Episode Epilogue 9 - Second Star to the Right
They went from the sublime - the two of them in Hong Kong - to the ridiculous. In Hong Kong they were a well oiled machine, a brilliant example of their brilliant teamwork - "like one mind in two bodies", the secretary in charge of typing their reports into the data base said admiringly. "I mean really, Napoleon. That's what it reads like. You both had the same plan, you both had the same ideas, and you worked separately until you rode in to save the day, like a white knight on his horse. How do you do it?"
"A top notch CEA and his obedient loyal companion," Napoleon had replied smugly and she had laughed and kissed him, and he had kissed her back. She has the wrong white knight, he thought, and smiled. He'd used the phrase himself, way back when they were dealing with Gervaise Ravel. `You don't have a white knight,' she'd said, her confidence shaken just a little bit, but he had, and he knew it; and now he knew it again. So as he kissed Leasa thoroughly, using all his skill so he could leave her gasping and trying vainly to straighten her hair, so he could make a date with her for the next night, because it had been a while and they had to keep up the charade, he had to keep up the charade, he thought about Illya. That was why the date was for the next night, and not that night. That night belonged to Illya. Illya and him.
But it didn't, at least not at first. Because Illya had a date too. "It's been a while," he said apologetically to Napoleon, who had cornered him in an empty conference room to make the arrangements. "I don't want Mr. Waverly to feel he has to talk to me about it. So I'm taking Deidre to Lincoln Center for a concert, and then I'll go to her place."
"To do the deed," Napoleon said snidely, and Illya raised an eyebrow at him.
"To do the deed," he agreed, and shrugged. That shrug, that little European style shrug, said everything about the necessity, about the deed, which would be done efficiently and well, and about the regret that it had to be this way at all. Napoleon shook his head.
"Reschedule for tomorrow night," he bargained. "That's when my date is." Because I wanted to see you tonight, because I'm hot for you tonight and damn all that you don't feel the same way, that you can wait.
"The concert is tonight," Illya said patiently. She is - we both are - looking forward to it."
"Then Leasa and I will go too." Napoleon changed course abruptly. "I'll pull some strings and get us two tickets, and we'll enjoy the concert together. We can have a late supper afterwards, and then we can go our own ways." His eyes glinted. "Or we can go the same way and make a foursome out of it."
"There are so many things wrong with that plan that I don't know where to start. Yes, I do. It's a sold out concert, I've had these very good tickets for weeks, and you'll never get in, much less find adjoining seats. Not to mention ... what are you ... Napoleon."
"Shh. I'm on the phone." Napoleon called someone he knew on the board at Lincoln Center, and within five minutes had four tickets - four much better tickets than Illya's two, he was sure - for four adjoining seats. Finished, he hung up and smirked at Illya. "There we go. You can sell yours, or give them away. Surely they weren't fourth row center."
Illya sighed. "No, they weren't. And I'm sure I can find someone who wants them. But don't think - now what?" Napoleon put a finger to his mouth to shush him again as he dialed.
"Post show reservations for four at Delmonico's," he announced after another five minutes. "My treat. Deidre will be so impressed the next step will be a cinch."
"The next step, as you put it, is not going to be a foursome. The very idea is revolting. Deidre would never agree, and I hate the thought. So you can stop making phone calls now."
"All right. But maybe we can get up a threesome some time. Angelique would go for it, I'm sure." He laughed aloud at the expression on Illya's face. "No? Well, I don't think I want to share you anyway."
"Nor I you. Even though I have to."
"And tonight, so do I." And for a moment, all joking aside, they looked at one another. Napoleon reached out, brushed Illya's bangs off his forehead. "Some day," he said huskily, "some day we can stop all this nonsense."
Illya snorted, but he didn't move his head away from Napoleon's hand, which lingered. "Don't give me that. You enjoy this nonsense, as you call it. You love the pursuit, the chase, the challenge. Any challenge I might once have offered is long passed. The chase is complete, and you have me. You'd keep up the nonsense even if we didn't have to."
The raw pain in that statement pained Napoleon, too. That Illya felt that way ... Illya felt that way? Still? Despite ... well, he could fix that. He could, and he would. He took a step closer, so they were standing very close indeed, though not touching except for his hand in Illya's hair. "You," he breathed, "are a never ending challenge to me. I never feel I have you. I always ... you always seem to be on the edge of breaking it off, of turning your back on me and walking away. And that would kill me. When the day comes that we can drop the nonsense, I'll show you." They stood there for another moment, Illya's eyes very soft - softer than Napoleon had ever seen them - then the door opened, and someone walked in.
Napoleon didn't even turn, and they certainly didn't jump apart. He only pulled Illya's head closer by his hair and said, in a voice pitched at just the right volume to reach the door but no further, "Remember, this is for eyes only."
