Original published in Relative Secrecy 7
"He's alive," the surgeon said.
April, on his left, and Mark, on his right, caught his arms simultaneously, leading Napoleon to suspect he must have swayed.
"Now will you let the doctor stitch up your arm?" April said, trying to pull him out of the room. Napoleon remained rooted, eyes on the surgeon. For the first time in hours, he felt the burn of the slash down the back of his left arm. For the first time in hours, he felt time moving forward again, felt air in his lungs.
"What else, doctor?" he asked. He thought he'd sounded rational, but the doctor gave him one of those professional-sympathy looks.
"Are you family?" the surgeon asked, then blinked. "Oh. UNCLE. I forgot. You would be his partner. Well, he's still unconscious. The bullet gave him a concussion. The blood—well, that's common for head wounds." He blinked again. "As I expect you all know. He should be stabilized soon. We'll transport him to UNCLE's facilities. There's no telling when he'll wake up, but his signs are strong and he seems to be a healthy young man. I would say it's only a matter of time."
Murmuring voices in his blurred dreams became murmuring voices in his ears. Then, in the air. He eased into consciousness. The words remained unclear. He lifted his eyelids to see a blank wall, faintly blue-lit. He was lying down, his body heavy. He turned his head slightly. A rectangle of brighter light pressed hard on his eyes. He shut them, considered the afterimage of two men, standing outside the open doorway, talking. He still couldn't make out their words, and their voices weren't familiar.
He reopened his eyes, just a slit, and glanced at the bright blur that was the doorway. He could still hear the voices; the sounds were just about to coalesce into words when another voice spoke, right by his ear.
He jumped, twisting to see who was next to him, and his brain began hammering against his skull like a gorilla fighting to escape. He groaned, lifting his hands to his head, eyes screwed shut against the pain.
"Illya..." the voice said, wretched, then shouted, "Dr. Baker!"
Hands were laid gently on top of his. "Illya?"
The pounding eased gradually, and he inhaled.
"Napoleon," another voice said. "Let me." Then: "Illya. Open your eyes."
He opened his eyes, saw two men, one dark-haired, looking tired and worried; the other, taller, older, white-coated, looked at him with clinical concern.
"Illya?" the older man said.
"Where am I?" Illya asked. "Who are you?"
The astonishment on the dark-haired man's face made panic twist his guts. "Who are you?" he repeated.
"It's all right," the man in the white coat said, pushing the other man aside. "I'm Dr. Baker. You've had a concussion. Just take it easy for a minute. Can you see me clearly?"
"Can you understand what I'm saying?"
"How's your head?"
"Okay." The doctor smiled. "Sounds normal so far. Do you know your name?"
He opened his mouth—and encountered a blank when he reached automatically for what he ought to have known. Even as panic flooded him he blurted out, "Illya Nickovetch Kuryakin."
Both men seemed to relax a little.
"Do you remember anything else?" the older man—Dr. Baker—said.
He cast his mind back, and met absence. Not a wall, but nothing. He started to sit up, panic seizing his guts again, but the doctor caught him, eased him back down.
"Take it easy. You've had a... a blow to the head. A concussion. If you can't remember, it's probably no more than temporary amnesia. Just take it easy."
He forced himself to not fight the hands pushing him into the pillow. Amnesia. His head ached and he was afraid, a vague and formless fear. Amnesia.
The doctor retreated and the other man, a handsome man with cognac-colored eyes, moved into view.
He stared at the man, his racing heart beginning to slow, feeling... nothing? Maybe a faint whisper of... of safety? Calm? He didn't know.
"Do you know who I am?" the man asked.
He shook his head, saw pain pinch those warm eyes for a moment.
"It's all right," the man said. "Just take it easy."
"What..." His throat constricted and he coughed. The man offered him a sip of water, which he accepted. "What is happening? Where am I?"
"What is the last thing you remember?" the man asked him.
He sought back in his mind. "Nothing."
"Try, Illya," the man said, affection and concern in his voice. Illya tried again.
"Nothing. Flowers. Summer. Kiev." He latched on to those images. "A submarine. Where am I?"
"New York," the man said. "You... you don't know who I am?"
The man blinked, a slow and deliberate act, it seemed to Illya. Then he said, "I'm Napoleon."
Illya felt his mouth curve. "Napoleon."
A faint smile. "Not that Napoleon."
"Mr. Solo." The doctor touched the other man's arm, eased him away.
"Mr. Kuryakin, do you remember where you were born?"
The dark-haired man backed away, moving to the foot of the bed, watching, his anxiety palpable. Napoleon, Illya repeated mentally. It had a pleasing sound in his head.
"Yes," he said.
Dr. Baker smiled. "Would you care to state it?"
"Kiev," he said.
"Do you remember your childhood?"
Illya thought back, a strange rollercoaster of cold and violence, hunger and fear, of images and grief that fell away into a kind of grim, deliberate acceptance. Self-defense. It's a wonder I didn't forget all that.
"He remembers," Napoleon said, startling Illya. He looked up; Napoleon watched him closely, a stare that could have been unnerving, but was instead an anchor.
"Napoleon." Dr. Baker pointed his pen at Napoleon, then at Illya, an invitation.
"Ah... do you remember Cambridge?" Napoleon asked.
Illya immediately saw the university and the town, flocks of black robes and narrow cobbled streets lined with bookstores; he smelled books and dust and rain rather than the sour antiseptic scents of the hospital. "Yes."
Illya nodded. "Yes. I... I did post-graduate work there." Years of study fell into place neatly in his mind. "Physics." He looked at the men. "I'm a physicist."
Napoleon cocked his head, a charming grin lighting up his face. "Well, yes, but not for a living. Do you remember UNCLE?"
Illya chewed his bottom lip a moment. "Uncle who? I need a name."
The men exchanged a serious glance.
"What?" Illya asked.
"We'll take that as a no," Dr. Baker said.
"What is it?" Illya repeated, more insistent. "Tell me."
"Illya," Napoleon began. "You work for an organization called the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement." He waited. Illya scowled.
"I... I think I have heard of that," he said hesitantly. "A law enforcement agency? International?"
Napoleon smiled the same infectious smile. "Yes."
