I can't remember which zine this appeared in, though one edited by Jane Terry. My thanks to her, Di T and Sarah Lindsay for their help with it.
He rolls the bright yellow Tonka truck down the unvarnished, wide-planked floor of the long hallway, humming to himself. It is a dump truck and he has filled it with soggy kasha stolen from the kitchen. He feels the eyes of the other children upon him and is not sure if they covet the truck or the kasha; he has no plans to share either. The truck is from America, though he knows no one there. Even so, it is his and he pushes it along the hallway on his hands and knees, pausing occasionally to dip his little fingers in the kasha and lick them clean. He is so hungry but he wants to play with the truck. It has been a long time since he has had anything of his own and he knows it is wrong to be greedy. Imperialistic. Capitalistic. He knows the danger in such terms. Still, he will not share.
He is cold and touching the metal truck makes him shiver. Then he feels another pair of eyes upon him. He knows, without looking, they are his father's eyes. Still, he remains focused on the truck, releasing the lever and dumping the kasha on the floor in a messy pile. He pushes the truck a little farther, wondering what his father thinks of it, of him. He has always known his father would come for him someday. Other children's relations took them away sometimes, and he knows, in his heart, his father has been searching for him. Yet he doesn't look up. He waits. He waits for his father to scoop him up in an embrace. He isn't very big, though almost five years have passed since they have last seen each other. Surely his father recognizes him.
"Where did you get the truck?" his father asks and he finally looks up at him. He wears a belted white greatcoat and white felt boots, and holds a sword, like a Tsar. He looks tall and powerful, not at all like the other bedraggled soldiers with haunted eyes who have returned victorious from the Great Patriotic War. Rising to his feet, he lifts his arms toward his father, smiling ever so slightly. His father does not smile back and looks beyond him, his gray eyes distracted. He lifts his arms higher, his fingers straining.
"Son?" his father asks. Does he not recognize him? Though reluctant to leave his truck, he walks toward his father, head averted, a familiar shyness washing over him. His father strides purposefully toward him and then sweeps past him and picks up another child, a dark-haired, dark-eyed boy who couldn't possibly be his son.
"Papa!" the boy squeals delightedly, and allows himself to be picked up and crushed in a strong embrace.
"No!" He has finally found his voice. It feels strange to speak. He seldom talks anymore. "I'm your son!" His father ignores him, does not even look down at him. He reaches up and grabs his father's arm, holds it tightly. He tries to claw the other little boy out of his arms. He is used to fighting for what he wants. His father pushes him away, slapping his hands. "Look at me!" he cries. "I'm your son. Look at my eyes."
His father strides past him. "I am not looking for my son," he says.
He returns to the bright yellow truck, reluctant to leave it behind. He kneels and picks it up, hugs it to his chest and starts to run. He can't catch up with his father with the heavy truck in his arms and drops it. It clatters to the floor but does not break. He runs as fast as he can. He plants his feet on the floor and holds tight to his father's coat, allowing himself to be dragged behind him. His father slaps at his hands but he does not let go and climbs up his back like a little monkey. He affixes his grip to his father's hard biceps, intertwining his legs around his waist.
"Stop it!" his father says, turning his head to face him and setting the other little boy aside. He angrily pries his little fingers away from him and slaps him hard across the face. He lands on the floor next to the truck, which has followed them, perhaps not wanting to be left behind either. "Play with your American toy. Leave us!" his father thunders.
"No!" He is crying now. He has not cried for years. He tries to hold onto his father's arms again and kicks the truck away. "Don't leave me," he pleads, sobbing. "Don't go! Batya. Please, don't leave me."
"Dammit! Illya, stop it!" Napoleon Solo had awoken with a start. His partner thrashed next to him, gripping his biceps painfully. Instead of letting go, Illya Kuryakin tightened his hold, digging his fingernails into Napoleon's arms like talons. "Illya, wake up." He slapped Illya's face lightly. "Wake up! Now!"
Illya's eyes blinked open, confused, and he briefly relaxed in Napoleon's arms. He whispered, "Nyet," followed by something incomprehensible, then tried to reattach himself to Napoleon's bruised biceps, using his legs to pin him. Napoleon held his wrists in a vise-like grasp and slapped him again, this time adding an audible sting to the connection. Moaning sleepily, Illya sat back on his heels, still not fully awake. "Sorry," he mumbled and leaned forward, struggling against Napoleon's restraining hands.
"You were having a dream," Napoleon crooned, rubbing his partner's sweat-soaked head. "Just go back to sleep." Illya nodded and pressed forward, kissing Napoleon on the cheek. "Turn around, you little monster," Napoleon said, as Illya attempted to lie on top of him again. "I'll spoon you." Illya turned and Napoleon's strong arms surrounded him. His breath caught once in a strangled whimper before he fell back to sleep.
Napoleon groaned, and briefly considered shaking Illya awake, so both their sleeps could be disturbed. Jesus! He was wide-awake now, adrenaline thrumming through his body in counterpoint to Illya's relaxed, easy respiration. He patted the back of Illya's head, attempting more to calm himself than his partner. Illya was already sleeping as peacefully as an angel, apparently having avenged whatever demons haunted his dreams.
The nightmares bothered Napoleon more than they did Illya. His friend claimed he never remembered them. Why hadn't he just let Illya go home when he had suggested it? Illya would have left, seemed to want to, but he had insisted he stay. He didn't want him to stay. He seldom allowed his lovers to sleep over, in fact, preferred to make love where he controlled his exits, meaning not at his own home. Napoleon winced, remembering the expression: "A dog never shits where he sleeps." Not that he equated lovemaking with defecation, but still he preferred his solitude, and he was somewhat of a hound. He preferred his affairs to be tidy.
This one was not. The sex still excited him but was no longer worth the emotional toll or the risks. Their boss, Alexander Waverly, had not really said anything—yet—but floated a barbed comment or two. The old man didn't miss much.
Last June, he and Illya had worked late on a baffling assignment and once again found themselves at loose ends...together. They examined Thrush personnel files in Waverly's office, exchanging conjectures about a plot to dismantle the world's subway systems. Napoleon relieved the tedium by making a pitcher of martinis. While Waverly did not encourage drinking in headquarters, he also maintained a well-stocked bar in his office, and a reasonably blind eye to its use. It was far past the cocktail hour and Napoleon's position as Chief Enforcement Agent held certain privileges.
They drank and Napoleon sat on the arm of the couch, peering over Illya's shoulder. They drank and sifted through paperwork. They drank and loosened their ties.
Illya pointed to a map of the Paris Metro on his lap and circled it with a yellow highlighter. "I think they will start here," he said.
"Why? Why do you think that?" He waited for Illya's newest theory.
"Because then we can go to Paris," Illya explained.
The reasoning did not escape Napoleon and he burst out laughing. Illya looked up at him and laughed too. Neither laughed much.
Mr. Waverly harrumphed as he entered his office. Napoleon's arm had strayed around his friend's shoulders and Illya had leaned against him, the martini glass in one hand and the highlighted map of the Paris Metro in the other. They had the sense not to leap apart. Napoleon repositioned his arm on the back of the couch. Illya bent forward and picked up a file from the floor and leveraged himself to an unsteady standing position. He detailed progress they had yet to make.
"Very good, Mr. Kuryakin," Waverly approved acidly, "and you and Mr. Solo find the prospect of Thrush havoc in the heart of our major cities amusing?"
"Not really, sir," Illya said. His expression suggested he might find it just a little amusing. He set his martini glass on the conference table and straightened his tie. "We were just surprised by the identity of the perpetrator."
Waverly looked down at the file and also smiled. "I see your point."
Illya attempted to scan the file he had handed his boss, evidently unsure of the identity of the person he had just implicated. His amblyopic eyes crossed with the effort and he reached in his pocket, fumbling for the glasses he had tossed aside on the couch. Napoleon watched the byplay and stifled a snort of laughter.
"Is there anything left in that pitcher?" Waverly asked, rolling his eyes.
Napoleon poured a martini for his boss and they sat around the conference table, talking shop for an interminable fifteen minutes. Waverly pinned them both with a penetrating glare, before dismissing them. They would leave for Paris the next afternoon.
The two agents virtually ran out of headquarters and awoke the next day in Illya's bed. It was not the first time they had fucked, not even the first time they had done it in Illya's bed. The dynamics changed that night—the sex joyful and uninhibited—sex dangerously close to lovemaking.
Their relationship grew increasingly reckless after that, although did not intensify. When Napoleon entertained thoughts of the future, which he seldom did, he imagined their affair would burn itself out. Fizzle. Too hot not to cool down, as the song went—just one of those things. They would reach a mutual agreement, eventually succumb to common sense and settle down to being what they still remained. Partners. Friends. Nothing more complicated.
Napoleon's restless womanizing continued unabated. Illya indulged in an occasional fling with blondes who looked like him and Asian girls who did not. They almost did not acknowledge their sexual relationship, as if it existed in another realm, a secret from even each other. No, Napoleon seldom thought about the future.
For the last couple of weeks Napoleon mulled over the idea of ending it. He had little problem compartmentalizing his sex life, protecting his emotions from inconvenient entanglement. If anything, Illya was even more adept at this skill. He seldom allowed anyone to breach the barriers protecting him. From what? Napoleon had broken through those walls long ago—had never really noticed them, even as they fell. But Illya was not the only one who formed protective walls. Was Napoleon afraid of falling in love with his partner? Possibly. Except he already acknowledged the love—it had existed before they sullied it with sex. Sullied? Wrong word. Napoleon sighed and tried to arrange his thoughts in his customary, orderly way as he drew Illya in his arms. Sullied their love with sex? A dog never sleeps where he shits? Good grief—such odd ways of looking at things.
The sex had neither improved nor compromised their efficiency in the field. They had always looked out for each other. They had watched each other's back long before they started watching each other's backside. Napoleon grinned—he had probably noticed Illya's ass from day one—and tried once again to identify his underlying unease.
