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Not Dead Yet

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Not Dead Yet

“I don’t really have anything very interesting to say, you know,” Napoleon said as he struggled with his captors.

“That is good, as I dislike subjects who talk.” The professor (or ‘Mad Scientist’ as Napoleon capitalized in his mind) came closer with the syringe.

That didn’t bode well. Why did he always get these types? Napoleon redoubled his efforts. To naught as the needle went into a vein on his arm and the contents a second later.

“You and your friends deprived me of a test subject,” the professor said as he watched Napoleon clinically. “The least you can do is replace him.”

It was over fairly quickly, the drug making its way through his system and rendering him helpless.

Utterly helpless. Napoleon had never been exposed to a drug like this and he wasn’t sure what it was. He wasn’t rendered unconscious, which was the more normal run of things. Instead, he lost the ability to do anything. He still felt, he still thought, he still could see... but he had no control over any of it. No willpower of his could move the slightest muscle. He couldn’t even change his breathing or look to the side.

A hand waved in front of his eyes, then a light shone in them. “That’s it, the paralytic has taken effect. Get him up on the table.”

Napoleon was lifted up and then efficiently stripped of what remained of his clothes – he’d torn them up fairly extensively when trying to escape. He’d counted it a good thing before that he’d been left with them. Now, he strained his hearing to at least make sure they didn’t go anywhere outside the room. At least the shoes. Leave the shoes in the room... It was funny, how much Napoleon had come to rely on one little thing so much. One little tracker in the heel of his shoe, carefully concealed where no one ever looked for it. Where Napoleon hadn’t looked for it. He’d never bothered to remove it and now almost counted on it.

He couldn’t count on it entirely, of course. So many factors involved – time, distance, shielding. He knew without a doubt that his partner would be looking for him, but whether he found him or not... so many other factors. Napoleon usually tried to rescue himself instead. This time, though... he stared blankly at the ceiling, unable to move, unable to do anything at all, and hoped like heck that his partner would come sooner than later.

“I suppose you’re wondering why you’re still awake.”

Actually, Napoleon had been trying very hard not to wonder. He was sure it couldn’t be anything good.

“You see,” a gloved hand ran over his chest, stopping at his upper left, just below the shoulder, above the armpit, a little inward to the body, “I think that nerves do not respond the same when a person is unconscious as opposed to when the signals can still go all the way through to the alert brain.” A cool metal was placed on his skin, which Napoleon mentally deducted was probably a knife right before it cut into him. “However, the squirming and moving that people make, which is perfectly legitimate and part of the purpose of nerves, is not what I am looking at, so therefore the concoction to disconnect the muscles first.”

If Napoleon could move, he would have – forget squirming, he would be off the table and using his fighting skills. If Napoleon could have made a sound, he would probably be yelling. If he could have done anything, he would have.

Instead, he lay there with his gaze on the ceiling and internally screamed while hoping his partner would hurry up.

--

The first sign of Illya’s arrival was the sound of wood cracking (probably the door crashing in) and a gunshot without a silencer (undoubtedly the reason the professor disappeared from his limited range of sight). There were a couple more shots, then silence.

This would have been the time to breathe a sigh of relief, or make a sarcastic remark, but Napoleon could do neither. His breathing stayed the same as it had been – shallow and slow, unchanging no matter what happened to his body. Napoleon tried again to at least look but his gaze remained steadily on the ceiling.

Footsteps came closer. “Nyet,” came Illya’s voice, low and painful. “Nyet, nyet...”

A large hand touched Napoleon’s face gently, fingers light upon his skin.

“Napoleon,” Illya spoke the forbidden name. “Napoleosha...”

Okay, that was new. A variant on his name, it sounded Russianized, though ‘Napoleon’ was in no way Russian. A nickname Illya had never used before.

The gentle fingers worked their way up his face to his forehead, then paused, resting there for a moment before they came back down, taking his eyelids with them. For the first time in he didn’t know how long, Napoleon saw darkness instead of the ceiling. His eyes started hurting, burning at the edges where moisture covered the dryness from them being open too long.

“Still warm,” Illya spoke in broken tones but this time in English. “Cowboy, I am sorry.”

The fingers resting on him started trembling. First a little, then more and more. Finally, the once gentle hand left his face altogether. Sounds of destruction started in the room. Furniture being thrown over, vials being thrown at walls. Something metallic screeched like it was being torn end to end. A scream, torn from vocal cords and ripping through the air.

He thinks I’m dead, Napoleon realized even as his eyelids slowly opened again. White ceiling tiles, the edge of a light fixture. The only place his gaze could rest.

Unconscious, a person’s eyes drifted shut. This paralytic drug had fixed his eyes open. His muscles were relaxed everywhere else, but not his eyelids. Or maybe they were relaxed... dead people’s eyelids opened. Which is why Illya had closed them. Which is why Illya thought as he did and was currently destroying the room around them.

It must have looked like an autopsy, walking into the room, not some strange surgery as the mad scientist poked at Napoleon’s nerves. From Peril’s point of view.

