|Napoleon Solo was dead.
Which wasn't all that bad, really.
No one could see him but Illya. Or hear him. And he couldn't touch anything, or anyone without Illya's help.
But it could have been worse.
It could have stayed like it was the first two weeks. Napoleon still shuddered to remember. No one could see him. No one could hear him. No one could touch him. Not even Illya. Two weeks in Illya's apartment, watching him go silently to pieces. There were times Napoleon hadn't known for whose sake he wanted most to be heard -- for himself, going mad in his well of nothingness, or Illya, desperately needing and unable to feel a friend's touch. Napoleon's touch.
It was foolish, he had realized since, to think Illya meant to kill himself. At the time, taking into account Illya's odd demeanor, and the loaded gun he'd cocked by his ear, Napoleon had been terrified. In retrospect, Illya hadn't removed the safety, and Napoleon had often seen him make a similar gesture: listening to the snick as a bullet slid into place, feeling the satisfying weight of his gun. He didn't begrudge Illya his amusement over the panic he'd sent Napoleon into. It was that panic, Napoleon was sure, which had finally broken through -- had finally, somehow, made Napoleon visible to Illya.
He'd never told Illya of his hesitation -- just a moment before the panic set in, during which some hell-born imp had whispered in his ear. If Illya killed himself, it whispered, then Napoleon need no longer be alone. He'd never told Illya. Tried, in fact, not to think of it.
No, it really wasn't so bad to be dead.
In fact, there were times Napoleon rather thought he enjoyed it. Like now, standing on one of Manhattan's busiest streets, letting people ebb and flow down the sidewalk through him. Each walked away with an icy shudder, a look back as if to say "what's so different about that spot? Crazy New York weather." Napoleon grinned, reveling in the one absolute way he could have an unaided affect on the world around him.
Aside from the obvious drawbacks, his inability to touch might be the worst part of being dead. Wasn't it Charles Dickens who said the greatest torment in death was to look on the miseries that, in life, one might have been able to lessen, but in death were unable to affect? Something like that, anyway. Napoleon had it better than, he presumed, most -- Illya could see him, speak with him, hear what he knew, what he wanted to do. Illya could help him touch the world, but it wasn't the same. For all the good he'd done while alive, he could now only affect the world, for good or ill, at second hand.
With one exception: he could make people cold. And he could feel them when they walked through him. It wasn't a particularly pleasant sensation, but it was there -- the only thing he felt outside Illya's auspices.
A man in an ill-fitting check suit walked through Napoleon with a loud shiver. Napoleon laughed. He shook himself and started along the sidewalk. Illya would be getting home soon, and they had a dinner date with Mark and April. Ever since they'd discovered, about three months ago, that it was possible for Napoleon to touch other people, with Illya's help, they'd met at least once a week with the younger agents. Napoleon enjoyed it, knew it meant as much to both Mark and April as it did to him, perhaps more, but he found it inordinately draining.
He wanted Illya to himself for a while before the others
arrived. He needed... Napoleon snorted. This was one ghost who needed
Invisibly he stood, invisibly he watched.
Illya kicked the door shut with his foot and went to dump his armload of packages on the kitchen table. He went back to secure the door and turned from it with an expectant look in his blue eyes.
He didn't reply at first, took great pleasure, instead, in watching Illya busy himself in the kitchen, putting away groceries, sticking the take-out he'd bought in the oven to keep warm until Mark and April arrived. Even in the most mundane of activities, Illya's body moved with a sinuous grace which took Napoleon's breath away. How was it he'd never reached for this while alive? His incredible fortune, in being able to have it while dead, did not escape him. Who, Napoleon wondered, did one offer prayers of thanksgiving to for being able to bed one's partner in the afterlife?
"Napoleon? Where are you?"
Illya had often teased Napoleon about disappearing into a cheshire grin. He let his mouth show first, though the smile on his lips was far more lascivious than the cheshire cat's. Illya snorted, covering a breath of relief which Napoleon ignored, ignoring also the guilt at worrying his partner. By the time Napoleon stepped into Illya's arms, he was almost entirely visible, except for a bit of fuzzing around the edges.
Napoleon dove into Illya's welcoming mouth, thrusting his tongue into the wet warmth with a sigh of homecoming echoed by his partner. The fluid insubstantiality of the world became just a little more solid. Strong arms wrapped around Napoleon's waist, anchoring him, then began to move, sculpting the boundaries of his incorporeal being. Closing his eyes, Napoleon focused single-mindedly on kissing Illya, allowing his lover to make him anew -- as he did, all unknowing, every time they touched.
"Why," Illya broke off to say, though he didn't stray far, interspersing kisses with words, as if he couldn't bear to stop entirely, "does your libido always kick up when we're expecting company?"
"Not for a couple of hours." Napoleon nipped the side of Illya's neck precisely where it would cause the most profound moan, and the redirection was complete, for now. They had two hours before Mark and April arrived: Napoleon's suggestion, taken up readily, thank god, before he had to get insistent about it. Two hours to lay a ghost.
Illya's shirt yielded to importunate fingers, baring his pale chest, exposing his nipples to Napoleon's view, his fingers, his mouth. Ignoring Illya's moan, the tugging of his fingers in Napoleon's hair, Napoleon hoisted the other man up with an arm around his waist, bringing those delectable nipples within easy reach. Illya was wild about his nipples. Napoleon smiled -- he was wild about them, too. He lapped, chewed gently, and held tight as his lover writhed in his arms. Illya wrapped his legs around Napoleon's waist, and arched his back, trusting to Napoleon's strength.
Strength he still had. More than when he was alive, when the relative equality of their sizes would have made it impossible for him to support and balance Illya's weight this way. Perhaps he could do it because he could handle no other object in this world except those Illya touched and Illya himself; perhaps all Napoleon's strength saved itself for these two things. Perhaps not. Napoleon didn't care.
He carried Illya into the bedroom, almost hoping, in some perverse part of his mind, that Thrush had cameras planted in Illya's apartment and some lowly technician was flogging his imagination even now to figure out what the hell Illya was doing, and when he'd learned to levitate.
He'd have liked to throw aside the rumpled blankets, but that was impossible until Illya was on them, and impractical after. It had taken some effort to relearn certain seduction techniques, especially those involving sliding onto the bed with the object of his affection in his arms. Illya first, unless Napoleon wanted to end up on the floor under the bed.
Illya made it easy on him. Gripping Napoleon's shoulders tightly enough to leave bruises, if there'd been any blood flow to rush to injury, he arched and twisted, dancing to the tune of Napoleon's mouth. Bending, Napoleon let Illya's shoulders touch the mattress, then braced his hands on it as he shoved his partner fully onto the bed and followed him down, Illya's thighs clamped tightly around Napoleon's waist. Instinctively, Napoleon thrust, rocking his ghost-clad erection against Illya's.
"Off," Illya growled. "Clothes off." He started in on Napoleon's buttons, fumbling at them when Napoleon didn't leave off tormenting his nipples. "Now, Napoleon."
Napoleon laughed, blowing air he took into his lungs purely for the purpose across the pert, reddened buds, wet with ghostly saliva. When Illya shivered, Napoleon bent to drag his tongue up the center of the nicely-toned chest, pausing to nibble delicately on the projection of a rib which had never healed quite right and which was for some reason one of Illya's more sensitive spots, though it was never certain whether he'd find it unbearably pleasurable, or just ticklish.
Laughing breathlessly, Illya pushed Napoleon away, shoving him onto his back and attacking his clothing with fervor. Napoleon lay back and let him -- it was in no way his wish to dominate their lovemaking. Far from it, in fact.
The clock on the bedside table ticked inexorably toward the interruption of their activities. Napoleon swept the clothing Illya had removed from him off of the bed -- it had stopped being anything Illya could touch when it left his body. He stripped off Illya's pants and underwear with rough efficiency, and pulled the other man between his legs.
When Illya would have bent to Napoleon's chest, Napoleon took the blond head between his hands and drew it down for an intense kiss, feeling Illya groan as his cock swayed against Napoleon's. He drew back. "Fuck me."
Illya shivered. "Napoleon...?"
"Now; do it now." He deliberately dropped his voice into a register that made Illya shiver again. So little foreplay, but he could see Illya's readiness, feel his own. Feel, also, the slight unreality of Illya's skin under his fingers, the vague, barely sensed, disconnect between dead and living. He hated it; hated it more when they were skin to skin; and there was only one way to erase it. "Fuck me, Illyushka."
He pulled his legs back, exposing himself, rocking up a little to strop his cock against Illya's, making Illya groan, the flushed head of his cock weeping precome which dripped onto Napoleon's belly and burned there. He did it again. Illya growled, and lunged for the lubricant in the bedside table.
Illya's fingers, gentle as they prepared him, could have been as rough as they liked, gloved as they were in reality -- there was no edge to the touch. Napoleon arched into it anyway, knowing Illya would mistake his desperation. Illya's cock was another matter. Napoleon shuddered as the sharp-edged sword plunged into him, groaning, struggling to escape, knowing Illya wouldn't let him, depending on him not to. Illya shoved Napoleon's legs back, bending him nearly in half, as he drove into him the way they both liked it -- a little rough, a little desperate. Napoleon cried out, quaking in the pleasure of being real, of being made complete. He could feel every inch of Illya's cock, as a living man would not, its difference, its reality, cleaving his ghostly substance like a knife. He delighted in the thickness of the head that drove demandingly in and out, the burning leak of precome.
