Episode Epilogue 4; With My Love I Am Home (Post Yellow Scarf)
Napoleon met Illya at the airport. He wanted to, couldn't wait to see him again. He wanted to talk to him about what the reports now called "The Yellow Scarf Affair". Silly name. He would have called it - if one had to name these things, which he wished one didn't - a simple code containing date and agent info would have suited him better - The Thuggee Affair. Of course that was silly in its own way. But he wanted to tell Illya about it, tell him about the staggeringly conscienceless plot, about the girl, about the cult, about the police officers and how it had felt to be under arrest. How it had felt to be alone, his only back-up a civilian, a Thrush agent, and a police officer who believed him guilty.
He had enjoyed the girl. After all was settled he had taken her dining and dancing again, just for pleasure; no need for spying or whispering or dancing in particular directions this time. And it was a pleasure. She was beautiful and intelligent, brave and idealistic. She was also spectacular in bed - flexible and inventive, wickedly amusing and adventurous. She had been no more interested in a second meeting than he had been, and they had parted on good terms. If he were ever again in India, if she were ever again in New York etc. etc.
That wasn't what he wanted to share with Illya, of course. But he did want to tell him about her courage, about her decision to die with him rather than join a murderous cult. It was good to know that there were people like that - ordinary everyday people, working ordinary everyday jobs, who would nevertheless rather die than kill. It made what he did, how he lived, seem worth the cost.
He had missed Illya terribly. It was hard to believe that he had worked alone for all those years, and, moreover, had believed that he preferred it. But now he felt differently - couldn't count the number of times he had thought of Illya, wished for his presence; his solid, trustworthy, brilliant, inventive presence. But Illya hadn't been there.
Illya had been called back to the Soviet Union. It had disturbed Napoleon greatly, this reminder that Illya's countrymen still considered him on loan only, considered him theirs, to yank back any time they liked. He had been afraid that Illya wouldn't return. That Waverly was obviously disturbed too was even more worrisome. Not that Waverly had said anything to him about it, of course, but Napoleon knew him well enough to see through his nonchalant air. It was Napoleon who had forced the issue, who had said "How can you just let him go? You know they don't really want him back to work, that they think he is already corrupted by Western ways. He could be tried and shot before we even consider him overdue. He could be sent to a prison camp. He could ..." he had stopped then, as Waverly took the pipe out of his mouth and pointed it at him.
"Sometimes, Mr. Solo," he had said, "concessions have to be made so that a greater object can be achieved down the road. Mr. Kuryakin is not a free agent - not yet. His people have a claim on his service."
"On his life," Napoleon had said bitterly, and Waverly had only nodded.
"On his life," he had agreed, and that had been the end of the conversation. But Napoleon had gone over it again and again in the days that followed - before he was sent on this latest mission and didn't have the leisure to ponder anything besides the matter at hand. A greater object. To be achieved further down the road. Illya's freedom? Waverly never made idle statements. Clearly he didn't want to arouse any suspicion in the suspicious minds of his Soviet counterparts. But still - anything could be happening to Illya. Anything at all.
So when he had received word that Illya was flying in Thursday afternoon he had rejoiced, had taken the time off work and gone to meet his plane. Now, standing here, he remembered the first time he had met Illya's plane, when his new partner had arrived from the Soviet Union.
Illya had left home before, of course - Cambridge, the Sorbonne - but always he had been pulled back when the immediate educational objective was achieved. They no doubt mistrusted him already; too exposed to decadent Western ways to ever be fully in their confidence. That was why, Napoleon was sure, he had been suggested as their UNCLE operative. Waverly had very much wanted a Soviet agent, Napoleon knew; as he wanted a Chinese one if the opportunity ever arose. As he would have jumped at the opportunity for a Cuban agent, or a North Korean one. Waverly believed - truly believed - in the intrinsic brotherhood of man, despite their governments. He wanted UNCLE to be an example of that, a light in the darkness, a fire in the cold of the current world situation. So Illya Nickovetch Kuryakin had been dispatched, and was coming in that very afternoon. And Napoleon Solo, who had vigorously protested being assigned a partner at all, was there to meet him.
Napoleon smiled now, remembering. Remembering that thin young blond standing stiffly at the gate, clutching a worn carry on bag and scanning the airport - not for a familiar or friendly face, like the rest of the passengers, but warily, looking for a trap, or an ambush.
