The Real Thing

by ChannelD

Illya's screams were harrowing now. Napoleon could both hear and see him. Illya was naked, strapped to a table in an interrogation cell, and was apparently uninjured despite his obvious agony. Napoleon stood in a viewing platform about ten feet above him, looking through a floor to ceiling window. He was flanked by two Thrush guards, each holding a machine gun pointed directly at him. There was no possibility of a cross fire. Napoleon had already sized up their relative positions, and his, and discarded that idea.

"Mr. Solo. Tell us where the conference is being held."

"No." His mind was racing. This had been going on for nearly forty-five minutes and Illya's voice was hoarse, the screams torn from his ragged throat. A technician sat at a console and manipulated dials, sending signals through the wires that ended at Illya's temples, attached there by tiny prongs. Napoleon had watched as they were inserted, and Illya's eyes had met his for one final moment before the dial was twisted and Illya arced off the table, screaming.

Napoleon ground his teeth and thought. He was furious, and using that adrenaline to think as clearly and as fast as possible. Beside him Ralph Buckner leaned closer. "A pause now I think," he murmured and within a few minutes the knob was turned again and Illya collapsed, gasping, eyes wide open and fixed on nothing. The interrogator sitting beside him whispered in his ear and Illya moaned, shook his head.

"No, no no no..." his voice climbed. He wasn't begging, just crying out as any man would against some unimaginable horror, like a tidal wave, or...

"A flaming poker," Buckner said. "We have already cut off both of his hands, broken all the bones in his legs, and crushed his kneecaps. He believes that he is crippled for life, indeed, that his life as he knows it is already over, no matter the final outcome of this session." Illya was screaming again, no words now, just a terrible, primal sound. "And now the hot iron has sunk into his face. He believes that he is horribly disfigured, and will never talk or eat or even breathe normally again. And, of course, there is the pain. The pain is as real as if it were actually happening. He thinks that it is happening. Really, Mr. Solo. I wonder at you. One would think that even were this some obscure little man on the street you would have yielded by now. And this is your partner, the friend of your bosom. How can you bear it?"

If this were an obscure little man off the street, a civilian, Napoleon might have yielded already. Civilians were to be protected. Agents... an agent was different. Thrush never had understood that. Civilians being inconsequential to them, they couldn't credit anyone else feeling differently.

Illya had fallen silent again, and the interrogator was still whispering into his ear. Once more Buckner interpreted. "Now we are telling him that he has been gutted like a fish, and that his intestines are being pulled out and set on fire." There was undeniable relish in his voice.

"Stop!" Illya cried out suddenly, his face twisted in horror. "Stop—no don't don't—Napoleon! Help... please help me!" He screamed again, and Buckner shook his head in feigned wonder.

"Mr. Solo. Are you paying attention? He is begging you to rescue him and you could, with a word."

Napoleon only stared at him stonily. Soon someone would make a mistake. Someone always did. It didn't have to be a big mistake, just a moment of inattention, or indecision, and then he would move. He would unleash this fury that he was currently banking, unleash it and oh, how they would pay.

He had moved back a little, enough maybe for an elbow jab if one of those guards would just do something, something human like sneeze, or... Illya coughed harshly, nearly strangling on it, screaming and coughing and struggling to breathe. A guard yawned, and the gesture ignited Napoleon's pent up rage. The man was bored? This bored him? Well, that was soon remedied. He crouched and swung, driving into the yawning guard, taking his gun, rolling sideways, firing as he did so. He kept firing as he completed the roll, although he was the only one who still lived in the room, then came to his feet and shot out the observation window.

He had calculated the angle he would need to use, during those agonizing moments when he burned with anger and thought with desperate clarity. He didn't want to shower Illya's defenseless body with broken glass, so he aimed low and the great plates fell straight down, mangling and killing the three men standing beneath. Napoleon shot the technician in the head, and laid a blistering trail of fire across the floor, cutting down the rest of the laboratory staff and the interrogator. He leapt through the window, landed on his feet, staggered but ran to Illya and pulled out the electrodes. He had first thought to shoot out the machine, but who knew what that would do to Illya's brain? So he pulled them out, fast and straight, and Illya's eyes flew open again. He fought the restraints, pulling and pulling, frantic to make his escape.