Napoleon clung to Illya's shoulders, urging him on in broken words and gasps. He met Illya's blue-fire gaze and they held, eyes burning into each other as Illya impaled Napoleon over and over, unknowingly driving out the ghostly numbness, the sense of being blurred. And when Illya shuddered, crying out in Napoleon's arms, and the hot washes of come painted his insides, Napoleon groaned with the pleasure of coming, suddenly and without mercy, into focus.
Illya slumped, panting and quaking, against Napoleon, who disentangled them enough to cradle his lover close. His lover, the man who made him real. He could feel Illya's seed inside him: a core of life. Now he would have the strength to interact with Mark and April, the finely-tuned reality to walk through this living world without losing himself.
He didn't need it. He could do without, especially when it was only Illya he had to interact with. But, by the same token, when touching Illya, he wanted to touch him, not feel as if he were wearing a full-body wetsuit.
Napoleon stretched, feeling Illya's slowing breath against his chest. His skin tingled with awareness: the rumpled sheets, the ache of Illya's possession, the warm smooth limbs entwined with his own.
"My turn," Napoleon murmured, rolling Illya onto his face. He twined his fingers with Illya's and, with them, reached for the lubricant. And, with them, slicked up his swollen erection. Illya was groaning softly into the blankets, spreading his legs for Napoleon. Illya liked being fucked. Loved it. And Napoleon, who hadn't known until the first time he turned desperately to Illya to confirm his reality that he could like having a cock drive into him, could crave it, was more than happy to oblige. It was something at which he excelled, even now.
Illya was hot and tight and perfect around Napoleon, who savored every inch. Napoleon laid himself over Illya's back, twitching a little inside his body, and kissed the back of his lover's neck. He was in no rush. He was dead, a ghost; bodily pleasures were matters of habit and desire -- he could let the relentless drive toward completion take over, or...
Napoleon turned his head to look at the clock, and calculated precisely how long before Illya would have to make himself presentable for their guests. Long enough. Long enough to make the man under him a babbling, writhing madman.
He kissed the tender nape of Illya's neck again, and began a slow, delicious rocking.
"Long day?" April asked, taking the cup of coffee he handed her.
"Ah..." Illya rubbed the back of his neck. "Something like that."
"Perhaps you're not getting enough sleep," she suggested in the motherly tone the male agents let her get away with because... well, she could knock a man out in a minute flat and get off an entire clip of -- accurate, mind you -- shots in less time. "You've looked sort of... heavy-eyed since we came."
"He's looked heavy-eyed since he came as well," Napoleon teased, though only Illya could hear. He grinned unrepentantly when Illya choked, and turned a quick glare on him.
"You know," April went on, laying her hand on Illya's arm, "we certainly don't have to be here, if you're tired."
"I'm fine, April." He maneuvered around her and went into the living room. Mark and April followed too slowly to see him settle gingerly onto the couch. He glared again at Napoleon's smirk.
"You enjoyed yourself, milii moi," Napoleon said, which was something of an understatement, given the bonelessly pleasured state he'd left Illya in about fifteen minutes before Mark and April were due to arrive. "Not fair to complain about it now."
"It's your timing I object to," Illya grumbled under his breath as the others came in with their coffee, Mark carrying the box of cookies they'd brought with them. He started munching one as soon as he'd set the box on the coffee table and had a free hand. April sat next to Illya on the couch, Mark plumping himself down in the chair at right angles to his partner.
April hadn't dropped the previous subject. "Napoleon should look after you better."
Napoleon's laughter covered his fear -- a very explicit fear that one day he'd have to stand by and impotently watch Illya die. He mastered it -- Illya knew of it and, just like Napoleon, that there was no cure for it -- and grinned. "Perhaps you should tell her how I looked after you this afternoon," he suggested.
Illya scowled. "I take care of myself."
"Of course you do." April patted his arm again, and kept her hand there.
Napoleon saw the move for what it was, and wondered if it was conscious or not. He knelt before the couch where the two sat and, laying one hand on Illya's knee, put the other atop April's hand. Immediately, she turned her hand over to grasp his fingers in hers. Her touch was cool, distant, the indistinctness of the feeling emphasized by the warm solidity of Illya's leg under his other hand. He wondered if he felt as... vague to her.
April smiled. "Hello, Napoleon. Rude of us to always have dinner first."
"Of course not." It gave him time to become accustomed to people in Illya's apartment, people who knew he was there.
She smiled when Illya passed on his response. "Always the gentleman, Napoleon."
"Not always," Illya muttered under his breath. Napoleon retaliated by sliding his hand further up Illya's leg. Illya didn't so much as twitch, but Napoleon could see a muscle in his jaw jumping. He smoothed his hand back down to Illya's knee and attempted not to tease him further.
"Ask him what he thinks of the new receptionist." Mark leaned forward pick up the box of cookies and offer it around.
"Ask him yourself." Illya smiled slightly to take the sting from the words. "He can hear you perfectly." It wasn't the first time Mark had had to be reminded -- he was still visibly uncomfortable with all of this.
"Sorry, Napoleon." There were no takers for the cookies. Mark put the box back on the coffee table and took another one himself. "No offense intended."
"None taken," Napoleon said. He cocked a brow at Illya. "What new receptionist is this?"
"The red-head," Illya said, after translating Napoleon's reassurance to Mark.
"Yeah, the one with large--" Mark winced and rubbed the place April had whacked him. "Sorry, love. Still, it must be admitted that the woman is... inordinately blessed. You mean Napoleon hasn't seen her?"
"Sounds unfortunate," Napoleon said in a bored tone of voice which wasn't entirely for Illya's benefit. Beautiful women simply weren't of quite the same interest when they proved, quite literally, untouchable. They could be appreciated, like the Mona Lisa, but never coveted, and Napoleon had always preferred art galleries to museums. If he couldn't buy, what was the point in looking?
"Napoleon doesn't come to headquarters often," Illya said, with a look that cut Napoleon with its gratitude. Illya shouldn't look so relieved that Napoleon hadn't sought the receptionist out. "He's afraid we'll slip up and land me in the... amusement park."
"Funny farm," Napoleon and Mark corrected at the same time. "But surely," Mark went on, "with a little practice..."
"And until we have practiced perfect, who will keep me out of the funny farm?" The emphasis he put on the last two words made it clear he'd known the phrase all along.
"Well, Mark and I..." April trailed off.
"Excellent," Napoleon said. "I can see it now: No, Mr. Waverly, he's not crazy, honest. Napoleon's really alive-- er, dead. No, sir, I don't think we're insane. Haven't you seen Topper?"
Illya laughed, which offended April until she figured out he wasn't laughing at her. Except, of course, that he was, in a way. Also, in a way, he was laughing because it was the easiest way to conceal his disappointment. Napoleon knew Illya wanted him to come to headquarters, and truth be told, he didn't want to spend their days apart any more than Illya did. Neither, unfortunately, did he want to spend them in the single place best calculated to remind him he had no place in the world anymore, nor any ability to do good in it. The halls of headquarters were the one place he didn't want to feel people walk through him, and the pale satisfaction of making them shiver.
The strain of holding April's hand began to tell, and Napoleon slipped gently away with a final pat. She blinked unhappily, but smiled just the same, and Napoleon retreated with a sigh, ignoring Illya's concerned look. Some expectations simply couldn't be met, and sometimes he wondered if it wouldn't have been better to have died once and for all.
"It's nothing, Illya. Just tired," he said, making more of his fatigue than it was. "What's this new assignment Mark mentioned at dinner?"
Illya let it go, though Napoleon knew that he wouldn't have escaped so easily if April hadn't looked so concerned. "Napoleon's interested in the mission, Mark."
"Well," Mark said, pushing his shoulders comfortably back in his chair, "I suppose now's as good a time as any to talk about it."
Napoleon shook his head. Sometimes, he wondered how Mark had become an U.N.C.L.E. agent, he was so guileless. "Mr. Waverly gave out one of his do-it-yourselfers and Mark thinks I might have an idea?"
"Mm-hmm." Illya leaned back as well, and looked with gleaming eyes at Napoleon.
"Well, tell me about it." Napoleon crossed his arms over his chest and put his shoulder against the wall nearest the couch. He'd have preferred to sit next to Illya on the couch or, given that April was in his usual place, sit on the floor and lean against his legs, but he wanted to keep Illya's face in sight.
"U.N.C.L.E. has received information that Mr. Harold Grierson--"
"The vice-consul from Canada?"
Illya gave a short nod. "--has apparently taken up a new hobby."
"Blackmail," April said, her mouth twisting with distaste. "Of several U.N. delegates we know of, possibly more."
"Not in the interests of his country, I presume," Napoleon said, finding it hard to picture the Canadian government muscling its way through the international scene.
Illya smiled. "No, we think not."
