"Where's the egg nog?"
"In the fridge, where you put it, I imagine."
Illya heard the fridge open and the sound of packages and bottles being shuffled.
"I can't find it."
"It's a wonder you can find your head with both hands," Illya muttered before moving to join Napoleon in the kitchen.
"I heard that," Napoleon said, looking at him with an insufferable grin.
"Perhaps you were meant to," Illya said, matching Napoleon's obvious good cheer with a scowl.
Illya did not deign to respond to the insult. Instead he looked in the fridge, moved aside a carton of milk and the Christmas pudding, and emerged with the missing egg nog. He passed it to Napoleon without a word, but with a look that spoke eloquently of his opinion of his partner's powers of observation.
"I swear that wasn't there two minutes ago," Napoleon said, sounding slightly exasperated.
"I suppose Thrush hid it."
"Not likely, though, is it?"
"Spoilsport." Napoleon took the egg nog and poured it into the punch bowl. "I'll bet the dog never ate your homework when you were a kid either."
"I didn't have a dog."
"Exactly," Napoleon said, stabbing a finger in Illya's direction as if he'd just scored a point.
"Americans," Illya muttered, leaving the kitchen to return to decorating their tree.
"I heard that, too," Napoleon shouted from the kitchen.
Illya Kuryakin stood in front of the elegant, west side apartment building and wondered again what he was doing here.
He'd originally made no plans for Christmas. As a new arrival at U.N.C.L.E.'s New York office, he had expected no time off for this most capitalist of holidays. When his partner had worked one of his usual miracles and gotten them both Christmas Eve and the day itself off, he'd planned on spending it in his apartment, getting caught up on the physics journals that he always seemed too tired or too busy to read, and eating Chinese food from his favourite take out place down the street.
Christmas had not been important to him for many years. For more Christmases than he could count, he'd either been abroad or on assignment during the holiday, and even if he had made it back to Russia, he had no one but a few distant relatives left to celebrate it with.
But he hadn't counted on Napoleon Solo.
When Napoleon had found out he was planning on spending Christmas alone, an invitation to Christmas dinner at the home of Napoleon's Aunt Amy had been issued immediately, no possibility of refusal allowed.
Which is why he found himself standing in front of this exclusive address, bearing a hastily purchased bottle of wine as a gift to his hostess. The doorman, resplendent in his scarlet coat and cap, made Illya feel shabby. He was conscious of the wear on his trench coat and the scuffs on his shoes and wondered what he could possibly have in common with anyone who lived in this building.
He had just made up his mind to walk away, to go home and make some excuse to Napoleon tomorrow, when he felt a hand at his elbow.
"Great. You made it." Napoleon Solo stood beside him. "I wasn't sure you'd come."
"I always keep my promises," Illya said, hoping his face didn't betray his ambivalence about Napoleon's invitation.
"I never thought anything else," Napoleon said, pulling him past the doorman with a friendly wave. "C'mon. I'll take you up and introduce you to Aunt Amy. She's been dying to meet the Russian wunderkind."
"What have you been telling her?" Illya asked, horrified at the possibilities.
"Only the truth. That you're the smartest person in the New York office. And the best partner I've ever had."
"But we've only been partners for a few months," Illya protested.
"I'm a good judge of character. Besides, you should see some of the mooks I've worked with." The elevator chimed and Napoleon dragged him in, hitting the button for the top floor.
"Means exactly what it sounds like," Napoleon said unhelpfully. "You've got to start learning some American slang."
"Absolutely. It'll help you blend in."
"I think my accent makes my blending in impossible."
"It's barely noticeable. And I have it on good authority that the girls in Translation think it's cute."
"They do?" said Illya, not caring one bit about the girls in Translation, but idly wondering what Napoleon thought.
" Definitely." The elevator door opened and Illya was manhandled into the hall, suddenly not at all surprised that Napoleon Solo always seemed to get his own way.
