Shore to Ocean

by ChannelD

The heart can think of no devotion
Greater than being shore to ocean
Holding the curve of one position
Counting an endless repetition

—Robert Frost

Illya's thoughts, if they could be called that, ran on and on in his head; no beginning that he could remember, no end that he could foresee.

{Lost. I'm so lost. I'm sunk deep in a black, churning, ice cold ocean. The waves turn me and toss me. With every breath cold black water rushes into my lungs, freezing me from the inside. Whether my eyes are open or closed, the sea is in them. In my ears, in my mouth. Choking me. Killing me. Killing me forever.

There are monsters below me in the deep. I feel them, I hear them. They hurt me, when they get at me, but if I stay very still, if I am absolutely silent, if I do just what I am told and no more, it's harder for them to find me. So I am still, only the motion of the waves moving me. I am silent. I do not cry out, or sigh aloud, or call for help. There is no help. There is nothing but this endless sea in which I am lost. So lost. So very lost.}

Napoleon Solo looked at the piece of paper in his hand. It was the last thing he had ever expected to affix his signature to, but there it was. A request for extended personal leave, duration undetermined. It might as well be his resignation. For another moment he stared at it, then he set his jaw and wrote his name.

When he handed it to Jake Davenport, U.N.C.L.E.a's New York Section Chief since Alexander Waverly's retirement four years back, he was prepared for anger, or argument. But Davenport only sighed.

"I suppose there is no use in my refusing to accept this?" he said, and Napoleon shook his head. "Or in telling you that if you are out for over three months, don't count on coming back?" Napoleon winced, but shook his head again. "He doesn't even know you," Davenport went on.

"Not the point."

"What is, then?"

"I know him. And he deserves better than what we're doing to him."

"He is receiving the very best of care."

"Also not the point. He may be receiving the best of care, but not from anyone who cares about him."

"Which you do."

"Which I do," Napoleon agreed quietly.

"He may never know you."

"I am aware of that."

"It is a waste of your abilities."


Davenport sighed again. "Very well, Agent Solo." He signed his name. "We will speak again in three months time. Perhaps by then you will be in a more reasonable frame of mind."

"Perhaps he will be, too."

"Perhaps. Dismissed."

The extended care wing of U.N.C.L.E.'s hospital smelled like every nursing home he had ever been in. Despite the most stringent hygiene measures the scent of adult urine, heavily masked by disinfectant, hung in the air. Dinner trays were being wheeled down the hall, and they too smelled like an institution. There were few windows, and those were sealed. Christmas decorations were hung here and there; as depressing a sight as Napoleon had ever seen. Christmas wouldn't come here, despite the date. Doctors and nurses moved around on soft soled shoes, and the PA system was in near constant use. Vacant eyed people sat in wheelchairs, and from another room came the sound of a television set. Canned laughter broke out as Napoleon passed, and he glanced inside. A shadowy assortment of people sat in front of the TV. Napoleon quickened his step.

He hated this place, while recognizing and acknowledging its necessity. Everyone here was either an agent, a former agent, or an agent's family member These relatives tended to be elderly, suffering from the usual assortment of age related ailments—Alzheimer's, strokes, other forms of senile dementia. The agents were mostly young, most of them victims of Thrush brainwashing and drugs. After U.N.C.L.E.'s specialists had their turn at trying to bring them back to normalcy, they ended up here. Receiving the very best of care, Napoleon thought, and his mouth twisted. How Illya must hate it. Or how he would hate it, if he knew. Did he? No one could say for sure.

Illya had not spoken or moved of his own volition since his last mission, sixteen weeks ago now. The rescue team had found him in a small, windowless room, with probes inserted in every orifice of his body. The probes were capable of delivering electric shocks, of heating up to intolerable levels, of cooling down to below freezing. Napoleon, who had been with the first wave, had removed them with speed and dispatch, but Illya had not responded; not answering Napoleon's anxious questions, not flinching from the noise and commotion of the Thrush satrap being blown apart around them. But when Napoleon had said urgently, "Come on, Illya, we have to go," he had risen obediently and followed Napoleon out. He had run when bidden, stopped and waited when so instructed, gotten into the helicopter at Napoleon's sharp command, and in general done exactly as he was told.

He had not talked to Thrush, according to the notes U.N.C.L.E.'s rescue team had unearthed at the satrap. That was good, or course, and Illya's record contained a new commendation to add to all the others. But he did not appear to know, now, that it was over. He still would not speak, even when so ordered. It was the only order he disregarded. And when not obeying orders he sat, looking straight ahead. He initiated nothing on his own. Every four hours someone told him to use the toilet, and he did. He brushed his teeth, lay down on the bed or sat up to eat, all with that same eerie compliance.

His bloodstream had been full of an unprecedented cocktail of drugs. The doctors managed to separate them out and identify some—scopolamine, LSD, thorazine, ketamine. Others were new to U.N.C.L.E., and their effects were equally unknown. What the combination was supposed to do, no one was sure. All that was really known was its effect. And the effect was devastating.

Napoleon tried. He talked to Illya endlessly during his daily visits, but Illya responded to him no more than to anybody else. He obeyed Napoleon, just as he obeyed the doctors, the nurses, the orderlies who cleaned his room. When Napoleon had presented his case for bringing Illya home with him, he had met only half hearted resistance. It was unorthodox, but none of the orthodox methods had worked.

"Maybe a home environment will help," Illya's primary physician had said doubtfully. "At this point it can't hurt. Just be very careful, Mr. Solo. He will obey anyone. The security risks are clear. He would open your door to whoever ordered it. You can't be with him twenty-four hours a day seven days a week."


"You have to sleep."

"So does he."

It was true. Illya slept eight hours a night, ten to six like clockwork, and took a two hour nap every afternoon at one, wherever he was, and whatever was going on around him. "Someone wanted to keep him in good health," the psychiatrist had said darkly, and Napoleon had flinched. "Don't forget to send him to the bathroom," he had added and Napoleon had flinched again. It seemed so demeaning to say, 'Illya. Use the toilet'. Like sending a dog into the yard, he thought. But what else could you do? Otherwise Illya would sit uncomplaining until he couldn't hold it anymore, and then soil himself without blinking.

"I won't forget. Do you wake him up at night for that?"

"Yes. At two AM. Assuming his usual sleep hours. Four hours in, at any rate."

"All right."

"Remember to see that he eats."

As if he wouldn't. As if he would forget to feed Illya, forget to let him relieve himself, forget ... everything. Everything Illya was to him. Everything they had been to one another. He and Illya—he and Illya were more than friends, more than field partners. Napoleon had no words for what they were, and he had tried to find them. He had tried to find words to justify taking over Illya's care now, because they had asked him.

"Are you lovers?" the behavioral therapist had asked. "Because it seems unlikely he would be able to reciprocate in such a relationship at this point."

"No, we are not," Napoleon had snapped back. Not yet. Not damn yet because they had waited, like good little soldiers, had followed procedure and waited for the day when the fieldwork would be behind them. They had spoken of that day infrequently, because it was never good to tempt fate, but both of them knew what would come when—if—they lived to see it. "And if we were, I wouldn't impose it on him now."

"Are you related in some way?" the outtake clerk had asked. "By marriage, or ..."

"No. He is my partner, and my friend."

"That's all?"

"That's all," Napoleon had agreed, because if she didn't understand there was no use trying to explain. Waverly would have understood, he thought, and maybe Waverly did. Things had gone very smoothly since his first request to be appointed Illya's guardian, and he strongly suspected that the old man had put a finger into the affair. It was out of the ordinary, what he wanted to do, and in U.N.C.L.E., as in any other organization, that generally meant miles of red tape and countless appointments with countless bureaucrats. But in this case the wheels moved expeditiously, and within a week of his initial application it was approved, and now here he was. Standing outside the door of Illya's hospital room, preparing to take him home.

Illya was dressed and ready. He had on shoes and a jacket, for the first time since his arrival, but if this meant anything to him it didn't show. He sat on the edge of his bed, and stared at the opposite wall. When a nurse moved in front of him to take his vitals he stared at her too. At her, through her, through the wall, into whatever was taking place in his mind. If anything was.

The doctors thought not. "Wiped clean," was the verdict. "A blank slate and, worse, one that erases itself on a continual basis. Uneducable, irretrievable. A total loss."

Too bad, so sad. Such a brilliant mind. So much potential. But he knew the risks going in. At least he hadn't talked. And now he never would.

Napoleon stood in the doorway and looked at him for one more long moment, before speaking the words that would change his life forever. "Come with me, Illya. We're leaving."

Illya rose and crossed the room to him. Napoleon looked at the top of that blond head. "Illya," he said, urgently. "Look at me."

Obedient as always, Illya did. Their eyes met, and held.

Not blank, Napoleon thought. Those eyes weren't empty, or flat. They were filled with swirling shadows, like clouds racing across a blue sky, like currents deep within a blue sea. Wherever Illya was, it was no peaceful, tranquil place. Wherever he was, was he afraid? Was he aware, and unable to show it? Was he even now longing to communicate with Napoleon, and trapped behind a silenced tongue, a stilled body? Or was he drowning in some awful ocean, screaming for help and no one to hear? Napoleon didn't know. Nobody knew. But he put an arm around Illya anyway.

"Come on, partner," he said and his voice was thick with unshed tears. "Let's go home."

Illya put his head on Napoleon's shoulder.

Napoleon's heart nearly stopped. He stood stock still, not daring to move, wanting to jump and shout. He looked about wildly—did anybody else see it? Could anybody tell him what it meant? But no one was in sight, and then Illya straightened, accepting the arm around him, not responding to it. Napoleon blinked. Had he been mistaken? Maybe Illya was just tired. But hope was making him dizzy. He started walking, and almost lost his grip when Illya didn't move. He let go, took another step, wanting Illya to follow, hoping that Illya would want to be back by his side. But Illya only stood where he was, gazing down the hall, at Napoleon's retreating back, with no sign of emotion.

Hope fled. Napoleon sighed. "Come with me," he repeated, and Illya did. He followed Napoleon down the hall, into the elevator, out onto the street.

Horns blared, crowds flowed around them, jostling them. The sun shone down from a brilliant blue sky, and a cold wind tousled Illya's hair. The tumult of a million voices surrounded them. It assaulted Napoleon's senses, after the quiet of the hospital, and he had only been there for an hour. How did Illya feel about it? He'd been in that sterile room for weeks now. Weeks and weeks ... surely this influx of sensation must reach him. But he stood still, looking without seeing, hearing without reacting. When a party of tourists pushed past them, almost knocking Illya down, separating them from one another he showed no distress or fear. He showed nothing. He stood and stared ahead of him, and when Napoleon caught his arm and pulled him closer he offered no resistance, but no cooperation either.

With his free hand Napoleon signaled a taxi, and when it stopped he put Illya inside, followed right behind. He gave the driver his home address and sat beside Illya, very close. He wondered if Illya would put his head back down on his shoulder. But he didn't, and Napoleon sighed once more. Maybe it had only been a meaningless tic, Illya resting his head the way he did when it was time to sleep. He would lean against anything handy—a wall, a chair back, a pillow—and sleep. Maybe this was the same thing. Maybe he was a fool to think he could reach Illya with his love. Maybe everybody else was right, and he was throwing his career and his life away on someone to whom it no longer made any difference whether he was being cared for by his partner, a nursing assistant—or a Thrush interrogator.

But it made a difference to him. He couldn't force, or even predict Illya's response—if any. He could only do what he knew was right. And the right thing for him to do was to take care of Illya in his time of need, just as Illya would have done for him. Do what's right and the rest will follow, he thought, as he had thought throughout his life. An old fashioned philosophy perhaps, but it was all he had. Well, not all. He looked at Illya, at that pure, clean profile, so unnervingly the same. Illya's features weren't lax or stupid looking. He merely seemed deep in thought—until you looked into his eyes, where the shadows moved and the clouds raced and whatever he was thinking or feeling was buried fathoms deep.

Inside Napoleon's apartment all was quiet and inviting. Napoleon liked his comforts, and while he could do without them when needed, once the mission was over he came here, where the carpet stretched soft and thick underfoot, where the sunken living room contained an enormous built in sofa facing a wood burning fireplace, where the kitchen gleamed brightly, a marvel of technology. It was his home and it welcomed him, embraced him, consoled him whenever he entered. He had brought Illya here, hoping that it would do the same for him.

