Comfort and Joy
Comfort and Joy—Part I
Hampstead Heath, London—December 5th
In the gathering dusk the man was just visible in the distance, about a hundred yards away, moving slowly towards him along the snowy path. In the shadows of the woodland bisected by the broad path, Illya cursed under his breath. Against the brightness of the landscape the dark shadow stood out in sharp relief. A floodlight couldn't make you more obvious, my friend, he thought angrily. Idiot!
He stood from his crouched position near the base of an oak. As he rose he gathered a handful of snow and moulded it into a snowball. The distance closed to fifty and then twenty-five yards. As the man drew level Illya drew back his arm and tossed the snowball softly into the newcomer's path. The man gasped and shrank back in shock. He turned a white and petrified face to Illya and took a hesitant step towards him.
And then his head exploded.
Illya's P38 was clear of its holster before the body hit the ground and he was running and sliding between the tree trunks as he scrambled away from the path deeper into the trees. A chunk of beech wood smacked into his shoulder as part of the trunk next to him exploded. Gavno! High-powered rifle; maybe five hundred yards away to his right. He jinked to the left amongst the sparse trees, aiming for the denser woodland thirty yards away. Twenty. Fifteen.
A massive impact suddenly spun him round and he fell to his knees. It felt as though he'd been hit by a truck. He struggled to rise but found himself instead on his face in the snow. He couldn't seem to catch his breath. Stupid, he thought. Have you forgotten how to breathe, Illya Nikolaievich? He tried to take a deep breath and was wracked by a spasm of coughing. He felt as though he was choking, drowning. It was getting hard to think somehow.
He struggled to push himself up with trembling arms but collapsed at the searing pain in his left side. He noted the snow by his face was splashed with scarlet, as he tasted copper. As his senses began to shut down he was dimly aware of approaching footsteps creaking through the snow. His last thought as darkness claimed him was that he'd been unbelievably stupid.
I'm sorry Napoleon...
U.N.C.L.E. HQ New York; One week earlier
"Mr Solo, you will not be travelling to London with Mr Kuryakin," Alexander Waverly interrupted. Napoleon's mouth fell slightly open in dismay.
"I need you in Southern Mexico by tomorrow night to collect the Ambassador's wife and escort her back to Washington."
"Sir, with all due respect, it's a simple courier mission. Couldn't it be handled by Section III?"
"No, Mr Solo, it could not." Waverly looked at Solo sharply from under beetling brows. "In this case the assassination of Ambassador Gonzales has left his wife with the task of conveying the vital information to Washington. We have promised her the highest level of protection."
Napoleon glanced across at Illya whose face was carefully neutral.
Damned inscrutable Russian.
"Sir if, as you suspect, THRUSH has managed to plant an agent inside U.N.C.L.E. London then Illya's going to need help..."
"And he will have it, Mr Solo," Waverly's voice was a study in patience. "He'll be working with the British secret service..."
"The British..." Napoleon's gut tightened. It was a feeling he'd had reason to trust over the years and he heeded its warning now. "Sir, MI5 have never welcomed U.N.C.L.E. on their home turf. How can we be sure that...?"
"We have received every assurance that their resources will be at Mr Kuryakin's disposal." The control in Waverly's voice was now evident. "His experience of working out of the London office makes him the obvious choice to spot any anomalies quickly."
Napoleon glanced anxiously across the table at Illya who frowned at him and shook his head almost imperceptibly.
"What is to be my cover, Sir?" he said with a further warning glance at Napoleon.
"The London office has just undertaken a major upgrade of their communications' computer system," Waverly said, looking down at the file in front of him. "The same type we had installed here two months ago. You are to go over and check and modify the programming for them then bench test it."
Illya nodded slowly. "Yes. That is good. It will give me legitimate access to all areas of the London office."
Napoleon had one last try. "Sir," he began, "at least let me join Illya in London when..."
This time it was Illya who interrupted him.
"Napoleon," he said, a look of disdain on his face, "what sort of signals do you think it will send out to THRUSH if Northwest's CEA and his partner both arrive in London?"
Napoleon let out a frustrated sigh.
"Not exactly low profile, is it?" his partner continued. "The plant will bolt at the first hint that we are sniffing around."
Waverly collected his papers together with an air of finality. He looked from one to the other. "Gentlemen, you have your assignments. I suggest you proceed with all possible speed."
Illya wouldn't meet Napoleon's eyes as the two agents rose and left the table.
The door of their shared office slid shut behind them. Napoleon could feel his partner's eyes on him. Sighing he turned to face the wrath he knew was coming.
"What the hell was that all about Napoleon?" Illya growled. "Was it your intention to give our superior the impression that I am incapable of this assignment?"
Shit! He did not want to do this right before they flew to opposite ends of the earth.
"Or do you feel perhaps I require a nursemaid?"
"Or is it that you worry that I might perhaps have the edge over you on this assignment? Is that it?" Kuryakin's voice dripped sarcasm. "Can your ego not support that idea?"
Napoleon stared at his partner, stunned. Surely Illya couldn't believe...
Then he saw it—the brief narrowing at the corner of the blue eyes. He's as rattled by this one as I am. The question is—why? He forced his voice to sound dispassionate.
"Yes, Illya, I am worried." He ignored his partner's sharp intake of breath. "But not about that. I'm worried about you, going in without backup."
"Napoleon," Illya sighed heavily, "You heard Waverly. I will have backup. I'll have..." He paused. "I'll have..."
"You'll have MI5 in all their damned territorial piety," interrupted Napoleon with a grimace. He took a step towards Illya and grasped his shoulders.
"You know I couldn't do this assignment. It's tailor-made for you. I trust you with my life, tovarisch," he said, looking into the blue eyes. "You're the best, the only agent I want at my back in a tight spot."
Illya's shoulders lost their defensive hunch. Napoleon gave them a gentle shake and grinned.
"I will, of course, deny that I ever said that no matter what veridicals THRUSH uses. It's just that I'd feel more comfortable if I had your back on this one." He shook his head. Despite his deep misgivings he knew better than to stoke his friend's inherent pessimism by voicing them. "I wish I were going with you."
"You'd hate it in London at the moment, Napoleon," Illya said. "I hear they have snow. You know how you detest having cold feet," Illya looked up at him with the beginnings of a rueful smile and tapped him on the chest. "You'll enjoy those dusky Mexican beauties so much more, moi droog."
Without conscious intent, Napoleon suddenly pulled him into a hug. After a second or two Illya's arms came round him and returned the squeeze. The pale hair was soft against Napoleon's cheek and he inhaled the faint scent of baby shampoo and, well—Illya. He closed his eyes as the unique combination washed over him.
And felt himself harden.
His eyes shot open and he pushed away from his partner as though burned. Too late. He saw the realisation dawn in the blue eyes.
He looked steadily into their blue depths. Caught. Bluff this one out, Solo—if you can. He didn't even try but reached out slowly to tuck a stray lock of hair behind his partner's ear.
Illya stared, immobile for a moment and then inhaled sharply.
"I have to go, Napoleon," he said, hurriedly. And with that, the door swished open and he was gone.
As the door slid shut behind his partner, Napoleon crossed to the wall, closed his eyes and laid his head against it. Shit! Great timing, Solo. Just when he needs to focus on this crazy mission you throw him a curve ball like that.
The sense of foreboding settled more heavily in his gut.
Royal Free Hospital, Hampstead, London—December 5th
Napoleon staggered through the doors of the Casualty department. Illya was draped in a fireman's carry over his shoulders.
"Some help here," Napoleon gasped, his chest heaving. He looked around wildly for a doctor. The blood-soaked tableau drew staff like moths to a candle flame. Three doctors and two nurses abandoned what they were doing and rushed to his aid. Illya was lifted from him and laid on a gurney and Napoleon found himself gently but firmly pushed aside as the staff swarmed around his partner.
"What happened here?" one of the doctors enquired briskly as he worked. He looked across sharply at Napoleon as Illya's overcoat and jacket were removed to reveal his empty shoulder holster. Napoleon's eyes never wavered from Illya's pallid face as he flashed his ID at the doctor and answered.
"Gunshot wound. High velocity 9mm." He unslung the rifle from his shoulder. "This is the weapon. I think the round may have punctured a lung."
The doctor's eyes widened but he made no response.
Napoleon looked on as IV's were set up and a nurse cut Illya's blood-soaked shirt from him. He wondered if he'd ever get rid of the sickly-sweet smell from his nostrils. There was so much of it; it was hard to see anything else. He craned his neck to try to get a better view and was dimly aware of giving Illya's name and details to a nurse who hovered at his elbow with a clipboard.
One of the doctors at Illya's head swore softly.
"Shit," he said. "His pressure's barely registering. We need to get him into theatre right away or he'll bleed out."
More staff appeared and a nurse took Napoleon by the elbow to draw him out of the path of the gurney now moving towards the elevator. He shook off her hand.
"I'm his partner. I'm going with him."
"Sir, please. Come with me. I'll show you where you can wait."
But Napoleon was already moving in the gurney's wake. The part of his brain that was still rational knew he wouldn't be allowed into the OR but the rest of him screamed at the thought of further separation from Illya.
He made it as far as the elevator before the doctor at Illya's head turned briefly to him.
"Sir. We're taking him into theatre now. Fourth floor. You can wait outside and we'll let you know if... when..."
Napoleon knew it was futile to argue. If he tried his usual U.N.C.L.E. Medical tactics here he knew they'd simply have him removed. As the elevator doors closed he fought down a wild panic that he'd never see his partner alive again...
He looked down in surprise to feel a hand on his elbow. The nurse was tenacious. And gutsy too, if she was as scared as she looked.
"I'm sorry," he muttered. "If you show me where to wait..."
The nurse relaxed a little.
"Would you like to clean up first?"
