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All You Need is Love (and Chocolate Cake)

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1.

It all starts with a cancelled date.

The late-afternoon sun floods the kitchen with warmth and light as Napoleon, shirtsleeves rolled up, bustles around preparing dinner for his date that evening. He has just finished seasoning the lamb and turned the oven on to preheat when the phone rings.

It’s Ellie, cancelling their date for tonight. She’s very apologetic – her sister, she explains, was suddenly taken ill and she has to rush over to her sister’s place now, and she’s really very sorry for cancelling at the last minute. Napoleon reassures her that it’s no problem at all, and of course she should go, and he hopes that her sister feels better.

After he’s put the phone down, Napoleon returns to the kitchen and considers. He’s already thawed the rack of lamb so he can’t put it back in the freezer. He could just finish preparing dinner anyway, but there’s way too much food for one person, and he’ll end up eating lamb for the next three days. On a whim, he heads back out into the living room, picks up the phone and dials his partner’s number.

It’s a Saturday afternoon, which Illya tends to spend running errands and doing his laundry, so there’s a decent chance he’ll manage to catch Illya at home. On the other hand, Illya could also be out on a date (he tends to be mysterious about those, disappearing in the evening and reappearing a few hours later, adroitly evading all Napoleon’s questions about the lucky lady. Napoleon had once made a joke about Illya being all mysterious like Batman, and had received a long, bland stare in return, and a reply to the effect that if either of the two of them were to be compared to a profligate playboy, it most certainly should not be Illya.)

Illya picks up on the fourth ring. Yes, he is available this evening, and no, he would not mind helping Napoleon finish up his food, but Napoleon will have to wait a half hour so that Illya can pick up his laundry before he comes over. That’s perfect, Napoleon tells him, and hangs up. He pops the lamb into the oven and blanches some broccoli rabe before frying it with some garlic, red pepper and anchovies.

The doorbell rings just as he’s taking the lamb out of the oven. Illya is dressed casually in a black sweater and slacks. He hands a bottle of red wine to Napoleon, then helps Napoleon reset the security system as Napoleon tosses a handful of pine nuts over the broccoli rabe and grates some parmesan over it.

They pass a very pleasant couple of hours over a leisurely dinner. Illya wolfs down the lamb chops and goes back for seconds, then shoots Napoleon a deeply injured look when Napoleon informs him that since he’d been cooking for a woman and not his bottomless pit of a partner, he hadn’t made enough for Illya to have a third helping. Napoleon laughs, pours his friend another glass of wine, and doesn’t even regret the cancelled date. Much.

 

2.

Contrary to popular opinion, Napoleon Solo does not spend all his time thinking about women. Feeling a little guilty that the only time he had cooked for his partner and best friend had been a time when the food hadn’t even originally been meant for him, Napoleon invites Illya over for dinner again the following week.

Illya, predictably, perks up at the mention of dinner, but looks torn between his natural eagerness for free food and a deep and abiding suspicion of Napoleon’s motives.

“No catch,” says Napoleon, correctly interpreting the expression on his friend’s face. “I merely thought it somewhat remiss of me not to ensure that my partner is well fed.”

Illya snorts. “You make me sound like a pet cat.”

“Hmm,” Napoleon makes a show of looking Illya up and down. “Finicky, keeps stealing my lunch, good at climbing things…” he ticks off on his fingers, and grins. “If the shoe fits…”

He ducks just in time for the balled-up piece of paper Illya throws to miss the top of his head and bounce off the wall, rolling to a stop at his feet.

“That was the first page of our mission report,” Illya says blandly. “You had better go retype it.”

Napoleon scowls.

***

Illya shows up right on time on Sunday evening. Napoleon, having had a lot of time on his hands, has decided to be ambitious and make beef wellington, a rather involved recipe that has him running a little behind where he’d expected to be when Illya arrives.

“Here, you can help me make the salad dressing,” he says by way of greeting, handing Illya a bowl of chopped shallots mixed with dijon and honey.

