Child of Morning, Child of Night 10 - Teenage Angst
"Faggot," the man jeered as he passed Illya and Jess Coleman in the hall. Both of them stopped, and then Illya laughed with real amusement.
"I can't ... Jess. Don't - oh, for Pete's sake." Jess Coleman, UNCLE's new Chief of Security, had taken two long strides, caught the offender by the shoulder, and slammed him into the wall.
"What did you just say to me?" he demanded softly, and the man whitened.
"Not you!" he blurted frantically. "I wasn't talking to you! You're not ..." he blundered to a stop, but Illya could have finished the sentence for him. Jess was six foot two and it was all solid muscle. He was as manly a specimen as could be pictured, whereas Illya ... Illya wasn't. He was short, and slight - that he was all muscle too was not obvious. He wore his hair too long and this certainly wasn't the first time he had heard the word, or one like it. It had long since ceased to bother him. It surprised him to hear it here, in the heart of UNCLE New York, but this man was obviously new. He didn't know that it was the head of Section VIII, and a former top enforcement agent he was insulting. Not to mention Illya's other sphere of influence, that of being the long time live in lover of UNCLE New York's powerful and formidable Section Chief, Napoleon Solo. This man had just stepped into a world of hurt, and Jess Coleman's overly physical reaction was only the tip of the iceberg. So Illya leaned against the wall, arms crossed, and watched the little scene.
They were still the only ones present, but that wouldn't last long - in fact, as Jess body slammed the stranger against the wall again an office door opened and two women peered out. Illya sent a finger wave to Janice, one of his laboratory technicians, and Polly, Chief Translator, African dialects section. They didn't wave back. They were staring at Jess and the unknown, and very unhappy, man.
"For your information, Illya Kuryakin is a friend of mine." The name made the man blanch even further. He sent a frantic look at Illya, as if hoping to see that he had magically transformed into someone else during the interval. Illya gave him a nod. "For another thing," Jess tightened his grip, lifted the man off his feet, "I am a faggot. A homosexual, a fruit, gay."
"Queer," Illya offered helpfully. "Put him down, Jess. I don't think he can breathe." Indeed, the man was turning purple.
"You think? Now that's a shame."
"Put him down," Illya said and Jess released him, let him drop to the floor. Illya walked over.
"I don't know where you are from," he said in his most reasonable voice, "but we don't tolerate bigotry of any kind in this section. We are all on the same side, and we work together. Now you have just grossly insulted two of the people you have to work with. It is not to happen again. Or we will have another conversation, just the two of us."
"Hey," Jess protested. "What about me?"
"It will all be over before you can get there," Illya said with false regret and the man, who had been staring into his eyes like a bird hypnotized by a snake, swallowed hard and wiped ineffectually at the sweat running down his face. Illya leaned in closer. "Am I clear?"
"Yes! Yes we're clear! I didn't mean it the way you're taking it! I'm sorry if I offended you! I was just, you know, joking around."
"He was joking around, Jess," Illya said, without taking his eyes off his victim. "Don't you think that's funny? Faggot? Isn't that hilarious?"
"Let me kick his ass, Illya," Jess implored. "A few weeks in the hospital will improve his sense of humor greatly."
"No," Illya said, and stepped back. The man began sliding along the wall, away from them. Illya turned and continued on in their original direction. Jess hurried to catch up.
"I'll find out who he is and where he's from," he said. "We can't have this."
"No," Illya agreed. He smiled up at Jess. "My hero," he said.
"I think you made him piss himself, Illya. I really do. I practically break his neck and he's okay, but you give him that look and he's wanting his mother. You'll have to teach me how you do that one of these days."
"It's no real secret," Illya returned absently, mind already back on the security briefing they were heading towards. "I just look ... and think."
"What do you think about?"
"Just ... things."
"You look, and you think things."
"What kinds of things?"
"It varies." He waved away the incident. While it was true that some sort of follow-up would have to happen, he knew Jess would handle it and he could forget it. "Are you going to recommend Johnston for that post in Los Vegas?"
"Yes. He's got his finger on the pulse of our operations there anyway, from his years in our organized crime bureau, and he wants it."
"I'll back you."
"Thanks. Illya - doesn't that bother you at all? Aren't you pissed off?"
"What, being called a faggot?"
"No, not really. I mean, it bothers me professionally that someone like that got through our screens and, worse, felt free to voice his prejudices, and I'm glad you're going to look into it, but personally? What do I care?"
