Should I Laugh or Cry?
Illya was crushing some peppercorns with the blade of his knife when he heard the cough. He sighed long and low. Please let it be something caught in someone's throat, he thought as he checked the peppercorns and then crushed them again. The piperine tickled his nose and he spun his body and covered his mouth. The sneeze teased him but then backed down at the last minute. Clearing his throat, he heard the cough again and glanced in its direction.
Matt was leaning against his work station and Illya realized suddenly how unwell his fellow chef looked. He turned down the heat on the front pan and wiped his hands on the cloth he'd tucked into the waistband of his apron.
"Matt, is everything all right?" he asked, closing the space between them in a few steps.
Illya caught Matt's forearm and the redhead looked up, slightly surprised. "Oh, just a frog in my throat, Chef."
Illya shook his head slowly and touched his hand to Matt's forehead. "You're burning up, Matt. You need to go home."
"Not now, not with the rush on. "
"What rush? We have twelve covers. We won't even clear payroll tonight."
"It's just a little warm in here, that's all. You feel hot to me too... and not in a good way, Cara."
Illya couldn't argue with that. In spite of the temperature lurking about in the low 30's outside, the kitchen was broiling hot. Even after cooking for this many years, the heat frequently left him feeling light headed. "You're no good to me sick, Matt."
"I just need a couple of minutes." He looked longingly to the kitchen door and Illya nodded, patting his shoulder.
"Go. Take what you need."
Nearly half an hour had passed and Illya suddenly realized that Matt was missing. He glanced around the kitchen, eyes easily tracking the people at the various stations.
"Where's Matt?" he asked no one in particular.
"Last I saw him, he was headed outside for a breather," Henry answered, not bothering to look up from his mincing.
"I thought you sent him home," Rand pulled a rack of browned bones from an oven. "He looked like hell."
"I'll go look for him," Joseph, Jesus' oldest boy offered. He dried his hands on a towel and quickly left.
"Anything to avoid actual work," Henry muttered. "That one doesn't have the work ethic of his father,"
"He's still very young and I have to admit my attention wanders to this day when faced with a sink full of dishes." Illya ladled some au jus over a filet, rearranged the fan of vegetables and wiped the rim of the plate off. He set it under the warming lights and frowned.
"Why is that Coq au vin still here?" he asked, struggling to keep his voice even. His patience was starting to wear thin with the service tonight.
"We're short in the dining room, Chef," Roxanne said, picking up the plate along with the other. "We had three servers call in tonight, including Rocky."
"Chef!" Joseph ran into the kitchen. "I need you."
Illya tossed aside the towel he'd been using and ran. Outside, he spotted the young boy standing by a lump. Suddenly, Illya realized what or rather who the lump was. A moment later, he was kneeling by Matt's side.
"Matt, wake up." He hefted the unconscious man into his lap and patted a cheek. "Go get some water and towels. And call the doctor."
Matt stirred. "What? Sorry, Chef... fell asleep..."
"Be still. Matt, why didn't you tell me you were this sick?"
"So many people out already. Too short handed." He coughed and Illya instinctively turned his head away.
Joseph arrived and Illya poured some of the water onto a towel and pressed it against Matt's neck. "Drink this." He offered the rest to the redhead, who refused at first. "You're burning up, Matt, and that means you're dehydrated. You need to drink this."
"It makes me throw up..."
"Joseph, go to the bar and get some ginger ale and then tell Roxanne Taste is closed."
"No, no, I'm fine." Matt made a meager attempt at protest.
"Matt, you're sick, and you've exposed everyone in the kitchen and the dining room." Illya caught Matt, just as he turned and started to retch. This damned flu epidemic is making me insane, Illya thought as he held Matt. He winced at the strength of the tremors running through his business partner's body, at the heat that was coming off of him in waves. At least I'm still okay. "I'm going to get someone to take you home."
"I can drive."
"Like hell you can. Matt, go home, climb into bed and stay there until you're well."
"The restaurant..." He broke off into a coughing jag that made Illya wince in sympathy.
"I'm shutting it down for the duration. I'd rather lose the business than contribute any more than we already have to this epidemic." Joseph returned and handed Illya a can of soda. "Help me get him up."
They got Matt to his feet and back inside.
Both Rand and Henry looked up simultaneously and Henry whistled, long and low.
"Matt, you look like tod aufgewrmt."