Napoleon was suddenly aware how he must look. Covered in Illya's blood and carrying a high velocity rifle openly in a country that didn't permit such things.
"Sure," he said, "but first I need somewhere quiet to call this in to my boss."
She nodded and pressed an elevator call button.
"I'll take you up to the relatives' room. There's a phone in there you can use. Just dial 9 for an outside line."
He'd been planning on using his communicator but realised in that moment that the relay would go through the London office. He wasn't sure how far Illya had got in his mission before...
"Thank you, nurse...?" He raised his eyebrows.
"Lynd." She smiled tentatively. "Andrea Lynd."
He waited, drumming his fingers in agitation whilst the call was routed through security and verified.
He'd identified the man he'd killed as Andrew Kent, London's CEA. The recognition on the man's face as he'd swung the rifle to bear on Napoleon's chest told him all he needed to know about Kent's loyalties. Napoleon had waited a heartbeat to give him a chance to lower the weapon. When Kent didn't take it Napoleon had unhesitatingly emptied his P38 into the man's chest.
It had been impossible to identify the man Kent had killed. Fingerprinting would be the only way since there wasn't enough head left for a dental ID.
"Yes, Mr Solo?" Waverly's voice from the phone finally cut across his reflections.
"Sir, Illya's down," he said, astonished at the composure in his own voice.
There was a pause.
"Mr Solo, I understood you to be on leave. Where are you?"
"I'm in London, Sir."
"I see," said Waverly slowly. "And how is Mr Kuryakin?"
"He's in surgery right now." He looked down at his clothes stiff with drying blood. Illya's. "He's lost a lot of blood, Sir. I don't know..."
"Quite, Mr Solo," Waverly cut him off brusquely. There was a pause then he continued more gently, "Well since you're there, what do you have to report?"
Napoleon gave his report as succinctly as he could.
"MI5 will do the clean up on this one, Mr Solo. It seems as though Mr Kent was indeed working for THRUSH but until Mr Kuryakin's programming completes its run later today we can't be sure he was working alone. Stand by there and we'll get back to you by telephone. Goodbye, Mr Solo."
Napoleon exhaled slowly. He felt his legs begin to tremble and sat down quickly on the sofa next to the phone. The quarter-mile dash to the hospital across the Heath carrying Illya on his shoulders had seemed the longest of his life. He rested his elbows on his knees and dropped his head into his hands.
If he'd got to Kent one minute earlier. Sixty seconds... If only... He knew self-recrimination was useless. He also knew that it would haunt him for the rest of his life if...
The door opened and Nurse Lynd came in with a tray containing a teapot, crockery and a plate of curling sandwiches. Napoleon came to his feet in a rush. Her look silenced the question on his lips.
"There's no news yet I'm afraid, Mr Solo." She laid the tray down on the coffee table in front of the sofa. "The sandwiches are left over from our break," she grimaced in obvious embarrassment, "but I thought you might be hungry. The tea's fresh."
He forced a smile. "Thank you, Nurse Lynd."
She produced a towel and a set of scrubs, together with a grey plastic carrier bag.
"There's a bathroom across the corridor. You may want to clean up and change. The bag is for your..." she paused as she regarded his stiffening, blood-soaked clothing, "for the clothes you're wearing."
Napoleon took the items mechanically. "You'll...?"
She nodded. "I'll come and find you as soon as we know anything."
In the bathroom he stripped and ran a tub. When would the Brits join the human race and get showers? He closed his eyes as he sank into the glorious heat... and saw once more Illya lying at his feet in snow stained scarlet with the blood that pumped from him. Opening his eyes he grabbed the soap and tried to scrub away the memory. He froze and watched in horrified fascination as the bathwater turned pink.
Shuddering with distaste he pulled the plug and stepped out, towelling himself dry briskly before dressing in the scrubs, donning his shoulder holster and shoving his blood-stained clothes into the plastic bag. He shrugged into his jacket, disreputable though it was, to cover the holster and slipped Illya's weapon back into the pocket. Then he grabbed the rifle and the bag of clothes and headed back for the relatives' room.
The nurse was clearing away the tea tray and the untouched sandwiches when he got back to the room. She produced two full grey plastic carrier bags and held them out to him.
Napoleon's stomach did a flip.
The nurse's eyes widened.
"Oh... no, it's OK," she stuttered. "I mean, there's no further news. I just thought you'd like your partner's things so they don't get lost. I'm sorry if..."
Napoleon exhaled and reached for the bags, nodding.
"Thank you, Nurse Lynd."
The phone rang and Napoleon snatched it up.
"Solo," he said as he watched the nurse leave.
"Ah, Mr Solo," it was Waverly's voice. "We've identified the man shot by Mr Kent as Russell Morgan. He was a Section IV operative."
"He was U.N.C.L.E.?"
"Obviously, Mr Solo," Waverly replied witheringly. "He'd been assisting Mr Kuryakin in programming the computers, apparently."
"Sir, do we have any more intelligence on whether Kent was working alone?"
"We should know more by midnight. Mr Kuryakin's programme should have completed its run by then. I'll be in touch as soon as I have anything further. Until then I'd like you to remain where you are."
"How's the clean up coming along, Sir?"
"I'm patching you through to MI5 now, Mr Solo. A Mr Fraser-Parkes." Waverly paused then his voice softened. "Please inform me as soon as you have any news of Mr Kuryakin."
"Will do, Sir."
After a series of clicks and crackles a man's cultured voice came on the line.
"Simon Fraser-Parkes here, Mr Solo. We've taken care of the clean-up on the Heath." He paused briefly. "How's Mr Kuryakin?"
"He's still in the OR; took a 9mm to the chest." Napoleon grimaced. "I have the weapon here if you'd like to collect."
"I'll send someone round for it." Fraser-Parkes paused. "I... er, knew Mr Kuryakin when he was stationed here in London six years ago."
Napoleon couldn't have said why his hackles rose at that point.
"He was a damn fine agent," Fraser-Parkes continued.
Napoleon felt his jaw tighten.
"He is a damn fine agent, Parkes," he said quietly. "Is. The best. And he's my partner so I'm in a position to judge that." Christ, he sounded almost petulant.
There was a brief pause. "I'm sorry, Mr Solo." Fraser-Parkes' voice was clipped, wary. "I'll send someone for the rifle. Let me know if you need anything else. Goodbye."
There was a click as the connection was cut.
Napoleon replaced the phone receiver with exaggerated care and sank onto the sofa once more. His brain felt foggy as it tried to process information. Somewhere just out of reach was a thought that troubled him. His hands still shook with a fine tremor after the adrenaline rush of earlier. He wished he still smoked. He checked his watch—10.30pm. Five hours since he'd hurtled into the ER. It felt like a lifetime. Sighing he went in search of caffeine.
He was leaning against the coffee machine sipping in disgust at a paper cup of lukewarm, watery fluid, when the surgeon found him. Nurse Lynd was with him.
Napoleon's head snapped up. He tried to read the man's face but it was as inscrutable as his partner's.
"Yes?" It was almost a croak.
The man held out his hand and Napoleon shook it automatically.
"I'm Mr Wemyss-Holden. I'm a thoracic surgeon. You are Mr Kuryakin's partner, I believe?"
Napoleon nodded. It was easier than trying to speak.
"Mr Solo, his injuries were very severe..."
Tell me... just tell me.
Napoleon tried again. "Is he..."
"He survived the surgery, Mr Solo. We've repaired his lung although we nearly lost him twice on the table. He'd lost a vast amount of blood and his heart rebelled at having so little to pump round."
Napoleon closed his eyes and swallowed.
"Alive..." he breathed.
"Mr Solo," the surgeon said quietly, "his condition remains critical and you should perhaps prepare yourself for a less than favourable outcome. If he survives, there may be brain damage. We've no idea if or for how long his brain was oxygen-deprived before you got him to us."
"But he's alive—right?" Napoleon looked desperately from the surgeon to the nurse who exchanged the briefest of glances.
"He's been taken to the ITU and is currently on a ventilator. Nurse Lynd will take you to see him now."
"Thank you," muttered Napoleon, as the nurse took his elbow and led him down the corridor.
"Are there next of kin who will be visiting, Mr Solo?" she asked.
I'm his next of kin...
"No. No next of kin."
"Then I'll have the bed in the relatives' room made up for you. I've locked it for now so your partner's things will be safe there." She pressed a key into Napoleon's hand. "Here's the key."
They were met at the door of the ITU by another nurse who gave him a gown and escorted him inside. Four of the six beds were surrounded by pieces of arcane equipment that emitted a constant series of whooshes and bleeps. At three of the beds two or three people—families, Napoleon thought—kept a hushed vigil over the beds' occupants.
Illya lay in the bed in the far corner, remote from the others, alone and dwarfed by the equipment. The nurse helped Napoleon out of his jacket and into the gown, eyes widening a little as she noted his shoulder holster. She escorted him over to his partner's bed and drew the screens around him.
Napoleon looked down and compressed his lips as he took in the sight. IV's ran into one arm and a feeding tube into Illya's nose. A tube from his mouth was attached to the ventilator and his chest rose and fell with mechanical regularity as the huge machine breathed for him. His face was ashen and around his mouth and neck were traces of the blood he'd coughed into the snow from his ruptured lung.
Napoleon clutched Illya's limp hand. Despite the warmth of the room it felt cold and lifeless. Desperate to have more contact with his partner's skin he leaned over, brushed the silky, sweat-darkened hair to one side and softly kissed the clammy forehead. There was barely a trace of Illya's familiar scent in the midst of the overpowering smell of blood and antiseptic. He caught a sob in his throat and squeezed his eyes shut until he had control once more.
He glanced up to find the nurse standing with a steaming bowl and a washcloth.
