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The Bastinado Affair

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“Rise and shine, partner mine. Breakfast is almost ready, and we’ve got a full day ahead of us.” Napoleon waited until the coffee was brewed and the ham was sizzling before waking up Illya. It wasn’t a surprise when his temporary roommate glared, growled, and pulled the blankets over his head. “It seems that shining wasn’t quite the right word to use.”

“Go away, Napoleon. My day includes nothing more than circling your apartment for the hundredth time. I see no reason to rush out of bed when I could be sleeping.” His voice was muffled by the blankets. Napoleon grinned; even on the best of days Illya was not one to greet the morning with a smile.

“Au contraire, mon ami. We are going out today.” It was Saturday, and barring any emergencies he had the day off. He’d decided that Illya would benefit from being somewhere other than the apartment or headquarters, the only places he’d been in weeks. If he was honest with himself, something he managed to avoid on a regular basis, he could use some time away from closed in spaces and work as well. “It’s a little chilly out, you might want to wear a sweater.”

“Did Waverly call? Or medical?” Illya sat up reluctantly, the blankets falling to his waist and revealing that he hadn’t bothered with pajamas, or at least not the top. He usually wore them when he stayed over, and always did on missions, but he’d been tired the night before. Dinner had been followed by ice cream while they’d watched the news, and a drink apiece while they’d played chess. It was the first drink Illya had had in weeks, and affected him more than it usually would have. Or perhaps that had more to do with the weight he’d lost.

“Nothing of the sort. It’s still two weeks before you’re expected at headquarters.” He tried not to think too much about what they might learn. Despite the optimism he tried to show around his partner he didn’t know how he’d cope if Illya was forced to retire from the field. He didn’t want a new partner, he wanted his partner. “This is about recreation. Now come on before the ham burns and the coffee gets cold. You can wash up after breakfast.”

“If you’re so eager for recreation why not call one of your women?” It took Illya a few minutes to get himself from the bed to the chair, and to wheel himself into the dining room, but Napoleon left him to do it himself. Especially after yesterday he needed to know he was capable.

“I’m not looking for a date, I’m looking to spend some time with my best friend.” There was toast and jam to go with the ham, and a couple of eggs he’d fried up. It was a fairly standard breakfast for them, easy to make and packed with protein. He put a little more than half on Illya’s plate, hopefully not enough that he’d notice. Illya needed to put some weight back on.

“One would think that the fact you’ve been stuck with me here for almost two weeks would be enough time. I understand if you want to go out and do something, you’re not limited to a chair.” To Napoleon’s relief Illya didn’t pick at his food, but ate it all between sips of coffee.

“Good thing that chair of yours has wheels, because we are going out.” Napoleon wasn’t taking no for an answer, and when he made up his mind he could outstubborn even his stubborn Russian partner.

They wound up at the zoo. Illya had grumbled about being in such a public location, even after Napoleon had agreed that they would both wear their guns as long as they were hidden under jackets. Napoleon had countered that there was no reason for any Thrush birdy to be at the zoo, or in Central Park. Fortunately they arrived just before feeding time for the lions, and his somewhat bloodthirsty partner was nicely distracted by the show.

“I think that one’s a relative of yours,” Napoleon commented as a lion leaped out from behind some rocks, snatching a piece of meat away from another lion and running with it in its mouth.

“As opposed to your relatives over there?” Illya nodded to their left, where a handful of peacocks wandered free.

“I doubt they have to pay for a tailor’s bill.” The lions settled down after their feeding, and Napoleon pushed the chair without comment, hoping that Illya would just accept the assistance. The ground wasn’t completely even. “What next? Spiders, snakes, monkeys?”

“With my luck your friend Angelique will be with the spiders, acquiring a new pet. I’d rather not.”

“Monkeys it is, then.” He didn’t want to think about Angelique or anyone from Thrush. He really didn’t want Illya thinking about Angelique and her complicated relationship with him. He’d had his reasons for playing a twisted sort of game with her in the past, but it had been ages since he’d last spent time with her. It wasn’t anything Illya needed to worry about, or anything that he wanted to explain considering how irrelevant it was now. “Although if our little bird friends are here the monkey exhibit seems like the most likely place for them. Probably picking up tips on how to run a satrap.”

“They could only wish to be so intelligent,” Illya snarked.

It was while they were watching the penguins that Napoleon realized his partner had fallen asleep. It was just past one; they’d been at the zoo for three hours and had just finished up hot dogs and fries from a cart. On a good day Illya could go for twenty-four hours easily without sleep, and sometimes longer, but it hadn’t been a good day for weeks. Napoleon felt guilty at not considering how easily Illya would be tired out. He should have insisted they left earlier. “What am I going to do with you?” Illya’s hair had been ignored even more than usual, missing the rare trim, and covered his eyes. Napoleon brushed it back with a single finger, his fingertip brushing against an old scar. Italy, if he remembered correctly. Or was it Kenya? There were too many scars, many of which he had seen added to the collection. And the newest additions, not yet healed, made him wonder if they were the last. If it might not be a blessing, in that way, if Illya didn’t return to the field.

“You could buy me some fairy floss, I believe a little sugar is called for.” Illya’s eyes blinked open, catching Napoleon off guard.

“I thought you were sleeping.” He hadn’t meant to be caught acting so sentimentally. It didn’t usually go over well with his partner.

