Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin scrambled to the top of the wooded ridge and stopped, gasping for breath, leaning on each other as they scanned the slope below for signs of their pursuers.
Their stolen jeep, casualty of a jagged rock that had torn open a tire, rested at the foot of the mountain two miles back. The security detail of the THRUSH lab they'd robbed was down there somewhere, probably had found the jeep and was even now seeking their trail.
Illya raised the binoculars to his eyes while Napoleon counted his extra clips.
"How many?" the American asked.
"Six," Illya said.
They looked at one another, calculating the odds of their survival if it came down to a firefight, and not liking the answer. Illya pulled out the small canisters, containing samples of the lethal virus the underground THRUSH lab had developed, and separated them, handing one to Napoleon.
"One of us should get through. I'll take the high road," Illya said, nodding toward the ridgeline. "You take the low. If you get to Scotland before me—"
"I'll save you a haggis."
Illya started away, but Napoleon caught his arm in a crushing grip. The Russian turned back, startled at the delay, impatient but awaiting Napoleon's orders.
"Be careful," Napoleon growled.
Illya smiled briefly, eyes warming. "I will if you will."
Things went downhill for Napoleon from there, literally and figuratively.
First it started to rain. The misting fall was no more than a slight inconvenience to him at first, as he scrambled down the steep slopes among brambles and bushes, pausing from time to time, back to a tree, to listen for any sounds of pursuit.
But when the sprinkle turned to an icy downpour the steep ground turned selectively to slick mud or slicker undergrowth, and he spent as much time on his ass as on his feet. Since either propelled him downward equally well, he shrugged off the indignity and continued his harum scarum descent through the heavy brush, hoping he'd spot Allen's cabin before dark.
By the time he found a narrow trail he was entirely soaked and covered in mud, every exposed patch of skin scratched and snagged, and the sudden twilight of the mountains had reduced his surroundings to shadows. He stopped to catch his breath, back as ever to a tree that stood between him and his presumed pursuers, and a flash of white light briefly lit the wall of trees before him, skull-white trunks against black night, sparkling with illuminated raindrops.
When no thunder followed, he slid down the trunk of the tree and drew his UNCLE Special. The thin drumming of the rain against the ground would drown any subtle noises; he was reduced to making himself still and silent, peering around the trunk of the tree in the direction from which he'd come.
Another flash, this one right in his eyes, and he flinched back and cursed to himself, blinking. He waited, and the beam flashed across the path in front of him, back and forth, then gone. Under the sound of the rain came a more rhythmic wet crunching noise; booted feet on soggy undergrowth.
The light swung back and fixed on the narrow path. Napoleon brushed water from his face and brought up his gun, focused on the approaching footsteps.
He waited until all three of them marched past, bunched close—idiots—then said softly:
As they turned, he fired. Once; the first man was down. Twice, the second spun and fell.
The man with the torch yelled and lunged at him and Napoleon fired again, catching the glint of an upraised blade in the man's formerly empty hand. The torch flew, the beam shooting wildly into the air as the man fell heavily against Napoleon. He felt the keen slicing pain of the knife across his shoulder and shoved hard. Napoleon raised his gun to fire again, but the man collapsed, next to his dropped torch, its beam cutting white across his rain-spattered face.
Napoleon took in a breath of the cold sodden air and checked each corpse before holstering his UNCLE Special, turning off the torch and continuing down the path, shivering, cold all over except for the line of burning pain across his back. After half an hour of careful descent, he spotted the squares of light from Allen's cabin windows below him.
Allen opened the door to his tap.
"How'd it go?"
"We had to split up." Napoleon handed his friend his half of the capsule. "Illya has the other half."
Allen pocketed it. "I'll call it in. Were you followed?"
Napoleon nodded, drew in a deep breath. The room was cosy, warmed by a big fire crackling in the stone hearth. "Until I took care of it. Them. Up the path about a mile or so. Have you heard anything from Illya?"
Napoleon pulled out his communicator even as he dropped his sopping wet coat over the rack, ignoring the burning pain across his shoulder at the motion. "Open channel A. Illya?"
"What happened to your back?" Allen asked, coming up behind him.
"Knife," Napoleon said. "Hang on."
The channel crackled for a moment. Then... silence.
"Illya? Come in."
