Black Tuesday...Bright Dawn
Lying flat on his back, Illya stared into a corner of the room, trying not to move, while the man on top of him heaved and grunted. He had wrapped Illya's long hair around his fists, holding his head still as if thinking Illya might try to pull free. But Illya didn't struggle anymore. At first he had, at first—when he awoke in this windowless little room with the dirt floor he had struggled. He had pulled at the metal cuffs around his wrists and ankles, pulled against the metal collar around his neck, all fastened to this bed—but now his skin was rubbed raw, now the least movement against the cuffs hurt so badly he wished he had never pulled on them at all. So now he lay still, and when the man on top grabbed his arms in his final frenzy, yanking them hard against the restraints he had to bite his tongue to keep from crying out.
He hadn't yet cried aloud, although he no longer harbored the illusion that he could keep that up, or that they couldn't elicit outcries from him if they chose. He no longer harbored any illusions about himself at all. He had thought he would be stronger, that he would force them to take what they wanted every time, that he would resist even though resistance was futile because pride demanded it. But he had given all that up. Fighting the restraints was worse than useless, and when they let him up twice a day to use the latrine bucket and clean himself he did so without protest.
He had fought that, too; had kicked at them and tried to twist away, but they had simply chained him back to the bed and left him there for a nameless period of time, left him to lie in his own waste, to be assailed by swarms of biting flies, drawn by the stench. Much as he tried to tell himself it wasn't his shame, that any living organism had to void as it had to breathe, that any of them would be in the same condition after days on end shackled to a mattress, he was ashamed anyway. When they finally let him up he had to try and relieve himself with his hands cuffed behind him, and they sluiced cold dirty water over him, scrubbing him with a stiff brush that took skin with dirt. So now he used the bucket, and washed himself as best he could, because even with his hands and feet free he was still chained by the neck, there was nowhere to run, and anything was better than wallowing in his own excrement and urine.
He had thought moreover that he would never take them in his mouth, that he would bite, and bite and accept whatever punishment befell him,but he hadn't. When one held his jaw open with bruising fingers, and another prepared to crush his teeth to powder with a hammer he had yielded that, too, had nodded when asked if he would comply. Had complied. Was complying now as the man's tongue probed deep, making him gag, making him struggle to control the reflex because he had vomited, the first time one had come in his mouth. Their reply had been to pour purging medicines into him, making him vomit until it was bloody, until he was too weak even to turn his head away from the mess and then they left him, and the vicious black flies liked that too, they certainly did.
He was fed twice daily, right after his ablutions and for a while he had refused food, hoping to die that way but one episode of being force fed, of having a tube rammed down his throat, had cured him of fasting as well. There was no resistance that was possible. He wished he could go mad, because perhaps then he wouldn't know... but his mind hung stubbornly on to sanity as his body hung on to life.
He had no hope of rescue. Ordinarily he would look to Napoleon, to find him, to save him, but Napoleon thought him dead. They had even described the memorial service to him. They said Illya's car had been sent over a bridge into the East River in front of witnesses and the river was so deep there, and the currents so strong that it would never be found, and even if it was, the absence of a body would prove nothing. So UNCLE had held a service and Napoleon had by now surely done his grieving and moved on.
Illya had no idea why this had happened to him. No real explanation was offered, no information was sought—they wanted nothing from him except his body, over and over—he didn't know how many men used this little shed, or where they came from but there was a seemingly endless supply of them. Some of them, like this one now buttoning his pants, fucked him and had done with it. Some of them worked him over with their fists before, or after, or during. One pulled on the neck chain until his eyes were bulging from his head and his face was engorged with blood. Some put their cigarettes out on his flesh. Some beat him with their belts. All began or ended by shoving their stiffened organs into him, right up into him, and the shock of that didn't lessen with time.
He had never let any man do this, nor had he ever returned the inviting glances women sent his way. He had kept himself alone and inviolate, knowing that they called him cold and not caring, not caring even that some questioned his manhood, saying he must be a sexual neuter to go through his life without indulging in this act they all set such store on. He had learned all he wanted to know about this act when he was a child, when his uncle and guardian had routinely assaulted him just as these men did now. He had killed his uncle, one night when he was only eleven years old; had hidden a carving knife under the mattress and driven it into the other man's back as he lay panting and sated on top. It had taken his uncle a long time to die and Illya had used the time to wash himself all over, to dress himself in his school uniform, as if he had just returned from a late night study session and when his uncle had finally expired, cursing his nephew with his dying breath he had called the authorities. I came home and he was... he was... he had burst into tears and they had comforted him and patted him, sent him away to school, and he had put his past behind him. But now his uncle's death curse had come back on him with a vengeance and he was destined to end his life as he began it. He wished it had been different. He wished that at least the middle had been different. He wished... he wished so much that he had told Napoleon yes sooner, when Napoleon had made his first offer.
I love you, Napoleon had said that day, months ago. I think I've always loved you.
I love you too, Illya had answered and it was the truth. But when Napoleon had reached for him, had tried to draw him into an embrace Illya had stiffened. He hadn't pulled away, he would never pull away from Napoleon, but whatever it was Napoleon was feeling that made his eyes burn, that made his hands shake, Illya felt none of it. There was pleasure, in Napoleon's touch; there had always been pleasure in it but not the kind of pleasure Napoleon was seeking. Napoleon hadn't been discouraged, though. He had smiled, and brushed Illya's hair back with a gentle hand.
A courtship, then, he had said, and kissed Illya's forehead. That seems appropriate anyway, since this is the remainder of our lives I'm talking about.
You—you're not mad?
Illya—if you don't know how I feel about you then you're the only one in the organization who doesn't. I could never be angry with you. I know—I know something terrible must have happened to you, long before we ever met. I know you'll need time, that you'll need to feel secure in me, and in my—our—love. I'll take the time. I will woo you—he had smiled again. And the next time I reach for you, you will be ready.
You really think so? He was dubious.
I know so.
Oh. And Illya had shivered, suddenly, at the expression on Napoleon's face. All right.
And what a wooing it had been. Napoleon had courted him openly, had sent him flowers and taken him out to eat at exclusive restaurants. Had rented a boat, and they had spent long, lazy days on the water. Had eschewed the female companionship that had formed the basis of his social life, and devoted that time to Illya exclusively. And slowly, gradually, Illya had warmed. He permitted more physical intimacy—permitted back rubs and Napoleon's arm, loosely draped around his shoulders as they watched television. Had allowed Napoleon to brush his hair, and found such strong pleasure in it that it had become a regular event. Had allowed Napoleon to coax him into slow dancing, in Napoleon's sunken living room, bodies pressed together. The first time he had felt Napoleon's arousal he had tensed up and Napoleon had released him instantly.
I can't help that, he had said. But I promise not to impose it on you.
You don't mind, that I'm not...
No. Do you mind, that I am?
No. He didn't. And lately—lately he had felt stirrings of his own. Napoleon, feeling it too, had only gathered him in more tenderly and Illya had tucked his head into the crook of Napoleon's neck. For the first time he had allowed himself to believe that he might not be cold after all, that the heat of Napoleon's ardor, the sweetness of his love, might bring about the miracle he had always denied. The night before Napoleon had left on a business trip to Cleveland they had danced so, and Illya's arousal had been undeniable, had made him tremble and press himself closer. When the music ended they had stayed like that, and their hardness had rubbed one against the other.
Not tonight, Napoleon had said at last and Illya couldn't tell whether he were relieved or disappointed. Not when I'm going away tomorrow. But when I come back—if you still want to? It had been a question, and Illya had nodded against him without knowing he was going to agree until he did. We'll take a week off, Napoleon had promised, and kissed the top of his head. We'll spend the time talking and laughing and making love and when the week is over we'll be bound together so securely that nothing will ever part us again. Yes?
Another nod, and Napoleon had put a finger under Illya's chin, lifted his face, smiled into those serious eyes. So solemn, he had said, and kissed the tip of his nose. Smile for me, Illya—this is a joyous moment. And when Illya's smile had brightened his face, making his blue eyes sparkle Napoleon had kissed his mouth, kissed him long and slow, a chaste kiss really, lips closed but warm, and soft, and sweet and when they finally separated there was no further need for words. Everything was settled between them, and all Illya had had to do was wait until Napoleon's return. He supposed he had been thinking of that return, and so distracted, and it had been the very next day, a Tuesday, that a foul smelling rag had been pressed across his face and he had been lifted off his feet and shoved into the trunk of a car, unconsciousness taking the light even as the lid slammed shut on him—forever. Forever. He had awakened in this dark room and never left it again.
Lying there now Illya blinked away tears. It had been a mistake—was always a mistake—to think about all of that. It only made him feel worse—added sorrow, and loneliness to the pain and humiliation and fear. Because he was afraid. He was afraid each and every time the door opened, afraid of the physical torture, afraid of the shame, miserably afraid of the act itself. He tried to hide it, as he tried to hide the tears but he had no illusions as to that either. It was only because they didn't care, how he felt, that they didn't see it. It was only... the door was kicked open and an enormously fat man entered. He let the door bang shut behind him and stood there scratching his crotch through his shorts and staring at Illya. Illya closed his eyes. He had learned that to stare back at them angered them, made them more likely to punch him or kick him. If he had thought one of them would beat him to death he would have risked provoking it—only death offered any escape from this fetid chamber. But they wouldn't, so he didn't.
"Hey blondie," the man said and Illya wondered how he could tell. His hair, which he usually kept severely blunt cut right at his shoulders, which he washed every day and combed whenever it became disarrayed, was a tangled mess. He tried to keep it clean, at least, but with only cold water and no soap it was hard. "Look. I got something for you."
Obediently Illya looked, and blanched. The man had removed his shorts and was proudly brandishing the most enormous member he had ever seen. It was a club made of flesh and bone, and it protruded straight out in front of the man's great belly. Instinctively Illya clamped his legs shut, wincing as the cuffs rasped on the open wounds around his ankles. The man laughed. "Hey!" He shouted at the door. "Somebody come in and take these off the bed so I can open this pretty little thing wide enough for me. I'm a big guy!"
The part of Illya's mind that persisted in commenting on his situation wondered exactly what sort of sexual partners this man had had that he could call Illya's body pretty, caked with dirt and semen as he was. He watched as the door opened a crack and a set of keys was tossed inside. The man came over, sat on the bed, which sagged under his weight. "Now don't try nothing cute," he warned. "'Cause I'd just as soon break your legs as not. Got it?" Mutely Illya nodded. He wouldn't try anything—cute or otherwise. If his legs were broken it would hurt so much more—and then how could he even try to keep himself clean? He couldn't. He'd be lying in his own dirt again. So he lay still but he was afraid, he was very afraid. He hurt all the time up in there anyway and this man was so big—both hands gripped his thighs, fingers digging deep, and pushed them apart—so far apart that the muscles shrieked in protest and Illya cried out against it. He didn't have time for shame at this final surrender because when that great penis was shoved into him he would have screamed aloud if he'd had any breath to do it with. The man dropped full weight on top of him, forcing the air out of him and fat wet lips covered his own, a fat wet tongue filled his mouth and the pain was so huge he tried to scream anyway, breathless little sounds that only seemed to encourage his attacker because he groaned and moved faster, and harder.
It went on forever. Generally the one good thing about it was that it was quick but this man's stamina was as awesome as his size. He grunted and panted and pounded Illya from the inside and the outside and Illya wondered wildly why he couldn't pass out. Towards the end, as the pace increased the mouth left his and the man wrapped both arms around him, squeezing him tighter, intolerable yet inescapable, finally giving a bellow and collapsing.
"Whoa," he said at last and backed off, sat up. "That was great. I'm the best you ever had, blondie, I know. Don't feel bad—I'll be back." He kissed Illya's mouth once more before fastening the ankle chains to the bedposts again, pulling the chains so Illya's legs were still spread wide. "There. Now you're ready for the next customer. A whore should always be ready." He scratched himself some more, pulled on his shorts, and left.
Illya lay as still as he could because the least movement sent the pain ravening through him. He couldn't be quiet either, the pain seeming to force itself from his mouth in gasps and outcries that would have been loud if he had had the strength, but lacking it they were barely audible. After an endless time he became aware that he was cold, terribly cold and that was wrong, surely—the little room was an oven even at night. Dying, he thought. I'm finally dying. He's killed me. The thought brought no relief—it could take days to die from internal injuries, he knew, he had seen it—had seen death in all its forms over his years in the field with Napoleon. He tried to draw his knees up but the chains were too , and just the attempt made him cry out again, hoarsely. He shivered and groaned, repeatedly trying to bring his legs up, and wondered just how long it would take him to die.
The door burst open, wide open, admitting a flood of sunlight. Illya squeezed his eyes shut, tears flooding them at the unexpected brightness. Over the night his outcries had faded to bare whispers as the pain had grown. His ankles were bleeding anew from his constant attempts to bring his knees to his stomach, his wrists and neck were bleeding from the same need to curl onto his side which he couldn't seem to keep from making despite the futility of it. His body was slick with sweat although chills still racked him and within the past hour he had begun vomiting—only a thin watery fluid because he hadn't eaten but his stomach didn't seem to get the message, continuing to contract in grinding waves, making him gag and retch, nearly choking on what came up. A flood of profanity came from whoever had entered the room.
"You stupid piece of shit! Look at him! Solo's taking our organization apart piece by piece, our only hope of stopping him before he brings us all down is to return his partner and look at him! We'll be lucky if he lives long enough to get back to New York! Get him up, clean him off, give him some clothes and get him out of here! Stupid! For personal revenge you jeopardize everything we've accomplished over the years?"
"But Solo killed my wife! He shot her down... I want him to pay! I want him to suffer! I want..." another string of invectives stopped him.
"Ten damn years ago! And it was in a fair fight—not like this! Kuryakin! Look!" He prodded Illya who had heard Napoleon's name and that was all. Solo, the man had said. He tried to pry his eyes open, but the light stabbed him like daggers. Seeing that the newcomer shouted again. "Close the door, Rayburn, you damn fool and get over here!"
The return of darkness allowed Illya to open his eyes cautiously. At the same time another great wave of agony went through him and he was sick again. The unknown man made a disgusted sound. "Faugh. He's at death's door. Look here, Kuryakin. Do you recognize me? It's Stevens. Remember that name. And look, I said!" Furious at Illya's lack of response he kicked the bed. Illya looked. The man standing by the cot was faultlessly dressed in a three piece suit and tie. He looked odd in the dirty hut. He dragged another man over and Illya recognized him from that first day. He had come in, had eyed Illya, chained naked to the bed and laughed.
