Illya sighed soundlessly as Professor Williams droned on and on. His work on photovoltaic cells was groundbreaking and well worth the time spent on experiments. If only he didn't have to tell them every little detail that had led up to this week's break through in energy storage. He tried to pay attention but his thoughts kept drifting to the coming night.
Mark and April had an assignment to Portugal and wouldn't be back for a week. If all went as planned, which Illya knew rarely happened. He smiled to himself at the easing of tension between Mark and the two of them. Food was a great bringer-together of people, no matter who was involved. He wondered if there was a cookbook that had different kinds of pancakes. Perhaps Napoleon could be persuaded to stop by the Library on their way home.
Home. How strange that after so many years of moving from place to place, he'd finally found a home. Of course, the old bromide held true -- 'home is where the heart is' and his heart had been given to Napoleon years before. To know that his partner felt the same way seemed a miracle past understanding.
"In conclusion, I'd like to show some slides detailing our process." Professor Williams began to move towards the other table where the slide projector sat ominously by a stack of four round carousel full of white and black squares of film.
"I'm afraid that we've run over time, Professor. We shall have to postpone seeing your slides until a later date." Mr. Waverly said kindly and Illya felt the sigh of relief race around the room like lightning. He even engaged the disappointed scientist in conversation so the rest of them could make their escape.
Leaving the meeting room at a brisk step, Illya took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Another two steps and he saw Napoleon leaning against the wall, his arms folded and his gaze on the people leaving the meeting. Their eyes met briefly before sliding on past. Illya was afraid he'd give them away and kept his normal stoic expression on his face. But inside, he was wriggling in a warm fizzy state that threatened to overcome even his well-practiced poker face.
"Is Mr. Waverly still inside?" Napoleon's voice was neutral.
"Yes, he saved us from the dreaded slide show catastrophe and covered our escape." Illya kept walking and when Napoleon fell in beside him, he wished they could touch.
"Ah, the perils of being the boss." Napoleon said teasingly.
Waiting until no one was in earshot, Illya dropped his voice. "Can we stop at the Library on our way home?"
"Of course, what are we looking for?"
"Cookbooks about pancakes."
Napoleon began to chuckle. "I should have known. So, we're going to be prepared when Mark gets back?"
"You know how important I find research."
"Yes, I know how thorough you are." Napoleon said with a hint of caress to his tones. "So dedicated to knowing every aspect of your subject."
"Napoleon!" The sultry call made Illya cringe inside. It was Mary Lou Kapote, one of the administrative assistants in Section Five, Communications. "You darling man, I hope you haven't forgotten our date on Saturday."
He kept walking with a bow of his head to her. Heading for his lab to check his messages, he thought gloomily that it had already begun. Sharing Napoleon was something he'd known he'd have to do to keep their cover. Mary Lou was not a threat to him but she would not long be the only woman that Napoleon would have to date to keep up his image. That he might come in time to want to wine and dine.
The secretary who kept track of all messages for Green Lab handed him three slips of paper with varying degrees of importance. Illya could not concentrate on them though so he laid them aside and prepared to walk home. Even if Napoleon couldn't get away, he could still walk by the branch library that perched on a small lot between two towering office buildings. Shrugging into his coat, he wound the scarf around his neck and thought back to the last Christmas when Napoleon had presented him with the soft, navy blue angora scarf.
It made him feel safe and warmed him from the inside out. After all, he argued to himself, he knew that coming back to cold reality would be a shock. It could be worse and Illya sighed again at the thought of some of the beautiful, intelligent women who worked for UNCLE. They all wanted Napoleon and he would probably feel honor bound to date some of them.
Illya's eyes narrowed against the sudden pain of a headache. And sooner or later, his partner would find a woman who fit him better than Illya did. He would marry and have beautiful children for his Nana Rebecca, who was still living in Maine in the house she'd come to as a bride back in the twenties. Rubbing his temple, he wondered at the sudden heat that flushed down his face past his neck. His ears were literally burning, he thought hazily.
In the hall, he rested for a minute while he watched the walls pulse in front of his eyes. He'd had a migraine before and this felt like it but there were odd symptoms that he'd never experienced before. He wondered if he should go down to the clinic and have Dr. Keyes check his blood pressure but the ringing in his ears seemed to be lessening and he hated having doctors poking at him so he decided to take it slow and keep on going home.
Home. An empty place without Napoleon but he'd soon be there after he'd finished being charming. Their affair was too new to have lost its bloom and Illya was still a curiosity for his partner. He shook himself free of the melancholy that threatened to take hold, taking a firm grip on his control and walking normally to the first checkpoint to turn in his badge.
Exiting Del Florio's, he strode down the busy street towards the library and the safe haven he'd discovered when he first came to America. It was still a delight for him to walk in the front door and see all the tall bookcases stretching back as far as the eye could see. The fabric of the building might be shabby and some of the patrons definitely were, but the accumulated knowledge those shelves held never ceased to amaze him.