Illya nodded. "Thrush." Napoleon was consistently impressed by his partner's sang-froid -- it took nerve to speak to empty air in front of other people, even people who knew that Napoleon was there. "However, since he has diplomatic immunity..."
"U.N.C.L.E. can't just take him out of the picture," Napoleon finished.
Mark made a face. "Mr. Waverly directed us to get his files and put him out of favor with Thrush, without making him a..."
"...cause celebre," Napoleon finished along with Mark. It was one of Waverly's favorite phrases, and one of his agents' least favorite.
"Problem is," April said, reaching for a cookie, "we don't know where he's keeping his dirty little secret."
"And other people's as well," Napoleon murmured. His eyes met Illya's. "Irene Adler."
"A Scandal in Bohemia." Illya nodded.
"No, but there's going to be one in New York if we get caught trying to snatch Grierson's diplomatic papers." April bit viciously into a chocolate chip cookie.
"I think, love," Mark said, munching on his third cookie, "they've got an idea. Have Grierson show us where he's keeping the blackmail material, hm? And," he said with a cookie-crumb smile, "it won't even be hard to get someone to shadow Grierson and see what bolthole he runs to when threatened." He showed, as he did on occasion, an uncanny knack for looking directly at where Napoleon was. Probably taking his cues from Illya, but it was a bit unnerving sometimes.
Even though he knew only Illya could see him, Napoleon forced himself to look modest. "That's only part of the assignment."
"I think I have an idea for making Grierson persona non-grata with Thrush," Illya said. The gleam in his eyes did not bode well for Grierson. They all found it inordinately cheering.
Grierson was a slick little man with a mustache and thinning hair, who had a way of holding his head back on his neck that said better than words that he was superior. He looked directly at a man, as if he could see right through to his backbone, but didn't care to bother. His shirt was pristine, his coat uncreased, and his bowtie fashioned by hand into a complicated knot. This, Illya thought as he walked up to the man's table at Joe Allen's, is a piece of work.
"Mr. Grierson?" He made his voice very British, shifted his briefcase to his left hand and held out the right. "Ian Sterling, sir. At your service."
Grierson's handshake was rather limp. Quick eyes took in every detail of Illya's appearance, from his three-piece gray pinstriped suit, for once neither rumpled nor stained by violence; to the gleaming tips of his shoes, shined by a familiar-looking fellow with a Cockney accent who'd set up shop just outside the restaurant; to his neatly trimmed, and entirely fake, mustache and goatee. "Please," Grierson said, gesturing at the seat opposite with his steak knife.
"Thank you." Illya took the seat, placing his briefcase carefully on the floor between his feet. As soon as he was settled, a waiter appeared with almost as much dexterity as Napoleon, who stood, as it happened, at Illya's shoulder.
"May I suggest the steak?" Grierson said, placing another morsel in his mouth with the manner of a high-society lady eating chocolates.
Illya nodded and handed menu back to the waiter. "And coffee, please."
"Nonsense. Have a martini." Grierson lifted his glass and gave the waiter a look which sent him scurrying off. Not, Illya was sure, to get him any coffee. "So," Grierson said after sipping appreciatively at his martini, "what do you have for me?"
Illya blinked, allowing affront to flicker across his expression. "I am not accustomed to doing business so bluntly, sir."
"And I am not accustomed to doing it in so public a place." It rankled the little man.
"I like crowds," Illya lied. He wished Napoleon would do more than hover at his shoulder; he wished Napoleon would touch him, though he knew he would not. Crowded places were dangerous places to touch -- if someone brushed up against Napoleon and found him solid, if invisible, the consequences might be... awkward.
"Safety in numbers, eh?" Grierson wielded his steak knife enthusiastically. "Won't argue with that. What do you have for me?" he asked again, before popping another slice of steak in his mouth and chewing vigorously.
Illya scanned the room furtively. He passed without a flicker of recognition over April, dining with Charles Huntington on the other side of the room, and John Fallon having a drink with Nicholas Roth at the bar. April and the boys from Section Three, and Mark outside with his shoeshine outfit, were simply there to make sure nothing went wrong, especially important given the number of Thrush operatives who'd chosen Joe Allen's this evening. Not very good operatives, Illya thought, noting the eyes which turned quickly away as his gaze swept past. "It is possible," he said delicately, and quietly enough that the other man leaned across the table to hear, "that my employer is guilty of an... indiscretion."
"Your employer... the U.N. ambassador from the United Kingdom." It wasn't a question.
Illya flinched as if shot, and looked around frantically. The same eyes turned away again. Good.
"Excellent cast," Napoleon murmured, "now reel the little fishy in."
"I would prefer," Illya told Grierson through his teeth, "that my meeting with you go unnoticed."
"Then you should have chosen a more secluded place," Grierson said carelessly. The waiter arrived with Illya's food and they were both silent until the man departed. "Why have you come to me?"
"A certain... person suggested there might be some financial... advantage to be gained from the situation," Illya said delicately. It hadn't been too difficult to discover what the delegate from Spain was being blackmailed for, or who would be best placed to pass proof to Grierson of the Spaniard's sexual peccadilloes. "This... person had done business with you over the... matter of the Port Royale Hotel, and suggested your name."
"For which indiscretion she and I must have a talk." But Grierson appeared to buy it nonetheless. "How did you and she come to know each other?"
Illya contrived to blush fiercely. It helped that Napoleon was dragging a light finger through the hair at the base of his skull.
Grierson laughed. "Well," he said, folding his napkin and putting it beside his plate, "where is it?"
"Where is what?" Just then, Napoleon kissed the back of Illya neck, making his tone appropriately flustered. As if he needed help -- he'd played harder scenes than this. He was vaguely aware of April shooting him an amused glance as she passed his table, Huntington escorting her with one large hand on the elbow.
"The items you have offered for sale...?"
"Briefcase," Illya stammered.
"I'm afraid you'll have to buy yourself a new one." Grierson stood, then bent to pick up the briefcase from under the table, his hand brushing Illya's leg as he did so. A thick envelope dropped into Illya's lap. "You can afford it." He nodded a polite farewell to Illya, and walked off with the briefcase.
"Well," Illya murmured after a long moment, resisting the desire to rub the feel of that accidental touch off his leg. Roth rose from the bar, shook hands with Fallon, and went out after Grierson.
"Two little birdies followed the rat." Napoleon grinned down at Illya, then shook his head. "So untrusting, Thrush..."
Illya saw Fallon drain off the last of his drink and stand, tossing some bills down on the bar. He walked steadily toward the table where Illya sat. Illya turned his gaze away, his muscles tensing. What the hell was the man playing at with Thrush still watching? With his whipcord height, and shock of brick red hair, Fallon was the natural cynosure of nearly all the eyes in the restaurant, not just Thrush. If he spoke to Illya, the game was up, even if neither of them was made as U.N.C.L.E. agents. Grierson's Thrush friends would let him know his new informant had someone in the restaurant, and the man would be a fool not to assume the worst. But Fallon went on past Illya's table without a sign of recognition.
Illya took a deep breath and relaxed a little. Not too much -- it would be impossible to do so with his constant awareness of the other birdies who were still in the restaurant. But relief was perfectly appropriate for his character, and he let a little show. He felt Napoleon's hand touch his shoulder and knew his fear had been shared. Not fair to Fallon -- just because he'd come to New York Section Three after Napoleon's death, and neither of them knew him very well didn't mean he was sloppy on the job. Illya furtively checked the contents of the envelope -- Grierson paid pretty well -- and stuffed it into the breast pocket of his suit.
"Might as well eat that," Napoleon suggested, giving him a
little nudge. Illya looked at the perfectly done steak, baked potato
steaming beside it. His mouth watered. "He's left you with the bill."
"Step one completed."
"Without a hitch." Mark raised his glass in a toast before drinking half the soda in one gulp. He grimaced. "Fizz up my nose."
"Then don't drink it like that, love." April cuddled up to his side, her enthusiastic welcome when he'd walked into the seedy little bar and grill had been only partly feigned, as her clinging was now. Napoleon smiled at the two of them and their cozy love, knowing he probably looked ridiculously paternal, or at least avuncular, and not letting it stop him wishing they could see him.
"Well?" Illya asked briskly, though he, too, had smiled at his fellow agents. He was dressed appropriately for the venue -- one neither Grierson nor Thrush would bother with -- and had ditched the facial hair.
"Straight back to the embassy," April reported.
"Without a stop on the way," added Mark, who'd double-teamed the tailing with his partner. "Or a look around to see if anyone was following."
"And the birdies?"
"They followed him and we followed them, and no one'll hear a peep out of them about us." April grinned at her own pun while Mark snickered. "So is he keeping the papers in the embassy, do you think?"
"Certainly not," Napoleon said. "But neither is he going to head straight for his hidey hole after you hand something -- worth unknown -- over. Too obvious."
"The embassy's the best-protected place..." Mark said, but his tone made it clear he didn't believe Grierson was going to leave his blackmail files there either. He drank the rest of his soda.
"Grierson's not the consul," Illya pointed out. He had the chair with its back to the corner, and Napoleon had squeezed in behind him. He slumped a little and let his hand swing back to brush against Napoleon's leg. "He has a superior to report to -- one who has the authority to have his subordinate's office searched."
