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Temporarily Inactive

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Twenty-three hours after their return to America, Illya was released from the hospital. The doctors supplied him with a cane and insisted that he rely on it for the next week. While in sight of the hospital, Illya took this instruction to mean, and left the cane in Napoleon's backseat when they reached his apartment.

It didn't do any good, however, for Napoleon noticed despite Illya's efforts to camouflage his limp. He took the cane out of the car before he followed Illya inside, used it to bar the door to the stairwell while he pushed the button for the elevator.

Illya eyed him sourly. "The lift takes forty seconds longer than walking up, even when it's waiting on the first floor." And it was not; the counter above the elevator ticked down from the seventh floor with aggravating slowness.

Napoleon just smirked at him, twirling the cane about his wrist. "Doctor's orders," he reminded cheerfully.

"I'm not a cripple."

"No, you just had a knife in your thigh a week ago."

The elevator's doors slid open with a ding, and they stepped inside. Napoleon was walking too close; Illya almost tripped on him. He glared when Napoleon caught his arm before he fell, glared harder when Napoleon pushed the cane into his hand and wrapped his fingers around it, like he was positioning a puppet.

"The faster it's healed up," Napoleon reminded, "the faster you're back on active duty."

"I was active before this," Illya returned. "Knife wound regardless."

"I noticed," Napoleon said. "Fomenting revolution again—you're quite the busy bee. I leave you alone for a few days and you take over half the desert."

"I only gave them a rallying point, a target. THRUSH was invading their land, killing their people."

"Still," Napoleon said, as the elevator stopped and they disembarked, "you made quite the impression on them."

"And I didn't even have to sleep with the girl to do it," Illya said sweetly.

"You mean the girl who did this?" Napoleon shot back, poking a finger at his bandaged thigh.

"Ow!" Illya yelped, and thwacked Napoleon's knuckles with the cane. "What happened to doctor's orders?"

"Ouch!" Napoleon shook out his hand, stretching his bruised fingers. "What happened to active duty? And I didn't touch you anywhere near the wound!"

"Active doesn't mean careless, generally speaking," Illya said, leaning on the cane and mentally cursing its usefulness, as he dug his keys out of his pocket. He listened to the smooth turning of the lock's tumblers—no tampering, but Napoleon maneuvered to be the first through the door, looking the apartment over, before he opened it wider to usher Illya inside.

"Looks like your cleaning service skipped out this week," he said.

"I don't have a cleaning service," Illya replied, reassured to see all as he had left it.

"I can give you the number of mine."

"I do not believe you allow strangers into your apartment when you're not present."

"They've got full security clearance. Very discreet," Napoleon said, as he distrustfully toed the pile of newspapers on the floor by the couch.

"I'm sure whatever bombs or bugs they plant are almost unnoticeable." Illya made it to the couch with the cane hanging loose on his arm, but it was easier to sit with its leverage. He forbore a relieved sigh as he settled on the cushions and could at last relax his leg; Napoleon would be bound to notice. But it felt good nonetheless to stretch it out.

Napoleon had wandered into the kitchen, came out again looking perturbed. "Maid services aside, there are personal dishwashing machines on the market these days. Here, I think this one was clean," and he handed Illya a glass.

Illya took it, sipped. Clear water.

He frowned up at Napoleon, who made a vague, mostly unintelligible gesture, cupping one hand. "For the pain pills."

"A glass of vodka would better serve," Illya said, but under Napoleon's watchful gaze he took out the bottle, popped the cap and took out a single pill. The recommended dose was two, but Napoleon had not read the prescription closely; he only nodded with approval when Illya swallowed the tablet.

Illya shook his head and put down the water on the stack of books serving as the couch's end table. "Is that all, Dr. Solo?"

Napoleon made a face at him. "'You know, it behooves me to have you back on active duty as soon as possible. I don't want to be stuck doing simple one-man courier assignments for another month."

