Sweet Seasoned Showers

by ChannelD

Napoleon Solo stood and watched Illya Kuryakin pack. The feeling of dj vu was so strong he could hardly stand up under it. Just three weeks ago he had stood in his Upper East Side penthouse apartment and watched Irena Cosmescu pack.

There were differences, of course. Irena, the woman he had actually thought he might marry, had packed in anger. She had slammed drawers open and shut, thrown her garments helter skelter into the suitcases, sworn when a trailing negligee kept the catch from closing, and stomped out of his life, pausing in the hall to give him a final verbal blast concerning his selfishness, his rudeness, his lack of consideration for anybody's feelings but his own, and his perversion. He had had no response to her tirade, no defense. He was as appalled at himself as she could possibly be with him.

Illya, on the other hand, packed with calm efficiency. He folded everything neatly, laid it precisely in his suitcase, closed and latched it with the same economy of movement and certainly didn't slam drawers or curse him. Instead he straightened, looked at Napoleon, standing there with his face set hard, and smiled.

"Napoleon, I hope you find some peace. I won't tell them I left, so they won't send anybody else."

It had been Jake Davenport and the rest of UNCLE's Board who had insisted that Illya—or someone—come with him. Since Irena had broken their engagement and walked out, Napoleon had brooded in his office; his dark anger a tangible thing that had kept anyone who might try to approach him well away. Finally, after numerous complaints from Napoleon's staff, the Board had met and ordered him on this leave of absence. And ordered him not to go alone.

"We have seen this sort of maladjustment before," Davenport had said in that final meeting. "The change in your work status from field agent to Section I executive, the greater changes all around us, including Thrush's final destruction, combined now with a personal upheaval, have evidently been too much for you. You need a vacation. And we do not want you to further indulge your depression by going off alone. You may bring anyone you please, but bring someone you must."

"I am not depressed." He was outraged. Depression was for weaklings. "Nor am I maladjusted. I was dating someone, and now I am not. Hardly a new situation."

"You planned to be married."

"Planned is too strong a word. I was considering it."

"You bought Miss Cosmescu an engagement ring, and she wore it. That would indicate more than consideration."

Napoleon had scowled. It was true. Irena had seemed to embody everything he held desirable in a woman. She was lovely—blonde and blue eyed, skin fair and soft, body lush yet delicately boned. She was brilliant—a well known cardiologist and researcher. She had a sharp, wry sense of humor and did not endure fools gladly. He had pursued her from their first meeting, and she had reciprocated. Their affair had blazed brightly, and he had thought, I could spend the rest of my life with this woman. It had been a relief. He had begun to wonder if there would ever be anything for him besides the shallow dating, the succession of easy conquests. He had begun to wonder if something was missing in him.

And evidently it was. Although his pride was hurt, his ego damaged, his self image sadly battered, his heart seemed whole. He didn't really miss Irena at all so much as he missed what he had thought he had found in her. But he missed that intensely. So he brooded, and snapped at everyone who crossed his path, and now he was being sent on personal leave. And ordered to bring someone when all he wanted was to be left alone.

He hadn't invited Illya. Of all the people he didn't want, it was this man who knew him too well, who could see through any walls he threw up, who... he stopped his line of thought there. No sense in pursuing that. No sense at all.

But then Illya invited himself. He stopped by Napoleon's office, rolled his eyes when Napoleon growled at him, and offered his company.

"I won't bother you, Napoleon," he said earnestly. "I have work of my own I can do, and I would welcome some uninterrupted solitude to do it in. They'd be satisfied, you would still have all the privacy you want, and I could finish this paper."


Illya frowned at him. "Why not? You know if I say I'll leave you alone I will."

Illya would, of course. Illya would bury himself in his books, and his papers, and it would be as good as being alone. Except that it wouldn't. Except that... again he closed the doors on that train of thought. Illya would be the perfect companion, and Illya was the very last person he wanted to be with. He opened his mouth to say so, and closed it again. None of this was Illya's fault, and how could he hurt him like that? To look into those blue eyes and say, "You're the last person on earth I want along," would be cruel.

And what was the alternative anyway? Some woman? Some co-worker? There was no one. No one on this earth who cared, on more than a professional level, whether Napoleon Solo lived or died. Maybe he should just hire someone. He could call it a bodyguard position, and... again he looked at Illya's face, open and vulnerable now because Illya knew he was not wanted. Illya would have read that on his face, and still Illya was offering... because he cared. He did. He was the finest, the best man Napoleon had ever known, and he cared for Napoleon... passionately. Passionately. With all the untouched, unplumbed depths of his soul, he cared. Napoleon had always known that, had always relied on it. How could he throw it back in Illya's face now? He couldn't. He sighed, and the weariness in the sound surprised him.