“I thought you invited me over to eat dinner, not to be your free source of labor,” sniffs Illya, placing the bottle of wine he brought on the kitchen counter and taking the bowl from Napoleon.

“Well,” Napoleon winks at him, “you need to earn your keep somehow.”

“I thought I do that already,” Illya eyes him reproachfully, “by saving your life on a regular basis.”

“Ah. Well.” Napoleon nods. “Yes, that. But I save yours too, you know.”

“You are useful on occasion,” concedes Illya with a faint smirk. He gingerly takes the lemon Napoleon hands him, looking at it as if it might explode any minute. “What am I to do with this?”

“Put two tablespoons of juice in the bowl,” instructs Napoleon, “and some zest as well. Then add some salt and pepper, and whisk this oil in.”

Illya obediently rolls his sleeves up and juices the lemon as Napoleon slices four hard-boiled eggs and tosses them into a bowl already filled with green beans, potatoes, radishes and olives.

“Don’t worry,” promises Napoleon. “Dinner will be worth the work.”

Illya appears to agree with Napoleon’s assessment, as he ends up demolishing most of the salad and takes down almost half of the beef wellington by himself. Napoleon grins to himself and congratulates himself on a job well done.

 

3.

Two weeks later, Napoleon has arranged a date with the new transfer in Security, Cynthia. Having casually spoken to her friends and discovered that she likes French food, Napoleon is trying to decide between making bourride – a Provençal fish stew – and duck à l’orange. He decides to invite Illya over to help taste-test both dishes a few days before his date.

As Illya steps into his apartment late that Sunday afternoon, Napoleon hands him a bowl with egg yolks, garlic and lemon juice in it, and a bottle of olive oil. “Here, whisk this for me.”

Illya picks up the whisk and busies himself with the bowl as Napoleon goes back to stirring the stew over the stove. After a couple of minutes, Napoleon comes over, leaning over Illya’s shoulder to supervise the whisking. “Faster,” he orders. “Put some muscle into it.”

“I bet you say that to all your women,” says Illya, very, very dryly.

“Ha ha,” retorts Napoleon. He gives Illya’s shoulder a companionable nudge and returns to the stove.

Both men jump as a hail of bullets tear through Napoleon’s front door, embedding themselves in the expensive leather and mahogany couch in the living room. Instinctively drawing their guns, the two men duck behind the kitchen counter, shoulder to shoulder.

Napoleon cautiously peeks around the corner of the marble counter. The door, thanks to the reinforcements all agents are required to have added to their apartments, is still standing, albeit full of holes. There is a brief silence while whoever is outside regroups. Napoleon supposes they expected to have gotten into the apartment by now. He nudges his partner and nods toward the kitchen window. Illya, understanding instantly, nods.

Napoleon slides the glass window open, and Illya climbs out first, edging along the narrow window ledge, then hopping over to the fire escape and climbing up silently, Napoleon following closely behind him. He taps Illya’s ankle, and when Illya looks down, gestures toward the apartment directly above his, a floor up.

The window isn’t latched, a stroke of luck for them. They open the window and creep quietly into the darkened apartment, finding their way to the front door and letting themselves out into the corridor. Taking the stairs, they go a floor down, pausing in front of the stairwell door. Napoleon eases the door open an inch, squinting through at the men standing in the doorway of his apartment a short distance down the hallway. He holds up three fingers. Illya nods, and shrugs calmly at Napoleon. Easy.

Pushing the door open, Napoleon dives behind a potted plant across the hallway, taking down the first man with a single shot. From the cover of the doorway, Illya shoots the second. As the third man spins around with a startled shout, Napoleon shoots again and the man falls to the ground, motionless.

“Amateurs,” snorts Illya in disgust, leaving the cover of the doorway and toeing at one of the bodies. “Still, there were three of them. You’re lucky I was here.”

“I’m glad you were here,” says Napoleon sincerely, and means it. He can’t think of anyone else he’d rather have by his side, trust to watch his back, in a situation like this. He looks around at his ruined apartment. “Sorry about dinner.”

