|The package arrived at a godforsaken hour of the morning, even
by Illya's standards. The delivery boy woke him out of a sound slumber;
one well-deserved after the difficulties of his latest mission, only
recently concluded. He'd been dreaming of Napoleon; what precisely he
couldn't remember, but the cold dread stuck with him. Even with the
furnace cranked ridiculously high for the little U.N.C.L.E.-owned
London flat, the chill refused to leave his bones.
Less than an hour later, wearing the jeans and sweater contained in the box, he was hurrying through Heathrow. His pounding feet played counterpoint to his racing thoughts as he silently cursed both his scanty instructions and the traffic snarl which had held him up. He dashed to the reserved landing strip to find the U.N.C.L.E. jet already on the ground and a familiar figure waiting impatiently.
"You're late, Mr. Kuryakin."
"Yes, sir," he panted, resisting the familiar impulse to salute his autocratic superior, "sorry, sir."
"Mr. Solo's bad habits seem to be rubbing off on you," Waverly remarked disapprovingly. "Well, get the luggage. We can't afford to lollygag about here; we have a plane to catch."
"Oh ... uh ... yes, sir." Illya made haste to grab the two large suitcases and trail the Old Man into the main terminal and over to a commercial airline counter. He followed Waverly's directions with alacrity as they checked the bags and made it onto the flight with minutes to spare. Mr. Waverly maintained his silence until they were airborne and the stewardesses had made their first rounds of the cabin.
"I apologize for the short notice, Mr. Kuryakin, but I'm afraid it couldn't be helped." Waverly's voice was pitched low enough that, even were someone eavesdropping, they would be hard-pressed to make out the words. It was a technique Napoleon used to great effect; Illya had often wondered where he'd learned it.
"I understand, sir. I hope you'll forgive me for asking what exactly is going on? Is everything all right in New York?"
"New York? Of course, never been quieter. No, the problem is in Switzerland, I'm afraid."
"We're on our way there now. Weren't you paying attention when we boarded?" Waverly did nothing to conceal his impatience.
"Sorry, sir. I'm afraid I was rather distracted."
"Well, pay attention now, for heaven's sake. If your distraction endangers our cover, the consequences to ourselves and Mr. Solo could be severe."
"Napoleon?" Illya's chest tightened in something akin to panic.
"Mr. Solo has been investigating some odd seismic disturbances in the Alps. There is some indication they may not be of entirely natural origin."
"Thrush?" Illya hazarded, remembering all to well at least a half-dozen of their more outlandish devices which interfered with the usual order of nature. Though desperate to find out what had happened to Napoleon, he was resigned to letting Waverly get to the point in his own time. One never rushed the Old Man.
"Actually, we are fairly certain that, for once, Thrush is not involved. No, whatever is going on, it is perpetrated by some person or persons unknown and, we think, indicative of some more nefarious purpose. Naturally, it is imperative we find out precisely what that purpose is."
"Which is what Napoleon's been doing these past few weeks."
"Exactly. For the last month, Mr. Solo has posed as a businessman on holiday at a local resort. And run through rather more of U.N.C.L.E.'s money than strictly necessary."
Illya grinned to himself; some things never changed. "Has he found something?"
"We're not certain," and here Waverly looked more troubled than Illya had ever seen him.
"Hasn't he kept in touch?"
"Yes indeed; he was actually speaking to me when the so-called accident occurred, as nearly as we can ascertain."
"Accident? Mr. Waverly, is Napoleon all right?" The bands of anxiety tightened alarmingly about Illya's chest, making it hard for him to conceal the depth of his concern. He quivered in the same chill premonition he'd felt upon awakening.
"What? Oh yes, he seems to be. The hospital sent word yesterday that he was recovering nicely, apart from a sprained wrist, a mild concussion and a very puzzling case of amnesia."
"Amnesia?!" Now that he finally knew the worst of it, Illya found himself able to breathe and think clearly again. It had always been thus with him -- he could deal with the known, so long as it was not Napoleon's death; for the known there were solutions. "Could he be faking?"
"Not likely. Before he was cut off, he said he thought he'd found the source of the disturbances. Knowing how important that information is to U.N.C.L.E., he would certainly get word to us, if he were able. Also, his accident appears to have been genuine. He was found in a clearing near a local ski area, suffering from mild hypothermia and exposure, in addition to the concussion and sprain I mentioned earlier. According to the authorities, his footprints were the only ones in the area; their official verdict is that he was either in a skiing accident, or got caught in a small avalanche, and wandered in a daze until he collapsed in the clearing where they found him." Mr. Waverly paused to light his pipe, then added, "Avalanches been very common in the area in the last couple of months; a direct result of the seismic disturbances."
"So either they, whoever they are, discovered Napoleon and tried to do away with him -- "
"Poor job they did of it, if that was their intent," Waverly interrupted briskly. He hated incompetence, even when it proved useful.
"Well, Napoleon has always been extraordinarily lucky." Illya smiled briefly before continuing soberly. "Or Napoleon got too near whatever is causing the seismic disturbances, and got caught in the backlash of one of their experiments."
"Either way, it's imperative we get to him before they do; if they're looking for him, that is. And we must find out precisely what it is Mr. Solo's discovered."
"Why hasn't he been sent back to headquarters to recover, and a new agent assigned to the case? Normal operating procedures..."
"I'm quite aware of normal operating procedures, Mr. Kuryakin," Waverly interrupted impatiently. "We haven't time. Seismic readings in the area strongly suggest they've almost perfected the device. We cannot afford to allow them to finish their work, or to leave the area once they have. After nearly a month of probing, Mr. Solo had nothing of any consequence to report. Whatever he discovered, and whoever discovered him, is our only lead."
"There's always the possibility that Napoleon's accident was a case of genuine bad luck. Where does that leave us?"
"We must proceed on the assumption that Mr. Solo's accident was no accident. If so, then he must have discovered something important, and whoever tried to kill him before will most likely try again. Mr. Solo is our only link to these people; he'll have to act as bait."
"But if he really does have amnesia he'll be helpless," Illya pointed out, "He probably won't even be able to protect himself."
"Precisely. It will be part of our mission to protect Mr. Solo while his presence draws out whoever is behind these seismic disturbances. I'm coming along to assist you in this regard, in the hopes that two familiar faces will restore Mr. Solo's memory more swiftly than one."
Illya sighed. There were an awful lot of hopefully's and maybe's in this plan, and he didn't like the threat it posed to Napoleon's safety. He waited until the stewardess had served their drinks before saying, "If we wish to draw these people out, we'll have to look completely harmless while sticking close enough to Napoleon to protect him."
"Exactly. Which is precisely why you and I are taking a commercial flight. No hint of U.N.C.L.E. involvement must be suspected. Here is your new ID." Waverly handed Illya a worn-looking wallet. "I trust you left your personal identification in the London flat, as ordered?" Illya nodded absently as he flipped open the wallet.
"Nicholas Stratford," Illya read from the United Kingdom driver's permit bearing his picture. "Stratford ... isn't that the pseudonym Napoleon's using?"
"Of course. You could hardly pose as his brother under your own name."
"Brother? Mr. Waverly, I -- "
"Will manage fine. And you'd best remember not to call me by that name anymore ... son." Waverly's eyes twinkled mischievously at Illya, who finally remembered to close his mouth.
"Napoleon's going to fall over laughing," Illya muttered under his breath. If he remembers.
As the taxi wound its way, a tad too slowly for Illya's impatience, into the mountains, he reflected on their mission and the instructions Waverly had given him during the flight. He only hoped he could pull it off.
Illya had played many roles over the course of his employment with U.N.C.L.E., roles frequently contrary to his nature. But never, he thought, had any been as foreign to him as this one. Orphaned young, and having little experience of family life, Kuryakin was skeptical of his ability to play at son or brother. Waverly had shrugged off the young agent's misgivings, claiming that it would not call for behavior much different from his usual with either partner or superior.
The inclusion of Waverly in this mission disconcerted Illya. The Old Man had retired from the field some years ago, although his position in U.N.C.L.E. allowed him to occasionally dip his fingers back into that particular pie. His covert excitement over working in the field again was obvious; Illya only hoped it wouldn't prove dangerous.
There really was no other way to protect Napoleon without displaying an overt U.N.C.L.E. presence. Waverly had explained, with remarkable patience, that Napoleon's cover had included writing several letters to his "father" at a London address which had been routinely forwarded to the New York office. The hospital had contacted Waverly in this same manner after Napoleon's amnesia became apparent. Under the circumstances, the sudden appearance of Mr. Napoleon Stratford's father would hardly be cause for surprise. Less suspicious than the arrival of solely the injured man's "brother" (particularly one whose appearance so little resembled his), it was infinitely better than the introduction of one, or more, entirely unrelated persons, any of whom might be taken for U.N.C.L.E. agents.
"No suits," Waverly had decreed during the flight, explaining the package he'd had sent to Illya's flat, "they make you look older. It's no stretch to claim someone your age as a son, but explaining the lack of resemblance between you and Napoleon will cause enough doubts; we don't want to leave any suspicions open in this area."
The second suitcase he'd helped Waverly check at the airport
contained his clothes (minus the banned suits), purloined from his
apartment by Mark Slate. Who had also, according to Waverly, done some
shopping to fill the gaps in Illya's casual wardrobe. Illya,
remembering the hideous red and white shirt he'd caught Mark wearing in
the Pygmalionesque affair with the Baroness de Chasseur, winced when
Waverly told him, hoping he wouldn't have cause to regret Mark's
Waverly descended on the ski lodge like a blizzard, startling even Illya, who knew he really ought to have known better. He'd certainly been on the receiving end of the man's autocratic demeanor often enough. Waverly had been U.N.C.L.E.'s best agent before he retired from the field; he hadn't lost any of his skill.
"I want a suite with two bedrooms. My son Napoleon's belongings should be moved to the suite and his bill added to mine." Waverly's voice had lost its usual gruffness -- smoothly urbane and just slightly accented, it was no less demanding. And just as quick to produce a response.
"I am Hans Shreiner, manager of the lodge," the decidedly Nordic-looking man elbowed aside his stammering underling to wait on Waverly himself. Like all managers, he was adept at sniffing out money, and Waverly's manner and appearance shouted wealth. "How may I be of service?"
"As I just told this young man, I'm Alexander Stratford, and this is my son, Nicholas."