I really hope I recover before they bury me, Napoleon couldn’t help the thought. Pictures of himself being put in a coffin and into the ground while he couldn’t scream. Though it would be hysterical if he came back during the memorial – sitting up while Waverly was giving the speech about how Napoleon was the best of his agents.

The sounds of destruction started to taper off.

I hope Illya doesn’t leave me here! The new thought struck him and Napoleon had a brief moment of panic before he dismissed it. Illya wouldn’t. Not unless he was forced to by circumstances. But... Illya wasn’t exactly sneaking around right now. Not using a silencer on the gun, taking the time to destroy the room. Napoleon wondered how many other people were, or had been, in the building. Probably not many, or any, and Peril had already taken care of them. This was a back-up location the bad guys had retreated to and there had been dust on the floors, though the medical instruments had been kept immaculate.

The destruction sounds stopped altogether and silence reigned for a little while. Then there was a sigh beside him and a hand gently drifted over his face again, closing his lids again and then staying there. “Should have been faster. Am sorry, Cowboy.”

It’s okay, Peril. I’m alive. You were fast enough. Napoleon tried his hardest to say the words but nothing came out. His breathing didn’t even change from the slow, shallow breaths he was locked in.

“Cowboy, I...” Illya trailed off. His hand stayed on Napoleon’s face and Napoleon could feel the trembling of his fingers, though not as extreme as before.

Napoleon had the thought that maybe Illya would start saying things he wouldn’t while Napoleon was alive. While on one side, he didn’t really want Illya to be feeling this pain, Napoleon had to admit he was really very curious about what Illya would say. Would he finally admit that Napoleon was the better spy? Or at least a darn good one? Normally, Illya was pretty sparing with the praise, but it was traditional when someone was dead to bring out the good stuff. That, Napoleon could go along with, especially since he knew he wasn’t really dead.

Abruptly, Napoleon was swept up in an embrace. He’d been in enough of them to recognize the feeling even before he started analyzing the individual parts. Hands holding him up, one against the back of his head, the other squarely in the middle of his back. His front side pressed into Illya’s body, while Illya’s head tucked into the side of his neck. Illya’s breath was warm on his skin.

There was a low keening sound near his ear.

Okay, now Napoleon just felt bad about it.

But really, how was it his fault that a mad scientist decided to use a paralytic drug on him? He was grateful that Illya had shown up when he did, but it really, really wasn’t his fault that Illya had killed the man before he could tell him that Napoleon wasn’t actually dead.

Though he was glad enough to know the professor was dead. After seeing the condition of the man they’d rescued, and then having his own little experience right now... that wasn’t the sort of person the world needed in it. Illya’s grief for him wasn’t real – or it wouldn’t be when Napoleon could move again, but he’d seen the bodies of others who had been nothing to the man except another experiment.

Abruptly, the keening stopped. There was a second of stillness, which Napoleon could feel all along Illya’s body, then Napoleon was pushed from the embrace. Held securely, thank goodness, but no longer next to him. Instead at a distance, cold air swirling between them making Napoleon realize how warm Illya had been.

His head had lost the support with the abrupt push back and was now hanging from his neck, chin on his chest and swaying with every movement. His eyes could only see parts of the floor, Illya’s legs, the debris on the ground. Then a hand reached to lift his chin up and he was looking at Illya, Illya’s gaze searching his. Illya’s face blurred in and out of focus as he was sometimes at the right distance and sometimes not. Napoleon couldn’t even do something as simple as focus.

Whatever Illya was looking for, he didn’t find it. Disappointment washed through his face. “Of course not. I am fool,” he said, bitterness lacing through his voice. With a sigh, he lowered Napoleon down to the table again, Napoleon losing his view of Illya as he did so.

“Wishes...” Illya trailed off again. His hands moved from the grip they had while lowering him to instead rest, one upon Napoleon’s chest, and the other on the side of his neck, feeling for what Illya obviously didn’t believe was there.

There were several seconds of silence during which Napoleon dearly, truly wanted to see Illya’s face and watch his reaction.

The reaction, when it came, was subdued, filtered only through the rest of his senses. Illya gave a great gasp, pulling the air inwards in a rush to fill his lungs. There wasn’t the sound of an exhale, not immediately. His hands tightened on Napoleon and then relaxed again, keeping their same positions.

The exhale came later, along with Illya’s head dipping down to rest upon Napoleon’s chest for a long while.

Then he straightened up, swallowing and breathing deeply. His hand on Napoleon’s neck stayed there, but the one on his chest roamed over to touch lightly at the exposed wound where the professor had been poking around.

If Napoleon could have winced, he would have. As it was, he laid there. He couldn’t do anything but lay there. He was getting very tired of not being able to do anything.

“You could have told me,” Illya’s voice was more normal, though with a certain tightness to it, “that you were not dead.”

That statement truly deserved a glare, along with a scathing reply. Napoleon contented himself with the promise he’d do it later.

With a slight huff of laughter, Illya’s hands roamed over Napoleon’s body, moving to his right arm and checking that, then his left where they stayed. A thumb pressed lightly against the spot where the needle had gone in.