Standing in front of the one door on this floor, Napoleon paused and examined his partner as if he were some thorny problem to be solved. Illya could feel the tension in his shoulders, in his chest as he was judged on some criteria that he couldn't even begin to guess at. Then the moment was gone and Napoleon was smiling once again, patting Illya on the back.
"Relax, Illya," Napoleon said as he knocked on the door. "You might enjoy yourself. And you'll definitely like Aunt Amy."
As it turned out, Illya did like her. Rather a lot, in fact. And the feeling seemed to be mutual. Within minutes Illya was under orders to call her Aunt Amy. She asked questions about his background and education and avoided embarrassing questions about his work that he couldn't have answered. It no doubt helped that she had a spy in the family.
At nine, Illya reluctantly took his leave—he and Napoleon were scheduled on an early flight to Caracas the next morning—surprised at how quickly the evening had passed. Napoleon joined him, shrugging into his topcoat and saying his own goodbyes to his aunt.
Illya was surprise when Amy gave him a hug at the door.
"It was a pleasure having you, Illya," she said. "You're welcome any time." She wrapped an arm around Napoleon's shoulders. "I'll make sure my lout of a nephew invites you over."
"Hey, watch the suit," Napoleon said, laughing.
"A lout and a clothes horse."
"I'm sure he's neither," Illya said, feeling protective of his partner's reputation.
"You just haven't known him long enough," Aunt Amy said, giving the offending nephew a kiss on the cheek before releasing him.
"Family," Napoleon said as he wiped his cheek and straightened his tie.
As they rode the elevator back down, Napoleon fixed Illya with a smug grin until Illya could take it no longer.
"Do you have something to say, Napoleon?"
"You did enjoy yourself, didn't you?"
"Your aunt is a remarkable woman."
"That she is. And she meant it about inviting you back."
"I'm sure she was just being polite," Illya said, the pragmatist in his soul triumphant, even as the optimist nursed a small hope that he would receive another invitation.
"Aunt Amy is a gracious hostess, but she never says anything she doesn't mean. The next Sunday dinner she has, I'm dragging you back over."
"If you insist," Illya said, trying to sound reserved, even if he couldn't help from smiling.
"I knew it," Napoleon said, elbowing him in the ribs. "You did enjoy yourself."
Illya said nothing else, but from that point forward, he was a regular guest at Aunt Amy's.
"The angel's crooked."
"No it isn't. It's perfectly straight." Illya stepped back from the tree to examine his handiwork. The angel did have a slight list to it. Not that he'd ever admit that to Napoleon.
"I don't know how they let you run the labs when you can't even tell when a Christmas angel is crooked."
"I don't know how they let you run the New York office when your powers of observation are so clearly flawed."
"How can they be flawed?" Napoleon moved forward and took Illya into his arms. "I can tell how handsome you are, can't I?"
Illya frowned in disapproval, but made no move to leave Napoleon's embrace.
"Don't tell me I've silenced the great Illya Kuryakin."
"Perhaps I should silence the great Napoleon Solo." Illya took Napoleon's mouth with his own, wrapping his arms around his partner and pressing the full length of his body against him. Napoleon opened his mouth to Illya and tightened his own hold. Illya felt a warmth flare within him, but reluctantly pulled away before the warmth could burst into a stronger heat.
"Illya..." Discontent showed plainly in Napoleon's eyes.
"Might I remind you that we are expecting guests."
"They aren't due until..."
"No, they're not." Napoleon glanced at his watch. "Oh. Yes they are."
"I told you," Illya said with a smirk.
"How did I ever end up with such a smug Russian?"
Illya was saved from any further response from Napoleon by the ringing of the doorbell.
It was a miracle that they found the cabin at all in the middle of a blizzard. It was a further miracle that the cabin was stocked with enough food and fuel to keep them alive for a few days. It was probably asking too much of whatever god looked after U.N.C.L.E. agents that they'd be rescued in less than forty-eight hours.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Solo," Alexander Waverly said, without sounding very sorry at all. "The storm you find yourselves in has grounded all aircraft for at least the next twenty-four hours. And it will be a day after that before we can free up a helicopter to pick you up. You and Mr. Kuryakin will have to make yourselves comfortable where you are."