"We're going to clean him up a bit now that he's stable," she said quietly. "Would you like to wait outside?"
Napoleon looked at her steadily. "No, thank you." Slowly he took the bowl and washcloth from her. "I'll wash him," The nurse looked as though she were about to argue. He gave a half shrug. "He's ticklish."
Her face softened and she nodded.
"I'll get you some towels," she said and withdrew.
Napoleon set the bowl on the side table and looked down at his partner as he wrung out the washcloth.
"Ah, tovarisch," he murmured softly as he drew the warm cloth over Illya's face. He was careful to avoid the tubes as he cleaned away the last remnants of dried blood from the slack features.
"Remember the last time I had to do this? You were shot so full of THRUSH drugs you didn't know what planet you were on, never mind what day it was."
The nurse returned with several towels. Napoleon gently dried Illya's face. She nodded approvingly.
"You've done this before?"
Napoleon nodded slowly and smiled at her. "Oh, yes. Far too many times."
"It's good that you're talking to him," she said. "He may be paralysed and sedated for the ventilator but we never know how much our patients can hear. Until they wake up and tell us of course."
She met Solo's eyes and he saw the attempt to reassure for what it was. Nevertheless, he was grateful.
"Thank you, nurse...?"
"Lois," she responded. "We use first names in the ITU."
"Thank you, Lois. I'm Napoleon," he cocked his head towards his partner, "and I think you've already met my stubborn Russian partner, Illya."
She smiled and touched Napoleon's arm lightly.
"Call me if there's anything you need, Napoleon."
As she left, Napoleon rinsed the cloth again and began to clean the dried blood from around Illya's neck, watching the thready pulse beating there.
"Then there was that time in South America when we were holed up in that shack," he mopped Illya's neck with the towel, "after you'd been bitten by that snake. You never listen when I tell you not to tease the wildlife do you?"
He rinsed the cloth and lifted Illya's arm to wash under it before drawing the cloth down as far as the IV. He repeated it with the other arm and then dried them both thoroughly.
"Or the fever you had in Africa." He washed Illya's hands, letting his fingers roam over the familiar calluses, caressing each of his fingers in turn. "I told you camels were unsanitary, dammit."
He dried each hand then discarded the towel for a fresh one. He drew in a sharp breath when, lifting back the sheet, he saw the dressings covering the entire left side of Illya's chest. From the centre of the strapping and gauze, a tube as thick as his thumb emerged that led to a bottle under the bed.
Napoleon folded the sheet so that he had access to the right side of Illya's chest and continued his quiet litany.
"Next time, partner mine, you can be on blanket-bath duty," he said as he washed down as far as Illya's waist on the right. "Your turn is way overdue. In fact I don't think you've done the honours since... oh yeah, Sicily. That bullet in the arm I took for you. The one you insisted was a mere scratch."
Napoleon folded the sheet back from his partner's groin. He paused fractionally before taking up the warm soapy cloth again, washing with gentle strokes through the golden curls around the limp, catheterised penis and down under the heavy sac.
"I'll have you know it was damn painful and was definitely more than a scratch," he said as he patted Illya dry with the towel. He drew up the sheet and moved on to Illya's legs and feet, spending time washing and drying carefully between each of his toes. "Don't want you getting trench foot, tovarisch, do we?"
As he was finally straightening the sheet Lois came round the edge of the screen. The eyes that scanned his face in frank curiosity were full of sympathy. She touched his elbow.
"Napoleon, would you like to grab a coffee and something to eat? We keep the staff lounge well topped up with food and drinks. I can finish up here."
Suddenly there was an insistent two-tone beeping. Lois turned to the equipment and frowned in puzzlement. Napoleon handed her the towel with a small smile. "Ah, mine, I think," he said as he withdrew his communicator from his pocket and uncapped it.
Lois' eyes widened and her mouth fell open but she said nothing.
"Ah, Mr Solo," came Waverly's voice. "We've just had the results of Mr Kuryakin's computer run and it would seem that Mr Kent had no accomplices within U.N.C.L.E. Our London headquarters has mobilised a damage-limitation team and communications are once more secure."
"So I gather, Sir."
"How is Mr Kuryakin?"
Napoleon looked down at the pale form of his friend.
"He's out of surgery, Sir, but maybe not quite out of the woods."
"Stay with him, Mr Solo, if you would. For the time being. We'll be in touch. Waverly out." Napoleon recapped his communicator and suddenly felt a hundred years old.
"You're never alone with a pen, eh?" said Lois with a small smile. "Go and eat something, Napoleon. I'll call you if there's any change."
Napoleon woke with a start to find the nurse shaking his shoulder. His hand was half way to his shoulder holster and he grinned ruefully.
"Sorry," he said as he uncurled himself from the uncomfortable position in the chair by Illya's bed.
"There is a relatives' room you can sleep in you know, Napoleon," Lois said. "I'm going off duty now, but I'm on again tonight."
"What time is it?" Napoleon said, rubbing his face roughly. He grimaced at the beard growth.
"It's nine a.m. I'm going home to sleep. You should try and get some too," she admonished him.
He nodded. "I will," he promised automatically.
"Oh by the way," Lois said. "Illya has a visitor."
The hairs on the back of Napoleon's neck came sharply to attention.
"Yes. He said he was an old friend." She frowned. "I thought I'd better check with you first..."
"Did he give a name?" Napoleon was on his feet and checking his weapon. He smiled reassuringly at her as he re-holstered it. "Don't worry," he said. "It's just a precaution."
"Fraser-Parkes," she said looking questioningly at Napoleon. "Do you know him?"
Napoleon nodded slowly and frowned.
"Yes," he said. "Not well, but I know him."
The question burning in his mind was—how well did Illya know him.
"Is there a back way out of here, Lois?"
She nodded. "Come with me and I'll take you out of the staff entrance."
The door opened out onto the corridor round the corner from the relatives' room. As the nurse headed for the elevators to go home, Napoleon slipped to the corner and risked a quick glance towards the ITU entrance.
A tall, broad shouldered man with thick, curly auburn hair stood with his back to Napoleon. He was wearing a well-cut navy overcoat, charcoal grey trousers and highly polished half brogues. He carried a bunch of immense, bronze-coloured chrysanthemums that echoed the colour of his hair.
Napoleon stood with his back pressed against the wall and took a steadying breath as he un-holstered his special and flipped off the safety. Bracing the weapon he darted round the corner. The man still had his back to Napoleon. In three strides Napoleon was behind him and had the muzzle of the Walther against the base of the man's skull.
To give him his due, the man barely flinched.
"Ah. Mr Solo, I presume," he said over his shoulder.
Napoleon recognised the cultured tones immediately, and knew with profound irritation that they were indelibly imprinted on his memory. "Mr Fraser-Parkes," he said coolly.
"Simon, please, Mr Solo," Fraser-Parkes said as he began to turn towards Napoleon.
"Ah, ah, ah..." Napoleon admonished. "Eyes forward, if you please."
The Englishman shrugged resignedly as Napoleon quickly searched him and relieved him of his weapon.
Napoleon raised his eyebrows at the sight of the Beretta.
"Isn't this a little short on stopping-power?" he asked contemptuously as he slipped it into his pocket.
"I find I rarely need it," sighed Fraser-Parkes. "I don't get out much these days," he continued as he turned to face Napoleon.
"And yet you're here today," Napoleon said accusingly as he searched the man's face. Straight nose, eyes the colour of honey, even, very white teeth. "Why is that?"
Fraser-Parkes looked at Napoleon appraisingly for a moment. Next to the vision before him, Napoleon was suddenly acutely conscious of his own dishevelled appearance and two-day beard growth. It was an alien experience for him, accustomed as he was to setting the sartorial standard in most situations.
"Is there somewhere we can talk Mr Solo?"
Napoleon nodded and motioned Fraser-Parkes with his weapon towards the relatives' room. Once inside he re-locked the room and turned as the man seated himself on the sofa. His body language was relaxed with an indefinable public-school nonchalance that set Napoleon's teeth on edge. He must have noticed Napoleon's involuntary tension as he immediately leaned forward with a conciliatory gesture.
"So just why are you here?" Napoleon interrupted him sharply. He was tired and fearful for Illya's life and that made it harder to sustain the urbane veneer.
Fraser-Parkes looked at him levelly.
"I came to see Illya," he said finally. "I think I told you on the phone that we knew each other when he was in London."
Something tightened in Napoleon's gut.
"And were you lovers?" Shit! Where the fuck had that come from? Oh, but it hit home, thought Napoleon as he watched the honey-eyes widen and then look away. It was only then that the thought occurred to him that he may just have sustained a potentially terminal self-inflicted wound.
Fraser-Parkes met his eyes once more. "Ah. You Americans are so direct," he said in a voice laced with irony. "That must be what we love so much about you.
"In answer to your question," he continued, "although I'm not entirely sure that it deserves an answer, no. Illya and I were not lovers." He sighed and shook his head slightly. "That was his decision, not mine."
Napoleon saw regret pinch the other man's eyes fleetingly.
"You did discuss it then?" he said quietly.
"Yes. We discussed it. And agreed in the end to differ. We were both looking for more than a one-night stand—commitment, of sorts, I guess. It was just that Illya didn't want that with me."
He fell silent for a moment, apparently lost in memories. Eventually he looked up at Napoleon once more. "Clearly he did with you, though."
Napoleon's breath caught. "I... ah..." he stuttered.
"What's the matter, Mr Solo?" Fraser-Parkes raised an eyebrow. "Too direct for you? I must admit that when Illya told me he was in love with someone, I didn't imagine it would be his partner—well, not until today that is."
"Oh, please, Mr Solo," said Fraser-Parkes derisively, "don't insult my intelligence. All that jealous indignation on the phone? The melodramatics with the gun?"
