by Nix

Napoleon stood helplessly and watched the elevator doors close behind the gurney and the man it bore. A nurse hovered at his elbow, no doubt detailed to wait and see if he was going to fall apart--physically or emotionally. He didn't bother to dredge up a reassuring smile. That was his partner in there, rising past the floors towards surgery, where Napoleon could not follow. Not with his UNCLE id card in hand, not with his name on Illya's paperwork as next of kin, not even with blood splashed over chest, arms, and hands where he'd held him and tried to stop the flow.

We've survived worse, Napoleon told himself, letting the nurse draw him away from the elevator. They had. But not that much worse, and not very often, either. Scrapes and cuts were common, concussions and grazes and broken bones somewhat less so. Great bloody wrecks like this one were rare, though they repeated themselves a thousand times in nightmares.

"You'll want to change," the nurse said softly. Gently.

Of course. There was so much blood that most of it was still wet, despite the endless ride to the hospital. He couldn't go out into the waiting room like this. "I don't suppose you have spare clothes on hand?" Napoleon asked, his voice taking on an automatic professional tone. The sort of tone one answers the phone with. Illya always said he sounded like a salesman when he spoke like that: too cheerful for the circumstances and a little glossy.

No one but Illya ever seemed to notice, though, and the nurse was no different. Maybe she thought he was in shock. Maybe he was in shock. Regardless, she led him to a bathroom and handed him a pair of scrubs. Turning to leave, she glanced back and caught sight of his gun and holster as Napoleon shed his suit jacket. Not a word was said, but when he got back from washing the blood away, there was a spare lab coat piled on top of the scrubs.

Back in the waiting room he fended off a worried couple who mistook him for a doctor and planted himself firmly in front of the coffee machine. It spit out his cup and coffee more or less together. Sipping carefully, Napoleon turned and sank into a chair to join the varied vigils being held there.

The craving hit not long after he'd finished the coffee, as it always did. Napoleon reflexively patted his pockets, despite the fact that he hadn't carried either cigarettes or lighter in nearly three years. Three years in twenty-six days, he recalled suddenly.

He and Illya had just finished a mission and were seated on a park bench, basking in the glow of success. Lighting up had seemed a natural coda to the day. Illya had scowled at him and wrinkled his nose in an exaggerated expression of distaste.

"Do you really have so little respect for me?" he'd demanded, and if the disgust had been exaggerated, the edge of anger wasn't.

Napoleon took the cigarette from between his lips and stared a moment, holding it between two fingers. "Where did that come from?"

Illya pointed an accusing finger at the cigarette. "That. I have just expended considerable time and energy, not to mention some blood, to save your skin. And you have the gall to poison yourself right in front of me."

The cigarette burned on, building a little cap of ash on one end. Napoleon watched for a moment, bemused. "It's just a habit," he said, shrugging and tapping the ash away.

"It's an addiction," Illya shot back, acidly.

Napoleon took a drag off the cigarette and exhaled, carefully blowing the smoke away from his partner. "I could stop if I wanted to," he argued. "I enjoy it."

Illya snorted. "Napoleon, tell me, why don't you walk into THRUSH headquarters alone?"

"It would rather shorten my life expectancy," he said dryly.

"So does that." Another stab at the cigarette.

"You're not usually so gullible," Napoleon scoffed, tapping the cigarette to shake off the ash. He was wasting the damn thing.

"Gullible?" Illya snapped. He plucked the package out of his partner's hands, turned it on its side and held it at eye level. "Napoleon, what does this say?" He tapped the side panel.

Caution: Cigarette Smoking May Be Hazardous to Your Health.

"Ah..." Napoleon trailed off and took the package back, examining the type more closely. It didn't change. "May be?"

Illya glared. "The Surgeon General of this country issued a report on the effects of smoking well over a year ago. People die because of these."

Napoleon shrugged uncomfortably. "I'm more worried about bullets, Illya. Smoking is sure to take longer than that. Years, if it ever happens."

"You are taking an unnecessary risk."

"Do you want me to stop?" Napoleon had asked, exasperated.

Illya pinned him with a mulishly stubborn look and said, "Yes."

Seeing the challenge in those eyes, Napoleon had ground the cigarette under his heel and surrendered both pack and lighter to his partner. Quitting had not come without its dicey moments, but the idea of facing Illya after faltering always overcame the cravings.

And Illya would know. The man had a nose like a bloodhound. He smelled it on Napoleon after he'd done nothing more than go on a date with a woman who smoked.

Two years, three hundred and thirty-nine day since that cigarette. But it hadn't been the last one. There had been two other occasions on which he'd smoked since then. As he had on those two occasions, Napoleon now found his way to the hospital's tiny shop and purchased a pack of cigarettes and a book of matches.

He had to go outside to smoke them, but the deserted bench and brisk air suited him better than the crowded, heated confines of the waiting room. Napoleon stripped the plastic away from the cigarettes and caught the whiff of tobacco. The craving stirred more strongly. His hands just barely restrained from trembling, he lit the white cylinder and puffed a little to get it going.

The first time Napoleon had lit up since his unspoken promise to quit he'd felt oddly like he was betraying Illya somehow. Hard on the heels of that thought had come the sick wondering...would Illya be there to call him on that? He'd finished that cigarette in record time.

Illya hadn't said a thing about it, though the stench of the smoke must have been sharp and clear on Napoleon when he'd woken.

Sitting out in the cold, Napoleon puffed away at a steady, but not breakneck, pace. Finishing the cigarette, he lit another off the butt before stubbing it out and tucking it into his pocket alongside his wallet, a tangible proof that time had passed.

Napoleon worked his way through the pack. He was about a third of the way through when the nurse who'd gave him the change of clothes poked her head out through the doors. "Mr. Solo?" she said tentatively.

He paused in the moment before igniting another cigarette. "Any word?"

"He's still in surgery. Sorry. I just wondered, aren't you cold?" Are you all right? she meant.

Napoleon lit up just before the butt went out and held up the fresh smoke. "Not really."

She just frowned. "That's really not good for you," the nurse chided. "Especially when you light them in chains like that."

"I know," Napoleon said sardonically. He took a long pull on it, drawing the smoke into his lungs and holding it there a moment. It was warm, and he fancied he could feel the nicotine rushing into his veins. Addiction lurked just out of sight, the path smoothed from having been traveled once before.

Napoleon would find his way back. If Illya was there to steady him on that slippery slope. And if he wasn't... Napoleon smoked a little faster.

By the time the nurse had returned he was three-quarters of the way through the pack. She was smiling, the relief of bearing good news in her eyes, so he crumpled up the cigarettes and tossed them in the trash with the lighter.

Illya would never let him hear the end of it if he caught him with a pack on him.

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