man keeps his word."

"Ah." Charles fell silent. Illya stood still within Napoleon's grasp, and after a moment Napoleon loosened it. He kept his hold, though, and waited.

"Very well," Charles said at last, but the odd note was still there. "You still do not need to cast aside your birthright. We will take him on his own. He will not be abused. There will be hard work, but there will be freedom too. I will keep your word for you. You can finish up your schooling and take your place in the city. Is that acceptable?"

Illya turned then, and looked at Napoleon. "It is acceptable, my lord," he said, and lifted his chin. "I will go on my own. Your father will not let us remain together in any event. I am not afraid of hard work."

So there it was. An acceptable alternative. He could tell his father that Illya had run away. There would be a search, but nothing like the hue and cry that would go up if he disappeared as well. Illya would be safe in Charles's keeping, and he himself could continue his smooth, comfortable life. His privileged life.

"No," he said. "No, Charles. Thank you, but no. I no longer wish to live as if I were a superior being. I am a man, like other men. And Illya ..." he looked at Illya for a long time. "I love Illya," he finished. "I love him. I will not lose him Whatever befalls us, we will face it together." And Illya's eyes were the most beautiful things he had ever seen, as brilliant as the blue flashes of simulated lightning in that weather chamber.

"Take the five o'clock train," Charles said and his voice had changed, lightened, warmed. It was his big brother again instead of the cold, comdeming stranger. "Buy a ticket for Moriches. That is the farthest stop on the line. Just like when we were smaller, brother. Remember? When we would leave junior school together and take the train home? The five o'clock train?"

"Five o'clock," Napoleon repeated. "It will be good to see you again, Charles.'

"You will not see me for a while," Charles cautioned. "You will have to follow instructions blindly. You will not be very comfortable on your journey, but at the end we will meet and there will be freedom. Remember, Napoleon. Five o'clock, just as when we were small." He disconnected, and Napoleon took Illya's hand.

"Five o'clock," he said. "So we go to school, then leave from there." He walked for a while in silence. It was incredible that he was doing all this for the last time. It was incredible that he was about to go on the run, a fugitive from everything he knew. His heart was pounding, his mind was racing. Then he came to a halt again.

"As when we were younger," he repeated. "Illya - when Charles and I were in school together we would often tell Father that we were taking the five o'clock train. But actually we would slip away after lunch and take a three o'clock train, stopping at Sand Point to watch the carriers unload. Charles would buy me caramel creams, and they always ruined my supper. Do you suppose ... he must have thought we might be overheard. Come." He turned down a side street and Illya followed without a word.

Napoleon stopped at a bank outlet and got cash - all the cash he had. Then they hurried to the train station.

"Sand Point," he said to the ticket taker. "Two."

"Does the boy ride in baggage?" the ticket taker inquired in a bored tone, jerking a thumb at Illya. "It would be less than half the price."

"He rides with me," Napoleon answered curtly. "His duty is to attend me, not to socialize with others of his type. Keep your eyes down and speak to no one," he snapped at Illya, who nodded meekly and followed him onto the train.

They rode for an hour, and disembarked at Sand Point. All around them great carriers were being loaded for trips to other Domes. A tall grey haired man approached them. "Come," he snapped. "Hurry."

"How do I know ..." Napoleon began, and the man waved an impatient hand.

"Come," he repeated. "There will be a new type of caramel cream at the end of your journey." Without another protest Napoleon went with him, pulling Illya close against him, fearful of being separated in this jostling crowd. They were led to a small alcove where the man threw loading suits at them. The suits covered them completely, even their faces. It was protection from harmful substances that might be handled, and when both were dressed they were indistinguishable from the hordes of other workers moving through the great station. "Keep an eye on your unit patch," the man warned, pointing to a small oblong of blue material fastened to their headgear. "It is torn on the top left corner. How else will you know one another, or me, or our friends? Now follow me."

Napoleon didn't let go of Illya's arm once. It was all too likely now that he would be swept away by the crowds, which swarmed around them and buffeted them on all sides. He held on to Illya, and followed the torn bit of blue fabric in front of him, and wondered at himself. Who would have thought, even at the beginning of this school year, that life would bring him here? When his father had said that he would learn about himself by owning Illya he had spoken truer than he had dreamed. He had learned ... then they were being pushed inside a carrier. Napoleon blinked in the dim lighting and saw lines of other men, similarly attired, sitting on long benches that stretched into the distance in a vast hold. He sat, brought Illya down beside him and more men followed, crowding together in a way he had never experienced. Then the big door swung shut, and in a moment the carrier began to move.

It moved fast and silently, gliding along the tracks deep beneath the ground. It could take days to travel from Dome to Dome, Napoleon knew. Were they to sit like this the whole way? It seemed so. So he sat and, with nothing else to occupy his mind, he thought of his father. By now surely he had realized that Napoleon was not returning from school. If he called there, he would find that they had not attended afternoon classes. He would discover the withdrawal of the money. How angry he would be - and suddenly Napoleon heard his voice, broken and old, saying "I have one son." Now his father had nothing. What had he been thinking? How could he cast his duty aside for this ... this boy he barely knew? This boy of the Others? And even what he thought he knew might be false, Illya turning the face to his new master he thought he would want to see. But then he felt, as if it were yesterday, Illya's back against his as they fought in the street. Illya was true, he was sure of it. `I love Illya', he had told Charles, and that was true as well. The threat of losing Illya was intolerable. Even now the firm pressure of Illya's arm against his side, Illya's thigh up against his, gave him strength. If they were cast adrift, they were cast adrift together, and that would be enough. Whatever new life lay ahead of them ... with its hard work and its freedom ... they would be together. Was Illya frightened? He patted Illya's leg reassuringly, and Illya rubbed the side of his faceplate against Napoleon's shoulder.

After a while Napoleon could see groups of men rising and leaving, then returning after about half an hour. He hoped this signified some sort of bathroom break because he was growing very uncomfortable. He waited, and finally their section got up and shuffled down the length of the room into another room lined with urinals. Napoleon exhaled with relief, and fumbled with his garment. How did the thing open? He peered about him, saw the man beside him unfasten a strap and found his own. The relief was absolute, and he heard Illya's exhalation as he too availed himself of the facilities. And how strange was this, standing in a line of anonymous men, their bare organs protruding from the enveloping white suits, performing so private a function? He fastened the strap, and the line turned and shuffled forward.

In another room trays lay steaming on tables and everyone sat. Visors were pushed up and food shoveled in - quickly. Napoleon hurried, sensing that they didn't have much time. He looked at Illya, and smiled. Illya smiled back. It was good to see Illya's smile after the long time with only the blank face plate, even though only his mouth and chin were visible. They smiled at one another, and ate, and very soon were marching back the way they had come, taking a circuitous route around the bathroom, where doubtless more rows of men were relieving themselves, and ended up back where they had begun.

There were more hours of waiting, and another trip to the bathrooms and the meal tables, then the lights were dimmed. Some men shifted to lie on the floor, and others rested their heads against the wall behind them. Napoleon pulled Illya against him, felt Illya's head settle on his shoulder, and leaned his cheek against the top of his head. He didn't think he'd ever be able to sleep like this, but he did - broken sleep, waking often with a start at his strange surroundings. Waking and sleeping, clutching Illya to him and feeling Illya's arms around his waist in return because they were all they had, now. Their other lives were a dim memory, and only this world of suited men, long benches, communal toilets, was left. And in that world, the only security for each, was the other.

A long, strange period of Napoleon's life thus began. Charles told him later that they had been in transit for twenty-two days. It could have been twenty-two months - or twenty-two hours. Time lost meaning. They sat and stared ahead of them for endless periods, then rose and shuffled on their unvarying way through the bathrooms to the meal tables and back to the stretch of benches. Periodically there were longer stops in the bathrooms, and the use of toilets that allowed for sitting but for no more privacy than the urinals. Napoleon, who would have said he could never perform such functions under observation, urinated and defecated in the crowd like all the others.

Sometimes he was overwhelmed with fear that he was alone, that Illya and he had been separated and another faceless anonymous stranger sat beside him. How would he know? Even at meals only the lower halves of faces showed, and he stared intently at Illya while they ate, reassured by the familiarity of those full, slightly pouting lips, that stubborn jaw; by the smile he got whenever Illya realized he was being watched. Once Illya reached out a gloved hand and brushed the cleft in Napoleon's chin, and Napoleon understood from that that Illya too feared that they had been lost to one another. He had kissed the hand, and Illya had smiled again before returning to his meal. But sometimes during the long stretches of nameless time on the benches Napoleon would feel the fear return, would be positive that the shrouded figure beside him was unknown to him; or he would become disoriented, not sure whether Illya was to his left or to his right. It was disconcerting.

