It had started out to be such a nice day. The weather was clear and crisp, perfect skiing weather. While the king wasn't all that fond of skiing or even of snow for that matter, his queen and their children loved it. The queen's brother and sister, likewise, were great lovers of the snow and ice. Everyone in his family, his extended family and court loved the stuff and he, benevolent ruler, did his best to accommodate them.
She had stopped and caressed his cheek, smiling at him. "Thank you, Alexi, you are a good husband."
"Anything to keep you happy, my sweet." He watched as his family piled into the large gondola for the trip up the mountain. Members of his court followed in the next few. For just a moment, the King stopped and thought about how he was tempting fate. The whole of the royal family all together in one spot, it was almost... no! He squashed the thought almost immediately. He'd not borrow trouble.
He looked up at the brilliant blue sky, at the smiles on the faces of his wife and children and all was right in the world... up to the moment the avalanche came and buried the ski lift, its cars, and the little village at the base of the mountain. And in the wink of an eye, the small kingdom of Slavacia lost its entire royal family...
The phone rang, shrill and insistent. Illya Kuryakin poked a head out from beneath his pillow and moaned. If there was any justice in the world, they'd have spent the night in Napoleon's room and he would have been the one struggling with the basic concept of language. But they hadn't and Illya swallowed, coughed, then cleared his throat.
"Kuryakin..." His voice was hoarse.
"Sorry, wrong number..." He hung up the phone and it almost immediately started to ring again.
"Just hear me out, Your Highness."
Illya coughed again. "I don't know who you want, but it isn't me. Check your number and dial again." He hung up the receiver and, just to be sure this time, he yanked the wire from the wall. That accomplished, he flopped back in the bed and idly ran his hand through the hair on his chest.
A soft groan to his left made him smile and he rolled, draping an arm over the trim waist and pulling Napoleon closer to him.
"I won't, for a moment, believe you have anything akin to sexual tension left in your body." Napoleon's voice sounded tired, in spite of having spent the last ten hours in bed.
"Sexual tension, no. Exhaustion, but not sexual tension...." Illya rubbed his cheek against Napoleon's shoulder, just enjoying the feeling of the warm skin on his, the smell of their combined sweat and lovemaking. He let his fingers trace small circles on Napoleon's stomach, smiling as his touch raised goose bumps as it dropped lower.
"Who was on the phone?" Napoleon rolled and slid an arm beneath Illya's head.
"A wrong number." Illya adjusted his position until he was comfortable and nestled down. Sleep was just about to claim him when a communicator chirped. It took a moment to identify it as Napoleon's.
"I thought we had today off..." he muttered and lifted his head for Napoleon to pull his arm out.
"Guess we thought wrong. Solo here."
"Mr. Solo, is Mr. Kuryakin with you?"
Napoleon grimaced and Illya smirked. It wasn't that their relationship was that much of a secret, but it was rather like your parents knowing that you were sleeping with your boyfriend. It just felt... odd.
"Yes, sir, he is."
"It is imperative that you both return to the London office immediately. I will join you there."
"Yes, sir." Napoleon yawned and ran a hand through his sleep and sex-tousled hair. "We're on our way. Solo out."
Illya groaned. "So much for spending the day in bed."
"Probably just as well, we could both use a breather after last night." Napoleon set the communicator back on the nightstand and wrapped his arms around his partner. "You were incredible last night."
"So my back tells me this morning." Illya returned the embrace. "Only for you." He nuzzled Napoleon's ear. "Always only for you."
"Before this takes us down a path that neither of us needs to explore further at the moment, why don't you grab the first go at the shower and I'll order breakfast. Anything in particular?"
"Not as long as there's a lot of it." He kissed Napoleon, lazily at first, then letting the fire in his belly add passion. He'd spent the last few hours trying to show Napoleon how much he loved him, how complete he made Illya's world and still he felt there was so much more left to say.
Napoleon pulled away and shook his head. "You heard Waverly; he could put an end to this in a heartbeat if he so desired."
"No one could stop this, not him, no one," Illya murmured, running a finger down Napoleon's cheek, smiling as Napoleon caught it with his mouth and nipped it.