The rescue team from U.N.C.L.E. shows up just then – the moment the thugs had shot through Napoleon’s door, his security system had triggered the alarms at U.N.C.L.E. Headquarters – right in time to take over the cleanup, and begin the repair of the security systems in Napoleon’s apartment. The bodies are efficiently covered up and removed, to be searched back at Headquarters.

Napoleon toes sadly at his expensive, previously-cream-colored carpet. “These bloodstains are never going to come out.”

“Bloodstains add character,” says Illya heartlessly. “I’m hungry. Dinner?”

They end up eating at a small Italian restaurant a few blocks from Napoleon’s apartment. The atmosphere is intimate, the food comforting and the wine excellent. Polishing off the last of his dessert, Illya leans back in his chair with a satisfied sigh. “Well, I suppose you won’t be able to cook for your date after all, since your apartment has to be repaired?”

“Huh? Oh. Oh, yes.” Napoleon blinks. He’d actually forgotten about his original reason for inviting Illya over for dinner. “Ah, I’ll think of something.”

“I’m sure you will.” There is something in Illya’s voice that Napoleon can’t quite identify. The older man glances up sharply, but Illya is carefully pouring himself a cup of tea and doesn’t look up.

(He ends up bringing Cynthia to a nice little French restaurant that he’s been to a couple of times previously. They have a nice time, she seems to enjoy the food, and invites him back to her place for a nightcap after, so all in all, he considers it a successful date – but the thought of Illya saying, I’m sure you will, that strange tightness in his tone, remains with him for a reason he can’t name, niggling at him for some time to come.)

 

4.

“I’m going to try out another new recipe this weekend,” Napoleon says to Illya as they’re both sorting through some paperwork in their shared office. “Want to come over and try it?”

“Okay.” Illya glances briefly at Napoleon over the top of his glasses, then returns to scribbling on his paperwork.

Napoleon raises an eyebrow at him. “Don’t you even want to know what it is?”

“It doesn’t matter.” Illya shrugs, and looks over at him with the barest hint of a smile. “I like your cooking.”

“Oh,” says Napoleon intelligently, and feels warm all over.

He’s in an inexplicably good mood for the rest of the day.

***

On Saturday it rains torrentially the whole day, and Napoleon is glad that he’s staying in. He did his groceries on Friday evening after work, so he already has everything he needs to make dinner tonight. He feels a little bad that Illya has to make his way over to his place in this rain.

He turns on the radio, humming along as he slices the vegetables he bought the previous evening, seasoning and sautéing them in layers, then arranging the layers carefully in a casserole pan. He sets the pan aside and starts preparing the chocolate cake he’s planning for dessert.

Illya is twenty minutes late, and Napoleon is just starting to wonder if he should worry about Illya having been kidnapped or ambushed when the doorbell rings. Opening the door, he blinks in surprise as Illya steps through, sopping wet, blond hair plastered to his head, holding a brown paper bag that’s as soaked through as he is and has mostly fallen apart. He’s not holding an umbrella.

He holds the dripping ex-paper bag out to Napoleon. “I brought wine.”

Napoleon stares at him, automatically taking the wine. “You walked over here in this rain without an umbrella?”

“It broke because of the wind,” Illya explains grumpily. “I had to throw it away four blocks back.”

Napoleon eyes his partner, standing in the middle of his living room shivering and dripping on the floor. “You’d better go take a shower before you catch a cold,” he says with a wry smile. “You can borrow some of my clothes. They’re not going to fit you too well, but we’ll make do.”

Fifteen minutes later, Illya emerges from the bathroom, freshly showered and wearing Napoleon’s old bathrobe (Napoleon’s pants hadn’t fit – not that he’d expected otherwise – so he’d given up and settled on the bathrobe instead). He’s wrung out his wet clothes and left them over the heater to dry.

The casserole dish is already on the dining table, and Napoleon is just putting the cake into the oven to bake. Illya opens the bottle of wine and pours them each a glass, as Napoleon dishes out the casserole onto two plates, and hands Illya one.