"Yes sir," Illya said, and Napoleon had never wanted to kiss him more badly than he did right at that moment, seeing those blue eyes sparkle with amusement and - Napoleon preened himself as he turned away, pretending to be surprised that they had an audience - admiration for Napoleon Solo's cool head and quick mind. But he only nodded shortly.
"See that you do, and pass it on to the courier as well."
"Yes sir," Illya repeated and left, giving a short nod of his own to the clerk, who was busy pretending she'd heard none of what must be a top secret conversation. Napoleon smiled at her charmingly, complimented her on her shoes, at which she did some preening of her own, and left as well, smiling at the thought of the night ahead.
Which hadn't happened. Because Illya had been sent on a courier mission, had nearly been burned alive, and just made it back to headquarters with his clothes still smoldering. Napoleon teased him about losing his jacket, accepted his own assignment, and it all went downhill from there. Mandy Stevenson had intercepted the secret microdot, and left on the wild goose chase Napoleon had sent her on.
Nothing had ever shamed him so much. How stupid could he be! It had been one humiliation after another; from confessing his plot to Waverly and Illya - and Illya's astonished glances told him more clearly than words could have just what he thought of the whole thing - to hearing Illya say "I'll go draw them off" and head out. Head out into danger, making himself a target to protect the vulnerable girl, who had been put out there by Napoleon himself. It had seemed then that that was the last time he would ever see Illya, that his punishment - his just punishment, his just desserts, as it were - for his stupidity would be to have Illya shot down. He couldn't even protect Illya, have his back. Instead he had trailed Mandy, trying vainly to recall any of the details of Evasion Pattern Number 8.
But Illya had found Mandy, had stumbled across her really as, all judgment washed away by panic she had called his name, had run to him, had brought even more danger down upon them. Because despite the farcical nature of the affair those had been real bullets in the movie theater, real bullets fired at Mandy, and Illya, and him. A real man had died, shot right through the screen, and a movie theater full of civilians had been in the line of fire. And then - then! The trap had been laid for Waverly and Illya and their escort. They had all almost been blown to smithereens as they tried to recover the microdot, to rescue Mandy Stevenson.
So he had come through in the end. So he had saved the day. Big deal. The day should never have been in danger to begin with. They had had the microdot, damn it, the microdot Illya had risked his life for, and he had given it away. Stupid, arrogant ... he had been so filled with self recrimination that the stinging rebuke from Waverly had almost been a relief; to stop listening to his own voice for a while, and listen to Waverly's acerbic tones instead. He had offered no defense, had hung his head and accepted it, although Illya had ... Illya had tried to speak up for him.
"Mr. Solo," Waverly had said as soon as they returned to HQ and Mandy had been delivered safely back to the Language Translation Department, Portuguese Division. "A word." His tone and his expression had left no doubt as to what form that word would take, and Napoleon had risen meekly and followed him towards his office. And that was when Illya said it.
"Sir. Mr. Waverly."
"Yes, Mr. Kuryakin?" Amazing how Waverly's tone could change from one sentence to the next. There had been almost a gentleness in his voice, as if he knew what was coming.
"Mr. Solo - nobody else could have pulled off that shot, sir. Nobody else could have -"
"There would have been no need for such a vaudeville performance if Mr. Solo had not joined the circus in the first place.
"But Mr. Waverly - "
"Dismissed, Mr. Kuryakin." The gentleness was still there, but Waverly's voice was firm. He might not be angry with Illya, but he was not to be swayed, either. And still Illya persisted.
"I just want to go on record as saying that -"
"Go home, Illya," Napoleon said heavily. He really felt he couldn't bear one more minute of this. "Please. For my sake. Let me end it."
Illya hesitated, jaw set stubbornly, hands clenched at his sides. Napoleon had a pretty good idea what it was costing him to defy Waverly, and he had to smile. He felt, absurdly, on the verge of tears and Illya must have seen that because he stuffed his fists into his pockets, mumbled "Yes sir" to either or both of them, turned on his heel, and left.
Waverly reamed him a new one. That was just how it felt, as if he'd been ripped open so the onslaught of words could smash their way inside him. And he deserved it, so he sat there with his hands loosely clasped between his knees, his head down, and listened to every single word. It ended with "Do not return until Monday morning." That was three days away, and Napoleon flinched.
"Am I suspended?" he asked dully, because he had never had such a blot on his record before. But he had earned this one, hadn't he; bought and paid for it with other lives.
"Not officially, no," Waverly said. "But I don't want to see you before then. Use your own personal leave."
"Yes, sir. I ... I'm sorry, sir."
"I should certainly hope so, Mr. Solo. Good day."