"The only thing that keeps us safe is his good will and that means..."
"When he barks, we come running."
"Woof, woof." Napoleon threw back the covers and sat up with a groan. It took Illya longer to get up, but then he'd been last man out of the chute in a manner of speaking.
Through sheer will, he got to his feet and to the bathroom. He'd have preferred a bath to a shower, but a shower offered its own benefits. At least until he saw the sheer size of the tub. Whatever else Japanese hotel rooms lacked, they made up for it with their bathtubs. As he drew water, he shaved, brushed his teeth, downed a few aspirins and then entered a near Nirvana of bliss as he sank into the tub.
He tilted his head back against the porcelain, closed his eyes, and smiled. There was a tap to the door and he opened an eye.
"Illya, breakfast is... you know, it's sights like that that lead innocents like me astray."
"Napoleon, you don't have an innocent bone left in your body, certainly not after last night." Illya drew an arm through the water. "The nice thing about Japanese baths, there's enough room for two. What say we have breakfast in here?"
"If the title fits," Illya said, grinning as Napoleon disappeared, only to reappear a moment later with a breakfast tray. He pulled out a small bench and set it next to the tub. After placing the tray on it, he slid out of his robe and into the water. Napoleon hissed at the heat of the water and Illya chuckled, pulling him in and close.
For a long time, they just held each other, letting the water work its way into much abused muscles and joints.
"Napoleon, are you falling asleep on me, literally, on me?" Illya whispered into an ear.
"Mmm, would you mind?"
"No, but I could really use some coffee."
"Right." Reluctantly, Napoleon sat up and reached for the carafe.
Illya made a face at the first sip. "I'm convinced the Japanese make the worst coffee on the planet." Then he emptied the cup.
"And yet?" Napoleon refilled his cup.
"I need the caffeine. You surely don't think I drink coffee for the taste."
"I gave up trying to predict you years ago, partner." Napoleon handed over a pastry. "Our tickets are here. We have to be at the airport in four hours."
"Which means we should have left half an hour ago."
"Ye of Little Faith..."
"Ye who has spent way too little time here," Illya muttered around his mouthful. "You forget we're not in New York."
They were about halfway to the airport when Napoleon said, "We're being followed."
"You noticed that as well?" Illya didn't turn around.
"Since we left the hotel."
Napoleon watched the car two lengths behind change lanes with them and frowned. Illya leaned forward and spoke quietly to the driver, who nodded curtly and suddenly swerved. The movement slammed Napoleon into the door. "What the hell...?"
"Hold on," Illya said with a grin.
The ride to the airport was nothing short of the worst a carnival had to offer and Napoleon felt slightly woozy as he stumbled from the cab. Illya went around to the trunk and started to pull out their suitcases while the driver beamed at Napoleon.
"What?" Napoleon looked at Illya.
"I told him you'd pay him triple if he lost the men following us. He thinks those were detectives hired to find out who you were being unfaithful with."
"Gee, thanks, partner..."
"All in a day's work. Just pay the nice taxi driver...and don't forget his tip."
Napoleon was flirting with a stewardess when Illya's voice caught his attention.
"What? Are you sure?"
"Illya?" Napoleon was suddenly all work.
"We have apparently been upgraded to First Class."
"To London? That's... odd." Napoleon reached for a ticket and studied it. The name was right, the flight information. "Maybe the Old Man's way of apologizing...?"
Illya shook his head firmly. "When have you ever known Waverly to apologize? For anything, much less a ruined day off?"
Still, the first class seats made sitting a bit easier, since both of them were well past the raw stage.
Illya eased down into the window seat carefully and then sighed. "Wake me when food comes."
"You're going to sleep through your First Class experience?" Napoleon paused as two men passed them. "That's odd."
"Those two men, I swear I've seen them before."
"No, but where...?" Napoleon watched as they passed through to coach and then the stewardess drew his attention.
"I'm just saying that it isn't natural, that's all." Napoleon didn't really care to hear Illya's argument.
"It's very natural, Napoleon. It's that the need for violence has been bred out of it." Illya paused as the door to London's Section One, Number One's office opened and they stepped in. The table was empty and then Napoleon spotted Waverly, Alton, the current Section One from Western Europe, and two men. .. The same two men from the plane.