"If he had any cause to do so." April used her napkin to mop the scarred table where Mark's glass had left a wet ring.
Illya spread his hands. "Grierson would be careful not to give cause, but I don't think he'd trust that it was enough. No." Napoleon caught Illya's hand the next time it swung back. Protected from view by the table, he laced his fingers with Illya's, who squeezed gently. "He's got some other place he'll take the papers to -- probably his home -- but he's too clever to be obvious about it. We won't find them by following him--"
"Good thing too," Mark said, leaning back to give the waitress room to place two hamburgers and a large order of fries on the table, along with more glasses of soda. Nothing for Illya -- though Napoleon teased him that he could no doubt eat another lunch, even after that steak. They'd left Huntington and Roth watching the embassy, but their orders were not to follow if Grierson left -- the last thing they wanted to do was tip the man off, and the longer you put a tail on a man, the more likely he (or his Thrush tagalongs) would make you.
"-- or ransacking his house," Illya continued as if Mark hadn't spoke.
"Estate," Mark muttered.
"Grierson's blackmail material is no doubt the most valuable thing he owns."
"You haven't seen his car." April grinned.
Illya ignored the comment. "All it needs is the right threat to send him running to protect it."
"And I'll be there to see," Napoleon said, stroking his thumb over the back of Illya's hand.
Napoleon flickered back to where Illya stood, pretending to watch the ducks on the pond. "He's alone. More or less." Meaning aside from all the birdies in the park.
Illya nodded at Napoleon, who stood in the leafy shade looking more unreal than usual. He frowned a little at that, until he realized that no shadows fell on his partner. He touched him anyway, needing to feel Napoleon's warm arm under his hand to reassure himself of his partner's definite -- if somewhat strange -- reality. "Thanks." It was probably only Illya's imagination that Napoleon looked a little more... solid while Illya's hand was on his arm.
"Be careful." Napoleon stayed behind as Illya stepped onto the walking path, but not for long. By the time Illya walked up to the bench Grierson occupied, Napoleon was standing off one end of the bench, his hands in his pockets. He cocked his head a little to the right, and Illya was careful not to look in that direction and risk seeing Grierson's Thrush bodyguard crouched uncomfortably in the brush.
"This seat taken?" Illya asked politely, before lowering himself onto the other end of the bench. His fingers wanted to stroke down his fake beard, make sure the glue still held. Instead, he surveyed Grierson out of the corner of his eye. The little man hadn't changed at all, but for a different tidy suit, a different colored bowtie. Same knot. The briefcase on the bench beside him was the one he'd taken from Illya the day before.
Grierson didn't look up from his paper. "I don't appreciate being cheated, Mr. Sterling. You'll find me a most... uncomfortable enemy."
Illya kept his eyes straight ahead, and lifted his new briefcase onto his lap. Despite the presence of Fallon and Roth, roaming the park somewhere nearby with a borrowed dog on a leash, Illya knew himself to be essentially alone. They couldn't get close enough to help him out if Thrush got physical, not without risking exposure. And Napoleon would be of limited help if things went badly. "Yesterday's... delivery was only to whet your appetite." He put the briefcase between them, next to Grierson's, and rested his elbow on it, leaning back to turn his face to the afternoon sun. "You did not expect a full disclosure, nor did you pay for one."
"Indeed." Grierson turned a page and gave his newspaper a snap. "And today's delivery, is it... complete?"
"Very much so." He looked over at Napoleon, who held up three fingers, his expression concerned. The birds were flocking. "Well?"
"You overstep yourself." Grierson's face was a little flushed, his tone tight. Obviously, he was used to being in control of these transactions. Equally obviously, the sordid pictures Illya had delivered the previous day had indeed whetted his appetite. He nodded jerkily. "All right. Take my briefcase, leave yours."
"Like this one better anyway," Illya said as he picked up his
old briefcase. He walked away without a backward glance. The only one
who approached him was Roth, who gave him a nod as he walked past with
a fluffball straining at the leash.
"Well?" Illya demanded as he climbed into the cab, taking his time about it so Napoleon could get in before him.
"He's heading for the embassy." Mark adjusted a knob on the scanner. The tracking device was built into the briefcase, and wouldn't be discovered even if the case was hacked apart.
"Best get moving," Napoleon said, with a nod toward the man who had emerged from the park a few minutes after Illya.
"Start driving, Mark, or I'll have to pitch a noisy fit about the slowness of New York cabbies."
Mark grinned over his shoulder. "You got it, gov." He put the car in gear and pulled out into traffic with a squeal of tires and a honking of horns. Illya hung grimly onto the strap and refrained from comment. Certainly, by the time the risk of imminent death had passed, so had the risk of being tailed.
Mark pulled to the curb a couple of hair-raising moments later and April climbed in the front seat next to him. Fallon was with her, and Napoleon had to shuffle fast to stay out of his way as he climbed in the back.
"Well?" April asked, unknowingly mimicking Illya as she turned to look at him over the seat.
"He seems to have taken the bait."
"Straight back to the embassy," Mark put in. He pulled back out into traffic, driving more sensibly this time, inasmuch as anyone in New York drove sensibly.
"We going to tail him when he comes out?" Fallon asked. Illya wished Napoleon wasn't between them. Or, failing that, that he would pull a disappearing act, so Illya could see Fallon. It would look odd if he didn't make eye contact over a bare foot of "empty" space.
"You, Huntington and Roth are." Illya hoped his expression didn't change when Napoleon suddenly seemed to see the problem and vanished all at once. "Very carefully and from a distance." He looked at Fallon's brick-red hair and added, "A great distance."
"We're likely to lose him that way."
"Better that than be made by Thrush."
Fallon trained his oddly pale gaze on Illya. "I'm not sure I understand," he said after an uncomfortable minute. "What's the objective of all this?"
"If you ever need to know," April said, reaching back to pat his arm, "we'll be sure to tell you."
"I don't think," Napoleon's disembodied voice whispered in Illya's ear, "he's going to be satisfied with that." It was accompanied by a nip to the lobe which reassured Illya that, while invisible, Napoleon's body was very much there.
It was a strain to keep his hands to himself for the remainder of the ride.
"Step two completed. On to step three."
"You've been watching too much Sesame Street," April complained teasingly. Mark caught her up and gave her a great smacking kiss which left smudges of black camouflage paint on her face.
"As long as he's learned to tell time," Illya said. Mark made a face at him. Illya tapped his watch face and they synchronized their watches.
"Remember," April said as she herded her partner toward their car, "the idea is not to be seen by Thrush: avoid conflict at all costs, set your incendiaries, and get out."
"Yes, mother," Mark said meekly, earning himself a slap to the back of the head as he climbed into the car.
"You going to be okay, Illya?"
He grinned, and mimicked Mark. "Yes, mother." She gave him a kiss, putting her hand by chance or design precisely over Napoleon's where it rested on his shoulder. Then, with a final pat, she was gone, sliding into the driver's seat to take Mark to his position.
Illya watched them go before climbing into his own car -- the motor pool had finally given him a car worth driving: Mustang, v8 engine, four on the floor -- and pulling out of the U.N.C.L.E. garage into the night. He knew how much April hated playing backup, and wondered what Mark had bribed her with -- he'd left it up to them to decide which partner was going in, and which driving getaway. It had been a task, convincing April that he could drive himself to Grierson's estate and back, but it was worth it to be able to touch Napoleon without circumspection. He could hardly ask April to drive and leave Mark to his own devices, and he wouldn't sit in the car with some other agent before a mission and pretend Napoleon wasn't there.
The sliver of moon provided only the barest light as he pulled into position some time later. There were no streetlights, and he'd driven the last half-mile with the headlights off. Fallon had given them the layout of the grounds, and where the Thrush heavies had placed themselves, after a day spent surveiling it. Illya didn't expect any trouble.
Napoleon shook his head. "Geez, how's Grierson explain this place?"
It was an estate, pure and simple, the grounds wrapping the house in a blanket of rural quiet. Between this and the car, Grierson certainly would have some explaining to do to his embassy superiors, if it weren't for-- "Family money."
"Family money," Napoleon repeated. He snorted. "Bet some of it has feathers."
Illya flipped off the engine and sat listening to it tick. He left the key in the ignition. They sat in the dark for several minutes, waiting for their eyes to fully adjust, their ears to shake off the sound of the engine. Or, at least, Illya needed to adjust. He didn't know what Napoleon's ghostly senses took in, or how. How did incorporeal ears intercept and interpret sound waves? Incorporeal eyes detect light particles? Illya shook off the disturbing question.
"Let me go take a look," Napoleon said after a time, his voice muted.
Illya got out of the car, letting Napoleon out through his door. He got back in on the passenger side and reached for the camouflage paint in the glove compartment. Napoleon was back by the time he'd finished daubing his face, and pulled on his black knit cap.
Napoleon leaned his elbows on the open window. "Found three birdies in the bush. There, there and there," he pointed to their locations. Though Illya could see nothing, he filed away the information for later reference. Napoleon grinned. "All asleep."
