The Solstice Affair
He closed the gate and glanced around as he set the perimeter alarm. Only the lumpy idle of the old Ford pickup rumbling next to him on the track disturbed the silence. The waning afternoon sun tipped the distant snowy peaks in coral and cerise and indigo and lilac. Their reflections in the lake below him shimmered with cold intensity.
Almost Christmas and by two thirty the mercury began to drop. A light breeze ruffled his hair puffing a soft, dark comma down over his forehead. He hadn't the will to do more than merely shake it out of his eyes. With a last look round he climbed back into the truck and coaxed the grinding gears to mesh. He let in the clutch and the vehicle lurched reluctantly forwards.
As the pickup bucked along the rutted track he glanced across to the passenger seat; at the thick legal envelope tucked incongruously amongst the grocery sacks. His mouth set in a grim line. Waverly had clearly succeeded in his intent to bring forward the declaration of death. He refused to think about it, concentrating instead on avoiding the worst of the potholes as the truck breasted the final rise and began the jarring descent to the cabin.
Catching sight of the cabin's jetty through the trees to his left, he narrowed his eyes as he thought he saw a figure standing there looking out over the lake. His hand automatically sought the weapon under the seat and withdrew it carefully. At the next gap in the trees, the jetty was empty.
He swallowed hard around the sudden lump in his throat and cast a contemptuous eye once more at the envelope headed with the name of Illya's lawyers. He cursed the power of suggestion that had allowed him to conjure the vision against all reason.
He drew up under the pines behind the cabin and switched off the engine. After the splutter and roar of the ancient contraption the silence was shocking. He leaned forward and rested his forehead on his hands on the steering wheel, squeezing his eyes shut to banish the images that rolled over him.
It was futile.
The stuff of his dreams or, more accurately, his nightmares played through its familiar sequence; the appalling argument ending, as always, with Illya walking out of the apartment straight into a disastrous solo mission.
He hadn't been seen or heard from since.
Two years. Two years...
For the first six months Napoleon had searched exhaustively at Alexander Waverly's behest. For the next six months, as missions allowed, he'd searched exhaustively in defiance of instructions to the contrary from Waverly. At the end of that period, faced with a choice of ceasing the search altogether or being pulled from the field, he'd resigned. A further six months of fruitless searching had all but consumed his finite resources. Finally he'd buried himself here to regroup and lick his wounds and wonder whether life would ever again have any meaning for him.
Eventually, he opened his eyes and roughly wiped the dampness from his cheeks with the back of his hand.
Tucking the automatic into the back waistband of his trousers, he got out of the pickup and walked round towards the passenger side to collect the groceries. As he opened the door the hairs on the back of his neck began to rise.
In one smooth movement he dropped to one knee and brought his weapon round and upwards to bear on... nothing. Despite the gathering twilight it was still clear enough to see. There was no one there. Napoleon tossed back the fall of hair from his forehead but kept his weapon raised. The hairs at his nape remained at attention. Experience had taught him that until they stood down he should not relax his guard.
Coming up into a crouch he moved forward stealthily around the edge of the cabin towards the lake. It was brighter here beyond the shade of the pines and the lake's surface was turning to a rich gold as the sun dipped towards the distant peaks.
Napoleon squinted into the low sun—and his heart began to hammer in his chest. There, at the end of the jetty, was a figure standing silhouetted against the setting sun.
Never taking his eyes from the solitary figure and without lowering his weapon, Napoleon worked his way round the front of the cabin. Using the meagre cover available, he finally stood at the landward end of the wooden boarding breathing hard, his heart still pounding. He was unable to see the backlit figure clearly.
The figure slowly took its hands from its pockets and, holding them away from its sides, turned to face him.
"It's taken me six months to find you, Napoleon," came the familiar, exasperated growl. "I'd hoped we might at least talk before you killed me."
In that moment neither movement nor speech seemed feasible, so Napoleon simply waited, trembling slightly, as the figure walked along the jetty towards him. The sun slipping down behind the distant mountains burnished the tousled, pale hair to a dark reddish-gold. Barefoot, despite the cold, and dressed in faded Levis and an ancient leather flying jacket, the image seared itself onto Napoleon's retinae.
His gun hand was now shaking so much that he dropped it to his side. After several false starts he was finally able to swallow. The figure stopped in front of him, so close that he could feel the body heat and—oh... yes—the scent that was uniquely and wholly...
"Illya," he breathed, raising his gaze hesitantly.
The eyes that met his were startlingly blue in the tanned face and they interrogated his soul in an instant. He cursed inwardly. Despite all his ability in negotiation and diplomacy, he'd never managed to acquire the skill of dissembling before his partner's acute perception.
"Shh." He pressed a finger to the irresistible lips—which opened slowly and sucked the tip inside.
He whimpered, and then was lost completely as Illya's mouth abandoned the finger and took his lips in an uncompromising kiss that stole his breath and finally left him devastated. Shattered and restored once more.
When it ended they stood gasping, foreheads resting together.
"Napoleon," panted Illya, snatching another kiss. "I think," another swift kiss, "we need to talk."
Napoleon tipped up his friend's chin and locked eyes with him. Slowly he shook his head, grasping Illya's hand and interlocking their fingers.
"No," he whispered hoarsely, turning them towards the cabin. "I think we need to fuck.