"Fucked to death," he had said with satisfaction. "Apropos for Solo's little friend." He had said the word friend in a way that insinuated more. "You like it up the ass, Kuryakin? Well, have at it." He had left and Illya hadn't seen him again. Dazed and in shock from the first assault, which had been in progress when he regained consciousness, he hadn't really understood the reference to Napoleon. But he had known that it was this man's doing that he was here. He knew it now, and despite the pain a flash of hatred crossed his face. The other man saw it.
"Tell Solo," he said deliberately, "that Stevens ended this. Tell him to back off." A gunshot made Illya's ears ring, his head swim and when his vision cleared his abductor was dead on the ground. The other man leaned forward. "What's my name?" And when Illya only closed his eyes, feeling his stomach coil up again, he shouted. "My name! Because if you're too far gone to pass on my message I might as well kill you myself!"
"Kill me," Illya said, or tried to say, because that was the best he could hope for now. The idea of being set free meant nothing to him. A quick death did. The man kicked the bed again, and again and Illya couldn't make a sound, the enormity of the pain taking his breath completely. "Stevens," he finally managed to gasp during a break in the intolerable shaking and jolting and the man stepped back.
"Right. Stevens. I'm letting you go. Tell Solo." He turned, and was gone.
The chains were unfastened, and Illya tried to turn over onto his side, tried to pull his legs against his belly but was yanked from the bed. A blast of cold water from the hose hit him and he fell. They scrubbed him where he lay in a ball on the ground, tugging at his arms and legs to clean his middle. They tried to dress him but gave it up, and dragged him outside. The light was agony on top of agony but it was only for a moment. He was lifted, thrown into a small space and the top slammed closed. When the space began to move he recognized it as another car trunk, and closed his eyes again. Every bounce, every bump in the road was fresh torture, and before he finally passed out he had vomited more, filling the small space with a foul odor that made it seem, in his forays in and out of consciousness, that he had never left his prison at all.
Napoleon Solo sat at the computer in his home office, sleepless and fully dressed at one o'clock on a Wednesday morning, and monitored the results of an INS raid on a manufacturing plant used as a Thrush cover. Oh, they didn't call it Thrush anymore, that organization was officially , but the players and the game remained the same. Thrush and UNCLE had reached a modus vivendi over the past several years—UNCLE having bigger fish to fry, and Thrush having come to the conclusion that world conquest was not only an unattainable but an undesirable goal compared to that of amassing huge amounts of money and political power behind the scenes. Their organizations had even worked together on occasion. But Illya's abduction had ended all of that. Napoleon had returned from his trip to find Illya gone, and no one looking especially hard for him. Although Illya's scientific projects were of vital importance, and classified top secret, when two weeks had passed with no indication of a leak the search had been stepped down. And before Napoleon could react to that, he had received the letter that had put him on his current track.
"You took from me the only person I loved. I have taken yours. He will die slowly in screaming agony, he will die cursing your name, knowing it is because of you he suffers. You suffer too." Thomas Rayburn. Napoleon remembered Rayburn, a minor Thrush official, an encounter years in the past. He had crumpled the piece of paper in his fist and notified his supervisors that he was going on a leave of absence. He had gone home and begun taking Thrush to pieces. He had savaged every front, every cover, every money laundering operation he could find, and each one had given him leads to others. He had used the INS, the FBI, the CIA, the new anti terrorist agencies and, most usefully, the IRS. He had been called on the carpet five times to date, and had listened to his superiors expostulate with a stony face. And to Thrush's every protest, to each increasingly frantic attempt at reason his answer had been the same. Return my partner.
It infuriated him. Illya had been on no mission—that part of his professional life was behind him. He had been minding his own business when he had been plucked off the street—not satisfied with his letter Rayburn had sent a video, and Napoleon had watched, along with UNCLE's executive board, the swoop from behind, the cloth over Illya's face, the limp body tossed into a car trunk. Napoleon didn't know what effect Rayburn had expected the tape to have. What it had done was heat his fury to a white hot pitch that nevertheless burned coldly. Napoleon nursed his anger because it was the only tolerable emotion he had. The pain, the grief, the fear, the guilt—all those he suppressed. He had come back fully expecting to take Illya—finally—to his bed, to show Illya, and to learn for himself, how it would be, to love and be loved. Instead he had returned to a war zone, a war he had not declared but that he was resolved to finish. The only hope he had to live on was the wording of the letter. He will die, Rayburn had said. So Illya was not dead yet. Napoleon turned a deaf ear to the arguments that if Illya hadn't been dead when Rayburn wrote his note he probably was by now. Wherever Illya was, he was alive, and he was suffering, and he would be expecting Napoleon to rescue him. And Napoleon would. He opened a new file and began examining the tax returns of the parent organization to the one the INS had just raided so successfully.
His communicator beeped. Startled, he clapped a hand to it. UNCLE no longer used this frequency, no one carried a pen anymore—no one except he himself—and Illya. Illya had been carrying his the day he disappeared, but since then the frequency had been empty. Now it was alive and sending out its distress signal. A strong signal. Napoleon leaped from his desk, snatched up his gun and went out the door.
Close—so close. He followed it down his back stairs, heedless of danger, out into his garage, up to his car. He stared at his car. The signal was coming from the trunk. Unmistakably, from the trunk. For another moment Napoleon hesitated. The overwhelming probability was that the only thing he would find would be the communicator—a final mocking message from Rayburn. Or—a dead body. But Napoleon's hands were steady as he pressed the button and the trunk lid swung open.
Illya lay in a tight ball. He was naked, and filthy, although the tracks where someone had tried to clean him up were visible. His magnificent hair was a dirty mat at the back of his neck. He was shivering violently, had clearly—and recently—been sick, was covered with bruises and welts and burns. Dark blood oozed from between his buttocks. Napoleon's legs nearly gave way, and he pulled out his phone, called UNCLE's emergency medical department, ordered an ambulance. Then he reached into the trunk, touched Illya's face—burning up, he was burning up.
"Illya." His voice broke. He didn't dare move Illya without knowing the extent of his injuries. "Hold on." He hurried around to the back seat of his car, pulled out the lap robe he kept there. Carefully he covered Illya with it, stroked his face again. "Illya."
Illya lay in a well of pain. The pain was a living thing, moving restlessly around in his vitals. He could no longer cry out, even feebly. Every breath hurt, every shift in position hurt. When he had been lifted from the one trunk and then deposited here, he had been sure that this was where he would die. He wished he could have seen the sky once more, could have breathed air that wasn't foul and heavy with his own stink once more. Could have been in Napoleon's arms just once more. He wished that so intensely that when Napoleon's voice reached him it seemed it must be a product of his imagination, trying desperately to provide his brain with stimuli it could tolerate. "Illya." That beloved voice again—a promise of respite because if Napoleon knew how much they were hurting him, if Napoleon found him, Napoleon would help him. Napoleon would save him. And yet the pain was so terrible—Napoleon couldn't be here,or he would have stopped it already. But the voice was so insistent. As much to quiet his own thoughts as from any expectation of actually seeing anything, Illya forced his eyes open.
Napoleon had practically climbed into the trunk himself. "Illya," he said again, seeing his eyes open, feeling helpless. Illya's eyes were glazed and dull with suffering. Great black circles were under them, and his skin was grey. His lips were the same grey as his face and he was dying, he had to be. No one looked like that unless death were imminent—Napoleon had seen death enough to know. He bit back the cry of anguish welling up inside him. He would have the rest of his life for that. Illya's lips were moving, and Napoleon leaned even closer.
"Help. Help me help me Napoleon save me, don't leave me here, help me, help me..." tears sprang to Napoleon's eyes. Illya was dying, yet calling out to him with his last breaths. And if Illya were dying he shouldn't die in a car trunk. He deserved to die in the embrace of someone who loved him.
Very carefully Napoleon slid his arms under Illya's huddled form and lifted him out. Illya made a guttural sound of agony and Napoleon sat on the bumper of his little Alfa Romeo and cradled his partner in his arms. "Illya." It seemed that was all he could say. He pressed his lips to Illya's temple. How could someone be this hot and still shiver so?
"Stevens," Illya whispered. He moved his hand, curled his fingers around Napoleon's sleeve. "Stevens."
"What?" Napoleon couldn't hear him. "What did you say?"
"Stevens," Illya repeated. "Stevens ended it. He said to tell you to... to back off." He stopped, as if listening to his own words, and shook his head. "But don't, if you shouldn't. You—you don't have to listen to him."
Napoleon's throat closed. All he could do was press his cheek against Illya's head. "It's all right," he managed. "It's all right, Illya."
"Help... help me." Illya's fingers tightened. "Don't let them—help me."
"Yes. I will help you. The ambulance is coming, Illya." He heard the sirens now. "You're safe. Safe with me. I won't let anyone hurt you again."
"I know." The depth of Illya's pain was in every line of his body. "I know it does. The ambulance is coming." Flashing lights filled the garage. "It's here." He talked faster. "They'll take you from me. They have to, to help you. But I'll be waiting at the hospital when you wake up. I promise."
"Don't leave me."
"I'm sorry." The medics ran up with the gurney and he laid Illya on it, watching in grief as Illya tried to reach for him but he was surrounded by medical technicians and Napoleon had to move away. He caught the arm of the only person who wasn't working over his partner.
"Can I ride with him?"
"You can follow us, Mr. Solo. There isn't room—" he was interrupted.
"Let Solo come on. He'll keep him quieter than we can right now." Relieved, Napoleon scrambled up into the back of the ambulance, took the stool provided . They had abandoned the attempt to straighten Illya out and strapped him down just as he was, curled on his side against the pain. Someone had given him a pillow and Illya had one arm clamped around it, pressing it against his middle. Napoleon hoped it was giving him even a modicum of relief. He took Illya's free hand.
"Hey," he whispered, and Illya's eyes opened again. Napoleon smiled at him. "They let me come along."
"Can't you give him something?" Napoleon asked and the medic nodded. He was trying to insert an IV needle in Illya's hand.
"Get him to extend his hand flat," he said. "I can't get into the vein."
"Illya." Napoleon tried to open the clutching fingers. "Can you hold your hand open for me?" Tears streaked Illya's face, making fresh tracks in the dirt.
"No—please, please don't leave me."
"I'm not." Napoleon wiped the tears with the back of his thumb. "But they can end the pain if you'll..."
"Never mind," the medic said "We're here." The ambulance came to a stop inside UNCLE's ER garage. The back doors swung open and the stretcher was pulled out, set up on the ground, rolled swiftly into the ER itself. Napoleon ran with it, Illya still clinging to his hand. They halted briefly inside and more doctors swarmed around. Napoleon knew his time was short and he leaned down, lips to Illya's ear.
"I'll wait for you. They're..." the stretcher began to move and Napoleon, running again, could see the double doors ahead that led into the hospital. "They're going to fix you up now. I'll wait for you."
"No..." Illya tried to hold on but Napoleon was stopped at the doors, Illya's fingers pulled free and the stretcher and its accompanying physicians disappeared.
Terrified anew, Illya would have fought them if he could have moved but he couldn't. The pain continued to grow, incredibly, bigger. Napoleon—where was he? Had he ever been there at all? The straps were unfastened and hands tried to pull his legs down. He moaned, gripped the pillow. A stab in his wrist made him start, there was a burning there then, with frightening speed, he slid down into darkness.
Napoleon sat in the waiting room. It had been hours now, and no one had come out to tell him anything. But they would, he knew, as soon as there was anything to tell. Five years ago he and Illya had each designated the other as his primary contact, the one person who could be told confidential information, who would take the place of next of kin in case of emergency. Napoleon had wanted to do it for Illya because Illya had no family—had no one, besides Napoleon himself. And while Napoleon had a brother, and a sister, it was Illya who was the other half of his soul.
How sweet it had been, that protracted courtship. Napoleon smiled now, thinking of it. Illya had opened to him like a late blooming flower. If Illya lived—but of course he would live. Deliberately Napoleon tried not to remember the awful grey of Illya's face, the sunken eyes, the agony. UNCLE's doctors were superb, and now Illya had arrived at the hospital they would save him. He himself had done all he could. UNCLE's medical team would do the rest. Surely they would. He sat up straight as the doors opened but it was only Davenport, his superior, the Section Chief of New York Branch. Napoleon himself had been in line for that position when Davenport moved up, as he was scheduled to do within the year, but his own actions since Illya's abduction would have ended that. But Davenport was a decent man—Napoleon nodded at him.
"Have you heard anything yet?" Davenport seated himself.
"Did he say anything to you?"
"Yes. He said Stevens ended it."
"I assume so."
"What did he mean by that?"
"I don't know. He said 'Stevens says back off.'"
"It appears your tactics were successful after all. Well done."
Napoleon cocked an eyebrow at him. "Well done?"
"Now it is over and you won, yes." Davenport's smile was genuine. "Success justifies everything, Agent Solo. Surely you know that. Agent Kuryakin is a valuable resource."
Napoleon bit his lip against the accusation that they hadn't seemed to think so before. So his career was back on track. He supposed that was good news, but at the moment the only news he wanted was... and the double doors opened. Dr. Mauterer came out, his surgical scrubs splashed with fresh blood—Illya's blood. A great hollow opened in Napoleon's gut. "Is he..."
"He will live. Agent Solo? Are you all right?"
The world had greyed out around him for a moment, but Napoleon held himself steady. "Yes. What—how is he?"
The doctor looked grave. "May we speak alone?"
Davenport rose instantly. "Agent Solo—I will see you later. Dr. Mauterer..." he offered his hand. The two men shook, then Davenport left.
Dr. Mauterer told Napoleon, as plainly as possible, the results of his examination. After waiting for Napoleon to absorb the shock of that first revelation, he continued. "The sexual assaults were so violent that serious internal damage was done. We have repaired that damage as best we can—only time will do the rest. Wounds around his wrists, ankles and throat, where he was evidently bound, are infected, and many of the insect bites and burns—cigarette burns, from the look of them, are infected also. He is malnourished, and dehydrated, but now that his surgery has been completed and his vital signs are stable we expect a full physical recovery." He looked seriously at Napoleon. "As to the psychological effects, I cannot say. He will need a great deal of emotional support. Are you prepared to provide that support?"
"Yes. When can I see him? I want to be there when he wakes up."
"Take the elevator to the eighth floor. That is the post surgical unit. The nurses there will tell you his room number. We will rouse him briefly in recovery to be sure he is emerging from the anesthesia as he should, but he may not remember that. He will be in considerable pain—I will arrange a self medicating morphine drip into his IV. It will not allow him to have more than is safe."