Yes, he did worry about the potential repercussions to their careers, a fault line threatening otherwise impeccable records. Still, Waverly's myopia extended far beyond the bar in his office, and, as long as a team produced, he seldom explored the reasons why. Illya and he were not only his best team, they were the best U.N.C.L.E. had to offer. The old man would probably look the other way indefinitely.
So what was the problem? Napoleon propped himself on his elbow and rested his chin against his hand. He peered at Illya, asleep at his side. He didn't want to hurt him. Ever. At core, Illya and he were not quite alike. He sensed it today and had sensed it before. Illya enjoyed sex but seemed indifferent to it, as if it were the price he paid for admission. To what? Napoleon almost felt as if he coerced his partner at times. Illya never initiated the sex between them, even though he usually ended up on top. They both cultivated a reputation for cool. They were both detached.
Napoleon knew Illya was the product of an institutional upbringing—orphanages, the Soviet military, various universities—even U.N.C.L.E. He was comfortable in such environments, like a recidivist criminal who prefers life in prison, though the institutions had left him emotionally stunted. Still, Napoleon counted on his partner's iciness. He didn't really want him to thaw. He couldn't afford the luxury.
"We can't do this anymore," he whispered out loud. Illya's head jolted upward, as if he had heard. Then he fell back to sleep.
Napoleon checked the bedside clock and winced again. It was only one in the morning. They had been asleep only for a short time, after having spent a dull, aimless Sunday together.
Illya had arrived early and uninvited, ignoring their tacit agreement about barging in on one another. Armed with conciliatory bagels, lox, cream cheese and the Sunday New York Times, he had let himself into to Napoleon's apartment. Napoleon awoke after noon, having been out for much of the night, and smelled coffee. Disoriented, and as curious as a cat with more than nine lives, he wandered into his living room, his gun casually nestled in the pocket of his robe. He found Illya sprawled on the floor there, reading the business section and sipping tea, apparently making himself very much at home. The rest of the paper was spread around him in a circle. A half-eaten bagel was perched on a half-finished crossword puzzle in the Sunday magazine—the double crostic on the same page complete.
That he was reading the business section, indicated Illya had been there quite a long time—he neither understood nor followed the vagaries of the stock market. Illya smiled when he saw Napoleon glowering at him.
"You could, at least, use a plate," Napoleon scolded, "or are plates too bourgeois?"
Illya rose gracefully and poured Napoleon a cup of strong, undrinkable coffee, as dark as motor oil and with the same kind of rainbow-hued colors swirling in it. If there was one thing Napoleon hated worse than Illya's frequent sulks, it was his occasional apologetic moods. And his coffee.
"What the hell are you doing here?" Napoleon asked, keeping his voice even. He belted his burgundy velour robe. "When if I wasn't alone?"
Illya shrugged. "I brought extra bagels."
Napoleon tried to look stern, but his mobile lips twitched into a convoluted smile. "Why are you here?" He wasn't exactly sorry to see Illya—surprised perhaps, even a little curious—but hardly unhappy. He liked surprises. Illya looked tired, his eyes rimmed with a smudgy sadness. "Let's see," Napoleon said, "did I forget your birthday?"
"A week ago," Illya replied. "And yes, you did."
Napoleon set the coffee, untasted, on the countertop in the kitchen and pulled Illya into the bedroom and into his bed, kissing him thoroughly. "I'm sorry. I can still give you a present," Napoleon said, and kissed him breathless. "They say the best gift is the gift of yourself."
Illya squirmed beneath him. He kissed back, compliant, Friday's argument apparently forgotten, if not forgiven—not that he forgot or forgave much. "You've been smoking," Illya said, but continued kissing, pressing his tongue into Napoleon's mouth.
"Yes," Napoleon said, disengaging. "I've been smoking and drinking and doing what I usually do of a Saturday night. And I haven't been to Mass today, either. What are you, my conscience?" Napoleon pulled Illya's body on top of his and squeezed his square chin. "I'm sorry I forgot your birthday." And he meant it. Illya loved presents and impromptu celebrations, pleased to be the center of attention. How could he forget?
Illya rolled his eyes. "I forgot it too. It doesn't matter."
"Why are you here?"
"The landlady is spraying the building for bugs—the crawly kind." Illya smiled and tried to continue the kissing.
Napoleon stared at him and placed a hand on his cheek. "On Sunday?" He met the guileless blue eyes and saw the lie lurking in them.
"Maybe it's tomorrow. I didn't really read the notice carefully."
"Have you been out all night? Have you been home?"
Illya grinned, tilting his head. "No, I've never been home. Not for a long time anyway."
"Ah, so tragic." Napoleon traced Illya's lower lip with his index finger, making the perpetual pout at once more pronounced and comical. "Are you sorry about the other day, perhaps?"
"No," Illya said. "I am not sorry."
"When are you ever?" Napoleon pushed at Illya's head, guiding him. "Do you want to show me you are sorry?" Napoleon untied the sash to his robe and grasped his burgeoning erection in one hand. He didn't really want to talk and he knew how to keep Illya quiet. He thrust his cock into Illya's mouth, his other hand intertwined in his partner's long blond hair, holding his head in place. Illya liked to be controlled somewhat in bed, and Napoleon always obliged his lovers' whims, a belated birthday present of sorts. "There you go," he sighed, as Illya's warm mouth surrounded his cock, his cheeks hollowing as he sucked. Napoleon watched, entranced as much by the sight as the sensation.
Illya made a face and jerked his head away. "You taste like contraceptive jelly," he complained and then continued sucking, absorbed in his task, oblivious.
How could I forget that too? Napoleon's arousal flagged and he felt disgusted with himself and with Illya. He had always been far more fastidious than his partner, but even Illya should maintain some standards. "I'm surprised you even remember what it tastes like," he said, hiding his discomfiture under a thin veil of sarcasm.
Illya looked up and scowled, withdrawing his mouth. "Really?" he asked and flicked his tongue over the head of Napoleon's cock, teasing. He was never drawn in by sexual taunts. He seemed to accept his friend's superiority in such matters, as if the contest made no difference to him or he was too far behind in the race to bother running.
"Illya, will you stop!" Napoleon exclaimed. "Look, if I knew you were coming I'd have showered and dressed and baked a cake. Why are you here anyway? We've established you're not sorry. Are you, dare I say it, horny?"
Illya shook his head and then continued his ministrations. Napoleon just let him. Nothing better than a blowjob first thing in the morning, even if morning had ended almost an hour ago. He settled himself against the headboard, immersed in an erotic lassitude. Two dates last night, one for dinner and dancing, and one for drinks and sex had left him exhausted. He was getting too old for such nonsense, though he used to be able to fit in a luncheon assignation as well. Those days were gone at least. The second girl, Sandy, had performed head as a preliminary, with an almost reluctant daintiness, as if licking an ice cream cone in an offensive flavor. She quickly moved on to activities for which she displayed more enthusiasm, if not skill.
Napoleon looked down and gasped with pleasure. Illya looked up, smiling. There was little daintiness to his efforts. He sucked him with abandon, taking Napoleon's cock deep in his throat and toying with it with a playful tongue. Napoleon's eyes fluttered with pleasure—even fully dressed Illya was far more beautiful than Sandy could ever hope to be—God, his hair even seemed to glow. He bent between Napoleon's thighs, his lithe body compacting agilely, as if he belonged there. Napoleon patted his friend's head, encouraging, urging. He wouldn't last long and he didn't have to last long. Illya would understand a quickie; he liked them himself. Illya pulled back suddenly as Napoleon shuddered on the verge of orgasm. He held his cock lightly, stroking it with his hands, his mouth still open but no longer surrounding it. His blue eyes widened, rapt with fascination, as if watching the completion of a successful experiment. He then licked the semen on Napoleon's belly, smiling again, this time a little smugly. His long fingers traced lazy circles through its slickness.
Napoleon groaned and shut his eyes. Illya was never purposely sexy. He was hardly naïve, but there was innocence to his playfulness—almost sweetness—as if he had seldom been let out to play. From the time they had first been introduced, Napoleon felt drawn to this dichotomy in Illya's personality, deadly and childlike. He remembered, belatedly, his firm resolve to end this part of their relationship and purposefully did nothing to reciprocate.
Sliding out of bed, Napoleon strode to his bathroom and turned on the shower, standing before the sink to shave. He tilted the mirror of the medicine cabinet and watched Illya surreptitiously and expected to see disappointment, even irritation reflected in his friend's face. Instead, Illya sat on his heels, looking up to the ceiling. His lips moved, as if in prayer, and his eyes glittered with the fervor of a mad saint. Napoleon shut the bathroom door and felt a cold disquiet settle in the pit of his stomach.
And now, as Illya sighed in his sleep, Napoleon sighed too, wakeful and jittery, envying his partner's calm. He continued stroking Illya's hair and checked the bedside clock again. One-thirty. Shit! No wonder he didn't want anyone to stay over. Too disruptive. He needed his sleep, welcomed it and snuggled against Illya, kissing the back of his neck. He relaxed into the warmth of his friend's body. It felt not warm, but feverish—hot to the touch. He pushed him away and Illya grunted, shifting back in disapproval. Why was Illya even here? Except for the early afternoon blowjob, they hadn't even had sex. "What's wrong?" he asked the back of his partner's head. "I'm really not angry with you. This just isn't a good idea. I can't sleep and you're having nightmares. Shouldn't that tell us something?"
They had fought on Friday, a real argument, not their usual bantering foolishness. The door to Illya's office was always closed, just as the door to Napoleon's was always open. Napoleon never knocked—useless with the sliding doors anyway—and felt exasperated by Illya's almost pathological need for privacy. The door parted with a whoosh. Illya looked up from his typewriter and raised an eyebrow, then continued typing, refusing to be sidetracked.
"I thought you were done with our reports," Napoleon said.