There is silence for a while, broken only by the clinking of cutlery on plates, as both men tuck into their food. As they’re finishing up, Napoleon glances up at the clock and gets up to take the cake out of the oven, bringing it over to the table, along with a dish of cream. The rich scent of chocolate fills the apartment.

Illya inhales deeply, and regards the cake with a covetous eye.

“It’s called boca negra cake,” says Napoleon, cutting Illya a generous slice, and topping it with a large dollop of the white chocolate and bourbon cream he’d made last night.

Illya puts the first bite of the chocolate cake in his mouth, and makes a rapturous sound low in his throat that...well. It's a sound that Napoleon would've expected to hear in the bedroom, rather than at a dinner table. Napoleon’s eyes widen slightly, and he clears his throat.

Illya ignores him, completely intent on the cake. Napoleon cuts himself a smaller slice of cake and eats it slowly, watching his oblivious partner. Seeing Illya sitting here at his dining table, blond hair still damp from his shower, wearing Napoleon’s clothes, eating the food Napoleon cooked for him, is doing something funny to his insides, a curl of something low in his belly, and he wants

Suddenly needing something to do, he gets up and starts clearing away the dishes. Maybe he’s had too much to eat. Or something.

***

He makes the same chocolate cake again two weeks later, when he has a date with Gwen, the cute nurse from Medical.

It turns out that making this particular cake for Gwen was a mistake – not because she doesn’t like it (she does, very much), but because when he looks at this cake, all he can think of is the first time he made it, when Illya put that first bite into his mouth and moaned, his eyes fluttering closed, pink tongue darting out to lick the cream off his lips...

Napoleon discreetly crosses his legs under the table and wonders, slightly hysterically, what is wrong with him.

 

5.

Illya hasn’t stopped sneezing since he came into Headquarters this morning. Napoleon lays a wrist against his forehead to check for a fever, and yup, his partner is burning up. He has to practically force Illya downstairs to Medical, his friend complaining all the way. On being ordered home to rest, Illya looks both incredulous and insulted that he’s been put out of commission by a measly bout of ‘flu.

The next day, Napoleon is sent on a mission with an up-and-coming junior agent, Nicholas Morgan, and while Nicholas is a good partner, smart and quick and resourceful, he isn’t Illya. The mission takes only two days and goes smoothly, but Napoleon goes home feeling restless and irritable, like he’s missing something vital. He sits down on his couch, stares blankly at the TV, gets up, paces around, and finally takes his jacket and leaves the apartment.

He drops by the grocery store and picks up an assortment of vegetables and a whole chicken, shows up at Illya’s place unannounced and lets himself in. He finds Illya curled up in a miserable heap on the bed, half buried in a nest of blankets.

He roots around in Illya’s tiny kitchen, digging up a long-unused pot, scrubs it out, chops the vegetables and tosses them into the pot along with the chicken. He seasons it, sets the whole thing on to boil, then picks up one of the novels he’d left at Illya’s place a couple of months ago and never finished, and curls up in the armchair by Illya’s bed to read. Illya dozes fitfully, occasionally shifting around in his blanket cocoon.

Two hours later, Napoleon ladles out some soup and wakes Illya up to drink it. Illya blinks at him blearily, looking surprised, as if he’s not sure that he’s not hallucinating Napoleon’s presence. He does manage to finish two bowls of soup, though, before falling back asleep.

Napoleon pours the rest of the soup into a large bowl and puts it in the refrigerator, then comes back into the room and tucks Illya in, smoothing the blankets around him. He looks younger when he sleeps, his blond hair mussed, face relaxed, fingers curled in a loose fist.

Fondly, Napoleon gives the blankets a final pat, then curls back up in the armchair to finish his book. The restless feeling has gone. He smiles and turns a page.

 

6.

Four days later, Napoleon wakes up feeling exhausted and too-warm. He drags himself into Headquarters anyway. Illya, sitting at his desk leafing through a thick stack of reports, glasses perched low on his nose, takes one look at him and drags him straight down to Medical.