"You're a better man than I am," Jess muttered, and they turned into the conference room where the department heads were waiting.
"Are you serious?" Napoleon stared at him over the dinner table. "Tommy Buckner called you a faggot? In the hall? At work?"
"Yes, yes, and yes. Now don't get carried away, Napoleon. I only told you because Janice and Polly both saw Jess manhandling him, and I didn't want you to hear about that, and then Jess gets in trouble. Jess is going to take care of it."
"Jess Coleman is going to have to get in line. How dare he! Didn't he know who ... well, obviously not."
"Not the point in any event. It doesn't matter who I am."
"It does to me."
Illya smiled at him affectionately. "Thank you. It mattered to Jess, too. But what if it had been someone without friends in high places? Someone who couldn't either rough him up or brush it off? I want Buckner gone, Napoleon. Can that be arranged?"
"Can you really? Brush it off?"
"Why is that so hard for people to believe? Jess was all `let's put him in the hospital'. How would that help? And then Jess really would be in trouble. But he was this close" Illya held up his thumb and forefinger, a fraction of an inch apart, "to doing it."
"If I'd been there he'd already be in intensive care."
"Well, Napoleon, you can't just do that. Then you'd be in trouble."
"Well ..." Illya was stymied. "Mr. Davenport, I suppose. He's over you, isn't he? He's over everybody on the East Coast."
"Mr. Davenport would have understood. In fact, Mr. Davenport would have held my jacket."
Illya laughed. "An unlikely scenario, but a tempting one. Do you think this sort of thing is acceptable in Brazil? That's where Buckner's been stationed for the past five years."
"It may be. I don't know. I'm sending him back there either way."
"No. Definitely not. Visibly, tangibly, not."
Illya didn't actually say `my hero' to Napoleon, as he had said to Jess, but the smile he sent across the table was warm, and tender. "I think that's good, Napoleon, because we can't have that, but please don't be doing it only on my behalf. I don't care what he thinks about me, and I don't care what he calls me. I'm well past that."
Napoleon frowned at him. "Has this happened before?"
"Is that a serious question? Look at me. It started back in high school."
"And you didn't mind?"
"Oh, I minded. I minded like hell. But I dealt with it." Illya looked down at his hands. "I dealt with it," he repeated.
"Faggot!" the boy jeered at Illya's back as he walked down the hall on his first day of high school. "Fuckin' long haired queer!" He shoved Illya hard, sending him into the lockers with a crash. "Whatcha gonna do pretty boy? Cry for your mama? Go on, cry, cocksucker!"
Illya straightened and turned. What looked like the entire football team was standing together in the hall, wearing their letter jackets. He had heard them talking about the girls as they passed, and had not expected to get by them without comment. This was a public high school, and a very different environment from the private school he had attended through eighth grade. That was as far as it went, so he was an entering freshman here. But he had learned how to deal with bullies over the years, and saw no reason to change his tactics now. He singled out his assailant - a burly red headed boy with a militarily short crew cut - and, without a word, hurled himself at him.
They went down together in a tangle of arms and legs and Illya had gotten in several blows to the midsection before he rallied. He scrambled to his feet, bringing Illya up with him by the hair. He had grabbed Illya's ponytail, and now yanked his head back with it and punched him right in the face. Illya got both hands around the thick wrist and bent it, at the same time kicking him in the knee and, as he yelled in pain, brought both hands, locked together, up under his chin, snapping his head back. Then someone else was on him from behind and he whirled, bent and threw the newcomer over his shoulder into the wall. A chorus of horrified gasps and exclamations rose, and Illya saw that it wasn't another football player lying in front of him, but an adult. A man in a suit.
Damn. Illya stepped back. The redhead was sitting on the floor, blood pouring from his nose and mouth, groaning. Good. But the man now getting to his feet was bright red with rage, and that wasn't good at all. A teacher, or an administrator no doubt. He was in trouble now.
"What? He's expelled? For what!" George's outraged bellow could be heard clearly over the phone. Illya, sitting in the assistant principal's office, quailed at the sound. His very first day of school, and he was expelled. Now what? How could he be expelled? What would happen to the plans for his future - college, graduate school, UNCLE - if he didn't even graduate from high school? Or was sent to reform school, as the assistant principal had said?
"He what? Let me talk to him." Mr. Baldwin handed the phone to Illya, who took it.