And they were all free for the checking out to anyone with a library card. He'd been more excited with getting that card than he'd been with passing his driver's test and receiving his license. Nodding to the librarian behind the reference desk, he headed for the aisle with the cookbooks. Browsing through the crowded stacks, he found several in a row on muffins, biscuits, pancakes and various breakfast dishes. Crepes and how to make them seemed his best bet so he chose three before heading to the mysteries in the fiction section.
Looking through the new mysteries, he found one by one of his favorite authors, Lindsey Davis. Her novels were set in ancient Rome and starred Marcus Didius Falco, Imperial Spy. They were one of his guilty pleasures and he added it to his stack with a tiny thrill. He rather enjoyed escaping into another time and place. Perhaps that's why the ghosts in Switzerland had captured his attention so completely.
While he waited in line at the check out desk, he wondered if the earlier headache that had started to throb again might be a side effect of the drug overdose. Perhaps he would stop by and talk with Dr. Keyes in the morning. Smiling quietly at the young woman at the desk when it came his turn, he handed over his library card and his four books, receiving them back with their official date stamp.
For two weeks they were his to read and enjoy and it was all free. Illya marveled at the concept of a place where everything was free but the copy machine and the coin operated typewriters. Not even in Great Britain was that the case. Walking down the sidewalk, he pondered the concept of freedom versus privilege. He felt again the honor of living in America and how exhilarating he found the ability to walk wherever he wanted at any time of the day or night.
Subject to wondering THRUSH agents, power-mad dictators and the occasional lady-of-the-evening, of course.
Walking up the steps of his new home, he smiled at the lion headed doorknocker before inserting his key and stepping into the warm foyer. There was a hall tree near the door and he carefully hung up his coat and scarf, noting the empty pegs where Napoleon's coat should be.
"I will not feel sorry for myself. I will make a nice salad, turn on the gas fire and sit by it to read my books." He told his image in the hall mirror before carrying his books down the hall and into the kitchen.
The refrigerator was adequately stocked but nothing looked appealing to him. Cutting several slices of colby cheese from the large block, he searched the cupboards for some of his favorite crackers before finding them in the colorful tin behind several sacks of flour and sugar. Musing on the need to keep them safe from any marauding mice, he pondered a shopping trip to the nearest Conran's store on 5th Avenue.
That was another guilty pleasure of his. Wandering the spacious aisles of brightly colored plastic items of every kind appealed to his sense of the fantastic. But sometimes they stocked just the right kind of storage jar or pottery and his glass cups with the bright red handles had come from there. They weren't exactly like home but he thought his mother would approve of his choice.
Opening the freezer for some ice for his juice, he stood in front of it for a long moment, realizing for the first time that he felt hot all over. "I don't have a fever. I refuse to have another fever." He told the ice cube trays.
Ignoring the throbbing behind his eyes and the way his ears burned, he took his plate of cheese and crackers in one hand, his juice in the other and his mystery under one arm for the trip to the living room. He put everything down on the coffee table and knelt to turn on the gas jet for the fake logs. It wasn't as nice as a real fire but the convenience was well worth not having to lug dirty logs in and out of the house.
He usually liked the quiet but it was too silent for him right now and he spied the radio on the table beside his stained glass lamp. Turning them both on, he kicked off his shoes and relaxed to the strains of a Strauss waltz. The juice went down like nectar and cooled him off enough so he could enjoy his cheese and crackers. Curling up at one end of the overstuffed couch, he picked up his mystery and opened it to the first page.
An hour later, he stretched and carefully bookmarked his page. Looking at the clock on the mantel, he accepted that Napoleon wouldn't be coming home anytime soon. He must have taken Mary Lou to dinner and they would probably go dancing or something. Resolutely, he picked up his dirty dishes and took them out to the kitchen, rinsing them under the hot water before stacking them in the drainer.
Leaving his book on the sofa, he wondered upstairs to get ready for bed. For some reason, he felt so sleepy that he could barely keep his eyes open. Deciding against a bath, he washed his face and brushed his teeth mechanically. Dizziness hit when he leaned over to spit out the toothpaste and only his hold on the counter kept him upright. The ringing in his ears was back and when he straightened, the flushed face in the mirror told him the fever was back with a vengeance.
One of the drawers produced some aspirin and he swallowed two tablets with water that tasted metallic. Licking his lips, he decided to just go to bed to sleep whatever this problem was out of his system. Filling the glass with water, he carried it back to his bedroom and the empty bed that awaited him. Stripping off his clothes, he threw them in the hamper before pulling open one of his dresser drawers and finding the t-shirt that used to belong to Napoleon.
The sheets still smelled of their lovemaking and he hugged Napoleon's pillow to his chest. Any tears that fell would dry quickly, he reasoned. The cold linen made him shiver and he shook with sudden chills that racked his body with tremors. He curled up tight around the pillow and shook until sleep took him.
