Napoleon didn't like jazz. It was too unpredictable, always filled with sometimes uneven sadness, it had a strange rhythm that he didn't know how to move to. In other words, it was too much like his life in its worst moments, for example, now, as he was on a plane to the Balkans, trying but failing to sleep.
Two weeks ago Illya got a gunshot wound in his shoulder and they hardly saw each other since then. When Napoleon came back to New York, he had enough time only to sleep in a bit and then he had to leave for another mission. The first time it happened, Illya came to him and they managed to talk a little. The second time Illya was at his mother's and he wanted to come by, but didn't manage it on time, because Napoleon was sent to the Balkans. All that time Napoleon missed him, sometimes less, sometimes more. Now he still thought about him all the time, but it was somehow different...
Finally, his mind showed him some mercy by letting him fall asleep. His dreams were fragmented and anxious, there was nothing clear or interesting in them, but there was one constant image that appeared here and there and it was, of course, the image of Illya. In feelings that he caused, Illya was like a force of nature, strong and sharp. Like a punch in the face. But now, when he hadn't seen him for two weeks, this feeling changed somehow. He still wanted to see him and be with him, but if during the first week it exhibited itself as constant numb pain whenever he had nothing to do, now it got even worse.
When he thought of Illya, he felt sad, and that sadness was weighing on him. It was one thing when he could make a call, talk, apologise, make a date, meet up, hug him, kiss him... It was something very different when he couldn't do any of that and the next evening together seemed unreal, far and unlikely. The will to find a solution didn't go away. If that's love and it stays as intense, as heart wrenching even when it has no escape, then he didn't want to be in love.
Short lived romances, affairs and flings were simply wonderful for him. But needing someone, being unable to live without that person, he didn't need that. In half an hour his plane would land and he would have to be quick thinking, efficient and emotionally detached, in other words, the complete opposite of how he wanted to be at that moment.
He knew that it was too late to try to suppress his feelings and that together they both were happier than otherwise. But when they were apart...
He spent two weeks on his own. Yes, he talked to other people, but more than anyone he talked to himself and that didn't make him very happy.
He couldn't allow himself to be sad. He wasn't an artist nor a writer, he was somebody who was supposed to perfectly reflect other people's emotions and expectations towards him in order to be able to penetrate their thoughts. Half of his job was to make those he worked with like him, and he could do it very well. Emotions were supposed to slide on him as on a mirror, without leaving any cracks or scratches, no trace in sight.
And all that time he used that model in his personal life as well. Nobody left any traces, any scratches in many years.
He called the flight attendant and asked for a cup of coffee.
Love... How silly. To fall in love with someone who was... perfect... unbelievably beautiful... intelligent... petty... fond of talking only of himself... simultaneously cute and masculine... complex... different...
Illya really loved talking of himself. But not in a bad way. He could and loved to listen. But he never asked about anything. Did Napoleon want to be asked? About his childhood, about how the War treated his family, about Korea, about who and how much he loved... No, actually, he didn't want that. But on some surface, egotistic, childish level he wanted it to happen. Nothing good could come out of it, even if he was asked, he'd change the subject or refuse to answer. And he knew all of that.
The flight attendant came to take the cup back and tell him to fasten his seatbelt because they were ready for landing. He smiled to her and felt the usual urge to flirt with her. Then came a thought as usual that he was in the middle of a mission and he had to wait.
It was so easy when he would go on a date or two with a girl, make love to her or even just kiss her, and then disappear from her life leaving only a memory. The fact that Illya was jealous was understandable and even natural, but still silly because he seeked in these meetings something very different from what he found in Illya. He liked making them feel good, giving them compliments, seeing their eyes sparkle with joy, their faces light up. He knew very well that many girls were undeservedly harsh on themselves, and sometimes a couple of nice words made them blush. Deep inside he hoped that after a date with him they started understanding what they were worth and got themselves some standards. Long ago he read some French writer say that every girl needed an adventure like this before getting married and he did his part.
Of course, it wasn't all pure humanism. He loved making love to them. He was fuelled by their joy. First dates were his absolute favourite thing. He was curious about what they liked. He loved listening to their stories. Maybe he understood the world of women better than the world of men. But he didn't want to join it. The idea of marriage scared him, he saw it as the killer of love. Inequality was bound to exist in a marriage between a man and a woman. He didn't want to be a tyrant, but he thought that he would become one.
Maybe that's why the idea of sharing his life with a man wasn't that foreign to him. No stay-at-home wife, no children, no sense of guilt caused by ruined holidays or unfinished chores.
Illya understood as well as he did that each time they met was a bit of a miracle. Even the best wife wouldn't be able to understand why his job left him empty on some days and exhilarated on others. But with Illya he missed the female touch. He wanted to go on a date to a silly restaurant, eat a big ice cream, giggle...
And with Illya everything was serious. Way too serious. In all the meanings of this word.
He left the plane and ran down the stairway holding up his coat collar to hide from the cold drizzle that greeted him. If he only had a hat, he'd be a true noir movie hero.
At the airport he found a phone and dialed Illya's number with the American and New York codes.
"Hello, Illya? I've arrived. Thanks. No. I don't know how long. I'll try. I can't use channel D, the craftsmen are too good. Yes. Later. Bye."
The conversation didn't make things easier. On the contrary, he became even more miserable. He left the airport in a fast walk.