"Yes, isn't it." He leaned in and kissed Illya, his tongue flickering between Illya's lips like a flame. "Let me in."
"Napoleon..." But he opened the door, and fumbled under the bucket seat for the release lever to push it back. "This is not the time..." He shifted his legs to give Napoleon room on the floorboards and pulled the door shut again.
Napoleon fell on him, mouth taking Illya's in a rush of flame, fingers stroking his black-clad body. Napoleon could play Illya like a guitar, strumming up his passions until he could do nothing but moan Napoleon's tune. It was neither the time, nor the place, but Illya let it happen, loved what happened.
Sometimes, Napoleon looked at him with that dark gleam, and he felt like one of Napoleon's women: enticed, promised, but always and ever in control. Napoleon had never been one to press an undesired suit. But sometimes, Napoleon seemed elemental: fierce, forceful, desperate. The control, ultimately, was still Illya's, but he couldn't even think of denying Napoleon then. His desperation rose to match his partner's, and he found himself, as now, gasping for breath, begging for completion.
Napoleon shoved up his sweater and yanked his pants down to his knees as Illya arched to assist. Kneeling on the floorboards between Illya's spread knees, the console undoubtedly digging into his back, he bent his head and swallowed Illya's erection to the root. Illya bit his hand to stifle his shout, groaning around the salty flesh as Napoleon groaned around his cock. He whimpered, cursed, his body dancing to Napoleon's tune.
It was over very quickly, an almost silent, grunting mating in the dark, as elemental as a lightning storm and almost as violent. Napoleon rose over his panting body and kissed him hard, his mouth sweet and salty with Illya's come.
"Thank you," Napoleon whispered into Illya's hair, and then he
was gone, vanished, the door opening itself, and softly closing Illya
into the warm interior. He lay limply against the seat, panting and
shaking, and wondering what the hell Napoleon was thanking him for.
Should be enough time, Napoleon thought. Enough time to find Grierson in this fancy house. Enough time for Illya to pull himself together and go set the incendiaries at the same time as Mark snuck his in from the other end of the estate: two agents attempting the same job from different directions, so either one could break off if they were spotted. The fire had to look natural.
He licked his lips, still tasting Illya. It was good. Not as good as having the other man pound into his body, pushing his seed as deep inside as he could thrust. Napoleon swallowed again, feeling reality pulse down his throat, settle in his stomach. Good enough.
He stayed invisible, not so much on the off-chance that someone in Grierson's house might have the rare talent for seeing ghosts as out of something resembling habit. As a live agent, he did everything he could to remain unseen on such missions; as a dead one, he was simply better at it. Everything looked a little off, as it always did when he was invisible. The color of things seemed dull, like fabric washed too many times, and light had an odd silvery solidity. Napoleon ignored that and passed through the thick oak front door. There was a moment of ligneous disorientation, and then he was through into a dimly lit hall.
The Thrush guard inside didn't turn from the small black and white television set he was adjusting. The flickering light of the set spilled out of his little alcove by the door. He fiddled with the antenna and thumped the top of the set in disgust.
"God damn ghosts."
Napoleon snorted, and continued on his way.
The front hall was broad and deep, a spiral staircase rising from the far end. The doors which let onto the hall from either side were all closed. Napoleon sighed and began his search. Steeling himself, he dipped his head through one door after another, finding one dark room after another. Perhaps upstairs -- there had been a light visible as he approached: one of the front windows on the second floor.
He took the first turn of the spiral, stepping out onto an upstairs hallway as broad and lengthy as the first, and began to check rooms again. In one, a soft glow spilled out of the diaphanous pink bed hangings from a core of flickering candlelight. Napoleon squinted. A soft moan, a leg sliding silkily over satin sheets: Mrs. Grierson -- enjoying herself in her husband's absence. For a moment, he thought her alone in her pleasure, but the next moan was, though quiet, far too bass to be the lady herself. Mr. Grierson? He moved a bit closer, reluctant to spy on their sexual sprawl, not least because it made him ache for Illya. No. Though the woman's upraised thighs prevented him from seeing the man's face without getting far too close, the nude male body stretched on the bed was too tall for Grierson. Napoleon slipped back out, haunted by her moan, the vision of her arching, her hands between her thighs, fingers doubtless clenching in the man's hair.
Napoleon gathered himself to continue, wondering if it would have gone straight to his cock like that if he'd let Illya bring him off in the car. Or if the woman hadn't had a fall of charmingly blond hair.
There were no more lit, or occupied, rooms until he got to the end of the hall. The room was filled with the harsh glare of several lamps. Grierson sat in a leather armchair, a book open in his hands, looking out the window. The fixity of his stare panicked Napoleon for a moment, until he realized the man's gaze was not trained on anything outside, but on something in his own mind. He hadn't spotted Illya, or Mark; he was just thinking. The room boasted a desk, a number of built-in bookcases, some very well-known paintings that must be copies unless several museums were grossly misled, assorted knickknacks, and the chair in which Grierson primly sat. Another door led out from the other side of the room, probably into a bedroom.
Having found his quarry, Napoleon leaned against the wall by the door, crossed his arms over his chest, and waited.
He checked his watch twice -- a habit he'd not been able to break: it always said 2:23, the time he died -- before Illya and Mark went into action. It started very slowly, with the faintest of light spilling through Grierson's window, perhaps a slight noise; then seemed to happen very quickly: a whoosh, a cry, a spurt of light, and finally the expected shout of "Fire!"
Grierson leapt to his feet, dropping his book on the floor, and threw open the window he'd been looking out. He shouted down to the guards on the grounds three times before an answering shout came. All that voice could say was that the house was on fire. It was all that was needed. The fact that it was Mark's voice which answered had Napoleon biting his cheek. He hoped the damn fool would get the hell out of here before the Thrush guards woke to the danger.
Napoleon watched as Grierson rushed to the door. He peered into the hallway, coughing on a billow of smoke. It had rounded the first spiral and stormed the upper floor quickly. Napoleon hoped they hadn't been too effective with the incendiaries -- it wouldn't do to burn the entire place down, not until they knew where the blackmailer's evidence was.
Napoleon shifted to look over Grierson's shoulder. The woman from the pink room, wrapped in a rose-dyed silk shawl which barely covered her. He wondered if Grierson knew the man who'd been enjoying that ripe body, though he hardly seemed the free love type, or if he was being cuckolded, all unknowing, in his own house. While he was there, to boot. The thought appealed.
"I don't think it's anything to worry about, my dear. My men will get the fire under control quickly, I'm certain. However..." His gaze passed over her barely-clad form, pausing for a moment at a dark spot on her shoulder that Napoleon thought might be a love bite. "Perhaps you should dress."
"Yes, dear." She vanished back into her room. Was her lover still there, or had he sensibly climbed out the window at the first call of fire?
Grierson retreated into his sitting room and closed the door. After a moment's thought, he locked it as well. Napoleon grinned to himself as the man went to a painting -- the one of a girl in the arms of a boy, her head turned to shunt aside his kiss -- and swung it out from the wall to reveal a safe.
"Most obvious hiding place in the world," Napoleon said, pushing off his wall to come investigate. He watched from just over Grierson's shoulder as he twirled the knob of the safe, making note of the combination. When the thick door swung open, however, the vice-consul ignored the loose papers and the thick envelope which looked to Napoleon's trained eye to hold cash, and a lot of it. Grierson reached instead to press an undifferentiated plate of the safe's ceiling, identical to the rest. With a muted click, a section of the nearby bookcase swung open. "Clever."
As Grierson reached for the papers inside, there came a knock on the door. "Sir?"
"Yes, what is it?" He hesitated by the secret panel.
"We have the fire under control."
Grierson pushed the panel closed over his store of other people's guilty secrets, shoved the door of the safe shut and locked it with a twirl of the knob, and swung the painting back into place. He wiped his hands on his trousers and went to open the door. The Thrush guard from the front door stood sheepishly on the other side, his nose smudged black.
Napoleon slipped away as Grierson grilled the man, walking with a jaunty step and impertinent whistle down the stairs. The lingering smoke passed through him as easily as he through it. A moment later, something else passed through him, something cold and swift and shockingly painful. He stumbled, grabbing the handrail, his other hand going to the freezing entry wound. Nothing.
When Napoleon wanted to, he could move faster than sound, faster than sight, faster than he himself could think.
Illya wasn't at the car. Doubled over the freezing pain, Napoleon tried to push it away, to focus on his innate sense of where Illya was. Back in the shadowy grounds. He began to run.
The feeble moonlight was a physical thing, teasing its way through the leaves. Napoleon became visible with a suddenness that made him queasy, and the colors of the world dropped into place. It was so dark: pitch black for anyone but a ghost. The pain in his chest pulled him onward.
"Illya!" He could shout with impunity -- who, after all, could hear him but his partner? "Illya..."
A dark bundle of cloth curled under the spreading branches of an oak. Napoleon fell to his knees. With careful, shaking hands, he rolled Illya to his back. The black sweater had a new adornment: a wash of ebony that glittered in the bad light. Blood.
"Illya..." Napoleon slapped his face lightly, then harder. "Wake up, Illya."
