"Relax. This is for your own good."
When you hear a doctor say that, it's never going to be pleasant. It ranks right up there with, "You may feel a little discomfort," just before they yank the catheter out. Discomfort, my ass, well, my dick really. Just once I'd like to change places with them and see what they called it.
And I knew he was right, but it didn't mean I had to like it.
Pain and I are old friends. I can't really remember a time when it wasn't part of my days. When I was a child, it was the pain of hunger, a gnawing that never seemed to let up. Even now, I'd rather be bleeding or broken a dozen times over than be hungry. Later, it was the pain of dancing to one too many pipers, the government, the school, the military, not necessarily in that order. All the time, I carried a nagging fear that I would not be the only one punished if I failed. That's one helluva burden for a young man to bear. Then Napoleon wonders why I never dated. The thought of one's family lined up in front of a firing squad does wonders for squashing one's libido.
Napoleon. The word takes me from my current, less-than-dignified position and to a much happier place. My partner is a work of art. I mean that in both a flattering and a derogatory sense. He is quite literally sex personified, in my humble opinion. When he puts his mind to it, there's not a woman who could resist him. I watch women flock around him and hate them for it. Hate them for being able to do what I can't and, I suppose, hate myself a little at the same time for lacking the nerve to approach him.
There's been no indication that he'd reject me. I know he's been with men before. Sometimes after a mission, especially if it's been a tough one, a woman is too fragile. You need someone stronger, someone who won't snap when you bend him to your will or you to him. Still I'm not willing to risk our friendship on something that...
The blast of pain makes me gasp and my fingers dig into the cheap naugahyde of the exam table.
"Breathe, Mr. Kuryakin." The doctor is far too close to me now and it takes everything I possess to keep from lashing out. "It'll be easier for you if you take deep breaths. I'm almost through."
That's easy for him to say. I feel as if I'm split in two. Silently, I think of as many curse words in as many languages as I know, but it doesn't really help unless you say them out loud.
Then just as suddenly as it started, the pain is gone and I'm left draped over the exam table, weak as a new born kitten.
"There, that wasn't so bad, was it?" The doctor is stripping off his latex gloves. I really hate the smell of latex. "They will never find the transponder now."
"One sincerely hopes not." If THRUSH goes digging for this one, I can only hope I'm either dead or beyond caring. God, the things I do for Napoleon.
"You may notice a little blood, but it's nothing to be concerned about." I only half hear the comment. This done, it means I'm free to leave, free to go to my partner... once I find him, that is. Thrush has him, a sincerely stupid move on their part. They should know by now that if you really want to annoy me, all you have to do is mess with Napoleon. You do that and there's not a force save death itself that will stop me.
And it doesn't take me long. Don't ask me how or why because I honestly don't understand the connection between us.
Napoleon had been a guest of THRUSH for nearly a week and I can see it in his eyes— so terrified when I burst into the cell where he was being held, so full of relief when he realized it was me.
"What took you so long?" he whispered, not so much because of the need for caution, rather a side effect of some rough handling. Whether it was from bruising or screaming, it didn't matter. It was over now. UNCLE was descending upon the place even as I was working to free him from the manacles restraining his wrists and ankles.
"You didn't leave much behind to help," I said, supporting him when it became apparent his legs won't. "You're a hard man to find, Mr. Solo."
"But so worth the effort." He started to cough and spat out a mouth full of blood.
"Why don't you do us both a favor and pass out?" I got my arms around him and hoisted him up, grunting. He was heavy, but not as heavy as he'd been a week ago when he'd pinned me to the wrestling mat. A week in THRUSH's not so tender loving care would do that to a man. He groaned and then fell silent.
It felt good to nurse my wounds in the quiet of my apartment. This was one of the things that I did enjoy about being here—having a place to myself. That would have been unheard of, even in Moscow. Waverly knew I craved solitude the way a starving man craves food.
I'd left Napoleon in the care of Medical and crawled away before they had a chance to look at me twice. If I'd been in better shape I would have stayed, but it was better this way. I wanted their focus on getting Napoleon comfortable; I could fend for myself.
That's what vodka was for. It took away the hurt, the longing, the 'what ifs' that I would never ask. It was like my babushka's quilt, warm and familiar. Between the two of them, I dug myself into a hole and stayed there, giving my body time to heal. My mind, that was something else entirely. The vodka infused dreams often saw me taking the chance, admitting to the truth, and Napoleon not turning away in revulsion.
I'd watched the nurses descend upon Napoleon as we carried him in, fussing and tutting over him. He was in good hands; he didn't need me. I'd done my job. He was safe and that's all that really mattered to me.
There was a knock to the door, two short, a pause, and another two more. Napoleon's knock, yet he couldn't be out yet. I'd just left him there... two days ago. I was startled. It wasn't like me to lose time like that. The fact that Waverly hadn't called me in meant something, but I didn't really want to speculate upon what that was right now.
I got to my feet and limped over to the door. I'd have a scar from where THRUSH dug the decoy transponder from my hip, but what's one more scar among many? Medical could remove the real transponder the next time I was under anesthesia. With my track record, that wouldn't be long.
