A/N: Oh, look, an ending.

Chapter warnings: Self-injury


Act IV: An engaging guacamole cow

Sixteen years ago

June 5th

Acapulco

"'A new difficulty came into Alice's head. 'Supposing it couldn't find any?' she suggested.'"

Napoleon snuggled closer to his sister. He didn't really need her to read Lewis Carroll to him—he'd been handling Through the Looking-glass just fine without her—but she had offered and they hadn't spent much time together today, so here they were, sitting close together on one of the beds in the mercifully air-conditioned Acapulco hotel room.

"'Then it would die, of course,'" Lota continued in her nasally Gnat voice, then resumed her English voice. "'But that must happen very often,' Alice remarked thoughtfully. 'It always happens,' said the Gnat.'"

Lota went quiet, and Napoleon looked at the page to check that it didn't say anything that suggested the reader hold a moment of silence for the Bread-and-Butterflies. It didn't say that specifically, but it did say that Alice pondered silently for a minute or two. That, however, was a minute and a half too long for Napoleon, so he nudged at Carlota's elbow and she smiled quickly before carrying on.

"'The Gnat amused itself meanwhile by humming round and round her head: at last it settled again and remarked, 'I suppose you don't want to lose your name?'"

It had been a little weird that they'd spent most of the day apart, this being a family vacation and all, but Lota had said she was tired from the air travel and asked if she could just hang out in the hotel room. Mom and Dad had decided not to force her if she was tired (and she'd seemed tired a lot lately), so they had agreed to let her stay there while they explored the resort grounds with Napoleon.

"'No, indeed,' Alice said, a little anxiously. 'And yet I don't know,' the Gnat went on in a careless tone: 'only think how convenient it would be if you could manage to go home without it!'"

Well, it didn't matter. They were together now, and they'd be together for the rest of the vacation, and they were together a lot at home, too. There was plenty of time.


Punto Viejo

Marton answered the call. "Dr. Egret, to what do I owe the pleasure?"

"Got a pen handy, Victor?"

"Always, my dear."

Egret rattled off a series of numbers and letters. "Call me when you're ready to fork it over, dear."

She hung up and Marton sighed—not at having lost the bet (he hadn't confirmed the flight numbers as belonging to delayed flights, so it wasn't true yet), but at Egret's typical curtness. The good doctor could lock horns with the best of the worst, but she really had no class.

"Jefe," came the call from the door, accompanied by a rap at the doorframe. Marton put down the phone and raised his brows at the henchman. "Señor Delgado would like to see you, sir." The henchman looked back at a whispering sound, clenched his jaw, and turned again to look at Marton. "Señor Delgado would most humbly like to see you, sir."

"Why, see him in, of course," Marton declared.

"Simple instructions, my good man," Delgado tutted at the henchman, the former having already swept through before Marton had gotten past his second syllable. "Simple courtesies of language. Excuse us, won't you?"

The henchman swung the door most of the way, stopping just in time to very quietly click it shut.

"What a pleasant surprise to see you again so soon, my friend," Marton beamed. "Please, sit. May I offer you something to drink?"

"Ah, not this time, sir," Delgado said, holding up a hand and taking one of the chairs across from Marton at his desk. "I am hear most urgently to ask a favor of you, I fear."

Marton tapped the tips of his fingers together. "Why, dear me, what troubles you?"

"I most regretfully was compelled to deceive you." Delgado stroked his chin for no particular reason other than, presumably, to look contrite or thoughtful or something he did not particularly feel at the moment. "A spot of 'good-doing', as it were, to accelerate my return to freedom."

"Oh, dear," Marton said again. "Most unfortunate."

Delgado shrugged. "It could have been more painful, I admit, but it is most regrettable that I was forced to bring you into this, my friend."

"It certainly is," Marton agreed, and listened as Delgado proceeded to outline the UNCLE assignment he'd (oh so regrettably, of course) assisted with. "I appreciate your telling me this after the fact, Mr. Delgado," Marton said afterward, less irked than he would have been if Egret hadn't already informed him that he had probably lost their bet. "How can I help you?"

Delgado smiled. "I think you mean to ask why you should help me, sir, but I appreciate your courtesy. As you can understand, both UNCLE and Mexican authorities would like me not to leave the country. I, on the other hand, am most eager to pursue an opportunity that has arisen in Thailand."

Marton offered the services of his private jet, Delgado accepted with the promise of a generous cut in the Thai venture, and the gentlemen parted ways.


Orlando

Napoleon let out a puff of breath as he shut the hotel room door, was half tempted to just throw himself onto the bed and give up for the night, got a hold of himself and made the obligatory security check.

Clear.

He threw himself onto the bed and threw one of the pillows onto the floor because having two pillows on the queen mattress was too bitter a reminder that he was not at home, in bed with a companion, as he should have been at this point.

Well, everything else on assignment had gone as well as he could have hoped for, so he supposed he should be grateful rather than disgruntled at this state of affairs. He glanced at his wristwatch and, since no observers were present, set an alarm for three minutes, since he judged that enough time to be disgruntled.

As soon as the alarm went off, he went over to his suitcase to retrieve his pajamas and promptly realized that three minutes had not been enough time: There was something in his pajamas and it wasn't himself or his boyfriend or a setup for a corny old joke, so this was not an acceptable turn of events.

Making a mental note to set another alarm later to treat himself to a bit more disgruntlement, he carried the folded outfit at arms' length over to the window, in case he had to drop the thing and make a break for it. Setting the bundle gingerly on the small table by the window, he checked the top and found nothing in it.

"Not guilty," he informed the pajama shirt and tossed it over to the bed before determining that the intruder was folded in the trouser leg.

"Please don't be something venomous," he muttered at the pants before very deliberately slipping a small manila envelope from the folds of material.

"It'd be great if you didn't explode," he commented to the envelope as he hefted it in one hand. It had a bit of weight to it and made somewhat metallic noises.

"If you're shrapnel, I don't think I can forgive you," he declared before turning it over in his hands and noting the narrow handwriting on the flap side.

My friend, treat your "roommate" to something delightful. RD.

Rafael Delgado's friend squeezed his eyes shut, opened them again only to find that he had not misread the message, and cursed the King of Diamonds (who was very much not a friend) under his breath.

"You're killing me, RD," he claimed, even though he was reasonably confident now that nothing imminently life-threatening hid within. He accordingly lifted the flap and shook the contents into one palm and poked himself in the eye with the corner of the envelope as the other hand flew to his forehead in consternation.

"Life is good, everything's fine, it's all good, happy thoughts," he told himself, since he'd done enough cussing for one day. "Happy thoughts," he said again, chuckling at how funny he was sure he looked and also at the happy thought of slugging Delgado in the jaw.

"Ah, me," Napoleon sighed as the stinging in his eyeball subsided and he squinted for a closer look at the spectacular hunk of red stone hanging from intricately vine-like silver chains.

Did Delgado seriously think he was going to keep the thing? Another glance at the envelope reminded him that… no. No, Delgado did not think he was going to keep the thing. He thought Napoleon was going to hock it to get something delightful for Illya.

"Thankfully, Señor, I do not require your charity." He thought a moment. "And even if I did, I'd probably have enough morals to not accept." He decided he'd probably have to work on his morality muscles and delicately replaced the museum piece in the envelope before turning to glower at the digital clock on the nightstand.

After another three minutes of being disgruntled, Napoleon produced his communicator. "Open channel D."

"Howdy-do, bop-a-doo?"

Napoleon blinked at the raspy voice. "Gerry? What brings me the pleasure of your company?"

"As fas-kin-ating as you find your BF, Liebchen, he's helping me to tears."

Napoleon chuckled. "Not calling upon your services to your satisfaction?"

"I'm reduced to thumb-twiddling. It's an ugly picture here, bubby, so I talked the third-shift secretary from Waverly's office into taking the night off. Bribery may have been involved, but that part's strictly on the DL, capisce?"

"Secret's safe with me, Gerry-pie."

"Your devotion warms my cold, bored-as-dead heart. What're you calling me for at this ungodly hour of the night, anyway?"

