Hung Series - Rescue
It’s been almost four days since Illya disappeared, and Napoleon is at the end of his tether. The Russian called in on his communicator early on Saturday to confirm that he had the enemy in sight, but every time Napoleon has opened a channel since there’s been nothing but static. He’s hung around the café where Illya was watching them, but he’s seen neither hide nor hair of either the bad guys or Illya. He’s had to report back to Waverly that Illya is missing, and he hates doing that, hates it so much. Worse, the news has come through this morning that the gang were seen crossing the border late on Saturday night, and no sign of Illya with them. So what does that mean? Is he even still alive?
If there’s one thing Napoleon’s learnt about the type of criminal they tackle, it’s that they rarely kill outright, not unless they’re acting with haste or under pressure. They think themselves above simple executions. A single bullet is far too gauche. And that gives him hope. So he keeps looking, scouring the flat countryside, following leads, listening to every little rumour. He doesn’t speak Flemish but it’s easy enough to get by in French, and he asks everywhere about a slight blond man in a black suit. There are hundreds of slight blond men in black suits in this part of Belgium, it seems. The trouble with looking for Illya, of course, is that on missions like this, Illya doesn’t exactly try to be seen.
But eventually he gets something more concrete. A boy who saw someone matching Illya’s description getting into an Opel outside one of the pavement cafés, and ‘he looked kind of worried,’ the boy says, then confides to Napoleon with a thrilled look on his face, ‘I think the boss had a gun under his jacket. Something was poking there.’
Napoleon gives the boy a few coins and his eyes light up at the sight of them.
‘Did you see where the car went?’ he asks, and the boy points up the road towards the far end of the town.
‘I saw it going up the hill,’ the boy says. ‘I ran after it. I was playing spy.’
Napoleon ruffles the boy’s hair. ‘You are a very good spy,’ he says, and he almost means it. After all, this is the first lead he has from the whole unobservant town.
It’s not much of a hill, just a gentle slope, really, but it’s as much as they get of hills round here. So Napoleon gets in the car and drives along the road, going slowly and tentatively, keeping an eye out for anything that might be helpful. At a road junction he sees an old woman sitting on the verge with a table of fruit and vegetables and eggs for sale, and he asks her, ‘Did you see a green Opel come past here on Saturday, sometime around noon?’
‘Ah, oui,’ she nods eagerly, and points towards the left. ‘A car full of young men. Tourists, like yourself, I think.’
‘Was there a blond man in the car?’ Napoleon asks, and, yes, she thinks there was, a good looking young man, in the back between the other two.
Napoleon buys an apple and tells her to keep the change, and her face splits in a toothless grin. So he follows the road to the left and eventually it runs through an avenue of poplars, and coming out of them he sees the château or the schloss or whatever it is they call them here where German and French are so freely intermingled. And it strikes a chord in him. It would fit with their grandiose plans.
The place looks abandoned, neglected. An orangery is going to bits on the south side of the house, and the once perfect gardens are running wild. Bits of the façade are dropping off onto the overgrown lawns. The terrace door is standing open, and as Napoleon pokes his head in to what must have been a fine room indeed, he hears something that makes his blood curdle.
It’s not a scream or a cry. It’s just a voice. Just an ordinary voice; someone singing. But there’s something very wrong, because it’s cracked and rasping and wavering, and the words are unintelligible, breaking off sometimes, disappearing, and then starting again. It’s chilling because it’s Illya’s voice.
He runs from room to room, searching, and finally bursts in to what must have been a ballroom, because the ceiling is high and the floor is parquet, and there is so much space in here that the single wandering voice echoes off the walls. There are cracked mirrors and pale patches where paintings once hung, and the relief on the plaster walls was once highlighted with gold. The floor is splashed with the droppings of birds and mice and bats, the windows are dimmed with dirt and cobwebs, and in the centre, where the chandelier should be, the only ornament is a man.
His heart catches into his throat. It’s Illya up there, hanging from his wrists, which are wrapped around with chain which in turn is attached to the place where in the past a brilliant chandelier must have hung. His feet are bare, white, hanging limp. From here his shirt and trousers look almost clean. His black tie looks strangely ridiculous on a man hanging like that. But there’s a patch on the floor directly under him that speaks of captivity long enough to force him to urinate in that terrible position. His shoes and socks lie as abandoned objects on the dusty floor.
He almost chokes on his in-breath, looking around desperately for something to help him get Illya down, because his feet are hanging just above Napoleon’s head height. And then he sees a stepladder near the windows, paint-splattered and old, and he drags it over. Illya is still singing, if singing is what that noise can be called. Just hanging there, singing, with a blindfold over his eyes and hanging over his nose, and all Napoleon can see is his lips, which look so dry and pale.
He drags the ladder over and hopes it’s high enough for him to reach. Illya’s feet are hanging just an inch or so above the platform at the top, and he climbs up swiftly and reaches out to the blindfold over his friend’s face, asking him gently, ‘Hey, what are you singing about, buddy?’
All he wants to do is gather Illya up in his arms and hold him so tight, but no, that’s not the way he is with Illya. He has to keep it light. He doesn’t know how to do it otherwise, because Illya is in a terrible state, stinking of sweat and piss and shit, and he thinks if he faced the reality of that every time Illya gets into this kind of situation he wouldn’t be able to carry on.
Illya jerks in breath and his head lifts blindly and he whimpers with pain, and that’s when Napoleon recognises the odd distension of the shoulder joints, and his stomach flops over. He grabs hold of the top of the ladder for a moment, for just the tiniest moment, as the full horror of Illya’s position floods over him. Then he snaps back and pushes a finger carefully under the blindfold, slipping it between the rank, filthy fabric and Illya’s worryingly cold skin, easing the cloth up until it brushes off over his hair and falls to the ground.
Illya blinks in the light, his eyes two slits centred with the same blue as the sky outside. His face is the colour of whey, and he looks almost completely out of it. It’s a few seconds before Napoleon reads the recognition in his eyes. His mouth opens in a formless gape, and the strangest sound comes out, something edged with hysteria that sends chills through Napoleon’s skin.
‘All right, comrade,’ Napoleon says gently, trying to hold that blue gaze with his own and hoping that Illya is understanding his words. ‘Now, I’m going to break those chains, okay, but when I do there won’t be anything holding you up, and I’m on top of quite a rickety ladder, so we need to be careful, huh? You got that? Your feet aren’t far above the platform.’
Illya just stares, his eyes as clear and empty as the sky outside, his cheeks drained of all colour, his lips parted, but mute. Napoleon lifts a finger and gently draws it down his partner’s cheek, trying to elicit some response.
‘Look, Illya,’ Napoleon says. ‘Look down. See the platform?’
He’s thinking, please, Illya, please take this in, please be able to help me, because he doesn’t know how he’s going to get him down otherwise. But then Illya blinks and slowly angles his head downwards, moving as if it hurts so much even to turn his neck.
‘You know, that’s quite some odour you have,’ Napoleon says lightly, smiling gently and papering over the hurt and worry inside. Illya is like a cat. He’s always clean.
He balances for a moment, lifting one leg to get a small amount of putty out of his right shoe heel, and starts to press it into the chains at Illya’s wrists. He can’t reach any higher. As he reaches he brushes a little against his partner, causing him to swing, and the weak, sobbing noise Illya makes cuts into his heart. He puts his arms around Illya’s chest, murmuring, ‘Okay, okay,’ as if those paltry words have the power to make things better. He fumbles at the detonator in his watch then swiftly moves a hand up to shade Illya’s eyes and rests his face against Illya’s chest as the putty flares bright and then dies.
Instantly Illya is limp, and the screaming cry he makes as his arms drop makes Napoleon’s stomach turn all over again, but he can’t spare time for that now because he’s concentrating on holding all of his partner’s weight, on not letting the ladder topple over, on getting Illya’s body somehow over his shoulder so he can crawl down the ladder and lay him on the floor. All the while Illya makes those terrible sounds of pain and Napoleon curses himself for not bringing the medical kit with him. He should have thought to bring it.
Illya’s lips are still parted and he’s just lying there, his pupils like empty wells, his skin the colour of dust. A foetid scent rises from him, and he keeps crying and crying out his pain into the wide, echoing room.
‘God, Illya,’ Napoleon says, his voice cracking because his mouth has gone completely dry. ‘God, Illya...’
Illya just stares, the white of the ceiling reflected in little arcs in his dilated pupils, those sobbing, gasping noises just rising from his mouth and floating into the air.
‘Illya,’ Napoleon says, trying to reach him through that terrible veneer of pain. ‘Illya, I think your shoulders are dislocated.’
Illya will know what that means. Incredibly, he almost seems to smile, but that reassures Napoleon. His partner isn’t going mad. That’s a smile he knows, a smile of trust so pure that it almost breaks Napoleon in two, because he knows what he’s about to do to his friend.
‘Illya,’ he says, ‘this is going to hurt.’
