This Kind of Thing
Illya Kuryakin stood outside his office and tried to muster up the energy to go home. It seemed an interminable series of steps - through the door, get his jacket, log off for the day, leave his office, walk down the hall, into the elevator ... it stretched before him like a marathon he would somehow have to get through to reach the sanctuary of his apartment. Maybe he wouldn't bother. Maybe he would just sleep in his office. He was worn out from the repercussions of the Mother Fear affair.
He had reported the rapes, of course. He had had to. It was part of the interrogation. Mother Fear - and how he hated that pretentious silly name - had thought that a thorough going over by Tom and Huck - in between bouts of the strap - would break him. It hadn't, of course - but it had been bad all the same. And then while one twin or the other was pounding into him she had been looking directly into his eyes from two inches away and talking at him ... "Come now, Illya, be a good boy. Unless you like this, you'll talk to me. Talk to mother, Illya" The whole thing had been degrading, and repulsive, and then he had had to go over it all again for the UNCLE doctors.
He had filled out his report on returning from Zurich, and dutifully described the incident. Then he had waited. Napoleon had left - frowning slightly at Illya in puzzlement.
"Come on with me," he had invited. "I'll give you some steak and brandy."
"No, thank you," Illya had replied, because once his report was reviewed they would want to examine him both physically and mentally so there was no point in him leaving. They would just call him back in. Napoleon would see the report too, of course - it would cross his desk sometime tomorrow in its routine journey through the administrative channels - but that issue could wait until then. He wasn't up to it tonight. But how kind Napoleon was, standing there in the doorway trying to entice him with food and drink and the promise of his own company. How good it had been, to feel Napoleon sitting down on the prison cot beside him, lifting the shirt carefully away from his bloody back, washing off the stinging lotion Mother Fear had rubbed in with her own two hands. The relief had been immediate, and Napoleon's visible concern was balm of its own. It had given him the strength to rally, to throw it off, to put it behind him and finish off the mission.
And they were all dead, which helped now, of course. Tom or Huck - he couldn't tell them apart and couldn't care less - blown up in the car. How satisfying that had been! He had caught the little sideways look Napoleon gave him at his blatant relish for the man's death. Well, Napoleon would understand after he read that report. And the other twin, killed in a blaze of gunfire in that final battle. And Mother Fear.
He had faced her across the millstream, gun in hand, and wanted to kill her so badly he had held off, because killing from vengeance was wrong, wasn't it. He hadn't trusted his judgment, hadn't trusted himself, so he had held off. But when the impact of the exploding pie - how absurd the whole affair had been, start to finish - had knocked her onto the mill wheel, he had let her go without making any attempt to save her. "There was nothing I could have done," he had typed in his report, but that probably wasn't true. If it had been that silly social worker, he would have done something. If it had been Napoleon he would have thrown his own body into the wheel to stop it. But he had watched her rise, listened to her scream, and done nothing. Felt nothing. All of the enemy were dead, the mission was successful, the report filed. The end.
UNCLE's doctors had probed him with metal instruments and gloved hands and he had feigned indifference. They had questioned him, given him drugs to lower his defenses and questioned him again, but he had come through that, too. It really hadn't traumatized him to any great degree. It was nothing personal. They had wanted information from him, Mother Fear had thought she knew a way to extract it, and she had been wrong. Tom and Huck hadn't even wanted to do it to him. Had actively not wanted to. It had almost been funny, how reluctant they had been. Mother Fear had had to threaten them too with the strap, and even then they had had to work one another up to it, huddling in a corner, masturbating each other while she swore at them and Illya, bound across a table, had waited, and rolled his eyes in exaggerated boredom because he had to maintain the façade. It was all part of the show. The pathetic, ridiculous show.