"I will see you both later this afternoon when I make my rounds. Good day, Mr. Solo."
"Thank you, Dr. Mauterer." He meant it. "Thank you very much. You saved his life."
"Together we saved it."
He had been waiting in Illya's room for two hours, watching the sky brighten, when the stretcher was wheeled in. Illya lay unconscious, oxygen prongs up his nose, two IV bags hanging over his head, more tubes snaking out from under the covers. He was as white as the sheet he lay on and his hair, still snarled and dirty, covered the pillow. Napoleon watched, wordless, as the nurses moved him from the stretcher to the bed, adjusted his IV lines, checked the oxygen monitor. "Here's the call button," one said to Napoleon in a hushed voice. "He can have ice chips if he's thirsty but nothing else by mouth. This" indicating another button, "will deliver morphine through his line. He can have it every twenty minutes if he needs it." She looked ruefully at Illya's hair. "He can shower tomorrow if everything goes as we expect but we'll probably have to cut his hair off."
"I'll take care of it. Thank you, Erin."
"You're welcome, Mr. Solo." She dimmed the lights and left, closing the door behind her.
After another hour Illya stirred, moaned. There was so much pain in the sound that Napoleon pressed the button for the morphine pump and Illya quieted. In another moment his eyes opened. Napoleon leaned over him. "Hi."
"Nap..." Illya couldn't finish, but his eyes said it, said it all. Napoleon was here. Napoleon was here, the pain was gone, he was under clean sheets in a softly lit room—he was safe. And all of that was because Napoleon was there. Napoleon kissed his cheek.
"I'm sorry, that it took so long. I'm sorry I couldn't find you."
"I didn't... they said you thought I was dead. I didn't know you were looking."
"They told you that?" He took Illya's hand. "Yes, I was looking."
Illya smiled faintly. "Taking them apart. That's what Stevens said. That you were taking them apart piece by piece."
"Just to get me back."
"To get you back," Napoleon repeated. He lifted Illya's hand to his lips, kissed it. "Because without you—my life is meaningless."
"Yes. I love you, Illya. Surely you remember that."
"Didn't—didn't they tell you what happened?"
"They told me."
"And what? I hate that it happened. I am so thankful that you're back. Alive and well."
"I'm well?" Illya looked surprised. He clearly felt far from well. Napoleon smiled.
"You're going to be fine. Dr. Mauterer said so."
"And he told you what—what they did?"
"He told me you were raped." He used the word deliberately. "I'm sorry."
"I tried to stop them."
"I know." He had seen Illya's wrists, his ankles, his throat. "I know you did. I'm sorry."
"And you still love me?"
"Yes. And if it's all right with you, I plan on courting you all over again."
"Oh, yes. It's all right. If you're sure you want to." He smiled at Napoleon sleepily. "I love you too, Napoleon." His eyes drifted closed and he lay for a while, then those long lashes lifted again. "Napoleon?"
"It hurts. It's not as bad—it's hot, but cleaner—but it still hurts."
"Here." Napoleon put the pump in his hand. "Squeeze that and see if it doesn't feel better." Illya did, and the lines that had appeared around his mouth vanished. He sighed.
"Yes. Thank you. Don't leave me, Napoleon."
"I won't, sweetheart. I'll be right here whenever you wake up."
"Good." He slept again, but it was a long day and night. Nurses came and went, Dr. Mauterer arrived to inspect Illya's surgical site, a respiratory therapist cajoled him into blowing into a tube, but most of the time it was just the two of them. The pain woke Illya several times every hour, and he kept asking for water despite the ice chips Napoleon patiently spooned into his mouth. But the drugs were strong, and his body was exhausted, and as the sun was once again showing in the east he fell asleep for real and Napoleon sat beside him, stroking his hair, filled with thankfulness for this second chance at love.
Napoleon was combing out Illya's hair that Friday afternoon. They were outside on a small terrace, and Illya had lifted his face hungrily to the sky. It was breezy and cool, and the errant little gusts made Napoleon's task more difficult, snatching the hair from his hands, blowing it into fresh tangles, but it was worth it to see the color whipped into Illya's face. Two nurses had suggested this spot to Napoleon that morning while he'd waited in the hall for Dr. Mauterer to complete his daily exam. Illya hadn't wanted him to leave—never wanted him to leave, even the most routine trip to the lavatory requiring explanations and reassurances, but Napoleon had wanted to give him the dignity of privacy during this particular exam; a detailed and thorough investigation of not only the surgical site but every other area of concern as well, including the most intimate. "I will be right outside the door," Napoleon promised, not wanting to pry Illya's fingers off his wrist, wanting him to agree.
"I'm not letting him touch me!"
"He's the one who saved you." Napoleon saw the glances exchanged among the medical team and saw, too, an intern surreptitiously inject some clear fluid into the IV.
"You saved me."
"You were dying when we got here. Dr. Mauterer operated and saved your life."
"Agent Kuryakin," Dr. Mauterer said and Illya looked at him mistrustfully. But his pupils had dilated under the influence of whatever they had put in his IV, and his grip on Napoleon's wrist had slackened. "It was only two days ago that I held your intestines in my hands. It seems late to be shy with me now."
"I suppose..." Illya yawned. Napoleon patted his hand. "I will wait right outside in the hall," he promised again then, thinking he might as well kill two birds with one stone, "after I use the facilities."
"Agent Solo might like a breath of fresh air as well," Dr. Mauterer pointed out, washing his hands. "It's been a while."
"Fresh air?" Illya managed to yawn and look interested at the same time. "I'd like that too."
Napoleon gave Mauterer an inquiring glance and he nodded. "I'll take you," he promised. "When they're done I'll find someplace to take you."
"All right." It was said reluctantly but Napoleon didn't wait for more, he stepped back and slipped out the door as the doctors crowded in. He leaned his head on the wall and took a deep breath, then went to use the facilities. Coming out, he ran into Erin and Gwen, the head nurse practitioner.
"Mr. Solo," Erin said anxiously. "We're really worried about Illya."
Napoleon felt a pang of alarm. "I thought he was doing well."
"He is," Gwen assured him. "But it's his state of mind that concerns us. He's so... cooperative. Ordinarily he isn't."
This was such a massive understatement that Napoleon nearly choked on it. She was right. Illya was positively the worst patient ever. On prior hospitalizations he had complained, and refused the most routine care, and pushed hospital trays away petulantly. He didn't take his medication, and he always ended up leaving well before anyone else thought he should. He had even pulled out his own IV lines on occasion. Once, when the paperwork for his departure AMA had stalled he had stolen surgical scrubs from the supply closet and left that way. Napoleon was unaware that he was smiling as he thought about it until he saw his reflection in Gwen's glasses. She smiled back.
"But this time is different. And I never thought I'd say this, but I miss his orneriness. It's not—it's not natural."
No it wasn't. This time Illya protested nothing. He ate dutifully whatever was put in front of him, swallowed any medicine they brought him without question, blew on the respiratory tube every four hours as directed, and hadn't once asked about going home. They had encouraged him to get up and shower the day before and he had obeyed, balking only when Napoleon didn't follow him into the bathroom right away. So Napoleon had sat on the toilet seat and made idle conversation while Illya had soaped himself all over, careful of the surgical site, and then washed his hair. But the psychological boost they had all expected hadn't come. After one abortive attempt to wrestle a comb through it he had given up and gone back to bed, turned away from the door, staring out the window.
That afternoon they had told him he should get up and walk and he had, painfully shuffling around the unit's circular corridor, pulling his IV pole with him, holding the handrail until Napoleon had urged him to try it on his own and then just as wordlessly letting go and continuing unaided. He had made five rounds, and on returning to his room found a lavish bouquet of flowers from his coworkers in Laboratory Sciences. That had pleased him—he had looked at the card and smelled the blooms and Napoleon had asked the nurses to get the word out. More flowers arrived that afternoon from Computer Sciences, plus an exquisite potted orchid from Napoleon himself. Cards were pouring in, and Napoleon taped them to every surface. Even UNCLE's executive board sent a tasteful arrangement.
Illya had walked again that evening, and Napoleon had passed on the message from the nurses that frequent walking correlated highly with faster recovery and earlier discharge. Illya had only listened, and then asked how many circuits he had to make this time. He didn't seem the least bit interested in going home. Napoleon had blamed that on everything from the anesthetic to the pain pills he was currently taking by mouth, but in the expressions of Gwen and Erin he now saw his own worst fears reflected.
"And we need to decide what to do about his hair," Gwen said practically. "He's washing it but it must feel awful the way it is." The way Illya's hair was was a ratted mass of snarls clumped at the back of his neck. "I don't suppose he'd agree to cut it? It would be the simplest thing to do—and it will grow back."
"Illya's hair means something to him," Napoleon said. "I've never known what, but he's always been funny about it. And now—now I think it also represents the life he had before he was taken. I don't think he'll agree."
"Well, something needs to happen. He can't really do it himself—he can't reach the back well enough and he doesn't seem motivated anyway."
"No, he doesn't. I'll do it, if he'll let me."
"Tell him he has to," Erin said firmly. "Tell him either he lets someone clear it or we're going to have to cut it. He can't be discharged like that—he certainly won't do it once he's on his own."
"He won't be on his own," Napoleon protested. "I'm setting up my spare room for him. He knows that."
They exchanged glances. "Napoleon—I don't think he does know that." Gwen perched on a gurney and looked at him earnestly. "When I told him he might be discharged this weekend he said he didn't know how he'd get up all the steps to his apartment. Have you told him directly that he's going home with you?"
"Yes. More than once. I'll tell him again as soon as I go back in there. And I'll take care of his hair this afternoon."
"Then here," Erin said, and handed him a squirt bottle. "It's spray on conditioner. It won't work miracles but it should make it a little easier. And here's a good comb." It had a handle and wide teeth. "Do all you can with that before you use the regular one. There's a nice terrace off of the 9th floor. Wheel him up there—I think he needs to get outside."
"So do I." Napoleon thought about the way Illya had said, 'fresh air?' "Is he really going home this weekend?"
"Dr. Mauterer has already started the paperwork. He should get out tomorrow. But just among us, Napoleon, I'm not ready to sign off on it yet." Gwen's face was grave. "He's depressed. Not just normal postoperative depression but seriously funked. I wouldn't trust him alone right now."
"You don't think he'd..."
"Yes I do. I think he's decided he'd rather be dead than live with his memories. Now I haven't said that to anyone else yet because he is ready to leave here, and if he's suicidal he'll just be transferred to the psychiatric wing. None of us really wants that."
"So he's going home with you."
"And you'll keep an eye on him."
"Yes. Of course I will."
"All right then." Gwen stood up. "I'll okay his release into your custody. But he may not want to go, Napoleon. He feels safe here. I've seen it before, with other emergency admits. Don't take it personally if he says he'd rather stay."
"I appreciate the two of you talking to me like this," Napoleon said. "I just thought it was being here that was making him so quiet. I thought he'd get over it as soon as he left."
"And maybe he will. Do you know he'll have to talk to a counselor before he can return to work? It's standard after rape."
"I do know. But I've taken that training. He can talk to me." Again they exchanged glances.
"Isn't there a conflict?" Gwen inquired. "I mean—with the two of you?"
"No," Napoleon said, and saw the surprise on both their faces. "It's within regs, and I don't think he'll talk to anyone else."
"No," Gwen agreed. "He won't. He's so stubborn—but right now he's using that stubbornness to hold on to the idea that this was all his fault somehow, and that he should have found a way to stop it. He's working against himself. I want your word, Napoleon, that if that continues, and you don't think you can help him with it, that you'll let me know so I can set him up with somebody else."
"You have my word." All three turned as Illya's door opened. Dr. Mauterer spoke to his team of interns and residents, then turned to Napoleon.
"Agent Solo. I'd like a word with you in private, please."
"I promised Illya I'd come right back in as soon as you left."
"Agent Kuryakin is asleep and will remain that way for another hour at least." He eyed the spray bottle and comb in Napoleon's hands, and a smile twitched the corner of his mouth.
"Then we should be able to talk in his room."
"So we should. After you, Agent Solo."
"I would like to discharge him," Dr. Mauterer began. "The incision is healing nicely, all signs of infection are gone. His temperature has been normal for over twelve hours and assuming it continues normal he can go home tomorrow. However, when I brought that up he said he lives alone, in a four story walkup and if that is so perhaps Monday would be better." He paused, looking at Napoleon, who didn't hesitate.
"Illya will come home with me. He will not be alone. My leave of absence will continue until he is fully recovered. I have told him that."
"The drugs make it hard for him to keep complex conversations in mind," Dr. Mauterer said gently. "You need to remind him, as often as necessary. Now I am going to speak frankly."
"He is healing, from the sexual assaults. But it will be quite some time before you can resume full relations. When he comes in for his second follow up visit I can give you a clearer idea as to when, but..."
"Excuse me," Napoleon interrupted, embarrassed and telling himself he didn't need to be. "Illya and I aren't—we're not—there are no relations to resume." Surprise flickered across the surgeon's face.
"You can tell me, Agent Solo. I consider these matters totally confidential." He didn't add that it was common knowledge. But Napoleon shook his head.
"Illya and I are not lovers," he said, and Dr. Mauterer lifted his eyebrows.
"I see. I am sorry, if I spoke out of turn. I assumed... from the way you two are together, that it was a relationship of some duration."
"Illya—has issues on that subject. Had issues, even before this happened. I don't know what they are." He smiled, wanting to ease the man's discomfort. "You weren't that far off, Dr. Mauterer. We were headed that way—in fact it was supposed to happen when I returned from Cleveland."
"Ah. I see. I am sorry."
"Agent Kuryakin did not clarify that when I discussed it with him yesterday."
"You did?" He was surprised. Illya hadn't said a word to him. "What did he say?"
"He said," Dr. Mauterer coughed. "His exact words were 'He won't want to anyway. I'm filthy inside and out. All the showers in the world won't change that.'" He saw the horror on Napoleon's face, and laid a hand on his arm. "It's not that uncommon a reaction, Agent Solo. But it puts you in a delicate position. You don't want to feed into his misperception by holding back—nor do you want to alarm him by pressing an act on him that now has highly negative connotations."
"No. Of course not."
"You say he had issues even before his abduction?"
"Yes. I've always thought so. It's—it's not normal, for a young healthy man—or woman—to be utterly disinterested in sex."
"What exactly do you suspect?"
Napoleon thought. He had never verbalized it, even to himself, except for the brief conversation he had had with Illya. "I suspect early abuse," he said finally. "He lived at boarding schools nearly his entire life—maybe something happened there. Or before that—I don't know. He's never talked about it. But that's what I think."