And it all gave him too much time to think. He thought of his father, and wondered if it would ever be possible to see him again. Perhaps his father would follow them, would join them. What did he have left now, in the city? Charles would know. He couldn't wait to see Charles again. And he thought of his past life, and how unlikely it seemed that it had led him here. He wondered what lay ahead. Hard work, Charles had said, and Napoleon had never known hard work. His studies had always come easily to him, and his workouts in the training courses, while rigorous, had never forced him to true exertion. Now ... what? He didn't know.

Sometimes he wondered how it would have been if he hadn't come home that day. Illya would have been gone when he returned, and whatever story had been given him he would have had to accept. He would have been angry, and grieved, but he would have been powerless, too. He wouldn't have had the faintest idea of where to begin a search. Delving into the city's brothels would not have occurred to him. The thought frightened him, as if only a thin sliver of time and circumstance stood between his current reality and that other one, and he pressed closer to Illya - or to the body he hoped was Illya's, at his side. Illya would return the pressure and Napoleon would feel relieved, because surely a stranger wouldn't, surely a stranger would move away. He wished they could talk, but no one else spoke so neither did he.

When change did come it came abruptly and without warning. The smooth gliding motion he had completely ceased to heed stopped. There was a violent jerk that threw the men against one another, threw some of them to the floor. He grabbed for Illya - he hoped it was Illya - and held on. There was another jerk and then there was stillness. The stillness felt odd, as if his body were still traveling. Then everyone rose, and they were moving forward again.

There was no bathroom stop this time. They kept walking until they were in a very large room, and containers of various sizes and shapes lay stacked against the walls.

"Pull your visors tight!" A man in an orange suite shouted. "Grab and run, grab and run! Don't linger, don't hesitate. Grab and run!"

All around him men picked up containers, heaving them up to their shoulders, or onto their backs. Napoleon took one end of a box and watched Illya - how he hoped it was Illya! He had to know. He had to speak.


"Yes, my lord."

Napoleon exhaled with relief. "We share the same container every time," he ordered. "Now." They lifted, and ran with the rest. A massive metal door slid upward and a blast of wind nearly knocked them down.

Outside! Napoleon stopped in his tracks. They were Outside! All around them purple and black clouds swirled and spun. Grit struck his faceplate, the howl of the wind filled the world. He wanted to run back in - what had he been thinking? Had he gone mad? What sort of life could Charles have been talking about out here, in this insanity?

"Run!" someone was bellowing through a megaphone. "Don't hesitate, don't wait! Sooner done, sooner back with a rich man's money in your pockets! Grab and run! Grab and run!"

So Napoleon ran. He and Illya ran with the rest, and then another structure loomed up in front of them. Everyone was running inside it so he followed. The floor beneath him pitched and rocked and the sound of water sloshing and slapping against the sides nearly drowned out the sound of the wind. A ship. He had learned of these vessels that plied the oceans between land masses, where even the underground tunnels could not go. Although the seas were as filthy and deadly as the land and the air, supplies had to travel, and men had to bring them. The lives of those who worked these ships were short and brutal, and usually only criminals did so. Napoleon shuddered. Grab and run, and he would, he couldn't wait to run from here.

He and Illya went back and forth, back and forth. Some of the containers were heavy, some just awkward, but they stayed together and worked together and Napoleon spared a moment to marvel at Illya's strength and agility. Who would think, to look at him, that that slim elegant body could move so fast, could lift such heavy loads? And Illya was smart, and he was loyal, and he had a wicked wit - yet to men like Alcott Solo he had one function and one function only. Yes, it was good that they were leaving. Whatever lay ahead of them would be better. It had to be.

The stacks of containers never seemed to grow less, and Napoleon had begun to think they would grab and run until they died when change came again. This time they were yanked inside the ship. "Take it to the hold," he was ordered. "All the way. Follow those others. Hurry!"

So they did. They struggled through the narrow corridors of the ship, which was moving under them in a very disconcerting way. Then they stumbled down a flight of steep steps, their burden bumping their shins and knees, and they were in another open space. Containers were stacked here, too and they carried theirs over and added it to the pile. Then two more hazard suits were thrust at them, and they followed the rest to another compartment.

These suits were rougher, weather beaten and worn. Napoleon blinked at the one in his hands. "What -" he began.

"Put them on! Quickly!"

"But we will die without these!" He clutched his white suit closer around him. "How can I remove it here - Outside?"

"A few moments won't kill you, and this is just as serviceable if not as pretty. Do it or go back the way you came. There are others who want to be men."

And sure enough, all around them men were stripping off the white suits and donning the brown suits, and different men were pulling on the white ones. Napoleon saw Illya stepping out of his pants, and hurried to do the same. Whatever happened to them from here on in would happen to both of them. So he stripped, and stepped into the brown suit, pulled down the face visor and found himself sitting on another bench. He watched Illya closely to be sure it was really him, and then pulled him down, putting him between the wall and himself.

There was a long interval while men rushed in, changed suits and other men rushed out - presumably to take their places on the carrier going back to the city. Then there was a lot of shouting above their heads and the ship moved.

It moved! Napoleon clutched at the bench with one hand, at Illya with the other. The ship rolled so far over it seemed it must tip, then rolled back and they were moving forward. Another journey, even stranger than the last, was beginning.

A strange journey it was indeed. They sat in the hold, but without the eerie silence and routine that had marked the earlier days. Men talked to one another, called across the space to one another, joked and pushed and abused one another. There were curses such as Napoleon had never heard, there was coarse humor and bad temper. Meals were brought to them and they ate where they were - rough slop but not tainted. The latrines were at the other end of the room, a trench only, over which they stood or squatted. The motion of the ship made many ill, and these remained by the trench, huddled in misery, retching into it, being shoved aside when another needed their spot, crawling back when there was room.

Napoleon blessed his strong stomach. He ate the food and drank the water and never felt a moment's illness. Neither, evidently, did Illya. The fear that they had been separated was eased now, with the new freedom to converse. All he had to do was say, "Illya?" and Illya would answer "Here, my lord." It was a huge relief every time. They talked desultorily; not knowing what lay ahead, and not wanting to touch on what lay behind, left not much else to say.

"Do you think your brother will meet us when we land?" Illya asked, and Napoleon nodded.

"I hope so," he said honestly. "Otherwise what will we do? Where will we go?"

"There must be others here who have no family to assist them," Illya said. "What will they do? Where will they go?"

"I don't know."

"Surely there is a plan. It has been well thought out so far. We could never have come this far without such a plan."

"No." Napoleon fell silent. Then "Are you afraid, Illya?"

"No, my lord. We are together. And I have worked hard before. I can do so again. If it is true that I will be a man like any other man, not merely a pretty orifice for anyone's use, then hard work and deprivation will be as nothing."

A pretty orifice. "Is that how you saw yourself?" he asked curiously.

"No. But that is how I was seen. That was my only value. It is all that kept me alive, when my family was killed. My looks marked me, as surely as if I had been branded. The men who won the battle used me, the men they sold me to used me, the men who sold me to your father had used me first, and you ... you used me. Kindly," he added hastily, "and with great courtesy - I never knew such kindness, my lord. But my saying no was not an option."

"I wouldn't have punished you." Would he? It was hard to think back to that time, when Illya had merely been his latest plaything, bought and paid for, his function - Illya was right, there - as clearly marked as a thief's brand.



"Perhaps not. You were always kind. But would you have kept me?"

"I don't know. I ... I'm sorry, Illya. I'm sorry I used you when you did not wish it. My father said that owning you would teach me what sort of a man I was. I hope you are not too displeased with the result."

"I am pleased with you, my lord. You taught me pleasure, you taught me trust, you allowed me to learn from your books and your teachers, defying your father to do so. Sometimes I fear that you will regret it, that you will look at me one day and think of the privileged life you left behind, and think that it was not worth it. That I was not worth it."

"Never." Napoleon pushed up his visor for a moment to stare earnestly into Illya's face. For answer Illya pushed back his own, and their eyes met. "You are worth everything to me. And I left for myself, too. How could I continue in a place that would treat you so? How could I turn into a man whose conscience would rest easy with that? Or with the trampling of a child in the streets? Or with destroying men whose only crime was standing up and saying that that is what they are, men? You speak of what I taught you. You taught me that we are all men together, and that any system that does not recognize that fact is flawed. Where we are going I do not know, but I trust my brother, and he says we will all be men together there."

