Sadly, they don't belong to me. Happily, the people they do belong to don't seem to mind others playing with them. Mostly unbeta'd, more like cheerleaded (for which I give thanks to ndannais and matociquala). :-) Slight spoilers for Reunion Movie. Written for the 'middle aged' challenge on Muncle.


Soundtrack: Afrocelts: Seed.


The Once & Future Partner

© 2004 Kellie Matthews

As he opened the taxi door, Napoleon cleared his throat and turned to look at his partner. Once more Napoleon was struck by how little he'd changed in fifteen years. In the dim light that spilled from his apartment building's entryway, Napoleon could almost think he hadn't changed at all. He'd always had that bit of softness beneath the angular jaw, and the lines etched lightly around his mouth and across his forehead could simply have been shadows. His hair was still thick, and still a hundred shades of gold, just slightly darker ones than before, the shifting hues hiding whatever silver might lurk there. His body was as trim and taut as a much younger man's.


He realized from Illya's tone that it wasn't the first time he'd said his name. "Sorry. Guess I don't have the head for vodka I once did." Their post-mission celebratory drink had turned into a bottle, shared between themselves and Ben Kowalski, who'd insisted on putting them in a taxi afterward. Said he hadn't rescued their asses in Paris just to have them kill themselves by driving drunk.

Neither of them had pointed out that they had actually saved his ass. Since he'd been bragging to the waitress all night they hadn't wanted to spoil his shot at getting her in his bed.

"Did you want something?" Illya asked.

He hadn't had the guts to do it fifteen years earlier, and clearly he still didn't. He shook his head. "No, no, nothing. Have a good night."

"You as well my friend," Illya said, his severe features softening a little with obvious affection.

Napoleon put a foot out onto the sidewalk, but before he could actually exit the car. Illya spoke again.

"There is something. Tell me."

He turned back to look at him, groped for something plausible. "It's nothing, really. I'll just go back to headquarters and get someone to help me."

"Help you do what?" Illya asked, clearly getting exasperated. "If it's something that I can do, why go halfway across town instead?"

"I need to change the dressing on this wound," he said with a wave toward his left arm. "But it's hard to do one handed. It's all right, it can wait until tomorrow." There. Not a single lie in the bunch.

Illya frowned. "How long has it been since it was changed?"

"Three days," Napoleon admitted. Jumping straight from a nuclear bomb in Chicago to a missing secretary of state in Europe, he'd been too busy to even think about it.

"Three. . . bozhe moi, Napoleon! Are you trying to kill yourself with sepsis now? Out you go, I will pay the driver. Do you have the necessary supplies?"

"I have everything we'll need." Funny, he'd never gotten out of the habit of stocking gauze pads, surgical tape, prescription pain killers and antibiotics, and all the other things an UNCLE agent learned to keep in his medicine chest that normal people didn't. He got out, resigned to letting Illya fuss. It was his own fault. After a moment the taxi pulled away and Illya joined him under the overhang.

"Are we going to stand here all night and beg passersby for bandages?" Illya asked acerbically.

Despite his fatigue, Napoleon smiled at that. "Do you think it would work?"

"I think we would be arrested for panhandling. Did you forget your key?"

Napoleon dug in his pocket and extracted his key ring. "No. It's right here." He unlocked the door and let them into the foyer, then checked to be sure the door had closed and locked properly behind them. He turned to find that Illya had his hand on the knob of the door to the stairwell.


Illya turned. "Yes?"

"Would you mind if we used the elevator?" He was so tired he wasn't sure he could make it all the way up the stairs under his own steam. God, he felt not just middle-aged, but aged.

Illya's lips quirked upward at the corners. "Too many trips up in the elevator is why you need it now, my friend," he said, joining Napoleon.

"Rub it in," Napoleon growled, disgruntled, as he stabbed the 'up' button with one finger.

"You should take up yoga." Illya pronounced as the elevator reached their floor and the bell announced its arrival. "It's not only good exercise, but it helps with flexibility."

"I, ah, noticed," Napoleon said, remembering how Illya had managed to free his hands from where they had been tied behind his back by bringing them forward beneath himself, past knees and feet like a contortionist at a circus. Napoleon couldn't help but wonder how that flexibility translated in . . . other arenas. Christ, no wonder all his models wanted him. Not to mention that flamingly effete young actor from the last Affair. He hadn't missed the way he'd eyed Illya like a starving man would eye prime steak.

Of course, Illya was prime steak.

These days Napoleon was feeling rather more like horsemeat.

They rode up to the apartment in silence and Napoleon let them in with the keys he'd kept ready in his hand, thus circumventing more sarcasm from Illya.

"Where do you keep the stuff?" Illya asked, shrugging out of his sport coat and tossing it across Napoleon's couch before rolling up his sleeves.

"Bathroom, second door on the left."

"Come on then," Illya strode briskly toward the indicated door. "Take off your coat and shirt."

Napoleon ducked into his bedroom to divest himself of his suit coat and shirt, hanging the former and tossing the latter in the hamper before taking a steadying breath and heading out to join Illya in the bathroom.