"I'll stay away from you," Illya said insistently. "I promise, Napoleon. I do. I see you want to be alone. I see you have things to work out. I see... that Irena leaving really hurt you. I see—"

"You see nothing!" Napoleon shouted at him, the mention of Irena cutting him like a whip. "You don't know thing one about it—or me! If you're coming you'd better understand that right now!"

Illya whitened, and took a step back. "All right."

"I'm driving out on my own. You take your own car. I don't want to be tied to you for transportation. The house is on Shelter Island. That's off..."

"I know where it is."

Of course he did. Illya would have checked, would probably know every detail. Napoleon scowled at him. "Fine. See you there."

And that had been a week ago. Illya had kept his word, had left Napoleon strictly to his own devices, had spread his research materials out in the small guest bedroom and never so much as put his nose inside the master suite where Napoleon had ensconced himself. It should have worked out just fine. That it hadn't was entirely Napoleon's fault.

Because he couldn't leave it alone. He kept seeking Illya out, carping, criticizing, complaining about everything, from the smell of his coffee brewing in the morning—although that didn't stop him from drinking it, and then complaining further about the taste—to the click of the latch when Illya went outside. He banged on the wall whenever Illya's radio annoyed him—and it annoyed him every time he heard it. When Illya obligingly switched to headphones that annoyed him too, and he would bang harder, forcing Illya to remove the headphones and come to the door to listen to whatever Napoleon was angry about now—a shoe left in the hall, a light left on in the bathroom—and finally Illya had had enough.

"I'm only making things worse," he said apologetically when Napoleon walked in and found him folding clothes and putting his shampoo and soap in their little case. "I thought I could help, but obviously I'm not. You know yourself best, you must be right that you need to be alone. I'll go to a motel so UNCLE doesn't know I've left. I'm sorry, Napoleon." His voice shook unexpectedly and he looked surprised. Then he turned back to his suitcase. "You gave me fair warning, so I can't complain that you..." the words came to a stop and he coughed, looking embarrassed now. "I'll see you when we're back at work. Just give me a call, so I know to go back to town." He started for the door and Napoleon, wordless, stepped aside and let him go.

And here was another difference. He had watched Irena walk out of his life with no more than a twinge of regret. It was a relief, really, to have her go. He had built up a vision of their shared life that was only a façade, and behind it there was nothing beyond a surface attraction and a fondness for the same restaurants and clubs. But now—here and now, watching Illya reach for the doorknob—it broke him. He felt it, felt the walls collapse, felt himself crumble.

"Illya," he said, and his voice was so weak it alarmed him because Illya didn't hear him. Illya was opening the door now, stepping into the sunshine, turning to close it behind him. Napoleon cleared his throat and tried again.

"I said your name!"

"I heard you." But Illya stopped, and looked at him patiently. The sun struck sparks off his hair, and Napoleon's heart constricted.

"Not now," he managed. "I don't mean now."

"Then what?" Illya put his suitcase down.

"Come back inside and I'll tell you."

"Napoleon..." Illya sighed. He looked tired suddenly, and very sad. At that moment every unkind word, every harsh reproach spoken over the past two weeks came up and smote Napoleon's conscience. Of course Illya didn't want to listen to anything else Napoleon might have to say to him. Of course he didn't.

"Don't go," Napoleon said anyway, and it came out as a plea. "Illya—don't go."

"Why not? You didn't want me here in the first place. I should have respected that. I'm sorry."

"But I don't want you to leave." He swallowed, and forced the next word out. "Please?"

For another moment Illya stood at the door, visibly wavering. Then he sighed again, picked up his suitcase, came back into the room, and closed the door behind him. "All right. I'm listening."

"In bed. I said your name in bed."

Illya frowned at him. "I don't understand."

"At the ultimate moment, in bed with my fiancée. When I came," he added, hitting each word hard because why was he speaking in euphemisms? "When I came, I said your name. Shouted your name, actually."

"My... my name? You said..."

"My exact words were, "Illya! Illya! Yes yes yes Illya!" He shouted it now, as he had shouted it then, feeling his face heat up but not regretting it, not regretting it at all. He hadn't really regretted it then, had he? No. He'd regretted hurting Irena's feelings—if he had. Her face had first registered incredulity, then shocked humiliation, then rage. She had been fairly spitting with rage as she climbed out of his bed, pulled her clothes on, packed her things and left. Bastard, she had called him. Arrogant, selfish, perverted bastard! But heartbreak? No. Not on her side, and not on his. Not until Illya had been the one walking out on him had he experienced heartbreak.

