Episode Epilogue 7 - In the Middle of Something
Illya sat on the plane and sulked. He had a fine sulk worked up, and was indulging himself thoroughly. His arms were folded across his chest, his legs were thrust straight out ahead of him - and when the man in front turned and glared at him in response to finding Illya's feet in the way of the bag he had been trying to stuff underneath his seat Illya had let something show on his face that made the man turn back around without a word. In fact, within five minutes he had requested - and been moved to - another seat. There had been some satisfaction in that, to be sure.
He deliberately kept his lips thin and tight, not allowing the bottom one to protrude because that amused Napoleon so much and he didn't want to amuse Napoleon - even though the American was nowhere around. Napoleon was doubtless even now in the embrace of that woman, that singer. Hah. Illya snorted. Singer. He'd heard better singing during a catfight.
Napoleon's betrayal took his breath away. Well, betrayal was maybe too strong a word. It wasn't Thrush's tender mercies Napoleon had given him up to, after all - but in a way it was worse. Napoleon had ratted him out to his superior! Why ... in the Soviet Union that would have put Illya's career in a permanent downward spiral, might have earned him a few years as guard in a gulag someplace. Someplace cold, where the food would be scarce once again, as it had been during his childhood. No. He turned his thoughts away. He never thought about his past. He wouldn't think about it. It was over. He had escaped - had bartered and fucked and clawed and killed his way out and up, up and away. And, of course, Napoleon didn't think like that. Of course he didn't. Why would he? It was all an enormous joke to Napoleon Solo. So Napoleon was still in Paris getting laid, while Illya was on his way to Amsterdam to review security with some stupid glorified jewelers. His mood darkened further, and when he realized his lip was out after all he left it there. Let somebody laugh. He'd dine on their balls.
As the plane descended he went over the assignment in his mind. He'd be met at the airport and the driver would give him Security Signal 3A. He would be driven to his hotel and the room key would be in a folder with yet another security signal on the outside. Once in his room he had only to wait for his contact, who would knock at his door using Security Signal 7 B . It all sounded a bit over the top for what he was here to do, but who was he to question? Nobody. Nobody at all. He slid further down in his seat until the stewardess asked him brightly to please sit upright, sir. He almost gave her the same look he'd given the man in front of him, but she was young, not very pretty, and clearly anxious to do a good job; so he only nodded curtly and sat up straight, putting on his seat belt without being told. He might be a lot of not very nice things, but he didn't think he was a bully. Not like some people, who used their position to send other people overseas with a reprimand on their records. Well, he didn't know that for a fact but he probably did, didn't he. Mr. Waverly - and it was a completely separate source of hurt, to think of Mr. Waverly being disappointed in him - might well have put a reprimand on his file. And he deserved it. Sitting right on top of the diamonds. What a colossal fool he was! Why hadn't he searched the sofa? Why? Why? He carried his anger and his self recrimination off the plane with his baggage, and stomped outside.
A black limousine was in front of the exit, blocking any other vehicle from view. Illya scowled at it, angry afresh. Some capitalistic pig was in it, no doubt, or going to get in it and heaven forbid he should walk a few steps, oh no, that was for plebeians like him, wasn't it. Then the lights flashed twice and the communicator in his pocket vibrated once.
Security signal 3A. Huh. Illya stared at it. A coincidence? The lights might be, but they would hardly have his communicator frequency. His ride was a limo? Ridiculous. Well, look on the bright side. Maybe it was a Thrush trap. He could let his rage loose, could do some real damage and if he were killed or captured then Napoleon would be sorry he'd sent him here. Surely he would. Illya stalked over to the limo and was nearly hit by the opening door. He spat a stream of Russian at the driver, who had appeared from nowhere - and why hadn't Illya seen him coming around the front? He was slipping, that was for sure. It served him right that he was here. But if Napoleon Solo thought he was ever getting Illya in bed again, ever, ever, he had another think coming. Illya sat down and slammed the door before the driver could do it.
The limo was all quiet luxury. A wet bar was in front of him, and when he poked at it a bottle of ice cold Stolya slid to the front. Well. He snorted again and drank from the bottle, disdaining the crystal glasses tucked into the back of the seat. Maybe it was poisoned. That would serve Napoleon right. He drank some more.
