Illya lay in the large bed and thought about what had happened in the chapel. Napoleon had hustled him out of the room, not even noticing the candle flame. He castigated himself all the way up to their room and insisted that Illya go straight to bed. Something about the whole affair seemed to distress him greatly and Illya hated worrying him so he'd quietly done as ordered.
For some reason, that seemed to make Napoleon even more nervous. The quiet conversation on the other side of the room consisted of his partner telling the tall bearded doctor from the village about Illya's concussion and drugging. When they came to the bed, Illya resolved to say nothing about the ghosts. Maybe they were a result of the drug but he wanted to help them and he couldn't do that if he wasn't allowed out of bed.
So he smiled sweetly at the doctor and performed all the tests requested. Napoleon hovered nervously at the other side of the bed, watching each motion and listening to every question. Illya felt the slight burn of a fever even before the thermometer confirmed the diagnosis. He felt as if he were a child while the grownups argued over his body. His gaze moved back and forth until he firmly closed his eyes and stubbornly took himself out of the equation.
It felt too warm under the covers now and he pushed them away so he could breathe easier. That got the others attention and suddenly he was being touched from both sides. The doctor's touch was cool and impersonal but Napoleon's felt worried to him. So he opened his eyes and sent a reassuring smile to his partner.
"Some aspirin, Herr Solo and your friend will work his way through the rest of this drug. Whatever it is. Plenty of fluids and gentle exercise will move it along quickly. I shall leave a thermometer with you. If it rises higher than 102 degrees, have the front desk give me a call. Keep him covered even though the fever will make him wish to dress less warmly. Any questions?"
"Thank you, Doctor. I feel much better already." Illya said brightly with a sunny smile that made Napoleon send him a questioning look.
"Yes, thank you, Doctor Teller. I'll keep a close eye on him." Napoleon walked him to the door and shook his hand in farewell.
Illya took the chance to sit up and plop a couple of pillows behind his. He wasn't ready to lose the jogging suit but the duvet was too hot for him now. The dizziness came and went but he was determined not to give into it. His smile seemed to make Napoleon jittery so he went back to his somber self, hating the need to hide from his partner. He looked out of the window and watched the clouds race by in a darkening sky.
Why did he believe in the ghosts? He was a scientist who believed in verifiable data and experiments that always yielded the same result. If an answer was true, it was always true. So where did phantoms fit in such a world? Again, he traveled back in time to those memories of the only time when he was safe and loved.
Grandmama, with her prayer beads, had held him on her broad lap, rocking back and forth while she prayed for the family and the village. She'd never been farther than a mile from their tiny village and had no desire to ever do so. She told him stories about the creatures that lived deep in the woods, waiting for a little boy to get lost so they could eat him up. Or better yet, she would tell him ghost stories about his very own ancestors.
Mama would scold her mother-in-law about frightening Illya when she swooped down and plucked him from Grandmama's lap. Mama told him stories about school and books and what fun there would be when Illya got old enough to learn and study. Although, he'd done what his mother had wanted even after she died, deep inside he never forgot the scary stories and his Grandmama's knowledge that more existed in the world than you could see or touch.
He smiled to himself but presented a sober face to Napoleon. "I'm sorry to be such a worry, Napoleon. Is that aspirin for me?"
His partner started as if his own thoughts had been far away. "Yes, two now and we'll see if you need more before bed."
Illya took the glass of water and white tablets quietly. The fever made him feel as if the world was skewed and nothing was quite what it seemed. Swallowing the cool water felt good and he allowed himself to show his pleasure. "Thank you, Pasha. You take good care of me."
"Do I, Illya?" The dark eyes were in brooding mode. "It doesn't look that way to me. I should have known that the walk would be too much for you, so soon after your concussion."
"Not your fault, Napoleon. I needed to see the chapel. It reminded me of my childhood and the black robed priest with the long
beard who came secretly to give mass to our village. I didn't realize
it at the time but each time we participated, we were breaking the law." He lay back against the pillows and patted the bed beside him. "I
can still smell the incense and see the funny shadows that the candles
cast on the wall behind our kitchen table. That was what we used
when it was our turn to host him."