"Feel like it too."
"Rand, would you mind taking him home?"
"Not a problem, Chef." Rand pushed his cutting board aside.
"And then go home yourself." Illya glanced around at the half dozen other employees in the kitchen, knowing they were all listening. "We'll finish up with what we have and I'll let you know when we are reopening."
"Ah, Chef..." A young man caught his attention, a new hire, he couldn't even remember his name at the moment. He looked around and kept his voice very low, cheeks stained red with embarrassment. "I... ah, can't afford any time off right now."
"Don't worry; everyone will be paid as usual. For now, we need to concentrate on our remaining customers."
Illya walked wearily into the house and stopped in the hallway to toe out of his shoes and peel off his chef's jacket, shivering as the cooler air of the living room hit his sweat-drenched tee shirt. It had taken nearly all of his waning reserves to get the last of their diners fed and out the door. While it was possible that Taste could limp on for another day or so, he wasn't so sure he could. He leaned against the wall, massaging his temples one-handed. His head was pounding tonight and all he could think about was crawling into bed and staying there.
Napoleon was sound asleep upstairs and as enticing as it was to think about being beside him, Illya had to seriously think about it. He'd been exposed to the flu and it was more than likely he'd be down with his own case in twenty four hours. Napoleon, on the other hand, hadn't. Illya owed it to his lover to isolate himself as much as possible. That meant the guest room... not exactly where Illya wanted to rest his weary body at the moment, but he'd take any port in the storm right now.
"Illya?" Napoleon appeared at the top of the stairs and Illya held up a hand to stop him.
"Stay there. I've been exposed to the flu..."
"Yeah, been meaning to apologize for that."
"What?" Illya came to stand at the foot of the stairs and looked up. Napoleon had a decidedly unwell look about him. "Oh, Napoleon, not you too?"
"Me too, I'm afraid. Hit me about an hour ago."
Illya took the stairs two at a time, and rested a hand on Napoleon's forehead. "You're as bad as Matt. You need to go back to bed."
"Matt?" Napoleon didn't protest, but instead started to shuffle back towards the bedroom.
"And Rocky and half the staff at Taste. I closed the restaurant tonight at least for the foreseeable future. I can't be serving people with sick staff. If more businesses shut down initially, this wouldn't have gotten this far."
"Tell that to the millions who died during the influenza epidemic of 1919. Viruses will find a way." Napoleon stripped off his robe. "You?"
"So far, so good; I credit hardy Russian stock."
"Just as long as you're okay. You look a little flushed."
"I'm fine. Are you nauseous?"
"Not yet." Napoleon coughed, that same gut tearing cough that Matt had.
"Give it time."
"Thanks, I feel so much better now."
Illya grinned and kissed his forehead. "How about a cool bath instead? It would make you feel better."
"Don't put money down on that..." Napoleon crawled back onto the bed and coughed some more.
Illya had just started the water when an ashen-faced Napoleon appeared at the door. Illya only needed one look to know what was wrong. He turned off the taps and stepped aside and out as Napoleon headed for the toilet.
He pulled the door behind him to give Napoleon some privacy and headed back downstairs. Both cats looked hopefully in his direction as he pushed through to the kitchen. After poking through the pantry, he grabbed his jacket and walked back to the restaurant.
It always seemed so strange to enter the kitchen when the restaurant was closed. It was as if it was asleep, just waiting for him to wake it. Instead, he walked through to the dining room, turning on lights as he went. At the waiter's station, he found a basket of saltines. The restaurant made their own crackers, several different kinds, in fact, but some people insisted upon saltines with their soup. It made him crazy, but it wasn't his call. He stuffed as many packages as he could into his jacket pocket and then went to the bar and retrieved a six pack of ginger ale. He had a feeling this was going to be Nectar of the Gods for Napoleon for the next couple of days.
He said, "Who am I and who are you and who are we?
What's our situation, do we have some time for us?"
I said I was not exactly waiting for the bus
He said, "If you're going somewhere can I come along?"
I said, "Keep on rocking baby, 'til the night is gone."