They had yet to develop clear signals, but Napoleon wanted Illya. He had admonished himself, often enough, and not really sincerely, to leave him alone. It was like playing with fire. Circumstances and work had obliged his noble intentions, keeping them apart. Truth be told, Napoleon wanted to fuck him. He couldn't exactly ask him for a date; they didn't go on dates. Oh, perhaps, an occasional dinner, but they shared few interests outside of work. They shared each other. Only occasionally, even sometimes on assignment, and arrangements were always awkward, not to mention increasingly dangerous of late. Still, neither would admit to what he wanted. Neither wanted to get burned.
Illya tossed a file at Napoleon, glaring, as he continued to type. Napoleon glanced at it and smiled at the scrawled message, written in professorial red: "Mr. Kuryakin: If I wish to read spy fiction, I prefer John Le Carre. Either improve your writing skills or resubmit a report more firmly grounded in reality. A.W."
"So, which are you doing, I.K?"
Illya eyes lit with impish mischief. "I am improving my writing style. Personally, I don't understand a thing Le Carre writes, so I am striving to be just as obscure."
Napoleon smiled. He should have left then, but he felt drawn by the shining blond head bent over the typewriter. "I'm sure you'll do fine," he said. He heard the patronizing tone to his voice and backed up a step.
Illya looked up, his blue eyes bland. "Why don't you write it, Napoleon?" he asked, voice low and taunting. "I admit to having trouble rationalizing your behavior. Your character's motivations." He waved one hand dismissively. "How am I to explain where you disappeared to or why or with whom? Why don't you ever write our reports anymore?" Illya paused, his eyes still bland, but the frown line bisecting his forehead betrayed more ominous emotions.
The storm clouds were gathering; Napoleon could read that brow like the back of his hand. He knew it was time to beat a sensible retreat but he couldn't quite resist teasing, poking a stick into the lion's den. "Oh, but my dear, you understand me better than I understand myself. Plus, I can't type."
Illya rose from his chair, the clear blue of his eyes shading into gray, his pupils constricting into pinpricks. "Napoleon, you don't do anything anymore. You leave me the grunt work, all the crap. It's even worse since—" Illya paused, his face flushing invitingly.
"Since?" Napoleon asked, canting his eyebrows, letting his partner stew in his own juices, vaguely recognizing it was the wrong strategy. Illya closed up, his eyes blank, as he erected the familiar barriers. "Since what, Illya?" Napoleon could not help goading. "Since when?"
"Go. Leave," Illya said, his voice cold.
"Don't presume to tell me what to do, my blond beauty," Napoleon replied.
Illya growled a small warning before he strode forward. He pushed Napoleon toward the sliding doors of his office, shoving him as they opened. "Get out of here," Illya roared.
"Hey, don't let your borsht boil over, my friend," Napoleon said.
Illya flew at him and they ended up sparring, just a bit, in the corridor. Napoleon teased, but Illya was angry and his resonant voice carried, attracting attention, fodder for Monday morning's discussions at the water cooler. They were already the topic of too much gossip. They shouted at each other. Napoleon hated scenes and his voice grew quiet, cool. They were partners but he was in charge and deserved a certain respect. He leaned in close. "Do not bring our personal matters into headquarters. Got it?" He smoothed both collars of Illya's suit jacket, the gesture both soothing and proprietary, underscoring and neutralizing the sting of his words. Illya removed Napoleon's hands and looked down in confusion. "Just finish the report," Napoleon whispered his voice chilled with calm. "I'll do it next time. I promise."
Illya blanched and turned on his heels, haughty with obedience. He sat down in front of the typewriter.
Illya's soft hair still felt damp from whatever nightmare had plagued him this time, and Napoleon could not help playing with it, winding it idly around his fingers and tugging it. Illya swatted at his hand, as if flicking away an annoying fly, his sleep growing restless. Napoleon, too, felt restless. He pressed his erection against Illya's firm ass, insinuating it between his cheeks. They should have fucked before they went to sleep, then Illya would have been too tired for nightmares and Napoleon would have been able to sleep through the night. They should have satisfied each other: wasn't that the point of sharing a bed? Let's remedy the problem. He'd be able to sleep and banish Illya's nightmares at the same time. Not an act of selfishness—oh, never that! Napoleon smiled to himself, at himself. Never? Ah, such pure motives! Always looking out for my partner's best interests.
He reached over to the nightstand and pulled a tube of lubricant from the drawer, anointing himself liberally with it. He then pressed a finger deep within Illya, preparing him. Illya stiffened in his sleep, moaning a strangled refusal. This had never been Illya's preference, not the type of sex he enjoyed. He allowed it sometimes, as if it were expected, but seldom responded. Napoleon seldom insisted. He liked his bedmates enthusiastic, not resigned. And he liked to be on the receiving end when he had sex with men. Something different after all, variety the spice of life—everything else he could do with girls. Still, he had to admit feeling a perverse excitement the few times he had taken Illya this way. Something about watching his partner's scrunched-up eyes, his almost courageous effort to reciprocate, turned him on. He was surprised and even disgusted by this aspect of his psyche, as if he were a closet rapist. He didn't really want to hurt Illya—another reason they had to end this.
And yet...Napoleon's inquisitive finger explored, pressed against the bud of Illya's prostate, kneading Illya's cock as he rocked against him. Maybe in sleep, he could elicit the desired response and he grinned as Illya grew hard, shifting fitfully in his sleep.
"You are hungry?"
He stares at the man in full military regalia who sits before him holding a colorfully polka-dotted plastic bag of sliced white bread in his lap. The polka dots dance before his eyes, as if his picture has just been snapped with a flashbulb. He has never seen white bread before and it looks soft, like a down pillow—familiar and yet not familiar. He sounds out the words in English, the alphabet still alien, his mouth moving with the effort, watering slightly as he works out the phonetics. "Wonder Bread," he says.
"Yes," the man says approvingly. "From America. Like the Spam. Your 'W's' are still not good though. It's not 'vuh' but 'wuh.'"
He mimics the 'wuh' sound. "Wonder," he says again.
The man smiles, staring at his mouth, pursed on the 'w' sound, as if awaiting a kiss. "Would you like some?" he asks.
He nods and steps forward.
The man takes a piece of bread from the package and slathers butter on it with a long butcher knife. The bread tears a little. "You are getting big, but still so scrawny. We feed you well, do we not?"
He nods again and holds his hand out for the slice of bread.
"We feed you but you are always hungry."
He bows his head, not knowing how to respond. Is it wrong to be always hungry? He feels his face flush and trembles just a little, suddenly very cold.
"What will you do for the bread?" the man asks. He runs a fat finger along the knife and holds up a dollop of butter.
His mouth opens, like a baby bird's, and he steps forward.
"You are very pretty," the man says, and touches his butter-coated finger to his mouth.
He licks at the butter, eagerly sucking the thick finger into his mouth. His stomach roils with reluctance, though the butter tastes sweet.
"You are very hungry," the man says. "But I don't think you are hungry for food."
He shakes his head, not knowing how to answer. He stares down at the bread in the man's lap but it is no longer there.
"Turn around, sweetheart, I know what you want."
"No," he whispers. He realizes he is naked and very hard. He turns to hide his arousal from this man and feels the man's finger enter him. He moans, the sound full of dread.
"Get on your knees, my boy, and you can have your cake and eat it too, so to speak. Are you familiar with the expression? It's on your list of idioms. You can have everything you want. After all, the bread is from your uncle in America."
"I don't have any uncles," he replies, but gets on his knees as he is told, as he has done before. The man enters him quickly and he gasps with pain. But the man pats his head and brings a slice of the thickly buttered bread to his mouth. He takes a bite and chews. He tastes, not just butter but sugar, and the bread is so soft, not at all like the course black bread he usually eats. The man keeps forcing the bread into his mouth as he moves in him and he starts to choke. He struggles and falls forward and just keeps falling.
Napoleon peered over the edge of the bed, not exactly sure how he was going to finesse this particular situation. Into each life must fall a few firsts, and this was the first time he had ever pushed a lover out of bed, the first time he had ever attempted coitus with a sleeping lover. One didn't achieve Napoleon's reputation through such clumsiness or disregard. He could not see Illya's eyes in the dark but felt their intensity. He turned on the bedside light and saw their focus directly. Illya blinked at him, adjusting to the brightness.
"Are you all right?" Napoleon felt foolish and guilty. He wished Illya would just yell at him but his friend had been strangely agreeable all day, as if he sensed Napoleon's doubts about him. "You were having another nightmare."
Illya sat up and raked his fingers through his hair. "Oh," he said and shivered, drawing his knees to his chest. "I should just go home so you can get some sleep." He looked up apologetically and his eyes lingered, for a moment, on his partner's body, focusing on Napoleon's still-hard cock. He raised an eyebrow, frowning. "You were fucking me," he said, not in accusation.
Napoleon felt even guiltier, guilty as charged. "Perhaps I, uh, was," he replied and waited for the tirade.
Illya did not respond, his face so vacant Napoleon wondered if he had even heard him. He seemed to withdraw into himself and then stared at him with his luminous blue eyes. "Would you like to continue?" he asked.
Napoleon felt his heart almost burst with regret and sadness. Illya had been so damned weird all day. Pleasant. Compliant. Insecure. It was as if he were trying to be lovable and Napoleon was not at all enamored with this particular incarnation of his partner's personality. He wanted Illya to be Illya.
"What do you want to do today? Or what have I interrupted?" Illya asked when Napoleon emerged from the shower. He sat in the living room once again, cross-legged in front of the sports section. Illya had even less interest in sports than business, or at least the sports Americans played. The crossword puzzle was still half-finished and another bagel covered the double crostic, a slice of lox on top of it.
Napoleon shook his head and walked into the kitchen, pulling a plate from a cabinet. Wordlessly, he picked up the lox and bagel from the New York Times Magazine and placed them on it. He then returned to the kitchen and poured himself a cup of Illya's industrial strength coffee, suddenly desperate for caffeine.