"Forget the doctor's recommendations. I can pass whatever fitness test they want to give me," Illya said.

"Yes, but Mr. Waverly has that annoying habit of actually listening to experts. Even medical ones. Besides," and Napoleon's light tone didn't change, but the way his eyes danced away from Illya's to roam the apartment was significant, "I'd rather not end up with an actually crippled partner, rather than just a temporarily inactive one."

Illya sighed. "Napoleon, I am fine. I was fine all along. It wasn't a dangerous injury."

Napoleon's wandering gaze circled back to his, reluctantly. "You were out of contact for a long few days, for being fine."

"I was busy."

"Fomenting revolution."

"Carrying out the mission. Which I mostly completed," and he probably could have managed the rest without Napoleon's help, if necessary. Or at least counted on Sulador and his people to complete it without him.

Napoleon, standing over him, took a step closer, until he was against the couch, one leg pushed between Illya's. "So you're not that injured."

Illya bent his good leg, so his knees pressed against the side of Napoleon's. From this position, a single sharp move could knock his partner over, send him sprawling. Or he could take Napoleon's arm, flip him over the couch before he knew what was happening.

Napoleon's breathing was even but his pupils were dilated, eyes dark and fixed on Illya's. Illya met them boldly. "I am fine," he repeated.

"Then prove it," Napoleon said, and that was all the warning he gave, before he was over Illya, knee up between his thighs and hands braced on the back of the couch, as his kiss forced Illya's head back into the cushions.

 

* * *

 

Sometime later, an hour, or nearly, Illya let himself drop down onto his stomach, closing his eyes. The lassitude flowing through his limbs was partly the pain medication, but more the melted-wax softening of muscles pushed just to the point of fatigue, but not past.

The mattress—he had only a hazy recollection of reaching the bedroom, but this was his bed under him—dipped, sliding him a little into his partner sitting beside him. Bare skin to bare skin, and the sticky sweat between them was warm even against his flushed skin.

"A twin," Napoleon grumbled, "still a twin. You could at least get a full. Or a queen."

Napoleon's own mattress was king-sized, suited to Napoleon's expansive tastes; Illya neither required nor desired such extravagance. True, his bed was cramped for two grown men. But he had room enough to stretch out his wounded leg—that pain was dulled now, not worth thinking about; and the other, newer aches were pleasurably distant for now. Drugs had their benefits.

"Tomorrow?" Illya mumbled, curious, when he felt Napoleon lie down on the other side of the bed.

"We have the afternoon shift," Napoleon said. "Waverly's decree."

"Mm."

An elbow bumped his head. "Sorry," his partner muttered. Of course Napoleon had to spread himself out, like a gas expanding to fill the available volume. It was amazing a bed of any size could hold him. Illya lifted his head and set it on Napoleon's sprawled arm, an awkwardly shaped pillow, but the heat of it was pleasant. The desert nights had been cold; he was content to be overly warm now. The soft skin on the inside of Napoleon's elbow was damp with sweat against his nose, but the scent was familiar, not distasteful.

Napoleon's panting breaths were evening, slowing, matched to Illya's own. One of his legs was crossed with Illya's uninjured one, ankles hooked around each other, like he was trying to trap him in place, as if he thought Illya would slip away like a thief in the night, from his own room, his own bed.

They did not sleep like this often. It was crowded, and every tiny settling movement, his own or his partner's, sent twinges through Illya's wound that the painkiller could not entirely suppress. But they were reminders that he still had a leg to be hurt, and with that comfort and the lull of post-coital lethargy, he soon drifted to sleep.

 

* * *

 

Illya knew it was dawn before he opened his eyes, by the changing quality of darkness behind his lids. He was painfully stiff and too warm, but when he tried to throw off the blanket on top of him, it proved too heavy to easily shift, pinned down by the arm draped across his shoulders.

Fingers were combing through his hair, gently. "Shh," Napoleon murmured, "we've got a few hours yet to sleep in, Illyusha."