The theme of luxury extended to the hotel. Illya stared at it as he got out, then swore at himself for staring. But it was magnificent - long, low, extending for the entire block. Illya walked in without a word to the limo driver, and stopped at the front desk. He couldn't help admiring it - it consisted of a single slab of black marble, curving around the lobby like a work of art. The key was slid over to him and the discreet little lion head on the envelope assured him that his room was as secure as was possible. He gave the clerk a jerk of his head and took the stairs - the hotel was only four floors high, with the first floor being this lobby area. He took them two at a time, taking pleasure in his ability to do so without real effort. It felt good to move, after the plane and the car. The stairs too were marble, as was the railing. Everything curved, there were no sharp angles to be seen. It was an art deco masterpiece from top to bottom, and despite himself Illya had to appreciate it. It was quiet, and the carpet underfoot was soft. It all boded well for his room and sure enough, when he arrived there he stepped into a king's ransom of Berber carpet, crystal chandeliers, and wall to ceiling windows. He knew from his frontal inspection that no one could see in - the hotel presented a blank façade to the street - but he could see out, and the view was beautiful. He set down his luggage and searched for bugs.
There were none. He swept the room three times, and still nothing. He supposed the folder holding his room key was right. He came to a stop in the middle of the living room and just stood there.
Now what? He had to wait in for his contact, but he was hungry. Very hungry. He felt his lip go out again. Napoleon had already eaten by this time, and was sound asleep in the arms of his new lady love - no. Napoleon didn't spend the night. She had been escorted, sated and yawning, to her own room and Napoleon was even now ensconced in solitary splendor in Paris. Illya folded his arms. The fact that he was equally ensconced in splendor didn't mitigate his foul humor one bit. What was he supposed to do until his contact arrived? A rap on the door answered him. Three quick, three slow, one short buzz on the ringer.
Still, Illya drew his gun and advanced softly to the door. Standing off to the side he leaned in, and put his eye to the peephole, warily, ready to drop and roll if anything the least untoward met his gaze. Then he gasped, and while he didn't drop he stumbled back.
It was Napoleon! Napoleon, holding a tray of steaming platters. Napoleon, grinning from ear to ear. Illya leaned against the wall and wiped his forehead. What ... what on earth ... the buzzer rang again. Oh. Illya hurried to open it and then stood aside, let Napoleon in.
Napoleon turned and locked the door, put a pocket alarm on it. Then he turned back to Illya. "Surprise!"
Impossible to drop his mood so quickly - in fact being surprised, feeling off balance, not quite sure what was going on, pissed him off even more. He wanted to push Napoleon in the chest, hard, knock that silly smirk off his face, but that would spill the food and he wouldn't do that for the world. So he snarled "Surprise yourself. Put the food down so I can knock your block off."
"Don't hurt me, Illya," Napoleon said, and now he was laughing. Laughing at him! Illya decided the food was expendable and took a step towards Napoleon, who retreated, holding up the tray as a shield. He quickly plucked the cover off and a steaming assortment of ... Illya blinked. Mlyntsi? He hadn't seen mlyntsi since parties given when he was a child, and then of course he hadn't been permitted to eat any. But the smell rose up and memory rose up too, assaulted him, dragged him down and pummeled him. He closed his eyes, clenched his fists and fought it, fought the emotional storm accompanying it, the waves of loneliness and fear, sorrow and fear, shame and the wretched miserable agony of fear.
"Illya?" It was Napoleon's voice, and from the anxious tone it probably wasn't the first time Napoleon had said his name. "Illya. What is it? What's wrong, my love, my love, oh, my love." Warm arms were around him, holding him and he wanted to hold Napoleon back, hold him hard so he couldn't get away but his arms were locked around his own body and he couldn't let go because if he did - if he did - what? He didn't know. He gasped, a ragged breath that hurt his chest and felt Napoleon rubbing his back, stroking his hair, rocking him. He regained the use of his arms then and clutched at Napoleon, squeezing him, frantic to get even closer into the embrace, frantic that it would end as suddenly as it began and leave him awash in his memories. Maybe if he begged Napoleon not to let go, not yet, not until ... not ever. Not ever could Napoleon let him go. He forced out words to that effect, smothered in Napoleon's neck, and felt Napoleon shake his head.
Napoleon was refusing! Napoleon must even now be getting ready to release him, to step back - disgusted and horrified, no doubt, at this utter and total collapse, repelled by Illya's frantic neediness, so at odds with his usual cool composure, his resolute independence; so at odds with Napoleon's own dislike of emotional entanglements. But Napoleon was speaking, and Illya strained to hear him over the wild pounding of his own heart, the thundering in his ears.