Illya couldn't figure out why that particular ABBA song was running through his head tonight, but it didn't matter. He shivered as he left the restaurant, making sure all was dark and locked up in his wake. The cold night air made his sinuses ache even more and he tried to keep his breathing shallow. He could remember nights like this back home. And just for a moment, Illya Kuryakin was just a tiny bit homesick. It would be nice to go home, even for just a few days, but Soviet policy being what it was that wasn't going to happen. If he stepped foot inside the borders of the USSR, he'd likely be arrested and tried as an Enemy of the State. Smiling sadly, he dismissed the thought and walked back to the house.
Illya opened his eyes and wondered when it had gotten light. His whole night, it seemed, had been split between listening to Napoleon cough or vomit. At this point, he wasn't exactly sure which one annoyed him the most. It was wrong of him to feel that way, he knew it, but no one else had to know.
He reached out and then looked over at the empty bed beside him. Sitting up and resisting the impulse to groan as muscles and joints sang him their usual early morning serenade, he noticed Napoleon's pillow was gone as well.
The bathroom light was on and that suddenly struck him and his bladder as a very good idea. He knocked lightly on the door and pushed it open. Napoleon was bundled up in one of his mother's quilts, on the floor of the bathroom.
"Napoleon?" Illya dropped to a knee and brushed the dark hair off a clammy forehead. "What are you doing in here?"
"More convenient." He started to cough again. Illya sank to the floor and pulled him close, rubbing his back until the spasm had ended.
"But hell on your back. Let's get you back to bed."
He'd just gotten Napoleon tucked back in when a half familiar rumble made his ears ache. Huh, that sounds just like a delivery... In a panic, Illya darted a look at the bedside clock and started swearing as he reached for his jeans.
The driver was just walking back to his truck when he saw Illya and raised a hand in greeting.
"I was beginning to wonder if there was any... do you mind me saying that you look like shit?"
"Thanks, Frank, appreciate the sentiment." Illya accepted the clipboard and ran down the list with a practiced eye. "I have a sick partner and no staff."
"That's going to be a problem then."
"Who's going to unload this?"
Illya reluctantly raised a hand. "The buck stops here."
Giving love is a reason for living
But a few things can be tough
Love isn't easy but it sure is hard enough.
Sweet sweet, our love is bitter-sweet...
Illya frowned as the ABBA lyric ran through his head. He slid down the side of the crate to the floor and groaned. He was alone and didn't care anymore about hiding his discomfort. It just seemed too unfair to be asked to unload an entire truck without even being given the opportunity to brush his teeth or shave. At least he wasn't expecting any more shipments in and this had been a non-perishable delivery. He needed to get to the office, pull the shipping manifests and cancel his shipments for the next week. Well, that and check this delivery in... well, actually first, he needed to get to his feet.
A sudden movement caught his eye and he wanted to scream in frustration. He had rats? He summoned his energy and rolled up to his feet, moving quickly towards the spot. Not rats, a cat. It had probably wandered in while they were unloading, looking for some place warm to camp out.
He dropped to a knee and made soft encouraging noises. "Come on, we need to get you out of here, puss." The cat warily approached him and Illya sighed at her very distended stomach. "Not just a puss, are you? You're a mother in waiting."
He got the cat situated in the garage, making sure she had an escape route if that's what she wanted and plenty of food and water. He left her happily purring in a box filled with old rags.
He walked into his small kitchen and went directly to the coffee maker, checking it and then turning it on. If nothing else, at least he could have a cup of coffee now.
Illya paused now and listened. No sound met him, no coughing or vomiting, no trucks, no cats, nothing but his pounding head and the soft gurgling of the coffee pot.
He didn't even try to head upstairs, but used the bathroom just off the living room instead. For a moment, he just wanted to shut and lock the door and let the world go away. Instead, he took care of business, washed up a little and headed back to the kitchen.
The coffee was finished and he poured himself a cup. Sometimes, nothing tasted better than a good cup of coffee and he drank it thirstily, but was disappointed that it had no flavor. His sinuses were really plugged up. At least he felt fortified and he went to the walk to find a couple of roasting chickens and some vegetables.
Putting together the soup had a calming effect on him. Cutting up the chicken and the vegetables was routine and comforting. It gave his mind freedom to wander while his hands went through the familiar procedure of putting the ingredients together.
I was sitting by the phone
I was waiting all alone
Baby by myself I sit and wait and wonder about you
It's a dark and dreary night
Seems like nothing's going right
Won't you tell me honey how can I go on here without you?
It was odd that a refrain from Ring Ring, Rocky's newest ABBA song obsession, kept running through is head, but it wasn't like any of them could really escape Rocky's love of the group. He could run, but he couldn't hide.
