Love is the Question, Love is the Answer
Illya clung to Napoleon desperately, as if for dear life. It felt that way. If he let go, if they separated for one moment, one second, one breath, he would die. He wanted to say so, to find and speak the words that would let Napoleon know that he needed to keep holding on, to tell Napoleon not to let go, not to let go, not to ... he cried out, wordless after all.
"Shhh," Napoleon whispered. "It's all right, Illya, I've got you. I've got you. Hang on, we're almost there. Son of a bitch!"
What? Illya tried to pry his eyes open, to see what had prompted this jarring interjection, but the light stabbed him, and tears flooded his face. He tried again, and whimpered when he failed again. Why couldn't he see? Why ... what was wrong with him? How did he even come to be here, clasped in Napoleon's arms, eyes squeezed shut against the daylight, fingers clutching Napoleon's shirt so tightly they hurt. He tried to force the questions out, inhaling then gasping, mouth forming syllables because that was how you did it, wasn't it? Breath out, lips shaping words. But all that came was a gasp. He tried again, tongue to roof of mouth ... "Nnnn" and a final gasp "ah."
"I'm here," Napoleon soothed, and how wonderful that Napoleon understood him, that Napoleon knew he had been trying to say his name. Encouraged, Illya kept on. Tongue to roof of mouth again, then off.
"D ... d.."
"I won't. I'll stay right here - damn it! Watch out!"
It was intolerable not knowing what was happening, where he was, why he couldn't function. Was he injured? Drugged? Sick? "Wh" soft puff of air. He tried again.. "Wh ..."
"We're on a boat. Mark is driving. Can you smell the ocean?"
A boat? And no, he could smell nothing but Napoleon and that was all he wanted to smell, too. He shook his head in case Napoleon was thinking of backing off so he could smell the sea. That soft puff of air was easier than the other, so he did it again.. "Wh ..."
"We're escaping from Thrush. Remember? I rescued you from the ... the basement where Whiggins was holding you." And Napoleon's arms tightened suddenly, fiercely.
Basement? And then a flash of himself, rigid against a pole, going down into darkness and silence and pain ... he screamed at it, trying desperately to get even closer to Napoleon. "H ... h ... help me!" The words blasted out of him. "Help me help me help me don't leave me here help me Napoleon, help me!"
"Good," Napoleon said and moved, still holding him fast but shifting position. "Illya. That was good. You're talking. Now try opening your eyes again. I'm shading them ... try. Please? You'll feel better if you can see where you are."
He tried, he really did because if he didn't try when Napoleon wanted him to, Napoleon might let go of him, might leave him to the terrible eons of lonely suffering. He even let go of Napoleon's shirt so he could pry an eye open with his fingers and it was true that the light wasn't so blinding. He used his other hand because Napoleon had him, he could let go, Napoleon had him, and when both eyes had been forced open there was Napoleon's face, Napoleon's beloved face, and behind him was blue sky. Illya gasped and looked, looked as hard as he could. Napoleon's eyes. Napoleon's brow, furrowed with worry. Napoleon's mouth - smiling. Smiling at him. And all around was sunshine and sky, clouds and ... and he could smell the ocean now, salt and air. There was motion, too, a leaping bounding motion that was almost like flying. His face felt strange and he touched it, realized he was smiling too. Oh.
"What ... what's wrong with me?"
"You've been very heavily drugged, Illya, as well as the sensory deprivation and torture. Did you know he was drugging you?"
"No. He said ... he said I was weak, and broken, and ... and that's how I felt. Feel. I feel broken."
"No," Napoleon said and there was a different motion now, a rocking entirely separate from the boat and the water and the wind. Napoleon ... Napoleon was rocking him, back and forth, one hand rubbing his back, one stroking his hair. "He lied. He couldn't break you, so he drugged you. But you didn't tell him anything, Illya. You know that, right?"
"He said I did. He said I'd told him everything over the years."
"Oh, it's been so long." He wept then, great, tearing sobs. "So much of my life, gone. Gone, gone, gone. And you - you're gone, too. You have a new partner, you've moved on and left me behind, left me there ..." another flash - rope binding him to cold metal; head, throat, chest, belly, groin, legs, feet - cold metal in his mouth, down his throat, cold metal sparking pain ... he screamed again, grabbing onto Napoleon.
"Illya, moy droog, it's only been six weeks. I don't mean only, because that's a terribly long time to be held like that," and Napoleon's voice broke. "But it's not years, no matter what he told you."
"Six weeks? But it's been winter ..." Whiggins, stamping snow off his boots, face red with cold. Whiggins, dripping in a bathing suit in high summer. Whiggins ... lying. Lying to him. Because Napoleon wouldn't lie to him, so Whiggins had. "No?"
"No. He took you in May. It's July 15th. And I'm sorry it took me so long to find you, Illya - I've been looking and looking. Waverly authorized ..."
"Waverly? Mr. Waverly? He's still alive?"
"Yes, sweetheart. He's still alive, of course he is. That son of a bitch ... damn!" They had dropped somehow, jarring them, making Illya's teeth click shut on his tongue, but jerking him into clarity, too.
They were in a boat, the boat was in rough waters, and Mark was driving fast. That explained Napoleon's occasional ejaculations as they were tossed about. He had thought the unpredictable, occasionally violent motions were him, in him, of him; part of the unpredictable violence his life had become. But it was real. It was good, because it was all part of his rescue, part of Napoleon's ... "You ... you saved me! You found me?"
"Yes. I found you."
"How ... he said nobody would ever find me."