"I hope so, my lord. I do not know your brother, but I know you. I trust you. And together we can make a life for ourselves, given half a chance."

"Given half a chance," Napoleon echoed, and fell silent again.

Much later the door to their room was flung open. "Baths out on deck if you like!" a rough looking man announced cheerfully. It took Napoleon a moment to realize what was different about him. He wore no protective suit! He had come from Outside, and he wore no suit! Furthermore he was offering a bath - which would certainly be welcome. Napoleon's skin fairly crawled with the accumulated sweat and dirt of many days and nights. But to bathe he would have to remove the suit - Outside! How could that be? Around him a murmur was going up, and it echoed his thoughts.

"Bath?" "How can we bathe in this garb?" "Where is his suit?" "Outside?" "Outside?" "Go Outside and bathe?"

"Coming or no, it's all one to me," the sailor said indifferently. He turned and went back upstairs.

"Well I'm for it!" a big man declared. "It did him no harm. We didn't expect to wear these for the rest of our lives, did we?" He started up the stairs, and a few others joined him. Napoleon looked at Illya, who shrugged, and together they rose and followed.

Outside! Napoleon clung to the rail and looked at the heaving black mass in front of him. The ocean tossed and threw up spray, the sky was dark grey and clouds hung low. They were black and grey too. The ominous purples and yellows and greens were gone. All around him men were working - climbing ladders, pulling at ropes, pushing water across the deck - and none wore suits. Napoleon saw a bucket set atop a platform. The big man who had gone first stripped off his suit, and his clothes, and stood naked under it. He was mostly muscle gone to fat, and he was covered with body hair. The sailor on the platform tossed him something with which he began to rub his hair and body. Then the bucket tipped and a great torrent of water covered him. He kept rubbing and lather appeared, which he worked through his hair and rubbed all over himself. He was shivering, and gooseflesh sprang up on his body, but he was naked, he was Outside, and he was still alive! Another flood of water rinsed him clean and he stepped aside.

"Oh yes," Illya said fervently, and before Napoleon could stop him he was unfastening his suit. Then he pulled off the headpiece and inhaled deeply. "Oh, yes," he repeated, finished stripping down and joined the line of naked men waiting their turn for the soap and bucket. Rather awkwardly Napoleon removed his own headpiece, and air poured into his lungs. Dazed by it he stood, greedily gulping it in. It tasted of salt, and a freshness he had never experienced. The air in the Dome was clean, of course it was, but it was flat and bland compared with this. He caught at the arm of a sailor who had paused in his work to watch the proceedings with amusement.

"Explain," he demanded. "How is it that the air is clean and we are able to breathe it? There is nothing but poison and death beyond the Domes."

"Does this seem like poison and death then?" the man demanded, waving his arm at the sea, the sky, the working men. "They lie to you, to keep you quiet. They fill you with fear of the Outside better to control you. Yes, around the Domes the air is poisoned and foul. None could live there. But travel a bit across the sea and it is as it was - better than it was, because all the machinery is under the Domes. A few days further north and the sky will be blue, and you will see the sun, lad. Ah, it's a fine thing to see the sun and the stars - I well remember my first time. Go on, it's your turn.

Napoleon accepted the soap and braced himself for the icy water that poured down on him from above. He scrubbed himself all over, body tingling. It felt good, it felt so good. When finished he was given a rough scrap of cloth to dry himself with, and a different set of clothes - ragged trousers and a flannel shirt. It was as he was buttoning that up, and watching Illya stand at the rail, clearly enthralled, that the fight began.

"Illya," he said, and Illya turned and smiled at him. His hair was wet, and it clung to his head, curled around his jaw, dripped onto his shoulders in the blue work shirt he wore.

"Yes, my lord?"

And then a tremendous blow struck Napoleon and he sprawled onto the deck. Blinking up, he saw the big man who had gone up the ladder first standing over him.

"Now I've held my tongue this whole way!" he bellowed. "But I'm damned if I'm holding it any more! We have no lords here, my fine young one, and no slaves either! And if I hear this youngster call you so again -" and then Illya came across the deck. He launched himself at the man, head striking him in the stomach, faster than Napoleon would have believed possible, and with such force that the man lost whatever other words he might have had, and sat down beside Napoleon. His face turned an odd greenish hue, and he clutched at his middle. Illya kicked him.

"And I did not come this whole way to be dictated to by you!" he spat. "I'll call him what I like, say what I like, and damned to you for an interfering jackass!" He kicked the big man again. The man rubbed his shoulder, where the last kick had landed, and got to his feet with a speed that belied his size. He towered over Illya, and Napoleon jumped up too.

"Don't you harm him," he said, and there was no bellowing in his voice because there was no heat in his mind. His rage was cold and deadly and he felt that, knew that, and knew himself for a dangerous man. He would kill this one if he laid a finger on Illya, and he wouldn't shout about it either. But the man, after looking Illya up and down, burst out laughing. He laughed, and slapped Illya on the back so hard it nearly knocked him off his feet.

"True enough!" he said, and laughed some more. "You didn't come all this way to mind me, that's a fact!" He laughed again. "And what a fighter we bring to this new world, though he looks a babe in arms!" He looked at Napoleon and spat. "It sticks in my craw, but I'll not say another word about it. But listen to this, my lord." He made the word an obscenity. "If I'd chosen to harm him there'd be nothing you could do to stop me!"

"No?" Napoleon said, and smiled. He was thinking of the several moves he could have made, of the ways he had been taught to kill this man, even big as he was, bare handed.

"But you would have tried," the man allowed. "You would have tried to protect him, and I have to give you that."

"I am ready to go in, my lord," Illya said, and Napoleon looked at him. He stood for a long time and looked at Illya, small, slim, jaw still set hard, and then he smiled again and there was no anger in it this time.

"Napoleon," he said, and a murmur went up around him. "My name is Napoleon. This gentleman," he made a slight bow to the big man, "is right. If there are no lords in this new world then it will be a better place for it. Napoleon."

"Napoleon," Illya said, and he smiled too. They stood there and smiled at one another, and then a huge thwack between the shoulder blades made Napoleon stagger. He almost came around to do battle before hearing that great laugh, and realized the man had slapped his back in approval just as he had Illya's.

"Napoleon!" he bellowed. "And a fine name it is, too! Steven Dillard, at your service!" He made Napoleon a bow of his own.

"All right, enough. Go below so others can have their turn." This came from a man in black, who was clearly in authority because the sailors promptly returned to their work and the line of men started towards the steps without protest. Napoleon fell in, feeling free and easy without the suit, feeling fresh and clean after his bath, and even though he was cold - very cold, shuddering with the cold - he didn't think he had ever been this happy. Illya was right behind him, and when they returned to their bench Napoleon drew him in, feeling Illya too shivering. They huddled together, and breathed the fresh air coming down the stairs, and as sleep took him Napoleon whispered "Goodnight, Illya."

"Goodnight, Napoleon." They closed in even tighter, and slept.

They bathed daily after that, going up on the deck, shivering under the impact of the cold water, scrubbing themselves down, standing about for a while looking at the frightening sea, then going below to huddle together. Napoleon wished they could stay out longer, but saw clearly that they could not. The men were only in the sailors' way when they were above, and they had to keep moving, to give everyone a chance.

One night there was a storm. The ship pitched and tossed, thunder made conversation impossible, and lightning flared through the hold, illuminating the faces of the terrified men. Napoleon clutched at Illya as they were thrown about, bracing them with his other arm against the wall. Water poured in the small porthole on the side, flooded the trench and sent its contents swirling around their feet. Napoleon pulled his up and Illya did the same, but the wretched men who had huddled on the floor, vomiting up every bit of food they had been given, were awash in their own refuse. Then the door was flung open above, and more water poured down the stairs.

"All hands on deck! All hands on deck! We need every one of you that can walk, so unless you want to swim to the new land, come and help us!"

Napoleon sprang to his feet and joined the general rush. "Stay here," he rapped at Illya, and Illya shook his head.

"No, my ... Napoleon. I am as fit as any. Let me help." He was following Napoleon as he spoke, and Napoleon stopped on the ladder.

"Go back! You will be washed overboard!"

"Go back," Steven Dillard said. He pointed a big finger in Illya's face. "We've man's work to do above decks, and no time to be watching out for you."

Illya knocked the finger aside. He eyed the two men standing shoulder to shoulder at the base of the steps, then his eyes widened in terror. "Look out!" he cried, and reflexively both Napoleon and Dillard turned. Like a cat Illya sprang onto their backs then up again, gone before they could stop him. Dillard laughed out loud.