"Thank you, sir," Napoleon said before closing his communicator.
"That's the last time I blow up a remote Thrush installation without checking our escape route first." Illya stamped his feet in an effort to restore feeling to them.
"You can say that again," Napoleon said, looking around their home for the next day. "Not a very promising place to spend Christmas, is it?"
"I will freeze to death here."
"I thought you Russians were supposed to be hardier than that."
"We Russians love comfort. And this cabin is not comfortable."
"Oh, I don't know. Get the fire started and it'll be all right."
"You are a madman."
"But I'm a madman who's going to warm up this place. I'll go get some wood in; you can pick out our dinner."
"Would you rather have your turkey masquerading as canned soup or canned stew?"
"I'd rather have Aunt Amy's turkey and stuffing."
"Don't remind me of what we're missing, Napoleon. That's too cruel." This was the first Christmas that he would not make it to Napoleon's aunt's for Christmas since he'd arrived in New York.
"I'm sure she'll save us some leftovers."
"I hope so. Now shouldn't you be getting the firewood before we really do freeze to death?"
"How did you make it through survival school with such a delicate constitution?"
"Survival school was on a tropical island, not in the foothills of the Rockies in December."
"You're such a baby," Napoleon said as he left the cabin.
"And close that door," Illya yelled as a flurry of snow whipped into the small cabin. The slam of the door was the only response that Napoleon gave.
Illya sighed and looked around their temporary refuge. The one-room cabin had a small kitchen, a woodstove, a stock of canned goods and a pull-out sofa. Opening a trunk in front of the sofa, he found a store of rough woollen blankets. They would be warm, they wouldn't go hungry, and they weren't locked up in a Thrush cell. It really could have been much worse. Not that he would admit that to Napoleon.
As Napoleon made several trips outside, building up a stack of wood for the stove, Illya opened a can of beef stew and got the kitchen in order. When Napoleon brought in his final armful of wood, Illya sent his partner to warm up under a blanket on the sofa while he got the fire going in the stove.
An hour later, with a full belly and the cabin warmed through, Illya was beginning to feel more positive.
"Perhaps this won't be too bad," he said.
"I must be imagining things. Illya Kuryakin showing optimism? You must be a Thrush plant."
"I can be optimistic, Napoleon. When the occasion warrants it. It's just…"
"The occasion doesn't warrant it very often," Napoleon said, smiling.
"I don't know why I put up with you," Illya said, shaking his head.
"Because I'm charming and dashing and the best partner you've ever had."
"But entirely lacking in modesty."
"Nobody's perfect," Napoleon said, making Illya laugh at his sheer audacity.
They sat there, side by side on the sofa, both of them wrapped in blankets, enjoying each other's company. As he looked at Napoleon, Illya experienced a sudden awareness of his partner's physical presence, an awareness that had less to do with friendship and more to do with the flesh.
He stamped down on the feeling, exactly as he'd been doing for weeks. For months, if he was being honest with himself. He'd been hiding from his attraction to his partner for a long time, not wanting to admit to such a weakness, never dreaming it could be reciprocated.
"Illya? Is there anything wrong?" Napoleon's voice made him start.
"No," he said quickly, hoping he didn't sound as unconvincing as he felt. "I was only thinking."
"An improvement to the communicators that the lab was working on. Nothing important."
"Is that so?" Napoleon said with a thoughtful tone that made Illya look at his partner, only to wish he hadn't.
Illya saw the same heat in Napoleon's eyes that he felt himself. He felt a blush rise in his face and was absolutely powerless to stop it.
Napoleon smiled and cocked an eyebrow at him, posing a mute question. Illya nodded, as incapable of denying Napoleon in this as he was of ceasing to breathe.
Napoleon acted first, reaching out a hand and tentatively touching Illya's face.
"I can't use any of my best lines on you. You know them all."