He bites his lip into his mouth and looks around the room, as if hoping for a miracle, for a doctor to rush in and save him from the burden of hurting his friend so badly. But no one comes, no one was ever going to come. Illya’s eyes are full of trust, and Napoleon feels like the great betrayer.
He takes hold of Illya’s right arm and braces himself with his foot against Illya’s side, and he starts to pull. Illya starts screaming, so loud a little plaster falls from the ceiling and spatters on the floor. Napoleon is terrified he isn’t going to be able to do it, he’s just going to cause Illya unbearable pain, and fail. Then Illya’s eyes roll back into his head and the screaming dies and simultaneously Napoleon feels the roll and pop of the ball joint reuniting with its socket. He doesn’t waste any time in moving around to manipulate the other arm back into position because he wants to get it done while Illya’s still out. He lays each arm straight and limp by Illya’s sides, then he sits there, panting, wiping his hand over his forehead, trying to catch his breath, and gazing at Illya’s slack face.
He doesn’t want to bring him back into this world of pain, but it’s important. He touches his hand to Illya’s cheek, just laying it there for a moment and feeling the chill of his skin before starting to pat lightly.
‘Illya. Illya,’ he says again and again.
It’s a fight to bring him back, but eventually the Russian’s eyes flicker and his gaze wavers and then settles on Napoleon’s eyes. Napoleon wonders if his guilt can be read as strongly as it is felt. He smiles at Illya and there’s an echo of a smile on Illya’s face, and that’s all the forgiveness he needs.
‘Illya, they must have cleared out days ago,’ Napoleon tells him. ‘You’re safe now, as safe as you can be. I’m going to leave you for a moment, just to see if I can get anything to make you more comfortable.’
He can see Illya digesting that. And then he says, ‘All right.’
The relief is like balloons being let go inside him, drifting up and expanding to fill everything. Until this point he wasn’t sure if the Russian was even capable of speech. He blinks and smiles, realises his hand is cupping Illya’s cheek still. He holds it there, just feeling the solid reality of Illya, alive here on the floor, then nods.
‘All right,’ he says, then he stands up very quickly, because if he carries on looking into Illya’s eyes he won’t be able to leave him.
He moves as fast as he can into the other rooms in the château, eyes skimming over the contents. Most of them are empty, but he comes across one room which has been packed higgledy-piggledy with furniture all covered in dust sheets. He grabs as many as he thinks he will need, then moves on. In another room he finds a wide, shallow ceramic bowl that looks as if it should sit on a washstand with a jug, and then by a miracle he finds a pump in the pantry that still gives water. He gives the bowl a cursory wash, fills it, then hurries back to the room where he has left Illya. He hears him before he gets back to the door, making those awful, strangled noises of pain again. He doesn’t seem to notice Napoleon re-entering the room. Napoleon starts to kneel down with the bowl, saying gently, ‘Hey, buddy,’ and Illya’s eyes flick to him, the cries drifting to silence.
Napoleon casts his eye critically over his partner and then takes a dust sheet in both hands and starts to rip it up, using his key to start the split in the old fabric. Then he looks back at Illya again and sees that he’s shaking, his teeth lightly chattering. His face is so pale. Napoleon stops tearing the sheets and leans over his partner, looking closely into his eyes, which are still like dark pools.
‘Hey, Illya,’ he says gently. ‘You’re not going into shock on me, are you?’
‘No,’ Illya murmurs. ‘Just – adrenaline fall-off. Promise.’
Napoleon purses his lips, but then he smiles and checks Illya’s pulse. It’s slow and thready, and his skin feels far too cold. Shock can be more dangerous than the injuries themselves. He looks around the room, grabs an old box from near the wall, and uses it to elevate Illya’s feet.
‘I’m going to get you out of here as soon as possible, but first things first,’ Napoleon says. He pulls the ceramic bowl closer and cups a little water into his hand then lets it run into Illya’s mouth. Illya pants at it like a neglected dog, and Napoleon smiles. He gives him water until he’s sure he’s had enough to at least start to counter the dehydration of three or more days.
‘I wish I had the emergency kit,’ he murmurs. Illya needs something badly for the pain. It must be the pain as much as anything that’s sending him into shock.
‘Thank you, Napoleon,’ Illya whispers.
It’s such a simple gift. Water to the thirsting. Napoleon brushes over Illya’s forehead with wet fingers, pushing back strands of golden hair, and wishes he could do so much more. But there is something more he can do, has to do, before he can take him out of here.
‘Okay, I’m going to clean you up a little,’ Napoleon tells him. ‘Can’t take you out in public like this, and besides, what would they say at the car hire place?’
Illya’s eyes close, and Napoleon feels the guilt rise again. He needs to do this. The stench of shit is so strong he’s sure that Illya’s trousers must be full of it, and he can’t possibly take him back in the car, back to the hotel, like this. They’ve been told to avoid contact with the local law enforcement unless absolutely necessary, and if someone sees Illya like this it’s bound to get back to the police.
He’s glad Illya’s eyes are closed, though. He gently strips off Illya’s trousers and underpants and tries not to recoil at the dark brown soiling there. Illya’s skin is already flushed and irritated from having urine and faeces left lying against it, and at the sight of that redness all of Napoleon’s inhibitions are pushed away. He soaks strips of the dust sheets and uses them to tenderly clean Illya’s skin until there’s no filth left. Then he lays Illya’s legs back on the cardboard box and covers him over with another dust sheet. How can a man look so white? Where has all the blood gone?
‘You doing okay?’ he asks his partner.
Illya’s eyes blink open and he smiles. ‘I’m doing okay.’
The worse task is yet to come. He can’t get Illya out of here without securing his terribly injured arms. Perhaps he’s been putting it off because he doesn’t want to hurt him again, but he has to. He has to make himself. He tells Illya what he has to do and busies himself with tearing more long strips of fabric, and then he goes about the process of folding Illya’s arms up across his body and binding them to his chest, and between sobs Illya swears like a sailor fresh off the ship.
‘You want me to get you something to bite down on?’ he asks him, quite seriously, and Illya tells him in language that would make a navvy blush to just get the job finished. Napoleon doesn’t know why he doesn’t pass out. The Russian has the constitution of an ox.
‘Can you walk?’ Napoleon asks him when he’s done, when he’s given Illya a little time to recover from the pain.
‘I can try,’ Illya says.
And he does walk, after a fashion, dignity preserved with a kind of sarong made from the last dust sheet, although his first attempt to stand causes him to vomit with the pain of it, and it’s a relief to Napoleon when they get to a short flight of stairs and in the act of lifting the Russian to get him down them he passes out.
Illya is like a sleeping child in his arms as he carries him down the sweeping stairs at the front of the building and then sets him in the passenger seat of his soft-top car. He does the lap belt up tightly because Illya has no way of saving himself, and eases the car into gear with great trepidation. He half wishes for the Russian to stay unconscious, but he wakes as they’re driving back along the poplar avenue and blinks confusedly at Napoleon.
‘Welcome back,’ Napoleon tells him with a soft smile. ‘Making me do all the work, huh?’
Illya gives a rictus smile, and gasps as the car bumps over an imperfection in the road surface.
‘Sorry,’ Napoleon says.
‘It’s all right,’ Illya replies.
He is pressed back into the seat as his only way to hang on, and Napoleon wonders briefly if he should have tied him to the seat to help him keep upright. But he’s going slowly enough. No sudden swerves, no precipitous accelerations or braking. He’s doing what he can.
The car jolts again, he says, ‘Sorry,’ again, Illya tells him it’s all right again. But it’s not all right. How can it be? Illya’s face is still drained of colour, although he’s not shaking so badly. He wishes this were a four seater so Illya could have lain down on the back seats. But there’s nothing for it. He can’t wish it into a four seater or a fairy carriage or an ambulance. He just keeps steadily moving back towards the town, never breaking twenty, talking to Illya lightly to make sure he stays with him while in his mind he goes through what he’ll need when they get back to their room.
He can’t distract himself from that sight though, the sight of Illya hanging from the ceiling like a wasp’s nest, like a pine cone, a ripe fruit. None of the similes bear any relation to men because men shouldn’t be hung like that. They just shouldn’t. He saw the state of Illya’s wrists and hands after he had got him down, puffy and bruised and burnt and cut into by the chains. What kind of sadism is in people that they would do something like that? Sure, the burning is Napoleon’s fault, but the rest of it was them, all them. How could they turn a fit young man into a side of meat to be hung from a ceiling? He knows it’s an occupational hazard, but it still wrenches through him to think of Illya being hurt in such a way. Illya would have the same thoughts were it he who had been strung up.
Illya is humming something through clenched teeth, and Napoleon glances at him, worried. It’s the same tune that he heard before, the tune that guided him to the room where Illya was.
‘What is that?’ he asks, thinking it’s vaguely familiar.
‘The national anthem,’ Illya grits out between his teeth.
‘Oh,’ Napoleon responds. He should have recognised it. ‘Um – why?’ he asks innocently.