It had all been so clear, in the aftermath of his exultant climactic shout. Illya. Of course, Illya. It had always been Illya, hadn't it. And once that was made plain the rest of it fell into place. Irena, and her blonde hair which he had loved to stroke. Irena, and her blue eyes into which he had gazed with such appreciation. Irena the scientist, with her sharp wit, her intelligence and her... but always not quite satisfactory. Always he had been aware that on some level he was settling. He was settling because it was past time, because a man at his age and job level should be settling—down. He should be settling down. The constant parade of casual women was no longer appropriate, not quite the thing, as Cooke had drawled to him just a few months ago. So when he met Irena, with her exotic accent and her delicate profile, he had... he had settled.

"I don't understand," Illya was saying. "Why would you... I mean, what were you... you've barely spoken to me since you met her!" That came out in a sudden burst. "We haven't gotten together for lunch or... or any of the things we used to do together since you began dating her!"

"I know." He sat down. "I... it didn't seem right. It felt like..." he dropped his face into his hands. "It felt like cheating," he admitted at last. "On you, on her... I don't know. I'm sorry."

"And you've treated me like... like dirt under your feet since we got here."

"I know," he said again. "I'm sorry."

"You're sorry."

"Yes." He looked up. "Do you want me to get down on my knees and beg you to forgive me? Beg you to... to let me start again, where we left off? Before I met Irena?"

Before he met Irena he and Illya had been close—close enough that he had gotten two warnings from his superiors at work. They had eaten meals together, and attended museum openings together. They had gone away for weekends together, and laughed and talked into the night. There had never been the slightest hint of anything physical, and that was what Napoleon had said in response to the warnings. We're not queer for each other, he'd snapped. We're friends. I trust him. I trusted Illya with my life back when we were field partners, and it's good to be with someone I can trust now. That's all that there is to it.

But that wasn't all, was it? Because in that moment, in bed with Irena, it had been Illya's face he saw behind his closed eyes, Illya's voice he heard crying out in ecstasy, Illya's hard taut body he fantasized writhing beneath him. It was a fantasy buried so deep he never thought of it at other times, but when it came to that ultimate moment it always emerged, bringing him to completion then fading, leaving him, always leaving him, alone and desolate.

"It's always been you," he said finally. "I never wanted to face it, never wanted to admit it because, well, you know."

"No." Illya sat down on the sofa beside him, turned to face him. "I don't know. Why don't you tell me?"

"It didn't fit. It didn't fit me, my image, my reputation, my view of the world and my place in it."

"I suppose not." Illya was biting his lip and Napoleon, looking at him, at the concern and anxiety in his eyes, wished more fervently than ever that he could erase the last several months, that he had made this confession on one of those nights when they were drinking brandy in his living room.

"I'm sorry I've hurt you," he said finally. "I wish I hadn't."

"Now what?" Illya asked and Napoleon had to smile, because it was so like Illya not to linger on the past, not to dwell on what could not be changed, but to want to move forward, to plan for whatever would come next. "You want me to stay? Don't you think that might be awkward now, after what you've said? I mean, it's not as if..."

"Not as if what?" Napoleon asked. "Are you saying you wouldn't have me?" It suddenly seemed dreadfully likely that Illya would say no, that he had opened his heart and ripped out his guts and all for nothing. Maybe Illya was horrified. Maybe he would start calling Napoleon names now, call him selfish and sick and... then Illya smiled. It was a shy smile, but there was warmth there too. He held out his hand and Napoleon, wordless, took it. They sat there for a moment, holding hands and smiling at one another, and then Illya rose, pulling Napoleon with him.

"Let's walk," he said and Napoleon nodded. He knew what Illya meant. The little house suddenly seemed too small, the walls too close. Something big was coming, something big was happening, and he wanted nothing more than to let it come. He released Illya's hand and followed him out the door. When Illya turned to close it, a wave of joy filled him because they were doing it together, walking out the door together, and somehow he knew that when they returned everything in their lives would be different, but they would still be together.

There were no neighbors in sight—this was an isolated UNCLE safe house, reserved for executives in need of both security and solitude. Knowing that, Napoleon had been enraged when ordered to come here but now he found himself appreciating his surroundings for the first time. "It's beautiful," he said, and the surprise he felt showed in his voice. He looked around—nothing as far as he could see but green fields, greener trees and blue sky. He glanced back at their house and noted its simplicity, the way it seemed to blend into its surroundings. He looked again at the deck overlooking a pond, and wondered why he had never used it. "We could eat out there," he said, and Illya shot him a quick glance.

"I have been," he answered and Napoleon blinked. It was true that he had eaten his meals alone at the dining room table, and furthermore it was also true that he had growled at Illya when Illya had attempted to join him.

"Leave me alone," he had snapped. "For Pete's sake, can't I sit down to my meals in peace?" He flushed, thinking of that.

"And I know it's beautiful," Illya went on in a carefully neutral voice. "I've taken a lot of walks."