"I see. Then this episode may have only confirmed those deep rooted feelings of guilt and shame. Do you know he has to talk to someone professionally?"
"Yes. He can talk to me. I am his supervisor, and fully qualified."
"If that is not productive you must come to me again."
Napoleon nodded. "I will, Dr. Mauterer." He looked at Illya, so still on the bed. "What on earth did you give him?"
"It was evident that the exam was going to be very distressing for him. I saw no reason to subject him to it. He will be awake soon."
"Gwen said I could take him up to the ninth floor and out on their terrace."
"I will have a wheelchair sent in—he may be unsteady on his feet for a while. I will stop by tomorrow for a final check—nowhere near as extensive as today's, just the surgical site—and I will give him an appointment for his follow up. Good day, Agent Solo."
"Good day, Dr. Mauterer. And thank you."
So now he sat behind Illya, and worked on his hair. The conditioner did help some—he sprayed and worked, sprayed some more and worked again. Illya winced occasionally as the comb caught at a particularly vicious tangle, but made no protest. "So they're letting you out of here tomorrow," Napoleon said finally, the prolonged silence too much for him.
"I don't want to leave. I'll have to climb all those stairs. I'll be alone. How will I do anything? I want to stay longer. Why are they making me leave? Usually they want to keep me here forever. Now when I need to be here they're throwing me out!" The words came in a torrent that Napoleon couldn't have interrupted if he had wanted to. He only kept picking at the snarl in front of him and waited until Illya finished.
"Sweetheart. You're coming home with me. I thought you knew that." He didn't mention the many times he had already said so.
"Yes. No stairs, and you'll probably wish I'd leave you alone after a while. You won't have to do a thing. I'll take care of everything. I'll cook for you and make your bed and... and spoil you rotten, Illya. You know I've always wanted to."
"Dr. Mauterer said we can't do what we were going to do when you came back, even if you still wanted to."
"I know. I told you, I am going to court you all over again From scratch. From before scratch."
"Don't you understand? I thought they told you what happened!" He was quivering all over. "I thought they told you!"
"They told me you were raped. Repeatedly. Brutally. I understand, Illya."
"No you don't! Or you wouldn't be talking about courting me! They put their..." he groped for the worst word he could think of. "Cocks! They put their cocks in me! Right up in me! And... and came in me! So even after they were done I still had them in me! And in my mouth! I let them put their cocks in my mouth, too! And come there! And I swallowed it! I'm dirty now! I'm disgusting! I can't even stand being in my body—don't try to tell me you still love me because I don't believe you!"
"I'm sorry!" He reached out, clutched at Napoleon's arm. "I didn't mean to say I think you're lying. I just don't think you understand."
Napoleon wasn't sure, but he thought he had succeeded in untangling the worst of it. Cautiously he drew the big comb from the crown of Illya's head all the way down to the ends, and it slid smoothly. He set it aside, sprayed Illya's hair again and switched to the smaller, fine tooth comb. He discovered a fresh knot and patiently tugged at it. "I understand perfectly, Illya. I know what the word rape means."
"I didn't fight them enough."
"Your wrists and ankles are abraded nearly to the bone in some places. You were chained up. How could you fight them?"
"I should have fought more. I gave up too easily. I should have bitten them. But I was afraid of that hammer."
"They were going to smash my teeth with a hammer. I couldn't face that. So I let them."
"Agent Kuryakin." It was Davenport, standing by the door. How long had he been there? Napoleon scowled at him, furious at this invasion of Illya's privacy. He had just begun talking. Now he would clam up again. Napoleon's scowl deepened. Davenport ignored him. He walked around so he was in front of Illya, who averted his eyes. "I could not help overhearing."
"You're here to fire me, aren't you. It's all right. I expected it."
"Of course not." Davenport looked mildly shocked. "I am here on behalf of the board to see how you are progressing, and to commend you."
"On what? On what a coward I am? On..." he choked, coughed. Napoleon handed him a cup of water.
"You are distraught," Davenport said firmly. "If you prefer, I can return another time."
"No." Illya put the cup down. "Do it now."
"Agent Kuryakin, it seems to me you have forgotten Guideline 1A."
"I never forget anything," Illya said defiantly, but his gaze wavered and fell.
"Then repeat it to me."
"It doesn't apply here."
"Guideline 1A states that all other things being equal, your first duty to this organization is—what?"
"Leave me alone. You're right. I want you to come back later."
"I'm afraid I must insist. Your first duty to this organization is..."
"To survive." He said it reluctantly. "My first duty to this organization is to survive. All other things being equal."
"To survive how?"
"In the best condition possible."
"And why is that?"
"UNCLE's investment in any one agent is enormous. The longer an agent's tenure, the higher his or her rank, the greater that investment." The repetition of known fact had calmed him, and Napoleon had gone back to teasing out that final snarl.
"And in your case—were not all other things equal? Was any information sought?"
"No. They didn't want anything from me except..." he flushed, picked at his blanket. "You know."
"And that is recognized as the most difficult of situations, Agent Kuryakin. There is nothing to hold on to, when nothing is required. You have fulfilled your obligation. You have survived—you are not maimed or in any way rendered unfit for duty, once your recovery is complete. I—we—salute you."
Illya looked at him doubtfully. "Thank you," he said at last, and Davenport nodded.
"I understand you are to be discharged tomorrow."
"Good. Take whatever time you need. Did you get the flowers we sent?"
"Yes. Thank you. They're—they're very nice."
"Well, good. Gentlemen..." he nodded to them both and left. Napoleon pulled the small comb through.
"I think I'm done."
"Observe." Again he slid the comb through Illya's hair, and again, and each time it passed easily from top to bottom. Illya put his hands back and felt it.
"You—you fixed it!"
"Sure did." He was delighted.
"What's this stuff in it?"
"Conditioner. It'll wash out."
"I want to wash it out now."
"All right." He pushed Illya's chair back to the elevator, down to the eighth floor and into his room. He helped Illya out of his hospital gown, assisted him to the bathroom and waited while he washed his hair. When he emerged, Napoleon smiled at him. "Well. That's more like it."
"Napoleon?" Napoleon had settled him in the chair and was combing his hair again.
"Mr. Davenport wouldn't have said all that if it weren't true. Would he."
"Jake Davenport," Napoleon said, concentrating on his task, "would have had no qualms whatsoever about telling you flat out if he believed you at fault."
"That's what I thought. And you—you really want to take me home with you?"
"You still love me?"
"Yes. I love you with all my heart."
"So you don't care that they were in me—in my mouth and all?"
"Illya." Napoleon set the comb down and came around to sit in front of his partner. Reaching out, he took Illya's hands in his. "Of course I care. It breaks my heart to think of how much you suffered." He brought Illya's hands to his lips, kissed them. "I wish I could wipe it all away, make it never have happened. I wish I had gotten off that plane and found you waiting for me, as we planned."
"So do I."
"But now we can start all over again."
"If you say so." Napoleon kissed the tip of his nose, as he had before.
"Smile for me again, Illya," he whispered, laying his cheek on Illya's palm, feeling those long fingers curve to caress his face. "Even if you don't really feel like it. For me. Please?" And Illya's smile was the most beautiful thing in the world. Napoleon reached for him, gathered him in. He stroked Illya's hair—smooth and soft again, glowing in the lamp light and Illya laid his head on Napoleon's shoulder, at peace for now in that strong embrace.
Saturday morning Napoleon left the hospital for the first time since arriving with Illya in the ambulance. Illya was being checked out, and nurses were packing his bags and collecting all the cards and flowers and the enormous stuffed teddy bear George Piper, Illya's lab partner, had brought him the night before. Illya had smiled at sight of it, then he had cried a little, on George's shoulder, and George had patted him and said things like "there there" and "it's okay" and "don't cry". Napoleon, watching from the window where he had retreated when George had plopped himself down on the bed, making the mattress sag under his weight, had been astonished. He'd had no idea Illya and George were particular friends, but evidently he didn't know as much about his partner as he'd thought. Since arriving at the hospital Illya had shed not one tear in Napoleon's presence, but something about George's bulk, and that deep rumbling voice brought a brand of comfort Napoleon hadn't been able to give. He was jealous, and guilty for feeling that way. He had moved towards the door, saying something about using the facilities and Illya had only nodded, not protesting as he usually did. When he returned, however, Illya was sitting upright and peering anxiously at the door.
"Napoleon! You took so long! Where were you?"
"I told you. I went to the lavatory."
"It doesn't usually take so long!"
"Well..." George poked Illya.
"How personal is that? A trip to the john takes what it takes." And Napoleon, who had actually stopped on his way back and looked through the newspaper, feeling, rather childishly, that no one would miss him anyway, gave George a grateful look.
"Visiting hours are over and they wanted George to leave and you weren't back yet!"
"And George is still here," Napoleon pointed out, eyeing the teddy bear, now ensconced in the armchair. "What are you going to do with that thing?"
"Can't I take it home with me?" Illya looked dismayed. "Don't you want it?"
No he didn't want it, it was the ugliest thing he had ever seen, with its great button eyes and red thread mouth but he smiled at Illya. "Of course you can take it home." He caught a decided smirk on George's face, and realized that Piper was relishing his discomfort. He had to laugh. "You can do whatever you want."
"See?" George said to Illya. "I told you he'd like it." He tousled Illya's hair roughly and got up. "I'll come by Solo's place and visit you as soon as you're settled. Okay?"
"Our place," Napoleon said, and George cocked an eyebrow at him.
"Why don't we step outside," he suggested, and Illya opened his mouth to argue. George pushed him back into the pillow. "You be quiet. It'll only take a minute."
"All right," Illya said meekly, and Napoleon hadn't yet closed his mouth from the surprise of that meekness when he found himself out in the hall with Piper's face in his.
"You," he said, poking Napoleon in the chest with his index finger for emphasis, "had better treat him right."
"I will. And get away from me." Piper shook his head.
"Uh uh. Not till I'm done. Now I have always thought you were one cold hearted son of a bitch, Napoleon Solo, and all those flowers you sent him, and the fancy restaurants you took him to didn't change my mind one bit. But Illya is crazy about you, and word is you're the one who got him sprung from wherever they were holding him, and that you put your job on the line to do it. Is that so?"
"Yes. Who the hell do you think you are, anyway? And back off, I said." He shoved Piper in the chest but he might as well have shoved the wall itself. Piper stepped closer.
"I," he informed Napoleon, "am Illya's surrogate dad. I'm the only one he's got. The bastard who raised him, well, Illya made me promise not to repeat what he told me about that, so I won't. Suffice it to say he's scared to death of what you want to do with him and he has cause. Got me?"
Napoleon felt the ground shift under his feet. "Illya—he told you about that?" That Illya might confide in someone else what he had never shared with Napoleon himself was such a blow he reeled under it. Another wave of jealousy swept him and he struggled with it. Illya and George Piper were that close? And he had had no idea?
"Wipe that look off your face," Piper growled at him. "Illya has the right to tell who he wants what he wants, and he doesn't owe you any explanation either. Now he probably will tell you one of these days," he added. "I told him he should. Domestic partners or whatever the fuck you're going to call yourselves shouldn't keep secrets. I told him he could trust you, that you wouldn't think any less of him for it. You make a liar out of me and I'll show you something, Solo."
"Good. Then we're buddies. Now they changed his pain medication while you were sulking in the john. I said I'd tell you. They're worried about his depression and so am I. Don't let him out of your sight until he feels better. Call me if you have to leave and I'll come over. Got it?" Napoleon nodded, George extended a meaty palm and Napoleon shook it before Piper went down the hall towards the elevator and Napoleon, feeling dazed, turned back into Illya's room.
Illya was retying the enormous red bow around the teddy bear's neck. He sent Napoleon a mischievous smile. "You hate it, don't you."
"No," he lied stoutly, and Illya laughed. It was such an unexpected and wonderful sound that Napoleon had to sit on the edge of the bed himself. "I just don't know where to put it."
"In the living room," Illya said, looking surprised. "Where else? Right in that big armchair."
"All right" and Illya laughed again.
"You are such a good man, Napoleon," he said and hugged Napoleon around the waist. "But let's just take a picture of it so I'll always remember George's present and then donate it to the children's ward."
"You don't have to do that."
"Napoleon—it's hardly my idea of home decor either. I think George just wanted to make me laugh, and aggravate you at the same time." Piper's visit had certainly brightened Illya's spirits, Napoleon thought, and was ashamed of the jealousy that was still bitter in his mouth. Illya's smile faded. "Don't feel that way, Napoleon," he said and Napoleon looked at him, startled. Illya was gazing into his eyes with that disconcerting ability he sometimes displayed of seeming to see right into Napoleon's soul. "George—he's like all the years of parenting I never had rolled up into one person. One wonderful person."
"Yes you are, because you really don't want me to think of you as a father figure, do you?" His eyes were dancing again. "It hardly seems appropriate."
"Ah, no, of course not. You're certainly feeling better."
"I'm pretty high, Napoleon. Those new pills they gave me put me way out there." He laughed again and Napoleon couldn't help it, he laughed too.
"No. And I love that you fixed my hair." He shook it, and it swirled gold around his shoulders before falling back into place.
"I love you. And I'm sorry I thought that what happened to me would make a difference to you. George says I should have more faith in you."
"That's all right."
"Underneath the pills it's still hard for me to believe it doesn't. I feel so—so worthless. But Mr. Davenport made me feel better. I forgot about Guideline 1A. But it's true, isn't it. If I had bitten them they would have smashed all my teeth with that hammer and then they still would have come in my mouth. Wouldn't they."
"It's not like that would have stopped them."
"Just like when that big man—I never saw such a big man, Napoleon. I didn't know it was even possible for someone to be that big."
"Big how? Tall? Fat?"
"Yes he was both but he also had a great big enormous cock." He enunciated every word precisely and Napoleon couldn't help it, he was shocked.
"I know. I told you, it's the pills. Make sure they send lots of them home with me. The morphine and the Percoset got rid of the pain but they made me heavy, too, and think about it and be sad. These don't."
"I see that."
"Anyway, when that big man unchained my ankles I could have kicked him, I suppose, but not very hard—I was pretty weak and then he would have broken my legs. He said so. So what good would that have done?"
"No good. You did exactly the right thing, Illya. You lived. You came back to me. I... I couldn't bear my life without you."