"I was going to watch the Jets game and I have to go shopping." Napoleon realized he had, inadvertently, suggested the two activities certain to send his friend running for the hills. If he mentioned sailing on the Pursang, he would have scored a hat trick. His beautiful sailboat was in storage for the winter and he had only enjoyed it a couple of times this past summer. Illya again: his seasick, naval lieutenant partner hated sailing.
"What kind of shopping?" Illya asked. He took a bite of the bagel and lox and chewed.
Napoleon smiled, hearing a small kernel of hope in Illya's voice. "Not grocery. Actually I was going to buy a present. Clara had a baby last week—a son."
Illya made a face. "Why?"
Napoleon didn't, at first, understand the question. Why did Clara have a son? No, that couldn't be what he meant. Why are you buying a present? That's it. "We keep in touch," he explained. He remembered how much Illya had disliked Clara. His former girlfriend had, after all, disrupted their vacation. Instead of continuing an early flirtation in Rome, they spent their last two vacation days smuggling a gypsy out of Terbuf, at Clara's request.
Illya had provided expert, if not cheerful assistance. And advice, unwelcome at the time, though shrouded in a fierce protectiveness. What had he said? "Don't think too much about what might have been. Things are what they are. She is married." The words stung with a finality Napoleon had been unwilling to accept. "Things are what they are." What a depressing sentiment! Events could always be changed. Still, Illya had saved his life...and Clara's. He sat on the chains connecting them, and then, broke them apart—first with dispiriting words, and later with a bobby pin from Clara's hair.
"I always try to keep on good terms with my old flames," Napoleon said.
"Why?" Illya asked again.
"Why not? Life is too short to make enemies unnecessarily. Don't you agree? Do you hate your ex-lovers?"
Illya looked away. "Yes," he said, so quietly Napoleon was not sure he heard him. "I can handle such a small number of enemies; I suppose you could not," he added, grinning. His eyes did not share the smile. In fact, he looked sad.
Napoleon raised an eyebrow. "You attended Alice's wedding."
"Yes." Again Illya spoke almost soundlessly. "But she was hardly a lover."
"Really?" Napoleon was curious. "I just assumed—"
Illya smiled. "Correctly. But it was nothing, like cotton candy. One cannot love cotton candy or hate it. It's just some fluff to pass the time. Not something to satisfy an appetite. Plus, she was Mr. Waverly's relation. It would have been bad form not to attend."
They stared at each other. Napoleon saw the opening. Illya had not been like cotton candy but he wanted to remain friends with him. He needed Illya's friendship and could not afford him as an enemy. This had to end now before it ended badly. He opened his mouth to tell him.
"I'll go buy the present for the Valder brat," Illya said quickly and pragmatically, but with no kindness. "And you can read the paper and watch the football match. Give me her address and I'll have it sent. Did she relocate to another Eastern Bloc country by any chance?"
Illya shrugged. "I suppose they have sheep there as well, and plenty of room for that swine of a husband she picked."
"Oh, he wasn't so bad."
"They were well suited for each other."
Napoleon held up both hands, ending the discussion. "Look, I've got a card in the den. I'll give you the address. Buy him a toy but no guns or GI Joe crap, nothing like that."
"GI Joe crap?" Illya asked as he left.
Napoleon changed from his burgundy robe into silk foulard pajamas and settled himself on the sofa, basking in indolence, happy to be alone. He barely glanced at the television screen and read a story in the New York Times about the DeKhrushchevization Program in Russia and yawned midway through it. How had it come to this? Back alley romance to the domestic routine of running errands on Sunday afternoon. Napoleon chuckled to himself. Romance? It had seemed more like madness at the time.
He blinked and the sweat stung as it poured into his eyes. Aunt Amy, in her deceptively genteel way, would have described the weather as close and fanned herself ostentatiously with a souvenir from some long ago trip to the Orient. Humid. Still. Oppressive. He doubted his cosmopolitan aunt ever spent much time crouched in a glass-strewn vacant lot that smelled of piss and uncollected garbage. Peripatetic Aunt Amy, when at home, seldom ventured much beyond the Upper East Side. She had probably never seen the warehouse district of her beloved New York City. Ah, New York in August—during a heat wave and a garbage strike—a ring of hell Dante could not have envisioned.
His communicator's channel was open in the front pocket of his suit jacket and he held his U.N.C.L.E. Special in his right hand, a pair of night vision binoculars in his left. He listened to the gunfire exchanged at increasingly frequent intervals. He could hear Illya breathing hard and then a thump and a clang, also hard, followed by the reassuring report of another U.N.C.L.E. Special. A grunt, and he listened to hurried footsteps, mentally urging Illya to hurry.
"Where are you, little friend?" he whispered.
"Where are you?" Illya asked back, panting.
"I'm between some buildings. Near Broom Street, I think. Where are you?"
"Roof," Illya said. "I'm on the—oh shit! Fucking son-of-a-bitch!"
He glanced down in alarm at his communicator. Illya could do so many things, but cursing in English had, up until this point, never been among them. "What? What's wrong?"
"I dropped my clip. But I don't think they can follow me. They're on the other building and I jumped across. It's a rather long jump and a longer fall."
"How many bullets do you have left?"
No reply. He heard the report from the automatic once again and hurried footsteps. Then he saw Illya's head, three stories up, his blond hair barely visible in the darkness, but glowing like a torch or a target. His partner's damn hair! Why didn't he cover it or cut it, the vain idiot.
"Do you have any bullets left?" he asked and struggled to keep his tone conversational.
He watched Illya through the binoculars and saw him shrug. Illya then peered over the castellated parapet wall of the building and grimaced.
"There's a dumpster right below you, Illya. Jump into it. Looks like you're in luck with the garbage strike."
"I think I'd rather just get shot, if it's all the same to you." Illya sat on the parapet and rested his head against a decorative terra cotta urn, his breathing labored.
"Jump, damn you. Now! Move it!" Another volley of machine gun fire lent additional authority to his order and he doubted he'd have to repeat it. He closed his eyes and choked on his heart. "Straight down, you're right above it. No nonsense, Illya. Jump!" Though he shook while delivering the command, his voice remained confident, deadly calm. "Don't push off. Straight down. Land on your back."
"Move, you little fucker. I'm going to put you on report."
"I said move."
"You're not that far up. Execute a dive—you know how to do it. Now!"
"I didn't think I'd like working with you. But I have. I want you to know that."
"That's a very nice sentiment, my friend. I am touched. But you had better jump or I'm going to shoot you myself. Right through the hair," he added, trying for levity. "Jump, damn you."
"Oh," Illya moaned in response. "He made it."
Another voice: "Hands up, Kuryakin!"
A soft click from Illya's gun resolved the number of bullets question, and he threw his body sideways.
The answering blast from the automatic made the air feel devoid of oxygen. Nothing to breathe, just the tainted stench as if his dear Pursang drifted in chains on the Hudson. "Illya," he hissed into the communicator. "You've got to jump." He hoped his partner was still alive to hear his instruction that sounded more like a plea than an order.
"Kuryakin, I said hands up. I'd tell you to drop your gun but it seems rather superfluous, does it not?" A self-satisfied chuckle followed.
Illya's hair shimmered as he stood, his hands clasped over his head in surrender, or victory, hard to tell which. He flicked his wrist, apparently throwing his gun at his assailant who yelped in surprise. Then he hopped onto the parapet, glancing down before he pushed off in a freefall. Tucking his head, he brought his legs around, executing a three-quarter rotation on his descent and landed on his back in the center of the overflowing dumpster.
"Unh." Illya emitted a low guttural grunt of triumph. "Where are you?" he asked, his voice faltering, hushed with fright.
A shadowy figure leaned over the parapet and first tossed Illya's gun at him in a fit of anger, before spraying the empty lot with machine gun fire. Illya struggled to extricate himself from the debris, scrambling out of the dumpster.
"Illya? Are you all right? Illya?" No answer. "Illya!"
Napoleon aimed, trying to settle the tremor in his arm and cursing the darkness. Why hadn't he brought the night scope attachment? He raised the binoculars and brought his target into sight but could not hold his gun steady and wiped the sweat from his brow. He missed again. Fuck. "Illya," he hissed into his communicator. "Illya!" He strained to hear like an overanxious mother listening for her baby's cry. Throwing his binoculars aside, he aimed blindly and just started shooting. Finally a bullet hit its mark but he continued shooting until his gun was empty. Then he replaced the clip and squeezed off two more emphatic and pointless shots.
"Illya!" He was now shouting and ran across the empty lot to the dumpster.
Illya had wedged himself under a smaller wheeled dumpster, also brimming with three weeks of uncollected garbage. He shimmied out from under it, black clad and filthy: such a beautiful sight.
"You had better sign up for additional target practice," Illya said. "You must have missed him four or five times."
"Well, better than having to throw my gun at him because I dropped my clip, my clumsy friend. What the hell were you thinking up there, taking so long to jump?"
"I told you what I was thinking. I needed a bit more motivation." Illya took a step forward, brushing the grime from the sleeve of his suit jacket, and staggered, as if his legs would not hold him.
Though a few more caustic observations came to mind, Napoleon felt too relieved to continue the banter and closed the space between them, holding his arms outstretched. Illya fell into them and returned the unexpected hug, shaking convulsively. Napoleon remembered feeling his friend's accelerated heartbeat, and smelling the sharp reek of fear, mingled with an even more unpleasant taint of garbage. Illya smelled at once terrible and wonderfully alive.
They held each other for a long time, swaying drunkenly with relief. He felt the hard planes of Illya's back, massaging away the tension with strong hands and felt a harder tension.
His first kiss pressed his friend into the brick wall of the building he had so recently leapt from and Illya gasped, startled. He then returned the kiss, rubbing against Napoleon, the adamant response welcome if surprising.
Close. It had all been too close.
"Shhh," he whispered into Illya's ear, as his friend reached behind him and pulled them together. "Shhh," he whispered again, trying to comfort as he continued to excite. "Shhh." Why did he shush Illya? He had hardly made a sound.