Illya’s head stays straight ahead. It must hurt terribly even to move his neck.
‘It was going through my head,’ he says simply. ‘I couldn’t remember the words, though. It annoyed me.’
‘Do you remember them now?’ Napoleon asks. Here’s a way to distract his partner.
‘Yes,’ Illya says.
‘Teach me,’ Napoleon says.
Illya’s eyes widen, but obediently he unclenches his teeth and starts to sing. It’s a strange, wonderful thing to be crawling along this road with Illya beside him, singing out the Soviet anthem in Belgium and in a voice that grows more steady the longer he sings. Napoleon doesn’t have a hope of learning the words, not like this, but it doesn’t matter. It’s odd, he muses, what an anthem, what a warm swelling of national pride, can do for a man. Illya is told subtly and wordlessly every day in America that he should hate his own country, but it’s obvious that he loves it, and this singing even brings a small hint of colour back into his face until the next jolt they run over, at which point he interrupts his singing to swear, and Napoleon apologises again.
It’s only when they’re safely in the hotel room that Napoleon feels he can breathe again. They got enough odd looks as they came into the hotel reception and Napoleon had looked up at the stairs and then at Illya, feeling as if he were about to ask him to climb the Matterhorn. Illya had looked ready to faint after walking from the car, and thank god Napoleon managed to persuade them to carry him up because he couldn’t have done it on his own without hurting Illya unbearably. Instead he managed to get them to carry him upstairs in an old wooden chair like a bizarre Egyptian figure in his white wrappings.
Illya looks about the same colour as the pillowcase as Napoleon lowers him down onto the bed, and Napoleon goes for the medical kit so quickly that he almost spills the contents across the floor. But that doesn’t matter. He goes for the beautiful little glass vials first, and the syringe. He’s done this often enough that he hardly has to think about the dosage. It’s a good thing neither he nor Illya have addictive personalities; at least, not as far as drugs go. Sex, perhaps, he muses. Well, he’s addicted to sex. Illya’s addicted to – he doesn’t know what. Food, maybe? Information?
Anyway, he fills the syringe with just enough for Illya’s body weight and pain levels and unwraps the makeshift sarong and pushes the needle into Illya’s muscular thigh. Illya sighs, a beautiful sound of pain melting into contentment, and his eyelids flutter closed as relaxation starts to spread through his body. So Napoleon gently eases the sarong out from under his hips, then touches his fingers to Illya’s cheek.
‘Hey, Illya,’ he says, and Illya moans a little and smiles beatifically, looking like the image of a saint on a tomb. He flicks a fingernail against Illya’s cheek next, and he doesn’t even flinch.
Satisfied, Napoleon grabs scissors and starts to cut at the wraps around his arms, and then gently removes his tie and cuts his shirt from his body. Illya groans when Napoleon pulls the remaining shreds of cloth from under him and lays his arms at his sides, but his eyes don’t open. Napoleon regards him critically. There are bruises on his torso, the telltale signs of gut punches and slaps, and his shoulders are blossoms of dark red and purple, like storm clouds gathering. He calls down to the front desk, asking if he can get any ice, but it seems that even a single ice cube is too much to expect: their freezer is broken.
Napoleon puts the phone down and comes back to Illya's side. His nose twitches a little. Illya still isn’t exactly clean. He is musky with sweat, not to mention the remnants of soiling around his groin that Napoleon couldn’t get off in the château with cold water. He takes the plastic waste paper bin into the bathroom and half fills it with warm water and soap, and then brings a sponge and towel to Illya’s side and starts to wash him. Illya’s eyes flicker open again after a few minutes and he smiles with the kind of contentment that only morphine can impart. But when Napoleon gently starts to wash his arms he gives a piteous, uncontrolled cry. His shoulders are so hot that Napoleon can feel the warmth radiating from them if he holds his hand above the skin.
Ruthlessly, Napoleon carries on cleaning him, just lightly brushing down the surface of his skin and taking special care with the damaged wrists. He knows that it will be better for him later, but Illya’s cries cut him to the heart. Then he smiles and brushes Illya’s hair back from his forehead and takes the pail of water away. He returns with the room’s hairdryer, which he uses to dry Illya off thoroughly without having to touch or move him at all.
Illya sinks in and out of awareness through the evening. Napoleon’s pretty sure his right wrist is broken, and really he wishes he could get him to the hospital, but he knows Illya is right to refuse. Going to the hospital would almost certainly mean the police would become involved, and that might blow this whole operation wide open. Although he and Illya are out of the case now there will be other men moving in to follow the gang. So Napoleon bandages his friend up and tends to the burns on his wrists, then orders him up a meal, because it’s certain he hasn’t eaten since Saturday morning.
It’s a risky business mixing alcohol and morphine, but Napoleon’s as used to doing that as he is to giving Illya precise doses of prescription painkillers. He knows that the morphine alone isn’t enough, and he plies Illya with just enough brandy to help him rest. And then finally Illya drifts into a proper, settled sleep, and Napoleon glances at his watch. It’s just early enough to still be able to order up something for his own dinner, so he picks what looks like the most filling thing on the menu, figuring he deserves it after today. That, and strong coffee. He’s going to need a lot of coffee to get through the night.
He sits there after he’s eaten, sipping the coffee and just watching Illya. He said his shoulders dislocated when he tried to do a handstand and fell, and because it’s Illya that idea of him managing a handstand while hanging from his wrists doesn’t surprise Napoleon in the slightest. He’s seen Illya in the gym. He’s a marvel to watch on the pommel horse, on the rings, the parallel bars. It’s like watching a flash of lightning with a face focussed and as blank as a stone, but the grin he gets on his face when he executes a perfect move lights up the entire room. It’s no wonder that the girls swoon over him, because half the men are gaping in open admiration too.
But it makes Napoleon shudder to imagine him using the strength of those deceptively powerful arms to haul himself up, and then falling so hard that the ball joints come out of their sockets. The only mercy is that it means that he wasn’t hanging from those ravaged joints since Saturday. Illya isn’t clear on when he slipped, but Napoleon doesn’t think it can be more than twenty-four hours ago. But god, hanging for twenty-four hours, two hours, two minutes, would be horrendous in that state. The less he thinks about it the better, but he keeps thinking about it.
He’s seen Illya face horrendous pain far too often. It’s worse in some ways than facing it himself, because at least one has a certain measure of power over one’s own pain. He remembers breaking into his cell in the Figliano school and finding him whipped raw and gasping with pain. His face had been scalded too. And what had he been able to do then? Just bathe the strap marks in cold water and murmur useless platitudes. And when he had uncovered the evidence of Miss Diketon’s sadism on a small boat racing away across choppy seas; that had been a hard night. He hadn’t realised until he had found Illya vomiting from seasickness over the side of the boat and wincing at each movement quite how badly she had damaged him. Then he had lifted Illya’s torn t-shirt and discovered the burns and cuts all over his body. And again, he had been able to do so, so little to soothe his friend’s pain.
At least this time he has the morphine to give him.
He gulps another mouthful of coffee and gazes at Illya in the soft lamp light. There’s a little more colour in his face now, a very little more. But there’s still a line of tension between his brows and every time he moves in his sleep he whimpers like a hurting child. Napoleon wishes he could do more for him. He wants to stroke the pain away from his shoulders and his wrists, but he knows that touching him there will agonise him, so instead he gently strokes Illya’s face and forehead and hair and murmurs nonsense to him sometimes, and sometimes just talks to him about whatever’s in his mind.
‘I’m sorry I couldn’t find you, Illya,’ he says, one time when Illya seems more aware than he has been. ‘I’m so sorry I took so long.’
Illya’s response is incoherent. Napoleon looks at his watch and fills another syringe and slips the dose into Illya’s thigh. He gently strokes where the injection has gone in, feeling guilty for that tiny prick of pain to add to the rest of it, and Illya sighs and tries to stretch and then whimpers again. He’s naked in bed, naked but for the slings that bind his arms to his body, and he looks elemental, perfect, his skin so smooth and the hairs golden in the lamp light. His full lips are parted slightly, red and ripe, and his eyelashes have never looked so long, and Napoleon realises with a strange thrill how beautiful that body is before him.
Talk about being addicted to sex, to find Illya arousing in such a condition... He wishes he could drink but he wants to stay alert, so he just keeps downing coffee and watching Illya and never dozing for more than a few minutes at a time. The dawn comes slowly, creeping up through the room’s curtains, and it’s a blessed relief to Napoleon because he’s itching to be doing something rather than just holding vigil. He drinks cold coffee and paces the room, and then has the presence of mind to go and ruffle up his bedclothes so when Illya asks if he got any sleep he can lie and say he did.
When Illya finally does wake up it’s past nine, and Napoleon’s been holding off on the morphine because he doesn’t want to create an addiction. Illya comes awake with a groan and a hiss and a couple of choice swearwords, and then looks at Napoleon and smiles. His eyes are glazed with pain, but that smile is wonderful to see.