But Illya just stood inside the doorway and stared. He seemed to be looking intently at the patch of wall just opposite, but Napoleon already knew better. Whatever was in front of him would get the same grave attention—or lack thereof. Was Illya seeing anything of his surroundings? Did he hear, know, feel? The doctors and specialists said no. They said his brain was as empty as his eyes.

But his eyes weren't empty. Napoleon looked into them again, and they looked back. Although they didn't move, things moved behind them. Napoleon was sure of it. Not good things. He was sure of that, too. He wished that he could make Illya feel safe. He wished that Illya would emerge from those shrouded depths, and really see him. If Illya only once saw him, knew him, he would reach out—or at least accept Napoleon's own reaching. But he didn't. He just stood there. Napoleon looked at his watch.

"Go to the bathroom, Illya," he said and Illya looked around, then didn't move again. Napoleon bit his lip. He had hoped that Illya would remember his apartment, that the same basic knowledge that told him how to unzip his own trousers, how to aim or sit, wipe and flush, would guide him unerringly to Napoleon's bathroom which was as familiar to him as his own. But it didn't. Napoleon waited, hoping for he didn't know what. A question? Even a puzzled look would be something. But there was nothing, and after a moment Napoleon took his elbow and guided him down the hall, and into the master bath.

Once there, Illya knew what to do. "They didn't want to have to do any of that for him," the doctor had said with a shrug when Napoleon had pointed out that his slate wasn't as blank as all that. "A monkey can use a restroom, Solo. Don't—"

"Shut up!" Napoleon had flared. "Don't you dare—don't you ever dare, talk about him like that! He's not an animal, he's a human being. The brightest, smartest, best ..." he had choked on his own words and turned away, furious with himself as well as with the doctor.

"Sorry," the doctor had said. "I didn't mean it like that. I was just pointing out—"

"I know what you were pointing out. Don't do it again."

"He doesn't want you to get your hopes up over nothing, Napoleon," Gwen, the head nurse practitioner, had said gently. "Illya has been with us for almost three months, and in the other ward for a month before that, and he's exactly the same as when you first brought him in."

"I know."

So Napoleon didn't get his hopes up. He stood in the doorway and watched Illya urinate, lower the seat, flush, and turn to wash his hands. The mirror over the sink seemed to catch his attention and he stared at it, into it. Napoleon moved to his side, and their eyes met there.

"Illya?" he said softly, and reached out to touch Illya's reflection. But when his hand passed in front of Illya's face Illya regarded it with the same apparent interest, and Napoleon let it drop. "Come on," he said gruffly, and had to stop and clear his throat. "Let's get some food into you."

Illya would eat, too. "They didn't want—" the doctor had begun and Napoleon had silenced him with a sharp hand gesture. They didn't want to be bothered feeding him. So they had left him those two basic functions, and that was all. That was all that was left of Illya Kuryakin's razor sharp mind, of his sly sense of humor. He could eat, and he could void. And he could wash his hands when he was done. Everything else required step by step instruction, none of which seemed to stay with him for the next time.

Napoleon cooked baked chicken and rice, broccoli and cheese. It was one of Illya's favorite meals, but he ate when directed with no more enthusiasm than if it were cardboard. He ate until it was gone, and then continued to scrape at the empty plate until Napoleon told him to stop. He did so, and sat with the fork in his hand. Napoleon rose, and lifted him by his elbows. He guided his steps until they were in the living room, and settled him on the couch. He could have simply ordered Illya to go sit there, but he hated doing that. It made him feel like a torturer himself, saying 'go here, do this, sit there'. So he led Illya, and eased him down, and left him to stare at the fire while he cleaned up after dinner.

They sat side by side in apparent amity. Napoleon was staring into the fire himself. He had focused his energies entirely on attaining this moment, with Illya safe and sound, and with him. Now that it was here, he didn't quite know what to do. Should he talk? Not talk? Work? He looked at his partner, but there were no answers there. So he sighed heavily and got up, went over to his computer. "Stay there," he ordered, probably needlessly, since in the absence of a command to the contrary Illya would stay put, but Napoleon didn't want to take anything for granted. Illya didn't nod, or give any indication that he heard him, but he didn't move from the sofa either.

Napoleon was blocked out of most of his work projects. Stunned, he tried again, and again. He tried different approaches, even some that were not strictly approved. Finally he called Davenport.

"What the hell?" he said tightly. "I told you I would try to work at home."

"We decided the security risk was unacceptable."

"Security risk? What security risk? What the hell ..." he knew he was repeating himself, and stopped.

"Your former partner."

"He's not my former anything, damn it!" Now he was yelling. That was hardly the way to inspire confidence.

"He is a liability," Davenport said flatly. "He could be of no assistance to you in a crisis, and, in fact, would assist the enemy if so ordered. And what exactly would you do, Agent Solo, to keep him from being taken, and tortured, again?"

Taken again. Taken away from him again. Hurt again. Napoleon closed his eyes. "I would not betray my trust," he said tightly. "I hope you would know that about me by now."

"Your present course of action tells us we never knew you at all," Davenport answered. How calm the man was. How inhuman. "Now we are trying to be accommodating. We have granted you three months leave. We have granted you temporary custody of Agent Kuryakin. We are not granting you free access to our most secure files. There is routine paperwork you can do. That will have to suffice. Good day, Agent Solo." He broke the connection, and Napoleon slammed his fist down on the desk. Damn it. Damn it, damn it, damn it. What was he supposed to do with his time now? With his mind? Routine paperwork. Fine then. He turned back to the computer, and did his routine paperwork.

Much later he stretched. He had found something he could concentrate on after all, and except for his frequent glances Illya's way, and another ordered bathroom trip, he had concentrated. But it was late now, and almost time for Illya to sleep. Napoleon wanted him to be comfortable when he did so. So he got up and went down the three steps into the living room; stood in front of Illya, who didn't acknowledge his presence by so much as an eyelash flicker.

"Illya," he said. He kept using Illya's name even though the doctors had demonstrated—by calling him Fred, by calling him Gwen, by calling him by Napoleon's own name—that it made no difference whatsoever. "How can he ever get better if you won't even use his name?" Napoleon had demanded and they had averted their eyes and said of course they would use it. They were just showing him that it didn't matter. "Like hell it doesn't," Napoleon had snapped, but the point had been made. Still, he used Illya's name. "Come with me," he said now and obediently Illya rose, followed him down the hall, into the guest room.

Napoleon undressed him, item by item, then led him into the bathroom again. He turned on the shower. "Go on," he said gently. "Take a shower." But that was obviously too complex because while Illya did step into the stall he merely stood there, water pouring over his body, which was still too thin, down his back, over his face. Napoleon watched him for a moment, then stripped, got in beside him.

He washed Illya all over, carefully, thoroughly, and as gently as he could. Illya turned when directed, lifted his arms, his feet. Napoleon shampooed his hair last, rubbing at his scalp, trying—trying desperately—to reach him through touch, to reach him through his own caring, to reach him at all. But when the soapy water flooded his face, getting in his eyes, surely stinging, he didn't even close them. "Shut your eyes," Napoleon said hastily and Illya did. Whether it made any difference or not, Napoleon had no idea. It made him feel a little better, that was all.

Afterwards he dried Illya off, and again Illya cooperated when told. Napoleon got the pajamas he had bought and helped him into them, got into his own. He led Illya into the guest bedroom. "Get in bed," he said wearily and Illya did so. He lay on his back and stared at the ceiling. Napoleon drew the covers up over him and watched his eyes close, watched him turn onto his side. Within a minute he was breathing deeply and evenly. Napoleon looked at his watch. Ten o'clock on the dot. Illya would sleep now until six except for the two AM bathroom trip. Napoleon left the room. He kept the door open, and checked his security measures.

Front door—locked and fastened with a bolt to which he had the key in his pajama pocket. French doors opening onto the patio—also locked, key also secured. All the windows were sealed shut, and made of bullet proof glass. Illya wasn't going anywhere, in the unlikely event he got up on his own. He wasn't letting anybody in, either. Napoleon set his watch alarm, his phone alarm, and his alarm clock for two and finally, dispiritedly, climbed into bed himself.

And couldn't sleep. He stared at the ceiling—just like Illya, he thought and tears stung his eyes. He swiped at them savagely. He had to be strong now, strong enough for both of them. Strong enough to make Illya feel safe. Strong enough to bring him back, all the way back. But it seemed so wrong that Illya lay down the hall in his unnatural slumber, alone. Who knew what dreams he had? Who knew where his mind went when sleep took him down? After an hour or so thinking of that, Napoleon got up.

Illya hadn't moved. He lay curled in on himself, back to the door. Napoleon kicked off his slippers and climbed in beside him, back to back. He lay that way because it seemed relatively unobtrusive, relatively familiar. He and Illya had often shared beds on their assignments, and this cozy position had satisfied both of them while remaining ambiguous. They could—almost—be just friends. Almost. And if it didn't comfort Illya, it did comfort him. With Illya's warmth up against him, with Illya's soft breathing in his ears, it was easier to let it all go and surrender to sleep.

{Lost. I am so very lost. But the water seems calmer, and I am floating now, instead of being tossed about. There is even the sense of a sort of support—a reef, or a ledge. I can't reach it, or touch it, or even try, but just the awareness of it is comforting. I had never thought to feel comfort again. I don't know what it is, or where, or even when. Perhaps it is no more than a trace memory, but I feel marginally less alone. I am still drowning, still endlessly dying, but the water filling my lungs is not so terribly black and cold as before, and it is easier to rest without that ceaseless buffeting of unseen waves.}

It was bitterly cold outside, with a strong wind. Napoleon had stepped onto the balcony to test the weather, and was driven right back in. So he dressed Illya warmly, buttoned his coat all the way up, wrapped a scarf around his neck and tied his woolen hat securely under his chin. All the while Illya stood, gazing tranquilly over Napoleon's shoulder. At least Napoleon thought he looked tranquil. The swirling shadows had nearly gone, and Illya's eyes were as blue and clear as a tropical sea. It gave Napoleon hope, which the doctors did their best to quash.

"Don't you see it?" he had asked at Illya's first check-up, one month ago today. But they didn't. They hadn't noticed the currents before, and they didn't notice their absence now. Instead they looked at Napoleon pityingly when they thought he didn't see, and wrote "No change," on Illya's file. It infuriated him.

"I want a new doctor," he spat at the end of the session. "Next time we come, I want a new doctor. I want someone who will try and help him get better, not give me a thousand reasons why he never will. He deserves ..." here he choked up and had to stop for a moment. "He deserves an advocate," he finished, voice harsh. "He deserves someone who believes in him. Next time we come, that's what I'd better see or ..." he stopped again because the only finish to that sentence was 'there's not a whole lot I can do about it'. He was no one, really. Without the power and authority of his position, he was no one. He had his unwritten authority, and his hidden banks of power, and he held them out as a shield against those who would try to work against him, but if they decided he was no longer an adequate caregiver they could take Illya away from him and nothing he could do or say would stop it.

It had terrified him then, and it terrified him today. Two months now, and nothing anybody else would call progress. In another month his leave of absence would be up, and they could force him to either return to work full time, or retire. Either way, Illya would be returned to that nursing home—or worse, turned back over to the brainwashing specialists. They were itching to get their hands on him again, to run more, possibly painful, tests; to subject him to who knew what experiments. Before Napoleon let that happen, he would run. He would run, and hide, and take Illya with him. But it would be better if he didn't have to do that—and what if they were found?

"He feels safe with me," he had argued desperately last time, when Davenport had asked wearily if he were ready to accept the inevitable yet. "He's not as afraid when he's with me."

"Agent Solo, I—we all—feel very strongly that that is nothing but your imagination. Agent Kuryakin feels nothing. He knows nothing. Whether in the nursing home, with you in your apartment, right here in this office ..." here they had both looked at Illya, sitting and staring. "It is all one and the same to him."


"When your leave is up," Davenport had warned, "we will have to reassess."

"It's not up yet."

"True. Good day, Agent Solo." He didn't say good day to Illya, but only watched as Napoleon tucked Illya's hand into his arm, and steered him out the door.