He turned Illya around so he faced the wall and reached down to unfasten his friend's belt, unzip his trousers. Illya tried to reach back but Napoleon positioned his hands against the wall and grasped his partner's erection, as he insinuated his own against Illya's ass. He heard Illya gasp again, a sweet, life-affirming sound, as he gathered his friend's straining cock in his hand, pumping it quickly in time to the adrenaline that thrummed through both of their bodies, the shared, quickened heartbeats. Shhh. Illya rested his head against the wall and closed his eyes, a small smile curling his lips. It did not take long. Illya moaned as he came, his hands splayed against the bricks for support.
Though the friction felt elusive, Napoleon continued to hold his partner's cock as he rubbed against him. It was just enough to bring him off too. He continued to stroke Illya to a second climax and sucked on the back of his neck, below his right ear, leaving a mark Illya would complain about later. It was hardly turtleneck weather. Yet, without such compelling evidence, neither man might have believed what had happened. Shhh.
"Napoleon," Illya finally said, still breathless.
"Did I ever mention I like working with you?"
They spent the next half-hour looking for the communicator Illya had lost in the dumpster and the gun his assailant had tossed at him. The rest of the night they spent at Illya's nearby apartment. Illya had been compliant, undemanding and responsive, an uncomplicated lover, as uncomplicated as any one-night stand. Except he could never be quite that. It would never be quite so simple again.
"Napoleon?" Illya said, looking at him quizzically. "Are you asleep with your eyes open?" He handed him a receipt from FAO Schwartz and glanced at the TV. "What's the score?"
Napoleon shook his head, banishing the cobwebs. "Since when do you care?" he asked, disturbed at being interrupted by the object of his daydream. He didn't know the score. "What did you get?"
"A 10-wheel hydraulic quarry dump truck."
"For a baby?"
"I did consider a stuffed lamb but they didn't carry what I had in mind. Perhaps the truck will send a message to his mother about dumping things."
Napoleon ignored the editorial comment and glanced at the receipt. "$8.95?"
"My money. I took the liberty of signing my name to the card as well."
"You read the card?" Napoleon couldn't remember what he had written but felt violated all the same.
"No, I just added my name. I can't read your handwriting."
"Meaning you tried."
Illya affixed Napoleon with a blameless stare before joining him on the couch. They watched the football game—Jets vs. Chiefs—in silence for a few moments. Illya grew quickly bored and wandered aimlessly through the apartment, moving silently like a cat or a wraith. He explored the contents of the refrigerator but ate nothing from it; turned the gas fireplace in the living room on and off a few times, as if transfixed by its decadent magic; looked out the window; returned to the kitchen and opened a cabinet or two; went to the bathroom; rattled the bottles at the bar in the living room without making a drink; looked out the window again; perused the books on the bookshelves; disappeared into the den and then the bedroom; and finally leafed through Solo's record collection, smirking. Then he re-examined the books.
His partner's fidgety movements drove Napoleon nuts, but he held his tongue, trying to ignore him. Fourth quarter, and the Jets seemed destined to surrender their lead and lose yet again. Still, their rookie quarterback, Joe Namath, looked impressive. He focused on the TV, watching the game, but football had never held Napoleon's interest.
"How are your books organized?" Illya asked.
Napoleon jumped, startled at the unexpected sound of his friend's voice. He heard the implicit criticism and bristled. "By color," he answered. In truth, they were not organized at all.
Illya pulled a volume from the shelf. "What are Reader's Digest condensed books?"
Napoleon shifted. He wished his intellectual friend had discovered his esoteric collection of 19th century pornography instead, so much less embarrassing. "Current bestsellers reduced to brass tacks. I don't always have time to read but I like to keep up. They're a conversational ploy really. Something to talk about with my dates."
Illya leafed through one of the condensed books, frowning in disapproval. "Clever," he murmured. "I didn't know one had to study for dates."
"Look, Illya," Napoleon said, "I can't wow the girls with cryptic discussions of quantum mechanics. I have to resort to shorthand. And what the hell are you doing? You're driving me insane. What do you and that Kit talk about?" Illya looked at him blankly. "You know the one who looks like an Afghan hound," Napoleon reminded him. "I know she exists. Maybe you can give me tips: dating tips from the master."
Illya flushed and stood very still, his mouth opening slightly as if to speak. But he said nothing, sat on the windowsill and stared at Napoleon, arms folded.
Napoleon stared back; two could play this game. He knew exactly what Illya was doing and exactly what Illya wanted to do. But for once, he was not going to be the aggressor. For once, Illya could take the initiative. They just stared at each other, until Napoleon looked away. Yes, two could play this game but his friend could outstare a post. He could be domineering too, especially in bed. But first, one had to coax him there. Not that he was unwilling to do so, but for once...ah, why was he even bothering to protest? They had to break things off and now presented as good an opportunity as ever. Still, would it mean breaking everything off? Leaving Illya to other partners, uncertain fates? Or was he holding him back? They had never really talked about that part of it.
Waverly's office again and the old man tapped his pipe on the conference table, his bushy eyebrows narrowing. "Mr. Solo," he said, "while I appreciate your concern for your partner, may I remind you, Mr. Kuryakin is not without resources. He is a highly trained operative. He will have to fend for himself. I'm sorry," he added, sounding less than contrite. Waverly opened a gray file on the conference table and frowned as he began to read it. Other more pressing matters absorbed him, Illya reduced to a matter as compelling as a footnote.
"I will not tolerate any further interruptions. You have your assignment and Mr. Kuryakin has his. He has been out of contact for," Waverly consulted his watch, "less than twelve hours."
"But he sent a distress signal."
Waverly searched the ceiling for patience. "And our Brazilian office is following up on it. We have other agents who are closer to the situation. I will keep you informed but you are not to interfere. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes, sir," Napoleon replied sounding as chastised as a schoolboy who had been caught pulling yet another false fire alarm. Then he exploded. "If our Brazilian office is so skilled, why is Illya there? He doesn't even speak Portuguese. If all things are equal why—"
"Mr. Solo!" Waverly interrupted. "While I do understand the bond between partners, your association with Mr. Kuryakin has grown increasingly unprofessional over the years. I will be forced to separate the two of you and I can barely tolerate your obsessive devotion as it stands. If you wish to remain partners, you must curb your unseemly 'mother-hen' tendencies. You are the head of enforcement here and your responsibilities extend far beyond Mr. Kuryakin. And," Waverly looked at him, a brief flash of compassion in his eyes," all things are not equal. That is why I chose Mr. Kuryakin. You are correct—he is better than anyone in the Brazilian office. He will prevail. That is all."
Napoleon looked at the floor. The old man lectured him with some frequency and he was used to the rebukes. Waverly was right. He nodded, lips tight and turned to leave.
"Mr. Solo," Waverly said.
Napoleon resisted the urge to sigh and faced his chief once again. The old man could really beat a dead horse when he was in the mood. "Yes?" He kept the edge out of his voice but his eyes blazed a warning.
"You know I am proud of you and Mr. Kuryakin."
"Yes?" Napoleon said again, puzzled by the unexpected praise. "Thank you."
"Your success has not gone unnoticed in either Europe or the Far East. I've always taken the credit for pairing the two of you." Waverly inhaled deeply on his pipe, his shoulders shrugging as if acknowledging the truth for the first time. He had had virtual nothing to do with teaming them. Their friendship preceded their partnership and even Waverly lacked the authority to insist upon their original bond. "What is the adage? Success has many mothers, failure in an orphan. I fear I've been a bit of a mother in this regard." Waverly cleared his throat.
Napoleon felt his face grow warm, astounded by his chief's indelicate double entendre. Waverly always chose his words carefully; this could not have been a slip. "Sir?"
"I cannot justify keeping Mr. Kuryakin in New York indefinitely. He is not only better than anyone in our Brazilian office, he should assume another position in our organization and soon. Mr. Beldon has asked for him and Mr. Samoy. Even Mr. Farenti, for all his pretense at disdain, has made overtures. Moreover, as you know, it is a dream of mine to open a Moscow office and he's the obvious choice there. I will not hold him back for selfish reasons. You agree, don't you?"
"Of course," Napoleon said. His mouth felt dry. Illya despised the flamboyant and undisciplined Beldon, or at least Solo assumed he did. Samoy worked out of Calcutta. Illya wouldn't exactly blend in there nor would he favor the climate. Carlo Farenti? He wasn't even really one of the section heads, just one of Waverly's cronies who didn't fit comfortably on any organizational chart. Still, Illya would fit more comfortably in Geneva.
The elusive Moscow branch disturbed Napoleon even more. If Waverly realized his dream, Illya would not be his counterpart per se, but would leapfrog into something close to a Section One chief, merely on the basis of his nationality. Napoleon recognized his disloyalty and dismissed it. Moscow was a pipe dream. Waverly was purposely setting him at odds against Illya. The cagey old man played this game on occasion and Solo refused to participate in it any longer. "Of course," he repeated, the force of conviction now behind his words.
"Good!" Waverly's eyes twinkled with malevolent mischief. "I think it would provide you with some much-needed competition."
All expression drained from Napoleon's face as he stared down the foxy old man. He did not justify the comment. Competition. What a time to bring it up, when Illya's fate hung so uncertainly in the balance! He resented Waverly's obvious manipulation. Illya had taught him the value of silence and he said nothing.
"And it will dispel the rumors, the gossip." Waverly's eyes continued to twinkle even while they bored into Napoleon's.
"Rumors, sir?" Napoleon asked, his voice level.
"Why, yes," Waverly replied. "I'm not telling tales out of school. The rumors Mr. Kuryakin does most of your work—is—shall we say, the brains behind the operation."