"I don't respond to lines, Napoleon. You should know that."
"What do you respond to?"
Napoleon drew back his hand and looked at Illya closely, as if judging how much he should say.
"Okay, honesty," Napoleon said. "I can do that." Napoleon took a deep breath and shifted to a more comfortable position. "You're my best friend and I find you immensely attractive. But I don't do exclusivity and I don't think I'm capable of doing love. Not any more; not …for a long time. And I don't want to lose your friendship. How's that for honesty?"
"That's perfect," Illya said. Napoleon had not made a declaration of perfect romantic love, but he hadn't expected that. They were spies, and spies were by nature pragmatists. But even in his pragmatism, Napoleon had given Illya enough.
He leaned forward and closed the gap between them, touching his lips to Napoleon's. The kiss was gentle at first, tentative. Illya had the feeling that Napoleon was holding back, letting him find his way in this new ground between them. But then Napoleon trailed a finger across his face, down his throat, and Illya felt his senses explode.
He opened his mouth to Napoleon's, gasping as their tongues met. He pulled Napoleon close to him, enjoying the exhilarating feeling of Napoleon's body against his. And even that was not sufficient. He pushed Napoleon's shirt up out of the way, wanting to feel his skin. Napoleon did the same, and then they were both fumbling with belts and zippers.
Illya gasped as Napoleon took hold of his cock, feeling it pulse with need. He stroked Napoleon's and was rewarded with a moan from Napoleon's throat. Their mouths came together again as they drove each other higher and higher, until finally Illya could take no more. Squeezing his eyes tightly shut, he reached his climax, spilling his seed over Napoleon's hand. Napoleon was not far behind him.
They held each other tightly as their breathing slowed. Only when his breath and pulse had returned to normal did Illya feel it was safe to open his eyes.
He found Napoleon looking at him with concern.
"You okay?" Napoleon asked.
"Okay is an understatement."
"Good" Napoleon smiled at him, his eyes twinkling with wicked humour. "And here I was thinking we'd be bored, stuck up here for two days."
"We'll only get bored if you run out of imagination," Illya said, running one hand up Napoleon's chest. "And somehow I don't think that's going to happen any time soon."
"Absolutely not. How do you think I earned my reputation?" Napoleon smiled and winked at him. "Shall we try it again? With more blankets and fewer clothes?"
As Napoleon took his mouth in a searing kiss, Illya arched his neck and opened himself to this experience, determined to take what Napoleon was willing to give, while he was willing to give it.
Illya opened the door and was immediately besieged.
"Merry Christmas, Uncle Illya," the little girl said.
"Merry Christmas, Geeta." Mark's oldest child always made him smile. "Would you like an airplane ride?"
"Yes," she said in a near shriek. Illya scooped her up and spun her around, depositing her in the front hall.
"Me next, Uncle Illya." Geeta's little brother lifted his arms up in anticipation.
"Anything for you, Sanjay," Illya said, obliging. He looked at the two giggling youngsters with seriousness. "Now, if you get your boots and coats off, Uncle Napoleon has cookies for you in the living room.
The promise of sweets was all it took for the two children to disappear in a flurry of scarves and mittens.
"I'm always surprised how good you are with children," Mark Slate said as he entered the apartment.
"I enjoy their innocence, Mark. They haven't seen the worst of the world yet."
"And I hope they never do," Nirmala Slate said, coming forward to give Illya a hug and a peck on the cheek. "How are you, Illya?"
"Well. And you?"
"Wonderful. Or we will be once we've survived Christmas."
"Geeta and Sanjay running you ragged?"
"In a word, yes," Nirmala said, hanging her up her coat and her children's."
"Well, don't worry about them today. We'll keep an eye on them and you two can relax and have adult conversations."
"I don't trust the two of you not to spoil them rotten," Mark said
"As the eccentric uncles, it's our job to spoil them rotten."
"Not my children, you don't," Nirmala said. "And if you don't mind, I'll just pop into the living room and make sure Napoleon isn't feeding them too much sugar."