"We had a drink together two days ago," Fraser-Parkes held up his hands, palms outward. "For old times' sake, Solo, nothing more."
Napoleon slumped down on the sofa and fought to control his heart rate. Fraser-Parkes looked hard at him and drew in his breath sharply.
"You didn't know did you?" He paused then laughed harshly. "And I thought you Americans didn't 'do' irony. How ironic is that? The man's in love with you and you had no fucking idea."
He stood and ran a hand through his thick curls as he moved to the window. Napoleon finally found his voice.
"Oh, I don't know. Perhaps about as ironic as the fact that it's you that I should hear it from."
Fraser-Parkes spun round and Napoleon winced as he met his eyes. "I'm sorry," he said. "That was cheap."
The Englishman nodded but said nothing. The ringing of the phone cut across the awkward silence. Napoleon picked it up.
He listened a moment and then handed the phone to Fraser-Parkes who took it without a word. Napoleon took the opportunity to move to the window and gaze out over the Heath. It had begun to snow heavily again. It wouldn't be long before it obliterated all traces of the events of the previous day. The areas picked clean by the MI5 clean-up team no longer dark scars on the otherwise unblemished snow, but absorbed once more into the uniformity of the sparkling landscape.
He became aware that the phone call had ended and that the MI5 agent was standing next to him. Napoleon glanced up at him sheepishly.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I behaved like a jerk."
Fraser-Parkes gave him a tight smile.
"If that's the same as a tosser then, yes, you did rather." He nodded to the phone. "That was my office. It seems we have a Hungarian who wants to defect. I have to go."
Napoleon smiled ruefully and held out the Beretta and the rifle that Kent had used on Illya. The Englishman holstered the Beretta and slung the rifle over his shoulder. He held out his hand to Napoleon. Napoleon shook it with only the briefest hesitation.
"Thanks for organising the clean up, Parkes," he said tightly.
"No problem. And please, it's Simon. Much simpler." He grinned at his own pun.
"Simon, then," said Napoleon forcing himself to smile back. He wished the man would just go and leave him alone.
As he turned for the door Fraser-Parkes spotted the chrysanthemums on the coffee table. He nodded to them then glanced at Napoleon.
"Would you give him those?" he said hesitantly. "He'll know who they're from."
Despite himself Napoleon bristled slightly.
Fraser-Parkes gave him a scathing look. "What, Solo—so insecure?"
The man pointed at his own hair and then at the lavish blooms. Napoleon nodded at the similarity and smiled reluctantly.
"I'll make sure he sees them when he wakes up."
Three days later
Napoleon dried his hands after the daily ritual of washing his friend. Still paralysed and sedated in order not to fight the machine that breathed for him, Illya lay gaunt and motionless. There was no indication in the slack features that there was anything of him present, and the chilling fear that this may be a permanent state never left Napoleon. He ran his fingers through Illya's sweat-darkened hair and longed to wash it back to its shimmering softness. Anything to anchor him to his identity. To make him real.
He glanced at the chrysanthemums on the bedside locker. He'd slept little since the conversation with Fraser-Parkes. The idea that Napoleon's feelings for his partner might be reciprocated had left him breathless. The dread that he might never get a chance to tell Illya about those feelings gnawed at him constantly.
He heard voices approaching and Lois came round the screen.
"Napoleon?" She collected the bowl and towel. "The consultant's here to see Illya." She lowered her voice. "I think he may want to try him off the ventilator to see if he'll breathe on his own."
The consultant breezed in with two or three others in white coats as Lois drew back the screens. "Mr Solo?" he said extending his hand. "I'm Dr Yeomans, consultant anaesthetist."
Napoleon shook the hand. "Napoleon Solo," he said. "I'm Mr Kuryakin's partner."
"Yes, I understand the two of you are in law enforcement, Mr Solo. Is that correct?"
Napoleon nodded but said nothing. When it became clear that he wasn't about to speak, Yeomans continued.
"We're going to reverse your partner's drugs so that he can move again and then see if he'll breathe himself when we disconnect the ventilator."
"And, if he can't...?"
The consultant smiled.
"Don't worry, Mr Solo, we'll put him right back on it."
Napoleon nodded slowly.
"Now when we reverse the paralysis he may become a little agitated so it would help if you were able to reassure him."
"He'll be able to see and hear me then?" asked Napoleon.
He didn't miss the glance between the consultant and his colleagues.
"Let's see how he gets on shall we?" He turned his head slightly. "Nurse?"
Napoleon looked sideways to see Lois drawing up a syringe of clear fluid.
"Napoleon, I'm going to inject this into Illya's IV," she said. "It will reverse the effects of the paralysing drugs. He may fight the ventilator then."
Napoleon nodded. "What do you want me to do?"
"Just talk to him as you usually do and hold his hand."
"He may try to pull out the tube in his mouth," Lois said with a small smile. "We need it to stay in so we can put him back on the ventilator if he isn't ready yet to breathe for himself. He's very weak and it may still be too much for him."
Napoleon nodded again and took Illya's hand firmly in his. Yeomans took hold of Illya's other hand as the nurse emptied the syringe into the IV port.
For a moment nothing happened and then there was a series of erratic beeps from the ventilator alarm.
"He's fighting it," said Lois smiling up at Napoleon. "That's a good thing, by the way."
"OK tovarisch," Napoleon murmured. "Take it easy and relax. I'm here. You're safe..."
The next second the ventilator alarm went wild. And so did the patient. The consultant suddenly found himself on his back on the floor as Illya arched off the mattress and with his now free hand yanked at the tubes in his mouth and nose.
Napoleon clutched Illya's other hand grimly and tried to bat away his partner's free hand from the tubes. He hadn't been prepared for the speed of Illya's reflexes, nor his strength, in his debilitated condition. Retching and gasping, Illya wrested the tubes from his throat and nose and flung them aside, his chest heaving as he tried to drag air into his lungs.
Napoleon let go of his friend's hand and held Illya's face as gently as he could as Illya thrashed on the bed.
"Illya! ILLYA!" he said urgently. "Look at me. Open your eyes. Look at me, tovarisch. Look at me!"
Illya choked and coughed as he continued to writhe on the bed but his streaming eyes opened and he slowly focused on Napoleon. Gradually the thrashing stopped and his breathing became less desperate. Without taking his eyes from Napoleon's he reached up a trembling hand and touched his face. Napoleon released his hold on Illya's head and covered the hand on his face with his own.
"Stubborn Russian," he said his voice shaking. "Will you never learn to obey a direct order? I should write you up for this."
Illya closed his eyes and sighed. He gave Napoleon's hand a barely perceptible squeeze. Napoleon fought the urge to turn his lips into it.
The consultant was on his feet again assisted by his acolytes. He brushed himself off, looking rather sheepish.
"Stronger than he looks," he said ruefully. "What are his latest gases, nurse...?"
Napoleon tuned out the medical-speak around him and focused on Illya's face. Illya's eyes were closed again and his breathing erratic but he was breathing without the aid of the machine. He still held Illya's hand and found himself stroking it with his thumb, softly and rhythmically. After the initial squeeze it was once more motionless, but Napoleon held on tight, unwilling to break the fragile connection that had been re-established.
As he watched, Illya's eyes fluttered open and his gaze fell on the flowers on the locker. His eyes widened and his head snapped round finally locking his gaze with Napoleon's. Illya's lips moved but his vocal cords, damaged when he'd yanked the tube past them, were still too abraded for speech.
Napoleon felt a weak tug on his hand. He leaned down with his ear next to Illya's mouth and was enveloped in the sour smell of antiseptic and breath from a mouth in dire need of cleaning. Illya's breath. Illya breathing. Illya alive. He inhaled it hungrily as Illya turned his head on the pillow and softly kissed his cheek.
Napoleon's eyes brimmed. "Yes, I know, tovarisch," he whispered. "Me too."
One week later
Napoleon awoke from a deep sleep to the sound of knocking. The Walther from under his pillow was already in his hand as he came to full consciousness and squinted at the bedside clock. Seven o'clock.
"Napoleon?" The voice from outside the door sounded exasperated.
He dragged on his robe, slipped the Walther in the pocket and unlocked the door. Lois stood outside with her hands on her hips and a long-suffering look on her face.
"He's threatening to pull out his IV if we won't give him his clothes now," she sighed. "It's coming down later today anyway but he's just being impossible. He's already taken himself off to the bathroom when he can still barely stand. How can someone who looks like... well, who looks like he does be so... so..."
"Give me five minutes to shave and I'll be there," he said with a grin.
They weren't used to patients who could talk on ITU, let alone those who disappeared every five minutes if they weren't attached to a piece of equipment. Normally patients were transferred off the ITU back to a ward as soon as they were off their ventilators. In view of the circumstances, however, it was less of a security risk to nurse Illya on the unit than to have to try to secure an open ward.
The previous day Illya's chest drain had been removed and Napoleon had finally been allowed to wash Illya's hair. They'd taken the headboard off the bed and lain Illya on his back so that his head hung over the end of the mattress above a plastic bowl. Napoleon had poured warm water from a large jug over Illya's lank hair and massaged shampoo through every strand before rinsing it until it squeaked. He'd felt the first, nascent stirrings of arousal as the slick strands slipped through his fingers—the first since his partner had been shot. It had taken some effort but he'd willed the feelings away as he towelled Illya's hair dry vigorously.
The resulting pale, silky mane had electrified the ITU nursing staff. They flocked around his partner like bees round a honey pot. Predictably, twenty-four hours of such attention was more than enough for Illya, and his crankiness, when denied time and space for himself, was now beginning to drive them mad. It was clearly time to put plan B into action.
When Napoleon arrived on the unit Illya was standing by his bed holding grimly onto his drip stand and arguing with three nurses, all of whom were trying to persuade him to get back into bed. He looked as though he were about to collapse but was insisting that they bring him his clothes.