But it was over. All he had to do now was get himself home and let it go. He would get drunk tonight; quietly and profoundly drunk. He was off tomorrow and the next day, the doctors had decreed it. He hurt inside and out, and UNCLE's drugs were still circulating in his system, making him vulnerable to his enemies. So he didn't have to come to work, could sleep as late as he needed to. He could just stay home. Alone. He sighed. One is one and all alone and ever more shall be so. He had read that phrase somewhere, and when his defenses were down, like now, it came back to taunt him. But alone wasn't so bad. Alone was safe. No one could hurt you when you were alone. But oh, what a long journey it would be, out of UNCLE, through the streets of New York - taxi or subway? He couldn't even choose. Such a long journey to his safe, solitary, home.
He forced himself to reach for the panel, open the door. Step one accomplished. He stepped into his office and Napoleon rose from where he had been sitting behind the desk. He held a sheaf of papers in his hand.
Illya groaned silently. Napoleon was reading the report. He had been alerted, no doubt, by something in Illya's manner, and had gotten his hands on it early. So now there would be another confrontation, another scene, another exhausting emotional encounter when he felt too weak to face it. Napoleon would want to know why Illya hadn't told him first. Napoleon would feel betrayed somehow, that UNCLE's medical staff and psychiatrists knew before he did. Napoleon would ... would ... Illya looked at him mutely, waiting for the reproof, waiting for the questions, waiting for ...
"Come on, Illya," Napoleon said, and his voice was very gentle, as gentle as it had been in that prison cell when he was asking what was wrong. "Let me take you home."
Oh, how good that sounded. Napoleon would take him home. He didn't have to do anything at all. Napoleon's decisive, forward momentum would move him too, and he could just go with it. He nodded, and Napoleon locked the report in Illya's desk drawer, put the key into his own pocket and came over to him. He took Illya's arm, cupping his elbow in his palm, and led him out the door. He said nothing further, and they walked through the hall together.
All the steps that had loomed so formidably when he was mapping them out - hall, elevator, lobby, tailor shop, street - passed in a dream like haze. The drugs were affecting him more than he had thought. Maybe getting drunk wasn't such a good idea after all. But then how could he sleep? He had planned to drink himself into oblivion, but mixing the alcohol with UNCLE's drugs might cause more damage than Tom and Huck and Mother Fear put together. When Napoleon handed him into the back of a taxi he moved over to let him in, and looked out the window.
"Illya?" Napoleon's voice, soft yet insistent. How many times had he said it? Illya made a little sound to indicate that he was listening.
"I thought we'd go to my place. I could maybe scramble you some eggs, you could soak in the tub, spend the night."
Yes, he thought.
"Yes," he said and Napoleon gave his address to the cab driver. He said nothing further, and Illya was grateful. He himself had no conversation to offer. A direct question he could cope with - anything beyond that, no. He sighed, and Napoleon gave him a pat on the knee. That felt good and he looked at Napoleon, warmed by the touch, warmed by the concern visible on that handsome face. Napoleon smiled at him, and Illya felt his lips curving upward in response. He was smiling too. Incredible as it seemed, he was smiling at Napoleon, just as Napoleon was smiling at him.
It was going to be all right. He could feel it. It had been bad, and then it had been awkward, uncomfortable and embarrassing at UNCLE headquarters, but now he was with Napoleon and it was going to be all right. He sighed again and Napoleon's hand, which had never left his knee, tightened. "It's all right," Napoleon said, voice earnest, and Illya nodded.
"I know," he answered, and they said nothing more after that.
In Napoleon's apartment Illya headed straight for the shower. Napoleon stood and watched him go, but made no move to stop him. Illya stood in there, under the steaming hot water, and felt his muscles relax for the first time. He simply stood like that for a long time, and when he finally did pick up the scrub brush and soap, when he finally did wash himself all over and shampoo his hair, his movements were slow and languid because he was at the outer edge of exhaustion. Everything was too much effort. Everything. He only did it because he had to, because he felt filthy, because his skin was crawling from those hands and those bodies and her eyes on him. He hadn't really felt clean since it had happened. Now he did. And he wasn't going to get out, either. He would just stand here, clean and scrubbed, and let the water cover him. It felt so good. In fact - didn't Napoleon have a seat in his large stall shower? Yes Napoleon did and it was, he discovered when he gingerly perched on the edge of it, not only padded but heated. Napoleon certainly knew how to live, he thought, and laughed a little.
