The Rumor of Rain
Is A Trackless Domain
And The Rumor of Rain
In the late afternoon
From Tanglewood Tree by Dave Carter & Tracy Grammer
"I thought we were eating," Illya Kuryakin complained as Napoleon Solo turned into what was clearly a bar. But his protest died when the delicious odors of roasting meat, frying onions and baking bread reached his nostrils. He stood and sniffed, then gave Napoleon a smile.
"Best open faced sandwiches in the city," Napoleon said and followed Illya inside. "You order for us—I'll have a Reuben on rye and whatever dark beer's on tap—and I'll get a table."
Illya glanced around the crowded room and shrugged. He didn't see a table available anywhere, but Napoleon would obtain one, he was sure, and in a favorable location to boot. So he went to the bar, and after a brief wait ordered Napoleon's Reuben and his own roast beef platter, along with two dark beers on tap. He was given a number to prop up on their table, and returned to find Napoleon ensconced in a corner which would keep their backs to the wall, and give them a good view of the entrance. He was flirting with a pretty brunette who was leaning over the back of her own booth to do so. Illya rolled his eyes but smiled too, because the flirtation would not come to anything. Napoleon had invited him out to dinner, and would not desert him in the middle, although he might... and probably would... take the brunette's phone number for later reference.
Napoleon watched Illya come across the room, that blond hair a beacon in the dim light, even drawn back into its customary tight ponytail and hidden under his jacket as it was. He tucked the dark haired girl's phone number into his vest pocket, managed to dismiss her without offending her and turned to his partner in welcome. He discarded the number Illya held out—no point in being too readily identifiable. Easy enough to spot a waitress carrying two dark ales on a platter. Illya was smiling and clearly anticipating his meal. Napoleon was glad. He'd earned it. They both had.
He had issued this invitation while they had been held prisoner on their last trip to the west coast. It wasn't even a field mission—that part of their careers was behind them. Or it was supposed to be. They had been attending a conference on counter terrorism when they had been snatched from the parking lot, searched, locked in a small basement room, containing only a rusty, dripping water pipe, and left to starve. Someone had recognized them, and held an old grudge. Two days into their captivity they had begun talking about food. It was inevitable, it always happened when the body was deprived of sustenance for a long enough period. The brain would keep coming up with visions of feasts and you could either try to ignore it or talk it out. Napoleon favored the talking it out method, and he'd expounded to a reluctant Illya—who would much rather try to ignore it and become crankier and crankier in the process—on Thanksgivings of his childhood, on hot dogs in the park, on this particular bar's menu.
"Shut up," Illya had finally snapped at him. "Dwelling on a meal we will no doubt never enjoy is not only pointless it is extremely annoying. Think about it if you must, but spare me."
"We will enjoy it," Napoleon had said confidently. "Just as soon as we finish our reports I'll take you there, and buy you whatever you please. That's a promise."
Illya had eyed him sourly but sure enough the rescue team had come in time, and they had been freed, They had finished their paperwork in record time, and now they were waiting to eat with barely restrained impatience. There had been snacks on the rescue chopper, and a piece of fruit while they worked on their reports, but their bodies demanded hot food and lots of it, and now that it was in sight it was harder than ever to hold off.
Finally the waitress brought their plates, and their beer, and they fell on the food without further conversation. Napoleon devoured his Reuben and pretended not to see Illya stealing fries off his plate. But he pushed the basket of rolls closer to his partner and grinned at him when he took one. Illya scowled at him but it was forced, and after a moment his mouth twitched and he gave a reluctant snort of laughter.
"Well?" Napoleon demanded. "Was that the best sandwich you've ever had?"
"Yes," Illya conceded, wiping his mouth with his napkin. He felt good—replete with food and beer and satisfaction, and already looking forward to an evening with his jazz records and an early bed. He smiled at the thought, and scanned the room again.
"Gus!" Napoleon didn't shout it out—he was far too well trained for that, but his voice carried to the man in the doorway, scanning the room in his turn, and the man waved and started their way. Because Napoleon was looking at him he missed the way Illya's smile faded and was gone.
Gus Adams. An old friend of Napoleon's, one who appeared in New York periodically. Illya loathed him. Unfortunately, Adams didn't return the feeling—in fact he liked Illya far too well. Fervently Illya wished that he had turned down Napoleon's invitation, that he had gone straight home and ordered pizza. Adams would have sought him out, of course, but probably not tonight. He would have had his quiet time at least, before starting up with this... Adams had reached their table then, and he and Napoleon were exchanging pleasant obscenities.
In Adams's presence Napoleon changed. He seemed to revert back to the young hell raising soldier he had been when the two men had met, before both had been recruited by U.N.C.L.E. The quiet, suave charmer Illya knew best disappeared, leaving him louder, more raucous. Illya disliked the change almost as much as he disliked Adams himself. Then Adams turned, and made him a mock bow.
"Illya Kuryakin, out on the town."
"And just leaving," Illya said, and rose. Napoleon groaned.
"Not again, Illya. This time you need to join us. Gus always knows the hottest clubs, and the softest women. We'll be painting Manhattan red tonight. You should come."
"No thank you," Illya said politely, and began to edge his way out of his seat. It was impossible to do so, however, without brushing up against Adams, who stood solidly in his way. Illya paused. "Excuse me."
"Plenty of room," Adams said without looking at him. Illya gritted his teeth and tried to push past. Adams turned his head then, and smiled right down into his face. "Your partner sure is a pretty little thing, Napoleon," he observed lazily. "If I were otherwise inclined I'd eat him alive."
"Over my dead body," Napoleon said and he wasn't smiling now. He could see Illya's discomfort and could see, too, that Adams was still deliberately blocking his exit. He took Gus's arm, moved him aside. "But since you're not otherwise inclined that won't be an issue. Illya, I'll see you tomorrow at work."
"We got a big night ahead of us," Gus observed, seemingly unoffended by Napoleon's words, his tone, and the hand still on his arm. "I won't get back to the Savoy until about eleven-thirty I guess. Good old room 709, at eleven-thirty." He didn't look at Illya, and no one listening would have recognized it for a summons. But Illya did, and he shuddered, said his goodnights, and left.
Gus Adams. Illya swore as he walked down Seventh Avenue. Damn it. Damn him. Damn the whole sorry situation. Eleven thirty at the Savoy, room 709. He would be there. He had to be there. Damn it.
Adams had first approached him nearly two years ago. Illya had seen him with Napoleon, but nothing about the big red faced man made him desirable company, so he had just said hello and goodbye and gone on his way. But then Adams had come to his office.
"Yes?" Illya put his pencil down. Was something wrong with Napoleon? He could think of no other reason for Adams to come here. "Can I help you?"
Gus told him in no uncertain terms what he could do to help, and at the foul suggestions Illya's eyes widened, lightened. He came to his feet. "Get out," he said coldly. "Get out now and maybe I won't kill you for that."
"Oh, don't be that way," Gus coaxed. "So prim and proper, like you weren't one of U.N.C.L.E.'s Section 13 whores, like you weren't one of the Soviets' little honey traps. Like you haven't fucked more men than you can probably count. Like you don't give the best blow job in the service. I know all about you, Mr. Vestal Virgin Kuryakin. You came into U.N.C.L.E. as a whore, you fucked your way into the comfy berth you have now, and Napoleon Solo don't know thing one about it. He really believes your phony little act. He thinks you're too good for it. Want me to set him straight?"
Illya stared at him. "How..." he began, then could have bitten his tongue off for playing Gus's game with him.
"Ah, there's the question sugar buns. Let's just say a friend of a friend saw you with Napoleon, and recognized you from the good old days. Once I knew that it wasn't hard to track down the rest. Double assignments in Sections Two and Thirteen for two years. While you were working with Napoleon you were fucking the enemy. And he has no idea. How many lies did you have to tell him to cover that up?" Here Gus's tone became a nasty mimicry of Napoleon. "'Don't talk about Illya that way, Gus. Illya is the best friend I've ever had. I trust him completely.'" He leaned on Illya's desk. "I'm at the Hilton. Be there at ten o'clock tonight, strutting your hottest stuff." He leaned in closer. "What I won't do to you," he told Illya softly. "I'll fuck you so hard it'll loosen your teeth. You'll suck me till I come... three times, I was told. You can suck a man off till he comes three times. I'd like to know how that feels. Look at you." He was half across Illya's desk now, hot breath in Illya's nostrils, spittle flying from his mouth onto Illya's face. "Sitting there all high and mighty, like your shit don't stink. Like you're not excited just thinking about it. I know about your kind. You'll say no no no and please stop and that hurts Gus and you'll be loving every minute of it. Won't you?"
Illya couldn't speak. He was mute, paralyzed with horror. This... this creature knew about him? Everything about him? Everything he had worked so hard to put behind him, everything he had finished with, everything he had overcome? Everything he had so carefully kept from Napoleon? Because Napoleon wouldn't be his friend anymore if he knew, that was for sure. Napoleon's lip would curl, Napoleon would turn away from him, Napoleon would detest him for a whore and a liar and a false friend. Anything was better than that. Anything. So he had to let Gus Adams fuck him. So, fine. Fine. What was one man more or less in his life?
"I'll do it," he said, voice colorless. "I don't want you to tell Napoleon, you're right. I'll do it. But I won't like it, Adams. You're wrong about that. I never liked it, and with you..." he looked Adams up and down, and let his mouth show his contempt. "I'll hate it."
"Don't believe you for a minute sugar buns," Adams told him affably. "But love it or hate it, it's all one to me. See you tonight."
So he went, and he endured. Endured Gus's hands crawling all over him, Gus's foul breath in his face, Gus's cock up his ass. He sucked him to the required three orgasms and endured, too, the other things, the memory of which still made his blood run cold. He endured all the way through and at the end, as he was pulling his clothes on Gus rolled out of bed and rumpled his hair. Illya pulled away and tied it back into its ponytail before Gus could touch it again. Gus laughed.
"I'll be back in town within the month," he said, and tugged at the ponytail a shade too hard to be a joke. "I'll let you know when."
Illya turned and stared at him. "If you think," he began, then stopped. Gus laughed again.
"Yes I do think, sugar buns," he said and pulled Illya's hair again, hard, wrapped it around his hand and pulled. "I certainly do. Unless you want me to call Napoleon right now?"
"He'd kill you," Illya said savagely. "He'd kill you if he knew you did this to me."
"Maybe so," Gus agreed. "'Course with nary a mark on you, besides my little love bites..." he leered and Illya closed his eyes. "It's obvious you put up no resistance and now why would that be? Because you wanted it. You wanted it, you little piece of shit and you know it. But hey." He released Illya's hair, fell back onto the bed. "Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Napoleon will say oh poor you, did that mean old Gus Adams hurt you? Did he think I'd care that my partner is a whore? A lying whore? So if it's no tell me now, because I'm not having this discussion every freaking time we get together. Tell me no, and I'll call Napoleon and set up a meeting. Well?"
"Let me know where and when," Illya said, hating Adams, hating himself. "I'll be there."
"Oh I know you will, sugar buns." Laughing some more Adams turned over in bed, thumped the pillows. "I just know you will."
Now, two years later, Illya stood in his apartment and tried to prepare himself to go to Adams's room once again. He told himself that one man more or less made no difference to him. He reminded himself that it wasn't so very often, that Adams was in town—this would make the eighth time they had been together. No so often compared to the old days—he could still count their encounters on his fingers. He told himself it could be worse—and shivered, cold suddenly, cold all over. Because that was the truth. It could be worse.
It could be his uncle. Just the thought made his legs feel weak, his heart stumble in his chest. He tried to force the image away, the image of his deceased mother's brother, the image of his guardian. The man who had tortured and beaten him, starved and raped him. For one moment the man was as clear in his mind as if they had parted only yesterday instead of all those years ago. Tall, handsome, powerfully built, his snapping black eyes and red mouth proclaimed his cruelty for anyone to see. His uncle. Illya realized he was trembling, like the child he had been, like the child he had left behind when he bartered and blackmailed and slept his way out of Russia and into U.N.C.L.E.. He didn't miss the irony. The good U.N.C.L.E. and the bad uncle. And even the good U.N.C.L.E. had demanded two years more of sexual servitude in exchange for his freedom. But he was free now. Alexander Waverly had taken over, and under Alexander Waverly no one worked in Section 13 who didn't want to be there. Under Waverly, Illya Kuryakin had come into his own. His formidable intelligence, his physical courage, his ingenious mind—all had been valued. He had forged a new life for himself, a life where he earned respect for his accomplishments. A life where he was no longer prey to any powerful man with the time and the inclination. A life where he had a true friend in Napoleon.
And there the happy ending ran into a brick wall. Because once again he was submitting to a man, and because the only reason Napoleon thought himself a friend was that he didn't know. He didn't know. He didn't know Illya had been a whore. He didn't know about those men. He thought Illya above all that—Illya knew that was so because he had heard Napoleon, on the occasion when some man or other made advances.
"Don't even think it!" he had snapped at the new Head of Operations and Intelligence when he had made a rude joke about Illya's looks and presumed availability. "Illya doesn't—Illya isn't for the likes of you. Illya is..." here he had stopped and Illya had watched him search for a word, then discard the necessity of explaining himself to this man. "Don't even think it," he had said again, and the tone of his voice, and the look in his eyes, had ensured that if Jake Andrews had indeed continued to think it, he had kept his thoughts to himself.
How angry Napoleon would be to know he had been wrong. Napoleon would feel he had been made to look a fool. Napoleon would feel Illya had lied to him, betrayed him. Napoleon would... Napoleon would say harsh hurtful things and then Napoleon would turn his back and it would be over. His friendship with Illya would be ended and Illya would be alone again, as he had been before. As he had always been.
And that thought was intolerable. Even though the friendship was maintained under false pretences, it was still the best thing in his life. And now that Thrush was defeated, the fieldwork ended; now that U.N.C.L.E. had moved on into this new era he and Napoleon didn't even have work tying them together. The only thing they had was the friendship. And that friendship wasn't expendable to Illya. Not expendable, and worth the price. So he adjusted his jacket, turned and went to pay it.
It was a high price. Gus was ready for him, and threw him over the back of the sofa as soon as Illya came through the door. He yanked Illya's pants down roughly and took him with equal roughness. The pain was blinding and Illya chewed on the inside of his mouth to try and silence it, but he couldn't altogether, and his groans only encouraged the bigger man. When the rape was finished Gus worked him over with his fists, clearly enjoying this as much as the other. The sickening thud of flesh striking flesh turned Illya's stomach, while the blows to his back, his abdomen, his kidneys, his upper thighs sent him to the ground, writhing helplessly, gasping and crying aloud finally when Gus kicked his buttocks so hard he thought his tailbone must surely be cracked. And when Gus drove himself in again he was sure of it. He cried out again in agony, and Gus covered his mouth with one meaty palm so his own words, hissed into Illya's ear, would carry.
"You love this don't you, you fucking whore. Ah, that's right, take this and this..." ramming into him so hard that Illya's whole body jerked with each thrust. "And this..." Gus punched him in the head with his free hand. "Take this and this and..." Gus howled at the ceiling, barked like a dog, laughing the whole time as he came with a final shout that they must have heard all up and down the hotel corridor. Panting, he collapsed on top of Illya, making all the bruised places hurt more, making it hard to breathe. Illya lay and gasped for air and finally Gus sat up.
"Holy crap," he said and leaned in, planted a wet stinking kiss on Illya's mouth. "That was so good... and I'll tell you what, sugar buns. I'm in town through Wednesday so I want you to come back over here tomorrow. I'll have a few friends in and we'll all do the dirty bee bop with you until you've got come running out your ears. And I want you to act like you like it so they don't think something's up. Got me? I want you to pant and moan and say please do it and kiss them back and anything else it takes to convince them they're not gang raping you. None of them quite have the stomach for that. I've assured them you like a party, that you like it rough, that you'll love each and every minute of it and you'll back me up, Illya thinks he's too good for it Kuryakin. Got me?"
A party. Again those buried images tried to resurface. A party. His uncle had sent him to parties, at eleven and twelve years old—up until his escape at sixteen he had endured parties. He knew how it felt to have one man up his ass and another down his throat and behind them the laughing and cursing and talking of a crowd waiting its turn. A party. And he was to pretend he liked it. He had thought he had tasted the depths of degradation, that his humiliation was complete, pinned under Gus Adams, listening to the stream of filth being poured into his ears but humiliation was never complete, it seemed, there were still new depths for him to explore even after all this time.
No. He felt the dull hopeless resolve set as Adams shoved his clothes into his arms, opened the door and sent him on his way with another kick to his backside that buckled his knees and sent him to the floor, in public; naked and rolling on the floor in public. No.
He thought it as he hurried into his clothes because Gus had made so much noise, and the door had slammed so hard, that surely people were looking out their peepholes, surely even now they were staring at him, naked and bruised and filthy, struggling to button his shirt and zip his pants. It shamed him even further, and when he saw he didn't have his shoes he didn't even think of knocking on the door to retrieve them. He just ran down the hall, down the stairs because standing and waiting for the elevator in full view was too much. He ran down the stairs and through the lobby—were they staring at him there too? He didn't look to see, just pushed through the revolving doors and out onto the street.
It was a long walk, to the Queensboro Bridge over the East River. He hurt everywhere, not least on his bare feet after the first few blocks on the cold concrete, but physical pain he could ignore. He'd had a lot of practice from early childhood on, and over his years in the field he had of course done much worse than walk barefoot in the street. So he pushed on, his thoughts now firmly fixed on the surcease he would find at the end.
He would die. He would climb onto the railing and leap forward and out, in a perfect swan dive, bringing his arms down to his sides as he arced towards the water, thus guaranteeing that the smashing impact would break his neck, killing him outright. With any luck at all he would be dead before his lungs filled with the cold water. With any luck at all... he reached his destination finally and walked up the pedestrian lane, climbed over the safety rail and stood looking down.
The river raced below him, black and fast moving. He would enter that water and never emerge again. His body would be borne along under the surface, with the other debris and trash, and no one would ever know what had become of him.
He frowned. No one would ever know. He would be swept out to sea and the odds against his washing up were great. U.N.C.L.E. would search, of course, but after the requisite six weeks they would finish closing out his active cases and close the book on him as well. But Napoleon... Napoleon would continue to look. Napoleon would picture him held captive somewhere, being tortured perhaps and looking for rescue. Napoleon would pursue every lead, follow every trail to its inevitable dead end. Napoleon would never give up. Napoleon... Illya sighed. Shoulders slumped, newly defeated, he turned away from the river and plodded back across the bridge.
No final soaring flight, then. No long swim out into the Atlantic Ocean either, for the same reason. So how? He might as well eat his gun, he supposed. It was the traditional way out, and while there would be a brief sensation, exclamations of surprise and dismay, he wouldn't be the first nor the last operative to take his own life. At least he could do that in the comfort of his living room. He could shower, get into warm pajamas, put his abused feet up and send a bullet through his brain stem. He looked around for a cab.
He waved down three, but each one slowed, then sped off. He supposed he looked pretty disreputable at that. So he would walk. He would walk all the way home because he didn't have money for the subway—or the cab, come to that, but for that he could have gone upstairs to his apartment and brought the money back down. The driver could accompany him if he wished, and... again the thought of Napoleon intruded into his plans and he stopped.
Napoleon wouldn't just accept his death as one in a long line of suicides. Napoleon would wonder why. Napoleon would feel guilty, that he hadn't been a good enough friend to make Illya confide in him. Napoleon would go over every conversation, every interaction—especially this last night at the bar, looking for some clue, berating himself for not seeing Illya's need, berating himself for letting his friend down.
So he couldn't do that. He couldn't blatantly kill himself. An accident, then. It would have to look like an accident. He could step out in front of a car... but what would that do to the driver? And what if he wasn't killed outright, but crippled? A subway train... but again, he had read about the remorse conductors felt for being unable to stop the train, impossible task though that would be. Off a high building? Manhattan certainly offered a plethora of possibilities—but what if he landed on someone? And besides, there would always be the question—was it really an accident? Or murder? Or suicide? Napoleon would worry at the issue, would try and solve the mystery. Napoleon would never know another moment's peace.
So he had to live. And living, he would have to go to Gus Adam tomorrow night and be... be their little party favor.
Here's our little party favor, the man had said, opening the door to his hotel suite. A crowd of grinning men were behind him and the child had turned to run. He had run right into his uncle, who had dragged him away and...
No. No, he couldn't do it. He couldn't face it. He couldn't die, and he couldn't live. What was he to do then? For a moment he really felt he would go mad, facing these irreconcilable choices, then the answer came with the thud of a cell door closing behind him.
He would tell Napoleon. He had to. No other option was possible. He would go to Napoleon's apartment and tell him the truth. He would face Napoleon's wrath, and then go home. Then could come the hot shower, the warm pajamas, the bottle of vodka. He would lose Napoleon's friendship, his regard, his affection—but he wouldn't poison Napoleon's life with doubt and grief and remorse, and he wouldn't give Gus Adams the satisfaction of pretending to enjoy the orgy planned for tomorrow night. He looked around again for a cab and he was staring right at Napoleon's front door.
He had been coming here the whole time. All the time he had been walking aimlessly, as he had supposed, he had been coming here. For a moment he felt a strange sensation, as if he had been poised on some abyss and purely by chance had stepped back. If he had caught one of those cabs, if one of those drivers had stopped, he would have been home already. And once home, he might have changed his mind. He might have gone to Adam's hotel tomorrow anyway, submitted to yet further indignities, buried his self esteem and his pride so deeply that nothing could uncover it again. But he hadn't caught a cab, he had walked and thought and come to this decision. He shivered, as if... as if someone were walking on my grave, he thought, and turned into the brightly lit lobby.
He walked right past the doorman. Napoleon had long ago given them all instructions that Illya Kuryakin was to be admitted at any time, day or night, whether Napoleon were there or no. So this time, for the last time, he didn't have to stop, explain his business, wait while the doorman buzzed Napoleon to grant or deny entrance. For the last time, he walked in as Napoleon's friend. He didn't see the doorman reach for the buzzer anyway, because it never occurred to him that Napoleon might not be alone.
The buzz of the lobby intercom woke Napoleon from a sound sleep. He sat bolt upright, looked at the time—four in the morning—and came out of bed in one motion. He had his gun in his hand when he reached the foyer and depressed the button. "Yes?" His voice was sharp, with no hint that thirty seconds ago he had been sunk in the oblivion of afterglow.
"Mr. Solo. Mr. Kuryakin is on his way up. I know he doesn't need to be announced, but since the young lady is still there, I thought you might appreciate..."
"Thank you." The sound of his doorbell punctuated the sentence and Napoleon disconnected. What on earth... he looked through his peephole and it was indeed Illya. Illya, looking sadly disheveled. Illya, looking upset. Napoleon opened the door.
"Work?" he asked because the answer to that would determine all that came after. A work problem would mean he would have to get dressed, roust Katherine out of bed and out of his apartment. A work problem that brought Illya here, at this hour, looking the way he did—hair coming loose from its ponytail and hanging around his face, face smudged with dirt, clothes rumpled, feet bare—would mean something catastrophic had happened. But Illya was shaking his head.
"No. Not work. Napoleon—I have to talk to you."
"It's personal?" He heard the incredulity in his voice and was sorry. He hadn't actually said 'at this hour' but he might as well have. Illya flinched.
"Yes. I'm sorry."
"No, that's all right. Hold on a minute." He would have to wake Katherine up after all, because for Illya to be here, now, in this state, over a personal issue, must mean... well, must mean something catastrophic had happened. He didn't want to brush Illya off, didn't want them to be interrupted, so he turned towards the bedroom.