"Law enforcement," Illya mused. "Is that how this happened? Why I'm in hospital?"
"Yes. We were on a case. You were shot."
"The bullet creased your skull," Dr. Baker said. "Accounting for your concussion and loss of memory."
"And the headache you're currently enjoying," Napoleon said. Illya realized he was squinting from the pain.
Dr. Baker said, "An inch to the right and we wouldn't be talking to you now. Or at least, you'd be hard pressed to answer."
Napoleon flinched, gave the doctor a glare. "Thanks for the soothing dose of bedside manner, Dr. Mengele."
"Sorry," Dr. Baker lied. "Illya, your long-term memory is there, which is a good sign. You'll probably regain your other memories, although possibly not the most recent ones. That often happens with such trauma. For now you need to rest and recuperate. That's all. I'll let you two visit for a bit. Not too long, Mr. Solo." He shook his pen at Napoleon and walked out.
"He's really all right," Napoleon said, turning back to see Illya carefully touching his skull, fingering the bandages.
"I almost got killed," he said. He wasn't afraid; more surprised, disbelieving. How do you believe that something happened to you when you don't remember it? When strangers tell you it's so?
"It was close," Napoleon said, fear lurking behind his words.
Illya dropped his hands weakly. The throbbing behind his eyes was growing again.
"I should let you rest," Napoleon said, moving toward the door. "Do you want anything?"
"No." Illya scowled, just a hint, and said, "Yes."
Napoleon stopped, returned to the bedside.
"Who are you?"
"I'm your partner," Napoleon said.
Illya looked at him for a long time. At last Napoleon blushed and looked away.
"Anything coming back?" he asked, clearly awkward.
Illya said, "I... I don't remember you."
Napoleon blinked, stilled his expression. "You will." He put his hand on Illya's leg, squeezed it gently, and left.
Illya was asleep within minutes.
Dr. Baker saw Napoleon leaning against the wall outside Illya's room, head bowed.
"For God's sake, Mr. Solo," he said, approaching, "go home and..."
Napoleon looked up at him. Seeing his eyes, Dr. Baker stopped, took hold of his arm.
"He's going to be fine, Napoleon. Amnesia in these cases is overwhelmingly temporary. Don't do this to yourself. Go home and get some rest. You pulled it off again."
Napoleon shook his head, rubbing a hand over his face, feeling the stubble and the tension and the unshed tears. "Yes," he said sourly. "We pulled it off. Again. Another pound of flesh, another gallon of blood."
"Are you running out?" Dr. Baker asked, unflinchingly meeting the depths of exhaustion in the agent's eyes.
"I don't know," Napoleon admitted, not adding that it wasn't the loss of his own blood that weakened him.
Dr. Baker shoved him gently. "So quit. Go into real estate. Take him with you; he can do the math."
Napoleon laughed again, less painfully. "All right. Point taken."
Dr. Baker drew him down the corridor. "Now go home and sleep."
"Congratulations, Mr. Solo," Dr. Baker said two days later. "It's a boy."
Napoleon smiled. "Can I take him home?"
"We wish someone would."
Illya came out, followed by a buxom blonde nurse. He walked very slowly, one hand on the wall, the other waving away the nurse's offer to help. Napoleon grinned. His partner might have lost—misplaced—his memory, but he was still Illya.
Napoleon turned his grin on the nurse. "And how are you today, lovely Linda?"
The nurse smiled and fluttered her eyelids at him. "Very well, Mr. Solo. And yourself?"
"I'm just fine, you gorgeous creature. Thanks for your help with my pain-in-the-behind partner here."
"He was a perfect patient," she countered sweetly.
"Was he?" Napoleon raised his brows. "He really has forgotten a lot." He took Illya's arm. "Check-out time, partner."
"Good," Illya said. "I wish I could forget having been here."
"A good dinner will wipe this place from your memory," Napoleon said.
"Come on, come on," Dr. Baker grumbled quietly. "As they say in bars at closing time, you don't have to go home, but you can't stay here."
Illya eyed him sourly. Napoleon put his arm around Illya's back to support him.
"What are you doing hanging around in bars at closing time, doctor?" he said suspiciously as he headed for the door.
"That's between me, Jack Daniels, and the girl we were fighting over." Dr. Baker waved them away.
"I'd hate to ask who won," Napoleon said in Illya's ear. Illya didn't laugh, only said, after a moment:
"Jack Daniels is whiskey, isn't it?"
Napoleon smiled. "Yes."
The Russian shook his head. "I remember some things. I remember a lot of things. My childhood. How to dress myself. How to speak English. How to cause a nuclear reaction..."
"Why don't I remember this place? Or any of the things and people connected to it?"
"I have no idea," Napoleon said, easing them both into the elevator. "But try not to worry about it." He winced. "I know that's a foolish thing to say. But it won't help. Try to take it easy and get your strength back. You can't force the memories to return."
Illya leaned on him; Napoleon's insides melted at the thought that, even with his conscious memory gone, Illya's body still trusted him.
"Where are you taking me?"
Napoleon hit the button and the doors slid shut. "Home."
"I have a home?"
Napoleon smiled again. "You're coming to my home."
"I live with you?"
"No. But you're going to stay with me for a little while. You need a bit of... observation."
"I'm perfectly capable of..."
"That's the old Illya," Napoleon said, then realized Illya had trailed off with a scowl. "What?"
"I don't know. I don't know what I'm perfectly capable of."
"Well, I could tell you, but it would take a long time. You're perfectly capable of a vast number of things. You're reasonably capable of almost everything else."
Illya looked up at him, almost pleading. Blue eyes locked onto his, intimate despite that Illya didn't remember him. At this range Napoleon was hard put to it to simply stand there, feeling Illya's heat, feeling his body against him. It would be a matter of inches to pull him closer, hold him tight...
Then Illya averted his face, and Napoleon found he could inhale.
When the Russian looked up again, the emotion in his eyes had been erased. Napoleon wondered what it was he'd seen. A flash of memory, of recalled closeness? Or just a moment of unheard-of vulnerability?
"Can't you just tell me?" Illya asked.
The elevator slowed, dinged, stopped.