"Stratford?" Hans' brow cleared as he placed the name. "Ah yes, you must be Herr Napoleon Stratford's father. A most unfortunate accident." Although the man's demeanor was properly sorrowful, Illya thought it seemed somewhat forced.
"Yes, we'll be on our way to the hospital as soon our reservations are squared away. The flight was long and I'm tired."
"Yes, sir. You wanted a suite, was it?"
"With two bedrooms, yes."
"Of course. You can hardly expect me to share a bedroom with the youngsters." The look he turned on Illya was fondly disapproving. Illya half-smiled, but remained silently respectful.
"Of course not, sir." He glanced over his register and handed the appropriate key to Waverly with an ingratiating smile. "You're in luck; we have one suite still available. I'll show you up myself." He moved out from behind the counter, beckoning the bellboy over to gather their suitcases.
"Have this young man show Nicholas to the room Napoleon occupied." Though Waverly's order was given almost negligently, it produced an immediate response from the young man holding the suitcases. He set them down instantly and moved to Illya's side, leaving Hans to pick the luggage up with poorly concealed annoyance. Waverly turned his pale gaze on Illya and smiled, most fatherly indeed. "Nicky, repack Napoleon's things and bring them to our suite, will you?"
"Of course, father." Illya followed the young man, whose name turned out to be Louis, to a far wing of the lodge. Despite Mr. Waverly's irritation over the budget, it seemed Napoleon had been playing it low-key for once, and taken one of the lodge's less expensive rooms in a far wing. The young bellboy chattered away at him, excited at the opportunity to practice his English; though Illya listened intently, none of the gossip seemed to have any bearing on the mystery Napoleon had been investigating.
Aware of the bellboy's eyes on him the entire time, Illya set about gathering Napoleon's things and repacking his suitcase. As he did so, he kept alert for any sign that the room had been searched or bugged, and an eye out for any clues Napoleon might have left.
The place was one hell of a mess, which the uninitiated would have taken to mean that it had been violently ransacked. However, knowing Napoleon, Illya was able to determine that, if the place had been searched, it was done quite carefully and very well. It took more effort to search an untidy room without leaving evidence than a neat one; for that very reason, Illya tended to be somewhat on the sloppy side with his possessions (except the special U.N.C.L.E. equipment) when traveling, though he was quite neat at home. Napoleon, on the other hand, was always a mess. Although the man's appearance was invariably perfect, his apartment perpetually looked as if a hurricane had recently hit it.
Illya packed quickly and efficiently, finding nothing
unexpected or out of place. All Napoleon's U.N.C.L.E. equipment was
tucked away in its various hidey-holes; the only things missing were
his communicator and gun, which had probably been on him at the time of
the accident. Illya made a mental note to remember to ask the hospital
for everything that had been found with Napoleon. Likewise, nothing
unexpected seemed to be in the offing -- Illya recognized all the
clothing, toiletry articles, and even the book Napoleon had apparently
been reading (he'd loaned it to his partner himself). The only thing
that was out of place was the book of matches on the night stand.
Napoleon didn't smoke unless it was part of his cover, and he always
used the special-issue U.N.C.L.E. lighter when he did. Illya
surreptitiously palmed the matches before picking up Napoleon's
suitcase and preceding the bellboy out the door.
"I'm sorry, gentlemen, but you can't take Mr. Stratford with you tonight." The white-clad doctor seemed genuinely apologetic. It sat well on his cherubic face. Never had Illya seen a man who looked more like the American Santa Clause. He instinctively mistrusted people who looked that friendly and good-natured.
Illya didn't let his distrust show; he knew that, at this point in the mission, he was inclined to be suspicious of everyone he met, particularly when Napoleon had been put out of commission. It would do no good to scowl at the man, however; if he were the enemy, it would only warn him, and if he were not, it was highly impolite, at best.
"I wish I'd known you were coming this evening; we wouldn't have given him a sedative." The man led the way down a quiet hallway and stopped before an open door. Illya could see Napoleon inside, his dark hair striking against the white bedlinens. He was conscious of the doctor continuing his monologue to Waverly, but heard it as if from a distance. "He was becoming overly agitated, you see. It happens from time to time with amnesia victims, I'm afraid."
Illya found himself at Napoleon's bedside, his hand on the sleeping man's shoulder. But for his bandaged right wrist, he looked fine. He didn't look like a man who had nearly been killed. He didn't look like a man with no memory of himself. He looked normal; just like Illya Kuryakin's partner was supposed to. Illya didn't realize his grip on Napoleon's shoulder had tightened punishingly until his partner shifted with a murmur of annoyance. The brown eyes opened slowly until they looked steadily into Illya's. Napoleon blinked.
"Napoleon?" Illya's grip tightened again, and he just barely resisted the impulse to shake his partner by the shoulder. He kept his voice very low, not wanting the doctor to notice Napoleon was awake. Not just yet, anyway. "Napoleon? Do you know me?"
Napoleon's hazy brown eyes gazed solemnly up at him for a long moment, seemingly captivated by his face. They closed again on a sigh, as Napoleon drifted back into drugged sleep. Illya straightened up carefully, afraid he'd fly apart if he moved too fast. Napoleon's eyes had been soft and clear, almost innocent, and utterly void of any recognition. Illya had never felt lonelier in his life. As was his habit when confronted with strong emotion, his own or another's, he sought to escape. He didn't see either Waverly or the doctor as he brushed past them and strode briskly out of the building.
"Touchy, isn't he?" the doctor suggested, his eyes following Illya to the door. He turned to glance curiously at Waverly, who also watched the quick retreat, knowing only he could perceive the full extent of tightly-controlled emotion in the young man's actions. Only he and, under normal circumstances, Napoleon. Waverly hadn't missed the interplay between Illya and Napoleon. When he noticed Illya edging into the room, he'd shifted position to afford himself a clear view past the doctor, careful to subtly keep the man's back to the door.
"This business has upset Nicholas rather a lot, I'm afraid," he offered in vague explanation. "He and Napoleon have always been close. I can't imagine why; they're so different." He gazed thoughtfully at his sleeping "son," aware the doctor was regarding him curiously.
"If you don't mind my asking..." The man hesitated, turning his own gaze to Napoleon.
"Yes?" Waverly downplayed his eagerness to dispense information, knowing that anything he told this man would make the rounds quickly. They couldn't have planned a better method of disseminating their cover.
"Well, Nicholas appears to resemble you much more closely than Napoleon. One seldom sees brothers so disparate..."
Waverly laughed softly, a man's automatic response to a common and familiar question. "Perhaps I allowed my first wife too free a hand with my elder son: in the matter of naming him, and of sending him to that American school." He shook his head ruefully. "I kept a closer eye on my Nicholas."
"Ah, they're half-brothers, then?"
"Yes, and separated by a few years. For all that, they've always gotten on together remarkably well." He sighed and turned from the door, making a subtle point of being most unwilling to do so. "If we cannot take him with us tonight, then we cannot. I assume he can be released tomorrow?"
"Of course. Under normal circumstances, he wouldn't have been hospitalized for more than twenty-four hours. We only kept him this long for his own safety, due to the memory loss. But, proximity to his family will do more than we can to bring his memory back."
"Very well, then. Until tomorrow, Doctor ...?"
"Hauptmann. Dr. Ernest Hauptmann." The man clapped a hand to Waverly's shoulder. "There is every reason to expect the best. Do let Nicholas know that, won't you?"
Waverly agreed softly before disengaging himself from the man's over-familiarity and following Illya's earlier retreat into the frigid evening air. He found Kuryakin leaning against the wall just outside the door and walked past him without pausing. After a moment, Illya followed, taking several brisk steps to catch up.
"Another performance like that and I'll send you back to New York in a crate." Waverly's voice carried no farther than Illya's ears, despite the furious tone.
Illya blinked, stunned by the venomous reproof. "Sir?"
"You're supposed to be his brother and my son. Act like it! There will be no more withdrawing, under any circumstances, understand?" Waverly appeared satisfied at Illya's subdued nod. "Now, what did you find out?"
"The amnesia must be real. He didn't recognize me." Illya was unable to keep the despair out of his voice. He was surprised when Waverly patted his arm kindly.
"I expected as much from your reaction. Have faith, Nicky, the doctor says spending time with his family may be all that's necessary to cure what ails our Napoleon." Illya glanced up at the unfamiliar tone of address, to see they'd reached their waiting taxi. The driver got out to open the door for them, his manner deferential. Probably hoping for a big tip. Illya waited to speak until the man had closed the door and was out of earshot.
"But we're not his family!"
"Are you so sure of that?"
"Napoleon!" Illya flew across the room and into Napoleon's arms with such undoubted exuberance that Waverly feared the Russian had taken his admonition to play his part more realistically too much to heart. Napoleon looked briefly startled, but recovered quickly, his arms curving tightly around the smaller frame pressed so closely against him. It was obvious he hadn't a clue as to the identity of the man fervently embracing him, yet he held on almost grimly. Waverly wondered whether that said more about the fear and uncertainty brought on by the amnesia, or Napoleon's own closely hidden nature. He tucked the thought away for later study and strode briskly to join the young men.
"It's good to see you on your feet again, son."
Illya had finally released his partner but remained close, and Waverly noted Napoleon kept a hand on Illya's shoulder, as if afraid he'd vanish if not restrained. The older man also embraced Napoleon briefly, with unfeigned affection, though less enthusiasm than that displayed by his youthful colleague.
"Sir?" Napoleon offered hesitantly, "Am I to take it you're my father, then?" Still hoping he'd misread all the evidence that Napoleon's amnesia was real, Illya looked in vain for the twinkle in his partner's eye which would have indicated he was merely playing along with the joke.
"Yes, my boy. Do you know me?"
"I ... you look ... vaguely familiar, in an odd sort of way." Napoleon shrugged apologetically, looking ill at ease. He flashed that engaging smile suddenly. "I expect you'd have to, wouldn't you?"
"You certainly haven't lost your sense of humor." Waverly grinned back. Illya strove mightily to prevent his astonishment from showing; he couldn't remember ever having seen his superior smile so openly before.
"No, just my memory." Lord, how could he retain that flippant manner? Looking closely, however, Illya recognized the fear lurking just under the surface of the facade. He wondered who Napoleon was trying hardest to mislead, them or himself.