"Not real torture," Napoleon said sharply, right into his ear—just like the interrogator, he thought and took Illya's thrashing head between his hands, stared directly into his eyes. "Illya. It wasn't real. None of it was real. It was only in your mind." They needed to move, but he didn't dare untie Illya in this state. He'd bolt, that was clear, and then what? "Stop fighting!" he said, and his voice was urgent. "Look at me." Illya froze, and turned wild eyes on him.

"Napoleon, Napoleon! Why—why can't I die?" He pulled again at the straps on his wrists. "Kill me, please please shoot me!"

Napoleon hit him. It was a short, sharp uppercut and it dropped him back onto the table, unconscious. Napoleon unfastened the straps, threw Illya over his shoulder and ran. He paused at the entrance to the room, but the corridors were empty. He ran, twice encountering and shooting guards. Each time he set Illya down, hid the bodies in whatever closet was available, hauled Illya back across his shoulder and continued on.

He had to shoot his way out the side door. There were four of them stationed there, but he was still flaming with fury and horror and pain and guilt so he shot the last man before the first hit the floor without even shifting Illya's weight.

Illya stirred while he was racing across the lawn to the stone wall surrounding the property, and when Napoleon tried to hoist him to the top he came alive, twisting and fighting. Napoleon dragged him back down and pinned him to the ground, sprawled across him full length, hand over his mouth.

"Not real," he said again, and this time Illya seemed to hear him. He stared at Napoleon as if he had started spouting Greek. He tried to speak, the sound smothered against Napoleon's palm and Napoleon lifted it, putting a finger to his lips instead.

"What do you mean, not real?" Illya hissed. "They... they..." he clutched at his abdomen and Napoleon moved off of him, allowing him to feel that he was whole. He sat up, touched his face, then his mouth and he shook all over, violent tremors, as if an earthquake were happening under his skin. In a way, it had. "I couldn't smell it," he whispered and Napoleon took off his own jacket, draped it around Illya's bare shoulders. "I wondered why I couldn't smell myself burning." He was shaking so hard Napoleon had difficulty fastening the buttons.

"We have to travel," he said tightly. "This is a luxury we can't afford right now. We need to get out of here. Unless you don't want to get out of here?"

"I do!" The words burst from him but then he shrank back, away from Napoleon. "Is—is this a trick too? Or is it real? How do I know? How do I ever know again? It hurt so much. How can it not have happened?" He shook his head. "How can I do anything, not knowing what's real and what isn't? How can I ever do anything again?"

"You can trust me," Napoleon said, and held out a hand. "All things being equal you might as well, Illya. If you're right, you know I'll get you out of this and safely home."

Illya looked up, straight at him. "And if not?"

"Moving forward is always better."

For one more moment Illya stared into his eyes, then he mutely took Napoleon's extended hand, let Napoleon pull him to his feet. He stumbled, as if allowing for injuries that weren't there, but with Napoleon's help he got to the top of the wall, helped Napoleon in his turn, and slid down the other side.

Hand in hand they ran across the road and dove into the shelter of bushes and trees. Scrambling through the darkness they just kept going, their joint aim to put as much distance between themselves and the Thrush satrap as possible. Once, when they stopped while Napoleon consulted his compass and they both listened intently for any sounds of pursuit, Illya held both of his hands out, flexing his fingers, staring at them. Napoleon didn't speak, but when Illya slipped one hand back into his he squeezed it, making Illya look up at him in surprise, then smile. It was a very small smile, but it was there and Napoleon smiled back, warmly.

"You must be real," Illya said. "They might know about you, and they might even know I would trust you, but they couldn't know the way you smile at me."

"No." Napoleon swallowed, and squeezed Illya's hand again. "They couldn't. Can you run some more?"

"I suppose so, since they didn't..." he bit off whatever he had been about to say, and let Napoleon lead him further into the woods.

Illya didn't know how to act under psychiatric observation. Anything he did seemed wrong. If he sat on his carefully built in bed and stared—at the wall, at his hands, at the floor—then when he saw them looking in through the window he could almost hear the diagnoses being whispered among them. 'Withdrawn'. 'Depressed'. 'Catatonic'. But if he got to his feet and paced, which was always a relief at first, to burn off some of the energy that was constantly thrumming through his nerves, then he could almost read the writing in his file. 'Agitated'. 'Manic'.

