It was written for frau_flora whose prompts were: drugs, Illya on horseback, Illya teaching Napoleon Russian. As far as theme went she was happy with anything that wasn't AU.
TITLE: The Twelve Days Of Christmas
AUTHOR: Ashleigh Anpilova
RECIPIENT'S NAME: frau_flora
SUB-GENRE: Established Relationship
DISCLAIMER: I don't own these characters, nor am I making any money from them. I merely borrow them from time to time
AUTHOR'S NOTES: With grateful thanks to maubast for her edit.
“Minya abnormal prodavouts.”
“Nyet. Nyet. Nyet. I keep telling you, Napoleon it is, ‘minya abmanul prodavets,’” Illya slammed the notebook he’d been holding down onto the bed, and glared up at his partner.
Napoleon held up both hands, palms facing Illya, offering the universal gesture of surrender. From the look in Illya’s face, he didn’t feel particularly like accepting it. However, then Napoleon smiled, his affectionate, pleading smile, the one he reserved solely for Illya.
It wasn’t a fair thing to do; he knew that, as it always got him his own way. This time was no different and as Illya closed his eyes, Napoleon knew that he had won. Somehow the victory didn’t seem as pleasant though as usual.
“Let us try again,” Illya said softly, opening his eyes again. “Minya.”
“Minya,” Napoleon repeated obediently.
“Abmanul,” Napoleon managed after a second or two.
Illya nodded. “Good. Now. Prodavets.”
Napoleon frowned, opened his mouth. Closed it again and then, forcing himself to concentrate fiercely said, “Prodavets.”
“Now the whole thing.”
He waited a little longer.
Finally Illya rolled his eyes, winced and said softly, “Minya abmanul prodavets.”
After a second or two, Napoleon spoke, his accent atrocious even to his ears; goodness only knows what it would sound like to his Russian partner. “Minya abmanul prodavets.”
“Très bien,” Illya said, his accent was perfect, but then, Napoleon mused, it always was. Illya sank back into the depths of the pillows, the ones Napoleon had brought in for him.
Napoleon took the opportunity to study his partner; he still wasn’t reassured by what he saw. Always pale, Illya was now beyond mere pallor and had been thus for several days. Napoleon was sure that he should have made some improvement by now. Even Illya’s heavy multi-gold hair seemed dull and lifeless, and hung without its usual vitality on Illya’s shoulders.
Finally Illya’s eyes flickered open and he looked at Napoleon. The normally bright sapphire gaze was dull, and more ebony than sapphire as Illya’s pupils remained enlarged, allowing only a thin circle of blue to be seen.
Napoleon immediately composed his face into his ‘I’m not really fussing’ look, and smiled. “So tell me again, partner mine, what does it mean?”
Illya frowned, as if momentarily forgetting the previous few minutes; it was something else that Napoleon had noticed had been happening over the last few days. The normally razor-sharp mind, like Illya’s hair and eyes, was dull, and that bothered Napoleon far more than the physical signs.
Then Illya shook his head, this time audibly winced and said, his Russian accent, as it had been for days, far more intense than it usually was, “A salesperson cheated me.”
Napoleon blinked. “Er, tovarishch,” he said carefully. “Why would I need to know that particular phrase?”
Illya ignored the question and instead said, his voice heavy with irritation, “How is it that you can say that word and several others so perfectly, and yet . . .” he trailed off and gestured in frustration.
Napoleon edged nearer to him, lowered his head and said, “Because, sweetheart, my motivation for learning ‘those’ words is strong. Now if you could -“
“Napoleon!” Illya snapped, and pushed Napoleon away.
Napoleon blinked, but moved back.
Illya touched his arm. “I am sorry, Pasha,” he said. “It is just . . .” he waved in the direction of the security camera.
“It’s turned off,” Napoleon reminded him. “Besides, it’s not as though everyone doesn’t know about us. We do live together.”
“I know.” Illya’s voice was weary. “I just do not want to,” he paused, frowned and Napoleon watched him search his vast database of languages for the correct word. “Flaunt?” Napoleon nodded. “It. I am sorry,” he added, and squeezed Napoleon’s arm.
Napoleon was about to say something, when the door opened and Jenny Marshall came in with a tray. Illya immediately glared at her, eyeing her as though she was a particularly deadly insect. Napoleon patted his arm. “Lusha,” he said softly. “Be nice.”