"In wrapping up the Punto Viejo affair, I… seem to have trafficked stolen goods into the States."

"Well. That's just unfortunate, ain't it?"

"I'd call it downright inconvenient."

"To each their own. Whaddya want me to do about it?"

"Should I tell Waverly, call the museum, track down Delgado…?"

"Rest easy in the knowledge that I'm not about to razz Mr. Professional Agent for not knowing what to do."

Napoleon rubbed the back of his neck. "Done. What next?"

"I tell you a funny thing."

"A thing of the 'ha-ha' variety or of the 'existential regret' variety?"

"Maybe something like 'face-palm' variety? Delgado made a break for it when our peeps were passing him along to Mexican authorities."

Napoleon resisted the urge to subscribe to the secretary's description. He'd almost poked his eye out enough for one day. "And?"

"For-it got broke. Anyway, I'll pass this along to Waverly and call the museum folks. A courier will pop over to your hotel room early in the A.M. to pick up the shiny stuff. You can continue going homeward bound once you've ditched it."

"Thanks, Ger."

"Eh, what are legendary demigods of the secretarial department for? Want me to put you through to your honeybunny?"

"What?" Napoleon blurted before realizing that some of his disgruntlement must have outlasted three-plus-three minutes and ended up seeping through the radio waves. He chuckled. "No, he's probably sleeping. I'm fine, anyway."

Gerry snorted loudly. "Well, I've got some shocked-and-appalled museum curators to verbally grovel at, but if you're still 'fine' in thirty minutes or so, feel free to give me a buzz, mmkay?"

"'Preciate it, Ger."

"Yepperoni."

"Solo out."

Napoleon terminated the connection and let out a breath. He really had to get ahold of himself. It wouldn't do to get all prickly at this time every year for the rest of his life. Besides probably not being a great marker of his mental resilience, he wouldn't want this to get worse. Out of control. Disrupting his life, work, relationships.

"We have to learn to live together, Lota," he murmured, grabbing up his pajamas and making quick work of getting into them, now that it was free of unwelcome surprises. He slipped under the bedsheets and stared at the ceiling. Then he glanced at the hotel phone next to the digital clock.

Ceiling.

Phone.

Ceiling.

"Dammit, Gerry."

Phone. He examined it for bugs, mentally replayed his interactions with hotel staff, found nothing to suspect, and punched in Illya's number.

"Yes?" came warily at the fourth ring.

"I'll be home soon."

Napoleon could almost see the blue eyes blinking at the abrupt declaration. "Then why is it of such importance that we talk now?"

"It's not soon enough," the American returned gently at the demand, having noted mild annoyance but no real bite to the tone.

"Oh." A brief pause, and Napoleon could almost hear the abrupt cessation of breath as the plump lower lip was bitten in the Russian's scramble for something nice to say. "What would you like to talk about?" was the result.

"I just want to hear your voice. Could you tell me about your day, chou? How are you feeling?"

Another pause, and Napoleon closed his eyes to listen as Illya haltingly obliged. Still had a fever. Voice a little rough. Didn't notice other symptoms. Got some work done. Weather was too hot. Bed was too cold—

"How's that?" Napoleon cut in, eyes snapping open, almost seeing the flush rising on the pale face.

"I… I've grown accustomed to your warming me up. The temperature is all wrong now."

Napoleon laughed aloud at how the embarrassed tone at the start turned to accusation. "I'll be there soon, but I'll get you a heating pad for the next time I go away."

A quiet harrumph, and Napoleon knew Illya was scowling at nothing in particular. "I can pay for my own things. Thank you."

"What other observations have you been making while I've been away?" Napoleon prompted, and Illya obligingly resumed his quiet, slightly husky briefing.

He wished Carlota could hear this. Meet Illya.

His eyes slid shut and the soft drone of words filled his head. Carlota would have listened so patiently to every syllable, just as she had always listened to Napoleon: nodding at appropriate moments to reassure him that she was paying attention. That this was worth her attention. That he was worth her attention.

"He's terrific," Carlota would whisper as soon as Illya was distracted by something else. "But did you notice he barely looked at me once?"

"That's because you aren't here to be looked at," Napoleon would remind himself.

"No. But you know I love you. You know I love him," Carlota would say calmly. And she'd smile.

He hadn't seen her smile for so long… but there it was. Her smile. Her face. Clear as day in his mind's eye.

"You're a good man, Nappy. You're strong enough to live with me, without me."

She smiled again. Held out her hand and he could almost feel it in his own, soft and warm and strong. He squeezed it, and it was gone.

"You can't be finding this very interesting," a much deeper voice broke in, and Napoleon's eyes felt moist as he managed with some effort to open them again.

"Everything you say means the world to me, horobchyk," Napoleon said. "You know that I love you, right?"

"Yes, I—know. Were you… were you falling asleep?"

Napoleon chuckled. "I suppose I was. I feel at peace with you."

"But I am not with you."

"You're always with me. Everyone I love is always with me."

"Is this some bizarre metaphysical belief of yours that you've neglected to tell me about?" A pause. "If it is a religious thing, you may omit the 'bizarre' so that I do not offend you."

"No, just good old-fashioned romanticism. I, uh, guess I'll let you go now."

"How can I go if I'm always with you?"

"Good night, chou."

"It's morning."

"Good morning."

"It's not good."

"Morning."

"Indeed."

"Why's it not good?"

Sort of a choking sound, then, "Good night, Napoleon," and the line went dead.

"Not good until we're together." Napoleon smiled at the flatlining beep. "Right?"


New York

Illya stared at the screen displaying how long the call had lasted. Odd that Napoleon should have called just then. Right after he'd taken the orange pill—or right before? He checked his notebook, finding no mention of his having taken it, but maybe he'd been distracted by Napoleon.

He was frequently distracted by Napoleon. It could be during class, in the middle of working, crossing the street, and any manner of other inconvenient moments, but the American's bright smile or tender embrace would suddenly spring to mind, leaving Illya to miss a full minute of lecture or find a page full of NNNNNNNNNNNNNN on his computer screen or get honked at or be subject to any number of other discomfiting results.

Illya looked back to his screen, dark now, so he tapped the Home button and it lit up, displaying the End Call screen again, with Unknown Number blazoned above the length of the call. It was odd that Napoleon had called at this time of night—and speaking of time, it was about time to take the orange pill.

Illya took the orange pill and jotted down the event in his notebook. Glancing over that handiwork, he wondered why he'd jotted it down twice.

He looked back at the phone and tapped at it to have another stare at the End Call screen—Unknown Number—how long Napoleon had wanted to listen to him talk—but it disappeared, replaced by a text notification.

E: You did a wonderful job, Illya

It was ridiculous, how disappointed he was to have the End Call screen disappear, but this was important. Making Dr. Egret happy was important… (He tapped out a terse, insincere expression of gratitude and sent the message.)… but was it more important than making Napoleon happy?

E: You like making things explode, don't you? Think of something we can blow up together—that will be your reward for a job well done!

That sounded kind of fun… (He tapped out a terse, insincere expression of gratitude and sent the message and tossed the phone to the foot of the bed.)… but it wasn't important that he have fun. It was important to listen to Egret. To do what she wanted.

But it was also important to focus on Napoleon. To do things that he would like.

Obey his parents. Do as they said.

Pay attention to his professors. Do research in line with their interests.

Them. Someone else. Always, someone else.

It didn't matter what he wanted. They didn't know what he wanted.

To be fair, though, he wasn't sure if he knew what he wanted, either. Did he know what he wanted? What he liked? Or were the things he did or wanted or think he wanted only based on what others expected?

Illya lay back on his pillow to consider this. He was sure there were things he liked. There had to be. Things like… blowing stuff up. Taking something apart to see how it worked. Breaking it apart, destroying it, smashing it to bits—what terrible, destructive things to like! No wonder he needed someone else telling him what to do.

A muffled thump drew his attention to the side, to the fist (his own) pressed into the mattress. He'd scarcely realized that he'd made any violent motion, but now he deliberately struck another blow. And another. He knew this was essentially throwing a tantrum, but nobody else was here and he was angry—more than angry—irate, furious—no, those were still inadequate.