Illya wanted to protest. He had the words all ready, and if he didn't get to spill them now he might lose his nerve. It was taking every ounce of courage he possessed to face Napoleon, would take more than that to say what he had to say. He hadn't expected to have to stand here, barefoot and unkempt, while Napoleon... what was Napoleon doing? But he had his answer in a moment when a beautiful woman came out of the bedroom, pulling on her dress, struggling with the zipper, standing still and letting Napoleon do it.
"I'm sorry," Napoleon said. "Work. A work emergency. I hope you understand."
"Well..." the woman pouted. Napoleon crossed back over to the intercom.
"I'll have the doorman call you a cab," he said and the woman shook her head angrily.
"Cheap hookers get sent home in cabs," she snapped and neither she nor Napoleon noticed Illya's wince. "You'll have to do better than that, Napoleon Solo, if you expect to ever see me again."
"Don't fret," Napoleon said soothingly. He picked up the phone, spoke into it, hung up. "A private car will be waiting when you get downstairs. Is that better?"
"It'll do," she retorted and swept out the door, all outraged hauteur. Napoleon laughed.
"A private car, no less," he said, then turned back to Illya. "Come in. Have a seat. Aren't your feet freezing? Let me get you some slippers and light a fire. Do you want something to drink? Eat?"
"No. Just let me say what I have to say, please, Napoleon." Illya's voice was urgent, and Napoleon stood still.
"All right," he agreed quietly. "I'm listening."
"I'm a whore," Illya said, throwing that right out there. "I mean, I was. But once one always one, right?" He laughed shortly and heard the touch of hysteria in it. He forced it down because he wouldn't appeal to Napoleon through emotions, he would just say it and let Napoleon do what he would with the information. "The first two years we worked together, as well as the year before that, I was also in Section 13. With men," he added because that made a difference, he knew—a big difference. The male agents in Section 13 who specialized in women were generally considered fine fellows. Whereas he was... he wasn't fine. "I slept with men. I seduced men. And before I joined U.N.C.L.E. I did the same thing. I was... what I believe you call a honey trap. A lure. A... a whore."
Something inside Napoleon seemed to freeze over. He was no longer concerned about Illya's physical condition, or the expression on his face. "You mean to tell me," he said, slowly and distinctly, "that those first two years, while we were going on assignments, while I was teaching you what you needed to know about being a field agent, while we were becoming friends—you were leading a double life about which I knew nothing?"
Illya bent his head. He could no longer look Napoleon in the face, because that face was now cold and condemning. It was what he had expected, but the pain it brought him was beyond anything he had thought possible for him to feel. "Yes."
"I'll be damned. And before that."
"I can't believe this. So everything about that time—about all the times—has been a lie? You've been living a lie—with me? When I thought there were no secrets between us, when I thought there was someone in this wretched business I could trust? And it was all a lie?"
"Yes." He forced the word out. At the same time he thought again of that black river, flowing towards the sea. He wished fervently that he hadn't stopped to think, that he had just walked up there and thrown himself over before he had had time to reflect.
"I'll be damned," Napoleon said again. Then his voice hardened further. "And why are you telling me this now? Why a middle of the night emergency all of a sudden?"
"It was the best alternative I had."
"What does that... oh. I get it. Someone else was going to tell me, am I right? So you figured you'd better get to me first."
How well Napoleon knew him! Illya hadn't thought it possible to be shamed further, but now he was. When will I learn, he thought dully. Shame and degradation are bottomless pits. "Yes," he whispered.
Napoleon could barely breathe through the pain. Illya, whom he had trusted absolutely. Illya, whom he had thought was above all the grimy sexual posturing everyone else seemed to engage in. Illya, his best friend. His partner.
"Get out," he said finally. "You've had your say, you've ruined my night, now get out. I don't want to see you again. I don't want to hear your voice. I don't want..." he faltered. Illya had obediently turned away and was opening the door. His shoulders were slumped, no trace of his usual proud bearing. He looked smaller, as if ducking from a blow. His feet were still bare, and it was cold outside. Napoleon choked on his words. How could he do this? How could he throw Illya out, into the cold, into the dark, without so much as a pair of sandals against the ground? This was Illya, still Illya, still his Illya. Broken, defeated, humiliated, miserable—and it was in his hands, to continue that—or to end it.
He knew with sudden clarity that he would have to end it, that he could never live with himself if he sent Illya away now, like this, without trying to understand how this monstrous thing could be. "I don't want you to go," he finished and Illya stopped short. "Close the door. Come back in here. I'm sorry I was..." what? Harsh? Angry? "Cruel," he said, and his voice broke. It took him by surprise. He had been repressing his emotions so rigorously he hadn't even known what they were. He cleared his throat. Illya was turning to look at him now, devastation and destruction written across his face. And it was his doing. His, and no one else's. Illya had come to him, had ripped himself open and exposed his bleeding heart, and the response of his best friend in the whole world had been to... had been... Napoleon held out his arms.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I'm sorry, Illya, I'm so sorry. It just... it took me by surprise." That was such an understatement that he had to laugh, and now it was his turn to hear near hysteria in that laughter. Illya was still looking at him, and Napoleon made a coaxing gesture with his hands. "Come here," he pleaded. "Illya... come here."
Illya stared at him. Could he be hearing right? Napoleon's arms were extended, his voice was tender—no trace now of the hostile stranger. Could Napoleon really mean... did Napoleon really want... he swayed closer, just a little, daring... and Napoleon took two steps to him and gathered him into his arms.
Nothing in the whole world had ever felt so good. Illya clung to him, because he had already thrown away his pride and his self respect so he might as well... he wrapped his arms around Napoleon's neck and hung on with all his might, shivering with cold, wrapped in warmth, in the depths of despair, being lifted to the light.
They stood there for a long time, holding on to one another. Napoleon was shaking with relief that he had not taken that final step, had not cast Illya out, had not lost Illya forever. Illya was clutching at the only source of affection he had ever known, still half disbelieving that he hadn't lost it, that Napoleon still... Napoleon must still...
"You... you're still my friend?" He heard it in his voice, the shock, the fear, and Napoleon squeezed him harder.
"Yes. Yes, still and always your friend. And you're still mine, Illya? You forgive me for those hateful things I said? You threw me a curve and I... I came back at you like you were my enemy instead of..." he held Illya harder. "Instead of the dearest soul in the world to me. I felt betrayed, so I betrayed you completely."
"It's all right," Illya said, dazed with happiness. He had never pictured this outcome. He had told Napoleon everything, and Napoleon was still his friend. His first response had been anger, true, but then he had taken it back, said he was sorry, taken Illya into an embrace and was still holding him fast now. And on top of that, he never had to let Gus Adams touch him again. Because he had told Napoleon everything. Well, almost everything. He frowned against Napoleon's neck. He hadn't told Napoleon about Adams. Would that make a difference? Would Napoleon be angry with him all over again? The thought frightened him, and even as he shivered with it, Napoleon spoke.
"Who was it, Illya? Who was going to tell me? Because he probably still will, and I want to be ready for it. I don't want to be blindsided."
"Gus Adams." Illya's voice was subdued now. He felt Napoleon's surprise in the embrace, then it ended. Napoleon was holding him by the shoulders, at arm's length, that piercing gaze searching his face. Illya averted it and Napoleon shook him a little.
"Gus? Are you serious? How would he know?
"He knows someone who knew me then."
"Hmm. And he thought it was his duty, no doubt, as my friend? He just thought I should know?"
Illya took a deep breath. If this was going to end, better end it now. Now, while he was still braced for it. "He's always known. That first night he met me, two years ago, he told me he knew. He said he would tell you if I didn't... if I didn't let him... he'd heard I was skilled," he finished in a burst. "He wanted to experience that skill for himself. I didn't want you to know. I thought you'd... I knew you'd... I didn't want you to know. So I paid his price. I'm used to it. What's one man more or less..." Napoleon's arms tightened fiercely, squeezing the breath from him. He gasped. "Napoleon..."
"That son of a bitch," Napoleon said and his voice was ugly again, cruel and harsh and ugly. Illya trembled at the sound, pushing his head into Napoleon's shoulder so he didn't have to see his face. "He dared... he put his hands on you? He... is he the one who sent you out into the night like this?" Like I almost did, just like I almost did. "Illya?"
"Yes." Illya's fears were calming. Napoleon's anger wasn't directed at him, he could tell because Napoleon was patting his back now, Napoleon was rocking him a little and that was wonderful, it was just wonderful. But Napoleon seemed to be waiting for some further explanation, so Illya went on. "He said next time he'd have a party. He said..." he choked on it.
"A party," Napoleon repeated carefully. "With you as the entertainment?"
"Yes. He said he wanted me to pretend I liked it, so they would think I was a willing participant. I decided I'd rather die. But I couldn't... I couldn't work that part out so I thought I'd just come here and tell you. Then even if you hated me forever, I still wouldn't have to..." the images burst on his mind suddenly, as if a door had opened, spilling them out. Himself, on his knees, crying and naked while they laughed at him, laughed and touched him and then boosted him up onto a table. "I don't want to," he cried out, at them, at himself, at Napoleon. "I don't want to, I don't want to!"
"All right," Napoleon said soothingly. His hands were moving now, rubbing Illya's back, stroking his hair, patting him, arms cradling him, lips... could it be? Depositing gentle kisses on his head. "It's all right, Illya, you don't have to. You don't have to ever again, I promise. All right?"
Illya nodded mutely, comforted again. Napoleon went on, voice calm and steady. "Now you need to take a hot shower. Okay? You'll feel a lot better after that. A nice hot shower, and those warm pajamas I mentioned earlier... get off your feet and curl up on my sofa. All right?"
Illya nodded again. Obediently he allowed Napoleon to lead him into the bathroom and start the shower. He dropped his clothes without thought and only when he saw Napoleon's face change did he remember that the reason he felt so stiff and sore was not the long walk in the cold but the battering Gus had given him. He looked down at himself and sure enough he was black and blue everywhere between his collarbones and his knees. He couldn't meet Napoleon's eyes again, awash with shame that he had allowed this, had stood there and let Gus pound on him. What must Napoleon be thinking? But then he was drawn into another embrace, a very careful one this time.
"I have to go out," Napoleon said and Illya looked up in alarm. Napoleon's face was rigid, terrible to see. He had been about to beg Napoleon to stay because he didn't want to be alone now, even here where he was wrapped in comfort, cocooned in luxury. But those words died on his lips, and instead what came out was
"I'll go with you." How could he send Napoleon to face Gus alone? He should be there, should have Napoleon's back as he had always done. But Napoleon was shaking his head.
"No. I don't need you there. I can handle this."
"Don't get in trouble," Illya said helplessly because he couldn't change Napoleon's mind, he could see that. "I don't want you to get in trouble. He's not worth it."
"He's not. But you are. I won't get in trouble, Illya. I won't lay a finger on him—because if I did, I wouldn't be able to stop. I'll just tell him, very calmly, to stay away." He grinned at Illya, and there was no humor in it. "Don't you think that will be enough?"
Yes it would. Napoleon would look at Gus with those awful eyes and Gus would leave and never come back. Illya knew it. So he only bent his head in silent agreement.
"Are you all right?" Napoleon said, and when Illya looked at him again his eyes were kind once more, kind and concerned. "Do you need a doctor?"
"No. Thank you."
"All right. Are you in pain?"
How could he deny that, with the evidence right before Napoleon's face? So he nodded again. Napoleon rummaged in his medicine cabinet.
"Here." He shook two pills out into Illya's palm, ran a glass of water. "Take these, take your shower—there's a bench in there if you want to sit down. Wrap up in the pajamas I'll leave on the sofa and wait for me. I won't be long. I'll just show him my ugly side, scare the living crap out of him, and come right back. Don't go anywhere. You're spending the night here. Yes?"
"Yes," Illya said after swallowing the pills with the water. "Yes, Napoleon. I'll stay here. Where would I go?" Because he had nowhere else to go, he had seen that clearly while standing on a bridge overlooking the East River. Despite his work success, despite the cozy apartment even now waiting for him in the West Village, he had no haven except for the one he had found right here. Right here, with Napoleon. He would wait forever, if need be.
The desolation in Illya's voice cut Napoleon to the core. He reached for him again, held him close again, naked as he was. "Now then," he said and his voice was unabashedly tender. "Now then," he repeated. "I'll be right back. Because... Illya?" He waited until Illya looked up, into his eyes. "I have nowhere else to go either." It was true. Here, with Illya in his arms, he was home. What that meant he wasn't sure. But of its truth there could be no doubt. He kissed the top of Illya's head, and left.
When he returned his mood was grim. The scene with Gus had been brief but distasteful. "For that whore?" Gus had howled. "We've been friends for years and you'd throw it away for that..." he seemed to fully take in the look on Napoleon's face then and paled, fell silent.
"Never again," Napoleon told him. "If I ever see you again I will kill you. If Illya ever sees you again you'll wish I'd killed you now." He took a step forward and Gus backed away, clearly terrified by whatever he was seeing. "Am I making myself clear?"
Gus only nodded.
"Good." Napoleon turned on his heel and left.
So as he entered the foyer his face must have still been reflecting that meeting because the doorman, on the verge of calling out a cheerful greeting, gulped and only held the door instead. Napoleon gave him a brief nod, and went on through.
When he came into his apartment Illya was on the sofa, wearing Napoleon's too big pajamas and watching television. Or not—because his head jerked up at Napoleon's entrance and he had clearly been dozing.
"Napoleon." The relief in his voice was absolute. "Napoleon. I've been worried."
"About me?" Napoleon snorted. "I didn't even have to raise my voice."
"Thank you." Illya felt awkward, and shy with Napoleon who now knew him far too well. He bent his head and shook his hair forward to hide his face. Napoleon watched him affectionately.
"You are more than welcome. Ready to turn in? You could have gone on, you know. You didn't have to wait up."
"I wanted to."
"Aren't those pills making you sleepy?"
"Yes. But I didn't want to go to sleep without you." Illya yawned. "I'm afraid I'll dream."
"Ah." Napoleon came over and sat down on the sofa beside him. He pushed Illya's hair back and lingered, surprised by how very soft and thick it was between his fingers. He did it again, more slowly, and Illya smiled at him. His eyes were heavy and even as Napoleon watched him he yawned again. "Worried about bad dreams, are we?"
"Yes." Illya yawned again. "I'm afraid I'll dream about him."
"No. Him." Illya's eyes were closing despite his best efforts and when Napoleon helped him to his feet his head drooped onto Napoleon's shoulder.
But Illya's knees buckled and Napoleon caught him, half carried him into his own bedroom. He had thought to set Illya up in the spare room—it wouldn't be the first time Illya had slept there. But he sympathized with Illya's talk of nightmares. He had had them himself on pain medication, and it made it hard to wake up, hard to remember it was a dream. So he stripped his bed—how long ago it seemed since he had laid Katherine down there—and remade it with fresh sheets. Illya was asleep in the chair by the time he had finished, curled at an uncomfortable looking angle. Napoleon smiled at the sight of him and gently urged him to his feet. Illya climbed in between the covers without demur and when Napoleon followed Illya turned into his embrace as naturally as if they did this every night. Napoleon lay and stroked his hair, and only when his deep, even breathing, his limp body, said he was in the depths of slumber did Napoleon let his own eyes close. He turned his head so his cheek rested on Illya's temple, and went down into sleep.
When Napoleon woke the next morning his first awareness was of the sweet, wild scent of Illya's hair. He smiled and looked at Illya, lying there in his bed, body turned towards him in utter trust. Napoleon looked at him, sleeping there, and loved him.
It was as simple as that. When he thought of that moment—and he did, over the years to follow—it always resounded in his mind with the same stunning simplicity. He looked at Illya, and loved him. His heart opened and he drew Illya inside—but Illya was already there, had been there from their very first meeting. That was a paradox but he accepted it, and propped himself up on one elbow, gazing into Illya's peaceful face.
As if feeling that scrutiny Illya stirred, and his eyes opened. Napoleon looked into them, blue as the sea, blue as the sky; he looked at that perfect face, at that lovely mouth. "How beautiful you are," he said softly, and traced Illya's lips with one finger. "I know it's been nothing but a curse to you, but still... how very beautiful you are." He leaned closer, trying to see an answer to his unspoken question in Illya's eyes, and then Illya closed them. Unable to help himself Napoleon kissed them, the lashes feathery against his lips. He kissed each one, and then he kissed Illya's mouth.
He lingered there, falling and falling and after a moment Illya's lips softened and warmed, and then he kissed Napoleon back. They kissed for a few minutes, on Napoleon's bed with the sun streaming across it, and then Napoleon drew back.
"Why... why did you do that?" Illya's face was very serious and suddenly Napoleon had the sense that more was resting on his answer than either one of them knew. Like a lynch pin in time, the moment hung suspended. Why had he done it? Why had he broken the unspoken rules of their friendship, why had he trespassed on Illya's fierce rectitude, why had he, in one unguarded moment, put himself in the same league as Gus Adams and all the other men who had wanted him?
Illya was staring at him, and a thousand questions were in his silence. You too, those eyes asked. You too? And now what? What do you want from me? Do you look at me differently now, now that you know about me? Did Adams tell you how good I was? Is that why you did it? And will you hurt me, during or afterwards? Will you take what you want and move on, the way you always do? What happens to our partnership, our friendship now? Why did you do that?
I don't know, Napoleon almost answered, and didn't. "Because I love you," he said instead, because that was the truth. "I love you. I think I have always loved you without knowing, and now, knowing, I had to... I wanted to kiss you." And more, he thought, and knew the thought was on his face when Illya's eyes widened. He wanted to answer all the other questions too, the unspoken ones, but didn't know how. Instead he let his hands speak for him, stroking Illya's hair back from his face, spreading it out on the pillow. The sun's rays seemed caught in it, as if not wanting to leave it and Napoleon sympathized because he didn't want to leave off touching it either. But he did, because there was something that did need saying.
"I know this has terrible associations for you," he whispered and just the thought broke his heart. He slid one arm under Illya's shoulders and gathered him in, trying to console him for all the harsh treatment over all those years. "If you don't want to do this, say so. I won't do another thing without your permission."
"You're asking my permission?"
"Yes. Of course. Nothing without your consent, ever."
"I love you," Napoleon said again. "I don't say that lightly, or often, or, in fact, ever. Do you... Illya. Do you care for me at all? That way, I mean?"
There was another long silence, but he could read nothing in Illya's eyes now. They had darkened, and were studying him thoughtfully and he had again the sense of momentous events hanging on that question and the ensuing answer. Then Illya smiled. He smiled, and the darkness was gone.
"Yes," he said, and put his arms around Napoleon's neck. "I love you, Napoleon. I'm not afraid of you. I trust you. I can't imagine why you want to do this—it doesn't seem like you at all—but if you want me, I'm yours. I have always been yours."
Napoleon couldn't speak so once again he let his hands and his mouth and his hard, strong body say what his words could not. He touched Illya all over, loved him all over, never pressing, following Illya's cues, backing off when Illya tensed, moving ahead when Illya arched his back, opened his legs. He touched Illya there, stroking him and feeling, with a delirious wonder, Illya touch him in his turn. They touched one another, gasping and crying out, both of them crying out, bodies pressed together, moving against one another, mouths seeking one another at the end and finding, the world spinning away in bright flashing pleasure for them both and at the heart of the maelstrom they were one. One, now and forever. One.
Napoleon woke once, late that night, needing to urinate. He got out of bed, careful not to disturb Illya who looked heart stoppingly beautiful in his sleep, smiling faintly, the moonlight tangled in his hair the way the sun had been that morning. Napoleon smiled too, looking at him. They had passed the day wrapped up in one another, talking, laughing, at peace with themselves and this new thing they had made together. Napoleon talked of the future, laying out his plans, discussing shared bank accounts and a shared home, changes to their personnel files and their health insurance. Illya had listened and nodded and said little, but Napoleon could tell by looking into those wonderful eyes how happy he was.
Napoleon had asked him, once, who the 'him' was he had been afraid of dreaming about the night before. Illya had looked at him and those eyes seemed to lose their translucent blue, appearing as grey as fog in the morning. "I'm not ready," he had answered finally. "I'm not ready to talk about him. Please don't push it, Napoleon. When I can—if I ever can—I will. But not now."
Napoleon had hesitated, troubled, but seeing Illya's eyes that somber color, seeing his mouth droop, all joy gone from his face, struck him to the heart. So he had yielded. "All right," he'd said, and put his arm around Illya's waist, pulled him in. "All right. But someday?"
Illya had nodded against him. "Someday," he'd conceded, and Napoleon had kissed the top of his head and let it go.
Now Napoleon hurried, wanting to get back to his partner, wanting to feel Illya's breath on his throat, Illya's slim, hard body against his. He dried his hands and came back out into the bedroom.
Illya had turned over, away from the light. Now he stirred again, and moaned. It was a terrible sound, seeming to come from some dark place where the sun never rose. Napoleon climbed quickly under the covers and gathered him back in, rubbing his back, kissing his hands.
"Mmm," Illya said, and blinked. He smiled at Napoleon, then his eyes clouded. "I'm not allowed to do this," he said, and his voice had a strange quality, as if repeating something he had heard many times before. "I'm not allowed to feel..."
"Feel what?" Napoleon pulled the covers more tightly around them because Illya was shivering as if lying in a cold wind.
"This... I don't know." He yawned. "I was dreaming, I guess. I don't remember now." He yawned again. "I love you, Napoleon. Goodnight."
"Goodnight, sweetheart." The endearment slipped out without his bidding it, but once spoken he was glad. He squeezed Illya, who squeezed him back. "I love you too. See you tomorrow."
"See you tomorrow," Illya echoed, and slipped back into sleep. Napoleon rested his cheek on that soft hair and followed.
Illya was packing a few things to move from his apartment to Napoleon's. The movers would handle the big items, and his clothes were already boxed up, but his razor and brush, his... he caught sight of a small prescription bottle.
Shaking the pills into his hand, he counted them. Seven. Seven Seconals, from an old—a very old—prescription. Why had he kept them? He couldn't imagine. Were they even good anymore? He frowned at them. As he stood there looking at the small heap of pills in his hand, he suddenly remembered last night, when Napoleon had stretched out full length on top of him, flesh to flesh, hard rubbing against hard, and a thrill of remembered pleasure made him shiver. Oh, it felt so good when Napoleon loved him, it felt so good. Sometimes it seemed he might... die, a voice whispered. Die now. He started. What an odd thought to have. Dropping the pills into the toilet, he flushed them away, and put the bottle in the trash before closing his overnight bag. He was hurrying now because he wanted to get back, back to Napoleon, back to their new shared life. Life, he thought, and smiled. Not death at all. Where had that come from? He shook his head, and dismissed it.
Illya fumbled with his keys, dropped them, picked them up, tried to insert them into his front door lock and dropped them again. He swore softly and shifted the supermarket bag to his other arm. He scooped up the keys, tried once more to put them in the lock and this time dropped the bag.
It was his hand, of course. There had been a small fire in the physics lab today and Illya had snatched a flagon off the heating unit just before it boiled over. In the ensuing excitement of wielding the small fire extinguisher, answering the intercom, talking to assorted safety inspectors and filling out countless forms, he had conveniently forgotten to mention the large burn covering most of his right palm. An on the job injury would require a trip to medical, and even more forms. He didn't want to waste the time. Napoleon had promised to rent some movies, and he had wanted to stop and buy popcorn... he leaned over to get the bag...so he hadn't mentioned it.
The apartment door opened part way, Napoleon's hand shot out, grabbed Illya by the shoulder and yanked him inside. Illya staggered and nearly fell. He did drop both the keys and the grocery bag. Then he saw that Napoleon had his gun out, and was cautiously opening the door again.
"It's all right," he said, and gathered his possessions together once more. "There's no one there."
"I heard you jingling your keys and dropping things, and then it took you so long to open the door. I was afraid something was wrong."
