Rebecca Solo opened the door and found her grandson standing on the step. "Darling! You're early. I thought you wouldn't be in until later this afternoon."
"We caught an earlier flight, Nana. This is Illya Kuryakin, my partner."
Rebecca saw a pale young man who looked as if a strong wind would blow him away. The blue eyes were shy and when he bowed over her hand, she felt him falter. But Napoleon had an arm around him instantly, bracing him until he could get his balance.
"It is a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Solo. Napoleon has spoken of you often. Thank you for allowing me to visit your home." His faintly accented English intrigued her.
"Nonsense, young man. Napoleon said that you've had a rather bad time lately and this is just the place to come while you're healing." She smiled at him and was rewarded with one of the sweetest smiles she'd ever seen. "Now, you must come in and sit down while Napoleon brings in the luggage and I make the tea."
She bossed them into the living room and watched surreptitiously while Napoleon fussed over his partner. She saw the silent admonishment that the beautiful blond glared at him and the way that her grandson meekly nodded. This was going to be an interesting visit.
By the time Napoleon had taken the suitcases upstairs, she was pouring out tea from her grandmother's Wedgwood teapot and asking about their trip. The sling on Illya's left arm was dismissed with a shrug by the young man as an 'accident'. She'd get the true story out of her grandson later.
"Nana, which bedrooms are ours?"
"The rose room and the geometry room share a bath so those are your rooms for this visit." She smiled at him and watched him take the stairs two at a time.
"Now, Illya, if I may call you by your first name?" She waited for his nod. "Good. Do you take sugar or milk in your tea?"
"No, thank you." He leaned forward and bumped his elbow on the arm of the chintz-covered chair that had swallowed him up.
He covered his flinch well but could do nothing about the way he turned white. She pretended not to notice, simply moving the small Duncan Phyfe table next to his chair on his good side and putting his cup and saucer there. Napoleon came bustling down the stairs and plopped down on the overstuffed footstool by Illya's side.
"Now, I'm going to warn you right up front that I'm in a tricky spot in my next book and you're going to have to look after yourselves." She told them serenely.
"You must have your ten pages done for the day then or you wouldn't have answered the door." Napoleon smiled at her and accepted his cup of tea while quietly checking the young blond to see if he was all right.
"Quite right, dear. Hannah would have let you in but today is her day off. But tomorrow morning, she'll be here to make pancakes for us. Then I'll disappear into my study while you show Illya some of your favorite places." She looked at them over the lip of her cup, watching the way they unconsciously accommodated each other. Illya's eyes were darting about the room, taking in the furniture, art and flowers that filled the living room.
Napoleon had checked the whole room out with one sweeping gaze that told him that nothing had changed before surreptitiously eyeing his partner. Neither of them missed the slight shake in Illya's hand as he raised the teacup. Rebecca decided the poor thing needed a nap. Travel could be hard on anyone let alone someone recovering from being shot.
"Short walks at first then we'd like to take a picnic lunch out to the lake." Her grandson declared blithely while she blinked in surprise.
"You hate picnics, Napoleon."
"I used to dislike picnics. I've come to a ... new appreciation of them lately."
"Well, just tell Hannah what you'd like and she'll pack you up a tasty treat. But since it's two miles to the lake, I suggest that you let Illya recover from the flight up before making the poor boy hike for his lunch." She mock-frowned at her grandson and he smiled that cheeky grin that she'd sorely missed the last few years. Something had changed in his life and for the better too.
"It seems quite rude to come for a visit and immediately ask to take a nap but I'm afraid that I may need to." Illya's hand was visibly shaking, setting the empty teacup into the saucer with a clink.
Napoleon was on his feet instantly. "Nana doesn't stand on ceremony, Illya. But before you fall asleep on us, you have to pick a room. I'll warn you now that the rose room has a lot of roses on the walls but the geometry room has a very ... interesting wallpaper border all around the top."
"Ah, but math is one of my best subjects so perhaps the geometry room for me." Illya accepted a hand up and Rebecca pretended not to notice when Napoleon slipped an arm around the gently swaying figure.