Today had better be different, Napoleon thought now as he finished tugging Illya's mittens on. He had tried gloves, but without Illya's active cooperation it was just too hard and too frustrating. Mittens were easier—and warmer, too. Today had better feel different or I'm not keeping the next appointment. I'll take him and we'll just disappear. He smiled into Illya's eyes.

"Okay? Ready to go?" He waited for a reply, got none, and put on his own coat. "Come on," he said gently. "Stay close to me."

They took a taxi, but even in the short walk to the front door the wind bit deep. Illya's nose was red, and his eyes were watering from the cold. Inside the main lobby Napoleon stopped, untied Illya's hat and removed it. He unwound the scarf, took off the mittens and put everything in his own pockets, before taking Illya's arm again, and leading him to the elevator.

There was indeed a new doctor, Dr. James Holt. He was very young, and Napoleon scowled at sight of him. "What are you, an intern?" he asked bluntly and the young man smiled.

"No, although I've heard that before. Good morning, Agent Solo. Good morning, Agent Kuryakin."

He had addressed Illya directly, and used his name and title. Despite his initial suspicion Napoleon found himself warming to this earnest, bespectacled young man. He watched as Holt put Illya through the usual physical exam, and even managed to smile back at the two nurses. He had dated them both, once upon a time that seemed impossibly distant now. They fussed around Illya, cooing at him as though he were two years old, but they had always done that even when he was his irritable, acerbic self, so Napoleon didn't take offense. When all was finished Dr. Holt pulled up a chair beside Illya, who was still sitting on the exam table. "All right, Agent Solo," he said. "Tell me about this progress you have observed."

Napoleon repeated his information about the shadows and currents. "It's different now," he said urgently. "It is. His eyes used to look as if something was just beneath the surface—something bad. Now ..." together he and Holt looked at Illya's eyes again. "Now they're clear, like they used to be. Not empty," he added angrily, before Holt could speak. "Just clear." Like a cloudless sky, like a deep pool.

"And you stay with him all the time?"

"All the time."

"At night too?"

"Yes. I think it comforts him, to have me nearby. We're not lovers," he added hastily, because the question had arisen more than once. "And even if we were, he's hardly in a condition for it."

"Have you left him at all?"


"And you think it would matter if you did."


"You know that they are considering removing him from your custody."

"Today?" The jolt of adrenalin made him nearly jump out of his seat. He controlled it, of course, but he knew it had been in his voice. "Now?"

"No. But at his next visit, in one month's time, your leave will have expired. Decisions will have to be made."

"I can't let that happen," Napoleon said and the desperation was stronger in his voice now. "I just can't. It would be the end of any hope for him."

"I would like to try a simple experiment. If you would leave us ..."

"No! I'm not letting you poke him and prod him and terrify him any more than he already has been! What is wrong with you people? Hasn't he suffered enough? Didn't you read his file? Don't you know what they did to him?"

"Relax, Agent Solo. I won't lay a finger on him. All I want you to do is get up, walk out the door, and down the hall. Go to the end of the corridor, turn and come back. If he is truly aware of your presence—and your absence—there should be some indication. An increased heart rate. More rapid respiration. Some physiological change. Something we can use to show your superiors that it is worth their while to leave him with you. I will attach only these monitor leads—one on his finger, one on his chest. I will do that now, while you are still here." He did so, still talking. "You see, it is no more invasive than anything we have done today. If there is nothing, well, you have lost nothing. But if there is something—anything—I will go to the mat for you. With my strong recommendation, and data to back it up, it will be much harder for them to recommit him to the nursing facility. Don't you agree?"

Napoleon thought it over. "That's all? Just down the hall and right back? You'll let me in."

"Of course. You have him for another month regardless."

"All right." He watched Dr. Holt attach the leads to a machine, and the sound of Illya's heartbeat filled the room. It was slow and regular, as was his breathing. "What did the CAT scan show?"

"The same as it has shown since his rescue. REM sleep."

"REM sleep. All the time."

"All the time," Holt agreed quietly.

"That means he's sleeping. And dreaming."

"Possibly. It could mean any number of things. I am ready."

"Do you want me to say anything to him first?"

"No. Just get up and walk out the door."

It was the hardest thing he had ever done. The simple act of standing up, walking away from Illya, going through the door and hearing it close behind him, was the hardest thing he had ever had to do. He forced himself to put one foot in front of the other. The wall at the end of the corridor seemed ridiculously far away, the floor elongating as he went, the red exit sign he had fixed his eyes on coming no closer.

It never did. Well before he reached it he heard his name being called by one of the nurses. "Napoleon! Napoleon come back!"

He ran. He ran down the hall, through the door she was holding open for him and to Illya's side. All appeared the same, and even the amplified heartbeat sounded no different. "What ..." then he looked into Illya's face, and lost his voice.

Tears. Tears were running down Illya's cheeks and dripping onto his shirt. He didn't wipe them away, or even blink. His shoulders didn't shake, and he made no sound. He just sat, staring straight ahead, silently weeping.

Napoleon didn't know whether to laugh aloud or weep himself. He caught Illya into his arms and held him fiercely. "Illya," he said and his voice broke on a great bubble of emotion that rose from his chest. Again he couldn't tell if it were a laugh or a sob. "Illya. I'm here. I'm right here. I promise I won't leave you again. I'm here, Illya. I'm right here."

Illya put his head down on Napoleon's shoulder, as he had before, and this time there were three witnesses. Napoleon pressed his lips to that soft, fair hair, not caring what they might think, not caring about that at all. "Illya," he said again, and realized that his own cheeks were wet. "Oh, Illya."

Illya sat up straight again and looked blankly at—or through—the wall. Napoleon took his pocket handkerchief and gently wiped the tears away. "Are we through here?" he asked. "It's past his lunch time, and he'll take his nap soon."

"Yes." Dr,. Holt was smiling, and over his shoulder Napoleon could see that the two nurses were openly crying. "Take him home."

"And you'll go to the mat for him—us."

"If need be. I hope it won't be needed. We were not the only spectators."

Napoleon lifted his eyes to the video camera on the wall, and gave a half salute. Davenport, of course, and others too no doubt. Well, let them look. Let them all look. He wanted to shout aloud, he wanted to leap for joy, but he did neither. Instead he put Illya's coat, scarf and hat back on, slid his hands into the mittens and walked him out the door, arm around his shoulders. He walked him out, put him in a cab, and took him home.

They ate deli take out, and before it was finished Illya fell asleep at the table, head resting on his folded arms. Napoleon looked at him for a moment, then lifted him, carried him down the hall and into the back bedroom. He put Illya down and climbed in himself, sitting with his back propped against the headboard. Illya's head was on his lap, and Napoleon stroked his hair. He had no words, even to himself, for how he felt. It wasn't happiness, precisely—how could he be happy with Illya still trapped inside his mind, still sleeping at the intervals Thrush had decreed? But hope burned brightly, and there was a curious contentment to be found just sitting here, the warm weight of Illya's head on his thighs. There was joy in knowing, knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Illya knew he was there, and that it did indeed bring him comfort.

{The monsters had me. For a moment there, they had me and were pulling me down into the black depths, which were twisting and turning me, colder and more terrifying than ever. I couldn't scream, I couldn't struggle. All I could do was sink, and drown. And then, just as suddenly, the monsters were gone and I was afloat again in this warm sea that seems to sparkle with golden light. Warm, and light, and at peace.}


He sat up in bed, bolt upright, gasping, heart pounding. It was—he checked. Midnight. Had he really heard Illya's voice? Had he dreamed it?

They had passed the afternoon pleasantly enough, sitting on the sofa, side by side, shoulders pressed together. Napoleon had done some reading, while Illya gazed at the fire. Dinner, the nightly news, bedtime routines, had all passed without event. Now ... he turned and looked at Illya.

Illya's eyes were open. Napoleon lost his breath for a moment, couldn't speak, then managed a croaking, "Illya?"

"Wait," Illya said, and sat up himself. He swung his legs over the side, stood up and started towards the bathroom. Napoleon was afraid to move, afraid to speak. He just sat and watched Illya—awake when he wouldn't be, going to the bathroom on his own. Then Illya stopped.

He stood there for a moment, swaying slightly. Then the swaying stopped and in another moment his pajama bottoms were wet. Urine ran down his legs onto the floor and he stood there and let it happen.

Napoleon wanted to weep. For one moment the urge was so strong he couldn't control it, and a great wrenching sob burst from him. Then he climbed out of bed and went over to Illya.

Illya was staring into the bathroom. But his eyes weren't empty, nor were the shadows back. They were frightened. He looked frightened to death, and he was trembling, a fine, barely perceptible quivering. Was this good? Not good? Napoleon didn't know, but the next step was obvious either way.

"Come with me," he said and he could hear the weariness in his voice. Disappointed hope was crushing him, nearly driving him to his knees. And then Illya didn't move. The trembling increased, but he didn't obey Napoleon, didn't follow him when he started towards the bathroom. Again, good or not? Different, certainly, and while part of Napoleon felt that any change had to be for the better, the rest of him knew that wasn't necessarily so. If Illya stopped being able to use the toilet on his own, stopped reliably sleeping through the night, what then? It would certainly make things more difficult. But that next step was still clear, so he took Illya's arm and led him into the bathroom.

Once there he stripped off the sodden pajamas and removed his own. He led Illya into the stall shower and washed him once more, careful to get every trace of urine off his skin. He didn't bother washing his hair, just his body. Bringing him out, he dried him off, then found clean pajamas for him. Illya turned when urged, lifted each leg and stepped in, let Napoleon insert his arms into the pajama top. Then Napoleon put him back in bed, tucked the covers around him securely and went to clean the carpet.

It was good having so impersonal and necessary a task. He scrubbed it thoroughly, then wrote a quick note to the cleaning staff to shampoo the entire thing. He put the note on the refrigerator and got back into bed.

Illya was asleep. He slept on his side the way he always did, and there was nothing in his demeanor or body language to suggest that anything at all had happened. But something had, something epochal. Napoleon was sure of it. He only wished he were as sure if it was progress, or the regression all the doctors except James Holt had told him was inevitable.

{What have I done? I have spoken, I have moved. They will surely find me now. They will find me and drag me away from this safe place I had almost found. Almost. I was almost safe and now I have ruined it. I am so afraid. So very afraid. All I can do is be perfectly still, and quiet. Still, and quiet, and maybe they will lose me again. Maybe, if I never ever move, and certainly never ever speak, they will leave me alone.

But I don't want to be alone here. I am tired of this swirling churning black cold water around me and in me. I wish I could breathe air again. I wish I could see the sun again. For a few minutes those golden glimmers were within sight, but they are gone now and I am lost again. So lost. So very very lost. And so afraid. So deeply, bone achingly, afraid.}

Alexander Waverly came over the next afternoon. Napoleon was sitting on the sofa, and Illya was napping. He had laid his head down on Napoleon's lap, and fallen asleep right on schedule. Napoleon was watching television over him, and stroking his hair. His mind was racing.

Dr. Holt had already paid them a visit. Napoleon had called him first thing in the morning, and described the events of last night. Holt had made no comment on the phone, had only said "I'll be right there." Napoleon was grateful to him for coming, rather than making him take Illya out for a second day in a row, and more grateful still on seeing how gently, yet how very competently, he did his exam. He had gone over Illya thoroughly, and Illya had made no protest. He had withdrawn completely into his shell and the shadows were back, stronger and darker than ever. Napoleon had pointed them out to Dr. Holt and Holt had nodded, used his ophthalmoscope to peer directly into Illya's eyes.

"See the difference?" Napoleon had said urgently. It seemed very important that someone else did. "Remember how clear they were yesterday?"

"Yes." Holt put the ophthalmoscope away, sat back. "I do."

"So you see it too. You don't think I'm going crazy."

"No, Solo. I don't think you're going crazy. He's certainly not peaceful, whatever is going on. Now tell me again about last night."

Napoleon did, and when he reached the part where Illya stopped walking and just stood there and wet himself, his voice broke. Embarrassed, he looked down. But he forced himself to finish anyway. "Since then we're back to square one," he said. "Just where we were at the very beginning."

"Have you tried leaving him again?"

"No, and I'm not planning to. Once, to see what would happen, is excusable. Twice would be cruel."