“Hello, Illya,” Jenny said brightly, moving towards the bed, and completely ignoring the fact that Napoleon was holding Illya’s arm. She put the tray down on the bedside table and popped a thermometer under Illya’s tongue, before picking up his wrist and taking his pulse. Illya crossed his eyes, before rolling them and pursing his lips. Napoleon tried not to smile.
“Hmm,” she murmured a few minutes later, shaking the thermometer and replacing it in its holder before moving to write on the chart. Napoleon didn’t bother to ask what it said, nor did Illya. They both knew that as soon as she left the room, Napoleon would check.
Returning to Illya’s side, Jenny picked up the small plastic pot and held it out to Illya. “There you go, Illya,” she said. “It’s time for your drugs.”
“I do not want them,” Illya declared, and folded his arms; he glared up at Jenny from under his over-long fringe. Napoleon hid a sigh.
Jenny wasn’t fazed. “You know you have to take them, Illya.” She held the pot out.
Illya just ignored her. “Drugs are what led to me being in here. What I cannot understand is why you people insist on giving me yet more drugs to counteract the affects of the drugs. I will not take them.” He set his mouth stubbornly and stuck out his chin.
“Agent Kuryakin, stop behaving like a spoiled brat,” Jenny said sharply. “You will take your tablets.” Again she held them out.
Illya’s mouth fell open and his eyes widened so much that Napoleon waited for them to pop. He had to call on everything that made him Section Head and one of Alexander Waverly’s top two agents, in order not to react. No one spoke to his lethal partner like that, not and lived to tell the tale. No one that is except Napoleon himself - and he only did it very, very occasionally.
Illya continued to impersonate a goldfish. Then to Napoleon’s surprise stretched out his hand, snatched the pot from Jenny’s’ hand and gulped the tablets down with some water.
“Now that’s a good boy,” Jenny said sweetly. Illya continued to glower, but said nothing. Napoleon relaxed again. “See you later, boys,” Jenny collected her tray and left the room.
“I want to go home,” Illya said flatly.
“I know, Lusha. But you can’t.”
Napoleon nodded to where two IV drips stood. Illya just glowered again, turned away and closed his eyes; within minutes his steady breathing told Napoleon that his partner had fallen asleep.
He settled back into his chair and began to think. It wasn’t just being in the Infirmary that was irritating Illya, nor was it the fact that as yet the doctors still didn’t know exactly what was in the concoction of drugs that THRUSH had fed Illya during his two week capture and imprisonment. It was also because it was Christmas. A Western holiday which Illya, after one year of dismissing it as he tended to dismiss anything that didn’t involve intellect, suddenly decided to embrace with open arms.
For the past seven years, the partners had always done something special to celebrate, even if it had to be fitted in around assignments. But this year . . .
Suddenly Napoleon had an idea. He leaned back in the chair, closed his eyes and began to plan his strategy as carefully as he planned their assignments.
“Good morning, Illya,” Napoleon called cheerfully, as he walked into Illya’s room.
Illya just grunted. He was sitting up in bed, his arms folded, his mouth set in a thin line. He did not look happy.
At that moment Jenny appeared from the bathroom, carrying a bowl and a towel. “Good morning, Napoleon,” she said and smiled. Then moving closer to him added under her breath, “He’s not very happy, I’m afraid.”
“Nor, Nurse Marshall, would you be if you were not allowed out of bed to perform even the most basic of tasks.” The voice was like ice.
Jenny gulped and her eyes widened. Clearly she didn’t know about Illya’s exceptional hearing. Napoleon patted her arm and smiled. “Just ignore him,” he said. He didn’t need to see his partner to know exactly what look would be on his face. Gallantly he opened the door for her and with a half-bow indicated that she should leave. She flashed him a sympathetic look, and scurried out. He closed the door behind her and turned towards Illya.
“If you are going to make some pathetic attempt to cheer me up, then please do not bother. In fact why do you not go away and leave me in peace!”
Napoleon ignored the Russian bear and walked over to the bed anyway, bent down and gave Illya a gentle kiss. At least he wasn’t pushed away.
“She would not let me get out of bed to take a shower,” Illya grouched. “She made me have a . . . What do you call it?”
“Sponge bath,” Napoleon replied, tugging off his coat and sitting down on the edge of the bed.
“Hmm,” was the only response.
