|The ceiling disintegrated with a sharp crack. A large chunk of
concrete barely missed Napoleon's legs as he yanked them frantically
"Illya?" Napoleon patted the warm body crowded ahead of him into the smooth metal pipe. He couldn't even hear his own voice over the thunder of debris raining down on their metal shelter. His legs were getting cramped, and the swirling dust coming in through the end of the pipe clogged his lungs. Napoleon gave Illya a solid push.
Illya pushed back just as hard, almost shoving Napoleon out of the makeshift shelter. Knowing he couldn't make himself heard over the noise of the collapsing building, Napoleon began a steady advance, sweeping his partner before him with little more than determination. Illya's equal determination not to be pushed eventually brought Napoleon's progress to a standstill. As his legs were no longer in immediate danger, Napoleon gave up with good grace.
This must be, Napoleon thought, what it feels like to be trapped inside a kettle drum in the midst of a percussion solo. No pun intended. Finally, the building had collapsed as far as it was able, and the noise subsided to a soft patter of dust.
Napoleon wiggled up the pipe, squeezing in beside his partner. Illya's complete lack of movement made him very nervous. He had thought he got them both under cover before the ceiling gave way.
It was black as pitch inside the pipe, and there was just barely room enough for the two of them to lie abreast. His hands moving in short cautious sweeps, Napoleon felt carefully over his partner for any sign of injury. The slow rise and fall of Illya's chest against Napoleon's gave him the reassurance to proceed with care. It took a long time in the constricted space, but he finally covered every inch without finding anything. He ran his hand lightly over Illya's face, brushing away dust. Illya's eyelashes flickered against his palm.
"Illya. I know you're awake," Napoleon murmured into the man's ear, the echo chamber of their sanctuary making any louder voice unwise. "Illya Nickolaivetch!"
"Zapirayus," Illya responded finally in an odd, thick voice. "Zapiraemsya. Naruzhu!" His voice rose on the last word as the paralysis broke. Illya pushed at Napoleon with both hands, shoving him up against the smooth wall, blindly trying to make him move. The flood of Russian continued, too fast for Napoleon to follow properly. He could only make out a few words here and there, and that only because they were repeated again and again: trapped, we're trapped, out, well, trapped, outside. The pipe reverberated with Illya's panic.
"Illya..." Napoleon broke off with a cough as Illya caught him a strong blow in the ribs. "Damn it, Illya! Calm down. Spokoino," he repeated in Russian, at a loss for how to deal with Illya's uncharacteristic behavior, "spokoino."
"Naruzhu!" Illya grabbed Napoleon by the coat and shoved him a good foot further down the pipe.
"There is no way out, Illya." Napoleon wiggled back into place next to Illya, fending off his hands as best he could. "We have to wait." He wrapped his arms around his partner, hissing when his knuckles scraped against the pipe in the close quarters. He was leery of making Illya feel any more confined than he already did, but had to stop him before he hurt either himself or Napoleon. "Wait, Illya. U.N.C.L.E. knows where we are. They'll home in on us. We just have to wait." He rocked Illya awkwardly in his embrace, clumsily rubbing and patting his back.
"Ya zapirayus. Kolodets." Illya shivered, his struggles slowing.
"You're not trapped, Illya." In the dark, Napoleon tucked Illya's head under his chin and tightened his embrace. "It's an air pipe in a Thrush building, not a well. There's plenty of oxygen. U.N.C.L.E. will find us."
Long minutes passed in silence. Illya's quick breath against Napoleon's face slowed gradually. Napoleon continued to stroke Illya's back for lack of anything better to do. Finally, Illya shifted slightly, his face turning against Napoleon's throat.
"Napoleon?" Illya's voice was soft, balm on ears battered by the reverberations of his panic.
Napoleon waited, but Illya didn't seem inclined to add anything else. He sighed silently. "Illya."
"How old were you?"
A longer pause. "Syem."
Napoleon nodded, his cheek brushing against the top of Illya's head. Seven, and a well, and trapped. No need to know more, really. Certainly not when asking for more could only heighten Illya's claustrophobia. He also refrained from asking why now, when they'd been locked in small rooms off and on for most of their careers. Even he, who'd never been prone to claustrophobia, could feel the heavy darkness pressing in upon him.