Napoleon squeezed him. "Later, partner. Once we're home I'll answer any questions I can."
Illya nodded, looking tired, discouraged.
At reception, the new girl, Lorelei, handed Napoleon a stack of messages, built up while he'd been with Illya. She made a special effort to bend over in front of, and smile coquettishly up at, Napoleon as she did so, offering a very appealing view.
Napoleon took the notes in one hand, with the other easing Illya onto the bench. "One second. I'd better look at these."
Illya leaned against the wall, eyes lidded but not closed.
Looking at the notes, Napoleon said, "Oh. Lorelei, this is my partner, Illya. Illya, Lorelei."
She offered Illya the same beguiling smile. "How do you do. I've heard of you."
Napoleon's eyebrows climbed as he did mental triage on the notes. "You have?" He didn't even have to look up to know she'd blushed. "My partner's fame precedes me?"
Lorelei reached out to lay her hand over his—the one holding the notes—and breathed. "You have a reputation all your own, Mr. Solo." He beamed at her, lifted her hand and pressed it to his lips.
"You are too kind, Lorelei, my sweet, and one day I shall take you away from all this."
She giggled. He glanced up, expecting Illya's tiny grin, only to see a sober, almost puzzled stare. It kept jolting Napoleon to look for his partner and see someone who, at least on the inside, was a stranger.
"But for now," he went on, handing her back most of the notes, "Can you have these sent up to my office? I'll take care of the urgent ones." He waved the two he'd kept, then shoved them into his coat pocket.
Illya was levering himself up. Napoleon caught his arm in a strong grip.
"I can manage," Illya said. Napoleon ignored him, bade the pouting Lorelei a cheery adieu and helped his partner out the door.
"Is Lorelei your girlfriend?" Illya asked as they drove.
Napoleon chuckled. "No. She's new. And available, as far as I can see."
"I could see that much," Illya said. He remembered the nurse, Linda. "They seem to like you."
"The women at... at UNCLE."
Napoleon glanced at him, puzzled. "Is something wrong?"
"No," he said, too quickly, earning another curious glance. There was no point in saying it had bothered him—he didn't know why, or really even how, it had. "I'm just... everything is strange."
Napoleon, eyes back on the road, whistled. "Boy. Now I really hope you get your memory back."
"What do you mean?"
"If you have to get used to me all over again, I'm in for a rough ride."
Even Illya smiled at that.
"This is a very nice flat," Illya said. "I mean, apartment."
Napoleon shrugged. "Same thing. Thank you. It's been a little neglected lately."
"It doesn't look like it." Napoleon's place was roomy, furnished in a comfortable modern style with a big soft leather sofa framed by overstuffed chairs in a cream fabric. A marble-manteled fireplace boasted a painting of a tall ship; in front of the hearth lay a big thick rug in shades of brown and red. Against one bookshelf-lined wall stood a solid oak desk, everything in its place on top.
Napoleon came out of the kitchen and set a huge platter piled with sandwiches and containers of salads on a square, antique oak table.
"April cleaned up and Mark restocked the kitchen. Teresa from the Blab—sorry, the secretarial pool—brought the sandwiches and things."
Illya looked at the table, feeling the stirrings of hunger over other, vaguer stirrings. "You have a lot of good friends," he observed.
Napoleon saw the touch of melancholy on Illya's face.
"They didn't do this for me, you Russian nut. They did it for you." He plucked the get-well card from the center of the pile of sandwiches and handed it to his partner, who ran a bewildered eye over it, over the messages that covered every available inch.
Illya looked at him, surprised, and Napoleon shook his head.
"You've got a lot of remembering to do, kiddo."
They ate in a silence more tired than companionable. Napoleon was keenly aware that their usual level of ease was absent. He tried to keep it from bothering him, tried to make Illya as comfortable as he could.
As Napoleon cleaned up, Illya wandered, finding himself at the bookshelves.
Napoleon came out of the kitchen and watched his partner run his eyes along the titles.
"French," Illya said. "German. Spanish. Russian..." He glanced at Napoleon, eyes alight. "You read Russian?"
Napoleon smiled. "A little. You've been coaching me for a while. I speak it better... despite what you think."
Illya said, "I don't remember what I think."
"You give me grief every time I'm not speaking English," Napoleon said, stepping closer. "Just because you have a natural facility with foreign tongues. You're a lousy teacher, tovarish."
One blond brow rose, an expression of sarcasm so familiar Napoleon wanted to hug him.
"Would you care to catalogue my other faults? In the name of helping me recover my memory?"
"Hm..." Napoleon gazed up at the ceiling as if searching his own recollections. "Well... let's see. Impatient, sarcastic, cold, rude, sloppy..." He glanced at Illya, saw dismay soften the sober face, and went on, "... then there's... ah... brilliant, strong, immensely courageous, a better shot than even me, which is saying something..." He bit down on the smile, glanced over again. A surprised grin tickled the corners of the Russian's mouth. "Inventive, athletic, caring, self-sacrificing, noble of spirit..."
"Napoleon," Illya said.
"Hm?" Napoleon looked directly at his partner, as if he'd forgotten his presence. "Yes?"
"You're supposed to be listing my faults," Illya said softly, gazing at him with puzzled but warm curiosity.
"Oh. Sorry about that." Napoleon's arm rose of its own accord and circled Illya's shoulder, squeezing. "I'm kind of biased."
Illya reached up, hesitant, and laid his hand over Napoleon's. He allowed himself a smile. "I forgive you." The smile faltered and he moved away.
Napoleon let him go. "What is it?"
Back to Napoleon, Illya shook his head. "I... it's driving me crazy knowing my life here is locked up in my head and I can't get to it." He faced Napoleon again.
"Well, let's see if some tired old war stories will help." Napoleon indicated the couch. "Sit down. I'd offer you a drink—"
Illya's face lit up.
"But it's not a good idea until you're more recovered."
Illya walked past him, sneering a Russian oath.
"Careful. Remember, I understand Russian."
Illya looked over his shoulder at him, squint-eyed, dubious.
Napoleon said airily, "Especially vulgar Russian. That was the first stuff you taught me."