Moments later, Illya glanced at the parcel Napoleon was nonchalantly turning over in his hands. “What is that?” he demanded.
“This?” Napoleon said, as though he had no idea how the parcel had got there.
“Da.” The look Illya gave him told Napoleon that his partner didn’t believe his act.
“Oh, it’s just something I picked up. It’s a present for someone.”
“You of course. Who else would I be buying a present for?”
Illya glared at him. “How should I know? After all you flirt with all the nurses. And you go away and leave me alone for hours.”
Napoleon opened his mouth to reply that Illya had just told him to go away. And then shut it again quickly, as he realized that Illya’s words were just his way of indicating how sick he felt. “Here,” he said, holding the simply wrapped navy blue parcel out. “Merry Christmas, sweetheart.”
Illya took the parcel and held it, eyeing it suspiciously as though it was about to bite him. “It is not Christmas yet,” he said, nonetheless beginning to slide his fingernail under a piece of scotch tape.
Napoleon shrugged. “No, but it is the twelfth day before.”
Illya blinked, tilted his head and cocked an eyebrow - it was his version of ‘explain’.
So Napoleon did. In fact, he recited the whole poem.
At the end of it, Illya looked puzzled. “But that is for the twelve days following Christmas, is it not?”
Napoleon shrugged. “So I’m inventing a new version. Open it.”
Illya continued to eye the parcel with some concern. In fact more so now than before. “This is not a partridge or a pear tree, I trust,” he said. “Is it?”
Napoleon shook his head. “No, you’re quite safe. Well go on then,” he added. “Open it.”
Illya did so. “Napasha!” he exclaimed moments later, as the paper fell away, and launched into a volley of Russian.
Laughing, Napoleon held up his hand. “English, Lusha, English,” he said.
Illya just smiled at Napoleon. An honest smile, the kind that Napoleon hadn’t seen for far too long. His eyes were sparkling, alive in a way that they too hadn’t been since Napoleon had rescued his partner. Illya took Napoleon’s hand said simply, “Thank you, my friend. Moya lyubov, thank you.” He leaned forward and lightly kissed Napoleon. Then he asked, his tone heavy with intense curiosity, “How? Where? Even I did not know.”
Napoleon shrugged. “A good spy never reveals his sources,” he said lightly. He didn’t think that now was a good time to tell Illya that he had all but ‘threatened’ his lover’s old Cambridge Professor, and ordered not to contact his star pupil before Christmas to tell him of his latest book release. The book had been sitting in Napoleon’s ‘secret’ drawer for several days now, all he was doing was giving it to his lover a few days earlier than anticipated.
Illya smiled again and then opened the book and read a few paragraphs. “Oh, listen to this, Napoleon. I had never thought of it in those terms, but it makes perfect sense.” He then proceeded to read aloud words that, despite being in English, Napoleon could not understand at all.
But it didn’t matter to Napoleon in the slightest. He always got lost when Illya started to talk about Quantum Mechanics, and several other subjects too. At least Illya looked happy, for the first time since the eleventh-hour release.
Over the next four days, Napoleon continued to bring Illya a small gift each day.
The first was a box of fine, expensive chocolates, which were gone by the time Napoleon left for the day.
The second was a book on American idioms, which Illya treated to a roll of his eyes, but nonetheless was studying when Napoleon kissed him before he went home.
The third was a bottle of Stoli, which Napoleon let Illya hold, but insisted on taking it home with him when he left.
The fourth was a tiny, very elegantly decorated Christmas tree, which Napoleon stood on the shelf opposite Illya’s bed.
Napoleon was dragged from sleep by the shrill ringing of the telephone. Awake, as always, within seconds, his hand reached for the receiver, as his eyes scanned the bedside clock. It was 12:05 a.m. “Solo?” he barked.
Five minutes later he dashed out of the apartment block, raced to his car, gunned the engine and sped off across town to U.N.C.L.E. Headquarters.
He skidded to a halt inside Illya’s room and looked in horror at the sight that greeted him. Illya no longer simply had two IVs going into him; he now seemed to have the entire Infirmary’s equipment attached to him. “What happened?” he demanded.
“He began fitting about forty minutes ago. We finally managed to get it under control, but his heart stopped, he isn’t breathing on his own, and his major organs are giving signs of beginning to shut down. He’s dying, Napoleon,” Dr. Phillips said gently.