"Good morning, ladies," said Napoleon cheerily. "May I be of assistance?" Three relieved faces turned towards him and Illya scowled.
"Napoleon, tell them to give me my clothes," Illya croaked hoarsely, his vocal cords still not fully recovered from the trauma of his impromptu extubation.
The nurses melted away as Napoleon moved to stand next to Illya.
"Why don't you get back into bed before you fall down, and ask nicely and then we'll see what we can do, hmm?"
Napoleon caught his friend around the waist and hoisted him onto the bed as Illya crumpled silently towards the floor. Lois was back in a second.
"Shit!" she said grabbing a cuff to take Illya's blood pressure. "Stubborn little..."
Napoleon grinned broadly at her. "Welcome to my world."
At the pressure of the cuff around his arm Illya groaned and opened his eyes, struggling to sit up. Napoleon poked a finger sharply into his chest.
"Stay!" he admonished, glaring at his partner.
Lois finished taking his blood pressure.
"It's fine now but it drops if he spends too much time upright." She turned to Illya. "You may think you're ready to go, Illya, but you're not.
Illya scowled at her and opened his mouth to respond. Napoleon cut him off.
"Give me a moment to try to talk some sense into him," he said to the nurse.
"Let me know if you need me to paralyse and sedate him again," she said with a glare at Illya as she left.
Illya glowered at her retreating back. Napoleon drew up a chair to the bedside.
"If you're trying to get us out of here, tovarisch, you're going about it the wrong way." He smirked. "Pyrotechnics, as usual."
"You have a better way I suppose." Illya glared at him. "What do you plan to do, Napoleon? Sleep with all the nurses until they agree to let me go?"
Napoleon ignored the fleeting ache in his chest.
"Well, I admit it's a thought, but I think I have a quicker way...." He looked pointedly at Illya, ".... if not quite so much fun. What would you say if I said I could get you out of here by this afternoon?"
"I'd say you were delusional." He snorted. "No change there, then."
Napoleon inclined his head slightly and grinned. "Watch and learn, boy."
He beckoned Lois over to the bed, amused at her hesitation.
"Lois, my dear," he said, allowing his eyes to roam over her face. "We've received intelligence that an undesirable has learned of Illya's whereabouts. He may be in danger."
He watched as her eyes widened in alarm. Standing, he patted her arm reassuringly.
"It's OK, but it's difficult for us to secure the unit here with so many innocent bystanders about, so..." he paused for effect, "U.N.C.L.E. has located a property nearby that would be much safer and easier to protect..."
"It's within five minutes of the hospital so if Illya needed any medical care in a hurry we could be here in a flash."
"If you give me any special instructions you know I'll carry them out to the letter, don't you?"
"And we wouldn't be under your feet any more. Think of the peace..."
The nurse opened her mouth as if to protest—and then shut it again as the idea appeared to take root. She looked at him with the beginnings of a smile.
"I don't know, Napoleon. Let me speak to Dr Yeomans."
Napoleon gave her his dazzling smile and tucked a stray wisp of hair under her cap. "You go ahead and do that, and I'll see if I can placate this Russian bear here."
As she walked away Illya made a retching noise from the bed. "That was the most nauseating..."
Napoleon grinned at him and cocked an eyebrow. "What? You're jealous now?"
Illya ignored him. "Napoleon, tell me that was all a load of complete bollocks."
"Well, not entirely, my friend."
His partner rolled his eyes. "So which part wasn't bollocks then?"
Napoleon wanted to laugh at the indignant expression.
"Well as far as I know, no undesirable knows you're here..." he paused and looked at Illya evenly, "except one, maybe."
Illya's eyes flicked briefly to the now empty locker-top next to the bed. He cleared his throat.
"And the rest of it?"
Napoleon grinned. "Ah, my impatient patient. Wait and see."
Later that afternoon
Napoleon looked anxiously at Illya as they stood waiting by the elevators. Now that he was dressed for the first time since the shooting, Napoleon could see how much weight he'd lost in the ten days he'd been in the ITU. His once-snug black jeans were cinched in at the waist to prevent them slipping over the angular hips. The black turtle neck hid the starkness of his ribs and almost disguised the concave abdomen, but it was Illya's face that revealed the most. The dark smudges around his sunken eyes emphasised his hollow cheeks and even the usual softness below his jaw-line had disappeared.
Christ, it was close this time, my friend.
He hadn't been surprised when his partner had obstinately refused the wheelchair he'd been offered but he now wondered how wise it had been to let him have his way. Illya was pale and sweating once more and his breathing was fast and shallow.
"Here," he said guiding Illya carefully with an arm. "Lean against the wall and drop your head forward if you need to."
As Illya braced himself against the wall and bent from the waist, Napoleon massaged the back of his neck with gentle fingers. He tapped the call button in agitation.
"Better?" he asked, noting his partner's colour returning a little.
Illya nodded and straightened up as the elevator arrived. It was mercifully empty. As the doors closed he stumbled against Napoleon.
"Easy, tiger." Napoleon murmured catching him around the waist.
Illya made no move to pull away but let his head fall onto Napoleon's shoulder. Unable to resist the allure of the subtly-scented hair against his neck Napoleon buried his nose in the silky softness.
"Mmm..." Illya purred into Napoleon's shoulder. He raised his head slowly. "Where are you taking me?"
Napoleon smiled down at him as he finger-combed the pale hair out of Illya's eyes. "Wait and see."
The lift came to a standstill and Illya pushed himself upright once more, wincing slightly. As the doors opened he strode out determinedly ahead of Napoleon, who followed at his shoulder, prepared to manhandle him to the car if necessary.
By the time they'd crossed the hospital foyer to the main entrance where Napoleon had left the vehicle, Illya was ashen and clammy once more and Napoleon wondered for a moment if they were going to have to leave the hospital the same way they'd arrived. Although the fireman's carry wasn't quite needed, Illya was forced to lean heavily on Napoleon over the last few yards of slushy sidewalk. Napoleon propped him against the side of the car as he unlocked the door.
"Dammit, Kuryakin. Next time, you take the damn wheelchair," he growled as he slid Illya into the passenger seat and shut the door.
By the time he was behind the wheel his partner's colour had returned again. Wordlessly Napoleon handed him his handkerchief and Illya mopped his face with a shaky hand.
"Let's get you home," he said as he started the car.
"Ah, yes, Napoleon," Illya said. "Perhaps you'd care to tell me now where that is."
Napoleon pulled out of the car park into the late afternoon traffic. It was starting to snow again.
"You remember the Ambassador's wife that I escorted to Washington from Mexico?"
Illya was leaning back in the seat with his eyes closed.
"Ah I see," he muttered. "We're spending Christmas five minutes' down the road—in Mexico." Napoleon looked across at him as Illya opened his eyes.
"No?" Illya grinned at him. "Washington then. Five minutes' down the road in Washington?"
Napoleon felt his lips twitch and he shook his head. "You know it'll be at least another three weeks before you can safely fly." He sighed. "OK, already. Ambassador Gonzales's wife was so grateful..."
"I'll bet she was," growled Illya, as he lay back again and closed his eyes.
Napoleon grinned. "As I was saying, she was so grateful that she invited me to call her personally if I or U.N.C.L.E. ever needed anything..."
"... and she happens to own a serviced apartment on Hampstead Heath, right about..."
The car drew to a stop and Napoleon switched off the engine.
Illya's eyes shot open and he peered through the windshield into the gathering dusk. It was impossible to see through the gloom and the snow which was now falling thickly. Napoleon clicked his tongue at him. "Or... we could go inside where it's warm and dry."
Illya rolled his eyes and opened the car door. Before he'd swung his legs out Napoleon was round the car and reaching in to help him.
"I'm all right, Napoleon," he snapped as he stood. And then staggered a little as his knees threatened to buckle.
Napoleon slipped an arm around his waist and looked down at him. "Indulge me," he said with a grin.
Illya hesitated for only a moment before leaning against him as they made their way through the snow towards the light glowing over the entrance to the Victorian mansion block.
The ancient, clanking elevator disgorged them into a circular hallway roughly twenty-five feet in diameter with a high-domed glass roof. Two doors led off opposite sides of the thickly carpeted area and Napoleon half dragged, half carried Illya to the one on the left. He hoped fervently he hadn't made the wrong decision in bringing him away from instantaneous medical attention.
He managed to unlock the door and get him inside before Illya's legs finally buckled. Napoleon lowered him gently to the floor, locked the door and set the alarm codes Helena Gonzales had given him. Then he turned on the lights and knelt by Illya's head. His eyes were closed and although he looked pinched and pale, there was none of the clamminess present before on his face. Napoleon checked his pulse and respiration and sighed in relief. Satisfied that his partner was simply exhausted he picked him up awkwardly, grimacing at how light he was. Settling him more comfortably in his arms he carried him through the apartment to one of the bedrooms and laid him on the bed.
From long habit he swept the room and then the rest of the apartment for devices. It was as clear, as it had been earlier in the afternoon when he'd last done it. Returning to Illya's room he found him exactly as he'd left him, his breathing even and shallow. He stirred hardly at all as Napoleon undressed him and eased him under the covers before turning out the light and heading for the kitchen.
The large refrigerator was well stocked and the spacious kitchen well equipped. Napoleon prowled around poking here and there in a delight of discovery. On the window sill were pots of fresh herbs and the walk-in larder contained jars of home-made pasta and preserves, fresh vegetables, a ham and what turned out to be a large Christmas pudding tied up in a muslin cloth. There was a note on blue airmail paper pinned to it.
"My dear Mr Solo, Please treat this as your home for as long as you and your friend need it. I will not return from Washington until later in the New Year.