"I was going to kill myself when I got home from the hospital," Illya said and he was very serious now. Napoleon, feeling cold all over, looked into those eyes from which laughter had fled; enormous dark eyes, containing endless depths of sorrow. "That's why I didn't want to leave. I was going to go in my apartment, lock the door and—how do they say it? Eat my gun. Right here." He put a finger delicately on the roof of his mouth. "That's the best place, I know. I thought that was the only way I'd ever get rid of feeling them inside me." Napoleon stared at him, devastated, as if already experiencing that loss. Illya frowned. "Would it have mattered that much to you?"
"Yes." He could barely get the word out. "It would destroy me. I need you, Illya. I need you with every beat of my heart, every breath I take. Please—please promise me you won't do that."
"Oh, I won't." Illya gave him a sidelong look. "I wouldn't have told you about it if I still planned to do it, Napoleon. I'm not stupid. But I was wrong."
"Yes. That isn't the only way to get rid of them. You loving me—and George loving me, and making me laugh—that works better. The other way—that would be letting them win, wouldn't it."
"And I won't let them win. They said I'd never leave that shed. The man who started it—he said I'd be fucked to death. But I wasn't."
"Because you saved me. You took them apart and scared them so much they sent Stevens to let me go."
"I owe him a favor."
"Oh no you don't." Illya's face tightened. "He shouted at me and kicked the bed until I thought I'd die from the pain. You owe him whatever you're giving all of them. You're getting them, right, Napoleon? All of them?"
"Yes I am. Even as we speak my people are back tracking Stevens and Rayburn and when I find out where they kept you I'll wipe them out."
"Good. It was hot, wherever it was. Hot and humid all the time, day and night. And noisy with bugs. Lots of bugs. Black flies, that bit. And the water was very metallic tasting, as if it came from a spring. And sometimes I heard a train. About once a day, I suppose. It didn't stop, but it blew its whistle. Like there was a crossing there." Napoleon was taking notes and Illya watched him. "Does that help?"
"Accents? Any particular ethnicity?"
"Mostly Hispanic but not all. Dirty men, like they worked outside and never bathed. Sweaty and dirty." He thought. "And stinking of alcohol. There must have been a tavern or something nearby."
"Any idea how long it took to get there?"
"No. I'm sorry. I was unconscious coming and mostly going, too." He frowned. "A very bumpy road. I remember being bounced all around the trunk when we left. I was still awake, and it hurt terribly. And dusty. It must have been a dirt road because the dust even got inside the trunk."
"I don't want to think about it anymore." Napoleon looked up sharply. Illya's face had darkened. "And my stomach hurts." Napoleon rang for the nurse. Erin came in, gave Illya two pills in a paper cup, took his temperature and blood pressure, patted his shoulder and left. Illya swallowed the pills with water. "I want to go home."
Napoleon wanted to cheer. "Tomorrow," he promised, putting the notebook into his jacket pocket. "You come home tomorrow."
"Yes. Please. Please come home with me, Illya. I don't mean to be giving you orders. I want you there I need you there. I want to wake up next to you every morning, smile at you across the breakfast table, be together at night after work. Cook for you. Watch the nightly news with you in my arms. Go to sleep with your head on my shoulder. Never—never be parted again."
"That's just what you said before you left," Illya whispered, and the darkness had lifted from his face. "Not with words, but when you kissed me. All that was in your kiss."
"When I was there, I thought about that kiss sometimes and it made me so sad because I knew—I thought I knew—that no one was looking for me, that everyone—you—thought I was dead. I had no hope—not even for a miracle."
"But the miracle has happened. And—Illya? May I kiss you again?"
"Yes," and Illya closed his eyes, turned his face up. Napoleon's mouth covered his, and it was warm, and soft, and sweet, just as he remembered. They kissed for a very long time, Napoleon's hand in Illya's hair, his other hand stroking the lovely line of Illya's throat and in that kiss, as in the other, everything that still needed to be said was said and when it was over Illya let Napoleon settle him on the pillows, and he was smiling when he fell asleep.
Napoleon smiled too, now, thinking of that. Illya had slept restlessly, still needing his pain medicine three times during the night but he was coming home today and that was all that mattered. Napoleon had placed several orders on line while Illya slept and woke, and now when he got home the doorman had some large boxes for him. It took three trips to get everything up to his apartment but he managed. Going down the hall to the large spare bedroom—Illya's room now, he proceeded to pull down the heavy drapes, ripped off the dark burgundy bedspread and matching sheets. Carefully he installed the new blinds—white, opening at a touch to reveal the magnificent view of Central Park and its surroundings and then made up the antique sleigh bed with the new Egyptian cotton sheets he had ordered, topping them off with a matching white goose down comforter—hand sewn, fabulously expensive. He folded back the covers and plumped up the pillows before turning out the lights and leaving. Flowers began arriving and he put them everywhere—great fragrant bouquets, speaking, he hoped, of his love and desire for Illya to feel welcome here.
Before returning to the hospital he stopped by the car dealership. He didn't want anything to remind Illya of his ordeal, and the trunk he had been imprisoned in would be a constant source of painful memories. Besides, it smelled badly. The dealer was one Napoleon had dealt with often over the years and he didn't blink an eye at the odor of the trunk any more than he had blinked over the bullet holes, knife scars, bloodstains and other assorted mementos of cases Napoleon had worked. He simply accepted the title, did the paperwork and handed Napoleon the keys to his new acquisition—a dark blue Mercedes two passenger sports car with grey leather interior. Napoleon thanked him and headed back to the hospital.
Illya was actually thinking of that car trunk as he watched Erin finish packing his suitcase. It wasn't Napoleon's fault, he knew, but the thought of looking into that trunk, the place where he had known he was dying, dying alone, in the cramped foul smelling dark, made him shudder. Well, he wouldn't look into it. He would just get in the front seat and let someone else load his suitcase. The teddy bear, duly photographed, had been received in the children's ward with jubilation, he had been told and all his flowers stood by the door waiting to be carried out. He had brushed his own hair, tied it neatly back into his usual ponytail and dressed himself in the clothes Napoleon had left. Gwen came in with a wheelchair and he accepted her strong arm assisting him from the bed to the chair. He held Napoleon's orchid on his lap while Gwen pushed the wheelchair through the halls and an assortment of nurses, nurses aides and volunteers carried his other items. It was astonishing, really, the amount of things he had accumulated over the past—what was it, a week? Not quite, that he'd been here. Where was Napoleon? He wondered, was afraid to ask. Maybe Napoleon had changed his mind. Maybe after all he was going to be put in a taxi and taken to his own apartment. How would he get everything up four floors? He wouldn't. He wouldn't bother. He would carry Napoleon's gift and make his painful way up the stairs and get his gun out after all. He would hold these fragile little blossoms in their equally fragile Chinese porcelain vase and they would be his last sight on this earth. The thought made him so sad—depression flooded over him, a great black wave, washing away all the assurance Napoleon's kiss of last night had brought.
So Napoleon had kissed him. Had enjoyed kissing him. Napoleon kissed many people. It didn't necessarily mean anything to him. That it had meant everything to Illya himself was irrelevant. How reliable could his judgment be, drugged as he was? That wasn't Napoleon's fault. It—he closed his eyes, not wanting to see the yellow taxicab, not wanting to see the sympathy on Gwen's face, not wanting to see anything at all.
"Illya?" It was Napoleon's voice and he opened his eyes to find himself looking right into Napoleon's worried face. "Are you all right?"
"Yes," Illya said and saw the gleaming, powerful looking Mercedes at the curb. "What's that?"
"My new car," Napoleon said and opened the trunk, put Illya's suitcase in. "I hated the sight of the other one."
"Oh." He looked at Napoleon with gratitude. What a kind man he was. What a good man. His heart opened again to his partner, and he remembered what he had heard, as more visitors were allowed in to see him. Napoleon's recent actions had been the scandal of the organization, and now people fell over themselves to tell Illya about them. How he had taken a leave of absence. How he had worked night and day at home. How Thrush had sent representatives of increasingly higher rank to try and negotiate some sort of settlement. How Napoleon had looked, on the occasions when he had been called in to headquarters—dark, cold, furious—everyone had their own description and they all added up to the same thing.
People looked at Illya when they thought he didn't see, visibly wondering what it was about him that had called forth such devotion from this man. Illya wondered himself. He hoped he would be able to live up to whatever it was Napoleon saw in him. He felt he had already failed, by doubting. He hoped—he hoped he could make Napoleon happy.
Napoleon was not a man to whom happiness came naturally. Even before Illya had disappeared he had been a hard, driven man and Illya knew he was the only one privileged to see his softer side. It was almost obsessive, the way Napoleon had fastened on to him and Illya wanted very much to be worthy of it. Because Napoleon—he watched Napoleon carefully tuck each potted plant, each flower arrangement, into the space behind the two bucket seats—Napoleon loved him. Illya could no longer doubt it—should never have doubted it. Napoleon loved him with all the strength of that formidable mind, that implacable will. And he loved Napoleon in return, with everything that was in him. He hoped it would be enough. Napoleon was coming back over to him now, and he was smiling.
"Can you get your arms around my neck?" Napoleon leaned over and Illya reached up, wrapped both arms around him, was lifted from the chair with ease. How strong Napoleon was. He rested his cheek on Napoleon's shoulder, secure in that strength and was carried around the car, deposited on the seat without the slightest jolt. Napoleon fastened the seat belt and closed the door. Illya smiled through the window at all the people who had come to say good-bye. Napoleon got into the driver's seat and patted his knee, apparently not caring in the slightest who was watching. "Okay?"
"Yes." He waved, and everyone waved back and then they were moving, down the driveway, pausing at the street and then accelerating smoothly into traffic. He inhaled the good scent of leather and leaned back against the headrest provided, already adjusted to his height, for his comfort. "This is a nice car, Napoleon."
"You like it?"
"Do you want one of your own? They had a silver with blue interior that made me think of you."
"Are you crazy?" Illya had never even thought of keeping a car in Manhattan. "It must cost more than I make in a year!"
"As a matter of fact, I think I am. Crazy about you. And it would make me very happy to buy that car for you."
"All these years I've had this money." Napoleon was indeed very wealthy, as Illya knew full well. "And I've enjoyed it, I'm not denying that. I've lived very well. But now that's not enough. Now I want to lavish it on you. I want to surround you with luxury and comfort. I want—I want to pamper you and indulge you and gratify your every whim."
Illya, who had never considered himself a particularly whimsical person, could think of nothing to say to that But Napoleon, slotting the little car neatly into a parking place, didn't seem to need an answer. Illya looked around. "Where are we?"
"We," Napoleon said, helping Illya out of the car, "are at the finest jewelers in the city."
"Right—" Napoleon pressed a buzzer beside a nondescript door with no identifying sign or label—"here." The door swung open and an elegant man in a black tuxedo bowed them inside. Napoleon held Illya's arm and Illya, who had felt dizzy the moment he stood up, was grateful. He leaned on Napoleon while they were escorted to a counter and then Napoleon eased him into a chair. They were evidently expected, because without any discussion the man placed a tray on the counter. On it were rings—gold rings, platinum rings—plain rings and rings with designs—Illya looked at them blankly.
"Here." Napoleon lifted one from the black velvet. "What do you think of this?"
"It's—it's very nice."
"No, very nice won't do. What about this one?"
"Um..." Napoleon replaced it.
"Sorry, um doesn't cut it either. I want you to find one that you love."
"Oh dear." Napoleon smiled at him ruefully. "I'm not doing this very well, am I? You'll have to forgive me, Illya—this is all new to me. To wear, of course. To wear on your left hand, to match the one I will wear on my left hand. To show the whole world that you belong to me, and I to you."
"There's that sound again." Napoleon looked at the jeweler. "Do you mind? Just for a minute?"
"Certainly, Mr. Solo." The man bowed and withdrew into a back room and they were alone. Napoleon went down on one knee and Illya gaped at him.
"Illya—my love—the laws of this state will not allow a formal proposal of marriage. But will you?"
"Get up," Illya said, astonished.
"No. Not until you answer me."
"You know—we're probably on video. They're not leaving all these expensive rings unattended." Napoleon's answer was to take Illya's hand, press his lips to it and Illya shivered unexpectedly at the feel of them, hot, urgent... his hand trembled and Napoleon kissed it again.
"Am I terribly mistaken?" he whispered and his own hand shook. "Have I been so wrong, all this time? I thought—I thought we—I know you're afraid right now, of doing—anything. Please believe me, Illya, that that was never the main issue. I can wait for as long as it takes. But I need to know, that we are going to be together. I need to know—that I'm not out here all by myself. I am so desperately in love with you. Am I alone, in that?" And, when Illya only stared at him, he swallowed. "If I am—just say so. It's all right. You can still come home with me. I will take care of you until you are well and then—you can do whatever you want. You can leave" his voice broke. "But please, Illya—I have to know."
"You—you really want all of that? With me?" He heard the incredulity in his voice, and was sorry. Here he had just resolved not to doubt Napoleon again, and... "I mean—just me? Forever?"
"Just you." Napoleon turned Illya's hand over, kissed his palm. "Forever."
"I don't—I don't know how to answer that." He didn't. Something was required of him and he wasn't sure what—didn't want to make a mistake, didn't want to be wrong, didn't want to ruin it.
"You say yes—or no."
As simple as that, then. Yes—or no. And why should he tell Napoleon no? Wasn't this just what he wanted too? To live out the remainder of his days in the shelter of Napoleon's love? To shelter Napoleon in his turn? He looked back at Napoleon, proud—some would say arrogant—Napoleon Solo. On bended knee in this quiet little store, with his heart on his face. Napoleon, who had defied the world—their world—for him. Had taken that world in his fists and shaken it until Illya was returned to him. Napoleon—who loved him. Needed him. Illya felt himself smiling, and saw it reflected in those brown eyes. "Yes," he said and Napoleon rose. Pulled Illya to his feet. Took Illya in his arms and kissed him in defiance of any cameras that might be on them, in defiance of everything he had been taught, everything he had once believed about himself. And Illya kissed him back, and although their bodies were pressed together there was no fear, no thought of other rough, bruising hands on him. There was only room to think of Napoleon, and of the dazzling future that lay before them both. In another moment it was over and Illya swayed, dizzy again and sat down. Napoleon sat next to him, and when Illya looked back at the tray he saw the white gold ring with the simple design—an ocean wave, seeming to flow around the band. Napoleon saw him looking at it and picked it up, frowned at the size—too big for Illya's long, slender fingers, set it aside for himself. Looked again, found another, smaller, identical to the first and slid it onto Illya's ring finger, the finger on his left hand, the finger that would indeed proclaim their union to the world, and then Illya was sliding the larger one onto Napoleon's hand and their eyes met and held.
"I will be so good to you, Illya," he whispered. "I swear—I will never give you cause to regret this day. I will devote the rest of my life to your well being."