“No,” Napoleon responded, pushing past the medical staff and moving closer to the bed. “No,” he repeated, slipping into denial. “No.”
“Mr. Solo.” The name was said with quiet compassion. Napoleon looked across the room and saw Alexander Waverly standing by the window.
“Sir,” he managed. “He’ll be fine.” The pale blue-grey eyes held his gaze, offering the sorrow Napoleon refused to contemplate. “He will be,” he added. He moved nearer to the bed and with great care picked up one of Illya’s hands, the one with only two lines going into it. No one tried to stop him.
“Leave us, please,” he heard his boss say. He felt the room empty, until only Mr. Waverly, Dr. Phillips, himself and Illya remained.
Mr. Waverly moved away from the wall and came closer to the bed. “Mr. Solo,” he repeated. Napoleon looked up. “You are no doubt aware of Mr. Kuryakin’s instructions regarding what should happen if the occasion ever arose whereby he was being kept alive solely by artificial means.”
Of course Napoleon was aware. He had the same instructions in his own file. He nodded once and forced himself to speak. “Yes, sir,” he said, dragging his gaze away from his partner’s stiller-than-still body and meeting his boss’s gaze. “But he’ll recover. You know Illya, he’s a fighter.”
“Napoleon,” Dr. Phillips touched him lightly on the shoulder. “I’m afraid that this time there’s really . . .” he broke off as Napoleon turned his full attention to him. “Very little hope,” he finished. It was clear to Napoleon that this was not what the doctor had been about to say.
Nonetheless he latched onto it. “Which mean’s there’s some,” he declared.
“Napoleon,” Dr. Phillips said again, and then fell silent. Napoleon saw him glance at Mr. Waverly.
“Twenty-four hours, Mr. Solo. After which I shall order the machines to be switched off in accordance with Mr. Kuryakin’s instructions.” The quiet voice brooked no arguments.
Napoleon just nodded. “Yes, sir,” he said. “Thank you.”
Minutes later he was aware that the other two men had left the room.
The next twenty-three hours were the longest of Napoleon’s life. He sat by Illya’s side, holding his hand, leaving him only briefly when his need to visit the bathroom outweighed his need to stay with his lover.
Nurses came and went every half an hour, checking Illya’s vital signs and making minute alterations to the wires and leads. After the first three visits, they stopped trying to talk to Napoleon.
Dr. Phillips visited several times, also checking equipment and reading charts. Each time he simply said Napoleon’s name when he arrived and again when he left.
It was 11:30 p.m., as Napoleon began to say goodbye to the only person he had ever or would ever truly love. He had to let Illya go, it was what they’d agreed, what Illya wanted. However, he knew that if their situations were reversed, Illya would be going through the same hell as he was.
“Oh, Lusha,” he said, suddenly having no idea how to say the words. He felt tears sting the back of his eyes, but refused to let them fall. This hurt, this pain, went far too deep for tears. Instead, he brought the lifeless hand to his lips and kissed it.
“Pasha,” he heard the whisper, but decided it was in his mind. Seconds later the sound of someone choking alerted him and he looked up to see his lover looking at him, and making frantic half attempts to tug the tube that was breathing for him from his mouth.
Just as Napoleon reached to hit the call button that would bring the nurses into Illya’s room, three of them, two junior doctors, and Dr. Phillips rushed in. They had been alerted by the change in the machines that were always monitored at a central station.
Napoleon was pushed to one side, and for the next twenty minutes could only observe as the medical team did its job.
“It’s impossible,” Dr. Phillips said a moment later. “It’s impossible.”
“It’s a miracle,” murmured one young nurse.
“He can’t be alive.”
“Well I am,” came a croaky and definitely cranky voice from the bed. “But if you do not stop poking and smothering me, I will not be for much longer.” A sharp nod from the doctor to his medical team had them moving back from Illya’s bed.
Napoleon finally saw his friend. Forcing himself not to rush to Illya, gather him into his arms and kiss him, he said instead, “So nice of you to finally join us, Agent Kuryakin.” The words may have been light, but he knew his tone told a different story.
Weary black eyes glanced his way, and Illya forced a small smile.
Now Napoleon did move back to the bed, letting his fingers brush the damp blond hair off Illya’s forehead. When he was next able to see clearly, he saw that the room had emptied. He sank back onto the edge of the bed, and reached for Illya’s hand.