"Oh." Illya's face twisted in faint mortification, and he went to sit on the couch. Napoleon followed, sat in a chair across from Illya where he could watch his face. He set his hands on his knees, looked at them for a while, trying to think of a story. After a while he realized he was simply staring at his hands, staring at the cuts and scratches and bruises he'd gotten pulling his partner's limp body out of the ravine he'd fallen into after being shot. He remembered holding Illya against his chest, cradling his bloody head, furious at the tears that blurred his vision...
"Tell me about how this happened," Illya said, and Napoleon's head jerked up. He caught himself, said:
"Wow. You can still read my mind, that's for sure."
Illya shook his head, slowly. "It's what I most want to know. Who shot me? Why?"
"Timothy Emmett." Napoleon heard the acid of hatred in his own voice. "He was an arms trafficker. Not our usual... ah... beat, but he was selling heavy weapons to a THRUSH satrap. We were sent out to stop him. Mexico. Our people had already confiscated his last shipment, but he and a bunch of his men got away. We trailed them, caught up with them a few miles outside Guadalajara."
Napoleon could see it. It was sizzlingly hot; the air still and silent once they'd brought their own vehicle to a stop behind a hill, creeping up in the dirt and tumbleweeds to a safe vantage. Emmett and his men stood around their overheated truck, parked steaming by the side of the dirt road.
Illya had taken out three of them, but there were dozens, spreading out behind the rocks and bushes and hills. Too many, all armed, all moving. He and Napoleon had separated. Napoleon had been behind a Joshua tree, blinking the dirt from a too-close ricochet from his eyes...
"Never mind," Illya said.
"What?" Napoleon looked at Illya, who was watching him intently.
"I don't wish to make you relive it for me," he said. "I only wanted to know... the circumstances." He indicated the small bandage across his forehead.
Napoleon started to protest, saw that his partner was serious. He sat back in the chair with a sigh.
"I can tell you this much. Who shot you? Emmett. Why? Because he was an evil son of a bitch and we were bringing him to justice."
Illya's mouth twitched. "I think that was what I wanted to know."
Napoleon said, "You always did have a very well-developed sense of right and wrong."
"Tell me something else," Illya said. "Something that isn't... so close for you."
Warmed by his partner's concern, Napoleon sought for some lighter caper. It was a bit of a quest, but he finally decided on an affair that, though not harmless, was long enough in the past that he could tell it with an amusing twist.
"Let me remind you about the time we prevented THRUSH from getting hold of a process for making the old young again."
"THRUSH?" Illya asked. Napoleon held up one hand, stern.
"Don't interrupt. Now, it started with you in London..."
By the time Napoleon had gotten to the wine-press part, Illya had gotten to his third huge, poorly disguised yawn.
"Okay, story time's over." Napoleon got up. "It's time for bed."
"But I want to know how it ends," Illya said, rubbing his eyes.
"We win. We always win, partner. We're the good guys. Now come on." He hauled his unresisting partner to his feet, steadied him, and led him to the spare bedroom.
"Bathroom there." He pointed. "Spare pyjamas in the dresser. Call me if you need anything."
"Thank you," Illya said sleepily. Napoleon pressed his arm briefly, headed for his own bedroom.
Napoleon turned. "Hm?"
"The man who shot me..."
Napoleon examined his face, said, "He's dead."
"Did I kill him?"
The familiar icy tone tickled up Napoleon's spine. "No, partner. You were otherwise occupied. I killed him for you."
Illya considered how he felt about this. "Good."
Napoleon grinned. "That's my Illya. Sweet dreams."
Napoleon shrieked—and awoke into blackness, his head pounding. For one panicked half-second he didn't know where he was—then a glimmer of light from the curtained window showed him the familiar outlines of his bedroom, and his taut body eased. He tried to breathe, feeling tears hot under his eyes.
The door opened. "Napoleon?" The light from the hall outlined Illya's familiar shape. "Are you all right?"
Napoleon tried to say yes but the word came out strangled. Illya came into the room, examining his appearance by the hallway light. "Are you ill?"
Napoleon wiped his face, looked at the back of his hand. It was shaking. He forced out the words: "It was a nightmare. I'm fine."
Illya came closer, sat on the edge of the bed, to Napoleon's surprise. "It must have been bad. You look like you're going to be sick."
Napoleon shook his head, swallowed down the grief in his throat. "It was no worse than the others."
"Do you... " Illya's head tilted. "Do you want to talk about it?"
Napoleon began to say no. What came out was, "Have you ever seen someone shot in the head?"
"Never mind," Napoleon stopped him. "You have. You just don't remember. We both have. The... the blood. The way the body jerks like a puppet when the owner flings it to the ground. The... the way the face just... disappears... shatters into red..." He sucked in a sobbing breath, coughed in an attempt to cover it. "You don't forget that."
"Is that what you dreamed?" Illya asked.
He shook his head. "Yes. No. I mean, yes, but that's not it." He bent forward, covered his eyes with one hand. "It was you." His stomach convulsed, but only more tears came forth. Napoleon lifted his head, let his hand slide down to cover his mouth to silence the sobs, more revealing than tears.
Illya stared at him. "How can I mean this much to you?"
Napoleon almost laughed. He scrubbed one pyjama sleeve across his face and sat up straighter, trying to smile. "You just do."
Illya reached out with surprising ease—possibly due to his amnesia—to hug him, holding him in a strong embrace while Napoleon tried to breathe, to not think. Above all, to not say what he longed to say.
Too close. They were too close. In another second he would...
Napoleon drew back, just a little, but enough that he could breathe again, could pretend he wasn't feeling what he was feeling.
"Sorry," he said.
Illya searched his face. "For what?" He raised a hand, three fingers touching Napoleon's wet cheekbone. "For this? I am Russian, Napoleon. Russian men are not afraid of tears."
Napoleon smiled. "They have an advantage over Americans."
Illya looked at his damp fingertips. "Why do you weep, though?"
"It was the nightmare," Napoleon said. But that wasn't the truth. Illya didn't press him, but under that caring gaze, Napoleon found himself saying, "Because I don't want to lose you."
"I'm here," Illya said. Then, "But I'm not, am I? I'm not the Illya you know."