Again Napoleon flushed. Illya certainly had. 'I'm going for a walk,' he would say when either the conversation or the ensuing silence became intolerable. 'I'll be back in half an hour," or fifteen minutes, or before dark—however irritable Napoleon had been all day Illya always dutifully kept him informed of his comings and goings. The one time he hadn't, the time he had flung himself out the door in wordless response to one of Napoleon's tirades and not come back until well after dark, Napoleon had been pacing in ill concealed anxiety when he returned. At sight of him all the worry and relief had exploded into rage and he had blasted Illya so thoroughly that Illya had gone into his bedroom, closed the door and not come out until morning. The wonder was not that Illya had been packing his things today, but that he had stayed for so long—and moreover that he would leave in civility and sincere regret that his presence had not helped, as he had clearly hoped that it would.

"I'm sorry," Napoleon said awkwardly. "I've—I've been a shit. I'm sorry."

Illya didn't answer for a while. They walked along the dirt road and Napoleon looked down, watching his feet scuffing up clouds of dust, kicking pebbles and observing their flight with studious attention. Finally Illya spoke. "I can't tell you you haven't been, Napoleon, because you were."

"I know."

"And I can't really tell you it's all right, because it wasn't."

"No. I know it wasn't."

"It hurt me. You..." Illya stopped and turned to look at him, having to tip his head back because Napoleon was standing so close. "You hurt me."

"I know. I'm sorry. I wish I could say I didn't mean to, but I'm not going to start things off by lying to you. I meant to. I wanted to. I don't even know why. If I could take it all back, I would."

Illya nodded, but didn't speak. Instead he stepped around Napoleon and continued walking. Napoleon hurried to catch up. "Where are we going?" he asked.

"No place in particular." It was Illya now studying the ground, as if it held fascinating secrets.

"Did you have someplace you went to get away from me? A... a favorite spot? Someplace you wouldn't mind sharing with me? Someplace where we could sit and talk?"

"All right," Illya said after a moment. He increased his speed, a definite purposeful stride now, and Napoleon followed him without another word.

The road made a final turn and ended at a little beach. Napoleon stared at it. He'd had no idea this was here. It was a rocky shoreline, no place for running around barefoot, but the water was clear and it lapped invitingly against the pebbles. The setting sun sent long slanting rays across it, and it turned Illya's hair to fire. Napoleon wanted to touch it. He reached out, caught himself, and let his hand drop. Then he caught himself again. If this was going to happen—and wasn't that why they were taking this walk? Wasn't that what he wanted to speak to Illya about? Hadn't it been implied in that brief, warm hand clasp back at their little house? If that was the case then he never again had to withhold his touch, turn his head away from Illya's sharp clean profile outlined against some foreign sky, lower his eyes to prevent them from saying too much. In that case... he reached out again, brushed Illya's hair awkwardly with his thumb, and Illya turned to look at him.

Illya had the most beautiful eyes in the world. Napoleon had long ago decided that. They were the blue of an autumn sky, and had a very slight, exotic little tilt that spoke of Illya's foreign origins as clearly as that delicious accent did. His lashes made a sweep onto his cheekbones when he lowered them, and when he lifted them those eyes looked so clear, and yet they possessed bottomless depths. It had always made Napoleon a little dizzy to look into them, and it always hurt his heart when he had to stop. Now he didn't have to stop if he didn't want to. He could look, and look... and then Illya turned away again and walked over to a dock jutting out into the water. He stepped up on it and picked his way to the end. Napoleon followed, having to watch his step because it was falling to pieces and there were gaps to be crossed, splintered boards to be avoided. By the time he caught up with Illya, who had negotiated it with what was obviously the ease of long practice, Illya had seated himself with his legs dangling just above the water. Napoleon sat beside him, caught his pants on a nail, and heard them tear. He swore softly, saw Illya's mouth quirk in a half smile, and laughed.

"Greater love hath no man," he said, and heard the words as he said them. The smile left Illya's lips and he would do anything to bring it back, say anything, promise anything. "Than that he tear his Armani suit," he finished clumsily and, when Illya didn't respond, he dropped the attempt at humor.

"I love you," he said and reached out, took Illya's hand again. "Illya—if I didn't make that clear enough before, I'm saying it now. I love you."

"Weren't you just saying that to Miss Cosmescu earlier this month?"

"No," Napoleon said, and Illya turned to look at him. "No, I didn't. I never said that to her. I couldn't. It wouldn't have been true. She didn't say it to me, either. We... it wasn't like that between us."

"But you were going to marry her. You said so."

"I know. I thought I had to. I thought... I can't even remember what I was thinking, because it made no sense. My relationship with her was all tangled up with my career path at work, and my view of myself as a great romancer... a great, straight romancer."

"And now? Are you still confused?"

