Hair Today

by Charlie Kirby

There are a lot of things I like about my job - the patients, my co-workers, and the sense of being part of something bigger, something important. Being self-insured, I don't have to argue with the idiot number crunchers upstairs too much. We have a rotating staff of doctors and specialists - that keeps them from getting too full of themselves... most of the time.

Sure there are things I don't like. I don't like seeing young men and women being wheeled in on gurneys, victims of our fellow human beings' sadistic natures. I don't like guns or knives or even really big sticks. I've seen what they can do to a human body. That part of the job stinks... really stinks.

So, I tend to focus on the good. I go to church and I pray that He keeps me from making mistakes that might jeopardize my patients. I ask Him for courage and the strength to know when it's time to step back and let someone go. Mostly I just trust Him and His judgment, not questioning why people do such terrible things to each other. It's His plan, not mine.

It is very quiet in Medical in the early morning hours. Usually I work the day shift, one of the benefits of being the head nurse. I can pick and choose my schedule, but I also don't have a husband or kids to watch after. It's just my cats and me; they don't care when I'm home, just as long as their food's on time. Cats are funny that way.

Sipping some coffee, I sat at the In-Charge desk and just sort of daydreamed. Another hour and I'd be officially at home and on vacation. I'd be dressed in my shabby pink robe, with nothing more to contemplate than what I was going to do with myself for the next few days. I'd been looking forward to this vacation the way a kid waits for the last day of school.

A whole week with nothing to do - was that heaven or what? Then the elevator doors opened and I caught my breath.

Please, please, don't let it be anything... please, I've been such a good girl. Well, I've been such an okay girl.

Then My Pretty and My Brunet got out and my breath caught again, but for an entirely different reason. As usual, Napoleon led the way, his gait sure and easy going. Everything about Napoleon was polish and refinement. He could take you out on the town and make you feel like a queen. He knew what to say; he knew what to do. Nothing threw him, or at least nothing that I knew about at any rate, and I'd seen him in just about every situation. He was laughing and joking with his partner.

Ah, My Pretty... And he was, at least to me, although I think he'd get annoyed if someone thought of him as pretty. Masculine, cool, in control, but not pretty... but he was... pretty. He was the opposite of Napoleon; his clothes apparently haphazardly thrown on, his manner tight, almost anxious. It seemed when Napoleon was at ease, Illya was on edge.

"My dear Nurse Nellie." Napoleon's voice was butter on glass and I knew he was up to something.

"My dear Mr. Solo, what can I do for you?"

"I know you are due to leave for vacation, but I wondered if I could get you to check through a file, strictly routine, just needs a tick mark, and we'll be on our way."

"Hmmm, let me see it." I held out my hand and felt my sweater shift off my shoulders. Then it was caught and replaced. I hadn't even seen him move around me to my back. Illya's hands lingered just a second and I felt a silly little hiccup in my tummy. I saw Napoleon's lips curl just the tiniest of tiniest bits and I realized his game. Illya was his distraction... that could only mean one thing.

Napoleon slipped a file out of his jacket and slid it across the desk to me. I tried to keep from smiling. His physical - of course. These two hated physicals more than anything on the planet. Because of their job and the frequency with which they both graced our presence here, they had to go through one every six months.

You'd think someone as tactile as Napoleon wouldn't mind, but he hates being touched unless he initiates it. He is okay with the cursory stuff, but our doctors are nothing if not thorough. When senior agents walk out of Medical, they have no secrets from us. For an agent, for someone used to living close to the cuff and keeping his secrets his own, this is the worst indignity to suffer through.

I could see both sides of the coin, of course. As these guys aged, we had to perform due diligence. The abuse and the demands they placed upon their bodies meant that we had to be sure they were field certified for another six months. We saw it as a preventative; they saw it as an intrusion.

Illya leaned forward, over my shoulder and I felt his hair brush my cheek. I'm not a hair kind of girl. I mean it's nice and all, but I'd never really looked at hair... well, not until a certain blond agent was admitted to my care.

Illya had been brought in, dazed, bloody, and disoriented by some sort of new drug THRUSH had test driven on him. Napoleon was beside himself. They'd only been partnered for a few months, and I think he felt he still had to watch out for Illya. Already the connection was growing between these.

We'd gotten Illya settled and checked over. He'd cut his head on something and anyone who knows anything about head injuries knows they bleed as if Vesuvius was erupting again. Copious amounts of blood, so much so that I wasn't even really sure what color hair Illya had initially.

