He had to admit being buried alive did wonders for putting things in perspective. Not that he would quite have put it that way if Illya was anywhere he could hear — Napoleon could almost hear his partner’s voice now, chiding him for the thought even as he considered it.
"So melodramatic, Napoleon," he’d say. "Why must everything be a three-act opera?"
Melodramatic or not, Napoleon had to admit that while it wasn’t exactly an accurate assessment of his situation at the moment, there were strong indications it was likely to become a little more accurate than he’d like in the very near future.
His captor had introduced himself as Daniel Brennan before he’d added to the operatic nature of the situation. There had been some insane rantings about Napoleon’s behavior towards some love-struck daughter of the family with a name he couldn’t even remember having heard before. She had killed herself, out of love for Napoleon, and now he was going to pay.
Meanwhile, in his role as the villain of the piece, Napoleon was trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey, limbs secured tightly enough to the bottom of a packing crate so he couldn’t try to kick his way out, chinks of light through the boards making up his prison telling him it was still daylight outside.
Brennan was probably waiting for nightfall, so daylight was a very good thing indeed.
Napoleon flexed his jaw a little, trying at the same time to move the little moisture left in his mouth around. The rough material Brennan had used as a makeshift gag had absorbed what little there had been and that glass of juice at breakfast seemed a long time ago. At least his jaw wasn’t broken, though that was more luck than anything else — he’d seen the baseball bat coming from the corner of his eye and moved enough to make it a glancing blow or he knew he’d have been looking forward to weeks of eating his dinner through a straw.
If he had weeks to look forward to at all.
He was getting as fatalistic as Illya, he decided, as if the morose turns his partner’s moods occasionally took were infectious. It wasn’t how Illya really was, at least not for real, though Napoleon suspected that he played the moody Russian card for all he was worth with the secretarial pool when he thought his partner wasn’t looking. Not that Napoleon blamed him at all, it was too tempting to overlook.
Illya was too tempting, period.
It would have been easy, maybe a little too easy, to take advantage of Illya’s inherent fondness for him and push the boundaries between them till they resembled something a little more intimate. Until it was about more than unexpectedly good sex, plain and simple, as it currently was. There was always a challenge in getting Illya to do what he wanted while making him think it was his idea all along. Over the years they’d worked together, Napoleon had become an expert at it.
So far a more business-like arrangement about sex had worked perfectly well for both of them. It was convenient, more so for Illya who didn’t seem to have all that much of a social life outside of work, an easy compromise for the times Napoleon didn’t feel like making the effort to sweet talk his way into some woman’s bed.
Not that Illya was easy, in fact he was anything but. Napoleon had learned to gauge his partner’s mood early on, discovering the importance of figuring out whether there was a chance of anything happening or whether he’d be better off turning to more tried and tested methods for relieving his frustration. Still, there was something to be said for a warm body, as opposed to your own right hand, particularly the warm body of someone who knew you so well.
There was an expression for that: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Their mutual arrangement was fine. Better than fine. It gave both of them what they needed, when they needed it. So why was it, Napoleon wondered, that he often now found himself watching the clock when he was with someone else?
Earth hit the top of his makeshift coffin with regular thumps; dirt was trickling in between the imperfect seams at first and then there was only darkness.
Alone in the silence, Napoleon wondered when Illya would get there. Then he wondered just when it was that he’d begun to expect that his partner would always arrive just in time to save the day. If Illya wasn’t the one being rescued, that is. He tried not to think about the amount of soil between himself and the surface, not to do what his partner would do and calculate just how much air he was likely to have left, preferring to focus on anything but that. He couldn’t help himself, after all, not this time.
The old man had been right about Illya, of course, to Napoleon’s undying chagrin. He’d been more than a little reluctant to be partnered so soon after Grogan was forced to retire on medical grounds, but Waverly had been insistent; their newest arrival from U.N.C.L.E. London must be accommodated. And what Waverly wanted, Waverly got; that was the unwritten first rule of U.N.C.L.E.’s New York office.
Their first meeting had been significantly less stressful than he’d expected and Illya’s attempt at a deadpan expression had barely hidden the anticipation he was clearly feeling. It wasn’t excitement at being partnered with the C.E.A., either, as far as Napoleon could tell — that didn’t seem to matter to Illya as much as the opportunity to get out into the field straight away.