"You've never spoken much of your early life." Napoleon sat down and Illya laid his hand over the tanned hand on the cover.
"It has been years since I brought the memories out of hiding. Years since I allowed myself to remember the happy times and the love that surrounded me for my first four years of life. Oh, Napoleon, did I do wrong to suppress them so they wouldn't hurt so much?" Illya felt tears well and stopped them with a touch of that iron control he'd learned in the gulag.
Napoleon's warm hands cradled his between them. "Illya, I have no idea whether it was good or bad. You did it and survived. I can't imagine what it must have been like to go from a loving home to the frigid wastes of the gulag. You were five years old and suddenly had no family to protect you. You grew up, studied hard and made something of your life. I expect that your parents would be very proud of you."
Illya nodded, not trusting his voice at the moment. The silence crept outward like a fog, encompassing the room before moving out into the castle. For one perfect moment, Illya felt as if anything was possible. In a small whisper, he told Napoleon the secret of how he'd survived.
"At first, I was cold and tired and scared. I hid under one of the cots and rocked myself to sleep. In my dream, Mama came to me and held me close. She hummed my favorite lullaby and told me that everything would be all right." He paused, holding onto Napoleon's hand. "Then, she told me that she had to go away to make sure that Papa and Grandmama were all right. It might be a very long time before I saw her again. I asked her not to go but she shook her head and smiled. 'The light is calling, Illyusha. Watch for the light, little one. You'll always be safe there.' And there was light everywhere, bright and shining like the sun on a cold Spring day. She kissed me and hugged me tight. 'It's not your time, Illyusha. Live, learn everything you can and never forget that you are loved.' Then she walked away into the light and I awoke to life in the gulag."
There were tears in Napoleon's eyes and he had a very tight hold on Illya's hand but that felt good so he didn't complain. They sat like that for a long moment and Illya felt lighter, as if he'd shed some giant weight he hadn't realized he was carrying. In fact the only thing holding him down to the bed was Napoleon's hand. How odd, he thought, I wonder if the poor Baron has such a heavy load to carry.
The ringing of the telephone on the desk startled them apart and Napoleon got up to answer it. Illya watched him move across the room and idly wandered if his innate grace came from dance lessons or some American sport that he'd played as a child. The end of the conversation brought Napoleon's attention back to him.
"Dinner will be here in half an hour. Do you want to eat in bed or by the fire?"
"By the fire, please." Illya swung his legs over the side of the bed and stood by himself, if a bit shakily. He could feel Napoleon's eyes on him like a soft caress and he hugged it to him like another secret. "But first, I need to use the bathroom again so you can make me drink more fluids. The water here is very good."
"They have their own well." Napoleon said absentmindedly, his face caught in some thought that had never occurred to him before.
Illya wondered what his friend would do with the memories he'd handed to him. What conclusions would he reach? Would he see Illya as weak or as someone who had to be taken care of? Or might he perhaps share some of his early life? While he washed his hands, he pondered what turns their friendship might take in the future. Smiling to himself, he thought he just might be able to let himself be a little less sober when they were alone.
Walking out to the sitting room, he felt stronger than he'd felt since waking up in the hospital. He chose the chair he'd used earlier, tucking his legs up under him so he could curl into the roomy seat. Napoleon was taking to someone on his communicator and Illya wondered if Mr. Waverly had a job for them. He hoped not since this was the first real vacation they'd had in two years.
He chuckled silently and laid his head back against the dark green back, his eyes finally looking at the woven tapestry above the bed. It was a hunting scene and he had no trouble deciding that the dark haired man on the lead horse was the Baron. But close behind him was a slim young man with flowing blonde hair, laughing at the thrill of the chase.
Young Willim, without a doubt. What had happened so many years ago? Why did Maria accuse her husband of murder? The ghost in the chapel had spoken of an accident. How could he find out the truth without worrying Napoleon?
"Illya, how do you feel?" The soft question came from his side.
He looked up into the concerned face and smiled. "Better. Not so dizzy and I think I may be hungry."
The slow smile was his reward, that and the gentle pat on his shoulder. "I'm glad. Dinner should be here any minute."