"Hello, George," he said politely.
"Illya! What happened! He said you were fighting, and that you attacked him!"
"I did not attack him," Illya said sharply, and glared at Mr. Baldwin. "He grabbed me from behind, so I thought he was one of them. I didn't know it was him, George. I would never -"
"One of who?"
"There was this group of boys, and we were fighting in the hall, and ..." George's groan interrupted him.
"Did you tell him you didn't know it was him?"
"He won't let me. This is the most he's let me talk since it happened. He said he was investigating this `incident', but he hasn't let me say a word." Illya let scorn enter his voice, and his face, and Mr. Baldwin snatched the phone from his hand.
"You will not use that tone around me! And I must say, Mr. Piper, that if this is an example of your parenting, then it's no wonder -" it was his turn to have the phone grabbed out of his hand. Illya slammed down the receiver and turned on him.
"Don't you dare say anything to George! Who do you think you are? And don't you touch me!" he added, backing up as Mr. Baldwin came towards him, fists clenched. "We'll sue you from here to ... to Moscow!"
"Go to detention," Mr. Baldwin said, stonily correct now. "Go there and stay there until your guardian comes to get you. I hope he takes his belt to you. I hope you can't sit down for a week. I hope ... don't you turn your back on me!"
"You told me to go to detention," Illya pointed out. "I'm going." Without waiting for another word, he went.
In the outer office sat the redheaded boy. His mother was with him, and when she saw Illya she rose, then faltered. "This is the one who hit you?" she asked him with obvious disbelief. "I thought you said ... he's a child, Jack!"
"He's a dirty fighter," Jack grumbled, but he looked embarrassed.
"Why would you start a fight with my boy?" she asked Illya earnestly. "He could have really hurt you. He must have been holding back, because he's so much bigger. That's good, Jack. I'm proud of you."
For a moment Illya locked eyes with Jack, then he said, calmly, "I thought he was somebody else. It was a mistake." He saw the relief wash over Jack's face. Illya wasn't going to tell about the insults, the shoving. Jack wouldn't be in trouble at all, with this version of events. Illya turned away from his naked gratitude, and went to detention.
He sat there for two hours. He would have studied, but he had none of his books with him. They were somewhere - scattered on the floor, or in the assistant principal's office. So he sat there and thought about being expelled, and worried about George. George wouldn't ... surely George wouldn't beat him with a belt. Surely he wouldn't. George had never struck him, nor even threatened to. But George had had to leave work, and drive all the way out here. George would be angry. And George respected anyone he saw as an expert in child raising. George had never gotten over feeling unqualified for the task. And now this had happened. If Mr. Baldwin recommended a beating, George would ... George might ... especially given the lame excuse. Who on earth would George think Illya had mistaken this boy for? It was a stupid story, because he hadn't had time to think of a better one. Even worse than fighting, in George's eyes, was a lie. But he wouldn't be a rat. He wouldn't be a squealer. He wouldn't ... then the door opened and George was standing there, with Mr. Baldwin right behind him. Illya thought of Mr. Baldwin's sneer at George's parenting, and was ashamed. He couldn't let George look weak. So he rose and stood meekly, head down.
"I'm sorry, George," he said contritely.
"You owe more apologies than that," George snapped. He had been horrified at the sight of Mr. Baldwin's bruised face, of Jack's broken nose. What had gone on here? Went crazy, Mr. Baldwin had said. Just attacked some random kid in the hall, and attacked me when I tried to break it up.
"All right," Illya said. "I'm sorry, Mr. Baldwin. I really didn't know it was you. I thought it was one of his friends. I apologized to Jack already."
"Because you thought he was somebody else." Mr. Baldwin's voice dripped sarcasm, and Illya pretended not to notice. He nodded.
"Yes. He looks like ... someone I used to know. Someone who said he'd beat me up next time he saw me. I was scared he was coming with all his friends to do it. I panicked. I'm really sorry." He kept his eyes downcast, because he knew they wouldn't match his words. There would be no remorse in them, so best to keep them lowered.
"I have agreed to give you another chance," Mr. Baldwin said finally. "Mr. Piper has convinced me that this will not happen again. Is he right?"
Unless somebody else calls me a faggot, Illya thought. He didn't like to think of what his life would be like if he let that sort of thing pass. Next time it wouldn't be just a shove and some insults. Next time it would be worse. So there couldn't be a next time. He had to make them count the cost before taking him on. He had to make them profoundly sorry that they had started up with him. He had to. But he said none of that, just nodded.