Illya turned Napoleon’s head and moved into his view again. “Obviously paralytic agent, not localized. Is good thing you are still breathing.” He turned his head, barely staying in Napoleon’s gaze. “Unfortunately, will not be able to get sample now.”

The sounds of destruction really had been quite thorough.

“Though maybe...” Illya’s hands left him and he moved out of Napoleon’s sight. There were sounds of rustling and moving through things.

Eventually he came back. “Okay. If you do not recover on own, we go to hospital. But should be okay. Hour, two hours, sometimes more. Now, dress and we will leave.”

Napoleon wanted to sarcastically ask how he was supposed to do that, then he felt Illya’s hands at his feet, sliding up... it felt like his shorts. At least Illya wasn’t planning on burying him. The way he was talking, he also seemed to understand that Napoleon was aware.

His pants went on with the same easy competence, handling Napoleon’s body carefully and efficiently without being too familiar. Though with that reminder... Napoleon hadn’t been embarrassed before, but he was a little bit now – he was sure he wasn’t showing to his best advantage right now. Probably tucked up and huddling as close to his body as he could. Really, normally he was better than this.

Socks and shoes. How often did Illya handle unconscious bodies and their clothing? Wait, Napoleon didn’t really want to know that. Though realistically, in their business, it sadly probably happened all too often. Okay, okay, Napoleon had done it himself more than once. Though more often pulling clothes off guards to wear the outfits, there had been occasions to put them on others as well.

Usually, though, not so... gently. Illya was being very careful. Efficient, yes, but also with a touch that conveyed protection, that said that Napoleon didn’t have to worry, that Illya would take care of it. Not through words, not through the trading of glances and looks exchanged, but simply by the way he touched Napoleon. Napoleon had been touched by a lot of people. None of them made him feel as comfortable as this.

A slight grumbling sound, then Illya spoke. “Your shirt is... not worth putting on again. Bide a moment.”

Bide? Where did Illya learn his English? Though considering how many books he read, it was probably to be expected a few anachronisms would slip in there now and again.

The sound of a zipper going down – too long to be on pants, so it was probably Illya’s jacket. Then rustling cloth noises as if Illya was taking his jacket off. What was Illya thinking?

“Easy, Cowboy. This will be a little harder...” Those competent hands raised him up, maneuvering him slightly to one side until he was resting his back against what was probably Illya’s stomach. His arms were raised, one propped on his head to wait, while the other was tucked into warm, comfortable cloth. Napoleon hadn’t known how cold he was until there was all this warmth around him. Warmth... and the smell of Illya. It was his own sweater that he was putting on Napoleon.

For the first time in what seemed like forever, what was probably at least twelve hours or more since they’d gotten up this morning and prepared to go on the raid, Napoleon relaxed. Obviously he wasn’t capable of it physically, but mentally and in the whole of his being, he let himself be. He stopped trying to make plans, trying to figure out what to do, trying to capture all that he could so he would know his environment, trying to keep himself alive. Illya would do all that, and he could trust Illya to be competent and good at it.

Once Napoleon was dressed, and warmer, he felt much better. He was still flopping around like a dead fish, limbs going whichever way Illya was putting them, and no control over his own body or anything else, but at least he was dressed and it was his partner with him and he was safe now. Maybe not really... but Illya would take care of it. Would take care of him.

Illya laid him down on the table again, this time with a pillow under his head. Where did Illya get a pillow? Did Napoleon want to know? Oh, it was probably his discarded shirt. He appreciated the thought.

“This will feel odd, and sorry, but is best.”

Whatever Illya was planning, that wasn’t much of an explanation. Napoleon internally sighed and braced himself for... whatever.

Fingers drifted over his forehead, brushing his hair gently, then moving slowly down until they got to his eyes and lightly closed the lid of his right eye. Two fingers held it closed on each edge while there was some pressure in the middle and under his eye. When the fingers lifted, he still couldn’t see out of that eye. The procedure was then repeated for his left.

Napoleon tried to make sense of the sensations he was feeling on his eyelids and below them, though he was also distracted by the return of feeling on his eyeballs themselves as the dryness started to moisturize. Oh. Illya had taped his eyes shut. Great. Now Napoleon really did feel like a corpse. At least they weren’t coins.

“Okay. It will be short trip to car. Parked close for get away. Not what I thought. But well enough.”

Really, Illya sucked at trying to explain to the blind man what he was planning on doing. Though there were only a few ways he could possibly do it, with Napoleon dead weight and him one person. Napoleon was also close to Illya’s size so the more dignified way was probably out...

A heave and flip and his arms and legs were dangling with a pressure at his waist, and yep, it was the undignified for him. Arse over Illya’s shoulder in the fireman’s carry, with Illya’s arm between his legs holding onto his right knee and his other hand holding Napoleon’s opposite wrist. Napoleon’s head bumped loosely against Illya’s other arm. Well, it was the most efficient way.

Probably there were no real dignified ways of being carried.

Illya shrugged and wiggled a bit, getting Napoleon’s weight as evenly distributed as possible. Napoleon just hoped his partner’s judo instincts didn’t take over and flip Napoleon down to the ground.

