It Smelled Like Perfume
It smelled like perfume. That was the first thing Illya noticed when he pushed open the door to the house on the ocean that he and Napoleon had recently bought. Here the two of them hadn't even moved in yet, and already his partner had brought some cheap floozy home with him. So much for love you forever, this time it's for real, I want to live with you for the rest of my life. He slammed the entrance door shut without dropping off the Christmas decorations he had bought for their new place, got in his car and left without a backwards glance. Damn the man. And double-damn himself for falling for him. He should have stuck with his first love, the one that never let him down.
Vodka never made promises. Although if he was honest with himself neither had Napoleon. At least not in words.
When his partner had talked about wanting to buy the place for the two of them, (and the Pursang of course) the man had never promised him undying love and fidelity. Illya had thought he'd heard it unspoken in what Napoleon had said, but apparently it had just been dreaming on his part. He headed home for the vodka.
They had talked desultorily about buying the place for years, although the concept of a place to live out their retirement days seemed silly when they never expected to even live that long. Later it became a more serious discussion as they survived from year-to-year and reaching age 40 began to be a realistic possibility.
Somewhere along the way the nature of their relationship took a dramatic change and living together became even more appealing, at least to Illya. He hadn't been sure about his partner in the beginning, trying to figure out how Napoleon was going to handle dating. His Slavic soul didn't believe that he deserved unmitigated happiness; there had to be suffering hidden somewhere in there.
Illya had dared to hope that the purchase of the house had signaled a change in Napoleon's affections, that maybe now he would be the one the other came home to. Napoleon had even made a production of tossing out his black book, saying that he would no longer need it now that he didn't need to date as a cover to hide the true nature of their relationship. However, upon replaying the conversation in his mind, Illya realized that Napoleon had never actually said that he wouldn't date any more, just that he didn't need to do it as a cover.
Solo's action had led Illya to believe that Napoleon was making him a promise that they were a couple, and he had rejoiced in it, but the wisps of perfume had blasted a hole through that castle in the air as effectively as their explosions had destroyed Thrush satraps in the past.
He had waited so many years for this moment, for it to be just him and Napoleon. Unfortunately, it now looked like it was him, Napoleon and some scent-wearing trollop—for did Napoleon ever hang around with classy ladies? Chyort, he was turning into a sentimental fool, a first-class one at that, and he was aware of his feelings enough to realize that jealousy was inspiring these mutterings. Napoleon actually exercised some discrimination when choosing potential dates. Possibly not as much as Illya would like, but some.
By their fourth or fifth mission together, years ago, he had already realized how much Napoleon meant to him. However, the other man was a notorious skirt-chaser, avoiding all entanglements, never getting emotionally involved. Even though Illya felt that Napoleon was possibly the greatest man he had ever met—for all that he was aware of his partner's faults—he never said a word to Solo regarding his deep admiration for him. He knew the slightest hint of hero-worship, or even real friendship as opposed to work buddies, would send the other flying away without a look over his shoulder.
Nevertheless, a day had come when finally he could show his feelings. A day that was marked in red letters and starred in his mental calendar. One of those days that bad writers called "a life changing moment" or, even worse, "a moment of epiphany." It hadn't been an epiphany for him. He had always known that he liked his partner's company excessively.
That day, those years ago, he was working by himself. Mr. Waverly hadn't seen the need to send two agents on such a simple mission. However, Illya had been partnered with Napoleon for what, oh six, seven or even maybe eight years, and he had felt bereft without the other man. They were symbiotic. One would think and the other do without words being exchanged. It wasn't that this job today was hard. It was just the sensation that he was missing a limb.
He could no longer remember a time when they hadn't been together.
Except for that day. A day, a week, a future he would always remember. He didn't even need to close his eyes to have it play out once again on his eyelids. It was seared into his vision. Even now, just the memory of it made the tape start to play.
