Illya woke slowly content to lay cocooned in warmth. Part of his mind cataloged the sounds around him while the rest of his torpid brain refused to even try and start thinking. The crackle of a fire and the slight hiss of the steam radiator were first. Somewhere far away a woman sang a lullaby to a sleepy baby. He didn't understand the words but the melody was soothing.
Smiling, he allowed the sound to carry him back to sleep.
This time, he awoke to the sound of a snore. He was almost too warm now and his eyelids popped open in spite of himself. The wooden canopy of crisscrossed oak planks fascinated him with their intricate carvings of leaf and vine. Somewhere in his confused mind, the vine of polished wood became the woven green vine of the rug he'd seen someplace else.
It was good to see that his vine had come to be with him here in this safe place.
Another snore and he turned his head to see his bedmate's dark head. Napoleon's profile was pure Italian Renaissance ... one of the Medici's perhaps. This was one of his best secret times. Sometimes when they were traveling, he got to watch his partner sleep and he could take the time to look his fill without fear of discovery. All the lines smoothed out and Napoleon looked at peace with himself and the rest of the world.
It wasn't the first time they'd shared a bed for sometimes it was safer to stay together than to go their separate ways. Of course, those were the times when Napoleon reined in his libido and didn't seduce the stewardess/teacher/bar maid/etc. Illya had long since lost track of who his partner was romancing. It never seemed to bring him the joy that he deserved.
Illya didn't want to be envious of the women but sometimes when he was very tired and heart-sore, he imagined that all the women of the world just disappeared. Vanished into the dark, leaving only men to comfort each other. Of course, Napoleon might choose another man like Mark Slade, someone light-hearted and joyful instead of frozen and gloomy like him.
But today he could look his fill and hope very hard for another day with just he and his partner. It seemed a shame to waste it sleeping but already his eyes were heavy and drooping. Turning slightly so Napoleon's face was the last thing he saw, he stored up more memories with a gentle touch of his arm and the reassuring throb of a heart beat in the vulnerable throat of his friend.
His friend -- it would have to be enough.
The clink of crockery and a low voiced conversation pulled him from sleep.
Napoleon and a ... waiter were talking about the menu for dinner and for the first time in what seemed like forever, Illya felt the stirrings of hunger. Opening his eyes just a little, he watched his partner reading a menu card and making selections one at a time while the waiter patiently wrote down his wishes. Wishes ... he had so many.
Wish one -- Napoleon would fall passionately in love with his male partner.
Wish two -- Illya would suddenly gain the confidence and ability to seduce him.
Wish three -- They would make love slowly for long hours.
Wish four -- World peace would be declared.
Illya sighed and told his silly self to go back into hiding. None of those wishes had a hope in hell of coming true. He was beginning to feel more practical which probably meant that the drug was wearing off and the lovely feeling of being able to say whatever he wanted was passing away. He mourned the all too brief moments of clarity when he'd been so sure of what he wanted.
"Illya, you're awake. How does lamb sound for dinner?" Napoleon handed the card back to the waiter and crossed to the bed.
"That sounds nice. Maybe more tea with lemon?" He still craved the familiar taste of a home long disappeared into the mists of his childhood.
The familiar smile appeared and his partner nodded. "But of course, Illya. And an even better dessert than at lunch."
Illya felt his lips curl up in the kind of smile he rarely allowed. "Something chocolate?"
"Most definitely, my friend. Feel up to a trip to the bathroom? You need to get some more liquid into you."
"Then I shouldn't go to the bathroom because I'll just get rid
of what I drank earlier." Illya felt a little silly and hoped that
meant the drug was still helping him.
Napoleon chuckled. "So true, but let's try it anyway."
"Okay." He tried to get his arms out from under the duvet but the more he tried, the more tangled up he got.
"Let me help, Illya." Napoleon pulled back the comforter in one easy motion and Illya shivered at the sudden rush of cooler air. "It won't be so bad when you get up and start moving around. I was thinking that we could eat by the fire place tonight."
He helped Illya sit up, holding him upright until the room stopped swirling around him. "That sounds nice."
The warm hand was back, stroking his neck with tantalizing strokes that soothed and enticed at the same time. Illya felt the urge to arch up into Napoleon's hand like a cat might. He wasn't any too sure that he wasn't purring too. "Do you think I was a cat in another life, Pasha?"