"So I see."
Both men immediately rose and bowed, standing aside and offering the couch.
"Your Majesty." Illya recognized the voice from this morning.
"You called me on the phone."
"Yes, Your Majesty."
"What's with the Majesty stuff?"
"I think, Mr. Kuryakin..." Illya hunched his shoulders and glanced over at Waverly. "You might want to sit down for this."
"I'm what?" Illya looked up from his position on the couch.
"A direct descendent to the throne. We were very careful to trace the blood lines. Our genealogist doesn't make mistakes. You are the heir to the crown of Slavacia."
"Where exactly is Slavacia?" Napoleon asked quietly. He was struggling to digest the news as much as his partner was
"Look at the very bottom of the Ukraine, beneath Moldavia. There's this little spit of land that looks like it's part of Romania, but it is actually Slavacia," Illya explained quietly. "Didn't you study geography in school, Napoleon?"
"Yes, of course I did." Napoleon sounded doubtful. It was as if he was being set up for the mother of all jokes.
""Although, last I heard it was considering joining Romania."
"We are, but the process has been interrupted by the death of the royal family. When you take control, we are hoping that you will continue in that quest."
"I'm not going to take control. I've got a job already."
"You might want to reconsider, Mr. Kuryakin." Waverly's voice was even, but there was an edge to it that made Illya frown.
"There is one other heir to the crown." Mr. Alton leaned forward and hit a button. The screen on the wall came to life and a face appeared. One that made both New York agents stiffen.
"I'm sure you recognize him."
"Harley Groton, THRUSH's Number three man." Napoleon finished. "And the other heir?"
"Now you understand why it is imperative that Mr. Kuryakin come forward and accept his responsibilities." Waverly poured himself some tea and sipped it carefully. "If THRUSH were to get its hands on the country and its considerable assets, it would soon fall victim to their conniving ways."
"But UNCLE..." Illya looked from Napoleon to Waverly and back.
"Perhaps a leave of absence would be in order. Until the country can set up free elections or be welcomed into Romania's protective embrace," Alton suggested, offering Waverly a plate of scones.
"Do I at least get an opportunity to consider this? A couple of days?"
"Would that we were able to be that generous," one of the Slavakians said. "We can offer you tonight, no more. Then we shall have to contact Mr. Groton for his response."
"You will have my answer by tomorrow morning then." Illya rose and both Slavakians bowed.
"I won't leave you or UNCLE." Illya stared out at the London nightscape from his hotel room. Because of the situation, Waverly had restricted him to the hotel, with a security detail outside the front door of the suite the Slavakians insisted Illya be granted. Illya paced the length of the living room.
"The way I see it, partner, you don't have much choice. We can't let THRUSH grab that country." Napoleon paused and then frowned.
"Well, if you and this THRUSH are the only living heirs, that must mean there's common blood between you. Does this mean I'm sleeping with the enemy?"
"Only if you try to steal all the blankets." Illya tried to make the joke lighthearted, but it fell flat. "I don't want to leave you... not now." He sank down onto a couch that looked much more comfortable than it actually was. "Why can't someone else be the strong one for a change?"
"Waverly can't order you to do this, Illya, no one can, but..." Napoleon settled beside him and rubbed a shoulder.
"I know..." Illya sighed, long and deep. "When I was growing up... in the good years, my father would take us to Odessa, which was right on the border. He would point to Slavacia and talk about destiny and duty. I never understood what he meant. I knew my paternal grandfather had left the USSR to live in Romania and I stupidly thought he was referring to my bloodlines to him."
Napoleon switched shoulders, alternating rubbing with squeezing. "Turn around," he ordered softly. Illya obliged and Napoleon worked both shoulders. "You realize why there's a security detail outside, along with one in here."
"I'm sorry?" Illya's head had flopped forward.
"I'm not here just for my good looks and charm. Waverly made that quite clear to me as we were leaving. THRUSH will have you marked as a prime target now. If they eliminate you, there is nothing in their way."
"And I thought you were just here to take advantage of me."