"No, nothing." Illya turned away, to hide the injury, then stopped. Why was he hiding it from Napoleon? Napoleon would scold him mildly for not reporting it, but then he would... he would fix it. Napoleon always fussed over him when he was injured, and Illya always liked it. He didn't have to hide things from Napoleon, not anymore. That thought tickled something in the back of his mind and he frowned, trying to capture it, but then it was gone in a fresh wave of pain. He held the hand out.
"I burned my hand."
Napoleon stopped sorting through video tapes and turned around. He took the extended arm and frowned. "How did this happen?"
"Do you really want to know?"
Napoleon laughed a little. "No, I suppose not. But being your direct supervisor has gotten rather problematical lately. I've been thinking about a change."
"In us?" Illya went so cold he knew Napoleon could feel it in the hand he was still holding.
"No." Napoleon pulled him into an embrace, hard. "Not in us. Never in us. I never want this..." he held Illya even closer... "to change."
"Oh. Good." His legs felt weak from relief and he leaned against Napoleon. "Good."
"In our work status. A change in our work status. I was thinking of moving you over into a staff position. Piper is capable of handling the administrative elements of your position, isn't he?" George Piper was Illya's lab assistant.
"Yes. Of course he is. He used to carry the whole department when I was out in the field, and he still does it if I'm involved in research. He helps me with that, too. He's worth a lot more than they pay him, Napoleon. I've said so on every one of his evaluations."
"Well, we can look at that too. But right now I need to take care of you. Go change into pajamas and get comfortable. I'll fill a bowl of ice water and leave it by your chair. Then I'll go down to the drug store in the building—I have an open prescription. Never know when you'll need something in the dead of night. I'll be right back."
"All right," Illya agreed and went into the back bedroom, formerly a guest suite, now his own personal space. He loved his room, loved the adjoining office. He didn't sleep here—why would he, when Napoleon's bed was so big, and so inviting, and when it was so good, so very good, to sleep in Napoleon's arms all night long and wake up there in the morning? But the few times Napoleon had been out of town overnight, he had slept here, and that was good too.
The bowl of ice water was ready as promised and he sank into the big recliner and put his hand into it. The relief was immediate. He sighed under it and thought, I could have done this for myself. At work, before I left, I could have at least put it under cool water. Why... but then the front door opened and he lost the thought again.
"Here." Napoleon came over carrying a small paper bag. "Give me your hand." Illya did so and Napoleon carefully dried it with a linen towel from the kitchen. Illya winced, and Napoleon frowned.
"Second degree," he said and cocked a stern eye at Illya. "It's blistering already. You should have reported it. They would have put antibiotic on it, and in you. Now we're starting from behind the eight ball." He applied a spray which instantly numbed the area. If the cold water had been a relief, this was wonderful. "There's antibiotic in that, as well as the topical pain reliever." He then very carefully wrapped a gauze bandage around Illya's hand.
So much care, Illya thought in wonder. So much care, for such a small hurt. He smiled at the sweetness of that thought, and Napoleon smiled too. "Hungry?"
So Napoleon cooked steak, and baked potatoes, and broccoli. It was one of Illya's very favorite meals and he ate it with gusto, drinking wine with it, more wine than usual and why not? When Napoleon was here, and taking such good care of him, why not? He was giddy with it, and drank some more. Very soon his head began buzzing and the world seemed to tilt a little out of focus. He dropped his fork twice and spilled his water so Napoleon stood him up, guided him back to the sofa, and sat down beside him, very close. He reached around Illya and pulled the band out of his hair, spreading it on his shoulders.
Like molten gold, he thought, lifting a strand to his lips. Like captured sunshine. He leaned in and kissed Illya, who kissed him back. "Your hair is so beautiful," he whispered, and wrapped some of it around his hand, admiring the effect.
"It's a mess," Illya said, enunciating very clearly because he wanted to slur his words and wouldn't. "Between the fire and using the extinguisher and the smoke... I showered to get the smell of it off me but it hurt too much to use the comb."
"I'll do it." Napoleon got up and Illya waited with a distinctly pleasurable anticipation. Napoleon would brush his hair? How nice of him.
"You're so nice," he said when Napoleon returned, carrying a comb and brush. Without being urged he turned his back, drew his knees up and rested his forehead on them. Bemused by the task, Napoleon set to work.
It was tangled, and he started at the bottom with the comb, picking the snarls apart with infinite care, teasing each one out, moving up very slowly until finally the comb ran easily from top to bottom. Then he picked up the brush.
Illya was drifting, and his mind was wandering freely. How good Napoleon was to him. How careful he was being not to pull, not to hurt. How good it was that his hand no longer throbbed. Napoleon had fixed the wound, as he always had. As he always would. As... it was like falling into a deeper awareness. Napoleon would always fix it. Napoleon had fixed the minor wound on his hand, and Napoleon could fix the deeper wound, too, the one that had been torn into him so long ago he didn't remember a time when it had been absent. He had covered it up, and pretended it wasn't there, but it always was there, and it always hurt. He had some more wine, and considered that—considered, and came to a decision.
"He hurt me." He could no longer pronounce his words with the same care as before, but they were clear enough, and Napoleon's hands stopped.
"What? Who hurt you? When?"
"I'm not supposed to tell you. I'm not supposed to tell anyone, ever. Ever, ever, ever. If I do, I'll die."
"No you won't." Napoleon was brushing his hair again, very slowly, not wanting to do anything to stop this, whatever it was. He had been burning to ask Illya about his past, burning to find out who had set a child's feet on the road that had led to Section 13. "I was very good," Illya had said. "That's why they hired me." But he had been so young—so damnably young. There was an adult involved somewhere, and Napoleon had wanted to know, to sit Illya down and ask him questions until he understood everything, but he had held back. Illya had come to him about Adams—belatedly, and after much undue suffering. But he had come on his own. Napoleon had to trust that he would about this, too. So he had held his tongue, had bitten back the questions, and now here it was at last.
"My uncle." Illya was whispering now, into his knees and Napoleon had to strain to hear him but he did strain because he didn't want to ask Illya to speak up, didn't want to interrupt him at all. "My uncle hurt me."
"Yes. He hated me—but he wanted me. He wanted me, and he took me. I was so little I don't even remember how old I was, but it was before I went to school. He hurt me—and he liked it. He loved hurting me. It excited him so much to see me in pain and afraid and ashamed and crying... he loved it. And he did other things to me. He choked me, and held me underwater and all the time talking, talking, talking, about how I could never tell anyone, and if I did they would never believe me... you believe me, don't you Napoleon? You know I wouldn't lie to you, don't you? Even though I didn't tell you about Section 13 and before that?"
"Yes, sweetheart. I believe you."
"And you don't hate me? Because he said if I ever told anyone they would hate me for doing those things with him."
"First they wouldn't believe you, and then they would hate you?"
"Yes. And then he would know, and he would punish me forever. Punishment—I don't remember what punishment meant, exactly, but it was bad." He shivered, and then couldn't stop. Napoleon put the brush down and gathered Illya, all huddled up still, into an embrace. He held him, rocked him slowly, trying to surround him with security to draw him back from wherever it was he had gone.
"I'm sorry. Didn't anybody... wasn't there anyone you could turn to? Teachers, doctors, other relatives... anyone?"
"No. There were no other relatives, for one. I did see doctors a lot, but they weren't going to interfere with him for me. The teachers either. Why should they? I was nothing to them. I was nothing to anyone except him, and what I was to him I never knew." Illya was still shivering and Napoleon kissed his forehead, rubbed his back.
"I'm sorry, sweetheart." He didn't know what else to say. "I am so sorry."
"He was KGB," Illya said matter of factly. "Secret police, you know. He could make anybody disappear with one phone call. They were all afraid of him. But not as afraid as I was. I went in mortal terror of him every moment of every day my whole life, until I got away."
How did you do that? Napoleon wanted to ask. He wanted to ask it badly. But Illya had stopped talking, probably for the night. And he was shivering so hard... Napoleon didn't like the sound of those seemingly contradictory statements. No one would believe him, and everyone would hate him. What a conundrum for a small child to deal with. And he liked even less what Illya had said about his uncle—his KGB uncle—talking talking talking while he held that small child's head under water, or choked him unconscious. It sounded very much like an attempt at mind control, like a primitive form of brainwashing. The circumstances were certainly right for it—isolation, dependence, humiliation, fear, pain. And right now Illya was cold and clearly wretched, so unless he continued on his own, it was time to end this.
"Come on," he said gently. "Let's go to bed. You're cold."
"I am cold. I'm very cold." Illya turned suddenly and clutched at Napoleon. "You'll stay with me all night, won't you Napoleon? All night long? I've told you and now I'm afraid—I'm so afraid that he heard me and that he'll come for me. I know that doesn't make any sense. But I want you to hold me anyway. All night long. If I wake up alone I'll... I don't know. I'll die. Or go insane. Promise me."
"I promise. I absolutely promise I will stay with you all night."
Illya rose, and Napoleon led him into the bedroom. He held the covers back, let Illya crawl between them, and followed him in. They lay very close. "But what if something happens?" Illya whispered against his throat. "Like a Level One Emergency? If they call you you'll have to go in."
"I'll wake you up. I promise to wake you up. You won't just turn over and find me gone. You have my word."
"All right," Illya agreed and moved even closer. His breath was tickling Napoleon's neck and Napoleon turned his head to press a kiss onto his temple, and saw that he was asleep. Good. Napoleon did kiss him, feeling the pulse against his lips, through the thin skin there. Good. He kissed Illya again, then fell asleep himself.
The next day Napoleon and Illya went in to work and made everything official. They listed one another as domestic partners. Illya changed his address. Napoleon put Illya on the security list at his building. They filled in every blank, jumped through every hoop, then sat back and waited for an official reaction.
It took a very long time for that other shoe to drop. Days passed into weeks, and then into months. Napoleon wondered if anything would ever be said, but he was too caught up in his new, shared life to wonder very much.
He had never been so happy. He and Illya settled in together as if they had always been that way, and Napoleon felt the somberness that had fallen on him with his increased power and responsibilities fade. In fact, he was sure that when the time came to talk with his superiors the fact that his relationship with Illya had improved his job performance would be indisputable. He worked harder, and more effectively, seemingly without effort. He found himself responding more warmly to his subordinates, and the accusation that Napoleon Solo was a hard man, and a little inhuman, lost its former weight.
Illya's work status still troubled him, however. He went down into the labs to see the set up for himself, and was confirmed in his belief that George Piper, the big gruff man in his fifties who served as Illya's assistant, was more than capable of running the administrative end of things on his own. He also saw enough of how often Illya was called away from his research to handle those administrative details to fully appreciate how U.N.C.L.E. was wasting his talents. Illya was brilliant. Napoleon had always known that, but seeing it reflected in the eyes of the scientists around him, seeing George Piper's respect, reading through Illya's proposals and articles, confirmed it. A mind like Illya's shouldn't spend half the day on time sheets and leave requests and committee meetings. He refined his proposal, and turned it in.
The summons he had been waiting for came nearly six months after he and Illya had gotten together. In that time their love had grown. Napoleon knew how that sounded, knew how he would have laughed it to scorn if someone else had come to him rhapsodizing about their new love affair, but it was the truth. He and Illya fell more deeply in love with every day that passed. They lived together in perfect harmony, and fell into bed with one another at night with a passion and a tenderness that still amazed and delighted them both, even half a year later.
Illya talked occasionally of his past, dropping little nuggets of information here and there... like a trail of bread crumbs, Napoleon thought. Leading into the depths of his soul, inviting Napoleon to follow and enter there. Illya talked of his uncle's clients, and of the formal dinners where he would be auctioned to the highest bidder. He talked of one night when he had been studying, reading that the Soviet family was the backbone of the State. He had lifted his eyes to the face of his uncle, the only family he had ever known, and wondered. He told how he had then been knocked to the floor, dragged away by his hair, along a hall, into the kitchen, through a pantry, down a flight of hidden steps into a secret dungeon, where he had been locked away, beaten and raped repeatedly, crying himself to sleep over the threat that he would never again see the sun, never again be free.
"He said I was only good for one thing," Illya said, sitting next to Napoleon on the sofa with a glass of brandy held tightly in his shaking hands. Napoleon had an arm around his shoulders and was listening intently. He always said as little as possible during these confidences because if he expressed shock, or horror, or disgust, or rage, Illya stopped talking and it would take weeks before he would open up again. So he had learned to just hold Illya loosely, to look at the fire, or the TV, or anyplace other than his face, and listen. It was only when Illya had finished sharing whatever he had felt moved to share that he would turn into the embrace, want to be held, want to be comforted. Then he liked to hear Napoleon condemn his uncle, condemn his uncle's business customers, and express both admiration and pity for the little blond boy who seemed to stand before them at these moments, delicate face heavily bruised, waiting for judgment. "Only good for one thing," Illya repeated. "And I didn't need my freedom for that." He shuddered, put down his glass and let Napoleon wrap him up, hold him against the shaking, warm him against the chills racking him, kiss him and hold him and finally bring him to bed.
He always accepted Napoleon's love making passively on these nights, wanting it and accepting it; lying still under Napoleon's caresses, not moving until he had to, and when he did have to move, when his hips lifted, when his breath came faster, his whole body suddenly coming to life against Napoleon's Napoleon would rejoice silently and claim him, taking him with infinite gentleness, imagining that with every thrust he was pushing Illya's uncle and everything Illya's uncle had done to him away, far away, far enough away that someday he would no longer trouble them with his dark memories and heavy threats.
This particular night, when Illya lay fast asleep in his arms, Napoleon let himself think of a man carrying a small sleeping child, a man capable not only of remaining unmoved by the tearstained little face, but becoming aroused by it. I'd like to meet you just once, Napoleon thought grimly. Just once, just long enough to be sure you knew why you were dying, and then end your blight of a life for good and for all. He kissed Illya's forehead and, after lying awake for a very long time, fell asleep as dawn was beginning to brighten the sky.
It was the very next day that he was finally called in to confer with the Board. He read the summons on his computer screen, straightened his jacket, checked his tie, and left.
Ben Turnbull, U.N.C.L.E.'s new Section Chief since Alexander Waverly's retirement, was there, as was Jake Davenport, his second in command. Also seated around the table were the eight other members of the Board. Napoleon knew them all, and nodded to them briefly, with a friendlier pause for Davenport, who had taken a strong interest in his career. They nodded back, but no one invited him to sit down.
"Mr. Solo," Turnbull said, leaning both hands on the conference table for emphasis. "I—we—were surprised and dismayed to learn of your change in living situation. I—we—have given you some time to rethink things, hoping that this was a temporary aberration, one that would end without our having to become involved. May we continue to hope that such is the case?"
"Ah." Turnbull fell silent. Napoleon waited. He would not be the first to speak of this. He would let them reveal themselves. Turnbull jerked his head towards Davenport. "Jake? Perhaps you have something to offer."
"That Agent Kuryakin is an excellent operative," Davenport said carefully, "there is no doubt. However he has left a trail of ruined careers in his wake."
"Not to mention bodies," Turnbull snapped. "And I'm not referring to the fieldwork."
Napoleon didn't betray, by so much as a flicker of his eyebrow, that he had no idea what they were talking about. He merely looked politely at Davenport, ignoring Turnbull entirely. This wasn't lost on the man himself, who turned beet red.
"We would not desire," Davenport went on, also as if Turnbull had not spoken, "for your otherwise promising career to be among those casualties."
"He is a whore!" Turnbull flared, and everyone else looked uncomfortable. "He was in Section 13 for three years—one of our best, I might add. Before that he opened his legs or his mouth at his masters' bidding, and ruined some very good men!"
Napoleon knew how to use his anger as a weapon and he did so now, letting the depths of that anger show, as well as his control over it. How hard it was to maintain that control was also something he didn't hesitate to reveal, tightening his fists on the table, clenching his jaw so the muscle jumped there, feeling the heat wash through his face, knowing it was darkening. His voice, when it came, was clipped. "He was sixteen," he said and saw the jolt of surprise Davenport gave. Davenport and one other—James Hercut. No one else looked surprised—except that Napoleon was aware of it. "Sixteen, and pimped by this organization. Are we really going down this road today? I will if you want to."
"Twenty-one, Napoleon," Davenport said gently, clearly worried that his protégé was making a fool of himself. "He was twenty-one when we recruited him. And Section 13 was his idea."
"Sixteen, and no it was not. It was a condition. It was his only escape from an intolerable situation."
"Who told you that?" Davenport persisted. He seemed distressed, and Napoleon softened towards him. Davenport was an honorable man. They would have gone to some trouble to keep this from him.
"He did. Are you gentlemen denying it? Surely it is easily checked on."
"So what?" Turnbull was not to be shamed into silence. "That only makes it worse! He was thoroughly corrupted before we ever laid eyes on him, and moreover he corrupted everyone he came in contact with! Good men lost their jobs when he decided to talk his way into U.N.C.L.E.! Two of them lost their lives because of his threats to reveal their petty indiscretions to their wives and children! And then he wanted to be an agent! Not enough to be offered asylum in America in exchange for his information—information gained through blackmail and extortion! No, that wasn't enough for him! He took advantage of our hospitality and burrowed into our computer files, learning far too much for us to just interrogate him and release him! He should have been shot! Or thrown back to his masters in Russia! If Waverly hadn't..." Turnbull nearly choked on his own vitriol at this point. Clearly even he wasn't ready to vilify Alexander Waverly in front of witnesses.
"Illya's age at the time should speak for itself," Napoleon said, and his voice was deadly. He wasn't a man to sputter ineffectual threats and spew venom. When Napoleon Solo was angry, things happened. Everyone there knew it. "And Illya's record with U.N.C.L.E. since that time should also speak for itself. He was my field partner. Now he is my life partner. I was not required to ask for permission, or approval. I am not asking for it now. But if that word..." whore, he thought, and his eyes bored into Turnbull's. How dare you call him that when you benefited? "If that word," he repeated, "is used against my partner again, there will be repercussions. Unpleasant repercussions. Gentlemen." He inclined his head, and turned on his heel. As he went through the door he heard Hercut.
"Sixteen? Ben, is he serious? Sixteen years old?" The door closed behind him then, and Napoleon heard no more.
He went to the gym. He was still so angry he didn't trust himself with anyone, so he pummeled the bag, ran five miles on the treadmill and worked his way around the exercise circuit. He then sat in the steam room, swam twenty laps in the pool and finally took a cold shower before feeling able to dress and face his colleagues again.
As it happened, Jake Davenport was waiting in his office when he returned. Napoleon paused at sight of him, glad that he had worked out, glad that he had showered, shaved, combed his hair and changed his clothes. He entered the room fully confident that nothing of what he had been feeling showed in his face or body. "Mr. Davenport."
"I am here," Davenport said stiffly, refusing with a shake of the head Napoleon's equally wordless invitation to sit down, "to offer you the congratulations of the Board on your change in marital status, as well as to apologize for any unpleasantness you may have perceived. Obviously you and Agent Kuryakin have every right to live however you choose, so long as the proper procedures are followed—which they were."
Davenport looked as if there was a great deal more that he wanted to say, but he didn't say any of it. Instead he shook Napoleon's hand, and left his office. Napoleon looked at the time. Six thirty. Good. He could reasonably go home now, and no one wonder.
Illya was in high good humor when he arrived. A project he had been working on had unexpectedly come to a smooth completion that day and he told Napoleon all about it over dinner. Napoleon had sent out for Chinese, not feeling able to give his full concentration to cooking and Illya had devoured General Tso's Chicken, fried rice, egg roll and steamed broccoli with relish while he talked. Napoleon watched him, and listened, and asked questions at the appropriate times, and afterwards, while they sat over brandy, Illya looked at him curiously.
"What's wrong, Napoleon?"
"What makes you think something is?"
"I don't think. I know. What?"
So Napoleon told him. He told him all of it, every word, because if things were being said about Illya so publicly he deserved to know about it. Illya listened, eyes darkening. He didn't interrupt, just sat there and let the ugliness pour over him. As Napoleon recounted his final impassioned speech Illya gave him a small smile. "My hero," he said, and Napoleon grunted.
"Every word was true," Illya said then. "You know that, don't you? Every single thing Turnbull said about me was true."
"He left out some pertinent facts. That you were being coerced into it, for one."
"That he was one of the ones who fucked me, for another," Illya said and the top of Napoleon's head came off.
That was just how it felt. He saw a brilliant white flash and then everything darkened to red, dark red, blood red. He wondered if he were having a stroke, because he couldn't see anything through the bloody mist that filled his vision. He wanted to get his hands on Ben Turnbull and beat the life out of him. He wanted to wrap his hands around that scrawny neck and squeeze... "Napoleon!" Illya's voice was very sharp and sounded like it was right in his ears. He opened his eyes slowly—oh. No wonder he hadn't been able to see anything. He had squeezed his eyes shut so hard he still had flashing lights in his peripheral vision. Illya was right there, kneeling beside his seat. He had closed both hands around Napoleon's arm and was shaking him a little. Napoleon looked down at them, knuckles white, and said
"All right. I'm all right."
"I didn't mean to..." Illya's voice trailed off. "I thought you knew. I thought maybe he would have boasted about it."
"Not the way Davenport and Hercut were saying 'sixteen?' he wouldn't." Napoleon took a deep breath. "So he was one of the ones who...?"
"Him, and Ben White, and two others who are no longer with us."
"The ones who committed suicide."
"Yes." Illya looked at him defiantly. "Good riddance. I thought that then, and I still say it now. Good riddance to them both. They sold U.N.C.L.E. down the river for a quick fuck, they hurt me and shamed me and got off on both, and thought they'd seen the last of me. When I turned up again spilling secrets in exchange for a trip to America and a berth in U.N.C.L.E. they panicked and ate their guns. Good. Like the song says, nice shot."
"What song..." Napoleon began, then abandoned it. Illya's knowledge of esoteric American lyrics had ceased to surprise him. But he had to say something, and what he said right now was important, he could tell that by the way Illya was watching him. "Good for you," he finished and Illya relaxed. His hands stopped biting into Napoleon's arm and he got up, returned to his seat, filled his glass to the rim with the strong brandy. That seemed like a good idea, so Napoleon did the same. He lifted his glass in a toast to Illya, who clinked them together, and they both drank. They drained their glasses, then set them down. Napoleon was exhausted, as if he had run a marathon.
"What was Waverly's involvement?" he asked finally. "Turnbull implied that things would have gone very differently if it weren't for him."
"Alexander Waverly was the first man of integrity I had ever met. U.N.C.L.E. sent him over to see what was going wrong with their operations there. It didn't take him long to realize that what was going wrong was me—or, really, my uncle. I was sent to Waverly to seduce him, then blackmail him. But I took one look at him, so courteously inviting me inside and offering me a seat, telling me he couldn't give me any wine because I was obviously underage, pouring me a Coca Cola instead. Imagine!" Illya laughed, and it was a real laugh with no cynicism to it. "Worrying that I was too young to drink! I told him everything. I told him what was going on, who was behind it, and a little of why I was going along. I told him it was more than my life was worth for it to get back to certain parties that I was talking to him. I offered everything I knew—and that was a lot, Napoleon. No one knew how good my memory was. No one had any idea I was more than my uncle's little sex toy. I offered it all to Waverly in exchange for asylum. He accepted, and took me to Moscow headquarters that very night. But when I met the men in charge there, they looked at me the same way my uncle's friends looked at me, and I saw that even in his own world, Waverly was an exception to the rule. So I slept with them, and the next day I slept with the American contingent which included Turnbull.
