The cessation of movement woke him up disoriented and unsure. "Napoleon?"
"We're here, Illya. Back in Lucerne at that little B&B I told you about. How does your head feel?" The caring note was back, the one that made him feel safe.
"Better ... I think." Illya moved his head a bit and then turned it all the way to the window. "Just a little dizzy, not bad."
"Good. The doctor said that sleep was good for you. And as soon as we get signed in, you're going straight to bed."
"Nope. As soon as we get inside, I find a bathroom." Illya wondered when the last time was that he'd used a toilet. His bladder felt as if he'd swallowed a liquid gallon.
The rich chuckle was back and leather clad fingers undid his seat belt for him. The car doors opened and Napoleon moved around to his side to help him out of the car. A young man was removing their luggage from the trunk and someone else was holding open the door of what appeared to be a fairy tale castle.
He was so bemused by the quaint architecture and tall stone turrets, he barely even noticed the walk inside. Napoleon sat him down in a wing back chair near the oak desk. "It's a castle. Why are we in a castle?"
"Sixteenth century and rumored to be haunted, I've never seen a ghost but maybe you will." Napoleon smiled down at him then went to sign them in.
Clutching the blanket around him, Illya looked around the high ceilings hung with old battle flags that seemed to move when he focused on them. He couldn't feel any air currents but maybe a window was open above. Dropping his eyes to the gray flagstones of the floor, he admired the rich colors of the Persian rug at his feet. The busy design reminded him of a garden run riot and he traced what seemed to be an ivy vine from one end of the rug to the other.
"Okay, my friend, we're checked in and we can go upstairs." Napoleon's hand urged him up.
"Does it have a pretty rug like this one? You're standing on my vine." Illya was still trying to trace the pattern but his eyes kept blurring.
"It has a tapestry on the wall that you'll like. If we go upstairs then I won't have to stand on your vine." The voice was beguiling and Illya tried to get to his feet but all his muscles were so relaxed that he couldn't make his legs work.
"Upsy-daisy, Illya. The sooner we go up, the sooner you can find that bathroom you needed." Strong hands raised him and an iron arm went around his waist. "They've got all the amenities, including an elevator. And our bags are already upstairs. Here we go."
Illya tried to straighten up and take his weight off his partner but Napoleon's shoulder was just too convenient to rest his head upon. "I like your shoulder, Pasha."
"That's good, Illya. You know it's always there for you." Napoleon chuckled, held him up while the elevator moved up then led him out of the small elevator.
"No, you've usually got a woman using it." Illya sighed, his eye caught by an old mirror at the end of the hall. The silvery glass showed the two of them in a seeming embrace and for a moment, it looked as if they wore richly colored velvet tunics with swords hanging from their belts. He blinked and the vision went away, leaving them dressed in their familiar clothing.
Napoleon fumbled with the key in the old fashioned lock, then it clicked open and the door swung wide to show the circular room with a hanging tapestry over the large four-poster bed. "I knew you'd like the tower room, Illya. For the next week, this is home sweet home."
"It's beautiful, Pasha." Illya whispered with a tight voice.
"Yes, indeed it is. Now, here's the bathroom but I'm going to lend a helping hand for now. I don't want you to fall."
"You take good care of me, Napoleon." Illya blinked rapidly.
"No better than you take care of me. In fact, I didn't seem to do too good a job recently so I'll have to do better." Napoleon opened a green door and helped him into a bathroom right out of the nineteenth century. The bathtub was enormous with clawed paws supporting it above a gleaming white and black tiled floor. The fixtures were shiny silver and there appeared to be six or seven different handles and levers.
Napoleon matter of factly undid Illya's pants for him, got him balanced against the marble sink and then stepped out of the room, leaving the door open just a bit. Illya immediately lowered his boxers and sighed blissfully while he rid himself of all the liquid he'd drunk in the last forty-eight hours. Shaking off the last few drips, he put the lid down and sat to try and pull up his pants again.
"Illya, is everything all right?" Napoleon sounded anxious.
"Napoleon, do you think it would be all right if I took a bath? I feel ... all hospital-ly." He looked longingly at the tub.
"Only if I get to help." Napoleon stuck his head inside then came on in. Kneeling by Illya's side, he looked up at him. "I don't want you to hit your head or fall asleep and drown."
"Okay. It will be nice and hot, right?" Illya felt the shivers start again.