Illya turned over so he could strike at the pillow, not stopping until he noticed the seams of the pillowcase had ripped… that he'd broken it. Such a little broken thing, those few threads, but he instantly recalled earlier that year, to February, when he'd punched a lighting fixture.

His parents died.

His fault.

His fault, and Napoleon didn't even know it. Didn't even recognize it. Didn't recognize—

He hissed and cradled his head in his hands. Had something hit him? His head hurt, his knuckles hurt—had he hit himself in the head?

"Stop it," he scolded himself. "It must be you forget the orange," he concluded since he hadn't hit himself after he'd taken the orange pills earlier.

Did that make sense? That made sense.

Once the spot on his head stopped screaming so much, he reached over to retrieve the bottle of orange pills. Then he wondered if he'd hit himself since he'd taken too much. He'd never hit himself after taking the right amount, so maybe he'd done it because he'd taken too much.

Yes, that had to be it. Too much.

He put the bottle back on the nightstand, keeping his fingertips on the cap because what if he'd forgotten to take it and that was why he'd hit himself in the head? To remind himself?

"Ah!" he exclaimed, since the easy solution to this was to check his notebook, see what he'd recorded.

Notebook—it was gray. Why did he pick gray? It was such a depressing color.

"Focus."

Focus? How could he focus? He couldn't focus. Wasn't focused. Too blurry. He blinked emphatically, several times, not believing that he could possibly have hit himself hard enough to affect his vision.

Glasses! He needed his glasses. He'd not been sleeping, had been working too much… he was tired so his eyes were tired so that's what had happened.

"Yes, that is it," he said to himself—and what an odd thing that was. Had he always talked to himself? Yes, but not this much. Hardly ever in full sentences. Certainly not when other people were around—

"Glasses," he ground out. "Get your glasses. Think later." Then he realized he'd have to think now, as he realized he didn't remember where he'd put his glasses, and why had he needed his glasses in the first place? If he was tired, he should go to sleep.

Bzzt!

"Chert!" Illya cursed aloud at the abrupt vibration of his phone on the bedcover and, once he'd glared bloody murder at the device for a reasonable amount of time, took up the thing in one hand, realized he'd gotten a text, realized the words were a blur and that he really needed his glasses.

"Chert," he grumbled again, scratching his head with his free hand as he tried to recall where the damn glasses were. Scratching, scratching, scratching, dry skin, dry skin, dry skin, mud, clay, toothpaste, what was that?

He stopped. Scratched more slowly, inquisitively, at the changed texture. Took away his hand and wondered at the red on his fingertips and under his nails, the mix of skin and blood that had somehow become lodged there, red, red, red, red—under his nails, on his hands, over his hands, all over his hands—

He squeezed his eyes shut, and it was still red behind his eyelids, but the lids were too heavy to escape this sight, so he covered his shut eyes with his hands to block out as much red as possible, dim down the red as much as possible, and tried to sleep.

But the bed was too big. Too empty. Too cold. He opened his eyes and the room was too big—the world was too big—or he was too little. Just a little broken thing.

"No, no, no." He was being dramatic, ridiculous, hopeless. It was silly to be dramatic, ridiculous, hopeless unless—

"Fix it." He pulled the pillow from the torn pillowcase. "Fix it."

It was a small step, a little bit of a little thing, but he took the pillowcase and found the sewing kit in the nightstand drawer and mended it as best he could.


En route to New York

Victor Marton was a gambler. His experiences with (or, rather, against) Dr. Egret convinced him of that.

Victor Marton was not a very good gambler. His losses to Dr. Egret convinced him of that.

Victor Marton was a terrible loser. He didn't think he was, but he was wrong on that count, as often were people who thought they were always right, and Victor Marton always thought he was right.

He didn't throw a tantrum, of course, since that was childish. Worse than that, it was amateurish. What good would it do to have a fit? What benefit would that bring him, aside from a fleeting satisfaction and not much else?

Marton was anything but an amateur, so he did the reasonable thing and set out to ensure that he could never lose in the same way that he had just lost. And that, he decided, made him an excellent loser.


Orlando

Napoleon got up around five in the morning, catching about four hours of sleep. It really wasn't enough, but Gerry had said the courier would be by "early", and if all went well he'd be home by the end of the day and could sleep as much as he wanted then.

As it turned out, he could have slept for another hour, as a knock sounded on his door around six along with a call of, "Delivery for NS."

Napoleon went to the door and peered through the peephole, eyes widening. He remembered not to clap Mark Slate on the back, since the shirt and baseball cap bearing the name of a food delivery service were hint enough that he was here in an official capacity.

"You NS?" Mark said once the door was open, slightly arched brows betraying his recognition of the answerer, but he dutifully waited for the second half the code to be returned to him.

"Only if you brought breakfast."

Mark held up the delivery bag, and Napoleon tried not to get too excited over the prospect that he was actually getting food out of this. Mark—"Jimmy" according to the metal pin on the lapel of the fluorescent polo shirt—glanced at his phone and said, "Egg sandwich, no cheese, extra bacon, two hash browns," in some kind of an accent.

"That's me," Napoleon said, even though he would have preferred Normal bacon and Yes cheese. He slid the envelope with the necklace into the delivery bag as Mark handed over the food containers inside. "You, uh, aren't from around here," Napoleon commented. Unless, of course, Mark was under the mistaken impression that this was how Floridians spoke.

"Came down from Bahston fuh work."

"Boston, eh?"

"Yeah. Use yah blinkah in the cah pahk, Masshole, am I wicked right?"

Napoleon clamped his jaw shut and pressed his lips together, but a snort escaped through his nose. He gathered himself before asking, "No good delivery gigs up in Baa-ston?"

"Cahst of living," Mark countered, corners of his mouth drawing down to counter the increasing amusement indicated by his eyebrows at the bleated question. "You makin' fun of Jimmy Mack?"

Napoleon snorted again. Well, sort of. He stopped mid-snort, which made his throat feel a little weird so he coughed. "Hate to instigate and run, Jimbo, but I just had a thought."

Mark shrugged. "Don't hoit yourself."

"Don't lose yourself."

Mark paused in his turning away, then he grinned and shook his finger, realizing that Napoleon thought his brilliant accent was slipping. "Ohh, yeah, that's toity-toid and toid."

Napoleon could only hope his concern for Mark Slate's mental health was made clear in the look he sent the Brit. "Maybe you shouldn't talk to anyone on the way out."

Mark silently cursed him with a back-handed V-sign and headed out, whistling Danny Boy as Napoleon shut the door.

Bad accents and names associated with old songs. Napoleon sat at the hotel room desk and unwrapped the breakfast sandwich.

Air traffic controller Tormé from the Deep South. He confirmed with some disappointment that there was no cheese.

Deep voice. He had the poor judgement to take a large bite and narrowly avoided choking on it, because surely Illya hadn't been posing as an air traffic controller.

After several bites and a complete failure to convince himself that he had gone just very slightly mad, he went back to the phone and dialed the familiar number.

"Napoleon," was the greeting this time, since of course Illya remembered the phone number of the random hotel room in the airport hotel in Orlando.

"Did I call you yesterday, chou?"

"You called today."

"No, not the one-in-the-morning one. Before that. You had a funny accent."

Barely a pause, then: "I beg your pardon?" in a tone that made it abundantly clear who Illya thought should actually be doing the pardon-begging.

"I didn't mean your normal accent," Napoleon put in quickly. "Your normal accent is adorable."

Another emphatically misattributed: "I beg your pardon?" and Napoleon got an idea. If Illya had been the owner of the funny accent, he didn't seem about to own up to it… so perhaps he could allay his suspicions by simply getting the Russian to attempt the accent in question.

"I meant that I thought someone I talked to sounded like you trying to do an American accent."

"Why should I want to put on an American accent?"

Napoleon refused to be derailed by the just-about distasteful inflection given to 'American'. "Well, you might have to someday," Napoleon pointed out. He chuckled. "C'mon, chou, give me your best 'Southern gentleman'."

"Is that the one with the drawl and the 'y'all' and the insincere bestowals of heart-blessing?"