What was he supposed to do, then? He had no books or even a newspaper to read, there was no television or anything else to watch. It was a bare little room—a cell, he thought, and shivered. He was here because UNCLE didn't know where else to put him. Something had been done to him, something terrible, and they didn't feel they could just release him the next day as if nothing had happened. But his body was whole and well, so the physical wing had discharged him and the psychiatric wing had admitted him. Both sets of doctors had done scans and other assorted tests, and he had born them as patiently as he could, although it was hard to let them attach electrodes to his temples. It was very hard, and it took everything he had to lie there and allow it. He allowed it because he saw no alternative. If he struggled they would strap him down, that was obvious, and resistance would only prolong his stay. They would think he was crazy for fighting them, that he didn't realize where he was, and with whom. So he tried his best to cooperate and act as normally as possible, and hope that they would let him out soon.

Or maybe none of it was real. Maybe he was still attached to the machine and all of this was some sort of elaborate trap, although why they would want to trap him he didn't know. But the thought frightened him, and when he saw that his hands were shaking that frightened him more. Someone was watching him, someone always was. Now they would see his shaking hands and who knew what they would think, or decide to do? He hated it. Whether this was real or not, he was powerless. It was terrifying being so powerless, and terrifying to still be so unsure as to what was real and what was not. Everything seemed equally real—or unreal. Time and events passed in a chaotic whirl, and whenever he tried to grab something and think it through time went on without him. It was all terrifying, and being so afraid terrified him more. Then the door opened, and Napoleon came in with a doctor.

Napoleon. Illya sagged with relief. Napoleon was here. And Napoleon was indisputably real. No machine could conjure up Napoleon, his decisive stride, his voice now, hard and assured and impatient. Napoleon wanted something done, and he wanted it done yesterday. Illya had heard the tone before. It always achieved results, and sure enough the doctor shrugged and signed the paper Napoleon was holding out.

Napoleon turned to him. "Illya. Ready to leave?"

"Yes," Illya answered promptly, not even surprised. Napoleon had rescued him again, and there was nothing surprising about that. The nurse brought him his own clothes, and he got dressed. No, he wasn't surprised to be rescued but he was grateful. Very, very grateful. And when Napoleon took his arm as naturally as if they did it every day and steered him through the door, into the hall, he was more grateful still. Just like that. Just like that, he was free. He tightened his arm a little, squeezing Napoleon's hand and Napoleon squeezed him back.

It was reassuring to have his own touch mirrored back to him in that way. The machine hadn't mirrored anything of him, the machine had only broadcast its own signals, signals of incandescent pain. Even UNCLE's doctors had broadcast only their own signals, indifferent to anything he might say or think or feel. They had pursued their itinerary as though he were terrain, new and fascinating terrain for them to map and probe.

"Illya." It was Napoleon's voice, right in his ear, and from the anxious tone it wasn't the first time he had said it. Illya blinked at him.

"What?" Gradually he became aware that they were in a small cube, a very small space indeed, and that something disorienting was happening to his stomach. He swallowed. "What?"

"Are you all right?"

"Yes," he said because that was the right answer, the only answer. Yes he was all right, yes he was fine, yes he could leave here and go home.

"... home with me?" Napoleon was saying and Illya blinked again because they were no longer in an enclosed cubicle, he was staring into an enormous room, and sunlight was pouring through the doors at the far end.

"Home," he said, catching at the words. "Home with you. Yes." Napoleon would take him home. He wouldn't have to struggle with the bus or the subway, wouldn't have to try and find the right money for some taxi driver. "Thank you."

"Sure," Napoleon said and cupped his elbow in one palm while they moved through the lobby. Lobby. The word slipped into place, and with it came another one. Elevator. Of course. They had taken the elevator to the main lobby. Recognizing this didn't give him any comfort. It alarmed him further because the concepts were so obvious, and yet had come so slowly and with such difficulty. What was wrong with him? Was he crazy after all? Was this—all of it, including the kidnapping and torture—the product of some sort of psychotic break? He trembled and Napoleon's hand tightened, squeezing him again.

"It's all right, Illya," he said as if Illya had been speaking aloud. Had he? The thought brought another wrenching wave of disorientation, and he pressed closer to Napoleon because that was the only stability there was, the only thing that he could touch and feel and smell and know was real.

"I don't like the way I feel," he said, because if Napoleon knew what was wrong maybe he would know how to fix it. If he could, he would. Illya knew that, so he fixed his eyes on Napoleon's face and waited to feel better.