Holt was silent for a moment. "I want to commend you on your care," he said finally. "He is clearly being well fed, well groomed—no sign of malnutrition or bedsores."

"Bedsores!" Napoleon was outraged. "I should hope not!"

"It is no small thing you are doing."

"No. I know that."

"There has been activity in his case," Holt said abruptly. "Phone calls, conferences—I was called in this morning and asked to give my statement, and my opinion."


"I told you I would go to the mat for you, and I did. How much good it will do remains to be seen."

Dread clenched Napoleon's stomach. "You think they still might take him away from me?"

"The brainwashing specialists really want another crack at him. They want to test his responses to various stimuli—some benign, and some quite aversive."

"How can they?" Napoleon looked again at Illya. "How can they even think of putting him through more?"

"I just wanted to give you a heads up. At the next appointment, in one months time, changes may well be made."

Napoleon said nothing. But inside the resolution set harder. He knew just the sort of aversive stimuli they would use. They would reenact the original trauma—oh, not to the same degree, but they would insert probes to see if Illya would react, wake him abruptly to see what he would do, keep him awake, deprive him of food and water to test whether at some point he would reach out for it ... his lips tightened. He said nothing, but in his mind he was making plans. He would take Illya and go, then. He would find some hole and crawl into it, pulling Illya with him, hiding from everyone. Everyone. All hands would be against them, but surely ... he became aware that Holt was packing up.

"So what do you think about last night?" Napoleon asked. "Better, or worse?"

"Oh, better by all means. Something is always better than nothing, Solo."

"You said you would speak for us."

"I have, and I will again. But I am only one man. And not one with much influence, I must add."

I used to have influence, Napoleon thought. Then I gave it all away, and now I'm as powerless as any civilian to protect him. He said goodbye to Holt and sat back against the sofa, brooding.

Illya still had almost an hour to go in his afternoon nap when Waverly's phone call came, and Napoleon was still stroking his hair, staring unseeingly at the television set. When the familiar voice reached him he had a strong impulse to stand at attention. He did sit up straighter.


"Mr. Solo. I wondered if I might pay you and Mr. Kuryakin a visit."

Napoleon caught his breath so quickly that he had to cough. Was Waverly coming to deliver the bad news? Maybe he didn't even have until next month. Maybe they were going to take Illya now. Instinctively he reached for his gun, but it was in his bedside table. He'd have to wake Illya up, if at all possible, or carry him if not. He'd have to ... "Of course, sir. When would you like to come?"

"Right away, if that is convenient."

They would leave now, then. Before Waverly reached his front entrance, they could be gone down the back stairs. "Ah, where are you, sir?"

A tapping at the front door was his answer. "I have the codes—and a key. I will just let myself in."

No time, then. No time left. The door swung open and he tightened his grip. They'd have to kill him, that was all. They would have to ... "Good day, sir." Despite his fears he had to smile at the quietly dressed elderly man. "I'd offer to take your coat, but ..." with one hand he indicated Illya, breathing slowly and deeply, head still resting on his lap.

"No, Mr. Solo, don't get up." Waverly seated himself in the wingchair facing the sofa. Napoleon's eyes went to the door. "Do we have more company?" he asked tightly.

"No. I assure you, I am quite alone.:

"What's going on? Dr. Holt said there was activity. I thought I had at least until next month, and beyond that if somebody somewhere has a heart at all."

"You have all the time that you need," Waverly said soothingly, and Napoleon looked at him.

"I mean both of us. Together. I thought we had more time together. He's doing better, sir, I swear it. He said my name last night. Dr. Holt ..."

"Relax, Mr. Solo. I have come here to reassure you that you will maintain custody of Mr. Kuryakin for as long as it takes him to recover."

The relief was enormous. He sat there, going over those words in his mind. Maintain custody. For as long as it takes him to recover. He inhaled, a deep breath he hadn't been aware of needing.

"Well." He smiled weakly. "That is good news. Thank you, sir. Thank you very much."

"I feel somewhat responsible for this state of affairs," Waverly went on. "When I put the two of you together I had a pretty clear idea of what would happen. You would be thorough and exacting as a trainer and senior partner, but you would be kind as well, because that is your nature."

Napoleon opened his mouth to protest but the twinkle in Waverly's eyes stopped him. "And Mr. Kuryakin, having never had any experience with kindness, would repay it with a personal devotion that in turn would inspire the same from you. I expected that together, you would be remarkable. As you were."

"Ah," Napoleon said weakly. He didn't really know what else to say.

"Tell me." Waverly leaned forward. "Where did things stand between the two of you before he left this last time? It was supposed to be his final mission. Had you made any plans?"

He could never give this man anything but the truth. "Yes. He was going to move in with me, and we were going to ..." he faltered, looked down at Illya's serene face. Very gently he brushed a loose strand of hair away so it wouldn't irritate him. "Well, it was going to be very much like this. Except for the obvious difference." The bitterness in his voice surprised him and he cleared his throat. "Except that he was going to know me."

"Were you lovers already?"

"No. We talked it over, and we both agreed that that wouldn't be honorable." He had said this to no one else, because no one else would understand. But Alexander Waverly knew all about honor. "We'd have had to hide it, and lie ... it didn't seem right, to sneak around behind your back."

"But when the fieldwork ended, you were planning to be together."

"Yes." Napoleon's voice firmed. He wasn't ashamed of this. "In our hearts, we already were."

"Perhaps it is fortunate that you did not act prematurely. You would now be tied to a man who bears very little resemblance to your field partner, beyond the physical."

"That's not true!" He flushed with anger. "Illya is still Illya. Somewhere, inside there, he's the same. And I am already tied to Illya. As tied to him as if we had stood up in a church and said those vows. This sort of ..." he groped for a word, and as quickly found one. "Love," he finished. "Love has never come my way before."

"Nor his."

"Nor his," Napoleon agreed. "It's not something I—we—take lightly. We were only waiting for the right time."

"Perhaps now is the right time. Oh, not for everything," he added quickly. "But it would only take a keystroke to list him as your domestic partner." He used the politically correct phrase without turning a hair.

"Now?" Napoleon looked at Illya again. "Don't you think that would be taking an unfair advantage of his condition? I mean, he can hardly consent."

"Had he already consented?"

'Yes,' Illya had said when Napoleon had formally broached the subject. 'Yes, Napoleon. Yes, yes, yes.' And he had smiled up at Napoleon, and Napoleon had leaned in and kissed him, full on the lips, for the first and only time. And Illya's lips had been so sweet, and they had parted for him so willingly ... he swallowed. "He did."

"That is what I would suggest. Then there could be no question of removing him from your custody. You could take Family Emergency Leave for as long as needed, to care for him. If things worsened and he had to be hospitalized, no one could keep you out, and you would have to consent to any—procedures." He said the last word without a change of expression, but his low opinion of the possibilities was clear.

"You think so?" Napoleon stared at him. "Wouldn't they think I was just ,... just taking advantage of him? Wouldn't they question my fitness as a caretaker? I wouldn't impose anything sexual on him," he added hastily. "I mean, how could I? But other people—Davenport, the doctors—they might not believe that. They might say that my wanting to call him my ... my significant other disqualified me. They..."

"Mr. Solo," Waverly said quietly. "They have already questioned many things about you in the past few months. They have questioned your motives, your sanity, your dedication to your position. But no one has ever questioned your integrity. You may take my word on that."

He couldn't answer. He just looked at Waverly and nodded. Yes, the nod said, just as Illya had said previously. Yes, yes, yes. Waverly rose. "Would you like your laptop?"

"Yes, please." He waited while Waverly got it and set it up beside him. He had some difficulty accessing his personnel file, but Waverly tapped in a code and it opened at once. For one more moment he hesitated, looking at Illya. "What if he feels differently about it, about me, when he's himself again?"

"Then there will be another series of keystrokes and it will be ended," Waverly said. "Do you really think he will feel differently?"

"No." Again he remembered the feel of Illya's mouth under his. "No, I don't." He made the required correction to his file, and watched Waverly turn to the door. "Thank you, sir."

"You are more than welcome." Illya stirred then, and Napoleon looked at the time. Three o'clock sharp. He sighed.

"Don't be discouraged, Mr. Solo," Waverly said softly. "I share your belief that he can come back, all the way back. It has only been a few months, after all. Give him time. You can, now."

"Thanks to you."

"And to you. You have earned your reputation for integrity. You have earned your happiness, Mr. Solo. Both of you have. It is my most sincere wish that you find it. Both of you."

"Thank you."

"Good day, Mr. Solo."

"Good day, sir." Illya sat up and Napoleon smiled at him. His partner. His life partner. He wanted to hug him, to taste again the sweetness of his kisses. Instead he said, "Go to the bathroom, Illya," and watched as Illya went into the bathroom and closed the door, and Waverly went out into the hall and closed that door, and he was, for the moment, alone.

For the rest of the day his care of Illya took on an almost dreamlike quality. He did all the routine things for which Dr. Holt had praised him. He cooked dinner, and watched Illya eat. He gave him a tall glass of water with it, and made sure he drank it all. He gave him a multivitamin supplement, and saw that he downed it. He brushed Illya's hair, which he kept neatly trimmed at just at the length it had been when Illya went missing. He ran a hot shower, checked the temperature, brought Illya in and washed him all over. Afterwards he dried him, being sure to leave no damp places where skin irritations could start. He toweled his hair, and combed it. He did everything just the way he always did. But tonight it felt different. Tonight—and every night from here on in—they were together.

My partner, he thought, as he and Illya sat side by side on the sofa and watched television. Or didn't watch. Illya stared at the screen, its flickering images reflected in his eyes. Napoleon stared at the screen too, and thought his own thoughts. Domestic partner, Waverly had said, and he and Illya had indeed agreed long ago that partners was what they were, and partners what they would remain. He had teased Illya about being his senior partner for life, and Illya had turned up his nose and made a tart remark about senior was as senior did, which made no sense to either of them but did make them laugh a lot. And then Illya had disappeared, and reappeared, and that shared life had seemed impossible. But now here they were. Married, or as good as. So he tended Illya with exquisite care, well aware that it might be this way for the remainder of their lives.

For better or for worse, he thought, as he brought Illya into the bedroom at nine-fifty sharp. In sickness and in health. As long as we both shall live. He tucked Illya in with more than his usual thoroughness, and kissed his forehead before climbing in himself. He settled down, back to back, exquisitely aware of the warmth of their bodies together.

And Illya turned over, put one arm around Napoleon's waist.

Napoleon froze. He wanted to roll over himself to see Illya's face, but was afraid of disturbing him, of frightening him off. But after a while he couldn't stand it anymore so he did move, very slowly, turning within the loose embrace.

Illya was still asleep. But at Napoleon's shift in position he shifted too, moving closer. Napoleon gathered him in, his heart pounding so wildly he thought it would surely wake him. He tucked Illya's head securely into the crook of his neck, sliding an arm under his shoulders.

Illya slept on. Napoleon contemplated him, the sweep of gold lashes on his cheekbones, his aristocratic nose, his firm chin. That lovely mouth. Napoleon wanted to kiss his mouth suddenly, wanted it desperately. There was no sexual stirring, but he wanted to kiss him. Every fairy tale he had ever heard came flooding back. Maybe his kiss could wake Illya up all the way, could bring him back. Crazier things had happened, hadn't they? Would it be so terrible, if he kissed Illya's lips? Would it mean he was some kind of molester, some kind of terrible person? All he wanted in the whole world was to see Illya's eyes open in recognition, to see his lips curve up at the corners under Napoleon's own.

In the end he didn't. One thing at a time, he told himself. Illya had reached for him, had moved in his unmoving sleep and made contact on his own. His arms tightened, and he settled for kissing Illya's cheek instead. "My love," he whispered into Illya's ear. "My own true love. Oh sweetheart, please come back to me. It's safe, I promise you. I won't let anybody hurt you, not ever again." He could say that now, and mean it. Waverly's word was as good as gold, and Waverly had said he could protect Illya now. Now, and forever. He kissed Illya's cheek again, cool and firm under his lips, and put his head back on the pillow. He had expected to lie awake all night in contemplation of this silent miracle, but sleep pulled him under and he welcomed it gladly.