What he had found instead was his new partner and superior. He looked Napoleon up and down, making no attempt to conceal the scrutiny, so Napoleon felt free to do the same. They stood there eyeing one another cautiously, before Napoleon extended his hand and smiled. "Napoleon Solo," he said. "And you must be Illya Kuryakin. Pleased to meet you. Mr. Waverly thinks we shall work well together. He is never wrong about these things, so I suppose that we will. Work well together."
Illya said nothing to any of this, and his handshake was cursory. He walked away towards customs, and Napoleon followed. He wasn't offended. A profound sense of isolation seemed to hang about his new partner, like an freezing mist, and it was clearly nothing personal. So Napoleon, who never could resist a challenge, exerted himself to be agreeable. He whisked Illya through customs, he whistled up a taxi, he offered to buy them both dinner - an offer that was promptly accepted - and he pretended not to notice the way his companion stared up and around at the spectacular vista that was Manhattan. Over dinner he exercised all of his formidable charm, focused with laser like intensity on Illya Kuryakin, and he never let up. Not for one moment did he let up. He had swept Illya off his feet and into friendship within the first week of their partnership, into acknowledged best friendship less than a month later, and into his bed not very long after that. He did all that because with the first shy smile, with the first tentative response to one of Napoleon's quips, Illya had had him in the palm of his hand. They were captivated with one another, delighted with one another, enthralled with one another. At work they clicked instantly, their first mission a resounding success in large part because of that connectedness, and it had been one triumph after another ever since. Already they were legends.
Already, after Terbuf, they were lovers. And then Illya had been called back, and Napoleon had worked on his own, and both of those events had filled him with foreboding. He didn't want to lose Illya - more, didn't want anything bad to happen to him, ever. And he didn't want to work alone. He wanted Illya. Whatever long term objective Waverly had in mind needed to come to fruition as soon as possible, if its goal was Illya's freedom.
So now here Napoleon was, less than a year after that first meeting, standing in the same airport, waiting for his partner's return. He had arranged for a feast to be delivered to his apartment later that evening because Illya would be hungry - Illya was always hungry. He had arranged for them both to be off tomorrow because surely they would get very little sleep tonight. He would devour Illya, he would ... a family party going to the departure gate caught his attention and he smiled at the four children, jumping around their parents and demanding to know if they would go to Disney World that night, if they would see Mickey Mouse that very evening, if they could sleep in Cinderella's Castle, and then he thought of the Thuggees and his mood plunged.
What the hell, he thought furiously. What the hell is wrong with people? He looked around again, at the young couple kissing goodbye, at the servicemen laughing and smoking as they waited for their flight, at the stewardesses hurrying across the plaza, high heels click clacking on the floor. Near him a young mother cradled an infant, and a toddler clung to her purse, thumb in mouth. And the plane that MacAlister had been on would have been full of people just like these - babies and children, soldiers and young couples, businessmen and teachers on holiday. But to the Maharajah they had been repositories of valuables, nothing more. What had they all felt, as the plane went down?
"Napoleon!" Illya sounded shocked - and happy - to see him, and Napoleon shook off his dark thoughts and smiled at his friend. How had he missed the arrival notification? Brooding, he thought, and was angry with himself because if he had missed that, if he had missed the flood of arriving passengers he could have missed a Thrush set up, he could have missed ... but here Illya was, right in front of him, smiling up at him, extending his hand in greeting and Napoleon ignored the hand and pulled Illya in for an embrace. No harm, he thought as he did it. All around them people - men too - were hugging and exclaiming and being openly happy to see one another. No harm at all. So he hugged Illya, and Illya hugged him back, and then they separated and began walking.
"Do you have luggage?" Napoleon asked, and Illya shook his head.
"It's all in here," he said, holding out the same beat up suitcase he had come with the first time. "I traveled light."
"As if the devil were behind you," Napoleon teased but Illya didn't tease back. His eyes darkened and for the first time Napoleon saw that he had lost weight over there, and that his face was pale and drawn. It hadn't been a happy trip, that was obvious, and Napoleon gave his shoulder a little pat.
"As if he was," was all Illya said, and they walked on together.
"You looked surprised to see me," Napoleon said after a few minutes, while they waited for a cab.