"I don't understand what you're saying," Napoleon murmured. "Illya? You lost me. But it's all right, sweetheart, my own sweetheart. I don't know what I've done wrong but I'm sorry, so sorry. I thought - I thought you'd be pleased. This is supposed to be a delicacy. I thought it would make you think of home, that it would make you happy. I'm a fool. A stupid, clumsy fool, and I am so sorry."
What did Napoleon mean, he didn't understand him? He was speaking English, wasn't he? Perfectly good ... oh. His own words echoing in his head, he heard them for what they were. He had slipped into his native dialect - not even the pure Russian he prided himself on, and which he had been rigorously taught, but the Eastern Polissian of his early childhood. Napoleon had a fair amount of Russian for an American but of course Illya had lost him now. Of course he had. What was wrong with him?
But he knew what was wrong with him. That one whiff of those delicate crepes had catapulted him back across the years and miles, back to those long ago banquets where rich food and drink had been served and he had been served too, served up to the highest bidder, his uncle's heavy arm draped over his shoulders as he displayed the child's fragile beauty, as he extolled the child's perfect obedience. His uncle ... "help me," he gasped, forcing the English, hearing his accent, heavy as it had been when he first arrived at Cambridge. "Help me Napoleon, I can't think of him, I can't, help me."
"Um ..." he could virtually feel Napoleon casting about for a distraction. "Um - surprise?"
"Surprise?" What did Napoleon mean? That had been the first word out of his mouth, hadn't it, when Illya had opened the door, when Illya had still been so angry with him, before Napoleon had whipped the cover off of the meal tray in an attempt to - ha. To distract him. Illya acknowledged the humor of that with a short bark of a laugh. "Surprise?"
"Yes. Aren't you surprised to see me?"
"Yes." His breathing was coming easier now. "I am. I thought you were in Paris, with ... with ..." damnit he wouldn't forget her name, what kind of an agent was he? "With Mary."
"But I'm not. I'm here, starting a two week vacation with you."
"Vacation? But what about the jewelers?" That was better. He sounded sane now. He was leaving it behind, leaving the memory behind.
"No jewelers. No assignment. Just me. Just me - and you."
"But Mr. Waverly? I've let him down." The pain of that choked him for a moment, and Napoleon rubbed his back some more.
"No you didn't and I'm sorry. I didn't think you'd take it to heart. I thought you'd be a little po'd at me, but -"
"You reported my error to my superior! Don't you know what ... don't you know I ... he might have me deported now!" He heard it as he said it, the paranoia, so out of place in the current reality of his position. Alexander Waverly would no more have him deported for an honest mistake than ... "you don't have to say it," he muttered. "I know it's stupid. As stupid as my sitting on all those diamonds and racking my brain to find them. But he's disappointed in me, isn't he. He expected better from me, didn't he. He recruited me because I'm supposed to be smart. And that - that wasn't."
"I'm such an ass," Napoleon groaned. "I forgot you - I mean you act so ... so British most of the time. I forgot how you would see it, given where you've come from. Mr. Waverly's exact words were, `Perhaps if Mr. Kuryakin had had some back-up, instead of you chasing Miss Pilgrim in your usual fashion, Mr. Solo, the whole wild goose trip on the train could have been avoided.'"
"What? You backed me up! You always ... he doesn't blame me?"
"No. We succeeded in the long run, and that's all he looks at. He was in the field, Illya. He knows how it is. I'm sorry. I thought ... it was stupid. I was so focused on this moment., on coming in with heaping plates and saying "Surprise!" and you jumping into my arms, that I seem to have lost my senses. You have that effect on me, Illya. I'm sorry."
"You can stop apologizing. I get it. It was a joke." As if the word itself had produced the emotion he began laughing. Because really, how ridiculous could Napoleon be! But how sweet, too, with the limousine and the fancy hotel, and the secret rap on the door and the food - food Napoleon had no doubt researched carefully. "And I did jump into your arms." For the first time he became aware that he was not only in Napoleon's arms, he was literally on his lap, that they were both on the floor against the back wall of the suite and he was on Napoleon's lap, arms still around his back. "So to speak."
"So to speak," Napoleon echoed. He drew back and cupped Illya's face in his hands. The dark eyes were very gentle, but piercing too, as if Napoleon were trying to see all the way into him. Illya stared back, knowing there was nothing to see. The floodgates were closed again, the past was buried where it belonged. For a moment Napoleon looked disappointed, then he smiled and kissed the tip of Illya's nose. Silly gesture, but it warmed Illya all the same. "Okay," Napoleon said. "But if you ever want to talk, Illya, no matter what, no matter where, just say ... mlyntsi, and I'll move heaven and earth to provide the space and the privacy to do so. Okay?"