"You are suspended for one week. Your teachers will send your work assignments home with you. You may collect them from my secretary. You will keep up with your work. Understood?"
"Yes, Mr. Baldwin." He'd be damned if he'd call this man `sir'.
"That is all."
Good, Illya thought, and he and George left together. George said not a word as Illya stopped by his locker for his jacket, as he went to the secretary's office and accepted the armful of books, and the list of assignments. He didn't speak at all until they were in the car and on their way home.
"What happened? And don't give me that bullshit about thinking he was somebody else. Tell me the truth, Illya."
He couldn't lie to George. But he didn't know where to start, either.
"I had to," he said finally. "It was ... it was necessary."
George pulled the car over, put it in park and turned to face him. "Illya - tell me what happened."
"He called me a faggot. A queer pretty boy. A cocksucker. And he pushed me into the locker."
"So you jumped him."
"I had to! George - I can't let that pass. Or it would never stop."
"You could have gotten hurt, you know. Word is he had a bunch of his football cronies there. If Mr. Baldwin hadn't come along they would have pounded you into a pulp. Discretion is the better part of valor." George pulled out again. Illya sat still, thinking that over. Then he shook his head.
"No. Better to be beat into a pulp than have them think I'm weak. I can't be weak. And when I show that I will fight them, and that I'm not afraid of being hurt, they think - know! They know that I'm not queer. So I have to. I'm sorry."
Nothing further was said. When they got home, Illya went straight upstairs with his books, and George went into the living room. As he always did when he felt out of his depth, he called Alexander Waverly.
Over dinner, George looked at Illya. He had a black eye that was swollen nearly shut, and his mouth was puffy. He was having some trouble with the burger, and when he cut it up with knife and fork and ate it that way, George reached over and patted his hand. Illya looked at him.
"I really am sorry, George," he said earnestly. "I'm sorry you had to leave work and come home, I'm sorry that you're disappointed in me, and that Mr. Waverly probably is too. But I'd rather get hurt fighting than get hurt because somebody is beating me up."
"Illya - what if they had ganged up on you? What if two of them had held you and Jack tuned you up? You're only one kid. I wish you had listened to me when I told you to -" he stopped, and stuffed a huge mouthful of burger in.
Illya stared at him. He knew just what George was thinking. George wanted him to cut his hair. George felt if he had cut his hair, this wouldn't have happened. They wouldn't think he was queer if he had short hair. Was that true? Would that make such a difference? He didn't really think so. And in any event - it was his hair. His hair, damnit. His. He wouldn't cut it for them. But was George saying it was his fault? His fault, always his fault, his fault back then and his fault now?
Don't say it, George thought. Don't say it, don't say it. But look at him, with that ponytail almost down to his waist. Of course they'll pick on him. He sighed. Things had changed in the past couple of years. As his classmates grew taller and bulkier around him, Illya's edge in contact sports had evaporated. He could still play baseball, but football? No. The doctors said that that early lack of proper diet, those years of poor nutrition, of deliberate, calculated near starvation, had stunted his growth, and that was something that could not be fixed. All George's love, all the oatmeal and protein and fresh vegetables in the world, could not make up for those terrible years. Moreover Illya wasn't interested in girls, and wouldn't pretend that he was. Was he - that way? Had his early experiences turned him that way? Grant had referred to `all the problems he's bound to have' -was this what he had meant? And was he right after all? What a terrible sin it would be, if Illya did indeed become a ... a ... one of those. Even as George thought that, Illya spoke.
"What am I, George? Am I queer? I don't feel queer - I don't want to touch boys or let them touch me - I don't want to kiss them or anything - but I don't want to kiss girls, either. I don't want to kiss anybody. And I've done those things they think about when they call me queer - you know I have." He was trembling all over now, and the pent up feelings - feelings he couldn't even name - poured out. "I kissed them - all those men! I let them fuck me - fuck me up the ass! I sucked them, I sucked their cocks and I swallowed their ... I did all that! He called me a cocksucker, and that's an awful, ugly word, and I had to fight him for it - but I was! Like Grant said I was! Does that make me queer? Am I a faggot forever now, even though I didn't want to, even though I never want to ... what am I? I'm sorry!" he added hastily because George, after nearly choking on his burger, had spit it out onto his plate. What was he thinking? How could he have said those things - those words - to George? He had said fuck, and cock - to George! George rose to his feet and ... was he reaching for his belt? He was! He was unfastening the buckle!