"Well, that as well." Napoleon chuckled, digging his thumbs into a knot, and Illya grunted in response. "We need to keep you alive. That means Waverly isn't going to send you into the belly of the beast without a bodyguard."
There was a long pause, then Illya's hopeful, "You?"
"If you play your cards right..." Napoleon leaned down to kiss the reddened skin. "Your Highness."
Illya turned, his eyes soft. "I'm thinking rather, Your Lowness."
"Oh, Illya, leave the puns to me." Napoleon stood and offered him a hand up. "Let's go to bed. I think we could both use a good night's sleep right about now. With UNCLE's finest out there." Napoleon pressed an open palm to Illya's chest. "And me in here, nothing can stop you."
"I hope you're right, my friend."
"Besides, the THRUSH is as unknowing as you were. Those Slavacians said they haven't approached him, only you. There's nothing to worry about."
"Just the welfare of an entire country, that's all." Illya sighed as he started to strip. "Not exactly what I planned to do this week,"
Napoleon slid his arms around him and pulled him close. "You want to give me a hint as to what those plans might have entailed?"
Illya's answer was in his smile.
"You are certain about this?" Harley Groton looked from the papers back up to the face of the agent and then back down.
"Absolutely, no question. We did the research twice to be certain. With the exception of one other heir, you have a direct claim to the throne of Slavacia." The man paused and then added, "Your Majesty."
"I rather like the sound of that. Say it again."
"Your Majesty." The underling added a bow, just to emphasize his loyalty.
"This other heir... do we know who it is?"
"It is a joy beyond joys to show you." The underling clicked a button and a black and white photo of Kuryakin filled a small screen.
"You have to be joking... you are saying that we," he pointed to himself and then to the photo, "had a common ancestor?"
"We haven't quite figured out how the break occurred, but yes, you are cousins, many times removed."
"Well, then let's remove him one last time, shall we?"
"An elimination team has already been sent to remove the last obstacle to your ascent. By this time tomorrow, you will be sole heir and on your way to claiming the throne of Slavacia as your own."
"Excellent." He sipped his wine and then held it out at arm's length. "A man could get used to this."
Napoleon wasn't sure what woke him, but he came to instant alertness without losing the guise of still being asleep. It was a trick that all UNCLE agents perfected if they wanted to get to retirement age. His hand settled over his P-38 in its resting spot beneath his pillow.
Illya grunted and turned over, burrowing into the pillows and Napoleon knew he was also awake and on guard.
The room was dim; they purposefully picked the smaller of the bedrooms, the one without windows. Yet there was enough light spillage that Napoleon could see the two forms moving slowly towards them. When they got near enough that he could hear their clothes rustle, he flicked off the safety and fired twice through his pillow to Illya's once. Both men dropped in their tracks and almost instantly there was a pounding on the outside door of the suite.
Illya clicked on the light and started to get out of bed, but Napoleon shook his head. "No, you stay put. I'll go look. They may have brought back up."
Napoleon shouldered into his robe and eased his way to the bedroom door, flicking on lights as he went. The pounding outside was getting louder and more frantic. When he finally decided that the coast was clear, he walked to the door and unlocked it.
"What happened?" Lowery was one of Section Three's best and he burst through the door, weapon drawn.
"Came over the balcony, I am guessing. They tried to take us down while we slept."
"What? We're fifteen stories up. They couldn't have climbed up an entire building. This is downtown London."
"But only one down from the roof. I'm guessing that's how they came." Napoleon stepped aside to let him and the other agents enter. "They're in the bedroom."
Lowery sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "We posted three men on the roof. Cole, go check them out." The man nodded and hurried from the room.
If any of the remaining agents thought it odd that just one of the suite's bedrooms was being used, they didn't say anything. Illya's .38 came up as they entered, then he lowered it and returned to his examination of the bodies.
"Typical THRUSH hit squad." Illya offered a handgun to the closest agent. "I think it would be wise to assume that THRUSH knows."
"Are they dead?"
"Just sleeping and do remind me to send Section Eight a thank you card. Those new sleeper bullets are all they bragged about and more." Napoleon found his communicator among the keys and change on the nightstand. "Open Channel D."
"Yes, Mr. Solo?" Napoleon was only partially surprised it was Waverly who answered.