"Yep, they've got lots of hot water. How about bubbles?"
"Bubbles would be nice. Really hot would be really, really better though."
"Really hot it is," Napoleon twirled a couple of the handles and water began gushing out into the white porcelain tub. One of the carafes on the sink surround had a green liquid in it and that's the one he reached for. Illya watched in fascination while he opened the jar and poured out a slow stream of pale green that immediately turned into a fragrant bouquet of spruce. "Oops, no bubbles just a little oil. You'll have to be careful that you don't slip."
Illya was pulling off his sweater, kicking off his shoes and letting his pants pool on the floor. The steamy air made it easier to breathe and even without clothes on, he felt a little warmer. The water crept up the sides of the tub and he wiggled out of his boxers before reaching down to remove his socks. Unfortunately that made the room spin and he tucked his head between his knees to try and stop the nausea.
"Let me help, please. You're still not a hundred percent." Napoleon's fingers were warm and Illya watched his partner's tanned hands against his own pale skin with fascination.
"How many percent am I?" Illya asked curiously.
His chuckle was back and he stood, lifting Illya with him and walking him across to the tub. "Maybe sixty at the moment, my friend. Now, in you go. It's not too hot, is it?"
Illya sank bonelessly into the hot water. "There is no such thing as too hot, Pasha. This feels very decadent. Perhaps in another life I was a lord of the manor and lived in a castle like this one. Although I don't feel like an Ice Prince at the moment, more like a melted one."
"Oh dear, it was too much to hope that you hadn't heard that one. They don't really mean any harm by it, Illya. Americans tend to be a little informal in their dealings with acquaintances and your ... formality is just different." Napoleon's hand smoothed his bangs back with a gentle hand.
"No, it's because they think I'm emotionally crippled and unable to feel strong emotion." Illya ducked his head beneath the pale green water and came back up to lean it against the rim of the tub. Blissfully, he soaked up the heat. "But I can feel, it just usually hurts too much to open my heart. The only times I did ... it went badly. It's easier to stay closed up."
Napoleon knelt on the floor beside the tub, the worry line back between his eyes. "I'm sorry, Illya. But I wish you didn't feel you had to hide from me."
"Just a few things, Napoleon. So you won't hate me." Illya tried to make believe that the drops on his eyelashes were from ducking his head.
"I could never hate you, Illya. You're my best friend." Napoleon ran a gentle hand over his wet hair.
"Really?" Illya felt that cold spot inside melt a little. "I've never had a best friend before. Are you sure?"
"I'm sure, my friend. I think that's enough water for the moment. Are you steady enough for me to go and call room service?" He turned the taps off, handed Illya the soap and looked around to see if there was anything else he might need.
"I'm fine. Do you think they'd have hot tea ... with a lemon? And maybe some onion soup with lots of crackers?" Illya watched his hands in fascination at all the bubbles from the soap.
"They probably do, Illya." He smiled fondly at him and pushed himself up from the side of the tub. "Stay warm and I'll be right back. I'm going to leave the door open so if you start feeling dizzy or sleepy, call out and I'll come. Okay?"
Illya nodded, not trusting his voice at that moment. He tried to think back to the last time that someone had treated him so tenderly but his brain hurt and it was easier to just keep on lathering the nice green soap. Ducking under the water again, he came back up and transferred the soap on his hands to his hair. That felt really good and he massaged it in until his hands grew tired. Which was pretty quickly, he frowned to himself.
He turned around in the tub and laid his head back into the water, rinsing all the soap from his hair. It felt so good to be clean again. If there was one thing he hated, it was being dirty. He flashed back on his childhood in the gulag where water was precious and not to be wasted on washing. He'd never have even dreamed of this kind of luxury. It was beyond his eight year old self.
That made him sad and he rubbed the tears from his eyes. He should be able to let the past go but for some reason, he was feeling those same emotions again. Maybe it was the drug but then why didn't Napoleon feel this way? Illya sighed and kept on soaping his body. There was kind of a draft from the other room and as the water cooled, a fine trembling started at his shoulders and trickled down to his toes.
The big white towel was hanging just out of his reach so he stood up, hanging onto the side of the tub. Carefully putting one leg over the side, he winced at the touch of the cold tile but kept on moving his body out of the slippery water. Once his other leg was out, he straightened and slowly moved the two steps to the towel. The railing was heated so the towel was wonderfully warm.