"Was that Mr. Waverly you were talking to?"
"No, I called Dr. Brunel back in Zug to see if your blood tests had come back. I thought maybe they might have identified the drug." Napoleon sat on the arm of his chair and went into his think-mode. "Because I had no reaction at all except for being knocked unconscious. My blood tested normal except for a narcotic. While yours appears to be a cocktail of several drugs. One of which was a truth serum."
"They must be very angry that you woke up and got us out of there. Perhaps they were just experimenting and got the mixture wrong." Illya couldn't really be angry since except for the pain in his head, he'd rather enjoyed the new intimacy that had grown between them. Which would soon be over, he thought sadly.
"Illya, I hope you realize that whatever you tell me is safe with me. You're my friend and I'm honored that you trust me with the stories of your past."
The words seemed like an echo of his thoughts and Illya just nodded since the lump in his throat wouldn't let him talk. A knock at the door broke the spell they seemed to be under and Napoleon sighed before going and letting the waiter in. The young man deftly moved the center table between them, whipping a white table cloth over the polished oak and setting out the meal with precise movements that fascinated Illya.
He always enjoyed watching a competent craftsman. The place settings were placed first, then the covered dishes arranged to be an equal distance between them. He talked while he worked, mentioning the weather forecast for the next day and some of the gentle walks they might want to take.
"That sounds wonderful. Perhaps later in the week when the sun comes out." Napoleon smiled charmingly at him.
"Rudy, can you tell me how the ghost manifests itself? And where?" Illya tried out the sunny smile that had worked on the doctor.
His hands faltered for just a moment before continuing. "It is just a story, Herr Kuryakin. But sometimes there is a cold spot in the chapel and one on the parapet at the roof level. One of our guests said he heard music coming from the Great Hall."
"What about a woman's voice singing a lullaby to a fretful child?"
His eyes met Illya's for a startled moment. "Yes, Herr Kuryakin, the nursery was on this floor."
"Thank you, Rudy." Illya laid his head back and closed his eyes. The fever didn't seem to be responding to the aspirin. The homey clink of dishes and silver took him back again to his childhood kitchen table. He'd been small and he could still remember how proud he was when Mama had told him he could sit at the table with them.
"Illya?" Napoleon was back after shutting the door behind the waiter.
"When I was three, Mama told me that I was such a big boy that I could join them at the table for dinner. Papa complained that it took four books to set me high enough so I could see my plate but his eyes were twinkling when he said it so I knew it was all right. One of the books was the Complete Works of Plato. I always wondered what happened to it when the soldiers came. When I got to University, I found a copy in the library and read it from cover to cover. For a moment, I could almost feel Papa's presence."
The touch on his hand brought his eyes open to see Napoleon kneeling by his chair. "Nana Rebecca sat me in a wooden high chair that had been my father's. The day I graduated to a booster chair that sat on one of the dining room chairs, I was so proud of myself. But I refused to drink my milk from the covered cup with two handles. I folded my arms and shook my head no. That cup was for babies. So Nana filled one of the smaller juice glasses half full and told me use it instead. But if I spilled a drop there would be no swimming that afternoon."
"Ah, so you come by your stubbornness naturally?" Illya tried to keep a straight face but failed dismally, letting his laughter out to join Napoleon's chuckle.
"Yes, I'm afraid I do." He stood and brushed the hair from Illya's forehead. "But I didn't spill a drop either. I was taught at an early age to take care of beautiful things."
Illya felt the blush surge up. He must have misheard him. Surely Napoleon couldn't be calling his partner ... beautiful. There was nothing he could say, nothing that wouldn't come out wrong, so he changed the subject. "I'm hungry and you promised me something wonderful for dessert."
Napoleon sat down across from him and removed the largest silver dome. "No dessert until you eat all your vegetables as my Nana would say."
Illya smiled. "That must be a universal saying of grandmothers everywhere."
Dinner passed slowly while they ate and spoke of their earliest childhood. Illya had been an adventurous child always exploring the woods near the village. Napoleon had been an athlete at an early age, always swimming and running. Illya had gone bird watching then gone home to sketch them for his father. Napoleon had enjoyed bedtime stories but hadn't been in a hurry to read them for himself. Illya had listened to his father read aloud from Plato, Marcus Aurelius and other ancient writers. His first reading lesson had come from Homer's Illiad.