Illya shifted restlessly, putting a little distance between them, though they still touched here and there. Napoleon didn't particularly care whether the points of continued contact were a result of the close quarters or something else.
"We have a couple of hours to kill before U.N.C.L.E. reaches us. Any suggestions?" When there was no response, he half-shrugged and chose arbitrarily. "C to begin, then."
"K before," Illya responded instantly. Napoleon frowned.
"Yes, before." Impatient now, with a hitch to his breath which wasn't impatience.
"All right," Napoleon decided, playing along. "T after."
"Y before. My game."
"What language is that?" Napoleon asked after a stunned moment.
"Hungarian. It's the formal term for a ceremonial garment."
Napoleon's grin was invisible in the dark. He let Illya have it; he was almost certain Illya was making it up, but wasn't in a position to call him on it.
"We didn't bring our communicators," Illya remarked suddenly.
"Didn't want to blow our cover as air conditioner repairmen, did we?" Napoleon responded lightly. He touched Illya on the shoulder. "I activated the homing beacon in my tie clip as soon as we passed their active sensors."
"Air conditioner repairmen," Illya snorted, his relief covered in a pretense of annoyance. "I can't believe they bought it."
"Good thing they did. And a good thing I got the grill off this pipe before the roof caved in."
Illya snorted again, this time with a touch of amusement. "A good thing no one noticed you were messing around with a pipe which had nothing to do with the air conditioning system."
"Ventilation, you think?"
"For the lab down there, yes." Illya's voice was reasonably calm as he allowed his mind to work on a problem other than the confined space. "They were probably working on some sort of airborne toxin."
Napoleon glanced back down the pipe automatically, though he could see nothing. "Ah... Illya?"
"If the explosion released whatever it was, we'd most certainly already be dead."
"Now there's a comforting thought."
"A better question would be who demolished the place."
"Not us, or any another U.N.C.L.E. team. Maybe a competing Thrush faction?"
The muted conversation, regardless of topic, had a lulling effect on Napoleon. All they had to do was wait. He could handle that. He stayed alert, though, every sense focused on his partner. As long as Illya could be kept suitably distracted, all would be well, but every time the conversation lagged, Napoleon could hear Illya's respiration pick up, despite his iron control.
Napoleon reached out and pulled Illya a little closer, settling amiably into a loose embrace. He noticed and dismissed the hardness which pressed against his thigh when Illya complied. He didn't know a single agent who didn't experience that reaction when the running was done. Natural human instinct: after flight, or fight -- mate. It was actually kind of nice to have proof that Illya wasn't imune to that sort of thing. He tucked one hand into the small of Illya's back to monitor his breathing and tried another distraction.
"Botticelli, then. E." He paused a moment, but no objection came. Start simple and obvious, then. "Are you a physicist?"
"I'm not John Ehrmann."
"Who the hell is that?"
"Swiss physicist. Conducted experiments in static electricity."
This time, Napoleon decided to call him on it. "Not one of your better efforts, Illya."
"If you didn't want to play, you could have just said so," Napoleon scolded mildly.
Illya only sighed. After a moment, he remarked casually, "A ventilation shaft must have an opening to the outside."
"For air and small rodents, yes. If we could get out that way, we would have gone in that way and skipped the whole repairman thing."
"I take your point." Illya shifted restlessly, then sighed and settled more comfortably against Napoleon. He didn't suggest that Napoleon move ahead or behind in the pipe, to give him more room, and Napoleon didn't offer. It was important to remember you weren't alone in the dark. Illya sighed again. "I'm sorry, Napoleon. This weakness must be... distasteful."
"Oh? How, exactly?" When Illya didn't respond, Napoleon gave him a quick sqeeze. "Lots of people don't like small spaces. Nothing to be ashamed of there. Me... I don't like spiders."
"Spiders?" Illya sounded confused.
"Yeah. Those big hairy ones." He shivered.
"Tarantulas aren't dangerous, Napoleon. They're friendly, they don't usually bite, and they're not even poisonous."
"Trust you to be on friendly terms with one." Napoleon mumbled through his invisible grin.
In contrast, Illya's smile was clear in his voice. "You are only trying to make me feel better."
"Could be," Napoleon allowed. "Could be I really am terrified of spiders."
"Perhaps." He shifted, banging one elbow with a muffled yelp. "I'd rather we changed the subject."
"Sure. What do you want to talk about?"