Smiling delightedly, he wrapped it around himself and basked in the warmth. Using a corner to catch the drips from his hair, he decided to dry off quickly before figuring out a way to dry the tangled mess. He moved back to the toilet seat because his spate of energy seemed to have run out. It was all he could do to move the towel back and forth in a gentle friction up and down his legs.
If only he weren't so tired ... and sad ... and cold.
"Illya! What are you doing out of the tub?" Napoleon's voice startled him and he reacted the way he would have when he was a boy, hunching up to avoid the blow that usually went along with that tone of voice.
"I'm sorry." Illya whispered.
"No, no, Illya, I'm the one who's sorry. I didn't mean to yell at you." Napoleon was on one knee again, his warm hand lifting Illya's chin so he could see his eyes. "I didn't want you to fall. But you did just fine all by yourself. Are you getting tired?"
Illya nodded silently while trying to control the shivers that kept returning. But with only a towel, it was useless to even try to hide them. Napoleon left the room and Illya was afraid that he was so disgusted that he wouldn't come back. He sniffed hard and rubbed his nose with the corner of the towel. He was a grown man and he'd been taking care of himself for years.
But then Napoleon came back with something blue in his hands. "This will help with the cold, Illya. First, let's get these socks on your feet." Kneeling, he briskly toweled the slender feet before pulling on white cotton socks. Then he shook out a pair of pants made of soft polar fleece that felt like a caress going up his legs. Illya helped him slide them on, smiling at the wonderful warmth they provided. The other piece was a long-sleeved sweatshirt made of the same material.
Then, Napoleon took the towel and toweled his hair gently, sopping up most of the water so it didn't drip on the warm shirt. "Okay, I'm going to blow it dry with the handy-dandy hair drier they've so thoughtfully provided and then you're going to bed for a nap until dinner comes."
"Okay, Pasha." Illya nodded drowsily, enjoying the feel of Napoleon's fingers combing through his hair.
"You have the softest hair, Illya, as fine as a baby's." His partner plugged something in and the blast of heated air startled him at first but the wonderful heat felt so good that he felt like purring. "My friend, you're a hedonist at heart."
"Sh-h-h, that's one of my secrets, Napoleon." He laid a finger on his lips and tried to wink at him.
The chuckle was back. "Your secrets are safe with me, Illya. You are safe with me."
"I know, Pasha. Always safe with you." Illya smiled up at him and wished he could tell him all the secrets.
"That's dry enough for now. Let's get you into that nice warm bed with the electric blanket set to 'high'. All right?" He set the hair dryer aside.
"Yes, please." Illya felt as limp as a strand of over-cooked spaghetti but Napoleon simply lifted him up and walked him through the door to the big bed with the covers folded down and the flannel sheets beckoning him closer.
Napoleon tucked him in and leaned in to brush the hair from his face. "Sweet dreams, Illya. I'll be right here when you wake up."
"I promise. Now, go to sleep." Those strong fingers rubbed gentle circles on his forehead and he felt himself let go and fall deep asleep.
The clink of silverware woke him up. He was nice and warm and his body felt rather disconnected to his mind. If he didn't move, he thought that state of affairs might just continue. There was a waltz playing somewhere and the delicate strings soared through the air like swallows at twilight. He smiled as he listened, remembering a time when he was very small and safe with people who loved him.
"That's a very wistful smile, my friend." Napoleon's voice was soft and gentle.
"When I was two, I remember sitting on the hearth near the fire and watching Mama dancing with Papa while Uncle Vlad played the violin. Grandmama sat by the fire too, knitting something soft and warm. It's the best memory I have of them. The music reminded me." Illya opened his eyes and looked up at his partner.
"What music, Illya?" The puzzled look made Illya frown.
"The waltz ..." He suddenly couldn't hear it. "Oh, it stopped. It was pretty."
"The doctor said that your senses might be ultra-acute for a while. Someone was probably playing a radio. I'm glad it brought back a happy memory for you." Napoleon smiled at him. "You don't talk much about your past."
"It hurts too much." Illya said simply. "They've been dead a long time."
"I'm sorry." Napoleon gently sat on the edge of the bed. "Are you at all hungry? Could I tempt you with some soup with lots of white crackers?"
