Sometimes a cigar...
He would come out of a deep sleep into a twilight state and roll toward Napoleon, seeking the comfort of his lover's body. But when his arm went around Napoleon's waist, Illya's eyes would fly open and he'd sit bolt upright with alarm. Napoleon's flesh was cold, his eyes glassy and lifeless.
Illya woke from the familiar dream and looked toward Napoleon in the dark, ruled his heart to stop racing and listened for the sound of Napoleon's breathing. He couldn't hear it and slid his hand across the mattress, wanting to touch, dreading to touch, until he felt warm skin and relaxed again.
Why did this dream plague him? At least five times in as many months. It was typical for an U.N.C.L.E. agent to dream of his partner falling amid a hail of bullets or in any of a dozen other violent scenarios. But why did he keep dreaming of Napoleon dying next to him in bed? Illya never told his lover about the dreams, perhaps fearing the power of suggestion or the temptation of fate, or simply Napoleon's sarcasm. But they disturbed him, and he wanted them to stop.
The Russian looked at himself in the full-length mirror that was built into the door of his front hall closet. He mentally congratulated himself—it was one of his better disguises. The long beard was full and untrimmed, the dark wig and earlocks neater. His usual black suit was adequate if one didn't look too close. Fortunately this was New York, and people were too busy to look too close. He topped off his costume with a large felt hat, settled his reading glasses low on his nose, and grabbed a small duffel bag. He used an alternate exit from his building—up to the roof, onto the roof of a neighboring building, and out its front door.
The tin Coca Cola thermometer outside the drugstore by the subway entrance read 88 degrees. He descended the stairs for a stifling but speedy ride to Midtown and arrived at his destination.
Jacob Levitt, M.D.
Illya stared at the painted letters on the mottled glass of the door and thought about the irony of the situation. He, who had always shunned the U.N.C.L.E. psychiatrists, was now voluntarily soliciting help from one of their colleagues, albeit an independent one. He had no idea if the man was competent but had chosen him for his location. The office was on the 12th floor of a Depression-era building, down the hall and a jog to the left, then to the right from the elevator. Any Thrush or even an U.N.C.L.E. internal security officer following him wouldn't know which office he'd gone into—dentist, cobbler, jeweler, lawyer, or this one.
He divested himself of the hat and hairpieces and stuffed them into the bag, put his reading glasses in his breast pocket and ran his fingers through his hair. With a deep breath he grasped the cool metal of the doorknob and entered a small vacant anteroom. It was furnished with four straight-backed chairs and a coffee table with some dog-eared magazines in a haphazard pile upon it. There was no window, necessitating a floorlamp, its yellowed shade giving off a soft glow in the stale air. Illya was in the midst of lowering himself into a chair when the door to the interior office opened and he straightened up.
"Mr. Petrov?" Illya nodded once in reply. "I'm Dr. Levitt. Come on in." The fiftyish, bespectacled doctor's tie was loosened, his collar open and the sleeves of his starched white shirt rolled up. He was a swarthy man with a five-o'clock shadow that had four hours to spare. "It's a warm one, huh?" he said as he ushered Illya into a cramped office which was barely bigger than the anteroom. Illya squinted for a moment, his eyes adjusting to the glare of sunlight from the window, even though its shade was drawn two-thirds of the way down. "Have a seat."
Illya took one of the two wood chairs in front of the desk. They were thick and solid and had arms that curved around him. The doctor settled into a similar chair but with wheels and a well-worn corduroy cushion.
To his credit, the man had arranged his desk perpendicular to the window so he would not appear to the patient as more of a silhouette than a face. Behind Illya the standard psychiatrist's couch took up the length of the wall. A coat tree stood in the corner behind the door, a file cabinet in the other corner. The large window that took up most of the outside wall was open a foot, and under it was an ornate iron radiator, its silver paint blistered. Sounds of the traffic below wafted in.
The doctor opened a manila folder that lay on his desk blotter. "Just a few preliminaries," he said. "Your name is Mikail Petrov?"