Illya screamed and pushed back, fell out of the chair. "Don't! Don't hit me don't don't ..." the thought of George hitting him, hurting him, wanting to hurt him, destroyed him. That was just how it felt, as if he had been blasted into nothingness. "Please! Please don't!" He tried to crawl away, but how could he escape from George? If he had to escape from George then there was nothing for him at all, nothing to live for, nothing.
Arms were around him, George's own strong loving arms, holding him close, rocking him, those big hands rubbing his back, stroking his hair, just as they had always done when the past returned and the fear overcame him.
"Illya. Illya, honey. I would never hit you. I promise you. I wasn't even thinking of hitting you. I ate too much and my belt is too tight. My pants are too tight, and I wanted to unfasten them. That's all, honey, my own sweet little boy, please don't cry. Don't be afraid of me. I would never ..." George's voice broke and he was crying now too, tears running down his face, his dear kind face. Illya clutched at him.
"I'm sorry I was bad! I'm sorry!"
It's easy to be bad, the little boy had said, back in that hospital room in Moscow. I keep trying to be good, but I keep being bad anyway.
"You're not bad, Illya," he said, as he had said then, as he had said so many times since. "You're ... you're right. You're right. You have to fight them, or they'll bully you forever. It's unfortunate that Mr. Baldwin got judo tossed against the wall, but that was an accident. You're right, and I ... I'm proud of you. You kicked that big galoot's butt for him, and if his friends had jumped in you'd at least have made them pay for it. And then you didn't tell on him even though he deserved it. It's all right. I love you, honey, and I'm proud of you. Good for you. Please don't cry."
"You either, George. Don't cry. I can't stand that I made you cry. I'm sorry I said those words, those curse words. I know you don't like it."
"That's okay. You're right. They put their cocks in your ass and fucked you, and they came in your mouth, and there are no nice words for that. But that doesn't make you one of them. It's not your fault they did that to you. And the girls like you just fine, you know that. You'll meet a nice girl one day, and you'll want to kiss her. You'll see."
"You really think so?"
"Well -" in truth George couldn't picture that. He tried, but he couldn't. But he couldn't picture Illya living a homosexual life, either, sneaking around in rest stops and back alleys. "Well - if not, you can be serious about your work. You'll be a scientist. You can be dedicated to science. Okay?"
Illya pondered that. Dedicated to his work. A lone, celibate scientist, making discoveries that would help people, that would save lives. It sounded possible, at least. Lonely, but he would have George, wouldn't he. And he could have work friends, like George did. George didn't date. George was devoted to him, and to UNCLE, and that seemed to suit him just fine. He could be like that. He felt better, thinking of it. "All right, George. All right. I'll do that. And maybe you're right. Maybe I'll meet a girl, and want to kiss her."
"Kissing is all tangled up with that ugly stuff in your mind, isn't it. Even if it's a girl. Illya, it's only natural that all of that affected you. It's natural that now you're growing up, you think about it. When you were a little kid you only wanted to feel safe. But you're older now, and you want to understand. It's okay. Mr. Waverly said if you want to go back to private school there are some right here on the Island we can check out. Private high schools, I mean. Maybe public school is a mistake. They don't understand. A private high school would be different."
Illya was silent. A private high school. George would no doubt take the principal aside and tell him to be extra nice to Illya, because he had had a `terrible abusive childhood', as he had told the camp director, as he had told the principal of Illya's former school. As he had wanted to do here, although Illya hadn't wanted him to, and Waverly had backed Illya. But Waverly would back George after this, wouldn't he. Because Illya had gotten into trouble at school, suspended on his very first day. Of course Waverly would think he needed special treatment, special consideration. So the new principal and vice principal would be kind to him, and nobody would be allowed to call him a faggot. For a moment that picture pulled at him - quiet, serene, intellectual. Safe. Then he set his mouth against the easy way. No.
"No," he said. "Thank you. But no. I have to live - I have to live in the world. I can't hide forever, and you can't protect me forever."
"The hell I can't!"