‘Hey,’ Napoleon says.
Illya gives a small eye movement that acknowledges the greeting, but he looks queasy with pain.
‘Isn’t it time for another shot?’ he asks. The furrow between his eyes is creased with pain, his lips are tight with it.
‘Coming right up,’ Napoleon assures him, and once he’s given Illya the shot he calls down and orders up the biggest breakfast the hotel does.
It’s a pleasure to sit there lifting Illya’s tea to his lips, and cutting up his food and feeding him piece by piece. It shouldn’t be a pleasure, but it is. He can’t help but smile as he tears a croissant in half and slips half between Illya’s parted lips and eats the rest himself.
‘Hey, I thought that was mine?’ Illya objects, and Napoleon grins.
‘What’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine, partner, and a man’s got to eat,’ he says, wagging a finger, and he’s gratified by Illya’s disgruntled look that melts into a smile as he drops his head. ‘I hope you’re going to behave this morning when I take you to the plane.’
Illya glances down at his trussed arms. ‘I don’t exactly have any choice.’
Napoleon can tell he’s still in severe pain, but the lightness of the banter heartens him. He pokes the last croissant into Illya’s mouth and diligently holds the end as the Russian tears into it with his teeth, then pops the rest in when he’s ready. He lets him finish his tea, and then moves around the room packing things into their cases, because the plane leaves in three hours and Illya is determined to be on it.
And then Illya tells Napoleon reluctantly that he needs to use the toilet. Napoleon stares at him for a moment before understanding that Illya has no hands to clean himself afterwards, so he helps his friend into the bathroom and gives him privacy to do his business, and then comes in and wipes him with the professionalism of a nurse. To his surprise, it’s all right. Illya colours a little, but after cleaning him yesterday in the château this seems almost like nothing, and after he’s done he offers to give Illya a shave.
‘Are you sure?’ Illya asks. He looks like he’d rather be lying down, but his chin is rough with four days of stubble.
‘It would be my pleasure,’ Napoleon tells him, and he means it.
It really is a pleasure. He fetches a chair into the bathroom and Illya sits on it with a napkin loosely draped over his front, and Napoleon gets out his shaving kit and takes real joy in lathering up foam with the badger hair brush and spreading it over Illya’s surprisingly angular jaw, and then drawing the razor across his skin. The morphine makes Illya relaxed and receptive to Napoleon’s prattle, and he just sits in the chair and regards himself in the mirror through rather filmy blue eyes as Napoleon meticulously completes his task.
‘There, isn’t that better?’ Napoleon asks once he’s finished, and Illya smiles.
‘I feel like a new man,’ he says, although Napoleon is quite aware of the slight edge of pain and tiredness in his voice.
‘Illya, are you sure you’ll be able to travel?’ he asks anxiously.
Illya rocks himself to his feet on strong thighs and stands there for a moment, his feet slightly apart to keep his balance, the white napkin falling to the ground. He makes quite a sight from behind, nude but for the slings, and Napoleon catches in his breath, glad that Illya isn’t looking at him in the mirror, glad that in the mirror he can see the full length of Illya’s front, guilty at harbouring those thoughts.
‘I guess I should get you dressed, huh?’ he asks to cover his mixture of feelings, and Illya half-smiles.
‘I guess you should,’ he says.
Dressing is not fun for either of them, but Napoleon knows it’s a hundred times worse for Illya. He can hardly move his arms at all, and to slip them into the shirt sleeves means angling them back slightly in a way that makes his face go sheet white. Napoleon helps with all possible tenderness, slowly and gently slipping the crisp sleeves up his partner’s arms, but Illya cries out the whole time, and winces even at the touch of the fabric over his shoulders. Napoleon apologises so much that in the end Illya snaps at him to just stop, and so Napoleon does his buttons up in silence.
‘You don’t need a tie,’ he says.
‘No,’ Illya says, then, ‘I’m sorry, Napoleon. Pain makes me cranky.’
Because he can’t pat Illya’s shoulder in a gesture of forgiveness Napoleon brushes a hand over his hair instead. The feeling of Illya’s hair is becoming addictive. Illya doesn’t seem to mind, anyway. There’s a slight smile on his face.
‘That’s all right,’ Napoleon says, and carefully starts to fix Illya’s arms back in the slings. ‘If I didn’t know that by now, I wouldn’t be much of a partner. What am I here for anyway?’
‘For me to abuse you?’ Illya asks, genuinely confused.
Napoleon shrugs. ‘To be your sounding board, your whipping boy. To help you, partner. I’m here to help you.’
The flight and the short stint in U.N.C.L.E. Medical has exhausted his partner, and unsurprisingly so. Pain in itself is exhausting, and after leafing through the doctor’s report Napoleon understands exactly why Illya is so tired. They have charts in the infirmary for you to pick out your pain level, and Illya’s pain is ranked at the top. The shoulders are so ridiculously central to so much of the body’s movement that Illya can barely breathe without aggravating the injury. There is little they can do but bind Illya’s arms in special slings, and put a plaster cast on his broken wrist, and just manage the pain. And of course Illya will no more stay in the infirmary than a wild cat will stay in a cage, as long as the smallest amount of choice is left to it. Refusing all offers of a live-in nurse, Illya asks Napoleon to drive him home.
‘I’m taking you to my place,’ Napoleon tells him. ‘There’s no way you can be alone at the moment, and if I’m going to nursemaid you it’s going to be in my place, where there’s space to swing a cat, and a spare bed. Okay?’
It’s not really a question. If Illya doesn’t agree to that, Napoleon will leave him to the tender mercies of the infirmary doctors. Really he thinks he should do that anyway, so Illya can properly manage his pain, but he knows that isn’t going to happen. So he does what he can. As it is so often with Illya, all he can do is damage limitation. Illya will go his own way and Napoleon will follow behind, sweeping up and apologising and setting things to rights.
The first thing he does on getting back is to move the spare bed into his bedroom and tell Illya he can take the queen. If he’s going to need to be on hand for Illya then it makes sense to sleep in the same room, and Illya will benefit from the space in the queen, much as Napoleon hates to give it up. For Illya, he’ll do this. It’s not as if he’ll be dating in the next few weeks, anyway. Some things even supersede Napoleon’s need for sex.
He hadn’t thought that Illya had much of any kind of desire in that area. Illya has a reputation for being uncrackable, frigid, even, amongst the women at work, although some of them insist they’re just the ones to loosen him up, to find the real Illya Kuryakin. Some chance, Napoleon thinks. He’s not sure anyone knows the real Illya Kuryakin, not even his best friend, not even his mother.
But Illya is a man just like any other, and Napoleon comes into the bedroom silently one evening after Illya has napped to find him staring down rather ruefully at an impressive case of morning glory. Napoleon stares too, can’t help it. He’s never seen this before, not on Illya. But this evening Illya must have been too hot and his covers are tangled on the floor, and of course he can’t pick them up to cover himself. So he’s lying there on the bed and his cock is standing up long and hard from his groin. The tip of his foreskin is soft, rosy-red, looking so vulnerable. But his length is hard, exquisitely veined, the seam running up the underside from his balls all the way to the head. He looks so, so hard, and Napoleon aches, knowing just how he must feel.
He knows Illya is going to realise he’s being watched and Napoleon quickly composes his features from awe to a wide grin, giving a slight snort of laughter at the very grave and rueful look on Illya’s face. He has never imagined Illya masturbating – why, god why, hasn’t he imagined that? – but now he sees that he does, of course he does, and he wants and needs to be able to touch himself, to relieve the ache.
At his snort Illya looks up, and he doesn’t even look embarrassed.
‘You could at least send me a good fairy to make my wishes come true,’ he says, sounding so disgruntled Napoleon can’t help but laugh. He says, ‘Even live-in nurses don’t do that, tovarisch,’ and throws a sock at him. But really he wishes he could help him, could be – oh the irony – the good fairy who grants Illya’s wishes. It seems a shame to waste such potential.
When he’s next soaping Illya in the shower he has to work so hard to keep his touch professional, not to linger about the lax cock and the silk of his balls. Keep everything professional, a quick slick of the suddy sponge and then a rinse. Illya is so vulnerable and he has opened himself so far to Napoleon, letting him do these things. He’s unable to defend himself and he’s addled with painkillers and Napoleon is terrified of crossing a line and seeing the steel shut down over those eyes. He can’t lose Illya like that. He just can’t. What is it they say? Better to have loved and lost... But he doesn’t ever want to lose Illya. What a stupid saying. Losing Illya would be like cutting out his heart.
‘Napoleon, I think it’s clean now,’ Illya says.
Napoleon gasps in air, blinking. ‘I – er – What?’
‘My chest is clean now, Napoleon. I don’t want you to scour all the way through. It wouldn’t be pretty if my lungs fell out.’
‘Oh!’ Napoleon just stares at Illya’s chest, which is pink with the rubbing, horrified by the idea of Illya’s life-giving lungs falling out of his chest.