"And how are you, Mark?" Illya asked as Nirmala left.
"Deliriously happy. When I'm not utterly exhausted. I tell you, Illya, saving the world has nothing on raising small children."
"So I've been told."
"Is April here yet?"
"No. She told us she might be a little late."
"Is she bringing him?"
"You mean Jack? She was non-committal. I got the impression she's reluctant to inflict all of us on the poor boy at once."
"I've never known her to be a coward before."
"Who's a coward?"
Mark and Illya both turned to see April Dancer and a dark-haired man standing in the still-open doorway.
"April," Mark blurted out, and then froze.
"The one with his mouth gaping open is Mark Slate, my blessedly former partner. The smirking blond is Illya Kuryakin. He lives here. Illya, Mark, this is Jack Warren. I decided he was brave enough to tackle the lot of you."
"Welcome to our household, Jack," Illya said. "Let me take your coats. Napoleon's holding court in the living room."
"Thanks, Illya. C'mon, Jack. I'll introduce you to the rest of our happy tribe."
Illya and Mark watched them go in silence. It was only when they heard April making the introductions to Napoleon and the others that Mark spoke.
"She's never going to let me forget this, is she?"
"No," Illya said with a grin. "Not in your lifetime. Probably not in your next lifetime either."
"You can defend yourself, you know."
"Well, April is in there with her new boyfriend. And you are in possession of twelve years' worth of embarrassing stories about her. Surely you can reach some sort of truce."
"Yeah," Mark said, his face brightening. "I could threaten to tell Jack about the margarita incident in Acapulco."
"I knew all that U.N.C.L.E. training would come in handy someday."
Illya pushed Mark ahead of him and moved to join their friends in the living room.
It'd been three years since they'd been trapped in a mountain cabin for Christmas. Three years since they'd added sex to their friendship. Three years since Illya had gotten what he thought he'd wanted. Three years since he'd learned he needed more.
Not that he'd ever told Napoleon. His partner seemed entirely pleased with things they way they were.
They both saw other people. Napoleon still pursued women, and the occasional man, as if such pursuit was his vocation. For his part, Illya found himself chased on a regular basis, and once in a while allowed himself to be caught.
But they always returned to each other.
When an assignment was over, or when neither one of them was seeing someone else, they would go out for dinner, or spend a day together, and inevitably they would end up in bed.
Increasingly, Illya found himself wondering what it would be like to have Napoleon to himself. But Napoleon had never rescinded his original decree against exclusivity, and Illya was too wary of losing what they had to broach the topic.
One thing they always had was Christmas.
This was another year that Waverly had blessedly given them the day off, with a warning to be at headquarters early the next day, so they were spending it, as they always did, with Aunt Amy.
Dinner was over, the meal having as been as wonderful as always, and the three of them were in the living room, enjoying the lights of Manhattan spread out before them like their own personal Christmas display.
Illya could feel the warmth from Napoleon beside him as he sipped on his brandy. Napoleon's presence stirred an answering warmth in his gut. He turned and gave Napoleon a slow smile. Napoleon returned his smile with one of his own, an easy expression that let Illya know that they would be going home together tonight and indulging in a more intimate celebration of the holiday.
"Who'd like coffee?" Amy asked from her place in her armchair.
"I'd love a cup," Napoleon said. "I'll help you get it."
"Sit down, Napoleon. You've been distracted all day. You'll just end up smashing the coffee service." Amy looked over at Illya. "Illya can help me. Can't you, Illya?"
"It would be my pleasure." Illya drained the last sip of brandy from his glass and rose to join Amy in the kitchen.
He should have been suspicious. Napoleon knew his way around a kitchen far better than he did, and was generally Amy's chosen assistant. But she was right that Napoleon had seemed distracted all evening, his customary grace deserting him as he dropped cutlery and fumbled presents. But when Amy shooed him into the kitchen ahead of her and closed the door behind her, Illya's senses were fully alerted.