"Yep."

"Ah." A moment of hesitation. "What would a Southern gentleman say?"

"I wouldn't presume to know."

"How do you expect me to talk like a Southern gentleman when I do not know what words I should use?" came the irritable response.

"Humor me."

A longsuffering sigh later, Illya made the effort:"Y'all."

Napoleon laughed, ostensibly at the pathetic attempt but really to hide his startlement at just how deliberately pathetic the attempt was.

"Ah," Illya said at the apparent amusement. "You have been adequately humored?"

"Yeah, that about does it for me. I'll see you real soon, okay?"

"Yes, I'll see you real soon, okay."

"Illya—"

"I can't tell you now," came the half-anticipated semi-confession. "I can't—I should but I can't, because I shouldn't—"

"I can send—"

"No, no, no, I am fine—you are home soon. Soon?"

"By three in the afternoon. You sure—"

"Yes, right. That is alright. It is alright."

Napoleon frowned but reluctantly trusted the other's judgement on this. It would be alright until the afternoon.


New York

"Mr. Thomson, I presume."

The doorman offered a dignified nod to the mustachioed gentleman with the European accent.

"Is Mr. Solo in, would you know?"

"No, sir, he isn't, to my knowledge."

"And you would know that very well, I trust," the gentleman smiled. "Is Dr. Egret in, would you know?"

"I'm afraid we don't have anyone of that name residing here, sir."

"Come, come, Mr. Thomson, it was I who facilitated the transfer of a certain property from Ms. Ravel to Dr. Egret."

Thomson hesitated a moment more before confessing that the doctor was in.

"Excellent. I shall go up to see her, and my man Halston here will help you remove your effects from the office."

Thomson looked from the European (French, he thought) to the burly Halston indicated by a tilt of the gentleman's chin.

"Your services are required elsewhere, Mr. Thomson. The Clarendon Arms."

Thomson didn't want to be disagreeable, but he also didn't want to irk his boss, so he folded his arms and said, "Dr. E is my employer, sir."

"Well, Monsieur Marton is going to very politely tell 'Dr. E' to shove off, and he has no compunction about compelling his man Halston to do the same to Mr. Thomson."

Thomson recognized the name of Marton (and, more importantly, recognized that Halston's means of communication might not involve much talking or much politeness), so he headed into the small doorman's office and cleared out.

Marton accordingly went up to the apartment formerly belonging to Gervaise Ravel and rapped at the door, which shortly cracked opened with the chain still latched.

"Good day, dear lady," he greeted, hat in hand as he bowed slightly to the henchwoman. "Victor Marton, at your service. Would you be so kind as to announce my presence?"

The door clicked shut again, about a minute passed, and finally Marton was granted entrance.

"Victor," Dr. Egret said, standing at a wall with several maps and papers adorning it. She went back to studying the adornments after sparing a gracious glance to her visitor. "I'm afraid I'm a bit busy to gloat, but you're more than welcome to wallow in your humiliating defeat."

"Always a lady," Marton said with a tone of complete and utter sincerity. "My dear, I have a proposition."

"How nice for you."

"I will give you money, the services of two renowned chemists, and the trust of a generalissimo who will shortly seize control of an oil-rich region."

Egret pushed a couple of pins into a map and turned around to spare something more than a glance to her guest. "For the bet?"

"The chemists are for the bet."

The doctor folded her arms and leaned back, realized she was leaning on a couple of pushpins, and shifted discreetly. "The money and the generalissimo?"

"Are for giving up this apartment and your enthusiasm for Russian orphans."

Egret's eyebrows arched.

Marton offered a placating smile. "UNCLE's claws are already in the boy, Doctor. It is easier to infiltrate than to convert. You can never truly trust a convert."

"You're not the only one with chemists, Victor." Egret gestured to a woman seated by a near window, tapping at a tablet. "I have Rochelle, and some very useful research from the late Dr. Park."

"Ah, yes, I know Dr. Maxwell very well." He nodded courteously to Rochelle, who did not look up or otherwise betray any sign of being acutely aware of the conversation in the room. "I had her convey some of Park's research to my chemists. They were rather shocked."

Dr. Egret stared at Rochelle's bowed head and asked Marton, "Oh?"

"There are one or two things of use, yes, and I defer their use to you. The rest—as Dr. Maxwell can attest to—are swill and poppycock." He chuckled. "To quote the professionals' assessment."

"I see," Egret said to Marton, her eyes boring deeply enough into Rochelle's skull that the chemist uncrossed her legs and then recrossed them the opposite way.

"Even the concoction you have been giving to your presumed convert, is quite suspect."

"I was told it would be effective if he survived the first dose."

"For a month or so. Then he will build up a tolerance and you will increase the dose. He will build a tolerance, and you will increase the dose. He will build a tolerance, you will increase the dose, and he will die. Or at least have a debilitating stroke." Marton stepped closer to put a hand on Egret's shoulder. "Would you prefer a few months of his services and a barely serviceable New York residence, or what I have offered you?"

Egret's eyes flashed in his direction, and Marton reaffirmed what an excellent loser he was.


Another place and time but still in New York on the same day

It was wrong. Something was wrong.

Had that wall always been so close? Of course it had.

Had the carpet always been so red? Yes, yes.

Had his fingers always been so long? Yes, or—yes, they had. Since they'd finished growing, of course.

And they had to take his medicine now. The orange one.

Had to.

Had to.

Had to.

Had to end this. Stop this. Before he did something unforgiveable. Before he couldn't escape.

But how? He could already feel his hand, with its not too-long fingers, reaching for the bottle. He had to take it. Had to—

Stop. It had to stop.

He swung at the bottle, flinging it across the room and hurrying himself out of it in the opposite direction before he could retrieve the medicine—the poison. He really should pick it up—had to get it—had to—

He grunted as he turned back to the bedroom, turned around again, back, again—had to—no, had to—

"No, not that," he growled at the bedroom, turning again to pace around the living room.

What to do? How to stop this? How—he had to leave. Leave the building.

He strode to the front door, but then realized he'd forgotten his medicine and had to—

"Not that, no," he stopped before he could get halfway back to the bedroom. Started pacing again.

So he couldn't just leave. He'd keep coming back. Had to be another way out. Another… way out…

Kitchen. He went to the kitchen. Flicked on the burners. If he could set off the fire alarms—

No. If he caused a panic in the building that ended up injuring someone, how would that be better than what he had now?

He flicked off the burners and paced around the kitchen. Something else. Had to be something else. A way out.

Stopped in front of the narrow knife drawer. A way out.

Opened the drawer. Knives. Of course, knives. It was the knife drawer. Or was it the drawer for other cutlery? No, it had sharp knives in it. It had to be the knife drawer, since that made more sense than assuming someone had wandered in and rearranged all their drawers and what was he doing again…?

Had to. Had to get out. Had to get the medicine—

He grabbed one of the knives. Not the largest, but not small. He turned the thing in one hand. Looked at his other hand. If he stabbed himself in the hand… he'd probably do permanent damage. So not the hand. Besides, he'd need both hands to get his medicine out of the bottle—

He glanced at his arm. Maybe… if he hurt his arm, he could call for help if it was bad enough, or maybe shock himself into forgetting about the orange medicine.

He pointed the tip of the knife at his arm, touched the metal to skin. Shook his head and withdrew the blade. No, a stabbing might sever an artery. Besides, then however would he—

No, not that. Not the pills. Not stabbing. He touched the blade lengthwise down his forearm.

One good stroke. If he cut deep enough—not too deep, but deep enough—it could be bad enough to be worth a call for help, but not enough to kill him. Or maim him. He hoped. But first he had to get the orange—

"No, no, no," he murmured, pressing the length of the blade ever so lightly into his skin to redirect his attention. There was a quiet hiss, which he belatedly realized was from his own mouth as he observed a thin line of red running down his forearm. It didn't hurt really. It was more a surprise that this soft pressure had caused this result. German steel was admirable, indeed.

He lifted the knife and harrumphed as he scanned the scarlet drops clinging to the metal. Then, above that closer sound, came something from the front door.

Unlocking. Not being forced or picked, the door was being unlocked, then opened, and then it whistled.