"I was certain," Illya said a few days later, as he poured an obscene amount of sugar into already-unhealthy U.N.C.L.E. coffee, "that I would be expected to do desk duty for weeks while I ‘settled in.'" Napoleon stirred his own coffee thoughtfully, watching with amazement as Illya began to drink caffeine-laced lukewarm syrup with apparent relish. "I feel as though I have had a lucky escape."
Illya’s good mood had proved infectious, buoying the partnership through more than one difficult affair in their first few months together, and after a while Napoleon wondered why he’d ever objected to having a new partner.
He’d been lucky, of course, there was no dismissing that. The famous Solo luck had brought him not only a competent partner but one who had proved amenable to making their partnership into something more when the mutual need arose.
Illya could as easily have broken his jaw for suggesting it the first time around and Napoleon probably wouldn’t have blamed him for it. Not that he would have made the suggestion if Illya hadn’t been so wound up that he was practically bouncing off the walls in the first place.
Napoleon shifted a little, pulling as much as he could against his bonds even though he knew it to be futile. The air was getting stale now, a sure sign that his supply of breathable air was coming to an end. He wondered how deep he’d been buried and whether anyone would ever find him — would his disappearance just be one of U.N.C.L.E.’s mysteries, never solved?
He couldn’t believe Illya would give up, though. He’d seen his partner’s stoicism and stubborn nature in action too many times to think that Illya would quit on him. Not that it’d make much difference in the end, whether it was a week or a year before he was found. Dead was dead and that was the end of things.
Trying not to imagine the weight of earth separated from him by just the roof of his makeshift coffin, Napoleon made himself think of other things, remembering just how he’d got himself into this mess with Illya Kuryakin in the first place.
He’d never been one to stand on formality, so it hadn’t taken long before he and Illya were in and out of each other’s apartments on a regular basis. Not that Illya just dropped by; Napoleon had stressed his opinion of that habit early on in their partnership and Illya always phoned before he came over, just in case. It didn’t work the other way, because it didn’t need to, at least as far as Napoleon knew.
Not that his partner was celibate, as far as he could tell, it was just that Illya didn’t seem to like that many people invading his personal space, such as it was. He liked his solitude and his apartment was part of that, space to be alone. Except when his partner came over to visit.
And that was how it had started, one inauspicious evening after a mission had almost gone spectacularly wrong.
He wasn’t sure how it happened, but he’d found himself on Illya’s doorstep, hand raised to knock even though he had no idea of what reception he’d get. It wasn’t often that he overruled his partner in the field — he had to admit that his decision to do so this time around had almost been their undoing — and the last he’d seen of Illya at Headquarters had been his partner’s back as he stalked away down the corridor.
The door opened before he could knock and Napoleon was met by Illya, still glowering. He had to hand it to his partner, he could carry a grudge with the best.
Napoleon let his hand drop to his side, for once uncertain what he wanted to say. He had no intention of apologizing for his actions, at least he didn’t think he had. He found himself growing more and more uncertain of that as the seconds passed and Illya just stood there, scowling.
"If you’re looking for an apology, you’ve come to the wrong apartment," Illya said, turning on his heel. He’d left the door open, though, and that was all the invitation Napoleon needed.
"Look," Napoleon said as he closed the door, "we both screwed up. It happens."
"I did not screw up." Illya was in the kitchen, but Napoleon didn’t need to see his face to know the expression that was still on it. "But then I was not the one giving orders," he continued, walking past Napoleon as if he wasn’t there and sitting down on the couch.
He’d expected problems. It was just there’d been something of a honeymoon period for the partnership, their respective style of doing things meshing together with unexpected ease, and they’d both been lulled into a false sense of security. That was all it was, a bump on the road.
"I’m not sorry," Napoleon said, wondering whether he was trying to convince Illya or himself. He wasn’t particularly sorry about pulling rank on Illya, though it would be an understatement to say it hadn’t worked out quite as he’d planned, and he’d do it again if he thought he had to.
"I didn’t expect you would be." Napoleon could tell Illya was trying to give the impression he didn’t care but the fact that he was practically buzzing with suppressed anger didn’t help get that across.
"Damn it, Illya," he found himself saying though he wasn’t completely sure he’d like the answer. "What do you want from me?"