"I'll lead the way, shall I? I have to admit that I enjoy watching a guest when he or she first sees the geometry room." She chuckled and began to climb the gracefully curving stairs. "Of course, Illya, what Napoleon hasn't said is that he's the one who picked out the design when he was eight."
"Oh sure, Nana, give away all my secrets the first day." He mock grumbled all the way up but fell quiet when she opened the door to what had been his room whenever he came to visit.
She hadn't changed a thing except for the linen on the bed, choosing to replace the football quilt with a cotton comforter in red and blue. His books, telescope and trophies were still in the same places along with some of the adult things he'd collected while traveling the world and brought home to her.
The lightning glance that Illya swept the room with missed nothing, including the day-glow red triangle and key pattern border that followed the join between wall and ceiling. She watched the faint smile he bestowed on her grandson and the affectionate shrug that Napoleon returned. Really, she was looking forward to some interesting conversations with the pair of them.
"It won't give you nightmares, Illya?" She asked innocently.
The chuckle was worth it. He shook his head and smiled at her. "No, I have slept in much worse, Mrs. Solo. This is positively ... restrained for Napoleon."
"Hey, no fair ganging up on me the first day." Napoleon mock pouted and Rebecca laughed out loud.
"I can see that this will be a very revealing visit. Now, Napoleon, get Illya settled in for his nap then come down and tell me all the news from that den of inequity you live in." She patted her grandson's arm and left them alone, closing the door behind her. About three steps down, she heard a deep laugh that could only have come from Napoleon and she paused in shock at the carefree sound.
Now, she was really looking forward to knowing what had freed his laughter after so long without the joyful emotions that he seemed to have locked away when he returned from the war. If it was Illya's doing, she was prepared to give him her undying gratitude. Sending up a silent prayer that this time the relaxation would be true and lasting, she continued on down the stairs.
Pouring another cup of tea, she leaned back and watched a cardinal flash by on his way to one of the front yard feeders. She'd always thought of the charming little boy who'd come to visit every summer as rather like that bright red bird, flitting in and playing the field until one brown mate settled him down to become a husband. She had known from the moment that she'd seen Napoleon and Mary together that her scarlet grandson had met his mate.
He laughed often then and she remembered the Christmas when he'd brought his new wife to her, against the rest of the family's wishes. That was a magical time while they planned the dreams that young lovers plan when love was new and fresh. She sighed, that was the only Christmas they'd had to celebrate. Poor Mary was dead in a senseless traffic accident by the next December and Napoleon had retreated into himself before volunteering to go to Korea.
She'd prayed so hard those three years that he was overseas that he wouldn't do anything foolish and get himself killed. And her prayers had been answered ... but at a price. The Napoleon who had returned had a thick skin and charming manner that hid his heart beneath layers upon layers of protection. The last few years had shown her flashes of the old Napoleon but now she had the feeling that some of those old prayers were about to be answered.
"He was out like a light the moment his head hit the pillow." Napoleon joined her on the sofa and picked up the teapot to pour himself another cup. "Thank you for letting us come up now. I know you broke your rule about no guests while you're writing but I needed a safe place to bring him while he healed."
"Nonsense, Napoleon, I am intrigued that you're finally letting me meet your partner. You just gave me tantalizing hints about him for the last few years. He looked very young just now."
"He has an 'old soul' as the psychics would say. He grew up in a gulag in Siberia after the soldiers came and massacred his entire family." Frowning into his teacup, he sighed. "It's only been recently that he let me in on some of the good memories of the years before he turned five and had it all taken away. He can be a little prickly at times but he's the best partner I've ever had."
She patted his hand. "I'm sure he is. After all, he's been with you for the last five years and you've become friends."
He smiled at her then dropped his eyes and she wondered what he was debating in his mind. Hesitancy wasn't something he normally had to worry about and she'd always admired that in him. Deciding he needed prompting, she began to talk about her book and the problem she was having with one of her characters. He listened intently and made several comments about motivation that surprised her.