He dragged himself home, avoiding anyone who tried to strike up a conversation with him. He stopped at the liquor store and bought three bottles of good whiskey. Maybe with enough of that in him he could fall asleep without seeing Illya's incredulous face, Waverly's disappointed one, Mandy's terrified one. Maybe.
He walked into his apartment, and stopped short. Oh, no. Illya was here. Illya was standing in the kitchen, taking something out of the oven. It smelled wonderful - he could tell that even in his current mental state - and there was something tantalizingly familiar about it, too. But the last thing he wanted was contact with anybody. Even Illya. Maybe especially Illya.
"Illya. When I said go home, I meant your home. I don't ..." he stopped because Illya, whose face had lit at his entrance, flinched at those words. The smile left his face and he drew his shoulders in, as if warding off a blow. And that wasn't fair, was it. He had risked Illya's life for a stupid joke, and if Illya wanted something of him now he had every right. So he sighed.
"Never mind. It's fine. I don't think I have much of an appetite, but ..." and his throat closed up. He dropped his keys to the carpet and just looked at Illya, who was holding the baking dish he had just taken out of the oven. A baking dish filled with - with mlyntsi.
Illya extended the pan shyly. "Do ... do you want them? If this is a bad time, just say so. I thought ... I wanted to ... I want you to know I ... it wasn't such a terrible thing you did!" he finished in a burst, and set the pan down.
"Don't give me that. I saw your face while I was telling Waverly. You looked at me as if I were the stupidest most brain dead excuse for an agent that ever lived. And I was."
"My exact thought was, "blockhead," Illya said, and smiled at him. "And it was so unexpected. So ... so out of character. But it was a nice thought, Napoleon. You were trying to do something nice for her. You felt sorry for her, and you wanted to give her a little thrill. What's so awful about that? You didn't know they'd give her the microdot. How could you have foreseen that?"
"I almost got her, and you, and Waverly killed. Not to mention everybody in the movie theater, and the agents accompanying you on the raid."
"Well, that's how it could have turned out, but it didn't. You shot him with your hands tied behind your back, looking into a mirror! Nobody else could have done it! And Gervais was already in town after that microdot. Whoever we sent out with it would have been pursued, and maybe captured, and not have had the presence of mind to hide it in a contact lens. It all ended well, Napoleon, and that's what matters. Not to mention that it is highly unlikely that Mandy Stevenson will be ambushing you in elevators and the like in the future."
He laughed. He actually laughed. "Illya." He moved closer, ruffled Illya's hair. "So fierce," he said in a bemused way. "The way you came at Waverly, like ... like a mother bear protecting her cub." He rumpled Illya's hair again, harder this time and Illya pushed his head against his hand, smiling.
"Was it very bad, in his office?
"Yes but I deserved every word of it. And I'm sent home till Monday."
Illya stared at him in shock. "He suspended you? After you singlehandedly stopped that Thrush plot in its tracks? I'll go back in, Napoleon. I'll tell him -"
"No, no, I'm not suspended. Not officially. He just doesn't want to see my face before Monday and I can't blame him."
"So he gave you the weekend off," Illya said slowly, and he was smiling again now. "That old fox. Because I have the weekend off, too. He'd already told me that. I don't have to report till Monday."
"You mean you think he -"
"Yes. Yes, I do. He doesn't want to break you, Napoleon. He knows you. He must know that you're harder on yourself than anybody else could be. So he gave you the reprimand you needed - because without it, you would have felt as if you got away with something, wouldn't you. You needed that from him."
"And then he sent you home to me." Illya twined his arms around Napoleon's neck. "Because he knows I'll ... I'll love you until you feel better. Lesson learned, no more little pranks around the office, and ready to go back to work fighting the forces of evil and saving life as we know it." He kissed Napoleon's chin. "Yes?"
"And this?" He was looking over Illya's head at the baking dish.
"Oh. Well." Illya drew back. "I wanted to show you that I still trust you. I know you felt unworthy, and as if I'd never want you at my back again. I could see it on your face. And that's not so. I trust you. So ... you wanted mlyntsi, I made mlyntsi. Which we should eat soon, because it's not as good cold or reheated."
"And following the mlyntsi?"
"A drink, and a story. Not a bedtime story, Napoleon. It's an ugly, dirty, sordid little tale and I don't like telling it, but it's become a matter of trust to you, and that's what I need to show you. That I trust you. I trust you not to - not to turn away from me after. I trust you - I trust you to still love me. Because it wasn't really my fault, and you're a good man, and surely you'll see that. That it wasn't really my fault. That I did what I had to do to escape an intolerable situation. That I was fighting for my life with the only weapons I had. That ... well. That's all. All right?"
"All right," Napoleon said softly. "All right."