Illya thought about it for a moment. It would probably make Napoleon happy if he ate and his stomach didn't seem to think too badly of the idea so he nodded. He'd been right. Napoleon lit up like a Christmas tree and moved off the bed towards the table where several dishes sat under shiny silver domes.
"Is there tea, Pasha?" He struggled to sit up but was caught in the duvet and a fold of his fleece top.
"Of course, Illya, and there's lemon too. Hold on and I'll prop you up in bed. I don't want you to catch a chill." He saw Illya's dilemma and abandoned the dishes to come back over and help him slide up. Stuffing all the pillows behind him, he made sure he wasn't dizzy before giving him another smile and going back to the table.
Illya just watched his movements, enjoying the economy of motion that his partner always used to accomplish a task. He never seemed to plan ahead but always knew just what to do within a split second of having to do it. He wondered if he'd been born that way or if he learned it from his father and mother. It seemed a good time to ask so he did.
Napoleon smiled over his shoulder, the warm smile that crinkled his eyes and made him look happy all over. "Nana Rebecca, my father's mother, taught me manners and deportment when I went to visit her every summer." He brought a small tray on legs over to the bed, covered in a snowy white napkin with several small bowls and silverware on it. "Okay, here's your soup and your tea. There's crackers and this one," he tapped a small silver dome with a little frost on it, "is dessert. But it's a surprise so no peeking."
Illya wondered what it could be but since it looked cold, he decided to eat the hot food first. "Hm-m-m, the soup is good." Spooning a small bit into his mouth, he let it slide over his tongue. "They used rye bread. That's the best way to make it, Mama said. And gouda cheese melted on top." And he happily swallowed some more while Napoleon sat on the edge of the bed and watched him.
The music was back and he listened to the lilting refrain while he ate his soup. Napoleon talked gently of little nothings like the history of the inn, what Mr. Waverly had said when he called the attack in, the walks that they could take when Illya felt like it and some of the menus that the cook was known for. Illya paid more attention to the sound of the words than what they meant. His partner's voice as good as a soothing lullaby.
"Good job, Illya. Are you ready for desert?" The little gleam in his eye told Illya that he'd planned it especially for him so he prepared to eat whatever it was as if it was the best dessert in the world. The little dome was lifted from a bowl of frosted raspberry sorbet with a chocolate wafer springing from the top like a flag.
Illya smiled happily at his friend. "You remembered."
Napoleon smiled back and stole a bite with the soupspoon. "Well, I better remember my best friend's favorite dish. I'm beginning to enjoy it myself."
"Good, then you can help me eat it. I'm pretty full and I wouldn't want it to go to waste." Illya swallowed the melting spoonful of raspberry flavored ice.
"You look about six years old, my friend. But if you need help, I'm your man." Napoleon took another bite.
Illya bit his wayward tongue so it wouldn't ask him to really be 'his man'. The drug must have suppressed any and all of his inhibitions. But that was a secret he really couldn't let out, not and keep his friend at his side. Napoleon cocked his head to one side and reached over to smooth out the line between Illya's eyes.
"What's wrong, Illya? A bad memory?"
Those stupid tears were back and he had to blink very hard to keep them inside. "No ... and yes."
"Anything I can help with?" The concern in those brown eyes loosened his tongue to the point that he had to physically hold his hands over his mouth to keep from blurting out the words that could never be said.
I love you. Could you ever love me too?
He shook his head and once the urge was gone, he laid the spoon back on the tray and his head onto the pillow. The battle to keep silent seemed to have drained all his energy away. "Sleepy, Pasha. Take another nap?"
Napoleon let out a sigh and nodded. "Sure, Illya. Rest and heal, those are your only tasks for the next week."
He removed the tray to the table then came back and took out the extra pillows from behind Illya's back. Pulling up the covers, he brushed back the hair again from Illya's forehead. "Sweet dreams, my friend. I'll be right here when you wake up."
"Thank you for taking such good care of me. I'm sorry I was silly."
"Never silly, Illya. You do know that there's nothing we can't talk about? No problem so big or awful that we can't solve it together?" He sat on the edge of the bed and Illya could smell his aftershave.
"Some problems can't be solved, Napoleon. They must simply be endured."
"One day, we're going to have a long talk, but not today. Close your eyes, Illya, and go to sleep." His fingers rubbed little circles at Illya's temples, relaxing him right into sleep.
End part two