The Man Overboard Affair
Illya lay in Napoleon's arms, head on his shoulder, eyes fixed on Napoleon's face with an expression of absolute trust. Trust. The word made bile rise in Napoleon's throat. Trust! Illya should be looking at him with fear, or despair; sorrow or anger, but not trust. Certainly not trust. Never again, trust.
Napoleon had been in charge of this mission - their fiftieth. Forty-nine missions together under their belts, and just yesterday Napoleon had teased Illya that this was their golden anniversary. Illya had rolled his eyes, and rolled them again when Napoleon had confidently proclaimed that they were bound to succeed - more, to triumph - to get a gold star from Alexander Waverly. Illya had scorned the gold star, scoffed at Napoleon's enthusiasm, and even disputed the number.
"Upper forties," he had said, as they donned the rough clothes needed for their role as a pair of deck hands. "We'll hit fifty sometime later this year. Always assuming ..." and he had laughed. Napoleon had forked two fingers at him, as if warding off the evil eye.
"Yes," he had said. "Always assuming." That we survive, he meant, as he knew Illya had meant. "But you're wrong. You're forgetting a couple of unofficial escapades which, since they involved spying, and being shot at, and imprisoned and so forth, count. And you were by my side. As always."
Illya had flushed. "Oh. You mean Terbuff and - oh. Well. Hmm." He had frowned, as if weighing said unofficial events, determining whether to reassign them in his mental filing system as missions, instead of wherever it was he had originally slotted them. The sight had charmed Napoleon, suddenly, and he had snatched up the woolen hat lying on the counter and jammed it down over Illya's head, covering his eyes, down to his nose. Illya had pulled it up and given Napoleon a look that clearly questioned his sense of humor, if not his sanity. But he hadn't taken it off altogether, he had kept it and in fact had been wearing it right up till the moment the fight started.
Because there had been nothing golden about this mission. It was an utter failure. Now, with all hope of pulling anything out of the fire lost, Napoleon stood poised to murder his partner, and that partner's eyes were wide and grave, and filled with trust.
They had boarded the ship in Havana. There was suspicious cargo on board, cargo which had traveled along nefarious channels to reach the loading dock and this ship. Waverly wanted to know what it was, why it was there, where it was headed, and who had paid for it. But within twenty four hours the two agents had had to abandon their cover when a trio of stowaways was discovered, consisting of a woman who spoke only Spanish, her infant, and her four year old daughter. The captain of the ship had ordered them all thrown overboard, the crew was eager to comply but demanded time to copulate with the woman. Illya and Napoleon had had to take a stand and, hopelessly outnumbered, had gone down in defeat. Now the woman stood screaming, clutching her infant in her arms, the crew was grouped around her licking their lips and the child was pinned in the crook of the captain's arm, his knife at her throat.
"Bind him hand and foot and throw him overboard," he ordered Napoleon, evidently holding a serious grudge for the thrashing Illya had been in the process of giving him when taken from behind by four crewmembers. "Now. And I'll spare this life." He shook the child, who wailed "Mama Mama Mama," and the woman shrieked in Spanish, and of course the infant was screaming at the top of its lungs.
And in the middle of this maelstrom Illya remained calm. He held out his hands to Napoleon for the ropes - "Make them tight," the captain snapped. "Bill, you check that they're tight. Any tricks, Mister, and I tie the baby to his back."
So no tricks. Napoleon tied Illya hands tightly in front of him, and when the captain protested that he lost his temper and shouted "No! Give him a chance you son of a bitch! Give him some kind of a fucking chance you coward!" The first mate struck Napoleon to the deck, but the captain laughed.
"Sure, let him thrash about for a minute or two," he said genially and then, "Tie his legs good, you. Tie them really good." He shoved Illya onto a stool and Napoleon knelt, tied his ankles together. Tied them good because the image of the screaming infant bound to Illya's back as both were thrown overboard was too horrific to picture. The whole thing was too horrific to picture but he wouldn't have to picture it, he would get to see it with his own eyes. "Now throw him overboard," the captain said. "Throw him overboard and she can have her brats back when we're finished with her."