"Do you even know your name?" Waverly asked; curious, with an undertone of concern.
"They told me my name is Napoleon Stratford." He shrugged, slightly shamefaced. "I thought it was a bad joke."
"No, your name is Napoleon." That much, at least, was unvarnished truth. "Mine is Alexander Stratford, and your brother's name is Nicholas."
"Nicholas?" Napoleon questioned with a frown. Illya growled and punched Napoleon playfully in the ribs, mindful not to hurt him. Napoleon looked at him as if he'd forgotten he was there, yet his firm grip on Illya's shoulder had not loosened one iota during his conversation with Waverly. "You're Nicholas?"
"What do you think?" Illya gazed unblinking into Napoleon's eyes, willing recognition to dawn. He saw something quivering on the cusp of understanding, memory on the knife-edge of being, but it slid away elusively before Napoleon could grasp it. He hauled Illya into a close embrace, his body shaking as his arms held the man fiercely.
"I think I know you," he was able to answer finally. He put a palm to Illya's cheek, turning his face more into the light. "I think your face is more familiar to me than my own, though I can't remember where I've seen it before." He stared for long moments at Illya, eyes troubled, then finally sighed in defeat. "Nicholas, eh? Nicky."
Illya hid his disappointment in a brisk nod. He disengaged himself from Napoleon's over-warm touch and looked to Waverly for guidance. They hadn't had the opportunity to discuss battle plans.
"Here," Waverly handed Napoleon a small overnight bag. "Why
don't you go change while I see about getting you checked out?" A
twitch of his head unnecessarily urged Illya to stay with his partner,
then Alexander Waverly strode off to arrange his agent's release.
Illya helped Napoleon change into the suit they had brought him. At first oddly shy, both men quickly adjusted to the slight assistance Illya was required to render in deference to Napoleon's injured wrist. For the first time ever, Napoleon appeared uncomfortable in his clothes. No matter what he wore, from black-tie to elaborately casual attire, Napoleon always looked at home, as if he were born to wear whatever he wore at that moment. It was downright criminal, what that man did for a tuxedo.
Illya had always envied Napoleon that preternatural comfort in his own skin, and by extension in any situation; he himself always felt like something of an interloper. He looked passable in a tuxedo, he supposed, sometimes even good, but never as effortlessly perfect as his partner. If he'd still had any lingering doubts about the validity of Napoleon's amnesia, the way the man fidgeted in his suit would have put them entirely from his mind.
By the time Waverly returned, Illya had hidden his
disappointment and anxiety deep inside. His behavior towards Napoleon
remained that of an adoring younger brother, and the nurse remarked to
Dr. Hauptmann as they watched the three depart the hospital that she
had rarely seen a more loving family.
"Are we going home?" Napoleon asked, once firmly ensconced in the taxi. Waverly and Illya shared a glance, and it was the elder gentleman who answered.
"I thought we'd remain here for a while. Dr. Hauptmann would like you to stay nearby for a few days, and we could all use a vacation. Do you object?"
"How could I?" Napoleon smiled. He was sitting sandwiched between his "father" and "brother," secure for the first time since waking to a world he didn't recognize. "It will give me a chance to get used to all this." He slid his arm around Illya's shoulders and squeezed affectionately.
Illya felt a hot prickle in his eyes and quickly turned his face to the window.
They settled into their suite with ease, focusing for the moment on purely prosaic concerns. Illya helped Napoleon unpack the suitcase he'd brought from the other hotel room, keeping all the special equipment carefully out of sight, while Waverly took a nap. They had scanned the suite for bugs the night before and again that morning and not found any, but had to assume they were there. All discussions perforce were kept on a familial level, and nothing could be said to jog Napoleon's memory. Nor could they have risked telling him his true history, or their mission, even with a clear field to do so. To all intents and purposes, Napoleon was the innocent in this operation and, until he remembered who and what he was, he would have to be kept ignorant.
Illya chafed under the restraints. How could Napoleon be expected to remember himself if they constantly surrounded him with lies? Any true memories which surfaced were likely to be crowded aside by the false family life they were building around him. Yet he recognized the wisdom of Waverly's orders, for any attempt to break through the mental blocks could blow their cover and get them all killed. For the sake of his partner's life, he kept his silence, while knowing his very silence might lose him his friend.
The task of seeking out the source of the seismic disturbances, and of Napoleon's "accident," was made that much harder by the roles they were forced to play. Without his memory, Napoleon could be of no help in solving the mystery, nor could they seek to bring to light what little he might be able to recall. They started from square one, certain to be under enemy surveillance, and unable to act out of character around Napoleon. Illya wondered briefly if he had ever taken on a more difficult mission.
Shaking off his worries, Illya vowed to focus his full attention on the matter at hand. There was nothing to do for the moment but be vigilant and hope the enemy would tip his hand by coming after Napoleon. Until then, all any of them could do was wait.
Illya tried not to fidget too much during the long afternoon.
He played cards with Napoleon for a while before the older man got
tired of losing and, complaining of a headache, went into their bedroom
to follow Waverly's example. Then he sat and pretended to read for a
time. Finally, however, the evening arrived. Illya woke the others, and
the three of them prepared to go down to the hotel restaurant for
Like most field operatives, Solo was nearly equally proficient with either hand. Agents learned selective ambidexterity through necessity and training, or didn't survive the field for long. Illya had often wondered what an evolutionary anthropologist would make of their highly-specialized survival of the fittest. Being mostly ambidextrous by nature, Illya was only vaguely aware of the hours Napoleon, like many agents, had spent learning to master the use of his left hand for the performance of necessary survival skills. Apparently, however, no one had ever considered shaving a necessary survival skill.
Illya could only bear to watch Napoleon attempt the difficult procedure for a few moments before he had to step in. At the rate the injured man was going, his chin would be awash in red-spotted tissue in mere minutes. He got Napoleon settled on a handy chair and set about shaving him.
He quickly found that, as with knotting a tie, it was easiest to stand behind and pretend he was doing this to himself. The slim silver razor slid easily along Napoleon's stubbled cheek, wielded by a very careful and skilled hand.
Napoleon, complying quietly to Illya's ministrations, sat calmly watching Illya's face in the mirror. It was disconcerting -- both the easy acceptance of Illya's orders and the quietly watchful mannerisms -- in its disparity from the Napoleon Illya knew so well. Or thought he had known. He wondered if this man was just a blank slate, or if in some ways this was the Napoleon that hid under all the different facades he wore. Was this the true Napoleon?
The question was disquieting. Illya shunted it aside and focused his full attention on the task at hand. It was oddly intimate, shaving Napoleon, touching his warm skin. Napoleon had relaxed completely after the first few moments; he now leaned back against Illya, trusting the sturdy frame to support him. As he likewise trustingly lifted his chin to allow access to his vulnerable throat. The weight of Napoleon's head against Illya's chest was unaccountably precious. His reaction was even more disquieting than the line of thought he'd so recently abandoned.
Illya finished up as quickly as possible and moved to a safe distance. He watched Napoleon wipe his face with a soft towel and frowned, annoyed with himself. He hadn't wanted to move away; in fact, he'd had to resist quite strenuously the impulse to put his arms around Napoleon. Disquieting indeed.
"Almost ready?" Waverly interrupted Illya's line of thought,
and he turned to stare suspiciously at his superior. How long had he
been there, and what did he make of what he'd seen? His face a bland
mask, the head of U.N.C.L.E.-New York revealed nothing. Illya helped
Napoleon on with his dinner jacket, shrugged into his own, and followed
the two men out the door, trying to keep his confusion from showing.
Dinner was a comfortable affair. The conversation flowed freely and amicably and, with a little assistance from Waverly, skirted personal topics with an agility that passed unnoticed by Napoleon, though not his partner. Illya was grateful to be able to join the conversation on occasion without spinning stories for Napoleon's benefit. Soon enough they would get into that, and every third word would be a lie. For that evening, though, everything went well.
Illya's hawk-eyed surveillance didn't flag throughout the long evening, which they spent in the restaurant, lounge and other public areas in hopes of ferreting out any interested parties. Since the bag of Napoleon's effects given to Waverly when he checked Solo out of the hospital had not contained either his gun or his communicator, it now seemed clear that his accident had indeed been no accident, as he'd obviously been deliberately relieved of both items. Certain now that they were on the right track, Waverly and Illya swung fully into their plan of using Napoleon as bait. Illya would much rather have retreated to their suite, but it would be impossible to draw out the enemy if they kept themselves closeted away. Illya watched for watchers with long-practiced subtlety and thought he spotted a few.
The hotel manager, Hans, passed in and out, performing his requisite duties, his cold eyes seeming to follow them everywhere. Yet that was no proof of wrong-doing; after all, it was his job to keep an eye on his guests, particularly the wealthy ones. Still, something in the man's manner grated on Illya.
Several women watched Napoleon with predatory interest over
the course of the evening. That was nothing new, Illya conceded, though
he remembered the matchbook he'd found in Napoleon's room and wondered.
On the inside cover, a message had been written in a round feminine
hand: "Come see me later" -- just another flirtation, or something more
sinister? One woman in particular, a statuesque redhead, spent the
whole evening lounging before the fire, her attention alternating
languidly between her shiny red nails and a certain dark-haired
gentleman. For the first time since they'd been partnered, Illya saw
Napoleon ignore a woman's attention. More to the point, he seemed
completely oblivious to it.
Illya closed the door to their suite with a sigh, relieved to finally be free of unwelcome eyes. Napoleon looked at him oddly, but made no comment on his behavior, merely strolling into the bedroom with an easy rolling gait which only half-hid his obvious fatigue. Waverly gave Illya a sharply disapproving look, then gestured for him to perform a security check before retiring. Illya ran through the familiar pattern quickly and unobtrusively, again finding nothing of note. Yawning, he took himself off to the bedroom he and Napoleon shared.
Draped across two-thirds of the double bed, Napoleon snored softly. He'd squirmed out of his clothes and into a pair of deep blue pajamas and was tucked down under the covers like a little boy. Illya grinned at the sight of his partner, dark hair tousled, mouth slightly open as he curled loose-limbed into dreamland. He stripped quickly, pulled on his own pajamas, and climbed into bed, muttering good-naturedly as he pushed his partner's sprawled limbs out of the way.
He couldn't resist whispering a soft "good night" to the silent room before letting sleep claim him.