"I won't. Ever want to talk. You keep saying that, and I keep telling you no. No!"
"Well, I think that you will. Someday. Moreover I think that you should, Illya, because what if we'd been on assignment just then?"
"It wouldn't happen on assignment." No it wouldn't. It was just that Napoleon opened him up, that was all, Napoleon pulled him apart effortlessly and on assignment it was different. He was different. He scowled at Napoleon and tried to pull free. For a moment Napoleon held him anyway, then he released Illya's face, Illya unclamped his arms from around Napoleon's middle and they scrambled to their feet. "But if you don't trust me ..."
"I trust you. Do you want me to toss all this in the trash? We can order something Dutch, or we can order something American - or go out, or whatever you prefer. Whatever you want, Illya."
"No." He stiffened his spine. He wouldn't be afraid of anything, certainly not something like food. "It smelled good." It had. And when Napoleon crossed back over to the table where he had evidently set the trays before going to Illya's side, Illya found himself smiling. It was so typical of Napoleon. Of course he wouldn't have just tossed the trays aside, or down, in the heat of the moment. You never made a mess, because you never knew when you'd be fighting in it. `Everything in its place', the instructor had told them. `Everything, always, all the time. It should be second nature. That way you can put your hands on what you need when you need it, and you won't be tripping over your shoes in the middle of the night. Everything in its place.' And the proper place for trays of food was on the table. Illya supposed it was typical of him, too. And this time when Napoleon lifted the lid, and the aroma rose in a cloud of warm fragrant steam, Illya smelled caviar, and duck. The crepes were bursting with both, and beside them were slices of both white and black bread, topped with cucumber and tomato. Napoleon certainly had done his homework. And it was for him. He could eat it. He could almost feel the little boy gasping with surprised delight, and for that little boy he loaded down his plate, taking both kinds of crepes, both kinds of bread, and when Napoleon produced a fine dark beer he took that too.
It was a wonderful evening after all. Napoleon was in rare form, joking and teasing him but not too much, the affection clear on his face, the trace of worry still to be seen in the little wrinkle between his brows. Napoleon filled Illya's plate whenever it was empty, refilled his beer stein whenever that ran dry; he fairly showered Illya with little kisses - on the hand, on the forehead, on the cheek, on the inside of his elbow as Illya reached for another slice of bread, making him drop it - and pats and caresses. Illya reveled in all of it, the food, the drink, the love - all falling on him like warm rain after a terrible draught. He was exhausted from the emotional roller coaster so he let Napoleon do it all, let Napoleon clear away their meal and fill the tub, let Napoleon wedge them both into the space meant for one, not two. He let Napoleon wash him all over, let Napoleon take him in his mouth and draw the orgasm from him so skillfully - Napoleon certainly was a quick learner - and so tenderly that when it was over he fell asleep right there in the water. He barely woke when Napoleon coaxed him up and out; stood leaning against him, head drooping on his shoulder as Napoleon dried him off, and followed Napoleon into the bedroom, holding his hand. They settled together under the warm covers and sleep pulled him down so fast that it would have been a frightening free fall if Napoleon hadn't been holding him, but Napoleon was holding him so it wasn't frightening, not at all frightening. It was wonderful, and he let it take him, his last awareness that of Napoleon's hand tucking his head more securely into the crook of his shoulder, pulling the covers up over his bare back, hugging him closely to him.
When Illya woke the next morning the previous evening lay clear and stark in his mind. He lay there and thought it all through, and when he reached the warm bath and what had happened there he smiled and went under the blankets to return the gesture. He sucked Napoleon with all his own considerable skill - and it was a wonder that Napoleon had never commented on that skill, had never judged him for it - and after Napoleon had exploded out of sleep with a cry, after Napoleon had clutched at his head to hold him there, after Napoleon had fallen back, panting, pushing the covers aside, Illya returned to his place in Napoleon's arms. While he waited for Napoleon to recover, to see if Napoleon wanted to get up and do something or if Napoleon wanted to linger in bed for a while longer, he reflected that it wasn't such a wonder that Napoleon had neither commented nor judged, because Napoleon loved him. Napoleon loved him and accepted him, all of him, including that sordid past. Illya lay there and thought about that love, and that acceptance, and concluded that one of these days he might say "Mlyntsi" after all. One of these days, he just might.