"Damn if he didn't catch us fair and square," he said admiringly. "He's a dead man up there for sure, but no one can fault his courage."

Napoleon raced after Illya, but as soon as he emerged he was grabbed by two sailors and given a rope to hold. "Pull!" one shouted, and Napoleon pulled. He wasn't sure what effect he was having, but in a moment another man grabbed the same rope and added his weight. They pulled and tugged - sometimes being lifted off their feet, sometimes staggering across the deck. Then another sailor grabbed the end and wrapped it around a steel bolt on the deck. "Next one," he gasped, and Napoleon seized the trailing rope and pulled on it too. Understanding better what was needed, he dragged it towards another bolt and it was tied like the first. Then he was handed a bucket.

"Bail! Bail or we sink!"

So he bailed. He dipped the bucket in the water running deep on the deck and threw it overboard, dipped and threw, dipped and threw. All around him men were doing the same thing, trying desperately to put the sea back where it belonged. He looked for Illya when he could, but the task at hand was too pressing, the sky too dark, the lightning flashes too unpredictable. The wind howled around him, and twice the ocean rose up, slapped him in the face, knocking him off his feet and only the arms of those around him, grabbing him and holding on, saved him. He too grabbed at men who were similarly sliding towards their deaths. He could only hope that someone would do the same for Illya if needed.

Then he and all the men near him were knocked flat by an enormous wave rising over the rail and coming down on their heads, tipping the ship so far over that the deck became a nearly vertical plank. Napoleon grabbed one of the bolts, got an arm through it and with his free hand held onto the man beside him. It felt as if he were being pulled in two. He gritted his teeth and hung on while the wave retreated, sucking at them, trying to drag them with it. He heard himself scream in pain and then, in a particularly brilliant flash of lightning he saw Illya overhead in the rigging, something in his hand - another rope, he saw in the next flash. The ship rocked and pitched, and Illya clutched at the mast. Darkness fell again and Napoleon gasped, renewed his grip on the bolt and strained to see. The next flash showed Illya still wrapped around the mast, and Napoleon could have sworn he was laughing. His head was back, his mouth was open and he was, he was laughing into the storm. Napoleon lost sight of him then, and in another moment two men loomed over him, one taking his burden from him, the other helping him to his feet.

Things seemed to be settling down. The ship still rolled, but not as wildly. The waves no longer came over the deck, and when the man beside him said "Damn, but that was a good `un" Napoleon realized he could hear again, hear something besides the howl of the wind and the booming of the thunder. Then he was handed another bucket. "Bail," the man said, and Napoleon bailed.

He bailed until his shoulders were one screaming ache, until his back hurt more than he would have believed possible, until his hands were bloody. But all around him other men were doing the same, cursing and crying out and laughing. Napoleon laughed too, at this final evidence that Charles and his friends were right, and his father wrong. They were all men together. There were no masters or servants here. There were only the fit, and the unfit. And he himself - he threw another bucket of water into the quiet sea - was fit.

"Napoleon!" Illya came up beside him, and emptied his own bucket. His eyes were enormous and brilliant, face flushed. "They said that's it. We can stop."

"Good," Napoleon said fervently and dropped the bucket at his feet. He looked at his hands, and then at Illya's, which were equally torn and bloody. "Did I see you up there, fastening a rope to the mast?"

"Yes. They needed someone light, so it's a good thing I came. Don't ever hold me back like that again, Napoleon. I love you for wanting to protect me, but don't. It shames me."

"I'm sorry." Napoleon brushed a piece of dirt off Illya's cheek with his thumb. "I was frightened for you."

"And I for you. I saw you holding onto Dillard, and I couldn't understand how his weight didn't pull you both over."

"Was that Dillard? Odd how our paths seem to cross at every turn."

"Yes. But not so odd, Napoleon. He's fearless and strong, just like you are. So it is only natural that you would be in the forefront of the danger together."

Fearless and strong. Napoleon basked in Illya's praise for a moment, then the familiar blow struck him on the back. He groaned.

"Will you cut that out! I've had all the buffets I want for one night."

Dillard slapped his back again. "But we made it!" he exulted.

"Yes," Napoleon agreed. "We made it."

It was a wretched night below. All the food had been drenched in the storm, so they gnawed at cold wet biscuits that didn't soften one bit for being soaked through. Water was severely rationed, and the filth from the trench still lay underfoot. Their clothes clung damply to their bodies, and their bodies ached. Cuts stung in the salt water. But they were alive, they had made it through. There was no one huddled on the floor, and when Napoleon mentioned it Illya turned those blue eyes on him.

"They're all dead," he said flatly. "When the ship keeled over the water came right through here. Anyone below was drowned, and their bodies have already been thrown overboard. Remember that the next time you try to hold me back."

"I will," Napoleon said meekly. Again he saw Illya, high in the rigging, as at home there as he had ever been in Napoleon's big soft bed. "It is a hard world we go to," he continued.

"Yes. But we are strong, my ... Napoleon. We have survived this far, we will survive whatever is ahead of us. It gave me strength, seeing you below."

"It gave me strength too, seeing you above." They smiled at one another. Then Illya laid his head on Napoleon's shoulder.

"It seems a long time," he murmured, "since I have felt your touch."

"I know. And it may be longer still. But surely once we reach this new land, we will find a home for ourselves. Or build one," he added, thinking of the tales he had heard of vast forests and hidden coves, of cliffs and deserts and great hardship mixed with great beauty.

"We will make one," Illya said, and he smiled into Napoleon's eyes. "We will build our lives, Napoleon, and live them as men. Free men. It is a wonderful thought."

And Napoleon, who would have said he had always been a free man, nodded. "Yes it is," he said, and put an arm around Illya's shoulder, hugging him hard. "It certainly is."

They slept, after a fashion, and were awakened by a glare. What ... Napoleon blinked, shielded his eyes from the brilliant light coming through the porthole. He shook Illya awake.

"Look," he said, although he couldn't really, his eyes were flooding with tears. "Look, my love. It is ... it must be ... the sun."

"The sun," Illya repeated, and tried to peer at it through his fingers. "I never thought to see it for myself. I heard it was forever darkened."

"So did I. But there it is. I wish we could -" and then the door above decks was flung open again, just as it had been last night, only instead of water the sunshine poured in.

"Come up!" a man bellowed. "You've earned this, every one of you! Come up and see!"

When they emerged onto the deck they were blinded. Napoleon clapped both hands over his eyes and felt Illya clinging to his arm as they followed the crowd until they bumped into the railing. Napoleon tried to see, tried and failed and tried again. He looked down this time, but the sun glinted off the blue waves with such focused brilliance it was like daggers shooting into his eyes. He would just have to wait. So he waited, and waited, and finally was able to take his hands down and look about him - through squinted eyes at first, then finally full view.

It took his breath away. The sky was such a blue as he had never seen before, except in Illya's eyes, he thought, and turned to see Illya staring at the water. The sun struck fiery red and gold lights from his hair and Napoleon was spellbound by it. He reached out, touched it with trembling fingers. He had always thought Illya's hair beautiful, but seeing it now made it seem impossible that he had ever run his hands though it as if ... as if he owned it. At the touch Illya turned to look at him, and his eyes were indeed the same shade as the sky, as though the sun, on coming to rest in his hair, had brought the blue with it.

"Your hair," Napoleon whispered. "It is like a fire. I can't ... Illya!" Marvel upon marvel, and he could not credit what his eyes were seeing. "Look!"

Illya turned his head and looked at the ocean. "What ..." he began and then the creatures leapt again, glistening grey and white bodies curving up into the air then disappearing into the water.

"Porpoises," Napoleon said, mind going back to his textbooks. "They are marine porpoises. But I thought they were all gone."

"Nothing's gone, lad," a sailor told him. "It's all still out here, far from the Domes, just waiting for brave men to come and find it. You'll see when you reach the new land. Deer and bears, raccoons and wildcats - it's all there still."

"So they lied," Napoleon said. He had known it really, ever since embarking on this voyage, ever since getting to know Illya, but here was the final proof. Extinct, his books said about those marvelous animals that even now were pacing the ship, seeming to grin up at him and share his joy. But they were not extinct. "They lie to this day."

"Aye," the sailor agreed. "They lie. First time crossing into the light, boys. Get ready to fly - and swim!"