So they ate mlyntsi with mushroom gravy and sour cream, and they drank vodka because it only seemed fitting. It was delicious and Napoleon, who would have said he couldn't eat a thing, cleaned his plate twice. Illya ate heartily as well, then they cleaned up, and then they sat on the sofa while Illya told his tale.
It was, as promised, sad, sordid and dirty. Illya talked in a flat, emotionless drone, obviously retelling something he had already told many times over. He told it backwards, as it were, beginning with the events that had led up to his entrance into UNCLE
"You already know what I did, what I was. But you don't know how I moved from KGB whore to UNCLE agent. No, don't interrupt me. I know you want to object to that word, and I appreciate it. But if I stop it will be harder to start again. All right?"
"They set me on Waverly," he said, and almost smiled at the look that must have been on Napoleon's face. "I was to seduce him, sleep with him, then either he would have been arrested and charged with deviancy, or blackmailed into giving up information, all depending on what was needed. I didn't know which, and it made no difference to me either way. I hated them all, and anything that happened to them as a result of our ... interactions ... was their just desserts. Of course I hated the ones who sent me, too, who gave me my assignments and reaped the benefits. I hated them all. I hated myself most of all. But I didn't know how to get out of it. There was no way out. And then ...then came Alexander Waverly.
"I went to his room with a message. He invited me in - they always invited me in. I knew how to project something - an availability, a vulnerability, even a fear - that was irresistible to them. So when Mr. Waverly invited me in, I wasn't surprised. I sat down and drank a Coca Cola after he told me I didn't look old enough for a drink.
"Imagine! He was worried that I was underage to be drinking alcohol! I didn't know what to say to that. I wasn't, as it happens - barely - but I knew I looked younger than I was. That was part of my appeal. I always looked younger - much younger - than my age. It was a valuable commodity in the business I was in."
"You still do," Napoleon said, and Illya quirked an eyebrow at him.
"Yes. I know I still do. And it would still be valuable, if Mr. Waverly worked that way. But he doesn't. He didn't. I saw that in a blinding flash. This was a good man. A man of integrity. I had no more chance of getting him into bed than I had of flying out of that hotel room window.
"I had never failed on this level before. But I knew others who had, and the consequences were always dreadful, so I hated him. I hated him for his goodness, for his imperviousness to my charms. He could afford it, I thought. It was a luxury and he could afford it, and so what that I'd probably be the guest at a special party later on in the week, an intimate little gathering, just me and a score of officials. Fat lot he'd care. He could go on being honest, and keeping his conscience clean, and the hell with me, a honey trap, a lure, a whore.
"I said don't stop me, Napoleon. Because now I want you to stop me, and I can't let you. But you don't hate me yet?
"Good." He drew a deep breath, and smiled at Napoleon - a shaky smile, but real. "That's ... that's good. Because that's the worst of it, I think. That young man walking into Alexander Waverly's hotel room wondering if he'd want to fuck or get sucked off, and then hating him because he didn't want either."
"So what happened?"
"He looked at me and said `Come now, Mr. Kuryakin, there must be more to our meeting than this message, that could have come via telephone. What is your real purpose here? This room has been thoroughly and recently swept and cleared of all monitoring devices, so for the time being you can speak freely, if you choose.' He looked stern, but there was something else there, too. A ... a kindness. And I thought - or I didn't think. I grabbed onto that mysterious kindness and ... just spilled it. I said "My purpose is to seduce you, blackmail you, and ruin you. That's why I'm here.' He said `Ah. I thought as much. That's what has been going wrong over here, isn't it.' And I said, `Yes', and knew I had just thrown my life away. I'd be arrested, sent to some frozen gulag or other where I'd probably welcome a dick up my ass just to get warm. But then he said, `You must have a great deal of information, if you chose to share it,' and I said `Yes' because I did. You know I don't forget much."
"Yes. I do know that."
"They never considered that - they never considered me at all. I was handy, and good at what I did, and what I might remember or consider or analyze never occurred to them. But I saw where Mr. Waverly was going. So I said, `And it's all yours if you get me out of this.' He didn't answer me right away. He filled his pipe and smoked it, and I could tell he was going over all of it in his mind, the ramifications and the risks. Then he said, `We don't work this way, Mr. Kuryakin. Your career, such as it is, would effectively be over.' I said `thank you', and I meant it. He looked at me for a minute or so - such a short time, I thought, when he picked up the phone. Such a short time for a decision on my entire life. I was afraid. So very afraid."
He exhaled, scrubbed at his face with both hands. "But I was on a plane out of there - with him - that night. I was debriefed in New York - an unpleasant experience, but not a torturous one - and then they sent me off to Cambridge. Cambridge, the Sorbonne - I was most thoroughly educated before they approached me again, and even then it was clearly a choice. My choice." He stopped, and turned intense eyes on Napoleon.
