I have a special mix of emotions I use sometimes. It comes with a facial expression I've never yet caught in the mirror, but which I know is really quite specific. It's a mixture of amusement, resignation, understanding, maybe a little disappointment too. I use it a few times a month and I only use it for one thing: Napoleon's dates.
I understand that Napoleon has some basic, desperate need to date female after female. He's crazy about their bodies. He'll sit there and quite openly watch their backsides as they walk away from him. He'll happily stare at their breasts while he's talking to them, unless he knows he won't get away with it, and he's perceptive enough to know when that will be. He loves to touch women, to feel how fragile they are, how much smaller and more delicate than he is. He likes the slight feeling of power, I suppose, or maybe the feeling of being a protector, but mostly it is purely the physical. He certainly never wants them for their intellectual capabilities, or even their personalities... No, that's not fair. I have seen him gently dissuade some of the complete airheads we've been stuck with on assignment... but not many.
He knows that expression better than I do, but I'm not sure he thinks about it much. He's forever going off with some innocent or other, taking them out to dinner when we're all done with the business side of things, and not giving a thought to the fact that she might have been looking at me more than him, or that it's the end of a long working day and I might like the company of someone who's just been through the same thing to chew over the day's events together. It never occurs to him that it's almost obscene the number of women he dates. Oh, what am I being so coy about? The number of women he beds.
Not that I care. He can sleep with the whole world for all I care. Really. I'd just like a break from the horrible predictability of it. That's all.
I may once have mentioned wanting a break from predictability. Next time I make declarations like that, somebody shoot me.
Today I watched Napoleon leave the girl in the hotel restaurant with me at the end of a dull, short-lived mission. I didn't want her, and I was too intrigued to know what he was up to to bother being polite and entertaining her, so I fished some money out of my pocket, put it on the table for her, and followed him at a distance. I can tail almost anybody without being caught, even Napoleon, if he's not paying attention, and he wasn't. I should have brought him down with a sleep dart just to remind him to stay alert when we're still theoretically on duty and at risk. Actually, our faces are known and we are always at risk. All the more reason for him to watch out.
He climbed the hotel stairs and knocked on a door. I shrank back into a doorway and heard him being let in. I waited for the door to slam, then gave it a few seconds in case he hadn't actually gone inside. Then I came out and listened at the door. There was no sound, the door was too thick. We were at the turn of the corridor and a window opened out onto a ledge I was sure would run past that room's window. I climbed out, worked my way along, praying that I wasn't about to kill myself just to spy on my partner. It never even occurred to me to ask myself why I was so keen to check up on a man I trusted without reservation.
The window of the room was open, but the blind was down and I crouched there, listening. I heard two voices, Napoleon's and another man's, but with the noise of the street traffic, it was indistinct. I waited there for a long time. Maybe half an hour. Then the light went out, and ten minutes later, I let myself drop into the room. Napoleon must have gone, but I could at least scout around and see what I could find.
I crouched in the darkness by the window, hoping the man was asleep. In the shadows, I could see the bed, a form in it breathing regularly. I stood up slowly, watching for any sign of him waiting. A shaft of light lit the far side of the bed where the bathroom light had been carelessly left on. It lit Napoleon's face. Correction, naked in the over-hot hotel room, it lit Napoleon's body. And the body of another man. It also caught the glint of pearly semen across the other man's thigh: he had fallen asleep without even bothering to wipe a hand down his thigh.
They were not touching. They lay apart, dreaming separate dreams, yet the knowledge of what they must have just done did terrible things to me.
It was not disgust. I thought at first that it was, but a second or two convinced me otherwise. There were thoughts whirling in my head that did not tally with disgust. The bottom of my stomach seemed to be missing. There was a vacuum there, an aching void which made me want to rush to the bathroom. I didn't. I just stood there, with cold sweat running down the small of my back, down between my buttocks and onto my legs which started to shake. I willed them to be still, scrubbed my sweating palms against my shirt and swallowed, wishing I had some saliva to swallow with. Then I got out. I didn't even bother to go back out of the window. I just left by the door, hearing the grunt of someone waking behind me.
I went back to my room. Our room. I sat on my bed and thought.
I cared dreadfully about what I had just seen. I cared because Napoleon was sleeping with a man. Let him sleep with the world... No. Let him sleep with the women, because when he is sleeping with women, he is not 'not sleeping with me'. He is simply not sleeping with men. I never realised that it mattered that he wasn't sleeping with me. That's the curse of the rational brain, it can rationalise things away before you've even had a chance to consider them.
I was suddenly sick with emotion, and that emotion was, unbelievably, undoubtedly, jealousy.
The lock clicked and I couldn't bring myself to move before he was in and standing in front of me, fully clothed.
'Illya?' I looked up and he took a step back. 'You look dreadful,' he said. I expect I did. I suspect all the blood had drained from my face—it felt cold enough—and my expression must have been easily readable even by him.
'Napoleon,' I said, very quietly.
'Were you just in... ah, I mean, did you see...' He looked at me, desperately asking for help.