"Illya ... Illya wake up."
The voice sounded urgent and he fought to open his eyes. His eyelids weighed a ton though and his limbs were too heavy to move. He must have made some sound because the hands shaking him gentled, pulling him upright and propping him against a solid shoulder.
"Nap ... asha." His voice slurred and sounded very far away.
"Illya, you're running a temperature again. How long has it been? How long have you felt hot?" Napoleon rubbed his back soothingly.
"Walk ... home." Illya just wanted to go back to sleep. Even if the dreams had been ominous.
"It's ten now. Did you take your temp?"
"Aspirin, took two aspirin." Illya managed to get his eyes open in time to see Napoleon's worried face. "Just hot, Pasha. Nothing bad."
"Maybe so, Illyusha but I'm calling Dr. Keyes anyway. You left your communicator clipped to your lab coat again. I tried to call and let you know that Mr. Waverly co-opted me for a mission debriefing but when you didn't answer, I had Security check for me."
The only thing that got through to Illya was the name Waverly. "Not Mary Lou?"
"Of course not Mary Lou, I'd never miss a chance to have dinner with you unless duty called."
"That's nice, Pasha." Illya smiled sweetly at his partner before closing his eyes again and resting his too heavy head on the convenient shoulder. "I love you, too. I got some nice cookbooks at the library."
The familiar chirp of an activated communicator came through the gathering fog. Napoleon's voice was tightly controlled and Illya listened to his tones with a growing sense of worry. He sounded upset about something and maybe he should do something to try to help. But strong hands held him close and it was too comfortable to exert himself.
He was just too tired and when he opened his eyes, the walls pulsed in and out in a hypnotic rhythm that made him sick to his stomach. Better if he stayed quiet and small so the walls couldn't reach out to get him. The conversation ended and Napoleon's hands laid him back down.
"No, Pasha. Dizzy." He clutched at the strong arms and they held on, helping him to stop spinning.
"The doctor will be here in a few minutes, Illya. I won't leave you until I have to go down to let him in, I promise. Stay quiet and still for me so the dizziness doesn't come back." Napoleon's voice was soft and low, gentling him into compliance.
"I'm sorry, Pasha. I keep causing you trouble. It's probably just a chill or something." Illya opened his eyes slowly and kept them on his partner's face so he wouldn't have to look at the weird walls.
"Or a side effect of that devil's brew they shot you up with." Napoleon said grimly while he rubbed gentle circles at Illya's aching temples. "I should have insisted that they hook the phones up before we moved in. Then I could have called you earlier."
"I'll be all right, Pasha. I mean, Napoleon." Illya knew he'd need to put some distance between them so Dr. Keyes wouldn't know anything had changed between them.
"I trust Bill Keyes, Illya. If he needs to know then I think he will be safe."
"Are you sure, Napoleon? We are still very new." Illya blinked rapidly to keep the fever-induced tears from falling.
"I am very sure, my dear partner." The feel of those soft lips against his threatened to make Illya dizzy again. "And I love you, too."
Illya gave up completely and basked in the warm presence of his partner. It seemed he did not yet have to share him with the feminine hordes. He smiled through their kiss and lay quietly when Napoleon left him to go answer the door. Perhaps he'd been too quick to think his lover might have already tired of him. It was probably just the fever making him silly.
Idly, he wondered what mission had needed debriefing. Then the rangy figure of Bill Keyes entered his bedroom carrying his doctor's bag and he prepared to be poked and prodded. Sighing, he opened his mouth to accept the thermometer and brought out an arm so the doctor could feel his pulse.
He hated being sick, but the sight of a worried Napoleon hovering over Dr. Keyes' shoulder made him docile. He silently submitted to the tests that the doctor ran him through, answered his questions and told him exactly what he'd felt like since that afternoon.
The doctor took a blood sample out of one arm before giving him a shot in the other. Illya felt like a human pincushion and he could feel himself glowering at the man he usually liked.
"It's probably just a side effect of the earlier problem but to be on the safe side, I'm taking you off duty for a couple of days. I want you to stay in bed and drink as much as possible. That shot should put you out for the rest of the night." Bill Keyes shut his bag and stood up. "Napoleon, you have the lion tamer's job of making sure that he stays in bed and rests for the next forty-eight hours."
"You see, Napoleon, even he thinks I was a cat in another life." Illya said sleepily and wondered why they laughed. Their voices retreated out of his room and down the stairs while he lay floating a few inches off the bed. Whatever this drug was, he was certainly enjoying the effects.
Then Napoleon was back and helping him out of the sweat-soaked bed and into his room. Stripping him of the t-shirt, bathing him with a cool washcloth and tucking him into his side of the big bed that smelled of his lover, he turned the lights low and kissed him goodnight just before Illya fell deep asleep.
End part three