"He's not a nice man, Napoleon. He's a nasty dirty little man with filthy habits. He unleashed them all on me, and after he fell asleep I went into his computer and into his files, because he had worked on them before reaching for me, never dreaming I could read his pass codes upside down, never dreaming I would remember every move he made. When we got to America I used it all, gambling everything on Waverly's integrity. I didn't think he would let them kill me. I didn't think he would even let them send me back, not after he had promised me I was safe. And he didn't. He was shocked at Turnbull, and he took me aside to tell me that he would back me all the way as an agent, but that I needed to stop being underhanded with him, that he didn't want to be surprised again. I agreed, and I kept my word. He didn't like the Section 13 part, but he didn't have the authority—yet—to overrule them. And I didn't care. At the time it seemed such an easy out. It was an easy out. An assignment or two a month, then back to my own apartment where my time was my own, where my body was my own.
"My own apartment. That was Waverly, too. Turnbull and the rest said I should just go into the U.N.C.L.E. dorms until I had saved enough money to rent. But Waverly knew how I would feel about sharing a room with three other men, no matter how harmless they were. He paid for it himself, the deposit and the first three months rent. He brought me there straight from the airport, and put the lease and the key in my hand. I would have died for him any time, Napoleon. I still would. He's retired now, of course, and he and his wife are in that Level One security retirement village, but if he needed me, I'd drop everything."
Napoleon nodded, thinking of the odd rapport he had always sensed between his partner and Alexander Waverly, thinking of all the times he had come to Waverly's office in answer to one summons or another, and found Illya already there, their heads together, conferring. "Alexander Waverly is a good man," he said finally.
"Yes. And so are you, Napoleon. You are a good man too. Mr. Waverly said he put us together in part because you were such a good man. A kind man, he said." Then Illya's eyes twinkled. "And adamantly heterosexual, he also said. He didn't quite trust me not to use that to manipulate my partner, I suppose."
"You flirted with me, though. You'd bat those eyelashes at me, or look at me sideways... I didn't know what to make of that—or of my response."
"Were you put off me?"
"I was enchanted. I tried to hide it, but I couldn't deny it. You captivated me from the very beginning, Illya."
"And now? Are you put off me now?" And the twinkle was gone, the smile was gone, and Illya was looking at him very soberly. Do you still love me, his eyes asked. Or are you thinking that word... whore... when you look at me now?
Napoleon stood up, and Illya stood with him. Napoleon put both hands on his shoulders. "I will always love you," he promised, and it was as if he were saying his vows, standing there in his apartment, looking down into those blue eyes with their fathomless depths. It made him dizzy, as if he were falling down into the ocean... or falling up, into the sky. "For richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part. Please don't doubt me, Illya. It hurts me terribly, to see that mistrust, that fear, in your face. I am yours. You are mine. That is something you can count on absolutely."
"Yes." Illya moved closer, laid his head on Napoleon's shoulder and Napoleon put both arms around him, holding him close. "As you can count on me."
"Yes." Napoleon kissed him. They kissed for a long time and then they went to bed, and even in sleep they were not parted, joined heart and mind and soul as they were.
Napoleon had stopped on his way home for a bottle of the finest champagne, and he held that now in one hand while he worked the door key with the other. He was elated.
He was being sent to London for a six month tenure as Section Chief, a temporary replacement for Metcalf, who was filling in in Asia. It was a wonderful opportunity, and he intended to take full advantage of it; to return to New York when it was over with his power base immeasurably strengthened. At first he had been appalled at the idea of being separated from Illya for so long, but the more he thought about it, the more he thought that Illya would just come with him. Piper could handle Illya's responsibilities, just as he had when Illya had been sent on field assignments, just as he had when Illya had been hospitalized when one of those field assignments went awry. And if anything came up that required Illya's personal touch he could fly over, accomplish his task, and fly back. As domestic partners, they were entitled to be together. And they would be. So Napoleon rejoiced, and bought champagne, and came home ready to celebrate.
Illya met him at the door with a bottle of his own. They stared at one another, and then Napoleon laughed.
"So they told you," he said, setting his bottle down and catching Illya into his arms. Illya melted against him, nuzzling at his neck.
"Of course they told me. I didn't know they had told you."
"What..." and suddenly Napoleon felt cold. He drew back, looked into Illya's eyes, which were wide and excited. "Illya, what exactly are you planning to toast with that champagne?"
"My promotion of course. I know you know that, or you wouldn't have picked out that very expensive vintage you're carrying."
"Tell me anyway."
"Maybe I just want to hear it from you."
"All right." Illya stepped back, and gave an elaborate, self mocking bow. "You are looking at the new head of the combined Laboratory and Physical Sciences departments, staff line. I'll have all the pure research time I need, and I can choose our projects. I have so many ideas, Napoleon, and now I can carry them out. George is ecstatic too. He has my old position, which puts him on salary and I've never seen him so proud. He's already bossing people around. He'll run a much tighter ship than I did and he's welcome to it. What?"
"Why do you look like that?" Illya stopped smiling. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing. Congratulations." No way Illya could come with him, Napoleon was thinking. Not in that position, not brand new—they'd be lucky to manage a fast weekend visit here and there over the next six months. Coincidence? He doubted it very much.
"Napoleon. Tell me."
"You," he said carefully, making his own mock bow, "are looking at the new temporary Section Chief for the London branch. Effective next week, for six months. I thought... I thought you could come with me. But..." he stopped talking then and reached for Illya, pulled him in hard, because Illya looked stricken. His eyes had gotten very dark and his lips were white.
"Six months?" he said into Napoleon's shoulder. "You're leaving for six months? Six months?
"Six months," Napoleon answered and a great pain filled him. Six months apart. Six months without Illya in his bed at night, without Illya to greet him when he returned home late and weary. Six months without the sound of Illya's key in the lock, Illya's light step in the hall.
"Is that why they promoted me?" Illya said, and the joy had left his voice. "Is that it? So I wouldn't embarrass them by coming with you?"
"You're well overdue for that promotion. Davenport's pushed for it repeatedly. It will increase the efficiency of both departments, and free you to pursue your research. You deserve it. It's only been held up because of Turnbull, and the way he feels about you. Now..."
"Now he very much doesn't want me in London with you."
"No. I suppose he doesn't. But he didn't want you in that position either, so it's a lose lose situation for him."
"Too bad," Illya flared. "Too damn bad for him. I'll take that job, and do it so well there will never be any question as to my qualifications for it. But the timing... he probably thinks you'll be dating in London, Napoleon. He thinks you'll get tired of waiting, and see somebody else, and I'll hear about it and be jealous, and give you a hard time, and you'll date more people because I'm being so awful, and we'll break up. That's just what he's thinking. That's just what he wants."
"I hate it for him," Napoleon said cheerfully. "I'll miss you terribly, and I won't date at all. We'll talk on the phone, and email one another, and write one another, and I'll send you silly presents and you'll send me polite little thank you notes and when the six months are over I'll come back and we'll pick up right where we left off. Six months out of a lifetime together isn't so much, when you look at it that way."
"No, I know. But I'll miss you too, Napoleon." Illya pressed closer. "I'll miss you every minute of every day."
"Me too, sweetheart." Napoleon squeezed him. "Me too."
They rode to the airport together. It had been an odd, off kilter week, with Illya immersed in his new position and its different demands on his time, and Napoleon equally immersed in simultaneously winding up his affairs in New York and preparing for London. They often did not see one another throughout the day, coming together late at night, one or the other sliding into bed, one or the other rolling over to receive him. They slept wrapped around each other, and woke still clasped together, as if in defiance of the upcoming parting. Promises were made, promises to call, to write, to visit whenever possible.
"Be careful of Turnbull," Napoleon cautioned that morning as he negotiated the airport parking lot. "He hates you too much to be your supervisor and I've said so to Davenport. He'll do you harm if possible. After all these years... I'm surprised he hasn't let it go yet."
"Successful blackmail does tend to leave a bad taste in the mouth," Illya returned, gazing out the window. "As long as I was alone, I don't think it bothered him so much, that I was there. But once we were together and he saw that I was happy—he can't stand it. But he can't hurt me, really, as long as I do my job. I'll stay out of his way."
"If you stopped putting your nose in the air like something just crawled out from under a rock every time you saw him, it might help," Napoleon said as he got out of the car. Illya joined him and they walked together to the terminal. He was laughing a little.
"Do I really?"
"Take my keys." Napoleon handed them over. "It might get busy as I'm leaving. I think there's an unofficial send off gathering planned."
"A lot of people will miss you."
"Any excuse to get out of the office for the morning," Napoleon said. "It's not as if my lady friends are going to miss me anymore."
"They miss you still. I see them sighing and fluttering when you cross the room. They'll be all over you in London, Napoleon. I'd better not hear anything I don't like."
"You may hear it, but it won't be true. I hope you know that."
"Yes. I do. Oh, you're right. There's half the Board over there—and three fourths of the secretarial pool."
"And George Piper. I didn't know he cared."
"He doesn't," Illya said without thinking, and flushed at Napoleon's shout of laughter. It brought all eyes to them just as he punched Napoleon in the arm.
"Stop laughing at me. I didn't mean it like that."
"Yes you did, but that's all right. He's here for you. Let me say goodbye to everyone."
He did, taking the moment to say something personal to each one of these people who, whatever their reasons, had come to see him off. Piper only grunted when Napoleon expressed his thanks, and Napoleon paused.
"Keep an eye on Illya for me," he said seriously. "I don't like leaving him alone for so long."
"I'll keep an eye on him, but not for you," Piper growled, and Napoleon cocked an eye at him.
"All right," he said finally and Piper grunted again.
"I wasn't asking for your permission. Say goodbye and get on with it." He stopped, then added, "I came in a cab so Illya would feel obliged to drive me back. I'll get him to stop and have lunch."
"Good. He didn't have any breakfast."
"I can't imagine why, but he thinks the sun shines out of your asshole. Have a safe flight."
Napoleon had frowned at the vulgarity, but now he forced a smile. "Thanks."
He returned to Illya last. Illya was pale, and the jocularity of the morning was gone. Napoleon buttoned up the new winter coat he'd bought him, and retied his scarf. "Take care of yourself," he said, still holding the ends. "And promise me... promise me you'll call me if you need me."
"I will." But Illya's eyes wavered and fell, because what could Napoleon do, really? Drop everything and come? He would, Illya knew, and that knowing warmed him all over. He'd never known how cold he was, until Napoleon's love warmed him. But leaving his work, leaving his new responsibilities, would make Napoleon look weak. Bad enough, Illya thought, that they think less of him because of me. I don't have to confirm it by hanging on him. Even as that crossed his mind Napoleon pulled him in, hugged him hard. Illya sighed and put his head on Napoleon's shoulder, allowing himself one last moment of comfort, one last embrace. Then the boarding announcement came and Illya straightened. Napoleon squeezed him once more, and was gone.
Illya watched him go, watched him until he was out of sight, then turned. Everyone was looking at him and he flushed, lifted his chin and looked right back. They had a right, didn't they? It was only a hug, they hadn't kissed, after all, just a hug goodbye. They could... almost... be no more than good friends. Almost. So he returned the stares, and one by one people looked away. When the last bit of eye contact had ended Illya started to walk towards the exit, and nearly ran into George Piper.
"I took a cab in," George said without preamble. "But I'd rather not take one back. Can I catch a ride with you?"
"Of course you can," Illya said, and they fell into step together.
"Want to grab some lunch?" George asked as he buckled the seat belt across his ample middle.
"Not today, thank you all the same." He wasn't hungry, and he wasn't going back to work at all. He would drop George off and go home. Just for today, he planned to indulge his grief, wallow in it if need be. Why not? But George was looking at him earnestly.
"I don't think you should be alone today," he said, and Illya blinked at him. A sudden wave of affection swept him for this big, burly man, who always managed to slip him a muffin when he had skipped breakfast, who didn't hesitate to start turning out lights in the lab if Illya had stayed too late, who... Illya looked at him harder. Who cared about him. He had never fully realized it before, but it was as if Napoleon's love had opened his eyes. He could see, now, past the stern voice, the brusque manner. George Piper cared about him, had always cared about him.
He remembered leaving U.N.C.L.E. with George one night, and seeing a tiny abandoned kitten meowing outside Del Floria's.
"Been there all day," Del Floria had said, coming to stand beside them at the entrance. "I called the pound and they'll come pick it up as soon as they have the time." Illya had only nodded, glad to be able to put it out of his mind, but George had muttered something unintelligible, bent down, scooped the animal up and tucked it into the pocket of his coat. Illya had opened his mouth to tease him, but a glare from those iron grey eyes had closed it again. He had watched George walk away, exchanged looks with Del Floria, and gone home himself.
Now he had the absurd notion that he was being picked up the same way, picked up and tucked into George Piper's care. And how could he be unkind enough to push George away? When he was so fortunate, so very fortunate, to be loved the way Napoleon loved him? Loved... and left. Left for months and months. Now here was George, offering a gruff paternal affection and not only would it be unkind to reject it, it would be very pleasant indeed to accept it. So he smiled.
"Thank you, George. I would like lunch." And he would finish out the work day, too, so George wouldn't worry about him, and then he would go home and heat up the leftovers Napoleon had wrapped up for him, and the night wouldn't seem so very long after all.
For the first three weeks after Napoleon left, Illya kept very busy. He worked long hours, then swam in the gym. He accepted George's biweekly invitations to eat dinner at the little house on Staten Island, doing his best to charm Mae, George's wife, out of her clearly visible pique at his frequent presence. And when a handsome tabby cat twined about his legs he stroked it, and smiled at George. He offered to take other people's shifts, and spent many late night and weekend hours in Communications, Technical Assistance, and Translation.
He stayed busy because he was afraid of the depths that might be waiting for him, alone in Napoleon's apartment. He missed Napoleon abysmally, and his defense was to try not to think about him at all. He worked himself into exhaustion, and, when he came through the front door, went straight through to the back bedroom, closed that door and fell asleep right after his shower.
He had always known those depths were waiting for him, and now that he had begun revealing their secrets they seemed to yawn right at his feet. He feared them, and feared what might lie at the bottom even more—if there was a bottom. He didn't know about that. But he had enough ghosts from his past to terrify anyone, and that he had always run from those ghosts, leaving the child he had been behind with his uncle and his uncle's clients, only made them loom larger even as he ran faster, and faster still.
But tonight he had run out of things to do. Turnbull had spoken sharply to him about the number of hours he was putting in, and questioned the competence of the people he was replacing. George and Mae had gone away for the weekend. He didn't feel like swimming. He didn't know what to do with himself. Then he remembered the storage compartment in the basement of his old building, and the boxes he still had there. He had forgotten about them, but the landlord had called and left a message on his home phone last week, saying they would be sold at auction if he didn't come for them. He had almost let them go, not knowing or caring what they contained, but now, standing there at the entrance to headquarters with too much time lying between him and the oblivion of sleep, he decided he might as well bring them to Napoleon's apartment. He could go through them there, and then have the donations truck pick up what he didn't want to keep. He called the landlord, got permission and the promise that he would be met by someone with a key, and took the subway downtown.
There were six of them; five identical new looking professional mover's cartons, and one battered old rectangular box. All were labeled 'Books'—the new ones in English, the old one in Russian. Russian. Illya stood and looked at it, and remembered.
"We'll send someone over to your house for your things," Waverly said to him kindly, the day before he was to leave for America. "I wouldn't think you'd want to go back there."
Things? Illya wondered. What things? He had owned nothing but the clothes he wore every day, and he could buy new clothes with this advance Waverly had given him. But then he heard Turnbull snort in disdain, as if at the very idea of this "corrupted adolescent trash", as Illya had heard himself referred to in one of the impassioned meetings they had held to decide his fate, owning anything that was worth the time to pack up. He flushed hotly.
"I have books," he said defensively. "I—I wouldn't mind taking those." He did have books—books purchased at second hand stores with money he'd earned doing odd jobs around school, books received as prizes for scholastic achievement, books given him by teachers who had recognized and valued his abilities. He had read them endlessly, holding a pen in one hand poised over a tablet of paper so he would appear to be doing schoolwork. Books about history, about the great men who had shaped it. Biographies reassuring him that there were indeed good people in the world, that it was his life that was an aberration, that if he could just get away, he could find that other place where people were respected and honored for the work they did. And fiction—old Russian fairy tales about ogres and goblins. When he was little he had believed his uncle to be just that, an ogre escaped from mountain caves to make his home here, with him. "They're in the first bedroom to the left, on the second floor."
"Books will be too heavy to ship," Turnbull snapped. "Not worth the cost."
"I will see to the cost," Waverly said, and Illya smiled at him gratefully. Already in this new life, despite Turnbull and the others who had wanted the same things from him everyone had wanted, and who hated him for it as they all did; already here was proof that good men did exist. Alexander Waverly had made things as easy for him as he possibly could, given his position.
'Yes please," he said and Waverly nodded.
"They will be delivered to your apartment," he promised, and Turnbull snorted again.
"Apartment? What does he need with an apartment? He can live in the dorms with everybody else."
Dorms? Illya tried to hide his dismay, then saw one of Waverly's eyes close in a solemn wink. "We will discuss it," Waverly said imperturbably, and nodded to Illya. "You may go."
So he left, and the next day he got on a plane. He was alone, and that frightened him. He had no papers, and that frightened him more. He felt old and used up, worn out by the protracted negotiations—more men in those few weeks than his uncle usually arranged in the same number of months. As the plane approached the airport he leaned against the window, nose pressed to the glass, and saw the Statue of Liberty. Was it for him? Was it really? Would he be allowed to stay, or would he be sent straight back? He felt wretchedly alone, and lost. When he disembarked, and started towards Customs his feet dragged because what could he tell them? He had nothing. What... and then he saw Waverly, standing by the gate and all his fears fell away. Waverly took his arm, steered him right past the Customs agents and to a waiting taxi. They drove through the streets of Manhattan and Illya stared around and up with open mouthed awe, knowing somehow that the man with him would think no less of him for it. The taxi rattled down cobblestone streets and stopped in front of a brownstone building.
"Here," Waverly said as they climbed out. He handed Illya a key, and a folded document that when inspected turned out to be a three year lease. There was also a receipt indicating first and last month's rent paid as a deposit, and the three months beyond that paid in advance. "It will be due on the first of every month," Waverly cautioned. "This should be enough time for you to save for it."
"Thank you," Illya said through numb lips. It was riches beyond his wildest dreams.
"You are more than welcome. You will have the weekend to settle in. We will see you at headquarters first thing Monday morning."
"Thank you," Illya said again, and watched Waverly get back into the cab, watched the cab pull away. Slowly he went through the front door and, for the first time in what would be countless times over the years, climbed the four flights of stairs, unlocked the unassuming brown door, identical to the three doors like it on each floor, and walked into the one room apartment. He closed the door behind him, and locked it. His place. He looked around. A narrow kitchen opened to his right, with barely enough room to turn around in. A tiny bathroom with a commode, a sink and a small tin shower was on his left. The rest of the space consisted of one room, with a twin bed in the far corner, a desk by the window, a table and two mismatched chairs in the center of the floor. And that was all.
To Illya, it was a palace. His uncle's home had been large and grand, but he had moved through its luxuries like a dispossessed alien—none of it was for him, all of it was a trap. This—he turned and checked the lock again—was his place. And by the door stood a box. A rectangular cardboard box, with 'Books' written on it in Russian. They must have sent one of their Eastern Bloc agents to get it, he supposed. Someone who could talk to his uncle, if need be, and explain what he was doing. How angry his uncle must be. Illya shivered at the thought of that anger, then reminded himself that his uncle was far away, across miles and oceans and an iron curtain. He wouldn't be able to leave to chase after him—the government would never let Ivan Petrovich leave the country, with all he knew. Illya was safe from him here. Safe, and alone, behind a locked door in his very own apartment. But he didn't want to look at the box, to open it up and read those books. He picked it up and put it in the closet. Later, when he understood the situation better, he put it in the storage area that was his, in the basement. And never thought about it again.
Now here it was. Still tucked behind the others, just where he had left it, putting newer boxes on top of and in front of it as the books overflowed his shelves, overflowed his chairs, overflowed the stacks on the floor. Here it was.
He put them all in the back of the taxi he was paying to wait for him, and it took him back uptown. Funny, that he no longer lived in that studio apartment in Greenwich Village. Now he lived in a luxurious penthouse high above Central Park. A doorman held the lobby door open for him as he carried the first two boxes in, set them on the floor and went back for the rest. Two more on top of the first, and then the last one. It was lighter than the others, and he realized he had no idea what that long ago agent would have packed. Probably he had merely stripped the little bookshelf. There wouldn't have been very many of them, and that was why this box was so light. Illya tucked it under his arm, balanced it on one hip as he paid the taxi driver, and came into the building.
The other boxes were gone. Illya stared at the spot, and looked to the doorman for an explanation.
"I had them carried up for you, Mr. Kuryakin," he said and there was a reproach in his voice. "I would have had them brought in from the taxi—I tried to call you back but you didn't hear me."
"Oh." Illya wasn't really used to the service that Napoleon took for granted, and was always surprised when the doorman hailed him a cab, or offered him coffee in the morning. 'Thank you."
"I will have that one brought up as well," the man offered and Illya smiled.
"No, thank you. I have it." He dug in his pocket and brought out a crumpled ten dollar bill. "Thank you very much."
The bill disappeared so smoothly that he almost didn't see it happen. "Thank you, sir," the doorman said, and Illya nodded.
"You're welcome," he said and got onto the elevator.
It was cold out, and his hands were numb where they held the box. He shouldered the door open, locked it and reset the alarm before turning into the lobby. Fresh from his old building, that first glimpse of his original apartment still in the forefront of his mind, he looked into his new one.
It was very large—an expanse of carpeted floor stretching out in front of him. To his right was an eat in kitchen, gleaming with the latest in culinary appliances. Napoleon enjoyed cooking, was a superb cook, and liked everything up to date. Illya very much enjoyed the fact that Napoleon liked to cook, and they ate most of their meals there, at the kitchen table.
There was a sunken living room, with a wood burning fireplace and large console television set. Napoleon liked to keep up with world events, beyond the computer briefings, and he and Illya often sat on the sofa and watched the evening news, curled up companionably against one another. Illya smiled now, thinking of it. For the first time since Napoleon had left, he felt no urge to go straight back to his own bedroom. It seemed, as he stood there, that he could feel Napoleon's arms around him, embracing him, welcoming him home.
Home. He sighed, and set that last box down with the others. Home. He was home. It would be better if Napoleon were here, of course, but there was the range at which Napoleon stood and turned omelets, there was the table where he dropped his keys and sorted through the mail, there was the sofa where he had made love to Illya on his last night here. It was home, their home, and Napoleon would return when his stint in London was up; return to grill steaks out on the balcony, return to work at the computer station installed in his bedroom, return to take Illya in his arms and make love to him once more. Illya smiled. He pushed the boxes aside with one foot and went into the kitchen.
In the freezer were the results of the nights and nights of cooking Napoleon had done before leaving. He had made all Illya's favorites in abundance and wrapped them up in foil, each little package neatly labeled with the name of the dish and directions for heating it up. In his late nights and rushed mornings, Illya had barely touched them. Now he stood, first on one foot then the other, smiling at them. Reaching out, he selected one labeled "Illya's Lasagna" and read the directions.
Later he sat in the living room, a tray table in front of him, watching a banal sitcom that left his mind free to wander. He had eaten heartily, and opened a bottle of the expensive wine Napoleon kept in a special cupboard designed just for that purpose. The apartment was warm, although when he crossed to the sliding glass doors that led to the balcony he could see the wind swept clouds racing across the sky, could see too that it was snowing. When he touched the glass it was very cold. For a moment an odd chill swept him that had nothing to do with temperature. Standing inside, where it was warm and comfortable, looking out at the snow, feeling the cold glass with his fingertips... he shivered again and turned away, closing the drapes.
He took a long, luxurious shower in Napoleon's... their, he corrected himself... enormous stall shower. It had a seat, and multiple jets. He washed his hair and combed it straight afterwards, put on his pajamas and returned to the living room. It seemed as if he had rediscovered this place, this whole place. His place. He leaned his head back on the sofa, felt the warmth of the fire, and smiled. It was good to be home on a night like this, with the wind howling and the snow blowing. It was good to be home.