It wasn't until we'd stabilized him, and gotten Napoleon reassured, that I started carefully washing the blood from Illya's hair. Within five minutes, I was a confirmed 'hair' girl... But it wasn't without a fight. Illya was not exactly a 'hand's on' kinda guy.

I told him I was just washing the blood from his hair and he reacted as if I told him I was pouring acid over his head. Then Napoleon put a hand on his shoulder and told him to settle down. Again, that moment of connection between the two and Illya quieted.

At first, I kept my touch light, knowing his head must hurt. His hair wasn't as long as it is now, but it was still longer than most men wore their hair. Slowly, carefully, I rinsed the blood away; I didn't dare actually shampoo it. For now, that was enough.

I could smell the shampoo Illya used, but didn't know the brand. Probably something Soviet he picked up in Little Russia. It was not overly perfumed as some of our shampoos were. It suited him, but I would not be distracted, no matter how soft and silky it felt against my cheek.

"I'm not signing off on your physical, Napoleon. You know as well as I do, these tests are for your own good."

"But I'm fine, Nellie."

Illya's breath was tickling my ear as he went through the pretense of studying the file. "He was just given a clean bill of health." He pointed to a line with a forefinger the size of a sausage and my mind went to a very naughty place for a split second.

"For an unrelated injury. This is entirely different." I managed to crawl my way back from that gutter. "It's not that I'm unsympathetic, Napoleon, it's just out of my hands. You need an attending physician to sign off as well. My voice is small in this."

"What if I got a doctor to sign off?" Napoleon's mind was already scheming.

"If you could find one that swore you were in good health, yes, I'd sign." The minute hand was straight up now. "And if you two will excuse me, I am now officially on vacation." Slowly, Illya straightened and came back around the desk. I sniggered to myself as my eyes dipped briefly to his groin. Apparently, I wasn't the only one wallowing in that gutter.

"Some people have all the luck," Napoleon said, sighing. "Let's go, partner."

Illya winked at me and I blushed, a conditioned response, and the two were gone as quickly as they'd come.... arrived... as they'd arrived...

Oh, my slippers felt just as good as I'd imagined they would. I got home, took a long, long bath with the requisite amount of bubbles and gave myself a beauty treatment of avocados, cucumbers, and buttermilk. I buffed and polished my finger and toe nails, gave my hair a hot oil treatment, I was the happiest of happy campers.

Now I was curled up on the couch, in my favorite pair of pajamas, with my favorite book, Wuthering Heights, a glass of my favorite wine, some of my favorite cheese and crackers, and luxuriated in the thought of having nothing to do. It was liberating and I knew in two or three days it would be boring, but for now, I languished and was gosh darn happy about it.

I'd just gotten to the point where Heathcliff and Catherine were heading over to torment the residents at Thrushcross Grange, when there was a gentle knock at the door.

Mom is right on time, I thought. I could never fool her. The minute she knew I had free time, there she was. I figured she was going to try to convince me that we needed to redo the nursery for my sister's impending arrival, although I'm sure the baby didn't care one way or the other if the wallpaper was new.

I opened the door and caught my breath. "Illya... Mr. Kuryakin..."

"I think Illya is fine, Nellie." He was wearing jeans and a dark shirt with the top three buttons undone. It gave just a hint of all the loveliness that hid beneath it and as he shifted, the light glinted off the chain around his neck. "We're both off work, after all."

"Would you like to come in?" I tried not to feel awkward. I mean, he'd seen me in a lot less and not that long ago. Illya and I had a sort of mutual understanding. We didn't date, per se. We just sort of had sex... it's hard to explain it. I love Illya, just like I love Napoleon. I love who they are and what they do. They give so much and ask for so very little. Napoleon, his arms were never cold or empty, but Illya... he was more selective. I don't know why, but he'd picked me as someone he felt safe with. Perhaps it was that I'd seen him at his weakest, his lowest and not thought of him as a lesser man. I loved Illya, but I didn't like him.

Heh, that doesn't make sense, does it? I would lie down beside him willingly, but he'd never put a ring on my finger; I knew that and it was okay. The way he and his partner were going, they'd never make retirement from the field and if I could offer a little comfort along the way (and get some in return), I was okay with that. My mother would have a cow and disown me. I'm sure the priest shakes his head in the Confessional, listening to my litany of sins after I've spent the night with Illya, but I can't help but think God wants it this way.