“What is the time?” a voice, rich with its native accent enquired.
Napoleon glanced at his watch. “Two minutes to midnight.”
“And the date?”
Another faint smile lit up Illya’s face. “Good. Then I have not missed it.”
Napoleon blinked. “Missed what?”
“My present. Hand it over.”
Napoleon just stared, then began to chuckle. That was his Illya all the way. Minutes away from death, and now he was demanding presents. He grabbed his overcoat, into which he had automatically stuffed the present that he’d placed with his clothes before going to bed. It was a small rectangle shape. “Here,” he said and handed it over.
Illya attempted to take it, frowned as the many wires that were still attached to him, got in the way and said resignedly, “I believe that you will have to open this one for me, my friend.”
He held it out.
Illya’s eyes widened. “What is it?”
“I can see that, Napoleon. My vision is still clear. But why?”
“Ah,” Napoleon said, bending to kiss Illya’s nose - as always it was cold. “You’ll have to wait until tomorrow to find out. Now go to sleep.”
To his surprise, Illya obeyed.
A conversation with Dr. Phillips and Alexander Waverly some time later, revealed that the good doctor had no explanation for Illya’s apparently-impossible recovery. As he explained, since they didn’t know what cocktail of drugs Illya had been they couldn’t accurately predict the after-effects. It wasn’t very satisfying, but even Napoleon knew when to push and when to let go. This time he let go.
As he fell asleep, having been ordered to go home by Dr. Phillips, the words ‘it’s a miracle,’ breathed in almost reverent awe by the young nurse, kept running through his mind.
“Good morning, Illya,” Napoleon called cheerfully, as he entered his partner’s room. Illya was sitting up in bed and for the first time in far too long, actually had a touch of color on his cheeks. As Napoleon moved nearer to the bed, he saw that the amount of blue showing around Illya’s pupils had also increased. “You’re looking a bit better, partner mine,” he said, squeezing Illya’ hand. He was amazed at how much Illya had improved since the night before, but then as Dr. Phillips had said, they were really working in the dark and dealing with the unexpected this time, so maybe he shouldn't be overly surprised.
Illya tilted his head back and offered his mouth for a brief kiss. “Thank you, my friend,” he said solemnly. “I confess that I do feel a little better.”
“Good,” Napoleon said, removing his overcoat and throwing it onto the nearby chair. He smiled, pleased to hear Illya saying that. However, he was not going to allow himself to become too hopeful yet. His lover’s brush with death - the closest the younger man had ever come - was still too fresh in Napoleon’s mind.
He sat down on the edge of the bed and glanced at the bedside table. Standing in front of the jug of water was the gift he’d given Illya the night before. A framed photograph of Illya sitting astride a big black stallion, looking as though he hadn’t got a care in the world. The look belied the truth of the matter; Napoleon remembered the incident well. The stallion, although officially broken, was nearly impossible for anyone to ride. However within moments of approaching him, Illya had not only calmed the beast enough to bridle and saddle him, but also to allow Illya on his back. Once again, Illya’s skills had saved not only their own lives, but those of three other people. Napoleon hadn’t even known that the photograph had been taken, until it arrived at U.N.C.L.E.’s Headquarters with a simple ‘thank you’, note. Horse riding was one of his lover’s passions, one he got to indulge himself with on far too few occasions.
Aware that he was being watched, Napoleon smiled and turned his attention back to his partner. “It’s a cold day, but a fine one,” he said. And chuckled as Illya rolled his eyes. “However, I think it might snow later,” he added. The eye rolling was repeated. He blinked innocently at his partner who affixed him with his fire-and-ice shooting glare. Still Napoleon said nothing.
Finally it was Illya who broke first. “Well,” he demanded. “Where is it?”
“Napoleon,” his Russian wolf growled.
Unable to hold out any longer, Napoleon reached for his overcoat, tugged out an envelope and handed it over to Illya. Again he hid the smile as a faintly disappointed look crossed his partner’s face. “Open it,” he urged.
Illya did, pulled out the contents and launched into excited Russian. After a moment or two, however, as Napoleon simply sat and shook his head, Illya seemed to remember. “Pasha,” he exclaimed. “Thank you. This is . . . perfect. Now I see what you meant last night when you gave me that,” he nodded towards the photograph. “But will we be able to go?”