"Your word that you won't kill them," Illya said suddenly, which statement, after his long silence, brought all eyes to him. He looked back at them calmly, bound hand and foot, perched rather precariously now on a three legged stool. "Or what's the point? Your word as a ship's captain." He eyed the captain. "I presume that still means something?" He had never sounded more British, and something in that made the captain's eyes narrow.
"My word," he jerked out. "As a ship's captain. We'll take them all the way to Miami and let Customs deal with them there."
"And Napoleon as well," Illya went on, for all the world as if he were in a position to make these demands, but the captain knocked him off the stool with his fist, in the process nicking the child's throat, leading to louder screams from both her and the woman.
"No more promises," he said harshly - probably, Napoleon thought, already regretting the earlier one. "Now toss him over and be quick about it."
So Napoleon had lifted Illya in his arms, and walked over to the rail. It was a good distance to the water and Illya had no chance at life, no chance at all. Unless ... maybe it was the trust in those eyes, the look that said Illya had implicit faith in him, even now, even as Napoleon was preparing to drop him to his death in the ocean below. Napoleon cast his eyes from side to side, looking for something - he didn't even know what. A school of dolphins? A magically appearing rowboat? And saw only a rope ladder dangling off of the stern. Maybe, maybe ... so he squeezed Illya hard, convulsively hard, whispered, "Rope ladder. Go for it," feeling his heart break inside of him. Then he threw Illya overboard, hard to the side.
He didn't wait to see if Illya caught it. He cried aloud in despair and went to his knees, pounding the deck and shouting Illya's name, along with assorted blasphemies, hoping desperately to cover the fact that maybe there wouldn't be a splash. Trying to keep their attention centered on him and his - he hoped - wholly unexpected breakdown. He screamed and threw the stool at the captain, and when they grabbed him he fought them, actually managing to toss one of them overboard in the process, and that provided a splash to be sure. They beat him with fists and clubs, and the last thing he saw was the stool raised over his head. Then in a crash and a blast of pain the blackness took him down.
Illya twisted in the air like a cat, grabbed for the unseen ladder, missed a rung, caught the next one, burned the skin right off both of his palms, let go, dropped a jolting distance and caught it again. Hissing at the pain in his hands he arched, swung his bound feet to the side, hooked something sharp protruding from the bow of the ship and pulled himself, ladder and all, as far over as he could - hopefully out of view of anyone peering over the side to see what had become of him. He could hear Napoleon creating a distraction - and doing it masterfully too although the grief and rage in his voice were real enough. The whole thing had devolved so fast - in under an hour they had gone from nondescript fully accepted crew members to prisoners and - hopefully in his case - presumed dead.
He couldn't quite believe he wasn't dead. But in that last moment, looking up into Napoleon's face, he had felt perfectly safe. How could he feel otherwise, wrapped in those strong arms, cradled against that hard body, looking into those eyes that were looking back at him in ... in love? He had watched Napoleon tear his gaze away, had seen that frantic darting of his eyes to one side and the other, had seen them settle. He couldn't see what Napoleon saw, but when Napoleon whispered `ladder', and threw him, hard to one side he had grabbed without seeing, knowing it had to be there, reached, caught, felt the rough rope slip past his fingers and saved himself in a split instant. All the while Napoleon had screamed and presumably, from the thudding sounds, punched at the deck and in general made a very dramatic scene and an effective distraction. For no one yelled "Hey! Where'd he go?" No one looked for him, no one evidently noticed that there had been no splash.
He could hear them beating Napoleon now, and gritted his teeth against the anger that filled him. There was no time for that. His hands were not only bleeding but cramping, and if the ship rolled he would lose the tenuous grip he had with his legs and swing back into full view -or smash against the side of the ship hard enough to dislodge him. He was already drenched from the spray of its passage, and his wet bloody hands were slippery. If he fell he might indeed, as the captain had observed, thrash about for a few minutes but he would sink, he would drown. And then there would be nobody to help Napoleon and the three innocent civilians.
