Life's a Female Dog
The one thing I have to admit—life with Illya is never the same two days in a row. To be fair, it's not always his fault. Our job forces predictable unpredictably upon us as a matter of course. If you want consistent normality, you need to not be working for UNCLE. If you really want to throw a wrench into the mix, you fall in love with a crazy man like my partner.
Moving in together had been a gamble. Waverly didn't care what his agents did as long as we didn't run naked in the hallways and scare small children or horses. As long as we performed our job efficiently, he just nodded and went about his business. B y us combining our households, we freed up two apartments that was reoccupied practically the next day. Waverly is frugal, to say the least.
It was one of those rare times when one of us was still on medical leave. I know what you are thinking. You think one of us is always on medical leave or in the hospital, but that's only if you believe the scuttlebutt. Sure we have our share of knocks, but that goes with the territory. For the most part, Illya and I are a well oiled and healthy precision team. Except today, I was a team of one.
During our last affair, Illya had gotten tossed from a car and banged up more than just a little. Of course, just after they threw him out, the car blew up, so it did all work out for the best—unless you happened to be the one with the dislocated shoulder, broken ribs and a mess of asphalt burns. Illya might argue that the THRUSH got off easy. So he was home and I was stuck at work.
I left for coffee and mistakenly left two file folders on top of each other and they did what came naturally. When I returned, I had six files, along with a note from our secretary to call Illya -ASAP. She'd underlined it and followed it with four exclamation points.
"Shelly, what's this all about?"
"Mr. Kuryakin didn't say. He was extremely agitated though." Like most of our co-workers, she knew Illya and I lived together, but thought it part of Mr. Waverly's economy drive. We weren't the only partners to turn to co-habitation when the opportunity presented itself. If they only knew...
I dialed our number, but the phone merely rang. I tried the communicator, but likewise, it went unanswered. I went back to Shelly's desk, note in hand. "Shelly, did he say anything?"
"Just that he needed to talk to you... it was odd though."
"It sounded like there was crying in the background, whimpering or something..."
I was gone before she added any more.
The trip across town took hours... well, half an hour... okay, twenty minutes, but they were the longest twenty minutes of my life. I ran past our doorman without even pausing to say hello. The elevator was too slow so I barreled up four flights of stairs. It wasn't until I reached our front door that I realized my heart was beating so hard it actually hurt.
I stopped then and stared at the door. It looked fine, not kicked in or tampered with. The mat in front of it was neat and straight, not askew or bloodstained.
I got my breath back and took out my key. I opened the door and stepped inside.
"ILL—" Suddenly a thickly corded arm wrapped around my neck.
"Wake them up and you're a dead man."
It took me a full ten seconds to realize it was Illya's voice whispering in my ear.
"Illya, what the...?" He clapped a hand over my mouth and shook his head.
"Shh, I'm not kidding... don't wake them up."
I pulled his hand from my mouth and whispered back. "Wake who up?"
His eyes got a weird look in them and he led me by the hand to our living room. It looked much the same as when I'd left with the exception of the dirty dishes all over my coffee table and three days' worth of papers spread out. When Illya convalesced, he convalesced.
He took me around the corner of the couch and pointed. There in a cardboard box were six tiny puppies, just hours old from the look of them.
"I was taking out the garbage this morning and I found them in the trash. Someone had thrown them away, Napoleon, like they were garbage." He sounded so shocked, so forlorn about the callousness of people that my heart ached again, this time with love. "I couldn't leave them there."
"Of course not." I didn't point out the obvious, that puppies grew into dogs and that Illya was as fond of dogs as he was a rectal exam. "I tried to call you."
"I called a veterinarian. He told me what I needed to do." Always thinking, that was Illya. That's when I saw the tiny baby bottle. Of course, they would be hungry—I remembered the puppies and kittens we had on the farm. They were always hungry and Illya was doing his best to feed them.
He followed my gaze and nodded. "I got that from Mrs. Wilson. Her granddaughter left it. It's a doll's bottle and the doctor sent over some formula."
"You are supposed to be resting, partner." I could see the dark circles under his eyes. He never slept well in a hospital unless sedated and we were never sedated without due cause. As soon as he was able to sit upright, I'd brought him home. He'd rest more comfortably here... but not by playing nursemaid to a half dozen puppies.
"I'm trying... but it seems like I just get done feeding the last one and the first one is hungry again."
"They only eat and poop at this stage," I said, easing him down onto the couch. He sat readily enough, but kept looking back at the box.
"One's really tiny."
"That's the runt," I explained. I didn't add that the runt usually didn't make it. Smallest of the litter, it had to fight for everything and many of them just gave up. Then I thought about Illya and his siblings. He, too, was the runt of the litter and it had turned him into a scrapper and a survivor. I knew I was going to regret this, but it didn't keep me from pulling out my communicator. Within two minutes, I'd arranged to have a courier drop off my deskful of paperwork and rescheduled a couple of meetings. Waverly was understanding when I told him that Illya needed tending to... well, I didn't actually say it quite that way, but you understand. I just knew that if I left, Illya would be up with those puppies every two hours. With me here, he'd at least get a bit of rest.
Or so I thought. He was as agitated as a canary looking at its reflection. When he wasn't feeding the puppies, he was watching them, stroking their tiny bodies with a finger that dwarfed them. He tended them and I watched him get more and more worn out. Any attempt to get him to bed was useless. Illya went from the couch to the kitchen and back, with an occasional side trip to the bathroom.
