Dr Solo's Excellent Cure for Insomnia
Disclaimer: Not mine. Surprise!
It's half past two in the morning, the blinds on the window let in too much light from the over-the-top neons outside, the room is slightly too warm anyway, and I am hot, gritty-eyed and wide awake, while my partner sleeps his innocent-looking sleep in the bed on the right.
My own bed is a mess: white sheets rumpled up halfway down the mattress, the blanket on the floor, pillows crushed into a hard lump halfway under the too-high headboard. I can hear a fly, but I couldn't hear him before—he's not the reason I'm awake. If he was, he'd be dead by now; if I had to chase him round the room with a rolled up newspaper, even if I had to jump across Napoleon's bed to do it, the fly would have been dead. No mercy, not when I've been trying to sleep for this long.
I never get used to this. Insomnia is a battle I have fought since I was quite young. Not every night, thank goodness, or I would be too tired to make an effective agent, but often enough to be a source of extreme irritation. At home I'd go and get a drink, read a book, try to find something to do to kid my mind into sleep, but you can't really do that when you're sharing a hotel room. I could put on the light to read—I suspect Napoleon could sleep through anything as long as it didn't trigger his self-defence reflexes, but if he did wake, he'd probably be irritable tomorrow morning, and his cheerfulness will buoy me up.
It's not exactly comfortable, trying to move silently round the room in the darkness. Although I'm hot, the darkness tells my body I should be cold, which makes the occasional shiver run through me. I've already quietly poured myself a glass of water, which I'm sipping, but even that sounds too loud, so, throat moistened, I put it down. I don't want to trip, so I sit on the edge of my bed. I should lie down, try to relax, practise the meditation techniques they teach you to clear your mind of the horrors of the day, though that's not what keeps me awake. I should count sheep, or try to do a very complicated equation in my head—I never get to finish, but only because my mind wanders to other things. But I can't lie down, because I'm fed up with the discomfort, the impossibility of finding a place that is just the right temperature, with no creases, no lumps of blanket, no strange, unaccountably itchy spots. I'm fed up with lying flat out, pretending I'm comfortable, keeping my eyes tight shut, with what seems like a bucket-full of sand between the lids, willing myself to sleep, until the second I relax a little, when they spring open again, ignoring the fact that they should close of their own accord, I'm so tired.
I need to look at something. Since it's not really dark, I look at Napoleon. He's lying on his back, one arm thrown up behind his head on the pillow. He looks contented and cosy. As if he hadn't killed a man today, which he has; as if he hadn't almost been killed twice this afternoon, which he also has. These are not the things that keep me from sleeping, but no-one who has them in his daily diary should be able to sleep so peacefully.
Sometimes... no, often, I will watch him sleep when he is in a hospital bed. It's not the most pleasant way to pass the time, but it is better to watch him, to see his breathing making the sheets rise and fall, than to be somewhere else, forever being assailed by the certainty that I have just had an accurate premonition that he has died on me, and having to run down to medical, or across town to the tame UNCLE hospital to check that he's still with us. Besides, he's pleasant to look at. I don't mean he's just handsome. I suppose he is, in that particular way of his. The women like it, but I think there are plenty of good-looking men in the world, and most of them aren't worth a fig past their few years of perfection. Nothing else there, you see. With Napoleon, it's more that I know what's behind that face—so angelic in repose.
When I watch Napoleon sleeping, I feel very safe. If you watch an animal lie down and sleep, you know the area is safe—animals don't go to sleep when there's danger about. Now that's a silly analogy, because one, Napoleon is not an animal, or if he is, it is only when he is really angry, or I suppose some would butt in and tell me 'in the bedroom', but that's his own business. Secondly, in medical, he's usually sleeping because something or someone has knocked him out, and whether they did it with evil or good intentions, it is still rarely his choice. Nevertheless, the sight of his sleeping face makes me feel comfortable. I love him at moments like that. I suppose I love him all the time, but you don't think like that in the field, or in the office. It only occurs to you later that you risked your neck for him out of love, not necessarily duty.
That's irrelevant though. Right now, for a change, I can watch him sleeping a natural, undamaged sleep, and hope that it will take my mind to a happier state, where I can go to sleep myself. I sit forward, resting my chin on my hands, my elbows digging into my thighs, and I watch him.