He became aware that something was dripping down his leg, something warm. More blood. So he had cut himself on whatever he had hooked onto. He looked and saw a fishing pike hanging over the side. He'd only have to drop another rung or two for his wrists to be within reach of it, but to do that he'd have to let go. He considered his position for a moment, then hooked his chin over the rung by his face, hooked it hard so when he opened his fingers he hung for a moment, gagging and strangling then he got a grip on the rung below, and lifted his chin. It took two more such moves, but then the pike was there, right there.
He had it now. It was indeed golden. He grinned as he sawed at the ropes, even as blood ran down his leg and down his arms, too. With all that blood, if he fell now drowning might be the least of his worries. There were sharks in these waters, and if he had heard what he'd thought he heard during the scuffle on deck, they'd already had an appetizer in the form of whichever hapless sailor Napoleon had thrown over. He kept grinning as he finally freed his wrists and crawled back up the ladder so he could put the pike to work on his ankle ropes. He grinned because the shape of his next move was already there in front of him. They thought him dead. He wasn't dead. It was an enormous advantage, to be counted out, and he would make full use of it.
It was dark when he gained the deck again. This wasn't a particularly well disciplined ship; he had noted that with disapproval earlier. Say what you would about the Soviet Navy, but there was no sleeping on guard duty, no drinking while on active duty, and no gang rapes of passengers while the deck stood empty and accessible. He had heard the woman screaming while he struggled to free himself, and could well imagine what was occurring below decks. He hoped she survived it. He hoped the children were still alive, and that the sailors didn't turn their attentions to the four year old - or the infant. He had seen that, and worse, during his childhood in occupied Kiev. He hoped they still lived and breathed, and that the baby's brains weren't just a smear on the cabin wall.
He hoped Napoleon was still alive.
But he couldn't do anything about any of that, as yet. There were sixteen men on this vessel. Two of them were Napoleon and himself. One had gone overboard. That left thirteen. Thirteen to one was poor odds, but since they weren't looking out for him he wasn't too discouraged. He would take them down one by one, in the dark of the night.
That was just what he did. He caught one returning from the head, wrapped a rope around his throat and broke his neck. He had a machete in his belt and Illya appropriated it, checked the blade, and smiled. Another sailor came towards the head just then, gave his prone comrade a kick and had his throat slit from behind for his pains. One was vomiting up his excess of rum over the side, and it was a simple matter to boost him the rest of the way over. There was a pause then, while Illya pondered an obscure saying that four thousand throats could be cut in a single night by one running man, and smiled to himself. He slipped into the crew's quarters and found five of them sleeping in their hammocks. He did cut their throats, neatly and silently, one after the other. That left five, and from the sounds emanating from below at least three of them were still with the woman. He waited, got tired of waiting and besides, the woman's groans were truly pitiable, and called softly "Hey! Who took the rest of the booze?"
They came stomping up the steps, actually catching themselves in the doorway in a jam up, and he stabbed two to the heart before they could disengage. The third one squared off for battle and then, when a chance moonbeam illumined Illya's face, screamed hoarsely. "No! No you're dead! You're -" it trailed off in a harsh gurgle as Illya opened him from navel to chest.
Then there was silence, except for the sounds of grief and pain from below. Illya retreated to a wheelhouse and crouched behind it, hiding. There was still the captain and one other to deal with, and the element of surprise was gone. He strained his eyes to see and then a lone man ran swiftly across the deck, knife in hand. The captain appeared behind him, in the doorway to the hold. The runner approached a rope that was lashed to the mast and Illya picked up his end, gave it a flick. Tripped at full speed, the sailor was actually airborne when he smashed into the rail, flipped forward over it, grabbed for it, hung for a second, then fell.
The captain shouted "What the devil! Who goes there!" But there was fear in his voice, real fear; the same superstitious terror that had been in the other sailor's voice, so Illya rose up from behind the wheelhouse and stalked him. The captain screamed, and screamed again. Illya supposed he was a ghastly sight - soaking wet, covered in blood - his and others' - probably pale as death to boot. He assumed a fixed stare, opened his mouth wide, baring his teeth, and advanced on the captain.