The film of that life-changing day ran like this:
As usual on many of their "simple" missions—and someday he was going to have to hand Mr. Waverly a dictionary opened to the word "simple"—he was once again hung from a meat hook by his hands, feet dangling over a pit of something or other—he hadn't really been paying attention to his gloating capturer—and all he could worry about was whether he would be home in time to finish dinner before Solo arrived. He suspected that it said something about either the job or his nature, or possibly both, that the prospect of another disaster like the infamous souffle incident bothered him more than the prospect of immediate dismemberment. On the other hand, maybe it was just the fact that if he was dismembered he wouldn't have to worry about the roast which he had already placed in the oven with the controls set to start cooking at just the proper time. And had he put the wine in the refrigerator to chill? He was pretty sure he had, but then his communicator had beeped and he had gone rushing out to the summons—right into the arms of a Thrushie who had been keeping an eye on his apartment building.—and he wasn't sure if the wine was on the counter and still warm or in the refrigerator and getting ready for dinner. He had so wanted this dinner to be nice; it was their however-many-it-was-anniversary as partners, and he was not at all happy with Thrush for spoiling his plans.
Then a goon walked in to the cell carrying a whip and a length of chain and dinner became less important, especially as Illya was pretty sure that even if he managed to escape before six o'clock he wouldn't be capable of sitting down in a dining room chair. As the whip descended on his back, and his jailer asked him for information on one of U.N.C.L.E.'s latest projects—information that he wasn't even privy to, for heaven's sake—he tried to focus on the wine to distract himself. But he knew it wouldn't work for long. Unfortunately, the pain in his back and the feel of the blood running down his spine were too hard, far too hard to ignore for long. He closed his eyes and thought of Napoleon. Napoleon would come for him. He just hoped it was soon.
For some reason, Napoleon hadn't come. He always came. Illya spared a moment between lashings to wonder why Napoleon hadn't come. He had been repeating a mantra for what seemed like the last 100 hours: "Napoleon will come for me. Napoleon will come for me. Napoleon will... Where is Napoleon?" If that man thought he was going to get away with not showing up to rescue Illya after all that trouble with chilling the wine, he was sadly mistaken. Solo just had to come and Illya would tell him that. Assuming he would be able to speak. His keeper had become frustrated at his inability to break Illya and had slammed his fist into Illya's jaw and eyes. Repeatedly. He had a bad feeling that one tooth might have been loosened, which would make eating dinner difficult. Which he would eat once Napoleon came and took him home and they checked the wine to be sure it was cool.
But where was Napoleon? It must be long past dinnertime now. Illya felt a tremor of fear run down his spine, mingling in with the blood. If his partner hadn't arrived by now, did that mean something had happened to him? He couldn't have something happen. Illya had spent a long time choosing the wine, wanting it to be just perfect. Napoleon had to see it.
He heard a whisper of air as the sadistic Thrush (was there any other kind, he wondered) raised the whip to strike him again. He tried to brace himself for the blow, closed his eyes so he wouldn't see the whip, but the lashing didn't come. Then he felt gentle hands on his waist, lifting him, taking him down from the hook.
He forced one eye open—the one that was only encrusted with blood, not the one swollen shut—and got a blurry glimpse of Napoleon, who looked worried. Really worried. Two hands were running over Illya, checking for injuries, rubbing circulation back into his wrists. He moved his jaw gingerly, decided he could speak and addressed his partner.
"Have you eaten dinner yet?"
Napoleon jumped, startled, and looked at him. "Um, no. In fact, that's how I learned you were missing. You didn't show for dinner. I knew that if food was involved, you would be there if you possibly could."
"So you haven't eaten?"
"No, Illya," he responded fondly. The look on Napoleon's face told the Russian that Napoleon couldn't understand why this was of paramount importance at the moment when there was blood all over his back and his face looked like a topographical map.
"Good. Although I'm not sure I chilled the wine. We need to check it..."
"Illya," his partner interrupted, and he gently took Illya's face in his hand and turned it so that they were looking at each other. "Don't worry about anything. I'll take care of it."
"Oh good," Illya said. If Napoleon was going to take care of it then he didn't need to be concerned. So he passed out.
He woke up to a familiar pattern of ceiling cracks and the smell of antiseptic. Obviously he was in Medical again. Sometimes he felt that he slept more there than in his own bed. Scratch that, he spent more time there than in his own bed. The one thing a person didn't do in the Medical Ward was sleep, what with nurses coming in every so often to check on him and the PA system paging the doctors.
He immediately turned his head to the right, checking, and found his partner napping in his customary chair next to the bed. Solo looked tired and stressed. Illya was surprised to see frown lines on Solo's forehead, and even in his sleep his face looked pinched and drawn. This had to be something more than unchilled wine, but he had no idea what would be bothering Solo so. They were alive, they were together and he would heal. In their lives that was sometimes the best they could hope for.