He found the photograph two weeks after bringing the boxes home. He had been unpacking them slowly, every night after work. He didn't hurry because there was no reason to hurry and because, too, he no longer felt the frantic need to fill every hour with activity. He could relax here, at home. He took long leisurely showers and dried his hair in front of the fire, sitting with his bare feet up on the hassock, watching the flames dance on the hearth. He read, he did research, he heated up the meals Napoleon had left for him. He stood on the balcony and gazed over the city. He went out at all hours for a muffin, a bagel, a gyro dripping with sauce. He slept deeply and well, in his beautiful airy bedroom that Napoleon had had completely redecorated for him in cool tropical shades of blue and green; he burrowed under the big feather comforter in the antique sleigh bed, and woke in the morning refreshed and ready to face the day.
He called Napoleon some nights, and some nights Napoleon called him. They talked of work, and current events and, in lower voices, of how much they missed one another, and how good it would be when they were together again. They tried to plan visits, but something kept coming up; on Napoleon's end mostly but sometimes on his, too.
He still ate with George on Staten Island, but not as often. He found that when the visits dropped to the once a month level Mae was much more cordial, so he left it at that, sometimes meeting George after work for a quick beer before going their separate ways.
He was—not happy, precisely, but content. He was home, and soon enough Napoleon would be home, and they would pick up the reins of their life together.
Work was good too—he was reorganizing the departments he now ran, and the results were gratifying. Communication had improved, and the feedback from the rest of the organization was excellent. The only fly in his work ointment was Turnbull.
Illya had known they were not on good terms at the end of his third and last year in Section 13. Turnbull had taken his success in the field as a personal affront, and had made it plain that if it had been up to him, Illya's continued residence in the United States would have been contingent on his remaining available for those unsavory and distasteful "assignments". But Waverly, now Section Chief and Turnbull's superior, had not agreed, and Illya had slid into his long term dual assignment to Sections II and Science with relief. But he didn't remember Turnbull's antagonism being quite so overt. Something about Illya's new promotion, and his new living arrangements with Napoleon, infuriated the man and now that Waverly had retired, Turnbull used his power as a threat. Not a weapon—yet. Illya's job performance was simply too good for that, and Illya knew it. But he kept a wary eye on the man anyway.
Just today Turnbull had passed him in the corridor and accidentally on purpose knocked him into the wall. "Why don't you watch where you're going!" he had snapped and Illya, regaining his footing, had given him his best icy glower. Even Turnbull wasn't proof against it, and had said nothing further, but the venomous hatred in his eyes had given Illya pause. But not for long. He shook it off because, really, what could Turnbull do to him? Nothing, so long as he kept doing his job. So he finished out the day, and went home to unpack the final box.
It was sleeting outside and he was glad to reach the warmth and security of the lobby. The doorman had hot chocolate brewing and Illya accepted a cup with gratitude. He held it between his cold hands as he rode up in the elevator, and sipped at it as he removed book after book. They were very old, and yellowing, but the color illustrations of giants and monsters were as spectacular as he remembered. The history texts he glanced through with a jaundiced eye, having long since realized that much of their information was flawed. But still he kept them, stacking them neatly in the bookshelves that flanked the fireplace. He had just finished the hot chocolate when he removed the last book from the box, and the photograph fluttered out.
A child. He held it and stared at it. An extraordinarily beautiful child, with long hair the color of sunlight spilling over his thin shoulders, enormous grey eyes fringed with dark lashes, a soft tremulous mouth, skin so fair it was nearly translucent, and a stubborn, hard edged little chin. He stared out at the camera and the sorrow in those eyes made Illya's breath catch in his throat. The cause for that sorrow was easy to see. A dark bruise adorned one high, elegant cheekbone, and more bruises in the distinct shape of fingers circled the little throat. And a large hand was clamped onto one shoulder.
Illya looked at that hand and the world seemed to tilt on its axis. He held on to the edge of the box for support. A big hand, with black hairs sprinkled on the back. Long fingers bit cruelly into the child's flesh—Illya could see that the knuckles were white from the strength of that grip.
His uncle. His uncle, for whatever reason, making the child pose for this picture. Probably as bait, Illya thought, trying to force himself to be dispassionate. The picture was designed to be shown to someone, to lure someone in with the promise of that childish beauty, that otherworldly fragility, that perfect obedience. Illya shivered. He was tired. Why was he sitting up late going through these old books anyway? It was time for bed. He had to get up early in the morning for work. He had to... he came to his feet, the photograph slipping from his nerveless fingers to lie on the floor.
He left it there. It could wait till morning, the empty carton with its Russian labeling could wait till morning, that final book, dropped onto its face, could wait till morning. He was tired. He washed up hastily, and pulled a pair of Napoleon's pajamas from his drawer. They were too big for him, but there was something comforting about wearing them. He didn't go into his bedroom, instead crawling between Napoleon's covers in Napoleon's room and huddling there, shivering.
It was that cold that forced him up in a little while. He couldn't stop shivering and his teeth were chattering. He went into the linen closet and pulled out two heavy blankets, piled them on top of the bed. Then he hesitated.
Slowly he made his way back into the living room and picked the picture up. He cradled it in his shaking hands and looked at it again. Those grey eyes gazed somberly back at him. Illya felt a strong desire to put his arms around that child, to hold him close to his own strong adult body, to pull him somehow out of his wretched existence and into this present one of warmth and safety and comfort and love.
He took the picture with him, and laid it on the bedside table where he could see it easily. Under the extra covers his shivering abated finally, and with his head on the pillow that still seemed to carry a faint scent of Napoleon, with his eyes drifting closed on that solemn little face, that ominous clutching hand, he fell asleep.
He looked at the picture again the next day. He didn't really want to, because it made him so sad, but he couldn't seem to help himself. First he put it back in the book, then the book back into the box, then the box down in Napoleon's—ours, he corrected himself for the hundredth time—storage space. But as he lay in his bed that night, in his own room because it seemed pathetic, sleeping in Napoleon's bed, clutching Napoleon's pillow to him and he wouldn't be pathetic, he wouldn't, he would be strong and independent the way he had always been. So he went back to his own room and it wasn't as if that was a hardship, not at all, he loved his room. It was cool and serene and quiet and comfortable. He read for a while before turning out the light and making himself comfortable on the excellent mattress, between the Egyptian cotton sheets Napoleon had in such abundance, under the comforter Napoleon had ordered just for him.
And couldn't sleep. He lay there staring at the ceiling, feeling as if he had abandoned that child, shut him away because he was inconvenient, awkward, disturbing. It was foolishness and he told himself so, sternly; thumping the pillow, turning over onto his side, then onto his stomach, but finally he gave up. Putting on his bathrobe and slippers he went out the door, down the hall and into the elevator, which he rode to the basement.
He removed the book and put the box with its Russian labels out for the trash. He could dispose of that at least. Carrying the book he retraced his steps, up in the elevator, along the hall, into his own apartment, turning the alarm off, then back on, locking the door behind him. Removing the picture without looking at it he tucked the book onto the shelf with the others and returned to his room.
He had closed the door, of course—he always did—and he closed it again behind him. As he did so a flash of memory came, so strong he had to clutch the door jamb to keep his knees from buckling.
A door frame without a door in it. The image hung in his mind, striking such fear he quailed before it. Why, though? He backed away from the door, backed up so fast that the back of his legs hit the bed, making him sit down abruptly. A door frame without a door. An empty frame. Footsteps pounding down the hall outside. A monstrous figure appearing there.
He forced himself to examine the images, one by one. An empty frame. Why would a door frame not have a door? When is a door not a door, he thought, and laughed out loud. The hysteria in the sound frightened him more. What was wrong with him? When is a door not a door? When it's a jar, of course—and he laughed again.
No! He would not, he absolutely would not fall to pieces over—over what? A door? A door that wasn't there.
That was the answer, of course. Not ajar, but missing. Removed. The door to his room had been removed before he even remembered one being there. Removed before his arrival in that terrible old house. Because he had run there, hadn't he, run down the hall, as if the devil himself were behind him—and he was, oh he was—run into the room, whirled to slam the door and instead the monster had loomed in the empty gaping opening and... and...
He was breathing so fast and so hard he felt dizzy, and he forced himself to slow down. One deep breath, then another, and another... he got up from the bed and walked around his room, pausing at each item to study it intently. The picture hanging on the wall, for one.
It was a beautiful oil painting, illuminated by a recessed light. A painting of the open sea, wind tossed waves, a shaft of sunlight from the clouds above shining down, illuminating a patch of ocean, showing it in greens and blues. Napoleon had bought it for him, right after he moved in. "So you know you're welcome here," he'd said when showing it to Illya. "So you know this is your home too, now." He had hugged Napoleon around the waist, and Napoleon had hugged him back and he had known he was home, had known it all the way through him. He smiled at the picture now, and moved on.
The computer station. It was a twin of the elaborate and expensive one in Napoleon's own bedroom and it contained everything he could possibly need to work from home. On the upper shelf was another picture, a photograph this time, in a simple brass frame. He himself, and Napoleon, back in the days of their now legendary field partnership. They were sitting at a conference table, heads bent over a file folder. They were so close their heads were touching, dark hair and blond, shoulders up against one another, expressions serious as they studied the documents in front of them. "From a security file," Napoleon had explained when he gave it to him. "I saw it and I liked it. I have the same one on my desk." Napoleon did, and it had pleased Illya so much at the time—pleased him now. He had put other photographs with it, over the past months. One was of him and George Piper at George's fiftieth birthday party. They had their arms around one another's shoulders and were laughing into the camera. George wore a T shirt that said "Ain't it nifty, George is fifty" which the lab technicians had given him. Illya had been surprised when George had pulled him into the impromptu embrace, but pleased too because George Piper was not a man to give his friendships lightly. And there was something comforting as well as comfortable in George's affection for him—an affection that had no root in the sexual, that demanded nothing from him he was not willing to give. And there was a third picture, of Napoleon's whole family—his brother Charles, his sister Jillian with her husband Lloyd, Napoleon himself and Illya, from the celebratory dinner Jillian had thrown for them on their moving in together. She and Charles had welcomed Illya into the family grouping as if he and Napoleon had indeed stood up in front of a judge and said their vows, and that too satisfied something in Illya he had never been aware of needing.
Napoleon had smiled on seeing the pictures, propped up against the side of the shelf, and the next day he had obligingly provided more frames, matching brass frames so it made an elegant little display now. There were more brass frames in the bottom drawer, waiting to be filled. "You have to get them when you see them, if you want them all the same," Napoleon had explained seriously and Illya, who didn't really care that they should be the same except that it was so typical of Napoleon, had nodded, and now he took one out. Crossing back over to the bed, he picked up the picture of that little boy, that lost, frightened, battered little boy, inserted it carefully, and set the frame up. He put it between the one of him and George, and the one of his new family, and stood for a long time, gazing at it. He felt again the strong urge to pull him close, hold him fast and for some reason that desire made him turn and face the door squarely.
A white door with dark blue trim, matching the dark blue molding in the room. A door firmly closed against—what? There was nothing out there but the rest of Napoleon's—"Ours!" he shouted at the door, suddenly furious with himself. "Ours, mine, ours!" He stormed over to it, threw it open and was facing the hall that led away towards the living area. Not the horizontal hallway of his uncle's house, going towards the big formal staircase, past it and to his uncle's bedroom, where he never went unless he was brought there.
But that was then. Now he walked out his door, down the vertical hall that opened on the left to their enormous bathroom with its great stall shower and whirlpool tub big enough for two to sit with comfort. He didn't go in there, either, unless he was brought... he turned away from that memory because enough was enough, wasn't it. He was confronting the missing door and that was more than enough for one night. So he kept walking, bare feet sinking into the plush pile carpet and now it was Napoleon's bedroom on his left. He looked in and felt a pang at its emptiness. When Napoleon was home they both slept here, rolling around in his bed together, kissing and laughing and making love... oh, how he missed Napoleon. He sighed, and moved on into the living area.
It was dark now, fire extinguished, screen drawn, television off. He and Napoleon had rolled around on the built in sofa, too, Napoleon pressing him down into its leather depths, teasing him and tickling him... he sighed again.
The kitchen gleamed even in the near darkness. Illya had to smile, thinking of Napoleon's enthusiasm every time he brought home some new gadget. Napoleon not only loved to cook, he loved to feed Illya, too, having responded from the start of their friendship to a need he hadn't even understood.
The foyer was the last stop. Illya stood there, back to the door, with the walk in closet on his right and the table where they put their keys and mail on his left, and surveyed his domain. His. "Mine," he said out loud again. "Ours, Napoleon's and mine, our place. My place, his place, our place." There was something enormously gratifying in saying it out loud. Turning, he gave one last check to the security alarm, the locks on the door, and went slowly back towards his room.
He didn't close the door. It was all his place, wasn't it? The front door was closed and locked, so what need to close this one? He picked up the picture frame once more and stared at the child, at the thick hand clamped on his shoulder. It seemed so sad that he couldn't help him. He wished that he could. And he was lonely, very lonely. He wished he could hear Napoleon's voice. He wished that so desperately that his eyes prickled with unshed tears. How could he sleep without Napoleon here? With that doorway, and that picture, and this grief—and no Napoleon? Slowly he went back and sat down on the bed, reached for the phone.
"Illya?" Napoleon's voice was clear and sharp; not the faintest indication that he had been asleep although given the time difference he most probably had been. Still, Illya asked.
"Were you asleep?"
"Yes, but that's all right. That's fine. It's good to hear your voice."
"Thank you. It's... it's good to hear yours, too."
"Everything all right?"
"Yes. I just... I needed to talk to you."
"Well. Here I am. Miss me?"
"Yes." He nearly choked, saying it and was mortified. But Napoleon didn't tease him. He spoke softly.
"Me too. Sometimes I wake in the night and turn over, reaching for you. When you're not there, and I realize how far apart we are, and how long it's been, and how long it's going to be, I could weep from it."
He couldn't answer. He had absolutely nothing to say to that. But Napoleon wasn't finished.
"I love you, Illya. I love you with my whole heart. I won't be complete again until we're together."
"Me too, Napoleon. I love you too."
"All right now?"
"Yes. Thank you." He was. He felt immeasurably better, just from the sound of Napoleon's voice, just from Napoleon saying those words.
"Any time. Any time at all, Illya. Call me whenever."
"I will. Goodnight, Napoleon."
Napoleon hung up. Illya looked at the phone in his hand for a moment longer, then hung up too. He washed his face and hands, brushed his teeth, and went to bed.
In London, Napoleon looked at the phone in his hand. Then he tapped the handset, disconnecting, before dialing again.
Illya woke to the buzz of the intercom system. He sat up, instantly alert and picked up his gun before going through the silent hall to the foyer and pressing the button. "Yes?"
"Mr. Kuryakin. A courier is on his way up to you right now. Full security clearance."
"Thank you." Illya frowned, and faced the door. Despite the doorman's reassurance he kept his weapon ready, and when the doorbell rang he peered cautiously through the peephole.
Napoleon smiled at him. Illya gasped, and wrenched the chain across as Napoleon used his key to let himself in. He caught Illya into his arms and Illya clung to him, face pressed into his neck, kissing him there, kissing him everywhere he could reach as Napoleon kicked the door shut behind him.
"Oh, Napoleon." He kissed Napoleon's neck again. "Oh, Napoleon." It was all he could say. He had been so lonely, so sad and lonely and afraid, too, of the dark byways his mind seemed to want to travel, and now here Napoleon was, holding him close, kissing the top of his head, murmuring incoherent words of his own. He could feel Napoleon's erection, hard against him and his own, rising to meet it. Well, first things first, he thought, and laughed aloud. Napoleon, not knowing the reason why, laughed too.
"This," Illya said, and pressed them closer together.
"Ah." Napoleon ground against him and Illya caught his breath as pleasure shot through him. "What about that?"
"That too." But he wasn't laughing now, as Napoleon ran both hands through his hair, as Napoleon kissed his forehead, his cheek, his mouth. He kissed Napoleon back and in a moment Napoleon had brought him down onto the floor, right there in the foyer, Napoleon still in his business suit, briefcase fallen beside them. Illya unzipped Napoleon's fly, unbuttoned his trousers and Napoleon tugged at his pajama bottoms, pulling them down.
There was a brief fumbling interval and then there was glory. They moved together, breathed together, cried one another's names aloud into one another's open mouths, and then they came together, shuddering and gasping and, as they settled down onto the carpet, laughing again—at themselves, at one another, at the situation.
"Well." Napoleon turned his head and smiled into Illya's eyes. They smiled back at him, and Napoleon kissed the tip of his nose. "I certainly feel a lot better now."
"Me too." And he did. Sorrow gone, he felt light and carefree and happy. "What are you doing here, Napoleon? I just talked to you and you didn't say anything about coming home."
"I know. You sounded so unhappy on the phone I couldn't stand it. So I hopped on the Concorde and here I am."
"For how long?"
"Twenty-four hours, give or take a few."
"Oh." It wasn't enough, but it was more than he had dreamed of and he wouldn't waste one minute of this precious time wishing it were different. "It's wonderful to see you."
"It's wonderful to see you too, Illya. Come on, let's go to bed where we can be comfortable. I want to hear all about it, whatever it is."
"I'm comfortable now." He was. He didn't care that the floor was hard even with the carpet, he didn't care that his pajama bottoms were tangled around his ankles nor that his stomach and thighs were sticky. Napoleon was there, right there, really right there with him, and that was all that mattered.
"I wouldn't mind a fast shower. And pajamas instead of this suit. And my bed instead of the floor."
"I don't want to let go of you." To prove it he put both arms around Napoleon's waist and held on tightly. "Forget it, Napoleon. I'm not letting you up."
"Who says you have to let go of me? I'll bet we can do all the above and still stay well within reach."
"Hmm." Illya thought that over. "I suppose you're right. We can try, but I'm warning you, Napoleon. The minute I can't feel you against me I'm dragging you right back down onto the floor."
"Now there's an enticing prospect," Napoleon said, and they smiled at one another some more. "Ready?"
"If you insist." They scrambled to their feet and Illya kicked the pajamas away. They leaned on one another as they went into the bathroom, and found that it was just as Napoleon said. They showered—Napoleon even washed his hair—and dried off, went into the bedroom and fell onto the welcoming mattress, all without separating once.
"Never mind the pajamas, " Napoleon said when Illya pointed out that they had completely forgotten about them. "This is fine." He squeezed Illya, who squeezed him back. "More than fine. This is perfect." He yawned suddenly, hugely. "I wish I could stay awake the whole time, but I'm so jet lagged I can barely see. What with that, and the frantic hurried sex..." he managed to yawn and laugh at the same time, and Illya laughed too.
"Go to sleep, Napoleon. I'll call in to work—I haven't missed a day since you left. When you wake up I'll still be right here."
"And we'll talk."
"If you want to."
He started to say no, but stopped. He did, of course he did. He wanted to show Napoleon the picture, talk about that little boy and how it made him feel that he could do nothing to help him. He wanted to tell Napoleon about that terrible missing door, and all it meant. He wanted... he wanted to hear whatever it was Napoleon would say in return, that would make everything all right. Because Napoleon could make it all right, Illya knew it absolutely. So he nodded and Napoleon drew him close, and was asleep within minutes.
Illya, who had slept all night and had been close to his normal waking time, lay and jealously counted each minute, each hour, each breath. He was in Napoleon's arms again and everything was all right already.
Napoleon slept for about six hours, then woke. He lay for a moment, blinking at the ceiling, then turned his head. Illya was watching him, and as their eyes met he smiled. "Awake?" When Napoleon nodded Illya sat up and proceeded to make enthusiastic love to him, kissing him everywhere, kissing his belly and his thighs, his chest, laving both nipples until they were hard and darkened, kissing his way back down until he had Napoleon fully in his mouth, sucking, sucking so hard that Napoleon only had time to give a strangled shout before he was pouring himself down Illya's throat, clutching his hair, holding his head there although Illya wasn't trying to pull away, he was swallowing and drinking with enthusiasm until Napoleon collapsed back, sweating and panting and grinning.
As soon as he recovered he returned the favor, teasing Illya until he was begging for it, pleading for it—"Napoleon, Napoleon please please please oh, no, don't stop, don't stop." And Napoleon, who had indeed stopped, chuckled and resumed what he was doing, until it was he sucking and swallowing and Illya screaming aloud with pleasure.
Napoleon made breakfast, mixing batter, flipping pancakes, frying bacon, while Illya sat and watched him. They ate together in cozy silence—Illya pouring orange juice, Napoleon getting up to fetch the freshly brewed coffee. When they had finished Illya, without being asked, rose and held out his hand to Napoleon. Napoleon took it and followed him down the hall, into his bedroom.
"I found this," Illya said, and gave Napoleon the picture. Napoleon took it and let his breath out in a soundless whistle.
"You?" He looked into Illya's face. "Yes."
"Yes. Me... and him."
"Him?" Napoleon looked again. He had been so caught by that lovely little face he hadn't noticed the hand on his shoulder. But now he touched it lightly. "Your uncle?"
"And he was responsible for these?" He brushed the bruises, so plainly visible behind the glass of the frame, across the years in between.
"Yes. And more. Much much more."
"I'm sorry. And I'm sorry that you found this and I wasn't here."
"It made me think of him, how he was. He was terrible to me. He... he took the door off the hinges."
"What?" Napoleon looked up from the picture. "What door?"
"The door to my bedroom. He took it off. So I had nowhere to hide, nowhere I could be safe from him. I couldn't even sleep without being right out in the open."
"Poor little boy," Napoleon said and he put the picture down, turned to bring Illya into his arms. Illya pressed close.
"I wish I could help him," he whispered. "Look at him, so sad and afraid and alone. I wish I could just pick him up out of that picture and hold him, keep him safe."
"Illya..." Napoleon drew back and looked at him quizzically. "You are safe. You survived, you grew up, you left your uncle far behind and you are safe." To prove it he held Illya close, rubbed his cheek on Illya's hair.
"I suppose..." Illya didn't sound convinced and Napoleon frowned down at that blond head. But he didn't press it further. Instead he carefully replaced the picture on the shelf and proceeded to spend the remainder of the day making Illya feel loved, and cherished, and safe. He cooked more meals to put in the freezer, he spent over an hour brushing Illya's hair until it crackled and shone under his hands, he made love to Illya with fingers and lips and tongue and finally his whole urgent body, whispering love into his ear, breathing love into his mouth, filling him with love. Illya cried out under it, eyes shining, lips parted, love flowing between them like an endless river, twining them around one another until sleep pulled them under, and love kept them close.
Napoleon stood at the door, briefcase in hand. "I'll try not to let it be so long next time," he said and Illya smiled up at him.
"It's all right," he said, and it was. Napoleon was right. He had grown up and taken that little boy with him, carried him away into this bright and glittering future. "I'm all right, he's all right—we're all right. Thank you for coming."
"Any time," Napoleon whispered, as he had once before. "Any time at all, Illya. I love you, sweetheart."
"I love you too, Napoleon." Illya put his face up for Napoleon's final kiss and watched him stride down the corridor, onto the elevator. Then he closed and locked the door behind him, and turned back into their apartment. Their place, his place. Home.
Napoleon's lips drifted up the exquisitely sensitive skin of Illya's inner thighs, nuzzled at the secret place underneath his balls, mouthed them, rolling them around, then closed over his cock. Illya arched off the bed, crying Napoleon's name aloud, coming in his mouth, down his throat, feeling Napoleon's warm tongue caressing him, licking him... he cried out again and woke up.
He lay there, gasping and happy, then he reached out for Napoleon, who wasn't there.