"I was. I am. I had no idea - thank you, Napoleon. I was watching everybody meet somebody and indulging in a little melancholy. Then I saw you and felt - I felt as if I were a part of the human race again. Someone was glad to see me, had taken the time to come and pick me up." He patted Napoleon's shoulder in his turn. "Thank you."
"Well. You're welcome. I confess that I was indulging in a little melancholy of my own. Then I saw you - and all was right in the world again."
"Melancholy? You? This last mission?"
"I heard a little about it - it involved a plane wreck, did it not?"
"Yes. A modern version of the ancient practice of waylaying travelers for their riches."
"Yes. Illya, I have missed you terribly. I hope you don't mind that I've already planned your evening and your tomorrow out for you."
"Does it involve something good to eat?"
"Yes, of course. But surely you ate well over there. I know you miss your home food, it's only natural."
"Yes I do, and no I didn't. Eat well, I mean. I lost my appetite on being given my assignment, and never found it again."
"Ah. I know the feeling."
"I'm sure you do."
"And yes, food is definitely involved. I know you well enough for that. Romano's is delivering a four course meal right to my door. They're just waiting for my call. I foresee no reason for either of us to stir out of it until Wednesday morning."
"That sounds wonderful. But I'll tell you now, in case it changes your mind. I'm not up for - for what you probably think we're going to be doing."
"No, that I'm more than ready for. I mean afterwards."
"I don't want to. Do anything. Like that. You know."
"I do know, and while I confess to some disappointment it certainly doesn't change my mind. What's wrong, Illya? You look ..." Napoleon put both hands on Illya's arms and looked earnestly into his eyes. Illya stared back, letting him look but revealing nothing. Napoleon smiled at him fondly, and rumpled his hair. A taxi pulled up just then and in the ensuing business of climbing in, giving Napoleon's address to the driver, and settling back into their seats nothing more was said. In a few moments Napoleon heard Illya sigh, and he turned back to him.
Illya was looking out the window, staring up and around as he had done that first day. "Feel good to be home?" Napoleon asked, using the word deliberately, and getting a smile in return.
"Yes. It does. Or it would, if I could be sure that it was. Home, I mean."
"I think Waverly has plans in that area."
"I hope so. He sounded me out, before I left, to see if that was something that I would welcome and I told him yes. Emphatically yes. It will take a while, and of course anything could go wrong in the meantime, but until then ..."
"Until then," Napoleon repeated. "Welcome home, Illya."
"Thank you. And thank you for - for still wanting me to come over. Even though."
"Even, despite, without," Napoleon agreed equably. "I'm just glad to see you. And you can stop thanking me. You're glad to see me too, aren't you?"
"You have no idea." Illya dropped his head onto Napoleon's shoulder and rubbed his cheek on the material of Napoleon's suit for a brief, heart stopping second before sitting up straight and going back to looking out the window, staring at New York City as if he were as hungry for that as for the excellent meal Napoleon had planned. And probably he was, Napoleon thought. Probably he was.
"Want to shower?" Napoleon asked as they came through his front door. Illya gave him an angry look.
"Do I need one? Is it that obvious?"
"Not at all," Napoleon said hastily. "I mean, except that you look worn out and jet lagged and you've said that my shower is relaxing."
"Not as relaxing as your bathtub," Illya shot back, as if that was some kind of reasonable argument for doing neither. Napoleon frowned.
"Of course you can take a bath if you want to. You are more than welcome. You know that."
Illya didn't answer him, but he hefted his suitcase down the little steps into Napoleon's living room and plopped it down beside the sofa. If he had pulled out the sofa bed and made it up with fresh sheets the message couldn't have been more clear - he was sleeping at Napoleon's, but he was doing so alone. Napoleon felt his frown deepen, but he said nothing. Whatever was eating Illya would come out sooner or later - it always did. Illya couldn't resist talking to him, as if he'd never found nor expected to find such a sympathetic ear. He'd bathe - was indeed on his way in there right now - and eat, and have some wine, and it would come out. Whatever it was. Something to do with his trip home, no doubt. No doubt at all.