He’d taken a couple of steps towards the couch as he spoke, wanting nothing more than to see the expression on Illya’s face, to see if it matched the rigidity of his partner’s spine. Illya stiffened a little but didn’t otherwise move, keeping his eyes fixed on a point in the distance. He also didn’t answer and for that Napoleon was almost glad.
"How much have you had to drink?" he asked.
"Not enough," Illya replied, one hand raising a half-empty glass for Napoleon’s inspection. "It’s not working."
He hoped his partner wasn’t a morose drunk, that was all he needed. What did Illya think he’d achieve by getting drunk anyway? Was it a good idea to join him when he didn’t really know what he wanted himself?
"Do you have another glass?" was what he found himself asking instead.
Their first encounter had been fumbled to say the least, adrenaline and alcohol-fuelled; an unexpected but not unwished for end to an otherwise awful day.
He’d betrayed himself with ease in the end, oddly certain of how Illya would respond to his advances and buoyed by a combustible mixture of bad scotch and arrogance into thinking his partner would find him irresistible. Or if not irresistible, then at least an acceptable alternative to whatever else was on offer. Not that the first few seconds hadn’t been nerve-wracking anyway, once Napoleon had found himself gripping Illya’s wrist and guiding his hand downwards.
His partner’s eyes had widened almost comically as he’d realized just what it was Napoleon wanted him to feel, before Illya had responded with unexpected ardor and pinned him to the couch with familiar ease. Illya’s body had been hard against his own, the tenseness of his muscles just what he’d expected, and his breath fire against Napoleon’s throat as his fingers curled knowingly around his erection.
Afterwards, once Napoleon had returned the favor, they’d slumped together on the couch in silence for a while. He thought back on that moment often; the moment when everything could have changed between them and not for the better.
The darkness was absolute, stifling. He tried to keep his breathing regular, tried not to imagine that each breath could be his last, but the darkness was starting to swim around him ominously. Napoleon’s heartbeat hammered loud in his ears, echoing in the blackness that surrounded him.
It was only when the first board creaked, loose soil dropping onto his face, that he realized it wasn’t just his heartbeat he’d been hearing.
Illya’s face was a white blur above him as Napoleon squinted up at him. His fingers were deft, removing the gag and dropping the piece of material into his partner’s makeshift coffin as he continued to work on exhuming him.
"What kept you?" Napoleon asked, once he’d managed to get his mouth working properly once more, his voice cracking on the final word.
Illya didn’t reply, hadn’t even paused in his task, and Napoleon just watched the movement, glad of this proof of one of the certainties of his universe.
He found himself explaining the situation as Illya worked to expose the packing crate, smiling to himself as his description of Brennan’s rantings made his partner snort with amusement.
"I could believe many things of you, my friend," Illya said finally, as he worried at the knot holding Napoleon’s legs in place. "But that you would debauch an innocent, that I can not believe."
"What does that say about you?" He had the sense he was potentially walking into dangerous territory but he couldn’t help himself now the idea had taken root.
"I have not been an innocent for longer than I care to think," Illya said, stepping back from the packing crate as Napoleon clambered out.
His legs were shaky, but he knew his partner wouldn’t let him fall, even if Illya didn’t move to actively help him — they knew one another well enough to know he wouldn’t want that either.
"And I would hardly call what we have done debauched," Illya continued, his voice as calm as if he wasn’t watching Napoleon carefully for signs he was about to fall on his face.
"Some might," Napoleon countered, as he stretched for the first time in what seemed like days. He wasn’t too badly off, all things considered, though his stomach was starting to remind him it had been hours since he last ate.
Illya snorted again, his posture enough to tell Napoleon that particular conversation was over, for now at least. He’d come to know his partner’s body language well enough by now to know when not to waste his breath arguing. Some might think he was taciturn, and it was true that Illya rarely wasted his breath arguing the point, but his nonverbal cues spoke volumes to anyone who bothered to learn them. It had been an exercise worth the effort, Napoleon had decided long ago, and had helped them immensely over the time they’d been partners.
Not that this was the end of it, not as far as Napoleon was concerned. If nothing else, he was persistent, as a good agent ought to be.