The cute nurse he went on a date with last month, Gwen, takes his temperature and fusses over him, but he’s feeling ill and irritable and can’t even muster up the energy for a token flirtation. Illya, leaning against the wall with his arms crossed while Gwen does the checkup, arches a blond eyebrow and gives him a significant look that says, now I know you must be dying. Napoleon scowls darkly at him, before he’s overtaken by a fit of coughing that has him doubled over, Gwen making comforting noises and patting him on the back.

Illya drives him home after the checkup, and it’s a mark of how ill he is that he doesn’t make a single joke about Illya’s atrocious driving, just curls up in the passenger seat and dozes all the way home. He lets Illya support him as they make their way up to his apartment. His legs feel like jelly. His partner guides him to the bed, settling him comfortably before going back to the door to reset the alarms and do their standard security check of his apartment.

When he’s done, Illya comes back into the bedroom and eyes him askance, hands on his hips. “What possessed you to even come in this morning?”

Napoleon shrugs weakly. “Didn’t think it was that bad,” he mutters.

Illya rolls his eyes, but his hands are gentle as he tucks the blanket around Napoleon.

“’S your fault I’m sick anyway,” grumbles Napoleon, snuggling deeper into the blanket.

“I didn’t ask you to come to my apartment while I was sick,” Illya points out reasonably.

“I wanted to,” mumbles Napoleon, staring down at the blanket and completely missing Illya’s furtive, affectionate glance.

“Go to sleep,” Illya says, and Napoleon does.

***

When Napoleon opens his eyes, his bedroom is mostly dark, the faint twilight from the window limning the room in a soft glow. He still feels overly warm and his head feels like it’s filled with cotton, but he’s been asleep a while and he really needs to go to the bathroom. He manages to drag himself up from the bed and take care of the necessary, then staggers out to the living room, and starts in surprise, still holding on to the bedroom door for support.

The lights in the kitchen are on, and his partner is there, stirring a pot over the stove. He can’t really smell much due to his ‘flu, but he can vaguely make out the faint, comforting scent of...chicken soup?

Illya turns around, ladle in hand. “Ah, you’re awake.”

“I’m afraid I can’t cook,” he continues, looking a little apologetic, “so I bought some chicken soup for you from the deli down the block. I’m just heating it up for you now.” He gestures at the pot.

“You didn’t have to,” says Napoleon, touched.

Illya gives him one of his rare almost-smiles. “I wanted to.”

He ladles out a bowl of soup for Napoleon, and, after Napoleon’s finished it, helps him back to the bedroom and into his bed, pulling the covers up around him.

Napoleon falls asleep to the sound of Illya washing the dishes in the kitchen. A while later, he thinks he feels a gentle touch on his cheek, but isn’t sure whether he dreams it. He sleeps better than he has in weeks, ‘flu and all.

 

7.

While browsing for something new to read in a bookstore downtown, Napoleon comes across a recipe book with some intriguing-looking recipes, and his first thought is, I bet Illya would love some of these. He ends up buying the recipe book, along with two new novels.

He and Illya are sent on two back-to-back missions that week, and when they finally make it back to New York on Saturday night, they stagger back to Napoleon’s apartment, grimy and exhausted but mostly unhurt.

“Stay here tonight,” suggests Napoleon, glancing over at his partner, whose eyes are almost shut, radiating weariness. “You don’t look like you have enough energy to make it home right now.”

Illya grunts in reply, closing his eyes. He appears to be perfectly happy to just fall asleep right where he is, sitting on Napoleon’s couch.

“Oh no you don’t,” says Napoleon, prodding Illya until he opens one blue eye and frowns crankily at Napoleon.

“Bed,” says Napoleon, manhandling his sleepy partner off the couch and into the bedroom, helping him strip off his filthy suit on the way.

Illya mumbles something unintelligible.

“What was that?” Napoleon raises an enquiring eyebrow.