"Nobody will ever find you down here," Whiggins whispered, thrusting the metal gag down his throat, slowly, making him choke and retch in a futile attempt to push it back out. Then the other electrodes were on him, he was bound to the post and down it went into the ground, under the ground, the lid shutting, shutting him in, and life out, forever. Forever and ever ... no. No. Not forever. Napoleon had found him, had saved him, had taken him away. Was taking him away right now, flying him away across the ocean. It hadn't been years, Waverly hadn't died. He had been drugged, and that was why he felt so strange now, but the drugs would wear off and he would be all right. Wouldn't he?
"Will ... will I be all right?"
"Yes. You will absolutely be all right. You're already much better. We're talking, Illya, and you're looking around you ... want to sit up?"
"Don't let go of me!"
"I won't. But look, sweetheart. Look out there. What do you think of that?"
`That' was the expanse of the sea, waves dancing in sparkling sunlight, birds soaring overhead. A greater contrast to the cell, to the hole, couldn't be imagined. He looked, and looked some more. It seemed he could never get enough of looking - and breathing. The air was sharp and clean and smelled like salt. And hearing ... the roar of the boat's engines, the cry of those same birds, Napoleon's voice. "Mark! ETA?"
"About another forty minutes, mate!" Mark's voice, his familiar, unmistakable voice, floated back to them on the wind. "How's he doing?"
"Much better. Illya. Thirsty?"
Yes, he was thirsty. How could he have overlooked that? He was terribly thirsty, dying of thirst. Napoleon hadn't waited for an answer, had reached over, leaning away from him then back before fear could return. He placed a cup of water in Illya's hands and he drank in great gulps, soothing his throat which hurt - the gag had hurt his throat all the time but this was good, this was ...oh, no. His stomach rolled over and he made a convulsive movement, turning his face away from Napoleon, not wanting ... Napoleon moved too, a fast spin and Illya was hanging over the rail vomiting up the water, continuing to heave after it was gone, bile and saliva mixed with blood. It was bad but Napoleon's arms were still around him, Napoleon's body was pressed against his back, and after a while it was over and he crumpled, falling, caught and held. A cool wet cloth passed over his face and he licked at it, his throat flaming, thirst greater than before. He couldn't see anything anymore except some fading pinpricks of light. This glorious dream was over and he was falling back into the nightmare, to wake up bound to the post, alone in the dark forever. A great sob shook him, and then Napoleon's voice was in his ears.
"It's all right, Illya. You'll sleep for a bit and when you wake up we'll be on land. I won't let you go, sweetheart, I promise. You're safe with me."
Right. There would be no more darkness or pain or fear because Napoleon had saved him. Napoleon had come and found him, had seen him - shame flared. Napoleon had seen him covered with sweat, and blood, and urine and ... but he'd seen Napoleon too, hadn't he? He'd washed bloody diarrhea off of Napoleon, had cleaned his saliva slick face, had thought no less of him - more, for his courage and endurance. Napoleon wouldn't think less of him, either. And why did Napoleon keep calling him that word? Sweetheart. Certainly not a word for one agent to use to another. Curious, but strangely familiar too. He'd have to ask Napoleon about it later but for now he was ... he was falling asleep. That was all. Sleep. Sleep in Napoleon's arms. He tried to force one more sentence out because he had to hear it, he had to be sure Napoleon knew how important it was to keep holding on to him, in case he thought Illya was okay, that Illya was beyond needing this ... tongue to roof of mouth, sharp and hard on the consonant ... "Don't ... please don't ..."
"I won't. I won't leave you. You have my word."
His word. Napoleon's word. He had Napoleon's word, and with it, he could sleep.
Napoleon sat in the hospital waiting room, as so often before. Illya was in surgery, they had had to separate after all, but he had been allowed to stay until the anesthetic had worked, until Illya was out for the count. He had the doctors' promise that he would be with Illya when he awoke, that he would be allowed into recovery. So now he waited, sipping the coffee given him by a sympathetic nurse's aide, reading the newspaper. Well, not really. Holding the newspaper as if he were reading it because the printed page couldn't hold his attention. He couldn't get the picture of Illya as he'd found him out of his mind, so he let it be there, went over it again because it never worked, to bury such things. If Illya could endure it, the least he himself could do was remember it.
He had had Whiggins against the wall by the throat, literally choking the truth out of him. Then he and the rescue team had gone down the stone stairs into the basement. It looked like any other basement, with a wine rack against one wall, a furnace bulking large in a corner, and a throw rug in the center. He'd lifted the rug and wrenched at the trapdoor under it, pulling it up. Looking down all he could see was a flat metal floor about two feet below the surface.
"Bring him down here!" he'd rasped, and in a moment Whiggins was there, hauled by the scruff of the neck by one of Napoleon's men. Napoleon had rounded on him with such fury that the man had wet himself. "Where!"
"That button there," Whiggins sobbed. "Just press it. Get me out of here, get me away from him, he's crazy, he's -"
"Shut the fuck up" the man holding him had said, and given him a shake for good measure. "You'll stay right here until we have our agent. Alive."
Napoleon had pressed the button, and the metal floor began to rise. It rose and when it cleared the basement floor Illya came into view. Bound to a post, ropes around his forehead, his throat ... a great gag distorting his mouth, eyes squeezed shut against the feeble light in the cellar. His whole body jerked suddenly, his eyes opened, rolled back in his head and he thrashed, as if in the throes of a seizure. Then he was still, eyes half open. As more of him came into view Napoleon saw that he was bound across the chest, across the belly, over his thighs, and his knees, and his calves, and that electrodes were attached to his skin with each cord. A rage so great filled him that he had to clench his fists against it. Without turning his head, he said "Get Whiggins out of here. He's right. I'm insane. I'll kill him if I see him again." And as the terrible structure came to a stop Napoleon saw with absolute horror that those wires were connected to a machine designed to deliver shocks. Not a seizure at all, but electrocution. Right in front of him! "Turn off the current!" he spat. "Before it happens again!"