"In some ways you are," Napoleon said. "You came in here and... you were concerned about me. You..." He forced it out. "You held me. That's the friend that I know." He didn't say that Illya had never been so easy with physical contact before this, but he did wonder why this man, who hardly knew him, was more comfortable touching him.
"I'm grateful you're alive. God... much more than grateful. But... it is... hard that you don't know me any more."
"Something about you..." Illya said, shaking his head. "I don't know. I feel safe with you. I trust you."
"Then you haven't forgotten everything," Napoleon said, gravely.
"But there is more." Illya got up, moved to the foot of the bed, toward the window. There, he turned back to face Napoleon, who sat cross-legged, calmer now, attentive.
"I don't know... do not be offended by what I say now, Napoleon," he said, his tone oddly formal.
"Illya," Napoleon replied. "You can say anything to me. Anything. It will go no further, I promise. If you remembered who you were, I wouldn't have to say that. You would know."
Illya shook his head. "If I said to you that..." He met Napoleon's eyes. "That I felt... that I was jealous." He stopped.
Puzzled, Napoleon prompted, "Jealous? Of?"
"The nurse," Illya said. "And the girl... Lorelei. I was jealous. I don't know... I don't know if I was remembering, then, or..." He shook his head again, sharply, and turned away. "I don't know."
Napoleon flung back the covers and came to stand beside his partner, one hand on his arm to turn him. "Illya..."
Illya took in a deep breath. "I was jealous. I realized that... that I found... that I find you... desireable." He would not look at his partner, didn't see the amazement that lit Napoleon's face. "I don't want to offend you. I don't know... I don't know what we were to each other, before. You said partners. You said friends. But... I know what desire feels like, and I was feeling it. I am feeling it." He glanced sidelong at Napoleon, edged away a little, defensive. "I'm sorry if this is... disgusting to you."
Napoleon let out a whoosh of breath. "Illya..." He backed away, unable to stand so close to his partner while Illya was saying things like that. He moved nervously around the room, feeling himself shaking. Illya turned to watch him.
"I'm not offended," Napoleon said quickly. "I'm... absolutely stunned."
"We were not lovers, then," Illya concluded, too matter-of-factly for Napoleon's liking. "I will not remember this feeling when I have my memory back?"
"I don't know," Napoleon said. "You never... never hinted that you felt..." He felt himself blushing, blood surging to his face, his groin, everywhere. He didn't know how to get out of this without lying—or taking his amnesiac partner to bed. Neither one was acceptable.
"Am I so different?" Illya asked.
Napoleon considered. "No. Well... you're... a little less... well-defended." The words stopped him cold. Was that it? Could it possibly be that Illya had always wanted him, but had hidden those feelings? That now, without that armor—armor against me? Napoleon thought, hurt—he was able to confess what he'd always felt?
Illya nodded. "Perhaps I wanted you, but knew you did not want me, and therefore said nothing. Or perhaps... in the Soviet Union the penalties for it are harsh."
Napoleon said, "Reasonable. That's very like you. But you never suggested... I had no idea that you ever..."
Illya smiled. "I had no idea either. I only know what I'm feeling now."
Napoleon looked at his rumpled bed, willing his erection to go the hell away and let him think rationally about this. Illya was not himself; how he would react when he was, Napoleon couldn't guess. Was there any point in telling Illya this now, when he was, to all intents, a stranger? But he'd never been handed an easier opening to say what he'd longed to say for many months.
"Never mind, Napoleon," Illya said quickly. "We do not need to—"
Napoleon held up one hand. "Yes, we do." He climbed onto the bed, sat crosslegged to disguise his hard on, and patted the mattress before him. "Sit down."
Illya sat, indian-style as Napoleon had done, across the broad bed from his partner, waiting.
Napoleon stared at the rucked-up comforter between them. "I know you don't remember anything. I know I'm... almost a stranger to you. But... I have wanted you, too."
Illya's eyes widened.
Napoleon laughed wryly. "For a long time. I never said anything."
"Because... I thought you would laugh at me. Mock me. No..." Napoleon realized that was not the truth. "Because I thought you would want to leave, if you knew that I wanted you. I... I have a kind of... reputation."
"With the ladies?" Illya said.
Napoleon snorted a laugh. "Yes. I thought that if I told you that I wanted... that I wanted to make love to you... that you would not take it seriously."
"Is it serious?" Illya asked, not joking.
Napoleon shook his head. "You don't remember this, but you are my dearest friend. I trust you, as I trust no other. You... you make me laugh when no one else can. You understand me. Even at my worst, you stand by me."
"It sounds as if you are saying you are in love with me," Illya said.
"It does sound like that, doesn't it?" Napoleon said. "When you get your memory back, I'm going to pay hell for this confession." He laughed nervously.
"No," Illya said, a promise.
"I saw you get shot," Napoleon went on. "I knew in that instant... I can't explain it." He felt his eyes prickle. "My whole world... I don't think I had any idea until that moment how much you mean to me. Jesus..."
"Napoleon..." Illya reached out, clasped his wrist. "This hurts you so much. I'm sorry."
Napoleon shook his head.
"I feel as if we are speaking of someone else," Illya said. "I'm jealous of him. He has had you, as his friend, for years, and you have wanted him..."
"It is you," Napoleon insisted. "You'll remember..." His own words sounded meaningless.
"But it isn't me," Illya said. "It's someone who has years of your friendship and trust. I look at you and I see a man I... I desire, and trust, but a stranger. And I can see the hurt in your eyes when I use that word."
Napoleon smiled sadly. "It hurts," he admitted.
"It is he you want. And he isn't me." Illya shook his head, cursed in Russian. "I can't stand this. There are three people in this room, where there should only be two. And I... I am the third man, the extra."
"No, " Napoleon protested, reaching for him. "No." He pulled his partner against him, tight, his face in Illya's hair. "You are my friend and partner. All of that is still inside this rock-hard head of yours." He felt Illya laugh. "It will come back. If it doesn't..." He took in a breath. "Then I will remind you of it. Every last damn' detail. I'll teach you who you were." He kissed Illya's temple. "I'll do whatever it takes to get you back."
lllya raised his head, eyes glowing, intent, and pressed his mouth to Napoleon's. Fire flooded the American at the contact; he held Illya tighter, sliding his tongue into the willingly open mouth against his, all rational thought dissolving. Illya's hands slid up his chest, clenching in his pyjama shirt.