Napoleon had finally managed to get free of his bonds, with the woman's help. She was frantic - there had been no sound from either of her children since the sailors had tossed them in a corner and thrown a cover over them before falling on her, one after the other. But clearly understanding that he was their only real hope she tore first at his ropes with fingers and teeth, and only when he was able to work on the ankle ropes himself did she run and dive under the cover. Napoleon stumbled towards the stairs which the captain and one other man had just climbed, trying to stomp some feeling back into his feet. He had heard the sounds of fighting, had heard the cry of "You're dead!", and hope was alive in him. He saw the sailor take off running, heard his scream. Heard the splash. You should have checked to be sure Illya actually hit that water, he thought. You really should have. Then he heard the captain shout.
"What the devil! Who goes there!" then he gasped, nearly choked on it, screamed and began backing down the steps, still screaming. "No no you're dead! You're dead damn your eyes!" Napoleon jumped him from behind, grabbed him by the hair and smashed his face into the step. He went limp. Panting, Napoleon looked up and saw Illya.
No wonder they had screamed and run. Illya was ghastly. Between the blood and the water and the torn clothes and the terrible fixed stare he did indeed look like nothing less than a drowned spectre, returned to seek his revenge. Even Napoleon was frozen for a moment. Then Illya smiled at him brilliantly, teeth flashing white in his dirty face, and it was just Illya again, just his partner. Wet, bleeding, and as happy to see Napoleon as Napoleon was to see him.
"How is the woman?" he said. "Is she alive?"
"Yes," Napoleon answered automatically. "And so is this one." He released the captain's hair.
"I can remedy that if you like," Illya offered, and Napoleon smiled at him.
"No. Best not. We can find out about the cargo and wrap up this mission before we reach Miami, if we can get him talking."
"Oh, I think he'll talk to me," Illya said, and Napoleon agreed. All Illya would have to do was turn those terrible eyes on this poor excuse for a ship's captain and he would talk all right. Maybe their fiftieth mission wasn't a disaster after all. He held out his hand.
"Get me some ropes," he said. "Let's get him trussed up before he comes to."
"Well that certainly seems fair," Illya said and went back up the stairs, returning in a few moments with the very rope he had used to trip the seaman. Napoleon took it, tying the captain's hands and arms behind his back, his ankles together, and yanking the rope tight. Illya nodded. "He's not going anywhere," he observed, and Napoleon agreed.
They went together to the corner, and pulled back the cover. The woman lay protectively over both of her children, sobbing softly and shielding them with her body. Napoleon rubbed her back, and spoke to her gently in Spanish, and after a moment she sat up. The baby whimpered and she took it to her breast while the child crawled onto her lap. Napoleon put a cushion behind her, and Illya tucked them in with a tenderness that inexplicably made Napoleon's eyes sting. Then Napoleon went to take the helm, and Illya worked on the ancient ship's radio.
The captain did indeed tell them all about the anthrax in his hold, the anthrax that was to be sprayed by crop dusters onto several major cities. Illya radioed the information to New York, and when they arrived in Miami they were met while still well out of the harbor by sleek government vessels and grim government men wearing hazmat suits. Alexander Waverly was there too, and with his help the woman was whisked through customs and delivered safely to her large extended family, which received her with open arms. Napoleon promised that UNCLE would cover her medical bills and the children's schooling, and Illya found a Spanish speaking female doctor to see to her injuries. Waverly gave them a rare "Well done, gentlemen," on hearing their report, and a full week off to recuperate. Napoleon supposed there were advantages to facing their boss bloody, filthy, and still in the torn shreds of clothing they had been left in. They certainly looked like two men who needed a vacation. He and Illya waited for a cab, and Napoleon cleared his throat.
"Where are you off to?" he asked.
"Home," Illya said promptly. "I've had enough tropical heat and oceans for now. Give me Manhattan."
