Pictures at an Exhibition
Disclaimer: Don't own 'em. Don't make money off 'em. If pressed, I'd admit they belong to somebody else though I'm not sure who, but really that's slavery. They should be free! Rated NC-17 for m/m smut.
Soundtrack: k.d. lang: Hymns of the 49th Parallel; Chet Baker: Time After Time; Sarah Vaughn: Lover Man; Teddy Wilson: On Green Dolphin Street; Roland Kirk: Our Love is Here to Stay; Carmen McRae: They Can't Take That Away From Me.
As always, thanks to all my betae without whom I would be lost. Not to mention ungrammatical and comma-laden. —Kellie
". . . stupid, stubborn, irritating American. You know they throw you in the water, they always throw you in the water, when are you going to learn how to swim properly instead of flailing around like a . . . a . . . " Illya trailed off, suddenly aware that not only did he have no idea what to use for an analogy, but that he was lecturing, lecturing his superior.
Who was staring at him with a strange expression on his face. . . a sort of amused relief.
Illya let go of Solo's arm and stepped back. "My apologies, sir. My behavior was inappropriate."
To his surprise the other man smiled, a wry, self-deprecating expression. "Not at all, Mr. Kuryakin. In point of fact, you're right. Swimming is my least-accomplished skill and one I could stand some improvement in. Besides, it's nice to know I'm loved."
He patted Illya's arm with a damp hand, then turned and trudged off in the direction of the car, shoes squelching, a strand of water weed trailing over his shoulder. Illya stared after him, brows knit. Loved? He didn't love the annoying, overconfident son of a bitch. He just had . . . very strong positive feelings toward the conceited jackass they'd made both his partner and his superior.
That was all.
Though he was at a loss as to how to explain it. How was it possible that he felt more strongly about a man he worked with than he would his own brother? Had it been Kolya who’d been thrown into the lake, he’d have just laughed. With Napoleon, he worried.
Realizing he was lagging behind, he jogged to catch up. "I'll drive," he said, holding his hand out for the keys. Solo didn't even put up a token protest, he just dug a hand into his pocket and pulled out the keys. Napoleon's fingers brushed his as he handed over the keys, and his skin felt cold and clammy.
"Are you all right?" Illya asked, unlocking the driver's door.
"I've had better days," Solo confessed, leaning against the other side of the car with a sigh that turned into a sneeze. Then two. Then three. "Delightful. A cold. Just what I wanted to do this weekend."
"Could be allergies," Illya said, waving at the thickets of goldenrod on either side of the road.
"From your lips to God's ears," Solo said fervently as Illya got in and leaned across to unlock the passenger side.
Solo opened the door and spent a moment struggling out of his wet suit coat, then tossed it into the back seat, followed by his tie. Illya started the car and surreptitiously nudged the heater on just a little. It wasn't a particularly cold day, but it would help dry his partner out. Finally Solo ducked into the car, his wet pants making a squeaky sound against the vinyl upholstery.
"How come no one ever throws you in the water?" Solo asked grumpily as they headed back toward the City.
"They do, just not as frequently. I think there's something about your sartorial splendor that provokes them. Although, believe me, its no fun getting strung up by one's wrists, either. People seem to take one look at me and get out the ropes or the handcuffs. Or both."
"Sartorial splendor?" Solo asked, sounding absurdly pleased. "Have you been reading dictionaries for fun again?"
"Ah." He opened the glovebox, turned on the radio, and pulled out the microphone. "Solo here, checking in. You'll want to send someone out to Lake Forbin to clean up what's left of the Thrush lab there. We've neutralized it, but we wouldn't want the locals stumbling on the mess."
"We'll take care of it, Mr. Solo," the chirpy young thing on communications duty responded. "Oh, and Mr. Waverly asked me to be sure and ask you if you managed to keep expenses down this time."
Solo looked down at himself, then over at Illya with a rueful grin. Taking a piece of paper out of the glovebox he crumpled it loudly in front of the microphone as he answered. "Sorry, Jeannette, I can't hear you. We're having radio problems. Hope you got the message about the clean up. Solo out."
Illya snickered as his partner closed the glovebox with a decisive snap.
"You know why they always tie you up, right?" Solo asked, leaning back with a sigh, eyes closed.
"To give themselves a sporting chance?"
Solo's lips curved in a smile. "That's part of it. But mostly it's that ‘noli mi tangere' thing you have going. It just makes people itch to ruffle your fur, and they can't do it if your hands are free because, well, you'd kill them."
"Ruffle my fur?" Illya asked, amused.
"Mmhmm. Like a big ol' pussy cat. Soft and sleek, but oh-so-aloof, and if they try to get past the aloof part, they find out the pussy cat has long, sharp claws." Solo made claw-flexing movements with his hands.
"You're delirious," Illya said, actually rather pleased by the description.
"Possibly," Solo agreed.
They fell silent, and a few moments later an odd sound drew his attention. When he looked over, he realized Solo was asleep. And snoring, ever so slightly. He laughed softly, that particular facet of sleeping with the legendary Napoleon Solo was not one he'd ever heard the girls from the secretarial pool gossiping over. He'd heard most everything else. Hell, over the months since he'd arrived in New York and been partnered with Solo, he'd come to know, with some allowance for exaggeration, not only his partner's favored practices, but also his dimensions, and his refractory period.
For some odd reason that intimate knowledge made him vaguely uncomfortable, so he concentrated on driving, and made good time, helped along by the fact that it was past rush hour. Finally he found a parking space about a block from their building and reached over to put a hand on Solo's shoulder and shake him awake.
"Wake up, tovarishch. We're home."
Solo blinked awake slowly, looking around a bit blearily. "Hmm? Ah." He sat up, scrubbing his hands over his face, and sneezed again. "Damn. So much for allergies. I guess it was too much to hope for that you'd have God's ear."
"Considering that I'm an atheist, it would be surprising," Illya agreed.
Napoleon chuckled. "True enough. Thanks for the lift, Mr. . . . " he paused, and shook his head. "You know, it's pretty silly that we've been working together for eight months, saving each other's asses more often than not, and are still using last names. May I call you Illya?"
Illya smothered the urge to correct his partner's pronunciation, and nodded. "Of course, sir."
"Oh, come on. It works both ways. Call me Napoleon."
"Napoleon," Illya echoed obediently.
Ridiculous name. It couldn't be his real one. It did suit him though. He was an egomaniac just like his namesake. A rather endearing egomaniac, but an egomaniac just the same.
He didn’t just think that, did he?
He could not possibly have feelings for this . . . person. He couldn't. He was far too intelligent for that. But the sensation was painfully unmistakable. He rubbed at the ring on his finger, and reminded himself firmly of what a debacle the last time had turned out to be.
"Anyway, thanks for the lift. I'll see you Monday."
Illya nodded and turned off the engine, holding out the keys on his open palm. "You'll need these."
Solo . . . Napoleon . . . took the keys, and as he did, the backs of his fingers brushed Illya's palm. They felt unusually warm now, rather than chilled as they had before. Illya scanned his face, saw a slight flush there. Napoleon really did seem to have caught a cold. He hoped it wasn't contagious. Napoleon got out, and opened the back door to retrieve his coat and tie. Illya slid out and locked the door. He watched as Napoleon headed into the building, and wondered if he had tissues. There was little worse than being trapped in one's apartment with a cold and no tissues.
There was a five and dime store four blocks away. He bought tissues, aspirin, and mentholated petrolatum. As he was leaving with his purchases, the scents spilling from the deli next door drew him in and he bought a quart of chicken soup for his partner, along with a pastrami sandwich on dark rye for himself. It was a little difficult to manage the hot soup in its all-too-fragile waxed-paperboard container on the walk back to the apartment building but he made it without spilling it or burning himself, and it wasn't until he was knocking on Napoleon's door with his free elbow that he realized he was, perhaps, acting a little oddly.
He briefly considered hightailing it up to his own apartment with his booty before Napoleon could open the door, but the idea of leaving his partner wondering who was playing pranks at his door stopped him and he gritted his teeth and waited. And waited. And waited.
He thumped the door with his elbow again. Still no answer. Apparently while he'd been collecting cold-care products, Solo. . . Napoleon. . . had gone out. He laughed softly at himself. It was Friday night, after all. Of course Napoleon had gone out. No doubt he had a date. Or three. He started for the stairs at the end of the hall. The soup was still hot, and would be good with the sandwich. He was just struggling to open the stairwell door with his hands full when he heard a door open behind him.
"Illya?" Napoleon's voice, sounding startled.
He turned to see Napoleon standing in his doorway, hair plastered wetly to his head, body swathed in an ugly blue towelling bathrobe. Ah. That explained it.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to get you out of the bath."
"Shower, and that's all right. It was time to get out anyway, before I used all the hot water and the neighbors formed a lynch mob. I thought I'd heard something. What can I do for you?"
"I . . . ah. . . " he felt like an idiot. Face flaming, he walked stiffly back to where Napoleon stood, waiting. "I brought you a few things." He thrust the soup out with one hand, the shopping bag with the other. "The soup's from Goldmann's." He figured Napoleon could tell the bag was from Woolworth's, because the name was printed on it.
Napoleon took the container of soup, stared at it for a moment with an expression of extreme confusion, and then, like the sun through clouds, he smiled, his gaze meeting Illya's. "Chicken soup?"
"With matzoh balls," Illya confessed. "It's very good."
"I know. I love Goldmann's. They use enough garlic to kill a dozen vampires. Come on in." He turned and headed back into his apartment, leaving the door wide open and Illya standing there, still holding the paper sack.
Illya started to say he hadn't been inviting himself over, just dropping off dinner, but realized Napoleon couldn't hear him. With a shrug he entered the apartment, closing the door and locking it before rounding the corner to the kitchenette where Napoleon was carefully spooning soup and lumpy beige dough-balls into a pair of brightly-glazed bowls.
As Napoleon dealt with the soup, Illya opened the bag and laid the tissues, aspirin and salve on the counter, then took out the paper-wrapped sandwich. "Where do you keep your knives?"
"Butter or Bowie?"
"Drawer under the toaster."
"Cupboard next to the refrigerator."
Finding a knife and plates in their respective places, Illya proceeded to cut the sandwich in half, put each half on a plate, and take them to the table. As he set them down, Napoleon turned around, a bowl in each hand, and his gaze fell on the sundries on the counter.
For just a moment Illya thought he might have to rescue the bowls, but then Napoleon recovered himself and set a bowl beside each plate. "Tea?" he asked, carefully nonchalant.
"Please." He wondered what had surprised his partner so, but didn’t feel comfortable asking.
Napoleon filled the kettle and put it on a lit burner. Next he took down a heavy, bubble-shaped Pyrex teapot from the cabinet above the refrigerator, then opened a drawer and dug around until he found a tea-ball. Finally he pulled a tin of tea from the cupboard next to the sink and shook some into the ball. Enough, Illya noticed approvingly, to make a good, strong pot. As he waited for the water to heat he got out two mugs, as bright and mismatched as the plates and bowls, and thunked them down on the table, followed by a sugar bowl, three spoons, and a handful of paper napkins bearing the imprint of a nearby Chinese take-out emporium. Just as he finished the kettle sang, and he snagged the tea-ball’s hook over the side of the pot, filled it with water, and set it to steep on the table, nothing between it and the Formica surface. Finally he sat down and reached for one of the spoons.
"Thanks for dinner. And . . . everything." His gaze slid toward the counter, then returned. "I really appreciate it."
"It’s nothing. It’s just what partners do," Illya said, hideously embarrassed to be caught being sentimental.
"Not any partners I’ve ever had," Napoleon countered.
Ah. That explained Napoleon’s earlier surprise. "Eat, before it goes cold," Illya said, picking up a spoon and praying Napoleon would let it go.
He did. After dinner they played an utterly mindless card game called "War" until Illya noticed that Napoleon was stifling yawns at which point he called a halt. "Enough. Time for bed."
Napoleon's cocked his head and studied him for a moment with an oddly speculative expression, and then he put on a pout. "Don' wanna," he declared in childish tones.
Playing along, Illya stood up. "In bed, now, Napoleon, or else."
"Or else what?"
"Or else... " Illya groped for a suitable threat, and recalled one he'd once seen on Dennis the Menace. "Or else I'll have to spank you."
Napoleon's eyebrows went up. "You and what army?"
"Would I need an army?" he asked, arching an eyebrow.
Their eyes held for a moment, and Illya thought he saw a flash of . . . something . . . in his partner’s dark gaze, but it was gone so quickly he couldn’t be sure he hadn’t imagined it. Suddenly Napoleon yawned widely, and a lopsided smile quirked one corner of his mouth after he finished.
"Actually, no, you wouldn’t."
Illya wasn’t sure if Napoleon was admitting to fatigue, or implying something else. Surely anything along those lines was purely his own imagination. Just because he had somewhat flexible morals didn't mean everyone did. He couldn't remember ever seeing Napoleon give a man a second glance. Well, not that sort of glance anyway. He decided that discretion was the better part of valor. "Good. So get some rest and let your chicken soup go to work on that cold."
He stood up and moved toward the door. Napoleon stood too. "Aren't you going to tuck me in and tell me a bedtime story?"
Illya snorted. "I'm afraid my stories would give you nightmares. Good night, Napoleon."
He heard knocking at his door, and ignored it. This time of the evening it was likely to be someone selling something– either goods, or religion– and he wasn't going to get out of bed for either of those. In any case, by the time he got to the door, they would have given up and moved on to the next apartment, so there was no point. He was about to doze back off when he heard the sound of his front door opening. The jolt of adrenaline that sent through him enabled him to roll over and fumble for his gun on his nightstand just about the time that a figure appeared in his bedroom doorway. Fortunately he recognized the intruder before he had to expend the energy needed to actually lift the weapon. He sagged back down with a sigh.