Before Napoleon could ask he saw all around him the men he had traveled with being lifted into the air and flung overboard. Treachery! They were betrayed, all of them! Then rough hands were laid on him and he heard mighty shouts of "One! Two! Three!" and he was aloft, soaring through the air, soaring and falling. "Illya!" He cried the name in despair, and then he hit the water. Shockingly cold, shockingly salty, he plummeted through it until his descent slowed, and he struggled towards the light. He could swim, all young men of his station learned to swim, but could Illya? Illya, oh Illya, I promised to protect you. If he could reach the surface in time, maybe he still could but then what? Watch the ship sail off without them? He could see the light above him, sending great shafts through the green water, and in another second his head broke the surface.

"Illya!" he shouted, and looked around wildly. "Illya!"

"Here I am." The voice was behind him so he spun about and Illya, hair plastered to his head, was treading water easily and ... and laughing?

"You laugh at the damndest things," he said, exasperated. "What now? Do you think one of those porpoises will take us safely to the new land?"

"I think they will," Illya said, and pointed. Napoleon looked up and saw great ropes being thrown to them from the deck above. Men were grabbing them and being towed to the ship, where ladders had been let down. "I think it is some sort of initiation," Illya went on. "The first ones were already being pulled up when they grabbed us, and I know you can swim, my lord. I wasn't worried."

"I didn't know you could," Napoleon said. He was breathless with the fear of that moment. "I thought they had betrayed us, and would leave us here to drown."

Illya smiled at him. "I heard you call my name," he said softly. "Even in what you thought were your final moments, you thought of me."

"Always," Napoleon said hoarsely. "Always, I think of you."

"I love you, Napoleon," Illya said, and his smile softened. There was such tenderness in it that Napoleon couldn't resist. He leaned forward and kissed it, kissed Illya's lips, which were cold and tasting of salt, but they warmed under his, warmed and parted. They kissed for another moment, there on the surface of the sea, then Napoleon swam towards the nearest rope. They both held on, pulled rapidly through the water to the side of the ship. Napoleon sent Illya up first, then followed, to be met on deck with hot whiskey and rough drying cloths. They rubbed themselves down, then went back to the railing, to stare at the water, and the sky, and the sun which was descending now, looking enormous, reflecting red on the water. Above them, the stars came out.

"Oh," Napoleon said rather inadequately. "Oh." He watched as the sky darkened to a midnight blue sprinkled throughout with those sparkling dots. Some were reddish, and some more golden, but all were so bright he could see them reflected in Illya's eyes. He put one arm around Illya's shoulders, and they stood there side by side and watched the moon rise.

"Sleep on deck tonight if you like," the captain called. "There are not so many of you as there were, and I wouldn't send a dog back down after this. Tomorrow I'll call for volunteers to scrub the below deck, and those who do get a permanent berth above."

Napoleon thought of the filth and the stench and grimaced. But he would volunteer, he already knew it, because to stay up here day and night, to watch the sun and the stars and the moon, would be well worth it. And he didn't have to ask Illya what he would do. Illya would work by his side, would do his fair share and more. They would work together, and then they would bathe, and sleep up here looking at the stars. Together.

The work was as filthy as expected, and then some. They shoveled the thick stinking muck into buckets, and other men carried the buckets up and emptied them into the sea. Then they raked, shoveled some more, and finally the hose was brought down and a hard salt water spray skidded across the floor.

Only seven of them had been inclined to do the work - Napoleon himself with Illya, Dillard, and four others. The rest had remained above and seemed content enough with their clean berths at the end of the day. When Napoleon emerged, feeling as if his skin were about to crawl off his bones from sheer revulsion, he saw several sailors splashing about in the ocean water. The offal from the buckets had been left far behind, and now the ship was at a standstill. The water sparkled, blue and inviting. Napoleon tore off his clothes and went off the rail in a dive that took him deep under the water, the stinging cold refreshing after the heat and the odor below decks. He surfaced in time to see Illya hit the water beside him, with Dillard right behind. They played and splashed one another, dove under to yank at one another's ankles, and finally ended by floating on their backs looking up at the sky, where the first stars were making their appearance. Napoleon turned his head to watch Illya's profile, clear and sharp in the gathering dusk. In a moment, as if feeling his gaze, Illya too turned and they smiled at one another. Small brown specks sprinkled Illya's nose, and his face was reddened. Napoleon touched it.

"It must be from the sun," he said, and Illya quirked an eyebrow at him.

"What is? The redness?"

"Yes, and these brown dots. Do I have them too?"

"No, although your nose is red and the skin looks to be peeling off."

"No!" Napoleon rubbed at his nose, which was decidedly itchy, and was aghast to pull white shreds of skin away. "Something must be wrong! I've caught a disease from all that filth!"

"Nah," drawled one of the sailors, who was treading water nearby. "It's the sun, that's all. You're not used to it. After a while you'll be as brown as me, and then you won't notice it. Maybe not you," he added to Illya. "That skin'll burn and peel and burn again. You might want to be more careful. Hold - the captain's signaling."

Sure enough the ropes were coiling down and Napoleon followed the sailor up, aware of Illya right behind him, and Dillard behind them both. Up on deck he looked with distaste at his dirty clothes. "I'll sleep naked rather than put those back on," he said, but Illya scooped them up with his, and scrubbed them in a bucket of salt water. He was smiling as he did it and Napoleon, embarrassed and not knowing why, made some awkward attempts to help but his hands were clearly in the way in the confines of the bucket.

"You can do it next time," Illya said comfortably. "I don't mind." He looked so beautiful, with the setting sun turning his hair to flame, with his sunburned nose making his eyes look even bluer, that Napoleon wanted to kiss him right then and there. He didn't, but he wondered just how long it would be before they could go into a room and close the door behind them. After they pulled their wet clothes back on he looked about for someone to ask how much farther they had to sail, when a commotion near the railing attracted his attention. He went over, bringing Illya with him with a hand gesture. He still wasn't comfortable having Illya out of his sight on this ship - he'd seen some of the looks sent his way. And although Illya seemed to have won their respect, Napoleon didn't trust any of them with him. So they hurried to the rail where everyone else was clustered, pointing and exclaiming.

A school of fish - yet another thing he had read about and never expected to see - was pacing the boat, clearly waiting for the scraps that were sometimes thrown overboard. They were big fish, with great sails on their backs and wickedly pointed noses. They skimmed the water, leaped out then disappeared beneath. It was a beautiful sight, and Napoleon was lost in appreciation when a great churning and splashing erupted in the middle of the school. Illya hoisted himself up higher on the railing to get a better look, and nearly fell over when more men, arriving to see what there was to see, jostled him. Napoleon caught his arm just in time.

"Be careful," he said sternly.

"I can swim, and you'd pull me back up," Illya returned, and began to climb the railing again. He was dragged back down by the sailor they had spoken to earlier, and given a hard shake.

"Keep your hands off him!" Napoleon flared just as Illya shoved the man hard in the chest.

"Don't touch me! Who do you think you are?"

"Fall then," the sailor said, and laughed. "Fall and be supper."

"What?" Illya looked again, and a great maw came out of the water. That was all Napoleon saw at first, a gaping mouth full - incredibly full - of huge jagged teeth. The mouth chomped closed, and blood streamed from it as the fish it had taken were swallowed. Then the monster disappeared.

"There you go lad," the sailor said. "Still fancy a swim?"

"What was that?" Napoleon said, holding onto Illya to keep him safe, keep him there, on the deck, by his side. "What the devil -" then the creature appeared again, hurling its massive body clear of the water.

It was a great fish, longer than many transport vehicles Napoleon had seen, and thick around as a truck. Two fins came from its back, and after it sank below the water those fins were all he could see, moving away, pausing, then coming back in a rush. Again the water darkened to blood red, pieces of fish flying.

"Shark," the sailor said laconically. "Yet another beastie they'll tell you is long gone, but they're not."

Napoleon swallowed. "You mean they're in the ocean all the time? Even when we were ..." he had a very vivid image of himself and Illya, bobbing about on the surface of the water, and all the time underneath that monster swam.

"Not so much in broad day," the sailor said. "They seek the cooler depths then. It's in early morning and evening time, like this, that they come up looking for food. But they're always there, yes. And more besides."

"More besides," Napoleon echoed faintly. He looked at Illya, who was staring at the water. Then he turned, touched the sailor lightly on the arm.

"You were trying to help me," he said. "I didn't know. I apologize."

"No need. Keep them fists handy, lad, you might need them again. So, will you be swimming tomorrow?"

"No!" Napoleon said quickly. "I mean - well, I mean no." The sailor laughed.

"It gives you a tingle," he allowed. "Laying there in the water, knowing you look like a tasty morsel from underneath. That's why I'm never first in nor last out. The more men in the water the better the odds, I say."