"Napoleon," Illya called softly. Napoleon looked so uncomfortable scrunched in the chair. His body was twisted to fit his frame into the too-small armchair and his body language reflected the scrunching of his face. Illya felt something move in his chest and his heart went out to his partner; Solo looked as if he was trapped in a nightmare, and Illya just wanted to ease his pain. If only he knew what was causing it. It couldn't be him; they had been in this situation way, way too many times before. Illya had stopped keeping track of how many times he'd been in the hospital, having long ago used up all his fingers, toes, facial features and degenerated into feeling like a child who was in danger of losing a game of hangman and kept finding new ways to get another turn.
Napoleon was trapped in his dark hole and didn't react to the call. Illya needed to know what was wrong; he needed to make it right, he needed... he needed Napoleon to be Napoleon. Not this unhappy man. Illya tried again, softly, attempting not to startle him, but hopefully speaking loudly enough to wake the man up. "Napasha."
He saw Napoleon's legs jerk than the man sat up startled but fully alert, as any well-trained agent would be. "IIlya? You're awake?"
"I sincerely hope so, Pasha. If this is a dream I'm going to complain to the management."
His partner crossed over to the bed, looking at whatever he could see of Illya outside of the sheets, doing a check of his condition. "You okay?"
"Probably better than the roast."
"Uh, yes. Do you like your beef extremely well done?"
"Medium. I prefer Thrush broiled, sliced and well-done though."
They were silent for a moment, while Illya took advantage of the calm to check Napoleon over. He didn't see any injuries, so he didn't think Napoleon had been hurt during the rescue but given that about all he remembered of it was thinking about wine, he could have missed something. It was the only thing Illya could think of that would explain his partner's stance and expression. Napoleon usually stood tall with a jaunty air, but now darned if he wasn't almost slumping, his shoulders sloping downward. Dejected. It was unnerving.
Trying to bring a smile to his partner's face, Illya offered, "We could go drink the bottle of wine. I assume it survived. Unless you've been sneaking in and drinking it."
"It was quite a decent vintage..." Solo said with a bit of his usual manner.
"So I trust you're going to get me out of here and back to my apartment so I can have whatever you left." It wasn't a question.
He was surprised to see Napoleon look even more worried, if such as thing were possible. His partner's eyes took on a haunted look. Napoleon stared at his feet as he scuffed the toe of one shoe against the tile floor. Scuffed his shoe! His expensive handmade Italian shoes. This was the man that spent an inordinate amount of time with his wardrobe and preening in front of mirrors.
Illya was filled with a sense of panic. What wasn't his partner telling him? Had he been injured more than he realized? He tried to do an interior assessment but came up blank—all his parts seemed to be in working order, he didn't even have much in the way of bandages, his back was stitched up and as far as he could tell he was going to be fine. Why wouldn't Napoleon meet his gaze? "Pasha?" Illya said, with a note of alarm in his voice.
Napoleon's head shot up at the other man's tone and he tried to meet Illya's eyes in his usual manner, but it was obvious to Illya that it was forced. Anyone else looking at the senior agent would never notice the discomfort Napoleon was displaying, but over the years Illya had learned to read him. He didn't want to dwell for the moment on what that meant, or what his feelings about the whole thing were and chose to focus instead on Solo's tell-tale signs of nervousness. His partner's eyes kept trying to slide away and it was only by an effort of will that he kept them focused on Illya.
Napoleon was stalling; that much was obvious to Illya. Illya looked around to see if anyone was watching, then he got out of bed, dragging his IV behind him, stalked up to the other man, put his hands on his shoulders and shook him slightly. Growling, he put his face in his partner's and said, "Are you going to tell me what is on your mind?"
Napoleon cleared his throat. "Ah, maybe you should stay here tonight." Before Illya could object, he hurried on. "Let them check you out, huh? Make sure there isn't anything they missed?"
"I am fine. I will be fine. At least I will if you don't stop fussing. Where is my doctor?" and Illya started to stalk down the hall, only to be stopped abruptly when he came to the end of the IV's electrical cord. He turned, walked back to the bed and stabbed the call button. Thinking about it, he supposed it said something about his lifestyle when he could do the paperwork to be released from Medical in less time than it took him to make a bank deposit. For a moment he flirted with the idea of having his paperwork already filled-in and photocopied in mass quantities to streamline the process, then realized that he was getting goofy.