Then Napoleon pulled back, breath rasping.
Illya drew away, glazed-eyed. "What..?"
"No." Napoleon clenched his fists, edged away, shaking his head, unable to articulate. "Not..."
Illya's head lifted, realization cooling the passion in his eyes. "Ah. I see. I am still the third man in the room." He shifted, unfolded his legs to go.
"No!" Napoleon grabbed his wrist, keeping him in place. "No. Damn it. That isn't it. I mean..." He ran a hand through his hair, frustrated. What Illya had said was true, in a way, but it was too distancing for him to accept. "You aren't yourself. You're not... you don't know... the ramifications. The dangers. I won't..." He chuckled tightly. "Even though I want to. God damn it." He released Illya's wrist when he felt the tension in his arm ease; he took his partner's hand in his, stared at it until he was calmer.
"You look so tired," Illya said. Napoleon looked at him, squeezed his hand.
"I am. We should both get some sleep."
Illya said, "I won't ask you to... to hold me, then. It wouldn't be fair."
Napoleon laughed, tugged at his hand. "Illya. I'm here if you need me. Just as you are always there when I need you."
"But... if you..."
"Oh, I do, believe me." Napoleon grimaced. "Believe me. But I'll live. Our friendship is more important than anything else." He squeezed again. "Just behave yourself." He grinned at his partner's disappointed frown, said more seriously, "Trust me, Illya. Will you?"
The Russian nodded. "I will."
Napoleon relaxed against the pillows, drawing Illya down with him. The Russian lay against Napoleon's shoulder with a tired sigh, and the American pulled the blankets around them.
Napoleon found it easier than he'd expected; it was like the many times they'd held one another through pain or torture or cold or any of the suffering their vocations had put them through. Illya needed him to be strong, and he would be. It was as simple as that.
He wants you. He wants you to make love to him.
Napoleon pushed that thought away. He is alive. Nothing matters next to that.
Against his shoulder, Illya said, "What will happen if I get my memory back?"
"When you get your memory back," Napoleon said. "What will happen is... whatever you want to happen."
Illya nodded, soft hair tickling Napoleon's chin. "All right."
Napoleon woke up, wrapped around Illya, hearing and recognizing instantly the change in the Russian's tone. Morning light beamed golden around the gaps in the heavy drapes.
"You're crushing me," Illya said into his ear.
Napoleon let him go and sat up, staring down at his rumpled, sleepy-eyed partner. "You remember?" he hazarded.
Illya shifted up a little. "I remember."
"Oh, Jesus." Napoleon took in and released a huge breath of giddy relief—and something more. Regret? He moved a little further away from Illya, realizing he had a somewhat harder than usual morning hard on. I had my chance, last night.
"I've never known you to resort to prayer, Napoleon," Illya said, mockery a weak cover for the pleasure in his voice. "Nor can I imagine it working, in your case."
Napoleon grinned. "Welcome back, partner. God—" Overwhelmed, he grabbed his partner, hugged him hard, feeling Illya's startled laugh against his chest. "Welcome back."
Napoleon let him go. "Are you... are you all right?"
Illya rubbed his eyes. "I think so." He got up and walked around the bed—Napoleon watched in alarm until he realized Illya was only going to the bathroom. Napoleon went in as Illya came out, offering a smile as he passed his partner, relieved that Illya returned it. When Napoleon came out, Illya had sat again on the bed, propped on Napoleon's copious pillows.
He's still here. A good sign. Napoleon did the same, leaned against the headboard, and waited.
Illya looked around the bed. "We talked, last night," he said.
"We sure did," Napoleon replied. "But as I told you, it will go no further." It was killing him to not ask if Illya still felt the same, but he wouldn't pressure his partner. It was possible that his desire of the day before had simply been misplaced gratitude or something, some feeling that would naturally disappear once he was himself. I don't care. He's back, the partner I love, and I don't care about anything else.
Illya looked at him, uncertainty softening his blue eyes. Napoleon felt his insides melt at that look.
"What if I want it to go further?" Illya asked.
Napoleon's blood immediately got excited, began to dance through his veins. "Illya?"
"You said that you had been afraid," Illya said, fingering the blankets. "Afraid to speak. Afraid I would be angry or offended."
Carefully Napoleon said, "Yes."
"I'm not angry or offended, Napoleon," Illya told him. The smile on Napoleon's face would have melted a glacier. Illya glanced up, saw it, and the concern on his own face eased.
"Then come here," Napoleon said, and Illya relaxed into his arms, against his chest.
For a moment, Napoleon simply held him, feeling his heart swell. "Did I say that I love you?" he murmured. Illya's pliant proximity was making his body awaken in a delicious gentle ache.
"Not in so many words," Illya said against his chest. "But I knew it when you refused to make love to me."
Illya raised himself, met Napoleon's eyes. "I mean it. You... you wanted me—"
"Badly." Napoleon shook his head, squeezed his partner. "Very badly."
"But you would not take advantage."
"Because you didn't really know... everything. Our history. Your own history. It would have been wrong."
Illya shook his head. "You are a true gentleman, aren't you? I will never again mock you as a sex-fiend who chases anything in a skirt."
Napoleon sat up abruptly, startling his partner. "I won't be chasing any skirts any more. Not if you still want me, as you said you wanted me last night."
Carefully, Illya said, "As you said you wanted me. But wanting is not loving. Wanting is not... exclusive."
Just as careful, Napoleon said, "Let me make myself clear, then. I love you. I have loved you for a long time. If you want to go on as if nothing has changed, I will respect that decision, and remain gratefully your partner. We have been the best of partners and friends, and my respect and trust for you cannot be tainted."
Illya blinked as if dazed. "Has anyone ever said no to you, Napoleon?"
Napoleon didn't smile. "Yes. But I have never said to anyone what I just said to you. I only lie in the line of duty."