"I suppose that's so," Napoleon said, and the sailor went his way. "I think I'll stick to the bucket for washing from now on."

"When we get there maybe we can swim off the shore," Illya said. "Something that big couldn't come in too close."

"When we get there," Napoleon repeated. "When will that be, I wonder?"

"I don't know. But I don't think it will be too much longer. They've gotten much freer with the rations."

That was true, and Napoleon considered it in surprise. The meals had been bigger, and the water was now freely available for all. "You're right. I hadn't thought about it." He eyed Illya with renewed respect. "I'm glad you're so alert."

"I'm always alert to my meals," Illya said, and laughed. Napoleon laughed too, and then they went to the mate for their sleeping assignments.

They were given a small corner behind a ventilation tube. Napoleon had brought their blankets up and washed them earlier, draping them over the railing to dry. He had been awkward with the unaccustomed task, but determined not to treat Illya - not to treat anyone - as a servant again. Now he spread one blanket out, and they tugged the other over them. Napoleon drew Illya closer, and Illya tucked his head into the crook of Napoleon's neck, inhaling deeply. "You smell so good, my lord," he said drowsily. "And what an adventure we are on!"

"You do too," Napoleon said, sniffing Illya's hair with pleasure. "Like salt, and fresh air and sunshine. And this is the greatest adventure I have ever imagined. That we are together makes it perfect."

"Perfect," Illya agreed, managed to wriggle even closer, and fell sound asleep in Napoleon's arms. Napoleon rested his cheek on Illya's head and watched the stars for a while before succumbing to sleep himself.

They sailed into harbor five days after that. They were days of surprising leisure, after the frantic efforts of the earlier portions of the voyage. The ship sailed on and on, day in and day out. No more storms rose to threaten them, and with some men sleeping below and the rest on deck the sanitary situation was much improved. Napoleon wasn't tempted into the water again, contenting himself with the bucket and hand soap. Illya, showing a reckless streak Napoleon had never suspected, tried to persuade him but Napoleon refused and, when Illya made as if to dive in himself, forbade it.

"What?" Illya folded his arms and glared at him. "You what? You forbid me? I thought that was left behind us, my lord." He hit the last word hard, and Napoleon flushed. But Illya wasn't finished. "If you think you are going to continue to order me about, forbidding me this or that as your fancy dictates, then you need to think again. That is not why I traveled this long way. I am free. A free man, just as you are, my lord." Those final two words now fairly dripped sarcasm.

"You came all this way just to be free?" Napoleon said painfully. "Not ... I thought you came with me because you love me. Do you no longer love me, Illya?"

"What does that have to do with it? I love you - of course I love you. But I am no longer your trinket, to be petted or punished at your whim. Besides, Charles would have taken me on my own. It is you who followed me."

"Because I love you. And ... and I cannot bear the thought of you in that water, with monsters like the one we saw. I cannot bear the thought of your body being shredded ... I cannot lose you, Illya. Please don't go. Please wait until we reach land, and can swim off safer shores. I am not ordering you. I am begging you. Please."

"Well." Illya stood stiffly for a moment, then relented. He came over to Napoleon, put both arms around his neck and kissed his shoulder. "Very well. Since you are asking me and not telling me, I will not go."

"Good." Napoleon exhaled with relief and embraced Illya in his turn. "Because I would have had to go with you - how could I not at least try to protect you? And I confess freely that I am afraid."

"You? Afraid?"

"Yes. I am afraid of that ... that shark. I could not be easy for one moment in the water, picturing my legs dangling down like bait on a hook."

Illya laughed softly. "But you would go, if I did?"

"Yes. I would go if you did."

"Because you love me."

"Yes. Because I love you."

"And I love you, Napoleon. I am sorry if anything I said just now caused you to think I did not. I don't like being ordered around. I never liked it, and yet had to swallow it so often I nearly choked on it. Now I do not have to."

"There may be orders, in this new place," Napoleon said. "Even here, the captain can command us. Once on land, there will be an established way of doing things, and we will no doubt be assigned our places in it. Where we live, the work we do ... there may well be orders."

"And I will follow them willingly. I know I will be inexperienced and ignorant there. But when it comes to ... to me, to things that affect no one but myself, then I will not be told what to do."

"My father had no idea what he was getting, when he purchased you," Napoleon said. "So biddable and tractable you appeared, and underneath filled with rebellion."

"I did not even know I was. I was frightened ... so very frightened. Since they took me from my home it had been one nightmare after another. I had no reason to think, when your father chose me, that anything had changed."

"But it had. Because - I was not a nightmare to you, was I, Illya? Even back in the beginning, when I did regard you as a plaything?"

"No. You were ... you were wonderful. I loved you from the start, from that very first night when you took me into your bed because I was cold. I would have died for you. I would still die for you."

"And I for you. But I hope that will not be necessary. I would much prefer us to live for one another, to live together."

"Yes, Napoleon." Illya kissed his shoulder again. "That is what I want too. That is all I want. Everything else ... " he waved his arm, indicating the sky, the sun, the ship around them and their private little corner of it. "It is extra. You are my reason for breathing in and out."

Napoleon couldn't answer. Instead he squeezed Illya hard, and Illya squeezed him in return. Desire flooded him then, making it hard to breathe, making him shake. "Oh," he whispered. "How long it's been."

"Too long." Illya was shaking too, and their erections pressed against one another. "Far too long. Perhaps tonight, under these covers, when no one is around ..."

"The watchmen go by too often. I will not shame you by taking you in public as if you were indeed still my erotic toy. When we are alone, truly alone, then we can be together again."

"Mmm," Illya said, rather grudgingly, and it was then that the lookout shouted.

"Land ho! Land ho!"

So they stood now at the railing, side by side, surrounded by their shipmates, and watched the shore approach. Men were appearing on the beach, waving at them. Napoleon strained for a sight of Charles, but it was too far to be able to recognize faces.

"You are meeting his brother here?" Dillard inquired and Illya nodded.

"Yes. Charles is one of the leaders of this movement, and he said it had grown too hot for him in the city. He said he would be here when we arrived."

"Must be nice," Dillard said. "I have no one. No one back in the city, and no one here. I don't know what's to become of me."

"They need strong men," Napoleon returned absently, still staring at the land ahead of them. "They will be glad of you."

"So they tell me. But still, it must be a good solid feeling to know you are welcome for who you are, not because you have broad shoulders and a strong back."

"Broad shoulders and a strong back will be invaluable assets here," Napoleon said.

"Still - a man likes to be among friends."

"You are with friends," Illya said stoutly. "We are your friends. And if we are meeting a brother, then so are you. Right, Napoleon?"

"Right," Napoleon said automatically, then blinked. "I mean, what did you say?"

"I said he is with us. You are not alone, Dillard, and you are welcome company because of your courage and your cheer and your swagger and your temper. I guarantee it."

How sure of himself Illya sounded! Speaking for both of them, unauthorized, how sure he sounded! And suddenly Napoleon was glad. Very glad. He had a partner in this new world, someone who would stand by him and stand for him, someone not afraid to speak for a friend. He had watched the changes in Illya without being sure how he felt about it all, but now, looking at the great forest ahead of them, the narrow swathe of beach, the expanse of ocean behind them, he was very glad indeed.

Dillard was looking at him anxiously. "Am I welcome, Napoleon?"

"You heard him," Napoleon said, smiling. "If we are meeting a brother, then so are you. And don't hit me!" he added quickly, stepping away from Dillard's meaty palm which had indeed come up to slap his back. Dillard laughed aloud.

"All right, I won't hit you. Here." Instead he threw both arms around Napoleon and lifted him in an extravagant bear hug, nearly squeezing the breath from him. Napoleon gasped, and when he was set down he saw Illya lifted in his turn, lifted way off his feet and squeezed too. Illya was laughing when he was put down, and then the ship stopped moving.

They were still far from shore, and Napoleon saw little boats coming from there, each carrying one man who was rowing. The ropes were let down and one by one passengers and crew alike clambered down them and into the boats. It was two per boat plus the rower, and Napoleon pointed that out.

"I'll find you on shore, never fear," Dillard declared heartily. "That head's like a beacon," rumpling Illya's hair as he said it. Illya shook it at him.

"We'll wait for you," he promised, and followed Napoleon over the rail, down the rope, and into the rowboat.

"Welcome," the man said, and began rowing them towards shore. Napoleon sat, dazed by the suddenness of the change, like all the other changes that had come about since his fateful early arrival from school that day. And as they moved through the water, surrounded by other boats, hearing the chorus of greetings coming from the shore, he reached out, took Illya's hand. That hadn't changed, not essentially. He and Illya might have shed old roles, might have readjusted their relationship one to the other, but the essential core that made them one hadn't changed. Would never change. So he resolved, and Illya's hand in his confirmed it.