‘Napoleon,’ Illya says. ‘Napoleon. That was a joke. It’s all right, you know. It’s all right.’
Their eyes meet, and Napoleon knows that for a moment they’re sharing the same thoughts. They come so close to death so often, and sometimes the horror of it flashes over them.
‘I’m all right, Napoleon,’ Illya says gently, the water still streaming over his hair and face, his eyes ever so blue. God, but he’s beautiful... ‘I didn’t die. I’m here.’
‘Yeah,’ Napoleon says, then, recovering some of his legendary poise he says, ‘Yeah,’ again, patting Illya’s cheek and grinning. ‘You seem pretty solid to me.’
‘Well, then, can I get out of the shower?’ Illya asks. ‘I’m starting to wrinkle.’
So Napoleon watches him carefully in case he slips and Illya steps onto the bathroom floor. Napoleon pats him down, every inch, with a warm towel. Then he helps him to dress, pretending callously to ignore Illya’s wincing, and folds his arms back into the slings.
‘There. Perfect. Nothing’s going to fall out now,’ he says, regarding the Russian with satisfaction.
‘Fall out?’ Illya echoes, bewildered.
‘Your lungs. I mean – Oh, never mind.’
He draws a comb through Illya’s hair for him, although sometimes he wonders if Illya ever brushes with anything but his fingers, and steps back.
‘Ready to face the day.’
‘Ready to face the doctors anyway,’ Illya says darkly.
Napoleon knows that he hates the doctor’s check up and the gruelling physiotherapy session that comes afterwards. He hates most of all the obligatory counselling sessions with Psych, but at least all those things give Napoleon a few hours to spend in the office, catching up on work that can’t leave the building and gathering together the work that can. Sometimes afterwards Illya sits in the office while Napoleon finishes off, or they go to have a cup of coffee in the commissary. Sometimes he’s too sore and exhausted to do anything but go home and slump on the sofa, where he watches melodramas and nature documentaries for hours while Napoleon works. Often he falls asleep there and Napoleon wanders in, coffee in hand, to see his golden head lolling back against the cushions and his mouth half open, his skin seeming translucent with tiredness, and he smiles and puts a blanket over him and just leaves him there until he wakes blinking and indignant as the light fades outside.
‘I’ll never sleep at night if you let me do that,’ he complains fiercely, but Napoleon could no more wake Illya than he would dare wake a sleeping baby.
It isn’t all banter and sleep and intimacy as Illya works through the long healing process. Napoleon wishes it could be, but then Illya wouldn’t be Illya, and he’s always known that Illya was a moody sod. There have been times in the past when Illya is suddenly so cutting it hurts, and he never finds out why. So why should it be different now? It’s worse now, because Illya hates pain, hates incapacitation, hates inactivity, hates to be useless. He also hates to be haunted by his torture, hates to be forced to talk about it to Psych, hates that talking about it actually helps. There’s a hole now in one of Napoleon’s lower kitchen cupboards where Illya put his foot through it after one of those counselling sessions, although that time it had been hard not to laugh when Illya called him rather plaintively because his foot was stuck.
‘It serves you right for breaking my cupboard,’ Napoleon had said, and had retreated hurriedly to the door as Illya turned a killing look on him.
‘Just – get – me – out,’ Illya had gritted through clenched teeth, and, trying to control his laughter, Napoleon had. Illya hadn’t even apologised for the damage; at least, not until much, much later.
But there are other times, almost always when Illya’s face is white with pain or exhaustion, when his words are so sharp and so loaded with intelligent bile that Napoleon is truly hurt. Illya always knows exactly what to say to have the right effect, even if he doesn’t mean it. Napoleon isn’t even sure if he knows how hurtful his words are. He just uses them as he uses any weapon, in the most efficient manner he can at that moment in time.
So Napoleon keeps his temper, almost always. Almost. He replies pleasantly, or he just walks out of the room and leaves him to it. Sometimes Illya apologises. Sometimes he doesn’t, and Napoleon leaves him a shot of some liquor and a straw as a hint that Illya needs to relax, to pull in his hackles, to play nice. Illya is almost always contrite later, even if he doesn’t say those words, I’m sorry.
He watches Illya’s hands flexing sometimes, as his shoulders start to heal. He understands his frustration. Illya so frequently fiddles with his fingers, with his hands, with the pen he’s holding or the arm of his reading glasses or his cuff links. He is a fidgeter. And how maddening must it be to not be able to use his hands for anything? He’s getting quite adept at using his toes and is almost always barefoot in the apartment. He can open some of the doors with his feet and pick things up with his feet, and one day Napoleon comes in to find him turning the pages of a newspaper with his feet. On an inspiration Napoleon finds him a rubber tipped baton that he can hold in his teeth, so he can read books and journals that he wouldn’t want to damage with a clumsy movement, turning the pages with the rubber tip. But still, it doesn’t compare to even one functional arm, and he can see how that drives Illya mad, having to ask for everything. Napoleon feeds Illya, dresses Illya, cleans Illya. He changes the channel on the television – although it’s quite amusing watching Illya do that, and switching on lights, with his nose. He ties his shoes and helps him blow his nose and itches him, tucks him in at night, uncovers him in the morning. No wonder Illya is going half mad.
So it’s an enormous relief when Illya says to Napoleon, ‘Dr Tompkins says I can spend a few hours a day out of the slings now. Apparently some movement will help.’
Napoleon looks his partner up and down. Illya looks exhausted, as he so often does. His arms are still firmly in their slings. His shirt is tieless and the collar is unbuttoned, and he’s leaning against the wall just outside the infirmary, wearing his tinted glasses, perhaps to hide the bags under his eyes.
‘He’s sure?’ Napoleon asks, because Illya still seems to be in so much pain.
Illya nods briefly and rocks himself back onto his feet with a quick grin. ‘He’s sure. I just need to choose when to make the most of those hours. Just think, Napoleon, I can take a shower alone.’
Napoleon finds himself frowning at that, because he’s come to enjoy getting Illya into the shower and washing him all over.
‘Won’t that be painful? Did he really mean you to do something that vigorous?’
Illya’s mouth twists a little. ‘Well, maybe not. Well, perhaps I can feed myself my dinner this evening. Does that sound more sedate than the heady excitement of washing myself?’
Napoleon laughs and jerks his head down the corridor. ‘Come on. Let’s go get some coffee, and then I’ll get you home. Hey, how do you like the idea of coming out tonight? Cocktails, on me, to celebrate?’
Illya glances sideways at his partner. ‘Hmm. Are you sure I won’t find myself sitting on my own in a corner while you flirt with every woman in the place?’
‘My dear, I will only have eyes for you,’ Napoleon promises, his tone flippant, but his intention absolutely sincere. Somehow he hasn’t found his eyes straying to women so much in the past weeks. Why would he look at them when he has something so unutterably gorgeous to look at living in his apartment with him?
‘I think I will have to take a nap, or you might find I make a very boring date,’ Illya warns him, and that word, date, sends thrills through Napoleon’s spine. What’s happening to him? It’s incredible what has unfolded in him since he found Illya hanging from that ceiling. It’s as if he’s falling in love.
He realises that he’s staring at Illya, at his pale cheeks and his eyes behind the tinted glasses, at the pink-gold flash of chest between the open sides of his collar. Illya takes so little care over his appearance, but he always looks so crisp and fresh and perfect.
‘Want to go straight back?’ he asks.
‘No,’ Illya replies. ‘No offence, Napoleon, but I’ve stared at the walls of your apartment for so long that I think I could draw them perfectly from memory. If I could use my hands, that is.’
Napoleon laughs. ‘All right, then. Coffee. But how are you going to keep the women away this time?’
Illya gives a mock snarl. ‘I will tell them I’m in a bad mood.’
‘They’ll try to cheer you up.’
‘Not if I squirt coffee at them through my straw.’
And Napoleon regards him, wondering if he really would do that. He thinks not, but he’s sure Illya will think of something just as effective to ensure himself some peace from nurturing women. Probably something that will make Napoleon’s skin crawl with embarrassment, too.
It’s one of the best nights out Napoleon has had in a long time, because although he can see Illya’s in pain the Russian is sparkling. Almost every woman in the bar tries to flirt with him, and instead of feeling prickly with jealousy Napoleon is just happy to watch Illya’s skilful parrying of their prying questions.
There is no one who can make him laugh like Illya, no one in the world, and the alcohol and painkillers combine in him beautifully to loosen his inhibitions, while his wit stays razor sharp. Napoleon has his eye carefully on Illya’s alcohol intake, ordering virgin cocktails for him two out of three times, and Illya trusts him to do that. He trusts everything to Napoleon, from making sure there’s a straw in each drink to the bill at the end. And when they leave he trusts Napoleon to keep him steady as they walk down the steps, and trusts Napoleon to drive him home, despite the fact that Napoleon has really had far too much to even contemplate driving, and Illya has to give him very clear directions a number of times. But the roads are almost dead, and they get home without incident, and they travel up in the elevator grinning over nothing and agreeing that it was a fine night, and who needs women anyway?