"That is correct."
The doctor filled in the form. "Single, married, divorced, widowed?"
Illya hesitated and the doctor looked at him over his glasses. "Single," Illya said.
The doctor studied him.
Illya reminded himself that he wasn't there to conceal information. "I have a lover."
The manila folder was abandoned as the doctor grabbed a clipboard from the corner of his desk, leaned back and crossed his leg, balancing the clipboard on his knee. He jotted a notation. "So, what can I do for you, Mr. Petrov?"
Illya came right to the point. "I've been having nightmares."
The doctor nodded. "Are they different or always the same?"
"They are consistent."
"Tell me about—" A pigeon landed on the cement window sill, and the doctor grabbed a flyswatter, rolled his chair toward the window and shooed it away. "I swear they think I'm the Birdman of Alcatraz," he said, and rolled back to the desk. "Sorry. Go ahead."
Illya relaxed. The bird had relieved some tension, and he wondered if it was an employee. "I am in bed with my lover, and I dream that I roll over to embrace—" He stopped.
The doctor waited a second, then filled in the blank. "Him?"
Illya nodded, relieved at the doctor's matter-of-factness. "Yes."
"And then what happens?"
Illya looked down at his folded hands. "I find that he is dead."
The doctor jotted something on his clipboard. "Do you know how he died?"
Illya shook his head and shrugged. "There are no wounds. He seems to have simply died in his sleep."
The doctor thought for a moment. "Do you have any ideas about why you dream this?"
"No," Illya said without hesitation. "I do not wish my lover dead."
"Is he a healthy man?"
"How long have you known him?"
Illya mentally calculated. "Ten years, next month."
"You've been lovers all that time?"
Illya felt a hint of a blush. He wasn't used to speaking about his relationship with Napoleon so frankly. "No, we were co-workers, then partners."
"We work in. . . law enforcement."
The doctor frowned. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but you're Russian, aren't you?"
"Your English is excellent. Did you emigrate to this country when you were young?"
"No, only ten years ago, but I lived in England before that."
"Ahhh, no wonder. Is your partner Russian, too?"
Illya smiled as he pictured Napoleon with a scowl on his face as he walked the snowy streets of Moscow on assignment. "No, he's as American as can be."
The doctor continued to study him, and smiled at the smile. "You seem to be happy with him."
Illya made a point of looking the doctor in the eye. "I am."
"So," the doctor continued, "circumstances put you together, and..." He paused, allowing Illya to complete the sentence.
"We became attached."
"Mm-hmm." The doctor made a note, then drummed the eraser end of his pencil on the clipboard as he thought for a minute. "Have you had other lovers?"
"Of course. But women."
"This the first homosexual relationship you've engaged in?"
Illya thought for a moment, getting used to the term 'homosexual relationship.' "Yes, the first for both of us," he said. "Na—Nathaniel says I tempted him, and I tell him he tempted me."
"So you think of homosexuality as...eating forbidden fruit?"
"I am not concerned. My sex life is the least of my worries."
Illya stirred in his chair. "Our work is filled with risk."
The doctor nodded. "Everything is relative, huh?"
"So you don't think you feel any guilt about your relationship with Nathaniel?"
Illya felt a spark of defiance light in him. "I would never deny my desire for him," he said, his indignation now mixed with a bit of surprise at his own candor.
The doctor was unperturbed. "The question is, would you deny it if you could?"
"I'm not sure of your meaning."
"Would you prefer a heterosexual relationship to a homosexual one, all things being equal?" the doctor said, looking at him. "A relationship that is more acceptable to society?"
Illya didn't care for the question. "As I believe I said earlier, it makes no difference to me."
The doctor changed his approach. "You used the word 'desire.' Do you think physical desire is the foundation of your relationship with, uh, Nathaniel?"
"I would assume that physical attraction plays a large part in all sexual relationships," Illya said. "However, Nathaniel and I were friends before we were lovers."
Illya thought the conclusion was obvious. "So our relationship has a broader foundation."