Illya sighed. "I know that. I'm sorry. I didn't mean it like that." He raised himself up, hands on either side of Napoleon's shoulders. "You were so careful, last night. So careful to be honest, to be kind, to do nothing that might hurt me or take advantage of me."
Napoleon laughed softly. "I would rather cut off my arm than hurt you."
"I wanted to make love to you," Illya said.
Napoleon opened his mouth, but no words came out.
Illya looked down at his partner, his eyes tracing the familiar lines from a distance of no more than three inches. "I had amnesia, but... apparently my body did not. I have wanted you for a long time. My... my amnesiac self didn't have those years of reservations. Those years of partnership, the fear that all we have would be destroyed if I spoke up." He smiled. "I didn't know what I had to lose. Bozhe moi... I would rather die than lose you. But all I knew last night was that I wanted you."
Napoleon lifted shaking hands to frame that beloved face. "Illya. You can never lose me. Jesus Christ. If you die, just wait for me at the Pearly Gates. I'll be along soon."
"No—" Illya leaned close, bending, breathing in the scent of him. Napoleon clenched his fingers in Illya's hair, pulling him into a gentle kiss. They touched, soft, familiar and startling-strange. Their mouths opened, as one, and their tongues met, making love one to the other.
Illya pulled back, eyes locked on Napoleon's with laser heat. He pulled off his pyjama shirt and unbuttoned Napoleon's. The American sat up, dropping the shirt from his shoulders and taking hold of Illya, drawing him down to the bed, pulling him tight, commandeering his mouth. He kissed his partner with all the skill and passion at his command, invading and overrunning all Illya's senses.
Illya turned his head, gasping against Napoleon's shoulder, his hips grinding slowly against his partner's, their erections stroked side by side, only heated silk between them.
The Russian pushed away abruptly, stood beside the bed, and grabbed Napoleon's pyjama bottoms to pull them off. Napoleon lifted his hips to facilitate the move; Illya flung the cloth aside and ran his gaze like a covetous hand up his partner's body. Napoleon snapped his jaw shut on the moan that fiery look ignited in his stomach.
Not taking his stare from Napoleon's body, Illya slid his own pyjamas off and stepped out of them. Napoleon felt his body flame as his eyes traveled the hard golden length of his partner's form, lingering hungrily on Illya's erection. Napoleon licked his lips and Illya laughed softly.
"Come here," Napoleon growled, sitting up to grab his partner by the hips. Illya planted his hands on Napoleon's shoulders, said, "What do you have in mind?" His voice, deep, amused, rasped like a tongue Napoleon's skin. He shivered and pulled his partner's body atop his, lying back, reveling in the warm, strong weight of Illya against him.
-- The ravine flashed through his mind, holding his partner's heavy, motionless body, blood everywhere --
"You're crushing me," Illya said. Napoleon blinked. Illya lifted himself from his partner's chest, scanned his face, scowling as he read there clearly what Napoleon had felt.
"Napoleon." He kissed his partner, a languorous stroke of lips and tongue. "I am here. I am very much alive." He wriggled to open Napoleon's thighs, his body sliding down between them, closer, tighter, and Napoleon groaned, but kept his eyes on his partner's face. Illya gazed at him, eyes lidded, half-smiling, sweat breaking out on his brow as he worked his hips against Napoleon's in an achingly slow glide. The blood pounded in Napoleon's cock, squeezed in the hot moist space between them, and he felt his muscles bunch, felt himelf thrust upward. He slid his hands down Illya's back to the curves of muscle and flesh below.
"Have you ever made love..." Illya had to pause for breath. "...as men make love?"
Blood raging, Napoleon gaped at his partner; sweaty, flushed, gasping, looming over him, jolting him with that electric blue stare—no dream vision could have been more exciting. He sat up and caught the parted lips in a kiss. Illya moaned in his throat and darted his tongue inside Napoleon's mouth, curling it against his palate in a quick tickling stroke.
Then Illya pushed him down again, one hand planted on his chest, and said, "Have you? Have you had a man inside you?"
Napoleon shook his head, rasped out, "Christ, I want you..." He slid his hands up to Illya's arms, grabbed hold of the muscled biceps, trying to bring them together.
Illya resisted. Napoleon waited, using the moment to breathe, to attempt to think about what would happen next. Illya lifted his head, tilted it, for all the world as if thinking he heard a phone ringing in the distance. Then he looked down at Napoleon. And smiled.
"Next time, then," he said. The words—the promise—sent a thrill of pure lust throughout Napoleon's body. Illya bent, kissed him, and lifted himself again. "This time..." He got up, startling his delirious partner, and left the room.
"Hey..." Napoleon barely had time to voice the protest and sit up before Illya had returned.
He unceremoniously pushed Napoleon onto his back and crawled onto the bed. On his knees, he again surveyed Napoleon's body. It was a moment before the American realized Illya had something in his hands.
"Always prepared?" He managed to force out the words.
"It was in your bathroom, Napoleon," Illya countered, passing his hand across the open top of the tube of lubricant. His fingers danced together and he turned his gaze to Napoleon's erection, humming speculatively. Napoleon lay back, eyes closed.
"Illya..." the word was invitation, plea, surrender. He heard his own whimper as fingers circled the base of his cock, warm and tight, then stroked upward. Napoleon's hips followed, eager, and the hand slipped back down.
"Your body," Illya breathed softly. " is... krasivy...
Napoleon squirmed, asking for more, and Illya stroked again, hard and fast—and again Napoleon's hips jumped into the air.
Illya caught hold of his hand, transferring some of the warm lubricant to it. Napoleon opened his eyes to see his partner position himself over him, one hand still braced on Napoleon's rapidly rising chest, the other stroking his erection.
"Touch me," Illya said, his voice taut with urgency. Napoleon, understanding, slipped his lubricated hand under his partner, between his muscular cheeks, stroking, stroking, deeper with each slick touch.
Illya leaned forward and moaned, squeezing Napoleon's cock so that the American's hips jerked upward. Napoleon gasped, his fingers pressing even deeper into his partner. Illya squirmed, easing himself back, guiding himself against Napoleon.
Napoleon grabbed his hips. "Illya... are you sure ..?"