Illya looked into George's face, belligerent now at the very idea that he couldn't keep Illya safe forever. He smiled at him, and kissed his cheek. "At home you can. But in school I have to find my own way. I can do it. Jack was really glad not to be in trouble, and now everybody knows I can fight, and that I don't tell. It'll be all right." He frowned. "Maybe I should date sometimes. Not a lot, not to make some girl fall in love with me or anything, but sometimes. So they don't think I'm ... that way." He used George's euphemism for it because George was right. There were no nice words for what one man did to another. "You know? Because people like Jack - they wouldn't understand about the science and the dedication and all."
"That isn't a bad idea," George said carefully. Illya's frantic grip had loosened so he stood up, and Illya rose too. They regarded one another. "I'm not saying I want you to be a phony. But if you did meet a nice girl - a friend, sort of - and took her to a dance or a movie and had a good time - there's no harm in that."
"No," Illya agreed, and smiled at him. "No harm at all."
"Then what?" Napoleon asked. He was lying on his stomach on the bed, chin propped on his hands, watching Illya and listening - listening hard. He listened to every word, and tried to picture it in his mind as Illya talked. He saw the teenaged Illya, as he had seen him in the photo of him holding his driver's license. He saw him shoved into a locker and verbally abused by some big jock bully. He saw Illya launching himself across the space between them, as he had seen Illya in what felt like thousands of fights over the years. Conventional wisdom dictated that if you were smaller than your opponent you should avoid close in fighting, but Illya had never paid any attention to conventional wisdom. He used his whole body in a fight, and while sometimes he lost, most of the time he won. Decisively. He saw a stiff school principal grabbing Illya by the shoulder, and being thrown across the hall for his pains. He saw ... and it nearly broke his heart ... Illya scrambling across the floor, in terror that the man who had always shielded and protected him from harm was preparing to inflict harm on him. He saw the embrace, and George's support. But ... he reached out, tugged at Illya's ponytail. "What happened with school, and the football team, and all?"
Illya looked at him thoughtfully. When he was finished talking about his past, he was finished. But Napoleon was never satisfied. Napoleon always wanted to know what happened next. Napoleon always wanted more than Illya wanted to give. But he supposed that had been the pattern of their relationship since the very beginning, when Illya had only wanted to be field partners and Napoleon had extended his friendship, too. He supposed it was a good thing, that Napoleon was so ... so pushy. Otherwise, they would never be where they were today - happily settled for all these years. So he gave Napoleon more, and sat beside him on the bed so their bodies were touching while he did so.
"I stood in front of the mirror that night," he said slowly. "I took off all of my clothes, and untied my hair, and I stood there and looked at myself."
"And what did you see?" Napoleon asked softly. He was picturing that, too - Illya naked, with his glorious hair spilling over his shoulders and down his back, standing in that little bedroom looking at himself in the mirror, seeing ... what?
"I saw a scientist," Illya said, and smiled, remembering. "I saw a scientist like a monk, pure and untouched and utterly devoted to his work. And I saw a field agent, too. George didn't know that yet, but I wanted both. A field agent like ... like the ninja warriors I had read about, who eschewed women to be fighters and nothing but. It was the first glimpse of adulthood I had had that fit. I couldn't be a married man with a wife and family because girls - they meant nothing to me, not that way. Some of them were nice and some weren't, some were smart and some were not so smart, and some were my friends and some not. Just like boys. But I never thought about kissing them, or marrying them, or anything. So all of that was out. And I certainly didn't want a man touching me again. I didn't want to even see somebody else's cock, much less do something with it. So I'd be pure. I loved that word. Pure, and untouched, and alone."
"Didn't you have ..,. well, stirrings? As you grew into adolescence, weren't you ever aroused? By someone, or the fantasy of someone? Didn't those physical urges complicate things?" As his were complicating this conversation now, now that he was planning how to get Illya out of his clothes so he could ... but Illya was still talking, and that was rare enough that he set those complicating desires aside. For now.
"I didn't have them for a long time," Illya was saying. "I never had those nocturnal emissions George had so carefully prepared me for, or unexpected erections like the other boys talked about. Boasted about. I thought - well, good. I didn't want it - any of it. But then I thought that he had killed that in me, and that made me angry. Because even if I didn't want to feel it, it seemed unfair that he had taken the option away like so much else. So when it all finally began to happen, when I was at Cambridge, I was relieved, even though I still didn't want to do anything about it. At least then it felt like my choice. And later still, in UNCLE - well, you know we had to be ready to do whatever we had to do, and sometimes we had to do that. Waverly always restricted me to women, although I would have - if it were necessary. For UNCLE, for the world, for him, I would have. But it was never asked of me. And with women it was pleasant enough that I obviously didn't mind."
