these are whispering days, and the snow's coming down.  i'm starting to leap off of this world

without leaving the ground.

                   --peter himmelman, whispering days


         This kind of snow ... he hadn't seen it in years.  They were all panicking over it, those Americans.  It was an emergency, possibly the end of the world.

         To Illya, it was beautiful.  He stood perfectly still and let the snow collect on his hair, his shoulders.  It fell on his face and thickened his pale lashes.  It was cold enough that he knew it would stay, as long as he didn't blink.

         It had always snowed this way when he was a child.  Every winter, almost half the year.  If his childhood had been loud at times, or harsh, the snow had softened it.  It quieted everything.  In the middle of all that soft white, it was easy to disappear. 

         When a hand fell on his shoulder, his eyes closed and snow fell.


         Napoleon.  Illya faced him.

         "No one should be out in this," Napoleon said.  "You're making *me* be out in this.  Come inside."




         "Being accustomed to snow," Napoleon said as he ushered Illya into his apartment, "doesn't make you a polar bear."

         They hadn't had polar bears where he'd grown up, but Illya didn't say that.  He kept quiet while Napoleon took his hands and held on, trying to warm them.  Napoleon was smiling, a few delicate lines showing at the edges of his eyes. 

         Illya was very fond of those lines. 

         Napoleon released his hands and ducked into the washroom, coming out with a towel.

         "You're going to be soaked when that snow melts," he said.  "I suspect you like marshmallows in your hot chocolate.  Am I right?"

         Illya almost smiled.

         "You are a fine judge of character, Napoleon."

         Napoleon laughed and went into the kitchen, leaving Illya to rub snow from his hair.  After a few minutes he gave up, dropped the towel around his shoulders, and took a seat at the kitchen table.  Napoleon regarded him with friendly fascination.

         "What is this sympathy you have with snow, tovarish?"

         That word again.  It was as delightful as the lines around his eyes, the way he used Illya's language to reach out to him, the awkwardness of the seduction.  It came naturally now, but in the beginning it had been clumsy.  Obvious.  Illya knew what his friendship meant to Napoleon, because it was the only thing for which he had ever seen Napoleon try too hard.

         "Snow is a great insulator," he said simply. 

         Napoleon placed a mug of hot chocolate in Illya's hands and stood behind his chair.

         "That may be, but if you stay out in it long enough, you still freeze to death."

         Illya took a sip of the drink, burned his tongue, and took another.

         "If I'd known someone was going to offer me chocolate," he said, "I would have come inside some time ago."

         He ducked his head toward the steam and took a deep breath as Napoleon's hands fell to his shoulders.

         "I used a ridiculous number of marshmallows, Illyusha.  I hope you're satisfied."

         Hot chocolate and endearments.  Illya shut his eyes.  Somewhere in the building, a radio was on.  The announcer was warning people to stay indoors until the storm was over. 

         "I trust," Napoleon said, taking the towel from Illya's shoulders and drying the last of the snow from his hair, "that you heard that.  You're to stay inside until it stops snowing. "

         Illya smiled, his eyes still shut.

         "Tovarish, I will stay at least that long."