Illya had insisted on taking him to the infirmary, so it was late before Napoleon got home. While, like his partner, he usually relished the opportunity for solitude after a mission, now he found himself wandering from room to room in his apartment, unsure what it was he sought. The thought of sleeping filled him with an unfamiliar sense of dread; there was an unspoken certainty he’d wake and find himself back in the crate once more, this time with no-one to rescue him.
There was a limit to how much coffee he could drink in one sitting, though.
A glance at the clock told him it was 2:30 in the morning, a time when all good spies should be asleep or out making mischief. Suddenly the latter seemed so much more entertaining a prospect, though the shortlist of possible candidates for mischief making was not a long one at this hour.
When he found himself in front of Illya’s door, Napoleon wasn’t really surprised, though he hesitated before knocking anyway. There was a good chance his partner was asleep, not awake and on edge like he was, and he’d feel like a jerk for waking him even if Illya wouldn’t say anything about it. At least not until he needed ammunition to deal with some later misdemeanor.
"So, this is where you are," a voice said behind him. Napoleon grinned at the words and didn’t bother to turn around.
"Been out painting the town a good communist color?" he asked as Illya pushed past him and opened the door.
"You know perfectly well where I’ve been," Illya said, closing the door behind the two of them. "Did you get a crack on the head and didn’t tell the doctors?"
"Nothing you didn’t already know about," Napoleon replied, touching the bruise on his jaw thoughtfully.
"Let me get you a little rubbing alcohol for that," Illya said, as he disappeared into the kitchen.
"For internal use only?"
"Only the best for my partner," Illya continued on his return, handing Napoleon a glass of vodka. "No painkillers, right?"
"Right." Napoleon took a mouthful of vodka and grimaced at the taste. It was the same every time; he had no idea why Illya bought it unless he was worried he might run out of lighter fuel one day. "You know the U.N.C.L.E. medics."
Illya nodded, crossing to the sofa and sitting down. The medics were notoriously stingy with medication, though at least there was much less chance of an unfortunate reliance developing that way. Napoleon joined him on the sofa, glad of the comfortable silence which existed between the two of them.
Here he didn’t have to explain himself, didn’t have to justify the fact that he’d turned up unexpectedly or the fact he was worried about what might happen if he fell asleep. Illya had his own set of nightmares, things that came back to haunt him when he least expected it, so Napoleon knew he’d understand.
They didn’t talk about missions, that was an unspoken rule. What was done was done and no amount of post mortem conversation would change the decisions made and their results.
It was a lot easier all round, not talking about things, and Napoleon wished he could take his own advice and push everything aside as easily as they did the things they experienced at work. The things he’d thought about while he was buried, the half decision he’d made that he needed more from Illya than his partner might be willing to give, seemed more than a little ludicrous when he was sitting next to that partner, drinking his god awful booze at an unearthly hour.
The downside of Illya’s booze, Napoleon decided, was that it was much more potent than it appeared. He had vague memories of starting to talk anyway, stronger memories of Illya’s talented mouth then rendering him incapable of speech, and the sensation that something had died in his mouth a little later in the evening.
"Coffee," he croaked, untangling himself from Illya’s embrace. They appeared to have spent the night on Illya’s sofa, both of them much the worse for wear, and he wondered how much he’d reciprocated what he recalled Illya doing for him. Despite the way his head throbbed at the smallest movement, Napoleon felt his cock twitch at the thought of what Illya had done, the uncomplicated enthusiasm his partner had summoned up for the task of sucking him off.
Illya mumbled something that only long years of familiarity allowed Napoleon to translate into English as ‘you know where it is.’ He did indeed know where the coffee was kept, after many nights spent in this apartment, and he watched half-amused and half-annoyed as Illya rolled over on the sofa and started to snore a little.
At least it was Sunday, so no work today unless they were called in specially. Napoleon glanced at where he’d left his jacket, as if the thought would summon a call on his communicator, but there was only silence.
By the time he returned from the bathroom, the coffee was ready and he savored the first mouthful as he always did. He felt a little more human, with Illya’s vodka and his other ministrations having helped him get at least a little sleep.
Napoleon leaned over the back of the sofa and sipped his coffee as he watched his partner sleep. In time, the smell of coffee would wake Illya, who’d be as grouchy as a bear with a sore head. No matter how much of that vodka the two of them put away, they never seemed to quite develop any kind of resistance to it. But for now, Illya slept on, looking oddly vulnerable and not quite himself.