"No." He took Illya's other hand so Illya couldn't turn away from him again. "I've never thought so clearly in my life. My career will just have to survive this. And as for the rest of it—straight, gay—words. Meaningless words, in the face of this." He squeezed Illya's hands.

Illya didn't squeeze back. He frowned slightly, in the way he had when he was trying to marshal his thoughts into an orderly argument. "They're not just words, though," he said finally. "They refer to very real differences. Do you want to sleep with a man? To fuck..." he said the word very distinctly, as if trying to call up graphic images in Napoleon's mind. "Another man? To be fucked by..." said with even more precision... "another man? And no one else? Ever? Because I'm telling you now, Napoleon, that's how it would have to be. I won't be trivialized. I won't be... what are you smiling at?"

"Anyone who tried to trivialize you would deserve what he got. I have no intention of doing so. I would be... I will be, faithful to you. And you to me. No more anonymous lovers whose names you won't even use. I know all about your oh so discreet and oh so impersonal affairs, Illya. I made it my business to know. I won't be trivialized either."

Illya seemed taken aback for a moment, then he grinned. It was so unexpected, and so disarming a sight that it was Napoleon's turn to be taken aback. "The great Napoleon Solo," he said softly, with a touch of mockery. "Willing to give it all up... for what? A rather well handled, slightly used up ex field agent with a tendency towards sarcasm and misanthropy? Are you serious?" Both the grin and the mockery vanished, as if a switch had been turned. "Because if you're not, tell me now. I can't... I can't banter this back and forth, as if it mattered no more than our choice of restaurant."

"The brilliant Illya Kuryakin," Napoleon answered earnestly. "Willing to give it all up for a battered, disillusioned former ladies man with a strong tendency towards egotism and conceit? Willing to give up your much vaunted privacy and move into my decadent bourgeois capitalistic nest above the Upper East Side of New York? Because I'm not doing this halfway either. Do you want a proposal? Is that it? Want me to get down—or up, considering my current position—on one knee? I will, if that's what it takes to convince you that I'm serious." He began to struggle up, catching and tearing his pants leg once more. At the sound Illya laughed out loud, and Napoleon laughed too. But he had achieved an awkward and uncomfortable position on both knees now and before he could shift it Illya rose too, with that grace and economy of motion that had always captivated him. Now they were both on their knees, facing one another, with the last rays of the sunset illuminating their faces. It was actually making Napoleon squint a little but that was all right, that was fine because Illya's hair was a river of flame now and he was free to touch it, free to lay his cheek on it and close his eyes, breathing in the wild fresh scent of it. For one more moment Illya was rigid against him and then he melted, his body suddenly alive in Napoleon's embrace and when had he embraced him? He couldn't remember and it didn't matter, did it. No. His arms tightened, and Illya's went around his waist, and Illya's head fell back and the next step was clear.

Clear. He kissed Illya and the world was crystal bright around them; no fog, no daze, just this exquisite bell like clarity. They were together. Everything that had gone before was at once meaningless and full of meaning, because it had brought them here, to this place. Together. Illya's lips were firm, and warm, and sweet... so sweet. Like candy, like honeyed wine, like... Napoleon traced them with his tongue and they parted, welcoming him in.

'Do you want to fuck another man?' Illya had said and he did, oh, he did. He was fully erect and so was Illya, and their erections nuzzled cozily at one another as their tongues did. 'Be fucked by another man?' and that sounded good too, because the man in question was Illya, and there had never been anything he and Illya did together that was not well done. He groaned, and pushed against Illya, who pushed against him, and then he drew back.

"We can't do this here," he said, and Illya moved against him again.

"Why not?"

"Because my knees hurt, for one thing." Illya snorted laughter into the crook of his neck.

"And for another thing?"

"I want to do this right."

"Is there a wrong way to do it?" Illya had tilted his head back and was smiling up at him. There was no trace of mockery in his face now, just a shining affection that made Napoleon so happy... he tightened his arms in an extravagant hug, and Illya hugged him in return.

"No. Not between the two of us, there isn't. But still... I'd like to be in our own house, with the door closed and locked. I'd like to cook dinner for you, and eat it out on the deck. I'd like to pour some expensive champagne, and make a toast to our future. And then I want to undress you, slowly, and let you undress me. There's a great big bed in the master suite where I've been very lonely these past weeks and I want to lay you out on it. I want to go over every inch of your body with my hands, and my lips, and my tongue. And then..."

"Yes?" Illya's breathing had quickened during his description, and Napoleon smiled at him.

"I want to fuck you," he said, using Illya's word with all Illya's distinctness. "I want to sink into your body and feel you hot and... and wanting me. I've never... I've never made love in my life. I can see that so clearly now. You will be my first, in more ways than the obvious. Please," he added hesitantly, because maybe all of the above had come across like a string of orders and that wasn't how he meant it, not at all how he meant it. "It would be my privilege."