While the soup was cooking, he cleaned up the kitchen, again routine and familiar, and had some breakfast. He usually preferred something other than cereal, but he just wanted to eat and Napoleon's propensity for dry cereal seemed an easy choice. That was when he noticed the ants.
By the time he'd gotten that crisis under control, somewhat, the coffee was cold and the soup was done. Illya ladled a small amount into a bowl, put a handful of crackers, his own and the saltines, with it and carried it up to the bedroom.
Napoleon hadn't really moved much since he'd left and that was reassuring. Illya set the tray down and walked over to the window. He cracked it open to let some air filter in and looked out. The town seemed strangely quiet this morning. Usually by now, Jackson was abuzz with activity, but only the occasional car drove by. The flu thing was hitting everyone hard.
"Illya?" The voice sounded nothing like that of his lover and Illya winced.
"Don't talk," he ordered as he returned to the bed. He reached out to cup Napoleon's face, relieved that it seemed a bit cooler to the touch. "I brought you something to eat."
"No, thanks. Just got stuff quieted down."
"Your choice, but I think you'd feel better if you ate something."
"Do you know what would make me feel much better?"
"A gun? Poison? A right cross?" Illya said, sitting down. With this new mattress and box spring, his feet barely reached the floor.
Instead Napoleon held open his arms and Illya smiled, leaning down into the hug.
Illya stayed there for a long time, waiting until he was certain Napoleon had fallen back asleep. He disentangled himself from Napoleon's slack arms, covered him and slipped from the room.
Shivering, he grabbed a sweatshirt and headed back downstairs. Just one more task and then he could relax for a little bit. The mere thought of a hot bath was almost too enticing for words.
He filled a container with soup and placed in it a back pack. Both Moutard and Berra Noire wove figure eights around his ankles until he put some moist cat food down for them. He then filled a third plate, grabbed the backpack and headed for the garage.
He set the pack down on his favorite motorcycle and walked quietly to the back of the garage. He half expected the cat to be gone. Instead amber eyes looked up at him as he bent down to place the saucer of food within easy reach. Already two squirming balls of fur were nursing and the cat's purr was both loud and soothing.
Slipping through my fingers all the time
Do I really see what's in her mind
Each time I think I'm close to knowing
She keeps on growing
Slipping through my fingers all the time
"Look at you then, clever girl." Illya scratched her cheek gently. The kittens were barely the size of his thumb and in just a few weeks, they would be running around, little balls of fluff and mischief. He grinned at the thought . "Your days of worry are over, at least. You'll be taken care of now." He left her with a final scratch to her chin.
Matt's and Rocky's house was set the end of a short road, not that far out of Jackson. It was old and ramshackle, in Illya's opinion, but the two loved it and had made great inroads into renovating it.
Illya used his spare key and let himself in, knowing that both men would most likely be out for the count. Instantly, he was greeted by an enthusiastic yip and he winced at the devastation.
"Oh Chiquitita, what have you done?" Illya muttered. The living room was littered with cloth, batting, paper and other things he couldn't immediately identify. "I think you need to go out back for a few minutes."
Chiquitita, tell me what's wrong
You're enchained by your own sorrow
In your eyes there is no hope for tomorrow
How I hate to see you like this
There is no way you can deny it
I can see that you're oh so sad, so quiet
The song ran through his head as he led the dog to the back door and she barely made it a few feet before squatting. "Obviously, you were a lady in need," Illya said to her and turned back inside. Despite the sweatshirt, he shivered again. He just couldn't get warm today.
Illya went back to the living room and picked up the backpack. He knew this house nearly as well as he did his own and he took the first right off the hallway. Even though the room was dark, he could make out the two figures in bed. The closet one stirred and Illya took a guess, knowing he had a fifty/fifty chance.
"Hey, Rocky, how are you feeling?"
"Chef? What are you doing here?"
"Looking after my investments." He opened the curtains slightly to let the daylight in. The room was a mess of strewn clothes, blankets, and other items.
Matt struggled to sit up right. "You shouldn't be here, Chef."
"Napoleon's sick too. I figured it's not as much a question of if as much as when I get sick." He indicated the backpack. "I brought you something to eat, but I think you'd both feel better if you grabbed a shower."