"Sir, there was just an attack made on Mr. Kuryakin. I think it's wise to assume they know."
A sigh. "We'd hoped for a bit more ignorance on their part. Mr. Kuryakin is safe, I trust."
"Yes, sir, Lowery is increasing the guards. We should be good from here on out."
"Keep him safe, Mr. Solo, it's the only way to assure Slavacia's future."
"Understood. Solo out."
The other agents had already headed back out through the living quarters, carrying their prisoners with them. Lowery glanced over at the bed and at the pillows that featured twin bullet holes. "It was a good thing you were here, Napoleon. Keeping close tabs and all." Somehow, Lowery didn't make it sound like a cheap crack, but more of a commendation.
"Since, in all likelihood, Illya would be dead or at least gravely wounded if I wasn't, I think that's an understatement." Napoleon flipped the safety back on and tucked his gun back under a pillow. "You might want to call in. Your dance card should start filling up once word gets back that those two failed."
"We will. What about you?"
Napoleon glanced over at Illya, who was already in the process of stripping off his robe and crawling back beneath the covers. "Well, I think we're going back to bed. We have an early flight in the morning."
Lowery nodded and walked out, closing the door behind him. Napoleon had no doubt there would be two men posted on the other side for the rest of the evening.
"That was a rude wake up call." Illya muttered, rolling back his pillow to resettle his weapon.
"I wonder how they found out." Napoleon readjusted his blankets.
"They are THRUSH... with deep pockets. I'm sure someone was paid handsomely for this information."
"We're just lucky they had all the stealth of a herd of elephants."
Illya punched the pillow into shape and made a face. Sticking a finger through the bullet hole, he shook his head and tossed it off the bed. "Gun powder does nothing to ensure pleasant dreams." He grabbed another one and began to plump it into shape.
Napoleon maneuvered himself until he had his arm around Illya. "I was under the impression that was my job."
"Thank you, Your Lowness." Illya wiggled until he was comfortable and Napoleon grinned.
"So I'm stuck with that now, am I?"
"Unless you want me to call you My Queen instead."
"You do and there will be hell to pay." Still, to Napoleon's way of thinking, there was already plenty of hell to be dealt with.
Illya looked at the collection of garments on the bed and sighed. While he knew a black turtleneck and pants were out of the question, he'd hoped the coronation robes wouldn't be quite so... flamboyant. Red, gold, and purple were not exactly his color scheme. He picked up a fur lined something and sighed again. He seriously needed an instruction manual with this outfit. Of course, these weren't anything compared to some of the outfits he'd already seen go by. It was obvious these people loved their pomp and circumstance. Granted the country's wealth was considerable, but enough was enough and this was entirely too much.
The door to his outer chambers opened and shut quietly. At the lack of a challenge from the guards posted outside there, Illya knew there were only a couple of possibilities.
"I wondered where you'd gotten to." Napoleon started to unbutton his great coat and shook confetti from his hair. "I would say the mood is positively jovial out there. According to Miles, the party started about five minutes after you were announced as their next king."
"And yet they seemed very fond of the last one. He must have been a good man." Illya tossed a shirt aside. "I can't make heads or tails out of this. How am I supposed to run a country when I can't even get dressed properly?" Illya plopped down on the bed and stared up at the canopy above it. He liked the dark blue with constellations woven in white. It was about the only thing in this country he did like.
"Here," Napoleon said, holding something out to him.
"What are you doing? What is this?"
"Helping you dress. That's underwear... I think... although I've never seen them trimmed with ermine before. Those should keep the royal jewels nice and toasty. Considering how cold it is out there, I can understand it."
"I can't do this, Napoleon... this is not me." Illya let his head flop back. "This morning I was introduced to my soon-to-be-consort and it was hinted that we should get started right away with producing an heir to the throne."
"Ouch, what did you do?"
"I explained, quite politely I thought, that I already had a consort, but it would be unlikely that either of us would be likely to produce an heir together anytime soon."
"I'm sure they loved that." Napoleon chuckled as he worked his way through the various pieces of clothing.