"Our well being," Illya said, because from now on they were one and the same. "And I will make you happy"—he could, he knew it. He could bring joy and laughter and a measure of peace into Napoleon's work driven life. They smiled into one another's eyes for another moment then Napoleon cleared his throat, moved back. When he reached into his inner jacket pocket for his credit card the jeweler returned, his expression as bland as if he had merely retired to answer the phone. He accepted Napoleon's card, gave him a receipt, wished them both joy and saw them to the door.
Back in the car Illya held his hand out, admiring the lovely lines of his new ring. Stealing a look at Napoleon's hands, so sure on the wheel, he watched the sun's rays strike fire off the matching ring there. It was an unequivocal statement, one that no one would be likely to miss. Napoleon, catching the look, smiled at him. "Thought about that car yet?"
"No," Illya said and saw a shadow of disappointment cross Napoleon's face. Napoleon wanted very badly to do this for him, he realized suddenly. Wanted very badly to—as he had put it—spoil him and indulge him and—it's a hard job, he thought, but someone has to do it—and laughed out loud. Napoleon, not knowing why, laughed too.
"Nothing. Yes, Napoleon. I'd love a silver and blue Mercedes. Can I park it in your garage?"
"Our garage and yes. I'll arrange a spot right next to mine."
Another unequivocal statement, Illya thought. "Thank you."
"You are more than welcome."
"Where are we going now?" He had expected to be heading—home. Home. He was tired, and still a little dizzy. But they had already passed Napoleon's—their—street.
"To lunch at Pietro's. I've reserved us a table with a view of Central Park. You like that, right?"
"Yes." It was one of his favorite places, but he was very tired. He didn't really feel up to a formal restaurant meal, but Napoleon looked so pleased at his surprise that he smiled again. "I'd like that."
"I thought you might," Napoleon said with satisfaction and neither spoke again until they were at the restaurant.
"Are you all right?" Napoleon leaned across their table, on the terrace. "You're so pale—maybe this was a bad idea. You belong in bed. Illya? Want to leave?"
Illya had been staring across the green lawn. From here he could see all the way to the tree line beyond—and the vista of smooth grass, of large grey boulders, visual proof of the bedrock underlying all of Manhattan's towering architecture, soothed him. Here he was, at the best table in his favorite restaurant, a glass of expensive white wine cold between his fingers, a meal of stuffed mushrooms and spinach crepes even now being prepared for him—here he was. "What? Oh, no. I don't want to leave. This is nice." It was. He gave Napoleon a tired smile. Napoleon frowned at him.
"You look exhausted. I'm sorry. We should have gone straight home. The rings could have waited—everything could have waited."
Illya held out his hand again, turned it one side to the other, fascinated by the shifting yet changeless design. "No, Napoleon. I'm glad we did it. I'm glad we're here. It's really over, isn't it."
"Yes. Of course it is. Why..."
"Because if I can be here, sitting right here—outside, in the fresh air and sunshine—with you" he smiled again at Napoleon, who smiled back, "then it must be over. I didn't really see that in the hospital. But I do now."
"I'm glad." They stopped talking as the waiter set out their meal and once he left Illya fell on his food with a new return of his usual hearty appetite. He devoured all the stuffed mushrooms, his crepe and half of Napoleon's, too, and when dessert came, an exquisite assortment of petit fours he ate five one right after the other. Napoleon was laughing at him by the time he was finished. "Where on earth do you put it?" he demanded. "I've always wanted to know. You eat like a horse, and stay thin as—as—I don't know what."
Illya pushed away the thought of the hideous slop he'd been given, at which he hadn't dared look too closely, and shook his head. He was still tired, but it was a pleasant languor. He waited at the table while Napoleon brought the car around, and sank into the leather seat with relief. He hoped the new car Napoleon was buying for him also had leather seats, and at the same moment realized all he had to do was ask, that Napoleon would want him to ask. "Napoleon?"
"I like the leather interior."
"Will my car have it?"
"Yes, of course. Is there anything else you especially want?"
"A good sound system."
Napoleon laughed. "Top of the line, I guarantee it."
"Would you mind very much if I opened the window?" Napoleon liked to keep the city noises and smells out, he knew, but he was so hungry for fresh air... the purr of the window going down was his answer, and he rested his arms on it and watched the streets go by. By the time they were in the elevator with the valet, who was carrying all the hospital plants and Illya's suitcase too, he couldn't stop yawning. Inside their apartment Napoleon waited while the valet arranged the flowers. Then he took the suitcase, tipped the man and locked the door behind him. Putting an arm across Illya's shoulders, Napoleon walked him into the back bedroom. Illya set the bowl of orchids on the night stand, and looked around with pleasure.
Sunlight flooded the room, fresh flowers bloomed everywhere, and the bed was a dream of white softness. He stood still, gazing longingly at it while Napoleon unbuttoned, unzipped and unfastened, removing Illya's clothes, holding back the covers. Illya climbed naked in between the cool clean sheets and Napoleon drew the comforter to his chin. Illya smiled up at him drowsily. "Napoleon?"
Napoleon sat on the edge of the bed. "Yes?"
"I know you did all this for me. Thank you."
"You're welcome." He kissed Illya's forehead. "You take a nap now. I'll be working around the apartment, but I won't go anywhere."
"Promise?" It seemed risky, suddenly, going to sleep here instead of in the hospital where he could hear the noises from the corridor, where the nurses were in and out all the time... "promise?"
"Yes, sweetheart. I promise."
"Leave my door open."
"I will." Napoleon got up and closed the blinds.
"And you won't let anyone come in."
"No. Illya—do you want me to stay with you while you sleep? I will, if you want."
"Wouldn't you mind?" He did want Napoleon to stay with him, wanted Napoleon with him every minute. "You'll get tired of me hanging on you."
"No I won't." Napoleon pulled a chair up beside the bed, and Illya closed his hand around Napoleon's sleeve as he had done before, in the garage, when he hadn't been sure Napoleon was really there. "Let me just get my laptop. You'll sleep and I'll work, and when you wake up I'll make dinner."
"I can't possibly eat..." Illya's eyes closed and his fingers tightened briefly on Napoleon's sleeve before going limp. Napoleon patted them and abandoned the idea of getting up. Instead he just sat there and watched Illya sleep, rejoicing at the healthy color in his face, at his even breathing. He looked at the ring on his own finger, thought of two Mercedes side by side in the garage. Looked again at the bed. He himself hadn't had a good night's sleep in—he didn't even know how long. Yawning, he rose, gently sliding his arm out from under Illya's hand. Illya stirred, murmured something unintelligible—a sleepy protest that was silenced when Napoleon dropped his own clothes to the floor and came in beside him. Illya turned to him, and Napoleon drew him close. They lay there, naked, bodies entwined in the big old bed, and after only another minute or two Napoleon fell asleep himself.
Illya woke first, awareness returning behind closed eyelids, body lax with the pleasure of sleeping as long as he needed and waking naturally when he was through. Slowly he became aware of Napoleon's naked body, pressed against his, Napoleon's bare shoulder under his own cheek, Napoleon's arm under his neck, Napoleon's other arm draped across his middle. One of Napoleon's legs was over his own legs, and altogether he was as securely wrapped up in Napoleon's embrace as could be desired. He tried to remember when Napoleon had gotten into bed with him—his last conscious memory was of Napoleon, fully clothed, in the chair, and could only recall a deepening of the sense of security holding onto Napoleon's sleeve had given him.
How comfortable his bed was! The hospital bed had seemed paradise compared with the thin hard cot but this—this was bliss. The mattress was firm yet yielding, the sheets bare whispers of contact on his flesh, the comforter so light it felt like air, yet warm. It's over, he thought again. It must be over. He sighed, replete, and Napoleon stirred, turned towards him, arms tightening. Not even awake, Illya thought, and he wants me closer. The shift had pressed Napoleon's genitals against his hip—soft now but Illya remembered well enough how it felt when Napoleon wanted him. He bent his head a little so he could see. Napoleon's body was different from his—not just the dark wiry curls clustered there, so different from Illya's own soft blond ringlets but his—his testicles, too. Illya made himself think the word because surely nothing about Napoleon's body could be frightening or distasteful to him—he loved Napoleon. Napoleon's—balls. He tasted the word, wondered if Napoleon would want to feel his mouth there. They couldn't engage in the final act, Dr. Mauterer had said so, and really Illya was still so sore he couldn't picture wanting to. Couldn't picture it anyway although before Napoleon had left, he had—had ached deep inside him with that wanting. Now they would have to wait and that was fine with him. But surely Napoleon would want to do—something. It was no secret that his friend was a very highly sexed man. Napoleon had joked about it, back in the days when he had had a different girlfriend every week—sometimes every night of the week.
"I don't know what's wrong with me, Illya," he had said, laughing, one night after they had sat up late writing their reports and were celebrating the completion of the task with a bottle of wine. "I should have outgrown that with my adolescence. But I didn't. I want it—all the time."
Illya raised an eyebrow and held out his glass for a refill. "All the time?"
"Well, most of the time. Several times a day, anyway."
"Is that a lot?"
"Not for a teenager. But for a grown man, yes."
"You should get married. Then you could do it as often as you wanted." As soon as the words were out Illya regretted them. He didn't want to see Napoleon married. How could they spend evenings together like this, laughing on the sofa, drinking and talking and... Napoleon was close enough so their shoulders were touching and it was so sweet—he wished he had kept his mouth shut. But Napoleon was shaking his head.
"And therein lies the dilemma. When I'm not having sex with them, I don't want them around at all."
"Oh." He was relieved.
"You know," Napoleon continued, smiling into Illya's eyes in the way he had, "between the two of us we probably have one normal sex drive. Maybe that's what makes us so compatible."
Illya didn't want to talk about his sex drive—or his absence of one. So he asked Napoleon a question about the reports they had just finished, and Napoleon accepted the change of subject, and they had never discussed it again.
Illya thought of it now. Napoleon had evidently solved his dilemma by choosing Illya as his partner. Because he liked having Illya around—that had never been a secret. He sought Illya's company openly, coming to his office to chat, inviting him to lunch, taking him on expensive vacations, designating the spare bedroom as Illya's own so Illya would feel comfortable spending the night as often as Napoleon invited him. They had worked all that around Napoleon's social life, the women coming and going, his sex drive seemingly as strong as ever. And now—now it would be just Illya. Could he satisfy Napoleon? Several times a day, Napoleon had said. But—that was never the main issue, he had also said. Illya looked again at Napoleon's balls. He decided he preferred that term. It sounded less threatening—almost playful. Napoleon's balls were large, and heavy, and swung low in the sack that encased them. Illya had certainly had enough of them in his mouth lately to have a pretty good idea how they would feel. His own were smaller, drawn up hard and tight near his body. Napoleon was circumcised, as Illya himself was—whereas the majority of his attackers had not been. He wondered if that was something he should have mentioned. Perhaps it was an important clue. That struck him as funny, somehow and he smothered a laugh against Napoleon's shoulder, which had the effect of waking Napoleon up all the way. His eyes opened and he smiled at Illya. "Hi."
"Hi." He felt Napoleon shift position, so he was no longer pressing against Illya's hip, saw him flush and realized with a start that Napoleon was as uneasy about their new relationship as he himself was. Napoleon would be wondering if Illya was afraid of him, if Illya was repelled by his masculinity now.
"This is nice." Napoleon moved again, seemingly by accident, letting the comforter slide between them so Illya couldn't feel him there at all.
"Yes." It was nice. He smiled at Napoleon, wanting to put him at ease. "I love my bed."
"I love it too. I may move in here if you don't mind."
"What about your room?"
"It's smaller than this one, and already doing double duty as an office. I'll just turn it over completely. Unless you mind."
"No." He didn't.
"And then you can share the office."
"All right." He smiled at the thought of sharing, and Napoleon smiled back.
"What were you laughing about just before I woke up?" he asked, and Illya laughed again. "What? Tell me."
"I was wondering if I should have mentioned that most of them were uncircumcised. I wondered if that might be an important clue."
"You were." He wasn't sure how to respond to that. "Ah—they weren't?"
"Hmm." He thought about it. "I suppose it could be—an indication of culture, or geography."
"It was all right that I felt you against me. I didn't mind."
"I very much don't want to frighten you."
"I know. You don't."
"I want you to promise you'll tell me right away, if I do."
"Are you hungry?"
"Good. I have a surprise for dinner."
"Is it dinner already?"
"Yes—I fear we have slept the afternoon away."
"It was nice."
"Yes it was." Napoleon sat up, still keeping the comforter across his lap. Illya rose and crossed to the window, staring out. From the bed Napoleon could see the marks etched across his body; the round, vicious looking cigarette burns, the marks where a belt had landed, imprints of a buckle. The fading bruises. The terrible raw places around his throat, wrists, ankles. And Illya was so thin—always slim as a reed he was painfully thin now. Napoleon could count the knobs on his spine, see too easily the frail looking shoulder blades and, when Illya turned to face him, the delicate line of his collarbone. Every rib. His face, too, was gaunt and Napoleon rolled out of bed, pulled on his clothes. "I'll start dinner."
"What is it?"
"Come and see."
So Illya, dressed in pajamas Napoleon had bought for him—soft linen pajamas the same blue as his eyes—sat at the table, and when Napoleon put a pizza stone to preheat in the oven his eyes widened in delight. "You're making pizza?"
"Yes." He knew Illya loved it, so he had researched the process in his usual methodical fashion, found a recipe he liked, bought the ingredients and the stone, and now began mixing dough. Illya came over and helped him, and when it was time to toss it into the air they took turns, laughing, trying not to drop it, narrowly averting disaster several times. Napoleon took a few liberties with the cheeses and toppings, knowing just what Illya liked, wanting nothing more than to give him what he liked. While it cooked they drank sparkling water on ice, because Illya had taken two of his pain pills and Napoleon didn't want to take any chances with alcohol. It was a good thing, he reflected, because within twenty minutes Illya was giggling at everything he said, had spilled his water twice with the result that his pajamas were soaked and he had to take them off. He did so with an utter lack of self consciousness, dropping them to the floor of the kitchen. Napoleon rummaged in his drawers and found a soft cotton T shirt that was a little big on him, and on Illya it made a perfect night shirt, brushing the middle of his thighs, shoulder seams drooping around his biceps, and with his hair rumpled and his eyes just that little bit unfocused he was so appealing that Napoleon had to clench his fists to keep from reaching for him.
"When do I get my new car?" Illya demanded, having requested and received a fresh glass of water.
"Tomorrow? It's too late now."