There was a bit of an argument, but in the end, Illya won, as he knew he would. Once they were both out of the room, he stripped and changed the bed. To him, fresh sheets were a luxury second to nothing else in the world. He had barely gotten the last corner folded in and the mess of clothes gathered before the men staggered back out.
"Thanks, Chef." Rocky got back into bed without a backward glance, but Matt caught Illya's hand and kissed the fingers before joining his lover.
"No problem, Rocky, although you might want to have words with that hound of yours. Or at least keep things out of her reach when she goes on a bend. I'm afraid she had due with something in the living room."
It took him longer to get the living room cleaned up and Chiquitita back in than it had to change the bed, but soon he was astride his bike and headed home.
Or he would have been if he could have gotten it to start. He checked the ignition, the fuel line and just about everything else until the obvious occurred to him. Pure and simple, he was out of gas. Thankfully, the closest gas station was just half a mile down the road. Illya put the bike in neutral and started pushing.
Illya was about to chew up rocks and spit out gravel by the time he got back to the restaurant. At least the attendant knew him and was willing to float him a couple of gallons when Illya discovered he didn't have his wallet. He was tired, dirty, hungry and very, very cold. What had started out as a fairly mild day turned into a teeth numbing afternoon. He rode up to the parking lot and happened to glance over at Taste. There was a stranger on the porch, pounding on the door and staring in the windows.
That alone would normally have been enough to annoy the Russian, but pile it on top of the rotten day he'd already had and he was just in the mood to hurt something or better yet, someone.
He quickly crossed the parking lot and stopped just short of the porch.
"Can I help you with something, sir?"
The man spun, obviously surprised, "Yes, I'm supposed to have a meeting with the chef here and he's nowhere around. Nobody else is either. Stupid way to run a business!"
Illya didn't recognize the man, nor did he remember an appointment. He was used to people showing up, demanding his time, insisting that he bend to their will. Usually he was begrudgingly accommodating, but there was something about the man's attitude that just struck him wrong.
"The restaurant is closed due to the flu outbreak."
"I came nearly a hundred miles for this meeting. I represent a very influential magazine. I demand he meet with me."
"I'm sure he'll take that under advisement. Did he know you were coming?"
"That makes no difference; he has an obligation to the culinary community to present himself upon demand."
"He has an obligation to his local community to see that he takes a responsible stand and does nothing to further this outbreak along."
"He's just afraid to meet with me, afraid to answer some embarrassing questions that I might ask."
"Somehow, I doubt the veracity of your statement. Chef is not afraid of the truth."
"How dare you? Who are you? I'll make sure he knows how poorly you treated his guests."
It didn't surprise Illya that the man didn't recognize him. Unshaven, sporting what he sure was a severe case of helmet hair, and dressed in worn jeans and a sweatshirt, he was certain he didn't meet cordon bleu standards. He shouldn't have let his temper snap, but at this point, he just didn't care anymore.
"The name is on the front door." Illya started to walk away and looked back over his shoulder. "And it's Illya with two 'l's. I hate it when you hacks spell my name wrong."
Knowing me, knowing you
There is nothing we can do
Knowing me, knowing you
We just have to face it, this time we're through
Breaking up is never easy, I know but I have to go,
Knowing me, knowing you it's the best I can do
The man was still standing there when Illya came out of the garage after parking his bike, obviously trying to figure a way out of this little quagmire that he'd sunk himself into. Illya paid him no mind and headed back into the house. He doubted the man would try and approach him now.
The answering machine showed five messages, but Illya left it and wearily climbed the stairs to the second floor.
"Napoleon?" he asked softly. The man didn't stir and Illya smiled, noting that most of the soup was gone.
A handful of aspirin, a hot bath, a roaring fire, a bowl of soup, several shots of vodka, three quilts and Illya finally felt the chill releasing its hold on his body. None of it seemed to matter one way or the other to his headache, but at least he was warmer now. He burrowed as far as he could into the blankets and ignored everything else.
He'd dozed on and off, letting the TV lull him into a near stupor. The phone had rung a few times, rousing him, but he just let the answering machine pick up the calls. No matter who it was, he couldn't be bothered.
Illya woke to the feeling of a hand on his forehead. "What?" He started to sit up, but a hand held him down. "Napoleon?"