With a moan, Illya opened his eyes. They were the barest slits, but they saw Napoleon, for the syllables of his name were mouthed, no voice behind to give them wing. A cough wracked Illya's slim frame; he curled around the pain, around Napoleon.
"Come on, Illya. Can you walk?" Napoleon lifted him up, trying not to hear Illya's groan. When the sure feet refused to find any stability, Napoleon lifted Illya into his arms. The sliver of blue still peeked from between Illya's slitted lids. "Get you to the car, the hospital," Napoleon muttered as he started back the way he'd come.
He couldn't move as fast with Illya in his arms, couldn't move any faster than a normal man. Illya coughed, spraying Napoleon with a fine mist of blood. He could feel more of it, a flood soaking into his chest, sinking more than skin deep. "No!" Napoleon gritted his teeth. Resolutely, he fought off the blood, not allowing it to soak further into his incorporeal frame, not knowing if it was drawn to Illya's seed inside him, or just to him, as Illya was drawn to him. He felt more real than he ever had, except when Illya was pounding into him. It sickened him.
"Hold on, Illya." He thought the body in his arms was unconscious now. It was hard going. He'd forgotten how hard it was to walk over uneven ground, tripped up by roots and low branches, stumbling in the rucked-up earth.
The car. His hand slipped through the door handle. Napoleon shifted Illya in his arms to let the man's hand flop against the roof. He pulled open the door and carefully deposited Illya in the passenger seat. Into his mind flashed the image of his lover lying sated in that very seat -- then, as now, his black clothing melted into the black interior.
"Hold on," he muttered. When he stepped back to close the door, the expected flood of warm blood failed to splash to the pavement. Everything else dropped away from him when he wasn't touching Illya, why not this? Except, of course, that it was Illya. Napoleon slammed the door and ran around the car, half his mind wondering if he could still remember how to drive a stick (not even allowing the possibility that he'd be unable to), the other wondering if he'd go through the rest of eternity with Illya's blood wet on his skin.
The door opened easily under his hand, and the seat was solid at his back. Almost limp with relief, Napoleon pulled the door shut and turned to glance at Illya. For a moment, he sat there, his hand on the key Illya had left in the ignition. The imp was back, whispering. If Illya died...
Napoleon cursed and turned the key. The engine roared to life and Illya shifted, moaning. "Hold on, love. Please, hold on."
Like riding a bicycle, Napoleon thought as he put the car into gear and sped into the night. Just like riding a bicycle. He didn't remember to turn on the lights; didn't need them; perhaps didn't want them. If someone saw a driverless car careering down the road in the middle of the night...
Where to go? Hospital, of course, but... He couldn't take the chance they'd be too stunned by how Illya got there to pay enough attention to Illya.
"Red." Illya's eyes were half-open. "Red."
Napoleon spared a hand to pat his partner's shoulder. He brushed Illya's cheek with the back of his fingers; the skin felt cool and clammy. "Stick with me, Illya." The rendezvous point, April jumping up from the hood of the car. Napoleon barely got the brake applied forcefully enough to stop before slamming into the other car. He felt like he was fading.
"Illya!" April peered in the driver's side window. "He's been
shot," she called to Mark. "Scoot over, Napoleon." As if she could see
him. He scrambled out of her way as she slid without pause into the
driver's seat. Huddled on the floorboards at Illya's feet, as he'd done
so very short a time ago, for a very different purpose, he leaned his
head against Illya's thigh, and prayed to a god he didn't think he
believed in while April broke most of the land-speed records and not a
few traffic laws, Mark never more than a car-length behind.
Low voiced conversations, urgent in their quiet.
Smells: Antiseptic. Linoleum. Metal. Blood.
Beeping. Incessant beeping, like the tolling of the passing bell.
Napoleon shuddered. He hated hospitals. More so now than he'd ever done while alive, though he couldn't remember his own final entrance into one, let alone his exit.
"You look like a walking bloodstain," Mark had hissed at him as he crawled out from under the bloody Mustang. They'd come so quickly for Illya, once April got the car in the parking garage, that he hadn't had time to vacate the car before they pulled Illya's body from it and made it a moot point. "Napoleon..."
It took several minutes for the words to penetrate, for it to register that Mark stood between him and the door they'd rushed Illya through. As if Mark could stop him. As if he could see... him...
Napoleon shifted in Illya's hospital room, drawing his legs up, drawing himself into as small a ball as he could. He was under the bed, in the shadows, where no nurse could see him and scream at the blood, still wet and red, on the floor since he was on the floor, which was better than floating in mid-air. Mark had smuggled him in, after Illya was out of surgery, after the halls had cleared and he could slip into the silent room unnoticed, Illya's blood painting him a murderer.
Surely he could have done something. Should have been with Illya, should have... Napoleon laughed, choked. Couldn't protect Illya, not like this, not ever again. He knew that, had known it for a long time. The monitor beeped steadily, an almost comforting sound. And he'd done worse than not protect, hadn't he? He'd hesitated.
The blood itched and squirmed on his skin. It wounded and protected him, made him real and the faintest of shadows. He licked his palm, shuddering at the taste, thick on his tongue.
He hadn't heard the door open. April slipped inside, another set of footsteps after her: Mark.
"Napoleon?" Mark's call was much softer than April's. He laughed nervously. "You know what they're going to do to us if anyone hears?"
Slowly, Napoleon slid out from under the bed. April stepped back when he stood, retreating with instinctive disgust. He ignored her, turned instead to look at the bed. He'd managed not to when he came in, diving under the bed as into a cool refuge without letting his eyes rest on its occupant, hearing only Mark's quiet command that he stay out of sight, his promise to return in a few minutes.
Illya was very pale. The tubes which ran here and there had more color, and showed more pulsing life, than he. White sheet up to his waist, white bandages plastering his chest, painted already with the ghost of red. His eyes were closed, sunken lids touched with a tracery of blue veins. Even his hair looked dull and pale. Napoleon held the breath he didn't have, as if it would matter if he sobbed, as if anyone but Illya would ever hear him. Tears ran down his cheeks, falling into ghostly oblivion from the point of his chin.
"Illya..." He went to him, unable to do otherwise. He clasped the cool fingers and the blood left him in a flood. It ran from him in rivulets that burned as they slipped from his hand to Illya's, melting into the pale skin like water sinking through soil, until it was all gone. It felt like being flayed alive. Napoleon collapsed on the edge of the bed when it was done, gasping for breath he didn't need, shaking uncontrollably.
"Napoleon?" April stepped to the bedside. She couldn't see him anymore, now the blood was gone. She must have seen the mattress dip. Her hands were on Illya, gently; on him. He felt cold where she touched him, could feel his warmth and strength and being rushing to that point, like floodwaters to the hole in the dike.
He patted her cheek and pulled away, regretfully releasing Illya's hand. He looked better, not as pale. His returned blood rose into his cheeks and flushed his exposed chest.
"Napoleon?" April's look of concern transmuted to something else, something that bespoke understanding, and disappointment. "I'm sorry, Napoleon," she whispered. "Are you okay?" She rolled Illya's fingers into her hand and looked, blindly in her expectation, about the room, as if she might see Napoleon.
He touched his fingers to the back of her hand -- the one which held Illya's -- light and quick to escape the drain of her. He tapped: hard, hard, hard, hard, light, hard. OK. Her expression clouded, then cleared. She made a small noise in the back of her throat.
"What is it?" Mark asked. He approached, a little unwillingly, Napoleon thought. He didn't blame him -- when an agent looked at the body in the bed, no matter how close a friend, he tended to see himself on that occasion, not yet come, when the fates would withdraw their favor.
"Morse code." She smiled at where she thought Napoleon was, off by a bit and looking just to the right of his breast pocket. "Do you know who did this?"
No, he tapped, perhaps a bit harder than necessary. She didn't complain.
"Did Illya say... anything?" April's fingers moved unconsciously over Illya's lax hand in a soothing caress.
He tapped no again, then hesitated and tapped again.
"Red? What did he mean by that?"
Napoleon drew a question mark on the back of her hand. She sighed. "I suppose it was too much to hope for."
Napoleon began tapping again. He didn't want to think about Grierson right now, didn't want to think of anything except Illya, and praying he recovered. But revenge burned in him. Grierson couldn't have fired the shot himself -- Napoleon was with him at the time -- but one of his goons must have. He gave April the location of the secret panel and how to access it through the safe. As he tapped, she repeated the information to Mark, who nodded gravely.
"We'll get him, gov. Don't you worry about that."
"What about you?" April asked as she made reluctant movements to leave. "Do you need anything?"
He patted her cheek again. Nothing but Illya, he thought as Mark and April left the room, returning it to the steady song of the monitor. Nothing but Illya.
He'd never seen Illya so still. Not even when he slept -- and there was little Napoleon liked more than watching Illya sleep, and nothing he had more practice at, not needing sleep himself (though he could do it, if he chose).
"Come on, Illya," he coaxed, taking the lax fingers in his own. "Time to wake up." He sat on the edge of the bed, his thigh nudging Illya's hip.