"Got it, Solo," someone said from behind him. There was a flurry of hands, and ropes were cut. Napoleon pulled out the gag, making Illya cough and choke. Then he cradled Illya in his arms, and made for the stairs.
His mind wanted to rewind it then, wanted to see it again and again; lacerating himself with it, because it was his fault that this had taken so long. He was in charge of this rescue, and every moment he had wasted following false leads, interrogating the wrong people, reading through misleading communiqués, had been another moment in hell for his partner. But he didn't, he forced himself to see the rescue through, to see the blue sky and the open sea, to see Illya's eyes open, to see that absolute relief, that complete trust that if Napoleon was there, it was all right.
So Napoleon remembered the speedboats bobbing at the dock, remembered climbing into one, still carrying Illya, while the rest of his team and Whiggins got into the other one. He had settled himself as best he could in the stern and said, "Go Mark! Go like hell!" He had wrapped Illya in a blanket and they were off, bounding over the waves.
He had comforted Illya, at the same time reeling with the additional cruelties described. Whiggins, telling Illya he had talked, telling Illya it had been years, telling Illya that rescue was never coming. And amazingly, despite all of that, within half an hour Illya was talking rationally, was aware of his new surroundings, had recognized Mark's voice. Napoleon didn't even remember everything he himself had said, pouring out reassurances and comfort and promises of safety. Whatever it had been it had worked, because Illya had been able to cooperate in the move to the stretcher, had lain quietly under the X Ray machine, He had clung to Napoleon's hand and actually smiled at him before the liquid dripping into his arm through the IV had pulled him under, so far under that when the stretcher had left Napoleon behind to enter the operating room, he hadn't moved.
So now Napoleon sat, and pretended to read the newspaper, while he waited for news.
"Mr. Solo." And his calm was false after all because he jolted at his name as if ... as if he'd been given an electric shock. The newspaper fell out of his hands, and he was on his feet without remembering how he had gotten there. Because it was so soon, too soon for the surgery to be over unless ... then he blinked because it wasn't a doctor standing there, it was Waverly.
Waverly, looking haggard. Looking ... looking sorry. Sorry for him. Napoleon made a guttural sound of agony, and sank back into the seat. "He's dead," he said dully, and Waverly shook his head.
"No. This is something else. Mr. Solo - I need you to follow through on the information we have extracted from Mr. Whiggins."
Napoleon stared at him. "When? Not ... not now?"
"Right now. There is a helicopter waiting for you on the roof pad. A suitcase and the case files are already on board."
Surely he only needed to explain. "I promised Illya I'd be there when he woke up."
"Which is, like all promises given by us, contingent on events. Events have arisen."
"Someone else - "
"Would have to be briefed, and that would waste valuable time we do not have. We have a chance here to wipe out Thrush's Northwestern branch. Whiggins hasn't stopped talking yet. You frightened him badly, Mr. Solo, and frankly all the persuasion we have needed is the offer to bring you in to interrogate him in person."
"But didn't you read - don't you know -"
"Yes. I read, and I know. And the helicopter is waiting."
He couldn't speak. He couldn't move. He could only stare at Waverly. And then he was rising, hand going to his weapon to be sure it was secure, other hand patting his pocket to check for his wallet and identification. Even as he did so he protested, while knowing it would do no good, no good at all. "He ... he believed me. He trusted me. And now I'm betraying him."
"Nonsense. He believed that you would see him through to safety. He is safe."
"Someone else could be briefed on the flight. If I'd been injured, someone else would go. You - you just want to make some kind of a point by sending me. You want to know if - if I'll go."
"Yes, in part," Waverly agreed equably. "The reasons I listed earlier are valid. But I do want to know that, Mr. Solo, and I want to know how Mr. Kuryakin will handle your going. Because if you won't, or if he can't, then other decisions will have to be made. But I will promise you this. I myself will be in recovery when he wakes. I will tell him where you have gone, and why, and how extremely reluctant you were. And when you return, unless other events arise, you may take some time to help him recover. But for now - go. Without another word, Mr. Solo. I have already been very patient. Go now."
He did. He went, then and there. He took the elevator to the roof, he climbed on board, and he watched the lights of the buildings below him dwindle and recede. He read the files, and he laid a plan, all without another word.
Napoleon's absence, the empty chair by the bed, hit Illya so hard when he first opened his eyes that he thought it had killed him. His heart faltered in his chest, and he couldn't find his breath. Good. He would die, then. Napoleon wasn't here, although Napoleon had promised, so he would just - no. How hard had he fought to stay alive in his terrible prison? He wouldn't give his life up now. He would - he would take the next breath, and the next, and surely Napoleon would show up momentarily. Maybe Napoleon was using the lavatory. He was human, after all, he had to ... and then there was a stir from the other side of the bed, by the window.
Oh. Napoleon wasn't in the chair, true, but he was here. He was ... Illya turned his head, feeling what a monumental effort it took, and blinked. He was looking at Alexander Waverly. Actually Alexander Waverly's back, because Waverly was staring out the window And he would die after all, because Waverly must be here to tell him that Napoleon was dead. What else would keep Napoleon from him? And who else would come to tell him the news? So he closed his eyes, and waited to die.
But he didn't, of course. He kept breathing in and out, his heart kept pumping, he kept on living. He shook his head in protest.
Impossible to ignore Waverly. So he opened his eyes again, and looked at him. "Napoleon's dead," he said dully and, when Waverly shook his head, life seemed possible again.
"No, Mr. Kuryakin, he is not. At least not as of his check-in less than an hour ago."
