The left side of the hotel bed dipped as someone else’s weight settled on it, close to Illya’s arm. "So," said Napoleon’s satiny voice. "How are you? Other than 'pooped.'"
Illya cracked one eye open to regard the blur that was his partner. "Cut up. Hung up, shocked, prodded, and half-strangled. For an encore, three-quarters drowned." He closed his eye again. "I’m fine."
"Yes, you always are."
The satin voice had a run in it. Illya opened both eyes this time and blinked, trying to clear both his vision and the late-night mental cobwebs. He recognized that tone. “Napoleon?”
The muted light of the bedside lamp glossed off of Napoleon’s dark hair as he bent his head, one hand at the back of his neck. The other hand tapped erratically on the bedspread, very nearly on Illya’s forearm. "You know, I told them I wasn’t Italian," he said, after a pause.
"You’re not. Much." Illya tilted his head on the pillow. He recognized this mood, too. Earlier in their partnership it had meant a Napoleon gone looking for a woman. Now, more often, he came looking for Illya. "What is it?"
"I ..." Napoleon bit his bottom lip. "You up for a ride?"
"I’ll drive. I’ll even buy you a snack, if you want one."
"And offering to pay? This sounds serious." Illya levered himself up slowly on his elbows, groaning a little. "Where are we going?"
"Michigan? You know how to get there?"
"This is Chicago. You head east until you run out of road. How hard can it be?"
"After Sicily? No comment. But don’t ask me to dip my toes in the water."
The water muttered against the shore, restless, like his partner. Illya sipped his beer, propped sideways on the seat with his legs out the open passenger-side door of the convertible, and watched Napoleon pace. Why the man wasn’t collapsed in a heap, Illya had no clue. Napoleon’s score on this affair was nearly as bad as Illya’s: blown up and concussed, kidnapped, blown up again and nearly drowned.
At least it was a nice night; perfect, in fact, to be parked here with the car’s top down, and the moon hanging low in the east, over the lake. "You’re wearing a path in the grass, you know; the people who have to maintain this park might object," Illya said mildly.
"Well, you objected to my rapping on the dash."
"Yes, because you can’t ever keep a rhythm when you do that." His partner, apparently impervious to both logic and sarcasm, kept moving. Illya rubbed at his eyes. "Napoleon, the last few days have been a bit busy. Mr. Waverly has, for some obscure reason, seen fit to gift us with twenty-four hours off and I intend to spend at least half of that time asleep. With you, preferably, but either with or without you, and probably sooner than later."
Napoleon finally washed up against the car door and leaned over it, braced on his forearms, hands dangling. "It’s – this whole –" He shook his head, generous mouth pursing.
"Ah." Even though he still didn’t see the problem. Illya swallowed another mouthful, and then wedged the bottle between his left side and the seatback. The glass was bracingly cold, even through his shirt. "Strago and his people are gone, as is Thayer, an unexpected bonus. The island and its weapons are so much rubble, not even a palm tree to mark their passing. Mr. Waverly was quite happily talking history with the Stiletto brothers when last we saw him, and Pia will go home a rich woman, what with U.N.C.L.E. arranging that she and her grandmother receive ownership of Strago’s Sicilian winery. I think it’s ended quite well, considering."
"But can she go home?"
The words were quite soft, but that wasn’t why they weren’t making sense. "Excuse me?"
Napoleon’s profile was limned in ghostly white, sharp against the night sky. "She’s as much marked now as she was when she left, Illya," he said, his voice strained. "Maybe more. Nothing we’ve done here or on Strago’s island is going to make any difference to anyone in that village of hers. Rich or not, she’s still a 'fallen woman.'" Fingers arced up briefly to make quote marks in the air, pinkie ring flashing in the moonlight. "And I’m still the one who felled her."
Something sharp jabbed Illya around his heart. "You are not actually considering …."
"No, I’m not." The dark head bent.
Illya sighed all the way to the bottom of his lungs. He’d caught some sleep on the plane back to Chicago, and he’d passed out - no more dignified term for it - on the boat ride away from the island, but neither situation had afforded him much true rest. He was still exhausted, enough so that there was far too much Russia in his voice tonight. Padded vinyl slipped against him as he shifted, cool and slick against his sore ribs and the backs of his knees, the underside of his left arm where it rested on top of the seatback. "While money cannot erase people’s memories, it can help with the amnesia," he said, trying to pick his words with care.
Not enough care. Napoleon’s head jerked up, and there was more than enough light to see his glare; hell, Illya practically felt it. "Tell me you are not actually saying –"
"No, I’m not," Illya said tiredly, "and you know I’m not. But her uncles and her grandmother accept the truth now, and those ultimately responsible for the illusion of dishonor are dead. If smaller minds cannot accept it, that is not your problem. We have fixed what we can. Pia is a strong woman; she will be all right."
The glare melted away as fast as it had come. Napoleon raised one hand and leaned his forehead into it. "I know that."
They were all fallen, though, weren’t they, in the final account? Innocents no longer. Whether it had been torn away, as had Pia's, or given away, as he and Napoleon had both done long ago, sacrificed to a world that took little notice. Or perhaps, like the late Miss Diketon, so brilliantly competent and so utterly, hopelessly amoral, it had been missing from the beginning.
Illya retrieved his beer and took a final sip. He leaned forward enough to place the bottle on the grass. Then he reached over and laid his hand on Napoleon’s arm.
The touch was suffered for only a few heartbeats before Napoleon moved, his hand catching Illya’s and gripping briefly before he pushed off of the door and walked away. Illya let his own hand drop, his skin going cold with the loss.
Then the driver’s side door opened and closed behind him, his partner’s weight sending tremors through the bench seat. Hands gripped Illya’s shoulders and he scooted back, following their pull. Napoleon’s warmth came welcome against his back and Illya leaned into it, letting his friend brace him. He laid his head back against Napoleon’s shoulder, felt Napoleon’s hand slide down his arm to find Illya’s and lace their fingers together. Illya breathed in the familiar scents of soap and leather and gun oil and the faint spicy hint of Napoleon’s aftershave, and closed his eyes against the moon that rose, waxing, like a no-longer maiden lying on her back, waiting for her lover.