Episode Epilogue 8: Some Kind of Innocence
After his date with Cecille ended with a chaste kiss at her door, Napoleon sought Illya out. Something in his partner's manner troubled him; something tight and guarded in his face, in his eyes. He walked more carefully around Illya now, after his colossal misjudgment in Paris - and Amsterdam. Instead of making Illya a little irritated and prickly by inventing that jeweler's assignment he had seriously pissed him off, and freaked him out, too, rousing that Soviet spawned paranoia until Illya was fully prepared to be deported instead of romanced. And instead of filling him with a warm wash of sentiment with the mlyntsi he had - what? Napoleon shook his head. He didn't even have a word for what had happened in that hotel suite but he had lost Illya somewhere, had lost his partner for a long gut wrenching interlude. And although lost was followed by found, and found followed by a two week season of bliss, he didn't forget the blank stare, the frantic retreat and the equally frantic clutching at him, the foreign words pouring out - Eastern Polissian, he had discovered on researching the words he remembered - and the raw panic openly on display.
So there were no more surprises, no more practical jokes planned. He treated Illya as naturally as he could, and in return Illya behaved with equal naturalness, and the odd incident in the luxurious suite overlooking Amsterdam was buried.
But not forgotten. When he had come upon Illya in that hospital, sitting and staring blankly, an awful cold hand had clutched at his stomach, twisting there. It's happened again, he thought. I should have done something then, I should have pushed him, but I didn't; and now here in the middle of an assignment, with Waverly's life - not to mention all his knowledge and information - at risk, it's happened again.
But it hadn't happened again. It had been some nefarious short acting Thrush device, that was all, and while that was bad enough it was nothing compared to a trauma induced fugue state. Napoleon hadn't forgotten that fear, though, and he was now thinking that he should push it, that he should tell Illya - what? That Illya had to talk to him or - again, what? Was he really going to threaten Illya with UNCLE's psychiatric team? No. No, he wasn't. Illya was his partner, Illya was his friend, Illya was - was his world. And this unsuspected vulnerability had been revealed to him, and only to him, and that was where it would remain.
Still, he needed to get Illya to talk to him. And now there was something else, he just knew it. Something else - or more of the same. So he went to Illya's, and knocked on the door.
Illya opened up. He looked pleased to see Napoleon - he always was, when the date ended early, when it was clear Napoleon hadn't stayed overlong in the girl's embrace - but guilty, too. Napoleon stared at him. He looked guilty as hell. He wouldn't meet Napoleon's eyes, he turned and walked across the room. He put as much distance between them as his little studio apartment afforded, and then he just stood there, looking out the window at the still crowded and noisy Village streets below.
"What?" Napoleon said, no greeting, no preamble. He wouldn't pretend he couldn't see that something was wrong.
"I told Mr. Waverly about us."
"You - you what?"
"I told -"
"Never mind. I heard you. You told him about - you told him we're lovers? Without consulting with me?" He felt ill. He sat down. Why the hell - but he knew why. Waverly had almost died. He had seen how that impacted Illya, on far more than a professional level. All that taut driven intensity had been set on Alexander Waverly's face, on his motionless body, on his rescue. He had wondered about Illya and Waverly's relationship before, because it had always seemed more than professional, and now - what had Waverly said? What did he think? What - what had he done? "What did he do?"
But Illya didn't answer him. He looked at Napoleon with a bemused kind of wonder and said, "Lovers? Is that how you think of us?"
How irrelevant could you - "Of course I think of us as lovers," he snapped. "What else? I've told you - I've used the word. And so have you. So are we split up now? Reassigned? Fired?"
"No. None of the above. He was surprised -"
Again Napoleon interrupted him. "I guess so! I guess he was surprised! And what else? Furious? Betrayed? Disgusted?"
"No. Surprised - and concerned. Concerned that we are vulnerable on that point, to Thrush and our other enemies. Concerned that it would get out, and hinder our effectiveness. Concerned that - that one of us would get hurt."
"One of us? You, I suppose. Because everybody knows I'm just a shallow irresponsible womanizer who would never give his heart away, who would never let some damn Soviet spy take it and stomp on it and go behind his back and not even think of us as lovers to top it off!" That all came out in a burst that tasted so bitter in his mouth it was as if he had vomited the words instead of speaking them. He turned his back on Illya.
In a moment he felt a warm pressure against his back, and Illya's breath at the nape of his neck. "I'm sorry," Illya said, and he did sound sorry. He sounded miserable and Napoleon couldn't stand it, he couldn't, so even though he was in the right, positively in the right, and Illya was wrong, most definitely wrong, he turned and gathered Illya in. He couldn't say it was all right, because it wasn't, but he held Illya and let him talk.
"I didn't know I was going to until I did. I didn't plan it, and keep it from you. He was just lying there in the hospital bed, and he looked so old, and so tired. That horrible woman had been touching him, and drooling over his mind, and I was looking him in the eye and essentially lying to him, Napoleon. Here's this big fact about his most important team, and I'm keeping it from him. I started to tell him how glad I was that he was all right, and the rest just came out."