He turned at the snick of the door closing and found her looking at him with concern. The instincts that had thus far kept him alive in his profession came suddenly alive.
"What is it, Amy?" A dozen disastrous scenarios played out in his mind. Her next words were not what he expected, but they did nothing to allay his fears.
"Have you noticed anything wrong with Napoleon lately?"
"Napoleon?" Illya had been half-expecting Amy to announce she was ill—in the six years since he'd known her, she had become increasingly frail—but he had not expected her odd behaviour to be about Napoleon. "What about Napoleon?"
"Have you noticed that he's been preoccupied? Upset."
Illya had it on his tongue to deny that there was anything wrong with Napoleon, but then he cast his mind back over the last few weeks and found that would be a lie. Napoleon had seemed, well, unfocussed, for some time now. But Illya was too much the spy to show his hand right away.
"Possibly. What's this about?"
Amy looked flustered and started to fuss with the coffee maker.
"Amy?" Illya was getting truly concerned. "What is it?"
With an obvious force of will, Amy stilled her hands and looked at him.
"I know that you and Napoleon are…close."
"Amy, I…" Illya wasn't sure what to say.
"Don't be upset. I'm his only living relative; he tells me everything." She stopped and gave a slight laugh. "Well, as close to everything as he can, given his job. And one thing he's always made clear is how important you are to him."
"He's important to me as well."
"What do you mean?"
"How important is he to you? Exactly."
"He is the most important person in my life," Illya said, not needing to rehearse the words at all. They were waiting for him, an elemental truth that kept him upright in a world that was constantly threatening to topple him.
"I'm glad to hear that."
"But why ask the question, Amy?"
"Because he loves you."
"Impossible." Illya said the word firmly. "Napoleon does not 'do' love. He told me that years ago."
"Then he lied, Illya. Or he didn't know. Because he loves you."
"He can't." Odd that the chance that what he wanted, what he'd discovered he craved only after accepting much less, might be possible made Illya throw up defensive walls he hadn't felt the need for in years.
"He does," Amy said. "Ask him. Please."
"And if you're wrong?" Illya did not know how he could live if his resurrected hope was killed once more.
Illya said nothing, but stood at the counter, chewing on his bottom lip, his hands clenched shut.
"Illya?" Amy touched his arm tentatively, looking at him with concern. "You know I'm only saying this because I want you both to be happy, don't you?"
"I know," he said, nodding. "I just don't know if I'm brave enough to risk what we have."
"Trust me. And trust in each other." Amy squeezed his arm and then began to bustle around the kitchen. "Now, we'd better get that coffee ready or Napoleon will wonder what we're up to."
"We certainly don't want that."
When Illya and Amy finally emerged from the kitchen, Illya carrying a tray laden with the coffee service and Christmas cookies, Napoleon gave them both the speculative look he generally reserved for captured Thrush operatives. Illya ignored the look and the questions implicit in it and threw himself into serving coffee while Amy distracted her nephew.
The rest of the evening was spent companionably, but Illya knew that Napoleon was too much a spy to let go of any questions he had.
As the clock ticked closer to midnight, Illya and Napoleon finally took their leave. Amy gave them each a hug at the door, and shot Illya a pointed look when Napoleon had his back turned.
When they left Amy's building, the winter chill hit their faces and Illya felt Napoleon's hand touch lightly at the small of his back.
"Do you want to come back to my place?" Napoleon asked. "For a nightcap?"
Illya nodded, knowing that more than a nightcap was being offered.
They took a cab back to Napoleon's apartment in a silence filled with more tension than Illya could remember feeling between them since they'd come together in that cabin three Christmases earlier.
When they entered Napoleon's apartment, Illya waited until Napoleon had set the security locks and then pushed him against the door and kissed him. Hard. It was as if Amy's assertions about Napoleon's love for him had stripped all his control and all his gentleness.
He tore at Napoleon's topcoat, at his clothes, impatient to get at what lay beneath. After a moment's hesitation, Napoleon did the same. Boots were kicked off, gloves and scarves and shirts discarded as they made their way down the hall to the bedroom. By the time they reached the bed, they both were down to only their trousers, and those were dealt with soon enough.
