Napoleon stirred and automatically reached for his lover. He stretched out his hand, searching for the warmth that continued to elude him. The soft cotton still held a bit of heat, the body that had abandoned his bed apparently not long gone.
He opened his eyes. A sliver of light was all that managed to break through the barrier of heavy drapes; he’d made sure when he first moved in that they were thick enough to keep out the morning sun. But it was enough for him to see the face of the clock perched on his night stand.
Ten o’clock. He groaned and burrowed back into the covers. It had been years since he’d been able to get by with only four hours sleep. Today was his day off, anyway. He tried falling back to sleep but nature, and his own curiosity, finally pulled him from the bed.
Getting up, he padded into the bathroom, shivering. It had been an unseasonably cool summer and the air was chill against his naked flesh. He stared at himself in the mirror. Circles shadowed his eyes and the beginning of a good-sized bruise darkened his cheek. God, he looked like hell. He grinned, not one to take himself too seriously. The other guy had looked worse.
He hurried through his morning routine, not even bothering to comb his hair. His robe hung on its hook behind the door but he noticed that the other one was still there. He shrugged into the heavy velour gown and headed for the living room.
Except for the glow of the television, the room was completely dark. Napoleon could just make out the figure that sat on the floor in a cocoon of blankets, the sofa a convenient backrest. The coffee table had been pushed aside to give an unobstructed view of whatever Illya was watching. The unmistakable aroma of coffee filled the room.
“Any left for me?”
The shadowed bundle against the couch only nodded.
With a sigh, Napoleon made his way into the kitchen. His partner wasn’t the most talkative person at the best of times; injured, Illya tended to withdraw even more, as if speaking took from the reserve of strength he needed in order to heal. The day did not look promising.
He poured himself some coffee from the carafe on the counter, mulling over his options. He and Illya had only been lovers for a couple of months, too soon for Napoleon to be sure of his next move. That his friend preferred watching television to staying in his bed was worrisome; awakening alone hadn’t exactly been the scenario Napoleon had envisioned when they had fallen into it hours before. They had three days off and he wanted to enjoy them.
“No time like the present,” he muttered and determinedly returned to his partner.
“What are you watching?” he asked as he lowered himself next to the brooding Russian, while trying not to spill his coffee.
Illya turned only long enough to glare at him. “What does it look like I’m watching?” his voice heavy with sarcasm.
Napoleon glanced at the television. A Titan II missile dominated the screen, dwarfing the tiny capsule at its tip. “Um, a rocket launch?”
“Very good, Napoleon. I knew you could figure out for yourself.”
“Hey,” he tried not to let the hurt sound in his voice. Illya had always been a bit...brusque with him at times; why he thought that would change when they’d become lovers was beyond him. He just knew he had. “Is it a problem me being here? Would you prefer to be alone?”
Illya didn’t answer at first. Napoleon had just decided on a hasty retreat when his lover hesitantly touched his arm.
“I am sorry. It is difficult sometimes, remembering that I no longer need keep you at a distance. This is all so very new.”
Napoleon couldn’t keep the smile from his face. He placed his cup to the side, grabbed the edge of the comforter his lover had wound around himself and tugged it open. “Come on, move over. You’re hogging all the blankets.”
Illya wiggled over, making room as Napoleon took off his robe and joined him. He wrapped an arm around the younger man, fussing over him as he made sure the Russian was sufficiently covered while keeping clear of the bandage that concealed the bullet wound in Illya’s shoulder.
“There, isn’t this better?”
“Yes, it is.” Illya’s tone was serious but the underlying happiness was hard to miss.
Napoleon stared into the blue eyes that watched him with a singular purpose before slowly lowering his head to meet his partner halfway. The kiss was not without passion; nothing between them had ever lacked that quality. Yet it brought to mind more the reaffirmation of what they were to one another rather than what they did to one another.
It was Illya who pulled away first. “I truly do want to see this.” He motioned toward the television with a tilt of his head.
His attention caught be the proceedings, it was more than a few minutes before Napoleon noticed the irony of the situation. “I’m really surprised you’d want to watch this. Sort of like rooting for the other team, isn’t it?”