"Not really interested in whether they like it or not. They don't like it, they can fire me. I just want to get this coronation over with so we can resume the talks with Romania or pursue open elections. The sooner we finish with this, the better." He sat up and tugged his tunic back into place. "I just don't want to make any mistakes that take down the country."
"First and foremost, do no harm?"
"Suddenly not just words anymore. I don't mind looking out for you or the odd Innocent, but there are thousands of people whose future rides on a single word from me. I'm just not cut out to be royalty."
"Put your pants on; I have something to show you." Napoleon offered him his hand.
Illya took it with a sly grin. "What?"
"Just trust me. You do still trust me?"
"Then get dressed and follow me."
Napoleon led him through one corridor and then another, first left and then two rights to stop at a great hall. The walls were lined with huge paintings, mostly full-size portraits.
"I've got an art gallery. Obviously you haven't seen the East Wing... or maybe it's the South Wing. They all started looking alike after the third hour. So what?"
"So, this." Napoleon stopped him in front of one of the paintings, spun him and pointed. "If you doubt your right to this, Illya, there's your proof. His name was Nicholas and he was the country's most beloved king. He took them from war to great prosperity with his intelligence and courage. This is why the people already love you, Illya."
Illya caught his breath in a slight gasp as his near twin looked down upon him. "There's always been a Nicholas in the family. When I asked Mama about it, she said it was a family tradition, but I never asked anything more. First, a crazed German and now this... Does life ever get predictable?"
"For us? No. You are not alone in the universe, my friend, just remember that. You are king, if you don't want to wear all that crap, then don't. It's not like they can do much about it, but the people would be disappointed..." Napoleon's hands were warm as they rubbed Illya's upper arms. "We will get through this... you and I."
"Then, come on; it's time to get this show on the road."
Napoleon didn't like the balcony. Of all the places Illya had to appear today, this was the hardest spot to protect Illya and the easiest for someone to take a shot at him. THRUSH had already had a dozen attempts thwarted, none of which Illya had been made aware of. He was close enough to bolting as it was and if he knew just how much pressure Napoleon and the rest of the agents were under, he'd have pulled his famous 'disappearing into the woodwork' trick and vanished. That would not have boded well for the county and Napoleon knew it was just a matter of time before THRUSH tried again. And this was a choice opportunity.
After the obligatory greeting of his subjects, Illya would be taken to the royal cathedral and the crown would be placed on his head. Once that happened, anyone sporting Kuryakin blood would also be in line and that was a long and multi-tentacled family tree. Napoleon didn't understand why they weren't in line now. It had been explained to him in loving and extravagant detail. It made no sense then or now. He just knew THRUSH's hand would be forced now or never.
Napoleon looked around at the crowd, wishing he could steal away for a moment to readjust himself in the tight hose. The Court Protector outfit was just this side of comical, but it had been good to hear Illya laugh, even at the expense of Napoleon's pride. Then Napoleon had turned sidewise and Illya's laugh had become a deep groan. The tights showed off Napoleon's... attributes rather handsomely. If nothing else, there had been that and the numerous appreciative looks that had been cast in his direction. It was nice to know he could still turn heads. And it didn't come as a surprise when Illya ordered everyone out of his room, with the exception of Napoleon.
He grinned at the memory. Keeping the king relaxed—just one more function he gladly carried out. And while they had happily, and quite literally, screwed the time away, the Section Two and Three agents had stopped a poisoning plot, three attempted bombings, a couple of infiltrations into the castle and a host of other attempts. THRUSH was very determined.
Illya waved to the crowd and the responding noise was deafening. It was good that the people were as accepting of this stranger to their land as they were. Of course, the strong resemblance Illya bore to one of their favorite kings didn't hurt either.
Napoleon saw, rather than heard the rifle report. A sharp explosion of light and he dove for Illya, but Illya was already being carried backward by the force of the blast and into the people around him. Napoleon's communicator was out and, open, and he was barking orders as fast as the words formed in his head.
Illya had slumped back, unconscious, and was immediately surrounded by members of the court and various UNCLE agents. Napoleon pushed through them and knelt, patting Illya's cheek.
"Come on, partner, wake up."
Illya groaned without opening his eyes. "What did they shoot me with? A grenade launcher?"