Warmth blanketed him, coaxing him back into slumber each time his mind made the reluctant journey towards awareness. Though he was usually an early riser, Illya allowed that friendly heat to delay his awakening until a strong hand briskly shook him by the shoulder. He opened bleary eyes and looked up into Mr. Waverly's familiar lined face.
"Good morning, Nicky. Time to get up." A smile tugged at the corner of Waverly's dour mouth, but he left the room before Illya had gathered his wits sufficiently to question his superior's good humor.
As he became more aware of his surroundings, however, he began to see the cause of Waverly's amusement. The comfortable warmth that ran all down one side was Napoleon, snuggled close in slumber. If he craned his neck, he could look down at the top of Napoleon's dark head, cradled trustingly on his shoulder. One muscular arm was thrown limply across his waist, and a leg had insinuated itself between Illya's thighs. There was nothing sexual about the embrace; it was warm and comforting and close. Illya impulsively pulled Napoleon closer against his chest, running his fingers through the fine dark hair. The weight was pleasant, and the feeling of entrapment more enjoyable than otherwise.
After several long moments, Napoleon began to stir into wakefulness. Illya lay quietly, waiting him out, wishing to prolong the contact as long as possible. He wished even more that he might take Napoleon in a lover's embrace, but knew just how impossible that was. Finally the dark head lifted, and sleepy mahogany eyes looked down into his. Napoleon yawned and blinked.
"Morning. What..." He looked about and flushed slightly on realizing how closely he was entwined with the man he believed to be his brother. Illya allowed him to unwind himself, hiding his reluctance. "Sorry. Didn't mean to crowd you."
"You always were a wild sleeper," Illya lied smoothly. "Father wants us for breakfast."
"Yeah, okay." Napoleon rubbed roughly at his face with his
good hand. He sounded more distracted than usual on first awakening,
but it was neither the time nor place to pursue the matter.
"You want to what?"
"You heard me. I want to go skiing." Napoleon's expression became belligerent. "And stop shouting, Nicky. Anyone would think I'd suggested we go cliff diving or something equally dangerous."
"I hardly think your recent experience would qualify skiing as a safe activity," Illya countered, belatedly remembering to keep his voice down. Napoleon had surprised him with the suggestion just after breakfast, and he'd reacted somewhat precipitously.
"All the more reason to tackle it again." Napoleon's attention was focused on pouring another cup of coffee; he seemed largely unconcerned by the reaction he'd provoked. Waverly spoke up before Illya could reiterate his feelings on the matter.
"A commendable idea," he exclaimed heartily, a stern look banishing the remainder of Illya's arguments. "You two run along. Give me some peace and quiet." The gimlet gleam in his eyes made it quite clear to Illya that resting was the last thing the Old Man would be doing. He sighed. The only good thing to happen in the past week was the doctor's assurance that Napoleon's wrist was healing so well he could dispense with the brace. That had been yesterday, and probably accounted for his sudden energy. They had little to show for the week and a half spent hanging around the hotel hoping to draw out their adversaries. Nothing suspicious happened, no one seemed too overly interested in them, and Illya was quite frankly becoming not only discouraged, but bored. It was no wonder Napoleon, who had been kept unaware of the clandestined undertones of their stay, was growing restless as well. Perhaps they could provoke a reaction by leaving the confines of the hotel. Still, he didn't have to like it.
He remained dour and uncommunicative through the ordeal of renting the appropriate equipment and for the gondola ride up to the summit of the mountain. Napoleon made up for his sour mood by being overly effusive and enthusiastic. Illya didn't speak throughout the lengthy ride, not even to tell Napoleon that he already knew all the usual tour-guide facts about the mountain, which it would take them most of the day to descend. Once they had stepped out into the brisk mountain air and strapped on their skis, however, Kuryakin's mood began to come about, and Napoleon's volubility decreased as a direct result. Illya had always liked the outdoors, and cold weather was an old friend; it was difficult to remain annoyed, either with the activity, or Napoleon.
The truce between them went unspoken, but the silence became comfortable. If he allowed himself, Illya could almost forget that, until Napoleon regained his memory, nothing between them could be completely right. He basked in the welcome camaraderie and set himself to enjoy the day.
Though his still-tender wrist occasionally made it awkward, Napoleon still skied to perfection. The amnesia was selective, a fact Dr. Hauptmann had explained before releasing him -- all personal memory had been wiped clean, but most everything else was still there: historical and contemporary facts, knowledge, abilities. Illya had no doubt Napoleon could still handle a gun with consummate skill, though he had no intention of finding out. Illya kept a close eye on his companion in any case, even after he was convinced of his skiing ability. He had always been protective of Napoleon; now that he was uncertain of Napoleon's ability to look out for himself, his partner's safety had become his primary consideration.
They were nearly equally matched in skill. Though Napoleon had learned to ski as an expensive hobby and Illya as a necessity, each had mastered it in his own way. Taking turns at the lead, they sought challenging terrain, testing each other's limits in a stimulating game of follow-the-leader. It was well past midday before they stopped to rest.
The part of the mountain they were skiing was quiet and unpeopled. Their game had taken them apart from the paths normally traveled by the holiday skiers, and they were surrounded by the serene silence of the snow-muffled forest. Napoleon found a hollow sheltered from the chill wind and set about using their discarded skis to stake down the corners of the waterproof tarpaulin they'd brought. Illya and his rucksack settled in the center of the fabric, where he quickly unearthed the lunch packed for them at the hotel. They made a pleasant meal of cold sandwiches and wine.
Stuffed, Illya flopped back on the stiff canvas, hands tucked behind his head as he stared up into the crisp blue sky. He was aware of Napoleon's eyes on him, but chose to ignore the scrutiny for the moment. Solo had been watching him more and more lately; it was starting to make him uneasy, though he realized that some part of the man's dormant memory was merely trying to place him. Still, the intensity of Napoleon's regard was somewhat unnerving, whatever the rationalization.
"Nicky, I ..." Napoleon faltered when Illya turned his clear gaze, the same exact color as the winter sky, had he but known it, on him. He replaced whatever he'd been going to say with a brief smile and a halting: "Thanks for coming with me today."
"It was a good idea," Illya agreed grudgingly. Napoleon grinned cockily at the admission, and actually had the nerve to chuckle when Illya scowled at him. Kuryakin closed his eyes, savoring the illicit manner in which that laugh thrilled over his nerve ends. Silence fell between them again. When Illya opened his eyes, he saw Napoleon staring at an inoffensive copse of trees with a dark frown. "Something the matter?"
"Hmm? No, nothing. Just the oddest feeling I've been here before."
Illya sat up. "Here here? In this particular spot?"
"Yeah, I think so. Here, or somewhere very close by." Napoleon stood and paced restlessly around the small hollow, his expression troubled. "I didn't notice it before, but as the shadows get longer ..." He broke off and shivered, though it wasn't any colder than it had been all along. "Something here makes me ... nervous."
Illya rose, pausing to lay a reassuring hand on Napoleon's shoulder before shifting away to find a better vantage point. He suspected Napoleon's unease had much to do with the memories he hadn't yet recovered. Perhaps it was the place he'd been attacked, or maybe where he'd been found. Illya's keen eyes swept the vicinity in search of any clues, or possible danger. He saw nothing that seemed out of the ordinary, but now he, too, felt uncomfortable. Successful agents developed a sixth sense for danger. Yet the mountainside seemed perfectly serene. Perhaps Napoleon's edgy mood was merely communicating itself to him. Illya turned to speak to his partner.
"Illya, look out!" Napoleon's voice reached him only seconds before his body slammed into the slender Russian, tumbling them both into a nearby snowbank. Simultaneously, there was a sharp report, and a thundering roar quickly rose into the realm of hearing, threatening to shatter their eardrums. Illya struggled free of the snow and Napoleon and rose, turning toward the source of the noise. His eyes widened as he saw the wall of white descending toward them with the speed of a runaway train.
"Come on!" He grabbed Napoleon's hand and they ran sideways across the mountain before the oncoming avalanche. There was no chance of outrunning it; they could only hope to escape the brunt of it. They reached a large copse of trees only seconds before the thundering snow. Swirling white surrounded them for heart-stopping seconds, then passed on, like a huge wave parting for a rock.
Many of the trees fell before the avalanche, but they had turned the full force of it aside, sparing the fragile humans cowering in their midst. Shaking, they righted themselves and took stock of their situation.
The hollow where they had lunched was no more; a solid plain of white had replaced it, and their equipment was nowhere to be seen. Illya's hand was still tightly clasped in Napoleon's, both of them covered in the snow that had filled the air. The Russian reached to brush the clinging ice crystals from his partner's dark hair, paying no mind to the snow that powdered his own blond locks. Napoleon returned the favor with shaking hands, then swept the smaller man into a bone-crushing embrace. Illya clung back just as tightly, both their bodies shuddering in the grip of the horror which had nearly engulfed them. It took a great deal of coaxing to convince Napoleon to release him.
"What possessed you to tackle me like that?"
"There was a man up near that ridge," Napoleon explained, "He had something in his hands: long and thick, like a shotgun."
"Was it a gun?"
"No... no, I don't think so. I thought it was a shotgun when I first saw it; he seemed to be pointing it at you. But now that I think about it, it was too wide."
It could have been the seismic device we're looking for, Illya realized, bending to slap show off his pants, though he knew it was hopeless. He paused in mid-motion and spun around to face Napoleon. "What was it you called me?"
"Just before you tackled me."
Napoleon looked confused. "Nicky. What else would I call you?"
"You don't remember, then?" He was certain Napoleon had called him Illya. He couldn't have been mistaken about that. But the confusion in his partner's eyes showed plainly that he didn't realize he'd done it. Napoleon hadn't remembered; it was just the situation unearthing his buried instincts. Illya shook his head. "Never mind. We'd better think about getting out of here. It will be dark before long, and it'll be getting rather chilly."
Their ski equipment a lost cause, they knocked off the snow as best they could and began the torturous trek down the mountainside. Ski boots weren't made to walk in; although Illya relaced them to give his ankles freer movement, they remained inanely cumbersome. Melting snow soaked into their clothing as the plummeting temperatures reached icy fingers into even the closest of jackets.