Napoleon had insisted on coming back to the apartment with him. If he stayed much longer, Illya would be back in Headquarters, but behind bars this time for homicide. Although any jury watching Solo hovering around, pacing and generally getting underfoot would probably say it was a justifiable action. This wasn't his partner, well it was him and not a Thrush double, but this just wasn't normal for his partner and if he didn't tell Illya soon what was wrong something would snap. Probably the Russian's nerves as they were fraying rapidly. He wanted to take a calm breath, to center himself, to find out what was wrong, to talk together in the comfortable way the two of them had, but how could he do that when the other would perch on the couch for a moment, then pace to the window, then pick up the wine cork (and the wine had been nicely chilled, after all) toss down the cork and start fiddling with his cuffs.
Illya finally reached the breaking point. Napoleon had sat down on the couch for a moment and was about to stand up again. Illya's hand shot out and clutched the other man's arm. Pulling the American back down on the couch, he glared at him. "Stay. Sit."
Solo turned his head and looked at him, one eyebrow raised. Illya, looking into the hazel velvet eyes, was suddenly reminded of a terrier which was probably apropos giving the orders he was giving. For a moment, looking at the other man, he got an image of a dog cocking his ear at him, then shook it off, snarling at himself for the flight of fancy and returning his mind to the matter at hand. Or was that the man at hand?
"Napoleon, what is wrong?"
"Wrong? Nothing is wrong. Why would you ask?"
Illya simply looked at him. He saw Napoleon deflate. "I never could hide anything from you, could I, Lyusha?"
Moving his hand that had been clutching his partner's arm, Illya gave a few pats to Solo's sleeve, trying to calm him, all the time keeping his eyes on Napoleon's face. He noticed that his partner jumped at the first touch, then made a visible effort to relax. What was making his partner so jumpy?
It had been a normal day for them. Well, given how one defined "normal." He suspected that most people didn't head to work expecting to be kidnapped, tortured, drugged or beaten on a routine basis. Although there didn't seem to be any job out there that avoided the mind-numbing paperwork.
So if the job hadn't changed, and the outcome was the usual, why was his partner so jumpy?
Napoleon opened his mouth to talk, his body radiating sincerity, and lied through his teeth. "It's just been a long day following a long night," he stopped to leer, "and I'm just over-tired."
Why did he bother telling falsehoods? Didn't he know that Illya could read him like a book? At some point in their years together they had become so attuned to each other that one man's thoughts were the other man's.
Napoleon stood up, but more calmly than before. "Well, if you really think you'll be okay alone, maybe I should get back to my place."
That merely brought a stare from Illya. He knew Napoleon would understand that Illya always thought he'd be okay. He was used to taking care of himself. Why did his partner even bother asking? "Of course. Get some sleep." Then just before Solo reached the door, he called after him, "Oh, and Pasha?"
Napoleon turned, doing his terrier imitation again. What was that ad Illya had seen? Oh yes, "his master's voice." That exactly described his partner's pose. Clearing his head of the whimsical thought, he continued on. "Thank you for coming for me. And for not drinking the wine." He gave a small grin hoping that things would be all right. They had to be all right. He didn't know what he'd do if they weren't.
The other man winked and left.
The morning following the rescue, Illya lasted exactly half an hour at work in the office he shared with Napoleon before deciding to flee for the lab. He was never comfortable being fussed over, which his partner was well aware of, and he felt fine, so why was Napoleon hovering over him, treating him like a fragile piece of glass? Maybe he should tell his partner that he was going down to Medical, take him with him and when they arrived ask the doctor to run a blood test on Solo. It had to be drugs. Or a personality transplant.
But first he would go to his lab, find a nice mind-numbing journal to read and let his subconscious work on the problem. On the way there he rounded a corner and nearly tripped over Mark Slate.
"Whoa, Mate. You okay there?" Mark was steadying him by an elbow. Was this a conspiracy? If one more person asked him how he was...
Then he realized Mark was continuing. "You must have had a really bad time yesterday. I didn't expect to see you here."
"What?" Illya pulled himself out of Mark's grip, spun on his heel and stared at him. "No, it was just your everyday run-of-the-mill flogging."
"Everyday?" Mark smirked. "Even you don't get that every day. Beaten and drugged, yeah, but not whipped."
Illya just rolled his eyes.
"Seriously," Mark said, "the way Napoleon carried on yesterday when he found out that you were missing, I just assumed you were at death's door.