The less said about the carry out to the car, and the process of getting Napoleon into the car, the better. Napoleon would feel much, much better once he recovered from this. Had he said lately how much he hated drugs? No, he couldn’t say it because he couldn’t say anything.

The drive was hard, though Illya had tried to secure him as best he could. Napoleon almost wished he was unconscious so he didn’t have to feel all the bumps and bruises and the way his shoulder was screaming in pain while he could do nothing, nothing at all about it. Paralytics were the worst.

Illya parked, presumably at the apartment complex where they were staying, and he came to get Napoleon. “I should pour alcohol on you... but doubt if we will be questioned that much. Waste of good drink. Plus, don’t have any. So... up we go again.”

Napoleon was getting quite used to being carried like this. It wasn’t all that bad, not really. Better than being in the car. At least this was Peril.

They didn’t encounter anybody on the way up and Illya sighed with relief. He leaned himself and Napoleon up against the wall while he let go of Napoleon’s arm with that hand, keeping the careful grip around Napoleon’s leg, and by the sounds of it, fumbled with the key and lock until he could get the door open. Even with a key, his partner still had problems with locks. Napoleon bet that if he had been carrying Illya, he wouldn’t have fumbled the lock, he would have gotten it first try.

Inside, Illya dumped him off on the bed and then went back to shut the door and lock it.

One of the tapes holding his eyes shut was peeling off, and his left eye drifted open. Ah, now that was a familiar ceiling.

There were the sounds of water running in a sink, splashing – probably hands and face, and facilities being used. Napoleon had seen Illya after a destructive rampage; cleaning up was a necessity, not an indulgence.

“Alright,” Illya said, his voice indicating he was coming back to Napoleon. “Two, three hours. Maybe more. Let’s get settled in and see how this goes.”

Was it Napoleon’s imagination, or had the time for him shaking the drug off just increased in Peril’s estimation? This would be the time for a sigh if he had any control over it. This was getting old really, really fast. Well, at least he wasn’t being tortured anymore.

Illya slipped his shoes off. “Glad they left shoes near you.”

Napoleon was glad too. Maybe he needed to implant one of Illya’s trackers under his skin somewhere for the next time the bad guys stripped him down. Though that might be a little obvious in itself.

His pants were left on, but Illya pushed up the sweater without removing it. A warm moist cloth was gently run over his chest, circling around the part which hurt the most without touching it. Napoleon wondered just how much blood of his own he was covered in. He thought they’d been cauterizing the blood vessels as they cut into him, but he wasn’t totally sure, and they would have bled some initially. Illya hadn’t bandaged it at the lab, which probably meant it wasn’t actively bleeding, at least. Or that there was no clean padding around.

This time, Illya did put padding over it, muttering Russian curses under his breath. “Shooting was too good for him.”

Dead was dead. Napoleon was just glad his partner didn’t have the same qualms towards bad guys that Napoleon often did. Though if it had been Illya lying there... Okay, Napoleon would have shot too.

“Wish I could ask you how you feel... but little useless right now.” With a last soothing of his hands over Napoleon’s chest, Illya pulled the sweater back down again.

If Illya had just kept doing that with his hands, Napoleon was fairly sure he would be in less pain. A lot less.

There was a pause with the sounds of Illya’s footsteps retreating, water running, and then his steps coming closer again. Even if Illya wasn’t the only other person here, Napoleon was sure he’d know the sound of his steps. There was just something about the way he placed his feet, the tread balancing a large heavy man with the agility that he also possessed. Firm, but ready to move on the instant if needed. Though his steps while in the field and at home were different. In the field, he was constant wariness, the readiness even more pronounced, and the steps lighter yet somehow still drawing on his connection to earth. At home, the tread was heavier, yet there was not as much connection. Napoleon suspected it had something to do with all the judo and sambo practice.

The bed beside him sank down and he rolled slightly with the movement. Illya held him steady until he was secure. Then Illya repeated the warm wet cloth stroking only this time on Napoleon’s face.

Napoleon didn’t really think his face was dirty. Though how was he to know? But... He didn’t know how, especially without sight that could see Illya (though he still had a nice one-eyed view of the ceiling), but he rather thought this was indulgence on Illya’s part rather than necessity. That Illya was doing it because he wanted to.

Well, it wasn’t like Napoleon minded. It felt pretty good, actually. Like petting a cat’s face, especially between their jaw and ear. Him being the cat, of course.

Illya gently closed the open eyelid and taped it again, then placed the wet cloth over both eyes. “Must take care. If you cannot protect, must protect for you.”

That could be said about all of him, really, not just his eyes. It was why Illya was his partner true, when he’d always been alone before. There was a need for trust in partners, as well as synchronicity, and they had both.

After that, Napoleon was treated to a hand and fingers bath, which he thought was a bit more necessity than indulgence, considering what he’d been through before he got captured and then while he’d been fighting them. However, it also felt pretty darn good, and he felt pampered beyond belief. Suddenly he knew why women liked to go to spas and get manicures. He’d always thought it was a silly thing, and while it might still be a silly thing... it was nice. He would have to tease Peril about this later. See if he could get him to do it when Napoleon wasn’t down for the count.