"You've never heard of knocking?" He enunciated carefully, not allowing the pain in his jaw and mouth to affect his speech.
"I knocked. You didn't answer. I got . . . I heard . . ."
Illya thought about rolling over, but just turned his head instead, eyeing his partner with one eye. "You heard what?"
"They told me you came back in rough shape. I was worried."
"They were right," Illya allowed, closing his eyes again. "But you needn’t worry."
"It was stupid of them to send you out without me."
"I have been known to accomplish tasks on my own, from time to time," Illya said drily.
"That's not what I meant and you know it." Napoleon sounded testy. "Have you been out of bed today?"
"What time is it?"
"Six forty-five, give or take a few."
"Then yes. I went to the toilet."
"Yes, but not so much as yesterday. The doctor said I’ll be fine."
"Eventually. When's the last time you ate?"
Illya thought about that. "What day is it?"
"If you have to ask that, it's not recently enough. I brought dinner, can you turn over and sit up?"
"I'm not sure I can chew yet," Illya said, pushing himself halfway over. Napoleon was there instantly, helping him turn the rest of the way and easing him into a sitting position, piling pillows behind him. As he straightened up, he studied Illya's face and winced.
"Lose any teeth?"
"No. Loosened a few though. But really, I can't. . ."
"Yes, you can. Just give me a minute."
Illya didn't really have much choice but to wait. He heard Napoleon clinking around in the kitchen, and the smell of garlic managed to penetrate his swollen nasal passages. A moment later, Napoleon appeared bearing a mug in one hand and a plate in the other. "Chicken soup, from Goldmann's," he said, looking pleased with himself. "And piroshki. The carrot kind. Soft. Easy to chew."
"Goldmann's doesn't sell piroshki."
"No, but there's a little place over on 53rd that does. Here, soup first." Napoleon handed him the mug. "Finish that and you can have the piroshkis."
An absurd feeling of warmth spread through Illya's chest. He pretended it had to do with the mug of hot soup he held between his hands. He lifted it and drank, but as the hot, salty liquid slid down his throat he shuddered, momentarily reminded of the blood in his mouth during the beating, of swallowing it down to hide the damage they'd done.
"Illya?" Napoleon was trying to pull the mug from his hands, concern written all over his expressive face.
"It's all right," Illya said, lifting the mug again. The garlic flavor had finally hit him, nothing like the iron and copper tang of blood, and his second sip was fine. He drank the rest of the soup as quickly as the temperature would allow, and then showed Napoleon the empty mug. "There, I was good."
"You get a gold star," Napoleon assured him, taking the mug and handing over the plate. "Now see what you can do with these."
Half a dozen golden-brown crescents had been arranged neatly on the plate, their uneven, fork-fluted edges proclaiming their authenticity. He picked one up, it was still very faintly warm, as if it had come from the oven within recent memory. He bit into it carefully, mostly on the right side because the left hurt more, and the pastry yielded easily, tender and light. Inside was a warm, faintly sweet, nutmeg-laced puree that tasted a bit like American pumpkin pie, only not so sugary or heavily spiced. When he closed his eyes, for just a moment he was thousands of miles away, and what felt like thousands of years ago, in his mother's kitchen.
He kept his eyes closed until the stinging behind his eyelids went away.
He managed four of the six piroshki before his mouth grew too sore to keep going. As he regretfully pushed away the plate, Napoleon frowned.
"Is that all you're going to eat?"
"A growing boy needs his nourishment," Napoleon tsked.
Illya was too sore and tired to take the bait. He shook his head. "I can't, I'm sorry. It was kind of you to bring the food though."
Napoleon studied him for a moment. "Pretty bad?"
Illya nodded gingerly. Napoleon glanced around. "Did they give you something?"
"Yes, of course."
"Are you taking them?"
He'd meant to. He had. But he'd left them in the bathroom and it just seemed like too much trouble to get up and get them when the first one had worn off. "I might be a little overdue," he admitted.
"I'll get you some water." Napoleon turned and headed for the kitchen again.
"Would you bring the pill bottle, too?" Illya called after him. "It's in the bathroom."
Napoleon turned, and Illya saw realization dawn on his partner's face, along with a scowl, then Napoleon turned and marched out. Moments later he returned with a large glass of water and the small brown vial of pills. He glared at Illya. "They don't do you any good unless you can get at them, durok. Next time, keep them handy. "
Illya nodded. There was no reason to argue when Napoleon was clearly right, and besides, he was amused by the fact that Napoleon remembered how to say 'fool.' It had been two months since they had kept themselves entertained by teaching one another increasingly vulgar bits of slang. Napoleon uncapped the bottle, dumped two pills into his hand, and then handed him the water. lllya popped the pills into his mouth and washed them down. When he finished, Napoleon took the glass and set it on the nightstand next to the bottle of pills.
"Do you need help settling down again?" he asked, no trace of condescension in his tone.
Though it galled him to admit it, Illya had to nod. "Please."
With minimal fuss and discomfort, he was soon lying flat again, pillows tucked strategically for support. Napoleon turned out the bedside lamp, and paused in the doorway. "I'm going to pull the door to a bit, so my doing dishes doesn't bother you."
Already feeling the impact of the drugs combined with his pre-existing exhaustion, Illya murmured a sleepy assent. The door closed almost all the way, just a faint line of light shining in to draw a pale stripe on the dark floor. For the first time in days he relaxed completely, and let sleep have him without protest.
When he woke sometime later, the apartment was quiet and dark, and the liquid he’d consumed before going to bed wanted back out again quite vehemently. Hoping the painkiller was still working, he pushed himself upright with a soft groan and sat for a moment as his body adjusted to the new position. It was still working, barely. He didn’t feel as badly as he had earlier, but he didn’t feel as well as he might if the dose were fresher. Just as he was about to shift his weight and get to his feet, a light snapped on in the outer apartment.
"Illya? Everything all right?"
Startled, he tried to stand up too fast and swayed a little as his wrenched knee threatened to buckle under the sudden strain. Seconds later warm hands were on his arms, steadying him.
"Careful there, I don’t want to have to explain how you ended up with more bruises under my tender ministrations."
"What are you still doing here?" Illya asked a bit stupidly. He blamed the drug.
"Just thought it would be a good idea if you had some back-up, partner. Where were you going?"
"Where do you think I was going?" Illya asked irritably. "And no, I don’t need back-up to take a piss."
Napoleon chuckled, and stepped back, lifting his hands as if in surrender. "I wouldn’t presume, but getting there’s another matter. Need a shoulder?"
He felt a smile shape his mouth, and he shook his head. "If you’re not careful, Napoleon, I’m going to get the idea you like me."
Napoleon’s face was hard to see well in the dark, but the gleam of teeth as he returned the smile was unmistakable. "Guess there’s a reason you got all those degrees, eh?" He wrapped an arm around Illya’s waist supportively. "Come on, let’s go, Gimpy."
They leaned on each other to keep themselves upright as Napoleon fumbled his key in the lock several times before actually managing to open the door. They kept leaning as they went in, managing a sort of three-legged hobble because Napoleon had a working right leg and a not-so-working left one, and Illya had the opposite combination. They made it to the sofa and collapsed onto it, still leaning.
"I should go," Illya said after a few moments, making a half-hearted move toward the edge of the sofa, trying to work up enough momentum to stand. He failed.
"Why?" Napoleon asked after another few seconds.
"So you can rest."
"What about dinner?" Napoleon asked.
Dinner. Of course. Somewhere along the line it had become traditional that whichever of them was in better shape bought dinner for the other after a difficult affair. This time though . . . "Which of us is going to fetch it?"
They stared at one another for a long moment, then Napoleon reached for the phone on the lamp-stand, wincing as he did so.
"Who are you calling?"
"Goldmann's. I bet Ira can find someone there who'll deliver, with the right incentive."
After a few moments’ conversation, it was clear Napoleon had succeeded in convincing Ira to deliver. As he hung up the phone, Illya sighed and worked a hand into his front pocket with some difficulty. His knuckles were swollen, scraped, and bruised and it hurt, but he managed to pry out his money clip and checked his funds. "I don't have enough for food and incentive. You'll have to pitch in."
"For you, my dear, anything. Besides, I think we came out about even this time, so it's only fair."
Illya looked at him in concern. "Are you certain they didn't hit you on the head?"
Napoleon mock-punched at his nose. "I'm sure. Just shut up and enjoy it."
Illya grinned, and they sat on the couch, leaning against one another until the food arrived. After paying Ira's granddaughter and tipping her handsomely, they took the soup and soft rolls into the kitchen, divvied them up, and sat down at Napoleon's table to eat. Fatigue made their meal silent, broken only by the occasional slurp, or scrape of spoon, and the food was consumed with surprising rapidity. When he finished, Illya took his dishes to the sink and washed them, setting them in the drainer to dry. Not quite satisfied, he filled the kettle and put it on to heat, taking down Napoleon's teapot and filling the tea-ball.
As he waited for the water to boil, he checked the cabinets and found a can of peaches which he opened, spooning half into a cup which he set at Napoleon's elbow. That done, he leaned against the refrigerator and watched the kettle as he tipped the can to his mouth, not wanting to dirty more dishes, sucking in the slick, syrupy slices. They didn't taste much like fresh fruit but they were sweet and satisfying. The kettle whistled and he turned off the flame and lifted the kettle one-handed, pouring the steaming water into the teapot where the oolong leaves in the strainer began to send out mahogany-colored swirls. Through it all, Napoleon just continued to eat, finishing his soup and using the same spoon to start on the fruit.
When he judged the tea had steeped long enough, Illya poured the syrup left in the fruit can into the bottom of his cup, and then filled it the rest of the way with tea. As he took the first sip he caught Napoleon watching him curiously and lifted his eyebrows, encouraging the comment.
"I do have sugar," Napoleon said.
Illya nodded. "Yes, I know, in the cabinet beside the stove."
"Then why sweeten your tea with fruit syrup?"
"Why not? Waste not, want not."
He said it lightly, but Napoleon's gaze was somber as he stood and took his dishes to the sink and washed them, leaving them in the drainer beside Illya's. He poured himself a cup of tea, then picked up the pot and gestured Illya to follow him back to the living room. They settled on the couch, the teapot on a folded newspaper on the coffee table in front of them. When the pot was empty and they were both unable to hide their yawns any more, Illya leaned over to retrieve his satchel from beside the couch
"I'm going home to bed."
Napoleon's voice stopped him. "You don't have to go."
Illya turned, startled.
"You could stay here," Napoleon clarified.
There was a hint of uncertainty in Napoleon's dark eyes and his mouth was curved in a faintly wry smile, as if he expected to be refused and had already decided to accept the refusal with good grace. Illya glanced at the couch thoughtfully, then back up at Napoleon. "If your couch is as uncomfortable as mine, then no thank you," he said, fishing.
A flicker of surprise lit Napoleon's eyes. "You're welcome to the bed."
"And put you out of it?" Illya asked pointedly.
"No," Napoleon returned, just as pointedly.
"To sleep?" He had to be sure.
"If. . ." Napoleon paused, an unusual hesitation. "If that's what you want."
Illya laughed. "Whether or not it's what I want, I suspect it's all we can manage."
Napoleon's rueful expression was priceless. "Just don't spread that around, would you?"
"Never. It would reflect as badly on me as on you."
Napoleon smiled, but it was a show smile, not a real one. After a moment his gaze came to rest on Illya's face again. "You'll stay, then?"
It wasn't really fair of him to play his cards so close to his chest when Napoleon had put his on the table. Illya let go of the straps of his satchel and lifted his hand to cup Napoleon's cheek. "Of course," he said as he brushed his lips against Napoleon's in a swift, dry kiss before standing up. "Come to bed."
They had slept together before. Countless times. There was no reason for this to be difficult, yet it was. Even the simple act of brushing his teeth felt oddly fraught. Invested. He was nervous, skittish as a cat. Ludicrous really. He had experience, he was no vaporous virgin. Still, he stole a glance at his partner out of the corner of his eye as he entered the bedroom, and was oddly relieved to note he wore an undershirt, which implied briefs as well, hidden beneath the bedcovers.
He undressed down to his skivvies and eased himself into bed next to his partner, making undignified noises as he tried to get comfortable. It wasn't easy, every position seemed to press yet another bruise against the too-firm surface of the mattress. "You need a featherbed," Illya complained.
Napoleon chuckled. "On my salary?"
"I'll bring mine down next time," he said, finally finding a marginally comfortable position.
"Good idea. I want to see you explain that to the guys who monitor the hall security cameras."
"Sleepover. We can burn marshmallows over your stove," Illya said sleepily.
There was a short silence, then a chuckle. "That’s ‘toast’ not ‘burn,’ and your encyclopedic knowledge of American boyhood never ceases to amaze me."
"Part of my training to be a mole," Illya said, knowing Napoleon would wonder if he were lying or not.
Another silence was followed by an annoyed snort. "Has anyone ever told you that you're evil?"
"Yes. Nearly everyone. Turn out the light, I'm tired."
Napoleon turned out the light, and as soon as the darkness enveloped them, so did relaxation. Illya sighed and shifted, instinctively leaning toward Napoleon, who slid lower in the bed, turning onto his side so that Illya could curl against his back, head butted up against Napoleon's shoulders. It was how they usually slept on missions when they had to share a bed. Odd that he had never really wondered why Napoleon allowed such intimacy. It certainly wasn't a position he would have dared try on any of the other agents he'd worked with.
Not quite satisfied with that, he slung an arm across Napoleon's waist and spread his fingers across his belly. He felt Napoleon sigh, and relax more, and smiled. Yes. This was right. He yawned again, hard enough to bring tears, and then let himself sink into sleep.