The sound shocked him. What was he laughing about? Well, he was laughing at Napoleon's love of luxury which showed itself in such small yet practical ways. It felt good, sitting on that soft warm seat, leaning back, the water coming from behind now, running through his hair, down his back. He would just stay here forever. Forever, and forever ... his eyes drifted closed and he yawned.
A banging noise made him start and for a moment he thought he was back there, with Tom or Huck banging his fists against the wall in frustration as the other one tried to get him hard. He recoiled so violently that he fell off the seat, landing on the floor of the shower and cracking his knee painfully on the hard surface. He cried out in shock and pain and fear - fear of whatever was happening, fear of wherever he was, and the door burst open. He cried out again, scrambling to the corner of the shower, fruitlessly trying to hide from ... from ...
"Illya!" It was Napoleon's voice, hard and anxious and angry, but Napoleon wasn't really angry, that was just the way he sounded when he was worried. Napoleon was here? Napoleon had come to rescue him? And why was there water everywhere? He looked up and around and got a face full. He choked on it and then it stopped.
"Illya," Napoleon said again, and there was nothing but relief in it now. "What are you doing? Are you all right? You've been in here so long ..." he leaned over and peered directly into Illya's face. "Did you fall asleep?"
Asleep? Had he fallen asleep? Well, that explained a lot. He had been sitting on that warm, padded, heated seat in the hot shower and he had fallen asleep. Then Napoleon had banged on the door, banged on it and finally broken it in. He could see it, over Napoleon's shoulder, hanging from one hinge. He flushed. "I'm sorry," he said lamely. "I didn't mean ... I didn't know it was ... I'm sorry."
"No, that's all right. That's fine. Come on, Illya. You're right, you need to sleep but I'd like to get some hot food into you first."
Food? Hot food? He perked up at that because he was hungry, he was very hungry, had been hungry all through the interrogation. He had watched them snack on fruit and rolls and been made even hungrier. Although to give them credit they had offered, had pushed a plate over to him, but the idea of eating in front of them had seemed an admission of weakness, so he had declined. But now, here and now, of course he could eat with Napoleon. Napoleon laughed a little, and Illya looked at him in surprise. What was Napoleon laughing at? He saw the affectionate amusement on Napoleon's face and flushed again. Oh. Him. Napoleon was laughing at him, and his irrepressible appetite. But then Napoleon stopped laughing and lifted him to his feet, seemingly without effort. How strong Napoleon was. Strong, and handsome, and kind. So kind. So very kind. Illya rested his head on Napoleon's shoulder, shamelessly reveling in that strength and that kindness and Napoleon put both arms around him and hugged him. Hard.
Illya turned his head, breathing in the good scent of Napoleon, feeling Napoleon wrap a towel around his shoulders and rub them, rub his arms, bending over to rub his legs. Then Napoleon handed him a pair of pajamas and Illya obediently climbed into them, one leg then the other, Napoleon steadying him so he wouldn't fall. Next came the shirt, one arm, two arms, Napoleon buttoning it up and he feeling incapable of helping himself, feeling boneless, as if he might slide to the floor.
But he didn't, he leaned on Napoleon and soon enough found himself settled on the sofa, with a tray in front of him. A neat pile of scrambled eggs steamed on it, with two strips of bacon to its left, and a piece of toast, sliced on the diagonal, to the right. A glass of water stood on the tray also, and at sight of it Illya became aware of thirst, a thirst that suddenly seemed intolerable. He picked up the glass, noting in a detached way that his hands were shaking, and drank. He drank until it was nearly gone, and then began on the eggs.
They were good. Napoleon always made such good eggs. Illya didn't even know how he did it. But they were always light and fluffy and perfect, delicately seasoned. He ate, and crumbled bacon onto them, and ate some more. Finished, he drained the glass of water and pushed the tray aside.
"Thrush," he said finally. "Where on earth do they find these people?"
"Well, I don't know about Muriel Hall, aka Mother Fear, but in the case of Tom and Huck they evidently bred them."