{Floating. I am floating in the water, and the golden sparkles all around me say I am close to the surface. I am cradled in light, rocked in warmth. I am safe. I can feel it, I know it. The icy buffeting currents are far below and I am content to lie here, just beneath the surface. I don't want to move. I am afraid to move, because the least movement might send me plummeting down, twisting and turning, reaching for the light and not finding it again. But I don't have to move. I don't have to open my eyes. I don't have to do anything except float, surrounded by light, wrapped in warmth as if ... as if I have been found. Lost no longer, but found. I am falling asleep, real sleep, not the terrifying plunges into oblivion I have been enduring. Sleep enfolds me, and I welcome it.}

The dawn light coming through the window woke Napoleon and he frowned, put an arm over his face to shield it. Usually he closed the blinds but last night he had forgotten. It had crossed his mind at two, when he sent a yawning, stretching Illya to the bathroom, but these simple—and unprecedented—actions had distracted him. He sighed and turned his head to look at Illya, who would still be sleeping, it not being quite six yet.

But Illya was awake. He was looking at the ceiling, on which the rising sun made shifting patterns as clouds moved across it. Napoleon's body gave a jolt, and when Illya turned his head to look at him inquiringly he jumped again. "Illya?" he said tentatively and, incredibly, Illya smiled.

"Napoleon," he said, and moved closer. "Napoleon."

"Illya." His throat closed up and he could say no more. He put both arms around his partner and hugged him hard. "Illya. Oh, Illya. Oh, my love. You've come back to me. I knew you would. I knew ... oh, Illya." He knew he was babbling inanely, and didn't care. He brushed the loose hair off Illya's forehead and smiled into those blue eyes, which gazed tranquilly back at him, free of shadows, free of fear.

"You found me," Illya said and Napoleon nodded.

"Yes. I found you."

"Thank you."

"You're ..." the formal phrasing stuck in his throat, and he swallowed hard. Illya smelled so good—he kissed his cheek. Then he kissed his temple and Illya turned his head and kissed his mouth.

Another jolt. He began to pull back, began to protest because it seemed too soon, too sudden. There were things he should say. He should tell Illya about those keystrokes of yesterday. He should ... but then Illya kissed him again and he kissed Illya back and there was no more thought, no more hesitation. They sealed their mouths together.

Soaring. They were aloft and soaring. They clung to one another, so as not to lose the other in the flight. They clutched and moved, gasping and crying out, pulling at one another's clothes, pulling them off. Illya was everything that was good and sweet and true in the whole world, and Napoleon held on to him with all his strength. He touched Illya, stroked him, gripped him and Illya touched him too. They touched each other, in Napoleon's big bed with the sunshine dappling it, with the sheets smooth against their flesh and their flesh hot and sweaty against one another's. Napoleon closed his hand around Illya, squeezed him, pumped him and Illya squeezed him too.

He could no longer tell who was pumping whom, couldn't tell the difference between what he felt and what Illya must be feeling, and it didn't matter. Nothing at all mattered except for this moment, this moment of pure flight while they ground together, hands moving, bodies moving, mouths breathing incoherent endearments into open mouths. He was calling Illya's name again and he could hear his own name, over and over, could hear it and taste it and ... and ... he shuddered and Illya shuddered too, and then they were quiet.

They lay together on the bed, panting. Illya's breath was warm against his neck, and his own breath was stirring the fine tendrils of hair on Illya's temple. They lay together and breathed together and at last Napoleon found his voice.

"I love you, Illya," he said hoarsely.

"I love you too, Napoleon. Napoleon?"


"You won't leave me alone, will you?"

"No. Never." He assumed Illya was speaking metaphorically, needing to be reassured that this was not just a one night thing, like all the rest of Napoleon's one night things. He was going to elaborate, to discuss their new situation, to be sure Illya still wanted it, but Illya forestalled him.

"Because if you do, I know the monsters will find me. But you won't let them find me, will you."

He was cold, suddenly, cold all over. He could see the goose bumps rising on his flesh. "Monsters?" he echoed weakly.


"What ... what monsters?"

"The ones in the water. Under me. If I speak, they find me. If I move, they find me. And now I'm doing both and if you let me go I'll sink again and they'll get me." He shivered, arms tightening. "Don't let them get me, Napoleon. Please."

He propped himself up on one elbow, staring down into Illya's face. "I thought ... I thought you were all right," he managed. "I would never have ... Illya? Are you with me?"

"Aren't I?" He looked terrified. "Aren't I with you? Am I dreaming? But you look real, you smell real ..." he was clinging to Napoleon now, and a fine trembling began to run through him. "Don't let go of me, I'll drown again. I thought you found me."

"I did. Illya, I found you. I won't let you go, I promise." He lay back down, pulled Illya in, stroked him, soothed him, feeling the trembling cease. He was awash in guilt.

What have I done? I thought you were yourself, I thought ... what have I done? How could I take advantage of you in this state—what state? What's going on? You're talking, you're ... he looked into Illya's eyes again. They were as clear and blue and guileless as a child's. Ah no, no ...the guilt rose higher. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "I didn't mean ... I thought ...I'm sorry."

"For what?" Reassured, Illya was smiling at him again. "Why are you sorry?"

"Because we—I—shouldn't have done this. Not if you're not fully yourself."

"If I'm not myself, who am I?" Illya said, and a faint frown was creasing his forehead. "Who am I, Napoleon? Where am I? When—what's going on?" He looked around. "Isn't this your apartment?"


"Well, then." The frown was gone. "I'm here, and you're here, in your apartment, and I'm safe. Right?"

"Right." That he could say with absolute certainty. "You are safe, Illya. I swear, I won't let anything hurt you again. You have my word."

"All right. But don't leave me. I'm on top of the water now and it feels so good, Napoleon." He drew a deep breath. "I've been drowning and cold and afraid for so long, and now I'm not. But they'll get me if you leave me. You're what's holding me up, you're what's keeping me safe. Promise you won't leave me.

"I promise." He kissed Illya's cheek again, then was ashamed. But Illya only smiled.

"I have to go to the bathroom," he said and despite everything, despite the weight of guilt and shame, Napoleon wanted to shout for joy.

"Go ahead."

"Without you?"

"I'll come with you if you want."

"Good." Illya looked relieved. "Thank you."

"No problem."

So he walked Illya to the bathroom, and perched on the edge of the tub while he used it. They showered together as they had been doing but this time, after Napoleon had finished washing Illya all over and he had stood still for it as he always did, he washed Napoleon in his turn, following Napoleon's procedure precisely, shampooing his hair, scrubbing his back with the brush, going down on his knees to lift and clean both feet. Napoleon made no protest. Surely this was good. Surely this was progress. Surely he hadn't actually harmed Illya, with his selfish sexual needs and desires. Illya didn't seem alarmed, or awkward with him now. And he just wouldn't do it again, that was all. Now that he knew where things stood, now that he—not understood, because he didn't understand—was aware that while Illya was better, much better, he wasn't all the way there yet, he wouldn't do that again.

He cooked breakfast and they ate with mutual pleasure and mutual appetite. Illya said little, but he watched Napoleon with open adoration on his face and hung on his every word. He followed Napoleon around the apartment afterwards, never letting him get more than an arm's length away. Napoleon tidied up as usual, then sat down at the computer to work. He thought of calling Holt, thought of reporting to Davenport, and dismissed both thoughts. It was too soon. They would want to see Illya, would want him brought in and that seemed almost punitive. Maybe it would frighten him, send him back into his self protective shell. So Napoleon didn't call anybody. They spent the day just as they had been spending them except for the big, the huge, the world shaking difference.

Illya answered him when spoken to. Illya smiled at him, and even laughed out loud when Napoleon made a feeble joke or two. When they sat on the sofa and Napoleon went over his reports, Illya read a magazine. When they watched television, Illya watched too instead of staring blankly at the screen, and they were able to discuss what they saw. It was—almost—perfect.

They ate lunch and dinner at the table in the dining room, and Napoleon rejoiced at Illya's appetite. No longer did he mindlessly eat everything on his plate. Instead he disdained the peas, just as he normally would, and ate two helpings of steak. He pulled his roll apart and dipped it in the steak juice, and drank sparkling water at will, instead of the unnerving two sips per five bites of food of before.

But he remembered nothing about past events, and when Napoleon made reference to assignments they had shared, people they knew, he only nodded with obvious incomprehension. It seemed his life had begun when he woke that morning, and before that there had been only the deeps, and the monsters who inhabited them.

When they went to bed Illya reached for him, tried to draw his head down for a kiss but Napoleon turned aside so it landed on his cheek. When Illya tried again to kiss his mouth Napoleon shook his head. "No," he said. "Not ... not now. Not yet."

"All right," Illya said obediently and curled into his arms. Napoleon held him, rocked him a little, rubbed his back and when Illya's breathing evened out and his body grew lax he looked at the time and smiled. Eleven. Eleven o'clock at night, and falling asleep on his own. It was wonderful. It was ... almost ... enough. And until it was enough, until Illya was fully, really, knowingly with him, they wouldn't have sex. It was a terrible thing he had done, but he had done it in honest ignorance and that could be forgiven. But not again. Definitely not again.

{I had forgotten what pleasure was. I had forgotten that my body could feel good, that my skin, my hair, my flesh could receive and send messages of pleasure instead of pain and cold. Now I am warm and safe. I am held securely and even though I have spoken, even though I have moved without being commanded, despite all of that the monsters cannot find me because I am safe within this circle. This circle of Napoleon's arms. Of Napoleon's love.

It felt so good, what we did. It is as if my whole body were hungry for it, and then was satisfied. I want to do it again, but he said no. He must be tired. I am tired too. Breathing air, in and out, instead of that cold dark sea must have made me tired. But we will do it again, we will soar again. I can't wait. But meanwhile this is good too, sleep and safety. Sleep in safety. Sleep in Napoleon's arms. How strong they are. How easily they hold me up. How wonderful it is, to float and not sink, to breathe and not drown. How wonderful it is, to be lost no longer. How wonderful, to be home.}

Napoleon woke to ecstasy. A warm, wet tugging at his groin pulled him from sleep and he was crying aloud, tangling his hands in Illya's hair, coming before he woke, coming before he thought. When it was over he lay panting for a few moments, and then the guilt crashed in.

He had done it again. Again. He had taken advantage of Illya's condition, of his innocence, again. He groaned aloud and felt Illya's fingers, feather light, on his mouth.

"Don't be sad, Napoleon," he said, and Napoleon opened his eyes, looked up at him. Illya was sitting cross legged on the bed, smiling at him. "Why are you sad? Didn't you like it?"

"I did." Oh, he did. "But it isn't right, Illya. We can't do this now."

"Oh." His voice was very small. "So you ... you don't want to do it to me?"

Napoleon looked at him again. His mouth had curved down, the smile gone. And he was erect, his organ straining towards Napoleon. Napoleon swallowed. "I do." And he did. He wanted to draw Illya into his mouth, to taste him, to lose himself in the intoxication of him, of his scent, his heat.

"Oh, good." Illya brightened. He lay down and closed his eyes, clearly waiting for Napoleon to make his move. Napoleon looked at him for a long time. How could he do this? But ... how could he not? Even as he hesitated Illya's face was clouding again. His lips trembled.

"You don't have to." His organ began to soften, losing the hard firm arch. "If you don't want to. Why ... why don't you want to?"

"I do."

"You keep saying that. But you don't ... please, Napoleon. Please. I want you so much. It was so wonderful yesterday, when we did it. I thought about it all day. I dreamed about it last night. About you. I never felt anything like it. I want to feel it again. Please?

How could he say no? Illya's heart was on his face. How could he turn him down, make his mouth droop again, take that shine out of his eyes? Without another word Napoleon leaned over Illya, and took him in his mouth.

It was intoxicating. Illya tasted so good, he smelled so good. He could hear Illya's voice, gasping out words of pleasure, of longing, of ... of love. It aroused him so quickly, and so painfully, that when Illya pulled at his hips, turning him around, sucking him again he didn't even think of protesting. He didn't want to protest. He wanted to finish this, to bring both of them to completion again because the two of them belonged together. They belonged together and it was ... it was ... he groaned again, the sound muffled in Illya's flesh and Illya groaned too, thighs clamped around his head, hips thrusting and they were coming, coming together. Together.

Afterwards it was Illya who moved, shifting so his head was back on Napoleon's shoulder, so their bodies were pressed close once more, wrapping both arms around Napoleon's waist, giving him an extravagant hug.