Illya had a good deal of time to think through that night's confession during the next few weeks, though he hadn't really come to a decision until he found himself in Waverly's office, yawning and watching Napoleon flirt broadly with their latest 'innocent'. He smiled, shaking his head. It was good to know some things never changed. Gospodi pomiluy, but he was tired, he wanted nothing more than to sleep for at least twelve hours. Though for once, he was in one piece and so was his partner. Who was, despite one suggestive evening, still just his partner. Since that night he and Napoleon had shared a bed with intent, work had given them no respite. The very next morning Illya had woken with a start to an annoying warbling noise in slightly muted and discordant stereo. After a few moments his sleep-fogged brain finally had managed to identify as the sound of two communicators going off in counterpoint.
He'd rolled out of bed, trying to remember where he had left his communicator, only to end up in a heap on the floor as his injured leg gave out. He'd forgotten about it for a moment. Staring at the side of the bed as he rubbed his throbbing ankle made him realize he wasn't at home, then the sound of Napoleon letting out a low and uncharacteristic curse brought everything back to him, and pushing himself up he managed to limp into the living room where he located his communicator in his jacket pocket. Twisting it on, he’d gotten the same summons Napoleon was receiving in the bedroom. Report for duty. No time off to allow their abused bodies to heal. Thrush apparently shared a motto with the US Postal Service.
The first few nights after that they’d been too exhausted and sore to even think of doing more. Then they’d been separated for a time, working the affair from different angles, and once they had been back working together there was no time for anything but the job, which was as it should be, the job came first. It had to. Now that the job was over, though, and there had been time to think through the pros and cons of bedding his fickle partner, Illya had come to the conclusion that it would probably be a mistake.
There was really no reason to complicate things. As he well knew, indulging in impulse sex with a colleague could lead to disaster, even if the same consequences couldn't possibly repeat themselves, not with Napoleon as the colleague. Still, he wasn't going to risk it. The recurrent adrenaline rushes of near-death experiences did make one susceptible, but he was no callow boy. He could say no to himself, and to Napoleon, despite what Wanda in the secretarial pool called his 'puppy dog eyes.' He could love Napoleon without needing to fuck him. Picking up his jacket from the chair he slipped out the door and headed for home, looking forward to a decadently long shower and a good night’s sleep in his own bed for the first time in weeks.
Once outside Illya found that the night was clear and fine, and rather than hailing a cab he decided to walk. It wasn't far, and though he was sleepy, it was mostly jet-lag, not bone-deep exhaustion. He almost stopped as he passed Goldmann's, but then thought better of it. No need. He was fine, and so was Napoleon. He had a tin of corned beef at home, and a few potatoes in the refrigerator that would definitely need to be used up after all this time. That would do. Goldmann's was reserved for special occasions, and this wasn't one of them. He continued past it and made his way up the stairs to his apartment.
He fitted the key to the lock, turned the knob, and stopped, instantly wary, hand automatically seeking the butt of his gun. He was quite sure he hadn't left the lights on when he'd left four weeks ago, which meant that someone had either been there, or was still there. He was about to draw his weapon and push the door open further when the seductive scents of garlic and chicken broth registered on him.
"Napoleon?" he asked incredulously.
His partner looked around the corner from the kitchen. "About time you got home."
"I . . . ah . . . what are you doing here?"
"What does it smell like I'm doing here?"
"But neither of us is injured or ill," Illya said, at a loss.
"I don't know about that. My pride's somewhat the worse for wear."
Ah. Now he understood. Alexander Waverly, for all his age and marital status, had a habit of making off with their post-mission diversions. Especially Napoleon's. "Did Miss Cranmer ditch you?" he asked sympathetically.
Napoleon turned away and opened a cupboard, lifting down a pair of deep lacquered bowls, plain black on the outside, but their interiors ablaze with crimson and gold phoenixes. Illya had found them at a second hand store in Chinatown. "No, you did." Napoleon's tone was conversational, the very lack of inflection in his words a tip off to their weight.
A mistake, lllya realized. By now he really should know better than to make assumptions about Napoleon. "I . . . thought you were otherwise occupied."
"Which has never stopped you from interrupting before." Napoleon poured soup from the paper carton into each bowl, back still turned.
Illya stifled a sigh. Apparently they were going to have to talk. "It just seemed wiser to leave things as they are," he admitted.
Napoleon turned around, studying him. "Wiser?"
"I've some experience with . . . romantic involvement between partners. I allowed myself a moment of self-indulgence with you, but trust me, it's best we don't continue."
Napoleon lifted his left hand and rubbed his thumb against the base of his ring finger. "You're playing with your ring. That's not something you do often. I'm guessing the two things are related."
Illya stopped instantly, even knowing it was too late. "I suppose you want to know all about it."
"I've wanted to know all about you since our first job together, but I've gotten used to disappointment."
Illya snorted. "But at least what you know of me is true, Napoleon. You have two versions of every story, so one never knows which is the truth, if either."
Napoleon acknowledged the hit with a wince. "Touché. That'll teach me to mind my own business. Soup's ready." He picked up the bowls from the counter and set them on the table, their bright colors a stark contrast to the grey and white-flecked Formica surface. He sat down and picked up his spoon, then looked up at Illya expectantly.
Illya sat and stared into his bowl. "I don't like to talk about it."
"You don't have to. Eat."
"I think I need to."
"Then do. Spoon. Soup. Mouth." Napoleon demonstrated.
"I meant I think I need to tell you."
"Oh." Napoleon put down his spoon.
A little unnerved by his partner's intent focus, Illya played with his spoon and kept his gaze fastened on it as he spoke. "I was married once. Her name was Irina. She was KGB, I was GRU, we met at a joint training camp where we were partnered. We, ah, hit it off, as you would say. During the training sessions things were sometimes very intense, and afterward to relax we would . . ." he groped for a word that was neither too clinical, too crude, or too romantic, and didn't find one.
"I get it," Napoleon said quietly. "Go on."
"When we completed the training camp we went our separate ways, but continued to write off and on. In a letter I received from her a couple of months later she told me she was pregnant, and I was most likely the father." He heard the sharp intake of breath that statement provoked in his partner, but ignored it and went on. "We met and discussed the situation, and married later that week, however I had to return to my ship and she to her position. Some weeks later, still aboard ship, I received a communication informing me of her death."
"What about the baby?"
"She was only about four months along at that point." He said matter-of-factly. It had long ago stopped bothering him.
"What happened? How did she . . . they . . . die?"
"I'm not entirely sure. I made inquiries of course, but her files were classified well beyond my security clearance. All I was able to discover was that she was in Israel when it happened. I assume she was on a mission which failed. The Israelis are not known for their leniency toward spies."
Napoleon was silent for a moment, then he cleared his throat. "You must have loved her a great deal, to still wear your wedding ring."
Illya looked up and met Napoleon's gaze evenly. "At first I thought I did. I quickly came to recognize that it was more of an infatuation. I wear the ring to remind myself of the difference, and to be circumspect in my relationships."
Napoleon looked a little shocked. "I. . . see."
"You find that cold-blooded?"
"Not . . . exactly. I just have a hard time imagining you not marrying for love."
Illya laughed softly. "One does what one must. The Soviet does not believe in love, it believes in efficiency."
"And what about you? Do you believe in love?"
Illya smiled. "I may be Soviet, but I am also Russian, Napoleon. Of course I do."
"And how do you feel about me?" Napoleon asked, eyebrow arched.
Oh, a subtle, subtle trap. He must get out of the habit of underestimating his partner. He could lie, but Napoleon would know it, so his only options were honesty, or an attempt at misdirection. "I think you know that."
"Because I need to hear it."
Illya blinked, taken aback by Napoleon's candor. He looked at his spoon again, then back up. "I care about you very much, Napoleon."
Napoleon sat silently for a moment, then nodded, and pushed back his chair. "I see. Well then, that's that, isn't it? Good night, Illya. I'll see you tomorrow."
His mouth wouldn't form a good night, so he just nodded and sat silently as Napoleon let himself out. He stared blankly at the table for several moments, and then shoved his chair back and stood himself, gathering up the bowls and taking them to the counter. He nearly poured out the soup, but wasting food was a sin he couldn't commit so he poured it back into the cardboard carton and put it in the refrigerator instead.
When he closed the door he glanced at the freezer compartment and was tempted to get out his vodka, but that seemed far too pathetic, especially considering the fact that he had chosen this route, so instead he washed and dried the dishes methodically, put them away, and then, desperate for a distraction, began reorganizing his bookcases, but after staring blankly at The Complete Sherlock Holmes for five minutes trying to decide whether it should be shelved under 'Conan' or 'Doyle' he gave up and put the book down. Nothing short of disarming a bomb under duress was going to take his mind off the look in Napoleon's eyes as he'd stood up to leave.
Perhaps there were times when the greatest wisdom lay in knowing when to be unwise.
It took him a few minutes to gather the things he needed, and a few more to haul it all down to Napoleon's apartment. He knocked on the door, hoping Napoleon hadn't gone out looking for someone more willing to take risks, and let out a soft breath of relief when he heard the lock being drawn back. The door swung open and Napoleon stared at him in bemusement.
"What the devil . . . " he began.
Illya handed him the bag of marshmallows and then pushed past him, dragging the bulky featherbed through the door. Once inside he bumped the door closed with his hip and glared at Napoleon. "Feelings are one thing, talking about them is an entirely different matter, so I will say this just once, and I will do you the courtesy of believing you’re intelligent enough to understand it. There is only one person in the world for whom I would, without being under orders, step in front of a bullet for. That person is you."
A tentative smile curved Napoleon's lips. "I see."
"Good. Happy now?"
"Actually, yes, I am," Napoleon was grinning like an idiot. "And just to make things clear, I’d do the same."
"I know that, Napoleon," Illya sighed. "I wouldn't be here otherwise."
"Oh. Well, now that that’s settled, you want to toast some marshmallows?" Napoleon asked slyly, holding up the bag.
Illya grabbed the bag, tossed it into the room behind them, and pushed Napoleon back against the door. "Later," he said, and proceeded to demonstrate just what it was he did want, with his mouth, and his hands, and a thigh wedged between Napoleon's.
When they came up for air sometime later, Napoleon was breathing hard, his face flushed, his hair completely mussed, and his lips still parted like those of a debutante after her first kiss. Finally Napoleon shook himself a little, licked his lips, and cleared his throat.
"That was worth the wait."
"Yes it was." Illya leaned in again and brushed a much softer kiss against Napoleon's still-moist lips, then turned around to grab a corner of the featherbed and dragged it into the bedroom. Fortunately the duvet around it was washable.
"You have a sudden urge to do laundry?" Napoleon asked, watching him strip the bed.
Illya turned to look at him. "I have an urge to be comfortable. Why don't you go get a shower while I remake the bed?"
"Are you saying I need one?" Napoleon asked with a slightly offended look.
"I'm saying I know you always take one before bed, so you might as well do it while I finish up in here."
"Ah. In that case, I will."
Illya wondered with some amusement if Napoleon would have balked had he suggested that he did indeed need bathing. Not that he did. Unusual as that might be, post-mission, for either of them. Glad Napoleon had not succumbed to the lure of fitted bottom sheets which would have made the task more difficult, he finished re-making the bed, and then undressed, appropriating a couple of hangers from Napoleon’s closet for his things.
Finally he slid into the bed, enjoying the familiar comfort of the featherbed. The shower stopped, and he shifted the pillow, tucking it more under his neck, speculating on where Napoleon had gotten it, because it really was much better than his own pillows. He closed his eyes, laughing softly at himself. The boy who'd left the Soviet Union all those years ago wouldn't recognize the man he'd become. He was spoiled, terribly spoiled, and oddly, he didn't feel a bit guilty about it. He stifled a yawn and wondered what was taking Napoleon so long.
Too warm, Illya thought groggily. He must have turned the heat up too high. He went to push away the covers enveloping him and then stilled suddenly as he realized that the band of warmth across his chest was an arm, and the heat blanketing his back was a bare male body. He opened his eyes, remembered where he was, and realized he'd fallen asleep waiting for Napoleon and hadn't even woken when Napoleon joined him. How embarrassing.
The wan light filtering through the cheap curtains that didn't meet in the middle told him it was just after dawn, and the steady expansion and contraction of Napoleon's midriff against his back told him his partner was still asleep. He contemplated the teasing he was going to get when Napoleon woke up, and resigned himself to good-natured acceptance. After all, no matter what your nationality, it was bad form to doze off on your lover before the main event, especially the first time. For a few moments he lay quietly, trying to wait for Napoleon to wake up, but finally, still overly warm and beginning to be aroused by the close contact, he eased himself carefully out of his partner’s grasp.
"Going somewhere?" Napoleon asked, his voice rough with sleep and rich with amusement.
Illya rolled over, glad of the cool air on his skin where the covers had slid away as he turned. "No, I'm just hot."
Napoleon's gaze slid down the length of his chest and the length of thigh exposed by the twisted bedcovers, and smiled. "Yeah, you are."
Illya rolled his eyes. "Please, Napoleon. You needn't bother."
"Bother with what?"
"Flattery. We are both reasonably fit, reasonably attractive men. Let's leave it at that."
"Actually," Napoleon said, reaching out to trace a finger lazily down the side of Illya's face, "I find you unreasonably attractive, myself."
Despite a longstanding familiarity with Napoleon’s silver tongue, Illya found to his dismay he was not entirely immune to its effects. He felt a faint flush of heat beneath his skin that had nothing to do with the setting on the thermostat. Determined not to let Napoleon get the best of him, he stretched, deliberately letting the covers slide lower until they barely covered his groin. Opening his eyes, he looked at Napoleon and licked his lips.
Oh yes. That worked. Napoleon’s gaze flicked down, then back, and his eyes went just a little wide, and he swallowed, hard. "Ah. . . do you, uh, know anything about . . . er . . ." he began, only to trail off awkwardly.
Illya felt his own eyes widen. "You mean you don’t?" he asked, shocked. At the swift, certain shake of Napoleon’s head, he frowned. "What did you do in Korea? Or for that matter, at Survival School?" Though there were women in the agent’s training program now, at the time they’d gone through, there hadn’t been.