Napoleon was looking at him oddly, and then he smiled. It was the same smile that had reassured him earlier, and it reassured him now. He became aware that they were sitting down, and moving forward. Sitting very comfortably. He ventured to relax a little and the cushions were soft and yielding, seeming to mold themselves around him as he sank into them. A car. A... he looked around. A chauffeur driven limousine. Secure, luxurious, and private. Napoleon put an arm around his shoulders, and he rubbed his face against the rough tweed of Napoleon's jacket. It felt good, and Napoleon smelled good. He inhaled deeply, remembering.

"I couldn't smell anything," he said, and Napoleon's arm tightened. "I wondered—even then I wondered why I couldn't smell myself burning, or the blood—there had to be so much blood but I couldn't smell it. I wondered why I couldn't die." He drew a deep, hitching breath and then the forward motion stopped. He shook his head because this was so good right now, up against Napoleon's hard strong body, smelling him with every breath he took, and now it was ending. But Napoleon never let go of his arm as they climbed out of the car, and when they turned into the tastefully lit, warmly welcoming lobby he put his arm around Illya's shoulders again, as if not caring how it looked, as if not caring about that at all.

"Napoleon?" Illya came to a stop and looked around. "Where—I thought you were taking me home." Napoleon must not understand how tired he was, how much he wanted to be safely in bed. Napoleon must have an appointment here, wherever it was, and just didn't realize...

"We are home." Napoleon looked at him curiously again, then his jaw fell open. It was such an unusual sight that Illya temporarily forgot what he had been thinking and just stared at him in wonder. "You meant you wanted to go to your... of course you did. Of course—I'm sorry, Illya. I just assumed, I mean I wanted you to come here so I could take better care of you, and when you said... I'm sorry."

"We're at your place?" Illya looked around again. "Oh. I see." He had been here before, had picked Napoleon up and dropped him off, had even come up once or twice. Now as he thought about that he remembered the enormous overstuffed sofa in the sunken living room, and the working wood fireplace. "You want me to come here?"

"Yes. I do. But if what you really want is to go home, your home, of course I'll take you there. Just say the word. But I wish you wouldn't."

"You want to take care of me?"

"Yes. I want to help you to feel better. Safer and, well, better."

"You're going to fix the way that I feel? Because I still don't like it."

"I know you don't. I'll do my best."

"What will you do?" He was expectant now, waiting for Napoleon to rescue him yet again.

Napoleon's face was very gentle, gentler than he'd ever seen it, and his smile was soft. "First I'll run you a hot bath, because I know you hate smelling like the hospital. I have a whirlpool tub, you know. With padded seats and heated towels. Quite decadent."

"A materialistic capitalistic trough?" Illya said, a very small smile coming as he remembered that particular conversation. They were walking again and that was all right, and when the elevator doors opened and they entered, moved upward, he knew where he was and what was happening. It was a relief to feel so solidly rooted, and again he looked at Napoleon with gratitude.

As it happened Napoleon was looking right at him, and when their eyes met Napoleon's expression changed. He looked puzzled—almost disoriented himself. He reached out, touched Illya's hair as if he were the one unsure of what was real and what was not. Illya smiled at him, remembering how Napoleon's smile had comforted him, and Napoleon smiled too. They stood there smiling at one another, and then the elevator doors opened onto a softly lit hallway.

Napoleon's apartment was so big! Illya, long accustomed to the cramped rooms of most of the people he knew, looked respectfully at the eat in kitchen, the formal dining room, the hall leading away into the back of the apartment, along which he could see more closed doors.

Suddenly the prospect of a hot bath was very pleasant. Napoleon was right, he detested the smell of hospitals, and would be glad to wash it off of him. Without a word he followed Napoleon down the hall, and the first door he opened led to a large bathroom, complete with a whirlpool tub easily big enough for two, and an equally roomy stall shower.

"After this," Napoleon said, turning a tap and letting water gush into the tub, "I'll cook dinner. We'll eat, watch some television, relax. Doesn't that sound like just what you need?" He pressed a button and the water began to roil, bubbles forming and disappearing, steam wafting up. "A glass of white wine, some comfortable pajamas, then sleep. The spare room has a antique sleigh bed I've got freshly made up for you. Sound good?"