"Me too. Share a cab to the airport?"
"Of course. After you." Illya made a sweeping gesture and Napoleon climbed into the back, sliding over so Illya could sit beside him. Illya put his head back and sighed. "I wonder how long we'll have to wait for our flight. We're hardly fit to sit around the airport."
"I could rent a private plane," Napoleon offered. "We could forget the airliners' schedules and be sipping cocktails on my balcony by nine."
"I want more than cocktails. I want a steak. A big steak. And potatoes, and salad, and dessert. But first I need to shower and change." He eyed Napoleon. "And so do you."
Napoleon had to laugh. "We'll order out from Alienos, then. You can use my shower, or better yet my whirlpool tub, and my guest room too if you want. I have extra pajamas and we'll find something for you to put on tomorrow."
Illya searched his face, and whatever he saw there made his soften. He touched Napoleon's cheek. "All right, Napoleon," he said quietly. "I'll eat steak on your balcony, and take a long hot bath in your ridiculously oversized tub, and sleep in your guest room." There was another long pause. Then "Or in your bed. If you prefer."
"How do you do that?" Napoleon whispered. "How do you look right into my soul and answer the question I hadn't even asked myself? I feel I can't be close enough to you tonight, Illya. Otherwise I'll see your face again, just as I saw it before I dropped you over the side. And I'll wake up screaming before I even fall asleep."
Illya looked at him for a long moment, eyes just as serious and trusting as they had been earlier, on the deck of that ship. "I'm here, Napoleon," he said finally, and moved closer, so their shoulders were touching. "I'm right here." They said nothing more, not all the way to the airport, not all the way home. Neither one of them spoke a word beyond the necessary formalities needed to rent the plane, take a cab at Kennedy airport, greet the doorman at Napoleon's building. But they didn't move apart, either, managing to remain in physical contact, even if it was only the barest brush of material, until the door closed behind them. They stood in Napoleon's penthouse apartment, door securely locked, alarms set, surrounded by luxury and security. Then they went into one another's arms.
It was Napoleon who broke. He clutched Illya against him and wept, terrible racking sobs and Illya held him, patted his back, kissed his wet cheek.
"I wanted to jump overboard with you in my arms," Napoleon managed finally. "Hold you up, keep you alive. I wanted to drop you to the deck and punch the captain right in the nose. I wanted to - but I couldn't. I couldn't. Because he had the civilians. He had the civilians and I know our lives are nothing compared to theirs but yours is, Illya, your life is everything to me and he made me kill you!" His knees buckled and he crumpled to the floor. Illya went down with him, still patting him, rocking him, pressing kisses to his rumpled hair, his sweaty forehead, his tear drenched face.
"But you didn't," he said consolingly, when it was evident Napoleon had nothing else to say. "You saved me. Only you would have thought of it, and only you would have come up with that extremely dramatic performance to cover up the fact that I never hit the water."
"It wasn't a performance," Napoleon said, his chest hitching as he tried to calm down, as he tried to control himself because this was disgraceful, wasn't it, this was ... "It was the truth. It was exactly how I felt. I just let it out instead of hiding it like I usually have to do when you're in danger. My heart was broken because really what a long shot, what were the odds. I'd killed you. I knew I had, and you had looked at me so trustingly it nearly killed me, too. How could you look at me that way, Illya! I was your murderer, and you just looked at me as if you had no fear at all!"
"I didn't. I know it makes no sense - I'm not stupid. I knew I was in big trouble. But I was in your arms and it was impossible to be afraid. And it's over, Napoleon. It's over. I'm safe, you're safe, the woman and her children are safe, the anthrax is being disposed of ..." he thought of the men who had come to collect it, those hard eyed government men and shivered. "Or not, but we have to believe it's in safe hands. The last time I saw the captain he was still singing like a little bird, and we'll get everyone who had anything to do with this scheme. On top of that Mr. Waverly is pleased with us. He would have given us gold stars if he'd had them on him. Plus we have a week off. A week off - together?" He hadn't meant for that to come out as a question but it did, and Napoleon answered it, stroking Illya's hair back, pressing kisses of his own onto Illya's face.