"See?" he said, and his voice was a purr of contentment. "Wasn't that good?"

"Yes." He abandoned all attempts to hold back and hugged Illya in return. "It was very good. It was wonderful."

"So we can do it again?"

"Yes." He was a terrible person, that was clear. Obviously he was just a terrible person, the sort of person who would not only take advantage of his partner's weakness but enjoy it, revel in it, wallow in it. Would Illya ever be able to forgive him, when he was himself again? "But I wish it was more of a choice for you, Illya. I wish you were truly free to choose."

"I choose." Illya pulled free and sat up again, looking hard into Napoleon's face. "I know I don't remember everything you want me to remember, and I don't know all the things you think I should. But I know I chose you. I chose you back before I got lost. I chose you while I was afraid and drowning. I choose you now. I choose, Napoleon. I do."

Napoleon looked at him for a long time, then reached for him, brought him back down to lie by his side. "And I choose you, Illya," he whispered. "I chose you before, and I choose you now. Only you."

"I love you, Napoleon. I may not know everything, but I know that. I love you."

"I love you too." He kissed Illya, tenderly and softly, and Illya kissed him back. They kissed for a long time, there on the sun drenched bed, and then they made love again, wrapped up in one another, bodies moving together, moving as one.

This began a long, strange interlude. Illya was quiet and docile. He did everything Napoleon said, or even suggested. He ate what Napoleon cooked, read quietly or watched television while Napoleon worked, and followed him with his eyes wherever he went. They settled into an easy routine of waking, showering together, eating breakfast. Then Napoleon would go to his computer and Illya would read. He devoured all the books in Napoleon's library, and Napoleon sent out for more. He read everything without discrimination, including the daily newspaper, and any gossip magazines the cleaning women left behind. He watched television the same way—talk shows, reality TV, soap operas, news reports. He stared and said nothing, but if Napoleon asked about it later he exhibited near total recall. It was as if he were hungry for everyday life, without having any idea what his original life had consisted of, except for Napoleon.

Dr. Holt came on the third day. Napoleon hadn't called him, not wanting to break the spell, not wanting to make another intrusion Illya's reward for coming back. But he had been told to report any progress so finally, reluctantly, he had called. Holt had been at the door within the hour.

He examined Illya thoroughly, and beyond keeping an anxious eye on Napoleon the whole time, Illya didn't protest. He nodded his head, or shook it in response to Holt's questions, but volunteered no information on his own.

"You say he's talking to you, Solo?" Holt asked.

"Yes. Illya—can you tell Dr. Holt what you read about last night?"

"I read People magazine," Illya said obediently and Napoleon saw Holt's face light up. It made him feel very warm towards this young doctor, that he was so clearly excited by his patient's progress. "It was about a new type of hybrid car. It runs on the grease from French fries."


"Yes. And Britney Spears is in rehab again. And Roger Clemens apologized for using performance enhancing drugs."

"We watched some television, too," Napoleon prompted.

"Yes. The winning puzzle on Wheel of Fortune was puppy love. It was a hard one because it had none of the letters he chose in it. But he won a car anyway."

"What did you have for breakfast this morning?" Holt asked. "Do you remember?"

"Yes. Napoleon made French toast. I love French toast. He puts powdered sugar on it. He made bacon, too. And we had coffee. Napoleon gets fresh beans and grinds them himself before he brews it because he knows I like it that way."

"Do you remember anything else, Illya? From before you were taken?"


"Before you got lost," Napoleon said and Illya got up from the kitchen chair he had sat in for the exam and went to the sofa where Napoleon was. He sat down beside him, very close. When Napoleon didn't move he nudged him, pushing against him, not satisfied until Napoleon's arm was around his shoulder and he could hide his face in Napoleon's neck.

"I don't want to think about being lost," he said, voice muffled there. "I don't want to because if I do ... if I do they might get me." He put both arms around Napoleon's waist and trembled. "I don't want them to get me again."

"No one is going to get you," Napoleon said softly. "Remember? I found you. You can't get lost again. I won't let you."

"Right," Illya agreed, but he didn't move away.

"Before that," Holt repeated patiently. "Before all that happened. Do you remember anything at all?"

"I remember Napoleon. I chose Napoleon, and he chose me."

"All right," Holt said and Napoleon didn't like the piercing look he got. "What about U.N.C.L.E., Illya? Do you remember U.N.C.L.E.?"

"U.N.C.L.E.." Illya was quiet for a very long time. "Pictures," he said finally. "A series of pictures. They don't really make any sense."

"Can you tell me about them?"

"A door with little bells over it. A man pressing a suit. A dressing room with a curtain. A girl with a badge. A pretty girl." He gave Napoleon an accusing look. "She kissed your cheek."

"I'm not surprised," Holt said dryly. "Anything else?"

"An old man with kind eyes. Doors that slide ..." he trembled again. "There were sliding doors there, too. In the other place. Doors that slid shut, a hard bed ... they tied me down ..." he was shaking so hard now Napoleon put his other arm around him and held him. "They'll hear me if I talk about them anymore. They'll catch me and drown me again. I don't want to drown anymore, it's so nice being here with you." He turned on Holt suddenly. "Go away! Go away right now! They'll hear you! Napoleon, make him go away!" His voice was climbing and Napoleon rocked him, patted his back. Holt rose.

"I'll go," he said. "Don't worry about this, Solo. The memories are there, that's the important thing. They'll emerge on their own, when he's ready. I'll come back in a week, unless you call me in sooner. It's a wonderful thing you've done. However you're doing it." He stopped, and looked at Napoleon. "However you're doing it," he repeated. "It's a wonderful thing."

"Thank you." The guilt, never quite silent, seemed to lessen. "I ... I'm doing the very best I can."

"I know that. And you've done wonders. Look at him." Illya, having found comfort in Napoleon's embrace was lying quietly, toying with the buttons on his jacket. Napoleon smiled.

"I know. It is—it's wonderful."

"Call me if you need me. Otherwise look for me next week at this time."

"All right."

"Goodbye, Illya."

"I'm not talking to you. Go away."

"I'm going. So long, Solo.

"Goodbye, Holt. Thank you."

They made love that night with a greedy hunger Illya had not shown before. Napoleon waited, as he always did, not initiating anything, always letting Illya make the first move, following his lead, granting his requests, both spoken and unspoken, always letting him set the pace. Tonight the pace was frantic, both of them grasping and thrusting, gripping one another's flesh with hard bruising fingers. Illya rolled onto his back and pulled Napoleon over on top, opening his legs, wrapping them high around Napoleon's waist. He had done this before, but that was a request Napoleon refused to grant. Bad enough, he thought. It's bad enough without that. So he rolled them back over, slipping himself between Illya's thighs instead, reaching around to pump him hard. Illya pulled the pillow over his face and screamed into it, screaming and twisting and pushing back against Napoleon, pushing back and thrusting forward, and Napoleon was thrusting too, desperate for completion. When it came it was like a whirlwind, tossing them high in the air, letting them drift back down, like leaves after the storm, drifting and smiling and lying together on the soft mattress.

Napoleon extricated himself and went into the bathroom. He cleaned himself up and brought a warm washcloth to Illya, did the same for him. Then he got back in bed and they fell asleep twined together, breath warm on flesh, bodies pressed close, hands clasped under the covers.

{Safe on the shore. I am lying on warm sand, in full sun. It is so good to feel solid ground under me, to look at the blue sky over me, to breathe fresh air. In and out, in and out. Napoleon's arms are strong around me, the earth is solid beneath me, and his love surrounds me, keeping me here. Here, where I am safe.}

Another month had passed, and spring was definitely in the air. Illya was more restless, prowling the apartment. He kept pausing in front of the glass doors to the balcony and finally, on one especially beautiful day, he reached out and turned the knob. It didn't open, of course, and he gave it a little shake, then turned around and looked at Napoleon. He didn't speak, he never did when he wanted anything besides sex. He just looked, and waited. Napoleon waited too, but Illya's uncanny patience won out.

"Do you want to get some fresh air?" he asked finally and Illya brightened.

"Yes." He turned, tried the doorknob again. Napoleon, thinking of the sheer drop to the pavement, made another suggestion.

"How about a walk in the park? It's a beautiful day."

"A walk in the park?" Illya turned back to him. "Outside? In the park? With you?"

"Yes. Now you'd have to promise to stay right beside me. And—and not go anywhere without me."

"I won't. I won't run from you, Napoleon. I know you. And ..." he gave Napoleon a sharp look suddenly, a very sharp look. "And I wasn't going to leap off the balcony either."

"Right," Napoleon said slowly. "Illya?" Hope flared. That dry tone, that sharp look ... "Illya?"

"What? Let's go, Napoleon. I want ... you're right. I want some fresh air. I want ... I want to move." He crossed to Napoleon, tugged at his arm. "Let's go," he repeated.

"All right." He got Illya's jacket, and his own. Illya stood quietly while Napoleon buttoned and zipped, and then they moved to the door. Illya was holding his hand as he usually did when they walked around the apartment, and before going out into the hall Napoleon hesitated.

"We can't ... we shouldn't ... we really shouldn't hold hands out in public," he said hesitantly. "I mean—just to the car is one thing. Walking in the park—people would notice. It would look ..." queer, he thought. "Odd," he said. "Someone might ..." shout insults, start a brawl ... "say something. It would ..."

"Attract attention," Illya said unexpectedly. "It would attract attention. And we're not supposed to attract attention." He looked up at Napoleon, eyes wide and very dark. "We're not supposed to attract attention, right?"

He couldn't speak. His throat had such an enormous lump in it he could barely breathe. How not to attract attention. One of the very first, if not the first, things they taught you. An agent had to pass unnoticed whenever possible. An agent shouldn't be spotted, or remembered. He smiled down into Illya's face. "Right," he managed finally. "We shouldn't attract attention."

"I won't hold your hand. But you'll be right there, won't you? Right there, by my side? Like always?"

"Right by your side," Napoleon agreed. "Like always." His heart was pounding, his head was spinning. He was dizzy with hope, exalted with it. Progress, this was progress, more progress on top of progress and was Illya really getting well? Really well, all the way well, back to himself well? Then, as they entered the elevator, fear struck, following on the heels of hope. If—when, Illya did get well, really well, really all the way well, what would he think of ... of what they had been doing? What would he think of the fact that Napoleon was ... had ... would he regret it? Would he blame Napoleon, despise him for taking advantage of his state? The guilt rose again. He should have found a way to stop it. He should have said no. He should have held Illya off, distracted him, something. He was the rational one, the ... the adult. Illya was ... was a child now in so many ways.

But there was nothing childish about his lovemaking. He came to Napoleon with adult need, adult hunger, adult passion. How to reconcile the two? How ... they stepped outside of the apartment building and into the blazing sunlight.

They had been outside before, of course, on the way to U.N.C.L.E. headquarters for Illya's checkups, but then they had hurried from the lobby entrance to the car, and from the car to U.N.C.L.E.'s front doors. This time they turned right, waited at the corner, crossed with the light and entered Central Park.

True to his promise, Illya didn't hold his hand. Napoleon could see the effort it was costing him by the way his fists were clenched and stuffed into his pockets. But he was breathing deeply, and looking around in obvious delight. They walked, and looked at everything—children in strollers, teenage boys on skateboards, older couples walking hand in hand.

"I want a hot dog," Illya said unexpectedly, and it was so typical of him that Napoleon had his wallet out before he realized that Illya had asked for what he wanted, had just asked flat out, and rejoiced anew. He ordered a hot dog with all the trimmings for Illya, a pretzel for him, and they sat on a bench and ate. Illya was right up against him, their shoulders pressed against one another, but there was nothing in that to draw interest. He ate his hot dog hungrily, every strand of sauerkraut, every piece of onion, and when he was finished he got up.

"I want another one," he said. "I'll get it." Wordless, Napoleon handed him money and watched him walk over to the vendor, order, wait for his food and return to the bench.

"Oh, Illya," he managed, and Illya looked at him curiously.

"What? Did you want one?"

"No. Thank you. I ... I'm just glad you liked it."