"After all these years, is there any subject we haven't covered?" Illya asked drily.
"Hell, I don't know." Napoleon thought for a moment. "We could tell stories."
"What kind of stories?"
"Ah... fairytales?" Napoleon shrugged as best he could.
Illya snorted. "Bedtime bribes for children afraid of the dark." His voice echoed softly on the last word, vanishing quickly into black silence. After a minute, he curved one arm around Napoleon's waist. "You go first."
Napoleon closed his eyes -- the blackness behind his own lids seemed friendlier -- and cast about for a good story. After a few minutes, which seemed much longer in the unchanging dark, Illya shifted impatiently, his elbow catching Napoleon in the ribs.
"I'm trying to think of one," Napoleon drew Illya closer in self-defense. He could feel the pace of Illya's heart pick up in the ensuing silence, and plunged unprepared into speech. "Ah... there was once a... um..."
"They usually start 'once upon a time'," Illya prompted with a touch of amusement.
"Once upon a time," Napoleon began over, with feigned exasperation, "a wicked witch kept a young girl locked in a tall tower with no doors."
"How did she get there?"
"I don't know. I can't remember the beginning. Now be quiet." He paused for a breath, glad to feel Illya's heart beating almost calmly against his own. "The girl's name was Rapunzel, and she was very beautiful..."
"...with long blond hair."
"Of course. Are you sure this is a fairytale, and not your date last night?"
"Can I help it if I like blonds?" Napoleon ruffled Illya's hair playfully. "Your hair's too short anyway. Rapunzel's reached all the way to the ground from a window at the top of the tower, and when the witch came to visit, she entered through the window by climbing Rapunzel's hair."
"That's impossible, Napoleon." Illya pulled back, luckily not far enough to knock his head against the pipe. Napoleon could feel Illya staring at him in the darkness. The patented Russian 'what are you talking about' expression Napoleon was so intimately familiar with no doubt plastered over his face. "The tensile strength of human hair--"
"Illya?" Napoleon interrupted.
"Why don't you tell a story?"
"I don't know this one."
Napoleon sighed. "Then tell me a Russian fairytale."
Illya was silent a long moment, and Napoleon almost recanted, interruptions aside. If nothing else, at least it was keeping Illya occupied. How to distract a claustrophobic Russian in three easy steps. Not so easy without any food around. Just when he was about to speak, however, Illya began.
"Running from the hunters, a wolf came across a peasant and asked the man to hide him in his bag."
"Talking animals?" Napoleon couldn't resist teasing.
Illya made a small growling noise. "The man agreed, and when the hunters asked him if he'd seen the wolf, he said no. Once they were gone, the peasant let the wolf out of his bag. The wolf said, 'Thank you for hiding me. And now I will devour you.' The man cried, 'Wait! I just saved your life.' And the wolf said, 'Old favors are soon forgotten.'
"The peasant despaired, knowing he couldn't escape the wolf, but in desperation begged the wolf to walk with him down the path and ask the next three people they met if old favors were soon forgotten. If they agreed, the peasant promised he would submit and let the wolf devour him."
Illya paused, as if he expected further teasing. However, Napoleon was too charmed by the storyteller to risk interrupting. Illya narrated his story slowly, as if he were translating from Russian as he went, and his accent deepened in the cadence of his homeland. When no comment was forthcoming, Illya continued.
"They came across an old dog first, and asked him if old favors were soon forgotten. The dog thought a moment, then said, 'I worked hard for my master for twenty years, jumping at his every command, and protecting his family. However, once I became too old to work, he drove me out of his house. Yes, old favors are soon forgotten.'
"The wolf smiled unpleasantly, but the peasant reminded him that there were two more people to ask. Next, they met an old swayback horse on the path, and asked her if old favors were soon forgotten. She thought a moment, and answered, 'I carried my master for twenty long years, bearing his weight gladly and serving him well. But when I got too old to carry him further, he drove me out into the world to die. Yes, old favors are soon forgotten.'
"The wolf capered with joy and licked his chops, but the peasant led him on down the path until they came to a fox. When they asked her if old favors were soon forgotten, she frowned and thought hard. Finally, she asked how they came to ask the question, and they told her how the peasant had hid the wolf in his bag. She shook her head. 'I don't believe that large wolf fit in your small bag.' And, though they swore it was true, she would not accept their word until the wolf climbed into the bag to prove it. Then she ordered the peasant to quickly tie up the bag and beat it with his stick. He gave the trapped wolf a good drubbing, then swung his stick around, hitting the fox in the head and killing her, saying, 'Old favors are soon forgotten.'"