"In Korea there were brothels," Napoleon confessed. "Well, and there's always . . ." he held up one hand, curled fingers and thumb into an 'O' and flexed his wrist a couple of times.
Illya chuckled, recognizing that universal sign-language, then he realized Napoleon was staring at him rather speculatively.
"Do you mean to tell me you were getting laid at Survival School?"
Illya grinned back at him. "A gentleman never tells."
Napoleon made a face. "You do have some experience, though, right?"
"I was in the Navy, Napoleon. On a submarine. How naïve are you going to pretend you are, anyway?"
That got him a sidelong look and a flutter of eyelashes. "How naïve do I need to pretend to be to get you moving?"
"You find the pace not to your liking?"
"Glaciers move faster. You fell asleep on me, twice," Napoleon complained.
"The first time doesn't count, we both fell asleep," Illya pointed out.
"Still," Napoleon sniffed.
"You want things to move faster?"
Napoleon nodded. Illya grinned. "All right." He rolled, pushing Napoleon over onto his back and straddling him, left hand pinning Napoleon's wrists to the mattress, his rump providing enough pressure against Napoleon's knees to keep him from getting much leverage. Napoleon squirmed under him, a slightly uneasy look on his face.
His name turned into a gasp as he wrapped his fingers around Napoleon's erection. Napoleon tried to arch into the touch, but was pinned securely, just as Illya had intended. His cock was a warm, satiny weight in Illya's hand, pulse ticking fast against the insides of his fingers. He lazily explored Napoleon's reactions, gauging which touches made him jump, which brought his breath hissing through his teeth, which made him flinch. Once he'd finished cataloguing, he deliberately increased the pace.
"Illya, wait!" Napoleon gasped, trying half-heartedly to free his hands. "What about you?"
"This is what I want now." It was. To be able to watch Napoleon at that moment when he was free of every care, and to know he'd brought him there. . . oh yes. He wanted that.
"But . . ."
Illya leaned down to quiet him in the only way left, since both of his hands were occupied. Napoleon strained upward into the kiss, his mouth hot and hungry. The change in position brought his own erection firmly against Napoleon's thigh, and he had to fight the urge to thrust against that tantalizing friction. He didn't want the distraction, didn't want to miss a moment. He felt Napoleon struggling, still trying to free himself, still resisting. Illya lifted his head, and before Napoleon could catch his breath, made his request. "Let me watch you."
Napoleon's searching gaze held his for long seconds, and then he stopped fighting, hips surging as Illya stroked him. Illya could feel the change in the fluidity of Napoleon's movements and the urgency of his breathing. He shifted to one side and let go of Napoleon's wrists, pleased when Napoleon left them above his head, wrists crossed as if Illya still held them. He played his fingers down the length of Napoleon's torso, following the midline down to the thatch of dark, springy curls, and then lower, working his hand between his partner's thighs, cupping the sweat-damp weight of his testicles. . . they were taut, Napoleon was very close.
Curious, he explored lower, moving his fingers down to the smooth stretch of perineum, expecting Napoleon to clamp his thighs closed. Instead he let them fall open, and arched into the touch with a moan. Emboldened, Illya searched, found, and pressed the pad of his thumb against the furled opening between Napoleon's cheeks. Napoleon's whole body went taut and Illya nearly yanked his hand away and apologized, but the expression on Napoleon's face, a sweat-sheened grimace of either ecstasy or pain stopped him. Thoughtfully he pressed again, more firmly, and Napoleon shuddered, and whimpered, and came, slick and pearl-white, splashing his own belly, and Illya's hand where it milked the last welling drops.
The expression on Napoleon's face smoothed out, fading into a sort of slack sweetness, his parted lips seeming to invite a kiss, but from the way he was panting Illya knew he needed air more than anything, so he just brushed his own lips lightly against the corner of his mouth, a little humbled by the extent of the surrender Napoleon had just demonstrated himself willing to make. Humbled, and aroused.
He leaned over and snagged his undershirt off the dresser, then used it to wipe off Napoleon's stomach. That brought Napoleon's attention back to the present, and he opened his eyes and looked at Illya curiously.
"So did you see what you wanted to see?"
Illya smiled. "Oh yes."
Napoleon's gaze slid down his body, pausing at groin level for a moment before flickering back up, a knowing smile quirking his mobile mouth. "I hope that's not all you want."
Illya straddled him again, stretching out over him, his erection pressed against the smooth, warm skin of Napoleon's hip. "Oh no, I want much, much more than that." Braced on his arms, he began to rock slowly, relishing the catch and slide of skin on skin.
"Good," Napoleon said, his voice raw. "So . . . tell me what you want."
Illya looked down at him quizzically. "Tell you?"
"Mmhmm. You took the edge off, now you have to get me . . . back in the mood."
Illya nearly laughed as he realized what Napoleon was saying. "You want me to . . . talk dirty to you?" The idea was ludicrous.
He brushed a kiss against his mouth before drawing back to speak. "You are incorrigible."
"Oh, I'm very corrigible. Can't you tell?"
"How can I talk dirty to you if you won't shut up?" Illya asked, punctuating his words with little thrusts.
Napoleon took a breath to speak, then let it out again and pressed his lips together.
Illya did laugh then. "I don't think I can do this," he admitted.
"I'll start. I want to suck you," Napoleon said, his voice husky. "I've wanted to since the first time I saw you naked. It scared the pants off me."
"Does it still?" Illya asked, intrigued, surprised by the erotic frisson that had shaken him at Napoleon's words. Not silly at all, really.
"Good." He decided to give it a try. "I want to kiss the back of your neck," he said softly. "Where the skin is soft and pale right after you get a trim. I want to suck on your earlobe." He thought he sounded ridiculous, but the catch in Napoleon's breath told him that it was having the desired effect.
Napoleon's eyes locked on his face. "Go on," he encouraged.
"I want to lick my way down your spine," he admitted. "You have a lovely back. And your shoulders too. I want to feel them under my teeth . . . not to mark you, just to feel you."
Napoleon shuddered all over and pushed at him. "Let me up."
Illya rolled away instantly, worried that he'd somehow offended Napoleon, but once he was free of Illya's weight, Napoleon turned onto his belly and lay there breathing rapidly, his head tipped forward, exposing his neck.
For a moment Illya sat frozen, stunned motionless, but then Napoleon reached back and put a hand on his thigh, squeezing lightly, and the reality of the situation crashed home. Shaking a little from the adrenalin rush, he settled along Napoleon's back, straddling his thighs with his own, leaning down to find that soft, pale skin on his neck and brush his lips across it before moving lower to place a moist kiss on the prominent bone right at the top of his spine.
Napoleon moved under him like the ocean, a gentle undulation. Illya opened his mouth and fit his teeth around the top of one shoulder, pressing in a little, enough to leave an indentation, but no more. Napoleon jerked a little and shivered. Illya nipped his way along the slope of shoulder to the smooth, round flesh at the joint and licked a circle on it, then bit there, too. Another shiver rewarded the effort.
"God, Illya. That's my shoulder, it's not supposed to feel . . . like that."
"You of all people . . . " Illya whispered, moving back so his mouth was right beside the curve of his right ear, ". . . should know that there is no place that cannot be stimulated." He nipped the earlobe there lightly, and then sucked on it.
Napoleon gasped, hips shifting under Illya's, the friction a maddening tease. "Go . . . go on," he said a little breathlessly.
"I want to lick my way down your spine." Illya proceeded to do so, scooting back as he went, and when he got to the small of Napoleon's back he lifted his head. "And I want to take your buttocks in my hands and hold you open while I taste you." He suited actions to words.
He never would have guessed that Napoleon was a squealer. He felt Napoleon reach, heard the drag of cloth against cloth, and then the sounds grew oddly muffled. He almost laughed when he realized Napoleon had buried his face in a pillow. That should keep the neighbors from complaining. He swirled his tongue around, and across and into, and Napoleon panted and whimpered and yielded to Illya's tongue as if he'd been doing it all his life, though the squirming sometimes made it difficult for Illya to find the more sensitive spots. He was, however, an excellent marksman even under difficult circumstances.
Concentrating so hard on his partner, it was almost easy to ignore his own arousal, though every time he had to shift to reacquire his target the press of sheets or skin against his erection reminded him again. After a little while realized Napoleon's whimpers had taken on a nearly intelligible quality, and he stopped to listen. Though muffled, the litany was impressive. Napoleon was cursing in several more languages than he actually spoke. As he paused, Napoleon lifted his face from the pillow and craned around, trying to see Illya over his shoulder.
"Are you going to do something, or are you just going to lick me to death?"
"I was doing something."
"Driving me crazy," Napoleon said hoarsely.
"What do you want me to do?" Illya asked, then he licked a finger and trailed it down the crevice between Napoleon's cheeks, pressing it gently inside.
"Oh . . ." Napoleon breathed, a shiver running through him, his body involuntarily clutching at the intrusion. "That. Illya . . ." his voice trailed off.
"Just this?" he searched. Napoleon was warm inside, and glove-tight.
Napoleon gasped. "That . . . more?" He spread his legs wider.
Illya had to suppress a gasp of his own. It was impossible to ignore the tense, hot pressure in his groin any longer, the fierce ache that demanded movement, demanded pride of place inside that tight warmth. "What more?" he asked, wanting to hear it, needing to hear it.
"You," Napoleon said, without hesitation. "I want you."
Yes. Oh yes. Illya slipped his finger free and shifted onto his knees, suddenly nervous. It had been such a long time since he'd done this, and they needed. . .
"In the nightstand."
Illya didn't know if Napoleon was reading his mind, his body, or both. He got the drawer open, fumbled inside, and found . . . a box of condoms. He couldn't help but laugh. "Despite my past experience, Napoleon, I don't believe we need to worry about that."
Napoleon shot a dark look over his shoulder. "I meant the baby oil."
"Ah." Illya felt around until he found the familiar plastic bottle, pushed to the far side of the drawer. "There." He flipped up the lid with a click and poured some into his palm. Setting the bottle on the nightstand he swiped two fingers through it, and then used the rest on himself. The familiar touch of his own hand was almost soothing, and he couldn't resist a stroke or two.
"I want to watch you do that," Napoleon rasped, gaze fixed on Illya's hand, and his cock, for a moment before lifting to his eyes. "Next time."
The emphasis was something of a dictate, and Illya snorted. Trust Napoleon to want to be in charge. He gave himself a last, long stroke or three just to let Napoleon know he couldn't be ordered around, then put his hand on the firm curve of Napoleon's ass.
Napoleon crossed his arms under his chest and let his head fall forward, waiting. Illya moved his hand lower, and slid one finger inside, then after a moment added the second one. Napoleon moaned, pushing back, knees digging into the mattress as he looked for leverage. A slow stroke or two assured Illya that he was as ready as he could be. Slipping his fingers free, he positioned himself and pressed in, hands closing slickly on Napoleon's hips as he moved deeper, feeling tight flesh mold itself around him.
"Oh," Napoleon exhaled softly. "God."
Illya was tempted to agree, but couldn't spare the breath. He was using it all to keep himself from slamming home the way his body thought he should, breathing in deeply, letting it out in long, slow shudders of sighs. Then Napoleon pushed back against his steady press forward, and everything just . . . worked. Sheathed to the hilt, a perfect fit, as he'd known it would be.
He leaned forward, slid his arms beneath Napoleon's torso and urged him up and back, supporting his weight as Napoleon obeyed him without protest, coming up to his knees, leaning back, body arched so that while still joined, his head rested against Illya's shoulder. Yes. That was what he needed. To see Napoleon's blindly ecstatic face, his mouth set in a gasp of erotic tension.
Letting his hands slide back down to Napoleon's hips, he spread his fingers around the muscle there on one side, holding on, and moved the other hand to wrap around the jutting thrust of Napoleon's reawakened erection. He stroked his hand down as he thrust in, stroked up as he pulled back. The third time he did it, Napoleon pushed backwards into the thrust with a soft, breathless grunt, and that eager engagement broke him. Broke them both.
Any pretense of civilization fell by the wayside and instinct took over as they grappled and thrust and rubbed, taking and ceding control back and forth in an effortless partnership until finally Napoleon shattered first, his body shuddering into its second climax of the night, this time impaled on Illya's cock.
Somehow Illya managed to hold still while Napoleon came, letting him have the full impact of his orgasm without distraction, but as soon as the jets and spasms faded he took his pleasure with a flurry of hard, swift thrusts that culminated in an incendiary orgasm of his own.
For a few moments they knelt there, Illya supporting Napoleon's weight in a strange, sweaty pieta, and finally Illya's back protested and he let himself fall back against the mattress, the breath oofing out of him as Napoleon, unsurprisingly, followed him down, his weight settling hard against him. Illya pushed at him half-heartedly. "Off."
Napoleon tried, and winced. "Ow. Out."
There was that. Cupping a hand beneath each of Napoleon's cheeks he pulled them slightly apart as he eased out. Napoleon hissed in discomfort, but once freed he turned over and pulled Illya close, head against his shoulder. After long moments, he sighed deeply.
"I'll be lucky if I can sit down at work."
Illya grinned. "It should be interesting watching you explain that to Mr. Waverly."
"It was your idea. I'd have settled for frottage, you know."
Napoleon smirked. "I never settle for less than the best."
Illya's smile widened. "No, you don't."
Napoleon moaned and buried his face against the curve of Illya’s neck. "I walked into that one, didn’t I?"
They shifted around a bit until they were both comfortable, and Illya was just starting to drift a little when the alarm clock went off. They both jolted upright, staring at each other with sudden awareness.
"It's Thursday." Napoleon informed him needlessly.
Illya sighed and nodded. "So it is."
"You can shower first if you want," Napoleon said magnanimously.