"I want to come with you and drive it home."
"You're not supposed to drive yet. We'll take a taxi there and I'll drive you home."
"All right." He watched Napoleon check the pizza. How good Napoleon was. And how careful he was being, not to make any moves, not to touch... but Illya wanted Napoleon to touch him. He wanted—he wanted Napoleon to hold him. And—he accepted his slice of pizza with gratitude and tore into it. How hungry he was! You'd think I hadn't eaten in weeks, he thought, and burst out laughing again. Napoleon laughed along with him, not knowing the cause, delighted by the sound.
"Is it good?"
"Yes. But these pills make me so silly, Napoleon. I'm afraid you won't like me anymore, now you've seen how silly I can be." It wasn't true, of course; the expression on Napoleon's face said he liked Illya just fine, silly or not. "Maybe you should take some too. Then we could be silly together."
"I find you enchanting and one of us should keep a clear head."
"In case of—well, fire. Or earthquake."
"So you'd save me from fire? Or earthquake?"
"I would save you." And suddenly neither of them was laughing. Napoleon reached across the table, covered Illya's hand with his own. "I will always save you."
"And I would save you, too, Napoleon." Illya's eyes were very serious. "I would never just let you disappear either. I'd go to the ends of the earth, if need be."
"I know. We're both a disgrace to our profession. We're supposed to be objective..."
"Certainly not crazy about each other."
"Certainly not that," Napoleon agreed. Illya got up—not very steadily, and walked into the living room. He turned on Napoleon's stereo and loud rap music thundered out. He jumped, turned the dial. A sports announcer blared a baseball score and Illya banged on the console with the palm of his hand. Napoleon leaped across the room, turned it off. "What on earth..."
"I was just trying to do what you do," Illya complained. "All you do is touch it and soft classical music comes out."
"Like this?" Napoleon pressed a button and a string quartet began to play Bach.
"Yes." Illya held out his arms. "Dance with me, Napoleon. That was one of the things I couldn't bear to think about, when they had me. It was so sweet—dance with me again so I know it's over."
"I thought you knew that already." He gathered Illya in, one strong arm around his back, using the other hand to cup Illya's tenderly, and Illya draped his free arm around Napoleon's neck and laid his head down with a sigh of contentment that seemed to come all the way from his toes.
"I thought so, too. But then other things come—like sleeping in that bed with you, and eating pizza with you, and this—and I realize it all over again." He wriggled a little against Napoleon, and Napoleon moved back. "You don't have to do that."
"I don't want to take advantage of... well, of the way you are right now."
"You mean looped?" Illya laughed and Napoleon chuckled.
"Looped is an excellent description."
"I know you wouldn't. I know how good you are. But worrying about it is making you uncomfortable, and I don't want you to be uncomfortable with me."
"I so desperately don't want to frighten you."
"I'm not afraid of you." Deliberately Illya pressed closer, as if to prove it. "And anyway, it's not awake." True. There was no hardness there, where their lower bodies were touching.
"He is not an it, and he is not the least bit aroused by the thought of your fear."
"How nice of him." Illya smiled up into Napoleon's face, and Napoleon's breath caught.
"How lovely you are," he whispered, and Illya's smile softened.
"Yes." He kissed Illya's forehead.
"Well, you are very handsome, Napoleon. I have always thought so."
"Yes." Illya put his head back down on Napoleon's shoulder, and as the music went on they danced without further conversation, nothing fancy, just back and forth, and around—while everything else faded away and there was only the sound of the music, and the feel of the other; the scent and sound and warmth of the other, and that was all there was in the whole wide world.
Maybe it was the music, Illya thought after a timeless interval. Or their bodies pressed together. Maybe it was the gentleness of Napoleon's touch, after an eternity of abuse. Whatever it was, the stirrings he had felt before Napoleon's departure, before everything in his life was snatched away from him, were back. Stronger than before, and surer. Then, he had been uncertain of just what he was feeling. Now he knew. He was feeling desire. His body was responding to Napoleon's, and moreover desire was growing stronger by the minute. He felt himself harden the way Napoleon had, before. The way they had—no. He wouldn't think about them. He wouldn't think at all, would just feel—feel this warm, prickly sensation that made him want to be even closer to Napoleon, that made his legs weak and his head spin. Napoleon was aware of it too, he could tell by the way Napoleon's arm tightened around his back, pulling Illya against him. Napoleon wasn't aroused at all and Illya worried about that, a little. Napoleon hadn't responded to him since his rescue—even naked in bed together Napoleon hadn't responded. But he couldn't think about that either because his body was growing more insistent—he arched his back a little so he could press even more closely to Napoleon, wanting to do more—wanting to grab Napoleon's hips, to wrap his leg around Napoleon's waist so he could... he blushed, unable to stop the flood of images. Napoleon turned his head and whispered Illya's name, right into his ear, the resulting torrent of desire making his legs buckle, and if Napoleon hadn't grabbed him he would have fallen. But Napoleon kept him on his feet, and moved them back until Illya felt the edge of the sofa against the backs of his legs and he allowed Napoleon to ease him down onto it, to sit down beside him, to gather him into his arms again.
Illya's breathing was ragged, and he was lost in the swirling currents rising in his body, lost—and found, safe in Napoleon's arms and it didn't matter that he didn't know what to do next because Napoleon would know, and sure enough Napoleon was kissing his throat and how could that feel so good? It was only his neck, after all, but each brush of Napoleon's mouth sent white hot jolts of desire through his body. He wanted to open his legs further but Napoleon had his own leg across them so he couldn't move and that was all right, too, that was fine—he would let Napoleon do it all because he trusted Napoleon. Napoleon was stroking his back, tracing lazy circles there and when Napoleon laid one hand, open, warm and flat on his stomach and began a slow massage Illya couldn't be still, he reached for Napoleon, clutched at him, hips moving just a little because he couldn't help it, he couldn't... Napoleon ran a fingernail across Illya's nipple and Illya cried out, shocked at himself but he had never known that his body was capable of this. Now Napoleon's finger was traveling slowly across his chest, so slowly and the massage of his stomach was continuing and that ache was back. He knew Napoleon was going to touch the other nipple, he knew it and when it happened he cried out again but this time the sound was smothered in Napoleon's mouth. Illya's lips parted willingly and he sucked on Napoleon's tongue, greedy for it, wanting to assuage the ache and it did, but it awoke new desires, too, for more.
Napoleon's hands left him and he whimpered, pleadingly. Napoleon was sucking on his tongue now and he didn't even know when that had happened but it was wonderful. Napoleon's hands were under the T shirt, skimming the bare skin of Illya's legs, pushing the shirt up, and up, and the difference between those earlier touches and these, without the cloth between them, was dazzling. Napoleon caressed him, his arms and his back, his sides and his stomach, his chest and then he was kissing Illya's throat again as his hands traced delicate arabesques on Illya's inner thighs and Illya did open his legs wide, wanting—wanting—panting and moaning and then Napoleon touched him—there, just the lightest touch—there. Illya wondered foggily if Napoleon too noticed the differences between them as Napoleon cupped him, carefully, so careful not to hurt, stroking him almost too lightly. Illya could hear his own voice, inarticulate sounds, and then Napoleon was shifting, pressing his lips to Illya's stomach. It was a different pleasure entirely, deeper, far more urgent and he didn't know what to do with his hands so he stroked Napoleon's hair, feeling Napoleon shiver unexpectedly and Napoleon moved down, still stroking, still so light and then Napoleon's mouth closed around him. The pleasure was so strong Illya nearly swooned with it, melting, melting and soaring and then, unbidden, unwelcome memory flashed.
The feel of it, swelling in his mouth, deep in his mouth, choking him. Pounding into him. The smell, making him gag. The foul taste. The sudden flurry of thrusts, then the hot liquid squirting down his throat, making him retch, making him .. "Stop! Stop stop stop..." pleasure gone, horror stifling him. "Stop, please stop..." he was trying to get away but couldn't, was held firmly, and Napoleon's voice was in his ear.
"Illya. Illya—I stopped. I did stop. Illya, Illya, my love, please hear me. I stopped. I stopped the first time you told me to. I would never—what's wrong? Sweetheart—what is it? Did I hurt you? Did I—did I do something wrong?" He was baffled. He had been lost in this act, the one he had secretly wondered if he could perform; even as far back as that first embrace, so long ago, he had wondered. Could he do that to another man? He hadn't been sure. The rest of it—the kissing, the touching—even anal intercourse—none of that was new to him. He had done it all, many times. Enjoyed it all—with women, of course, but still—it wouldn't be that different. But this—sucking the root, they called it when he was in school.
What are you, queer? they would jeer at any boy who seemed the least bit effeminate. What do you do, suck the root? And those were fighting words anywhere, any time. They had never been said to Napoleon himself, nor had he ever taunted another with them—schoolboy kid stuff, he had thought with disdain, when there was work to do—class work, sports, school politics. But still—he had wondered, when he realized that his heart, so long kept under lock and key, had been given to another man. Could he? And tonight he had had his answer.
Seeing Illya, helpless with desire—for him, trembling all over with desire—for him, had filled him with a yearning he had never known, and all he had wanted to do was give pleasure, to teach Illya about pleasure and what better way—surely they hadn't done this to him, when he was a prisoner. They wouldn't have cared about his pleasure, only their own; surely this one act would be clear of taint. But as the intoxication of Illya's scent, Illya's taste, the feel of Illya, shivering under his hands, under his mouth—just as that had been, finally, stirring his own desire, Illya had lost his erection, making Napoleon pause, lift his head even before he heard that frantic plea. Now he cradled Illya in his arms, kissed the top of his head. "Illya. What is it?" Had he done something wrong? Injured Illya somehow—been too rough, too enthusiastic? There must be more to this act than he had thought. He had assumed he could rely on what he knew he liked, what would feel good to him, were he in Illya's position, but obviously... "Sweetheart. Please talk to me. I'm sorry I..." what? Hurt him? Frightened him? "I'm sorry."
"No, I'm sorry," Illya managed, face buried in Napoleon's chest. "I'm sorry you—I know how terrible that is, how awful it is—I'm sorry you thought you had to—I'm sorry." He broke down and wept, then, great heaving sobs that shook his whole body. Napoleon held him, remembering his jealousy of those quiet tears shed on George Piper's broad shoulder. Now he wished Piper were the one comforting Illya because he didn't know how to cope with this terrible grief, was afraid of saying the wrong thing, of failing Illya now, when he obviously needed—something. Something Napoleon Solo was not sure he had to give. His reaction to another's emotional pain had always been closer to impatience than tenderness. But Piper wasn't here, and it wasn't Piper who had caused this, anyway. It was he himself, and only he himself to deal with it. So he held Illya, and stroked his hair, and tenderness came, rising in a great surge, tightening his arms, making his voice break when he tried to offer reassurances.
"It's all right. Illya—it's all right. I didn't think I had to. I wanted to. I wanted to give you pleasure and that's—well, that's one of the most pleasurable things I know. Or it should be. Did I"—he had to stop for a moment. "Did I hurt you?"
Illya shook his head violently.
Another vehement head shake.
"Then what? Did I do something wrong? I've never done that. I thought—I thought you'd like what I like. Selfish of me, I know. I'm sorry."
"No. You were fine. It was—it was fine. But I know—I know how it feels, like you're choking, and how terrible it smells, and that taste" he shuddered, remembering. He had really thought he might go mad with revulsion. "And at the end—I threw up, Napoleon! It was so disgusting I threw up! And I don't want—I don't want you to feel that way about me!" He was struggling to control himself. Napoleon shook his head. How could he have ever doubted his capacity to feel Illya's grief as his own, to offer whatever comfort he could?
"Illya, my heart. How can you compare it? That was—that was coercion in its ugliest form. It was—it was rape. Rape of your mouth, as surely as the other was rape of your body. Of course it was terrible. But this" he tilted Illya's head back, kissed his mouth, tasting the salt of tears and under that Illya's own sweet taste. "This is an act of love. And you smell wonderful. You smell like you, and I love you. You taste wonderful, too. They were dirty, you said."
Illya sniffed, wiped his face on Napoleon's shoulder. "Yes. They were filthy."
"Well. You, on the other hand, are clean as a cat."
"Yes. You are immaculate. You are... fresh as a daisy."
"A daisy now? What happened to the cat? You—you'd tell me, right, Napoleon? You wouldn't just say things to make me feel better, would you?"
"No—well, I want you to feel better. But it's the truth, too. Illya—if I didn't think I would enjoy every aspect of our sex life I wouldn't be giving you cars and rings and what have you. I was enjoying that."
"Did you really vomit?"
"Yes. The first time."
Napoleon snorted. "Serves him right." Then he was sorry. "But they must have hurt you for it."
"They made me throw up more. They put a funnel in my mouth and poured this medicine in and I threw up all night until I couldn't even lift my head, and then they left me lying in it."
"Oh." Napoleon held him close again. It was dawning on him that he really knew none of the details of Illya's imprisonment. Dr. Mauterer had discussed the rapes, and the evidence of the marks left by the cuffs showed how rigorous had been his confinement but there were no doubt many more stories like this one. "I am so sorry."
"You keep saying that. It's not your fault."
"But it is. Don't you know that?"
"No it wasn't. How could it be your fault?"
"Rayburn—Rayburn blamed me for his wife's death. I shot her, years ago—over ten years ago."
"I remember. But she fired at you first, Napoleon! I remembered it perfectly well! She fired at you, and you still gave her a warning shot and then she shot you in the side! What were you supposed to do, lie there and let her kill you? That wasn't your fault!"
"Rayburn said she was the only person he had ever loved, and I killed her. So he took you. It would never have happened if I hadn't let it be known how I feel about you." Napoleon's voice shook. "I placed you in that position. I jeopardized your life. Didn't they tell you? He said he would. He said you would die cursing my name" he had to stop. Illya put his arms around Napoleon's waist.
"I wouldn't have. I mean, they didn't tell me why I was there, but I still wouldn't have. I'm proud, that you feel that way about me. I was always proud, to be known as your friend."
"My best friend."
"Your best friend." Illya kissed his cheek. "As you are mine. And it wasn't your fault at all. It was Rayburn's fault."
"Never mind well." Illya kissed his other cheek. "It's not your fault."
"All right." He was embarrassed. But how sweet the comfort was, flowing in his direction. "And it wasn't yours, either." He looked hard into Illya's eyes, which met his directly.
"Maybe not that it happened. But how it happened..."
"Still not your fault."
"He had an infinite variety of revenge to choose from. He chose this one because of me."
"I don't even know how you mean that."
"Because of how I am."
"And how are you?"