Illya pushed Napoleon onto the bed and straddled him. He ran his hands across Napoleon's chest, taking pleasure in the feel of the man beneath him.
More often that not, Napoleon took the lead in bed, but not tonight. Tonight, a wild need drove Illya, and Napoleon seemed content to let him command. Illya laid a track of kisses down the length of Napoleon's body until he came to his cock, erect and weeping. Illya felt his own cock pulse and harden as he took Napoleon's into his mouth. He played his tongue over the slit before setting to work, bringing Napoleon almost, but not quite, to climax before pulling back.
"You're going to kill me, Illya," Napoleon said, his breath coming in heaving pants. "You know that, don't you?"
"You'll survive," Illya said, baring his teeth in a predatory grin before taking Napoleon's mouth in a shattering kiss. He broke off the kiss and retrieved a tube of lubricant from its usual place in Napoleon's nightstand. He prepared them both and then pushed home, letting the feeling of Napoleon surrounding him overwhelm his senses. He allowed himself to think about nothing but the pleasure Napoleon gave him.
Napoleon drew a hand down his back and Illya gasped as nails scraped his skin, the slight pain adding more to his pleasure. Leaning forward, he nipped at Napoleon's mouth as he increased the pace of his thrusts.
Nothing existed but the two of them, their breath coming in harsh gasps as they strained toward completion. And then Napoleon was coming, and bringing Illya with him. Illya let a cry escape from his throat with his last thrust, before pulling free of Napoleon and collapsing on top of him.
With a satisfied sound, Napoleon wrapped an arm around Illya and buried his face in Illya's shoulder.
"That was nice," Napoleon said.
"Nice?" Illya asked, affronted.
"Okay, it was better than nice. It was spectacular." Napoleon held him tighter. "Now, do you want to tell me what that was all about?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," Illya said, deciding avoidance was his best strategy. But Napoleon was having none of it.
"Aunt Amy locks you in the kitchen, and when you emerge, you both look guilty as sin. Then when we get back here, you make free with my virtue as a way of keeping me quiet."
"I wasn't aware you had any virtue left to make free with."
"Don't change the subject, Illya. What did Aunty Amy tell you?"
"We were just making coffee."
"I'm a trained spy, Illya. I can smell a conspiracy a mile off."
"I must tell your aunt you suspect her of conspiring against you."
"She's the mistress of conspiracy. Where do you think I learned to be so sneaky? Now answer the question."
"What question was that?"
Napoleon pulled Illya around to face him.
"No more lies, Illya. No evasion. I'm not Thrush. I'm not the enemy. Just tell me what Amy said to you."
Illya looked in Napoleon's face and saw frustration and curiosity and a great capacity for hurt. And he knew he couldn't avoid this any longer. So he told the truth.
"She told me that you loved me."
"Oh." Napoleon's voice was studiedly neutral and his face showed no emotion. "And what did you say?"
"I told her that was impossible."
"Oh," Napoleon said again.
"Is it what?"
"Is it impossible, you infuriating American?" Illya said, his voice rising to a shout before he could control it.
Napoleon didn't respond to his anger, just looked at him with quiet control. After a long minute, he finally spoke.
"This infuriating American would like to know one thing before he answers."
"And that is?" Illya snapped out.
"Do you love me?"
Illya's first instinct was to lash out. After all, how dare Napoleon ask about Illya's feelings when he wouldn't reveal his own? But when he looked at Napoleon and saw the vulnerability his partner normally hid so well, Illya couldn't help but answer honestly.
"Yes. Absolutely. At times like these I don't know why, but I do love you."
"Good," Napoleon said, his body visibly relaxing.
"Good? I tell you I love you and that's all you can say?"
"Well, it is good, isn't it? Because I love you, too. Have for a long time."
"A long time? And you didn't share this information? Think of all the time we've wasted."