"A hedonistic cat? Hm-m-m, might be, Illya. We'll make a cozy nest by the fireplace for after dinner where you can curl up and practice your purring." His chuckle lasted all the way into the bathroom. After making sure that Illya was steady, he retreated into the bedroom.
Illya sighed while relieving himself. Precious time was slipping away and still he could not gather the courage to speak to his partner. Nothing in his life had ever lasted very long and he enjoyed the chance to study and research for a worthwhile agency. His partnership with Napoleon was the brightest part of his life, the one thing that kept him from becoming an inhuman scientist who existed only for the laboratory. But to keep him as a partner and keep his work for UNCLE, he would have to stay silent.
As he pulled up his fleece pants, he felt a cold draft of air swirl by and heard a deep sigh from behind him. Turning too quickly, he saw ... no one, right before he folded to the floor in a dizzying heap. "Oh ... blast."
"Illya?" A concerned voice was followed by a concerned partner. "What happened? Are you all right?"
"I ... guess so. Does it feel cold in here to you?" Illya decided to say nothing of the sigh. Maybe there were more side effects to that drug than he'd felt so far.
"Maybe a little. Let's get you back to the fire so you can warm up." Napoleon lifted him to his feet and walked him over to the wingback chair near the stone fireplace.
"This is better, Napoleon." Illya sank down and felt the chair envelope him. The soft blanket that his partner spread over his legs added to the warmth.
"Good. Now, I believe you wanted tea." Napoleon brought over a silver tea service and set it down on the small table at Illya's side. Handing him a steaming glass cup, he sat down across from him and elegantly crossed his legs.
The fire light flickered over Napoleon's face and once again, Illya saw him dressed in velvet with a poniard looped in his silver link belt. Blinking hard, he morphed back to his friend's familiar features and Illya wondered if the Medici blood flowed through his veins. It seemed like a good time to ask, so he did.
Napoleon laughed, his eyes crinkling up at the corners. "Well, not that I know of but then genealogy has never been one of my hobbies."
"No, you wouldn't have time to spare from chasing snow bunnies." Illya said dreamily while he watched the flames and sipped his tea.
"I'm thinking of giving up snow bunnies. I need to spend more time taking better care of my partner."
"And stewardesses. You can't give them up." Illya sighed and huddled a little deeper into the chair.
"Well, now that you mention it, I'm thinking of giving them up as well." Napoleon said apologetically. "They seem to take a lot of energy that I could use doing something else."
"Really?" Illya couldn't quite make himself believe that although it sounded very nice.
"I think it would be very nice, too." Napoleon said gently and Illya realized he'd spoken his thought out loud.
Illya could feel himself blush and he hoped that his partner would think it was the fire. "Tell me more about the history of this place, please. I think maybe I was dozing when you talked about it before."
"Certainly. It's a story about a wicked Baron, a beautiful woman, a family feud and a murder." Napoleon settled back and swung his foot in lazy circles. "The two reigning families of this region had been at loggerheads for several generations. In 1585, Baron Randolpho kidnapped the daughter of his neighbor and married her in the family chapel here in the castle. Whether she was willing or not, the Lady Maria soon presented her new Lord with a healthy son and heir. The feud grew less and eventually when the child was two, her father sent her younger brother over for a visit. The report must have been a good one for young Lord Willim stayed for a prolonged visit. He and his brother-in-law were soon seen riding and hunting all along the valley. The Baron seemed to be a changed man, laughing and singing in the evenings with his guests and family."
Illya felt as if he was living within the story web that Napoleon was spinning.
"One day, however, a great catastrophe occurred. Lord Willim was found dead at the foot of the parapet wall. Lady Maria accused her husband of murdering her brother. She packed up her son and fled back to her father's castle. And for whatever reason, the Baron allowed it. Rumors soon began to circulate about a ghost that haunted him until he went into seclusion. From that moment on, he immured himself in this castle and was rarely seen in public. His family priest moved out to the village and the castle personnel went there for mass. As far as the Baron was concerned, he banned all talk of religion from his presence. Soon, vague tales began to circulate about odd strangers that came at night, only to be gone by morning. Unholy acts and the Black Arts were practiced deep in the castle dungeons, it was rumored. One morning, he was found dead in the same spot where young Lord Willim's body had lain. It's his ghost that supposed to walk these halls. Doomed for eternity to wander until he's paid for the crime of murder."