His eyebrows are arching up and down fractionally as his eyelids bat a little, easy to see in the dim light with his dark lashes. The rest of his body is still. He is dreaming well, but quite peacefully. His mouth drops open a little and I can hear faint breaths moving over his lips. I am so tired that the sound seems magnified beyond all reason, and with that, and my own breathing, and the fly, and the faint noise of occasional traffic from the main street a few blocks away, the room seems too loud all of a sudden.
I haven't moved a muscle since I sat down a good ten minutes ago, but suddenly I see his lips move and he speaks, such a soft whisper that only my heightened hearing in the darkened room would catch it.
'Illya, why are you awake?'
He catches me off guard and I hiss back without thinking,
'Why are you?'
'Because you're staring at me. I don't sleep well when I'm being watched. What's the matter? Can't sleep, my friend?
'No.' I may as well tell him the truth. Why else would I be awake at this time of night?
'Something bothering you?'
'Only the usual.'
'Oh.' He knows what that is. I've told him before. Partners need to know certain things about each other. They need to know when the other worries all the time about the future. About what will happen when UNCLE has had enough of me, or when my Soviet masters decide they want me to come back, or when they decide they don't want me to come back, or... I know it's stupid. I know that worse things could happen to me every single day of my life, thanks to this foolhardy, dangerous, thrilling job I have. I know it's ridiculous to worry. What good does worrying do? These things are far in the future, or they're not. Either way, there is nothing I can do to change it, and worrying certainly never changed a single thing. But it haunts me enough to keep me awake in a hotel room in a strange town with my partner. And he knows me well enough to know that I am not messing around.
'Is there something I can do?' he asks. No, there isn't, but thank-you all the same.
'Go back to sleep, Napoleon. I will get over it eventually.'
'I'm not going back to sleep if you're going to sit there staring. I can feel it. It woke me up.' He is vehement.
'I apologise for waking you. I tried not to.'
'You need me to make it all right.' He says this as a statement. There is to be no argument. He's right. He's always right when it comes to me. I wish he wasn't right. It's humiliating—it makes me sound like a child with a nightmare. He doesn't make it sound humiliating though. He makes it sound as if he is dispensing prescriptions for a better night's sleep. Doctor Solo's special insomnia remedy, to be taken as prescribed.
Napoleon holds out his hand. I stare at it for a second, unsure of his meaning. He wiggles the fingers, unmistakably wanting me to put my hand in his. I am in his hands already, too exhausted to think, to complain, to resist; so I slip my fingers into his outstretched hand and he grips them tightly and hauls me across so forcefully that you would have thought he was standing on solid ground, not lying at the wrong angle for that in a soft, slipping bed.
I land painfully on my knees next to the bed and he grasps my shoulder with his other hand.
'Sorry, didn't mean to pull so hard. Get in.'
'I beg your pardon?'
'Get in here, next to me. You need your mind taking off things.'
'Napoleon I...' He has pulled back the sheets to make it easy for me to get into the bed next to him, and he gives another tug on my hand to encourage me. I don't know what he intends to do, but the idea of cuddling up to him is not unattractive, I'm not stupid enough to deny that to myself, and I think he might turn nasty if I try to resist, having once woken him up.
So I get into the bed and he rearranges the sheets over us.
'Hang on,' he says, and pushes back the blanket until it slides off, like my own, onto the floor. 'You're really hot,' he says in explanation. So is he, but not in the same way. In fact, he is deliciously cool, the hand still grasping mine is almost cold—it's the one he had flung back onto the pillow. It appears that the air in here is cooler than it seems to me. He lets go of my hand and presses that palm to my forehead, pushing back my hair like mama used to do when I was little and sick.
'Hm, not too hot. Just frustrated, I guess. Am I right?'
'I suppose.' I wish he'd stop, because I can't help pushing a little into his palm and that is undignified and ill-advised.
'Right then. Quit worrying, quit watching me, just feel me.'
Suddenly my heart is racing: what the hell is he going to do? Just feel me? What does that mean? It sounds like he's about to make love to me, but Kuryakin luck would never hold out so strongly. Even in my own head, I never allow myself to fantasise such an idiotic, impossible... Chyort!
He kissed me! Napoleon Solo just kissed me. Full on the lips, with his own soft-hard mouth.
'Napoleon!' I can't help that surprised yelp. It was so unexpected. I don't mind, I'd let him kiss me a thousand times if he asked, but to be jumped in the dark is a different matter.