Unfortunately for his partner, Illya was awake now, hours yet or not. "Napoleon," he said, not opening his eyes, "what have I said about using diminutives your disabled American tongue cannot even properly pronounce?"

Napoleon's fingers in his hair stopped moving. "And good morning to you, too," he said, then leaned over him, so that Illya felt the caress of his breath on the back of his neck, "my yellow desert rose."

"Napoleon..."

"I forgot to mention how absolutely fetching you were in that white burnoose," Napoleon said maliciously.

Illya let one of his arms drop off the side of the bed, groped on the carpet. Fully awake, his leg was throbbing and the rest of him sore, not to mention he was sticking to the sheets in several uncomfortable places. "If we go in early," he remarked, "perhaps Mr. Waverly will agree I'm fit for duty after all."

"Actually," and Napoleon slipped his hand under the blanket to stroke down the length of Illya's spine, inducing an involuntary shiver, "I was thinking of recommending that you could use an extra day of R&R."

"You mean, you could." Illya's searching fingers closed around a necktie, discarded on the floor. Rougher than Napoleon's expensive silks—one of his own. Good; his own were narrower, the better for his intended use.

"I'm not the one with the stab wound," Napoleon said. "By the way I had to carry you last night, I'm not convinced you are entirely fit—"

Illya didn't say anything; the tension of his body should have been warning enough, so it was Napoleon's own fault if he missed the cue. He surged up, shoving down the blankets so they would tangle around his partner's legs, as he grabbed Napoleon's wrists. Pushing himself up on his good leg, he swung the other over Napoleon, to straddle his partner's bare stomach, holding his arms against the bed frame above his head.

"Illya?" Napoleon blinked up at him, confused for all of half a second, and then he smiled, wicked and slow with arousal. "So you're up for a little more R&R after all, my jewel of Arabia?"

"I am up for a shower," Illya informed him, and to assure that he would manage it uninterrupted, he looped the tie over Napoleon's wrists, twice around, just tight enough and no tighter, and knotted it to the wooden bed frame with his teeth.

"What the—Illya!" Napoleon squawked, bucking and wrenching at the necktie, as Illya climbed off him, with care for all his aches, and started for the bathroom. "You can't—what if you slip in the bathtub? What if THRUSH attacks? Please—"

Illya glanced back at him. Napoleon fluttered his lashes ridiculously. "Have mercy, O prince of the arid Sahara!"

Illya narrowed his eyes.

"Orchid of the burning dunes?"

It was evident what had occupied Napoleon's thoughts this morning, before Illya had awoken. Illya stalked back to the bed, not favoring his leg more than necessary.

"Sapphire in the golden sands?"

Dragging the pillow out from under Napoleon's head, Illya shook off the pillowcase, then dropped the pillow and tied the case around Napoleon's mouth, muffling him. His partner blinked at him imploringly over the gag, pitiful as a muzzled hound.

Then he mumbled through the pillowcase, something that might have been Illya's name, but sounded suspiciously more like, "My little genie of the lamp."

Illya bent over him. Napoleon arched his back, hips lifting, straining for contact, but Illya made sure they did not touch, save the lightest scratch of their unshaven cheeks against each other, as he whispered in Napoleon's ear. "After I shower," he said, "you will call Mr. Waverly and tell him we will be in U.N.C.L.E. headquarters on schedule this afternoon. And you will assure him that I am fit enough to resume my regular duties, whenever he deems it appropriate. Or else I'll have to tell him that his Chief Enforcement Agent is insufficiently skilled to defeat a single temporarily inactive partner."

Napoleon stared up at him, chest rising and falling with effort, then nodded in vigorous agreement.

"Thank you," Illya said, and limped to the bathroom for the indulgence of a steaming shower. It would not take Napoleon more than a couple minutes to free himself, and he would prefer to face the inevitable retaliation freshly scrubbed, and perhaps slippery with soap besides.