"What!" Illya was shocked. Napoleon had been carrying on? About him? What was wrong with the man? There was no person or item more important in Illya's life than his partner, he'd have to find out what was wrong and make Napoleon better.
In the end, he resorted to subterfuge to get Napoleon to agree to come over that evening, preying on the other's guilt. Returning to their shared office after he talked to Mark, he sat down in his desk chair making sure to noticeably favor his back. Every few minutes he shifted, giving the impression that he couldn't get comfortable. Solo was watching him out of the corner of his eye, not letting on that he noticed anything. He was doing a good job of pretending not to be looking, but Illya was a spy himself and was just as good at watching someone unobtrusively.
Napoleon cleared his throat. "Um, Illya?"
"Yes?" came the grumpy reply.
"Is your back bothering you?"
"I'm fine, Napoleon," he replied, in his best stand-offish voice.
"Is there anything I could do to help?"
Illya pretended to consider a moment. "Actually, yes, there is."
The eyebrow trick again. "What can I do?"
"I have this cream for my back but I can't reach all the spots to rub it on." Was that a gulp from Napoleon? He could swear the man's Adam Apple moved.
"Ah, you, um, want me to rub it on?"
"If you would be so kind." Illya got out his big ammunition—he tipped his head, opened his blue eyes and stared up through his bangs at his partner, who swallowed.
Napoleon stood up. "Well, take off your shirt and I'll get the spots."
"Ah. The cream is at my apartment."
Another gulp? What was wrong? Napoleon appeared nervous, but he sighed and agreed to meet at Illya's place after dinner.
Napoleon arrived as Illya was putting away his supper dishes. Illya opened the door and saw that he had changed to a soft sweater and pants but had not erased the unhappy look from his face. Solo walked in, took a few steps into the room and then turned, saying, "Well, let's, ah, get it over with than shall we?"
Illya took a moment to hang up the dish towel that he was still carrying in one hand. While he did so, he observed Napoleon through the kitchen door. Solo was still standing in the other room, bouncing nervously on his feet.
It unnerved Illya to see his partner like this. The man was usually the epitome of relaxation, smooth and charming, never losing his suave mannerisms. Now, however, something was obviously upsetting him, and it had to be major to throw him off-track so far. What did he know that Illya didn't?
Back in Agent Training, they had been drilled to never surrender to feelings, to never acknowledge their emotions, to never show them to another human being. Section 2 employees were cyborgs, androids, programmed to do the mission at all costs, each individual expendable, your partner less important than completing your assigned task if you had to make a choice between the two. Emotional involvement created pain in the long run, as you could never be sure your friend or partner would be alive the next morning.
Yet despite all that, Napoleon had grown to mean everything to him. And if something was wrong with Napoleon, lllya needed to fix it. At the least, an unhappy or abstracted partner could get him killed. At the most, it could get his partner killed. And Illya didn't think he could survive that.
He opened the freezer and poured himself a vodka, then made a Scotch for his partner. Returning to the living room, he placed the drinks on the coffee table as he said, "Let me take your coat." Hanging the coat in the closet, he observed the other's face. Suddenly a line of a Christmas Carol he had heard that day came to his mind. "In the bleak midwinter..." Napoleon's face fit the description.
"Sit down and have a drink while I get the lotion," he told the other man, casually walking into the bedroom and retrieving the jar. On his way back he refilled his drink, and then snatched up the Scotch bottle to take it to Napoleon. When he got to the couch he saw that Napoleon had swallowed half of the first glass of Scotch already. Another sign of nervousness—his partner usually savored his alcohol. Well, if getting him drunk would help, then fine. Illya was prepared to use any means fair or foul to find out what was wrong. Napoleon's pain was his pain; as in everything else they always shared equally.
However, never before had his Pasha closed himself off like this, never hidden from him, and the pain in Illya's heart was magnified tenfold by the feeling that something was deeply wrong, something he couldn't solve with a few drinks and a witticism, something that might interfere with their partnership. Even more than their partnership, he reminded himself, but also with their friendship. He didn't think he could bear to lose Napoleon, especially this way. He needed the other man, this man who was his friend—this normally arrogant, cocky, skirt-chasing American—needed him near to give him support and friendship. Illya cared for this man, cared deeply for him, perhaps even loved him on some level though he had no experience of love, no concept of what it felt like.