Napoleon was still shaking his head at that while he removed their empty plate onto the bottom shelf of the cart the waiter had left. Two clean plates appeared and the last silver dome was raised to reveal two pieces of chocolate pie. "They call it Ambrosia and it is supposed to be a secret recipe of the cook's."
"How decadent." Illya sat up straighter and reached for a clean fork. "Only a true hedonist could enjoy this pie." He cut through the tip, easily sliding through the whipped cream and sprinkles. That bite melted on his tongue and he savored the rich chocolate with a sigh. "This is better than sex."
Napoleon choked on his pie and began to laugh helplessly. Illya watched him with a smug feeling of accomplishment. It wasn't often that he released his partner's true laughter. They'd both been taught at an early age to be polite and not too forward in their dealings with others. Genteel laughter rather than belly laughs had been the rule.
Illya continued eating while the laughter from the other side of the table gradually became chuckles. In the firelight, Napoleon looked younger and less sharp edged than usual. The past few months had honed him to a fighting blade of lethal proportions. Toledo steel, Illya decided, with a razor edge and the delicate flex of true steel.
"Thank you, Illya. It's been a long time since I laughed that hard." Napoleon cast an affectionate look at him and took another bite. He swallowed and smiled. "I think you may be right, it is better than sex. It ranks right up there with ... making love. A very different proposition entirely."
Illya laid down his fork and leaned back, suddenly tired. "I don't have much experience with making love. I will have to take your word for it."
Napoleon opened his mouth to say something but evidently thought better of it, taking another bite instead. Illya felt himself begin to float again as his temperature spiked up. Closing his eyes, he tried to find his center, the way he'd been taught at the University. But it kept slipping away from him.
"Illya, slip this under your tongue." Napoleon's hand was so cool against his cheek that he leaned into it with a sigh.
"It's hot, Pasha. Why is it so hot?" He accepted the thermometer and held it between lips that felt curiously numb.
Napoleon's hand was on his forehead now and it felt so good that Illya was hard pressed not to purr for him. Maybe he really had been a cat in a previous life. That was funny so when the thermometer was taken away, he told Napoleon his theory.
"At the moment, you're a kitten with a temperature of 101 degrees."
"I think I'd like to take a bath, Pasha. Would that be all right?" Illya opened heavy eyes and peered into Napoleon's worried gaze. "Please?"
"It can't do any harm and it might even help bring down your temp. I'll go start it then I'll come back to get you. Stay right here, please."
Illya just smiled at him and closed his eyes again. It seemed
like only a moment before his partner was back; helping him to his feet
and guiding his weaving steps to the bathroom. He kept him upright
while Illya pulled off his clothes, steadying him when a movement put him
off balance. The room was suddenly cold and Illya slid into the hot
water with a sigh of bliss.
Napoleon stayed with him, watching him like a hawk. He'd always wanted to tell him about the hawk that lived near their village because he reminded Illya of him. So he did. The red-tailed hawk had been one of his favorites and he'd sketched him many times for his father. He told Napoleon about the way he flew so high before diving to catch his prey. And how his papa had climbed the tree with Illya holding onto his back so he could see the nest built high in the oak tree about a mile from the village.
All too soon his energy gave out and he let Napoleon help him out and dry him off. Instead of putting on the jogging suit again, he pulled a soft t-shirt over his head and let it settle like a cloud around his body. "I always pack this old thing because it feels so good. Is it all right?"
"It smells like you. Of course, it's all right." Illya smiled and let Napoleon tuck him into bed after pulling a pair of thick socks over his feet. "Good night, Pasha. I'll be better in the morning."
"Sleep tight, Illya. Do you need anything else?"
You. But Illya knew better than to say it out loud. Instead he shook his head and closed his eyes. Through the cotton wool that seemed to fill his head, he heard the sweet voice singing a lullaby to her baby. Napoleon's fingers were soothing those gentle circles onto his temples where the headache was lodged and he let himself be lulled to sleep between the pair of them.
End part four