Illya had laid out the first-aid supplies neatly on the counter top, and had a washcloth already soaking in the sink, the water steaming slightly. Illya eyed his t-shirt and shook his head, clucking his tongue. "Really, Napoleon, no one wears undershirts any more. Not as undershirts, anyway. And in any case it's in my way, so take it off."

"Can't you just push the sleeve up?"

"No. Off. Now."

"Yes, your Majesty," Napoleon muttered, tugging the hem of the shirt out of his pants and starting to pull it off. Halfway there, he stopped, wincing, pain burning like fire across his upper arm from the strain on the wound.

"Stop," Illya ordered tersely.

Napoleon looked at him askance. "Make up your mind."

"Let me help," Illya said quietly, concern in his eyes.

How could he resist that? "All right. What should I . . . ?"

"Right arm up, please."

He complied, and Illya stepped close, working the shirt up, and off that side with some difficulty, then tugging it over his head, and finally easing it down carefully over his wounded arm.

"There we are," he said with satisfaction, dropping the shirt to the floor and putting one hand on Napoleon's shoulder, the other on his elbow, turning him toward the light, and incidentally, himself.

With Illya so close Napoleon nearly forgot to breathe, only forced himself to it after his vision started to dim. Even then he had to keep it shallow, trying desperately not to let himself smell that unique combination of scents that whispered 'partner' to him. A combination he'd gone through a lot of gay bars trying to find an equivalent to, once upon a time. Never had. And luckily he'd given up and stopped searching before going to gay bars got to be more dangerous than taking out a THRUSH satrap.

Illya was gentle as he untaped and unwound the old bandage, his touch surprisingly delicate for someone with such large hands. Large hands, large. . . Movement caught his eye and Napoleon saw himself in the mirror, saw the heaviness in his face, the lines, the thinning hair, the grey temples. He sighed deeply.

"I'm sorry, did I hurt you?" Illya asked, his voice low and warm.

"No!" Napoleon reassured him. "I'm just . . . tired."

Illya nodded, looking rueful as he picked up the washcloth, soaped it, and then carefully began to clean around the wound. "You and me both, my friend." He rinsed the cloth and wiped away soap residue. "Do you think we've lost our minds, getting back into this business at our age?" He gestured to the mirror, his reflected gaze meeting Napoleon's. "Look at us, we're ancient."

Napoleon looked, and shook his head. "I'm ancient. You're ageless. Where do you keep the damned painting?"

Illya looked confused for just a moment, and then he laughed. "It's in a secret vault, along with Dick Clark's." Napoleon laughed too, and Illya put damp fingers to his face, touching his cheek. "You should laugh more often, moi droog. It looks good on you."

Napoleon's breath had been stolen again, with that touch. After a moment Illya's gaze grew puzzled. "Napoleon?"

There was an unusual tone of uncertainty in Illya's voice. Napoleon closed his eyes, knowing that they would give the game away if he didn't.

"Napoleon?" There was a hint of incredulity in Illya's voice now.

Too late, damn it. Too late.

"Illya, I . . ."

Illya's fingers pressed against his lips. "No. No, don't. How long?"

Napoleon opened his eyes, looked into Illya's stunned blue gaze. "Since the day we met," he admitted.

It was strangely freeing.

To his amazement, Illya put his arms around Napoleon's neck and rested his head against the side of Napoleon's.

"Fools," Illya murmured next to his ear. "We are both such fools."

Wait. Something wasn't right, wasn't expected. . . "What?" Napoleon asked, pulling back to look Illya in the face.

And it was there, in his eyes. "Twenty years we wasted. Twenty years. Some spies we are, unable to see what was. . . is right there before us."

They stared at one another for a long, long moment, and then Napoleon reached out and slid his fingers into the thick, heavy silk of Illya's hair, as he'd wanted to for every one of those twenty wasted years. Before he could do anything more, Illya leaned forward, and brought their mouths together, tongue urging his lips to part.

There were hints of vodka and bitter coffee in the kiss, both mellowed by the taste of Illya himself, every bit as complex as his scent. Napoleon tightened his fingers in Illya's hair and changed the angle of the kiss, deepening it. Illya pressed him back against the edge of the counter, a knee pushing between his own, a hand moving down his arm, gripping.

Napoleon flinched as Illya's hand passed right over the wound.

Instantly Illya let go and backed off, hands in the air, a look of abject apology on his face. "I'm so sorry, Napoleon, I forgot. . ."

Napoleon shook his head, grinning. "Don't apologize. It was worth it."

After a moment Illya grinned back. "Yes, it was, wasn't it? But now let me finish bandaging that up so it doesn't happen again."

Napoleon nodded. "Yes. And then we're going to bed."

Illya looked up from applying antibiotic ointment, a slight smirk on his face. "Yes, to bed. To sleep. We're exhausted. I'm afraid if we tried anything more tonight, the results would simply be embarrassing. I'm not willing to risk that."

Napoleon started to protest, then thought better of it. Illya was absolutely right. "I guess the old saying is true."

"Which old saying is that?"

"With age comes wisdom."

"How nice for age and wisdom. It seems we will be coming in the morning," Illya said, ripping off a piece of surgical tape and pressing it across the pad he held against Napoleon's arm.

* * * fin * * *

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