“I thought,” his partner says, enunciating with exaggerated care, “you would have had enough of sharing a bed with me after a whole week of small hotel rooms.” His accent is thicker than usual – it always is when Illya is particularly tired (or badly injured, but Napoleon doesn’t like thinking about that part).

“I’ve gotten rather used to it, actually,” Napoleon says, sitting his almost-unconscious friend on the side of his large bed. Illya immediately flops down, curling on his side, and is asleep almost instantly.

Snorting softly, Napoleon flips the blanket over Illya, then clambers into the other side of the bed and falls asleep.

***

In the morning, Napoleon wakes up before Illya, who always likes to sleep in right after they’re done with a mission. He flips through the recipe book he’d bought at the beginning of the week, selects a recipe, and pops out to the grocery store.

By the time Illya wakes up, Napoleon has marinated two pounds of short ribs, sautéed them with chopped onion, and has the mixture simmering in a large pot. He’s in the process of adding in brown sugar, mustard and a dry red wine when Illya walks into the kitchen, yawning and rubbing his eyes, hair mussed with sleep.

“That smells good,” he says, leaning over Napoleon’s shoulder to sniff at the pot.

Napoleon turns at the sound of Illya’s voice at his shoulder, and gets a faceful of soft blond hair. “Good morning to you too.”

Illya pokes hopefully at the pot. Napoleon smacks his hand away. “It won’t be ready ‘til dinner,” he warns.

“Oh.” Illya looks disappointed. “Did you buy eggs? I can make breakfast,” he volunteers.

Napoleon levels a dubious look at him.

“I can fry eggs,” Illya says defensively.

“Okay.” Napoleon grins at him. “Try not to burn my apartment down.”

***

Illya doesn’t burn Napoleon’s apartment down. He even manages a decent fry-up for breakfast, and Napoleon’s slow-cooked short ribs turn out even better than he’d hoped, the meat tender and succulent. He shows Illya the recipe book and his partner is enthusiastic, pointing out recipes he thinks look good. Napoleon mentally makes a note of the ones Illya picked out and resolves to work his way through them.

 

8.

The epiphany, when it finally comes, completely blindsides Napoleon.

“So, who are you planning to make this dish for?” Illya asks. He’s sitting at Napoleon’s dining table, glasses perched on his nose, reading though a mostly-completed report that he’s planning to submit to Mr. Waverly tomorrow.

From where he’s stirring beef stew over the stove, Napoleon turns around and gives his friend a look. “Well, you’re sitting right there at my dining table, so you tell me.”

Illya rolls his eyes and gestures impatiently at him. “You know what I mean. The date you are planning to make this dish for.”

“There’s no date,” says Napoleon and blinks. Come to think of it, he hasn’t invited a woman out in almost...huh...three months.

Oblivious to his consternation, Illya shoots him a disbelieving look. “No? Did she cancel?”

“No, I hadn’t asked anyone,” replies Napoleon distractedly, still following his train of thought. He’s been busy, sure, but he’s always made time for dates before. What had changed? Nowadays he’s been spending most weekends with Illya, just reading or watching TV, or trying out new recipes, tweaking them with Illya’s suggestions after he’s tasted them – he’s been content, happy even, and it hasn’t really felt necessary to ask anyone for a date. Really, he might as well be...dating...Illya...

He drops the spoon into the stew, yelps as he burns his fingers trying to fish it out, then spends the next fifteen minutes staring blankly at the top of Illya’s blond head as his friend holds a bag of ice to his burned fingers, muttering darkly about stupid careless Americans and how did Napoleon ever manage anything alone before Illya came along to make sure he didn’t die doing something simple like cooking soup? (“Stew. It’s not soup, it’s stew.” “Shut up.”)

He spends the next half hour nursing his fingers, holding the bag of ice Illya got out of the freezer for him while Illya takes over the cooking (under careful direction from Napoleon, of course), and covertly staring at Illya’s back, pondering. Illya is great company, certainly. He’s smart and incisively funny when he cares to be, and Napoleon enjoys spending time with him and trusts him implicitly with his life. Is he attracted to Illya? He recalls, with sudden and vivid clarity, Illya’s reaction to his chocolate cake and his reaction to Illya, and feels himself flush. Well, that certainly answers the question.