Napoleon is more drunk than Illya. If Illya had useful arms he would have asked him to drive him home. As it is, Illya stands by him and reminds him of the alarm code as Napoleon resets it after they get in not long before midnight, laughing and talking and trying clumsily to be quiet in deference to other residents. But really all Napoleon can think of is Illya. He goes into the kitchen and gets the vodka out of the freezer, brings it to the kitchen table with two shot glasses, and he pours Illya a nightcap, now they’re home and safe. He holds it to Illya’s mouth and Illya takes the glass between his lips, jerks his head back expertly, then lets it drop onto the table with a clatter. Napoleon just stares. Why is that so erotic, watching Illya neck back a shot of iced vodka like that, the glass held between his red lips like that? The fire in Illya’s eyes is beautiful to behold, and Napoleon pours him another glass just so he can watch him drink. He leans close enough that he can smell the antiseptic scent of the alcohol on his breath. He pours Illya another shot, and Illya drinks that too, and then shakes his head and ever so sensibly says, ‘No, no, Napoleon, I really shouldn’t have more. I’ve had too much already.’
He’s laughing as he says it, and he seems so happy, and if he weren’t in pain Napoleon is sure he would be flushed, flushed like a man fresh from making love.
Napoleon just sits with his elbows on the table, gazing at Illya, half disappointed that he can’t watch him drink any more. So he pours him a pint of water instead and urges him to drink that, to help dispel tomorrow’s hangover, and even watching Illya drink water is sublime, watching his adam’s apple moving with each swallow, watching the tilt of his head and the line of his jaw and the slight dust of stubble on his face. Then Illya lets his head loll back and says, ‘Oh, Napoleon, I really must get to bed. I’m so tired.’
And he looks it. His cheeks are pale and his eyes are bright, and his lips are a little pinched. He needs his pre-bed dose of painkillers so he can sleep. So Napoleon stands and nudges him in the thigh and says, ‘C’mon, partner.’
He checks the alarms and turns off the lights in the kitchen and sitting room, and they weave into the bedroom, where Illya slips off his shoes and kicks them haphazardly over towards the wall, and then expertly peels his socks off with his toes and flings them after the shoes. Then he turns expectantly to Napoleon.
Napoleon feels so clumsy, but he’s so happy too. His grin seems to split his face, and when Illya asks him what he’s smiling at he can’t say. He just unbuttons Illya’s trousers and lowers the zip and slips them off, then steadies himself, and ever so carefully unstraps Illya’s slings.
He hears Illya hiss in breath, sees the remains of colour fading from his cheeks. He hates hurting him like this. But he gently holds Illya’s forearms, first the right and then the left, lowering them down until his arms hang limp at his sides. He unbuttons Illya’s shirt and slips it off, and then when Illya sits down on the side of the bed he kneels down before him and gently massages his hands. Illya winces but Napoleon can tell it helps, especially the fingers of his right hand where they poke out from the slim cast.
‘Oh, it itches terribly,’ Illya laments, moving his right arm a little. ‘Napoleon, can’t you – ’
‘No, IK, I can’t,’ Napoleon says firmly.
Illya has tried to persuade him to itch under the cast with table knives, skewers, chopsticks, and Napoleon just won’t do it. Sometimes it’s a cause of mirth, sometimes Illya actually loses his temper over the fact that Napoleon won’t relieve the itching. Tonight Illya seems relaxed and happy, and he just smiles, and rests his arms wearily on his outspread thighs.
Napoleon tries not to let Illya see him looking, to see his eyes drifting to the dark contours under the tight white underpants. But he can’t help looking, because there’s something so enticing about that bundled up package, firmed by the material covering it. He wants to dip his hands in and – oh god. This is Illya he’s thinking of this way, Illya he wants to unwrap and kneel before. He wants to run the tip of his tongue over those soft, warm contours, to suck Illya into his mouth, to make him hard, make him come. Oh god, Illya...
His hands are shaking when he turns his attention to his own clothing. He can feel Illya watching him, every movement, as he starts to strip off his own clothes. He calms himself and strips down easily to nudity. He never feels like he has anything to hide from Illya, and Illya never takes his eyes off him as he takes out his pyjamas and pulls on the trousers. He can read nothing in Illya’s gaze, no clue at all. He pulls on the jacket, but doesn’t button it. It’s too warm for that. It’s likely he’ll strip it off later. After all, if Illya can sleep in nothing, he hardly needs a jacket.
Then he looks round and sees that Illya is smiling. Just sitting there with his arms loose on his thighs, watching him, and smiling.
‘I appreciate this, you know,’ Illya says, and his eyes show his sincerity. ‘I appreciate every moment.’
His words are like the warmest hug. Napoleon stands there, just staring for a moment. He doesn’t care about the hole in the kitchen cabinet or all the cutting words. He doesn’t care if Illya never apologises for a thing in his life. Those words are enough.
‘Any time,’ he says. He drops his hands from the sides of his pyjama top, and smiles. ‘Any time at all, Illya.’
Illya looks so tired, but he looks happy. ‘I know,’ he replies.
‘You need some help lying down?’ Napoleon asks him, and Illya looks down at his limp, half-useless arms.
‘In a minute,’ Illya says.
He lifts his left arm a little, biting his bottom lip into his mouth as he does. He flexes his fingers, and Napoleon sees how stiff they are, almost as if they’re swollen, although there’s no swelling. He brings his forearm up towards his chest and then lets it down ever so slowly, and when he tries to repeat the process with his right arm Napoleon comes forward and puts his hand lightly under the cast, to support that extra weight.
‘You wouldn’t think I almost made the Olympic team, would you?’ Illya asks with a wan smile, glancing down at the diminished muscles of his upper arms.
Illya is full of surprises. Napoleon loves him for that.
‘Uh – the Olympic team?’
‘The Soviet gymnastics team,’ Illya clarifies. ‘Almost. I was too busy studying to really train.’
He sounds regretful, and Napoleon gazes at him, thinking about that very young Illya of the past.
‘You made the U.N.C.L.E. team,’ Napoleon says, and he’s glad about that with all his heart.
‘Yes, I did,’ Illya smiles.
‘Are you ready for your medicine?’
‘Oh, yes,’ Illya says earnestly. ‘Do we have any injected morphine left?’
‘I shouldn’t,’ Napoleon cautions him.
‘I’m very tired,’ Illya wheedles. ‘And more than a little sore after tonight.’
Napoleon deliberates, then nods. ‘All right. Just for tonight.’
He fetches the ampoule, very carefully fills the syringe, still more carefully slips the needle into Illya’s skin and delivers the dose. Illya stiffly rests his arms back on his thighs, and says, ‘I’d like to lie down now, nurse. If you can help me?’
‘No slings?’ Napoleon asks. He’s been sleeping with them off most of the time now.
Napoleon hurries to plump up the pillow and turn the sheet and blanket back, then he puts his arm around Illya’s back and helps him very gently to lie down. But he flails a bit as he does, relaxed as he is from the alcohol, and almost slips. Gasping, terrified of hurting Illya, he jerks himself away and ends up sliding to the floor. He lands with a thump, and after a moment Illya asks, ‘Napoleon? Napoleon, are you all right?’
Napoleon sits up on the floor, rubbing his head. Illya is lying flat, trying to see, and Napoleon meets his eyes and smiles.
‘Sorry,’ he says. ‘Did I hurt you?’
‘Not at all,’ Illya tells him softly. ‘Did you hurt yourself?’
‘Not at all,’ Napoleon echoes. He rubs his head again. ‘Well, hardly. I was so afraid of falling on you.’
Illya smiles. ‘I won’t break,’ he says.
‘You’re already broken,’ Napoleon responds, sitting up and leaning his arms on the edge of the bed.
‘Help me with my underpants?’ Illya asks.
He sleeps naked every night so that he can use the toilet without asking Napoleon for help. Napoleon isn’t sure how he’ll get through this moment tonight, feeling as he does, but he puts his hands on Illya’s slim hips, says, ‘Lift,’ and watches Illya’s abdominal muscles harden as he angles his pelvis off the bed. Napoleon pulls swiftly at the elastic waistband, peeling the underpants off and tossing them quickly at the laundry basket in the corner, trying to show no reaction at all. And Illya drops his buttocks back onto the mattress, then seems to gird himself, and shuffles himself very carefully across the bed.
‘Get in,’ he says prosaically.
Napoleon stares. ‘Won’t I hurt you?’
‘I’m already hurting. Get in,’ Illya repeats.
Napoleon drops the pyjama jacket onto the floor, because he knows well enough that Illya is like a furnace in bed. It’s been a while since they last shared, not since the last time Waverly couldn’t or wouldn’t get them a room with twin beds. He always likes it. There’s something comforting about sleeping with someone else, platonically or not. There’s always something comforting about sleeping with Illya, because the trust between them is so deep.