The waters got taken away eventually, and there was more Illya-movement in the room and beyond and rustling sounds he couldn’t quite decipher. Well, no, that wasn’t quite correct. He greatly suspected they were undressing sounds, noises he was pretty well familiar with. But at the same time... Peril? Okay, no, those now were dressing sounds too. That made more sense.

“Easy. Going to move you now.”

Not a lot of warning, but it wasn’t like Napoleon was going to do anything like tense up or fight or such anyhow. It was nice that Illya was treating him like he was conscious, at least. He wasn’t sure how Illya knew he was. Paralytics in and of themselves were just that. Doctors used them for surgery, but also combined them with tranquilizers and anesthesia for the sanity of the patients. The professor hadn’t been all that concerned about sanity and deliberately didn’t use them. He’d also talked a lot while working, and Napoleon was now a lot more familiar with paralytics, surgeries, the inner workings of nerves and muscles, and a myriad of other things he hadn’t known when he’d first been drugged. It was fairly useful knowledge, actually, and Napoleon had made the conscious effort to detach where and how he was hearing it and taking the information in. He would have to verify it, of course, but it seemed solid enough. Madmen often were perfectly rational in their specialties, just insane about everything else, like common humanity.

And while he’d been thinking, Napoleon had totally missed a lot of the maneuvering to get him in bed under the covers and... resting against Peril? Yes, those were long legs down along his, and he was angled across a lap with his back against a warm body, and his head resting on a large chest. Strong arms wrapped gently around him, encompassing him. So warm. So comfortable. Maybe Napoleon would fall asleep despite the drugs. Maybe there was something good about getting tortured, if it got him cuddled like this afterwards. Who would have imagined it, from his Red Peril, no less?

“I will tell you tales, yes? You can’t talk back. This is a good thing. Will have to remember in the future. But tales...” Illya drifted his last word, apparently thinking.

“Yes. I will tell you of Baba Yaga, and once you hear, you will not venture out in the dark again. Stay safe where it is warm.”

Napoleon was not a child. It wasn’t like he could protest, however. And he had to admit he was intrigued by the idea of his large, fierce Russian KGB partner telling him fairy tales. It was also too warm and comfortable to be indignant, and too safe to be worried. This should be interesting.

Illya told him a story of an evil powerful witch in her three-legged hut that would have had Napoleon’s hair standing on end if he wasn’t paralyzed. He had to revise his thoughts about being safe, with Illya filling him full of images like that when he couldn’t move.

Finishing the tale, Illya chucked, shifting Napoleon in his arms from one side of his body to the other, gently repositioning his head so it didn’t roll. “That one is told so children do not go out in the forest at night. Like your Hansel and Gretel, no? Or Red Riding Hood. We have ones that do opposite.”

Then he told another tale of Baba Yaga that was the same person but very different outcome. This one had a hero and an adventure and the powerful witch helping along the way.

Contradictions within tales. Just as his partner was within himself. His hands so gentle and soft upon Napoleon, holding him so securely. Treating him so carefully yet not as if he was afraid Napoleon would break. Instead he held him with confidence and assurance; secure within himself that cuddling Napoleon like this, while Napoleon was all but helpless, was the right thing to do. Napoleon couldn’t say that Illya was wrong. This felt more right than anything had for a long, long time.

If Illya had simply put him on the bed and walked away, waiting for the time to pass... Napoleon would still be on alert. Not totally, because Illya would be there. But it was a scary thing to be fully aware and not be able to move. The sort of thing that spawned nightmares and made you wake up in the middle of the night screaming, except sometimes you couldn’t because you woke up too soon and couldn’t move. As he couldn’t now.

But with his partner here... not just here, but holding him, tucking him close to him and spreading himself so every part of Napoleon felt him, knew him, knew he was there... hearing his voice... never left alone, never abandoned. Illya had come for him. Had come for him in Rome, had come for him here, and always would. He was safe, with Illya. With Illya, he didn’t mind being helpless. Well, he minded, but... he didn’t need to scream inside, raging against it. Not while he rested in Illya’s arms, while Illya told him children’s tales and kept him warm.

There was silence after the last tale. Then Illya shifted Napoleon again and held him with one arm. There were more sounds that Napoleon couldn’t quite figure out until he heard swallowing. Illya must have been drinking from a glass he’d had nearby.

Reminded, Napoleon thought about how thirsty he was, how much his shoulder hurt. Other things he’d been trying not to think about.

“Tales,” Illya murmured, bringing Napoleon back to the secure spot against his chest and running his hands over Napoleon’s arms before crossing his arms in almost a hug and tucking his head over Napoleon’s.

Napoleon was completely enveloped, and all the pains he’d been thinking about washed away under Illya’s hold.

“Aesop. Once there was boastful Rabbit. Always made jokes about slow Tortoise. One day, tired of this, Tortoise challenged Rabbit to a race.”

