Short Affair challenge 18 December (Short. Pink)Unlike his partner, it wasn’t in Illya to charm anyone into doing something they didn’t want to do, and he couldn’t flirt to save his life. He had all the other essential attributes of a top UNCLE agent; more than anyone else, in fact, and if anyone said, “You’re good at… or wow, you can …” he would often reply, “Of course.” There was no denying it, this sounded arrogant and was very annoying. In fact, it wasn’t arrogance (though it was annoying), he was merely agreeing because it was true. He had no false modesty, and likewise no shame when it came to things he couldn’t do. Apart from that, he was self-effacing, as properly befits a spy, and he had no nerves to speak of.
Put to the test
Put to the test
Napoleon, on the other hand, was anything but self-effacing, had considerable nerve, particularly with women; and he had enormous personal charm. People respected, even admired, Illya, but both respected and liked Napoleon – a state of affairs which suited them both, and, because they didn’t generally feel the need to compete, also made them an effective partnership.
Naturally these attributes were put to the test at different times, often to different effect.
The Strago-Diketon business, in particular, had been a test of both agents. Apart from dealing in their usual fashion with the villains, they had also both become involved with Pia Monteri – Napoleon unintentionally, with near disastrous results. He certainly hadn’t managed to charm her Nonna into dropping the shotgun. Afterwards, though he had finally persuaded – or charmed – her Mafia uncles into believing his story, the unreliability of that alliance was a definite disincentive to further that relationship. So, he had happily backed off well before the celebratory arancini della nonna, an occasion when both he and Illya had been soundly slapped for holding Pia’s hand.
The arancini may have played a part, but Illya, it seemed, had not been put off. Napoleon had been looking at him when she took his hand, and, in the light of observed phenomena, began to wonder about the captivity they had shared, locked in a cage under Strago’s island stronghold. Illya sometimes had quite a bit of luck in that respect.
Illya didn’t flirt; he yearned. He didn’t try to charm; he didn’t need to – he just had a wounded look that almost any female might long to assuage, and an appearance (however spurious) of innocence that Napoleon envied.
Pia wasn’t flirting either. She would have been mad to do so after the near miss of a shotgun wedding with Napoleon. At the time, she had been more than willing – he was very attractive, she’d even kissed him – but she hadn’t met Illya then. Since his hand had been slapped away, her glances at him were mere flickers, far short of a gaze, but her softened dark eyes and the pink flush in her cheek should have alerted her mafiosi uncles. They, however, were now preoccupied with past glories, and even her grandmother was more interested in Mr Waverly than the young agents.
So, sitting with Illya on the flight back to New York later, and just a little concerned, Napoleon said casually, “So, will you see her again?”
It drew a sharp glance and a slight intake of breath. “What makes you think I would be insane enough to try?”
“I can read the runes, Illya. You’ve looked like a whipped puppy since we left.”
There was silence for a moment. “And you?”
“She’s beautiful, but no – not for me. Don’t forget, she appropriated most of my money, and Nonna’s shotgun tactics were pretty off-putting. You’re lucky she didn’t find out about you and Pia in that cage.”
“There wasn’t much to find out.”
“She patched me up a bit, after what happened with the Diketon woman.”
Napoleon frowned. “You were pretty bad, weren’t you?”
“Not so good.”
“But she kissed you better, huh?”
“You could say that.”
“Best stay away, chum. Forget her.”
“I know.” He didn’t think memory faded that easily; it was still vivid.
He was pushed roughly into the cage, stumbled, and would have fallen but for Pia catching him in her arms. She helped him to the bunk, in pain, exhausted and limp, and in distress for the partner he had just watched being blown up in his boat. Now holding him so close, she was shocked to see the slashes and burns on Illya’s body, so horribly visible through the torn and bloodied shirt.
There was water and there was even bed linen, which Pia stripped from a pillow and used to clean off the blood and cool his burning skin. All the while, she talked to him, keeping him awake, telling him how brave, how strong he was, (of course he was … though, for once, he avoided saying it out loud), and how she thought Napoleon would be OK. It was very soothing. He relaxed against her and let her bathe his face and gently tease him. He was thinking how pretty she was and how nice it would be to be kissed by her, and was about to summon up the nerve to ask, when the arrival of the manic and murderous Miss Diketon interrupted the thought.
After she’d gone, he turned back to Pia and allowed the thought and the nerve free rein. Unchaperoned as she was, she seemed to have been thinking along the same lines, and in the darkness of the bunk their thoughts mingled unobserved.
When he was dragged away, protesting at leaving her behind, he promised to come back for her. She was left with the memory of warm lips and a close embrace, but also with time to think. He was sweet, but he wasn’t Sicilian, or even Italian, and he was on the other side of the law. And probably he would be like Napoleon, very unwilling to be taken to the altar. He would have to remain, like Napoleon, just a sweet memory. She sighed; but there were other handsome men – even Sicilians – in America.