Whistled?

Doors didn't whistle, did they? Of course they didn't.

It was Napoleon, whistling something cheerful as he returned home.

Napoleon?

"Napoleon!" he called, startled by the urgency in his own voice. There was no need for it. All he had to do was get the orange and everything would be fine.

The whistling ceased. "Illya?"

Yes, it was Napoleon! His whistle, his voice, his hand locking the front door, his person appearing in the kitchen doorway, his eyes widening briefly before hiding their shock, his tone firm as he said, "Illya, put down the knife."


He promised. That was the first thought that struck him.

Not wondering how this happened, how bad it was, how to address it.

Not concern, confusion, fear.

Accusation.

Anger.

Betrayal.

Because he had promised. He'd promised he wouldn't kill himself, because Napoleon wouldn't be able to take it again. Wouldn't be able to survive losing someone else this way.

No, not losing. He hadn't lost Lota. She'd been stolen from him. She was his sister. She had to have known how important she was to him, how much he needed her. Had to. Because if she hadn't, that would mean Napoleon hadn't let her know clearly enough, often enough, sincerely enough how much he loved her and it would be his fault and how could he live with that? Live with what he'd done to him?

Him? No, her. He was thinking about Lota, not Illya.

Illya. Anger. Blood. Not very much in reality, but the thin red line of fact somehow, in his mind's eye, morphed into a gash. A gaping wound serving as the starting point for a stream of blood running down his forearm and getting caught at his wrist and palm, creating a waterfall of fast-flowing drip-drip-drips to the floor, puddling at his feet, pounding at his chest, hammering faster and louder until the beat of his heart shook his entire body—

"Illya, put down the knife."

It was his own voice, he knew, but it couldn't be. How could he be speaking so calmly when the entire room was vibrating with his emotions?

Illya looked at him, eyes wide, the blue of them practically glowing. "Napoleon, I—"

"Drop it right now, Illya."

Now those eyes flashed pain—not from the superficial work of the knife, but from the sharpness of Napoleon's voice. His anger instantly dispersed as he realized how quickly, how deeply his tone had struck the Russian.

"Drop it," he said again, anger gone but delivery still sharp, since no amount of contrition or sympathy could pry away the knife still being clenched in the white-knuckled hand. No amount of physical conditioning could ensure he'd make it across the room and disarm the younger man before he could inflict another, more severe injury.

The blade clattered onto the tiles, and Napoleon entered the kitchen with that sound. The harsh tone he'd shocked even himself with, suddenly became quiet, gentle, soothing, and how he managed that when his eyes were stinging from betrayal he'd never know, but he approached his injured housemate cautiously, murmuring that it was alright, that it was okay, that he was okay.

"I know," Illya agreed, blinking as if it would be bizarre for him to be anything other than okay. Then, as Napoleon drew nearer, he feinted back. "What is that?" he demanded, eyes fixated on the American's upper lip.

Napoleon kicked the knife away, taking the moment to realize that Illya had just noticed the facial hair he'd let grow during his days away. "A moustache."

"Yes, but… perhaps I should instead ask: why is that?"

Napoleon tore off a couple of paper towels to experimentally dab at the cut and found that it was actively bleeding, albeit not very quickly. "I thought it looked sort of distinguished."

Kuryakin pulled the corners of his lips downward. His eyes stayed on Solo's face even as the brunet started walking them both to the brunch table. "I do not like it."

He gently urged the younger man to sit down. "It'll grow on you."

Illya sat, gaze still flicking between the brown eyes and the brown beginnings of a moustache. "I do not want it to grow on me. Or even remotely near me."

"I'll just let it fill in a little, then keep it trimmed," Napoleon offered, retrieving the first aid kit they kept in the kitchen and dabbing again, this time with a sterile pad, and how were they having this absurd conversation when he'd just found Illya in the kitchen with a knife not being used for culinary purposes?

Illya was quiet as he watched Napoleon applied a thin layer of antibiotic to the red line, then he lifted his chin to glare down at the aspiring moustache. "If I do not like it when you kiss me, I will not kiss you again until you remove it."

Napoleon lined up a couple of nonstick pads along the cut, overlapping them at their shared ends. "Agreed." He started binding the pads to the arm with a roll of gauze.

The Russian nodded. "Carry on, then."

The American finished wrapping the injury and then carried on.

"I do not like candy floss."

"Beg pardon?"

"It feels like candy floss being smushed across my mouth and I do not like it."

"Well, if it fills in a little—"

"It will feel like a lot of candy floss being smushed across my mouth and I will like it even less."

Napoleon couldn't help but quirk a grin at how normal their exchange was. How wonderfully, beautifully, normally coherent and snarky and himself Illya was being. "You realize that I'll be fully prepared to argue against your ever growing facial hair after this, don't you?"

"Good. If I've not the sense to rationalize with myself, at least I'll have someone else to do so for me." He frowned at Napoleon's upper lip again. "Don't try that again until you shave."

"Okay, okay, I'll shave, geez…."

Napoleon moved to put the first aid kit away and, as he did so, Illya blurted, "I need the orange."

Brown eyebrows twitched, hiding the American's surprise as he said, "You want me to bring you an orange?"

"No, no, I need the orange pills."

"Isn't your medication blue?"

"No, not that one."

"Then which one?"

"The new one. The orange."

"New one," Napoleon echoed. "You started a new medication while I was away?"

"Yes."

Napoleon furrowed his brow before guessing, "Oh, you mean the higher dose! It's a different color?"

"No, not the medicine from Boateng."

"It's not from Boateng?"

"No, it is from—from—from." Illya frowned. "I cannot tell you that."

"Illya…"

"I cannot tell you but I have to take—no." Illya shook his head, felt dizzy, and regretted it. "No, no, that is why we're here! Napoleon, I was not hurting myself because—I mean, I had to do it to get out, to get away, I—no!" he cut himself off as Napoleon's face dropped, abruptly reaching out a hand in the older man's direction. "Not to escape life—no, no, no, I was not—I had to escape the control—the orange, Napoleon!"

Napoleon quickly came over to sit opposite him at the table and the reaching hand between his own palms, making a shushing sound. "Calm down, chou. What do you mean, escaping the orange?"

"I have to take it but I should not but I have to so perhaps that means I should but I know it is bad but I have to and—"

More shushing, and Napoleon pressed a kiss to his knuckles. "It's okay—"

"Clearly not, Napoleon! It is controlling me, it—no!" he broke off again as Napoleon's mouth twitched briefly downward. "Not like addiction although perhaps that would happen or has happened—I mean, it is changing my brain so I feel that I have to do things, like—like—someone is using chemical modification instead of hypnosis—or is that addiction?"

"Remind me who gave it to you, again?"

"I did not tell you and I cannot tell you but you need to get rid of the orange—no, no, take it to the office. We should find what is in them. They are on the nightstand."

"Okay, let's both go into the office, huh?" He used the back of one hand to feel at Illya's cheek and forehead. "You still feel warm, and Med should check you over if you've been taking something you shouldn't. We might as well have them take a look at your arm, while we're at it."

"My arm is fine and my fever is down slightly."

"Well, then everything should go real smoothly." He kissed Illya's hand one more time before standing. "Where are the orange pills, chou?"

"Bedroom. On the floor. I should—no, no, not that." Illya frowned at the kitchen floor. "I… will wait here. While you get them. Do not let me see them." He looked up again to glare at the moustache. "Or that. Shave it before we go."

"Seriously?"

"Ye—no. No, I… suppose that can wait." He frowned at the facial hair, and Napoleon briefly sustained a hope that he was changing his mind, but Illya simply gave a curt shake of the head and declared, "No, I do not like it. Very much, I do not like it, Napoleon."

The utter sincerity of the statement made Napoleon want to smile despite himself, but he pasted a solemn expression to his face and vowed, "It will be gone before the day is out."

Illya nodded gravely and Napoleon went to retrieve the mysterious pills, wrapping one pill in a tissue before placing it in the bottle to keep it from rattling around and drawing the Russian's attention, then tucking the bottle into his sock. He lifted his leg and shook it a bit to check that the cargo was secure and silent, then went back out to shepherd the younger man out of the apartment.