Even though he was familiar with this story, Napoleon had to admit it was incredibly entertaining to listen to Illya tell it. It made him listen more, and think about it. And in the end, even though he’d always been told the moral was that slow and steady wins the race... it didn’t quite seem right. It seemed to be about over-confidence, and trickery, and knowing your opponent to change the odds and win where nobody could think you would. He would bet after this that the rabbit wouldn’t stop half-way through a race, no matter what. And, probably, he would stop picking on the turtle.

Interestingly, Illya didn’t put on the moral to the end of the story. Napoleon wondered if that was part of the original tale. He admitted to himself that his country tended to embellish things for their own uses sometimes.

After he finished, Illya chuckled. “That reminds of another race. When learning English, was lesson in humor. Was hard to learn. Very strange. But sticks in mind.”

He settled back on the headboard and relaxed his hold around Napoleon. He placed one hand over Napoleon’s left chest, closer to the middle, and drifted the other down Napoleon’s arm until he circled Napoleon’s wrist lightly, with two of his fingers on the inside.

Had there been a change in Napoleon’s breathing or heart rate that he hadn’t noticed? Or was Illya just being careful? Checking. It had probably been an hour, at least. Maybe more, what with the trip over, the washing, and the tales.

Another few moments went by, then Illya started on his next story.

“Once there was...” he trailed off and paused. “Have to get this right. There was... a hose. Garden hose. It’s a long rubber tube that connects to water to bring it out to plants further away.”

Napoleon knew what a garden hose was. Though... maybe Illya hadn’t when he’d learned this. Or his teacher hadn’t. Suddenly he wasn’t sure whether it was as common use as he’d always thought.

“So, garden hose. There was also lettuce, and tomato.”

This was no Aesop fable, that was for sure. Not with a garden hose in it. Napoleon didn’t think he’d heard this one before.

“They decided to have race. Race proceeded as normal. At the end...” Illya paused again, working it out before he went on. “At end, the lettuce was a head.”

Oh no.

“The tomato could not catch up.”

No, please, just no...

“And hose was still running.”

Napoleon thought it was a very, very lucky thing for Illya that he was still paralyzed, or Illya would have gotten wapped with the pillow for that. It was sheer torture not to be able to groan or react in any way to the bad, bad puns. That was the sort of children’s joke one heard on the playground, not while in bed told by the KGB’s most dangerous spy.

Illya was shaking with suppressed laughter. It made Napoleon move with every non-laugh, and he couldn’t help but think it was the best feeling ever. He’d been in bed with many, many people. He couldn’t remember when it had ever just been this simple and fun and relaxing. Even if he couldn’t do anything. Though maybe that was the key to it.

“Ah,” Illya settled, moving his hands to gentle strokes over Napoleon’s chest, running along his arms.

That wasn’t helping Napoleon’s thoughts of what he normally did in beds. It was, though, distracting him nicely from his condition.

“Struggled so hard over that. Was so confusing. Metaphor, animism, puns in another language... trying to figure it all out and why was funny took much time. Had to understand culture almost as much as words. Humor is hardest thing to learn about other people.”

That was true enough. Napoleon knew several languages himself, and he could drift in and out of most European countries with ease. He knew the rich people, he knew the poor people. He knew war, he knew poverty. He knew riches and opulence. He could figure out what motivated people and what they would do for money or fame. But humor... humor was hard. It depended on so much more background and things about a culture that they rarely said out loud – it just came out in the jokes. Everybody laughed at slapstick, because that could be easily seen. More subtle jokes needed context, which wasn’t always there in a foreign land. He remembered being baffled by a London docks joke about going into a wine bar. It completely went over his head at the time. Later, he finally understood it was a class joke, and it had surprised him that England was still so rooted in the class system they’d abolished so long ago.

Illya drank from the water again and was silent for some time. “Am not much of a talker. You would be better at this, Cowboy.”

Napoleon thought that Peril was doing just fine. Pretty much perfect. He wouldn’t have thought about this, any of this. It worked, though, in ways he’d never imagined.

With some more time and no more talk, Illya eventually started humming as he held Napoleon, a soft sound in a tune he wasn’t familiar with. Gradually, Illya drifted into words. He had a good singing voice, clear and deep. The Russian words were enunciated clear enough for Napoleon to translate most of them automatically.

///

Sleep, my beautiful good boy. Bayushki bayu. Quietly the moon is looking into your cradle. I will tell you fairy tales and sing you little songs. But you must slumber, with your little eyes closed. Bayushki bayu.

The time will come when you will learn the soldier’s way of life. Boldly you’ll place your foot into the stirrup and take the gun. The saddle-cloth for your battle horse I will sew for you from silk. Sleep now, my dear little child. Bayushki bayu.

You will look like a hero, and be a Cossack deep in your heart. I will accompany you and watch you go. You will just wave your hand. How many secret bitter tears will I shed that night! Sleep my angel, calmly, sweetly. Bayushki bayu.

I will die from yearning, inconsolably waiting. I’ll pray the whole day long, and at night I’ll wonder. I’ll think that you’re in trouble, far away in a strange land. Sleep now, as long as you know no sorrows. Bayushki bayu.

On the road, I’ll give you a small holy icon. And when you pray to God, you’ll put it right in front of you. While preparing for the dangerous battle, please remember your mother. Sleep, good boy, my beautiful. Bayushki bayu.