"Hey," Napoleon called after him, coming to himself with a start. "I need to use that before you get too comfortable. Or ..." but the door had closed, and Napoleon could hear the taps running. He thought about waiting, then shrugged. Illya naked was certainly not a new sight to him, and he himself peeing not a new sight to Illya. Even if they weren't together the way they were, neither event would be a novelty, given the nature of their business. So he gave a single tap, a courtesy tap, and went on in.
Illya was standing naked beside the tub, arms wrapped around himself tightly. The sight, which would normally have aroused Napoleon, horrified him instead. Because Illya was covered with bruises. Black round fist shaped bruises, sharper, darker boot tip bruises, wide strap like bruises. Napoleon catalogued them from long experience, quickly, then braced himself for the fury that was surely going to pour over him for his intrusion. "I'm sorry," he began lamely. "I just needed to use ... I mean I knocked ... I mean - Illya. Illya." Because there was no anger in the face Illya turned to him. Instead there was a desolation so deep that Napoleon's arms were extended before he even thought about it. "Illya," he repeated and Illya went into the embrace, pressed his head into the crook of Napoleon's neck.
Napoleon held him, simultaneously grieving for the injuries Illya had suffered, for the look on his face, and rejoicing that he was not being shut out, he was not being sent away, he was being allowed to offer comfort. Nothing had ever brought him such happiness. It seemed wrong to be happy now and of course he wasn't happy that this had happened, not at all happy; he was appalled, and sorry, and enraged. But he was glad too that Illya was accepting his comfort - indeed, welcomed it if the deep sigh, the relaxation of the body against his, the arms leaving their rigid self embrace and stealing around his waist were anything to go by.
"I don't want to talk about it," Illya said, voice muffled in Napoleon's neck and he nodded, stroked that blond hair.
"You don't have to," he said soothingly. "Of course you don't have to."
"I should tell you," Illya went on, and pulled free. Napoleon let him go - he had learned from the start of their friendship that when Illya wanted to be released it was best to release him. So he did, and clasped his hands behind his back to keep from reaching for him again. Illya was standing very stiffly now, eyes hooded, face shuttered. "I should tell you," he repeated, and stopped again.
"All right," Napoleon said, because that seemed the only safe thing to say. It was all right if Illya told him, and it was all right if Illya didn't, and whatever Illya had to say would be all right too.
Without answering Illya turned again and shut off the taps. The tub, full almost to overflowing, steamed in a very inviting way. Illya looked at it, then turned once more.
"I'm a whore," he said, forcing the words out as if they were razor sharp rocks that were cutting his mouth, cutting his lips and breaking his teeth as they emerged. "That's why they sent for me. An old assignment, come to new fruition."
"Ah," Napoleon said, and sat down on the toilet seat. "Get in. You're wasting a perfectly good bath."
"Didn't you hear me? Are you deaf now as well as stupid?" But Illya got in, sank down, the water rising almost to his chin, slopping over the edges. His involuntary sigh of relief and - hopefully - pleasure, was as gratifying to Napoleon as it was, obviously, annoying to him, because his lips tightened and he slid down further, averting his face. Just as quickly he turned back and Napoleon knew without his saying it that he considered that cowardice, considered it his duty to face Napoleon while they had this conversation.
"I heard you. Hold on." Napoleon closed the shower curtains and used the toilet, his own exhalation of relief drawing a reluctant snort of amusement from behind the curtain. He flushed, washed his hands, and went back into the kitchen. Champagne was sitting on the counter, ready to welcome Illya home, but he ignored it and took a bottle of red wine out instead. He poured two glasses, carried them into the bathroom and knocked at the curtain. "Hello?"
"Ridiculous," Illya grumped, but he pulled the curtain aside and took the glass from Napoleon's hand. Napoleon put the toilet lid down and sat there. He lifted his glass to Illya's in a very small toast.
"To homecomings," he said softly, and Illya blinked at him.
"Always. Always and forever."
Illya didn't answer for a while, but when Napoleon sat in equal silence, he began to talk. He talked of his youth in his country's service, and the obscene assignments that had routinely come his way "because I was such a pretty boy, and already so well trained." He stopped there and drank deeply. Some instinct told Napoleon not to question that right then, not to push further than he was being allowed. He made an encouraging sound and Illya, after giving him a sidelong look, went on, giving no specifics but laying out the outline - the ugly outline - for Napoleon to follow. "And this particular man was unimportant when I was first set on him, years ago - they just wanted a backlog of blackmail material in case they ever needed it. But now he has suddenly risen to prominence and they don't like it. They weren't sure an old scandal would suffice so they brought me in to rekindle the flame, as it were."