"It's all right," Napoleon said because how could it not be all right between Illya and him? "What - what exactly did you say?"
"Well, he said something about not having worried for a minute because you and I were the best, and he knew we were looking for him. I said thank you, and he looked at me curiously and said, `Mr. Solo is a good friend to you, isn't he, Mr. Kuryakin. I told you he would be. I told you he was kind,' because that was important to him when I came in. I was - and he was so good to me, Napoleon. You have no idea how good he was to me right from the start. He's the one who got me in to UNCLE, who got me away to America. He wanted me to succeed here, but he wanted me to be happy, too. You can't know - nobody ever gave a rat's ass whether I were happy or not, before him. In fact, to certain persons it would have been a positive affront. But he worried about my being lonely here, he didn't like the bigotry I ran into on occasion, he - he cared. So when I came back from Cambridge all set to be a field agent, and assuming I'd be a solo operative because who would trust a damn Commie, a better dead than red Commie -"
"I know. But that's how it was at Cambridge, and that's how it would have been in New York if it weren't for Waverly - and you. He teamed me with you, and nobody was going to fuck with Napoleon Solo's partner. And you - you liked me. Didn't you."
"Yes." He smiled against Illya's hair. And had he just been angry with Illya? He couldn't imagine how that could be so. "I liked you right from the start."
"And I liked you. He had promised me that you were basically a very kind person, even though you tried to keep that a deep dark secret from everybody. So when he asked me - when he said that about you being a good friend to me I - I know I should have consulted with you first. Of course I should have. A major potential career busting secret like that - but it just came out because in that moment anything less would have been lying right to his face, and I couldn't do it. I'm sorry, Napoleon. Truly."
"It's all right," he repeated. "I understand." And he did. He might have done the same thing himself, faced with that terrifyingly human and vulnerable face, those probing eyes. He kissed the top of Illya's head. "So we're not fired? Or separated?"
"No. He just said to be careful, and discreet, and that it was just as well you were still dating, and I should make more of an effort in that direction myself. He said if the world were different, and that maybe someday it would be. He said," Illya drew back then, and Napoleon could look into his eyes. "That he agreed with Dr. King, that people should be judged by the content of their characters. Then he said he was tired, so I got up to leave - his guard was already there," he added hastily.
"Really UNCLE needs its own hospital. With its own ER and everything. I might just work up a proposal."
"Go for it. I'll help with the research. You're right, we do. As it is we're completely exposed whenever one of us is in the hospital. Anyway, the last thing he said was to thank me for telling him, and that we would keep it among the three of us. So it's all right - isn't it?"
"Yes. It's all right." And this was the third time he had said it, but Illya nodded and exhaled as if it were the first time he was hearing it. Napoleon kissed his mouth, this time and Illya kissed him back. They made their way over to Illya's prim little single bed and took off their clothes, coming together under the handmade quilts Illya collected, between soft sheets. There wasn't a lot of luxury in sight in Illya's apartment, but his linens were the finest quality available. It delighted Napoleon, because he knew he was the only other person in the world to experience them. When Illya did date a woman he went to her place.
They lay there and kissed for a little while, both exhausted from the strain of the past few days, and when Napoleon returned from a bathroom visit Illya was asleep. He eased back in beside him and Illya turned to him as he always did, turned to him, laid his head on Napoleon's chest, and sighed. Napoleon smiled and held him close, but inside him the resolve was set. He would address the other issue - the issue that had frightened him so badly as he leaned over, hands on knees, and stared into Illya's unseeing eyes - first thing in the morning.
He was clumsy after all, despite his rehearsals, despite the practiced, smooth words he had prepared. Instead of any of them he looked at Illya over the breakfast table, over the omelets and French toast and orange juice, and said "Too bad we don't have any mlyntsi to go with this." Then he wanted to bite his tongue off but it was out now, so he might as well see it through. Illya was looking at him with that carefully blank expression that could mean anything, or nothing. Napoleon peered at him. "Illya? Don't you think that would be best?"
"No," Illya said calmly, and drank his orange juice. "I don't. I like French toast and omelets just fine."
Damn. Illya would pretend not to understand, Illya would maintain the food analogy come hell or high water now. Well, two could play at that game. "I'll learn to cook them," he said coaxingly. "You know I'm a good cook. I'll make them myself and it'll be just you and me and nobody else. Yes?"
"Illya, I really think -"
"No. And you're about to get thrown out of my apartment."
"You won't do that."
"When I found you in that hospital lobby," he said carefully, putting his fork down although Illya didn't, he went right on eating as if this were truly no more than a conversation about menu selection, "sitting and staring and not registering that anybody was there, I thought it had happened again. You know. What happened in Amsterdam."