Oh. He blinked. Of course he wasn't there. Well. He was still panting, body throbbing with pleasure. Well well well. He laughed a little at himself, then turned his head and looked at the clock. Three-thirty AM. So Napoleon would be at work. He reached for the phone, hesitated, then picked it up. He told himself it was because the last time he called Napoleon he had been sad, and Napoleon had been worried, so this time he would call and let Napoleon know there was nothing to worry about. And that was a big part of it, of course. But he wanted to tease Napoleon a little, too, so he dialed the direct line to his office, knowing Napoleon would recognize their number.
"Solo here." Napoleon's voice, crisp, professional, told Illya immediately that he wasn't alone. He grinned.
"Hello, Napoleon," he purred. "I was just dreaming of you."
"You were, were you." Napoleon still sounded professional—he could have been responding to any comment for all anybody in the room would be able to tell.
"Yes, I was. More specifically, I was dreaming about your mouth."
"And now I'll have to change the sheets before I can go back to sleep."
"Hold on." Illya heard Napoleon request privacy and say something about confidentiality level one. Then he was back, voice deeper and more intimate.
"Go sleep in my bed. I'll think about you there all day long."
"But I won't be there all day long," Illya protested, smiling. "I have to get up for work in less than three hours."
"Nonetheless. I want you to do it. Now."
"I'll have to wash up first," Illya said and distinctly heard Napoleon swallow hard. "Since you weren't really here."
"Do that. I wish I were there to do it for you."
"If you had been, I wouldn't need to wash."
"True. Illya, how am I going to get any work done now? I'll be thinking of you lying in my bed with that satisfied smile on your face, and I won't be able to concentrate on anything else."
He would though, Illya knew it. But that was all right. He loved Napoleon exactly as he was. "How do you know what kind of smile I have on my face?"
"I can picture it as clearly as if you were right here in front of me. You look like a cat that's been into a particularly tasty bowl of cream."
He probably did. Illya touched the corners of his lips with his tongue and smiled some more. "In my dream you were the one into the cream. So to speak."
"So to speak," Napoleon echoed. "I dream about you, too. Did you know that?"
"And do you ever have to change your sheets afterwards?"
Illya laughed. "Well, I hope I dream about you again tonight. It was a lovely way to wake up. But I reached for you, and you were in London after all. I miss you."
"I miss you too. I'll tell you what. I'll call you tonight at one AM my time. I have a late dinner meeting. You get in bed around eight and we'll talk and maybe we can both dream tonight."
"At the very least," Illya said, and laughed again. "Phone sex, Napoleon? Is that what you're suggesting?"
He couldn't think of any reason on earth why not. "Eight o'clock, Napoleon. Be there or be square."
Now Napoleon laughed. "Where did you pick that one up?"
"Jess Coleman. He's the new Chief of Hospital Security. I met him in the cafeteria."
"Jess Coleman," Napoleon repeated. "I saw his application—and I've heard his reputation."
"Much like yours was, back in the day."
"With one important difference. I'd better not hear that he's flirting with you."
"Oh, he flirts with me outrageously," Illya said and Napoleon snorted. "But I don't flirt back." Then, suddenly serious, "You do know that, Napoleon, right? I don't do that, not anymore. I admit I used to—for advantage, for power, for my own amusement—but not since we've been together. You can trust me."
"Sweetheart, I know that the way I know the sun rises in the east. And you can trust me."
"Are all those English women throwing themselves at you in their oh so discrete and elegant way?"
"They are, but I'm not catching."
"Just letting them drop to the floor?"
"Just letting them drop," Napoleon agreed. "I really have to go. You've thoroughly disrupted a very important meeting. I hope you're happy."
"Yes I am." He chuckled. "I certainly am. Talk to you tonight."
"I can't wait. Goodbye, Napoleon. I love you."
"I love you too, Illya. Goodbye."
Illya hung up, still smiling. He got up, went into the bathroom and dropped his pajamas into the hamper, washed himself with a warm washcloth and went into Napoleon's room. Naked, he slid between Napoleon's sheets, curled up with his head on Napoleon's pillow, and fell fast asleep until the alarm, jangling from his room down the hall, woke him in the morning.
Illya sailed in to work the next morning on a flood tide of good will. He beamed at the receptionist when she pinned his badge to his lapel and she blushed and smiled back at him. He went straight to the lower chemistry lab where he had a project going that had him almost as exuberant as his personal life did. Almost.
He had lost the whole day yesterday, however, when Turnbull had asked him to escort a visiting Russian diplomat around headquarters. He hadn't grudged the time—the old man had been visibly lost in a crowd of English speakers when Illya had found him, and was almost pitifully grateful to speak his own language with someone who treated him with the respect and courtesy he clearly believed himself entitled to. Illya had taken Mr. Denisyov to all the departments the visitor had clearance for, paused for lunch in the Executive Dining Room when he felt him tiring, and finished up in Turnbull's office at day's end. Denisyov had thanked Turnbull effusively through Illya, who had obligingly translated. Turnbull had scowled and Illya had eyed him curiously for a moment before leaving. But he did his job, he did it well, and so long as that was the case, Turnbull had no ability to do him harm. He had dismissed it from his thoughts.
Now he tackled his project with enthusiasm, holding a hot buttered roll in one hand and entering numbers with the other. He was aware of George Piper moving around in the lab, and greeted him briefly, but his mind was set on catching up with his work.
He was interrupted by a tray being placed in front of him. Irritated, he pushed it aside but George pushed it back. Illya blew his bangs off his forehead impatiently and glared at him. "What?"
"It's twelve-thirty. Lunch time."
"It'll keep. You have to eat, Illya. You've lost weight since Solo left."
"I ate breakfast only... well." Twelve-thirty? Really? It had been seven-thirty when he sat down at the table with his roll. And the food looked good. His stomach growled, and that irritated him afresh.
"Leave me alone!" he snapped, shoving the tray aside with unnecessary force. The tomato soup slopped over the brim, soaking the napkin. "I'll eat when I'm ready. I'm not a..." he stopped, and stared at George with startled eyes.
George scowled. "Fine. I was just trying to help. Be that way, then." He turned his back on Illya and picked up a sheaf of papers from the work Illya had done that morning. Illya looked at the tray.
I'm not a child, he had been about to say because George's hovering and heavy solicitude annoyed him. He was an adult, he ate when he chose, what he chose, and he didn't need anybody treating him like... like a child. But suddenly he could see that pinched little face, those great sorrowful eyes, the thin body. He had wanted to help that little boy somehow, had wanted to pluck him from the past and hold him, protect him, cherish him. 'You already did,' Napoleon had said. But if that was so, then why did the picture still haunt him? Because he hadn't, really. He had buried the child deep, buried him under the student, the agent, the whore. Buried him under the professional killer, under the scientist, under the adult he had become. He hadn't thought about that little boy from those long ago days until he had found the picture. Until he had found his child self, in those bottomless depths.
Now here was George Piper, bringing him lunch. Just as George always reminded him to wear his coat, to carry his umbrella, to leave work on time so he could get some sleep. Just as George had driven him home from the airport, taken him out to eat, persisted to this day in those dinner invitations. He had a sudden clear picture again of George, wrapping an orphaned kitten up in kindness and warmth, before taking it home.
Maybe it was George who would rescue that little boy. He could easily enough see George picking him up, wrapping him in a coat, carrying him away from his uncle, away from Russia. Taking him home. Keeping him safe. It was a fanciful notion and he knew it, but it made him smile anyway.
He ate the lunch George had brought him, hoping George would read the apology in the empty plate. But when the intercom beeped, George hadn't turned around. Illya flicked the switch.
"Agent Kuryakin, we need you in my office, please. The Russian contingent has some more questions about our procedures, and you have the best command of conversational Russian of any of our translators."
"On my way." Illya got up and headed for the door..
"See?" George said, still without looking at him. "They'll keep you all afternoon and into the evening. Aren't you glad you ate something?"
Illya stopped and turned around. George's face had that pugnacious expression he knew so well, and his heart melted within him. The apology hadn't been received after all. George's feelings were hurt, and that wasn't right, was it. When all he wanted to do was... was to feed that little boy.
"Yes I am," Illya said gently. "I'm very glad. Thank you, George."
"Hmph. Welcome. You didn't have to be such a dickhead about it."
Illya came back over to him, rested a hand on his shoulder. "I know. I'm sorry."
On an impulse he couldn't have explained or defended, Illya leaned over and kissed George Piper very lightly on the cheek. "Thank you," he said again. George yelped.
"What the hell, Illya! People might be looking! Are you crazy?" But under the gruffness his eyes were tender, and Illya smiled right into them.
"See you tomorrow, George. Would you finish that up for me? It's in stage five."
"So fast? Really?" George looked impressed. "Sure. Have a nice evening, Illya. Saturday night okay for dinner?"
"It's fine. Good night." He left the lab and took the elevator up, smiling to himself. He had found that little boy a protector, and foolish as the whole thing might be, it made him feel good. Very, very good.
Turnbull's office was crowded with strangers, and the sounds of his native language filled the air. Illya stopped for a moment, letting it pour over him. He had had nightmares early last night, nightmares of his childhood, of his uncle. He had decided, on waking around midnight, that it was due to hearing and speaking his own language for the first in a long time. Gone were the days, however, when his nightmares seemed as real as the events they recalled. Those long hours talking to Napoleon, sharing his traumas bit by bit, confiding, trusting, being held and comforted in return, had stripped them of most of their old power. It was unpleasant, and frightening, to dream of his uncle's hands reaching for him, but once he woke he could see clearly that they were bad dreams, no more and no less. So last night he had simply rolled over, gone back to sleep and dreamed of Napoleon. He had not given them another thought until this moment. He moved into the room, letting the automatic doors close behind him. He saw Turnbull, behind his desk, make a slight move with his hand, and noticed the self satisfied smile on his face, but thought nothing of it. As he walked closer to the table, Turnbull rose and greeted him.
"Agent Kuryakin—prompt as always. Welcome!"
Illya gave him a curious look at the unaccustomed effusion of the welcome, then another man, who had been sitting facing the desk, rose and turned towards him.
It felt as though all the air had left the room and Illya gasped, hand going to his chest as he struggled to breathe in the vacuum engulfing him. His heart leaped, then began staggering in his chest as all sound stopped. The blood left his extremities, centering in his middle, leaving his hands and feet numb with cold. He felt the color leave his face, gasped again and groped for something to hold onto. There was nothing. His uncle moved towards him, smiling, arms outstretched... no! Illya's whole body wanted to run and he managed a step backwards, two steps, and bumped into the door. It hadn't opened at his approach, as it should have, to allow his exit, and he remembered the way Turnbull had done something at his desk. It was too late to escape now, and in another second he would be enfolded—trapped—in those powerful arms, pressed against that broad chest—no!
Fury rose in him, a pure blast of rage and he brought one hand up, fingers pressed tightly together and drove them with all his strength into his uncle's solar plexus. It had been a small movement, but for a moment the universe rocked on its foundations. He thought he could hear that little boy screaming in terror and the flames of his anger rose higher. His uncle had staggered back, face going a doughy color as he struggled to breathe—good! Good!
"Get away from me," Illya spat at him, and he didn't trouble himself overmuch to lower his voice. "Don't you dare—don't you even think of touching me. I'll kill you right here and right now. I could do it with one hand tied behind my back. I could do it with my eyes closed. Don't you know that? Who do you think you're dealing with? I'm not a child any longer and I'm—I'm dangerous. Didn't he..." he threw Turnbull a look full of hatred and contempt—you betrayed me, you sick bastard, he thought and for a moment he couldn't have said which man he despised more, or which man he wanted to kill more. No, wanted to kill was too mild a term. Lusted to kill. His lips peeled back from his teeth as he faced down his uncle. "Didn't he warn you about that? What did you think, that I'd just let you —"
"Be silent!" his uncle hissed, having finally regained enough air to speak. "How dare you raise your voice, much less your hands to me! Stop this right now or it will be even worse for you than you can possibly imagine!"
"Oh, I can imagine plenty!" Illya flung back at him and he was louder now. The other people in the room were beginning to look at them curiously. "I can imagine you—pedophile! Child molester! Coward! Scum!" Napoleon had used all those words, and more, in their late night conversations and Illya threw them at his uncle now with decided relish. He was actually enjoying himself, in a perverse through the looking glass way. His uncle looked utterly confounded and Illya continued.
"I will tell them all if you don't unlock that door right now," he threatened Turnbull. "I'll start shouting those words and include you in them if you don't open that door and let me leave! As for you..." it was he who moved forward now and his uncle who backed away. This was so obviously not at all the way he had pictured this scene would go that Illya laughed at him. It tasted bitter in his mouth but good, too. It seemed he was standing between that little boy and the monster, finally, protecting and shielding him and it made him feel ten feet tall, as if he towered over this man the way this man had towered, shouting and red faced, over that helpless, cowering child,.
That image made him pause, because loss of self control made you look weak, he had learned that much over his years in the field. So he brought himself to heel, letting the effort it took show—a trick he had learned from Napoleon. The clenched fists, the rigid face and hard, tight mouth—showed both the strength of his anger and the strength of his will.
"I understand," he said softly, "that you are currently a guest of this organization." Here he threw another scathing look at Turnbull. "Far be it from me to publicly show you the disrespect you have so richly earned. But if you ever have the effrontery to speak to me again, to look at me again, to make an attempt to touch me again, I will shout my accusations to the rooftop. They put people in prison for what you did to me, even years later. And I doubt very much that your masters overseas..." he drawled the word masters and saw his uncle's face whiten with the rage he did not dare express..." would like hearing some of the details of your business..." the word business dripped sarcasm... yes, he was enjoying this, enjoying himself immensely. "Dealings, since not all directly benefited them, as you led them to believe. Prison in America might be the very least of your worries. Am I making myself clear?" He didn't wait for a reply because he didn't think he would get one, and in that case best to make it look as if he simply did not have the time nor the patience to hear one, but whirled on Turnbull.
"As for you," he snarled. "I'd kill you as soon as look at you. Do you understand me? I'd put a bullet through your head without a second thought." He didn't mention Napoleon's name, or his probable reaction to being told all of this. He didn't have to. Napoleon's aura fairly hovered over this encounter, and he knew that Turnbull felt it. If Illya Kuryakin was reckoned a bad enemy—and he was—Napoleon Solo was positively feared.
"I'm going to walk out that door now," he finished, because part of all of this was knowing when to end it. "And if I have to turn back around..." he shuddered all over then, with the effort to keep from killing them both right there and to hell with the consequences. "I won't be answerable. I might regret it later, but that wouldn't be a concern of yours any more." He turned his back on both men, walked to—and through—the rapidly opening doors.
He couldn't process it. As he strode through UNCLE's corridors he couldn't shake the feeling that his uncle was with him, walking beside him, arm around his shoulders, leading him, like a lamb, to the slaughter. It seemed only a thin wedge of reality separated the two scenes; his uncle walking him out to the car, taking him someplace private, ravaging and torturing him once again; and this one, he walking alone, striding along, free to go where he willed.
He still couldn't get his mind around what had just happened. His uncle—here, in New York! His uncle, reaching for him just like all those nightmares. His uncle, angry with him, wanting to get his hands on him, to punish him—the little boy cried out in fear and Illya didn't know how to comfort him. He had protected him, but now that child was wailing out his terror, and Illya knew how that would sound to anybody else. He wondered if it meant he was loosing his mind. That frightened him as much as everything else so both he and the child, in desperate need of consolation and reassurance, took the elevator back, hurried along the halls, burst into the chemistry lab and threw themselves into George Piper's arms.
"What the hell?" George, bewildered, held Illya anyway. "What is it?" Then, in horror, "Is it Solo? Did something happen to him?"
"No," Illya managed. He had his face pressed into George's chest and though George was holding him it wasn't enough, not enough for that little boy. He clutched at George's coat, being unable to get his arms completely around his bulk. "Don't ask, George, just help me, help me, he's so afraid and I think I'm going crazy... help me!"
"Okay." George squeezed him, hard, not knowing what was wrong but knowing what to do. He rocked Illya, hugged him, rubbed his back and finally that frantic grip eased. Illya gasped.
"Thank you," he managed. This was just what he—what they—had needed. The child was still trembling all over but that dreadful screaming had stopped. He was subsiding into the quiet he had lived in all these years—and who knew he was even alive in there, much less... Illya shivered all over with renewed fear for his mind. This was crazy, wasn't it, surely crazy, the strain of confronting his uncle had driven him crazy. That thought made him angry again, a little, because that would be letting his uncle win, wouldn't it, and he wouldn't let him win, he refused to let him win.
"Tell me," George said and for one moment Illya held back. Tell him? Tell George what he had never told anyone but Napoleon, and that only after months of living together, months of sleeping together and eating together and all those years in the field before that, relying on one another and trusting one another and rescuing one another—how could he transfer that level of trust to this man whom, in contrast, he felt he barely knew? But the child knew him, the child was stirring again, wanting to weep out his wrongs on that broad chest, so to forestall him, to keep him quiescent, Illya told.
"My uncle was my guardian. He hurt me and raped me my whole life. He let anybody else do it too if they let him in on their secrets, or their private deals. He turned me into a whore—his whore. When I was sixteen Mr. Waverly helped me get out, and into U.N.C.L.E.. I never thought I'd see him again but when I went upstairs just now there he was. Turnbull called him on me. I told him to leave me alone but once I left I... I was afraid. I was afraid, George, because the little boy I used to be was screaming at seeing him again, and I didn't know how to help him, and doesn't that mean I'm losing my mind, that I can hear him at all? And Napoleon's not here, and I want him..." a great sob shook him at the thought of how much he wanted Napoleon right then although the child didn't, the child was... was perfectly happy nestling down into George Piper's arms and how crazy was that? He trembled again and George led him over to the couch, sat down with him and held him, kept rubbing his back, pressing his head back down when Illya tried to sit up.
"I'll be damned," George said finally. "That son of a bitch. And he's sitting right upstairs in Turnbull's office? Want me to go up and kick his ass for you?"
The image tickled him suddenly, because George would, he knew. All he had to do right now was nod his head and George Piper would storm into Turnbull's office, all righteous wrath, and... and kick his uncle's ass and probably Turnbull's too for good measure. He laughed, and if there was a touch of hysteria in it George didn't seem to notice, but he continued rocking him anyway.
"No, thank you," Illya finally managed. He had done it, one brief spurt of words and George knew everything and, from his reaction, didn't hate him for it. Liar, he thought to his uncle. Filthy liar, it's you they hate when they hear about it, not me—him. Not that little boy, that poor little boy.
"Let me take you home," George said finally and Illya nodded because he wanted to be home, he did, but he couldn't shake the image of the black car with its terrible occupant. Could he be sure that that strength and anger would rise up again to protect him? He didn't feel strong right now, that was for certain.
"Yes please," he said and George got up. He fetched both their coats and they left together.
They took a taxi to Illya's apartment building and said goodbye in the lobby. "Want me to come up?" George offered. "I could spend the night on the couch."
Illya wavered, tempted. But his mind had cleared under the cold air, the familiar taxi ride, the doorman offering him coffee or hot chocolate. He was in no danger tonight, he was sure of it. He had faced down his enemies and defeated them. His uncle would not want Illya shouting out his accusations, would not want his superiors in Russia to learn what exactly he had been up to all those years ago. And his uncle wouldn't want to be killed, either, and Illya knew both his ability and his eagerness to do so had been on open display.
And even if he were wrong, and there was danger, would it be fair to expose George to it? In fact, hadn't he already involved George too much, by riding home with him? Illya frowned at the thought.
"No, thank you," he said, and went over to talk to the doorman. "Heighten to Security Level Code 5 until further notice," he said and the man straightened, nodded. Illya was satisfied. The building would be turned into an armed fortress and it would stay that way until Illya said the word—which would not be until his uncle was confirmed on a plane back to Russia. Confirmed arrived. "And I want a company car to take Mr. Piper home," he continued. "With a security escort."
"Yes sir." The doorman got on the phone and Illya returned to George.
"I'm sending you home in a private car," he said, smiling. "Consider it as returning the favor."
"Yeah? You mean a limo?"
"Sure," Illya agreed and crossed back over to the doorman to add this specification. He smiled at George. "Thank you so much," he said earnestly.
"You don't have to keep thanking me, Illya. Friends watch out for each other. And if you're still worried about that mental thing, I could set it up for you to talk to Dr. Karen Ludvic if you want. She's my primary care physician, but she has a degree in psychiatry too. Not that I think you need it," he added hastily in response to whatever he saw in Illya's face. "It's just you brought it up."
"Hmm." He considered it. A doctor—he had no real faith in the medical profession. Doctors had been willing coconspirators with his uncle when he was a child, laughing at his injuries, letting his uncle stay in his hospital room, returning him over and over again. But still... "Maybe just to talk. Just to ask her—you know. If that's normal or not."
"I think any adjustment or adaptation you made is fine," George said. "No one would ever know any of that happened to you at all. But it wouldn't hurt, right?"
No, it wouldn't. "All right. Would you call her? You can tell her what I told you. Then I won't have to go into it all again. I don't like talking about it."
"Who would? I'll take care of everything. All you'll have to do is show up. See you tomorrow, Illya. What are you doing for dinner?"
Dinner? He looked at his watch, and was shocked to see it was only a little past six. All that had happened, and here it was his normal going home time. "I'll heat up one of Napoleon's meals."
"I promise, George." And Napoleon would be calling him tonight, at eight o'clock. He remembered that, too. He was no longer in the mood for any sexual banter, but it would be good to hear Napoleon's voice. He was unaware how his face had brightened as he thought about that, but George saw it and that made it easy to tousle Illya's hair once more and leave.
He did eat, putting a meat loaf in the microwave, and a pan of dinner rolls in the oven. He ate and watched TV, not wanting to think about the Day, just wanting to put some time between it and him, to let it slide into the past with all the rest of it. The child was still quiet, soothed into slumber no doubt by the first paternal embrace he had ever known. Tomorrow he would ask this Dr. Ludvic if it was crazy or not, and if it was, how to deal with it. George trusted her, and that would be enough for him. Surely it would.
The phone rang promptly at eight. He answered it, smiling already in anticipation. Napoleon, recognizing his change of mood with that eerie prescience he always seemed to have about Illya, chatted lightly about events in London, and an upcoming vacation he hoped the two of them could take.
"Five days in Paris," he said and Illya stretched in anticipatory pleasure. "It won't be for a few months, but I can almost guarantee it. Sound good?"
"Yes, Napoleon. It sounds wonderful."
"Everything all right over there?" His voice sharpened a little with anxiety because something had happened, he could tell. But Illya wouldn't lie to him, he knew that too.
"Yes," Illya said because everything was, now. "Goodnight, Napoleon. I love you."
"I love you too, sweetheart. See you in Paris."
"See you in Paris," Illya echoed, and after another exchange of I love yous, they hung up. Illya smiled. He hadn't told Napoleon anything, but he hadn't told him a lie, either. He was warm and well fed, and the building was locked up as securely as anyone could desire. George had comforted that little boy, and Napoleon had comforted him, and everything was, indeed, all right.
The strain of the next three months was excruciating. It was much harder to maintain, day by day, than it had been to face down his uncle in the first place. That was normal, he knew that it was. Back in his days as a field agent, a good rousing gun battle was always preferable to day upon day of waiting. So he knew that it was to be expected, that it had been far easier to confront his uncle and issue threats and ultimatums, than it was now to go through his work day never knowing when he would pass him in a hallway, or see him at one of the dinners he was obliged to attend as official translator for the Russian contingent.