More silence. Napoleon cursed and recapped the communicator. "The other three were following him."
"Take it easy, Napoleon," Allen said. "He'll get here. Jesus, you worry about him like you're his mother." He pulled Napoleon toward the stairs. "Now, come on. Let me get this cleaned up and see how bad it is."
"You're going to need stitches."
Napoleon peered over his own shoulder. That was usually a bad idea; it hurt more when you actually saw the damage. He looked at the bleeding slash, the thick flap of hanging skin, and shook his head. Correction: always a bad idea.
"Come on." Allen hauled him out of the bathroom, planted him on the bed, disappeared, and returned a moment later with a medical kit and some towels. He quickly stripped off Napoleon's torn, sodden shirt and set the kit on the bed, sitting behind Napoleon.
"I can bandage this or I can stitch it, if you still trust me." He dabbed at the blood and felt Napoleon wince. "It's been a while since I did field surgery, but I think I can remember how to do a cross stitch. If you want something fancier you'll have to wait."
"Har har. Might as well sew it up it now," Napoleon said. "It already hurts like hell." He looked out the window but saw nothing save blackness. "Hurry up," he muttered to his partner, wherever he was.
"Illya. I wish he'd hurry up and get here."
"What, do you need him to hold your hand?" Allen wiped the site clean, collected the needle and sutures. "This is going to hurt."
"Really?" Napoleon heard Allen chuckle—then he started as the needle pierced his chilled skin.
Allen steadied him with one hand for a moment. "So how long have you and the Russian been partners?"
Knowing his friend was trying to distract him from the stitching, Napoleon said, "Two years and eight months." He felt Allen pause again, a more meaningful pause, and he remembered how well the man knew him.
"How many days?" Allen said softly.
Napoleon sighed. "Eighteen. Don't say it."
"I thought you were going to put all that behind you after Korea."
"I did. I have. And it isn't like that."
"No. He... he doesn't know anything about it."
"About what?" Allen kept working. Napoleon tensed further, more due to his questions than the pain. "About your past... activities?" A pause, then, "Or about the fact that you're in love with him?"
Napoleon stiffened, knowing his reaction told Allen he'd hit the bull's eye.
"He doesn't know any of it," Napoleon said softly, then hissed as the needle went in again.
"May I presume on our friendship just a little more and ask why not?"
Silence. Napoleon didn't move, except for a few pained twitches, for a good two minutes. Then he inhaled a shuddering breath.
"Because I'm afraid," he said.
Allen snorted a laugh. "Wait a minute. Who are you and what have you done with Napoleon Solo?"
He finished stitching and cut and tied the thread, then picked up the cloth again.
"I'm afraid I'll lose him," Napoleon said, his voice more composed now.
Allen wiped away the residual blood. "You must have it damned bad, Napoleon."
The agent chuckled.
"What's he like?"
"You saw him," Napoleon replied, guarded.
"I saw him," Allen agreed patiently. "Little guy. Blue eyes. Needs a haircut. What's he like?"
Napoleon blew out another breath, rubbing his face. He was cold and exhausted, and his entire back felt like it was on fire.
"I can't answer a question like that. He's... brilliant. Cold. Sarcastic. Recklessly brave. Stupidly sentimental. Ruthless. Stubborn. Goddamned infuriating. He's—" Napoleon got up, needing to move, then stopped, laughing sourly, wondering what he was trying to run away from. He turned around to face Allen. "He's half of me. He might even be the better half."
"For a man who can't answer the question, you did a pretty good job." Allen patted the bed. "Sit down. Take it easy." He got up and went to the closet. "I think I've got a spare shirt in here. I'll make some coffee and we'll wait for this Russian paragon." He dug out a thick flannel shirt and took it to Napoleon, who'd sat down on the bed again.
"Here, let me..." He helped Napoleon put the shirt on.
"Thanks," Napoleon said. "For listening."
"I'm not the one you should be telling this—" Allen began, but the look on Napoleon's face stopped him.
It would have been terribly embarrassing, Illya thought when he came to, to've escaped three determined THRUSH agents only to die in the woods from a fall.
He was relieved he wouldn't have to explain that to Napoleon. Then he realized that if he had died, the explanations would've been someone else's problem. That that took so long to occur to him made him wonder if he'd given himself a concussion.