"Of course I did. I love Sabrett. You know that ..." then he stared at Napoleon. His eyes were enormous. "I know that," he said. "I love Sabrett. I love hotdogs from Sabrett with sauerkraut and onions and mustard. I ..." he looked around. "I love Central Park. I love watching people, just regular people, just ..." he groped for a word, then found it. "Civilians. I love watching the civilians. I ..." then the light faded from his face. "I am one now," he finished. "Just a civilian."

"We," Napoleon said softly. "We are a pair of civilians enjoying the day. For today, that's all that matters. For today, that's enough."

"We," Illya echoed and the shadow lifted. He smiled at Napoleon, and rose. They walked on.

Back at Napoleon's apartment he unlocked his door for them both. "Home again home again," he said lightly.

"Home again," Illya repeated and his face was shining. "Both of us. Both of us are home."

"We are both home," Napoleon agreed, and when Illya turned to him, pressed against him he took Illya in his arms, brought Illya into the bedroom and they were, they were both home.

{The ground is solid underneath me and I can trust it. I can walk on it and trust it and I can remember ... things. Odd things, disjointed things, but they are mine and I can trust them too. I can breathe and I can walk and I can remember. Sometimes I still feel afraid, and always I need Napoleon right there, but the world is real, and I can trust it. That black ocean is far behind me, and surely the monsters cannot find me here. And every day, every step, takes me farther away from them and closer to ... to what? I don't know, but I know Napoleon will be there and that is all that matters. So I keep moving forward on this newly solid ground, breathing in and out, trusting Napoleon and ... and finding myself again.}

They lay side by side in the big bed, bodies twined cozily together. They had made love slowly, sweetly, rocking against one another until Illya turned, drawing Napoleon into his mouth, moaning when Napoleon did the same for him. They had moved, a perfect circle of flesh and bone and desire, moving together, moving as one. At the end the cry of each was muffled in the warmth of the other, and when they were finished Napoleon drew Illya back up against his chest, cradling Illya in his arms, filled with love, filled with guilt. He thought he was concealing it until Illya spoke.

"Why are you always so sad afterwards? Is it ... is it me? Am I doing something wrong? Tell me, Napoleon, and I'll fix it."

"I'm not sad," he answered, and kissed Illya's forehead as he would a child. "Hush now, and go to sleep."

"You're lying to me," Illya said, and the mingled wonder and sorrow in his voice made Napoleon open his eyes. Illya was staring at him. "It is me, then, isn't it. Or you wouldn't lie about it."

"I'm not lying." Exactly. "I'm not sad."

"What, then? There's something, I can tell. There's always something afterwards. Napoleon? You used to tell me everything. I know I'm not what I was, but I'm still ... we're still friends, aren't we? Maybe I can help."

"My love." He kissed Illya's forehead again. "How can I tell you when I'm not sure myself?"

"Another lie," Illya said flatly. "You know. You know exactly what's wrong. You just don't think I can understand. Try me."

"I don't ... I just ... I'm afraid, Illya." It came from him in a rush. "I'm afraid that when you're better, when you're really yourself again, you'll look at me and despise me. You'll wonder what sort of person could take advantage ..." his voice broke and, embarrassed, he turned away. "Instead of love in your eyes I'll see hatred. Instead of trust I'll see condemnation. Instead of this ... of us, together, it will only be me, alone. And I'd pay that price, Illya, to see you well again, but I don't know how I'll be able to go on ..." his voice broke again and this time he couldn't continue. He just shook his head. "Hear how selfish I am?" he managed finally. "Me me me. What I want, how I feel, what's good for me. And meanwhile here you are, trusting me, innocent and ... and vulnerable and I—I am a monster. I must be. You thought you got away from the monsters and here I am, holding you and kissing you and touching you as if I have a right when I don't, because I can't believe you're capable of true consent. I don't believe it. But I did it anyway. Am doing it anyway. Am lying here right now, naked, satiated, and I have no right, no right at all." He stopped. "So that's what it is," he said, and laughed harshly. "Since you asked."

"Oh." Illya said nothing more for a very long time. He just put his arms around Napoleon's waist and lay quietly. Napoleon would have thought him asleep except that his eyes were open. They were thoughtful, and Napoleon recognized the look. It was the look Illya always wore when he was deep in analysis of some situation which he didn't quite understand but very much wanted to. It was so familiar it broke his heart afresh. The day he both longed for and dreaded was coming very soon, he was sure of it. One of these days Illya was going to wake up all the way, was going to turn that cool blue stare on him and say ... what?

"I love you, Napoleon," Illya said finally. "I have always loved you. I consented to this long ago, before I got lost. Isn't that so?"

"Yes, but ..."

"If I had never wanted you, if you had asked and I had said no, way back when, and now I said yes because I need you, well, then you would be wrong. But you wouldn't have done that. You only took me now because I wanted you to, because you know I wanted you to when I was still your ..." he stopped, and his face brightened. "Your partner," he finished. "I was your partner, wasn't I."

"Yes." He squeezed Illya. "You were—you are—my partner."

"You've always been so hard on yourself," Illya went on. "I remember that about you. You're too hard. How can you call yourself selfish? You saved me. You pulled me out of the ocean, you brought me to my feet, and you're leading me back to life. Only you could have done it. All right? And you'd do anything to bring me the rest of the way back, wouldn't you. Even if you do think I'll turn on you. I don't know how to convince you that I won't. We'll just have to wait, I suppose. We'll have to wait for that day when I look at you the way I used to, and you see me the way I was, and see too that I still love you. All right?"

"All right."

"And don't call yourself a monster. I've seen monsters." For a moment the currents were back, swirling in the depths of his eyes and Napoleon hugged him, wrapped him up in his arms and legs because he couldn't bear it, he couldn't bear it ever again. "And you're not one," Illya concluded and when Napoleon looked at him he was smiling. "You're the best man in the world. I've always thought so. Nothing will change that. I promise." Then he sighed. "But you don't believe me. You think I'm not capable of making that promise. You'll just have to wait and see. And try not to be too sad while you're waiting, Napoleon. I'm not sad. You've made me so happy," now it was his turn to wrap Napoleon up, twining himself around him, kissing his neck and his jaw and his throat. Napoleon turned his head—to say what, he didn't know—and Illya kissed his mouth. Then they were both kissing, a storm of kisses, rolling around on the bed making love, making love until Napoleon was calling Illya's name over and over, and Illya was calling Napoleon's, and then they slept.

They left the apartment building, turned right, crossed the street and entered Central Park. They did this every day now, rain or shine. Illya seemed unperturbed by the weather, delighting in everything—wind, rain, fog. Both looked forward to their outings, and they had settled into a comfortable routine, leaving every day around three o'clock, walking for two hours, give or take, coming home in time for Napoleon to cook dinner, which they then ate in front of the television while watching the nightly news.

There were no more deep conversations. Illya seemed happy, and Napoleon couldn't help but be happy too, seeing it. They made love every night, every morning, and sometimes during the afternoon, and while Napoleon's guilt hadn't gone away, with Illya so much like his old self it troubled him less. In fact, if he had just met Illya, he probably wouldn't have noticed anything amiss. It was only because he did know Illya that he could detect the subtle difference, the lack of ... of something. Something vital. His wicked sense of humor. That diamond bright mind. The sarcasm. The intense, burning curiosity. Would all of that ever come back? Or had Thrush's drugs blunted Illya's edges permanently, leaving him as he was now—sweet and affectionate, but not anyone U.N.C.L.E. would ever have recruited. He could function on a day to day level, he could converse and remember the conversation, he could laugh and enjoy himself. It was enormous progress. Holt was pleased, the other specialists were pleased—even Jake Davenport was pleased. He had gone so far as to offer an apology to Napoleon for U.N.C.L.E.'s willingness to write Illya off, leaving him in the nursing home to sit and stare at the wall forever. But it still wasn't the same.

Napoleon loved Illya none the less for this. Because at the core it was still Illya, still his partner. They shared a history that was more profound than anything he might have found, or might ever find, with anybody else. The quiet easy companionship was the same, the rapport hadn't changed.

Illya still needed his constant presence. That was another difference. Illya as Napoleon had known him was fiercely independent. Even if they had been lovers back then, Illya would have wanted—demanded—his own space. He had made it clear that when the time came, and he moved into Napoleon's apartment, he would want the back bedroom as his own, as a place to go where he could close the door and be alone. Napoleon, who also liked his privacy, had been perfectly willing. It was just one of the things they were in total agreement about.

But now Illya clung to him, followed him around the apartment, panicked at the mere suggestion that he might leave. Napoleon didn't grudge it, but sometimes he yearned to just ... just be. Just be alone. Just ... but the guilt that brought was nearly as profound as the other guilt, the guilt over their sexual relationship. So he buried the impossible, the inadmissible wish and gathered Illya closer, knowing that made him happy, knowing that the closer they were the happier Illya was. He would kiss Illya's temple and Illya would sigh, managing to get even closer, and they would sit like that and be happy. Both of them were happy. And the other feeling was just selfish, that was all that it was, and Napoleon pushed it as far down as he could.

Today they turned down a quiet side path, and were as alone as if they were in the country instead of the heart of Manhattan. Illya paused, turned to look at an inscription written on a bench and Napoleon waited for him, smiling a little because any sign that Illya was interested in something beyond the two of them always lifted his spirits, always encouraged him.

He was seized from behind and pinned by two powerfully built men. He struggled, then the muzzle of a revolver was pressed squarely against his forehead and he stopped. But when another man grabbed Illya, who was turning at the sounds of the scuffle, grabbed him and began shoving him towards a van parked on the service road they had just passed, Napoleon renewed his attempt to break free. Then the other man put a gun to Illya's temple, twisted Illya's arm up behind his back, immobilizing him, and the fight was over. Over. Napoleon stared at Illya dumbly.

"Well well, Napoleon Solo," the man who was holding Illya said in a chiding tone. "You are slipping. A regular routine. A beautiful, regular routine. Every day, same time, same starting place. We had to wait a week for you to choose this particular path, but we knew it was only a matter of time. You were exploring them in a lovely, almost symmetrical fashion. Stand still, Kuryakin. Don't move." He released Illya slowly, and stepped back. Illya stood motionless, staring in front of him. All the animation, the personality, had drained from his face and he looked just as he had in the hospital.

Oh no, Napoleon thought. Oh no, no ... "What do you want?" he asked tightly.

"We want him," the man said simply. "We're going to shoot you and leave you here, Mr. Solo Stand very still." He pressed the gun against the base of Illya's spine. "We'll paralyze him with a well placed bullet and take him anyway. You're dead regardless."

"He doesn't know anything anymore," Napoleon said, hating the pleading note in his voice but seemingly unable to do anything about it. "He lost everything when you had him before, and U.N.C.L.E. hasn't trusted him since. He doesn't know anything.

"We don't really know what he knows, do we? There are some new drugs we could try, and of course there's always more torture. Surely U.N.C.L.E.'s anti torture indoctrination is gone, along with everything else. And besides," he patted Illya's bottom, and Illya did nothing, showed nothing. The monsters have him again, Napoleon thought sickly, and he knows it. "I thought we wasted a perfectly good opportunity last time. He'll do anything you say, I told them. Why not have some fun with him? Such a luscious mouth," he traced it with one finger, and Illya didn't flinch. "And such a nice tight ass." He patted it again. "But they wouldn't listen. Unprofessional they called it. Well, this time it's my show. What I won't do to you," he told Illya. "And what you won't do to me. Anything I want, sugar buns. Absolutely anything."

"You tell him, Stevens," the man to Napoleon's right said, and licked his lips. "Who cares what he knows? Look at him. Desirable, obedient ... and an U.N.C.L.E. agent to boot. An U.N.C.L.E. agent on his knees. On his knees with his mouth and his ass full. Mmm mmm." He smacked his lips. Napoleon made another abortive attempt to break free and stopped when Stevens pulled back the safety.

"He can do all of that without legs that work," he said. "Maybe he won't know the difference. Go for it, Solo. Maybe he won't mind dragging himself around on the floor." He waited, and grinned when Napoleon only stood still. What else could he do? Maybe U.N.C.L.E. would rescue Illya again. Surely they wouldn't want to take the risk of him talking. His own life was forfeit, but maybe there was still hope for Illya. "That's better. Get in the van," he told Illya, who turned obediently. "And bend over when you climb in, sugar buns, so I can get a good look. As soon as we're in," he told the other two, "shoot Solo and come on."