"How sad." Illya sniffed and felt tears well up. "The poor Baron."
Napoleon hesitated in the act of handing him the Kleenex box. "Excuse me? I've never heard that reaction before."
"But it's so obvious that the Baron was really in love with Willim and when the young man died, his heart was broken. The Church would have condemned their love so of course he had to send the priest away. I wonder if he kept trying to contact the young man's spirit. That would explain the Black Art rumors." Illya blew his nose and heard that sigh again.
Napoleon shivered and cast a sharp look around. "You know, there is a draft around here. I wonder if the maid left a window open or something."
Getting up, he headed for the bank of heavy velvet drapes against the far wall. Illya saw a glimmer from the corner of his eye, a flash of blue that came and went in a moment. But the flash was accompanied by a warmth that he didn't associate with the cold-sigher.
Could there be more than one ghost?
Illya closed his eyes and opened his senses. The far away music lilted in an unfamiliar melody and now he could hear masculine laughter that echoed up from the floor below. Almost he could see the dining hall with a long table groaning beneath a feast of varied dishes. He saw the Baron, dark and older with deep grooves in his face, a face that up until now rarely smiled. But the brown eyes looked fondly on the smiling, vivacious face of the young man with the glowing blue gaze.
"Illya?" The weight of Napoleon's hand on his shoulder brought him back to the here and now. "Are you all right?"
"Um ... yes, I'm fine. Do we have the time to take a walk before dinner?" Illya cast his gaze up. "I want to stretch my legs. Please?"
"All right, but just a short walk. You've been pretty out of it for the last two days."
"Thank you. Could we take the elevator down and find the chapel? If it's still there."
Napoleon's look was quizzical to say the least. "Okay, no problem. It's on the first floor and it's still a chapel, although no formal services are held any longer."
"Good." Illya nodded decisively and pulled the blanket off so he could stand.
"Wait a minute. Let me get your slippers so your feet don't get cold." His partner hurried to bring him his soft leather shoes, kneeling to slip them on over his white socks. "Okay, ready to go?"
"Yes, please." Illya stood on his own, swaying only a little before gripping Napoleon's arm and moving forward.
His partner kept their pace slow and they slowly walked back down the hall to the gleaming doors of the small elevator. The trip down made Illya feel a little dizzy but he hid the reaction from Napoleon. For some reason, he felt he had to go to the chapel and he had to go now. On the first floor, they met one of the staff who asked them if there was anything they needed. Napoleon told him of their visit and the young man hurried ahead to open the dark oak paneled door.
The chapel was small and dark with only a single white unlit candle on the small stone altar. The cross on the wall was polished wood that shone to Illya's eyes like a beacon. Crossing himself as he hadn't since childhood, he made his way shakily to the first bench on the left. Napoleon stood quietly just behind him, his hands gently holding Illya's shoulders in case he got dizzy.
Closing his eye, Illya opened himself to the air currents and immediately felt the cold shiver he was beginning to associate with the dark Baron. The sound of heart breaking sobs resounded through the air and behind his eyelids, he built the scene from so many years before. A gleaming coffin placed before the altar and a myriad of candles that scented the air with bayberry came to his mind. A kneeling figure rocked back and forth in a grief almost too great for expression.
The hollow groan came from the bottom of a soul in torment and
Illya felt tears stream down his cheeks in reaction. But into that
scene came a ghostly shape of glowing white that tried to catch the Baron's
attention. Waving his hands in front of the weeping man, he shouted
into the air but could not be heard. For some reason, Illya understood
//You did not kill me. It was an accident, Ran. I tripped and couldn't catch myself. This is not your fault. Not your fault.//
"Illya ... Illya!" Napoleon was shaking him and Illya came out of his trance with a start. "What the hell is going on here? You went white and I thought you were going to pass out."
"I'm sorry, Pasha." Illya blinked into the worried face before him. "I think I saw the poor Baron grieving for his Willim. It wasn't his fault, Napoleon but he can't hear Willim. I think they're both still here and have been for the last four hundred years."
Beyond Napoleon's dark head, the candle burst into flame.
End part three