Illya shook his head. "I'll go home. I need a change of clothes, and that way we don't have to take turns in the shower."
Napoleon looked disappointed but he nodded. "Meet you at the car in half an hour."
Illya stood up, and glancing at the bed, realized his featherbed was still tucked beneath the sheet. As he hesitated, trying to decide if he should unmake the bed and take it home, Napoleon caught his wrist and pulled him across the bed, leaning to kiss him in a shockingly gentle fashion.
"Leave it," Napoleon said. "Sleep here tonight."
Illya stared at him for a moment, taken off guard, and he felt warmth rising in his face that had nothing to do with arousal. He glanced away, and nodded curtly. Napoleon squeezed his wrist lightly and then let go. Illya picked up his stained undershirt from the floor and went to get the rest of his clothes from the closet.
"Illya, Illya, Illya," Napoleon said in tones of grave disappointment as he took Illya's chin carefully in his fingers and gently turned his face from side to side as he inspected the bruises, scrapes and cuts adorning it. "When will you learn not to annoy people with guns, or coshes, or brass knuckles? Sometimes if you have a choice between answering a question or getting the crap beaten out of you, it's all right to answer the question, provided it's not going to come back to haunt us."
"I did answer the question!" Illya protested, wincing as Napoleon gently dabbed at the worst of the cuts with a wet paper towel.
Napoleon sighed, dunked the towel in the sink full of warm water and then wrung it out again so he could attend to another cut. "Well, you know, Mr. Wizard, not everyone has a PhD in quantum mechanics. Next time try using words of one syllable."
"I can't help it that he was too stupid to understand the answer," Illya muttered.
"You need to learn to sweet-talk them," Napoleon said seriously.
"That's what I have you for," Illya shot back.
"I can't always be there when you need me to run interference. It's really not that hard."
Illya opened his mouth to reply with the classic 'that's easy for you to say' reply, but a strong feeling of deja vu stopped him. He remembered a lake, a very wet Napoleon, and a strangely similar conversation. He closed his mouth and took a moment to come up with an appropriate response. "You're right. In the future I will try to stop treating my captors like the imbeciles they are."
Napoleon laughed, shaking his head. "Only you, partner. Come on, let's go home where I can give you the tender loving care you deserve."
Illya glanced around the Standard station's pristine restroom. "I don't know, I think this bathroom is cleaner than yours."
Napoleon glared at him. "Just for that, I'm not stopping at Goldmann's on the way home."
"I was only joking," Illya said, unwilling to sacrifice his traditional chicken soup even for the perennial pleasure of ribbing Napoleon.
"Uh huh," Napoleon said dubiously. "Anyway, half that mess is yours. You want to chip in to hire a cleaning lady, or shall we start taking turns cleaning?"
Illya reflected for a moment on the wisdom of keeping his mouth shut when he was tempted to tease his partner. "We can use mine," he offered.
"What happens when that one gets dirty too?"
"One of us moves?" Illya asked, biting his lip to keep from grinning.
Napoleon laughed, shaking his head. He tossed the wet paper towel into the trash, and looked in the mirror above the sink, straightening his tie. "You know, we could share a place . . . that way we could afford the cleaning lady."
Illya stared at him, his teasing mood evaporating immediately. Napoleon was fussing with his hair, pushing it back into some semblance of its usual order, and definitely not looking at him. Share a place. The silence became a little strained as Illya thought about it. It was a tempting offer, but he was acutely aware of what it would look like if they did. People already said they were attached at the hip, sometimes with a wink and a nudge accompanying the comment. To share quarters would be to make a kind of public declaration he wasn’t entirely sure he was prepared for.
As Illya tried to think of how to answer him, Napoleon stepped away from the sink and ruffled Illya’s hair with a laugh. "Come on, IK, you know I was joking. Let’s get out of here. Soup’s waiting." He pushed open the door and headed for the car, moving briskly.
Relieved, Illya followed him.
Illya focused on his plate rather than the dance floor, eating methodically. The food didn't really deserve that much attention, but it was better than watching Napoleon dancing with the bashful young miss left-over from the denouement of their latest affair.
It bothered him that it bothered him. Normally Napoleon's catting around didn't nettle him. It wasn't like he didn't do it himself on occasion. They weren't exclusive. Even if they wished to be, which they didn’t, it would be necessary. No one paid much attention to his love life, but if Napoleon gave up women, people would soon start to wonder just what he was doing instead, and Illya seriously doubted they would assume he was off reading physics journals or listening to jazz in smoky clubs.
Lately, though, Napoleon's flings had taken on an . . . edge. He always made sure Illya was watching before he started anything, and the pointed glances and smirks only underscored that. Even that might not have worried Illya, except that he'd also changed his type, or rather, expanded it. In addition to his usual experienced women of the world, he'd started dating good girls. That wasn't like him. Usually the good ones merited a pity date, but nothing more, because he was too ethical to lead a good girl on.
Illya wasn't sure if this new trend meant that Napoleon was growing less ethical, or if he was perhaps thinking about not leading a good girl on. He frowned at his plate, stabbing at his coq au vin more viciously than its rubbery texture quite warranted.
The unexpected sensation of fingers on the back of his neck brought Illya around fast, the knife in his hand pressed against the belly of the man who stood behind him. Even a blunt table knife could be a weapon with enough force behind it.
"You're starting to need a haircut more than usual, tovarishch," Napoleon said silkily, not batting an eyelash or lifting his fingers from where they stroked the back of Illya's neck. "And you're getting 'au vin' on my suit."
Illya turned back to his plate and put the knife down. "I like my hair, and so do you."
"Mm," Napoleon said noncommittally. "That doesn't change the fact that it needs cutting."
"I don't think your sweet young thing would be too pleased to see you fondling me," Illya said, changing the subject.
Napoleon leaned close, lips brushing Illya's ear. "You never know what a girl will like."
"Some of your girls, perhaps, but not this one." Illya leaned away, uncomfortable with flirting that overt in a public place. "Where is she?"
Napoleon straightened up with a sigh. "She went to powder her nose." He took his seat next to Illya, and looked at him slyly. "She has to be home by eleven or her mother will worry. I can be at your place by eleven-thirty." He winked.
For some reason that irked Illya. "You could, if you were invited," he said, pushing away from the table and standing. "However, I haven't had a good night's sleep in days. Please give Miss Whitbread my apologies." He dropped his napkin on the chair and turned to go.
"Illya!" Napoleon caught his wrist.
Illya turned and looked down at the hand on his arm, then at Napoleon.
Napoleon slowly unwrapped his fingers from Illya's wrist, and swallowed hard. "Illya," he tried again, his voice softer, more persuasive. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing. I'm simply tired. Good night, Napoleon."
He could feel Napoleon's gaze on him all the way across the restaurant. It almost seemed that he could still feel it an hour later, at home alone in bed. He didn't understand Napoleon, and that bothered him immensely. For years, no matter what, he had always understood Napoleon, and now . . . he didn't. He hated that. Hated it. And he hated how Napoleon kept pushing, like the way he dropped hints to people that one of these days they wouldn't be able to ignore.
Napoleon didn't seem to realize that while Americans were willing to look the other way for a good long while, especially for another American, they weren't so open-minded about foreigners. And despite all the effort he had made at Americanizing himself over the years, Illya was still foreign, and always would be. He needed more protective coloration than his partner did.
He rolled over, and was trying determinedly to go to sleep when he heard the knock at the door, soft, but a familiar pattern. Soft enough that if he were truly asleep he might not have woken. But he wasn't asleep, and with a sigh he got up and went to let Napoleon in.
Napoleon had obviously been home already. His suit and tie had been replaced by a rarely-worn pair of jeans, and a v-necked sweater, and he held his glass teapot, supporting it with a hand swathed in an old, slightly singed oven-mitt. The teapot clearly did not hold tea, the scent that drifted up from it was redolent of chocolate and alcohol.
Illya lifted his eyebrows. "Have you become a Welcome Wagon lady?"
"No, I just know you sometimes have trouble getting to sleep when you're too tired, so I thought I'd offer an inducement. Hot chocolate with brandy."
It was said without a leer, which was unusual enough that Illya stepped back and let him in. Besides, he liked hot chocolate.
"Do you have marshmallows?" Napoleon asked, heading for the kitchen.
"Yes, if you don't mind them being hopelessly stale."
Napoleon shrugged, familiar with the hazards of being home once in a blue moon. "They'll still melt, they just take longer." He opened Illya's cabinet and got out two mugs, then poured chocolate into both while Illya hunted up the bag of stale marshmallows. Once located, he dropped a few in each mug and then handed one to Illya, taking the other himself. He looked meaningfully toward the living room.
Illya took the hint and a moment later they were side by side on the sofa. Illya sighed and sipped. It really was quite good. The brandy fumed down his throat in curls of vaporous heat after the physical warmth of the chocolate had passed.
Napoleon lifted his own mug, then put it down without drinking, his gaze serious. "I wanted to apologize."
"I've. . . kind of been a jerk lately."
Illya didn't disagree.
"Not really sure why. Sometimes . . . sometimes the job gets to me, I guess," Napoleon continued, giving him a wry smile, the one Illya had never been able to resist.
He reached out, putting his fingers against Napoleon's jaw. "It's all right, Napoleon. Sometimes it gets to me too."
Napoleon brightened visibly. "Really?"
"Yes." And It would be all right now, he was sure. It had always been like this. A subtle acknowledgment of a problem, and it was as good as solved. Illya lifted his cup and breathed in its scented steam. "The chocolate is very good, thank you."
"Glad you like it."
They sat in silence for a while, drinking, and then Napoleon broke the quiet again. "How's your back?"
"Fine," Illya said, startled, looking up.
"Oh." Napoleon sounded disappointed. "I thought maybe your shoulders might be a little stiff, after hanging from those manacles."
Ah. He got it now. Napoleon was looking for an excuse to touch. Illya smiled a little. Not an unpleasant idea. . . Napoleon was right about the fact that sometimes he did get too tired to get to sleep.
"Ah, I thought you were asking if I was injured, and I'm not. But I am a little sore."
"Come and lie down, then," Napoleon said, beaming. "I'll give you a back rub."
Napoleon was good with his hands in all kinds of ways. A slow and almost impersonal massage took Illya to a state of relaxation that was verging on sleep as hands warmed by friction kneaded baby oil into his shoulders and back. Then a cool trickle in the small of his back told him Napoleon had drizzled a small pool of oil there, and he turned his head to hid a smile against his arm as Napoleon started on his hips and buttocks, strong fingers digging into the gluteal muscles, making him flinch as tension he hadn’t even know he harbored was released. After a little while the massage moved from impersonal to personal, even sensual, and he sighed as surprisingly delicate fingers gentled and brushed down the cleft, across the sensitive opening there, then slipped lower to stroke firm circles across his perineum.
"Illya. . . may I?"
Both the question and the hesitation surprised Illya a little, as Napoleon rarely hesitated, and he also rarely asked for this particular act, preferring to be, as he put it, ‘the catcher,’ but Illya didn’t mind. He wasn’t so inflexible that he couldn’t enjoy a change in routine, especially one so pleasurable. Resting his cheek against his crossed arms he nodded and canted a knee outward in invitation, aroused, but too relaxed at the moment to want do much work himself. Napoleon chuckled and kissed the back of his neck as he used the side of his hand to encourage the puddle of oil down to where he wanted it, two fingers then darting to catch it before it dripped off onto the bed. Two fingers circled and pressed higher than the perineum. Even though they didn’t do it this way all that often, he was so relaxed that Napoleon’s fingers slipped into him easily. He canted his hips up and back, taking those probing fingers deeper.
He sucked in a breath as pleasure shocked through him, bright and sharp, but it was Napoleon who moaned his name, and the fingers that pierced him trembled hard enough for him to feel. Against his thigh he felt the hard press of Napoleon’s cock, hot, and slick with pre-ejaculate, unusual, since Napoleon was generally neater than that. In fact, everything about tonight seemed a little . . . off normal. Not bad, just not normal.
He almost laughed at himself. Normal was a word that had no meaning to him. Whatever the reason, Napoleon wanted him badly tonight. Wanted him relaxed and . . . ah. He understood finally. Napoleon wanted him compliant. The notion irritated him a little, but not enough to make him do anything about it. After all, there were times he wanted Napoleon compliant, so turnabout was fair play. He needed to turn off his brain.
Napoleon helped matters just then, slipping his fingers out so he could use his thumbs to spread Illya's cheeks apart as he licked a broad stripe down his spine, then to Illya's surprise his tongue continued down past his tailbone in light, teasing flickers. Surely he. . .
"Bozhe!" he gasped, shocked out of his English as a warm, wet tongue breached him. Not in all the time they had been intimate had Napoleon ever tasted him there. He arched back, wanting more, and Napoleon gave it to him, long, slow, probing licks, little teasing flickers, circling and darting. Oh, he'd definitely paid attention all those times Illya had done it for him. Cock aching and desperate for friction, Illya rocked his hips, rubbing himself against the sheets.
Napoleon pulled back, shifting his hands to Illya's hips as he lifted him up away from the bed. "Ah, ah, ah, none of that."
He nudged and prodded until Illya came up on his knees, head still pillowed on his arms, the position so utterly exposed that even though it was Napoleon, Illya couldn't suppress a vague shiver of unease.
"Cold?" Napoleon purred. "I'll warm you up."
Two fingers probed him again, their entry not quite as easy this time, the position didn't lend itself to relaxation. Illya bit his lip against the burn, and before it completely eased the fingers were gone and in their place he felt the broad, silky head of Napoleon's cock nudge against him. He pushed back as steadily as Napoleon pressed forward, and the burn was hotter this time as Napoleon's cock opened him and slid inside. Not precisely pain, but not precisely pleasure either.