It sounded lonely. It was so nice right now, with Napoleon in easy reach. If he were all alone in some old bed how would he be able to tell for sure what was real and what was not? Without Napoleon's scent right in his nostrils, how could he be sure? He could smell himself, he supposed, lie curled up and smelling his own self. It was a horrifying image, and he shuddered away from it.

"Or you can sleep with me," Napoleon said hastily and Illya looked at him in surprise. Napoleon was frowning, staring at him very hard and Illya wanted to look away but he couldn't. What had he just shown? "It's a king, Illya, there's plenty of room. We've certainly shared smaller."


"Yes what? Yes we've shared smaller, or yes you'd like to share mine?"

"Yes I want to sleep with you." He heard it as he said it, the inappropriateness of it, and flushed, stared at the tub.

"Fine with me."

"Is it?" He looked at Napoleon uncertainly. "Is it really, or are you just saying that?"

"It is really, and I will never 'just' say anything to you, Illya. You have my word."

"All right." He felt shy with Napoleon now, and lowered his eyes. "Thank you."

"You're welcome. Meanwhile I'll cook dinner. Something I know you like. Okay?"

"Yes." He hadn't even realized he was hungry until those words, but Napoleon had cooked for him before and Napoleon was a very good cook. His stomach growled. "Thank you."

"I'll just leave the door open," Napoleon suggested casually, as if he hadn't noticed Illya's reaction to the idea of separate bedrooms and Illya nodded, casual too, as if he weren't relieved. He got into the tub and sank down, submerged to his chin in warm fragrant water, his aches and pains relieved by the strong jets, his raw nerves relieved by the sound of Napoleon cheerfully—and tunelessly—singing along to the Frank Sinatra album he had put on.

Napoleon cooked, watching Illya as he did so. All he could see from the kitchen was the back of that blond head. Illya was out of the bathtub and sitting on the couch facing the fireplace, watching the leaping flames. The air was redolent with the scent of burning apple wood, and Illya appeared calmer and more relaxed than Napoleon had yet seen him. He wore one of Napoleon's terry cloth bathrobes and it was too big for him, adding to his air of vulnerability.

He seemed terribly fragile right now, with his evident bewilderment over time and place, the obvious lingering trauma. He kept touching things, quick brushes and pats, as if constantly testing for reality. That was why Napoleon had lit the apple wood, in hopes that the strong scent would help. He would do anything that might help. He would give Illya whatever he needed to put this behind him, and feel safe again.

He sighed. They needed to talk, he and Illya, about work. And soon. Decisions had been made, their lives had been changed. Illya deserved to know what everyone else in the organization knew. But now? He looked at Illya again, and Illya was looking at him. His eyes were worried and Napoleon smiled at him, realizing for the first time that he had stopped singing in his abstraction, had fallen silent, and that was why Illya had turned around.

"What are you making?" Illya said, too fast, as if trying to cover for the fact that he had been staring at Napoleon and Napoleon tried to answer both the question and the anxiety behind it.

"I'm cooking Belgian waffles," he said, because he knew Illya loved them and furthermore that Illya knew that he knew. The blue eyes widened.

"Belgian waffles? With..."

"Whipped cream and a cherry on top. Two cherries," he added, because Illya always stole his. "Sound good?"

"Yes. Thank you."

They ate in silence, but not uncomfortably. Illya had four waffles, one right after the other and Napoleon kept filling his plate, silently rejoicing. Afterwards they settled on the sofa with a bottle of wine, and Napoleon made sure they were close enough so their shoulders touched. It was comforting, having Illya right there. It made him feel... better. He felt better. He hoped that Illya did, too.

They sat there for a long time before Illya spoke.

"I don't want to do it anymore," he said, and his face had darkened. He set his glass down. "I'm not saying I won't do it, I'm not saying that at all. I'll do what I have to do. But I'd rather not. And it isn't just this... what happened this time. It's changed. Don't you think so?"


"Most of the time. It's more personal now. Less professional, and more personal. Doesn't that wear you down too?"

"Sometimes," he repeated.

"If no one ever hit me over the head again, or tied me up, I'd be perfectly happy Napoleon. And it seems so fruitless lately. I mean... I was on a mission of my own, you know, before I was picked up to..." he stumbled.

"Use against me," Napoleon finished. "I know you were."

"What happened to that?"

"It failed. Their courier got through unchallenged, and the address list is now out of our reach."

"See? And that's going to go down on my record."

"With no blame attached."