At about the point in the hallway when they'd have to decide whether to take the stairs or the elevator, Illya asked, "Do we have to take the lift?"

Whenever they rattled around the building together, Napoleon had been keeping Illya well-practiced in riding the elevator despite himself. This time, even though it would have been faster (and Napoleon really wanted to get out of here as quickly as possible), he relented.

"No, chou, we don't have to." The soft outbreath of relief this prompted, convinced Napoleon this had been the right choice for this moment. Since there was still quite a trip to be made, he still asked, "Do you think you'll ever prefer the elevator?"

Illya shrugged one shoulder and slipped the opposite hand into Napoleon's. He ran his thumb up and down the back of the tanned hand. "I like this," the blonde declared, and left it to Napoleon to decide whether he was referring to stair-climbing or hand-holding.

As they continued descending and descending, Illya realized they were at the garage level and accordingly wondered, "You have a car?"

"Yep," Napoleon declared, putting the hand that had been joined with Illya's to the Russian's back, urging him out of the stairwell and toward the vehicle. "Mandated as part of my being a spoiled rich kid. Got one on my sixteenth birthday."

"Was this to be your 'dirty little secret'?" Illya wondered as Napoleon produced a key fob and unlocked the doors, the taillights of an old car blinking an invitation.

Napoleon chuckled as they climbed in, buckled up. "I was going to tell you when you got your license. Thought we could maybe take a couple days out of town."

"Oh. For what?"

"For what?" Napoleon echoed, starting the engine. "A vacation, that's what for."

"But we've had one of those. Is that not what we went on spring break for to England?"

"We're allowed more than one vacation in a lifetime." Once he'd backed the car out of the parking spot and was driving forward, he took Illya's hand. "So keep working on your license and think of someplace we can drive out to."

"Why?"

"So we can spend time together in a new place."

"What is wrong about spending time together in the old place?"

Napoleon shook his head, grinning. "Nothing's wrong with it, horobchyk. It's just fun to have a change in location once in a while."

"Oh." Illya thought a moment. "I don't care." At the partially suppressed eyebrow-raise this garnered, he added quickly, "I mean… I do not care about changing locations. You can pick where to have fun. I will be happy with anywhere you choose."

"You mean that?"

"No, I mean… I will be happy with you anywhere you choose."

They stopped at a red light and Napoleon took the opportunity to look toward the passenger seat. "I know you don't like me saying so but, god, you are sweet, Illya."

"I do not like when you lie to me."

Napoleon looked forward again as green light entered his peripheral vision. "Is that why you don't like when I say that? You think I'm lying?"

Now his peripheral vision suggested Illya was shrugging. "You are lying, or you are wrong. Nobody else would use such language in reference to me."

"Nobody else has gotten to know you like I have," Napoleon pointed out.

Illya had to think about this one. He eventually admitted, "It was a silly argument for me to make."

"Meaning I'm not wrong, I'm just a liar?"

"I did not say you are a liar," Illya said in a rush.

"Only that I'm lying. Who's a person that lies, my dear?" He glanced to the side, catching a faint flush. "I won't call you sweet anymore if you don't want me to, but at least believe that I mean it when I say it."

"What of lying by omission?"

Napoleon couldn't suppress a sigh, although he hoped the mild exasperation behind it didn't seep through. "If I can't tell you you're sweet, and I can't not tell you you're sweet, what do you want me to do, chou?"

Illya shook his head rapidly. "No, no, I… meant myself. I-I mean—because I do not… say the—the kind things you say."

"That doesn't apply to this case, chou," Napoleon (trying now to suppress mild guilt) assured. "You're doing your best, aren't you? I know I can be effusive, but that doesn't mean you have to be."

"I like." A harsh intake of breath. "Being with you."

Napoleon smiled. "I like being with you, too." The grin widened when Illya put a hand on his shoulder. "Have I told you I love you today?"

"Do you mean, that you… do that… today in particular, or whether you've informed me today?"

"My darling, I love you the same amount every day." At the fingers tapping on his shoulder, Napoleon glanced to the side to find Illya frowning slightly into the middle distance. The fingers stopped tapping after a few moments.

"How much is that?"

"With all my heart." Another series of taps, another glance to the side, and he could almost hear the Russian assessing this quantification. When the fingers didn't stop tapping in short order, he suggested, "To the moon and back." A split-second pause before the tapping resumed. "More than the foolish words I try to say?"

The tapping stopped. "Perhaps I should find out if anyone has developed a unit of measurement for emotion."

"Good idea. In the meantime, just think of how you feel about me," Napoleon said with a wink and, once he'd collected an adequately withering look, added the justification, "I'm sure I love you at least that much."

The longsuffering expression opened into one of shock. "But… that is very much."

"Well, good!"

"No—I mean, a lot." He frowned and removed his hand from Napoleon's shoulder to rub at his forehead.

"You can look up the unit of measure for The Feels later." At a flash of red entering his peripheral vision, Napoleon took a quicker peek at the patch of red revealed by Illya's hair-mussing and asked, "What happened to your head, horobchyk?"

"Hm?" Illya felt at his head, came across the scratch marks on his forehead and said, "Ah." He thought a moment before speaking slowly. "I think I took too much of the pills I'm supposed to take but shouldn't and I got confused—or I did not take enough and I got confused so I—you brought it, yes?"

"Yes, and you can't have it, chou."

"Mayn't." At the odd look this garnered, Illya went on, "You mean that I may not. I can—could—if I wanted. I mean, I want—no, I don't—I mean, I should—or I shouldn't—but I don't—"

"You are not going to have it," Napoleon said firmly to stop the rambling. "You don't know where it is, you are not going to think of where it is, and you are not going to have it because I will not let you have it."

Illya glared at the commanding tone, but only halfheartedly since he probably realized it was warranted.

"Have I told you I love you today?"


Napoleon walked into the room he'd been directed to in Medical, shutting the door behind him and simply observing Illya for several moments. He eventually determined that his boyfriend was not asleep despite having his eyes closed, so he mentally ran through his line a couple of times before greeting aloud, "Kak dela, horobchyk?"

A snort, but the eyes remained shut. "Molchi, lyubyy."

Napoleon hesitated before confessing, "I only got through thirty minutes' worth of Russian tutorials while Med was giving you the works."

"Truly a shame that rude things are left so late in language lessons."

The American smiled slowly, coming over to sit in the small armchair near the bed. "Really? Part of that sounded awfully similar to 'lyublyu', and I know that one."

"Did I not make clear that you needn't bother learning either Russian or Ukrainian?"

"I know I don't need to. I want to."

Illya finally looked at him. "When am I going home?"

"Nobody told you?"

"Oh." Illya appeared to think very hard about this before shrugging. "I'm not sure. Did somebody tell you?"

"You're staying for a few days, most likely. Have some scans done, have some folks help you transition back to your normal medication while that orange stuff is being analyzed…" he trailed off as the blonde sat up, muscles tensing.

"I have to stay? No, I—no."

Napoleon reached over to take the Russian's nearer hand, stroking the palm in circles with his thumb. "Illya, chou, it's alright. Nothing to get worked up over."

"But I do not—" Illya cut himself off with a sigh. "Perhaps I do need to—I… I will stay here a short while and it is fine."

"Of course it is. It's going to be just fine, chou. It'll just be a little adjusting period, like when you went off your medication for a few days and—"

"And had a psychotic break. Thank you, Napoleon, you always know just what to say to put one at ease."

"You're not going to—okay, I shouldn't promise something I don't know for sure," Napoleon admitted. "What I should say is, it's very unlikely that you'll have another… episode."

"Yes, but it's not impossible. Napoleon, I hurt people when that happened. I—I do not want to hurt you."

At the increasingly short breaths and increasingly distant look in the blue eyes, Napoleon rubbed his thumb a little harder into the palm. "You're going to be fine."

"That is not at issue," Illya countered. "I did not hurt myself."

"I have two nurses, a doctor, and a me who would contest that point."

"Very well. I did not kill myself."