"Well, you were wrong. Weren't you. I told you it wouldn't happen during an assignment. You don't trust me now? You want another partner? You want to go back to working alone? Fine. Right after you get out. Go tell Waverly that it's over between us and that ... that ... don't you even think about ... mmph." Napoleon had risen from his seat, gone around the table, pinned Illya against the back of his seat and kissed him. He kissed him into silence, he kissed him and then he felt a decided nudge against his groin. Illya's knee was there, nudging again, just a shade too hard to be mistaken for seduction or anything other than a threat. Napoleon, suddenly very nervous, tried to back up and Illya reached around him and those strong fingers dug into his kidneys - again, not hard enough to hurt but hard enough to keep him there, to keep him within range of Illya's knee.
"Don't hurt me Illya," he said, trying to laugh it off. "I'm not comfortable keeping this buried anymore. I wanted to kick myself for letting it stay buried so long already, and I want to have it out. And if you do knee me in the nuts I'll probably vomit all over your nice clean floor."
"It might be worth it," Illya said, and pushed the knee a little harder.
"Really? It's that bad, whatever it is?"
"Fuck you," Illya said, and pushed him away. Hard, with that unexpected strength that always caught Napoleon by surprise even though he knew it shouldn't. But Illya pushed him and he stumbled backwards, caught himself, then tripped over Illya's shoes, which were on the floor right in his path. Illya had probably known that, Napoleon thought disgustedly as he lost his battle with gravity and fell on his ass. Illya laughed at him.
"That's right," he said and got up, began clearing the table. Napoleon sat and watched him. He didn't say another word, and made no move to get up, and after a few minutes Illya turned around, put both hands on his hips, and looked at him.
"I don't want to talk about it," he said, hitting each word hard. "Why won't you respect that?"
"Because for one moment I looked at the very real possibility that my ... my favoritism and my soft spot for you had seriously compromised a mission and possibly your sanity. And having looked at it I can't look away. And I won't."
"And if I just refuse to talk to you? If I say you're overreacting to my simple surprise at seeing you in Amsterdam and there's nothing to say? What will you do? Go to Waverly?"
"No, that seems to be your department," Napoleon snapped back and now he did get up, straightening his tie, smoothing out his trousers, tugging at his jacket. Illya flinched.
"Dirty pool, Napoleon," he said, and looked away.
Napoleon walked over to him - but not too close, not this time - and said, in his most reasonable voice, "Yes. And the answer to your question is - I'll ask you again. I'll ask you when you come in to work, I'll ask you on your coffee break, I'll ask you in bed. Now we have three days off. I want this behind us. Talk to me."
"You won't want to be my friend anymore," Illya said forlornly, and the fight had gone out of him. "I'll eat your damn mlyntsi and you won't like me anymore."
"If you really believe that then it's even more vital that we get this out in the open between us. Because there is nothing on this earth, Illya, that could make me like you less - love you less. If you're in doubt about that, I'll show you how wrong you are. And after that we'll decide where we want to spend our time off. Maybe a flying trip to Florida? It's in the low nineties there, and sunny. I'll get us a hotel with a pool, and an ocean beach? Or maybe a trip to Colorado, and we can get some skiing in. But first tell me what happened to you back in the Ukraine that was so terrible. So much more terrible than your KGB lure missions that you can't, or won't, share it with me. Me, who saw your injuries from that last trip. Me, who loves you."
But Illya hadn't, after all. None of it had happened - the conversation, the time off, any of it. Because right then Napoleon's communicator had beeped, and the next day he and Illya were in Hong Kong, chasing assorted nefarious crooks, teaming up with an unpredictable former Marine, fighting for their lives and, ultimately, winning out. And the Marine had won, too; the dangerous spy he had fallen for a friendly after all. Napoleon and Illya had worked together seamlessly, flawlessly, planning and counter planning, fighting and rescuing and winning. Not a trace of strain, not a hint of discord, not the smallest sign that anything at all might interfere with their partnership.
Napoleon felt good about that. He had had an uneasy feeling that this was a test run of a sort, Waverly keeping an eye on his team, an eye sharpened by his new knowledge of them, and if that was so, if that was the reason for the abrupt rescheduling of their time off, well, Napoleon hoped he was satisfied. Surely he was. He and Illya had been at the top of their form, and nothing had gone wrong at all. Of course each of them had been captured in turn, but all was well that ended well, and Illya's masquerade as the Genghis Khan of the meeting had been hilarious as well as effective. Napoleon had said so on the plane, had teased Illya about it and Illya had cocked an eyebrow at him and responded in that accent. Napoleon had suggested he don the outfit again, for some private masquerade this time, and Illya had snorted and dismissed it as being too uncomfortable and unwieldy to be borne, but he had used the accent in bed again that night and Napoleon had enjoyed it thoroughly, he certainly had.
So the issue of Illya's past was shelved after all. No good opportunity to discuss it had arisen, and Napoleon had let it go. He didn't know what else to do. Was he wrong, in trying to force Illya's confidence? I don't like to talk about it, Illya had said, and set his mouth in that infuriating yet ridiculously endearing way he had, and that was that. But Napoleon wondered. He wondered a lot.