There was a rash of honking from below, the sounds of a traffic jam. The doctor looked toward the window and tsked. "Someday I'm going to move to the suburbs."
"The suburbs are not as peaceful as you might think."
Illya smiled, his growing annoyance dissolved. "It's not important."
The doctor looked at Illya quizzically but returned to the subject. "Do your friends and co-workers know about the two of you?"
Illya shook his head. "The head of our company knows, but very few others. Discretion is a part of our jobs, and we do it well."
"Discretion or secrecy?"
The doctor took his glasses off, reached in his back pocket for a handkerchief and wiped them. It seemed to Illya to be an excuse to stop for a moment, to think where to take the conversation. "This relationship. How do you define it?"
"Yes," the doctor said, returning his handkerchief to its pocket. "Is it an affair?"
"I don't understand."
"Well, I think of affairs as temporary, finite."
"All things in life are finite," Illya said.
"You know what I mean. Where do you see yourself and this man in...oh, say, five years?"
"We might both be dead."
The unflappable doctor raised his eyebrows for a second, then. "And if you're not?"
"I think we will continue to mean a great deal to each other."
The doctor nodded. "Do you mind if I turn on the fan?" He got up and went to where the appliance sat on the file cabinet, then returned to his desk. The breeze was a relief, the whirr of the blades a comforting sound. "Tell me about Nathaniel."
"What do you want to know?"
The doctor gave a quick shrug. "Anything you want to tell me."
Illya thought for a moment. "He's intelligent, witty, charming."
"And what about you? Can't you charm people?"
"If the situation calls for it," Illya said with a shrug. "But I'm not as gregarious as he. My mind is usually occupied with something other than small talk."
"So Nathaniel does the talking for both of you?"
"He's good at it."
"When the two of you are alone, does he do most of the talking then?"
"Does he take the lead when you're in bed?"
Illya showed no surprise at the intimate question. "We're fairly equal in that regard."
"What else can you tell me about him?"
Illya's gaze roamed the wall behind the doctor over various degrees in dime-store frames. He thought about Napoleon's courage, audacity, grace under fire, but elected to go another route. "He's handsome, confident. Everyone likes him."
"Who is everyone?"
"Everyone. The ladies in particular."
The doctor's eyebrows rose. "The ladies?"
"Yes," Illya said with a quiet chuckle, "he'd feel compelled to charm them even if he wasn't dating them."
"So he goes out with women?"
"Is he intimate with them?"
"I did not mean to imply that our relationship was exclusive."
The doctor nodded and jotted in his notes.
"Do you see women, too?"
Illya sighed. "I can't be bothered, but...Nathaniel still needs it."
"Do you feel threatened by that?"
"I feel threatened by people who shoot at me."
The doctor wouldn't allow him to sidestep the question. "You know what I mean."
Illya sighed and gathered his thoughts. He usually avoided thinking about Napoleon with a woman.
Illya looked at the doctor. "I wouldn't use the word 'threatened.' Perhaps, envious. But he makes it up to me."
"Any number of ways."
"Give me an example," the doctor pressed.
"If I ask if he's free some evening and he's not, he invites me to spend the night at his apartment anyway. When he comes home, I'm waiting for him and we either have sex immediately, or in the morning."
"Have sex or make love?"
"Not necessarily," the doctor argued. "Which would you say it is?"
In spite of the sounds of the whistles and horns below, the silence was deafening, and it drew out until Illya confessed. Not a confession coerced by Thrush, but a voluntary admission.
"I love him," he said quietly. "More than life."
The doctor waited a respectable moment. "Do you think he feels as strongly?"
Illya thought back to the previous Saturday night in Napoleon's bed.
"You're home early," Illya said, looking up from the newspaper and over his reading glasses. "Wasn't she in the mood?"
"I don't know; I didn't ask her," Napoleon said as he pulled off his tie and hung his jacket in the closet. "Just kissed her goodnight at her door."
"That's not like you," Illya teased, although it happened more and more often of late.