“Perhaps, but it wouldn’t be possible to watch those of my country. It’s not allowed.”
He hadn’t thought about it but his lover was right. No matter how many men Illya’s country sent into space, no one outside of those who needed to be there would ever be allowed to witness their journey. Napoleon felt a swell of pride. No matter what happened, all his countrymen would share this event. “How long are they going to be up there?”
“Four days.” Illya’s tone was almost reverent. “They plan to walk in space.”
Napoleon chuckled. “They can have it.”
“You wouldn’t wish to go into space?”
He looked at his clearly puzzled lover. “I have enough excitement in my life, thank you very much. Why? Did you want to be a cosmonaut?”
“Shh.” Two fingers hurriedly settled on his lips as the countdown began. Napoleon ignored what was going on the set. He thought Illya’s countenance far more fascinating than the rocket that sat ready to hurl two men into space. He was mesmerized by the rapt attention his lover was giving the event. In the background he heard the roar of the rocket’s engines as the craft leapt from the launch pad. He knew it was safely away when Illya closed his eyes and let go of the breath he’d been holding.
“It’s not what you think,” his lover intoned as he opened his eyes and gave Napoleon a knowing look.
“No? If you don’t want to be a cosmonaut, what then?”
“I would give much to have what they have.”
“I don’t get it.” Napoleon studied the screen. A picture of the two astronauts shared space with the list of their objectives. He turned back to his lover. “Looks like what they have is a very good chance of getting themselves killed. You can’t possibly envy them that. You get enough of that on your own.”
“I don’t envy them the danger, though in a sense that is part of it. What do you think of when you think of these men?”
“I don’t know. I really haven’t given it much thought. I guess that they’re extremely brave and probably way more intelligent than I am.”
“I wouldn’t argue that point,” Illya responded with a hint of humor. “But do you not consider them heroes, Napoleon?”
“Of course I do.” His eyes narrowed. “Is that what this is all about? You want to be a hero?”
Color suffused the Russian’s face and he gave an embarrassed shrug. “It’s silly, I know—”
“Hey.” Napoleon grabbed Illya’s chin. He didn’t know whether to kiss his infuriating lover or punch his lights out. He settled for firming his hold until he had Illya’s total attention. “You lovable idiot. What the hell do you call what you do practically every day?”
Illya pushed his hand away. “Don’t be ridiculous. Yes, it’s a dangerous job but it’s not the same thing. It’s not...” He threw up his hands in disgust. “I don’t know how to explain it.”
“Try. Please.” He wanted this mood gone and knew the fastest way for that to happen was for Illya to get out what was really bothering him.
There was a long silence and then with a grimace, Illya began speaking. “What we do is necessary. I realize this. But sometimes I wish the rewards were a bit more tangible.” He rubbed around the bandage that covered his most recent wound. “We count our successes in how many are not killed, in what is not done. They count theirs in how much they learn. Our battlegrounds are the sewers, theirs are the stars.”
“Well, I’ll tell you, I bet those men are really glad we’re here to keep the sewers safe while they’re off conquering the heavens,” Napoleon responded, his words only slightly tinged with sarcasm.
“Yes, I realize that,” Illya agreed, though rather hesitantly. “Yet, I still could wish—”
He couldn’t take any more. Shaking his head in exasperation, Napoleon gave into his initial response. He grabbed his partner, pulled him close and kissed him again. But this time he put all his love and need into it, giving his passion full rein. Long minutes later they pulled breathlessly apart. “You are the bravest man I’ve ever known, Illya Nickovetch Kuryakin. And every day you lay your life on the line for people you don’t even know. Maybe you’ll never walk in space but I don’t ever want to hear you say that what you do isn’t heroic. I happen to know better.”
Illya couldn’t help but smile. “Does that include you, too?” he asked in amusement.
“Of course.” Napoleon grinned. It was going to be a great day. He could tell. Standing, he grabbed Illya’s hand and hauled him up. “Come on.”
“Where are we going?” Illya was plainly puzzled but didn’t pull away as Napoleon led him from the room.
“You want to see stars? I’ll show you stars.” And he did.