"And me?" Illya's eyes were dancing, like sunlight on blue water and he was drowning there, drowning without a struggle. "Do I get to be privileged too?"

He had a sudden mental flash of how that would be, and shivered with desire. "Yes," he whispered. "Yes you do. You certainly do. Tomorrow."

Illya laughed out loud, and Napoleon flushed. He heard how it sounded, him first, but then Illya kissed his cheek and the tenderness in it melted Napoleon's heart afresh. "All right, Napoleon. I can wait. But you should know that I've never let anyone do what you're planning to do tonight."

"No?" He was honestly surprised. "All those..."

"All those anonymous lovers? No. It's too... too intimate. I've never allowed it."

"So you've never..."

"I didn't say that, Napoleon." And the laughter was gone, the smile was gone, and those blue depths were gone too. You could no more drown in those eyes than you could drown in granite. "I didn't say that at all."

"I see." And he did see, saw too clearly. He leaned over and kissed Illya's eyes shut, first one, then the other, with all the gentleness he could muster. "I'm honored," he whispered against Illya's lashes, which lifted and he was falling into the sky now, so dizzy with it he swayed and they both nearly fell over.

That ended the moment and they got to their feet. Illya looked Napoleon up and down, suit ripped in several places now, and smiled at him again. "Greater love hath no man," he said softly, and Napoleon smiled too.

"No," he said huskily, and had to stop to clear his throat. "Greater love hath no man." He held out his hand again and Illya took it. They stood there smiling at one another for another moment, then turned and made their way back home.

Napoleon grilled out on the deck, steaks and hamburgers and kabobs. Illya sliced onions and peppers and Napoleon skewered them neatly, laying them side by side, two each. Illya rummaged in the refrigerator and found romaine lettuce, and baby spinach leaves. He tossed those with the fresh tomatoes he had picked from the garden just that morning, and mixed salad dressing.

"There's wine, Napoleon," he said, putting his head out the sliding glass doors. "But no champagne. For some reason."

"Because we had nothing to celebrate," Napoleon said, lifting and turning hamburgers. "But now we do, and wine will do the job. How hungry are you?"

"Starved," Illya said and Napoleon laughed.

"I see how this will go. You'll have me cooking for you morning noon and night."

"No," Illya protested. Then he smiled. "I eat lunch at work," he said and Napoleon laughed again. How his heart was soaring. How obvious this was, and what a fool he'd been not to see it. He and Illya. He and Illya, together. He and Illya, together forever.

"Want your roll toasted?" he asked and Illya's answering yes was emphatic. He brought the bag out and Napoleon laid two hamburger buns carefully on the grill. When all was finished, they set the table and sat down across from one another. Napoleon filled both glasses, and lifted his. Illya responded, and they touched them together lightly.

"To us," Napoleon said, and Illya's smile nearly blinded him.

"To us," he echoed, and they drank. Then Illya turned to his meal and Napoleon watched him, suffused with pleasure and affection. It always had tickled him, the way Illya was so serious about his meals. He wasn't interested in conversation, wasn't interested in anything but the food in front of him. When he was alone, he read. Napoleon had seen the second chair at his kitchen table, piled high with books. With company he clearly felt that to be rude, but he didn't talk either. He ate with focus and intent. He ate neatly, but fast, as if... as if it all might be snatched away from him at any moment. Napoleon wondered how long it would take before that stopped, if it ever did. He hoped it would. He hoped that meal after meal, year after year, in the warmth of their union, would make a dent in that near obsessive absorption. His attention was caught by a scene in their back yard and he reached over, laid one hand on Illya's.

Illya looked up and Napoleon put a finger to his lips, inclined his head to the right. Illya turned and they both gazed at the deer drinking from the pond. A doe and two fawns stood there, heads bent, the doe's lifting every few seconds, the fawns not pausing until, satisfied, they began to prance around one another, making little mock charges, pawing at the ground. Their mother watched them, and watched their surroundings too. Napoleon realized he was grinning, and when he sent a sideways glance at Illya he was clearly entranced, lips slightly parted, fork hanging forgotten from his fingers.

Something... a noise perhaps, or a scent... alarmed the doe and she gave a leap towards the woods, then turned back to be sure her offspring were following. They were, having instantly abandoned their game. In a second they were gone, and Illya sighed. He put his fork down and drank deeply from his wine glass, then smiled across the table at Napoleon.

"I've seen them before," he said. "They come every night, but this is the first time I've seen them play."

All those nights, Napoleon thought. All those meals eaten in solitude on the deck while he sat wrapped in anger and depression in the dining room. How much he had missed. What else had he missed? Illya's eyes clouded over.