He didn't know how long he'd spent at Illya's side; there were no clocks in the small room. The only indication of the passage of time was the incessant beeping of the monitor. The nurse had been in three or four times, the doctor once. Every time, Napoleon regretfully released Illya's hand and removed himself to a far corner of the room, where even the chill of his presence might not be felt. The conversation of the doctor and nurse was not reassuring; he was glad he'd never caught a whisper of that sort of talk the many times he was in the hospital: worried, pitying, a little callous.
The imp hovered on his shoulder, whispering about the consequences if Illya died. No more ties to the world, no more things Napoleon could touch. No people. But Illya... what if he became a ghost, like Napoleon, what then could they do? Everything? Nothing? Napoleon shook off the thoughts like horseflies, but they always came back.
"I know you, Illyushka; you're too stubborn to let this take you down." Napoleon tightened his grip on the cool fingers as he stretched out the other hand to stroke Illya's face. "They don't believe it; you're going to have to show them, Illya. Show us all. Wake up," he pleaded.
Illya's fingers grew cooler in Napoleon's grasp. They slipped without warning through his hand. "No," he gasped, panic squeezing his chest. He reached again for his partner's hand, watching with horror as his fingers passed ghostly through the back of Illya's hand. "God, Illya, please!" He clutched at Illya's body, clawing through cloth and flesh and mattress without one iota of resistance. There was only the cool feeling of his passage through the one thing in the world which had been solid to him. "No!"
"Easy." A warm hand touched his shoulder.
If he'd been alive, Napoleon would have done himself an injury, so quickly did he snap around and to his feet. "Illya?" He was dressed in black trousers and a open-necked white dress shirt with the sleeves rolled back -- not what he'd been wearing when shot, or was wearing now. He looked... perfect. Napoleon looked back to the body on the bed, to the chest rising and slowly falling under bloody bandages. The monitor beeped steadily, calmly. "Illya, you're not supposed to be here." The words came slowly, retarded by grief, and guilty hope, and more fear than he thought his chest could hold. He dragged his gaze back to the man beside him.
Illya stuffed his hands in his pockets and shrugged. "I fail to see how 'supposed to' comes into it. I am here. And I can touch you." He reached out quickly to prove it, his fingers warm on Napoleon's cheek, before returning his hand to his pocket.
"But you..." He lost breath, which was funny since he didn't need it to begin with. "You're not dead."
Illya regarded his own body thoughtfully. "Apparently not." He looked as if he were taking it all very calmly, except for his hands, still tightly confined in his pockets to hide the tremor. He shrugged again. "Guess I have a day pass."
"Shh." Illya stepped up to Napoleon, and kissed him firmly. "What good does it do to question this? It will last for as long or as short as it does, and we'd be poor fools not to make the best of it."
"Illya..." A groan, this time, as he bent his head to return the kiss. Illya felt so good: warm and vibrant, and so very real. Napoleon ran his fingers up Illya's bare forearms, ruffling the hair, feeling it shift silkily against his skin. When Illya stepped with a murmur against him, he could feel every inch of the lithe strong body pressed against him, undimmed by anything more insubstantial than their clothing. "God, Illya."
"Polya." He began to draw Napoleon from the bedside, using kisses and touches as both bait and goad. He only let Napoleon look back once, turning Napoleon's head firmly from a view of the body in the bed. "I'm here, Polya. For now, for however long this is, I'm here, not there."
It wasn't necessary for him to do it again, not after he got Napoleon pinned against the wall. Napoleon's eyes kept closing on the sheer pleasure of Illya's most innocent touch; he felt more alive than he'd ever been, as if he had to shut down merely to contain himself. Illya's touch burned and soothed, sparking nervous spasms that only he could quell.
"Shh, shh," a constant refrain, when their mouths were not otherwise busy. Napoleon had never been so skittish, nor Illya so determined. He crowded Napoleon against the wall, leaning his weight against him, pressing their bodies together from chest to knee. Napoleon didn't try to restrain his groans, didn't need to.
The warmth of Illya's fingers flayed his skin with pleasurable sensation as he swiftly undid buttons, waistband, zipper. He stroked over Napoleon's quivering stomach, setting all the tiny hairs on end. The hand stroked a surfeit of sensation down into Napoleon's pants, and shoved down his trousers.
"I believe I owe you," Illya said in between kisses. "A mouth," he murmured against Napoleon's lips, "for a mouth." With that, he knelt, and offered Napoleon the most agonizing pleasure he'd ever felt.
His nerves stripped bare by the burning reality of Illya's mouth on him, Napoleon sagged against the wall, writhing, groaning. Much as he wanted to look down at that golden head as Illya pleasured him, he kept his eyes squeezed tightly shut, for fear of seeing anything else in that room. It took only a few moments -- quicker off the mark than he'd ever been -- so high did the lightest touch take him.
Gasping, he slid down the wall into Illya's arms. Illya sealed his lips over Napoleon's and, for the first time, Napoleon tasted his seed from Illya's mouth. He didn't know how he tasted to Illya, but since his death he'd never been anything but a texture to himself. Napoleon couldn't stop the tears that came to his eyes.
He squirmed flat before Illya could see them, and hauled his lover's body onto his own, fumbling between them to release Illya from his trousers. The soft, hard length of Illya's cock thrust needfully against Napoleon's bare stomach. He took Illya's mouth with his own, thrusting his tongue into the heated depths as Illya moved against him. The hot length slid first against Napoleon's stomach, then shifted lower as Illya adjusted himself to bring his mouth more firmly down on Napoleon's. The thrusting of Illya's hardness against his sensitive softness, catching a little in his hair, was pleasurable agony. Napoleon wrapped his arms around Illya and coaxed him faster, harder, until Illya shuddered, weeping as he came.
The hot seed sprayed against Napoleon's skin, and tears leaked
from his lids as well. It was so wonderful it choked him, and yet...
There was no burn to the feel of Illya's seed, no heightened feeling of
reality. It was no different than the thousand thousand times
Napoleon's own seed had fallen onto his skin. Despite the overwhelming
pleasure of Illya's touch, Napoleon wept.
"Who did this to you?"
They lay upon the floor where their lovemaking had left them like so much wreckage upon the shore. Their clothing tempest-tossed, their arms and legs wound round and about each other, they lay silent, without even the heaving of oxygen-starved lungs to shift their grip. Napoleon kept Illya's weight atop him, as he had so often slept, drawing Illya onto him until his reality outweighed Napoleon's lack of same. He missed the comfort of Illya's heart beating against him, the soft reassurance of his breath.
"Illya?" The monitor, to which Napoleon had been for a time deaf, sung its measured tune.
"Fallon." Illya rolled to his back; Napoleon followed. He was too startled to notice how charming Illya's reddened lips and disarrayed clothes looked.
"What?" Napoleon bent to kiss an exposed collarbone.
"John Fallon." He held Napoleon's head when he would have lifted it, until Napoleon gave in and laid his cheek against Illya's chest. "Section Three, tall, red-head: John Fallon."
Napoleon took in a breath he let sough out against Illya's skin. "He's been acting odd since we brought him into this. I'm sorry, Illya; I didn't think--"
"None of us did. None of us really know him. His behavior might have simply been normal, for him."
"I don't think we can count shooting you as normal."
"No. I'd rather not."
"Because I don't like being shot."
Napoleon snorted. "Not what I meant."
Illya shifted under Napoleon in something that might have been a shrug. "He didn't say." He paused, and Napoleon remained silent as his partner thought. "He looked... wild."
"How so?" Napoleon asked quietly to nudge Illya's train of thought along a little.
Illya was silent, absently tangling his fingers in Napoleon's hair. "Couldn't have been the hair -- from what I've seen, it always looks like the aftermath of a tornado. Clothes... His clothes were disarrayed... like he'd dressed fast, or in the dark."
"Possibly. What are you thinking?"
"I'm not sure."
Illya didn't push it. His fingers stroked through Napoleon's hair. The feel was so shivery-sweet Napoleon wanted to purr. His eyes closed, he was halfway to a state of unbated bliss when it struck him.
Napoleon bolted upright. "Illya!" He winced as Illya's fingers tangled in his hair. "He'll try again. You're not safe; he'll try again." He made it to his feet and started doing up his clothing before it tripped him. "And no one knows any cause to keep him out."
"What do you suggest doing?" Illya asked from the floor.
Napoleon paced to the bed and back. He'd almost forgotten how close to death Illya lay, wanted perhaps to forget, to look no longer on the body in the bed. "Even Mark and April..." He dragged a hand through his hair. "We've got to let them know."
"How?" Illya sat up and wrapped his arms around his bent knees, not bothering to put his clothing to rights.
"I..." Napoleon turned to the bed, looking again at Illya lying quiet and still with bandages and tubes decorating his thin frame. Slowly, he reached out a hand, in a touch so soft it could barely have been felt, if it had connected. He stepped back with a shudder, crossing his arms, pushing his hands tight into his armpits.
"We can't communicate with them," Illya said and, though it was not a question, Napoleon forced out an answer.
"Napoleon..." April sat in a chair at Illya's bedside, his lax hand in hers. She was beginning to sound rather testy. "Where the hell is he?"