“We are in public, Napoleon. I may be injured but I’m not so stupid as to allow myself to be that unguarded. I was merely resting my eyes.”

“I think you were doing more than that. I believe I heard a snore.” He knew his partner’s breathing patterns as well as his own. While he wasn’t deeply asleep, he hadn’t been awake either. Not at first.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Illya lifted up his chin, looking every bit as royal as any prince Napoleon had ever seen, and he’d seen quite a few. “The candy floss, if you please.”

“We call it cotton candy in America.” He’d seen a stall near the elephants, earlier. “Would you like pink or blue?”

II

If there was one good thing about his chair, other than the fact that it allowed him to be places other than a bed, it was the fact that it made him use his arms. Unless Napoleon insisted on pushing him, of course, but Napoleon had been gone for three day now. He had allowed himself to rest too much, letting his feet distract him from keeping the rest of his body in shape. When a few hours at the zoo had exhausted him it hit home that he needed to do better. With new determination and an actual goal to work on for the first time in weeks Illya spent hours working out, figuring new ways to strengthen his muscles. He wasn’t going to be stuck on the floor again, or fall asleep in his chair to leave others to guard him.

“If Waverly sees you doing that he’s going to change his mind about having you on sick leave. You look like you could take out half a dozen Thrush just with the chair.” Mark Slate had arrived with Chinese take out; Illya accepted the bags and made a tight turn, popping a wheelie as he headed for the kitchen. Napoleon was away on an affair, but had insisted that he stay in the apartment. Illya hadn’t argued too hard; there would be precious little room in his own place to maneuver the chair. He wouldn’t admit it even to his partner, but he also felt better when surrounded by Napoleon’s things when Napoleon was away. As if he’d just run to the store, and not Greece, and would return safe and sound at any moment.

He hated when Napoleon was on missions without him. It was worse this time, knowing that if the worse happened and a rescue mission was needed he wouldn’t be the one going after his partner.

“Only to be foiled by a simple set of stairs or a closed door. Or any number of obstacles,” he commented wryly, but not harshly.

“At least you’re looking better, mate.” Mark set a six pack of ale on the table and took the seat across from the empty place where the chair had been moved to make space for Illya’s wheelchair. It was the third night in a row he’d brought dinner, just like April had shown up for the past three lunches. He wasn’t sure if Napoleon had expressly asked them, or if it was something they’d done on their own. He couldn’t be upset about it, and though he didn’t say anything he was grateful to them, and for the fact that they weren’t also away. The stove was too awkward to use; he’d expect to be on a diet of sandwiches for the length of Napoleon’s absence.

“Any affair that doesn’t end in a coffin is a good one,” he said with a shrug as he clinked his beer bottle against Mark’s. It was a darker ale than anything Napoleon kept in the apartment, and reminded him of English pubs. For just a moment he wondered what it would be like to transfer to U.N.C.L.E. London; if he had to work in the labs it might be easier in a new place. Easier than seeing Napoleon leaving for missions with a new partner, certainly.

“Speaking of affairs have you heard about Keening in section three and the go go dancer he met while on a milk run?” Mark seemed to have a new story every day; he was almost as well attuned to the gossip as Napoleon. Illya had little interest, but it was a distraction at least so he listened to Mark’s stories. Once or twice he even laughed as he drank his three bottles of ale and polished off his food.

Mark was long gone and he was almost asleep in his bed when he heard the front door open. For three days only Mark or April had crossed the threshold but it was past midnight and neither would dare without announcing themselves. Illya reached for the gun he kept within reach, holding it steadily trained on the door until there was a light tapping.

“It’s me.” The voice was as familiar as his own, and he returned the gun to the nightstand.

“Welcome home, Napoleon.” He was almost sitting up before the door opened and his partner stood in the dim glow of a single bedside lamp. Illya’s gaze narrowed in on the way he favored his left side and the bandage at one temple. It was hardly the worse he’d looked on returning home, but hardly the best either. “You look terrible.”

“You flatter me.” He sat on the edge of the bed, not gingerly but certainly showing signs that he had to think before moving. “And how are you this fine hour? I’ve honestly lost track of whether it’s late evening or early morning.”

“Well enough.” He examined his partner carefully. “Either go to your room or lie down before you fall, Napoleon. You look like you’re about to sleep sitting up.”

“You’re not the only one with that talent.” To Illya’s surprise Napoleon toed off his shoes before lying down on the bed, his hip pressing against Illya’s through the covers. “I’m fine, nothing a little sleep won’t fix. I couldn’t sleep on the plane and it was a long day before that.”

“You might be more comfortable if you change.” He didn’t push Napoleon away, though. Instead he moved a little closer to the wall to allow Napoleon more space. His partner rolled onto his side, eyes drifting closed.

“In a few minutes,” he muttered, eyes already mostly closed. Illya waited, watching him, until he was certain Napoleon was sleeping. It wasn’t easy to reach past him to turn off the lamp, and even harder to bend enough to reach the blanket at the foot of the bed to drape over his partner. He managed, and turned over so his back was to Napoleon. It was hardly the first bed they’d shared, but it was the first time while not on assignment. Perhaps that was why it felt different, more intimate. Or perhaps it was because of the relief he felt to have Napoleon’s weight against his back.

For the first time in three days he slept deeply and without dreams.