How honest Waverly was. Even in his desire to reassure - and he did desire to reassure, that was clear in his anxious eyes, his weary face - he wouldn't shade the truth. Napoleon had been alive less than an hour ago, had checked in as required from wherever he was. As of right this minute, well, Waverly wouldn't know about that, would he, so he would make no statements that might not be true. It was so typical that Illya felt his mouth curve in what almost felt, incredibly, like a smile, and saw it reflected back to him. But if Napoleon was alive, then why ... "Why isn't he ... where ... he promised me." And he hated how that came out, weak and whining and pathetic. He could feel his face growing hot. "I mean ..."
"I know what you mean. Yes, he did promise you, but like all promises men like we make it was contingent on nothing arising that required his attention. Unfortunately we did require his presence, so despite his protests - his most vehement protests, Mr. Kuryakin, to the edge of insubordination and a little over - he went. I assured him that I would be here when you awoke, to give you this information myself."
"Unless something had arisen that required your attention," Illya said, and he heard the bitterness in it. Because he wasn't something. He was nothing. He was the least of all of their concerns. He didn't mind the bitterness the way he had minded the plea. He was bitter. He turned his face away.
"Unless it had," Waverly agreed equably. "But it didn't, so here I am. And when Mr. Solo returns I have granted him some leave time to support you in your recovery."
"Unless ..." Illya began, then stopped. What was the point? Who understood the demands on an enforcement agent better than he did? So he closed his eyes again. "I'm in the hospital?"
"How am I?"
"Doing much better than expected. Your ordeal, while horrific, did not leave any permanent damage. Physically."
Physically. What was Waverly saying - or not saying? That he was damaged emotionally? Psychiatrically? Well ... he thought of those hours and days and months and years in the dark, unable to get away, sparking agony shooting through him repeatedly, and unpredictably, and ... he trembled. Where was Napoleon? Why ... why wasn't he here? Then a hand covered his forearm, squeezed it.
"Mr. Kuryakin. Is there something I can do for you? A drink of water? An extra blanket?"
He started to shake his head, then reconsidered. A drink of water? Because he was free now, wasn't he, could drink whenever he pleased just like any normal person. Water sounded wonderful. He nodded, and the hand left. In a moment he felt the bed start to rise, his head going up, and then a cup touched his lips. He parted them, and opened his eyes again at the same time. Oh, it was good to drink, not to have his mouth full of the taste of cold metal, full of that ... that thing that had silenced him, keeping the screams locked inside of him. He took the glass and, as he drank, felt the weight and warmth of a blanket over him. He looked around, saw the bedside table, and set the glass on it. "Thank you," he said politely.
"You are very welcome. Is there anything else you need, or need to know, before I leave?"
Before he ... oh. Of course Waverly had to leave. How long had he been here, away from his office, leaving who knew what vital work - to be here with him. Because Waverly had promised Napoleon he would be here when Illya woke. Maybe he wasn't completely nothing after all. He shook his head, and Waverly began to walk towards the door.
And he panicked. "Mr. Waverly!"
Waverly turned. "Yes?"
"He ... he said ... Napoleon said ... I mean." He stopped, then forced himself to go on. "How ... how long was I missing?'
"Six weeks and two days. I understand that you were told something different, but you may rest assured, Mr. Kuryakin, that both Mr. Solo and I know how to read a calendar."
"Oh. Oh, good." He closed his eyes in relief. Then they snapped open. "It's not that I didn't believe Napoleon, Mr. Waverly, but I ... I thought maybe he was trying to keep me calm. You know, on the boat."
"Well, that was not the case." He waited by the door, and Illya found a smile for him.
"I'm sorry to keep you, Mr. Waverly."
"Perfectly all right, Mr. Kuryakin. I will come by tomorrow and see you again, if that is all right."
In Napoleon's stead, Illya knew. Waverly had made a promise to Napoleon, and he intended to keep it. "You don't have to. But I do appreciate it."
"Not at all. Good evening, Mr. Kuryakin. I believe I hear the sounds of dinner. Get some rest afterwards."
"Am ... am I going to be interrogated? Deprogrammed?" He dreaded that, the questions and the probing and the drugs ... he set himself against the fear.
"Of course. You know that, Mr. Kuryakin. It is necessary."
Necessary. He turned his face away, but managed courtesy, at least. "All right."
"You have been debriefed before, and emerged carrying nothing more serious than a grudge. This time will be no different."
A grudge. That did sound like him. Then a new anxiety struck, one he had to voice, despite Waverly's obvious desire to go, to move on to the next thing. "I'm sorry to keep you, sir, but ..."
"Quite all right, Mr. Kuryakin. I understand that you have questions. What is it?"
"Whiggins said I talked. Napoleon said no, but ..." he faltered because it wasn't that he didn't believe Napoleon, it wasn't that at all, but ...
"You wish to hear it from someone less emotionally involved. I understand. No, Mr. Kuryakin, you did not talk. His communications with Thrush Central were increasingly frustrated as he reported that fact. In fact, Thrush Central was preparing to take you into their own custody, no longer having any faith in Whiggins's assurances that he could get information from you his way. That is how we found you. Mr. Solo intercepted that communiqué, complete with directions. Mr. Whiggins did fear Central - but not as much as he now fears Mr. Solo. He is telling us everything he knows."
"And that's why Napoleon had to leave. To follow up."
"To follow up," Waverly agreed. "And as for you, Mr. Kuryakin, all you have to do is recover. Debriefing will follow, and then you will be discharged." He still stood there, however, and Illya understood that he wouldn't leave without something more from him, so he gave it.
"Goodbye, Mr. Waverly. Thank you."
"Goodnight, Mr. Kuryakin."
He lay back, feeling the silence of the room, the emptiness of it, chill him through and through. He was nothing after all, because here he lay, as wretched as he had ever been in his life, and he was all alone. One is one, and all alone ... the door banged open and a nurse entered, carrying a tray.