///

Napoleon drifted with the sound of Illya’s voice and the lyrics. Though once he realized it was about Cossacks, he had to wonder if that was really a safe lullaby for Illya to know and be singing. His Peril was a bit of a sentimentalist, dangerous in many ways. He was safe enough here, at least. As was Napoleon in his arms.

A sad lullaby, as were most songs mothers sang to their babies when their babies didn’t know. To this day, Napoleon wondered about the traditional rock-a-bye-baby – not the most reassuring song, though one everyone sang and babies laughed to.

This song was so calm, yet so evocative. A mother, knowing her child would grow up to war. Probably her husband was there, her brothers, her father... it was a warrior nation. It was Illya himself, in many ways, though a different time.

Almost, Napoleon was glad he couldn’t respond. For once in his life, he didn’t know how to respond. He hadn’t been sung a lullaby since he was child himself. Other songs he’d been sung were seduction songs. Or campfire songs as soldiers distracting themselves from war. To be held in Illya’s arms, and to be shown this part of his soul...

Illya continued to hum the melody after he’d finished the song, moving very slightly with the tune. Not enough movement to be rocking, but along those lines.

After awhile, the sound faded and there was only them again.

With a sigh, Illya shifted Napoleon to one side, carefully laying him down and then he moved away, the shifting mattress indicating he was getting out.

Napoleon made a protesting sound, already missing the warm arms around him.

There was a moment of stillness in the room, then Illya returned. “Napoleon?!”

This time, the sound Napoleon made was distinctly annoyed.

Illya huffed. “Fine. Cowboy. Solo. Do not understand this dislike of your name. It is yours.” While he was talking, he removed the tape holding Napoleon’s eyes shut.

Napoleon blinked. Then he blinked again, and again, just for the sheer joy of it. He turned his eyes left and right. They moved slowly, but they moved. He focused on Illya’s face, watching him closely.

His partner’s face showed sheer, absolute relief. Happiness with a small smile curving up his lips.

Napoleon tried to reach up, to touch that face with that smile. His hand didn’t move. Involuntarily, the next sound from his mouth was one of frustration, whining his impatience.

“It will return, my friend. It will all return. Be patient.”

With a sigh, Napoleon closed his eyes. Like he could do anything else.

Illya’s hand touched the side of his face, fingers curving to brush his hair back. “I know. Sorry.” He withdrew. “Be right back.”

Not going anywhere, Napoleon thought. Though at least now he had the expectation of being able to in the future. Hopefully the near future.

When Illya came back, he puttered around at the other side of the bed for awhile. After some effort, Napoleon was able to turn his head (well, flop it over, more like) and watch. He took great joy in being able to do this much. Vision was a wonderful thing.

Illya moved easily and well, obviously not held back by paralytic drugs or anything else. A large man, he combined both flexibility and strength. In the mornings, if they had time, he would go through stretching exercises and sambo practice. Napoleon would join him when he could, but he had to admit that the other spy was more diligent about it. Napoleon’s exercises tended more to focus on dexterity and sensitivity – locks were often about feeling what was happening through the instruments. Being able to control what you did down to the most minute level.

Having no control at all was not fun at all.

“Okay, Cowboy. Going to shift you now. Let know if hurts.” Illya carefully lifted him up to a sitting position, then unburrowed him from the blankets that had tangled in his legs. He paused a moment, then efficiently stripped Napoleon of his pants and socks, then lifted the sweater off.

Napoleon bit off a curse as his shoulder was jostled during the sweater removal. Illya apologized, but they both knew there was nothing much yet that could be done. Though Napoleon wasn’t entirely sure why he was being undressed in the first place. He trusted Illya had something in mind, though, and let him do what he would. He had the voice to protest if he needed to now, but chose not to and instead see where this was going.

Where it was going, apparently, was with him face down on the bed. Illya had thoughtfully placed a combination of pillows and rolled towels down so that Napoleon wasn’t lying on the wound by his shoulder, and so that he had a little notch of space to breathe in.

“Comfortable?” Illya asked.

Napoleon hummed an affirmative, delighting in the ability to communicate.

He heard Illya take in a deep breath, hold it for a few moments, then he placed his hands on Napoleon’s shoulders and started a massage.

His partner had unexpected talents. Napoleon had thought that’s where this was going, but hadn’t been completely sure until it started. It was absolutely perfect for distracting him from his slowly recovering paralysis, and also felt like heaven. In a massage, you didn’t move – you let the masseuse move you. And that’s what Illya did.

He kneaded down Napoleon’s back, with some impersonal attention to the buttocks over the shorts that hadn’t been taken off, then repeated again on the back. Then he brought out the oil and got into it in earnest. He was careful to keep his touch lighter up around Napoleon’s hurt shoulder, and Napoleon had to admit it hurt there still, but the rest of it... very unexpected talents.