It was slow going. Gathering night encouraged haste while simultaneously preventing it. As the shadows lengthened and melted into each other, they obscured their path, making it impossible to discern the true contours of the snow. In some of the steeper areas, it was all they could do to retain their balance. Teeth chattering, eyes focused with a blinkered intensity on the small patch of snow directly in front of him, Napoleon focused all his energy on simply following the smaller man's lead. Suddenly, Illya cried out and disappeared. Napoleon ran clumsily forward to peer down the slope.
"Nicky?! Are you okay?"
"I think so." Illya, who had slid down the slope and lay on his back at the bottom, the breath knocked out of him, stared up at Napoleon's concerned face and essayed a slight smile. "Clumsy of me."
"Shall I come on down?"
"You might as well." His breathing was becoming easier by the minute. "We have to go this way in any case. Just be careful."
It took several minutes for Napoleon to traverse the same distance Illya had slid in seconds. Illya held his breath through much of it, terrified that Napoleon would hit an icy patch and join him at the bottom with unwelcome haste. He made it safely, though, and flopped down next to Illya, panting heavily, his breath steaming in the cold air.
"We can't stay here," Illya scolded after several moments. He recognized the same bone-deep weariness in Napoleon that he felt himself, but knew that stopping now would be nothing short of suicide. With a deep sigh, he pushed himself to his knees and struggled to his feet.
Napoleon had just pulled himself up when Illya cried out and collapsed. Quickly, he caught the falling man and was borne back to the snow by his weight.
"What's wrong?" Napoleon fought to control his concern. Illya's face was stark white in the dimness.
"I must have twisted my ankle when I fell." Illya bit his lip and stubbornly forced himself to his feet again. Napoleon rose along with him, grabbing him about the waist when he swayed. Illya was grateful for the support; pain shot through him when he tried to put his weight on his left foot, and he ended up hanging on Napoleon's shoulders, his eyes tight shut as he waited for the sharp throbbing pain to subside. When it did, he looked up into Napoleon's worried eyes. "I don't think I can walk. You'd better go on without me."
"What are you talking about?" Napoleon gave him a little shake. "I'm not leaving you." He shifted his grip to slide his shoulder under Illya's left arm. "Come on, you can make it."
Illya passed the remainder of their trek in a pain-filled haze. He let Napoleon choose their path and speed, and concentrated on simply keeping moving. Hopping was prohibitively difficult in the deep snow, so he limped along, stabbed with pain at every step. Despite Napoleon's assistance, he came to a point where he didn't think he could go any farther. As if reading his mind, Napoleon stopped suddenly.
"Look," Solo pointed with a shaking hand. Illya peered through the gloom, but was unable to make out any distinct shapes. "A cabin. Do you see it?"
Too tired to speak, Illya only nodded, though he didn't see anything. He hoped the cabin was not a hallucination, though he didn't voice the thought. He was glad he had said nothing when solid walls metamorphosed out of the twilight. No lights shone in the windows, nor smoke curled from the chimney, but the door gave easily when Napoleon tried it.
"Aha! Traveler's aid," Napoleon commented victoriously as he pushed the door open. "There's something to be said for the tradition of hospitality in this part of the world."
It was warmer inside, by simple virtue of the fact that the door closed out the brisk wind. There was no electricity, but an oil lamp near the door, with matches lying conveniently nearby, quickly helped to light their way. The room, which apparently compromised the entirety of the cabin, was large and richly furnished. This was obviously a wealthy man's sometime retreat.
Napoleon shed his boots and made a quick pass around the room, lighting all the lamps, then knelt next to the fireplace and touched a match to the ready-laid fire before removing his sodden outer layer. Illya sagged next to the door where Napoleon had released him, too tired to move, even to shed his own icy clothing. The growing warmth was just beginning to make him feel halfway alert when Napoleon's soft laugh reached his ears.
Napoleon grinned at his partner's questioning look, and took another visual survey of the room. There was the minimal kitchen area, a door which presumably led to the bathroom, and assorted comfortable furniture. A low burgundy couch crouched before the fireplace, surrounded by large pillows someone had apparently used as furniture. The rug between it and the fireplace looked thick and soft to the touch. The hearth was arguably the most prominent feature of the room, made of smooth warm marble; no screen interposed between the flickering flames and the room itself, but a brass rail ran around the hearth at shin level, presumably to prevent anyone from accidentally stumbling into the fire. On either side of the hearth, mirrors ran floor to ceiling and Napoleon's reflection laughed back at him out of each one.
"This isn't a cabin, Nicky. It's a love-nest!"
Illya refrained from commenting that Napoleon would certainly know best about that, though he couldn't help thinking it. He had to agree with Solo's assessment, however. The scene had obviously been set for seduction.
Too tired to think up a sufficiently polite response, Illya slowly struggled to his feet, careful to put as little weight as possible on his left ankle. It actually wasn't so bad anymore, though whether that indicated it was better, or simply numb from the cold, he couldn't say. Using the wall as a prop, he limped farther into the room. Napoleon frowned at him.
"For heaven's sake, Nicky, get out of those wet clothes and warm up by the fire! You must be half-frozen."
"I've been colder." But, against his better instincts, he let Napoleon approach, and belied his brusque assertion with an involuntary shudder.
"When?" Napoleon grabbed him, hustled him over to the hearth, and started industriously stripping his sodden clothes from his shivering body. Illya forced himself to pull away.
"When I was a boy, in -- " he broke off before finishing the phrase, uncomfortably aware he'd almost just said "Kiev," which was sure to blow the lid off the entire thing.
"Where?" Napoleon asked absently, ignoring Illya's attempts to put distance between them. He simply stepped closer and finished undoing the buttons on the smaller man's shirt.
"Never mind." Illya yanked himself free again, leaving his shirt dangling from Napoleon's hands and, feeling discretion to be the better part of valor, stripped off the rest of his clothes with a sigh. It was infinitely less disturbing to take off his clothes in front of Napoleon than to have Napoleon taking off said clothes. Illya wrapped a blanket around himself with a convulsive shiver and huddled before the fire.
He could hear Napoleon rummaging around in the tiny kitchen, but couldn't stir himself enough to be curious. His partner finally returned with a can of soup, two spoons and a can-opener, and settled next to him before the fire.
"Here, we might as well get warm. Once the soup's heated we can eat." He opened the can and put it in close proximity to the flames, then settled back to wait. "Should I take a look at your ankle?"
"No, it's okay. Just a mild sprain, I think." Illya kept his
eyes on the contents of the can, chicken noodle it looked like, and
tried not to notice the way Napoleon was watching him. The problem was,
he didn't even have to look directly at Napoleon to see him, what with
the mirrors reflecting their every move. He stared at the soup, willing
it to warm quickly so he could concentrate on eating, rather than the
lure of Napoleon's presence in the seductive atmosphere.
Illya woke in a nest of blankets, pillows, and Napoleon. He was almost getting used to sleeping with his partner wrapped around him. Almost. But at least in the hotel they had worn pajamas; here, he had to deal with the warm, naked length of Napoleon curled along his back. It was quite pleasant, really; unnervingly so.
He felt Napoleon move and resolutely kept his eyes closed. He was too aware of Napoleon, and his own desire, to play at brotherly love at the moment. He took refuge in the pretense of sleep. His partner stirred and stretched, moving away from him with obvious care so as to avoid waking him. His skin felt cold where Napoleon had been, though Solo tucked the blankets snugly around him.
Eyes slitted, Illya watched Napoleon in the mirror. A blanket draped around his broad shoulders, the American puttered around in the kitchen for a time, making subdued banging noises. Then he picked up their clothes from various places around the cabin and draped them over the rail surrounding the hearth. Too tired to do more than eat and soak up warmth when they had arrived, both men had left their clothing pretty much where it had fallen, and the garments were still damp as a result. After hanging up their clothes, Napoleon added more wood to the fire and stood there for a moment, shivering a little, before going back into the small kitchen nook. They hadn't used the amenities in the kitchen the night before, preferring to huddle around the fire. Though the cabin was well insulated, it was still appreciably colder near the outside walls. He came back with two mugs and a pot of coffee he'd warmed over the small burner.
"I know you're awake."
Illya turned over and sat up to accept a cup of hot coffee. Napoleon only smiled, that brisk engaging grin which had long crumbled all of Illya's defenses. Setting the coffee pot on the hearth to keep warm, Napoleon settled cross-legged on the floor with his blanket wrapped snugly about him, and sipped at his own coffee.
"How's your ankle?"
Illya rotated his foot carefully, and was unable to restrain a wince. He looked up through his bangs to see if Napoleon had noticed the involuntary grimace, and groaned silently when he saw the bright eyes fixed on him. There would be no chance of playing fast and loose with the truth now. Napoleon nodded to himself and went back to his coffee. When he was finished, he set the cup aside and rose in one lithe movement.
Solo strode to the door and was out it in a flash, blanket and bare feet notwithstanding. Illya was still blinking in astonishment when his partner shivered his way back inside, closing the door firmly behind him. He grabbed a hand towel and moved back to kneel next to Illya's feet. The towel, wrapped around several large chunks of ice, was gently pressed against his slightly swollen ankle before he could protest. Then Napoleon scooted over as close to the fire as he could get without roasting himself.
Illya just sat and stared. Something was very odd about Napoleon's behavior, and he couldn't quite place what. It took him some lengthy contemplation, which passed entirely uninterrupted (a wonder in itself), to figure it out.
Napoleon was taking charge again. It shouldn't have seemed
odd, except that for the last week he'd almost become accustomed to a
Napoleon grown tractable, nearly deferential. Now he was getting a part
of his friend back -- although not enough to make him quite
recognizable, it was enough to make Illya hopeful for the future.
"Where did you get the scars?" Napoleon's soft voice broke the silence unexpectedly.
"What?" Illya looked up sharply from musing into his coffee. He frowned, his mind replaying the question. "What do you mean?"
Scowling darkly, Napoleon shifted abruptly over to him. A hand twitched the blanket off Illya's shoulders with an almost angry gesture. "Those scars, Nicky. Where did you get them?"
Illya shrugged, not entirely sure what to say. Finally he managed a somewhat weak: "You know how boys are, Napoleon."
"Oh, it's 'boys will be boys,' is it?" Yes, Napoleon was definitely angry. "Except no child comes by scars like these naturally. You're covered with them, head to foot. I've got them too."
"Yes, Napoleon, I know."
"How? How did we get them?"