"Wimp," Napoleon muttered, helping him to sit up. "You're not going to argue about the body armor now, are you?"
"No, Your Lowness," Illya muttered for his ears only. "You were right and I was wrong... of course, you do know I could have you put to death for that." He coughed and winced, rubbing his chest. "Ouch."
Napoleon pushed the robe aside, frowned at the blackened hole in the front of Illya's tunic. "Probably got a cracked rib. Those rifles they use pack a punch."
"Your Majesty?" The Royal Advisor was obviously confused. "What happened?"
"THRUSH happened," Napoleon muttered.
"Can you stand? You need to show the people you are all right."
Illya coughed again, groaned and then got to his feet to reassumed his position at the balcony railing. If Napoleon thought the cheering was loud before, he was wrong. Now it was truly deafening. He pulled the Royal Advisor aside. "We need to get him to the church before THRUSH regroups enough to try again."
"Surely, they have seen their attack fail and will withdraw."
"THRUSH never gives up without a fight."
"Very well, I will hurry things along." The man started to leave and then turned back. "You will keep him safe?"
Napoleon nodded and smiled as Illya cast a concerned look back at him and then returned to the crowd. "Till death do us part," he murmured.
"He survived? Am I surrounded by complete idiots?" Harley slammed his fist down on the table. He liked the way the coffee cups jumped when he did that, so he did it again. "All you have to do is take out one UNCLE agent. Forty-three attempts have been made and he is still breathing. I am of the opinion that our agents aren't incompetent buffoons, so explain this to me."
"Sir, he has the luck of a cat and it's almost impossible to get close to him. The head of Section Two is glued to his side; almost literally. He is even..." The man's dropped to a whisper. "... sleeping with him." The agent had edged closer to the door, ready to run if Groton pulled his weapon. There was no honor about THRUSH. "We do have one last resort. We have a free agent in place at the cathedral. He will have the ability to get within arm's length of Kuryakin. He will not fail us. He knows the price if he does."
"For your sake, you had better pray that he doesn't. I've heard that death by fire ants is extremely unpleasant."
The agent laughed, then sobered as he realized they were speaking of his fate. "We won't..."
Illya looked at the altar at the far end of the cathedral and wondered just how long it was going to take to make it all the way up there. He was dragging about a hundred pounds of fur-trimmed robe behind him. He was slowly being roasted to a crisp, or sweating to death, he wasn't sure which, by the combination of ornate trappings and body armor. His chest ached from the impact of the bullet and his head throbbed in time with his heart. He was starving and he had to pee. These were things one never thought about when watching the stately walk of crowned heads. Or at least nothing he'd thought about until now.
The Royal Advisor nodded and they began their walk to the altar. Illya knew the routine; it had been drilled into him a dozen times over last night and earlier today. He'd kneel, let the minister, priest, chancellor, whoever he was, do whatever he did and stand after the crown was set on his head. Illya had a feeling he'd probably be just this side of passing out by then. He resisted the urge to blow a mouthful of air up his face. The only thing that was making any of this tolerable was knowing this would soon be over and he'd be able to slip away soon to some place dark and quiet. He grinned at the thought, then glanced over at Napoleon and his partner winked, then sobered.
Finally, after far too long and way more ceremony than Illya ever expected to endure in the whole of his life, they reached the altar and Illya dropped to one knee. The cleric,. whoever he was, was holding aloft the crown and muttering in some language Illya had no desire to translate. He was sure the speech was full of flowery phrases about duty and destiny, neither of which interested him at this time. He was a place holder, that was all.
There was a sudden outburst of activity and Illya turned to see what was going on, but he was immediately pushed aside and, thrown off-balance by all the robes he was wearing, he tumbled into his advisors. There was the all too familiar sound of a silenced weapon cough, a cry, and then the smell of blood greeted him. Illya pushed his way back to his feet and saw an altar boy being pinned by two Section Three agents. That was when he saw Napoleon.
He was struggling against the hands supporting him, desperate to get to Illya, even as blood was oozing through Napoleon's fingers as he clutched his shoulder.
Illya took in the sight, then spun on the minister. "Do it now."