Knowing all of that didn't help. The stress rode him mercilessly throughout the day, each and every day. It was the first thing he thought of when he woke up. As he dressed he wondered how he would look to his enemies—to his uncle, whose black eyes followed him through the formal meals, through the conferences, tracking him in the corridors; to Turnbull, who glared at him in open hostility whenever they met. He always wore a jacket over his turtleneck sweaters now, and pulled on a lab coat as soon as he entered his office too. He wore blacks and browns and dark greys, never the blue that matched his eyes, never anything bright enough to attract attention. When he arrived at work he worried that the receptionist would have a message for him, that there would be an email on his computer screen or a note on his desk. He passed each and every day wondering when the next encounter would be, and when it came the sickening jolt never grew easier. His body was dumping adrenalin into his system at a near toxic rate and he knew it, knew it and couldn't control it.
Don't you look at me, he had snapped at his uncle but his uncle did look at him. and there was really nothing he could do about it. It was a small thing, he told himself so over and over again, but it felt like a big thing, a huge loss of control, an act of surrender so great that surely it would lead to more. If his uncle could look at him then maybe he could talk to him, or touch him and then what? I'll kill him, he answered himself silently. I don't care. I'll have to. I'll kill him and let the consequences fall as they may. He told himself that, and he believed it. He would have to. But then what? He would lose his freedom, he would lose his new life with Napoleon, and that his uncle was once again in a position to take things away from him infuriated him even more.
He couldn't eat. That infuriated him too, because he was dropping weight, losing color and he knew his uncle could see it, could almost feel the satisfaction it brought him. He might not be able to touch his nephew anymore, but he could hurt him anyway, could starve him and frighten him and... Illya tried, he did, he heated up a meal every night and choked it down, but as often as not his stomach sent it right back up again.
Dr. Ludvic said that was normal.
She said it was all normal. That was the only consolation he had. She said he wasn't crazy, that it was not madness that had brought his child self rising to the surface but a perfectly natural reaction both to what had happened to him long ago and what was happening to him now. She was gratifyingly angry on his behalf at the medical professionals who had aided and abetted his uncle, and angry too at Turnbull. She sucked on an ever present cigarette, blew clouds of smoke at the ceiling and encouraged him to talk about it all.
"But I can hear him," he had protested. "I can hear him screaming, and crying. How can you say that's not crazy?"
"Can you really hear him, Illya? To the degree where you spin around, looking for a nonexistent child?"
"Well, no, of course not." He had scowled at her. "I know it's inside me, not out in the world."
"Then you are not insane. But you are overwrought, I can see that for myself. Would you like a prescription for a sedative, to help you through these weeks?"
"No. I need my mind to be sharp. Because he may try to trick me, or Turnbull might. He wants to get his hands on me again, and I have to be alert."
"Twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, for twelve weeks?"
"Yes." He rubbed his face.
"I am very sorry, dear." Her sympathy touched him, and he managed a smile for her.
"Thank you, Dr. Ludvic."
"Are you still dreaming about him?"
"Would you like something to help you sleep?"
"Very well. I will see you on Thursday. But if you need to talk before then, just call."
"I will. Thank you again, Dr. Ludvic."
"You are more than welcome, dear."
So he had her as an advocate, and he had George. George walked him through the halls whenever possible, and always ate lunch with him. George glared truculently at Turnbull, and the one time Illya's uncle had passed the two of them on their way out the door Illya had had to hold onto George's arm to keep him from confronting the man right then and there.
"No," he'd said sharply. "I don't want you to dignify him with any attention." I don't want you to attract his attention, he meant. I don't want to put you in danger, I don't want him to make you disappear somehow. Was that unrealistic, wild thinking? He didn't know. But he knew that George would barge on ahead with no thought of danger, and someone had to consider it because his uncle was a dangerous man still, no question about that. So he had patted George's shoulder. "Let it go. He hasn't said a word to me or even approached me since that day in Turnbull's office. He leaves in two weeks. Let it go."
"I don't like the way he looked at you."
Illya had shivered despite himself. No, he hadn't liked it either, those black eyes promising retribution, snapping with vengeance. He didn't like it at all.
It was the last day. He woke up thinking of that. Today the Russian contingent was leaving, and that would be the end of it. And he was meeting Napoleon in Paris next weekend and he would tell Napoleon all about it then. Napoleon would be angry, but proud of him too. And Napoleon would look into it, and make sure it never happened again. Napoleon would put a tracer on his uncle's exit visa, so his comings and goings couldn't be a surprise. Napoleon might even arrange an accident for his uncle, or an arrest. It made Illya feel better just thinking about handing it all over to Napoleon. And how angry at Turnbull Napoleon would be. What would he do? Illya couldn't imagine, but it would be dark, it would be untraceable, and it would be effective. Of that he had no doubt.
They were gone. Illya inhaled deeply as he walked through the halls preparatory to leaving for the day. The plane would have left this afternoon, and they were gone. It was over. It was over, and he could relax. He would relax. He would go home, take a hot shower, get into pajamas—Napoleon's pajamas if he chose, turn on some music, read a book... he would relax. He smiled, thinking of it and stepped out of the door onto the street. He would walk for a little ways, just for the pleasure of moving along the city streets, breathing the New York air, listening to the sounds all around him, and then he would hail a cab to take him home.
A smashing blow to the back of the head drove him to his knees. Then he was dragged up by both arms, and thrown sideways into a car which sped away even before the door closed. He reacted without thought, driving an elbow back into someone, lunging for the door. Arms closed around him, and for a moment he could see the driver's rear view mirror. He saw his own eyes, wide and startled but not afraid, not yet, and... and his uncle's eyes, meeting his. For a moment time hung suspended while they stared at one another and then there was a jab, a flare of hot pain and the world was fading, he was crumpling back into his uncle's arms, falling into blackness, falling, falling... and gone.
He struggled back to awareness, hearing a roaring in his ears, aware that the seat he was in was moving gently. He groped blindly for something—anything to tell him where he was and what was happening, and his fingers grazed a cool, smooth surface. He forced his eyes open and through the mists that obscured his vision he saw sky. Sky, and clouds... he leaned closer, peered harder and far below him was dark blue sea. So far below... an airplane! The realization brought such a sickening jolt of fear he thought he might be sick from it, sick with terror. He was on the plane back to Russia, he knew it. Even as he plucked at the seat belt another stabbing pain in his shoulder defeated him, and he went down again into blackness.
The next time he was aware of anything he was in a small enclosed space, being tumbled all about. He tried to sit up, to escape, and hit his head on the roof of his prison. His hands were bound behind him, his ankles bound together and he could do nothing to protect himself from the bumping and the jolting. What... he tried to focus on his surroundings. It was dark, but not pitch dark. He could see walls close around him, dusty carpet under him... a car trunk. He had been imprisoned in car trunks before and once he recognized it he knew what was happening. The plane had landed, he had been transferred to a vehicle of some sort and even now was being driven up the long rutted driveway to his uncle's home.
No! Terror swamped him and he writhed helplessly, frantic to get free of his bonds, to get out of this trunk, to run and hide where his uncle could never find him but he couldn't, he was tied too tightly and there was no lever to open the trunk from the inside. No, no, no... Napoleon! He cried the name silently. Napoleon, Napoleon, he has me! He has me and he'll... help me! Help... and then the car stopped. The door slammed and footsteps crunched in gravel. Gravel—the driveway of the big old house was gravel, he remembered it well, being dragged along it or crushed into it by his uncle's booted foot. The child whimpered, then, when the trunk lid was flung open and his uncle leaned in to scoop him up, he screamed aloud.
Quiet! Illya thought at him. Be quiet so I can think, so I can escape! He twisted in that grip, lashed out with his bound feet and was dropped. And kicked. His uncle, enraged by his continued resistance kicked him again and again and again until breath was gone. Then he lifted him, held him out by the shoulders and shook him.
"You see where you are?" he demanded. "You are back where you belong, back where you should have stayed. And I am going to lock you up for good this time!" Abruptly he pulled Illya in, against him and covered his eyes with one meaty hand. "That was your last glimpse of the sky, of the sun, of the outside," he hissed into Illya's ear. "Never again will you see it, feel it. Never again will you be free." He was striding towards the house now and Illya tried to turn his head away, tried for one last look at the world he was leaving, but it was useless. The big front door opened, then slammed shut behind them. His uncle released his face. "Now you can see," he taunted. "See where we are going, see where you will spend the remainder of your miserable life."
They were in the cool dim living room, as familiar as if he had left it just yesterday. Then they were going down the hall, into the kitchen and the pantry behind. When that hidden door opened he cried out despite his best resolve not to, not to give him the satisfaction.
"No! No no no..." but the arms around him were remorseless and he couldn't get free. Down the stone steps they went, the air growing colder and colder as they descended. The passed the cell doors, all closed and he remembered, oh he remembered being brought down here and the child remembered too, mad with terror now, screaming and screaming. Illya locked his jaws shut to keep those screams inside because if he heard the child's voice he would go mad himself, he knew it.
The last stone door stood open. His uncle stopped on the threshold, and set him down, taking a step backwards so Illya, off balance, leaned against him, helpless to do otherwise. And as he looked into the room horror closed his throat.
The cell was different from the last time he had been locked in here, as a child. It was bigger, and he could see where the wall separating it from the one beside it had been removed, that door cemented over. An enormous bed stood in the middle, looking very odd in this dungeon. Big plump pillows were mounded at the top and Illya shuddered, remembering, remembering pillows pushed against the child's face, those small fingers trying to push it away, the drumming in his ears and the spots before his eyes as consciousness faded. And straps... four straps, secured to the four corners of the bed, each ending in a sturdy looking cuff.
His uncle turned them a little and now he was staring at a table, fastened at the top to the wall. Straps hung from that too, so many straps. He moaned, shaking his head.
"You will never leave here," his uncle hissed directly into his ear. "I have you now and I will keep you close." He moved forward, shoving Illya ahead of him towards the table. He tried to twist free, tried to fall to the ground, to roll away, to get away, but he was lifted off his feet, laid out and strapped down. Ankles, knees, thighs, belly, chest, throat. His hands, still bound behind him, throbbed painfully, his shoulders, pulled too tightly backwards, sent their own messages of pain. His uncle's fingers dug into his jaw, forcing his mouth open and a long thick rod was shoved inside, down his throat, making him gag and choke, trying to spit it back up but buckles were pulled tight, holding it in place. Then his head was strapped down and he was completely immobilized. He couldn't even turn his head, couldn't make a sound. Could barely breathe. He lifted his eyes to his uncle's face, looked at the triumph there, watched him stroke the bulge in his pants and hated him. I'll kill you for this, he thought furiously. Have you lost your mind? Do you really think you can get away with it? Napoleon... Napoleon will find me.
"No one will ever find you," his uncle said and leaned over, stroked his hair. "No one knows where you are, no one knows I have taken you, no one will care to look. I own you. Remember that." He leaned even closer. "And here you are," he whispered. "More beautiful than ever—and even more enticing with this new idea that you can defy me. What a pleasure it will be to break it. To break you, slowly, over the years to come. What a pleasure. My pleasure. Mine." He took a black cloth out of his pocket, tied it over Illya's eyes. "I will be back, and then I will taste that pleasure. My pleasure, your pain. Did you really think you could escape it? No. It is your destiny, and mine. Our destiny, to be together. Together forever." Illya heard his footsteps crossing the floor, heard the heavy wooden door close. Heard the bolt shoot across it, locking him in. Locking him in here, in this dark and terrible place, forever. He, and his uncle, forever. Pain and fear, forever. Forever.
No. He struggled against the hopelessness swamping him. No. His uncle was a fool. He didn't know about Napoleon, didn't know that Illya had told Napoleon all about him. Napoleon knew about this house. Napoleon even knew about this hidden place, because Illya had told him. Napoleon would come for him. He would. All Illya had to do was hang on until he did.
How long it had been now, Illya didn't know. How many times his uncle had already come and gone, he didn't know either. It could be days or weeks, years or lifetimes. Sometimes food was stuffed into his mouth; coarse bread, rotten fruit, pushed in so that he gagged and coughed, nearly strangling on it. Sometimes there was water—tepid foul tasting water, poured in faster than he could accept it. He accepted it anyway, because hunger and thirst rode him constantly, but eating and drinking were acts of torture just like everything else.
And now here came footsteps again, so loud they hurt his ears. Terror came with them, rising and rising, making him struggle fruitlessly against the restraints, making him scream against the gag. His heart pounded so fast and so hard it seemed to shake his whole body, shake the table, shake the room. The room rocked, the walls cracking and falling in, earthquake sounds. He thrashed on the table as best he could, the limited range of motion permitted by the straps not enough, not enough... then the cover was snatched away from his eyes and he was staring into his uncle's face.
He hated his uncle, he dreaded the sight of his uncle, he was wildly afraid of his uncle's rough hands, his huge thrusting cock. But he was a person, another human being, flesh and blood and Illya yearned towards him even as he shrank away from him, the conflict making his head feel as if it were coming apart, exploding, sending shards of his brain across the room.
"Glad to see me?" his uncle whispered, and stroked his face. Despite himself a thrill of pleasure went through him at the touch—any touch, any touch at all in his isolation. But he shuddered too because oh, how he loathed those hands. Soon they would start to hurt him, would press harder, would pinch and prod... he whimpered, tears beginning to trickle down his cheeks. His uncle leaned closer, licked them off and Illya closed his eyes so as not to see the satisfaction on his face. Then he opened them again because darkness was worse, he spent too much time in darkness. He would see what there was to see, even if it was his uncle's face, so he watched as his uncle untied him, unbuckled the straps. The gag was dragged out, slowly, making him retch and cough, struggling frantically for air.
"Don't resist me, and I won't hurt you," his uncle promised and for one moment Illya believed him. He wanted to believe him, wanted to believe there was something he could do to affect this, some way he could have some control—any control—over his body, his life. But his uncle would hurt him, he knew it deep down, because his uncle liked hurting him. So he spat in his face.
"Liar," he hissed, and spat again. His uncle roared in fury—so he could affect things after all, could change his uncle's mood from relaxed pleasure to rage—that was something, wasn't it? Then he was plucked off the table and thrown against the wall. He hit hard, with bone jarring force, and fell onto the bed. Before he could recover from the blow, before he could catch his breath his uncle was on him, full weight, pressing him deep into the mattress. Despite the pain he was aware of the softness of the mattress and his body welcomed it after eons on the hard table. It was soft on his legs, his back, curving around his calves and his waist as he sank into it. It was sensation and he embraced it greedily, grateful for it even though he knew nothing good would happen to him on this bed, just as he was grateful for his uncle's scent, the roughness of his stubbled face against his throat as his uncle lay across him and fumbled for the straps. Anything is better than nothing, he thought and inhaled deeply, trying to give his brain something it could hold on to, afraid his senses would atrophy and die in the dark and the silence, picturing his brain withering, turning to a dry husk inside his head. The picture was so clear he screamed against it and then, abruptly, there was nothing.
The pillow blinded him, deafened him, silenced him. He tried to catch his breath and couldn't, the surface molding itself to his face. His chest heaved and he tried to bring his hands up, to push it away but his uncle was kneeling on his wrists, hurting him, smothering him, stifling his thoughts as well as his lungs and he spiraled down into darkness.
He gasped air and looked into his uncle's eyes. His uncle, self control regained, smiled at him. "You will yield to me," he whispered. "Not today perhaps, and not tomorrow, but next week, next month, next year you will. You will be glad to see me, you will reach out to me, pleading for my embrace. You know it as well as I do. You're not stupid—yet." He brought the pillow down again, slowly and Illya sucked air, trying desperately to fill his lungs, to breathe while he could. He turned his face away but the pillow was clamped over it anyway and again there was terror and suffocation and the desperate need to breathe. Again, and again, and again.
His uncle fucked him, driving himself home, gasping and cursing and pounding him with both fists. Then he seized Illya by the throat, shook him like a rat between a dog's teeth, and when blackness came this time Illya welcomed it.
More time passed. He was aware at one point that he was under water, held under in the big tank at the far end of the room. He gagged, twisted in that iron grip, pushed under over and over again; brought up to cough water out, sent under to breathe it in again.
Pain, pain, pain! He tried to get away from it, from the jolts of agony coursing through him. Forcing his eyes open he saw that his uncle had the cattle prod. No! He crawled across the floor while his uncle walked along behind, shocking him repeatedly until he couldn't crawl, and then he shocked him some more until Illya wished wildly that he could pass out again, wished that he could die.
His uncle strapped him back down onto the table. Exhausted, Illya didn't resist this time. He just lay there and allowed his hands to be put into the cuffs, his ankles bound to the corners of the table, his forehead restrained. The strap across his chest was pulled cruelly tight, making it hard to breathe and he groaned, thinking about the endless hours, possibly days ahead, struggling for each breath in the dark and the silence. "Will you be pleased to see me next time?" his uncle asked pleasantly. "Will you obey me next time, knowing that if you do I will loosen this strap?"
No, Illya wanted to say, no, I will never obey you but then his uncle shouted suddenly right into his face, a sound so loud it was like thunder, like an explosion, like the walls falling in again and burying him here, alone with this man, alone with him forever. "Open your mouth!"
He did it without thought and his uncle pushed the gag in, laughing as he did so. "Yes, that's better," he crooned, stroking Illya's sweat damp hair back from his forehead. "Obedience, yes. That is much better."
Shamed, he closed his eyes and opened them as quickly because the dark was worse, the absence of sight was worse and it was coming soon enough as it was. His uncle's face filled his vision. "No other face but mine," he whispered. "No other face but mine, no other voice but mine, no other touch but mine. Remember." He put the blindfold on, tying it tightly, brutally tight just like the gag, just like the straps. Then footsteps, heavy and loud, but moving away.
If he had been able Illya might have cried aloud, "Come back! Come back, don't leave me here all alone in the dark, come back come back!" But he couldn't, and that was good because did he really want his uncle to come back? No. But would he be glad to see him when he returned, despite the promise of further torture, despite the anguish and the humiliation and the fear? He was very much afraid that he would be. Tomorrow, his uncle had said, and next week, and next year. Year upon year upon year of this. His face was wet with tears again as he struggled to remember the hope he had been clinging to, but he couldn't. All he could do was lie here in this prison cell, chest heaving against the strap, listening despite himself for the footfalls that would mean touch, and voice, and breath once again.
Footfalls—not quite so heavy this time. Terror, rising and rising, making him quiver all over with the need to struggle against his bonds, the need to scream despite the gag. He couldn't. It was taking everything he had to breathe and if he screamed out his air who knew if he could find it again? His throat worked against the alien presence inside it, his muscles jerked and twitched against the straps. The door opened, closed. More footsteps, sounding quick and urgent and he sobbed because if his uncle was in a hurry to reach him that was bad, that was very bad.
The strap across his chest was loosened and removed. He inhaled, grateful despite himself, words of thanks only held back by the gag and he would thank his uncle, would pour out his abject gratitude, would promise obedience after all because it was so good to breathe, so good. Then the blindfold was being loosened, his uncle was struggling with the knot and Illya tried to pry his eyes open behind it, not to lose one moment of sight, one drop of light even if it was only the dimness of his prison. The blindfold came off and he was looking up into Napoleon's face.
He screamed into the gag, screaming and screaming because he had gone mad, he had finally and completely lost his mind; he wanted to see Napoleon so desperately that his brain had snapped the final mooring to sanity and flown free. He would never know again what was real and what was not, would never know if it was his uncle or Napoleon with him, would breathe water as if it were air, would... he screamed again and again, eyes wide open and staring everywhere, anywhere but into the face that had to be his uncle's, or no one's at all.
"Illya!" Napoleon—or the fiend that looked like Napoleon—unfastened the bond holding Illya's head still, then caught his face between two hands. "Illya, stop, stop, it's me, it's Napoleon. Here, I'll take this out but you have to stop screaming. I need to be able to listen for him. We need to take him by surprise. Is he acting alone?"
It was Napoleon's voice and that drove him even further into frenzy because this hallucination was too real, not like the sounds of grinding earth and falling rock that he always knew, really, were false. He fought harder.
"Illya! Agent Kuryakin!"
That silenced him—although he had been silent the whole time, hadn't he. His vocal cords could spasm all they pleased but no sound could escape the gag. Those unuttered screams echoed in his head like sound, and deafened him just as surely as sound, but the voice carried clearly anyway. Agent Kuryakin? He turned the words over in his mind. Agent Kuryakin? His uncle had never called him that, called him Illya, or child as if trying to speak to the little boy cowering deep inside him. But his uncle never used his title, or his last name. Agent Kuryakin? He looked into the face again.
It certainly looked like Napoleon; Napoleon with the grim slightly haggard expression he wore when the mission was especially arduous, when he had gone through danger and hardship to win through. And then Napoleon smiled at him. "Illya," he said softly. "Illya—you know me? You're with me?" Then, more urgently, "Is he acting alone? His car is gone, so I know he went to town—where else is there, unless he has a confederate somewhere. Have you seen anyone besides him?"
Illya shook his head. No other face but his, no other voice but his, no.
"Can I take the gag out? I don't want you to make a sound, all right? If he starts down those stairs, I don't want him to have an inkling that anything has gone wrong. All right? Nod if you understand me."
If he starts down those stairs... if his uncle came down those stairs...
"Illya!" Napoleon's voice was sharp again. "Do you understand me? You have to keep quiet."
Of course he would be quiet. Of course he would be. He didn't want his uncle to hear him. How angry his uncle would be, to find him without the blindfold and the gag—or the suffocating strap. So he nodded, and was rewarded with another smile.
"It's not going to be pleasant, but I'll try to make it quick. I'm going to untie you first, so you can sit up and lean forward a little. Here." Then the straps were off his throat, off his stomach. His hands were freed, one after the other, and Napoleon was putting an arm around his back, helping him sit up. He leaned against Napoleon's shoulder, and felt Napoleon grasp the gag. "Cough," Napoleon said and he didn't really understand but as it was drawn up and out he did cough because he couldn't help it. He coughed and coughed, barely able to draw breath between the spasms, trying to pull away, crying out a little when something was pushed against his lips because his uncle loved to shove his cock down his throat at this time, loved to shove it in and gag him again with its thick length.
"It's all right, Illya," Napoleon said and his voice was soothing. "It's water. Aren't you thirsty? Your lips look dry... yes, that's it. Not too much, not at first, that's the way." It was water, cool delicious water and he gulped it greedily until Napoleon pulled it away. Napoleon smiled at him again. "Better?"
It was better, much better and if this was a hallucination maybe madness wasn't so bad after all. He could breathe, he wasn't thirsty anymore, and Napoleon's arm was still around him, steadying him, strengthening him. He smiled at Napoleon, a very small smile but it was a real one too, and Napoleon smiled back.
The door at the top of the stairs opened, closed. Footsteps started down, heavy footsteps.
Illya's heart leaped so violently in his chest it choked him and he gasped, began to cough again. Napoleon clamped a hand over his mouth and pushed him back down. "Trust me," he whispered into Illya's ear. "Lie still and trust me." He draped the blindfold over Illya's face, covering it, covering his mouth too and concealing the absence of the gag. Illya lay there and shook with fear as Napoleon draped the straps across him, not fastening them. Then he was gone.
Without his touch, without the sound of his voice Illya couldn't be sure it had all really happened. If it weren't for his new ease in breathing, his throat soothed and cooled by the water, he would have thought he had dreamed it. As it was... he listened as the footsteps came closer and closer, louder and louder. The door opened, closed.
"How you distract me," his uncle whispered. "I forgot the bolt, evidently. I was so pleased at the image of you fighting for every breath, longing for and dreading my return, I must have grown careless. I..." he plucked the blindfold off, and then he uttered an oath..
Illya recoiled, sure that it was the ease with which it had come up, the lack of the gag, that had prompted the exclamation but his uncle wasn't even looking at him. He was staring across the table and when Illya turned his head Napoleon was there, gun in hand. His face was implacable, and Ivan Petrovich must have known he was looking at his own death. Fear washed across his face and the sight made Illya glad; hotly, fiercely glad. Napoleon didn't speak but the gun did, a short sharp ejaculation and Illya's uncle was thrown backward, into the wall, sliding down, eyes open and fixed in that expression of astonishment, rage and fear.