Conchita has been with us for many years and is completely trustworthy. She has a small apartment downstairs and will come in to clean and prepare food each day unless you request her not to. As you can see, she is an excellent cook!
I do hope that your friend recovers soon from his injuries. If he is a man such as you then I know his courage will be unparalleled. The work you do deserves the highest recognition. I am forever in your debt.
Yours in eternal gratitude,
Napoleon smiled as he folded the note and slipped it into his pocket. He'd need to arrange for Conchita to have a few days off.
Glancing at his watch he was surprised to find it was seven o'clock. He debated whether to wake Illya for some soup and slipped quietly into his room. He found him in the same position in which he'd left him, now snoring lightly, his pale cheeks flushed with sleep. He squatted by the bed and drew the covers up closer round Illya's neck, exploiting the opportunity to look his fill without fear of his partner's wrath. He shook his head.
When did it happen, tovarisch? Hell, I don't even know exactly when it happened for me.
He spent a few moments longer watching Illya sleep then headed back to the kitchen to make up some soup.
Illya slept for twenty hours straight. He woke around midday when Napoleon fed him some of the soup, changed his dressings, helped him to the bathroom then back to bed where he fell asleep again almost immediately.
The following morning Napoleon was clearing away his breakfast things when the doorbell rang. He unholstered his weapon and offed the safety as he made his way into the hall. He stilled at the sound of the key in the lock and braced his weapon as the front door opened.
"Freeze!" he ordered.
There was a clatter and a shriek and a stream of Spanish and Napoleon remembered, too late, about the Gonzales' housekeeper. Small, fierce and grey haired she stood amidst a heap of bags and flowers with her hands clamped to her mouth and her black eyes wide with shock.
Napoleon swung his weapon up and out of position and spoke softly and reassuringly.
"Conchita?" he said. "It's OK. It's OK; I'm not going to hurt you. I'm Napoleon Solo..."
"Solo?" Her eyebrows shot up and she launched into a stream of Spanish invective, crossing herself several times and rolling her eyes heavenwards.
When she paused for breath, Napoleon tried again.
"Conchita..." he began apologetically, but was silenced by her imperiously raised hand.
He stared open-mouthed as she pointed to the spilled goods by the front door.
"You bring to kitchen, Senor Solo. Now," and with that she shut the front door and stalked into the kitchen leaving him to follow with the groceries.
By the time Napoleon had gathered up the parcels and flowers and entered the kitchen, she was fastening her apron and setting the kettle on the Aga.
"You go see your friend OK," she called over her shoulder. "You make he fright with you noise." She clucked and shook her head.
Napoleon grinned at her back as he left the kitchen and found himself heading for Illya's bedroom. He opened the door quietly and slipped into the cool darkness, hearing nothing but the soft cadence of his friend's breathing. He moved silently to the bedside and looked down at the golden head on the pillow and the limbs sprawled artlessly in sleep. After a moment he tore his eyes away from the sight and drew the covers up around Illya's shoulders, kissing his head lightly before making his way back to Conchita.
The following day Napoleon rose early and went into the West End to do some necessary shopping, leaving Illya fast asleep. Conchita had arrived early in a flurry of fresh flowers and more provisions and was delighted to be entrusted with Illya's care.
There seemed no sign of the cold spell abating and Napoleon was unrepentant at the additions to his expense account of a couple of sets of warm clothing including a long cashmere overcoat. As the tube rumbled into the subterranean depths of Hampstead underground station he smiled as he thought of the clothing parcels he'd also bought for Illya.
He let himself into the apartment—to be met in the hallway by Conchita with a rolling pin and a spray container of ammonia cleaning fluid. Her face broke into a broad grin when she saw him.
"Senor Solo! Ah, come in, come in. You are cold, yes?" She laid aside her rolling pin and bustled to help him with his packages and his coat. "This filthy English weather—Is no good, eh?" She looked over her shoulder and said in a stage whisper, "Your friend. He still sleeps." She shook her head fondly. "Ah, el nino. I check every half-hour. All is good."
Napoleon stifled a grin. The dumpy, grey-haired firecracker was already half in love with his partner. How do you do it, Kuryakin, he thought. He allowed himself to be divested of his coat and packages and headed towards Illya's room.
Conchita called after him. "I hide parcels in your room then I prepare lunch, yes?"
"Thank you, yes Conchita," he called over his shoulder without stopping.
The heavy drapes still drawn across the windows made the room almost dark. Napoleon moved silently to the bed and listened to Illya's even breaths. Reaching out to the bedside table he touched a control button and the drapes opened silently, flooding the room with sunlight reflected brilliantly from the snow-covered Heath.
Illya's breathing deepened and he began to stir slightly. As though catching himself he became suddenly still and his hand snaked under his pillow for his weapon. Knowing Illya would panic when it came up empty, Napoleon spoke to him.
"It's OK, tovarisch," he said softly. "It's only me."
Illya's eyes fluttered open and he yawned sleepily. He smiled distractedly at Napoleon and stretched before wincing slightly at the pull on his dressing.
"Ouch," he muttered. "I forgot." He snuggled down under the covers again and closed his eyes. "What time is it?"
Napoleon sat down on the edge of the bed. "Twelve o'clock and all's well."
"Mmph. What day is it?"
"Mmph. When are you going to feed me? I'm hungry. Call yourself a nurse..."
Napoleon grinned and flipped the quilt back from his partner, laying his cold hands flat on his bare chest. Illya's eyes shot open.
"Ow! Napoleon your hands are freezing," he protested as he grabbed for the quilt and cocooned himself once more.
Napoleon made to drag it off him but his tenacious partner held on and as Napoleon pulled, Illya came with it and landed on top of him. Aware of how vulnerable Illya still was, he could do nothing but lie back, gasping with laughter as Illya dug his fingers under his ribs and tickled him hard. Neither of them heard the kitchen door open or the footsteps across the hardwood hall.
Illya suddenly yowled indignantly and rolled off him. Napoleon sat up to find a furious Conchita wielding a large wooden spoon with which she'd just whacked his partner across his bare buttocks. They stared at her, open mouthed in shock.
She laid into Illya first. "You still sick," she yelled at him. "You no ready for play. You need eat plenty first. Get well." She raised the spoon again and Illya scooted away from her across the bed, trying to drag the quilt over him as he went, his face scarlet.
Conchita turned on Napoleon. "And you, Senor Solo. You should be ashamed, to tease your poor sick friend. You should know better," she clucked. "I need take care you both." She glared and slapped the spoon into the palm of her other hand. "You wash up now. I serve lunch in twenty minutes."
They were both still speechless as she stormed back to the kitchen.
Napoleon looked at his partner's shocked face and his shoulders began to shake. Finally he couldn't hold the laughter in as the tension of the past week sought release. Illya's face slowly split into a grin and he too started to laugh, wincing with pain when it became too much but unable to stop.
"Stop it, Napoleon," he gasped. "You should be ashamed of teasing your poor, sick friend."
"She whacked you!" Napoleon spluttered. "She whacked your bare ass... oh my."
Eventually they lay panting on the bed, giggling only when they caught each other's eye.
Napoleon sat up, suddenly alarmed.
"Come on, tovarisch," he said looking at his watch as he scrambled off the bed. "We cannot be late for lunch. You go shower. I'll find you some clothes."
He headed off to his bedroom and snatched up several of the parcels he'd bought that morning. He was laying out the contents on Illya's bed when he heard the shower turn off in the en suite. The warm fragrance of shampoo suddenly wafted around him and he turned to find Illya standing behind him towelling his hair.
"Think I can get away with shaving later?" said Illya, rubbing his hand across his chin.
Napoleon nodded. "As long as you aren't planning on kissing Conchita," he said, raising an eyebrow. "Come here and let me check your dressings."
Illya lay face down on the bed and Napoleon removed the remaining pink, waterproof dressings. Satisfied that the wounds were clean and healing well, he carefully secured fresh dressings in place.
"There," he said, swatting his partner's backside playfully. "All done. Get dressed."
Illya stood and finished towelling his hair. He caught sight of the clothes on the bed. "Those are new," he said with a slight frown. "You Americans are so profligate. I do have some clothes back at headquarters that you could have picked up, Napoleon."
Napoleon sighed. "I know," he said patiently. "Yours don't fit you at the moment. These are to be going on with until you—fill out a bit more again. Consider them an early Christmas present."
Illya crossed to the bed and picked up the black cashmere sweater and the new black jeans. He looked up wryly at Napoleon.
"And you think Mr Waverly will authorise this on your expense account? Had you forgotten that you are officially on leave?"
Napoleon brought his hand to his chest. "You wound me, partner mine," he said shaking his head. "T'is a vile calumny. I wander the streets to buy my dearest friend a gift at Christmas, at great personal..."
"Enough, already." Illya threw the towel at him then gave him a sideways smile. "Thank you, Napoleon."
"You're welcome, my friend," he said with a glance at his watch. He looked up again with a grin. "Four minutes and counting."
Illya hastily pulled his clothes on and ran a hand through his damp hair. It settled to perfection.
"Mind you," said Napoleon, "if Conchita manages to get all that food from the larder into us they won't fit you for long. I may have to return them and ask for my money back."
They made it into the kitchen with seconds to spare. Conchita was stirring soup on the Aga. She beamed at them, her outburst apparently forgotten, and nodded them to their places at the huge kitchen table. The air was redolent with aromas of garlic and chicken and new-baked bread. Illya's stomach growled and Napoleon winked at him.
"Glad to hear that at least that part of you's in full working order."
Conchita set a steaming bowl of chicken soup and some warm bread in front of Illya and pinched his cheek affectionately.
"Eat now, caro mio. Get well and strong again."
Napoleon stifled a laugh. As Conchita turned to the refrigerator he made a face at Illya who scowled back at him and proceeded to attack the soup with relish.