Illya shrugged again. This wasn't anything he and Waverly had covered. There was no version of the truth safe to tell Napoleon. He glanced up through his bangs to see that Solo had backed off a bit; no longer hovering over him, his partner had instead taken his dark mood closer to the fire.
"The nurses asked me about them in the hospital," Napoleon murmured after a time. It was impossible to tell if he was talking to Illya or himself. "I couldn't answer. You'd think ... you'd think body trauma like that would be hard-wired into my memory. But I didn't know. I thought I'd find out when you came."
"Why didn't you ask before?"
"I was ... afraid."
"Afraid?" Shocking, to think that Napoleon could possibly fear him.
"I think ... maybe I didn't want to know." His eyes lifted suddenly, catching Illya in their burning depths. "Now I do. Where'd you get the scars?" Illya blinked at him, assimilating the fact that Napoleon was more concerned about the damage done Illya's body than his own. "Were we in the army?"
"Yes." Though not the same one.
"But it wasn't there. Or not most of it, at any rate." Said with a single-minded certainty Illya couldn't refute. "They aren't all gunshot wounds. Those long scars on your back look like whip marks."
"Napoleon, I can't ..." Illya took a deep breath. "I can't tell you, okay?"
"No, it's not okay!" His eyes fairly blazed. Illya shivered a little and pulled the blanket up over his bare chest, incidentally hiding the inciting scars. Napoleon was suddenly at his side again, gentle hands tucking the blanket closer around him. Illya didn't dare look up; he could feel Napoleon's hot breath against his cheek, and the soft brush of his next tentative words. "Did ... did father... ?"
"Of course not!" Illya was so shocked he glanced up in spite of himself. He couldn't bear to see the mingled concern, relief and trepidation on his friend's face. His hand went out of its own accord to stroke Napoleon's cheek. "You bear every one of those scars with honor, Napoleon. Please believe me. I want to tell you, but now is not the time. It's not ... safe."
Napoleon sighed, his breath stirring Illya's bangs. After a
long moment, he nodded, and leaned forward to clasp Illya in a strong
embrace. "Okay. For now." He drew away and returned to the hearth;
Illya, who desperately needed the distance himself, didn't question his
The day passed slowly.
Their clothes dried, and they pulled them back on, wrinkles and all. Illya didn't know how Napoleon felt, but he was relieved to return to the relative security of his fabric armor. Being naked around Napoleon was decidedly nerve-wracking.
Illya's occasional limping forays into the next room to take care of necessities decided him on their chances of leaving there that day. Nothing seemed seriously damaged in his ankle, but it was too tender to permit him to walk any distance. He was certain he could make it the next day, however, and told Napoleon as much. His partner kept his feelings on the matter entirely to himself.
A deck of cards helped them pass the time. It took Illya half an hour to lose the blush that had struck him on opening the drawer that contained the cards, and a vast assortment of sex toys and body lubricants as well. Napoleon had only snickered, and spent several minutes examining the contents in detail, much to Illya's further embarrassment.
Other than that, however, the day bled slowly into evening without incident.
"Do you think father will be worried about us?" Napoleon stood looking out the window into the frozen night.
"I doubt it," Illya answered carelessly. He was expendable, as were they all; Waverly knew it; for heaven's sake, the man had said it often enough. That the Old Man might ever have worried about them simply never crossed his mind. Napoleon's shocked silence alerted him to his mistake. "He knows we can take care of ourselves," he amended, a little late.
"What's going on, Nicky?" Napoleon demanded sternly, unaware that his tone was very close to the one a certain Chief Enforcement Officer occasionally used on his recalcitrant partner. "I know something's not right; this whole thing has felt odd from the start."
"I don't know what you're talking about." It was a last ditch effort, and Illya knew it. Napoleon simply had too many questions to be satisfied with anything less than the truth this time.
"Nicky..." Napoleon looked oddly hurt. He sighed softly into the silence, which held for a long time. "Please tell me. Please, Nicky."
And Illya couldn't resist. They were safe, for the time being, unobserved and alone. Here, finally, was the chance to get his Napoleon back.
"Napoleon.... you're not... we're not..." Illya faltered under his partner's dark searching gaze. It was suddenly very hard to disavow kinship to this man. He sighed heavily and let it all out in a rush. "You're not my brother. We're not related."
"No, we're partners. We work for the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, an international espionage organization." Napoleon's gaze had dropped to the carpet, hiding his mobile face, allowing Illya no glimpse of his reaction. He felt like a betrayer as the words continued to spill from his lips. "You're the Chief Enforcement Officer of the New York office. Alexander Waverly is our boss."
"Alexander ... The man plays the role of father convincingly." Illya shouldn't have been surprised at how quickly Napoleon picked up on the name. He wished his partner would look at him, let him know how he felt. "But then, you play a convincing brother as well, Nicholas."
"Illya," he corrected, realizing with a sinking heart that Napoleon still hadn't returned to himself. "Illya Nickovitch Kuryakin."
"Illya? That's Russian, isn't it?"
"Illya," Napoleon rolled the name around his tongue, testing its feel. "Not brothers," he repeated after a moment, as if not able to quite grasp the concept. Finally, finally, his head came up and Illya at last caught a glimpse of his face. "You have no idea how glad I am to hear that." And he smiled brilliantly.
"What? I don't understand." Napoleon should be mad, or sad, or.... well, something other than happy, at any rate.
"I was beginning to worry about myself, you know," Napoleon murmured conspiratorially, advancing on Illya, who suddenly found himself caught up in a pair of disquietingly strong arms. Napoleon kissed him, hard and fast. "Homosexuality is one thing; incest quite another. You have no idea how glad I am." He bent his head and kissed Illya again, this time slow and soft and oh so sweet. Enchanted, Illya found himself succumbing to Napoleon's seductive spell and had neither strength nor will to fight it.
Only when both were breathless did Napoleon break the kiss. Dark brown eyes twinkled into blue as Solo's nimble fingers began to unbutton Illya's shirt. Illya watched the disrobing from a cloudy haze, unable to believe this was really happening. Once the shirt was unbuttoned and pulled from his pants, Napoleon's hands slid through the gaping opening. Illya gasped, throwing his head back, as his nipples were brushed over and over with feather-light mastery. Pulling his wits about him, he yanked himself abruptly from Napoleon's hands.
"Illya? What's the matter?" As Napoleon started forward, Illya retreated haltingly before him, trying to keep a safe distance between himself and his partner's intoxicating presence.
"You still don't remember."
"So this isn't like you, Napoleon. If I let you continue, you'll end up hating both of us." He barricaded himself behind the couch, keeping it between himself and Napoleon, who still advanced determinedly. "Please, Napoleon. Your friendship is the most important thing in the world to me. Don't destroy it."
"I'm not going to destroy it, you stupid Russian." Napoleon almost sounded normal when he called Illya that. It lulled him into a false sense of security, and he was unprepared when Solo darted suddenly around the couch to gather him close again. "The first moment I saw you I knew how you made me feel. I didn't know your name, or who you were, but I knew I loved you. When father ... Waverly?" Illya nodded. "Waverly said you were my brother, I decided that must be it, but I knew inside it wasn't. I knew the love I felt for you was not the sort I should feel for a brother. Now I understand why." He leaned into a kiss Illya couldn't avoid and didn't release him until they were both gasping for breath. "Don't you see, Illya? I must have loved you long before to feel that way the first moment I saw you. And I'll love you long after I remember who I am."
"Napoleon ..." Illya's struggles against the arms containing him had lost some of their determination.
"Please, Illya. Let me love you." Whispered against his neck, the words broke the last of Kuryakin's resolve. He wanted it too much to fight any longer.
Napoleon felt the last of the resistance drain from the slight figure and pulled the young man closer to his chest. His eyes closed as strong arms encircled him and he laid his cheek against the crown of gilt hair. You won't regret this, he vowed silently, I won't let you. Then he dipped his head to take Illya's willing mouth in another kiss.
Memory was not necessary to Napoleon's skill, Illya realized hazily as he was efficiently stripped, coddled, cuddled and aroused beyond all control. It was as natural to him as breathing and as impossible to forget. He found himself on the soft rug before the fire, cradling Napoleon's naked weight against his chest and moaning into his mouth. Illya was no virgin with men; no more, he was quick to discover, than was Napoleon.
The lips which sought across Illya's trimly muscular frame were skillful in the extreme. He honestly couldn't have said which was hotter: the radiant heat of the fire, or the mouth which paused over those points guaranteed to set him trembling. Gathering his wits with an effort, he set about reciprocating the erotic torture, only to be gently pushed back with a murmured command to relax and enjoy. All thought fled, and he arched with a startled cry, when his erect organ was swallowed into a talented inferno.
Napoleon engulfed the erection entirely, then retreated to suckle lightly at the head. His tongue dipped into the tiny aperture, teased around the rim of the swollen crown, then wiggled along the shaft as he swallowed Illya whole once again. Illya's eyes kept trying to close against the pleasure which threatened to overwhelm him. He forced them open and looked down along the length of his own sweat-sheened body to the dark head nestled at his groin and choked back another cry at the sight. The back of his hand pressed against his open mouth failed to stifle his shout of completion when Napoleon sent him over the edge at last. His back arched violently in the extremity of release, but Solo's broad hands caught and held him safe until it was over.
Illya returned to himself to find Napoleon's sweet frame draped over his body. The soft lips doing homage to his throat were more comforting than inflammatory, though when he shifted he could feel the urgency of Napoleon's need pressed against his belly. When he dared open his eyes, he found his partner smiling smugly at him and he could almost have been angry at Napoleon's obvious pride in his ability to drive him completely out of his mind. However, since it served both their purposes so well, how could he complain? Illya speared his fingers through short dark hair and pulled Napoleon down for a lengthy kiss.
"Still say this is a bad idea?" Napoleon gasped when he was finally let up for air. Illya returned his look gravely.
"The worst." The grin tugging at the corner of his mouth ruined his stern expression. "However, what's done is done..." He ran his palms lightly down the length of Napoleon's back, enjoying the feel of the smooth muscles shifting under his hands. Napoleon grinned back at the devilish glint in Illya's eyes.
"Not quite." He laughed aloud when the touch of his hand about Illya's reawakening cock caused the blond head to toss back, eyes squeezed shut. Within minutes, he had Illya writhing and groaning again.