"What do you mean, bred them? Were they some sort of experiment? Because let me tell you, Napoleon, if they are the soldiers of Thrush's future, it doesn't bode well for them. It's good for us, but a stupider pair ..."
"No. I didn't mean it like that. I mean they were hers. Hers and his. Their sons."
Their sons? Mother Fear was really their mother? And suddenly Illya heard her voice saying "Pull his pud harder, Huck. Mr. Kuryakin can't wait all night for his next round of discipline. Use your mouth if you have to, but get it hard or Mother is going to be very angry with both of you." His stomach rolled over, bile flooded his mouth and he leapt to his feet, knocking over the tray, and ran for the bathroom.
He just made it in time. Hanging over the bowl he vomited up the eggs and the bacon and the water and anything else he had in him. He thought he was going to rupture a lung before it was over, thought he really might pass out from lack of air as he retched and retched again, flushed and flushed again, throat burning as if a flare gun had ignited in there, stomach heaving over and over and over until finally it stopped and he just sat, cheek resting on the cool porcelain. He flushed once more, and dragged himself to his feet.
"All through?" Napoleon said from behind him and he nodded, not even surprised that Napoleon was there. Napoleon had probably been there the entire time, but had thankfully not touched him, had not spoken to him, had just let him be. He couldn't have endured any contact, and Napoleon must have known that. Napoleon knew him so well, understood him so well. And now he had spoken, now that Illya wanted to hear his voice. "Here," Napoleon went on, and handed him a cup of water. "Just sip it and roll it around in your mouth. Spit it back out. Don't tempt your stomach just yet."
He nodded weakly and did as Napoleon said, and how his throat hurt. He put a hand to it and heard Napoleon's soft sound of sympathy. His head hurt too, and the cool cloth Napoleon proceeded to wipe his face with felt good. Dots were dancing in his vision, and Napoleon's face looked very far away, then rushed in close, huge, filling the world. The light fixture seemed to be swinging wildly back and forth, and he forced himself to speak past the raw pain in his throat.
"Napoleon, I think ... I think I'm about to pass out." He felt his knees buckle as he said it and his last awareness was of Napoleon's arms, Napoleon's strong arms, catching him, supporting him, lifting him, and then he didn't know anything at all.
He woke once, during the night. He was in bed, soft cool sheets under him and over him, the comforting weight of a blanket over that. His head was cradled in the same soft coolness and those warm, strong arms still enfolded him. He pressed even closer and, as if in a dream, felt Napoleon's lips press a benediction onto his forehead. Thus blessed, it was a sweet slide back down into sleep.
They were dancing. Illya didn't question it, just accepted it with relief ... as if this was what he had long searched for, and often despaired of finding. He and Napoleon were dancing - waltzing, actually, to the strains of "The Beautiful Blue Danube". They were in an enormous room, an empty room, except for the two of them. Napoleon's arm was strong around his back, Napoleon's hand cupped his, and Illya's head was securely tucked into Napoleon's neck. Napoleon led effortlessly, swinging them around in large circles, moving down the floor at the same time, down the endless floor. It was bliss. Illya smiled and let Napoleon waltz him around, and around, and around ... and then the music stopped and so did they. But that was all right too, because Napoleon's arm was still around his back, Napoleon's hand was still warm, enfolding his own. Illya lifted his head and Napoleon smiled down at him.
Then the smile faded. Napoleon's eyes grew very intent, and he leaned in closer, and closer still. Illya recognized the look, so he reached up and kissed Napoleon on the mouth.
Napoleon pulled away abruptly and Illya was hurt. What ... why was Napoleon doing that? He had been about to kiss Illya, the expression on his face was unmistakable. Illya had seen it second hand more times than he could count. Napoleon had been about to kiss him and all Illya had done was kiss him first. Was that so wrong? He made a sound of protest and pulled Napoleon's head back down, seeking his lips again and this time Napoleon fairly jerked free. Was he angry that Illya had made the first move? Was that against the rules? Bewildered, Illya blinked.