Therefore, he sat on the couch himself and reached out to Napoleon, stunned when the other withdrew a little more into himself to avoid the contact. This was the man who was always touching him, patting him, who was now flinching from his touch. Without thinking, lllya blurted out, "Napoleon! What is wrong? Do you abhor me that much? Do you want to break up the partnership? Is there something wrong with me?"
That got a rise. For a second Illya saw a flash of his friend in the other's eyes and then the shutters came down again.
"No," Napoleon said. He took a long swallow of his drink and then worked his jaw for a minute. "No, it's not you."
"That means it's something with you." Illya didn't think he had ever been this afraid in his life. Thrush bullets did not scare him nearly as much as the idea of something happening to his partner. He picked up the vodka to take a long swallow then realized that there were little tremors in his hand and the liquid magnified them. Napoleon would be sure to see them.
But Solo wasn't watching. He was turned inward, hunched over, drawn into himself. "Yes, it's me," he uttered dully. "I'm sorry Illya." He picked up his glass and took a drink, effectively ending the conversation.
Illya realized he had to take a chance. Napoleon was leaving him, right in front of his eyes, even though he was there on the couch. Taking a deep breath he put an arm around the other man's shoulders. He had to force himself to keep it there; he had never been one to touch people, although if he was frank with himself he did like the feel of Napoleon's touches. However, there was no pleasure this time—Illya could feel how tense the muscles were under the fancy clothes. He noticed with joy that for one small second Napoleon leaned into the arm, before pulling away again.
"Let me help. Whatever it is, it's better if we do it together." IIlya was practically begging.
Napoleon actually gave a bitter laugh at that.
Illya was puzzled. He looked around the room for inspiration but no writing magically appeared on the walls. Where was a miracle when you needed it? He shook his partner's shoulder gently. "Whatever it is, we will get through it together. I'm always here for you."
Napoleon almost leapt off the couch. He spun around and fixed his partner with a piercing glare. "Are you? Will you be here for me?" He was practically shouting. "Illya, I thought, I thought—" he shuddered, than resumed, "I thought you were dead." Now he had begun to holler, and pace, and wave his hands. It was frightening to watch this man, not the Napasha he knew so well, but this stranger in the depths of some feeling that Illya couldn't decipher.
Napoleon came to a stop. "When I found you, hanging there, eyes closed, beaten up, battered like that, for a moment there I thought you were dead." He had stopped yelling abruptly and now sounded like he was on the verge of tears. He repeated, "I thought you were dead, Illya. And I didn't know what to do."
Illya stood up and put his hands on Napoleon's shoulders. "You would have finished the mission."
Napoleon looked at him as if he was seeing him for the first time. "You don't understand, do you? I didn't know what I'd do without you. If you left me, I'd be lost. Until that moment I had only known you were important to me; I hadn't known you were vital."
Giving in to an impulse that he couldn't name, Illya reached up and wrapped his arms around the other man's neck. Speaking softly into Napoleon's skin, he said, "Oh, Pasha, I do understand. I do." He felt warm arms encircle him, and after a minute the words, "You do?"
"Yes, Pasha, very much." And he dared to look up and investigate Napoleon's eyes, which had lost the haunted look and now shown bright and Illya realized that the light in them was love. Then Napoleon leant down and brushed his lips against his and that was his last coherent thought until he woke up in the morning with Napoleon tucked against him in the bed. He stretched, yawned and turned to see his partner smiling at him. One eyebrow shot up and he said "Feeling better now?"
"Much. And I'll continue feeling better the more we do this."
Illya raised himself on one elbow so that he could look at the other man. "You plan to continue this?"
"Of course, don't you?"
Illya nodded his head and cautiously replied, "I'd like to."
"Good," Napoleon responded with a grin. "We should celebrate."
"I don't think the wine is chilled," Illya stated, mentally reviewing the contents of his refrigerator, and then he felt a silent laugh rolling across Solo's belly. "What?"
"Isn't this where I came in before?"
He couldn't help it. He started laughing too.
And so it had begun.
At first it had been a casual thing, meeting when they needed release or affirmation. But over the years it had grown and they had become exclusive to each other, at least as far as they could. There were always missions that might require them to sleep with someone and they continued to date females so that Mr. Waverly wouldn't realize how close they were and try to split the team. But to the extent possible, they were each other's and only each other's.