"Illya! It's so good to see you sitting up! Now the hospital menu tonight for your condition was Jell-O and chicken noodle soup, but I know how much you love Angelo's chicken and mushroom so we sent out for that, instead, and ... voila!" She whipped the cover off the tray and there it was, steaming slightly, packets of oyster crackers arranged artfully around the cup and, to the side, a dish of orange Jell-O. "Sorry about the Jell-O," she chatted on as she set it on his bedside table and turned it so the food was directly in front of him. "But we couldn't think of a substitute for that. Now tomorrow is supposed to be powdered scrambled eggs, but we think we can do better than that for you. Here you go, sweetie." She gave him a napkin and a spoon, and a remote control. "You can watch some TV if you want, and if you need anything else just ring. Okay? George Piper and Jess Coleman wanted to visit, but the doctor said not until tomorrow. Do you mind if I put some of your get well cards up?"
He was entranced by the smell of the soup. It was one of his favorites, she was right, and as he ate it, dropping the crackers in and spooning them up, he watched her tape greeting cards on the wall beside his bed. There were so many of them! And George and Jess were coming in tomorrow? Would be here now, if it were permitted? Just like Napoleon would be. And the nurses were conspiring to feed him? It all made him feel very good, very safe, and ... and like something. Not nothing, but someone with friends and co-workers who cared about him, someone Mr. Waverly would spend his valuable time with, someone so important that very soon every moment, every action, every utterance, thought and feeling for the past six weeks would have to be gone over and analyzed. He still wished that Napoleon were here, but surely that too would come to pass. He fell asleep thinking that, deeply, profoundly asleep; not even noticing when the nurse gently removed the spoon from his hand, and lowered the head of the bed.
The day he left the hospital was a veritable party. George, his laboratory partner and very best friend besides Napoleon - always besides Napoleon but that was all right, George understood. George himself had been married for over thirty years, so he knew about somebody else coming first. George had taken a heavy, paternal interest in Illya from their first day together; scolding him for forgetting to eat, brusquely sending him home when Illya had worked too late too often, slamming his fist on the counter and roaring with anger when Illya had returned from one mission or another black and blue, concussed, recovering from drugs, emaciated, sick. Illya hadn't known how to take George at first, had tried to push him away; uncomfortable with the attention, uncomfortable with the physical contact. But George had ignored his efforts, and after a while he had given in, and allowed the friendship. Had come to rely on it.
George had visited daily since that second day, until the deprogramming had begun, keeping him out. Outraged, he had roared at the nurses, blustered at the technicians, and finally he had barged into Waverly's office. Waverly had relented, and the next time the men and their drugs and machines had left George had brought Illya his dinner himself, treating him with a gingerly caution as if Illya might explode at any moment. It had heartened him - he wasn't nothing, at least not to this big man with the rough voice and the kind heart - and made the whole ordeal easier.
Jess Coleman too had visited daily, and his rank as Chief of Security had kept him coming even while George was excluded. There was nothing in the least paternal about Jess's feelings for Illya. Jess, the first openly homosexual employee in UNCLE New York, had shattered every stereotype with his physicality - six foot two inches tall with an imposing musculature - and his deadly martial arts skills. He was infatuated with Illya, and made no attempt to hide it. He flattered him, tried to woo him with dinner dates and invitations to dances, and paid him outrageous compliments. Illya, who generally regarded men who wanted him as vipers in his path, and treated them as such, was both bemused and amused by Jess's attentions. He accepted the dinner dates and ate his fill, went to discos and clubs with him and danced without touching. He laughed at Jess's more lyrical references to his hair and his eyes, and shut him down cold when he felt Jess had breached the fine line their friendship balanced on. To do Jess credit, Illya had only had to do that twice. Jess had apologized fulsomely both times, and to this day he hadn't approached that line again. During the long, intensive questioning Jess had stood sentinel by the door, and gave an occasional loud throat clearing when he felt they were pressing Illya too hard.
"He's not Thrush," he'd snapped once, when they had denied Illya the water he'd asked for, and brought the carafe and glass over himself. Illya was grateful. And he was grateful to the nursing staff, who had continued to bring him special meals, and to his co-workers who continued to flood his room with cards and flowers and balloons. And now, as Illya was getting ready to leave, carrying - Waverly had been right there - a monumental grudge against the deprogramming team, he was grateful to Napoleon. Napoleon had contacted the hospital with the information that Illya Kuryakin was welcome to go to Solo's own penthouse on release, thus removing the concern about the four flights of stairs leading up to Illya's apartment. Illya had accepted - he loved Napoleon's apartment, and it would make him feel closer to Napoleon to be there.
Because the shadow on his recovery was Napoleon's continuing absence. He was still running down the remnants of Thrush's presence in western North America. And every capture, every infiltration, every satrap overrun, led them further. Thrush was actually attempting to make deals at this point, and Whiggins was in the tightest of protective custody to keep him safe from his former colleagues. That Whiggins doubtless wished most fervently that he had never laid eyes on Illya Kuryakin made Illya feel better. He thought again of Napoleon's arms, Napoleon's voice, Napoleon's odd use of that odd word for him - `sweetheart' - what kind of thing was that for one spy to call another? Of course, what kind of spy had a hospital room filled with balloons, and cards, and even a giant teddy bear permanently ensconced in the visitor's chair?
"I believe this is the beginning of Thrush's end," Waverly had said on his last visit. "We have too much of their territory, and Mr. Solo is now tracking down the Ultimate Computer. If we can get that ..." he didn't finish, and he didn't have to. Illya had nodded, and thought that a future spent mostly in the science labs instead of running around the world killing to avoid being killed had a lot to recommend it. But he wished Napoleon were here. He would look Napoleon in the eye, thank him for his rescue, thank him for the loan of his apartment, and ask him what on earth he had meant by calling his partner his sweetheart.