So he edges into the bed, making sure he’s not touching Illya’s right arm, trying not to jog the mattress.
‘It’s all right,’ Illya promises. ‘The morphine’s kicking in.’
‘Ahh. Ah, that’s good,’ Napoleon says. He feels sleepy already.
‘I’ll see you in the small hours,’ Illya says. ‘It’ll be easier to wake you for my painkillers if all I have to do is kick you in the shin.’
‘Oh, so comforting,’ Napoleon says acerbically, but really he’s happy, happy to be here with Illya beside him.
He lies awake for a while, although he’s so sleepy, his head turned towards Illya, watching him in the slight light. They leave a lamp on because everything is angled towards Illya’s safety, Illya not stumbling or knocking into anything if he gets out of bed in the night. And the lamp means he can gaze at Illya’s face, at the angles of his cheekbones, at his thin eyelids and the gold drift of hair over his forehead, the gold light on his face. And Illya has no idea. How could he? He has no idea how Napoleon’s pulse quickens at that beautiful sight.
He lies like that, just gazing at the air moving in and out through Illya’s parted lips, at the sudden rush and flutter of his eyes as he starts to dream. Illya starts to move with the dream, his hands jerking, and then he moans in his sleep and Napoleon shushes him and tries to get him to settle. And then after a long while he falls asleep himself, and is wakened some time in the small, dark hours by Illya trying to sit up.
‘Here, let me,’ Napoleon murmurs, because Illya is reaching clumsily for the pill bottle on the night stand and gasping at the movement.
‘I was trying not to wake you,’ Illya admits.
‘Don’t be silly,’ Napoleon says, and gets out of bed and goes around to shake two pills out of the bottle. He pops them in through Illya’s lips and holds the water for him, then helps him lie down again. ‘I’m not disturbing you, being in the same bed?’ he checks.
‘No,’ Illya says, his voice slurred and heavy with sleep. ‘It’s nice.’
Nice, Napoleon thinks. Yes, it is nice. It is so nice lying with Illya so close. That word is so meek and overused, but it fits now. All this, the soft sound of Illya’s breath, the slight scent of his sweat, the small movements and murmurs he makes, his hair on the pillow, the shape of his body under the blanket – it’s all just perfect.
‘Illya,’ he says, ‘I – ’
Illya’s asleep again, his breath coming so slow and sweet. But then after a long silence Illya mumbles, ‘Huh?’
‘Nothing,’ Napoleon says. He doesn’t know what he was going to say.
Illya turns his head on the pillow, his eyes opening to slits, his irides looking almost green in this light.
‘Nothing? Napoleon, why’d’you wake me up?’
‘It was nothing,’ Napoleon repeats. ‘I thought you were still awake. I’m sorry.’
‘Regret is the straitjacket of the middle classes,’ Illya murmurs.
‘What the hell does that mean?’ Napoleon asks. Sometimes he thinks Illya just makes these things up to sound wise. But this time he thinks Illya really has gone to sleep, and he lies there listening to him breathe again, in and out, in and out, and after a long while Napoleon says quietly, ‘I love you, Illya.’
And then there are those slitted eyes again, Illya’s pupils fixing on him again, and Illya says in a wide-awake, startled voice, ‘You do?’
Napoleon feels his heart clench. His mouth goes dry. He lies very still, watching Illya’s eyes. Then he says, ‘Oh god, oh god...’
He starts to move, to get out of bed. Instantly Illya’s right arm jerks out, his fingers stretching to try to catch Napoleon’s arm, and then he gasps in pain, and tightly through the pain he says, ‘Come back here, Napoleon.’
Napoleon freezes, one leg over the side of the bed, looking at his knees. Then he turns back, gently helps Illya bring his arm back to his side, and then arranges himself back in bed, very primly lying with his legs together and his arms folded over his chest and his eyes fixed on the ceiling.
‘Napoleon?’ Illya asks him.
‘I’m sorry,’ Napoleon says. ‘That’s the last thing you need.’
He doesn’t look at Illya, but he hears him draw in breath. ‘Is love really the last thing I need?’ he asks quietly.
Then Napoleon turns onto his side, so suddenly the bed shakes and Illya winces.
‘No,’ he says. ‘No, Illya. Love is the first thing you need. You were made to be loved.’
And miraculously, Illya smiles, a slow, secret, innocent smile. ‘Good,’ he says, ‘because this has been going on long enough.’
‘Going on – ’ Napoleon echoes. He feels as if he has had ice thrown over him. ‘What?’
‘This,’ Illya says, his eyes wide open now, and fixed on Napoleon’s face. ‘This, dancing around one another like shy schoolchildren, never saying what we really feel. I couldn’t live without you, Napoleon. What’s love, if not that?’
The relief is like the first rising of the sun after an arctic winter, a warm blushing feeling that spreads along every nerve. Suddenly he feels very self-conscious, lying here next to Illya, lying in the same bed. He feels as if his entire skin is naked and raw.
‘Illya, how long have you known?’ he asks.
‘Known?’ Illya echoes, then he shakes his head. ‘No. Hoped. Not known.’
‘When I found you in that château...’ Napoleon begins.
‘I know,’ Illya says. ‘I know, Napoleon. I thought I was going to die too. But you got me down. You got me out.’
‘Yes, I did,’ Napoleon smiles. ‘And ever since that day – ’
Illya grins suddenly, and his eyes blaze with some unnamed emotion. ‘All those times in the shower, Napoleon. Every single time.’
‘You wanted – ’ Napoleon asks.
‘Oh, yes. Yes, I wanted.’
‘Well,’ Napoleon says. He reaches out his arm, touches his fingers to the chill fingers of Illya’s right hand, stroking his fingertips over Illya’s. He has been touching him for many reasons for weeks, so why does it feel so different now?
‘Let’s go to sleep, Napoleon,’ Illya says, his voice reluctant, almost sorrowful. ‘I am so tired and my shoulders hurt so much. Let’s talk about this in the morning?’
‘Of course,’ Napoleon promises. ‘Of course, Illya. In the morning.’
And in the morning he wakes with the sunlight pushing through the drapes, and he looks sideways and sees Illya still sleeping next to him, his arms limp on the mattress, his lips parted. And then he remembers last night. What time was it? Three, four a.m.? Did that really happen? Did he and Illya share those words? He lies there for a while, his head blurred with the edge of a hangover, hardly daring to move or breathe, because if he does he might wake Illya and break the spell.
He keeps his head still on the pillow, but lets his eyes move down across Illya’s body. He’s pushed the blanket and sheet half off in his sleep. His chest is exposed, his skin almost seeming to glow in the light pressing through the curtains. The sheet hangs low over his hips, just showing the edges of his hip bones, and there’s a definite ridge there at his groin. Illya is hard, and Napoleon bites his lip. It must have been a dream. Last night must have been a dream. But he’s sure he remembers it as reality. He remembers Illya’s eyes.
And then those eyes flicker open, sleepily. Sleepily, Illya looks at him, straight at him, and smiles. His eyes are all sapphire, his hair gold, his lips like rose petals. Something flames low in Napoleon’s abdomen. Illya is holding his gaze with frightening intensity.
Illya licks his lips, his tongue darting out like a snake, and then lingering, before disappearing again into his mouth. Then he says, ‘Morning.’
Napoleon feels like a schoolboy on his first date. He clears his throat, his head still on the pillow just a foot away from Illya’s, and says, ‘Good morning.’
And Illya smiles again. ‘Give me my pills,’ he says, ‘and then we can talk.’
It wasn’t a dream. Thank the lord, it wasn’t a dream. Napoleon gets Illya’s pills and his water and pops the tablets into his mouth. After he’s swallowed Illya smiles again, a little trickle of water escaping from the side of his mouth. Napoleon dares to brush it away, and wonders at how Illya has become electrified overnight, because the touch makes his fingers tingle.
‘So,’ he says.
Illya blinks lazily, like a cat. Then he moves his left hand slowly and clumsily to brush the blanket further off, knocking it back from his hips and revealing – oh god – that firm erect length and all the warm flesh around it.
‘Well, hi,’ Napoleon greets that proud length. He can’t help himself.
‘It’s hot,’ Illya says, arching his spine up a little, flexing his hips and thigh muscles, and Napoleon makes a small, needful sound. Illya smiles at that.
‘You’re a tease,’ Napoleon says.
‘Of course,’ Illya replies.
‘Do we really need to talk?’ Napoleon asks, a certain urgency edging his voice.
‘Not if there’s something else you need to use your mouth for, Napoleon,’ Illya says, and his voice and his eye contact are so bold and direct that Napoleon’s cheeks flame. The word hussy springs to mind, but he isn’t about to risk using it.
‘I – ’ he says, his eyes drifting to Illya’s proud cock again. ‘I – can think of a few things.’
‘Well, then,’ Illya says. And he looks directly at his own erect cock, with an intensity in his eyes that starts Napoleon getting hard too.