"Thank you, darling. I think that may help. Now, what's this about picnics?"
He blushed - her outgoing grandson blushed. "Um, Illya made a nice picnic for us on the roof of the brownstone because he said I was getting stodgy ... or words to that effect. So, I told him that I could plan just as good a picnic and that I would surprise him one of these days. Then he had to go and get shot."
The anguish in his voice brought her hand to his so he had something to hold on to. "I'm sure he didn't mean to, Napoleon. It could have easily been you instead of him."
"I wish it had been." He eased his grip on her hand, his gaze unfocused. "It's the fourth time this year that he's been targeted instead of me. The shooter had a good shot at both of us and he chose Illya. They seem to always choose him and it's driving me insane. It's a good thing that he'd already darted the guy or I'd have been tempted to make him eat his own gun."
The menace in his voice shocked her but she managed to keep that reaction to herself. "You wouldn't have done that, Napoleon. You're too good a man for that."
"I don't know sometimes, Nana. There's times I want to wrap him up in cotton wool and put him someplace safe where nothing can ever harm him again." This smile was rueful. "But he'd snatch me bald if I ever tried it so I must be content with making sure he gets taken care of after he gets hurt."
She hadn't heard that note of tenderness in his voice for over ten years. It was the exact same tone he'd used with Mary and almost the very same sentiments. Rebecca blinked and thought about it for a moment. Could it be? Could Napoleon have fallen in love again? With his partner? His very male partner? She shook her head and reached for the teapot to distract herself from her disquieting thoughts.
"More tea, dear?" She waited for his nod before pouring out the golden Darjeeling. "Napoleon, is there something you'd like to tell me? Something you might have left out in your letters?"
He squirmed just like he had when he was ten and didn't want to tell her that he'd broken the neighbor's window with a fly ball just past the stump they'd used for third base. "Um, maybe later when we've been here a little longer?"
"Of course, darling, why don't we take a walk in the rose garden so you can see the fruits of all that pruning I made you do on your last visit." She rose gracefully and held out her hand.
Standing, he pulled her into a hug. "Thanks, Nana, for always being here for me. I love you."
Rebecca blinked in shock then returned the hug, pressing a soft kiss to his cheek. "I love you too, Napoleon. We don't tell our loved ones that, often enough. Thank you for reminding me. You're the best grandson I've ever had."
He chuckled and let her go. "I'm the only grandson you've ever had."
She took his arm and steered him to the back of the house. "Isn't that convenient? Who knows what might have happened if your parents had decided to have six of you."
He laughed out loud at that. "There will never be another like you, Nana. And that's probably a good thing."
Swatting his arm, she let herself be distracted while she showed him the roses that were her pride and joy. But in the back of her mind, she knew that she'd be coming back to this topic. Perhaps watching Illya and talking to him would winnow out the change in her beloved grandson. Later, she'd have a go at the shy Russian.
Two hours later, Napoleon left her to go and check on his partner and she went to her study to think about what she'd learned. Her grandson had been open and loving in a way she hadn't seen in years. And every other sentence had begun with the name, 'Illya'. Pondering the change in him, she wondered what or who had been the catalyst for the upheaval in his life.
Had he changed out of all recognition? She shook her head ruefully. No, he'd simply reverted to his open hearted self, the one who'd disappeared when Mary died. The cold, charming man who'd returned from Korea had been stripped away to reveal the good-natured man/boy she loved. And if that meant a ... change in his sexual being then she was just going to have to adjust.
Because losing a grandson was not on her things-to-do list.
So, that meant that she needed a plan of attack. She needed to talk to Illya by himself after she'd observed them together for a few days. Then, she'd know if this was the real thing or a bump in the road of Napoleon's mental health. The quiet knock on the study door found her with pen in hand, jotting down some observations from the afternoon.
Putting them away in her right hand drawer, she made sure the desk was clear before calling to them to come in. Napoleon came in first, closely followed by his partner.