"Yes, that's the official phrase. And on our last assignment I hadn't been in the warehouse for ten minutes before I was recognized."

"And I was spotted before I could pass the information on." Napoleon took a deep breath. The time was here and now after all. "That's why they've decided to pull us both out of the field."


"I said—"

"I heard you. Both of us? Now? This was it?"


"For what reason? Officially, I mean."

"Our recognizabity and our..." he hesitated, but Illya would see it—and hear about it—on returning to work anyway. "Our too well known attachment to one another. Which led to this most recent debacle." He saw Illya's eyes darken at the memory and dared to reach out, take his hand. Illya looked surprised, but then he looked away and a very small smile touched the corner of his mouth. He left his hand where it was.

"So now what?"

"Now you move into a full time supervisory post in science, and I into Section One. Upward moves, both of them."

"And no more field assignments?"

"Not likely."


"I thought that's what you just said you wanted."

"It was. It's something to think about, though." He squeezed Napoleon's hand and, delighted, Napoleon squeezed back. Encouraged, he moved even closer, putting his free arm around Illya. Illya sat very still for a moment, then put his head down on Napoleon's shoulder.

Now they were both very still, and Napoleon counted each moment as sacred—the feel of Illya's body against his, the sweet, wild scent of his hair. After a few minutes Illya turned his head and inhaled deeply. "I couldn't smell anything," he said, "not even my own blood." He inhaled again. "But I smell you. You smell just like you. You must be real."

"Is it still hard to tell?" His arm tightened, and then he disengaged his hand and put his other arm around Illya, embracing him. Illya shook his head, but made no move to withdraw.

"Not now. Not here." He sighed suddenly. "Thank you, Napoleon. When I see you, or hear you, or feel you..." he pressed even closer and Napoleon laid his cheek against that soft hair. Their world was about to change again, he could feel it—a hurrying towards some unseen conclusion, some event that was going to transform him and his life forever. As if in slow motion he felt Illya turn his head and look up at him with wide, questioning eyes. For another moment they stared at one another, then Illya's lashes came down, veiling his eyes and whatever he might have been thinking. Too fast. Napoleon felt guilty. Illya wasn't recovered from his ordeal yet, was visibly exhausted. He needed sleep, not high drama. Napoleon's arm slackened, and Illya turned a little, and they were side by side again. They sat that way for a while longer, not uncomfortably, and then Illya yawned.

Napoleon sat up straighter. Illya stood, yawning again, and smiled down at Napoleon with such affection that Napoleon found himself smiling back up at him. Something had changed, and maybe that was enough for one night. That it had happened, that they were both aware of it, both welcomed it—that was enough for tonight.

He wondered if there would be awkwardness at the sight of his bed, which they had already agreed to share, but Illya simply climbed in, moved to the edge nearest the wall and lay with his back politely turned to Napoleon, who was on the outside. It was a very large bed, and Napoleon was able to settle himself comfortably without intruding on Illya's space. When all was dark and quiet he reached out and gave Illya's arm a pat through the blankets.

"Sleep well," he said and Illya turned, his face a pale glimmer in the night.

"You too." He didn't return the pat, but offered a tentative smile instead. Napoleon smiled too, and then Illya turned over and soon after that Napoleon fell asleep.

It felt good, lying there in the dark beside Napoleon. Illya sighed, and allowed himself to relax—just a little bit at first, then more, the excellent mattress under him accepting his weight, encouraging him to let it all go. The comforter was lightweight yet warm, the pillow cushioning and cradling his head. Napoleon shifted a little, and he felt it all through his body. He stared at the wall, waiting for sleep.

He hadn't slept well in the hospital—in either wing. He hated feeling under scrutiny, and could never be at peace any place where people could look in on him whenever they pleased. But here and now, it was perfect. He yawned, and his eyes drifted closed. Just... perfect.

Too perfect? Too perfect to be real?

His eyes flew open and his whole body jerked. He stared at the wall again, paralyzed with fear. Was this real? Was it? And how could he tell? How could he ever be sure again? How...

"Illya? You okay?"

Just Napoleon's voice, just the sound of his voice, and the world settled back into place again. "Yes," he answered because he was now, and Napoleon made a satisfied grunt and fell silent.

Illya closed his eyes and tried again for sleep. Napoleon had promised him cinnamon rolls for breakfast. Sweet, and rich... he'd probably eat four or five at least. His body relaxed...