"My choice, Napoleon. Mine. If I had wanted to be a university professor, or run a used book store or ... or design women's clothing ... that would have been all right with them - him. I wasn't in "indentured servitude" is how he put it. But of course I wanted to work for him. I wanted to be an agent so badly I could taste it. And he took me. And then he partnered me with you." For the first time Illya smiled at him, a soft, luminous smile. "He must have known. He knows everything. He must have known you'd be good to me, even though you protested right to the bitter end. He might not have foreseen this -" he gestured. "The two of us, like this - but he knew you'd be good to me. That was important to him. That's why I had to tell him about us. I couldn't be so deceptive with him. He didn't deserve that from me. Of course, you didn't deserve me going behind your back and telling him. It was a dilemma."
"You made the right choice. I can understand that."
"And I staked it all on the presumption that you would forgive me - and you did. You're so good to me, Napoleon. Even now, you're sitting there trying not to look shocked, or horrified, or any of those things you must be feeling;."
"I am. But I'm shocked and horrified for you, not at you. Because if you were that young when you met Waverly, you were a child when it started."
"I was never a child."
"That's a sophistry. You were. And you still haven't told me how any of this ties in with mlyntsi."
"No. Do I have to? Now? Tonight? I'm tired, Napoleon. This takes it out of me. It's not that I don't trust you. It's that I'm ... I'm tired."
He looked tired. The words of his recital had come out of him like his living essence and now he looked drained and depleted - worn down and very, very sad. Napoleon held out his arms and Illya came into them, rested his head on Napoleon's shoulder and just lay there. Napoleon rocked him a little, smoothed back his hair, and kissed his forehead.
"No, you don't have to say any more tonight. We have three whole days. Let's just go to bed and ... and sleep. I'm tired myself."
"I'm sure you are. It's been quite a day."
They took turns in the shower - Illya needed time alone and Napoleon knew that, so he waited his turn and went in when Illya came out. Illya was in bed when he himself was finished, and Napoleon joined him, drawing him closer, holding him fast. Illya held him fast, too, and together they slid down the incline into sleep.
The next morning, before Illya was up, Napoleon called Waverly. Ignoring the tart tone in which Waverly said "Yes, Mr. Solo?" he quickly laid out the night's events. "He's going to tell me the rest of it," he concluded. "But I hate to put him through it. Just what he shared last night - about you, and his original place of service - left him exhausted. And I think that whatever is coming is worse."
"And what exactly do you want me to do for you, Mr. Solo?"
"Nothing, for me. But for Illya's sake I thought ... I mean, there must be records. Something I could access from here and read. That way he wouldn't have to say it. He's going to, sir. I swear it. I wouldn't go behind him, and I wouldn't lie to you. I just think this might be easier for him."
There was a very long silence. Napoleon waited, one ear cocked towards the bedroom. Then Waverly sighed. He gave Napoleon a code, and a password, and Napoleon nodded, though Waverly couldn't see him, and committed both to memory. "Thank you, sir."
"Hmph. I'm not sure about this, but I believe I can trust your ...your good intentions, Mr. Solo."
"You can, sir. You have my word. And thank you for ... for what you did for him back then. It was quite a leap of faith."
"It could be seen that way. I have always trusted my judgment, and have not yet been disappointed. Be careful with this, Mr. Solo. You are in extremely delicate and volatile territory. Tread easily."
He took another look at Illya, who was still asleep. He had moved, though, since Napoleon had gotten up. He had turned, and reached out towards the empty space where Napoleon had been. His arm lay across it, palm turned up, fingers slightly curled. Napoleon's throat tightened. He leaned over and kissed him, very lightly, on the forehead. Illya didn't stir, but his mouth curved upwards, just a little bit, and Napoleon smiled. He went over to the computer and entered a code, and then a password.
He was about halfway through the material when Illya padded into the room, yawning and stretching. Napoleon looked at him somberly. He made no move to turn off the monitor, and when Illya came and looked over his shoulder he made no move to stop that either. He just sat there while Illya looked at the screen.
He whitened - even his lips went bone white. He literally staggered, and had to catch hold of the back of Napoleon's chair. His eyes were fixed on the screen, where one name was featured prominently.
"What ... " he stopped, swallowed, then went on, still clutching the back of the chair. "What are you ... why is his name ... what are you thinking!" That last bit exploded out of him and at the same time he backed up, retreating from the screen, as if the name displayed there had the power to reach out and grab him, catch him, harm him.
"I was thinking that this would be easier for you than telling me yourself," Napoleon answered. Now he did turn off the monitor. "Am I wrong?"