He sat up and gingerly clutched his wet, throbbing head, seeking and finding the inevitable swelling. His skin felt like ice. Breathing slowly and steadily against the pain, he drew down his hand, squinting in the low light, seeing red. Then he realized his palm was scraped raw and he wiped it, wincing, on his pants. He touched the bump on his skill again, this time determining that the wetness there was only water.
He looked up the steep slope he'd so recently and inadvertently descended. At least he'd lost his pursuers. Even if they kept looking, the downpour and his abrupt change of route would probably prevent their tracing him.
Illya patted his gun and the capsule, satisfied both were still with him, then climbed to his feet with the aid of the rock that had so ungently introduced itself to his cranium.
Nothing felt broken, though his pants were torn at the knees and he'd barked both shins and an elbow, and his head pounded harder once he was standing. He took his bearings and set off, splashing through the narrow run of water along the bottom of the ravine in generally the same direction he'd been headed before his detour.
After a while the ravine opened out, leading him to a lower ridge that descended toward the valley floor. He could see the light from Dawlish's cabin, though through the dark and rain he couldn't estimate how far it was. Still, the sight spurred him, and he set off carefully down the slippery ridge, catching himself now and then on a tree to prevent another tumble.
The ridge ran down next to the cabin, no more than 20 feet from the upstairs window, though the path to the front door would take another 10 minutes of steep downhill scrabbling through the trees. Illya leaned on a rock and swiped water out of his eyes, focusing on the uncurtained square of light. He'd thought he was cold before, but what he saw turned his core to ice.
Two men. One, seated on a bed, easing his bare torso back into a flannel shirt. Napoleon. The other stood close—close—bending over him, helping him don the shirt. Helping him gently. Tenderly. Then leaning back. They smiled at one another and Napoleon began to button the shirt.
Illya stared until the rain in his eyes turned the scene to a blur. Cursing, he scrubbed his hand over his eyes, but the men were moving, leaving the room. The window went black as they turned off the light.
Illya clutched the rock with both hands, feeling his gut clench. He drew in labored breaths of the wintry night air, trying to calm himself.
"Who is this accommodating friend of yours?" Illya had asked after their mission briefing.
"Allen Dawlish. We were in Korea together. He worked for UNCLE L.A. as a courier. Retired from the field two years ago. He's loaning us his cabin and his services to get the virus back to the Los Angeles office."
"So all we have to do is get it from his cabin into the underground labs, then back... how many miles each way?"
"A dozen, give or take two bits," Napoleon had said, offering his partner a jaunty sidelong grin. Illya clamped his mouth shut and rolled his eyes. "But it's the closest thing to a safehouse within a hundred miles of the place. The Los Angeles office will send someone to collect the virus at the cabin."
"Piece of cake," Illya had said before Napoleon could.
"And Allen's the icing. It'll be good to see him again."
And Napoleon had grinned.
Napoleon was alive. He'd gotten here with his half of the virus. That was the important thing, Illya's brain said, robotic.
But his gut was telling him that his partner and this Allen son of a bitch had been renewing an old acquaintance of a very different sort than Illya had expected. And that was suddenly, vitally important—more important than anything.
He pushed off the rock with another curse, plunging almost blindly down the muddy path. His body knew its duty, knew he needed to get his own half of the virus to the cabin, back to UNCLE. Preferably before he froze to death. Once he'd done that... he probably wouldn't care if he froze to death.
Napoleon and... Allen. Napoleon and... and any other man. Any man. The women didn't matter. Even Napoleon, for all his reputation and consideration and gallantry, admitted they didn't matter. Illya had learned to live with the reality of his partner's need for release, for sexual pleasure. Heterosexual pleasure. He'd learned, too, to live with the reality that he could never tell his partner his own feelings, his own longings. There could be no good response to that: Anger, disgust, fury... pity, maybe, and that would be the worst. Illya had locked down those desires in his core, certain Napoleon could no more desire sex with a man than with a stone.
But if that were not so... Illya's defenses shattered in the face of it, leaving him open to the pain of reality. If Napoleon could desire men, could make love to men—to other men, but not to him...
"Hey." Napoleon's voice, by his ear. Napoleon's body, warm against him. Napoleon's arm around his shoulders.