Napoleon's mouth froze into a rictus of stunned amusement—oh, those rumors. He knew what others thought and this was hardly the most damaging of the gossip circulating around them. This part of the gossip simply wasn't true. Illya relied on him and they both knew it, Waverly knew it. Napoleon shrugged. "When a team is successful there is always second-guessing, I suppose. Is that what you think?—that Illya does all my work?" He asked the question easily, knowing the answer. Illya was Waverly's recruit, his fair-haired boy. The two had a long, unsung history. Still, Napoleon was his heir apparent. The old man refused to address the real issue, though it lingered in the air, as nebulous and oppressive as the smoke from his pipe.
"Why no," Waverly said and brought the pipe to his mouth, inhaling, as if considering the notion. "I pay no attention to what I hear, I rely upon what I see." He met Napoleon's eyes, his own dancing with playful irony. It was clear he was not referring to how U.N.C.L.E.'s best team divided their workloads or which of them was the better agent. "If you had your separate areas of responsibility the truth would prevail. The rumors and gossip would dissipate." Waverly waved his hand at the smoke from his pipe but it hung in the air.
Napoleon met his superior's steel gray eyes well aware he referred to other rumors, other gossip, and he smiled a cold unemotional smile devoid of humor. "Upon Illya's return, we will talk about it."
He turned again and left the office. He only hoped Illya would live to provide said competition. As if they didn't compete now?—as if Illya did all the work! Please! Reports maybe, but all the work? Berlin, Calcutta, Geneva...Moscow. Illya would not be interested in reassignment. He was happy in New York. Wasn't he? That's why Napoleon had never broached the subject of advancement to Illya. Wasn't it? Illya wasn't suited to assume such a role. Could he tell him that? Was he the only one who thought that Illya might not have the right stuff? Wasn't it obvious even to that thick-headed, eccentric Beldon? Was he wrong not to have done more to prepare Illya for a position of greater responsibility? Hadn't he tried? Was it his fault? Or did it have all to do with their real, their covert relationship?
He returned to his office, lost in thought. Illya called in shortly after, successful, but not uninjured.
Waverly was also true to his word. He updated Solo on Kuryakin's condition and the mission's triumph, an air of I-told-you-so in his voice. Solo thanked him as if this would be the end of it, but did not leave headquarters. Instead he called the Rio headquarters and waited impatiently to be patched through to his partner.
"How are you, Illya?" he asked.
"Napoleon? Napoleon," Illya repeated, sounding happy and sedated. "I'm fine. Okay." His voice caught and he gasped, a sound Napoleon had heard during sex, but it didn't sound remotely sexy now. "Been better, actually."
"I'm glad you're okay," Napoleon replied "When are you coming home?"
"Home?" Illya asked. "To you? Is that what you mean?"
Napoleon heard the drugged cadence to his voice and its artifice sounded sweet. "Yes," he agreed. "Home. Back."
"Back?" Illya echoed, a slurred chill replacing the former sweetness. "Soon. Tomorrow. Maybe the next day. I'm all right. Been better, been worse. Not important."
"What's not important?"
No answer. Napoleon could almost hear the shrug. They spoke on their communicators, hardly secure lines. Not important and so important and so insecure. Napoleon sighed at their predicament.
Waverly never again brought up the subject of Kuryakin's promotion. Solo wasn't the only competitive one.
Napoleon glanced at Illya, who still sat on the windowsill, eyes closed. He looked peaceful, but Napoleon knew he wasn't sleeping. "You want to go to dinner after the game?" Napoleon heard himself saying. "It's almost over." He looked at the TV—if he meant that game it was over. The Jets had won for a change. How had the Chiefs failed to score? Napoleon has been too busy ignoring Illya to pay attention.
Illya opened his eyes. "Did you know today is the anniversary of the Russian Revolution?" he asked, from his windowsill perch.
"No. And here I thought I had just neglected your birthday," Napoleon replied. "I think I have a sparkler somewhere. Do you want to sit on the fire escape with it and celebrate?"
Illya smiled and looked down. "No, Napoleon," he said. "I shouldn't have brought it up. It's just—it was always—I never—" His voice trailed off.
Napoleon regarded his friend, eyes narrowing, as he listened to him struggle to express his thoughts. He couldn't remember him ever being this inarticulate and guessed Illya felt homesick—nostalgic for that damn parade with all the military pageantry and the latest weaponry. Was that it? Odd, but then again, Napoleon imagined he would miss the fireworks on the 4th of July if he could never see them again. But Illya could go home; he just never seemed all that interested in doing so. He even sometimes dodged assignments there. "Are you homesick?" Napoleon decided to take the direct approach. Something was wrong and it seemed unkind to ignore it. Though he was used to Illya's sullen, sometimes angry silences, this was not silence really. Napoleon sensed an internal struggle to reveal secrets buried deep, something friends exchanged. They were more than friends really.
Illya stood up and rejoined Napoleon on the couch. He sat as far away as possible. "I do miss—no—I am not homesick." Illya sounded as if he were trying to convince himself. "It's just today—I—things changed. It was a long time ago but—" Illya bowed his head and rubbed his forehead as if he had a headache.
"Why are you here, Illya?" Napoleon asked. He did not move toward him and hoped his distance would encourage his suddenly tongue-tied friend.
Illya shook his head. "I won't do it again. I know you value your privacy."
"It's all right, Illya. Why are you here?" Napoleon asked once more.
Illya turned away. He seldom answered direct questions. Instead, he rested his head against the back of the couch and withdrew.
Napoleon ignored him, stung by the lack of trust. This was not an interrogation, even if Illya behaved as if it were.
Baba rocks him in her lap and sings a sad song in Romanian, her voice quiet and out of key. As she sings they stare into each other's eyes, entranced as lovers. She looks like a gnarled old witch in a fairy tale. She is dressed in widow's black, witch's black. Her chin is sharp and prominent with an ugly mole on its tip. He will be reminded of her, years later, when he watches "The Wizard of Oz" on TV one Thanksgiving in America. The Wicked Witch of the West resembles his grandmother. When he thinks of her now, he sees Margaret Hamilton and sometimes imagines his grandmother's complexion tinged green. He can't quite remember how she really looked.
He is the first person she has ever loved—she has told him this—it is a secret between them. She is glad his grandfather, her husband, is dead and spits when his name is mentioned. She is indifferent to her son who is off to war and never wonders about him. He is the center of her universe and it is a frightening responsibility. But his love is divided between her and his mother. The two women fight over him, an ongoing battle that bewilders him and makes him feel special. Neither believes he has room in his little heart for both of them because neither has room in their own hearts for anyone else. His grandmother and his mother do not speak to one another. Baba speaks Romanian, her first language; his mother speaks French because it excludes his grandmother. She spent part of her childhood in Paris: why he will never know. He is the only one who understands both languages. And Russian—their shared language—seldom shared. Russian is for the outside world, a world that has become as fierce a battleground as his home.
His mother is also from a fairy tale—blonde and beautiful and untouchable—more a princess than a witch. She also sings to him and her voice is sweet, but she seldom holds him. She is to be admired from afar. She is Russian and longs to return to Moscow, disdains the Ukrainians and their pathetic war effort. Kiev has fallen and she is furious, as if it is a personal affront. She also blames the Georgian, Stalin, for its downfall. The Russians—her people—are made of sterner stuff. They will prevail. Or General Winter will. She knows her history.
His mother enrolls him in school a year before the occupation, not so he can learn, but so he can eat at least one state-sponsored meal a day. He is obviously too young but she insists.
"He's just a baby," the old man at the school tells her.
He opens his mouth to protest but remains silent. He is not a baby and is offended by the designation. His mother has told him to keep quiet. He knows better than to disobey her. She rules by the fist and he knows he will be spanked if he protests. He tries instead to look bigger and stares at the man, his gaze as forthright as his mother's.
"Test him," she says. "He can read. He can write his name. He can do his sums. He is just small for his age." She raises her chin and stares down at the old man through thick blonde lashes. "Test him," she repeats, her voice low and fierce.
He does well in school, though the other children think he is a baby too.
"Where is Mama?" he asks his grandmother.
"Shhh," she replies. She sings another song and holds him close. "Your mother is with her grandmother now. As you are with me."
He accepts the answer but does not really understand. Did she go back home? To Moscow? Without him? He stops asking about her, though her absence makes his heart ache. "Where is Mama?" The question lingers in his mind. He invents a future for her, one that will eventually include him.
Baba takes care of him and he takes care of her. They live now in a cellar below a collapsed house and are as silent and ingenious as rats. She is happy being alone with him, even though the world around them is falling apart.
He still attends school when it is in session. He has fewer classmates and many of his teachers have disappeared as well. No one notices he is too young anymore and no one calls him a baby. He runs wild when not in school and grows vicious, scrounging for food and valuables during the brutally cold winter. He plays war in the rubble of the city. He is almost invisible. He dresses in white like a Siberian soldier, like some of the Red Army soldiers whose bodies he finds in the forest. His grandma has fashioned an outfit for him from plunder he brings home, has made him an "ushani"—a round fur hat with earflaps. He also has a pair of "valenki"—warm felt boots that are too big for him. He puts newspaper around his feet and balls it up in the toes. They do not slow him down. Nothing does, he only slows down to sit in his Baba's lap and only because she insists.
His grandmother is good with her hands, clever and resourceful—she can roll a cigarette with one hand, the cellar is filled with the smoke from them. She does not seek the neighbors' help, preferring the safety of isolation. She does not leave the cellar often. Kiev has grown much less ethnically diverse and she doesn't blend in with the blond Ukrainians. Nor does she trust them.
She tells him to avoid the German soldiers, that they eat little Russian boys. He does not obey; it is impossible to obey. They are part of the landscape, part of daily life. Some of them speak Russian. Badly. Some of them speak French. A bit better. He picks up a little German, enough to barter. Languages hold no mystery for him. Some of the Nazis are cruel; he knows what they can do. But most of them seem enchanted with him, as if he reminds them of their children or perhaps a little brother back at home. He takes advantage. Sometimes he brings Lindt bars home, and his grandmother wags her finger and clucks at him while they share the chocolate. She is hungry too.