“I cleared it all with Mr. Waverly. As soon as you have recovered, and Dr. Phillips deems you well enough, and the weather is warmer of course, we will spend two weeks on the finest riding holiday offered anywhere in America.”
Illya’s delight made up ten times over for the fact that Napoleon and horses were not natural partners, thus the holiday for him would be more of a trial than some of their assignments. But Illya would love it, Illya would enjoy it, Illya would find the kind of freedom that he said he only felt when on horseback - and that was reward and consolation enough for Napoleon.
Then he got a reward far sooner than expected, as Illya tugged him towards him and kissed him. No mere brush of the lips, but a gentle, prolonged, loving kiss - the kind that Napoleon had feared he might never again experience.
Three more days brought not only three more presents, but a constantly improving Illya. It was as though the close-to-death experience had been the final thing the cocktail of drugs was going to throw at him, and from that moment he didn’t look back. Dr. Phillips was pleased to report that Illya’s blood was finally beginning to show a marked reduction in the still-unknown mixture, and Napoleon was finally allowing himself to hope.
Cuff links, a brightly colored tie, and a book of cryptic crossword puzzles had all been received and enjoyed. Napoleon began to think that the actual present itself mattered little to Illya, not in any material sense; what mattered was simply the sentiment behind them.
Napoleon arrived carrying a covered plate; at the sight of it Illya’s eyes lit up. “Is that food?” he demanded.
“Good morning to you too, Lusha. I’m very well, thank you for asking. And how are you?” Napoleon put the plate down on the table at the bottom of the bed.
“Good morning,” Illya said, his tone distracted. “Well, is it?”
“How are you feeling today, Illya?” Napoleon repeated. He removed his coat and threw it onto the chair.
“Hungry,” was the answer from the single-minded man. If anything proved that Illya was recovering, and doing so quickly, the fact that he had finally begun to complain about the food the Infirmary served him did. It was music to Napoleon’s ears, hence the reason for today’s gift.
For a moment Napoleon was tempted to prolong the agony and engage his partner in futile conversation. However, as the now almost normal eyes were riveted to the covered plate at the end of the bed, Napoleon could refuse his lover no longer. Pulling the table up the bed, until Illya could reach the gift, he moved away and let his partner tug the cover off.
“Napoleon,” Illya breathed. “Is that what I think it is?”
“But from where did you buy it? I have tried many times and have never succeeded?”
“I didn’t buy it,” Napoleon said. “I made it.”
“You remember that old cookery book of your Grandmother’s?”
Illya nodded. “Da.”
“Well I came across it. I was flicking through it trying to find something that was special but didn’t appear to be too complicated. And I saw the name of this - ‘Cake Napoleon’ - what else could I possibly have made?”
“But the book is written in Russian.”
“Yes, partner mine. I’ve been practicing.” Napoleon decided not to tell Illya just how many hours he’d spent with a dictionary and phrase book going painstakingly through each line. He’d recognized his own name easily enough, as Illya had written it many times for him, but that was all. Nor did he tell Illya that despite his outward confidence, there was one tiny thing about the recipe that had given him pause. However, he felt sure that, even though it seemed weird, given that it was a Russian dish, he had got it right.
“Well go on,” he urged. “Try it.”
The blue eyes lit up and Illya, with more reverence than Napoleon had ever seen his partner show food before, took a slice, closed his eyes, opened him mouth and bit into it.
Seconds later he spat it out and dropped the rest of it. “Bozhe moi!” He grabbed his water glass and drained it. Wild-eyed he exploded into Russian. Napoleon stood helplessly by; the faint concern he’d felt over one simple ingredient, no longer faint. “Are you trying to poison me?” Illya finally managed in English.
“No, of course not,” Napoleon said indignantly.
Illya ignored him. “Do you not think that I have suffered enough?” The blue eyes blazed their unique fire-and-ice combination.
Napoleon moved nearer, despite the glare. “Sweetheart,” he said in the tone that normally got him his own way. Illya continued to shoot frost and flames at him, but they had reduced in their intensity. “Lusha,” he added, taking Illya’s hand. “I’m sorry. I guess I misread one of the amounts. I did think at the time it seemed an awful lot of vinegar, but . . . Tell me, how did your Grandmother used to write the figure one?”
Illya narrowed his eyes, pulled his notebook from his bedside locker, and wrote what Napoleon would have sworn was a seven.
“Ahhhh,” he said. “Is that normal?”