Illya had blinked, completely befuddled, and Napoleon had squeezed him gently.
"You were having a dream, I think. You OK?"
Illya looked around as memory flooded back into him. They were still in the back of the truck, on their way to the drop-off point for the THRUSH lab. He'd fallen asleep. He must've fallen against his partner. And Napoleon had...
... had put his arm around him? Had held him. No wonder he'd dreamed what he had.
Illya sat up a little, feeling his face heat in vivid memory of their bodies, bare, hot, hard against one another...
"Sorry," he muttered, drawing his knees up to mask his reaction to the dream. Then he realized it was probably too late; if his partner were going to notice, he'd already have done so.
"It's OK," Napoleon said, amusement in his tone.
Illya started to shift away, but Napoleon didn't let him go.
"You might as well relax," he said, as if it were nothing for him to be holding Illya this way. "We have a way to go yet. Go back to sleep, if you want."
"What about you?" he'd forced himself to ask, and felt Napoleon's shrug against his side.
"I'll nap during the mission."
Pain slamming against his skull with every heartbeat, Illya continued down the hill, cursing aloud, telling himself the moisture in his eyes, on his face, was rain. All of it. Nothing but rain. Nothing.
Ten minutes later he was hammering at the sturdy wooden door. It opened wide and Allen was there, standing aside to let him in.
He staggered into the foyer and lurched sideways, ice cold, dripping, exhausted, dizzy. Allen reached out a hand.
"Here, let me—"
Illya snarled and batted his arm out of the way, reaching for the impersonal support of the wall. Napoleon launched himself out of a chair and strode toward him. Allen backed away, scowling.
Napoleon reached toward him.
"About t—" the familiar banter died on his lips. "Illya?"
Illya stared at him.
"Illya?" Napoleon advanced on his partner, taking his arm. Illya cursed in Russian and wrenched himself free, but the effort was too much. His vision swirled and blackened; he felt his body go limp, but didn't feel himself hit the floor.
He came to... warm... sitting. Still wet. Soaked.
Illya blinked. He was sitting in a bathtub, up to his chest in blissfully hot and soapy water. Napoleon knelt shirtless by the tub, one hand on his back in support, the other holding a cloth he ran along Illya's scraped knees.
"Welcome back," Napoleon said. "You were a little out of it for a few minutes."
Illya clenched his teeth against blurting out any of the stupid accusations roiling in his stomach. It wasn't his business who Napoleon had sex with, whether female or male. Why should this man matter more than the women?
Because he is a man. Because if Napoleon is going to have sex with any man... make love to any man... Love...
Napoleon ran the warm sudsy cloth over his shoulders and back, his touch gentle. "You look like you fell down the mountain, tovarish," he said as he bathed his partner.
"I did. Several times." Stick to facts. Safe, cold facts. Don't say what you're feeling. What you're fearing. What you're wanting.
Napoleon bent farther over the tub to run the cloth along Illya's shins, and Illya spotted the red puckered slice across his partner's back.
Napoleon heard Illya's sharply indrawn breath and straightened. "What? Are you hurt?"
Illya shook his head, reached out to touch Napoleon's bare shoulder.
"Oh. I didn't want to get the shirt wet," Napoleon said. "Allen only has two spares, and I think you'll be needing the other one."
That explained the bare torso, but... "Your shoulder."
Napoleon glanced sideways at it. "Knife. It's not too bad. Hurts though." He gave his partner a smile-grimace. "Allen stitched it up for me. Obviously I couldn't do it myself, and you weren't here yet."
Was that before or after he fucked you? Illya thought fiercely, feeling the blood rush to his face. Then—like a breath of air—the thought occurred to him that Napoleon might just now have fully explained the scene he'd witnessed. Perhaps that was all there'd been to it—medical attention from a friend. Was it possible? Illya's fear wouldn't let him believe it, but the possibility allowed him to breathe again, to unclench his body and soul, just a little.
"You're shaking," Napoleon said, getting up. "Come on. Let's get you dry and into bed."
Illya shook his head but didn't have the energy to protest as Napoleon hauled him upright. He saw the flinch of pain on his partner's face as the effort pulled at his shoulder, and guilt prevented him from resisting or arguing.