Illya ignored his words, squeezed again. Napoleon's hips bucked, and the Russian lowered himself onto his partner's erection in one smooth, tight motion.
"Oh... god..." Napoleon stopped breathing. Illya braced taut above him, fingers resting on Napoleon's stomach, perspiration gleaming on his body. Napoleon fixed his eyes on his partner's ecstatic face. Tightly sheathed, his erection throbbed, sending urgent messages to him to move. He moved.
Slowly at first; he had no idea if this would hurt Illya, and determined to follow his partner's cues despite his screaming need to thrust hard.
"Napo—" Illya's breathy words were cut off by a moan, followed by hoarse, fragmental Russian as Illya's eyes glazed over. "Ya khachu... bol'she... bol'she..."
That, Napoleon recognized. More. He drove deeper into delirious tightness, burning all over, feeling that he was close. Illya rocked against him, swaying, and began to pump his own erection. Napoleon grabbed his hand, held it clenched in his fingers as his free hand took hold of Illya's cock and stroked, squeezing as he was being squeezed. Illya groans, primal, uncontrolled, spurred him to thrust harder, faster.
With a harsh cry Illya came, startling Napoleon as the hot liquid spurted and trickled over his pumping hand. He stilled his body for a second, but Illya cried:
Don't stop. Napoleon pumped again, faster, feeling the pressure build in him, feeling it shatter even as more of Illya's seed came forth onto his stomach. He cried out, heedless of anything but the explosion of his body and mind as he emptied into his partner.
After he was spent, Napoleon's hips continued to twitch upward in the shadow of that delicious ache. Illya drew in a huge breath of air and slumped onto his chest, his face in Napoleon's neck as their bodies gently separated.
Napoleon wrapped tired arms about his partner's heaving torso and breathed deeply, feeling their bodies calm in tandem, in satiety and complete trust.
"Illya..." he whispered, everything he was feeling wrapped up in his partner's name. The Russian kissed his throat.
"Napoleon," he murmured. Napoleon smiled, knowing himself answered.
Napoleon was awakened when Illya snorted a soft laugh.
"The Pearly Gates, Napoleon?"
This time, the word was defensive. "What?"
"You don't seriously imagine either one of us will end up there?"
Napoleon lifted Illya's chin to meet his sarcastic gaze. "Wherever you end up is heaven to me."
As he'd expected, surprise and love flared in the Russian's eyes before he rolled them dramatically and groaned, dropping his head again. He shoved Napoleon's hand away from his chin.
"I cannot believe I gave you an opening like that," he said against Napoleon's chest.
The American chuckled. In that way, Illya was like a child: expressions of affection always found their way straight to his heart—only to be immediately smothered by mockery, like a little boy pulling away from his mother's hugs.
"Well, your defenses aren't up to their usual standards," he said, kissing Illya's head. He couldn't resist adding, "I tend to have that effect on people."
"If this... change in circumstance means I'm to be subjected to even more of your insufferable ego..." Illya said, rolling over in a fair imitation of a huff to plant his back against Napoleon's arm.
Napoleon curled around him, arms sliding under and over to trap Illya against his chest. In his ear, Napoleon said, "Hm. Second thoughts?"
The words hung in the air, gathering importance from the silence. Napoleon felt his own body stiffen, knew Illya felt it too.
"You can tell me." He forced the words out, feeling the pit of his stomach grow cold and heavy.
"Napoleon." Illya's hands came up to grasp his arms. "I had those second thoughts a long time ago." He turned his head to look sidelong at his partner, said simply, "I am here."
Overjoyed, Napoleon kissed his neck, trailed his tongue upward until he could latch on to an earlobe.
Illya wiggled. "Napoleon!"
"You're sure no second thoughts?" Napoleon whispered, lips tickling Illya's ear. He pressed the rest of his body hard against the Russian's back, slid his arms down to Illya's waist and rocked them both gently, feeling his blood pick up the rhythm and carry it from his own body to his partner's. Illya took hold of one of his hands, pried it from his waist and laid it over his half-erect penis, curling Napoleon's fingers around himself, voicing a soft hum of pleasure.
Napoleon's communicator went off. He groaned and released his partner to turn over, hearing Illya say sharply, "Fuck," before burying his face in the pillow.
Napoleon bit down on his laugh—Illya only cursed in English when he had need for particularly violent invective—and activated the device. "Solo here."
"It is 9:17 in the morning, Mr. Solo."
"Ah... good morning, Mr. Waverly." Napoleon ran a hand through his hair and sat straighter.
"Why have you not reported in yet, Mr. Solo?"
His face still in the pillow, Illya called out, "Tell him you forgot."
Napoleon thwacked his backside. Then he let his hand rest on the bare curve of his partner's hip, kneading gently.
"What was that, Mr. Solo?"
"Ah, nothing, sir..."
"How is Mr. Kuryakin?"
For an instant Napoleon considered saying he was still asleep, but their boss deserved to know Illya's mental state as soon as possible.
"His memory has returned, sir," Napoleon said.
"But I still have a headache," came Illya's muffled voice.
"What was that?" Waverly repeated sharply.
"But he still has a headache, sir," Napoleon said, pinching Illya's hip. "I was going to see he had some solid food in him before I came in, sir."
He could sense, though he couldn't hear, Waverly's irresolute but dissatisfied growl. Illya grabbed his hand, used it as leverage to turn himself on his back, and replaced Napoleon's hand on his erection, rubbing.
"Are you humming, Mr. Solo?" Waverly demanded.
"No sir," he lied as Illya arched his hips against his hand. "Ah... inter... mmm.... interference..." With great restraint, Napoleon refrained from squeezing, not wanting any more unwarranted noises transmitted to their boss.
"Very well, Mr. Solo, feed your partner his breakfast. But get a move on, if you don't mind. Evil doesn't wait for meals."
Napoleon stared at the pen blankly, aware only of his other hand, being ruthlessly coaxed into heinous acts, and of Illya's hand, sneaking around his bare hip. "Ah... yes, sir."
Napoleon twisted the pen off and dropped it, turning to face his partner. "Breakfast?" he asked brightly.
Illya growled and grabbed him. "Forget it."