That didn't sound like an apology. The inflection was up at the end—it was like an official's 'excuse me' to get past a line of people in a ticket office. It was a challenge to admit that I didn't mind in the slightest. Besides which, he's still holding onto me, an inch from my face, his warm breath still cool enough to make me feel better. I take a deep breath—most of which is Napoleon's—and opt for bluffing it out.
'You surprised me. Don't do that.'
'Ah. Yes, I thought you wouldn't mind.' He's so damn confident, it makes me want to strangle him. But that would be bad for our friendship... almost as bad, in fact, as letting him kiss me, which is a thing no two people who are forced to work together all day, every day, should ever allow to happen.
'No. No, Napoleon...' He's running a hand down my side now, which is definitely against the rules. It makes him look fast, and me far too easy. It's too much anyway. If he's going to be stupid, I'm not aiding and abetting. 'There is no way that we are going to do this. We'd feel dreadful in the morning. Can't you imagine it?'
'Yes,' he says, his fingertips brushing lightly across the crotch of my pyjama pants, which I am pretending are not hiding a bulge that's any bigger or harder than normal. 'But it doesn't seem all that bad to me. In fact, a grouchy Illya who hasn't slept a wink and a surly Solo who has kept on waking up because his friend is staring at him just a little bit too obviously, seems like a much worse combination for the morning.'
'Napoleon!' I squeak, as his hand delves into the fly of my pants. I want to be annoyed with him—he's not taking my feelings on the matter into account—but the effect is ruined because he's making me laugh. He's not tickling me, he's just very, very good at this, and the parts of me that matter are very, very interested in what he's doing. 'I don't want you to...'
'You're an appalling liar, Illya,' he says, and even though his face is in shadow, I can hear the smug smile in his voice.
'Don't, Napoleon, I'm not in the mood.' I try to growl it, but there is too much happiness in me. I don't want him to do this now. For one thing, I want to find out why he is so sure I'm interested, and for another, I want it to look like I'm not a complete pushover for him, which, of course, I am.
By rights, to give the correct impression, I should be out of this bed and halfway across the room. I try it. I spring out from under him and roll out of the bed, jumping to my feet and racing across the room to the window. He sighs.
'Illya, do you really want to spend the whole night all hot and cold and wide awake?' I feel his hand on my shoulder. He puts his arms around me. It's wonderful, but it's also completely wrong and totally impossible to countenance, so I laugh because I'm nervous, because I don't know what else to do, because I don't really want to shake him off and make him feel bad and leave myself perched on the edge of my bed running what-ifs in my head for the remainder of the night.
'Where do you even get these ideas, Napoleon?'
'Directly from you.'
'Uh?' I can't begin to imagine what he means. I have never grabbed him in the night, or kissed him, or touched him inappropriately... well, not when he was conscious. The odd time he wasn't, when I couldn't help just running my hand over him, or kissing his forehead, hoping he'd wake up quickly, and praying it wasn't while my lips were on his forehead... that doesn't count. Stressful situations create strange reactions in the human mind; we are taught that early in our training. So what I do when Napoleon is at death's door is not admissible evidence.
'You touch me far more intimately than this all the time, Illya. You just don't realise you're doing it.'
I almost blurt out a denial like any child: I do not! Then I think about it, and have to concede that he may be right. I don't grab his groin, let's be clear about that, but I do, perhaps, let my hands linger on him a little longer than is quite necessary. And I do stare. I stare when he's asleep, and maybe I can't quite break the habit when he's awake. And I like to whisper in his ear. I like to lean in from behind and speak quietly, pretend that it's the only way to say something important in a discreet manner. And I know that when he touches me in a similar way, when he touches my arm to alert me to something, or rests a hand on my shoulder to ask if I'm okay, or tilts his head towards mine to join in a secret discussion, I react. I lean in to him, or I drop my eyes so he won't see how much it means to me. I thought I'd hidden it well, but I should know him better than that. He always knows everything about me.
'Oh.' I acknowledge my understanding and wait for him to go on. I want to see if he'll push it, or if he'll decide I need time to think. I don't know that I do. I know we can't do this. It's not possible. However, his thumb is rubbing back and forth, back and forth on my belly, and his chin is digging into my shoulder, and it is extremely comfortable, and not a little arousing. He takes a deep breath that rustles the hair brushing the top of my ear.
'I want you to sleep tonight. We both need to be alert tomorrow—those clean-up jobs aren't going to be a walk in the park. There is only one sure-fire cure for insomnia that I know of, and I'm happy to help out. I want to. You can yell at me in the morning if you like. I won't complain.'