Conchita returned from the refrigerator and placed a bowl of salad in front of Napoleon. He looked at it in disbelief as his partner snorted into his soup.
"Is good, no?" she said raising innocent eyebrows at him. "The salad not sit so heavy on the middle." Conchita leaned over and patted his stomach. "Good for you."
She turned back to the Aga giving Illya a broad wink. Napoleon continued to sit with his mouth open as Illya grinned hugely at him and carried on devouring his soup. Conchita threw something into a pan on the range and there was a sizzling sound as yet another glorious, garlic-infused aroma wafted round the kitchen. It was Napoleon's stomach that growled this time.
"How you like your steak, Senor Solo?" Conchita called over her shoulder.
"Ah... medium rare, please," he replied, relieved.
"You pour wine, yes?" She turned to grin at him and indicated a bottle breathing on the dresser. Napoleon stood to retrieve it.
"There seems to be only one glass," he said.
"Is for you," replied Conchita with a twinkle as she set down his steak plate in front of him. She turned and ruffled Illya's hair fondly. "No for Senor Kuryakin until he stronger. Too much heat blood."
Napoleon looked at his partner with a smirk as he poured the wine. "Ah, yes Illya," he said. "I've told you before about getting that blood overheated." He raised his glass to him, winked and took a sip of wine as Illya glared at him.
After lunch they managed, at length, to persuade Conchita that she could take a few days off. In turn she managed to extract from them a promise to call her at any time if they needed anything. She also insisted that she would leave them fresh bread each day by the front door. Finally she left them around four o'clock, hugging and fussing over Illya with admonitions to Napoleon that he look after his friend good. As the door closed behind her they leaned their backs against it with a collective sigh. They heard the elevator doors open and close and the cage begin its clanking descent and grinned at each other.
"Alone at last," said Napoleon with a mock leer at his partner, as he drew him away from the door. He felt Illya stiffen and saw him drop his eyes.
Take it easy Solo. He moved his hand to his partner's chin and lifted it so that he could see his face clearly. Illya's eyes remained hooded. OK, he thought. Not now, then.
"Tired?" he asked softly.
Illya's eyes flicked up and he nodded.
"OK," said Napoleon turning and resting his hand lightly on Illya's back. "Bed then."
Again, the almost imperceptible moment of stillness.
"You need all the rest you can get, right now," he said, smiling into his friend's eyes. He paused, needing to frame the moment. "We'll talk later. Or tomorrow, if you prefer. OK?"
Illya looked up at him with the ghost of a smile and nodded.
Once he'd seen his partner safely to bed Napoleon felt restless. He reported in to Waverly, who was in a section heads' meeting and didn't want to be disturbed, and rang the ITU at the Royal Free Hospital to report that Illya was progressing as expected. Finally he climbed the staircase that led to the drawing room.
It was a large circular room that took up the whole of one of the four towers of the mansion block. Tall windows all the way round gave a feeling of being outdoors and the views across Hampstead Heath were spectacular. Conchita had laid a log fire ready in the huge fireplace. Napoleon ignored it and walked across to one of the windows.
It was dusk and with the drop in temperature snow was beginning to fall heavily again. The lying snow made the gloom artificially bright and Napoleon was able to pick out skiers and tobogganers as they began to make their way home. He rubbed his eyes. He was tired but restless. The emotions that had been swamped in his overwhelming relief that Illya was safe began to creep back and demand attention.
He knew how he felt about his irascible partner, even if he didn't know when he'd begun to feel that way. Recalling Illya's soft kiss against his cheek in the ITU he thought he knew how his partner felt. But then he remembered the confusion in the blue eyes after their embrace in New York, and his hesitation this afternoon. He sighed in frustration. His conversation with Fraser-Parkes hadn't helped. Maybe he knew nothing at all. Maybe there was nothing to know.
Suddenly he felt caged. He needed to be outside, to walk, run, think. He strode from the room and went to find his cold-weather kit.
Returning to the apartment some two hours later, he was met in the hall by a sleep-tousled Illya, wrapped in a thick, white robe and yawning hugely.
"I was wondering where you'd gone," he said sleepily.
"Well you were sleeping like a baby when I left," Napoleon grinned as he peeled off his outer layers and hung them in the hall closet. He waggled his eyebrows "Miss me?"
His partner scowled but it was hijacked by another yawn.
"I do not sleep like a baby, Napoleon."
"Sure you do, Mr Cranky," he said hanging up his scarf and shutting the closet door. "I'm a spy. I know these things. Sleep like a baby, eat like a wolf..." he finger-combed the tousled hair into place as he walked past, "fight like a tiger."
He ducked as Illya took a mock swing at him.
"Ah, ah..." he wagged a finger at Illya as he skipped backwards out of his reach. "You no ready for play. Remember? Eat plenty, get well... I'm going to take a shower."
Illya snorted and turned his back on Napoleon, striding into his room and slamming the door.
Napoleon finished brushing his hair and checked his appearance in the full length mirror. He knew better than to goad Illya when he was in this mood if he wanted to avoid a confrontation. He also knew a confrontation was sometimes the only way to provoke frankness in his very contained partner. He hoped he wouldn't have to pay for it with a Siberian sulk—or worse. Finally satisfied with his reflection, he went to find Illya.
His bedroom door was still shut. Napoleon knocked gently.
"Illya?" he called and waited.
No answer. Siberian sulk it was, then.
He knocked again, more loudly. "Illya? May I come in?"
Silence. Sighing, Napoleon opened the door. The room was in darkness but by the snow-light from the uncurtained windows he could make out Illya's white-robed form on top of the bed.
"Tovarisch?" he called softly moving into the room. "You OK?"
Illya turned his head towards him but said nothing. Not the Siberian sulk, then. Napoleon crossed the room and quietly sat on the edge of the bed. He looked at Illya for several moments before raising a hand slowly to brush away the moisture glistening on his friend's cheeks. He continued his caressing for ten minutes until Illya's eyes closed and his shoulders began to shake. Napoleon sighed and lay down next to him, gathering him into his arms and drawing him across his chest as Illya wept silently.
"It's OK, Illya Nikolaievich. Let it go," he whispered as he stroked the golden head. "It's safe here."
He knew the sudden depression that had poleaxed Illya was a bad case of post-mission blues. It hit all Section II operatives from time to time, especially after the trauma of torture or severe injury. Alexander Waverly never let an agent back into the field after such a mission without a visit to U.N.C.L.E.'s resident psychiatrist. The survivors endured this as a formality. They had their own ways of dealing with things. He and Illya seemed to know instinctively what the other needed, and weren't above provoking a release that was slow in coming.
He continued the soft litany until he felt Illya grow quiet in his arms, his breathing settling into the cadence of sleep.
But the words he most wanted to say he kept inside.
He must have fallen asleep around three, still no nearer a solution to his dilemma.
He woke to the smell of newly baked bread and smiled as he remembered Conchita's promise. The bedside clock flipped over to eight o'clock as he glanced at it. Sometime during the night Illya must have found his way under the quilt and was now completely enveloped in it once more. Napoleon yawned and headed for his own bathroom.
Twenty minutes later, showered, shaved and dressed he retrieved the warm bread from the doorstep along with a pint of milk and newspaper. There was also a pot of homemade jam with a note from Conchita saying "For bread". He smiled as he carried his trophies through to the kitchen to make breakfast.
He busied himself putting together a tray for Illya and noted the contents of the larder and the refrigerator. Conchita had left them enough food to feed an army. He checked off the items on the tray in front of him: fresh fruit, muesli, yoghourt, honey, tea, jam, bread and butter. Picking it up he crossed the hall to Illya's room.
As he expected his partner was still asleep, cocooned in the quilt so that only a few golden strands were visible on the pillow. Putting the tray down on the side table he opened the drapes and sat on the edge of the bed.
"Illya?" he said softly. "It's me, tovarisch. Rise and shine."
There was a tectonic disturbance under the quilt and Illya's muffled voice grumped at him.
"Why on earth should I want to do either of those things, Napoleon?"
Napoleon smiled. "Because you're glad to see me?"
There was a snort from under the quilt.
"Because your sunny personality simply can't be contained?"
"Because I have food..."
Illya's tousled head poked out from under the quilt and he squinted in the light. "If you'd said that in the first place..."
Napoleon grinned and laid the tray on Illya's knees as his partner settled himself into a sitting position. Illya's eyes lit up as he examined the contents of the tray and he smiled sheepishly at Napoleon.
"This looks good," he said a little grudgingly. He drained the glass of juice and started on the cereal. "What about you?" he mumbled around a mouthful of muesli and fruit.
"I'll get something whilst you're in the shower." Napoleon watched with a smile as Illya wolfed down the food. "What would you like to do today?" he asked as he poured tea into a glass for Illya.
His partner considered for a moment. "I am going stir crazy in here. How about a walk?"
"If you think you're up to it..."
A glare from Illya cut him off.
He sighed and shook his head. "OK, OK. We can go out straight after breakfast and you can roll naked in the snow and then I'll beat you with birch twigs, if you like."
Illya stopped eating and looked at Napoleon from under his lashes.
"Only if I get to return the favour."
Napoleon swallowed. Illya held his gaze for a moment longer then continued with his breakfast.
"I, ah... need to..."
"Yes, Napoleon," said Illya, blue eyes unfathomable, "I think you probably do."
Napoleon rose from the bed and strode towards the door and breakfast.
"Napoleon?" called Illya as Napoleon reached the door.
Napoleon halted without turning, his hand on the doorknob.
"Thank you, moi droog," said Illya softly.
An hour later they stood outside the mansion block in the pale winter sun. The parking area had been cleared and the snow was piled around the edges, but the Heath beyond was thickly blanketed in white. Napoleon shivered and stamped his feet. Illya rolled his eyes and set off at a brisk pace.