When Napoleon's weight suddenly left him, Illya cursed the desertion in several languages. Ignoring the chastisement, Napoleon pulled him to his knees, guiding the highly aroused Russian into position with ease. Illya found himself kneeling with Napoleon crowding close against his back between his spread legs, cock nestling affectionately into the crevice between his buttocks. One strong arm wrapped around his waist, the other hand taking his chin in a firm grip and lifting his face to the mirrors framing the fireplace.
"Look at yourself, Illya," Napoleon coaxed seductively, warm breath fanning blond hair. "Look at us." Though normally modest to a fault, Illya obeyed as if mesmerized.
He saw his physique through new eyes; his body had always been a tool to him, its strength useful, no more; now he saw the pleasing juxtaposition of slenderness and muscle. His hair was tousled, eyes shining brightly, face flushed with arousal. Every lineament shone with sweat as his chest rose and fell with the struggle of drawing breath. His cock stood rampant, crown flushed a rosy hue. Passing beyond himself, his eyes sought out Napoleon's reflection. The hand pressed against his belly was several shades darker than his own fair skin, the contrast surprisingly erotic. Napoleon's shoulders were visible above his, broader, chest deeper, also sheened with perspiration.
"Watch me, Illya. Watch what I do to you." Napoleon needn't have commanded it, for Illya could no more have drawn his gaze from their reflection than he could have stopped breathing.
The hands began to move over his chest, smoothing over the well-defined muscles in a manner that was anything but soothing. Fingers found and played with tiny nibs of sensitive flesh, leaving them throbbing with need. One hand remained to torment Illya's erect nipples, while the other dropped to clasp a more persistent erection. Illya gasped, pushing his head back against Napoleon's shoulder, his eyes never leaving the mirror. He moved with the stroking hand, panting harshly. His lips formed the word "please," though no sound emerged. Napoleon was watching the mirror as closely as his sensual victim. He saw and grinned. Both hands lifted from overheated flesh. Illya moaned protest.
Illya barely noticed the brief delay as Napoleon used a handy tube of lubricant to prepare himself. Finally, he was ready. Grabbing a cheek in each hand, Napoleon spread the spare buttocks, tilting Illya's hips forward. The blond caught his balance on the brass rail surrounding the hearth. His breath came faster in anticipation. He seemed unable to take his eyes off their reflection; no previous experience had ever been as exciting. He watched his own face as Napoleon took him, the widening of his eyes, the dark flush that spread over his cheeks and down his chest as the thick cock pushed into him. Then, as Napoleon slid that last inch to complete penetration, Illya felt the shock deep inside as his prostate was stimulated, and saw his mouth open on a soundless moan.
Napoleon's hands slid around to clasp his hips as he drew himself out of the tight confinement, releasing Illya's moan. He buried himself again without a pause, instantly setting a fast, hard rhythm. Through slitted eyes, Illya watched himself ride out Napoleon's possession, rocking through each thrust like a sailor on the waves. He had never watched someone make love to him before. The visual stimulus, coupled with the hot delicious feel of the flesh filling him with each stroke, brought him quickly to the height of arousal. Illya's gaze shifted to take in Napoleon's face, to watch his lover as he fucked him. Eyes nearly black with passion met his in the mirror, a dark current passing between them.
Illya moaned and braced himself on one hand, reaching to take his aching cock in the other. He growled at Napoleon when his grasping hand was diverted, pinned, like its mate, against the rail under Napoleon's strong clasp. Napoleon leaned farther into him, pushing him to a more accessible angle, his cock pounding into him in earnest now. Still he kept Illya's hands trapped, ignoring his pleadings for release, forcing him to find his pleasure in the heavy thrust of possession. Illya closed his eyes, the spell of the mirror finally broken, and concentrated on the feel of Napoleon's thick cock ramming into him. His world shrank to that one sensation, then to a pinprick of fire which exploded outward to consume him.
Illya had never before come without direct stimulation of his cock. Nor had he ever screamed when orgasm took him. He did so this time. Napoleon pulled entirely out, in defiance of the grasping muscles of Illya's spasming body, then thrust full length into the convulsing man. His voice joined Illya's as his body joined his lover's, hot streams of pleasure jetting into the dark haven.
They collapsed to the floor, Illya turning in Napoleon's arms
to be clasped close to his chest. Panting, they lay quietly, waiting
for sanity to return.
"Get up, Napoleon. We have to get moving." Solo stirred, grunting when a toe prodded him ungently. He peered out from under the blankets, his forlorn expression not altering Illya's mood one whit. The blond strode away as he sat up.
Napoleon dressed slowly, confused. They had made love more
than once that night, and fallen asleep wrapped in the blankets and
each other. Illya had given no indication of being upset with what had
happened between them, yet he was as cold and remote this morning as an
iceberg. He didn't understand, and was made certain by that stone face
that he'd get no explanations. Not then. Napoleon laced up his boots,
wondering if he'd ever been any good at this sort of thing.
The snowshoes they found stored under the eaves made the going much easier than it had been the day before, and if Illya's ankle was bothering him, he didn't allow it to show. They reached the lodge by noon amid a great commotion. Waverly had apparently called out the search and rescue teams when they failed to return the night before last, then disappeared himself, along with the manager of the lodge. Illya pushed through the throng of excited guests, leaving Napoleon to fend off the well-wishers with a few words of thanks before tactfully effecting his own escape.
He found Illya in their suite, methodically going over everything with a little machine, stopping every time it beeped to dig around until he found a tiny device, which he crushed very deliberately underfoot. Kuryakin didn't even acknowledge his presence until he was satisfied he'd found them all.
"These weren't here the morning we left. I checked."
"What are ... were they?"
"Bugs, Napoleon. Microphones." Illya nodded briskly in response to Napoleon's frown of realization. "We couldn't risk telling you who you are. It might have blown our cover and put not only your own life, but the mission itself in jeopardy."
"The mission is everything," Napoleon hazarded, something like hurt lurking at the back of his eyes.
"Not everything, my friend." Illya laid a gentle hand on his partner's arm for a brief moment. At Napoleon's tentative smile and responding movement, however, he drew back into brisk efficiency. "If they have Mr. Waverly, we haven't much time." He pulled down both their suitcases and started opening pockets Napoleon hadn't noticed before. His whole manner had changed; Napoleon suddenly realized he didn't know this man. "I was suspicious of Hans before; now it seems my suspicions are confirmed. We have to find them before something happens to Mr. Waverly."
"How do I help?" Napoleon stared at the assortment of equipment Illya had extracted from their luggage, feeling an almost alien excitement. It seemed to stir a strange memory in him; nothing clear or concrete, just a ghost of times past. He picked up one of the U.N.C.L.E. Specials, hands passing through ingrained patterns, checking the weapon, then automatically moving to slip it into the shoulder holster he wasn't wearing. Illya was watching him closely, but all Napoleon could do was shrug in response.
"I'd leave you here, but I think I'm going to need your help. Just try not to get yourself killed, okay?"
Napoleon grinned faintly. He allowed Illya to suit him up, amused by the number of places odd bits of equipment were secreted about his person. Then he watched as Illya readied himself.
"Where do we look?"
Illya tossed him a book of matches. "Stir anything?"
Napoleon stared at the message written on the inside cover in a round feminine hand. "Nothing clear. Red hair, maybe... danger?" He shivered unconsciously.
"I thought as much. She's been watching you for days; I'm surprised you didn't notice. After the first night, I checked on her around the lodge. Her name is Maria von Ehrlich; she claims to be a baroness, though that remains to be proven. Certainly she's rich enough to pass as one. She rented a chalet near the edge of town, though she seems to spend more time in the lodge than strictly necessary."
"You think father ... Mr. Waverly may be at her chalet? Wouldn't that be rather obvious?"
"They've got him; they want us. Therefore, they'll make it as easy as possible for us to find them. The trick is to avoid getting caught in the trap when it's sprung."
"And you and I have done this before?"
"More times than I can count."
Napoleon shook his head, but said nothing. His fingers swept
up to touch the gun in its holster, automatically checking to make sure
it was in place. He followed Illya down the back stairwell and out onto
Maria von Ehrlich's holiday chalet looked large enough to comfortably house a small army, and every window was alight. Following Illya's lead, Napoleon kept low to the ground, moving almost silently through the undergrowth that surrounded the building. They hunkered down under a large picture window through which a lavish salon could be seen. Hans and the redhead were standing before the fire, sipping from wine glasses. Illya pulled Napoleon back down before he was seen.
"If they're both here, Mr. Waverly must be somewhere in the building," Napoleon commented under his breath. Illya nodded, intent on assembling his U.N.C.L.E. Special. When he had the rifle stock on, he switched the gun to full automatic and took a deep breath.
"You go find Mr. Waverly; I'll keep these two distracted here."
Napoleon nodded and slipped off into the lowering gloom. Illya watched him go, wondering if the agent's instincts would be enough to lead him through this. For the first time since their first meeting, he went into battle unsure of his partner. It was a distinctly uncomfortable feeling. He counted slowly to twenty, then stood and blew the window efficiently away.
Hans and Maria stared open-mouthed at him as he stepped through the shattered glass, eyes as cold as the deadly weapon he kept trained on them. A twitch of the muzzle urged them closer to the door, where he could keep an eye on them and anyone who might attempt entry. Almost immediately, the door swung open and a man in a canary yellow uniform charged through. He was dead before he hit the floor.
Well, at least Mr. Waverly was right about Thrush not being
involved, Illya thought as the yellow jacket became garishly splotched
with crimson. They would never have gone in for such tacky uniforms. As
always, his ears rang louder in the silence following a rip of full
auto than they did during it. "Where is Alexander Stratford?" he asked,
his very calmness threatening.
Napoleon broke a window in the back of the chalet during the covering noise of Illya's initial assault. He was inside and halfway up the stairs when he heard the second burst of gunfire. There were no guards visible; the house seemed oddly deserted. He didn't stop to think about it for long, as he saw no reason to question so fortunate a gift.
The gun was in his hand when he inched open the first door, although he couldn't remember drawing it. A quick perusal of the bedroom assured him there were no occupants and he moved on to the next. As he continued to find the rooms empty, he became less concerned about running into anyone, and moved quicker. The sixth door opened into an unexpectedly dark room with a muffled figure on the bed. A quick flick of the light switch gifted him with a clear view of Mr. Waverly lying bound and gagged on the counterpane. It was the work of a minute to untie the simple knots.