Napoleon idly lets his gaze trail down Illya’s muscular back and linger on the curve of his ass. Yes, very nice. He lets his mind wander. The room starts to feel a little too warm.

“ – poleon? Napoleon!

Napoleon snaps back to reality, blinking at Illya, who is gesturing impatiently at him.

“I said, how much thyme and black pepper do you want me to put in?” Illya turns back to the stove.

Napoleon unobtrusively lowers the bag of ice he’s holding into his lap, trying not to wince at the cold and willing his erection down before Illya notices. “Ah...a teaspoon of thyme. And add the black pepper to taste.”

Illya turns back around and stares at him. “’To taste’ is not a measurement,” he says, indignant. His eyes drop to the bag of ice in Napoleon’s lap. He raises a questioning eyebrow.

Napoleon smiles weakly at his friend and picks the bag of ice back up, resting his burned fingers on it. His erection, thankfully, has completely wilted.

Illya gives him a strange look but says nothing, turning back to the stew instead. Napoleon breathes a sigh of relief.

***

Despite Illya’s complaints about Napoleon’s directions not being specific enough, the stew turns out delicious. “We’ll make a chef of you yet,” Napoleon tells Illya proudly, as they tuck in.

“I don’t think so,” growls Illya. “And if you do something stupid like burn yourself again, I’ll just leave you to suffer next time.”

“You wouldn’t.”

Illya grimaces, which means that yes, he probably wouldn’t. Napoleon beams at him.

 

9.

As well-versed in the delicate art of seduction Napoleon Solo is, he has never actually tried to seduce a man before, much less one who is also his prickly best friend. Illya, he thinks, would scoff at flowers, look on chocolate with deep suspicion and accuse Napoleon of trying to bribe him into writing their next mission report, and turn his nose up at expensive candy as being too extravagantly American to even be worth commenting on.

The thing is – this isn’t anything like the dozens of women he’s dated. This matters, in a way that none of those dates did. It’s been a very long time since Napoleon played for keeps. He’d forgotten how terrifying it is, when you have everything to lose. He doesn’t even know how Illya feels. Illya cares about him, certainly. Whether he feels anything more than just friendship for Napoleon – Napoleon doesn’t know.

Either way, it’s not like these...feelings...he seems to have developed for Illya are going to go away. Truth be told, he’s not sure he wants them to. He’s been...happy, these last few weeks. And Illya probably likes him just enough to not kill him if he doesn’t feel the same way. Napoleon takes a deep breath. Nothing ventured, nothing gained...right?

***

“So,” Napoleon says by way of greeting as he opens the front door, “I’m not sure if I made this right, but I did my best.”

Illya raises an eyebrow at him. “What is this recipe so difficult that Napoleon Solo isn’t sure he got it right?” He catches sight of the bowl on the table, and his eyes widen. “Is that – borscht?”

Napoleon nods. “I made pirozhki and beef stroganoff, too. I, ah, wanted to make something from home for you.”

Illya opens his mouth, then closes it again. He looks at a loss for words. Then he smiles at Napoleon, a real, full smile, a soft look in his eyes, and Napoleon suddenly wants, very badly, to kiss him.

He busies himself bringing the rest of the dishes he’s prepared to the table instead.

***

Illya shows his appreciation for Napoleon’s efforts by cleaning up all the plates, not leaving a single crumb behind. When he’s finally done, he puts down his fork, and regards Napoleon solemnly.

Napoleon tilts his head, puzzled at the scrutiny. “Is there something on my face?”

“Thank you for dinner,” says Illya. “I enjoyed that very much.”

Napoleon smiles. “I’m glad you did.”

“But,” Illya purses his lips, “you’ve been tense the whole evening. What’s wrong?”

“Ah,” Napoleon hedges. “What makes you think anything’s wrong?”