And he fell, fell into a black hole at the bottom of which was a brightly spotlighted stretcher, heavy shackles hanging from the posts.

His whole body jerked again and his hands flew out, clutching at the air. He gasped and then the bed shifted as Napoleon moved, purposefully this time. He worked himself closer until their backs were pressed together, then subsided.

Illya lay still, heart pounding. He wasn't falling, it was only one of those half dreams that happened sometimes on the edge of sleep. In a way it was reassuring. It was such a normal, such a real thing to happen. And now he could feel Napoleon, hard and strong, all along the length of him. Napoleon was real. There was no doubt about it. Illya closed his eyes again, and slept.

When he opened his eyes the next morning he wasn't looking at the wall. He was looking at Napoleon's pajama button. And Napoleon's warmth seemed to be surrounding him now, not just against his back but all over him, and wasn't that Napoleon's heart he could hear, as if it were right underneath his ear? He blinked, and everything came into focus.

He had moved during the night—or Napoleon had. His head was cozily tucked into the crook of Napoleon's neck and Napoleon had both arms around him, holding him close even in sleep. Their legs were tangled up together and his own arm was draped across Napoleon's middle, holding on to him as if all the safety and security in the world was wrapped up in this one person. He could feel himself settling down, as if something in his mind or spirit had decided it could once again trust his body, trust that the signals it was sending him were true. Because this was real. It had to be. There had been nothing of warmth and closeness, safety and pleasure, in that machine. All the machine was, was pain. He had been aware of nothing else—not the bed under him, not the straps restraining him—even as he had strained against them he had not been aware of them.

But now, here and now, he was aware of so much. He was aware of the bed, and the sunlight pouring across it. Napoleon had him in an embrace as if to defy the world to tear them apart now, and his own fingers were twined in Napoleon's pajama shirt. Illya moved closer still, and felt Napoleon's lips brush his forehead.

It was no shock that Napoleon was awake. He had half expected it. It was, more surprisingly, no shock that Napoleon would kiss him. The world had shifted on its axis for them both last night, he had felt it as they sat wrapped up in one another on the sofa. Now here they were, still wrapped up in one another and he tilted his head back so that the next kiss, when it came, was on his mouth.

Their lips clung together, softly, sweetly. There was no clutching or grabbing, no panting and moving. Those things would come, they both knew it, but there was no hurry—not yet. Their tongues did touch, but only for a moment, a fleeting kiss of their own, then done.

They kissed for a very long time and after a while Napoleon rolled over, on top of Illya, cupping his face between both hands. Illya's lips parted, and this time when their tongues touched it was not so light, nor so soon over. They did clutch and grab now, gasping and moaning, moving against one another, moving together.

When their bodies were finally stilled and their voices silenced, their tongues touched once more, savoring the taste of the other.

They broke the kiss finally, so they could breathe. Illya pressed his face into Napoleon's throat, drunk on the heat of him, the musky sharp scent of him, the taste. He licked along Napoleon's collarbone, then let his head drop onto Napoleon's shoulder again and he was back where he had started, in that first moment of awakening.

"Illya." Napoleon whispered his name, right into his ear, making him shiver.


"I love you. I hope you know that. I would never just—I love you."

"I love you too, Napoleon. When everything else was taken away from me, and I couldn't tell what was true and what was only in my mind, my love for you was real. That's what saved me."

"It saves me too, Illya. Every day of my life, your love is the one thing I can trust absolutely."

"It's real for you too."

"Yes. The real McCoy."

"The real thing."

He laughed, and Illya smiled at the sound of it. "Yes. The real thing. Like that soda."

"Which one?"

"It doesn't matter. Unless you want it to be our drink."

"Our drink?

"And then the theme song could be our song. Kill two birds with one stone."

"Who wants two dead birds?"

"Well..." Napoleon laughed again. "I don't know. What about two spies? Two live spies?"

"Against all the odds," Illya said, and kissed Napoleon's chin, the way he had always wanted to do. "Here we are."

"Here we are." He kissed Illya's cheek, then his other cheek, and then his mouth. Illya kissed him back, and soon there was no more talking as they rolled around in the enormous bed together. Illya opened his legs, offering Napoleon everything he had to give and found he was taking too, taking and giving until it was all one and the same and so were they—one and the same. Sleep pulled them down quickly after that, and the big bed contained all of reality, and all of dreams, that they needed.

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