Napoleon wondered how he could get this for later. Maybe bribe Illya with home-cooked meals? Though he did most of the cooking anyhow when they had time. Trade him with lockpick lessons? Though they regularly traded lessons with their skills when they had time as well. Maybe Napoleon could steal him something he wanted. But Peril didn’t want much. It wasn’t even an aversion to the capitalism so much as he just didn’t care. Humm... Napoleon would have to think about this. Find something. Because he sure as heck wanted Illya’s hands on him again.

Illya did the back, legs, arms (Napoleon had to intervene on the left arm, nerves still overly sensitive there), and even some hand work, which Napoleon was definitely going to get more of later. Then he tapped Napoleon lightly.

“Okay, Nap— Solo, time to go over.” Illya did the bulk of the work, but Napoleon was happy to note that he did some of it himself. He was definitely regaining movement. But he’d stay unmoving for awhile longer for the rest of this.

Illya started to put a light cloth over his eyes, and Napoleon shook his head. “Leave them.” Oh look, complete words too! That was a relief.

“Okay.” Illya moved instead to turn the overhead light off, working with the lamp light instead.

After Illya had started again with the upper work, Napoleon gazed at the ceiling and deliberately blinked a few times just to do it. “You can call me Napoleon.” Though he grimaced as he said it. He still didn’t like it.

Illya traced a finger next to Napoleon’s mouth where he’d frowned. “This says not. Is okay. I just... forget. Sorry.”

Napoleon may not like his name much, but he also wasn’t happy about hearing ‘Solo’ from Illya. He’d stopped calling his partner ‘Kuryakin’ by the end of their first mission together, and while they had their own other nicknames for each other, sometimes you just had to have names too. “What was that you called me before?”

Hands paused for a moment before resuming. “When?”

Right. It probably wouldn’t be the smartest of moves to say exactly when. “It was my name with a Russian twist... ended in ‘sha’?”

The hands paused for a lot longer this time, resting against his thighs. Then Illya sighed. “Napoleosha.”

“Yes, that.”

Illya made an uncertain sound. Napoleon raised his eyebrows.

“Don’t know why I did that,” Illya admitted, moving up Napoleon’s body. “Russian nicknames... your name is not Russian. What do your friends use?”

You are my friend, Napoleon carefully didn’t say. He hadn’t had another friend for a very long time now. Not any worth the name – or ones who knew what his real name was.

“Surely school friends did not use family name.” Illya’s fingers were gentle upon Napoleon’s neck, getting rid of the vestiges of the tension there.

“Lee or Leon, usually” Napoleon admitted. He didn’t particularly care to bring those names forward. They could stay in the past.

“Not who you are now,” Illya unknowingly agreed with the unspoken thoughts. “Too simple for you. You are complexity and assurance, paving your own way, not following paths laid down already. Highly intelligent, making plans no one else sees and boldly setting forth to win.”

Napoleon wrinkled his nose. “Napoleon lost.”

Illya moved his hands up alongside Napoleon’s cheeks, gently working the muscles there and alongside his mouth. He chuckled. “The Emperor tried to invade Russia, was his problem. Even Roman empire did not do that. But you are not he either. You are you.”

Napoleon sighed as he relaxed under the fingers. “Does that mean I can invade Russia?”

Fingers in his hair now, mussing it up while massaging the scalp. “You can try,” was the reply, accompanied with a chuckle.

“You can call me Napoleosha. I like that.” It was unique, at least. “What’s your nickname? In Russian?”

“Illyusha,” Illya replied calmly, now soothing the hair back down again.

“In America, our nicknames are usually short versions of the originals – like Ed from Edward.”

“We are more patient than you,” Illya said seriously, but there was a note of amusement in there too.

Napoleon reached up to capture Illya’s hands as they rested in his hair. “Thank you. Where did you learn that?” He didn’t bother to explain he meant the massage, not the names.

“Undercover assignment,” Illya replied. “Lots to learn in spas. Would not believe what people will talk about there.”

“Oh, I’d believe it.” Napoleon let go of Illya’s hands and then with a careful breath, sat up gingerly.

It seemed to go well. All muscles obeying properly and in the right sequences. Illya kept a hand on his side as he moved, but let Napoleon do the action himself. From sitting up, to standing. Napoleon swayed a little, but quickly regained his balance. Mobility was a wonderful, wonderful thing.

He looked down at Illya, still sitting on the bed. “You sure know how to make a guy feel special. That really made it easy. Well, easier.”

“Have had paralytics used on me before. Not fun. Did not...” Illya changed his words. “Wanted...” he paused on that one too. Then shrugged. “You did not have to suffer.”

It wouldn’t have worked with anybody else. There was no other person Napoleon would have felt comfort in having tucked around him while he lay helpless, and... well, okay, he let a lot of other people give him massages. But he’d never forget the lullaby.

“Thank you,” he repeated again. “Illyusha. Peril.” He reached out and touched Illya’s face, remembering the cry of denial when Illya thought he was dead. Remembering the comfort lying in his arms. Blue eyes looked back at him, their expression unreadable. Or maybe he just didn’t want to read it right now. Later. There would be time later.

Then Napoleon hightailed it off to the washroom for a shower. He was alive, not dead. He could see, he could move. And he had a partner he could trust beyond anything. The world was a good place to be.

 

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END