Napoleon walked over to sit on the foot of the bed. He flipped a corner of the sheet over to uncover Illya's foot, and slid his fingers around his partner's ankle. "Let's just say I couldn't keep my mind off other opportunities."
They exchanged smoldering smiles as Napoleon's hand continued its journey up Illya's bare leg under the sheet. The reading glasses were put aside and the newspaper slid to the floor as Illya pulled Napoleon down to him.
"It's nice to know I'm not taken for granted."
Napoleon nuzzled into Illya's neck. "Not you," he whispered. "Never you."
"Yes," Illya said. "I believe he does feel as strongly."
The doctor leaned back again. "Are you afraid his feelings for you might change? Do you think it's possible they could burn out? Die, so to speak?"
Illya smiled. "Your analogy is obvious, doctor."
"Do you think it has any merit?"
"I have complete faith in his feelings for me," Illya said with a finality that encouraged the doctor to change the subject.
The doctor took the unspoken suggestion. "Do you, uh, have relatives in this country, Mr. Petrov?"
Illya looked up. "I have no relatives anywhere."
"What happened to your parents?"
"They died in the war."
Illya shifted in his seat. "My father died in the military, somewhere on the western front. My mother was killed in the invasion of Kiev. I don't know exactly how either of them died."
"Both violent deaths, though," the doctor said with a frown. "Where were you at the time you mother died?"
"She had taken us to live with my grandmother in the country, for safety. But that day she had come into the city to attend to her brother who was ill. He was also killed that day."
"How old were you?"
"I was eight."
"So you didn't see your mother after..."
"No, the neighbors saw to her burial."
"No brothers or sisters?"
"Your grandmother was the only loved one you had in the world?"
"Yes. She was everything to me."
"Is she still alive?"
"No, she died years ago, when I was at school in England. The woman who took care of her said she went peacefully—"
The doctor looked over his glasses. "In her sleep?"
Illya felt the blood drain from his face. His eyebrow twitched. "There is a clear correlation," he said when he found his voice. "I don't know why I failed to see it."
"Explain it to me."
Illya knew the explaining was for his own benefit, not the doctor's, but he did as he was told. "Napoleon means everything to me, just as she did. And my biggest fear is that I will lose him, just as I did her."
The doctor noted but did not comment on the change in Nathaniel's name. "Sounds like a valid hypothesis."
Illya nodded, comfortable with the terminology. "I believe so. Perhaps the dreams will stop now. Or if they don't, at least I will understand why I'm having them."
The doctor tossed his clipboard back on the desk. "Mr. Petrov, any more patients like you and I could go out of business."
Illya smiled, appreciating that the doctor considered the matter settled. The last thing he wanted was a man who wanted to analyze him for months. "My apologies."
"Would you mind coming back in a couple of weeks for a follow-up? I expect the nightmares will stop, but I'd like to know for sure. Professional curiosity, you understand."
"Of course." Illya stood and offered his hand, and the doctor stood and shook it.
"My accountant wouldn't mind if you come back either."
Illya grinned at the stranger who had allowed him to see so clearly. "Thank you. Sincerely." He turned away and went out the door.
Napoleon Solo frowned at his tie as he washed his hands at the bathroom vanity. He dampened a washcloth and was blotting at an offensive spot when Illya came into the bathroom and looked over his shoulder. Napoleon looked at him in the mirror. "Where have you been all afternoon?"
"Oh, here and there."
Napoleon's mouth twisted. That meant he'd never know. He turned toward Illya. "Well, plant a kiss here," he said, pointing to his lower lip. Illya obliged. "And there," he said, pointing to his upper lip. Illya kissed him again, and gave him a radiant smile.
Napoleon looked at him with suspicion. "What have you been up to?"
"This and that."
Napoleon tsked with exasperation and turned back toward the mirror, and Illya slipped his arms around his partner's waist from behind and hugged him tight. It was too warm an evening for a long embrace, but Napoleon didn't seem to mind, and Illya thought the warmth was wonderful.