"Don't do that, Napoleon," he said gently. "You were in a lot of pain and I wasn't offended with you. I was sorry, that I wasn't helping more, and I felt badly for you, but you've been more than patient with me, too, on occasion. Don't brood over it. You're happy now, right?"

"Yes," he said, and squeezed the hand he was surprised to find he was still holding. "I'm very happy. I've never been so happy."

"Me too," Illya said earnestly and he put the glass down, reached across the table and laid his hand on Napoleon's face. "I've never been this happy either."

There seemed nothing else to say. Napoleon cleared the table while Illya carefully wrapped up leftovers and put them in the refrigerator. Napoleon laughed at him. "You don't have to do that," he said, watching Illya tuck tinfoil around their untouched steaks. "I'll cook for you again tomorrow."

"It will make good sandwiches," Illya said seriously. "See? I'm putting the extra onions and peppers in with it... stop laughing at me, Napoleon!" He swatted at Napoleon with the foil wrapped bundle. "You'll be glad of it tomorrow."

"I'm sure I will." He loaded the dishwasher while Illya wiped down the tabletop and counters and then they washed their hands. Done, Napoleon moved closer, much closer, forcing Illya to tilt his head back to look up into his eyes. 'Do you remember what comes next?" he asked softly, and Illya reached up and kissed his mouth.

It was a shock, and a revelation. The world disappeared from around them and his only awareness was the sweetness of Illya's kiss, the warmth of Illya's body, the strength in the arms now holding him fast, the feel of him, of them, together. Their tongues met again and twined around one another like old friends, and their hips moved, rubbing and pressing and... and... why were they still standing in the kitchen? Napoleon forced himself to let go, to step back, catching and keeping Illya's hands because complete separation was intolerable.

"Come on," he said breathlessly. "Come with me." He tugged Illya down the hall and into his bedroom, began to unbutton Illya's shirt, then stopped.

"Are you ready," he asked, "to see something you've never seen before?"

"I've seen it," Illya said, smiling and leaning against him. Napoleon chuckled.

"Not that. This." He extended his hands, and they were shaking. They were shaking, he was shaking, the ground under his feet felt as if it were shaking too.

Illya took his hands, enfolded them in his own, and kissed them. He was trembling too, a fine quivering that made Napoleon want to draw him close again, to hold him close and keep him there.

"I'm glad it's not just me," Illya said frankly. "I can't imagine what this is going to be like. Always before I've concentrated on feeling as little as possible, on getting this necessary thing over with and going on with my life, my real life. And now..."

"Yes?" He returned his attention to Illya's shirt, sliding it down off his arms, making it a caress, his hands sliding too.

"This is my life now. And I want to feel everything. But I can't imagine... oh," he whispered as Napoleon brought his hands back up, up his sides, fingers making little patterns as he went.

"Well, I'm not really sure how to go about this," he admitted. "I'm relieved that you seem to be enjoying it—"

"I am." As if to prove it Illya pressed against him again, and Napoleon could feel his erection, taut and straining, against his own.

"But I've always heard that this... when two men are together... it's different. You know. Grittier. Rougher. Far less attention to foreplay. So I don't want to offend you, by doing... you know. My usual technique. I don't want to insult you." His fingers were busy with Illya's pants now, unsnapping, unzipping, hooking both thumbs into the waistband of his shorts, bringing them down. Illya stepped out and he was naked against Napoleon's body, naked under his hands. He shuddered.

"Napoleon, I'm feeling a lot of things—a lot of wonderful things—but offended is not one of them. Nor is insulted. You're not entirely wrong about it, but that's one of the things that made it easy for me to feel nothing besides release. With you I want it all."

"So this..." he stroked Illya's back, hands slipping down towards his buttocks, avoiding them, moving along his hips instead, making them move forward... "is all right?"

"Yes." Illya put his head down on Napoleon's shoulder and breathed deeply. "This is just fine. I'm in your hands, Napoleon. I trust you completely."

He couldn't answer. His throat was too tight for words and he didn't need words anyway, not with Illya rubbing up against him, gasping, clearly desperate for more, more of this. So he stepped back and Illya protested. "Napoleon..."

"Undress me," he said and closed his eyes for it, concentrating utterly on Illya's touch, Illya's hands, stripping him with all their usual efficiency but pausing here and there for little brushes of contact, exploring him, seeming to memorize his body and his responses, so he found himself thinking about tomorrow. Tomorrow, when the tables would turn and he would be... he swallowed, and forced himself to stand still until it was his pants down around his ankles and he stepping out.

Both naked now they stood and looked at one another. It wasn't the first time, of course; over the years they had seen one another's bodies in every situation possible, but it was the first time Napoleon felt free to revel in it and he did, his eyes moving over Illya, hungry for the sight of him and Illya's eyes, hungry too, devouring him. Then he put an arm across Illya's shoulders, deposited a light kiss on top of his head, and laid him down on the mattress.