He continues to sit in her lap: warm and safe and isolated.
Time passes: winter then summer. The days grow short again—darkness descends in the afternoon as he walks home from school, a different school, a secret school. It is his birthday and his grandmother gives him a present. She attaches her husband's gold wedding band around his neck on a black silk cord. She does so solemnly, as if she is bestowing a cherished memento, though he knows she has tried, without success, to trade it for bread. It means even less to the outside world than it does to her. But it is her most valuable possession.
It's all he has of her now.
They eat a special birthday dinner of cabbage stuffed with cabbage—Baba laughs at the absurdity of it but looks at him with worried dark eyes as if she has failed him. They share a measure of vodka as well. It is warm—hot—burns his throat. He makes a face. She laughs again and the worry leaves her eyes.
A week after his birthday he wakes up on the lumpy straw mattress they share. Baba holds him tight but she is so cold.
"Illya?" Napoleon asked, in a voice hushed with concern, his dark eyes worried. This was no parade his friend longed for, not at all.
Illya, jolted back to the present, turned to face him and met his friend's eyes reluctantly. He rocked slightly, hugging himself.
"You look like you've seen a ghost."
Illya shivered and his eyes widened, then lowered. He flinched and backed away.
"It's just an expression," Solo said, puzzled. He cleared the distance between them on the couch and laid a reassuring hand on Illya's left biceps. "Cat got your tongue?" he asked. When Illya did not respond, he continued. "It's another expression. It means—"
"I know what it means," Illya snapped.
Napoleon grinned at his partner's predictability. Illya had always bristled at the merest suggestion of imperfection in his command of the English language. "Well, then, you want to let the cat out of the bag? What's the matter with you?"
Illya shook his head. "Nothing," he said. "I was just—" he hesitated and reached up, tracing his finger over Napoleon's chin, exploring the cleft. Then he squeezed it with his index finger and thumb.
"If you make a crack about my chin, I'll crack you," Napoleon said. Illya stared at his friend's chin as if he had never really noticed it. His preoccupied attention, to what Napoleon perceived as an unfortunate flaw to his otherwise perfect face, unnerved him. "Stop it."
Illya blinked as if emerging from a trance. He smiled and leaned forward, kissing the protuberant chin as if in apology. "So vain, Napoleon," he whispered. "Had I known you wore your Achilles' heel on your face—"
"Don't mix your metaphors," Napoleon scolded. But he was relieved to have his partner back. "Look, let's go to the Russian Tea Room and celebrate your revolution. We can eat caviar and drink vodka and toast the proletariat in the comfort of Western decadence."
Illya shook his head. "I celebrate nothing," he said. "And you're not dressed."
"Well, I do have other clothes. I can be ready in a few minutes."
Illya smiled, his expression fond. "A few minutes? You take at least a half an hour to part your hair, another eternity to knot your tie." He looked away, troubled. "We cannot go. I was followed when I went to the toy store."
Napoleon raised an eyebrow. "Followed? Why didn't you mention it? Thrush?"
Illya shook his head again. "No. Thrush has better things to do than spend their Sunday afternoons at FAO Schwartz."
"Who then?" Napoleon dreaded the answer.
"Our own boys. Internal Security." Illya rolled his eyes. "When I left the store they were racing a Porsche and a Jaguar on a Scalextric slot car race set. I didn't stick around to see who won."
"Did they see you leave my apartment building?"
Illya sighed. "No, Napoleon," he replied. "I did not leave through the front door. I am better than our Internal Security detail."
"Ah, yes, I know that. But still, we are being watched? They found you again?"
Illya nodded. "I have been watched before," he said. "I made sure they picked up my trail. They will now investigate a love child I may have. Why else would I be in a toy store?"
"But you think this is about you and me?"
Illya shrugged. "Yes."
It was now or never. This was no longer just about misguided emotion—their careers were at stake. "Illya, we really have to—"
"I'll order take-away," Illya interrupted. He jumped off the couch and hurried off to the phone in the kitchen.
Napoleon buried his face in his hands. Why was he such a coward? Why couldn't he just tell him? Illya had just as much to lose and probably more. He would understand. Wouldn't he? They could remain friends. Couldn't they?
Still, Napoleon postponed the discussion. Instead, they ate Chinese food from Billy Wong's, Illya uncharacteristically garrulous, no longer struggling to express himself. They ate straight from the white cartons and watched Bonanza. Illya said it reminded him of The Brother Karamazov and added—for Americans—meaning for idiots. He then expounded on the inane theme, assigning each Cartwright son a Karamazov identity. Though he seldom talked much, tonight, Illya erected a wall of sound. Napoleon was at a loss, could hardly get a word in edgewise. When he tried to speak, Illya popped a morsel of food—a pot sicker, a shrimp, a slice of Mongolian beef—in his mouth to silence him. He wielded the chopsticks expertly, like weapons. Napoleon stopped listening, captivated by Illya's low, accented voice. He thought of a Chatty Cathy doll and wondered who pulled the string tonight.
Napoleon watched his partner clean up the remains of their dinner, another surprising gesture. Then Illya said he was going home. "Oh, just stay," he heard himself saying and could have ripped his traitorous tongue out of his mouth. He cursed himself for asking and he asked three more times before Illya finally capitulated.
Once in bed, they kissed and Napoleon briefly dismissed his misgivings. Illya seemed accommodating, his mood unexpectedly pleasant. Then Illya launched into a breathy and intimate discussion about...quantum entanglement as a future tool for cryptographers. Napoleon listened with a growing sense of dismay. Even Illya's peculiar seduction techniques did not usually involve quantum mechanics, and he hadn't even been drinking. Not a drop! If he didn't want sex, what did he want?
"You know, Illya," Napoleon said, "it's a wonder you ever get laid if this is an example of your pillow talk. I don't know what the hell you are prattling on about."
"Oh," Illya said and then attempted to simplify his discussion
"Illya! Please! Just go to sleep."
"Really?" Illya asked, as if he had just received a reprieve. He curled up against Napoleon and closed his eyes.
"Beware of what you ask for," Napoleon thought, hugging his motionless partner close. His fortune cookie tonight had held a more promising sentiment: You will receive an unexpected gift. Illya felt good and he soon joined him in sleep.
Until Illya woke him up with his nightmares. Until he pushed Illya out of his bed...
Napoleon rubbed his partner's head. "You are just so much more responsive when you're asleep."
Illya frowned and looked away. It was the wrong thing to say.
"Oh, come back on the bed," Napoleon said. "You're just fine when you're awake too."
Illya looked at him doubtfully. He rubbed his eyes but could not rub away the hurt in them
"You are," Napoleon said. "Come back to me."
Illya returned to the bed, the reluctance evident in his hesitant motions.
"You control everything," Napoleon said. "Put me inside and if it doesn't feel good I'll stop. I know it can feel good. It feels good when you do it to me."
Illya nodded. He turned on his side and reached behind him taking Napoleon's erection in his hand. He pressed it between his cheeks and shuddered.
"Only if it feels good to you, sweetheart," Napoleon repeated. He wondered if he could control himself. He wanted to flip Illya on his stomach, pry his cheeks open and pound into him. Instead he allowed Illya to guide him.
It took a long time but Napoleon remained patient and he was proud of his restraint, letting Illya set the pace. Napoleon knew the reluctance had something to do with his partner's background. Illya had never really shared the specifics of his apprehension, but Napoleon sensed it was more than mere preference or prejudice. He loved when Illya took him and all he wanted to do was return the favor. He couldn't believe Illya didn't like it. No, no, no, he reminded himself—they had to end this part of their relationship entirely—all of it. He heard himself moaning, pulled from his reverie.
"Just wait, sweetheart. Get used to it." Napoleon resisted his urge to thrust. He kissed the nape of his partner's neck and ran his hands down his torso, slicked with sweat. Illya trembled but not with desire. He pushed backwards against Napoleon and contracted his muscles, an internal squeeze that threatened to undermine Napoleon's control.
"Just come, Napoleon," Illya said, his voice quiet.
Napoleon stroked his friend's hair. He reached between Illya's legs and stroked his cock, trying to urge pleasure. "Don't move, just feel me. It's okay. You can pull me out if you want to."
Illya snapped his hips forward and Napoleon feared he had taken him at his word. Then he pushed back and stilled, breathing erratically as if cornered.
"You feel wonderful," Napoleon said. "But I want it to feel good for you too. Try to find the angle. I won't hurt you. This is all up to you."
Illya nodded but did not move. Napoleon could almost feel his thought process, the proverbial wheels turning in his head. Then he did move, tentatively, experimentally.
Napoleon ran his index finger lightly under his partner's cock. "You're doing fine," he said.
Illya nodded again. Then he gasped as he discovered the right angle. Napoleon felt his cock harden in his hand. "I'm not going to move, Illya. You move when it feels right. You're doing just fine; you feel wonderful. But I'm not going to move a muscle. Do you understand?"
Illya tilted his head back and listened to Napoleon, his lips curling in a doubtful smile. "Keep talking to me," he whispered.
Napoleon raised himself slightly and angled Illya's head so he could monitor that hesitant smile. Why did he bother with anyone else? What a sight—Illya rapt with concentration as he pressed his head against Napoleon's throat—waiting for magical words. He looked so expectant, as if Napoleon might recite a lost Shakespearean sonnet or deliver a verdict on his life. Napoleon did not shy from the impossible task and leaned in so his mouth almost touched his partner's ear. "This feels so good, sweetheart. I know this is difficult for you. But it feels so good." Napoleon continued whispering in his ear, babbling incoherent nonsense. Illya thrust backward with every word. Napoleon did not stop whispering.
"Illya, get on your knees," Napoleon said. "I promise to pull out if you don't like it. Do you understand? You can stop at any time. You are entirely in control."
Illya nodded and scooted forward, separating himself from Napoleon as he positioned himself on his knees. He kept his eyes scrunched closed and waited, his reluctance both intimidating and enticing.