"Stop," he gasped, breathing through the discomfort, pushing up on his arms, fingers clenching in the sheets. He'd done this before, he could do it now. After all, Napoleon was neither as long or broad as he was himself, so it should be easy. He was just out of practice. He just needed to relax again.
It took another few seconds, but finally Napoleon stopped, panting against his back. "Stop?" he whispered. "Really stop?"
The dismay in his voice had Illya quickly shaking his head. "Just give me a moment." Hands gripped him tightly, clutching and releasing rhythmically on his hips.
"All right, a moment," Napoleon rasped. "All right."
Napoleon was shaking, Illya could feel it. Somehow that lessened his own sense of vulnerability. He relaxed a little, muscles unclenching. Napoleon made a startled sound as, without effort, he slipped deeper.
"Illya?" he gasped.
"It's all right," he managed.
Hands tight on his hips again, holding him still as the connection was completed. Still holding him as Napoleon eased out again, and back in, finally, finally finding the right spot as he slid in this time. Illya pushed back, his body speaking for him, and Napoleon heard him, and drove in again, shallowly, rocking hard against that place that made this worth the initial pain. He was loosening up now, arching back to get just the right pressure as Napoleon began to stroke in and out of him with sharp, percussive thrusts.
Lips on his shoulders, lips and teeth, biting, kissing, licking as all the while Illya absorbed the increasingly forceful movements of his partner's body, took them inside himself, and echoed them back. Hands slipped up his sides from his hips, slid down his arms to lock themselves over his where they braced against the bed, pinning him in place, the twist and drive of their locked bodies almost as much like fighting as loving.
The intensity shocked him, as did the sounds Napoleon made, which finally had resolved themselves into words, no, a word, repeated with each thrust like a litany. The growl of Napoleon's voice in his ear matched the burn and spark of pleasure inside him, and he arched back one last time, shuddering as his seed spilled, across the bed beneath him, though neither of them had so much as touched his cock.
The transparent tremor of Illya's climax seemed to hit Napoleon with as much force as a fist. He froze, balls-deep inside Illya's body, and moaned, shuddering. Once the shudders had stopped, Illya let his knees and elbows unlock, carrying them both down to the bed, Napoleon a heavy, sweaty weight on his back as they fought to find their breath. Finally Napoleon rolled off him, their bodies separating more easily than they had joined, The air seemed cold against Illya's uncovered skin and he shivered again, reaching for the covers that had fallen beside the bed, pulling them over himself, lifting them in invitation to Napoleon.
Napoleon shook his head. "Need to clean up," he said, and pushed himself up to a sitting position where he paused for a moment before continuing on to stand up and walk from the room.
Illya watched him go, sleepy and sated, and smiled a little as he remembered that chant. Oh yes, he was Napoleon's. To a degree that sometimes dismayed him, but there was no denying it was true. He sighed, closing his eyes. At least in bed they still understood one another.
Eating tinned chicken noodle soup wasn’t the same at all. Illya supposed he should have seen it as an omen when Ira Goldmann died and the deli closed, but he hadn’t.
Of course, nothing was the same at all now.
He’d never thought Napoleon would leave UNCLE. Or perhaps more accurately, he had never thought Napoleon would leave him. Which had made it easy to ignore the small hints, and later the larger ones, all the time pretending not to have noticed how hollow Napoleon’s laugh had become when he made those little jokes about ‘them.’ They were a ‘them’ after all. A being made up of two individuals who were no longer quite individual. Inseparable. Or so he’d thought.
He was apparently quite good at self-delusion.
In retrospect it was easy to see—there had always been that almost wistful quality to Napoleon’s comments about the home lives of the innocents they met and used, sometimes callously, in their affairs. The occasional story that suggested a less-than-happy childhood and a yearning for more emotional connection. A lifelong correspondence with an aunt, of all things, though there was no other mention made of family, other than one brief mention of a possible sister which might or might not have been a joke, and a grandfather which could have been read the same way. The semiannual suggestions that they share an apartment, always carefully phrased in such a way that it could be laughed off should Illya fail to respond.
And fail he had.
He looked down at the bowl of lukewarm soup in front of him and scowled. There was no point in sitting around his apartment trying to reanimate a dead tradition, just as there was no point in sitting around rehashing his myriad failures. It was too late for either. He dumped the soup down the drain and washed the dishes, then he stood, irresolute.
Casting around for something to do, he picked up the stack of mail that had built up over the past few weeks and went through it, throwing away the sale flyers and setting aside the bills that would need paying soon. He was left with two pieces of mail he couldn’t identify, one about the size and shape of a wedding invitation, the other a thick standard-size envelope bearing the return address of large legal firm.
The smaller envelope made him nervous so he opened the larger one and unfolded the sheaf of papers it held. After a moment he had to look back at the address to make sure he wasn’t reading someone else’s mail. He wasn’t. There was his name, in black and white. And in fact, his name was on the document in several places, quite clearly. It was no mistake, but he couldn’t think of anyone he knew who had recently died, let alone anyone who was wealthy enough to leave him an anonymous bequest of a hundred thousand dollars.
Dropping the papers to the table, he stared at them mistrustfully. Maybe it was some sort of THRUSH trick. Most likely, in fact. He would call UNCLE in the morning and have the legal department investigate. That left him only one piece of mail. He picked up the smaller envelope and opened it, its heavy stock resisting the letter opener a little. Inside that envelope was another, this one not gummed closed. Lifting the flap he tugged out the card, the front of the which was embossed with an image of two rings bound by a flourish of ribbon. He stared at it for a ridiculously long time, and then he grew annoyed with himself and flipped it open.
The relief that flooded him at the names inscribed on the card was followed only moments later by puzzlement. Jerry and Ramona? He didn’t know anyone named Jerry or Ra. . . oh. Wait. Yes, he did. From that bizarre affair involving THRUSH files printed on a dress. He smiled a little, remembering. He wasn’t quite sure why they were inviting him to their wedding, but it was a nice gesture. He wondered if they had also invited Napoleon. And if so, would he go?
He imagined running into Napoleon there. Imagined finding a quiet corner to talk, not so he could ask why, because he knew the answer to that, but maybe to ask why he couldn’t have at least told him to his face, rather than simply vanishing while Illya was on a mission. No, he wouldn’t ask that either. He knew that answer too, and that one wasn’t his fault. No, if Napoleon was there, he knew that they would exchange a polite, strained greeting and that would be all. But it would be good to see him, just to make sure he was all right. Odd, how three months could feel like forever.
He was too soon out of the infirmary to do anything particularly strenuous, but how strenuous could a wedding be? He looked at the date, and then at the calendar. Wondered if he could pick up a wedding present before eleven in the morning. Or he could just give them an envelope with some cash in it. Someone, probably Napoleon, had once told him it was declassé to give money, but he was a peasant, after all, and who didn’t need money? Particularly newlyweds trying to run a business.
It was settled then. He would go. And if he happened to see Napoleon there it would be nice, but he wouldn’t expect it.
Illya hadn’t felt this nervous since his first showing. No, that wasn’t true. Even then he hadn’t felt this nervous, because that hadn't mattered to him all that much. He had to go all the way back to his first day in New York, utterly self-conscious about his nationality, his experience, and his language skills, to find a day where he’d been this nervous.
Funny, Napoleon had featured prominently that day, too.
He exited the cab and put the quart-sized sytrofoam container he held on its roof as he got out his wallet and paid the driver. He barely managed to get the container off the roof before the cabbie took off. He glared after the man, as if that would do any good, but it did give him one more moment before he made an utter fool of himself. Napoleon probably wasn’t home anyway. He’d always kept a busy social calendar.
He glanced hopefully up the façade of the building, saw lights on in the penthouse, and sighed. No such luck. Ah well. He went inside and waited for the doorman to look up from his television. After several minutes had passed with no sign of life, he cleared his throat, and the man finally looked up.
Seized by a whimsical impulse, he held up the container. "Delivery for penthouse," he said in his best just-off-the-boat Russian accent. He dug in his pocket and found a folded piece of paper which he pretended to peruse. "Name is . . . Solo?"
"Yeah, okay. Go on up." He waved Illya past the security station without fanfare and went back to watching television.
Illya frowned as he walked to the lift. He would have to tell Napoleon that his security was . . . less than secure. It was clear the man had no training. Delivery men didn't usually wear cashmere sweaters, designer jeans, and expensive running shoes.
The lift was old, small, and slightly claustrophobic, which was odd since he didn’t usually suffer from claustrophobia. Which meant it was probably just nerves. Which he also didn’t usually suffer from. He watched the floors tick past, thinking that it took an inordinate amount of time to arrive at the penthouse level, but finally the lift stopped and let him out into a tiny foyer. He stood there for several seconds, took a deep breath, and knocked.
The wait seemed interminable, and he thought perhaps Napoleon had gone out and left his lights on, but then the doorman wouldn’t have sent him up, would he? He waited, and finally the door opened and Napoleon looked out. The expression on his face went from wary to startled in seconds.
He noticed that Napoleon was wearing a gray t-shirt with his computer company's logo on it, and a pair of blue sweatpants so old the knees bagged, his feet were bare, and his hair was damp and looked hastily combed. The penny dropped. "I’m sorry, did I get you out of the shower?"
"No, I’d finished, but I wasn’t dressed. What . . ."
Illya held out the container. "Ira Goldmann’s granddaughter, Rachael, opened a restaurant where the old Woolworth’s used to be. She uses a lot of his recipes."
Napoleon stared down at the soup for a moment, and then he smiled warmly. "Chicken soup?"
Illya found it difficult to meet his eyes. "With matzoh balls."
"Does she use enough garlic to kill a dozen vampires?" Napoleon asked, his voice sounding oddly rough as he reached out to take the proffered soup.
Illya nodded, and surrendered it.
"Come on in," Napoleon said, stepping back, swinging the door wide.
Illya followed him, managing to glance around the rest of the apartment as he went. With one exception, the apartment’s furnishings held no real hint of Napoleon's personality. In fact, there was a certain l'air du femme vieille about the decor which made him suspect that Napoleon had simply never bothered to redecorate after inheriting it from his aunt. That one exception did, though, give him a faint hope that he wasn't about to make tremendous mistake.
The kitchen was easily three times the size of the one in the apartment Napoleon had been renting the first time this scene had played out, and Illya missed its close confines. There was too much room between them here. Napoleon set the container on the counter and opened the cabinet above it to get down bowls.
"Should we heat it up?"
"It wouldn't hurt." Illya said. "It's better when it's hot, as opposed to lukewarm. Where are your pans?"
"The microwave's there." Napoleon pointed with his chin since his hands were full. "Why don't you use that while I see what I have to go with?"
Illya nodded and moved to pick up the soup as Napoleon put down the bowls and turned toward the refrigerator. Despite the size of the kitchen, they somehow managed to bump into each other. Napoleon steadied him with both hands on his shoulders, but he didn't let go once they had regained their balance. Napoleon's hands flexed a little as if testing the mettle of the man beneath them, and his gaze dropped to Illya's mouth, which went suddenly dry. The moment held, and then broke as Napoleon shook himself a little and lifted his hands.
"Sorry. . . I, ah . . ."
"Why?" Illya asked, even though for fifteen years he'd sworn that he would never ask that, should they meet again.
Napoleon looked confused. "Why what?"
Relieved that Napoleon hadn't caught on, Illya lied baldly. "Why are you sorry? I never minded you touching me."
The word was soft, startled, and the open yearning in Napoleon's gaze shocked him. He had never expected to see that again. Hoped, but not expected. Napoleon's hands dropped to his shoulders once more, thumbs rubbing in circles over his collar-bones, sliding the soft cashmere against his skin. The sensation sent sparks through him.
"That wasn't what you meant, was it?" Napoleon asked quietly.
"What do you mean?" Illya asked, prepared to bluff.
"You never could lie to me, partner. Why what?"
Illya stepped out from under his hands and turned to put the soup in the microwave, setting the time and hitting start. "Nothing."
Hands came to rest on his shoulders again. "Illya, why what?" Each word was punctuated by a slight shake.
"Whydidyougo?" The words ran together, making a single, nearly unintelligible word.
Unfortunately Napoleon was good at translating. There was a long moment of silence, and then a sigh. "Because the job was killing me, and so were you. Because. . . I thought you would follow me."
Shocked, Illya turned. "What?"
Napoleon laughed more than a little bitterly. "Yeah. Talk about hoist on your own petard."
He was momentarily speechless. Something was wrong. Something had to be wrong. Napoleon would never have expected Illya come after him if what he’d believed for the last fifteen years was true. "I. . . they told me . . ."
"Told you what?"
"That you'd left to get married.'"
"Married?" Napoleon looked as gobsmacked as Illya felt. He raked a hand through his hair, shaking his head. "I don't believe it. My one and only plunge into matrimony happened long before I met you, Illya."
"It's true," Illya insisted a little defensively. "Lisa told me you'd said something about a woman who 'gave you everything.'"
Napoleon leaned heavily against the counter. "God. I did. I did say that. You never asked the Old Man about it?"
Illya shook his head. "I didn't want details."
Napoleon sighed. "The woman who gave me everything was my Aunt Amy. She died and left me her estate. My comment was a joke, and one in very poor taste at that. I can't believe Lisa thought I was getting married."
"Your aunt?" Illya repeated stupidly. "She died?"
"And she left you her estate."
"Yes. Well, almost all of it, as you know."
"As I . . ." His eyes widened. "That was her? Your aunt left me that money?"
"You didn't know?"
Illya shook his head. "The bequest was anonymous. Legal verified that it wasn’t some THRUSH trap, but they refused to tell me more, respecting the wishes of the decedent. But I never even met your aunt, why would she have left me money?"
Napoleon cleared his throat. "I, ah, may have mentioned you once or twice," he said sheepishly.
Illya tried to conceive of what Napoleon could possibly have told her that would have made her leave him all that money, and blushed. "You told your maiden aunt about us?"