Illya spat something in Russian at him and turned around, walking back into the bedroom. Napoleon put his face in his hands. What had he done? He had meant well, he had, but ... go carefully, Waverly had said, and maybe he hadn't. The reading matter had been so appalling that he had been in a state of shock when Illya entered, so maybe he hadn't been thinking clearly. He should have turned it off as soon as he heard Illya. He should have ... but he hadn't wanted to lie to Illya, even by omission; hadn't wanted there to be unspoken things, secret things, between them. And now ... then a hand brushed the back of his neck, lightly.
"It's all right, Napoleon," Illya said from behind him. "I understand what you're doing, and you're right. I can't even look at his name on a computer screen - how could I tell you about him? I can't ... I can't even watch you read it. I have to walk away. You finish up, and when you're done if you have any questions, or comments, or ... or you want to kick me out your door ..." his voice broke and Napoleon turned the chair around, pulled Illya down onto his lap.
"Love you," he whispered, not knowing what else to say, not knowing how to begin to comfort a pain so deep. "Love you, Illya, sweetheart, love you."
"All right," Illya said, and put both arms around Napoleon's waist. "All right, Napoleon, it's all right. You love me. I believe you. I love you too. But I can't ... I can't be here while you do this. I can't bear knowing that his name ... don't say it!"
"I wasn't going to."
"You might. Now that you know it, you might ... might say it and I can't ... I can't ... don't. Just ... just don't."
"I won't. Can you tell me where he is now? Because if he's somewhere where I can go and get my hands on him, tell me and I will. No one will ever know, I guarantee it."
"Aren't you sweet, sitting here promising murder and mayhem and secrecy. Appreciated, but not necessary. He's dead."
"Oh." Napoleon was disappointed. Right now that seemed the best finish to this awful saga - for Illya's lover to go and enact a terrible vengeance for what had been done to a little boy, so long ago and so far away. "Well, good. I suppose."
"Ivan Petrovich," Illya said, very clearly, and very distinctly, "is dead. Because of me. When I was spilling the beans to Waverly in exchange for my passage here, I threw him so far under the bus ... not that I had that idiom then," he added and Napoleon, who was struck speechless by Illya's courage, by his refusal to let a name intimidate him no matter how justified , managed to nod and, at the same time, squeeze Illya hard. Illya squeezed him back. "I just thought, `I'll fix you while I'm about it.' And I did. They were at his door the next morning to take him into custody, and he ate a suicide pill en route. The end. Period. Finis. Kaniez."
"Oh," Napoleon said again. Though he was still disappointed, he had to admit that this was better. Illya had done it on his own, and that was much better. "Good for you."
"I know. I said his name, Napoleon. I haven't said his name since I had to say it to Waverly. I always said `him' or `my uncle' or ... or `him'. When I saw his name on your screen it was like he rose up and grabbed me, just the way he used to. Grabbed me and hurt me - scared me and shamed me and ... and just destroyed me."
"I'm sorry." But he didn't destroy you, Napoleon wanted to say. Here you are. But he wasn't sure that was the right thing to say, because maybe it would be invalidating Illya's feelings, those fragile, painful feelings he was just now letting out. So he squeezed Illya again, instead, and felt Illya smile against his neck.
"You're such a good man, Napoleon. Don't worry so much. I'm all right, I think. I'm glad you called Mr. Waverly. You're right, I didn't want to say any of it. And you're not finished, and now I want you to finish. But I don't want to be here, so I'm going home for a while. I have some things I should do, laundry ... check the mail ... I'll do that while you read. I'll bring dinner - not mlyntsi," he laughed a little but it was a harsh, painful sound and Napoleon, feeling totally inadequate, settled for squeezing him some more. Illya snuggled closer. "This is good," he said finally. "I'm glad you know. And let me tell you quickly about the mlyntsi, because that won't be in there, per se."
"I can guess. It was served at those feasts where he used to offer you up as a bonus to someone who would do him favors, wasn't it."
Illya flinched, but nodded. "Yes. How sharp you are, Napoleon. You cut right to the heart of things like ... well, like something sharp. That's exactly what he did, and I wasn't allowed to eat anything at those banquets, and I was always so hungry, but the way they would all look at me made me sick, too, sick and hungry and scared. Smelling it that night in Paris brought all of those feelings crashing down on me. You cut me with that, Napoleon, it was so sharp."
"I'm sorry." He kissed Illya's cheek. "I am so sorry, sweetheart."
"That's twice now with that. Are you going to call me those things now, like I'm a girl?"
"No. I've never called any of my ladies that - or anything. I don't do endearments. It's ... it's not suave. I am always suave. And I won't call you that anymore if you don't like it. It just slipped out."
"Twice. Because that's what you are to me, and I don't care about my image with you. I don't have to be suave with you, do I? Or dashing?"