Napoleon didn't look angry. His brow was furrowed in concern and his mouth ... oh, his mouth was so inviting ... once more Illya strained towards him and once more he was stopped.
"Illya." Napoleon's voice was sharper than usual and it cut him, cut him like the strap had, earlier. He flinched under it and Napoleon's arms tightened, as if telling him it was all right, that he didn't mean to cut him. "Illya, wake up. I don't know where you think you are - or with whom, but you need to wake up.
Wake up? What did Napoleon mean, wake up? He hadn't been asleep, they had just been dancing, although now it seemed they were lying down. A wrenching wave of disorientation swept him and he shook his head to clear it.
Oh. Oh, no. He felt the blood rush to his face. He had been asleep after all, asleep and dreaming. Dreaming that they were ... oh, no. And then he had ... had he really kissed Napoleon, or was that only part of the dream? Afraid to find out, he squeezed his eyes shut again.
"Illya," Napoleon said, and again, "Illya." Napoleon obviously wasn't going to stop saying it, he was going to keep on until he got an answer, so Illya struggled to find one.
"Um, yes." Well, that wasn't much, but it was better than nothing. Maybe Napoleon would be satisfied with that.
"Are you awake now?" No, Napoleon wasn't satisfied. Napoleon was never satisfied with anything less than complete disclosure. Napoleon would poke, and prod until he got at the truth and with UNCLE's drugs still coursing through his bloodstream Illya didn't have a chance of concealing it. He might as well confess and trust Napoleon ... trust Napoleon not to kick him out of his bed, out of his apartment, out of his life.
"I dreamed I was in a ballroom somewhere. Dancing. And I knew I was with you." There. But in the silence that followed his anxiety bloomed and grew. "Don't ... don't be mad. I didn't mean ..." but he had, hadn't he. He had meant to kiss Napoleon. "I mean I thought you wanted ..." oh, this was terrible. Just terrible. He waited, body stiff now, for Napoleon's next words.
"You knew it was me you were kissing. You weren't dreaming of somebody else?"
"No. Nobody else. Never anybody else." What on earth was he doing? From terrible to worse. "Stop," he said, and was ashamed of the naked plea in his voice. "I can't ... you know they drugged me. I'm ... I'm raw. I can't pretend. Just let it go. I'm sorry I ... I'm sorry."
"No need to be sorry. I just want to be very sure this is okay with you before I do anything else."
"Anything else?" Was this where Napoleon was going to push him off the bed, call him a cab, send him home? He wanted to beg Napoleon not to do anything else, but he managed to bite his tongue and keep the useless words from spilling out.
"Yes," Napoleon said, and his voice was darker, deeper, softer. "Illya, I don't want to take advantage of you - of what happened to you, of the drugs UNCLE gave you, of ... of anything. What kind of a man would I be, to do that?"
"To do what?"
Napoleon put a finger under his chin, and lifted it. Then, incredibly, Illya felt warm lips brush his eyelashes, his nose, his upper lip, and his lower lip. He opened his eyes.
For a long moment they gazed at one another, into one another, and this time when Illya leaned towards him, tentatively, still unsure, this time Napoleon didn't pull away. He leaned in too, and their lips met.
They were dancing after all, Illya thought dazedly as Napoleon's arms came around him, one high at the back of his neck, one low by his hips, careful of the strap marks, careful of him. The music swelled again and they clung together, moved together, the world spinning dizzily around them again, the two of them perfectly partnered in this as in everything else they did.
Later Napoleon made pancakes, and Illya ate them. They didn't talk about Mother Fear or Thrush, but Napoleon, ever practical, laid out the pattern they would have to abide by. He discoursed on the need for secrecy, told Illya they would have to keep dating women to deflect suspicion but that one day ... he stopped then and they looked at one another, wordless. One day might never come. There was no sense in tempting fate. But for now ...
"For now," Napoleon said, and rose. He reached for Illya, put one arm gingerly around his waist, cupped Illya's free hand in his own and waltzed him out of the kitchen, down the hall and into the bedroom, where the bright clouds of love took them once again.