"Who beat you up?"Napoleon asked. "Was it your superiors, for failure, or ..." Illya laughed shortly.
"No. Oh, no. I seldom fail, Napoleon. I'm the best. That's why I think Waverly will have some trouble extricating me from their grasp. No, it was him. He likes doing that, it's hard - obviously - to find a willing or even paid companion to put up with it, but he thought it was he blackmailing me. I wanted to be there when he learned otherwise, but I was afraid to do anything to delay my departure on schedule. So I don't really know how it all turned out. I did what I was told to do, the photographs are I am sure quite scandalous, and when they said I could go I did. With all alacrity, I went."
"Well, surely he's on his way to some gulag or other by now."
"Maybe." Illya put his glass on the shelf provided and went under the water, all the way under, so when he came back up his hair was sleek and shining, flat against his head and dripping down his back. "Or elevated even higher but safely in their pockets. Who knows. I don't really care except that if it's the latter I may see him again and I'd rather not."
"I wish I could protect you," Napoleon said, and it was like spitting out jagged stones of his own now. "I wish I could tell you never again, you'll never go back there again, but it wouldn't be true and you'd know it. I don't have that kind of power, or that kind of authority. I wish I did, Illya."
"Someday I will," Napoleon said, feeling the resolve set hard in him. Until now he'd eyed the career path Waverly had for him with some skepticism. Waverly's job looked uninviting at times, Waverly's load seemed too heavy for any man to carry. But now he thought of Waverly's power, Waverly's authority, and wanted it. Lusted for it. Because maybe that power could protect Illya. Maybe Waverly could do it, pull it off, keep Illya here for good. He would have that for himself one day. Because - if he wanted Illya to be with him, that way, he would need a lot of power. His position - and Illya's - would have to be unassailable. Illya could get there through science, once the fieldwork was over, and he himself would climb straight into Waverly's chair. Maybe the world would have changed a little, by then - maybe. It seemed unlikely, but maybe it would change enough so that Illya could move in with him and he could stop the smokescreen of casual women and they could just - just be. Just be together. He would wrap his power and his authority around the two of them like a shield, like a fortress, and Illya would be so brilliant UNCLE couldn't imagine doing without him, and they would be together.
"Napoleon?" Illya was saying, and Napoleon could tell from his tone of voice that it wasn't the first time he'd said it. "Napoleon? Is ... is something wrong? You look ..." his voice trailed off and Napoleon shook himself. That was a long time in the future. Years lay ahead of them of fieldwork - always assuming they didn't get killed first. Years of subterfuge, years of casual women - he thought about Deidre Purbhani - and Marion Raven, for that matter. Years of building power, acquiring authority, climbing the ladder - saving the world. But meanwhile Illya was watching him, brow furrowed a little; battered and beaten, shamed and degraded, looking to him, to Napoleon Solo, to make it right. Surely that was within his scope. Surely it was.
So he took the long handled bath brush and washed Illya's back for him, careful around the bruises. He got a towel, and wrapped it around him when he stepped out. He called Romano's, and set up tray tables in front of the television in the living room. He watched Illya eat, encouraging him when he slowed down, and was rewarded by the empty plate. Then he laid Illya out on the carpet and rubbed him down, skillfully, not hard enough to hurt, just enough to make him stretch, and sigh, and, when Napoleon rose and began turning out lights, setting alarms and locking windows Illya came with him, leaving the sofa without a backward look. He waited while Napoleon got into bed and came down into his arms, still in silence. He curled into the embrace and trembled a little, as if he were lying naked in a cold wind instead of under warm blankets and a goose down comforter. Napoleon soothed him, also in silence, stroking his hair, kissing his cheek, rewarded again when Illya turned a little further into his arms and fell sound asleep.
Napoleon slept too, and when he woke up the next morning he set about waking Illya - sweetly, slowly, with all his skill, until Illya burst from sleep like someone coming up from deep water, with a cry and a clutch at Napoleon's head, fingers tangling in his hair, holding him there until he fell back and then it was Napoleon holding him, holding him hard against his own hard body, and then they slept again.