Now the fieldwork was done and their life was freer. Napoleon had asked, no pleaded with, Illya to come live with him and Illya had agreed, ignoring the Slavic side of his soul that told him he wasn't allowed that much happiness. Now he regretted it. To come into the new place and smell perfume before they even moved in—that was just too much.
Napoleon had lied to him, making such a big production of throwing away his black book. Something tightened across Illya's chest, squeezing hard.
Of course, he still had to move in to the place. He didn't have much choice as he had already given up the lease on his apartment. However, he moved in sullenly, internally alternately castigating Napoleon for being a fraud and himself for being a fool.
He knew that Napoleon recognized that something was wrong although for the first few days his partner didn't ask about it. Over the years Napoleon had developed a technique for dealing with his partner's sulks, of which step one was to wait them out for a period and see if the snit ended of its own violation. Napoleon had learned that pushing usually just made Illya sink deeper into his sulk and it was wiser to just leave him alone.
A few days later Illya saw the black book. It was sitting on a desk in their study and he just knew that Napoleon had betrayed his word after making such a show of tossing the notebook away. He must have retrieved it after Illya had left the room. Something inside Illya turned hard and grey.
For the next few days he moved wraith-like around their residence, refusing to talk, only answering direct questions when necessary. He knew he was worrying Napoleon and he found some small satisfaction in it as he wanted Napoleon to share in his pain.
Napoleon asked him several times what was wrong and even apologized for anything that he might have done to upset Illya, but Illya didn't unfreeze. This hurt that his partner had created needed more than simple apologies to fix.
Then on the fourth day after Illya found the book, everything changed again.
Illya walked into the study, not realizing that Napoleon was sitting at desk. Had he been conscious of it he never would have entered the room but would have waited for the other man to leave, but now that he was here he was going to complete his errand. No way would he allow his partner to limit his movements.
He crossed the room, heading towards the file cabinet to retreat the memo he wanted. As he passed Napoleon he idly noticed that the blasted man was addressing Christmas cards.
Memo in hand, he turned to leave the room and it hit him. Napoleon was addressing the cards.
Using the black book.
It wasn't his little black book of dates; it was his address book.
And that meant....
Maybe, just maybe...
Napoleon really had thrown the book out.
As he stood there recovering from the shock, Napoleon looked up at him and smiled. The smile that normally melted Illya's heart. Illya was irritated to learn he was still as susceptible to that smile as always as he felt an invisible string pulling him closer to his partner.
Napoleon looked him over and must have seen something in his face that had been missing for the last few days. Still smiling, Napoleon cocked his head in the familiar Jack Russell pose and spoke. "Are you still planning to sign these with me?"
Which is where Illya ruined it, after being so careful, so watchful, for the last few days, because he replied, "What about the one to your girlfriend?" Immediately he knew that something was off because Napoleon's jaw dropped almost to the floor and his face took on a look of total astonishment.
"My girlfriend? Illya, you insane Russian, I don't have a girl friend; I have a male friend. A very male friend, I might add."
It always irritated Illya how easily Napoleon could make him blush.
Who was continuing, "Is that what this has been about moi droog? You thought I had a girlfriend? Where in the world would you get such an idiotic idea? I've waited years, years, to be with you." Napoleon stood up, walked over to the other man and put his hands on his shoulders, and then he looked down at Illya's face, trying to read it.
"Then whose perfume did I smell?" He tried to be belligerent, but he could tell his resolve was weakening. It was always a mistake to get too close to the siren song of Solo's body.
Illya looked balefully at him and defended himself. "I came here last Wednesday, and the place reeked of perfume."
That was greeted with a laugh. "Illyusha, for such a smart Russian you can be incredibly dumb." Then Napoleon shook Illya slightly in a move reminiscent of Illya shaking him many years ago and said, "Sorry. Hear me out."
Illya crossed his arms, not an easy feat with Napoleon holding him so close. "I am listening."
"Did we not agree to hire a landscape designer?" Illya gave a cautious nod. He had a terrible feeling where this was heading.
"And at dinner two weeks ago Wednesday, did I not show you a sheaf of sketches the designer had dropped off that morning?" Another nod in reply.
"Did it ever occur to you, lubov, that it was her perfume?"
He knew when he had lost. He would have to make it up to Napoleon.
And he was going to make it up. Starting that night when they went to bed. Assuming bedtime was right now.
He figured he'd be making it up for months if he was lucky.