I can't believe he is framing a seduction as a health-treatment, but it's not a bad excuse to do something which would be totally impossible in the normal way of things. On the other hand, my heart is now racing, beating so fast at the thought of actually going through with this, that there must be enough adrenaline in my bloodstream to stop me sleeping for a month—hardly the desired result.
I know I'm crazy about him, but that's not the point. The point is that... No. I can't remember what the point is. The point, I suspect, is to get back into bed with Napoleon as quickly as possible, because he has turned me round and dragged me back towards the beds. But instead of getting in, he has dipped his thumbs into my abandoned glass of water, and rubbed them gently across my eyelids, pressing very gently into the corners, wiping away the sleep, turning them from gritty, uncomfortable balls of fire, into moist, cool, slightly drooping eyes again.
That might be the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me.
'Getting in?' He gestures towards the bed. I can see the motion of his arm clearly in the light from the window.
'Against my better judgement. Yes.' Why must I always be so prickly? I know I am doing it, but I can't stop myself. It's a habit of self-preservation, and they are hard to unlearn.
He opens the buttons of my top with easy movements of his fingers. He leans in and kisses me again. I mean to tell him that I'd like to know what he's considering doing, but he is nibbling on my lips very gently, and I don't want to stop him.
He runs a hand down my uncovered side, not bothering to head for my nipples or my navel, just searching for something, which he finds and which is almost sweeter. His touch just there, down below my ribs, light as a breath, makes me arch off the bed. He seems to know things about me that even I don't know.
He kisses me once more, sucking my skin a little, breathing across my parted lips. I am so tired that I can't think how to kiss him back, I am passionate about him, I have been for years, but I can't respond. I would like to, but I am bone-weary. Ready to sleep after three nights of fitful dozing. He doesn't seem to mind my passivity, although I have the feeling he would react equally well to a ferocious level of activity on my part. He is happy to be with me, however he finds me. The thought suddenly occurs to me.
His hand works down under my waistband. He is almost on top of me, so he knows already that I am ready for this. I may be tired, but that is unavoidable. He pulls away from me with a reluctance I can feel, and pushes himself up so that he can wriggle the pyjama pants down from my waist. The moment they are out of the way, he is back, but his hand stays there, pulling so skilfully that I wonder for a moment where he learnt his technique. A flash of jealousy, before I remember that if Napoleon chooses to do anything, he will do it well. No doubt this technique works for him too.
I feel bad about not giving him any sort of help or encouragement, not even a scrap of thanks for the incredible sensations with which he is favouring me, so I wrestle one arm out from under him, and drop it in the small of his back, splaying my fingers over his skin, letting them ride the muscles as he supports his shifting weight with each movement of his arm.
He is dragging my orgasm out of me, ignoring my body's exhaustion, ignoring my lack of engagement, forcing my attention as it builds under his twisting, pumping hand, gliding on a sheen of his spittle and what little lubrication my body cares to supply. I cannot kiss him back, so he lays off my lips and presses his mouth to my cheek instead, where he can whisper softly to me, a gentle command,
'Come now, Illya.'
He squeezes me tightly, touches me with his rough thumb-tip, and I am obliged to obey.
I come softly, quietly, but so satisfyingly. All the tension drains out of me with it. The worries, the concerns for the future, all gone for the time being. I can't imagine why they were bothering me anyway. And now sleep is rushing in on me, my eyelids heavy at last, the pressure in my chest evaporated, the busyness in my head all gone, replaced by deep calm.
Napoleon kisses my lips once more and straightens my night-clothes for me. Then he rolls onto his front next to me, tight up close in this narrow little bed, drapes an arm lightly across me and runs his hand briefly down my cheek.
'You sleepy now?'
'Good. Glad to be of service,' he mumbles, as if he, too, is ready for sleep. I should ask if he needs anything, but since he's lying on his front, I suppose he didn't find this all that arousing. Then I shift a little and my hand finds a damp patch that is nothing to do with me. As I start to drift off, I file the information away in my head—Napoleon comes very, very quietly.
I think he's asleep, but then he squeezes me slightly with that arm, and mutters, slightly grumpily, 'In the morning, I expect to be kissed back.'
If that is the only price for a cure for insomnia, I would recommend it to everyone I meet... except that I do not intend to share the secret. Besides, I've tried this cure before, with other people. Only Napoleon knows how to administer it effectively. And that... is... what... I...