"I don't know. But it's not the first time."
"I understand that. Do you mean because of your appearance?"
Illya looked away. "I suppose—that. There seems to be something that invites it."
"You are beautiful."
"You never mind well. You're the most beautiful human being I've ever seen." He stroked Illya's hair back off his face. "You are exquisite."
The color was rising in Illya's face now and he kept his gaze averted. "I wouldn't say that."
"I am saying that. But I don't believe that was the main reason. He thought we were lovers. That's why he chose... what he chose."
"He said—" Illya's eyes widened. "He said it was apropos for your little friend. He did think that."
Napoleon's face hardened. "I am sorry, that my love has brought you grief. From now on I will do my utmost to ensure it brings you nothing but joy. And my revenge on all those who harmed you will be so terrible..."
"I've been thinking. And I've changed my mind. I don't want you to do anything to them."
"What?" He was dumbfounded. "How can you say that? I have to, Illya. For your protection, if for no other reason."
"Rayburn is already dead, killed by his own organization. That's a strong message."
"I want them all to die. The man who drugged you, and threw you in that trunk. The drivers of the car, the men who hurt you. Stevens. I want"
"It started with revenge. Rayburn's revenge. I want it to end with his death."
"I want it to be over. No more paybacks. I want you to let it go."
"How can I possibly do that?"
"Illya—" he stopped. Of all the things Illya might have asked of him, this was the hardest. He wanted to exact a flaming vengeance that would be talked of for years. He wanted each and every man who had laid hands on his partner to die—'in screaming agony' as Rayburn himself had said. He wanted—he looked at Illya again. He wanted to lift the last remnants of shadow from those eyes. He wanted—to give Illya whatever would bring him peace.
"I want it to be over," Illya repeated. "I know—none better—what I am asking. I'm asking anyway. Napoleon?"
"All right." It came hard, words forced reluctantly from his throat, but Illya smiled. He looked relieved, as if a load had been lifted, and Napoleon kissed his forehead. "For you. For no one else on this earth."
"I know. Thank you."
"Would you mind very much if we went to bed now? I know we have unfinished business. Can we not talk about it anymore and just go to sleep?"
"Of course." He laid the back of his hand on Illya's cheek. "You look tired." Illya did. His face was white, and had a pinched look that made Napoleon think of that barely healed surgical scar. "Are you having pain?"
"Come on." He wanted to carry Illya in to bed but Illya struggled to his feet. He leaned on Napoleon, however, and let Napoleon help him, tuck him in. He accepted the water and pills Napoleon brought, and when Napoleon came into bed Illya turned into his arms with a sigh of relief. Despite the extended nap of that afternoon he was overcome by sleep as soon as his head settled onto Napoleon's shoulder, and his mouth was curved faintly in a smile. Napoleon watched him, wrapped a strand of Illya's hair around his fingers, held it so it caught the moonlight falling on the bed. His. It satisfied something in him. 'You are the most beautiful human being I've ever seen' he had told Illya, and it was true. He had always thought so—had considered his partner perfect in every way. Had frowned heavily on men who had approached him—because Illya didn't like it, he had assured himself on those nights when he had wondered... but he hadn't liked it either, had he. No he hadn't. He lay now, rapt with appreciation for the pure, fragile planes of Illya's face, his fair skin, those extravagant golden lashes, the masses of blond hair he had saved from the barber's shears—as he had saved Illya himself, as he would wrap him up in his power and authority and keep him safe. How happy he was. How happy they would be, together. And how beautiful was his love, smiling in his sleep. Napoleon smiled too, and fell asleep himself.
Again, it was Illya who woke first. He lay quietly within the circle of Napoleon's embrace, thinking about the night before. He now knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he could respond sexually to Napoleon's touch, that his body was capable of those feelings—still. Despite everything. What a powerful force it must be, to overcome all his deep rooted instincts against it. To overcome what his uncle had done to him, what those men had done to him. To overcome all the years of offers—some subtle, some crude—none particularly inviting. Of course, this was Napoleon. Only with Napoleon, he knew, could he let his guard down enough for desire to come in. How he loved Napoleon. He held out his hand and admired his ring again. Just looking at it made him feel warm all over, safe all over. He felt, illogically perhaps but no less strongly for that, that no one would dare touch him now, now that he bore this visible symbol of the powerful man he was partnered with.
I put you in that position, Napoleon had said and Illya supposed it was true. But that didn't frighten him. Rayburn's long held enmity had been a fluke. He stood as much chance of being struck by lightning, as of encountering another such enemy from their past. No, he wouldn't waste one moment of their lives together worrying about it. He turned his head and looked at Napoleon, disciplined even in sleep, his mouth firmly closed, breathing evenly through his nose. Not for Napoleon the slack mouthed drooling sprawl Illya had seen in the men who stayed long enough with him to pass out—from drink, from satiety. Illya hoped he was equally comely in his sleep. But then he supposed it didn't matter. If they were to spend the rest of their lives together they would see one another—for better and for worse. They would see one another sick, irritable, dirty. Odorous. Sharing a bedroom—a bathroom—there would be no secrets.
Illya thought again of the night past, and was sorry, that he had spoiled things. Napoleon had said he was enjoying himself. How could that be? Illya was willing to do that for Napoleon, to take Napoleon into his mouth, but he didn't expect to find any pleasure in it. Well—but he'd be pleasing Napoleon. There was joy in that, surely. To hear Napoleon cry out the way he himself had, to feel Napoleon's hands in his hair, Napoleon's body shudder with desire—for him—oh yes, there would be joy in that.
Perhaps it would have been better if he hadn't told Napoleon how revolting he found that act. Napoleon would never impose it on him now. And that wasn't fair. Napoleon deserved the best that Illya could give him. And that included their sex life. If Illya was to replace all those women—all those beautiful, sophisticated women, women no doubt highly skilled in the erotic arts—then he needed to stop holding Napoleon off. He needed—wanted to bring Napoleon pleasure. He turned, and looked down once again, as he had the day before. Napoleon, too, was clean. Surely he wouldn't find Napoleon's scent, or his taste, repulsive. Surely—he slid down in the bed and inhaled deeply. And again, eyes widening in surprise. How good Napoleon smelled! It was Napoleon's own familiar smell, but hotter, with a musky undertone that seemed to travel straight from Illya's nostrils to his own organ, a twang there, sharp and sweet—he inhaled again. It made him dizzy, a little, and he put out his tongue to those heavy balls, glad Napoleon was still asleep so he could take this at his own pace, feel free to retreat if he needed to.
The taste, like the smell, was Napoleon's own and it traveled the same circuit to sizzle between Illya's legs. He drew first one, then the other, into his mouth, rolling them there, Napoleon's hairs tickling his nose, the scent stronger now. In his peripheral vision he could see Napoleon's member rise, lengthen and he was relieved because he had started to seriously wonder if Napoleon was attracted to him at all anymore, after what had happened. But there it was, fully erect—for him. He remembered Napoleon saying 'he is not an it' and smiled. The personal pronoun was endearing, somehow—less frightening. It was a part of Napoleon, after all—how could it threaten him? He ran his tongue along the length and it—he—jerked and swayed. Feeling a surge of love that encompassed Napoleon's sexuality as surely as it embraced Napoleon's mind and his heart Illya opened his mouth and drew it in, wondering if Napoleon were dreaming now, of him.
Napoleon in fact was wide awake and had been for some time—ever since Illya's breath first touched him. He had feigned sleep, sensing that Illya needed time to explore undisturbed, without having to consider what Napoleon might want, or not want. But now he couldn't help it—he groaned aloud. Illya froze. Wanting to reassure him Napoleon groaned again, this time putting words to his pleasure. "Yes—oh, yes" and Illya continued on. Remembering how Illya's pleasure had triggered his own arousal Napoleon reached for him, touched him—yes, Illya was ready too, so he tugged at Illya's hips, turned him, pressed a soft kiss on the very tip and Illya stopped once more.
"May I?" Napoleon asked, not wanting to frighten Illya off again, not wanting to presume and Illya nodded which, since he still had Napoleon fully in his mouth, made Napoleon's fingers tighten convulsively, pulling him in, and then there was silence. Each concentrated on the other's pleasure, each rewarded by pleasure beyond his wildest dreams and when the end approached Napoleon wrapped his arms around Illya's hips like iron bands, holding him immobile and Illya, always a quick study, reciprocated. Everything seemed to be happening in slow motion, pressure building, and building and then they were free. Flying, soaring, cries smothered against the other's flesh, clinging desperately to the other's body, tight, tight, then looser, floating, floating down, and down, and then quiet.
Quiet. Illya felt himself slip out of Napoleon's mouth even as Napoleon left him. He licked his lips, then kissed Napoleon once more. "He's very nice," he said, and felt rather than heard Napoleon's chuckle.
"Thank you. Next time I'll have to introduce him to my little comrade here." He rubbed his cheek against Illya's curls. "Soft," he whispered, ran his lips across them.
"My comrade." He patted it. "That's what I'm going to call him."
"You're giving it"
"Sure. Why not? We've gotten pretty friendly over the past several minutes."
"You're crazy. What about yours? Do you want me to name him?"
"He has a name."
"No he doesn't."
"Yes he does. Come up here and I'll whisper it in your ear."
"Is it a secret?" Illya turned, pillowed his head on Napoleon's shoulder and found himself smiling into his brown eyes, which smiled back.
"Then I'm not the first to hear it?"
Napoleon laughed. "Hardly."
"Oh." He was disappointed.
"But you'll be the last."
"Well, I suppose that will have to do. Was it—was it all right for you?"
"It was wonderful."
"So tell me his name."
"The little corporal."
"The little what?"
"You know. That's what they called Napoleon Bonaparte. The little corporal."
"But that Napoleon became a general."
"Are you promoting him?"
"I think he's entitled."
Napoleon laughed out loud, and Illya laughed too. "All right. General it is. And you are the first to hear that one."
"And the last?"
"Yes." Napoleon kissed him. "But what about yours? Doesn't he deserve a promotion?"
"Such bourgeois distinctions have no place in the life of a good comrade," Illya said and this time Napoleon fairly shouted with laughter. Illya watched him, smiling, and then Napoleon stopped laughing and kissed him again. Their tongues met, twined, each sharing the taste of the other and oh, it was a heady brew. They kissed for a long time and before they were finished both the general and his comrade were at full attention, rubbing hard against each other and Napoleon found that if he draped a leg over Illya's hip just so, and Illya in his turn discovered that if he turned a little... they rocked easily, slower this time, almost dreamlike, their tongues embracing as their bodies did, the finish a slow flowering that joined their souls and their hearts—forever. Forever.
Done, they lay panting. Napoleon recovered first, opened his eyes, smiled at sight of Illya, long lashes dark on the clear skin under them, lips slightly parted, a hectic flush on those high cheekbones, that glorious hair tumbled around his face. "How beautiful you are," he said, lost in admiration once again and then Illya's eyes opened, those blue depths drew him in, and they kissed some more.
"So now they've met," Illya said and Napoleon smiled, reached down. Closed his hand around both of them, holding them together in his palm.
"So they have," he agreed, and let go, but their bodies didn't separate, they stayed pressed together and after a little while both fell asleep again.
Six weeks later Illya sat in Dr. Mauterer's office. He had returned once before, ten days after his release from the hospital, so the staples could be removed from his abdomen but he had been dazed by pain medication and had clutched Napoleon's hand throughout. Now his mind was clear, and he had come alone. "I rather put my foot in my mouth with Agent Solo the last time I brought this up," the doctor said wryly. "This time I am going to ask. Are sexual relations something you need me to discuss at this visit?"
Illya turned crimson and nodded.
"Very well. Are you still experiencing pain?"
"No." He wasn't. The surgical site occasionally gave him some sharp twinges, reminding him when he did too much, or twisted the wrong way—he hadn't tried bending from the waist again since the last time had brought tears to his eyes, but the raw ache up inside him was gone.
"Good. You seem to be completely healed. I am very pleased with your recovery." He had also been pleased that the exam, although detailed and thorough, had caused his patient no more than the normal amount of discomfort. No one liked his gloved finger poking and prodding there, but considering that just six weeks ago it had required anesthetic for Illya to tolerate it at all, his progress was remarkable. "You have my permission to resume... ah, to begin, full relations. If you experience pain, call a halt and come see me again." He had to smile at Illya's blushes. "Need I remind you that you have no cause to be bashful with me, charming as it is?"
"I know, you held my intestines in your hands." Illya forced himself to meet those twinkling brown eyes. "Thank you, Dr. Mauterer. You've been very kind. And you saved my life."
"You are quite welcome. Good day, Agent Kuryakin." He rose and extended his hand, and Illya shook it. On his way out he stopped to see Gwen, and Erin—both were delighted by how well he looked, exclaiming over his ring, hugging and kissing him—and to check in with Jake Davenport.
"I am cleared to return to work on Monday," he told Davenport, who looked relieved.
"I am glad. The science department functions well enough under Mr. Piper, but there are no flashes of brilliance. You are sorely missed."
"Thank you. I don't know how brilliant I'll be at first."
"It takes time," Davenport agreed. He was studying Kuryakin closely. He was still thin—he had always been thin—but he no longer looked like a starved cat. His eyes were bright, his color good—he moved with an ease that said the pain was well in the past. And he looked so happy—Davenport smiled at him. "I presume Agent Solo will also be returning to work Monday."
"Congratulations, by the way." He too was looking at Illya's ring, and Illya smiled.
"Thank you. Good day, sir."
The silver and blue Mercedes was waiting for him and Illya nearly flooded the engine in his impatience to get home. He put the pedal all the way to the floor, and took disgraceful advantage of the license plate that kept him safe from traffic police, rocketing down the ramp into their garage, twisting the wheel at the last minute to slide into his own spot, right next to Napoleon's car. He scrambled out, waved at the doorman on his way to the elevator and called Napoleon on his pen.
"Tell the General prepare to advance," he said, and heard Napoleon's laugh. And when the apartment door opened he jumped into Napoleon's arms and Napoleon carried him in to the bedroom, kissing him all the way, pulling off his clothes, laying him down on the bed, stripping off his own garments, coming down on top.
Napoleon took his time, using everything he had learned about Illya over the past six weeks, everything he had learned about his partner over the years they had been together. He built the tension gradually, making Illya want it, making him frantic and not until Illya was writhing under him, not until Illya was pulling at him and crying out his name, not until Illya was begging for it did Napoleon give it to him, slowly, using all his self control to ensure Illya's pleasure and then they spun away into a private universe of their own making, dancing again, slow dancing across the stars, and they were one.