He took his time, using everything he knew about what pleased women... not so different, he thought as Illya twisted and moaned under his skillful hands... and about what pleased him. He inhaled the scent of Illya, laying a trail of damp kisses down his stomach, to his groin because he had said he wasn't doing this halfway and that meant... he slid both hands up the insides of Illya's thighs and Illya cried out softly. He paused, lifting his head.

"All right?"'

"I can't believe... I can't believe you're doing that and oh," as Napoleon did it again, slower this time, his kisses moving closer, and closer, "I can't believe how it feels. I can't... I can't... Napoleon!" It was a sharp urgent cry and he answered it without words, bending his head and taking Illya into his mouth.

This was a pleasure he knew well, so he knew what Illya would be feeling. But always before there was that frisson of uncertainty too, how vulnerable a position it was, how much could he trust this woman, and with another man, a strange man, surely it would be worse. But Illya trusted him, and Illya's hands in his hair, Illya's hips rising and falling, Illya's voice whispering in Russian now, his name the only intelligible sound, told Napoleon that with trust came pleasure, and he was glad.

He moved down, opening Illya's legs wider to nuzzle at his balls, drawing them into his mouth, breathing in his damp flesh; lower still to tongue the delicate place just beneath. Illya bucked underneath him and he wrapped both arms around Illya's upper legs, holding him still as he dipped down and in, preparing him now because there was nothing else here to use, laving him, feeling Illya opening against his mouth like a flower of flesh.

He lifted up finally, when Illya was incoherent, when there were no words left in any language, and straddled his face; his cock, engorged and almost painful now, bobbing at Illya's lips.

"Just for a minute," he whispered. "Just so I don't hurt you, just enough..." he thought he would shout aloud when Illya's mouth surrounded him, easing the ache while increasing the pressure, but he whimpered instead because it was too much, too much...he withdrew and heard Illya's sob of frustration.

"Napoleon, Napoleon..." he raised his head, seeking him but Napoleon had shifted again, lying between his legs now and it was his mouth that Illya found. Their lips clung, as their bodies clung, and Napoleon nudged Illya's thighs apart with one knee and began to enter him.

Illya arced off the bed, almost dislodging him, then he wrapped his legs around Napoleon's back, high around his back so the angle was perfect, and Napoleon slid inside. Illya's body gripped his cock as Illya's hands gripped his shoulders, as Illya's knees and calves gripped his sides, squeezing, drawing him further in, rocking on him and Napoleon rocked too, back and forth, in and out. Illya's cock, trapped between their bellies, was rubbing against him, both of them moving faster and harder and then Napoleon did shout. He shouted Illya's name with a triumphant sense of freedom because he could, this was no fantasy, this was Illya, he and Illya. He was deep inside Illya, Illya was tight and hard around him and he would never be alone again; no more desolation, no more solitude, no more settling.

He must be heavy. That was his first clear thought. He was full length on top of Illya, panting and heaving for breath, and sweating, and he must be heavy. "Can you breathe under there?" he managed and Illya nodded. He was panting too, and his hair was damp. It made his scent even stronger, muskier and Napoleon inhaled deeply. "Can't move," he muttered, and Illya made a sound that might have been a laugh.

"Don't then," he said but Napoleon forced himself to push with one arm and fall over, onto his back, beside Illya, who turned his head to look at him. Napoleon smiled. It felt strange. He wasn't used to smiling after sex, wasn't used to not wanting to move, wasn't used to this melting heart aching desire to draw close, closer... Illya pressed his face into his chest and sniffed.

"You smell good," he said drowsily and Napoleon squeezed him harder. Illya squeezed back.

"That's just what I was thinking," Napoleon murmured. His lips were at Illya's temple now, Illya's hair tickling his face. "You smell wonderful. You... you are wonderful."

"Mmm. You too. That was wonderful, you were wonderful .. you still want to do this, right, Napoleon? Because if you don't, if something about that changed your mind, tell me now."

"Why would you even think that?" He kissed Illya's cheek. "You were there, right there with me. You must know better." He drew back a little, looked into Illya's eyes. "It would kill me to lose you now," he whispered because if Illya needed to hear it then that was all right, that was just fine. "I love you. I loved you before, I loved you during, and I love you now. Don't doubt my love. I don't doubt yours."

"All right," Illya said and those blue eyes were so filled with light Napoleon could hardly bear it. "All right, Napoleon, all right. You love me. I love you too." Napoleon kissed him again, because once more his voice was useless so he kissed Illya, and Illya kissed him back, and then he pressed Illya's head back down against his heart. His heart, which had been racing was now slowing to a more normal rhythm, settling into that steady beat that would be the beat of their lives as they too settled, into this new configuration their lives had found, settling down together. Then, and now, and always, together.

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