"You're not going to hurt or kill either of us, Illya. Illya. Listen to me, please."

The Russian dragged his gaze back to the brown eyes as the American's grip tightened again.

"You were given some mysterious drug and taken off your duly prescribed medication. You're not going to be with the people who did that to you anymore. You'll be under Dr. Boateng's supervision. He'll make sure you safely transition back to your proper medicine. Okay?"

"No."

"No?"

"No."

"Why not?"

"I don't want to."

"Why not?"

"Because."

"Well, I'm glad we got that cleared up."

Illya nodded and lay back against the pillow, locking his gaze on Napoleon's and shifting his grip on the American's hand until their fingers were woven together. Nearly two minutes ticked by before he said very quietly, "I will."

Napoleon brought their joined hands up to press a kiss to the Russian's knuckles. "Thank you."

"I don't want to, but I will."

Another kiss to the back of the hand before he lowered it back to the mattress.

"How was Orlando?"

Napoleon's eyebrows went up.

"It was I who sent you there, you know."

The brunet processed this for a moment. "So I was right about the phony accent?"

"I told you that you knew." Illya frowned. "Or you told me that you knew and I avoided saying you were right but I implied that you were right." He nodded. That sounded correct… didn't it?

"Why did you do that? Not admit it, that is."

Illya used both hands to play with Napoleon's fingers, watching the movements intently. "Because I had to. I did not want to, really, but I was… compelled. Compelled within myself." He tilted his head to get a different angle on his activities. "That is the best way, yes?"

Napoleon looked at their joined hands. "Best way?"

"Not this," Illya corrected, wagging Napoleon's index finger for him. "The best way to get somebody to do what you want, is to make them feel they must want it as well, isn't it?"

"Could be," Napoleon mused. "Certainly effective, if not the best. Do you think that's what the orange pills are for?"

Illya shrugged. "Could be. When can I go home?"

Napoleon hesitated. "What I told you was my best guess, chou," he said carefully.

"Ah. I see."

"Do you remember what I told you?"

Illya glanced up from his busy-work to offer a grin that went as fast as it came. "You tell me many things, Napoleon. I cannot possibly remember everything."

"You can probably come home in a couple of days," Napoleon said. He halted Illya's fiddling by sandwiching both of the pale, blue-veined hands between his own. "I'm going to tell the staff you're having memory problems, okay, chou?"

Illya shook his head vigorously. "No, no, I remember, I—I—I love you. I-I remember that. I do remember, I do—"

"Shhh, I know, I know," Napoleon cut in gently, before the distressed ramble could go on. "I know, and that makes me so happy, chou, but that wasn't what I meant."

"Oh." Illya appeared to think very hard for nearly a minute, then his eyes lit up. "I remember—I mean, I remember that I didn't remember. Yes, I suppose the staff should know." He huffed out a breath and rested back. "I do hope people stop messing with my brain. For all its faults, I rather like it most of the time."


That evening

Napoleon returning home from the New York office

A surprise as he gets off the elevator

"Monsieur Marton," Napoleon said, since there was no use in beating around the bush. "What a pleasure to see you again so soon," he added and smiled, since there was some hope that his true role in life was still unknown to the villain.

The Frenchman returned the smile, pressing the fedora in his hand to his chest as he offered a miniscule bow. "A pleasure indeed, Mr. Solo. I do regret having to disturb you at home, but might we have a few words—in private?"

Napoleon took the hint and warmly offered him to come in for a moment, the back of his mind running over the locations of all the panic buttons hidden throughout the apartment and the front of his hand brushing across his side to reassure himself that his handgun was in place.

"Can I offer you some tea?" Napoleon said, shutting the door and setting his suitcase to the side of the entry hall.

"That would be lovely, thank you," Marton nodded, so Napoleon motioned for the villain to take a seat in the living room and went to the kitchen.

Once Solo had handed over the saucer and cup with steeping tea to his guest and they were both seated, Marton opened.

"You deceived me, Mr. Solo," Marton chastised lightly.

"Did I?" Napoleon returned, opening his eyes wide and knowing full well he wasn't fooling anybody. At least, not anymore.

"Perhaps you were not aware that Señor Delgado is a friend of mine," he said, and smiled at the flicker of surprise that Napoleon didn't manage to hide.

"Small world, isn't it? Milk, cream, sugar?"

"Real cream or one of those ridiculous creamers?"

Napoleon assured him of the realness of the cream on offer and Marton nodded, so Napoleon got up and returned shortly to pour cream into the teacup until Marton nodded again. Once the American had settled down again, Marton said, "You've met Dr. Egret, I understand… may I call you Napoleon?"

"You could call me worse things," Napoleon returned agreeably.

"I would never," Marton assured him. He removed the sachet from the cup, stirred the cream in and, to great personal distress, didn't complain about the American's poor tea-making routine. "Napoleon, I must say I do not appreciate being deceived, but in spite of that I have done something on your behalf. I must confess, though, that it was not entirely out of the kindness of my heart."

Napoleon crossed his legs, resting an ankle atop a knee, and wondered, "What did you do and what do you expect?"

"I have evicted one of your neighbors." He sipped at his tea and said again, "You've met Dr. Egret, I understand."

Napoleon cocked his head. "Not around the building, no," he said carefully.

"Nevertheless, she was here. I believe your dear Mr. Kuryakin did meet her around the building."

"How remarkable," Napoleon commented, since now seemed like a good time to keep the other man talking.

"I have persuaded the good doctor to vacate the premises. Her apartment will be listed and, I assume, some very dull, very rich financier will snatch it right up." Marton enjoyed the tea as best he could for a minute or so before resuming. "It was considerably more difficult to persuade her to abandon her designs on our dear Mr. Kuryakin, but I managed it."

"Nevertheless, he persisted," Napoleon said dryly, since he wasn't sure how grateful he should be about this or (more importantly) how grateful he should seem about this.

Marton chuckled. "Come now, Napoleon, this is a wonderful thing! Not to, as you say, toot my own horn, of course…"

"Of course," Napoleon agreed, smiling warily.

"…but one should really be more enthusiastic upon learning their significant other has been freed from the clutches of evil."

"Ecstatic," Napoleon agreed again, smiling more widely and more warily. "What do you want, Mr. Marton?"

Sip. "I'll let you know when I decide." Sip. "I'm sure you will cooperate, whatever it is that I want, with the utmost discretion." Marton placed the saucer on the coffee table, placed the cup upside-down on the saucer, and laid the spoon across the overturned vessel. He leaned forward, hands on his knees. "I understand that you shall have to tell dear Alexander about all this but, when I call in this little favor, I expect your full cooperation. I can trust you on that, can't I, Napoleon?"

"If I can trust you've warded off Dr. Egret," Napoleon said slowly, and he really did not trust that, "then you can trust me, Mr. Marton."

"Excellent," Marton beamed, rising to a stand. "Thank you for the tea."

Napoleon walked him to the door and Marton positioned himself in front of the doorknob for some final words. "I don't think you'd want to risk my releasing Dr. Egret from our agreement, Napoleon. I might not catch on to your deceptions immediately, but you might not notice when I do catch on… until…." He made an expansive gesture with his hands.

"Until you're on my doorstep?" Napoleon finished.

Marton smiled broadly. "In a manner of speaking, yes. Until we meet again, Napoleon." He offered his hand and Napoleon shook it. "Give my regards to my dear Mr. Kuryakin, and to my friend Alexander when you brief him on our agreement."

"Bonne journée, Monsieur."

"À bientôt."


June 5th

He came to visit every day. Rain or shine, waking or sleeping, Illya knew the American came by, either because they had actively interacted or because Napoleon had left a flower or exchanged the book Illya had just finished with a new one.

This time, Illya was awake and almost in a good mood, since he'd been told that he could go home tomorrow. (He decided he'd be in a good mood when it was tomorrow.)

"I hear you're being sprung for good behavior," Napoleon greeted him, reclining on the bed since Illya was curled up in the small armchair with his reading material.

"Normal behavior," Illya corrected. He looked up from his book to remark with an arched eyebrow, "Impolite to put dirty shoes on someone else's bed."