I opened the door, keeping my gun at the ready, just in case, but it was just Napoleon. He looked better, but still a little tired around the eyes.
"You're a sight for sore eyes," he mumbled, propped up against the door frame. Like me, he stayed in Medical only as long as was absolutely essential. "Thanks for abandoning me in Medical."
"It wasn't my intention. I just got a little sidetracked, that's all."
He glanced over at the sofa, something I'd found at a second hand store; it was ugly, but it was long enough for me to stretch out on. He smiled tightly at the number of empty bottles that littered the floor around it. "So I see."
"You heal your way, leave me to mine." I walked back to the couch as normally at I could manage. I didn't need to look to know the lovely parting gift THRUSH had left me was infected and that the bandage needed changing again. You weren't a Section Two agent for long before you had a medical cabinet full of everything from butterfly sutures to smelling salts. It could wait until after Napoleon left. I made sure I settled on my good side first without making it too apparent.
"I'm fine, thank you." Okay, so I answered a little quickly, but I wasn't in the mood to be bothered, not even by Napoleon's particular type of pestering. It was well intended, but not welcome. "What did you want, Napoleon?" I didn't mean it to sound as harsh as it did, or perhaps I did. I just wanted him gone so I could abandon myself to my dreams again.
He sort of looked around the place and started to frown. "Have you eaten?"
I had to think about that. "Does cornflakes and vodka count? If they do, then yes, I have eaten."
"Christ, Illya, how do you live like this?"
I didn't really know what he meant. This was paradise compared to some of the places I'd stayed in. It was small and dingy, but it was mine. And I happened to like cornflakes...
"Napoleon, surely you didn't come all this way to criticize my living space."
For a long time he didn't speak, he just sort of stood there—to the point where I was beginning to think he was just my imagination or some alcohol induced mirage.
"You left me in Medical." When the words came I barely heard them and then I wasn't exactly sure what to make of them.
"It seemed for the best. I've already worn out my welcome there this year." That's when I felt his hand, cool on my forehead, and then it moved to my cheek. If I'd had the energy, I'd have shoved him aside, but quite frankly I lacked the strength.
"You have a fever."
"Probably." He didn't need to know that I'd stood in an ice cold shower for practically an hour this morning in an attempt to cool off. That gave me the shakes so bad that I decided the fever was better.
"You should be in bed."
"This is closer to the kitchen." I was nothing if not practical. He was close enough now that I could feel his breath on my skin and I shivered... from the fever, no doubt.
"Do you know what it was like to wake up in Medical and not have you there?" His voice was smooth, like melted chocolate over ice cream. "I was so afraid something had happened to you."
"I just needed some down time without Medical intervention. You didn't need me."
"That's where you're wrong, partner. That's where you are so very wrong." He sat facing forward, staring at the very uninteresting wallpaper. "Do you know what got me through all those torture sessions with THRUSH?" He paused, but then resumed, not waiting for my non-answer. "It was knowing that you were on your way. I didn't know when, just that I needed to hold on until you got there."
"I very nearly didn't. I'm sorry it took me so long to track you down."
"That was a helluva risk you took, giving yourself up like that. They could have killed you."
"They could have, but I figured they would be more interested in using me to make you talk."
"Still..." Then he did something that I never could have expected, would never have even done anything more than just dream about. He leaned forward and kissed me. Gently, softly, the way you'd kiss your maiden aunt, yet it was enough to take my breath away. I stared at him; he was talking or at least his lips were moving, but I heard nothing save a roar in my ears and I shut my eyes against it.
When I opened them, I was in bed and had the vaguely discomforting feeling that something had happened without my knowledge or direct participation. There was a wall of white before my eyes and it took me a minute to realize I was staring at Napoleon's tee shirt. He was lying beside me, an arm behind his head, reading a bad French-to-English translation of Dumas's The Lady of the Camellias. He glanced over at me and smiled.
"You're finally awake."
I nodded, still not quite ready to trust my voice as I tried to put things back together.
"The doc was here and patched you up. Took out the transponder while he was at it." Did I lie? "He gave you a shot and decided you would be as comfortable here as in Medical so long as someone stayed with you."
"And you stayed? I didn't." I hated that my voice sounded so shaky.
"I figured you had just cause." He sat up and stretched. "You feel like some soup?" My stomach answered for me and he grinned even wider. "Now there's the Illya I know and love."
"You kissed me..." That part I really remembered.
"I hadn't expected you to swoon from it, but yes."
"I didn't swoon, I passed out. It's... entirely different." He didn't argue with me. "Why?"
"Why? To say thank you, to let you know I understood, or maybe I was just getting tired of waiting for you to make the first move..." He brushed the hair off my forehead and his eyes grew serious. "I didn't want to come that close again without telling you."
"Telling me what?"
"How much I care for you... love you. Even if you're not interested, it doesn't matter, I just couldn't take any more chances..." His voice faltered. "I couldn't lose you without at least telling you how I felt."
We talked for a long time after that. Neither of us was physically up to anything more than some half hearted kissing and casual groping. It didn't matter. For the first time in a long time, it didn't matter. I felt like now I had all the time in the world, just as long as Napoleon was part of it.