Dead. He was dead. Illya knew it even before Napoleon crossed the room, knelt beside the body, nodded once, and rose. He knew it, and the child knew it too, giving a deep sigh of relief and slipping back into stillness, quiet and stillness at last because the monster had been slain and he was safe.
"Let's go," Napoleon said. "I have clothes for you in the chopper." He finished untying Illya, and lifted him. "Can you put your arms around me?" he asked and Illya tried, he did, because he wanted to obey Napoleon; more, wanted to cling to him and never let him go. So he tried, and after the first two attempts he managed to lock them around Napoleon's neck and press his face into Napoleon's throat, desperate now for the feel of him, the scent and the taste... he opened his mouth to let it in... and the strength of him.
Napoleon carried him out of the room, paused and pushed the door closed with one foot. He used his elbow to slide the bolt across, locking it just as Illya had been locked in all those times. Then he was moving, walking down the long stone corridor, up the stairs, reversing the journey Illya had taken on his arrival. Through the pantry, the kitchen, down the hall. Out the front door.
The sunlight stabbed Illya's eyes like daggers and he cried out, squeezing them shut, pushing his face harder into Napoleon's shoulder. "I know," Napoleon said, never slowing his pace. "Hang on." He hoisted Illya up, into a seat and climbed in too, awkwardly clambering over him. "Here." He was pulling clothes on him now, shoving his feet into pants. Illya tried to help, arching up so Napoleon could pull them to his waist, struggling to fit his arms into sleeves. It felt incredibly good to be clothed, the whisper of fabric across his skin, the brush of Napoleon's fingers as he buttoned, zippered, snapped. He wished he could see Napoleon but he still couldn't force his eyes open.
Darkness came down and he pried them open after all because what was happening, why was it darker suddenly, was he back in the cell after all, his uncle blindfolding him again? He screamed, a faint despairing sound and Napoleon pulled him into his arms, held him reassuringly hard.
"Goggles, Illya. Pilot's goggles, so you can see. All right? Look at me, so I know you understand me."
He was staring into Napoleon's face, his kind, worried face. He reached up, touched the goggles with a shaking hand. Oh. Pilot's goggles, dark enough to allow vision even when flying into the sun. Oh.
"Are we good to go?" Napoleon asked and he nodded. Go, yes, he wanted to go. Go away from here, far from here, go. Yes.
"Yes," he said and Napoleon's face brightened. Illya wondered why. It was only a word, after all, one word, but Napoleon looked as if he had received a priceless treasure.
"That's good, Illya," he said and leaned in, kissed his forehead. "Very good." He settled into the seat beside Illya, leg still firmly pressed against Illya's leg, and shoved a lever over. There was an unsettling feeling in Illya's stomach, a sinking or a rising and when he looked around he saw they were climbing, flying high into the sky.
"Yes," he said again, because this was just what he wanted, and Napoleon patted his knee.
"Any particular attachment to the house?" he asked. "Or would you just as soon see it blown to kingdom come?"
"Kingdom come," Illya said promptly because blown up was good, blown up was more than good. Napoleon banked the chopper, and the words were coming back to him now, now the world was making sense. They were in a helicopter, the helicopter had taken off and he was staring directly down at the old house, looking small and harmless from up here. Napoleon opened his door and dropped a small, egg shaped object.
"Hang on," he said and they leapt upward, rocketing away from earth and below them, after a frozen moment of nothing, there was a grinding roar and the house collapsed inward on itself. Illya stared down in wonder as grey smoke boiled up, making it impossible to see what was happening, and then, as the smoke cleared, there was nothing but a pile of rubble.
A pang of satisfaction, so savage it almost hurt, went through him. His uncle was down there, in that dungeon deep under ground, covered over with all that debris. His uncle was dead and buried and he... he looked around, at the blue sky, at the neat, efficient helicopter with Napoleon at the controls... he was free.
Illya sat on the hospital bed, one leg outstretched, one tucked under him, and studied the menu for tomorrow's meals. The television set was on, turned up rather loudly, because he loved the sound as well as the sight of it. He was starved for sensation and embraced all that was offered—the manipulations from the nurses and therapists, the massage George always gave him before going home for the night, making the child stir, stretching with contentment. Even simple things like having his blood pressure or his temperature taken thrilled him. When the doctor came in twice a day and moved the stethoscope around on his chest and back he fairly shivered with pleasure. The bed, so soft and clean with its crisp sheets; the pillows he tucked under his head or behind his back filled him with delight. He even welcomed the pricks of the needle when they took blood, and the unpleasant tug of the tape holding the IV tube in his arm. All, all were preferable to the dark, and the silence, and the emptiness.
Now he studied the menu with absorption. It always took him so long to select his meals they had taken to bringing it early. He looked at it in the afternoon before dinner, and then again after dinner. The choices entranced him. Tomorrow morning he could have pancakes, or eggs, or oatmeal or cold cereal. He could have fruit or toast on the side. He could drink coffee or milk or juice—or all three if he so desired. Then for lunch there was baked sole, chicken sandwiches, or an egg salad plate. For dinner he could have spaghetti with meatballs, a tuna casserole, or Salisbury steak with mashed potatoes and gravy. He hung over it, running his finger down the list, greedy for it. He pictured each item and when he finally circled his selections it was with a contented sigh. And on top of that Napoleon would come in the evening and bring him anything he wanted. He always brought something, and always asked Illya what he would want for the next day before he left. And Illya could always call him if he changed his mind, but he never did. He dwelt on the promised treat throughout the intervening night and day and wouldn't dream of changing it. Last night Napoleon had brought him a Blimpie from down the street, a foot long Blimpie with lettuce and tomato and onions topping the sliced roast beef. His mouth watered, remembering it. And tonight Napoleon was bringing him a pizza, a whole supreme pizza from his favorite restaurant. How good it would be. And the fact that he would only be able to eat a piece or two, because his stomach seemed to have shrunk during his ordeal, and he couldn't eat very much at any one sitting, wouldn't matter. Napoleon wouldn't mind. He would have a slice himself and they would laugh, and talk... Illya sighed and pushed the menu aside.
He missed Napoleon so much. He saw him daily, of course—Napoleon stopping in every morning before work for a quick kiss and some light conversation, and the nightly visits were longer, but it wasn't the same as living with Napoleon, sleeping in his arms and waking up beside him. Illya's body ached for that, for him.
Of course Napoleon would stay twenty four hours a day if Illya asked it of him, of course he would. But he wouldn't ask, wouldn't take Napoleon from his work, wouldn't make him sleep in that uncomfortable looking recliner in which he had spent the first night. Napoleon worked long, hard hours and needed his rest. Illya sighed again. It was all right here, in this sunny hospital room where the nurses fussed over him as if he were two years old, where the doctors spoke gravely and encouragingly about his recovery, where Dr. Ludvic dropped by every afternoon to watch game shows with him, but it wasn't home
Dr. Ludvic. He frowned slightly. That was one of the things keeping him here, he knew it. Physically he was recovering rapidly. The electrical burns had been treated and were healing, the IV pumped in antibiotic to clear up any lingering infections. He had gained a little weight and since there was nothing wrong with his appetite he was sure to gain more. He had no broken bones, or internal injuries. He knew how to go with the assault of rape, how to let his body yield to the brutal thrusts, how to open himself up and relax.
Not my first time, he had said on that initial exam, when the doctor had remarked on the surprising lack of actual damage despite the clear evidence of assault. Not my first time, and then he had laughed. He had laughed and laughed and when the laughter turned to tears he had buried his face in Napoleon's shoulder and Napoleon had rocked him and patted his back and murmured reassuring words into his ear. There had been the sting of a needle then, just like on the plane and he had clutched Napoleon frantically, waiting for the fall into darkness, but it hadn't come. Instead what felt like a cool breeze had stolen through him, calming him, making both laughter and tears seem like too much effort. When his arms loosened their hold on Napoleon he hadn't minded because Napoleon hadn't let go of him, Napoleon had continued to rock him and whisper endearments and he hadn't even noticed when he fell asleep. When he woke up he had been in this bed, with the sun streaming in the window, the cheerful bustle of the nurses' station right outside his open door and Napoleon sitting in the recliner beside him, head at an awkward look angle, eyes closed, hand still holding onto Illya's hand through the rail on the bed.
The doctors would clear him to go home, he was sure of it. But Dr. Ludvic was waiting for him to talk to her. She didn't ask any questions on these daily visits, just looked him over with that sharp appraising gaze of hers, and settled in to watch television with him as if this were no more than a social call. They competed good naturedly to see who could answer the most questions correctly on the assorted quiz shows that played until replaced by the evening news, and they laughed at the antics of the contestants, but that wouldn't be enough to get her to release him. She wanted him to talk about it, about his uncle and about his imprisonment, and he didn't want to. His mouth set hard now, thinking about it. He didn't want to talk about it because he didn't want to think about it because talking about it and thinking about it would bring it into the present and he didn't want it in the present. It was past. It was the past and that was where it should stay.
"Hi, sweetheart." It was Napoleon at his door, with the promised pizza box in his hands. Illya sniffed happily and sat up. He wouldn't think about any of that now. Napoleon was here, and that was more than enough. He ate pizza and laughed at Napoleon's acerbic remarks about the staff meeting he had just finished chairing. They watched a sitcom, and a news magazine show, and a medical drama. Illya pointed out all the inaccuracies of the later and Napoleon nodded, then rose and stretched.
"What do you want to eat tomorrow night?" he asked, smiling at Illya.
"I want to come home," Illya said. "I want to come home, Napoleon. I don't want to be analyzed or probed or made to talk about it—about him. I want to come home. I want to be with you all the time—and no, I don't want you to stay here," he added, forestalling the offer he could see on Napoleon's face. Napoleon frowned.
"Who's analyzing and probing you? Dr. Ludvic? I thought it was agreed that that would come when you were ready."
"I'll never be ready. I'll never want to talk about him. Does that mean I'll have to spend the rest of my life here?"
"No, of course not," Napoleon soothed. He sat down on the bed and stroked the hair back from Illya's forehead. "I'll talk to her, all right? Maybe she'll sign off on you if you agree to come in for counseling sessions in her office."
"I don't want to do that either."
"Well, you have to give them something, Illya. Or they won't clear you to return to work. Surely you don't want to be invalided out at this stage of your career."
"Well then. I'll see what I can do tomorrow, okay? She's gone for the day now. Is it so bad being here?"
"No, it's fine. Everyone is very nice and it's fun picking out my meals. But I miss living with you, and I miss our apartment."
"I miss you too." He kissed Illya's cheek, then the tip of his nose, then his mouth. Their lips clung together for a moment before Napoleon stood up again. "I'll pop in in the morning. Want anything?"
"Some real coffee. I think they're giving me decaffeinated here."
"Well, no point really to any stimulants while you're in bed. But I'll see what I can do. Love you, sweetheart."
"I love you too, Napoleon." He watched Napoleon leave, then lay back down. He yawned, and turned onto his side. When the night nurse came in to check on him an hour later he was fast asleep. She turned off the television, turned off the light, and left as silently as she had arrived.
Napoleon's morning visit was shorter than usual. "I have an appointment with Dr. Ludvic," he explained as he tucked Illya's covers more securely around him and set the coffee container beside him.
"Already," Napoleon agreed, and was gone. Illya turned on the television and began flipping through the channels, delighted afresh by the noise, and the flickering images, not caring at all about the content.
Dr. Ludvic came at her usual time. He smiled at her. "Hello, Dr. Ludvic. It's a special celebrity day on Jeopardy. I don't know who any of them are, but maybe you do."
"I would prefer it if you turned it off so we can talk."
"Oh." He pressed the power button and the set fell dark and silent. He shivered a little and reached for the glass of water on his bedside table, as much to reassure himself that he could, that he could just sit up and get a drink of water whenever he wanted as out of real thirst. "What?"
"You would like to leave here and go home?"
"Yes." He said it so fast she smiled. "I would. I mean I do. I want to go home."
She had given this a lot of thought since Napoleon Solo's late night phone call. It was against procedure, to allow an agent who had been subjected to such a horrific form of captivity to leave the hospital without beginning some sort of therapeutic relationship. She had not wanted to press Illya, so had allowed things to continue as they were, but Solo was right. That couldn't continue forever. Physically he was recovering nicely, and even emotionally he was doing well. The fact that he could carry on conversations, express needs and desires verbally and moreover wait for their fulfillment with patience and acceptance, that he could sleep alone with lights and television off, all indicated a psyche that was healing along with his body.
But he wouldn't talk about it. He had not talked about it to her, or to his doctors or even, as Napoleon had reluctantly admitted this morning, to his lover. He was sealing the experience off behind walls of denial and repression and in the long run that would not be beneficial. But she couldn't deny Solo's assertion that for Illya, being in his own home, with Napoleon's constant presence and support—because he would take off, he had already said so, would stay home or take Illya on a vacation, whatever he needed—would be better for him than anything else. Certainly better than the hospital, which could provide only a pale shadow of normalcy.
"If he hasn't talked to you within one month I want to know about it," she had said to Solo, and he had agreed.
"I'll be worried by then too," he had told her. "If I can't get him to talk to me by then, something will be off."
"You are not worried now?"
"No. Illya never was one to bare his soul. He's reserved by nature as well as by circumstance. But he has shared this sort of thing with me before, and I am confident that he will again. Over breakfast, by a pool, out on our balcony, walking through Central Park—he'll talk to me."
"Very well." So she had agreed, and now, looking at her patient, she was glad.
"Then you shall go," she said and his face lit.
"Really? When? Now?"
"Right now," she answered. "The nurse will be in to remove your IV, and the doctor will be in to give you a final check up and write you some prescriptions for antibiotics and a sleep aid if you feel you need it. Napoleon is picking you up at lunch time."
"Oh." It was all he could say. "Oh. Oh, thank you Dr. Ludvic. Thank you so much."
"You are welcome." She smiled at him. "We will need to sit down and talk on your return to work."
"When will that be?"
"I have you down for a month at home. Napoleon is off too, and our hope is that you will share at least a little bit of what has happened to you, and how it has affected you, with him over that month."
"I don't want to." But he probably would, he knew it. Napoleon would draw it out of him so skillfully and so gently that he would be talking before he knew it. He made a face at the image and she smiled again.
"I understand. I will see you when you return to work, Illya." She extended her hand to him and he took it, shook it solemnly. Then she turned, and left the room.
It happened just as she said. The IV was slipped out of his wrist so easily he didn't feel a thing. He was given his clothes, and dressed himself. A pretty little nurses' aide came in, packed his belongings in two plastic bags, and carried them off. A soft spoken male orderly came and collected the plants and flowers and balloons that had accumulated during his stay, and went away with them. The doctor came in, listened to his heart, looked at his chart, prodded his abdomen with strong fingers and left.
Last of all came Napoleon. He was dangling his car keys from one hand and shook them at Illya. "Ready?"
"Yes." He scrambled out of bed and swayed. Napoleon took his arm and walked him out into the hall, where a wheelchair was waiting. Illya sat in it, not caring that generally he resisted this phase of hospital release vigorously. It was nice to sit there, rolling effortlessly through the halls, being smiled at and waved to by an assortment of staff and visitors. The air felt good against his skin, and even the antiseptic smells and flickering florescent lights were pleasant. Everything was pleasant. It was so good to feel, and hear, and see... it was very good. Napoleon walked beside him and Illya smiled as the elevator doors closed behind them and they went down. This is fun, he thought, and put his head back to look into the face of the nurse who was pushing him. "Thank you," he told her and she patted his cheek.
"Here we go," she said as the doors opened and they went out into the lobby. Napoleon's Mercedes sports car was parked out front, and the move from the wheelchair was accomplished without a jolt. Napoleon got in beside him and turned the key in the ignition.
If the wheelchair ride had been pleasant this was bliss. Illya hung out the window, both arms extended to catch the rush of air as they moved. The sounds and sights of Manhattan assaulted him, buffeted him and he reveled in it, feeling that he could open his mouth and take it in, eat it and drink it and breathe it. Horns blared and people shouted and lights blinked on and off. It was wonderful. Wonderful. He felt he could never get enough of it. 'You have seen the sun and the sky for the last time,' his uncle had said but that was wrong, wasn't it. Here he was. Here he was, with the sun blazing down and the sky—what he could see of it between the buildings—a bright blue with clouds scudding across it.
But then they were moving into dimness and quietness. He blinked, then recognized their parking garage. That was good too, because it meant that they were home. Home. He was home. 'No other face but mine, no other voice but mine, no other touch but mine,' his uncle had also said and that was wrong too because there was Napoleon's face, Napoleon's beloved face bending over him. Napoleon's voice, rich and assured, fell on his ears, saying things like 'Take it easy now,' and 'Hold my arm,' and 'Here we are.' Napoleon's touch, so strong and so capable, giving just the right amount of support, helping him through the door, into the elevator. He watched Napoleon insert his key card, and press the buttons, and leaned against him while the elevator rose. Napoleon's lips caressed his temple, a fleeting touch and then the doors opened and he was looking at their hall.
Just the same as ever, he thought as they walked through it, footfalls silent on the thick carpet. Just the same as the last time I came home, relieved because the Russian contingent's plane was leaving the next day. Napoleon unlocked the front door and held it open with one hand while cupping Illya's elbow with the other. He moved them both inside, closed the door, locked it and set the alarm. Illya stood beside him, and knew that he was home.
They sat on the sofa together, as they had so many times before. Illya pressed up against Napoleon, rubbing his cheek against his shoulder, legs wrapped around his legs. Napoleon had laid an assortment of travel folders on the coffee table and he was discussing those while rubbing Illya's back, stroking his hair, trying to meet that still urgent need for touch.
Nothing had ever horrified him as much as the sight of that prison cell, that place designed by one human being to keep another human being close. In his first quick look around he had seen its accoutrements—the tub full of water with the board half reclining in it, the big bed, the table. He had seen instantly that the strap over Illya's chest was too tight, had seen that desperate heaving of his whole body as it strained for air. He had loosened that first, then pulled off the blindfold. Illya's eyes had been wild with fear and a frantic longing—for rescue, for gentleness, for touch—Illya himself probably hadn't known just what he longed for but Napoleon knew, and had been trying ever since to give it to him. So now he ran his fingers through Illya's hair, shifted position slightly so Illya could get even closer, and talked in a soothing voice that was at once reassuring, loving, and firm enough to promise security.
"There's Barbados," he said. "If you want beaches and warm tropical nights, or there's Aspen. We could go cross country skiing. Here's a cruise around the Greek Islands—I know you've always wanted to do that. You choose. We'll do whatever you want."
"I don't want to go anywhere." Illya rubbed his cheek against Napoleon's shoulder some more, feeling enveloped in the scent of him, the warm solid reassuring bulk of him. "I want to stay here. At home."
"Hmm." Napoleon frowned and Illya smiled. He loved that brief monosyllable of Napoleon's—it was so typical of him, and always meant he was mentally addressing an issue that he wasn't sure he understood but wanted to. "You don't want to go away?"
"Not even on a cruise?"
"No. A cruise would be fun, but I wanted to be here the whole time he had me. And now that I am here, I'm not going anywhere. I want to sleep in our bed, and wake up together looking out at the Park. I want you to cook in our kitchen while I watch the news and read my book. I want the doorman to give me hot chocolate when I come in from a walk with you. I want George to come and visit, and Jess to drop by after work and catch me up on the latest scandals. I want my life. I want my life back. And my life is here, not on some tropical island somewhere. All right?" Then, voice suddenly uncertain, "is that all right, Napoleon?"
"Yes, sweetheart. It's fine. We'll stay here then."
So they stayed home. They ate on the balcony, and walked in the Park, and Illya did talk to Napoleon. Little by little, he told Napoleon about the blow to the head, about meeting his uncle's eyes in the rearview mirror. He repeated those terrible words—"no other face but his, Napoleon, no other voice but his." He described the eons of darkness and solitude, broken by intervals of torture. He talked, and Napoleon listened, and held him close.
They slept curled up in one another's arms and one night, when Illya stirred in his sleep, moaning with unexpected desire Napoleon stroked him, half asleep himself. He stroked and petted, bringing him slowly and effortlessly to orgasm then gentling Illya against him until sleep pulled them under once more. When they woke in the morning, with the sun streaming through the window Illya turned to him again and this time they stroked one another, petted one another; Napoleon moving finally to take Illya in his mouth and Illya doing the same for him, each man's cries of pleasure muffled in the other man's flesh.
It was finally enough. Illya lay there with Napoleon still in his mouth, limp now but he kept it there, not wanting to let him go. Napoleon kissed him, sending a thrill of sated pleasure through him. It was enough. Napoleon was pressed all along the length of him, Napoleon's taste was in his mouth and down his throat, Napoleon's tongue was licking his organ slowly and deliberately... it was enough. He sighed, replete and Napoleon turned again, gathering him close. Illya pushed his face into Napoleon's throat and licked at the drops of sweat there. Enough. He sighed again. Skin to skin, flesh to flesh, bone to bone—it was enough.
Napoleon went out for delicatessen breakfast—croissants dripping with melted butter, egg sandwiches on Kaiser rolls, fried potatoes and quiche, melons and fresh squeezed orange juice. He also brought more folders. "Look," he said, and pointed to one with a picture of a boat on the front. "We can charter that boat, cruise around the island of Manhattan and be back here for dinner. And here." Indicating another brochure. "My brother's health club has an Olympic size pool. We can swim and drink martinis and swim some more and then come home. And Jillian has invited us for a barbeque on Sunday afternoon. We can watch sports on their big screen TV and drink beer, spend the night if you want—you like Jillian, you know you do."
"Or we can drive home after dinner and be here before the nightly news. We're in the vacation capital of the world, after all. We can do whatever you want and never leave our home town."
"And George Piper is coming to lunch tomorrow. He promised to give you a rub down before he leaves."
"Coleman is meeting us for bowling on Wednesday. He says he'll buy the beer and that you won't believe what's going on in Security. Someone named Jenna is dating someone named Rick —"
"What? Jenna and Rick? But he's with Laurie!"
"That's what he said you won't believe. And what Laurie did to get even was so bad he wouldn't even tell me over the phone. He said I'll just have to wait and hear it with you. He also has a new boyfriend he wants you to vet for him."
"Another new boyfriend? Jess actually reminds me of you, Napoleon. Before we got together, I mean. It's one after another after another."
"Not any more."
"No." Illya smiled at him. "Thank you, Napoleon. I know you don't particularly want to go bowling."
"That's all right. I love the way you get all sweaty and flushed and smelling like beer. We probably won't even make it to bed when we come home. I'll have my way with you right on the floor in the entry way."
"I'll look forward to it."
They were quiet then. Napoleon cleaned up the papers and napkins and ketchup holder. Illya gathered together the separate sections of the newspaper, tucked them neatly inside one another and laid it all on the table. He stretched and smiled. So many wonderful things to look forward to, and no darkness anywhere. Even Turnbull was gone, replaced by Jake Davenport. And if more shadows fell, if new problems arose, they would face them together. Side by side, together, forever. Forever. He reached up for Napoleon as he returned to the living room and Napoleon came down into his arms, pressing him deep into the sofa, kissing him. Illya twined himself around him, kissed him back, and it was as wondrous as the very first time.
Afterwards they lay panting, and when Illya looked at Napoleon he was asleep. Illya smiled to himself, pillowed his head on Napoleon's chest, his hand still enfolded in Napoleon's hand, and fell asleep too. They slept together while the sun shone high above them in the New York sky, and the traffic flowed far below them on the New York streets. They were home. Both of them, at home and together. Night might fall, but joy would return with the dawn, and they would still be together. Together, forever.