"Just relax, you're okay." The voice was half familiar and even as his past training was screaming a warning at him, Illya ignored it. If THRUSH wanted him that badly, they could have him. At this point, he just didn't care. And if he could get the weight that was sitting on his chest to just shift one way or the other, he'd care even less.
The next time he opened his eyes, his living room was gone. That was odd, he thought, the room was dark and unfamiliar; there were people talking, but he couldn't tell what language they were using. He really should get up and check on Napoleon. He could hear coughing and struggled for a moment before realizing it was him coughing. Great, so I'm finally getting sick. He had hoped he'd avoid it, but knew it had been a fool's wish. If nothing else, at least he could get off the couch... no wait, not on the couch, he realized with just the smallest of shocks. He should care, he really should, well, he'd care tomorrow.
Illya opened his eyes and smiled up at Napoleon. "Hey..."
"Well, you finally decided to wake up." Napoleon's voice was still a bit raspy, but he sounded much better. Never underestimate the power of chicken soup.
"How are you feeling? Did you get some sleep finally?" Illya struggled to sit up, but he lacked the energy.
"Just take it easy, Amante." Napoleon stroked his forehead. "You gave us a helluva scare."
"What's the last thing you remember?"
"Watching TV on the couch."
"That was over a week ago, Illya. You've been in the hospital since then. "
"You collapsed just outside the kitchen, don't you remember, Cara?" Illya realized for the first time that Matt was in the room.
"No, that was you... you got the flu from Rocky."
"Not yet, thank, God." Matt glanced over at his partner. "We've been holding the fort down in your stead and keeping you company. Rocky even sang to you a few times."
"That would explain the ABBA soundtrack I've had running through my head the last few days. What happened?"
"Roxanne found you and called the doctor."
"And you should give her a raise for that. You had a massive sinus infection." There was that half familiar voice again and Illya looked in the direction of it. Dr Joyce Seyfried smiled over at him. "You were pretty sick. Good thing you're also pretty stubborn."
"No kittens in the garage?" Illya tried to keep the plaintive note from his voice. He had been looking forward to watching them grow up.
"Not that I'm aware of." Napoleon glanced over at the other chef who shook his head.
"But Chiquitita is due any day. You want a puppy, Chef? "
"A world of no." Illya brought a hand to his chest and coughed again eyes squinted shut against the ache in his muscles.
"He needs to rest, people." Dr. Seyfried slipped a oxygen mask over his mouth and nose before starting to gather people up, but Napoleon shook his head. After a moment, she moved past him and herded everyone else out the door. "Five more minutes, Napoleon, and then you're gone as well."
Napoleon watched the woman leave and turned back to Illya.
"You really scared me this time, Illya. I kept thinking, all the other times, it was a bullet, a knife, some weird poison or THRUSH concoction. To lose you to the flu, that would have been just too much." He smoothed Illya's hair into place.
Illya worked as much energy as he could into a smile and let his eyes drift shut again. For all he knew, he'd wake up back on the couch, surrounded by chaos, a houseful of kittens, and angry journalists. For now, though, just feeling Napoleon's hand holding his, he didn't really care. Let tomorrow take care of itself. As he started to drift off, he could hear a faint voice...
As all good friends we talk all night, and we fly wing to wing
I have questions and they know everything
There's no limit to what I feel, we climb higher and higher
Am I dreaming or is it all real?
Illya sighed—all a dream, wouldn't that be a kick in the face?
He woke to a massive coughing spasm and a cool hand on his forehead.
"Take it easy, partner." The voice wasn't Napoleon's... it wasn't even male. It was... he forced his eyes open and looked into a pair of concerned gray eyes. "You really had us worried, Nick."
Nick? Dr. Seyfried? Illya thought, glancing around the room. Medical? I'm in Medical? There was no mistaking the cold steel walls of UNCLE's facilities. He glanced around, confused, and then back to the speaker.
"Napoleon? I imagine wherever the French buried him." Joyce wrung out a cloth and wiped his face. 'I think you're still a little feverish. UNCLE pumped you full of something this time, my friend. We'll make them pay, Nick, I promise."
"What? Who?" Illya lacked the strength to go any further than that. He was in UNCLE's facilities yet this stranger spoke as if they were the enemy.
"How are we doing?" There was a familiar voice from the door and Illya almost sobbed at the sight of Napoleon.
"He's a little better, Doctor."