They stepped out of the rowboat and waded through the last section of shallow water. It was cold, and surged in towards the shore then back out, tugging at Napoleon's feet, making him feel that his heels were being sucked into the sand. He hurried, still clasping Illya's hand and, in a moment, Dillard came up beside them and Illya caught his arm, pulled him in to their grouping.

They stood, then, looking about them. The sandy shoreline stretched in both directions as far as the eye could see, and for a long ways ahead of them too. Right at the edge of the sand the forest started, towering trees, bushes full of wildly colored exotic flowers in which birds moved and sang and fluttered. All those things, which Napoleon had been taught were gone, had been here all this time. He drew in a deep breath of the fresh cool air and straightened. This was indeed land for a man.

"Napoleon! Napoleon! Over here!" Charles's voice rang out over all the other voices and Napoleon turned to see his brother hurrying across the sand towards them. Napoleon took a step closer and then Charles was hugging him, the familiar scent of him suddenly too much to be borne. For a moment he was younger again, hugging his big brother goodbye. Embarrassed, he wiped his face on Charles shoulder and straightened. Charles was grinning widely.

"Napoleon. It is so good to see you. I am so thankful you are here. Well, what do you think? Is it not a splendid world?"

"It is," Napoleon agreed fervently. "More than splendid."

"Of course you can't see anything from here but sand and water and trees. But we follow that track there," indicating a barely visible break in the trees, "and a half hour's walk brings us to our settlement. There are homes and even three shops. We are quite civilized," and he laughed. "We build a school house next summer for the children that are growing up about us like weeds."

"Children?" Napoleon looked around. "How are there children?"

"How do you think, brother? Surely your education was not so neglected as all that!"

"But - there are women then? Women? Here?"

"Yes. Some came with their men, and every once in a while - not often enough for the single men - a ship full comes over. Women too long to be free, Napoleon. And here they are. The wives of the first settlers saw to that. There is no human chattel here. So we have women, and children, and are quite the tribe."

"I see."

"And this must be Illya." Charles turned to Illya now, who had been waiting quietly. He had lost his hold on Napoleon's hand when Charles caught him in that first embrace and now, as attention turned to him, he dropped Dillard's arm and stepped forward.

"Yes," Napoleon said. "This is Illya."

"Illya Nickovetch Kuryakin," Illya said, and the sound of his full name startled Napoleon. He had never really thought that Illya had more than the one name, but of course he would have. He cleared his throat.

"Yes. Illya Nickovetch Kuryakin." He almost stumbled over it, but managed to get it out. Illya quirked an eyebrow at him, and a smile tugged at the corners of his mouth.

"The immediate cause of your journey, although I hope you would have come eventually on your own."

"Yes." Napoleon was uncomfortable, watching Charles look Illya up and down. Then Charles turned from him.

"Your Companion," he said, and there it was again, that odd tone to his voice that Napoleon couldn't identify. But he reached for Illya's hand, caught it and drew Illya in, beside him.

"Yes," he said, and his voice was firm now. "My Companion. As I am his. We are Companions, one to another." Illya's hand tightened on his, suddenly, fiercely, and Napoleon squeezed back. Charles looked at him searchingly, then smiled.

"I am glad to hear it," he said quietly. "Very glad. Illya - I am honored to make your acquaintance."

"Thank you. I too am honored."

"And this is?" Charles looked inquiringly at Dillard, who was shifting from foot to foot and looking nervous.

"Dillard," Napoleon and Illya said simultaneously, and Illya laughed. Napoleon smiled. "Our friend," he added. "Our good friend."

"Welcome, Dillard." Charles shook hands with him. "We are glad to have you. Come with me, all of you. We will eat and we will retire. It grows late." Indeed, the sky had darkened to that breathtakingly lovely midnight blue, and the stars were making their appearance. "Tomorrow will be plenty of time to explore the settlement and the surrounding forest. None of you are expected to work tomorrow. Enjoy it, because such days do not come often." He clapped Napoleon on the back, and they followed him to the track.

It wound through the trees, and a great silence enveloped them. Napoleon followed Charles, who was sure footed in the near dark, and was aware of Illya behind him, and Dillard bringing up the rear. The other new arrivals had gone on ahead while they were talking. As they walked, Napoleon became aware of a wonderful smell. He sniffed. "What is that?" he asked and his stomach growled even as he spoke. Charles laughed.

"Supper," he answered and they came out of the woods into a clearing.

Smoke rose from a great fire pit in the center of a small square of level ground. Around it stood buildings - some very small, some quite large. Charles pointed to the largest.

"That is where you will live," he told Dillard. "All the single men live there. There is a bed for each one, partitioned off for privacy. When a man cannot be alone with his thoughts, when he cannot put items that are precious to him where no other can touch them, when he cannot weep in despair or dream of better times without everyone seeing him, he cannot truly be a man. Only animals live thus. So if you want company, you can come to the village square - here, or to the pub where we make and drink a rough brew, or to the community dining hall. You will always be welcomed. But if you wish to be alone, you can retire to your quarters and no one will disturb you."

"I promised Dillard he could stay with us," Illya said, and Charles nodded.

"He may, of course. But the men enjoy a great camaraderie among themselves, and they have dinner dances with the women. Our little homes are farther out and rather isolated. I prefer that, and so does my wife."

"Your wife!" Napoleon had thought he was through being surprised for the day, but this astonished him. "You have married?"


"Not - not Honey?"

Charles threw back his head and laughed. "Not her! She had no desire to accompany me here. I gave her to a friend of mine with a great fancy house and many servants and she was well pleased with the bargain. No, Sarah I met here. She is a good woman. You will meet her tonight. She is not attending the dinner - she does not care for large crowds of rough men, so she waits at home - but because it is her choice. If she wanted to be here, she would be. We do not keep our women closed up. They go where they please. If liberty is not for all, it is not for any."

So they sat and ate great dripping chunks of meat, and fresh corn, and potatoes. "Where does the food come from?" Napoleon asked, after his first hunger had been satisfied. Beside him, Illya ate rapidly and intensely, and Napoleon smiled at him affectionately.

"We hunt, and we grow the corn and potatoes. We have a few goats - wild goats, that we managed to capture and are trying to breed - but their milk is reserved for children and pregnant women. If our flock increases, that will change. We are skinning and preserving some of the meat from our hunts, to last through the winter. And we save all the grains and fruits that we can." He turned to Illya then.

"You are the only one of your people here," he said. "I am pleased that you have come. We do not wish to carry on the mistakes of our past, by continuing to consider part of the human race as lesser, as alien. As inferior. This is a new land, and a new start. I see no Other here and I hope - I truly hope - that you see no Destroyers." Napoleon started a little at the term - how did Charles know of it? He stole a look at Illya, but nothing could be read on that face. Funny how that still happened, even after all this time. But Charles was continuing. "I - many of us hope that you would be willing to lie with one of our women, one who wants a child. It would be good to preserve your bloodline."

"Well ..." Illya began, and Charles nodded.

"I understand that you and Napoleon are together, and that you will not lightly commit such an act. But the woman would be grateful, and our society as a whole would benefit. Please at least think about it."

"I would be glad to volunteer for such a task," Dillard said, face solemn, eyes laughing. "Such a sacrifice I would be willing to make."

Charles laughed. "I am sure you would. Fear not, Mr. Dillard. When the ladies see your tall frame with its wide shoulders they will be clustering about you. We have too few women, of course, for the men here - far too few. But I warrant you will have no difficulty. Are you finished?" he asked Illya, who had finally, and reluctantly, pushed his plate away. "There is always more where that came from in the forest. If you can shoot a bow, or a gun, or hold a line in the water, or reach into the trees, there is more than enough in the summer months. And we have two full months of summer still ahead of us."

"I am finished," Illya said, and they rose. Dillard walked with them to the edge of the square, then hesitated, looking back at the men's building, from which sounds of laughter and singing could be heard.

"You say your home is farther into the woods?"

"Yes," Charles said. "I like the quiet of the forest."

"Well - would you be offended with me if I did not go with you after all?" he asked Illya. "They sound to be having a good time, and women ..." an expression that was an odd mixture of stark hunger and wistful longing was on his face. "It has been a very long time."

"Not at all," Illya assured him. "I will come and visit you tomorrow, and you can introduce me to your friends."