"No, Napoleon." Now it was Illya kissing his cheek. "No you don't. And you can call me anything you want. Moy sladen'kyk."
"And that is ..."
"Look it up." Illya pulled free and rose. "I'll see you later, Napoleon. What do you want for dinner?"
"The opposite of mlyntsi, whatever you deem that to be. Not that it wasn't delicious."
"Yes it was. Another time. I love you, Napoleon Solo. You're the best man I know. You and Mr. Waverly."
"Well, thank you. You are too, Illya. Just the fact that you made yourself say his name - never think he destroyed you. He may have tried, but he failed."
Illya didn't answer him, but he kissed his fingertips and pressed them to Napoleon's lips, before going out the door. Napoleon looked at the door for a moment. Then he got up, set his alarm system, got himself a stiff drink - never mind the time of day - and sat back down, to continue reading.
It was an ordeal, getting through it. His eyes kept wanting to lift from the page, to look at something - anything - good, and decent - just for a break, he thought more than once. Just ... just a break from it. So he got up and looked out the window, at the sky and the clouds. He looked at his apartment, at the small but well chosen collection of artwork and books. Then he felt guilty, because Illya hadn't been able to take a break from it, had he. He couldn't just get up and stroll away from Petrovich when he felt like it. If he had lived through that then it was piss poor of Napoleon Solo to recoil from reading about it. So he sat back down and fell into the past again, into a world where a sadistic sexual predator had complete power and control over a little boy, his own blood relative, his own dead sister's child, and who used that control to wreak such horrific harm that the hospital records in themselves made harrowing reading. But Napoleon persisted. He kept reading, and getting up, and flogging himself into sitting back down again, and finally he had finished. He deleted the file from his computer, not wanting it there, not wanting its malign presence touching anything about his life. The file was at headquarters. It could stay there. Irrational, he knew, and equally irrational was the need to take a shower; a long, scalding hot shower, as if he'd been coated in slime, but he did feel the need and he did take the shower. Afterwards he sat in his pajamas and bathrobe and tried to read Marcus Aurelius, because he needed to think about goodness, he needed to meditate on goodness and not on what he had just read.
How had Illya survived? How had he not just lived through it but triumphed, because Illya was one of the very best men Napoleon had ever known. There was no trace of a bully in him - although he could play one, if the job called for it. Napoleon thought about that for a moment. Illya had learned the gestures, the attitudes, of a petty proprietary bureaucrat, of a military bully, of a sociopath, but he had never absorbed the intent of it, the pleasure in another's fear or pain or humiliation. It was a role he played - and he played it well - but it hadn't touched him, not really, not inside where it counted. It seemed to fly in the face of every child rearing principle Napoleon had ever heard of, but there Illya was. Proud, and fine, and dedicated to keeping the world safe from people like ... like his uncle. Like his superiors in the KGB. Illya was good clear through, with a luminosity about him that lit the darkness like a flame. How Petrovich must have hated that, Napoleon thought. He wasn't a stupid man, he would have seen that the child in his care was good, and innocent, and pure. He had done his best to put that light out. And he had failed.
The door to his apartment clicked open and Napoleon half turned, hand instinctively going to his weapon. But it was Illya, and he carried two large flat pizza boxes. Napoleon laughed, the sound surprising him.
"Pizza? Is that the opposite of mlyntsi?"
"Yes," Illya said, and set the boxes down on the coffee table. "Pizza and beer in front of `Jeopardy' are the exact opposite of mlyntsi and vodka at a fancy dinner party. I thought about it long and hard, and if you don't like it -"
"I like it." Napoleon took a slice from the box to prove it, and accepted the beer can Illya handed him. "I like it fine."
"Good." Illya turned on the television, found the right channel and settled down next to Napoleon on the sofa. Napoleon clunked his own can to Illya's in a clumsy toast, and Illya laughed.
They didn't talk about anything serious. They played Jeopardy with the onscreen contestants, and with one another. Illya won some rounds, and Napoleon won other rounds, and both lost the final round, with an answer relating to a variety show that had been popular years ago, when Napoleon was in Korea and Illya in the Soviet Union. They finished the pizza, and the beer, and then they went to bed.
There was no lovemaking that night. Illya lay on his back, not too close, and Napoleon lay on his stomach. He reached out, as sleep came, and took Illya's hand in his. Illya squeezed the hand he held, and if he lay awake late into the night Napoleon was unaware of it, because he fell sound asleep within the next minute.
If he slept first, he also woke first. He lay there for a few minutes, feeling Illya's hand, lax within his. Illya was still asleep; the even, deep breathing told him so.