"What kind of fairytale is that?" Napoleon asked after a stunned moment.
"A Russian one."
"You're not putting me on this time, are you?" Napoleon checked, just to be sure.
"Of course not. What's the matter?"
"That's not a proper fairytale!"
"What's wrong with it?"
"In fairytales, people should be rewarded for good deeds and punished for bad, not the other way around."
"Because they should teach children to be good."
"Rather than teaching them the way the world really works?" Illya asked disapprovingly. "I've seen your American fairytales. How can such stories prepare children for life?"
"Perhaps they're just for fun," Napoleon allowed, before doing a double take. "Seen? You mean the Disney movies?" His voice shook with laughter.
"I like movies," Illya defended, "and I was curious about the animation."
Napoleon refrained from teasing him further, enchanted by the image of his partner slouched in a darkened theater, munching on popcorn, enthralled by a movie meant for children.
"Do you really believe that?" Napoleon asked after a moment.
"That old favors are soon forgotten."
The certainty of Illya's response gave Napoleon pause. "You really believe that nothing we do does any good?"
"Of course not. I'd hardly be in this line of work if I did."
"But you just said--"
"Old favors are soon forgotten." Illya's voice seemed to smile. "You are putting words in my mouth, Napoleon. People forget. That doesn't negate the overall benefit to the world."
Napoleon grinned. "Why, Illya, I never knew you were an optimist." He considered the annoyed slap at his shoulder well worth it.
The weight of silence in their close confinement seemed to increase by the second. After a moment, Illya squirmed with a muted mutter. "What sort of Russian fairytale were you expecting?" he asked.
"Oh... I thought perhaps you'd tell me about your namesake."
Illya laughed. "Ilya Ivanovich Muromets was a true folktale hero, who slew dragons and married princesses, had the strength of many men and the fear of none. I wouldn't say I was named for him."
"I told Gervase Ravel you were my white knight," Napoleon remarked softly. "Perhaps there is some truth to fairytales." He was silent for a time and then, because anything was better than listening to the slow careful control of Illya's breathing, asked, "Do you miss Russia much?"
"Sometimes. I miss the pure sharp cold of the winters, and the warmth of the people. Familiar sounds and smells..."
"I never thought... Even I get homesick occasionally, and I live where they speak the language I was born with, and the customs are mine."
Napoleon could hear Illya's smile. "Sometimes I go down to where the Russian immigrants live and sit for hours in some restaurant, smelling and hearing home." He shifted closer to Napoleon, who tightened his embrace. "It's not so bad. I miss the things which were my home, but no people. My only family is here."
The lump in Napoleon's throat was almost too large to breathe around, let alone speak. He squeezed Illya hard, and changed the subject before he was entirely undone. "What's the most beautiful place you've ever seen?"
"Not somewhere in Russia?" Napoleon was surprised.
"No, Paris. When I first saw it... through a fire of anticipation and excitement. My first step into a new world." He shrugged against Napoleon's embrace. "You?"
"There's a clearing near my uncle's place in New Hampshire -- a pond and the softest grass you ever slept on. I spent a lot of summers at my uncle's place, and most of my free time in that clearing, lying on my back, staring at the most incredible sky through sweet green leaves." He chuckled wickedly. "Took my first girlfriend there too."
"Napoleon Solo, your mind only runs along one track," Illya scolded, though his words twitched into smiles around the corners.
"Ah, but what a lovely track." Given the opportunity, he couldn't resist teasing. "As you'd know if you ever got out of the roundhouse."
"Are we talking trains or sex?" Illya demanded with a directness usually reserved for business.
"Whichever you would prefer," Napoleon offered graciously.
"I don't know anything about trains." Napoleon chuckled.
Illya sighed, but the sound was touched with amusement.
Napoleon was running out of things to talk about, and still had no idea how much longer it might take for an U.N.C.L.E. team to reach them. The turn the conversation had taken, however, gave him an idea. A crazy idea, as most of the best of them are. There was, quite simply, one way of distracting Illya which was certain to keep him occupied for some time. It was playing with fire, but Napoleon wasn't adverse to getting burned. He slipped one hand under Illya's jacket and skimmed it lightly down his partner's side.