Napoleon sliced into him, penetrating with one sure movement and held him close. He resisted thrusting. Every instinct told him to move but he held himself back. He stroked Illya's penis, now wilting in his hand and leaned forward to plant a kiss against Illya's tightly clasped lips. Illya trembled beneath him, his hands clawing at the bed linens. "That's as bad as it's going to get. Relax. We can stop if you want."
"Could you?" Illya sounded curious. "I couldn't."
Napoleon smiled and continued stroking Illya feeling an encouraging degree of response. "Sweetheart, I've always had more self-control than you. Do you want me to pull out? It will get better. I promise." Napoleon squeezed him tightly in his fist, his touch more insistent. Illya was almost hard now, his cock curling against his belly, thick and long. Napoleon had grown used to its feel, but originally it had proved such an unexpected surprise, arousing his desire and his competitiveness in almost equal measures. He adjusted his position slightly, still not thrusting, his aim true. He felt Illya's cock leap in his hand. "You feel so big, so hard. Shall I pull out? We can do something else; I don't have that much control. There are lots of possibilities." He started to withdraw, deliberately slow.
Illya murmured a strangled no and pushed back, impaling himself on Napoleon's accommodating cock. "Napoleon, move," Illya gasped. "Move in me."
Napoleon grinned, almost triumphantly. He stilled. "You move, sweetheart. This is your show."
Illya undulated his hips and moaned. "I...I...can't...Napoleon!"
Napoleon pressed his lips against Illya's ear and kissed him. He leaned forward and kissed the side of his mouth, no longer clamped shut. "What do you want, sweetheart? What can't you do?"
Illya sighed and thrust backward. "Move in me. You feel good. Make me come."
"I don't want to hurt you. I'll pull out." Yeah, if a team of wild horses assisted.
" 'Polya! You're not hurting me! Really. It feels good."
Napoleon thrust lightly. He loved to be called " 'Polya," the most explosive of Illya's meager arsenal of endearments. Why hadn't he done this before? It was so simple. Why hadn't he ever thought to allow Illya to remain in control? And why did this just occur to him now—when they had to end things? He was the creative one, after all. "Are you all right?" he asked, his concern contrived. He still barely moved, just rocked his hips slightly, lazy waves against a protected shore. Was it too much to hope he could make him beg for it?
"Oh yes," Illya replied, breathless. "Oh, yes."
Illya nodded, not quite begging but close enough.
Napoleon let himself go, no longer restrained by his partner's frustrating fears. Illya moaned beneath him and Napoleon felt him tremble, this time with excitement. He stroked his friend's cock. Had it ever felt so hard? Napoleon smiled. Yes, when the impatient little Cossack pounded into him.
"Oh! 'Polya. Now!"
Napoleon felt Illya's cock explode in his hand and held it as it pulsated. He felt the warmth of his come as it spurted in his hand. He felt himself respond to the contractions deep within Illya. He held his partner's slim hips and pistoned into him. Illya's head was turned to one side, his mouth slack with pleasure, his eyelids fluttering as his hands knotted the bed linens. "Oh, God!" Napoleon pulled Illya tightly against him as he came. He thrust deep within him and pulled back, and then thrust again. Illya's body followed his as if they were tethered together, and then he folded beneath him, collapsing as Napoleon fell on top of him
Napoleon panted, covering Illya with the full weight of his body. He absently stroked Illya's hair, as his breathing slowly returned to normal. "God, that was wonderful," he said.
Illya stilled and nodded his head. He wriggled out from under the enveloping body and turned to face Napoleon, He looked into Napoleon's eyes, searching, his expression at once haughty and unsettled, as if measuring the value of his gift.
Napoleon stared back. Was that it? Was this about proving himself? "You were incredible."
Illya pressed a finger to Napoleon's mouth, silencing him. "It was never about you," he said, yawning, his hand belatedly reaching up to cover his mouth. "I'm tired. Please don't talk to me now. Give me a chance. Another chance."
Napoleon felt stricken. He had no thought of telling Illya anything right now. Still, his partner knew—no innocent—despite his angelic appearance. Napoleon wanted to explain. This has nothing to do with his performance in bed. Nothing at all. He had always been incredible. Not just tonight. He stroked Illya's hair. "Sweetheart," he began, "I've really always understood. I know this is difficult for you and I know how hard you've tried."
Illya nodded and snuggled closed, yawning again. "Shhh," he said. "Go to sleep. It's getting late It is late."
Napoleon ignored him. "Illya, this is really about our lives, our professional lives, our emotional lives. You're too important to me. And I'm not worth it. I don't want to be unfair to you. But I think it's better for both of us if we return to our original friendship. Not that I won't miss—"
Napoleon heard the faint snore and smiled. He was almost relieved Illya hadn't heard him. He turned him in his arms and pressed against him. Spoons of a feather...Napoleon chuckled at the mixed-up metaphor. He breathed in Illya's comforting scent, kissing his neck. "I love you," he said. "I always will." He was happy Illya had not heard that either.
"Kitty, kitty, kitty," he calls. He follows a fat yellow cat through an alley. The cat crouches, pausing. "Kitty?" he asks. He hears the sound of distant gunfire. A grenade explodes close and he crouches like the cat, shivering. He is in the middle of a war. But it's not his war. The weather is not right. Tropical. Humid. Oppressive. He is no longer in an alley but in a jungle. Where? It doesn't matter. It's not his war; it can't hurt him. "Kitty?" he asks again. He follows the cat through a thick jungle. Armed men rush by him. He can't identify their uniforms. It doesn't matter. It's not his war. The cat leads him farther into the jungle. He can't see the cat anymore. He stands up straight. Bullets fly around him but they're not intended for him. It's not his war.
Strong hands pull him into a bunker. "Duck, for God's sake! Are you looking for this?"
He smiles at Napoleon. Napoleon has the cat in his arms and he reaches for it. He presses his nose in its fur when it's in his arms.
"You are not safe here, sweetheart. Please go."
He scratches the cat behind its ears. "You need me, Napoleon."
"No, no, no. I can't protect you here. This is not your war, it's mine."
He sets the cat down and smiles again. "I know. But I can help you."
Napoleon picks up the cat and hands it back. "You can't help. I won't let you. Just go."
He looks down at the cat in his arms and drops it. It rubs against his legs. He nudges it with his foot. An artillery shell explodes and Napoleon shields him, tackling him in a protective embrace. He extracts himself from the confinement. Nothing can hurt him here. It's not his war.
He stands and scans the exotic horizon. He sees the familiar backhand script of a Holiday Inn sign in the distance. He takes Napoleon's hand. "Look, come with me. Follow me."
"But I have to fight. I can't."
He pulls Napoleon's hand, urging him forward to safety. "Oh please, Napoleon, run with me. It will be safe there. I can keep you safe. We have to get back to America!" He points toward the Holiday Inn. "It's very close. We can make it." He takes Napoleon's hand and drags him toward safely. As they run, he realizes the bullets cannot touch him but Napoleon is vulnerable. He picks him up and he is heavier than the cat but not too heavy for him to carry. Still, he can't protect him. The war, Napoleon's war, finds them and he is helpless against the onslaught of destruction. He lays his body on top of Napoleon's, the Holiday Inn far away.
"I'm sorry," he says. "I thought we could make it."
Napoleon is bleeding, his body riddled with bullets. He picks him up again and he feels lighter than the cat now. "Goddamn you, don't die," he says. He watches the life ebb from his partner's eyes. He feels helpless and strangely peaceful. "What is this useless, fucking war you're fighting anyway?" he asks.
Napoleon grunted as he landed on the floor and scrambled, searching for his gun. Naked! Home! What the hell? He reached up to the nightstand, out of breath, but not panicked. His gun was gone. "Illya," he hissed. "Illya." He sensed his partner's nearness and warned him of danger, at the same time asking him for help.
"Are you looking for this?" Illya asked. He leaned over the bed, grinning, and handed Napoleon his gun. "Don't shoot me with it. Okay?"
Napoleon held the gun in one hand and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes with his other. "What the fuck?"
"I think you were having a nightmare," Illya explained, his voice low and cool. "It's all right," he soothed, and smiled again. He reached forward and ran a comforting hand through Napoleon's hair. "We're okay. Calm down."
Napoleon took a few deep breaths. "I don't remember," he said. "I don't."
"I know," Illya said. "I know. Sweetheart." He continued to smile.
Napoleon set his gun on the nightstand and looked at the clock. 5:35. At least he could sleep for another hour, maybe two. "It hasn't been a particularly restful night," he said.
"No," Illya agreed. "Did you imagine I'd be restful for you? Is that what you wanted?"
Napoleon sighed. "No, I guess not. I didn't really think about it."
Illya patted Napoleon's head. "You're a very good lover, but I suppose you've been told this before. I had heard rumors. Your reputation is deserved."
"Thank you—I think," Napoleon said and waited for the other shoe to drop, possibly on his head.
"And I am learning," Illya continued. "I am practicing your techniques. I've never pushed anyone out of bed."
"No?" So that's how he ended up on the floor. Napoleon shook his head and bit his lip to keep from laughing.
"No," Illya echoed. "And do you know what else?"
Napoleon looked away and willed himself not to respond.
Illya did not require a response. "You're not going to leave me. No one leaves me anymore. Do you understand?"
Napoleon held up his hands in mock surrender, not really ready to give up. "Look, it's for our own good. You know it too. You have just as much to lose."
"No one leaves me," Illya repeated. "I don't want you looking out for my best interests."
"No one decides for me anymore. Not even you. Especially not you."
Napoleon hugged himself, suddenly chilled. Oh, no! He was in charge. His single-minded partner would not usurp his authority. He paused and formed a reasonable argument in his mind. He glared into his friend's glittering blue eyes, barely visible in the dim light. Illya's hand continued stroking his hair, his fingernails scraping his scalp.
"Illya," he protested. He opened his mouth to form his first point and could not continue. He let it go. It was easy to let it go. Like falling off a log. Or out of bed.