"How well I remember."
Illya gave him a sidelong look. "Some of us did it with more enthusiasm than others, that is for certain. And then ... then there was you."
"So much for the pure celibate scientist slash ninja."
"You know better than that." Illya stretched out beside him on the bed, and Napoleon tousled his hair. "But if you're not convinced I'll be happy to reassure you." He ran one hand down Napoleon's spine, lightly, and when Napoleon arched his back, he did it again. Napoleon rolled over then and pulled him close, and for a long time there was no conversation although Napoleon was both convinced and reassured, he certainly was.
"So what happened at school?" he asked when it was over, and Illya groaned.
"Really, Napoleon? Really?"
"Well - you can't just leave the story unfinished. All right, you can," he added hastily when Illya's eyes snapped. "Never mind."
Illya sighed. "I went back after my suspension was over, and Jake had told everybody I wasn't a queer, and that I wasn't a squealer, so it was all right. Mr. Baldwin never did like me, but a lot of adults didn't. I never really understood it; I was always polite and well behaved, but often there was this antagonism, right from the start."
"I'm sure they didn't like the way you looked at them. It's disconcerting enough now, but in a teenage boy - not to mention a small child! - it would have been downright ... well, antagonizing."
"I don't know what you mean. How did I look at them? How do I look at them now?"
"Like you know them. Like you see them. Like that adult presence didn't inspire the automatic respect they expected, because you'd seen adults at their worst. Their suits, their positions, didn't impress you. You saw Mr. Baldwin for a petty bureaucrat who couldn't admit that he might be wrong, and let it show. And to this day, you won't even pretend. Did it ever happen again, that somebody called you that sort of name?"
"Yes." Illya kissed his cheek. "Ad infinitum it happened. And every time, I handled it essentially the same way until -" he stopped, and thought. "Until Cambridge," he said finally. My first week there the captain of the rugby team - what is it with sports guys, Napoleon? They were always the worst. I'll bet our Brazilian import played sports in high school Anyway, he made kissy noises at me when I walked into class, and said `Come over here pretty boy.' But I was thinking about my new classes, and the fact that I was living on my own in London, and how amazing that was, so I said sort of absent mindedly, `No, thank you. I don't kiss boys.' He looked so dumbfounded that I had to add `I'm sure you'll find someone to kiss' and everybody laughed at him. They laughed at him, and he looked humiliated, and furious, and as if he wanted to hit me but he didn't because - well, because he would have gotten in trouble. It was a different kind of power. They were looking at me like I was the okay guy and he was the ... the faggot, and I thought - oh. This works, too. And he looked so foolish I couldn't imagine why I would take anything he said seriously. I still had to fight sometimes, but I never did it again over words. It was better to act as if the words didn't bother me. And after a while of acting that way, they did stop bothering me. Now - well, I am queer. And I'm not ashamed of it - of you. Of us. So why should I care what someone says about it?"
"You grew up," Napoleon said, and Illya pondered that.
"Yes, I suppose I did."
"And you're not queer, Illya. What an ugly word."
"But I am, Napoleon. And so are you."
"I am not!"
"No? Wasn't that you fucking me up the ass just now? Isn't it you ..." he leaned in, and kissed Napoleon softly on the mouth. "Kissing me?"
"That's because it's you, Illya. I love you. It's not like I'm attracted to men in general."
"A subtle difference that escapes me, but all right. I do see your point. And I suppose we won't mention Donnelly, or Satine, or ..."
And what could he say? "Maybe I'm bisexual."
"Maybe you are. But you're not acting on it anymore. Or I'll have to show you what I showed Jack."
Napoleon laughed. "No, not anymore. " He pulled Illya down onto the bed, and kissed him some more. Illya kissed him back, and then he did something else, which Napoleon reciprocated. Afterwards, they collapsed onto the bed for a breathless moment before Illya got up, and fetched a bottle of wine and two glasses. Napoleon remade the bed with fresh sheets, and they settled back down cozily.
"Nothing. I just wanted to hear your voice."
"Goodnight, sweetheart." They snuggled closer, and the moon shone through the window onto their entwined, naked bodies, and it was a good night. A very good night.