Dillard grinned widely. "Done. Sleep well, Illya. It was a pleasure making your acquaintance," he added to Charles, and slapped Napoleon's back, making him stumble. A loud chorus of greetings came to their ears as Dillard entered the building, and Napoleon smiled. He looked at Illya, who was smiling too.

"Come with me," Charles said, and once again they headed into the woods. This trail was much narrower, and tree roots lay in their path, making them trip. Napoleon fell first, sprawling on the ground, to his mortification. Later on Illya fell too, landing with a soft curse. Napoleon helped him up and they continued more slowly. It was very dark.

"We'll have rain," Charles said and then the trail made a sharp turn and they were facing a small house. It had a wide front porch, and on it a woman stood. Even in the darkness, with the only light flickering from lanterns on the table behind her, Napoleon could see that she was heavy with child. He grinned, delighted.

"Charles! You are to be a father!"

"Yes." Charles beamed. "And I have a daughter already. Mary will be three years old next month. She is undoubtedly asleep now, but you will meet her tomorrow. Sarah, this is our brother, Napoleon. And this is our other brother, Illya." The woman smiled at them both.

"I am so very glad to receive you," she said softly. "Charles has been fairly dancing with impatience to have you here. Come in, and rest yourselves."

The room was small, and simple. Above them was a loft, with a ladder leading up to it and, in the absence of any sign of a bed below, Napoleon assumed that was their sleeping quarters. He wondered where he and Illya would sleep. He sat beside Charles, and Illya sat beside Sarah, on two wooden benches. Charles passed around cups of a clear liquid. "We brew it from the corn," he said, and it was fiery and good. Napoleon swallowed, and yawned. Charles laughed. "I should not keep you up," he said. "I know how I feel after that great journey. But I have to ask. How is our father?"

Napoleon put down his cup. "Alone," he answered. "Bitter, and alone. He used to tell me, `I have only one son.' And now, I suppose, he has none." The sorrow of that closed his throat. He had been so angry at his father for trying to sell Illya behind his back, but now he pictured him, sitting alone in that big house, telling anyone who asked that he had no sons.

"But he does, Napoleon," Charles said earnestly. "He has two sons - or, rather, three sons and a daughter. Think of his joy if he managed to get his mind around that. I would like to bring him here."

"He would never consent."

"No? Even after a long winter alone, with only his social standing and those acquaintances he calls friends to keep him company?"

"I don't know."

"I am going back next spring to find out. I would like you to accompany me. Together, perhaps we can persuade him, and then next winter he can sit here with us, bouncing his grandchildren on his knee. I will build him a small room off this one, and he could live out his days in peace. What do you think?"

"I think he is a stubborn angry old man, but a lonely one too. I will accompany you, Charles." He thought of the sea voyage with sudden desire. Yes, he would like to do that again. "At least they will not throw me into the ocean, as it will not be my first time. And surely they would not treat an old man that way!"

"No," Charles said, and laughed aloud. "I well remember my first time. I thought they had betrayed us, and would sail away and leave us to drown."

"That's just what I thought!" They laughed together, and then a loud rumbling sound came to their ears. Charles picked up the lantern.

"I will take you to your house now. It is coming on to storm."

"Our house?"

"Yes, brother, did you think we would all sleep together like mice? I built you a house just like this one, a little up the path."

Napoleon couldn't speak. It was far more riches than he had dared hope for. He gripped Charles's shoulders for a moment. In the ensuing silence came Sarah's soft voice.

"I have put eggs in the stream behind your house, to keep cool," she said to Napoleon. "There are grains and berries in the stockroom, dried meats in the larder. And there are larger fruits - I will not bewilder you tonight with the names of them all, but you will not be hungry."

"Sleep as late as you please tomorrow," Charles said, "then come here. We will show you about, and introduce you to some of the others. You can look at what we have and decide where your skills lie. We work hard, but none have starved yet."

"Thank you," Napoleon said, and then he took Sarah's hand. "Thank you," he repeated to her, and she smiled. Illya murmured his thanks as well, and followed Napoleon and Charles out the door.

Charles led them along the path and to their own home. It too had a welcoming front porch, and Napoleon pictured them sitting there of an evening, watching the stars come out. He took Illya's hand again, his heart too full for words, and felt Illya's fingers curl around his. When they entered he saw the same small room as in his brother's house, with one wooden bench, a fireplace with a big black pot set over it, and some shelves with an assortment of mismatched plates and cups. Charles opened the back door, and Napoleon heard the spring rushing along behind the house. "There is what we call a stall in the woods," Charles told him. "We are not yet at the stage of inside toilets and running water, but we will learn to provide them with time. All has been done once, so we are not trying to invent something new. We will manage it. Meanwhile, this works for us quite well."

"Thank you."

"Goodnight, brothers." He looked hard at Illya as he said this, and Illya smiled at him.

"Goodnight, brother," he returned, and Charles left. Napoleon walked back with him through the little yard, and when Charles's light disappeared around the corner he turned to find Illya beside him. They stood there, staring up and around, and then came another loud rumble of thunder. A fork of lightning split the sky, and rain started pouring down. Napoleon stood still, stunned by sudden memory. He and Illya, inside that small weather chamber. He and Illya, experiencing a poor simulacrum of this experience. The rain smelled fresh and clean, the thunder rolled across the skies, then rumbled back again, and the lighting lit the world like dawn. Napoleon turned in time to see Illya in its glare, his face turned up, rain running off it, his hair plastered down, and he laughed aloud. Illya laughed too, and then they were kissing, a storm of kisses, a storm of their own making. They clung to one another and kissed greedily, hands moving over one another's bodies, bodies pressed close. No one interrupted them, no door swung open to bring them back to reality. It was just the two of them with the wind, and the rain, and the thunder and the lightning. They embraced and kissed, and then walked back.

Inside, all was dim shadow and warmth from the fire on the hearth, safely contained behind a screen. Napoleon drew the wooden bolt over the doorway, locking them in, and when he turned back around Illya was stripping off his wet clothes, and laying them near the fire. Napoleon followed suit, and then they stood and looked at one another.

Illya was so beautiful. Napoleon felt drunk on the sight of him, body thinner than ever from the long journey but with new muscle on his arms and legs from climbing ropes and tugging at sails. He wondered if he too had changed, and when he looked down he saw that he had. He reached for Illya, and Illya came willingly into his embrace.

They swayed together, kissing again, and then Napoleon hurried them up the ladder. The loft area was completely covered with a fine mattress, soft and enveloping, and Napoleon wondered where it had come from and where, too, the fine linen sheets and warm comforter had been found. He had not expected such luxury, and knew it was something else to thank Charles for. And as he embraced Illya again, finally together on a bed, alone, naked and ready, he knew that here, at last, he was home. He was home, Illya was home, and they would build their lives in this strange wild place together. He would watch his brother's children growing up, and he would do his best to bring his father here, too. But now ... right here and now Illya was naked and spread wide on the bed, awaiting his pleasure. Awaiting their pleasure.

And suddenly Napoleon knew just what to do. `I cannot do for him what he does to me!" he had protested to Charles, but now he wanted to. He wanted to. So he turned in the bed, touched Illya's erection, fondled it, hearing Illya cry out, the sound almost lost in the noise of the rain on the roof so close to their heads. Illya touched him too, wrapped those skilled fingers around him and squeezed him.

Napoleon almost came right then, but he didn't want to. He wanted to hold off for long enough to show Illya ... and himself ... that things had changed, that they were indeed Companions to one another, partners in this new life. So he wrapped both arms around Illya's hips, and drew Illya's straining organ into his mouth.

It wasn't unpleasant, not at all unpleasant. It tasted of flesh, that was all, Illya's flesh and he loved Illya, loved everything about him, loved all of him. And it smelled so good - sharp, and musky, but like Illya too, like the essence of Illya concentrated in this dark place. He sucked it, as Illya had so often done for him, and heard Illya's strangled cry of pleasure. That made his own organ leap, and then it was enveloped in hot wet sucking. Illya moved his mouth up and down the shaft and Napoleon did the same, copying him - or was Illya copying him? It was impossible to tell now, pleasure building upon pleasure, they thrashing against one another, clinging to one another, drawing the passion from one another.

Napoleon lay panting. Oh, that had been good. He felt Illya shift position, turning to lay his head on Napoleon's shoulder, and Napoleon kissed his forehead. It all spoke of gratitude and blessing and, as Illya's eyes opened, wide and dark and fixed on his face, it spoke of love. Every gesture, as he cradled Illya against him, as Illya laid an arm across his stomach, as he stroked Illya's hair, as Illya kissed his shoulder, said love.

The End.

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