To his surprise, Napoleon laughed. "Oh, believe me, Aunt Amy was no maiden, but no, not in so many words. However, she'd known me all my life, and she could read me like a book. She knew, whether I told her or not."
"I still don't understand. Why would she do that?"
"Probably for the same reason she left the rest to me. She'd spent half her life meeting other people's expectations. When her husband died she discovered that money was one way out of that box. People expect the rich to be eccentric. She said she wanted me to have that kind of freedom, and it looks like she wanted that for you, too." He studied Illya for a moment, and shook his head. "She certainly got that wish. When I heard what you'd been doing I couldn't believe it. How the hell did you get into that anyway?"
"An accident really. Do you remember Jerry and Ramona?"
Napoleon frowned thoughtfully, and then after a moment he nodded. "Jerry: short, big nose, page boy, Ramona: tall, lots of hair and eyelashes, no morals and great legs?"
"Trust you to remember the legs."
Napoleon smiled and spread his hands. "I am what I am."
"You are indeed, Popeye. They invited me to their wedding and I went. I suppose I can admit now that I half hoped to see you there. It wasn't long after you had gone." He raised a hand to forestall Napoleon's interjection, and continued. "In any case, we talked, and I discovered their business was badly undercapitalized. Since I suddenly had a great deal of money I had no idea what to do with, I decided to invest in them. Only then Ramona got pregnant, and Jerry had an accident with the cutting machine and was out for six months, and since I wasn't really working anyway, it just seemed prudent that I make sure my investment didn't end up lost."
Napoleon's eyes narrowed. "Why weren't you 'really working?'"
"I was on medical duty restrictions," Illya hedged.
"For six months?" Napoleon sounded aghast. "What the hell happened?"
"Illya," Napoleon said threateningly. "'Nothing much' doesn't keep you on medical restrictions for six months."
"Actually, it was longer than that, but if you must know, I ruptured my right anterior cruciate ligament as well as severely damaging the semimembrinosis and biceps femoris."
Napoleon looked down as if he could see Illya's knees through the denim covering them, and then back up. "They put you behind a desk," he said flatly.
Illya nodded. "At the time there was very little that could be done beyond stabilizing the joint."
"You're pretty nimble for a guy with no right ACL," Napoleon said, looking at his knees again.
"After four surgeries, years of physical therapy and several hundred thousand dollars in medical bills I should hope so." Illya said drily.
He hadn't anticipated the effect his words would have. The gaze Napoleon lifted to his was full of guilt.
"Dear God. Illya, I'm so sorry."
"Why should you be sorry? You had nothing to do with it."
"Didn't I?" Napoleon asked with a searching look. "If I'd stayed . . ."
Illya shrugged. "Who knows? I might not have hurt it, or I might have died along with that girl, or you might have died instead of her. We faced those odds every time we went out. Sir John found you in Las Vegas, didn't he? And in my line of work, every new season is a gamble. The stakes are just not as high. We're gamblers, you and I, addicted to chance. It's just our nature. Why else would we be going back into this business at our age?"
Napoleon smiled at that, an odd, rueful sort of smile, and lifted a hand to gently touch Illya's face. "You're right. I am a gambler, always have been and always will be. But when Sir John called, what mattered most to me was the chance that if I said yes, I might get to see you again." Napoleon's fingers shifted on his face, taking hold of his jaw and tilting his head a little. Their gazes locked, and Napoleon sounded hoarse as he spoke. "For that, I'd have risked anything, because I've missed you every goddamned day for the last fifteen years."
They were so close they were nearly kissing, but Napoleon made no move to bridge the distance. Illya licked his dry lips and reached out, cupping a hand behind Napoleon's neck. "If you don't want this, tell me now."
Napoleon was conspicuously silent, but his expression spoke volumes.
Illya kissed him.
There were no fireworks, and they weren't suddenly twenty-five again, but there was something so achingly familiar and right in the kiss that it didn't matter. He tried to deepen it, tongue flickering across the seam of mobile lips, and for a moment Napoleon's lips parted, and their tongues touched, and the fireworks tried to start, until Napoleon suddenly turned his head and pushed him away, gently, but unmistakably.
"Polya?" he asked, trying to steady his breathing, not understanding.
Napoleon put his hand over his face, and then tried to disguise that by pushing it upward, across his furrowed forehead and past, to rake through his hair. He took a deep breath, head hung, refusing to meet Illya's gaze.
"I'm sorry, Illya. I can't."
Illya frowned. "Can't?" His eyes narrowed. "You mean, you won't," he said flatly, a little angry. To back away now, after Illya had taken all the courage he owned and crossed that bridge? After Napoleon hadn't said no?
Napoleon nodded. "Yes, you're right of course. I mean I won't."
"Because it turned out so well the last time I let myself think about you with my dick instead of my brain," Napoleon said, his voice sharp with sarcasm and resentment.
If Napoleon had slapped him it couldn't have shocked Illya more. He found himself backing up, retreating, before something other than instinct kicked in. Pieces clicked together. He'd figured this out years ago, but Napoleon hadn't. Napoleon still didn't know, didn't understand, what had gone wrong before. He stopped moving, widening his stance for stability. "So, this time use your dick and your brain," he challenged. Napoleon's gaze flashed upward, and Illya recognized the pain and anger there viscerally. Oh yes. He knew how that felt. "Tell me why."
"I just did."
"No, you didn't. What are you afraid of?"
"I'm not afraid," Napoleon snapped.
"No? So your breathing is fast and you're white as a sheet and your pupils are dilated for some other reason?"
"God damn it, Illya!" Napoleon said, rounding on him, fists clenched.
Illya braced for the blow, but it never came. Instead, fingers brushed his face, a palm cupped his cheek, and Napoleon closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and released it, slowly relaxing. "God damn it, Illya," he repeated, without heat this time. "You're damned right I'm afraid. I just found you again. We're talking again. I don't want to screw that up just to get laid. I don't want to lose another fifteen years, and I don't want spend the rest of my life wondering whose fault it was."
"Both, of course," Illya said succinctly. "We always did share equally."
Clearly startled, Napoleon studied him for a moment. "Both?"
"Oh yes. Fifty-fifty. Even-Steven. Six of one, half a dozen of the other. Partners in fucking up just as we were partners in everything else." Illya stepped back, and pushed his hair back off his face impatiently. "Napoleon, what do you really need from me?"
"I don't know what you mean," Napoleon said, looking unsettled.
Illya leaned against the counter, and looked at his hands, rubbing at a callus as he tried to think how to phrase his question, absently realizing he was going to have to be careful now in the salon, or his roughened hands would snag the more delicate fabrics. He looked up again "After you left I spent a lot of time thinking about that, and about what I needed. And I came up with some answers I think are true. Fifteen years ago there was something you needed that I couldn’t give you then. I think I know what it was. Do you?"
"There was noth . . ." Napoleon began.
Illya cut him off with a sharp gesture. "Don't. You said yourself I was killing you. You left, Napoleon, not me."
"I . . . yes." Napoleon seemed suddenly defeated, his posture weighted. "I left. But only because I was sure you would come after me. You don't know what it did to me when you didn't."
"Yes, I do," Illya said, his voice low and intent, jaw tight. "I know precisely what it did to you, because it did the same thing to me."
Napoleon studied him for a moment. "Still mad, huh?"
"Yes. And you know, despite the romantic claptrap American cinema tries to foist on an unsuspecting public, love actually does not mean never having to say you're sorry."
Napoleon flinched at that, and turned to pick up a dish towel and wipe at a nonexistent smear on the counter before glancing over, sidelong. "Illya. . . for whatever it's worth, I am sorry. And not just for myself."
Illya nodded and moved to take the cloth out of his hand. "I'm sorry as well, but we still haven't breached the heart of it. Do you know what I'm sorry for? Do you know what you need from me?"
"I need you," Napoleon said. "All of you," he clarified.
Illya nodded. "Yes. Precisely. And can you have that?"
Napoleon looked as if he were going to speak, then stopped, his expression becoming thoughtful. Illya didn't look away from his searching gaze. Finally, Napoleon shook his head, a look of surprise on his face..
"No. I can't."
Illya smiled, relief flooding him as he began to hope that things might just work out. "You understand."
"Yes, I think so." Napoleon sounded faintly surprised. "There are parts of me that no one can ever have. Parts that belong just to me. It's the same for everyone."
"Especially you," Napoleon said ruefully. "Illya . . . I'm sorry. I didn't realize. . ."
"No, it wasn't entirely your fault. That's what I'm sorry for. The more you wanted from me, the less I gave. You. . . scared me."
"You? The man who laughs at THRUSH torturers?"
"THRUSH torturers are not important to me. You are. You were pushing, you wanted more than I was comfortable with, and I was afraid. I handled it badly."
"We both did."
"True enough," Illya agreed. "So, now that we’re older and wiser, how do we handle it better?"
Napoleon sighed, looking frustrated. "I don't know. I just . . . I don't want to have to hide, damn it. I don't like slinking around, I don't like pretending."
Illya snorted. "In that case how did you ever get to be a spy?"
"I mean . . . romantically. That's just not me."
"No, romantic discretion never did come easily to you," Illya agreed, amused. "So that's what you need, then? To announce it to all and sundry? To stake your possession, piss on a tree and mark your territory?"
"Well, the metaphor's a little crude, but, ah . . .yeah, basically," Napoleon said, looking embarrassed.
Illya moved closer and took his hands. "You're very old-fashioned in some ways, Napoleon, but it's part of your charm. However, what you want won’t be simple. There may be repercussions. To be open may negatively affect us both personally and professionally, and not just at UNCLE. There is your company, and mine to consider."
Napoleon grinned, suddenly confident. "Actually, I think you're wrong, partner. Since UNCLE wants us badly enough to conscript us at our age, I doubt they'd bat an eyelash over this. As for my company, I own it and I can fire anyone who objects to having a queer boss. And for God's sake, Illya, you're a fashion designer. People expect you to be homosexual. Don't tell me you're not used to hearing that."
"I am," Illya admitted. "You have a point."
"Of course I do. If there's one thing I'm good at, it's people. Though I have it on good authority that there are a few other things I do pretty well." He leered ostentatiously.
Illya felt the warmth of a flush rise in his face, which was ridiculous at his age, and with Napoleon being so foolish, but . . . "I remember," he said.
"Do you? Because I was starting to wonder. . . I mean, at the rate things are progressing, or rather, not progressing, there won't be any reason to come out."
Illya tilted his head a little, an irrepressible smile curving his mouth. "You find the pace not to your liking?"
He saw recognition light Napoleon's dark eyes, and an echoing smile lift the corners of his mobile mouth.
"Glaciers move faster."
Despite his age and problematic knee, Illya could still move quickly. He pushed Napoleon back against the refrigerator and kissed him.
This time, there were fireworks. No gentle, chaste press of closed lips, but open mouths and dueling tongues and the nearly painful pressure of teeth on tender flesh. He forgot, for a moment, that he meant to keep Napoleon pinned in place, and that lapse allowed Napoleon to twist around, grab him around the waist and boost him onto the counter next to the refrigerator.
"Napoleon!" Illya growled, outraged.
Napoleon grinned. "I always wanted to do that."
"Do it again and I'll break your nose. I'm not a child."
Napoleon eyed him appreciatively, and reached to mold a hand over the prominent bulge between Illya's thighs. "No, you're definitely no child, thank God. Did I ever tell you how much I love what you do for a pair of jeans?"
"No," Illya said, a little breathlessly as Napoleon's fingers skated upward, found the button and released it, then slipped behind the zipper to make sure it didn't catch anything as he tugged it down with his other hand.
"I've been remiss then." He chuckled as his fingers encountered Illya's bare flesh beneath the denim and his smile turned a little wolfish. "I thought so. No visible panty-lines under there."
Napoleon's fingers felt slightly cool against his heated skin and Illya gasped. "You watch too much television, Napoleon."
"Guilty. Guess you'll just have to keep me entertained so I don't have to, won't you?" He chucked Illya under the chin lightly with his free hand.
Illya noticed that Napoleon's fingers had thickened a little over the years. They were not so lean and graceful as they had once been. Illya wondered if they ached sometimes with the weather the way his own did. A doctor had told him it was a result of the damage done by a lifetime of throwing punches, and had wondered if Illya had been a boxer. He had let him think that was the case. It was easier to explain than the truth.
No matter the changes wrought by time, Napoleon's hands were still more than capable, and when he turned his hand so his palm faced inward instead of outward Illya tried to spread his legs a little further apart to accommodate it. Unfortunately his jeans were not adaptable.
Napoleon made a frustrated sound and stepped back, hands on Illya's waistband. "Lift up, these need to go."
Illya obliged, and Napoleon wrestled them down. "This would be easier if they weren't so damned tight," he complained, and then paused mid-yank with a softly indrawn breath.
Illya saw Napoleon's gaze was focused on the twisting scars that wreathed his knee and grabbed Napoleon's chin, bringing his eyes up. "A man in my position can hardly afford to be seen in baggy jeans, now can he?" he asked lightly, pointedly ignoring Napoleon's reaction to his knee.
Napoleon smiled half-heartedly. "Oh, hardly. Besides, as the saying goes, if you've got it, flaunt it. And you, moi droog, have got it." He finished peeling the jeans down and tugged them off along with Illya's expensive running shoes. He folded the jeans and dropped them on the floor, then knelt on them, between Illya's knees, a hand on either thigh.
Illya's own breath caught at the sight, his cock hardening further. It was strange– he hadn't been celibate for the last fifteen years, but right now it seemed as if he had. He hadn't felt so out of control in a long, long time. The broad hand on his right leg rubbed gently at the oldest, palest scar, and Napoleon leaned to place kisses along the most recent one, tongue tracing the livid line upward. Illya jerked, startled, but Napoleon held him in place and gradually his mouth moved on, and lips and tongue caressed his inner thigh all the way to the crease of his groin.
