Lying flushed and spent on the narrow bed in that dreary Rome hotel room, Napoleon and Illya looked at each other without embarrassment - and laughed. After all, what was life but comedy?
As so often happened, their bodies had followed a will of their own and spoken for them, although in unexpected discourse this time. Spoken not in the usual language of their trade but with equal strength of purpose. An unanticipated expansion of their free-form partnership, but field agents adapted quickly to new situations.
They'd certainly adapted to this particular activity with alacrity, bodies meshing together as seamlessly as their minds.
Never again, they promised each other silently. Not because it hadn't been enjoyable - just the opposite - but because sex might blur lines that needed to be in sharp focus.
Never again lasted not quite three months. Desire, once liberated, refused to be contained. Like the tide, the wanting was always present, its pull compelling and undeniable. Resolution foundered upon Napoleon's bunk aboard the Pursang.
They laughed ruefully at themselves, winking at the increasingly imprecise boundary that marked personal from professional. Vacations like this were safe, they reassured each other - indulgences that didn't really count, safely cocooned within a perimeter of unreality.
Then came a night in New York when Illya lost patience with Napoleon's maddening, tempting stream of innuendoes and proprietary touches, and yanked his partner down onto the nearest flat surface.
Perhaps they were too competitive. Or too needful of the adrenaline rush. Maybe their bodies spoke this particular language all too well. They weren't overly concerned with introspection, but whatever the reason, one thing was certain. If they squinted, those blurry lines snapped into focus.
So they made another new pact. Never on a mission, a firm rule not to be broken. Too risky, even for them. Too much potential for distraction.
But once that seed of intimacy had been planted, it coiled and burrowed its way across the landscape of their hearts and minds. The roots of their affection grew deep and strong, denying all limitations.
Time passed, and they discovered that, after a difficult mission, frottage burned off excess adrenaline much faster than Super Ghost. Whiling away the tedium of a dull surveillance? Fellatio had Botticelli beat six ways to Sunday. After all, where better to have privacy than when out in the field on their own?
They were masters of compartmentalization, but their feelings for one another defied classification. Which meant those feelings could no longer be neatly bundled up for storage in the emotional attic, tucked behind the box that said "working partner" and just to the left of the one labeled "friend".
More time passed, and try as they might - although some felt they didn't try very hard - those lines of demarcation became less and less distinct. No matter how hard they blinked and squinted.
Napoleon, with his usual flair for performance, likened their situation to juggling. Far easier to keep everything going than it was to stop without everything crashing down. Pragmatic Illya muttered dire predictions about Newton's Third Law of Motion, but even that couldn't keep them apart.
Still more time passed, and eventually, when the time came to wear bifocals, they realized that everything had been in focus all along.
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