Napoleon tried to keep his face calm as Illya’s words raced through his head to his heart. Illya had been the first partner that he’d ever had who understood and trusted him the way a partner needed to.
“I beg your pardon?” He managed to keep his voice even and calm sounding. “Did you say transfer? What brought this on?”
“I… yes.” Illya sounded as afraid of the word as Napoleon felt. He instantly became interested with some mail on his desk and began to shuffle through it. This gave Napoleon an odd feeling in his stomach. In attempting to appear casual, it was coming off as something else. Illya wasn’t afraid of anything that Napoleon knew of. Whatever was happening was big, possibly bigger than anything they’d ever faced together.
“Is there something wrong? An issue with your family? I’m sure Mr. Waverly would approve leave for you.” Even though some agents still loved to toss the whole ‘Illya is a defector’ theory around the water cooler, Napoleon knew that Illya was viewed as a Hero of the People back in the USSR. He was considered a Soviet so dedicated to his country and his people that he would deny himself both for their betterment elsewhere. It also gave Illya the unique position of moving freely between the countries.
“No… they are… they are fine.” There was a flash that came and went so fast in Illya’s eyes that a lesser agent would have missed it. Napoleon was not a lesser agent. “Of course not. I just feel… stagnated here.”
Napoleon didn’t believe that any more than Illya did, but unless his partner opened up, he was operating blind. “All right, I’ll let Mr. Waverly know. He’s not likely to grant it, however, as we make a pretty good team and he’s always focused upon the end result.”
“Yes, I – thank you.”
“Tell you what, what are you doing tonight? I could really use your take on this case.” Napoleon gestured to the file folders stack precariously in towers on his desk. It looked as if a good sneeze to topple them. Napoleon’s desk was a vast wasteland of half-written expense reports, case files and unanswered correspondence at the best of times. This wasn’t the best of time. “I know there is something that I’m missing in one of them. How about you come over tonight and we can go through them.”
“Away from HQ? They would let you take files out of HQ?”
“Not everyone, but I could arrange something. Besides, these are all old files. It’s not like they are file 40s or anything. I keep thinking that a change of scene might be just what I need to crack this. They say a change is as good as a rest.” He paused, then added. “Besides, it might be the last chance I get to pick your brain if you transfer.”
A ghost of a smile flickered on Illya’s lips and suddenly Napoleon wondered what it would be like to kiss them. His eyes suddenly widened at the thought and he flinched, accidently brushing against a stack of folders that was balanced on the corner of his desk. That was all that it took and they toppled over onto another stack that sent everything to the floor. Papers spilled out in a whirlwind of colors. Both he and Illya moved simultaneously, but training keep from crashing into each other. It was what made them a good team.
Illya studied him for a moment before squatting to help gather up the fallen items and return them to the appropriate folders. He picked up a wrinkled piece of scratch paper and smoothed it out to read,
How cheerfully he seems to grin,
How neatly spreads his claws,
And welcomes little fishes in,
With gently smiling jaws!
Napoleon smiled in spite of himself. Anything to keep his mind off Illya’s lips. “Ah, that’s from How Doth the Little Crocodile by Carroll. I think Alice recites it to the Queen.”
“It sounds like THRUSH doctrine to me and just as delusional. I’ll have to remember to read that book someday.” Illya stuffed the sheet into one of the many folders he’d gathered and held them out. Their fingers touched and Napoleon swore he felt electricity.
It felt as if he’d hit his funny bone and that shot straight to his groin. He was used to having that reaction with women, but men. It had been a long time since a man had affected him so. He yanked his hand back and to Illya’s bemused look, managed, “Sorry, static shock.”
“Yes, I felt something, too.” Illya nodded as he returned to his desk and began rubbing his fingers together. “It’s very dry in here.”
“Carroll loved to write nonsense poetry,” Napoleon continued as he shifted through typed sheets of paper. Their color depending upon what type of correspondence they were. Debriefings after assignments were first typed up on white, then corrected and retyped on blue. Anything from Accounting was on pink and Section 7’s input was on marigold. If other offices were involved, there could be green, tan or even purple. From memory, he recited,
The sun was shining on the sea,
Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright--
And this was odd, because it was
The middle of the night.