Napoleon knew he would have been frantic if their roles had been reversed, if he’d been the one left searching for his missing partner. He took another mouthful of coffee and considered the implications of that thought. It wasn’t as if it was a surprise to anyone. More than one member of the U.N.C.L.E. secretarial pool had commented on it when Napoleon had dated them; one good reason why he rarely got involved with anyone who worked at Headquarters any more. He didn’t like the idea of being so transparent, at least not to anyone who wasn’t his partner.
Not that Illya would have liked the hanging around part any more than he had, though chances were by the time he’d been dug up, he’d have calculated exactly how long he would have survived. Illya had an uncanny knack for knowing how to figure out that sort of thing. Ghoulish, to say the least, but that was his partner.
"I know that look," Illya said, startling Napoleon a little as he hadn’t even realized his partner was awake. He didn’t look too good, his voice more than a little croaky, but his eyes were as perceptive as ever. "It didn’t happen, whatever it is you’re worrying about."
"Coffee?" Napoleon asked, turning away. He could feel the weight of Illya’s gaze between his shoulder blades, but he didn’t look round. Not that evasive maneuvers would do him much good — his partner was too relentless for any of that — but at least it gave him a little time to figure out what to do next.
Illya was still watching him when he returned, cup in hand, and silently received the proffered coffee without blinking.
"Stop it," Napoleon said. Illya blinked, looked down momentarily at the coffee and then up again, his expression still pensive. Napoleon had to admit Illya didn’t look as rough as he probably felt, though his clothes were rumpled and his hair stuck up in a dozen places. "I’m fine."
"I wasn’t worried," Illya said, taking a mouthful of coffee and then wincing at the taste. Napoleon looked down at his own cup, wondering whether coffee grounds had the same power as tea leaves. Maybe then he could get some guidance on his future. "And I know why you turned up here last night."
Napoleon frowned at his coffee dregs. This wasn’t supposed to happen and there was no sign of any assistance to be found there.
"I’m fine," he said again. "Really." When he looked up, he could see Illya didn’t believe him, which was no surprise — Napoleon wasn’t sure he believed himself either.
Once, Napoleon decided as he stared at Illya’s bedroom wall, he would have found the idea of having sex with one person on a regular basis more than a little dull. He’d never been an out and out hedonist, despite what people might think of him, but he’d never denied himself much of the variety of pleasures he’d encountered along the way either. It was just as he got older his taste for the exotic and different seemed to be waning, replaced by a definite taste for absolutely anything that involved Illya Kuryakin.
Napoleon found himself playing back the last few minutes, distracting himself from thinking about the way Illya’s leisurely hand was currently stroking his side in search of round two. He made himself focus on the sensations, the feel of Illya’s body pressed against his back, the deft touch of his partner’s fingers on his erection, the heat of Illya’s mouth on his skin.
"Some people," Illya said quietly, his voice a whisper of hot breath against Napoleon’s shoulder, "say I think too much." His hand had reached Napoleon’s cock once more, calloused fingers bringing it back to life.
"You do," Napoleon said. This was what he wanted. He couldn’t imagine wanting anything else, anyone else as much as this, and the single-mindedness scared him more than a little. He’d talked his way into this, persuaded Illya it was what he wanted as well, and what if it wasn’t? "Everyone says so." Illya’s fingers tightened again and Napoleon gasped. "Easy there, tiger."
The way Illya was moving against him told Napoleon he wasn’t the only one who’d soon be ready for another round.
"Let me give you something else to think about," Illya said.
His grip didn’t loosen, the callus Illya had developed by spending far too much time on the gun range rasping delightfully over Napoleon’s heated flesh. He was a fool if he’d ever thought this was casual. Whatever this was between them. In fact, he wasn’t even sure if Illya did casual.
"You already did," Napoleon replied, pushing back against his partner. It was Illya’s turn to gasp at that, his cock sliding between Napoleon’s thighs, sweat and friction combining to allow them to share a sensation of movement. "See?"
"I’m beginning to." Illya’s voice cracked on the second word as Napoleon squeezed his legs together slightly. "I’m almost glad you couldn’t sleep."