"This is Ali Baba's cave, Illya. Or at least that's how I always thought of it."
The blue eyes widened and his gaze swept the floor to ceiling bookcases filled to the top with an eclectic mix of hardbacks and paperbacks. "It is indeed a treasure house. And you complain about me having too many books."
"Yes, well, I haven't had to move these, have I?" He joked and made for the window seat, his favorite place to perch when he wanted her attention but didn't want to interrupt her writing.
"Ah, you're a reader, Illya. I approve wholeheartedly. Napoleon never had the addiction that books engendered in me. He's too much like his grandfather." Rebecca winked at Illya and surprised him into another sweet smile.
"Sometimes I force him to listen to a fascinating paragraph or two from what ever I'm currently reading. He hasn't fallen asleep yet." He ran his fingers over a row of mysteries. "You like Lindsey Davis? She's one of my favorite authors. Who is Steven Saylor?"
"Well, if you enjoy ancient Roman settings, you'd like him. His main character is Gordianus the Finder. A finder in Rome is something like a private detective. Very enjoyable reading. Why don't you start with Roman Blood? That's his first title and you can see if you like him."
Illya pulled out the book and immediately checked the flyleaf to read the publisher's blurb.
"That's done it, Nana. We won't see him for a few hours while he speed reads his way through it." Napoleon's tones were affectionate and his smile gentle at Illya's guilty start.
"I will save it for tonight in case I can't fall asleep." He tucked the book under his arm and began to move around the room. She laughed out loud and joined him by the bookcase. They traded favorite authors and series back and forth while they worked their way around the room. She noted his passion for reading and the gentle way he handled the books, even with the awkward sling on his left arm.
Dinner was spent discussing Shakespeare's sonnets and she was amazed at the deft analysis her grandson gifted to her. She would never have believed that he could quote so extensively from the Bard's works. However, she watched Illya blush when Napoleon quoted the last couplet of sonnet 22.
"Presume not on thy heart when mine is slain;
Thou gavest me thine, not to give back again."
It was then she knew that they loved. Napoleon has chosen this beautiful, shy young man as the one to hold his heart and Illya had traded his gladly. She watched them while they teased each other with dramatic recipe reading. Laughed out loud at Napoleon's rendition of Greek Spanakopita and had immediate cravings for double chocolate chip cookies when Illya recited his favorite.
After they cleared the table and loaded the dishwasher, she sent them out to the garden so Illya could have some fresh air. Rebecca begged off with the excuse of a sudden thought for her latest book and they departed immediately. She continued to putter in the kitchen, getting out the ingredients for cookies for Hannah to bake the next day. She really did have an idea for the next scene but even more, she wanted them to have a little privacy.
Glancing out the side window before retreating to her study, she stood transfixed at the tender scene before her. Illya was sitting on the stone bench by the lily pond, laughing at some story that Napoleon was telling. Her grandson had a rose in his hand and with a flourish he went down on one knee and presented it to Illya. The blond blushed but accepted it, sending a worried look towards the house but Rebecca was motionless behind the lace curtain and knew she couldn't be seen.
Confident that they were alone, Illya leaned forward and kissed her grandson. She could see the tenderness and caring that radiated from both of them. Napoleon must have said something passionate because his partner got the most interesting look on his face right before he pulled Napoleon closer and kissed him senseless.
Rebecca stepped back and fanned herself with the kitchen towel. So, that answered that question. They loved each other and it wasn't platonic. Not platonic at all. This could prove even more interesting than she'd thought. There was something very touching in the gentle way they dealt with each other. Although, the second kiss was passionate in the extreme.
Her late husband would have been shocked and appalled but she'd lived long enough to realize that love was love and gender really didn't matter. It wasn't something that she would have chosen for Napoleon but it was his right to do the choosing. Wondering what their intriguing boss thought of them, she decided he must be all right with it or he'd have never moved them in together.
Now that really did give her an idea and she headed for the study to write it down. This visit could prove to be a real inspiration, she told herself with a laugh.
End part four