“Another of Carroll’s nonsense poems?”
“Yes, one of my favorites, The Walrus and the Carpenter. He really captured words and could bend them to his will. So, what about tonight, then?” Illya looked honestly confused. Napoleon didn’t get to see that look often.
“What about tonight, Napoleon?”
“Come over and lend me a hand figuring this out?”
There was a pause. “I’m supposed to meeting a friend for drinks.”
“A friend?” Napoleon suddenly didn’t like the sound of that. It wasn’t like Illya was stepping out on him, so why did he abruptly feel so possessive of his partner?
“Grigory. He was a good friend of mine from Cambridge.”
“No, he moved here a few months ago.”
“Shame that he’s here and you’ll be leaving soon.” Napoleon watched Illya closely, but his partner shrugged as if it was of little consequence, just another bump in Illya’s career path.
“He’ll survive. Men like Grigory always survive. He’s Russian.”
“Illya, tell him to survive for another night. I’m not joking. There’s a very real danger here. THRUSH is up to something. I know it. I can feel it.” Napoleon dropped the files he held onto the desk blotter. “I just have the sense of something very bad in the wind and I could really use your help.”
“They are always up to something, which I suppose we should be happy about as it keeps us employed.” Illya massaged his temples as if he was nursing a hangover. “Very well, I will call Grigory and postpone our outing, but you are buying tonight.” Illya lifted his phone receiver, then paused before he dialed a number. “And I will be very hungry.”
“I can live with that and I do appreciate it. I’ll just get these packed up.” Napoleon started dropping the file folders into a box as Illya started to speak quietly, this time in Russian. He was speaking fast and Napoleon’s skills at interpreting weren’t as sharp as they could be. If it wasn’t for his partner’s body language, it would have made Napoleon smile.
Illya twisted the cord around his fingers and then reversed. It reminded Napoleon of a teenage girl chatting with a guy she hoped would soon become more than just a casual friend. It made Napoleon wonder just what sort of a friend Grigory was.
“No, it’s not that. Just stop it, Grigory.” Illya paused and glanced over at Napoleon, who dropped his attention to his desk top and pretended to be disinterested in the conversation. “You are seeing too much into the relationship. Trust me on this. Casual is best. You don’t know me and you don’t have any…” Illya dropped his voice to a mere whisper and Napoleon’s interest grew even more and something else.
Napoleon instinctively didn’t like this man and whatever hold he had over his partner. After all, Illya was his. That thought made Napoleon’s brain hiccup and he was startled by the inference. Why did he think Illya was his?
That was impossible… wasn’t it? After all this was New York, the city that never slept. Here in New York City, anything was possible, even Illya reciting How Doth the Little Crocodile…
Napoleon suddenly gasped. Damn it, he’d had it and lost it, all because he was distracted. “Illya, I need you! Now!” He started to search for the file Illya had been reading sending a whirlwind of papers flying from his desk. “Where the hell is it?” A desk tray toppled to the floor, adding its contents to the mess.
Illya hastily hung up the phone, obviously concerned. “Napoleon, you’ve gone white. Do you need some water? Should I call Medical?”
“No and hell no. The file you were just reading from. Where is it? Which one was it?” Papers flew as he searched for, but that piece eluded.
“I don’t know. I wasn’t paying attention. I think it was on some scratch paper like the kind you find in a hotel room. Why?” Illya fell to his knees and began to shuffle through paper as well. “It’s here, but of course it could be anywhere now. I don’t see it. What has gotten into you?”
“It was the key! Don’t you see? You recited a poem from Alice’s Adventures through the Looking Glass.”
“You are referring to the crocodile poem? I don’t see the connection.”
“The Jabberwocky poem! The one verse Segale recited to me. It was from Alice’s Adventures, too. That can’t be happenstance. It has to mean something. We have to find that file.”
Illya stopped, his eyes narrowing in thought. “Hmm, how odd.”
Napoleon's face grew serious and he paused in his search. “I’d even venture to say, curiouser and curiouser.”