Napoleon wrapped him in a towel and dried him; Illya leaned on his partner's uninjured shoulder, still shaking, still sick to his stomach, unable to think. Every brief accidental touch of Napoleon's hand against his skin made him twitch, made him think did he touch Allen here?
"Are you all right?" Napoleon asked, straightening to dry his hair. "You've got a bit of a bump on your head—" His hand passed gently over the swelling. "You're a little shaky."
"Just cold," Illya said.
"Hang on. Stay in here—" He held up a hand. "It's warmer." He left the bathroom, came back in a moment with khaki trousers and a dark flannel shirt. "Climb in," he said. "It's all we've got 'til we go home tomorrow."
He steadied Illya as the Russian got into the clean, worn clothes, then guided him into the dark bedroom. The sickness in Illya's stomach flared to see the inside of the room he'd looked into so short a time before, but Napoleon simply hustled him under a mound of blankets and tucked him in, sitting on the side of the bed while Illya's body settled.
"My gun," Illya blurted.
"Right here." Napoleon touched it, on the nightstand, within reach.
Illya relaxed. Mostly.
"We did it again, tovarish," Napoleon said. "Allen will take the capsules to L.A. tonight, and tomorrow we'll be on our way home. We'll get that thick skull of yours checked out, maybe get you some chicken soup." He reached out—for an instant Illya, gaping, thought Napoleon was going to brush his fingers along his brow—but his hand altered course and pulled the blankets up around Illya's chin. "Rest. We're safe."
Illya closed his eyes, sighed out a breath, and felt the bed shift upward as Napoleon left the room. He squeezed his eyelids tight, feeling the prickle of unwanted moisture behind them.
When Napoleon went downstairs, Allen had collected the canisters and his coat. "They're here. Time to get these little nasties to Los Angeles. You all right?"
"Just tired. We'll be OK here 'til morning."
Allen picked up his coat, headed for the door, then stopped, looking at the stairs.
"Why was he so angry?"
Napoleon shrugged, defeated rather than casual. "It seems like he always gets the worst of it. I don't know. He comes in, soaked, exhausted, freezing... and I'm sitting in front of a fire with a mug of coffee." He looked at Allen, smiled bleakly. "Maybe he's just sick of it. Or sick of me."
"He didn't see you when you came in," Allen said. "Does he assume you're not pulling your weight? That's not the partner you were talking about earlier."
"I don't know," Napoleon repeated. "I suppose when he wakes up he'll explain."
Allen put on his coat, watching Napoleon as he buttoned it. "Then will you explain?"
Napoleon shook his head. "I doubt it."
"You'll just keep on pretending? Until it kills you?"
"I'm far more likely to be killed by other things," Napoleon said, smiling up at him. "Thanks, Allen. For the cabin. For the needlework. Especially for the ear."
Allen opened the door. It was snowing outside. The jeep with his escorts was parked in front of the steps, engine growling.
"Take care, Napoleon," Allen said.
"See you." Napoleon turned his gaze back to the fire. He waited as long as he could after the door shut. An eternity. He figured, objectively, maybe three minutes. Then he went upstairs.
It was surprisingly chilly. He left the hall light on so he could see, but didn't turn on the bedroom light, not wanting to wake Illya.
His partner lay on his side, curled up, piled with blankets. After watching for a few minutes, Napoleon realized Illya was shivering, just a little. He wondered if he should wake him and take him downstairs in front of the fire, but he was reluctant to face Illya's anger, whatever the cause.
Illya shifted a little, murmured, and Napoleon moved closer instinctively. Illya murmured again, a protest. Then, "Napoleon."
Napoleon eased himself onto the bed and laid a hand on his partner's blanket-covered shoulder. "I'm here. Illya..."
"No!" Illya sat up, startling Napoleon. He backed off, watched the wild-eyed panic in his partner's eyes fade. In the space of one slowly indrawn breath Illya erased the emotion from his face, but his body still shook.
"Sorry," he breathed. "A dream."
Napoleon touched his partner's face, feeling an instant of skin like marble before Illya drew back.
"You're cold," Napoleon said. The look that crossed his partner's face—anger? pain?—jolted him, but it was gone before he could be sure he'd seen it. "Are you hungry?"
Illya snorted a soft laugh. "Yes," he whispered. "I am." He turned away from his partner and lay back down, pulling the blankets up around him again.