"Napoleon? What's happening?" Illya tried to reach for the man's hand, but he stopped short of the bed. That's when Illya saw his eyes, dead, cold, hard... surely, not Napoleon?
"Napoleon?" His partner glanced over at the woman who shrugged.
"That's the second time he's mentioned him. Nick, this is Doctor Albert Thomas. He's been taking care of you." She glanced over her shoulder as an orderly entered pushing a wheelchair.
Illya recognized the flaming red hair, the shoulders, even the face, but the bearing was all wrong. It was Matt and yet he was as much of a stranger as this woman was. He looked... empty. But it was nothing compared to the shell that sat in the chair. Rocky? No, not anymore, just a broken and scarred husk of someone he'd once known by that name.
"Do you recognize him, Nick?"
"No," Illya lied easily.
"This was the UNCLE agent we rescued you from."
"What was he going to do? Sing me to death?"
"Sing? No, he was torturing you... don't you remember screaming for your abba?"
"ABBA? That's a musical group. Wait, what year is this?" Illya focused his attention on the ceiling. It hurt his heart too much to look anywhere else.
"That's a fair question, Mr. Stamos." Stamos? He wasn't even Russian anymore? "It's 1962."
Huh, '62, he wouldn't even have left London yet. "I'm in England?"
"Near enough." Napoleon, no, Thomas exchanged a look with the woman. "Nick, you've been unconscious for a long time. Why don't you tell me what you remember?"
Illya shook his head slowly. None of this was making sense to him. UNCLE were the bad guys or was he a bad guy? Napoleon, an uncaring doctor, and Matt an orderly? His head throbbed and he winced as a light was flashed into one eye and then the other.
"We're losing him again." The voice, Napoleon's almost voice, was growing faint.
"Nick, stay with us! Nick!"
He thought about it for a moment, almost tempted to make the effort. After all, both Napoleon and Matt were here, and Rocky in a sense, but everything else, the very core of his identity was gone. That idea didn't interest him in the least.
My, my, I tried to hold you back but you were stronger
Oh yeah, and now it seems my only chance is giving up the fight
And how could I ever refuse
I feel like I win when I lose
The lyrics to Waterloo. Somehow it seemed appropriate and he wrapped the words around him like a comfortable and welcoming quilt.
"Nick, focus on me. You have to stay with us!"
"No, thank you," he mumbled and pushed the hands that were holding him away.
"Okay, but I think you'll feel better if you at least try to drink something."
Illya blinked and refocused his attention. Napoleon, unshaven, his hair a wild mess of untended locks, knelt by his side, holding a glass of water. Illya looked for a moment and, struggling free from the quilts, reached out to first grab Napoleon to kiss him roughly and then just held him
"I'm happy to see you too, Amante, now drink some water." Napoleon's voice was muffled against him and Illya released him. He glanced around the living room, much in the same state of chaos as he'd left it. It was dark outside and he could hear the wind and the rain tearing at the place.
"What time is it?" He took the glass and sipped the contents. The water didn't really help his sore throat, but the pain helped him focus. He cleared his throat and drank a little more.
"Around nine, I think. I heard you coughing and came down to check on you." Napoleon took the glass from him. "By the way, I found your little surprise package."
Illya propped himself up on his elbows. "What package?"
"The cat, et al. When I was looking out the window upstairs, I noticed you hadn't closed the garage door all the way and wondered why. I moved her into the kitchen because I thought she would be more comfortable."
"Has a very smug look on his face. Well, more smug than usual. After exchanging a few words, Berra Noir climbed in to help."
"Five of them, a couple bearing a striking resemblance to a certain yellow tabby you know." Napoleon helped him claw his way out of the cocoon of material. "I'm guessing your fever must have broken, but is sounded like you were having a crazy dream. You kept calling me Albert... or should I be jealous?"
"No, not jealous." It took him a couple of attempts, but Illya got upright. "I need to go check on Matt and Rocky."
"No, you need to follow the very excellent advice you gave me and come to bed. Your fever's broken, but you're still sick." Napoleon broke off to cough and a moment later Illya joined him. "We could start our own act—Dueling Coughs."
"Not to be confused with banjos."
"I never confuse anything with banjos." Napoleon helped him to his feet. "Let's go to bed, partner."
"I thought you'd never ask."
Sure his life was messy, chaotic and unpredictable, but it was his life and Illya decided it suited him just fine. Even right down to the ABBA soundtrack.