He waited for more, breath held, but no touch followed. He shivered, suddenly aware of the cool counter top under his thighs, and of his own vulnerability, both physical and mental. He felt a touch of that fear he had accused Napoleon of earlier. What if they failed again? He rather thought he was too old now to bear that anew. Broken hearts were a young man's game.
"Illya." Napoleon said quietly, fingers gripping his thighs in a bid for attention. "Think about the odds."
Illya looked down and met the warm olive-brown gaze. "The odds?"
Napoleon nodded, eyes alight with amusement. "How many missions did we fail, together?"
He began to understand. "Not many."
"Exactly. The odds are pretty heavily in our favor, want to roll the dice?"
Illya grinned. "Given our positions, I think that one's up to you."
Napoleon groaned and hid his face against Illya's thigh, but he slid a hand unerringly upward, between Illya's thighs. "Like this?"
"Oh yes," Illya said breathlessly. "Just like that."
"Two of a kind," Napoleon quipped into his knee.
"You're. . . bozhe . . . mixing metaphors."
"What does it take to shut you up?" Napoleon asked, looking up at him with only one eye showing.
"Don't you recall?" Illya asked.
Napoleon chuckled. "Yes."
And oh, yes, he did. Warm, soft kisses against straining flesh, one hand wrapping firmly around Illya's cock, working the foreskin just right, blowing cool breath across the hot, moist tip as it was exposed. Napoleon had always been the only person he knew who actually gave blow jobs. Sensation combined with memory and he shivered again, a whole-body affair this time, gasping as Napoleon finally pressed his lips against the very tip, and pushed forward, letting Illya's cock part his lips and push into the wet heat of his mouth.
Illya gripped the edges of the counter on either side of his thighs to keep himself from clutching at the silvering wings of Napoleon's hair and leaned back a little, offering himself, belly trembling from maintaining the position without back support. Napoleon started to suck, one hand still between his thighs, fondling and rubbing in a pattern that simultaneously soothed and stoked. Heat flushed through him, spreading up his torso into his face. His balls were already tight and aching, it would take next to nothing to finish him, a testament to how well Napoleon knew him, even after so many years.
Except . . . Napoleon stopped. Put a hand on the counter and pushed slowly to his feet with a grimace. Illya short-circuited his protest as he understood. Kneeling wasn't something he did easily these days either, not even with an improvised knee-pad. Napoleon's position put him right between Illya's thighs, though, so he wrapped his legs around Napoleon's waist and pulled him in close, trapping him there.
Napoleon leaned into him, resting his own erection against Illya's, separated only by a layer of worn fleece, his proximity utterly distracting as his hands slid up Illya's torso under the soft sweater, bunching it above his pectorals, exposing Illya's torso. Fingers slid across his chest, thumbs circling his nipples, bringing them erect, sending little tendrils of pleasure shivering through him.
"God, you're beautiful," he said, sounding awed.
Though he'd never been comfortable with extravagant compliments, Illya didn't mind them from Napoleon, whose vocabulary had always run to the florid. He braced himself on an arm and arched into the touch, not-so-incidentally rubbing their groins together.
Napoleon's hand slipped back down to his hips, holding him as he rocked in place, sliding his cock alongside Illya's first on one side, then the other, still maddeningly clothed and separate. His eyes were closed in concentration, as if it took all his focus to make love.
"Do you want to be in me?" Illya asked hoarsely, remembering the last time. He’d remembered it so may times over the years.
Napoleon's eyes opened, heat flaring in their depths, but he shook his head. "No. No, just the opposite." He lifted up, worked a hand between them, gripping Illya's cock in his palm. "I want you in me."
Illya felt himself twitch and swell in Napoleon's warm, tight clasp. "In that case, you'd best let go or you'll have a long wait." Illya managed. "And it would help if you were to lose some clothes."
Napoleon released him with evident reluctance and stepped back. Illya slid off the counter to his feet and stripped his sweater the rest of the way off, dropping it next to his jeans on the floor.
Napoleon's hands went to the bottom of his t-shirt and then he stopped there, fabric bunched in his fists, looking troubled. "I, ah, haven’t aged as well as you have," he said, hesitating.
Illya rolled his eyes. "If you’re waiting for me to tell you that you haven’t changed a bit since the day we met you’re going to have a very long wait."
Napoleon laughed, obviously relaxing. "Oh, tovarishch, I have missed you."
"Have you any idea how ridiculous it is to call me that?"
"Good. So long as you do." Illya reached forward and pulled at Napoleon’s wrists "Now. Off with that shirt."
They stripped it off together, four hands a little clumsy, but finally it joined Illya's clothes on the floor and he could finally see the changes hinted at through clothing. The barrel chest Illya remembered seemed even broader now, and Napoleon’s waist wasn't as narrow, though that had already started to change before they'd parted. His chest was still as smooth as if he shaved it though, and if his skin wasn't quite as taut as it had been fifteen years earlier, well, neither was Illya's. He put his hands on Napoleon's waist and leaned in to kiss him again, but Napoleon ducked his head in against Illya's neck and wrapped his arms so tightly around him that he couldn't draw a full breath.
For a moment Illya worried about his ribs, but just as he was about to protest, Napoleon eased up a bit, though he didn't let go. Illya brought his own arms up around Napoleon's back, relishing the solidity of him under his hands. "You feel good," he said into Napoleon's hair.
"Come to bed, and I'll feel even better," Napoleon said, lifting his head.
"I hope that's a promise," Illya said, stepping back.
"So do I," Napoleon said with a wry smile. "Come on."
He started toward the living room, past which must lie the bedroom. Snatching his clothes off the floor, Illya followed him until Napoleon paused outside the bathroom.
"Go on," Napoleon said, nodding down the narrow hallway. "Through that last door. I need to find something first."
Illya nodded and continued on, hearing cabinets and drawers open and close behind him as Napoleon looked for whatever it was he thought they needed. He opened the door to the bedroom and finally found a place where Napoleon hadn't been content with his aunt's tastes; unless she had rather unusual tastes for a woman. The decor was minimal and elegant, with shades of blue and burgundy predominant and the furniture constructed of cherrywood, which blended well with both colors. The bed was, of course, a king. He would have been shocked to find anything smaller.
Tossing his clothes on the chair by the window, he turned on the bedside light, folded back the bedcovers, stacked the pillows, and was about to slide in when Napoleon appeared in the doorway, attention focused on something he held in his hand.
"It's about ten years old, but it's never been opened. You think it's still okay?" he asked, rubbing the back of his neck with his free hand.
"I have no idea. What is it?"
Napoleon held up a long, narrow box, white with lettering in two shades of blue, instantly familiar. Illya's eyebrows lifted. "Ten years?"
Napoleon blushed. He actually blushed. "I . . . ah . . . " He cleared his throat. "That was when I stopped waiting."
Stunned, Illya sat down hard on the bed. "You can't mean. . . you haven't been with anyone since you left?"
"Not a man," Napoleon said, meeting his gaze evenly. A grin suddenly spread over his face. "And I've never needed to use it with a woman." He winked.
Illya laughed out loud. "I do love you, you know. And I don't think it goes bad. Shall we find out?"
Still smiling, Napoleon threw Illya the box and untied the drawstring at his waist, skinning out of his sweatpants with far less self-consciousness than he'd displayed over his shirt. Illya opened the box and extracted the tube, and wolf-whistled as Napoleon turned to pitch his pants at the laundry hamper in the corner. He swivelled back around, startled, and Illya grinned.
"Nice ass, Mister," he said, deliberately broadening his accent.
Napoleon tried to look over his shoulder at his own ass, and failed. He shook his head, laughing softly. "I see you still need your glasses for detail work."
"My distance vision is fine and your ass is not, sadly, close enough for detail work. Why don't you remedy that?" He lay back in what he hoped was an inviting and not ludicrous pose.
It must have been close enough, as Napoleon joined him on the bed in seconds, one hand stroking up and down his thigh. "How do you do it? Do you run? Bike? Lift weights?"
Illya smiled. "I'm afraid it's mostly fortuitous genetics, though I do walk a good bit." He pulled Napoleon over on top of him, enjoying the weight. "Now, if you please, would you stop worrying about your lack of perfection and let me fuck you senseless?"
That, apparently, got through.
"Your wish is my command," Napoleon rolled over, splaying himself on the mattress wantonly. "Senseless sounds wonderful."
Illya sat up, the tube of lubricant still in one hand, and ran the other down the long line of Napoleon's spine and the tender curve of one buttock. "I wasn't joking, Napoleon, you do have a delightful ass. Round, and inviting. It makes me want to touch . . . " he cupped his fingers over it, ". . .and taste." He let his tongue flicker into the little divot just below his tailbone.
Napoleon gasped and reached out to grip the headboard brackets with both hands. "Please, Illya."
Illya chuckled softly, and discarded the tube, using both hands to open him. "Why do I suspect your recent conquests have been somewhat lacking in imagination?" he asked, not expecting an answer as he gave Napoleon what he wanted.
Some things hadn't changed, and Napoleon's responses to being rimmed were among them. Within moments he was rocking against the bed in long, slow thrusts, encouraging Illya's lingual explorations with soft profanities. Napoleon almost never swore, except in bed. It was something Illya had always found peculiarly erotic.
He was still a little stunned by Napoleon's confession. He never would have imagined Napoleon would go so long without indulging in something he enjoyed it so much. He wasn't known for his self-control. On the other hand, there was something rather romantic about the idea that he suspected would appeal to that part of Napoleon.
He felt vaguely guilty for having been more pragmatic than that. Though now that he thought about it, there was one act he hadn't allowed anyone to perform on him in just as many years. Odd, how he hadn't consciously realized that until now. He smiled to himself, deciding he should have Napoleon remedy that soon.
"Illya," Napoleon gasped, sounding a little strangled. "I was sort of hoping you'd do it sometime today?"
"Pushy American," Illya said, searching for the tube he'd dropped earlier.
"Dilatory American," Napoleon shot back. "God, that sounds weird."
"For you, I will always be Russian, no?"
"Da, tovarishch. Now fuck me, damn it."
"Don't be in such a hurry, my friend. We need to go slowly. After fifteen years, you might as well be a virgin."
The fit of laughter that provoked allowed Illya time to locate the lube, puncture the seal with the tip of the cap, and layer some of the gel onto his fingers. He sniffed, and tasted, and it seemed to be all right. Just to be sure he spread some liberally on himself and waited. When nothing untoward happened he put more on his fingers and circled them around the entrance to Napoleon's body.
Napoleon stopped laughing abruptly, lifting himself into Illya's touch with a soft exclamation. Illya moved to kneel between his thighs and pressed a fingertip more firmly against the opening. Already relaxed by his earlier efforts, it slipped past the entrance with relative ease, but was held tight once inside, and he had to grit his teeth when his imagination got the best of him for a moment. He explored carefully, pressing in and pulling back shallowly until the tight channel relaxed a bit and movement became easier. Napoleon hadn't given any indication of discomfort so far, so he added a second finger. That drew a little sound, a whine of breath over clenched teeth that he might not have heard if he hadn't been paying attention. He stopped. "All right?"
Napoleon nodded. "Fine now. Just . . . I thought you were kidding."
"Oh no, not at all. You're tight as a boy."
Napoleon laughed, which did . . . interesting things on the inside. "You saying I'm a tight-ass?" he breathed.
Illya shook his head, chuckling. "If the shoe fits." He angled his fingers just so, stroking gently.
Napoleon gasped and his entire body jerked like he'd been shocked. Clearly Illya had found the right spot. "Like that?" he asked softly, using his free hand to feather distracting caresses against the soft undercurve of Napoleon's buttocks, right where they merged into thigh.
Napoleon nodded, breathing hard and fast, hips moving again. "Illya . . . I don't want to go alone."
"You're that close?"
He nodded into the sheets again, gasping.
"I don't know if you're ready."
"Now, damn it!"
Time to stop second-guessing. In any case, watching, touching, and imagining being inside Napoleon again had him on the knife's edge himself. He'd be lucky to even get inside before he came, so there wasn't much chance of him lasting long enough to do any damage. Already slick, he moved close, one hand tight around the base of his cock. and pressed himself home.
Napoleon knew himself well. Illya went in easy, and was held close, warm, and buoyed. Napoleon shuddered under him, rhythmic contractions running through him.
"Oh god," he sobbed, bracing his hands on the bed and dropping his head to Napoleon's shoulder, panting, desperately trying to find some fragment of control, but there was none. Arching forward he buried himself to the root and let go, the sense of connection perfectly overwhelming, as intense as lightning.
Some time later, after they'd caught their breath, Napoleon pushed them off the wet spot and turned out the light, as Illya dragged the pillows down and the blankets up, and they lay there in the quiet, neither needing to break the silence until finally Napoleon sighed.
"That was really pitiful. Great, but pitiful. I think we both need practice. A lot."
Illya laughed. "Every night, yes? Until we get it right?"
"Oh, I don't think we'll ever get it quite right, do you?" Napoleon asked guilelessly.
"Mm, not if I have anything to say about it."
"Glad to hear it."
There was a long stretch of silence again, this time broken by Illya. "Polya, do you like this place a great deal?"
"Ah. No, not particularly. It's convenient, and a place to hang my hat, but it's never really felt like home."
He smiled in the darkness, and chose his words carefully. "Would you like to hang your hat at my place instead, then?"
He felt Napoleon go still in his arms, not even breathing for several long, tense seconds. "Illya, are you asking me to move in with you?"
"I might be."
There was more silence. If he'd been anywhere but lying in bed, he would have fidgeted, but it would be far too obvious there so he forced himself to be still. Finally he couldn't stand it any longer.
"Mmm?" Napoleon asked sleepily.
"Will you move in with me?" Illya snarled, annoyed.
"I thought you'd never ask," Napoleon said, leaning over to kiss him, very, very thoroughly.