I didn't help him. It was bad enough that he wanted men, but he didn't want me. That, I realised, was the worst of it all. But for him to ask... Any decent person would have kept quiet, pretended they didn't know I'd seen.
'Illya, please. I can see it's upset you, but... dammit, what I do in my own time is my own business, and you shouldn't have been in there,' he shouted, trying to be angry, but even in my wretched state I could see it was an act... and I wondered why. He had every right to be angry. Partners don't spy on each other like that. Nobody decent invades somebody else's room without good reason. His faked temper drifted away.
'I'm sorry you found out that way. I probably should have told you, but... well, it's not the sort of thing you talk about, is it?' I shook my head. He went on. 'I don't do it often, just when I need...' He tailed off and I sighed, looking across at him as he sat down next to me on the bed, but keeping his distance. I looked back at my hands, waiting for him to either try to explain himself in whatever way he felt he needed to, or to give up and go to bed.
'Illya? Does me doing... doing that bother you that much?'
'No. No. Do what you like. It's none of my business if it doesn't get us killed.'
'...Okay,' he said hesitantly. 'But you seem pretty upset for someone who doesn't mind.' I could have hit him for his crassness. I didn't care. I didn't, I didn't. It was just that a hope I hadn't even realised I was harbouring had just died an unpleasant death.
'I could have shot you if I'd heard you creeping around that room.'
'That would have killed me, Illya.'
I looked at him, too full of despair to try any kind of deception on him.
'I only have sex with other men when I want...' he tried again, but again he tailed off. The indecision galled me and I snapped at him.
'For god's sake, Napoleon. When you want what? Something a bit rough? Some unknown stranger taking you from behind? Ramming himself into you without caring who you are or what you do? Okay, fine. Just keep it to yourself, I don't need to know that.'
'He didn't!' Napoleon sounded offended. 'I wouldn't let... That's for...' He put his head back, rolled it on his shoulders for a moment, staring at the ceiling. 'I only do it because I don't dare to...' He got up from the bed, went to the bathroom and slammed the door. In a second or two, I heard the shower running. I kicked off my shoes and swung my feet up onto the bed to sit cross-legged.
'What?' I thought to myself. 'Napoleon's no coward. What can't he tell me?'
He emerged from the bathroom ten minutes later, hair wet, looking as if he'd scrubbed his skin half off. He was bright pink, the white towel wrapped around his waist making the colouring or obvious. I frowned at him and he came up to me, fiercely jamming the corner of the towel behind itself to hold it in place. He grabbed my arms and spoke quickly and emotionlessly.
'I do it when I want you too badly. Because I can't have you. And with them I can pretend.'
My stomach did its disappearing act again and I think I said 'Ungh.' He was still gripping my arms, as if that was all that was stopping him running out of the room.
'You probably can't understand that, but I didn't force you to follow me,' he spat.
I felt the top of my nose contract, the prickle that accompanies the lump in the throat, and I was furious with myself for caring that much. So furious that words fell out of my mouth without me even thinking, words as flat and angry as his had been.
'Why can't you have me?'
He let go instantly, his brain forming an incoherent sentence for him,
'Because you don't, I know you, I thought you, you...'
I grabbed his tie, the stupid, striped tie he'd been wearing in the restaurant and had actually put back on to come back to our room, as if the corridors were teeming with sartorial critics. I pulled him towards me, straightened my legs and dragged him between them.
'Well, revise your opinions, Napoleon, because I do, and you can.' I kissed him hard, not caring that he was off balance and his arms were flailing wildly through the air. I let him go and at the change of force, he fell, landing on top of me, his eyes wide and scared. I didn't blame him. I was scared, scared at how very fast my heart was beating; scared at how much I wanted to kiss this man, hold him to me, make love to him. That's a lot of desire to have suddenly dump itself, truthfully and irrefutably in your brain. He breathed out, pushing himself only inches off me.
'You're joking, Illya. I know you better than that.'
'You would have had to have known me better than I do,' I gasped, crushed by his weight.
He stared at me, confused. Then a small smile cracked his face and what I will self-importantly call wonder, filled his eyes. He pushed himself off me, touched my face. I glared at him. He shrank away. I grabbed his wrist,
'No, don't stop, just don't be so damn coy about it.'
He grinned then and it broke something hard inside me. We kissed again, and this time it was both of us, both of us doing something we hadn't dreamed of, and doing it with pleasure. Just occasionally, things happen without you having to think about them. Things happen without your realising they are even a possibility.
I have a special mix of emotions I use sometimes. I only use them if Napoleon looks at another man, or if I think he's looking too meaningfully at a woman (because I know they still fascinate him, and they always will, but he can't have everything). It comes with a facial expression Napoleon is fairly keen not to see, but then, he rarely even wants to run the risk now, not since that night. It's a mixture of annoyance, determination and maybe just a little hint of jealousy with anger on standby if I think he's considering doing anything about it. I only use it about once a year, if that. And I only use it because I love him.