"Think of all the time we have left," Napoleon said, a smirk taking up residence on his face.
"Ah," Illya said. "There is that." And then he leaned forward and kissed Napoleon, determined to put some of that time to very good use indeed.
"To the founder of the feast," Napoleon said, raising his glass.
"To Aunt Amy," chorused everyone else, even Geeta and Sanjay who hadn't even been born when Napoleon's aunt had died. But everyone knew the tradition. Aided by Illya, Napoleon had kept Amy's memory alive, especially at Christmas.
The first year after Amy's death, six years ago now, had been hard. She had left her penthouse to her nephew, but the apartment was desolate without her, and Illya had seen how little happiness the bequest had brought Napoleon. But then Illya had thought of inviting April and Mark, both stuck in New York and far from family, for Christmas dinner. The evening had been a great success, with Napoleon sharing stories of his aunt and looking happier than Illya had seen him since the funeral.
The meal that first Christmas had ended with a toast to Aunt Amy, and that night had set the ritual. Every Christmas, if they were in New York, April and Mark were invited to the penthouse to share good food and good will. And every year, they all toasted Aunt Amy at the end of the meal.
The intervening years had seen many changes. Illya had finally, discreetly, moved into the penthouse three years ago, after both he and Napoleon left field work behind them. With Waverly at last retired, Napoleon was now doing the job Illya knew he'd been born for: running the New York office of the Command. Together, Illya and Napoleon had watched as Mark had courted and married Nirmala Narayan, a researcher seconded from the Command's London office. And they all continued to enjoy April's rise through the ranks of Enforcement. Illya fully expected her to be installed as New York's next CEA by the end of next year.
Illya looked around the table, fully conscious of how lucky he was to have so many people he cared about to share the holiday with. The years before he came to New York seemed a grey and bleak time by comparison with the present.
When the last bit of Christmas pudding had been consumed and they'd pulled the Christmas crackers that Mark's family had sent from England, everyone adjourned to the living room. The adults talked while Geeta and Sanjay played with their presents from Illya and Napoleon.
Toward the end of the evening, when it became clear that not even the excitement of Christmas and new toys could keep Geeta and Sanjay awake, Mark and Nirmala readied their tired brood for the trip home. Soon after, April and Jack made their goodbyes.
After the door closed on the last of their guests, Illya started for the kitchen, but Napoleon pulled him into the living room.
"The dishes, Napoleon," Illya said scoldingly.
"They'll still be there tomorrow. It's only Christmas one day a year. Let's savour every last moment."
"Absolutely," Napoleon said with a smile as he steered Illya toward the couch. "Isn't that why you love me?"
"I'm not sure why I love you."
"Because I'm devastatingly handsome?" Napoleon dropped onto the couch with a sigh and tugged Illya down beside him.
"Because I'm witty and urbane?"
"Is that what you call it?"
"Because of this." With that, Napoleon wrapped his arms around Illya and delivered a kiss that was devastatingly thorough. Illya closed his eyes and surrendered himself to the sensations Napoleon stirred in him. When Napoleon finally slowly drew away from him, he opened his eyes and fixed Napoleon with his most serious look.
"I think that might be it," Illya said, licking his lips. "But I need to investigate further."
"I thought you might, you crazy Russian." Napoleon kissed him lightly on the nose.
"If I am crazy, you drove me to it."
"And you enjoyed getting there as much as I did," Napoleon said, laughing.
Illya stopped Napoleon's laughter with his mouth, kissing him until they were both breathing harshly, until Illya could feel the blood pulsing through his body, rising to his lips.
He pulled back and took in the sight of Napoleon, his pupils gone wide with desire, his face flushed.
"Merry Christmas, Napoleon," Illya said, reaching out to touch Napoleon's passion-swollen lips.
"It's always a merry Christmas when I'm with you, Illya," Napoleon answered, kissing Illya's fingertips.
As their mouths came together again, Illya gave thanks for all the Christmases they'd had, and all those they had yet to enjoy.
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