He had been in residence in Napoleon's apartment for three weeks when Napoleon came home. Illya had found himself relaxing completely into the comfort, luxury, and security all around him. It was restful to watch mindless television while curled on Napoleon's enormous leather couch, sipping wine from Napoleon's fine crystal glasses. It was very pleasant to read on the balcony overlooking Central Park while Napoleon's staff, all with high security ratings of their own, efficiently and silently cleaned the apartment, so it was always orderly, always spotless, always completely stocked with whatever he might need or desire. It was fun to invite George and Jess over, feed them from the freezer full of homemade meals cooked by Napoleon himself during hiatuses between missions, and kept for times just like this. They watched ball games together, and drank beer, and laughed, and talked into the night. When they left Illya locked the door, reset the alarms, and read himself to sleep in Napoleon's big bed, with its excellent mattress and goose down comforters.
There was a guest room, and that was where he had always slept before, but when he had arrived here from the hospital, shaking and exhausted from nothing more than the discharge process and the cab ride, the guest room bed was stripped and bare. Napoleon's, on the other hand, was fully made up; covers invitingly folded back, and the latest book by one of Illya's favorite authors was on the bedside table. The message was clear so Illya had dropped his clothes to the floor and crept naked between the fine sheets; comfortable and secure under the covers. He had slept the rest of the day and the whole night through, waking fully alert and ravenously hungry in the morning. He had fried eggs and made toast, drank orange juice and coffee out on the balcony with the morning paper, which had been lying on the front doormat, as it always was when someone was in residence.
He missed Napoleon, but he wasn't lonely besides that. He had always enjoyed solitude, and a day didn't pass without someone - George, Jess, Waverly himself, stopping by to check up on him. One of UNCLE's psychologists had come over the second day after Illya's arrival, and when Illya had snarled at him he had smiled, made a note in his little book, and left. Embarrassed by his bad manners Illya had put his head out into the corridor, called him back, and offered him coffee. The man had accepted, and they had passed a pleasant interval before he had left again. It was all good, and Illya was beginning to chafe at the inactivity and wish he could get back to work when he heard Napoleon's key in the lock.
He leapt up and hurried to remove the chain from the door, then stepped back as Napoleon entered. He was dripping wet, and shaking raindrops off of his jacket. Illya had heard the thunderstorm as he watched television, but had never thought that Napoleon was out in it, paying a cab perhaps, entering the building, coming home. To him. Home to him.
He felt shy with Napoleon suddenly. Napoleon, who had seen him in the depths. Napoleon, who had called him sweetheart. He didn't know what to say, couldn't meet Napoleon's eyes. Because of that he was taken completely by surprise when Napoleon pulled him into an embrace, holding him hard, and surprised even further that Napoleon was shaking.
"Are you cold?" he managed, because Napoleon was not only shaking, he was wet through.
"No," Napoleon answered then sneezed, turning his head just in time. "Well, yes, I am, but that's not why ..." his voice broke and he clutched Illya harder to him. "I am so sorry, Illya," he said, and he was weeping now. Napoleon! Strong, brave, proud Napoleon Solo, weeping into Illya's hair. Shocked, horrified, Illya put his arms around Napoleon in his turn, patting his back, feeling inadequate.
"Don't -" he began, and Napoleon shook his head.
"I promised I'd be there, and I wasn't. I left you. I told you I'd be there when you woke up, and I left you. For the job, for the job, for the fucking job!"
"It's all right," Illya said, and it was. It had been a dreadful jolt to wake, turn his head and not see Napoleon, but it hadn't killed him, had it? And Waverly - "Mr. Waverly was there. He told me where you were, and why, and how much you didn't want to go."
"He said he would. But I wasn't sure - something might have come up."
"Something might have," Illya agreed. "But it didn't. He stayed until it was all right for me to see him leave."
"Did you have to go through debriefing?"
"Sons of bitches."
"And I wasn't here to ... to buffer it for you."
"Yes. But it's all right. You were doing something important, Napoleon. Who understands that better than I do? And Jess was here. He didn't let them get too carried away."
"Great. Jess Coleman. I hate the way he's always sniffing around you."
"Nice, Napoleon. Very nice. And you need to get out of those wet clothes and take a hot shower. I'm all right. Really. And thank you for rescuing me." Now it was his turn to shudder, and Napoleon's arms tightened. It felt good. He rubbed his cheek against Napoleon's shoulder. Napoleon squeezed him once more, then stepped back, wiping his face with the back of his arm.
"Well." He smiled ruefully. "Not the homecoming I had planned."
"I'm sure. But it's all right. You are home. That's all that matters."
"Yes, I am. I'm home, you're home - we. We are home."
"Well, technically speaking, I'm not really -"
"Yes, you are. You are home. Sweetheart."
"Ah." Illya stood for a long time, thinking it over. Thinking it through. Napoleon stood too, watching him. Waiting. Then Illya smiled at him.
"All right. I'm home. Moy dorogoy."
They didn't have sex that night. Illya had expected them to - what else would follow the embraces, the endearments, the - proposal? They would go to bed, and they would have sex. He didn't really know how he felt about that. It would be good, he supposed, because Napoleon was good, and besides, he loved Napoleon, and Napoleon obviously loved him. Neither one had actually said it, but he knew that it was true for both. Napoleon's shaking body, his breaking voice, his tears - all spoke of love far more eloquently than the most flowery phrases could have done. Napoleon would never let down his guard so completely unless there was not only trust, but love. And of course he loved Napoleon, of course he did. So now he lived here, now he was Napoleon's sweetheart and Napoleon was his. So next would come the sex.