"You should have been here in '62," he said with a grin as Napoleon caught up. "That was a winter. The Thames froze and the tube was the only way to get about for much of the time. You'd never have kept warm, Napoleon."
Napoleon halted and looked at Illya, his gut tightening, not knowing if he could bring himself to ask the question. "So how did you keep warm, tovarisch?" he said evenly.
Illya held his gaze, and sighed. "Do you really want to have this conversation now, Napoleon?"
I don't want to have this conversation at all...
Napoleon nodded. Illya shoved his hands in his pockets and moved off slowly. Napoleon followed.
"Napoleon, when I was here in London I worked—I existed—alone. We all did then. Beldon would never willingly adopt any of Waverly's practices. The idea that his agents should be partnered was a complete anathema to him, simply because it was Waverly's idea."
"And you were lonely?"
Illya glanced sideways at him. "Not lonely, just—in need of company from time to time. The atmosphere amongst the agencies here was paranoid. As you can imagine, the fact that I am Russian meant that I was under almost perpetual suspicion from all sides."
He paused momentarily.
"Simon was someone with whom I felt I could relax more than most," he continued. "We began to go to the theatre together occasionally. Or Jazz clubs." Illya smiled. "He hated jazz. Like you, he has no taste."
Napoleon gritted his teeth.
"He was undemanding," continued Illya, "until..."
They walked a while in silence as Illya seemed to gather his thoughts. Eventually he continued.
"Just before I transferred to New York he told me he was in love with me."
Napoleon caught his breath. "And what did you say?"
"I told him that on-going relationships in our line of work were impossible; were dangerous. That brief, one-night stands were the only safe option—relatively—and I wasn't looking for that."
They walked in silence for a moment. Finally Napoleon spoke.
Illya halted and turned to Napoleon. "What did Simon say to you at the hospital?"
Napoleon looked directly into his partner's eyes. "He told me you were in love with me."
Yes... It was there. The dilation of the pupils; the slight catch in his partner's breath. The agonising ache in Napoleon's chest became something entirely different. He stepped closer to Illya but was halted by a hand in the centre of his chest. Puzzled he searched his partner's eyes again—and this time saw pain there.
Illya hissed through his teeth.
Concern tightened Napoleon's throat. "Illya, what is it? Do you need to turn back? Are you in pain?"
"I'm—sorry, Napoleon," he faltered. "I do not think I can do this. I had no idea it would hurt this much."
Worried now, Napoleon took him gently by the shoulders. "What, tovarisch? Tell me..."
Illya smiled up at him ruefully. "I think I know how Simon felt..."
Understanding dawned and relief washed through Napoleon. He reached up a hand and caressed Illya's face.
"Idiot!" he murmured as he ran his thumb over Illya's bottom lip. "Don't you know that I'm in love with you too?"
He was completely unprepared for Illya's response. His partner moaned and shook himself free of Napoleon's grasp then turned and began to trudge back towards the apartment.
What the fuck...?
Napoleon watched Illya walk away from him, momentarily dazed, and then caught up with him and grabbed him by the arm swinging him round to face him.
"Let me go Napoleon," Illya said, his voice dull.
"Like hell I will! Tell me what's going on, Illya, or I'll..."
"Napoleon, have you not been listening to a thing I have said?" Illya snapped. "Why do you think that Waverly continues to tolerate your philandering but allows no married operatives in Section II, hmm? Do I have to spell it out for you? Don't you understand? This," he moved his free hand between them, "is impossible."
With that Illya dragged his arm from Napoleon's grasp and continued on the path back to the apartment. Napoleon watched him stumble once or twice but this time made no attempt to follow. Once he was sure that his partner had made it back to the mansion block he turned and stomped off in the opposite direction.
The bitter ache in his chest had nothing to do with the icy temperature.
It was late when he got back to the apartment. He'd walked on the Heath for most of the afternoon and then called in at The Flask for a warming Scotch. Or several. Illya's room door was closed and he ignored it as he made his way to his own room. He felt frozen and not just with cold. A hot shower warmed him up but did nothing to alleviate the deadness inside.
He climbed into bed, slipped his weapon under the pillow and turned out the lamp. Lying wide-awake on his back, he tried to sort out in his mind the roller-coaster of a day. Thoughts chased each other round his head and then leached away before he could grasp them. Nothing seemed to make any sense. It was as though he had all the pieces in his hand but the puzzle would simply not fit together.
He knew he'd loved Illya for years. They'd become closer than brothers, initially to their own mutual surprise. That he was in love with him was a more recent revelation. The soaring joy, the completeness he'd felt that afternoon when he'd realised that Illya was in love with him had pierced him to his core. He could not, would not, believe that his partner was prepared to turn his back on that. Well, he wouldn't give him up without a fight.
But even as he thought it, he knew the futility of trying to coerce his partner into anything. Once he'd made up his mind, Illya was immovable. He felt an ache in his throat and the saltiness of unshed tears and rubbed his face roughly. He couldn't recall when he'd last felt so weary, so hopeless.
He heard the snick of the bedroom door and caught his breath, his hand automatically reaching for the weapon under his pillow. He saw Illya outlined and vulnerable in the light of the hallway lamp. You're making yourself a sitting target, tovarisch, he thought. Eventually Illya closed the door behind him and padded across to the bed.
Napoleon swallowed, not trusting himself to speak. The silence lengthened. Finally Illya cleared his throat.
Napoleon waited a further thirty seconds and then closed his eyes, held his breath and lifted the quilt... and Illya slipped in beside him, wrapping his wiry body tightly around Napoleon, nuzzling his face into his neck.
It was, despite everything, that simple.
Napoleon said nothing for a moment, hardly daring to breathe.
"I've never seen you run from anything before," he said quietly. "What changed your mind?"
After a while Illya shrugged. "I'm only human, Napoleon," he said, the smile evident in his voice. Napoleon gave a shaky laugh. "OK, who are you and what have you done with my partner?"
This time he felt Illya's smile against his neck.
"When I woke up in the hospital you were there. As you always are. As I always am for you. You'd come half way round the world to be there. It seems pointless to deny what we already have, Napoleon. We are already in a relationship—whatever we call it. And whatever we do call it won't change the way I feel about you." He paused. "I'll still think of you as an insufferable, egotistical American."
Napoleon rolled away from Illya briefly to turn on the bedside lamp. He waited until their eyes grew accustomed to the light and then looked into his partner's face. There was no pain there now, only a beguiling honesty.
"And what do you think we should call it?" He moved his hand vaguely between them, "This?"
Illya grasped the hand and pressed his lips softly to the palm. "I'm sure we'll think of something."
Napoleon moved his hand to Illya's cheek and raised himself onto his elbow as his eyes ranged over the familiar features. They finally came to rest on his friend's mouth and he felt a surge of arousal at the sight of the full lower lip. He lowered his head slowly and began to suckle it, gently at first, and then with more urgency. Sweeping his tongue between Illya's lips he drew a ragged moan from him. Breathing became difficult and finally impossible. As he felt Illya's hand caress his straining cock he drew his head back, gasping. He began to cover his partner's face with needy little kisses and nips.
"Tell me... what... you want... " he panted as Illya squirmed beneath him, and Napoleon felt his friend's erection hard against his hip.
"Want... you..." Illya growled as he thrust sinuously against Napoleon.
Napoleon's self-control was in tatters, overwhelmed by the intensity of his feelings for his partner—his lover now. He pulled back, trying to slow things down, and was unprepared for the sight of the hard body, now glistening with a fine sheen of sweat, writhing so close to him. Illya's eyes were dark with need, his lips swollen from their kiss, the soft, golden hair fanned out on the pillow. Napoleon caught his breath.
"Christ, Kuryakin, you're so... fucking... beautiful."
"Gavno!" Illya panted. "Do you always talk so much in bed, Napoleon?"
"Depends on how occupied my mouth is with other things," he muttered breathlessly as he lowered his head for another devastating kiss from his partner's oh-so-clever mouth.
Illya suddenly shifted beneath him, clutching his hips and surging against him. Napoleon whimpered into the kiss as he felt the silky-hard length of his lover's cock align with his own and begin an exquisite friction. It was hot and needy and he knew he wouldn't last long; was surprised he'd managed to hold out this long, really. He broke the kiss and concentrated on breathing as he matched Illya's rhythm thrust for thrust.
Moments later their shared rhythm faltered, and he felt his partner arch beneath him as Illya flung back his head, moaning and jerking in the grip of his orgasm. It was perfect; the heat, the wetness, the...
"Aaahh... Illya..." Napoleon cried out in triumph, as his own orgasm roared through him and he came hard, pulsing against the slickness of Illya's belly.
He opened his eyes lazily to find himself under scrutiny. Illya was propped up on his elbow gazing down at him with languid blue eyes.
"What?" said Napoleon smiling and reaching up to run his fingers through the sweat-damp fringe.
Illya leaned down and kissed him slowly. Eventually, when Napoleon's felt his ears beginning to ring, he lifted his head. "You are quite good at sex, Napoleon," he said with a wry smile. "I may have to keep you around for a while, though, for a little more practice."
Napoleon narrowed his eyes at his partner. Suddenly he surged upwards and flipped Illya over onto his back.
"You," he said, kissing the tip of Illya's nose, "have never had sex with me."
He kissed the puzzled frown from his lover's left eyebrow.
"Nor," he kissed the right eyebrow, "will I ever have sex with you."
He kissed Illya's forehead.
"This," he said, "is making love, and it's what I intend to do with you—with variations of course—for the next fifty years or so."
"Oh." Illya paused. "OK, but if you ever, ever, buy me flowers," he growled, "I will cut out your liver and... ohhh..."
And suddenly the next fifty years didn't seem nearly long enough.