Illya was bending over as instructed when the second man, whom Napoleon thought he recognized from some long ago mission, spoke. "Tell Kuryakin to shoot Solo," he said, and his voice dripped with loathing. "They've messed us up enough with their stupid fucking team. Let's end the team now. Tell Kuryakin to shoot him. I want to see it."

"I wouldn't mind seeing that either," the man to Napoleon's left said. "Hey, Kuryakin. Turn around."

Illya paused in the act of stepping up into the van, and came back around. Stevens rumpled his hair in a parody of affection. "Okay, guys. I'd pay real money for that show, too. Here." He handed Illya the gun. "Go on. Shoot him." He indicated Napoleon.

Napoleon couldn't speak. He stared at Illya's pale, implacable face, at the blue eyes, flat and dead. This was how it would end? It seemed so sad to him, so terribly sad. Better—far better—if he had just left Illya in the hospital. Now, because of his own stupidity ... Stevens was right. They had fallen into a regular routine and, just as bad, he hadn't been vigilant. He'd been admiring the sunlight in Illya's hair, had been wondering what about that inscription had piqued his interest, and they had been taken like amateurs. Because of that, he was going to die at Illya's hands, and Illya was going to be drugged some more, tortured and raped. And killed, eventually, unless ... "Illya," he said, and didn't care that the sorrow in his heart was clear in his voice. What difference did it make? He was going to die in the next few seconds. "Illya. I forgive you." It seemed suddenly important to say that, to get that out. "I forgive you," he repeated hopelessly.

Illya winked at him. It was the merest droop of his right eyelid, but it was unmistakably a wink, Illya's old sardonic wait for it signal, and then he moved the gun to the left and shot the man beside Napoleon.

"Hey!" Stevens yelled. "Hey you moron, not him! Solo! The one in the middle!" But Napoleon wasn't in the middle of anything anymore. Another twitch of the gun and the man on his right went down. Then Illya turned and shot Stevens neatly between the eyes. He leaned over, into the van and shot the driver who, clearly expecting gunfire, hadn't even looked around. Then he turned back to Napoleon.

"Stay or run?" he asked.

"Stay," Napoleon said automatically. "We have our ID. I'll contact headquarters and they'll be here before the police finish questioning us."

Illya frowned, patted his pants pocket. "I'm not sure I have mine."

"You do. I always make sure you do, just in case."

"Just in case I shoot up the opposition?"

"Well, more in case we got separated, but ... Illya?"

"Nothing like the smell of gunpowder in springtime to wake one up," Illya said. His eyes were brilliant, his cheeks flushed and he was smiling. Napoleon had to smile back, although he was shaking inside.

"You woke up before that, or you wouldn't have shot them at all. I thought ... I thought they had you again."

"I know. So did they." He was still smiling and it was pure Illya—more than a little smug, and not very pleasant to see.

"How ..." Napoleon couldn't finish. He wasn't even sure what he was asking. In the distance, sirens were wailing.

"When I saw the gun at your head," Illya answered promptly. "It was like ... like being doused with cold water. Like a wave from that ocean just slapped me in the face. The wave hit me and I was ... I was awake and furious. Furious. How dare they? How dare they threaten to kill you? How dare he touch me?" He prodded Stevens with his foot. The sirens were closer now, and Napoleon could hear the crunch of tires on the gravel service road.

"Put the gun down," he said urgently. "Or you'll be shot, not by Thrush but by New York's finest. Put your hands up."

"You said you forgave me," Illya said as he laced his fingers on the top of his head, watching Napoleon do the same. "Those would have been your last words, that you forgave me. I'll never forget that. And before we're surrounded and grabbed and cuffed and slammed against a police car ..."


"I forgive you too. I know you've been worrying about this since the first time we were in bed together. You don't need forgiveness, because I wanted it, I threw myself at you quite shamelessly, Napoleon, but I know you think you need it. I want you to know you have it."

Flashing blue lights filled their vision and within moments they were indeed grabbed, spun around, handcuffed and put roughly against the side of the police car. Efficient hands patted them down, found their wallets.

"If you'll look at my identification," Napoleon began, and was told to shut his mouth. He did. Looking over at Illya he had to grin at the long suffering expression on his face, at the way he rolled his eyes when told to "spread 'em". Just like old times, Napoleon thought.

"What the hell is so funny?" one officer demanded. But he was going through Napoleon's wallet, pulling out his government card and scowling at it. A good cop, Napoleon thought, and tried to stop smiling.

"Nothing," he answered. "Just glad to be alive. These four were going to shoot me where I stood, and abduct my partner to torture him for classified information. Our people are on their way. They'll ..." the police radio came alive, giving information and instructions.

Within a few minutes the handcuffs were removed. Professional courtesies were being exchanged, apologies offered and refused. "Just doing your job," Napoleon assured them, and then he and Illya were in patrol cars, being driven separately to headquarters.

He worried, while he faced his interrogators, about Illya. They had been torn apart so quickly—standard procedure, of course, to be sure their stories matched—was Illya still all right? Was he still ... all there? Napoleon answered questions, and worried, and later typed his report, worrying some more.

"Where is he?" he demanded of Davenport when he finally arrived. "I haven't seen him since the park. Where is he?"

"He has already left. We didn't see the need to keep him—his verbal report matched yours, and both match the evidence. Four extremely unpleasant Thrush agents dead, two of our most valuable operatives alive and unharmed. And Agent Kuryakin back to his old self, it would seem."

"So it would seem. You sent him home alone?"

"We sent him home, alone," Davenport agreed dryly. "As we are about to send you home, alone. Dr. Holt did examine Agent Kuryakin and feels he will be fit for duty in a few weeks. May I presume you will rejoin us at the same time?"

"Yes. Are we still scheduled for field retirement? Illya to Science, and me to Section I?"

"How do you feel about that?"

"I'm for it," he answered promptly. "Not because I think we couldn't do it, but because I think we've reached saturation point as far as recognizability goes. They know us, and too many hold old grudges. It seems counterproductive. We're targets the minute we leave the building. We might have a future as decoys, but that hardly seems the best use of our abilities."

"As it happens, I agree with you. This last debacle occurred only because as soon as Agent Kuryakin entered the Thrush front he was spotted. It was a good decision then, and I still think so."

"Yes sir."


He hurried home, taking a taxi straight to his door. "Is Mr. Kuryakin here?" he demanded of his doorman, who nodded.

"Got in about an hour ago, Mr. Solo."

"Thank you," Napoleon said, and went towards the elevator with long strides.

He came in and Illya was there, waiting for him. He had changed into pajamas, and had a glass of wine in his hands. Another glass of wine stood on the table. Napoleon stood there in the doorway and couldn't speak, or move. Just that act of initiative, just that simple act ... he thought of Illya's wink, and exhaled. He felt exhausted suddenly. Illya must have seen, because he got up, came over to Napoleon and helped him out of his jacket.

"Come on, Napoleon," he said, and his voice was very tender. "I put your pajamas on the bed. You take a hot shower and get comfortable, and come back out here. Then, looking suddenly anxious, "You still want to do this, right? You ... you'll still love me? Even though I'm not going to hang on you night and day and gaze at you adoringly every minute?" He was smiling but his eyes weren't, and Napoleon took him in his arms and kissed him soundly.

Illya kissed him back and it was the same, but it was different too. Just how it was different Napoleon couldn't have said, but it was. He kissed Illya passionately, deeply, devouringly and flames rose around them both. Napoleon gasped.

"I don't need a shower," he managed. "I took one at headquarters to get the stink of fear off of me. I've never been so afraid as when I saw you starting to get into that van. What if ... what if they hadn't given you the gun?"

"That was fortuitous, wasn't it? But I was just about to pluck Stevens' out of his hand when they said it. Him telling me to bend over would have just made it that much easier, and he was so busy watching my ass he'd never have reacted in time."

"Smart Russian," Napoleon said and Illya chuckled against his neck.

"Napoleon, I have to say it. Thank you. Thank you for everything. You saved me. I was drowning, and you saved me. I was dying, and you brought me back to life. Thank you from the bottom of my heart."

"You would have done the same for me." He said it lightly, because that was what they always said when awkward thanks were expressed, but Illya didn't take it lightly. He looked very hard into Napoleon's face.

"Yes. Yes, I would have. I would have done it for you. I would never just write you off and let you go. Always and forever, I will be there for you."

"And you really don't blame me for ... for ... you know."

"For this?" Illya said with a smile as he arched his body into Napoleon's, and Napoleon groaned.

"Yes. For this." He tangled his hands in Illya's hair, pulled his head back and they kissed some more.

"This," Illya said when he could talk again, "is part of what saved me. It's all part of it. I needed everything from you, and you gave it to me. How could I blame you? Why would I want to? This pleasure ..." he sighed as Napoleon's hands began to travel down his back, "brought me back to life. Just knowing such pleasure was possible made me want to live, gave me the courage to keep moving forward. I loved it. I love you."

"I love you too, Illya. With everything that is in me, I love you."

"Come on," Illya said, tugging at him. "Come on and make love to me. I know why you held back on that, but tonight I want to feel you inside me. All the way inside me, filling me up with you. Now." He kept pulling at Napoleon, pulling at his clothes, too, so by the time they were at the bed Napoleon was naked. He undressed Illya then, and they fell together onto the mattress.

They were hungry for one another, having so recently seen the other threatened. Napoleon kept seeing Illya turn, bending over as Stevens had ordered, climbing into the van, going away from him. And from the way Illya clutched at him he too was seeing the unthinkable; the gun at Napoleon's head, the gun in his own hand. They grabbed and clung, grappled together and rolled around, first one on top then the other. Illya leaned over him, sucked him, using his own mouth to lubricate him before finally, flat on his back, he opened his legs and guided Napoleon in.

Illya was so hot, and so tight around him, clinging to him, squeezing him. He could feel Illya hard against his belly, and ground against him. Illya pushed back, wrapping his arms around Napoleon's neck as his legs were wrapped around Napoleon's waist. They climbed the peak together, hovered together on the edge, hovered endlessly it seemed and then they fell over. Napoleon thought he heard Illya screaming and clamped his mouth down hard on his only to realize he was screaming too. They each screamed hoarsely into the other's open mouth, falling and pushing and screaming, and then they were still.

Napoleon panted, knowing he was heavy on top but Illya didn't seem to mind. Illya was panting too and kissing his neck, his shoulder, his cheek, his mouth finally, soft sucking kisses. "You are so sweet," Napoleon whispered finally. "Oh, my love, you are so very sweet."

"Mmm," Illya said and smiled, a catlike smile. He was practically purring and Napoleon grinned into his throat. "Just don't call me sugar buns, Napoleon, or I'll ..." but he couldn't finish because Napoleon was laughing, laughing so hard he fell over and lay beside Illya, still laughing. Illya laughed too. They giggled together for a little while longer, and then Illya turned into Napoleon's arms and Napoleon wrapped him up securely there. He thought he heard the sound of faraway surf, and then he realized it was Illya's heartbeat he heard, Illya's and his, intermingled, waves against the shore, and the sound followed him down into sleep.

{Home. I am home. Home in this comfortable, secure, safe apartment where every room, every corner, every piece of furniture welcomes me. Where I can sit in the living room and watch the fire, and the nightly news. Where I can sit at the gleaming granite covered kitchen island and watch Napoleon cook for both of us. Where I can stand on the balcony looking out onto bustling sidewalks and green trees. Where I can lie in this enormous bed, stretching under soft linens, looking into Napoleon's face. Home.

I am home in my own mind, too. My mind, sharp and clear as ever. I can remember, and I can think. I can put things in perspective, and make sense from them. Even these past happenings are now in perspective. I was captured by Thrush, drugged and interrogated. It was terrible, but in the end it was only one more imprisonment among the many that made up my career. I didn't tell them anything, and I survived, and that is all that matters. It is over.

And I am home in Napoleon's arms. Napoleon's breathing, soft and regular, is in my ear. Napoleon's head is turned so his lips are brushing my temple and I can smell him and almost taste him. His body is warm and solid and secure against mine and his love is a tangible thing, enveloping me and protecting me, as I protect him. I am home in his love and he is at home in mine. We are both home, now and forever. Napoleon and I, home at last.}

The End

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