“For my Grandmother, yes.” For a moment Illya continued to glare at Napoleon, but the chill and heat had all but gone, and Napoleon watched as his lover fought laughter, before finally collapsing back onto his pillows. “Oh, Pasha,” he said, wiping his eyes, and once more emptying his glass of water. “Did you really not think that seven tablespoons of vinegar in a cake was slightly too many? Even I would have thought that and you, my friend, are the cook, not I.”
“Well, yes, I did. But . . . As I’d never tasted any Russian cakes before, I didn’t know if you . . .” Napoleon trailed off as Illya began to laugh even louder. It was infectious, and within seconds Napoleon too began to chuckle.
Jenny’s face was a picture when she came into the room a few minutes later, to find Illya clutching Napoleon’s arm in an attempt not to slide down the bed, and Napoleon making an effort to clean the mess Illya had spat out off the sheets.
Napoleon was still shaking snow from his hair and overcoat when he walked into Illya’s room. The wistful look in the blue eyes did not escape him. Illya loved the snow. Napoleon recalled an impromptu snowball fight that had ultimately involved half of U.N.C.L.E.’s employees; Illya had been behind the whole thing - and he was a devil with a snowball.
Today he carried a large box in his arms and had to be careful as he negotiated the door. He dumped the box on the chair and kissed Illya. “Your nose is cold,” he said.
“So is yours.”
Napoleon shed his overcoat, threw it over the back of the chair, taking care to avoid the box, and sat down on the edge of Illya’s bed, took his hand and smiled. “I love you, Illya,” he said softly.
Illya matched the smile. “Ja lyublyu vas takzhe, Napoleon,” he said, slightly solemnly, as he always did.
The partners chatted for several minutes, during which Napoleon saw Illya’s eyes swivel several times, when Illya thought Napoleon wasn’t watching him, towards the chair.
Finally the effort of keeping today’s double-surprise from his lover any longer was too much for Napoleon. Pausing only long enough to once more briefly kiss Illya, he stood up, grabbed the box and deposited it on Illya’s lap. “Merry Christmas, golubchik,” he said.
Illya seemed transfixed by the size of the box and for once did not immediately tear the paper off. “I am almost afraid to open this,” he said, after he had removed the paper, now pausing before lifting the lid.
“It won’t bite you,” Napoleon assured him.
Illya rolled his eyes and pulled off the lid. He gasped as he lifted out the heavy midnight blue, long overcoat. “Pasha?” He looked up at Napoleon.
“Do you like it?” Napoleon was suddenly slightly uncertain. Over the years they’d been friends and lovers, he had often bought Illya clothing, but they had been smaller and more utilitarian items, shirts, ties, socks; a coat was rather more personal.
“What is there not to like?” Illya answered, running his hands over the cloth. “It is very soft.”
“Warm too,” Napoleon said.
“Thank you, my friend,” Illya said, his tone once more formal and solemn. He caught Napoleon’s hand and held it. “It is beautiful.”
“And warm,” Napoleon repeated.
Illya cocked his head and frowned slightly. “No doubt it is. However, additional warmth is the last thing that I need in here.” It was true, the Infirmary, like every hospital Napoleon had ever had occasion to visit - and there were a lot of those - kept it’s temperature well above the comfort level of even ‘normal blooded’ people. Illya, brought up in what Napoleon considered Siberia, tended to feel the heat far more than Napoleon did.
“True. But you’ll need it outside. It’s raw.”
The wistful look reappeared. “By the time I am released from this hot house, there will probably be a heat wave,” Illya said dramatically.
Napoleon smiled. “I don’t recall even New York’s weather going from heavy snow to a heat wave overnight.” He waited.
For a moment he didn’t think Illya’s great brain had computed his words. Then Illya’s mouth opened, although no words came out, he blinked then widened his eyes so far that Napoleon winced in sympathy. “Overnight?” he finally managed. “Do you mean . . .” he trailed off, as if afraid to speak the words.
“I sure do, partner mine. Dr. Phillips has said that if you behave yourself today and everything remains normal, well as normal as you ever are,” he added, cheerfully ignoring Illya’s half-hearted attempt at his famous fire-and-ice glare. “Then I can take you home tomorrow.”
Once more he failed to follow most of the burst of Russian. However, he did understand the kiss and embrace that Illya bestowed on him. Those he would understand all the days of his life and those he would never tire of.