Almost instantly, the crown was set on Illya's head and Illya pushed the robes off his shoulders. Now free to actually move a bit, he went to Napoleon's side and knelt beside him. "You really will do anything to pull focus, old friend, won't you?"
"You know me, center of attention and all," Napoleon hissed as Illya pried the blood-soaked fingers free from the dark haired agent's shoulder.
"It's just a flesh wound, you faker," Illya murmured, pushing aside the fabric to examine the damage. "A few stitches and a pain killer and you'll be closing down the party tonight. You'll be good as new in a couple of days."
"I was just lucky." Napoleon looked over to where the man fought against the agents. "You do what you need to do, I'll be okay.
Illya stood to walk to his attacker. "What is the punishment for an attack on the Royal family?"
"Death, Your Highness," the minister choked out, obviously fighting the smell of gun powder and blood.
"Excellent, so we won't have to change that policy immediately then. Take him away." Illya turned and then realized for the first time that this had all taken place in front of a cathedral full of people. He swallowed and then took a deep breath before he started to walk back down the aisle.
"Where are you going, Your Majesty?" The Royal Advisor was instantly at his side. "It is customary for the King to lead the country in prayer."
"But I'm king now, right?"
"Yes, my Liege."
"Then I'm going with him." He pointed to where Napoleon was being carefully carried from the cathedral "And when I am satisfied that my partner has been made as comfortable as possible, I am going to change out of this costume and into some real clothes. I've had about as much of this as I can stand. You," he waved a hand, " party amongst yourselves."
Illya glanced up at the door to his bedroom opened and Napoleon entered, still favoring his left side slightly.
"Got the kingdom tucked in for the night." Napoleon murmured as Illya shifted over in the bed to let him have some room to sit and set his book aside. Napoleon lifted it and frowned. "The History of Slavacia," he translated eventually.
"I'm going to be stuck here for awhile. I figured I should at least have a basic understanding of the country and its people."
"Make sense. How're the ribs?" Napoleon sat on the bed and put the book on the nightstand.
"Passable. How's the shoulder?"
"Still pretty numb. These guys aren't as chintzy as Medical."
"So I was led to believe. According to the Royal Cook, you were having yourself quite the party this afternoon."
"Was I?" Napoleon chuckled. "Wish I could remember."
"Apparently you were being hailed as the King's savior and were being treated accordingly by all the young ladies. I'm surprised your lips aren't bruised."
Napoleon toed off his shoes and stretched out on the bed. "There's only one person who has that privilege."
"Anyone I know?" He looked down as Napoleon entwined his hand with Illya's and then brought it up to his lips, kissing Illya's fingers softly.
"Intimately, I'd say." He winced and then sighed as he let go of Illya to rub his upper arm. "Damn shoulder, not as numb as I thought it was."
"Damn ribs." Illya pulled back the covers and waited for Napoleon to strip and join him. After a moment of rearranging they got into a position that worked for both injuries. "I think tonight, a bit of star gazing instead."
"Star gazing? How can you see the..." That was when Napoleon saw the canopy for the first time and he grinned. "Sounds like the perfect ending to a less-than-perfect day."
"Oh, I don't know. We're both still alive, breathing, and...," Illya retook Napoleon's hand and mirrored his earlier action of kissing the fingers gently. "We're together. As far as I'm concerned, it doesn't get much better than this. It's not Camelot, but it'll do."
For a long moment, they both just lay there, content to celebrate the success of having lived through one more day.
Just before nodding off, Illya heard Napoleon's sleepy. "Good night, Your Highness."
"Good night, Your Lowness," he murmured back, grinning.
"This doesn't mean I'm destined to bottom the rest of our days together, does it?" Napoleon turned his head for just the briefest of moments before returning to stare back up at the canopy.
"Not likely in a game where receiving is frequently so much nicer than giving. We shall have to let our moods guide us."
"It was enough that fate has brought us to this point. Perhaps we shouldn't overtax it." Illya squeezed the hand gently. "Thank you for keeping me safe today."
"My pleasure, Poosy Cat."
Illya grinned at that, snapped off the light, and settled down against Napoleon's comfortable familiarity, knowing that whatever the world tossed at them, together they could handle it. And all was very right in the kingdom.