How did Illya sleep at night? How ... how did he do anything? How did he laugh, and joke, and listen to jazz, and watch old Marx Brothers movies, and conduct Bach with one finger while Napoleon drove them somewhere? But he did. What else? Life didn't stop, hadn't stopped. Day had kept rolling over into night into day, and the little boy had grown up. Had grown up and escaped. Not unscathed - no, Illya wasn't unscarred. Many things about him now made sense. His retreats into solitude; long, deep solitudes where he wouldn't answer his phone or his door unless it was work related. His unpredictable reactions to physical contact, however well meaning; his positive relish for the destruction of their enemies. Napoleon gained satisfaction from a job well done, from the elimination of a noxious threat against the ordinary citizen living an ordinary life, but he never felt the almost manic glee he had seen Illya exhibit more than once.
He had to pee. It made him grimace. No matter how deep the introspection, no matter how intense the soul searching, the body would make its demands and you had to meet them. He couldn't lie there, warm and content in Illya's presence, and ponder the enigma that was his partner, when his bladder was telling him get up, get up, get up. So he disentangled himself as carefully as he could, not wanting to disturb Illya, and padded softly to the bathroom.
He relieved himself, washed his hands, brushed his teeth, and came out again. Crossing over to the bed, he looked at Illya sleeping there, and smiling.
Illya was smiling. Just a small smile, tucked into the corners of his mouth, making him look young, and untouched by any darkness or evil whatsoever. He seemed content and complete, eyes moving under his lids as he dreamed, smiling at whatever visions were crossing his sleeping brain. Even as Napoleon thought that he would go back into the bathroom and shower, because he couldn't disturb that sleep, wouldn't jar Illya out of that bliss, Illya's eyes opened and found him there. The smile deepened.
"Napoleon," he said, and reached up. Napoleon sat on the edge of the bed and when Illya tugged at him he came down into the embrace. Illya squeezed him, and Napoleon squeezed back. He felt awkward, not knowing what to do now. Surely Illya wouldn't want sex - how was it that Illya had ever wanted sex from him? Male/male sex, cocks and come and ... no wonder the very suggestion of intercourse had ... how could it ever happen again? When each gesture, each intimate touch, seemed now to have a shadow over it, the shadow of the first man to have touched him, known him. How was this act not irrevocably linked to pain, and misery, and horror? But if Napoleon shied away from it now, wouldn't that be saying that he didn't want Illya, now that he knew about his past? It would be insulting, as if he felt himself too good for ... and that wasn't the case at all, he wanted Illya, wanted to make love to him, but ... he didn't know what to do. Everything seemed equally wrong, equally insensitive, equally ... tactless, for want of a better word. So he squeezed Illya again.
"Mmm?" he said, and pushed his face into the crook of Illya's shoulder.
"No. Look at me, Napoleon. We are not doing this."
"Doing what?" But he lifted his head and looked into Illya's face, into Illya's eyes. Into Illya's soul.
Because Illya had dropped all pretences, all covers, all protective barriers. He stared at Napoleon, and his eyes were wide, and dark, and filled with ... what? Napoleon looked harder, and Illya let him. Time seemed to unravel, moving backwards, and Napoleon saw a sharp, wary adolescent, finding goodness where he had never expected it and grabbing hold, being lifted and lifting himself out of the mire. He saw a boy, battered and broken but burning with curiosity and a desire to learn, to learn all he could because if there was any way out for him it was through knowledge and his own excellent brain. And he saw a child; a terrified, lonely, lost child, great blue eyes pleading for rescue, for healing, for love. He leaned in to that child and kissed his forehead, stroked loose blond hair back off his face with hands that shook but were strong, too. Strong enough to rescue, strong enough to heal, strong enough to love. Illya closed his eyes at the caress, and when he opened them again Napoleon saw his partner; his brilliant, capable partner, the man who had his back, who would go through fire and chaos and death for him and bring him out the other side, the man who had rescued him, healed him, loved him.
"Now," Illya said, and twined his legs around him. "Now, Napoleon. Now. I even got the lube while I was out, so you have no excuse. Love me. Love me, love me, love me ..." Napoleon closed Illya's mouth with his own, wrapped his arms and legs about him in his turn, and loved him. He entered Illya, after careful application of the lube, entered him and loved him. He loved Illya so well that love took them both outside themselves, outside themselves and with one another, just the two of them, just one of them, just one single beating heart, one voice crying aloud in ecstasy, one mind speaking love, love, love. Love. At the peak Illya opened his eyes, wide and dark. He whispered, "Oh. So it can be like this. I should have known, Napoleon. I should have known." Then he arched his back, pulling Napoleon even deeper, and all that there was, was love.
When it slowed to a soft, sweet pulsing that made them tremble, and hold the other closer still, Napoleon grappled with the sheets, the blankets, pulling them up, tucking them in together, and in this sleep both of them were smiling.