Bewildered, Napoleon stared at Illya's shoulder for a long moment. He was still shivering.
Napoleon thought briefly of the fire and his half-drunk cup of coffee downstairs. Then he pulled the blankets back and slid under them, moving against his partner's suddenly stone-stiff back.
Napoleon wrapped his arms around Illya's torso. He felt the stubbornness in Illya's posture and his silence—he wasn't going to ask the obvious question. He laid his cheek against Illya's neck, pulled him close but not too tight, and waited. Warmth spread like a pool of water. Napoleon felt Illya's muscles grudgingly relax, felt the shivering evaporate.
Napoleon sighed, the residual tension leaving his own tired body. Whatever Illya was angry about, he still trusted Napoleon enough to allow this. That awareness flooded Napoleon with new warmth, warmth that might have brought arousal with it but for its impossibility. This was trust, yes. It was friendship and caring. But it wasn't the kind of love he wanted.
"Are you and Allen lovers?"
Napoleon had thought Illya asleep. The Russian's words surprised him so much he wasn't sure he'd heard them right.
Even as he said, "What?" against Illya's neck he realized what he'd been asked. "No! Why would you think that? He's a friend."
He sat up, looked down at Illya as his partner turned onto his back, gazing unreadably up at him.
"Sorry," Illya said. "I thought... never mind."
"No—" Napoleon caught Illya's chin as he tried to turn his face away. "There's no way you can say never mind after saying something like that. Why would you think Allen and I were lovers?"
Illya slid one hand out from under the blankets, waved at the window. "I saw you. When I was coming down the mountain."
Napoleon looked at the window, trying to remember. "You mean when he was stitching my shoulder?"
"After, I suppose." Illya's arm dropped on top of the covers. "It isn't any of my business either way. I apologize."
Napoleon tilted his head. "Is that why you were angry? Because you thought I was... having sex with Allen while you were hiking through the rain and cold?"
Illya laughed. Napoleon felt, first, astonishment. Then anger.
"You thought I was screwing around while you were out there, alone, on the run from THRUSH?" he said, his voice low, dangerous. "Is that—"
"No!" Illya struggled into an upright position, the fingers of one hand just touching Napoleon's shoulder. "No. That's not—" He shook his head, touched Napoleon's face—the astounding gesture cooled some of Napoleon's anger. "Napoleon. We are partners. There are certain... absolutes in that. I would never think such a thing of you." His hand dropped.
Napoleon blinked, let himself breathe. "Sorry. You... you caught me off guard. Why are you angry?"
"I... it doesn't matter. It was a mistake. I apologize. I will apologize to Allen as well."
"He's gone to L.A. with the virus."
Illya shrugged. His head ached a bit less, suddenly, whether due to Napoleon's words or the aspirin he didn't know or care. "I can apologize by telephone."
Napoleon watched him. "Did you really think that—"
Illya waved that away. "I... misunderstood what I saw. Please, Napoleon. Let it go."
Napoleon tried to. He couldn't. Quieter, he said, "Illya, please tell me that you didn't think I would be... would be so selfish, so self-indulgent, while you were in danger."
"Napoleon." Illya clasped his partner's wrist, warmed by his sincerity, by how plainly the idea appalled him. "I didn't think that at all. I saw... I saw you two, and it looked like something it was not. That's all." And it broke my frigid Russian heart. That's all. Again Illya shook his head. The memory was fading, but it still made him sick to his stomach. The images... Napoleon and Allen... and himself, outside, watching, unable to stop it...
But Napoleon had woken him. Had comforted him. Had...
Feeling his face heat, Illya gestured at the bed. "Why did you..."
"Hold you?" Because I love you. Napoleon closed his eyes briefly, willing himself to be calm. "Because you were cold. Because... because I wanted to. Because I knew you were angry and I thought if I did that, you wouldn't kill me before you'd told me why you were mad at me."
Illya sighed. "I wasn't angry at you. Never mind, Napoleon. It isn't important. I made a mistake."
Napoleon thought: You believed Allen and I were lovers, and you were angry about that. Why? An incredible hope filled him—and his will squashed it down.
"Are you hungry?" he asked again. "There's stew, and coffee."