‘I – ah – ’
He feels like a blushing bride. This is ridiculous. How many times has he done this before? And this is Illya. He’s not closer to anyone in the world than he is to Illya. But maybe that’s it. Whenever he has sex he never feels much closeness. It’s purely a physical thing, maybe with a bit of affection thrown in. But he never loves.
‘Napoleon,’ Illya growls.
His arms lie at his sides, his palms slightly cupped, his fingers loose. He hasn’t been able to touch himself in weeks. Napoleon can’t imagine what that must be like. And suddenly, as if he has caught Illya’s infectious need, he pushes himself up to his knees, grabs at the blanket and sheet and tosses them back to the foot of the bed, nudges Illya’s legs apart, and kneels between them. And then he just looks. He kneels there between Illya’s thighs and lets himself look at the soft creases between his thighs and pubis, at his balls that are slack and warm in their soft sack. He looks at the crinkles of that flesh as under his gaze Illya’s body reacts, the skin contracting, the surface ridging like the surface of wet sand. And then he looks at the long, slightly curving length of his yearning cock, at the solidity of it, at the soft little cowl that hides the tip. He reaches out, hesitates, and then touches, gently slipping that soft skin back to reveal the head, blood-flushed and flaring, and the heat that rises from Illya’s skin and that scent of sex breaks through his last reserve.
He strokes his hand down the length of Illya’s cock, and Illya moans. Napoleon looks up, sees Illya’s eyes are half closed, his mouth is half open, his head tilted back. He firms his grip and strokes again, hears Illya moan again, a long, low sound of need and pleasure. He pumps again, and Illya thrusts up into his hand.
Napoleon lets go, puts a hand on each soft, strong thigh, and then bends forward. Illya’s eyes are closed and he doesn’t see, only feels when Napoleon’s wet mouth comes down over him and licks the salty pre-come from the slit at his tip. He makes such a soft and plaintive sound of need that Napoleon almost comes just on hearing it. He takes Illya deep, deep into his mouth, moving a hand to stroke the cool silk of his balls, moving his thumb down to stroke the broad perinaeum in time with the plunging of his mouth. Illya tastes beautiful, of salt and musk and heat, and he wants to swallow him deeper, harder, further. But he holds himself back, explores the contours of Illya with his tongue, slips it around the flared ridge around the base of the head and hears Illya gasp. He licks down the underside of the shaft and sucks first one soft, ovoid ball and then the other into his mouth, letting his teeth catch on the ridged skin.
‘Oh, god, Napoleon, please,’ Illya grinds out through clenched teeth, and Napoleon looks up briefly to catch the expression of desperate need on his face.
So he starts to move harder, faster, laving his tongue across the hot head of Illya’s cock, hollowing out his cheeks as he sucks at his length, all the while tangling his fingers over his balls, between his legs, through the harsh, wiry hair. And Illya starts to move, jerking his hips upwards as Napoleon comes down, grunting out his breath in tiny sounds of animal pleasure that concentrate a sparking electrical feeling in the pit of Napoleon’s abdomen, that make his own balls tighten and ache, that make his own cock harder than he can stand it to be. He widens his knees, grabs hold of himself in one hand as he keeps on coming down hard over Illya’s length. And then Illya is coming, coming, coming into his mouth, shouting out loud with it, the hot, salty fluid jerking into the back of Napoleon’s throat. And he’s coming himself, the orgasm exploding through him, semen jerking stickily through his hand and splashing onto Illya’s body.
Napoleon swallows, swallows again, lets Illya’s softening cock slip out of his mouth. He licks his lips, looks up at Illya, at his splattered thigh, and says, abashed, ‘Sorry about that.’
Illya laughs. He looks so utterly relaxed that he seems to be part of the bed. He looks golden and perfect, his thigh streaked with Napoleon’s come, his cock soft and small and damp, nestled back in its bed of curls.
‘Are you my good fairy, Napoleon?’ he asks, his lips still curved with a smile.
‘Something like that,’ Napoleon grins. He’s full of the taste of Illya, still tingling with the sensation of coming with his mouth around Illya. ‘Come on,’ he says. ‘Let’s go shower. Maybe this time I can wash you in the way I’ve been fantasising for so long.’
One of Illya’s eyebrows arches upwards. ‘You’re a dark horse, Napoleon. You’ll have to show me what you’ve been fantasising about.’
Napoleon just looks at him, smiling. Then he goes to get the plastic bag that they put around Illya’s cast in the shower, carefully tapes it on over his slim lower arm, and helps his partner to stand.
‘How are the shoulders?’ he asks, and Illya smiles.
‘Somehow they feel more relaxed than they have in a long time.’
‘Hmm, I wonder why,’ Napoleon muses playfully.
The shower is wonderful, because finally he can take a long, long time over soaping every inch of Illya’s skin. He can run his hands down those slippery flanks instead of just using the sponge, and he can kneel and lap the water that catches and streams from Illya’s cock. Illya leans against the shower wall with his eyes closed, content as a pampered god as Napoleon explores every inch of his body, and Napoleon finds himself hard again and wishing that Illya were a little less delicate, because what he really, really wants to do is turn Illya to the wall and part his cheeks and sink deep into that dusky hole between his legs. He wants it so much that his balls ache. But then Illya very carefully kneels down, the water streaming over his head and down his shoulders, and with his arms hanging at his sides he gently sinks his mouth over Napoleon’s hardness and starts to tease his tongue around every contour. And even without Illya’s hands to enhance the touch, Napoleon throws his head back and moans aloud, thinking, god, Illya, this is Illya, Illya’s mouth around me…
That thought is enough. His cock is so hard it feels like it might split the skin. But Illya’s mouth soothes it, his warmth and wetness is a balm, and he expertly plies his tongue and cheeks around Napoleon’s length so that even without the vigorous movements that his shoulders won’t allow Napoleon finds himself coming closer and closer to the edge. And then everything explodes, whites out, everything is centred in his balls contracting, his cock jerking his seed into Illya’s hot mouth. And then he is back in reality again, his spine pressed against the tiles, Illya’s forehead resting against his pubic bone. Illya’s back is heaving and he is gasping in air.
Napoleon crouches, gently lifting Illya’s head with his hands.
‘Hey. You okay?’
Illya’s smile is beautiful. ‘Yeah. I must be out of shape.’
Napoleon just looks into his face, into the blue of his eyes, and thinks how much he loves him. Then he says, ‘You know, that was really very nice, but there’s one thing we haven’t done yet.’
‘There are a lot of things we haven’t done yet,’ Illya points out astutely. ‘And can’t until these – these damn shoulders are better.’
‘Oh, there’s one thing we can do,’ Napoleon smiles. He strokes a fingertip down Illya’s cheek. ‘You really are very beautiful, you know. Has anyone ever told you how beautiful you are?’
Illya’s lips press together. ‘A number of women. I recall one of them telling me that just before she roped me to the elevated prongs of a forklift and started whipping me.’
‘Hmm,’ Napoleon says. He didn’t want to remind Illya of that. ‘Well, anyway. This one thing we haven’t done...’
Napoleon puts a finger under Illya’s chin, tilts his head up, lets his eyes linger on those full, ripe lips. Illya has lips that would put most women to shame. His lips part under Napoleon’s gaze. Napoleon leans closer, touches his lips against Illya’s, and then they are kissing. Napoleon’s hand is behind Illya’s head, and they are kissing so hard that his teeth knock on Illya’s lips. He can taste his come in Illya’s mouth, and somehow that makes it all the more erotic, to think of how Illya’s mouth was just down there, and how now it’s here, hard against him, their tongues twining together. By the time they have finished kissing the shower tray is starting to overflow onto the floor, and Napoleon laughs, realising that his knee was covering the plughole.
‘I’m going to blow Mrs Botham’s kitchen light fitting again,’ Napoleon says ruefully, and Illya says, ‘Who cares?’
‘Who cares?’ Napoleon echoes. He turns off the shower and dries Illya meticulously with a thick-piled towel, kissing him after each pat. Illya seems to glow under that attention, and Napoleon wonders why this has taken so long, how they have managed to share so much over the years and never shared this.
‘I am never going to let you go,’ he says.
‘Miss Diketon said that too,’ Illya says cynically.
Napoleon kisses him. ‘Let’s agree,’ he says, kissing him again, ‘to never mention,’ kissing him on the nose, ‘that terrible woman again.’ And he kisses him gently on the forehead, then hard on the lips. ‘At least in the context of our own relationship.’
He knows what Miss Diketon did to Illya. Illya told him every sordid detail. He wouldn’t deny him his need to talk it out, because he still needs to talk it out at times. But he doesn’t want her in the bedroom with them.
‘All right,’ Illya promises. ‘In that case, can we talk about breakfast? I’m starving.’
So Napoleon follows Illya through into the kitchen and starts ransacking the cupboards for everything he thinks Illya might want and definitely deserves. He supposes, rather ruefully, that there are many things Illya will do for him, but that he’ll never give up his intimate relationship with food.