He had wondered about it while Napoleon took a shower, and came out in pajamas and robe, rubbing his hair dry. He wondered about it while Napoleon made himself an omelet and toast and, seeing the way Illya was eyeing it, laughed and gave it to him, cooking another one. "It feels like breakfast time to me, even though I'm tired enough to sleep the day through," he said, and that was all he said of where he had been. Illya nodded, ate his toast, and went back to worrying about the sex.
What would it be like? Would there be, well, intercourse? If so, he was ready for it. He trusted Napoleon, and Napoleon would want above all else to make it good for him, so it would be. Good. For him. But that was a fairly extreme act, considering that as far as he knew all Napoleon's experience was with women. Probably Napoleon wouldn't want to start there.
So what would they do? He could ... penetrate Napoleon, he supposed, but if being on top was too much for Napoleon, he certainly wouldn't want to reverse their positions. Illya couldn't really picture doing it anyway, although a flash of heat went through him at the attempt. To be inside Napoleon, to be a part of that dark, focused intensity, to ... he could feel his face heating up. And when Napoleon looked at him as if noticing, as if about to ask why, he jumped up to refill his juice, blushed furiously when he knocked over the chair, and even more furiously when Napoleon pointed to the juice carton right there on the table.
"Illya? You okay?"
"Yes." He sat down again. "Yes. I'm fine." He drank deeply, relieved when Napoleon returned to his meal.
So ... so what would they do? He could use his mouth. Napoleon would like that. He could ... oh, he could give Napoleon pleasure, and there would be pleasure in that as well, for him. But then ... maybe Napoleon would feel obliged to return the ... um, favor. And he probably didn't want to. Sucking cock - that seemed to go beyond experimentation, beyond ... no. Napoleon wouldn't want to do that.
Well, they could use their hands. And they could just press up against one another ... frottage, his mind obligingly supplied the word. That didn't sound as farfetched as the rest of it. And he could hold on to Napoleon, and Napoleon would hold on to him, and they would rub up against one another, and ... and kiss.
Napoleon would kiss him. He didn't have to wonder how that would be. It would be wonderful. Napoleon was a wonderful kisser, everybody he dated agreed on that. It would be ... it would be the sort of kiss that made Thrush women open prison cells, that kept women like Angelique coming back for more, and ... would that continue? He frowned. Maybe Napoleon thought that would be the arrangement. He could date, and Illya could too, he supposed, because Napoleon was nothing if not fair - but they would live together and ... and fill in the empty hours with one another? He wasn't aware that he was frowning until Napoleon laughed out loud.
"What? What's funny?"
"You. Why are you scowling so ferociously? That empty plate? I'll make another omelet for you, or something else if you want. You don't have to sit there contemplating murder and mayhem."
"Is that how I look?"
"That's how you look."
"I was wondering if you're going to keep on dating now. And if you are what am I supposed to do, go in the guest room and turn the music up? Leave? Should I keep my apartment then? If I'm out when you bring them home what will you do, hang a tie on the door? Because I don't think ... stop laughing at me!"
"I'm sorry. It's just the way you fixate on the details tickles me, Illya, you know that. And no, I don't plan to date. I plan ... I want to be faithful to you. Otherwise what's the point of living together, of all this ... well, all this." He made a sweeping gesture that included Illya himself, the apartment, the table, his nightwear. "I love you." He stopped, looking surprised. "That was supposed to be the first thing out of my mouth. I love you. Losing you ... that brought it home to me like a ton of bricks. I love you. I wasn't the least bit interested in dating all that time you were missing, and that showed me how shallow it is, how expendable."
"All right. Good." He said that without thinking and colored again, but Napoleon's smile made him smile too. "Good," he repeated.
"In fact, I'd buy you a ring if I thought for one moment you'd wear it."
"I'd wear it," Illya said, surprised that Napoleon should think he wouldn't. "If you wear one too."
"Done. We'll go to Tiffany's, and pick them out together."
"That will raise the clerk's eyebrows a bit. Don't you think it might be awkward?"
"No, I don't. When you're spending the kind of money I - we will be spending, they don't raise any eyebrows at all, and they certainly don't try to make it awkward. You'll see."
Napoleon said nothing further, and Illya again went back to wondering about the sex. He couldn't help it. It hadn't been mentioned, and he certainly wasn't bringing it up. Napoleon must have a plan. If he saw monogamy and wedding rings in their immediate future, he must have considered the sex. Illya rather wished Napoleon had let him in on the results of that consideration. Who would initiate it? Napoleon, he supposed. Maybe Napoleon would use the same smooth, practiced moves on him that he preferred with his women. In that case Napoleon would move closer, as if casually. Napoleon would look into his eyes and say something flattering, about Illya's hair, or his mouth. Napoleon would lean in, as if wanting a closer look at whatever feature he had singled out for notice. And then ... then, Napoleon would kiss him. That would bring their bodies very close together, making the frottage a likely development. But at some point they would have to remove their clothes. At some point they would have to lie down. Illya had no idea how that went because Napoleon had never carried things further in his presence. He knew how it went when he was with a woman - they kissed, they separated and stripped, they got into bed together and completed the act. It had always seemed rather perfunctory to him, and he was always surprised when the woman pursued him, and indicated that she would like a repeat performance. He rarely gave it, although there had been exceptions. Is that how it would go with Napoleon? They would kiss, then they would walk into the bedroom and strip before lying down together and ...
"Let's go to bed, Illya," Napoleon said, and there was a deep tenderness in his voice that made Illya look at him in surprise. "You're half asleep already."
"No I'm not," he protested, but he rose anyway. He followed Napoleon into the bedroom, and watched him climb under the covers. He felt awkward.