Illya shook his head. "Just tired. And... cold." He laid himself back down. Napoleon watched him, seeing no sign of invitation, and thought to hell with that. He slid back under the blankets again, once more wrapping himself around his partner. To his surprise, Illya wiggled around a little to get comfortable, then simply relaxed into his hold.
Not too close, Napoleon told himself. Not too tight, or he'll know.
God, he wanted him to know. He longed to...
A ripple of tension ran through Illya's body; Napoleon felt it against his chest.
"For... putting up with me," Illya said.
Napoleon chuckled, again laid his cheek on Illya's neck. For some reason it was easy to say, "I love you, you idiot."
For some reason? Because he knew that, right now, Illya would take it as a declaration of friendship and nothing more. That kind of love was understood between them.
Illya sighed. "I know you do," he said. Then, "I wish..."
Napoleon stopped breathing, but forced himself not to tense. Against Illya's ear, he said, "You wish what, tovarish?"
Stillness. Silence. Napoleon's heart accelerated, blood thrilling through his arteries. He tried not to show it, but he knew there was no hiding his panting breaths against Illya's neck.
"Illya..." He exhaled the words, unable to stop himself. "Please..."
The Russian made an unintelligible sound, deep in his throat, eloquent of need, and turned in Napoleon's arms, grabbing his head to press their lips together.
Illya's tongue plunged into his mouth, hot, startling, electrifying—and the Russian withdrew, still holding his head. His eyes were wide in the dim light, mortified.
"Napoleon—" He twisted abruptly, trying to rise, but Napoleon pulled him back. They ended up in their earlier position, Illya's back drawn tight against Napoleon's chest. He tried to keep his hips still, tried not to press his erection into the hard ass so near to him, instead stroking Illya's heaving chest with both hands.
"Illya." He heard the strain of hunger in his own voice. "What is wrong?"
Illya stopped struggling, but his body was stiff. "I am wrong, Napoleon. I'm sorry."
"Shh..." Napoleon pulled him closer, kissed his neck, feeling the pulse hammering. "Please don't be afraid of me."
Illya shook his head. "Not you. Not of you." But he was shaking again. Napoleon held him close, gently kissing his neck, his ear, his shoulder, slowly, a cycle of caresses with his lips and tongue that eventually enabled Illya to sigh out a long breath and say:
"You do not... have to..."
"Have to?" Napoleon said, chuckling. "Have to?" He reached nimble fingers to unbutton the loose flannel shirt Illya wore. The Russian laid his hands on Napoleon's forearms, neither helping nor hindering. In a few moments Napoleon had the shirt unbuttoned and had slipped it from Illya's body, shoving it aside. Napoleon quickly—very quickly, for fear Illya would flee while his hands were otherwise occupied—unbuttoned and removed his own shirt, then drew their bare torsos together again.
Illya hissed in a breath. "Napoleon..."
The American hmmed against Illya's back, then set his teeth to the muscle there and gnawed gently, feeling Illya squirm against him.
"You cannot..." Illya started to turn over. Napoleon, sensing the advantage he might lose if Illya could push him away, held his partner in place.
"Illya," he ordered. "Take off your pants." He waited, not breathing, to see if Illya would resist, or laugh, or fight his way free.
He felt Illya's hands move fumbling down to the button and zipper of the loose khakis he'd borrowed. Napoleon speedily divested himself of his pants, kicking them out of the way as Illya did the same. He was giddy with the knowledge of Illya's... what? Need? Love? Fear? Cooperation? What was it?
Questions fled when their bare bodies touched again, full length, under the blankets.
Napoleon moaned. "Illya..." The word was plea, praise, prayer... everything. God. He'd dreamed of this, of Illya against him, naked, eager. His erection pressed hard and hot between Illya's cheeks. Again, Illya trembled. Napoleon couldn't breathe. The feel of Illya's smooth flesh against him intoxicated him.
"No..." Illya's body, squirming back against Napoleon's cock, contradicted the weak denial.
"No?" Napoleon echoed, his teeth gritted. "Illya... tell me now. Tell me and I'll stop. But... tell me now." His body rocked forward, and he groaned to feel his cock sliding between Illya's cheeks. "Please..." Only love kept him from pushing on without explicit agreement. He had never taken advantage of anyone, ever, and he wasn't about to start with the only human being he loved, no matter how dizzy, how goddamned hungry...