Mark shrugged, his hands in his pockets, so exactly mirroring the way Illya stood before him that Napoleon snorted despite the seriousness of the situation. Illya glared.
Napoleon tried again to touch April. He could no more do so than he could touch Illya -- his body, not the spirit which had done such wickedly pleasurable things to him. He didn't even feel the usual drain in touching April, and she only shivered when his fingers skimmed her. Illya had tried to make contact with Mark, and snatched his hand back when it passed through the other man's shoulder. He wouldn't even attempt to touch his own silent body.
"Illya," April said to the unconscious form, "and Napoleon, too, if you're here," she added with no attempt to hide her exasperation, "we got them: the papers from Grierson's house. Some of them are awfully--" She blushed. "Never mind. Anyway, Mark and I will return them to that bastard's blackmail victims."
"All we need to do now is finish the game," Mark said. He shuffled his feet. "We need you for that, gov."
The nurse pushed open the door and glared at them, then looked meaningfully at her watch before slipping back out again. Mark sighed, and laid a gentle hand on April's shoulder. "Guess that's our cue. Get better, Illya," he said gruffly. "We need you."
April kissed Illya's unresponsive lips, her tears dropping on his face. She followed her partner reluctantly from the room.
"Damn," Napoleon said under his breath. He honestly wasn't sure what he was cursing at: their utter inability to warn Mark and April of the danger from Fallon, or the tightness in his chest. He blinked away the warmth in his eyes and turned to Illya. "Now what?"
Illya shrugged, not turning to face him, and Napoleon knew there were tears in his eyes as well, which he would not show. He sighed and went to stand over Illya's body.
"You look better," he said after a minute's observation. The new bandages applied by the nurse a few hours ago were still pristine white, and Illya's skin was an appealing pink. Napoleon reached out to run his fingers along the length of one exposed arm, careful not to do more than skim -- the last thing he wanted was a reminder that he couldn't actually make contact.
"Do I?" Illya asked remotely. He rubbed his arm.
"Illya..." Napoleon went around the bed and hauled his partner into his arms, shuddering at the exquisite feel of him. Illya didn't have to say he was scared; all he had to do was lay his head on Napoleon's shoulder. They stood in silence, shuddering in the warmth of their embrace.
The door gave a gentle creak as it stealthily opened.
In an instant, the embrace was broken. Napoleon and Illya separated to meet Fallon, positioning themselves between him and the bed at the mindless demand of training. Fallon's face was pale, his hair standing out garishly above the set intensity of his expression. He passed through Napoleon without the vestige of a shiver, so focused on his victim in the bed he didn't even feel Napoleon's chill. Illya held his ground until the last moment, but lunged aside before Fallon could walk through him. Napoleon didn't blame him -- the first few months, it was distinctly unnerving to find himself passing through another person, or vice versa.
Fallon gently tugged the pillow from under the dead weight of Illya's head, and stood looking down at him, the pillow clasped between his hands. "I'm very sorry about this," he whispered, and pressed the pillow to Illya's face.
The monitor beeped wildly, the only visible struggle in that room. Napoleon threw himself on Fallon. The feeling as he fell through the man's body, Illya's body, the bed, was a chill deeper than the grave. He hauled himself up and looked about frantically -- there must be something. Someone would come running to the call of the monitor, but Fallon must know that. The serenity of his expression spoke too well of a nurse lured from her station. They couldn't rely on outside help, and they couldn't touch Fallon. For god's sake, there must be something!
Napoleon's eyes snagged on Illya, standing with his arms hanging loose at his sides, his eyes on the unmoving tableau as Fallon suffocated his helpless body. The look in his eyes was barely more than scientific curiosity. He didn't attempt to stop Fallon, didn't risk falling through the man, through himself.
Tears running down his face, Napoleon went to him. He folded Illya in his arms, savoring for the last time the hot prickling touch of perfect contact, and kissed him hard and fast. He swung Illya from him, throwing him against the bed. Where spirit met flesh, the lines began to blur.
"Napoleon..." Illya's voice faded as his outline did, blurring as his spirit ran like blood back to the place it belonged. In barely a second, he was gone, and Illya's hand twitched.
Napoleon grabbed that hand, sobbing at the feel of warm flesh under his fingers, and swung as hard as he was able at Fallon's head. It felt like hitting a watermelon, but despite the mushiness of the blow, Fallon reeled and fell. Napoleon scrabbled at the pillow, pushing it as far aside as he could -- he got it, finally, off Illya's face, where it fell away and his fingers slipped through the fabric.
"Illya." He slapped the man's face lightly, and was rewarded with a weak glare through barely-open lids. "Oh god, Illya." He kissed the forehead, cheeks, chin, avoiding Illya's mouth -- he still gasped painfully for lost breath.
"What the hell--!"
Napoleon jerked at the doctor's voice, before remembering that the man could hardly be shocked at something he couldn't see. He laid one last lingering kiss to Illya's forehead and turned to watch as the doctor fumbled with the intercom button on the wall to call for help.
Illya's fingers twitched, and closed tighter on Napoleon's
hand. The pressure was good; it felt like they were both wearing
"God, Illya, I'm sorry."
"How were you to know?" His voice was a little weak, but his glare had lost none of its strength. April smiled tremulously in response. "Do we know why yet?"
Mark shifted, cleared his throat. "Apparently, Fallon was having an affair with Grierson's wife." Napoleon choked and buried his face in Illya's shoulder. "He must have thought we were after him."
"Or it was just dumb luck," Napoleon muttered against Illya's neck. "Wrong place, wrong time. You saw him, you see?"
"I see," Illya murmured.
"You know," April said, drawing her fingers down the back of Illya's hand, "you're the talk of headquarters."
She grinned brightly. "Your legend is complete, Illya dear. Even on death's door, you managed to fight off your attacker. U.N.C.L.E.'s Russian Dragon is unstoppable and invulnerable."
Illya cleared his throat. "I had help, you know."
Her eyes softened. "I know." She didn't try to reach out to Napoleon, though the mussing of the bedcovers must have made it quite clear where he was. He roused himself to pat her cheek, prompting a sweet smile.
Mark settled himself more comfortably in the chair by the bed and propped his feet on the mattress. "Too bad you couldn't be there when we returned those pictures." He shook his head, a smile lurking around his mouth. "Especially to the British ambassador to the U.N."
April laughed. "I think he'll be a little more circumspect from now on."
"Good. Makes up for dangling upside down outside his second floor bedroom window taking them in the first place. Dirty business."
"Almost over," Mark said.
"I know. No time like the present, hm?" Illya struggled a bit more upright, wincing as the movement pulled his stitches. "You've verified Grierson's phone is tapped?"
April snorted. "By McKinney, no less. They're not very trusting."
"Thrush head of New York? Excellent." Illya made a little show of patting the sheets, as if looking for something. "I don't seem to have my communicator on me."
"Use mine." Mark rummaged in his pocket and pulled out the device in question. He flipped the top, requested Channel D, and asked to be patched into the phone service before handing it over to Illya.
They could all hear the tinny ringing of the phone on the other end of the line. When it picked up, Illya spoke, no trace of weakness in his voice. "Mr. Grierson? Ian Sterling here. I have the additional pictures of Mr. McKinney you paid me for." He paused and listened for a moment to the sputtering on the other end of the line. "I fail to see the problem, sir. The pictures are taken, and paid for, all you have to do is pick them up. The same park; one hour." He rung off before the other end of the line could respond and handed the communicator back to Mark. "That should take care of Mr. Grierson."
Mark was grinning as he tucked the pen back into his pocket. "Indeed it should. Thrush frowns on blackmail when it involves their own people."
"Illya, dear, you're hardly likely to show up for that meeting," April said, pretending concern.
"Neither, I think, is Grierson. And he'll have a hard time proving he never had any compromising photos of his boss, given you cleaned out his entire stock."
"I almost feel sorry for him," April murmured.
The room lights were low, and they'd finally removed that damn beeping thing. Napoleon lay in the dim quiet and listened to Illya's heart beat: a much more pleasant noise, wonderfully incessant.
He'd objected when Illya told him to climb into the bed, but no one could hold off that stubborn Russian for long when he got an idea in his head, not even his lover. Napoleon lay cautiously against Illya, careful not to put too much weight on him.
Illya's hand was in his hair, alternately rucking it up and smoothing it down again. Napoleon could barely feel it, but he murmured and cuddled closer anyway. Carefully. He worried that he might unknowingly press too hard.
"As soon as they let me out of here..." The slide of Illya's other hand down Napoleon's side made his intention quite clear.
Napoleon shivered. "When you're well," he said. He turned his head to kiss Illya's bare chest, then back to press his ear against the slowly rising ribcage again. He listened to Illya's heartbeat finally slow into slumber.
The world was very distant just then. Though he could hear Illya's heartbeat loud and clear, he could barely feel the skin his cheek rested against.
He didn't think he'd ever complain about that again, even to himself. He could stand making love in a wetsuit until he got what he needed. The alternative wasn't anything he wanted to revisit in the near future. He'd put up with anything, so long as Illya lived. One day, he knew, they'd touch without barrier again -- he hoped it was a very long time coming.
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