"Napoleon? What are you doing?"
"I should think that was obvious." He brought his hand to rest on Illya's zipper, relieved to find an appreciable hardness still lingering beneath the placket.
"Napoleon... I don't think..."
"It's quiet, dark and cozy. I can't think of anything better to do, can you?" His fingers made quick work of the button and zipper, despite Illya's squirming.
"I'm sure if you gave me a minute I could--" he broke off on a gasp when Napoleon deliberately ran his finger lightly up the underside of Illya's half-swollen cock.
Napoleon grinned unrepentently. He'd guessed as much. Illya was highly sensitive, probably for lack of frequent practice. Easily ensnared in the coils of pleasure. The angle was awkward, and the motion entirely too familiar to feel so oddly unfamiliar. Napoleon stroked Illya gently, holding his partner's body close with the other arm. There were no further objections; in fact, Illya seemed incapable of putting together a coherent sentence. Which was, after all, the point.
Illya's cock was warm in Napoleon's hand, the sweet contrast between hard flesh and tender, delicate skin somehow intoxicating. He turned his head, brushing his cheek against Illya's soft hair, unconsciously pressing soft kisses to the broad forehead.
Illya pressed closer, his body moving with the sure knowledge of instinct. Napoleon tightened his arm around his partner's waist, pulling him in, guiding him with a touch as sure as the desire which moved him. The unconscious trust of Illya's undisguised passion sparked a warm emotion in Napoleon which was nowhere near as simple as gratitude, or pride, or even love.
It was over too quickly. Illya trembled against him, choking off a cry as his climax rushed out of him in short spurts. He sagged breathlessly against Napoleon, the innate vulnerability feeding a tenderness Napoleon had never felt for any of his women. Napoleon gently tucked Illya back into his clothes, wiped his hand on Illya's underwear, and had him all fastened and buttoned up in a snap. He calmed his partner's shivering with a comfortable, familiar embrace.
"God, 'Polya," Illya gasped, lungs working like a bellows. Napoleon grinned, enjoying the feel of Illya's heart double-timing against both their chests. Better. Much better than the rapidfire pace of his fear.
"So much for godless communists," he teased, his hand absently smoothing Illya's sweat-damp hair. "Relax, tovarisch. Sleep."
"Why?" Illya whispered thickly.
Napoleon didn't need to ask what Illya meant. "Because I love you, you crazy Russian," he answered, though he knew Illya was already asleep. The soft, slow cadence of breathing was eminently familiar.
Napoleon settled Illya's lax form over his own body, the ache in his groin increasing at the man's weight. He wiggled a little, allowing himself to enjoy the pleasurable stimulation for only a moment. If he worked himself up to climax, he knew he'd be out like a light, just like Illya. If that happened, it was possible Illya would awake in the dark before Napoleon. And that just wouldn't do.
Napoleon tucked Illya more firmly into his embrace and ignored
his own arousal until it finally faded. He grinned a little at himself.
This wasn't exactly how he'd anticipated spending a Friday night.
"Napoleon!" Illya stopped him on his way out of the office.
Napoleon swung around with a touch of annoyance. He hadn't been all that keen on coming in on a Saturday to begin with, even if Waverly wanted their report on the demolition of the Thrush satrap immediately. There wasn't much to be said, after all: 'we infiltrated the suspected satrap, passed ourselves off as air conditioner repairmen, the place disintigrated around us, and we spend the night in a ventilation pipe until an U.N.C.L.E. rescue crew dug us out.' No need to mention anything that had gone on in the interrum.
Now, that done, Napoleon wanted nothing so much as to go home and let his fingers do the walking through his little black book until he found someone to relieve his frustration. Frustration induced by a certain blond Russian, who was even now preventing his escape.
"Your personnel file says you have no uncles."
"How'd you get your hands on my personnel file?"
"I have my ways." Illya looked insufferably pleased with himself. "Well?"
"You're right, I don't." He winked, and had the satisfaction of seeing Illya flush, then turned to the door again. Let Illya try to figure out how much of their discussion in the pipe was honest. It wouldn't hurt Illya to wonder for a while.
Napoleon opened the door and glanced back. "You'd look glorious in that meadow, Illyushka. The sky was always the exact same shade as your eyes."
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