Illya just gives him a look, and doesn’t deign to answer.

“Okay.” Napoleon takes a deep breath, pushing his plate away. “Okay. Look, there’s something I need to talk to you about.”

Illya regards him suspiciously. “You’re not transferring to another U.N.C.L.E. office, are you?”

“What?” Napoleon blinks. “No, no, nothing like that. This is, ah...personal.”

“Are you getting married?”

“What? No!”

“Okay.” Illya clasps his hands on the table and regards Napoleon attentively.

Napoleon blinks at Illya. His mind is completely blank. He’d prepared an entire speech for this, careful to couch everything in terms vague enough that, if Illya wasn’t interested, they’d have enough plausible deniability that they could go on as friends and partners without any damage to their relationship. Well, he really hopes so, anyway.

“Well?” Illya cocks his head to one side.

Napoleon stares back at him helplessly.

“Does this,” Illya says, “have something to do with why you had a bag of ice in your lap last week, when you made me cook for you?”

Made you – ” Napoleon begins indignantly, then pauses. “Wait, you noticed that?”

“I am a spy,” says Illya patiently. “I notice things.”

Napoleon lets his head fall forward onto the table with a loud thunk.

“If I am not being too presumptuous,” continues Illya blithely, “if you are about to ask me what I think you are, the answer is yes.”

“You – ” Napoleon splutters, raising his head. He gets out of his chair and marches around to the other side of the table, where Illya is sitting.

Illya eyes him warily. He looks deceptively relaxed, but Napoleon knows him well enough to see the tenseness in the way he’s holding himself – ready to defend himself if needed. So Illya isn’t completely sure of himself either. Good.

Napoleon grabs Illya by his collar, yanks him half out of his chair, and kisses him. For half a heartbeat, Illya doesn’t respond, and Napoleon’s heart leaps into his throat – then Illya is kissing him back ferociously, his hands tangling in Napoleon’s hair.

The chair Illya was sitting in falls onto its side with a loud crash. The two men tumble to the floor, Napoleon landing half on top of Illya, mouths still locked, tongues tangling.

When they finally part, panting, Napoleon raises himself up on his elbows and looks down at Illya, chest heaving as he pants for breath. His collar is askew, blond hair wildly mussed, blue eyes dark with desire. He’s the most breathtaking sight Napoleon’s ever seen.

He smiles, and leans back down.

 

10.

Morning dawns bright and warm, sunlight slanting in through the wide picture windows in Napoleon’s living room and falling on the haphazardly discarded pile of clothes in the middle of the living room carpet. Next to the pile of clothes, Napoleon shifts slightly, opens one eye, groans, and shuts his eye again.

Somewhere in the vicinity of his knees, Illya twitches, yawns, and shoves Napoleon’s legs off his stomach. “Too bright,” he mumbles, flinging an arm over his face.

Napoleon rolls over, and narrowly misses hitting his head on the leg of the coffee table.

“I’m sore,” grumbles Illya. “And I think I have – what is the term? Rug burn?”

“I’ll have you know that this is a very expensive carpet,” replies Napoleon haughtily.

Illya snorts, and doesn’t bother with a reply.

You can give me rug burn this time,” offers Napoleon generously.

Illya sits up, a glint in his eye. He winces slightly, shifts, then pounces.

***

Some time later, Napoleon sits up suddenly, freezes, then shifts, grunting in discomfort. “Ow.”

Lying down next to him, eyes closed, Illya’s lips twitch.

“Stop that,” grumbles Napoleon.

Illya opens one eye. His smirk widens.

“Keep doing that,” Napoleon threatens, “and you won’t get any cake.”

Illya’s other eye opens. “What cake?” he asks, instantly wide awake.

“I made Russian honey cake for dessert last night. But we, ah, didn’t get around to having any.”

“I rather enjoyed dessert, actually,” Illya replies innocently.

 Napoleon grins. “Oh, so did I,” he says, one hand trailing down Illya’s stomach. Dessert can wait for a while longer.

 

-End-