I hated doing it, but eventually I knew that sneakiness was necessary. I made him some hot chocolate, complete with a dollop of ice cream and two ground-up pain pills. He drank it down almost immediately and was out like a light almost as quickly. I barely managed to get him to bed before he went to visit Mr. Sandman.
Walking back to the living room, I sat and watched the puppies wiggling around, making little mewing noises. What I had to do was killing me, but I knew it was the right thing. Hell, it was the only thing I could do. That didn't make it any easier. I reached for the phone and made a call.
The knock to the door was soft, but I heard it and put the squirming puppy back down with its brothers and sisters.
After checking out the identity of my visitor, I opened the door and grinned. I'd known Janine for years. A kind hearted and gentle woman, I first tried to woo her and ended up befriending her instead. She was one of the best people I knew.
"Napoleon, how are you?" We hugged and I sighed, happily lost in her perfumed hair. I do love the way women smell, so different from the very masculine smell of my lover.
"And you've moved?"
"Picked up a roommate and it was easier to get a new place than integrate into the old one."
"Illya. He's my partner from work." I led her into the living room. "Can I get you anything?"
"Some coffee would be great, but can I see your little friends first?"
I took her to the box. "Illya found them this morning in the trash and brought them home."
I gestured to our fire escape which had three bowls of cat food on it. "He's always bringing strays home... which is probably why he ended up with me as well."
"You are many things, Napoleon Solo, but you are not a stray." She lifted each puppy to examine it. "They look pretty good. No fleas or anything, that's good, but they are really young. A couple of them still have their umbilical cords attached. You did right calling me. The runt wouldn't have lived out the night."
She stayed for a bit. We shared some gossip and coffee and then she left, taking the puppies with her. I worked on my reports, occasionally checking on Illya, and watched the day turn into night.
I was hip deep in the nightly news and pasta when I realized there was a pair of blue eyes studying me.
"What happened to the puppies?" His voice sounded so forlorn that I gathered him into my arms and frowned. He was really warm. I put a hand on his forehead.
"You're burning up."
"My friend, Janine, took them. She works for a clinic that takes care of abandoned animals and then adopts them out to good families."
"I never got to say goodbye..." He dropped on the spot and I grunted with the effort of keeping both of us upright. He's small, but he's far from light.
Within an hour Illya was back in the hospital and being watched for secondary infections. I didn't listen to what the doc said; I didn't care what it was as long as Illya would be okay. They assured me he would be and after a few days, he was better.
He came home, looked around wistfully and never mentioned the puppies again. A month went by, then two. By then, Illya was himself again.
It was a cloudless October morning, bright and cheerful. New York welcomed an Indian summer like no other city, it threw open its arms to it. So much so that I couldn't resist.
"Hey, Illya let's take a drive."
He looked up from the crossword puzzle and frowned. "Why?"
"Just to get out for a little bit." I slapped my hands together. "What do you say?"
"I say you're a lunatic. We just got in. That's why we have today off."
"It's too nice to just sit here."
"I will never hear the end of this until I acquiesce, will I?"
He gestured to the door and I grabbed the car keys, not permitting him a second thought. We drove out of the city and into one of the many suburbs that cling to the city like a child clings to its mother's skirt.
After about half an hour, I pulled up in front of a long low building. In the distance, dogs were barking and the sign out front read Long Island Dog and Cat Retreat. Illya looked at the sign and then at me as I gestured onward.
"It's not open, Napoleon." He pointed to the closed sign in the window.
"Trust me... you do trust me?" He made a face and followed me up the sidewalk to the entrance. I knocked and a minute later, Janine opened the door.
"Napoleon, I was worried you got lost."
"Janine, this is Illya. Illya, at long last, this is Janine."
She shook his hand and grinned. "It's nice to meet you, Illya. I've heard so little about you."
"Well, come on in. I have something for you." She led the way and I crinkled my nose up at the smell. She walked down a hallway and opened the door out into a caged dog run. Instantly, six fat little puppies were running up to her, tails going and tongues hanging out in a happy greeting, yipping and yapping.
"I imagine they look a little different than the last time you saw them."
Illya looked from the squirming balls of fur to her, then to me and then back. "These are those puppies?"
"Yup, all present and accounted for." She scooped up one and cuddled it. "Including the runt, who isn't so much of a runt anymore, are you, wild man?" She handed him to Illya and the puppy yapped and tried to lick his nose. Illya laughed, looked at me and laughed again.
Later that night, we were in bed, just lying side by side, hands touching.
"Janine says that they are going to keep the runt as a mascot. They named him Illya." There was just a bit of pride in Illya's voice and I had a feeling he was going to be making more trips out to see his namesake. "Thank you."
"For what? Taking you out there? I was only afraid that we weren't going to get a chance before they adopted the puppies out."
"No, for cleaning up my mess." He kissed me and I smiled. "You seem to make a habit of that."
"What are partners for if not that?"
Well, Illya showed me just exactly what partners were for after that. Always one for a surprise, he had a couple up his sleeve and when he finally permitted me to climax and fall asleep, I was a very content, if exhausted, person. Like I always say, life with Illya is never the same thing twice...