"Yes. Together. We've always been together, under everything else, and beside everything else, and despite everything else. We've always been together and now - now we will be together. I dropped my heart and my life when I dropped you into the ocean and now I have it all back." His kisses grew more fervent and he felt the change in Illya's body as he felt it in his own, from comfort to passion, from friendship to - to more. To love. To love. To - their lips met and they tumbled together to the floor, rolling over and over on Napoleon's fine soft carpet.
It was hurried and rather frantic this first time, with a bit of vying for position and dominance. They thrust against one another, struggled against one another, first one then the other on top but when they came they came together, side by side, mouths joined, hands clutching, legs wrapped around legs. Their cries of completion were smothered in the other's open mouth and afterwards they lay spent, gasping and shaking and still clutching one at the other.
They showered together, one washing the other, hands gentle on wounds, bruises, scrapes. They dried one another, and then Napoleon doctored the gash in Illya's leg, and Illya's torn hands; antibiotic ointment carefully spread on raw flesh, gauze bandages carefully wrapped around palms, leaving fingers free to doctor Napoleon in their turn. Ointment was lovingly rubbed into dark bruises, a warm compress applied lovingly to the great lump behind Napoleon's ear. They helped one another into soft linen pajamas, stood together by the phone while Napoleon ordered dinner. They answered the door together; Illya off to the side, hand on his weapon; Napoleon counting out cash, and set up the little table on Napoleon's balcony. They ate voraciously, steak and baked potatoes and broccoli and salad and pastries; Napoleon slowing down and stopping first, watching Illya finish both of their portions. Napoleon poured wine and they touched glasses and drank, looking out over the panorama spread before them; the lights of the great city, the darkness below that was Central Park.
"To us," Napoleon said, smiling, and Illya rolled his eyes. "Don't do that. It's still our fiftieth anniversary. A little sentiment seems called for."
"You call it sentimental to regard this ..." He gestured widely, managing to include the view, the apartment, Napoleon himself ... "as a coda to a mission? Even if it's our fiftieth mission?"
"Yes. Because that's who we are. Maybe someday we'll celebrate a different kind of fiftieth anniversary, the kind with dinner parties and golden gifts. Always assuming ..."
"Yes. Always assuming." Illya touched his glass to Napoleon's. "You're right, Napoleon. To us."
"To us." They drank, then kissed, and then they went to bed. There was no roughness this time, no battle for dominance. There was more ointment, of a different type and Illya put it on his hands, and his hands on Napoleon's cock, rubbing and squeezing and pumping until Napoleon took the ointment from him and dipped his finger in it. He dipped the finger in Illya, carefully, slowly, teasing a little, in and out, making little circles there until Illya grabbed his hips and dragged him down, opened his legs and wrapped them high around Napoleon's back, inviting him in.
Napoleon sank, deeper and deeper while Illya moaned and cried out and whispered incomprehensible things in Russian directly into Napoleon's ear, making him cry out too. Then they were both crying out, not troubling to smother the sound because after all, Napoleon's sound proofing was excellent, but sealing their mouths together at the end anyway because they wanted to, because they each loved the feel of the other, the taste and scent of the other. Each loved the other so well that sleep came to them both on a warm dark tide, and they slept all night long secure in each other's arms, and when they woke up they did it all over again.
And they never stopped. Illya never moved back to his empty apartment, and he never stopped gazing at Napoleon with trust as well as love, and Napoleon never stopped holding Illya fast in his strong arms, against his hard body. There was indeed, much later, a different kind of anniversary. Napoleon counted the years from their first meeting in Alexander Waverly's office, and when fifty had passed he gave a dinner party and presented Illya with a gold cake plate to hold their fiftieth anniversary cake. Illya predictably rolled his eyes at it, and, equally predictably, ate far more than his share of the cake. When the guests left they came together once again in their big bed and they never stopped loving one another, no, not for the rest of their lives.