"Illya..." he gasped, "tell me... to stop... or let me... make love to you..."
Illya hmmed low in his throat, denial of denial, his head falling back against his partner.
Napoleon sucked on Illya's ear, still rocking them together. He couldn't keep his hands still. He stroked downward—and encountered Illya's jutting erection.
The feel of it—god, he wants me too—sizzled through Napoleon's body. He purred against Illya's straining shoulder as his hand circled his partner's hard-on. Illya's body bucked against his.
"Napoleon!" He reached back and grabbed Napoleon's hips, pulling them closer together. "Napoleon, please..."
Napoleon kept his left hand wrapped around the silky hardness of Illya's cock; his right hand grabbed his own throbbing erection and slid it between Illya's hard thighs. He thrust, irresistibly, clutching at Illya's hip, pressing them together, crying out as Illya's thighs tightened around him. He milked Illya's hard cock as he would have his own, loving, needy. Good god, this was Illya. They were making love... he couldn't think of it without his brain spinning.
Then Illya reached down, between his own legs, stroking Napoleon's pounding cock and pushing it upward, up against the soft sac of his testes, tight, so tight and hot...
Illya's body trembled uncontrollably and he cried out as he thrust forward, coming hot over Napoleon's pumping fingers. The Russian's hand caught at Napoleon's cock, tickling, stroking, and Napoleon sank his teeth into his partner's hard shoulder as orgasm thrummed through his body, shaking him to his core, leaving him shuddering, limp, blank-minded and defenseless.
Napoleon felt his lungs come back to life first, drawing in air that brought the rest of him to awareness. They lay against one another, hot, sweating, sticky. Illya shifted, as if to move away, and Napoleon grabbed his shoulders, turned him over and claimed his mouth in a slow, commanding kiss, tasting Illya's mouth as a connoisseur sampled the finest of wines, until Illya broke with a gasp.
"I can't breathe." The admission came as a hoarse whisper, almost a laugh, and Napoleon regarded Illya's flushed, stunned face.
"Illya." He had to say it now. Needed to say it. "I love you. I'm in love with you. I..." He laughed softly. "I'm crazy about you."
Sated blue eyes searched his face, searched deeper. "Napoleon."
Napoleon smiled. "I've rendered you speechless, I see." He kissed Illya again, briefly, licked the tempting lips and drew back.
Illya opened his mouth. "I..." The attempt at speech evaporated as Illya pressed himself against his partner, his mouth covering Napoleon's, claiming him with a passion and expertise that left Napoleon himself breathless.
"Hey—" he gasped out when they broke apart. "You're not allowed to be better at this than I am."
Illya didn't laugh, didn't even smile. One hand came up, fingers trailing lightly over Napoleon's face.
"Napoleon," he said. "You... I do not expect... I mean... if this was..."
Napoleon drew back, lifted himself on one elbow. "Oh no you don't. You're not running away from me now. I love you. Love. Not like. Not want to fuck. Not am fond of. Jesus, Illya. You... you don't have any idea, do you? How much you mean to me." He stroked Illya's face, his neck and chest, feeling the pulse beating wildly.
"I was jealous," Illya blurted out. "Of you and Allen."
Napoleon laughed. "Thank God. I didn't know what was wrong. I was hoping. Allen is my friend, Illya. I... told him about you. About... how much I loved you, and how afraid I was to tell you."
"Afraid?" Illya echoed, puzzled.
"Is it that hard to believe? That I would be afraid of losing you?" Napoleon shook his head, shook away those fears. Could it only have been an hour before that they'd been real as death to him? He bent and kissed Illya. "I love you. Forever, if you'll allow me."
"I wanted to kill him," Illya said softly. "Is that love?"
"Hell yes," Napoleon said. Illya looked at him, dubious, and Napoleon laughed.
"Illya, if you said it was snowing outside, then asked 'is that love?' I'd say hell yes."
The Russian shook his head. "I don't understand what you mean."
Napoleon's head tilted. "Don't you?" he asked. "You usually know exactly what I mean. Sometimes even before I know it."
"Not this. I had no idea that you..."
Napoleon pulled him close. "Well, you do now."
Illya smirked against his partner's warm chest. "Hell yes."