"Um, I have to brush my teeth, and ..." he should shower, shouldn't he. If they were about to get intimate he could at least be clean. Napoleon was clean. "And shower. And all."
"I'll be here."
Flustered, Illya went into the bathroom, brushed his teeth, shaved again, and showered. He scrubbed himself thoroughly, and as he did so he pictured Napoleon's hands where he was soaping himself, Napoleon's cock up against his own, Napoleon's mouth ... he shivered, and turned off the water.
He dried himself carefully, taking his time. He was undeniably nervous now. He couldn't even think about the future Napoleon had planned for them both for fear that it would all fall apart if the wrong things happened within the next hour or so. But he wouldn't hide in the bathroom all night, he would go out and face it. He would ... he opened the bathroom door, and the light from the ceiling fixture spilled out into the darkened bedroom, onto the bed.
Napoleon was asleep. He was sound asleep, and even snoring a little.
Oh. Illya stood there for a moment, nonplussed. Then he turned off the bathroom light, and soundlessly padded across the carpet to the bed. For a moment he just stood there, looking down at Napoleon; features relaxed, body sprawled out. A wave of tenderness flooded him. Napoleon must be very tired. Of course he was. He'd been gone for weeks chasing down Thrush. Who knew when he had slept last? And before that he had been searching for Illya. Illya wondered if Napoleon had actually gotten the Ultimate Computer. If he had, their jobs would be changing rapidly. Their lives would ... well, they already had. Napoleon was on the outside of the bed so Illya walked around it and very carefully climbed in, trying not to disturb Napoleon. But Napoleon stirred, moved, rolled towards him. Draped an arm around Illya's waist and pulled him closer. Sighed, deeply - a sound of such contentment that Illya's eyes stung - and subsided again into stillness.
Lying within that strong circle Illya stopped wondering, stopped picking at the ramifications, the possibilities, the positions. He gave a sigh of his own, moved a little nearer, and fell asleep too.
Illya awoke to a frisson of pleasure, running all through him. He lay still, eyes closed, wondering ... and it was repeated. He couldn't even identify the action causing it, because the sensation itself was so strong. That made him curious, though, and he did open his eyes. Napoleon's face was very close to his, Napoleon was propped up on one elbow, Napoleon ... and then Napoleon slid a hand, one hand, just one hand causing all this ... down Illya' body, from his collarbone to his chest, around and down his side, around again to his lower back. Illya gasped, pressed closer and Napoleon lay down beside him, pulled him in, and their bodies were pressed against one another; close, urgently close and he was moving, Napoleon was moving ... frottage after all, he thought, and laughed with joy. How easy it was, after all of his thinking and predicting and worrying. How easy, to ... to love Napoleon. For Napoleon to love him.
They loved one another so thoroughly, and so completely, that the finish rushed in with all the power of an ocean tide. First Illya, then Napoleon, cried aloud, gasped and sobbed and clutched at the other before Napoleon fell onto his back, gasping, and Illya threw off the too heavy bedcovers, panting, and they just lay there. Napoleon reached out and took Illya's hand, and Illya smiled, turned his head. Napoleon was looking at him, too, and they smiled at one another.
"Okay?" Napoleon asked, and Illya nodded, smile widening.
"Yes," he answered, and they were beaming at one another now
"I'm sorry I fell asleep on you last night," Napoleon said then, and Illya shook his head.
"I was tired too," he answered. "And you must have been exhausted. Did you ... did you find their Ultimate Computer?"
"Oh." Illya lay quietly, pondering this. "Then things are going to change around the office," he said at last, and Napoleon chuckled.
"To say the least. I'm sure they are already changing even as we speak. But we're both off for the rest of the weekend so they can change without us for now. When we go back in I'm quite sure we'll have new job descriptions, new duties and responsibilities to go along with our new relationship status."
Yes, he supposed they would. "Some people already think we are," he ventured, and Napoleon laughed again. Illya smiled, hearing it.
"And now some people are right. Illya - let's shower and wash this little interlude off of us, all right?"
"Interlude?" He pretended to be offended because he wasn't really, he knew Napoleon better than that. Still, it was fun to ..."is that what it was?"
"No," Napoleon said, rolling over and pinning him flat on his back with his own weight. "Allow me to rephrase. `Let's go shower and wash the evidence of this life changing, earth shaking event off of us.' Better?"
"Come on then." He got off the bed, pulling Illya along with him. They went into the shower together and, after washing one another with careful hands, Napoleon went down on his knees and took Illya into his mouth.
Stunned into immobility Illya clutched at the railing for support. His legs gave way and he sank down onto the seat obligingly provided. It was fast - how could it be so fast, when he'd just ... although it had been a while ... shut up, he thought at his brain impatiently. Stop thinking and just ... just ... he came with a groan that seemed to tear his chest - his heart - open, and then he just sat there, panting. Napoleon leaned his elbows on Illya's thighs and looked at him searchingly. "All right?"
"Why do you keep asking me that? Of course it was all right. It was wonderful. I didn't think you'd want to do that."
"Not my first time."
"Oh." Illya eyed him for a moment. "And therein lies a tale?"
"Maybe," Napoleon allowed. He rose, stretching, and turned off the water. He was erect again, and that was reassuring because if this act had aroused him then he really was in this all the way, he really did ... so Illya returned the favor. Napoleon's sharp cry thrilled him down to his toes, Napoleon's hands cupped his head urgently - but gently, too, so gently, and that aroused him again which was crazy, wasn't it, just crazy. How long could they keep this back and forth, tit for tat, going?
He found out in Napoleon's bed, after they'd changed the sheets and tumbled back into it together, laughing, and then kissing, and then ... forever. It could go on forever. Forever together, just the two of them; sometimes tit for tat, sometimes simultaneously. Forever.