"Mr. Waverly. Alexander, wake up." Neither coaxing nor light
slaps roused the gentleman, though his heartrate was strong and steady.
Holstering his gun, Napoleon lifted Waverly into his arms gingerly,
suddenly aware of the fragility of old bones, and carried him out of
Illya nearly shot him when he pushed through the door into the salon. He frowned at Napoleon, though his attention didn't waver from his prisoners, who were sitting on the floor, handcuffed back to back.
"I think he's drugged," Napoleon offered, gently settling his burden on the couch.
"Quite right," an urbane voice agreed from behind them. Illya spun to face the new threat. "Ah, ah," Dr. Hauptmann scolded, wagging the muzzle of his revolver gently back and forth, "do put that down, that's a good boy."
Though his automatic gave him the advantage, Illya did as he was told. It was entirely too likely the good doctor would manage to shoot either Napoleon or Waverly, or even both, before he fell, and he couldn't take that risk. He dropped his gun and kicked it over to the doctor as ordered. "I should have known. Hans and Miss von Ehrlich only have the makings of second-rate henchmen. There had to be a mastermind somewhere behind the scenes."
"Thank you, dear boy, whoever you are; I really can't be bothered to find out." The doctor still looked remarkably like Santa Clause, even with the gun and a decidedly nasty gleam in his eye. Hauptmann continued without a pause; like most megalomaniacs, he was probably delighted to have an audience. "In a few brief days my seismic influencer will be ready for the grand unveiling, and nothing must get in the way. You and your associates have proven entirely too much trouble. You must see I can hardly allow you to continue obstructing my rise to power."
"Oh, certainly," Illya conceded genially. He resisted the impulse to glance at Napoleon, who usually did the talking in these sorts of situations. Dr. Hauptmann apparently hadn't considered he might arm his amnesiac companion. Napoleon still had his gun. Illya tried to keep the doctor distracted. "Under the circumstances, Napoleon's amnesia seems remarkably convenient."
"On the contrary, it was extraordinarily annoying. Especially since my dear Maria had failed to get any information out of your stubborn brother when she'd seduced him the night before." Hauptmann gestured negligently with the gun in a manner that could prove highly useful if it didn't get one of them killed first. It might be easier to get the gun away from him if he kept handling it so carelessly, but there was always the risk it could go off, even if the doctor didn't intend it to. "My suspicions about him were confirmed when my men found him sneaking around the testing site and were forced to render him unconscious. Unfortunately, they must have knocked him over the head rather too hard. Most frustrating not to be able to find out what he'd seen and who he told."
"I'm certain it must have been." Damn it, but he wasn't any good at this! Illya dearly wished Napoleon could step into the conversation at some point. "That's why you kept him alive, then?"
"Of course. I had to find out what he knew. My men couldn't even manage that properly; they stupidly allowed him to wander off in a snow storm. Luckily, he was found before any serious harm could befall him and brought to my clinic. Then you arrived to take him away from the hospital, and I had to set my idiot helpers to watch him, waiting for any sign he'd recovered his memory." He scowled at Hans and Maria, who quivered and huddled closer. "If the old man hadn't caught them planting bugs in your room, they'd still be sitting around on their hands, waiting for something to happen."
"Perhaps you're being a little hard on them, doctor. After all, wasn't it Hans who caused the avalanche that nearly killed us?"
"Not he, but my seismic influencer, dear boy." The doctor's voice rang with pride. "I told him to bring the two of you in for a little chat, so he followed you when you went skiing. Rather amusing that you should eat your picnic in the same place your brother collapsed after escaping us. He claimed he was trying to trap you with a small avalanche, but he messed up the setting on my seismic influencer. He should never have used it for such a piddling little thing anyway. He told me you two were buried in the avalanche; naughty of him not to check and make sure you were dead. Ah well," he sighed, "I suppose if I want this done right, I'll just have to do it myself." Suddenly quite serious, he brought his gun to bear on the center of Illya's chest.
As if on cue, Waverly stirred and moaned. Hauptmann's attention shifted to the drugged man for a split second. Illya lunged for the little man at the same moment his partner leapt into action. One strong hand grabbed Illya and forced him to the floor as Napoleon drew the Special with his other hand. He brought it up and fired in one smooth motion, the impact of the bullets knocking Hauptmann back. Kuryakin looked out from under Napoleon's protective weight to see Waverly, very much awake, holding a vicious-looking little gun on Hans and Maria.
"Glad to have you back with us, sir," he managed after a
stunned moment. "Would you mind getting off me, Napoleon? You weigh a
"All's well that ends well, gentlemen." Waverly puffed on his pipe in the lodge's little restaurant, apparently completely at his ease. "We have all of Hauptmann's confederates, who should prove informative under the right persuasion, and the machine is on its way to our labs for a thorough going-over. A pity Hauptmann himself didn't pull through. Next time be somewhat more frugal with the ammunition, Mr. Solo. We do occasionally require talking prisoners."
"Yes, sir." Napoleon played his spoon in little circles around his already well-mixed coffee.
"I trust your memory has completely returned?"
"Yes, sir. It's all come back in a rush during the last few hours."
It was the most the usually talkative agent had said all morning, and Kuryakin seemed to have taken a vow of silence. Waverly sat back and eyed his two best agents. Illya wasn't looking at Napoleon; Napoleon wasn't looking at Illya; and neither had ever, to his knowledge, looked more miserable. He stood and picked up his hat, drawing their attention.
"I've left the New York office to its own devices long enough. It's time to be getting back. As for you gentlemen, I expect to see you back at Headquarters in exactly one week, no less." He put his hat on and started to walk away, then turned back. "Oh, a word of advice, I find these sorts of affairs go better if you're honest with each other." With that, he strode briskly away, fully aware of the stunned silence he left behind.
"Did he just ...?" Illya stammered when he found his voice.
"I think he did." Napoleon sounded equally taken aback. Then he chuckled. "Can't hide anything from father, can we, Nicky old boy?"
"Manifestly not." Illya stood and strode away quickly with little regard to the conversation he'd just killed. Napoleon sat back and watched him go with affection and a great deal of confusion.
He tracked him down an hour later, outside the hotel. The small blond was efficiently strapping a heavy box onto the back of a snowmobile. Napoleon stood there for several minutes waiting to be noticed, not realizing Illya had been aware of him from the moment he walked up.
"A little late in the day to go joy-riding, isn't it?"
"I have an errand to run." Illya didn't look up.
"Going to replace the supplies we used in the cabin?" That surprised a quick glimpse out of Illya. Napoleon grinned. "Hospitality, remember?"
"Yes, I remember." His voice was so soft as to be almost inaudible. Illya settled onto the seat of the snowmobile and started up the engine. He jerked in surprise when a warm body slid into place behind him, strong arms snaking around his waist. "Napoleon!"
"I'm coming with you."
Illya twisted to meet Napoleon's determined gaze. His objection dying unspoken, Illya gunned the engine and set them in motion.
They did not speak during the long ride. The wind whipping past them, and the roar of the snowmobile, made conversation impossible, even had it been desired. Illya bit his lip until he tasted blood, trying to ignore the way Napoleon's body was molded to his back, the warmth of the man sinking through even his thick jacket.
He didn't understand why Napoleon was being so civil, but knew it could hardly last. Maybe his partner was just waiting for an opportunity to blast him for what had happened. If that was the case, Illya had presented him with a perfect one; at the cabin, out of sight and hearing of everyone, Napoleon could take out his anger in perfect solitude.
Illya was off the snowmobile before the noise of the engine had even faded. Briskly unstrapping the box of provisions, he strode single-mindedly into the cabin and began stacking cans on the shelf in the kitchen. He'd brought far more than they had used, but figured it was apt repayment for the hospitality tacitly rendered by those who would forever remain strangers. Though he heard Napoleon come in, and followed his movements as he closed the door and stamped snow off his boots, he didn't permit himself to show it by even the twitch of a muscle.
Broad hands came down on his shoulders as he was placing the last can on the shelf, and it was all he could do not to tremble. Determined not to fight Napoleon's eminently justifiable rage, Illya let himself be turned around.
He was completely unprepared for the hot touch of Napoleon's lips against his. All too aware of the pleasure to be found in his partner's embrace, Illya couldn't restrain a soft moan as he melted against the larger man.
An infinitely pleasurable time later, Illya forced himself to draw away from Napoleon. He stared up at the man with visible perplexity.
"What's the matter, Illya?" Napoleon drew a single finger down Illya's cheek. Illya shivered.
"You should be ... why aren't ... I don't ..." Illya forced himself to take a deep breath, and another step back. "You should hate me."
"Why would I want to do a thing like that?" Napoleon took a step closer, his smile tender.
"You couldn't remember." Illya retreated again, knowing as he did so that the glint in Napoleon's eye promised he wouldn't gain much by it. "I should have stopped you. I took advantage --"
Napoleon threw his head back and laughed aloud. "Oh, Illya," he managed finally, "you can be so precious." He took two quick steps forward, pinning the Russian against the wall. "If anyone took advantage that night, I think it was me."
"Yes ... no ... but, Napoleon ..."
Napoleon lifted a hand to cup Illya's cheek, his thumb brushing lightly over the sculpted lips to halt their confused mutter. "We didn't do anything I didn't want to do, Illya. If anything, I should be apologizing to you; I don't seem to remember doing much asking that night." Napoleon leaned down to brush his lips lightly against Illya's. "No matter who I think I am, I will always love you, if you'll let me."
The note of uncertainty made the statement all the sweeter. Illya stared long and hard into Napoleon's eyes, wishing he knew how to read their mahogany depths. In the end, though, there had never been any choice but the one his heart dictated. As so often in the past, the words wouldn't come, but he nodded, and Napoleon's smile banished all his doubts.
His fingers intertwined with Illya's, Napoleon backed slowly towards the hearth of such recently pleasurable memory. The twinkle in his eye was unmistakable. Illya lifted an eyebrow at his partner-turned-lover, affecting a scandalized air.
"Mr. Waverly did give us a week off," Napoleon reminded him with a decidedly wanton grin.
Illya feigned a weary sigh, but moved into Napoleon's arms with a shy smile. "I guess I'll have to restock the cabin again."
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