Napoleon grinned and showed the soles of his footwear to the Russian.

"Did you learn to levitate whilst I was stuck here?"

"Some of us are known to do a good job of wiping our feet when we go inside."

Illya rolled his eyes and muttered, "Prynts ehomans'kyy."

"That's the second time you've called me that. What's the second part mean?"

Illya snorted and looked back to his book. "You told me you want to learn Russian or Ukrainian. Get to work." A quiet sigh met his ears and Illya looked up again in surprise. He wouldn't blame Napoleon for being impatient with him, but the brunet was almost always patient with him or at least able to hide his irritation. After a moment, he asked slowly, "Are you alright?"

Taking in the serious set of the Russian's features, Napoleon aborted his instinct to launch into platitudes. "I lost my sister around this time of year." At the encouraging but unenlightened nod this received, the American clarified, "Her death left some, uh, emotional scar tissue."

Another encouraging nod started, then stopped abruptly as realization dawned. "Oh! Yes, you have said that she meant a great deal to you." He frowned in consideration. "It… still causes you pain."

"Yes. I'm still learning to live with that, but it's helped to have other people still here who care about me."

"Your parents seem to care for you very much," Illya agreed.

"Well… yes," Napoleon said with a nod, smiling faintly.

Illya tilted his head at the taken-aback manner of the agreement. "Mark and April?"

"Uh… yes, them too."

Illya's lips pursed a bit. "Is there someone else?"

"Yes, I met someone in Mexico," Napoleon deadpanned, then couldn't help but laugh aloud at how wide the serious blue eyes went. "I meant you, you ninny!" he chuckled, sitting up cross-legged.

Illya blinked rapidly, ignored the funny word, and protested, "I don't see how you would find me helpful in the domain of emotional support."

"When was the last time you wished I'd stop talking about feelings?"

"Pardon?"

"I've never gotten the sense that you've ever really wished that. At least, not when I'm talking about my family or what I'm thinking about things."

"Oh." Illya shrugged and admitted, "I suppose I must have at some point."

"But you've never told me to shut up or just to get over something. You pay attention to everything—or if you're not actually listening, you do a hell of a job of faking."

"It is important to listen to people one… respects."

"Being a good listener is a very supportive action to take, chou."

"Ah," Illya said, nodding afterward since he thought Napoleon was a better listener and Napoleon always nodded or something to indicate that he was listening. "What is a you-ninny?"

"Ninny," Napoleon corrected. "I would have said 'silly goose', but I know you object to the silliness of geese."

Illya narrowed his eyes and stated, "Prynts ehomans'kyy: Prince Egomaniac."

"Good. Egomaniac and Ninny. A match made in heaven."

"Aren't you going to ask me?"

Napoleon considered the question, considered the question he was apparently supposed to ask, came up empty, and said, "Ask you what?"

"Whether I've considered what you asked me to consider while you were in Mexico."

"Oh." An uncharacteristic wave of self-consciousness struck him as Napoleon recalled his sort-of marriage proposal, and he turned his gaze downward. "I, uh, wasn't sure if you'd been able to—well. Have you?"

"Yes."

Napoleon looked to his companion again, found Illya staring downward, idly flipping pages in his book. "Pray tell."

"I need more time, Napasha."

"Of course…" Napoleon trailed off as he processed the response. "Napasha?"

Illya tilted his head just enough to be able to peer across the space between bed and chair, into the older man's face. "I would like to be certain I can say how I feel toward you… when it happens." A flush started to stain the pale cheeks and he looked down again. "If that is not too presumptuous."

Napoleon stayed quiet for a moment to analyze everything Illya had said to him so far.

A pet name.

Wanting to say 'I love you' at a specific time.

A smile slid across his face and, when an abnormal stretch of silence flowed on, Illya looked up again to gauge what was going on.

"You did not ask me," Illya reminded quietly, "so I did not say yes."

"But if I did…"

"Then I would." Illya went back to page-flipping. "I could ask too, you know."

"And if you did, then I would."

After nearly a minute of waiting for each other to say something else, Illya lost patience first and looked up to ask, "What does this mean?"

Napoleon thought another moment before suggesting, "I guess we're… pre-engaged."

Illya's head tilted to one side. He frowned. "Pre-engaged?"

"Well, we've established that if one of us wants to get hitched, the other's on board for it, but nobody's suggested that we actually follow through, so we can't be actually engaged."

"So we are pre-engaged," the Russian concluded.

The American nodded. "We're pre-engaged."

"Is that a real concept?"

"It is now."

Illya huffed out a sigh. "That means it is not a real concept. Fine, then. Now we are engaged."

Napoleon blinked a couple of times. "Say what now?"

"Engagements can be as long or as short as required, yes?"

"Uh, yeah—"

"Then we can engage as long as necessary for me to become adequately confident in my ability to express feelings, or for as long as you find necessary. Would you like a ring?"

"I—what?"

"As part of the ritual for engaging, of course."

"Engagement," Napoleon corrected, a bit dizzily. He ran a hand through his hair. "I, uh… holy shit."

Illya's irritable expression went blank. "Did I act inappropriately?"

"No, no, not inappropriate, just—holy shit, we're engaged."

The blank turned vaguely anxious. "Is that… agreeable with you?"

"Yes, I—holy shit, yes!"

Anxious to confused. "Then why are you cursing at me?"

"I'm not—I just didn't expect—I mean, I was surprised, I—holy shit!"

Illya sighed.

"Sorry. I just didn't expect to get engaged today."

"You are sure you wanted to?"

Napoleon slipped off the bed and moved in for a quick kiss. "Only if it's with you, horobchyk. Holy—"

"I will cancel it if you curse at me again."

"I was going to say 'cow'."

"You call me a cow? Rude."

"Guacamole?"

"Worse."

"It's not like I'm calling you a guacamole cow."

"That is good. If you did, I'd have to call you a salsa donkey, which seems rather inappropriate for the occasion." He paused. "You've still not told me if you want a ring. I know it is usually for a lady, but there are no ladies in this situation so I am unfamiliar with the protocol. Does the person who gets asked, get the ring?"

"Well," Napoleon squinted and scratched his head and admitted, "I don't rightly know."

"How refreshing."

The American grinned. "Oh, that's fine coming from you, Mr. Smartypants."

Illya's eyelashes fluttered a bit before he guessed, "I'm… glad?"

Napoleon softened his smile and stroked a smooth cheek. "I just mean, you're so bright that I wouldn't expect you to be surprised at my not knowing something," he explained in an undertone, thumb extending to play at Illya's lower lip. "I'm flattered, horobchyk."

The Russian's mouth worked wordlessly before deciding on an unnecessarily loud, "Oh."

"I love you, Illya."

Another few moments of effort before a similarly over-loud, "Yes."

Napoleon laughed and leaned in for another kiss before releasing his fiancé's face. "You're sweet," he said, figuring a little irritation might unbreak Illya's volume control.

The plump lips pursed, the wide eyes narrowed, and then the tight expression fell with a subtle eyeroll and a grumbled, "If you say so."

"I do, honey. I do."

"Will you keep bestowing me with new nicknames?"

"You called me 'Napasha'. I'm maintaining the pet name differential."

The pale face flushed. "Do you mind?"

Assuming this was in reference to the diminutive Illya had used, he said, "I love it."

"And me."

"Even more."

"Enough to help me escape?"

Napoleon snorted in amusement, realized in short order that Illya was not kidding, and shrugged. "Alright, in lieu of a ring, you can consider this my engagement gift to you. Now let's talk about what you're giving me."

Illya blinked.

"Make a dental appointment." Before Illya could pledge his assent, Napoleon qualified: "For yourself, within a month, and follow through with it."

The Russian contemplated this hard bargain presented to him. "I imagine I could get out of here on my own," he mused.

"Not if I snitch on you."

Hard stare. You wouldn't.

Grin. Oh, wouldn't I?

A deep sigh. "Alright. I accept your barbaric condition."

"Hey, I shaved, didn't I?"

Illya took a moment to register the American's deliberate misinterpretation and smiled despite himself as they set to planning their new mission.

The End

A/N: Thanks for reading! Take care, :)