He entered, took a breath and smiled.

"Yes, I'm cooking," I said, trying not to giggle. The man and his stomach were legendary - trust him to show up when I had meatloaf in the oven. "Interested?"

"On many levels." His gaze traveled down my body and back up. "I'm here to apologize for my partner."

"What's Napoleon done now?" I walked back to the couch and settled back against the pillows.

"This morning, it wasn't fair."

"He hasn't found a doctor, has he?"

Illya smiled and shook his head. He sat down beside me and sighed. "But it was not for lack of looking." I covered my feet with a handmade quilt and offered him my glass. He shook his head. "Too early for me to start drinking."

"This is my evening." Working graveyard made you totally rethink how you looked at the world. I was just thankful that I lived in a quiet building with thick, lightproof drapes. He did take the cheese I held out to him though.

He chewed and savored the sharpness of the cheddar. Illya enjoyed food. From a simple cracker to the most expensive steak, he approached each with the same zeal and enthusiasm. I loved watching him eat, the way his jaw moved as he chewed, how just the tip of his tongue would occasionally pop out. I had up close and personal experience with that tongue - it wasn't the only thing that popped around here.

"So you just came all this way to apologize for your crummy partner?"

"Well, actually it was on my way and I needed to escape Napoleon before he remembered that I am a doctor and tried to get me to sign it and backdoor you."

"You're a doctor?"

"Quantum Mechanics."

"And you do this for a living?" I offered him another piece of cheese. His eyes twinkled for a moment, just like a rattlesnake gives his tail a warning shake, then leaned forward and ate the cheese from my fingers, sucking them into his mouth and holding them there.

Oh, oh, oh! My tummy did a happy little dance while other parts of me were running through the house ripping their clothes off and shouting praises to the Lord that I wasn't on my period.

He was watching me, gauging my reaction. He never just showed up and demanded sex, although I would hardly refuse him. We always played this little game. He'd make an offer and I had the choice of accepting or refusing. And I liked the fact that it was my decision.

My fingers slid out of his mouth and I traced his lips with them, his bottom one had this thin white line, a permanent scar from where he'd bitten it in times past, probably while being tortured. I leaned forward and he did the same, but still held back, still let me initiate our love making. I like that in a man... well, at least I liked it in this man.

I sucked his bottom lip into my mouth and ran my tongue along his bottom teeth, secretly thrilled that he'd brushed his teeth before coming over. Another little way he said he cared.

I could probably kiss Illya until the cows came home, but that wouldn't sit well with some parts of my anatomy that thought their needs and desires took precedence.

He leaned back on the couch, still frustratingly and completely dressed, while his hands were working their way underneath my pj's. They were rough with calluses which caught and tugged at my skin as they passed. I didn't care; they were strong hands, hands that could kill in more ways than one.

"Are you okay with this?" Even with me stretched out on top of him and his erection digging into my thigh, it was still my call.

"Very okay..."

And I found out Illya's hair was good for other things, playing with, holding onto when the sensations became almost more than I could bear. We were sprawled on the couch, a mess of rumpled hair and hickeys when there was a knock at my door.

"Nellie, sweetie, are you up?"

"Oh my God, it's my mother." My hands moved, one up to shield my breasts, the other my pubic area.

"I don't think she can see you through the door," Illya whispered.

"Don't be so sure," I whispered back. "Give me just a minute, Mom!" I scooped up my clothes and made a mad dash to the bedroom to throw on some pants and a shirt. She wouldn't approve, but she'd approve even less of my answering the door naked or in my pj's with a man in the apartment.

Illya was putting his own clothes to rights, tucking himself back into his pants and disposing of the used condom in the toilet.

"NELLIE, I'm not standing here all day!" I could tell she was fifteen seconds away from digging out her key and opening the door.

"I'M COMING!" I yelled back and watched Illya smirk. Truer words had never been shouted in that place before.

I was so panicked I didn't even think of a cover story for Illya. I couldn't think of anything except getting rid of my mother and having my way with the blond who was plumping the cushions on the couch and looking as if he didn't have a care in the world. Well, of course, he didn't; it wasn't HIS mother on the other side of the door.

"Mom!" I whipped open the door and tried to look calm.

"Nellie, what's going on?" She was in and on the trail like a bloodhound. Illya came out from the kitchen carrying a pan. "Who are you?"

"Mom, this is Nick, a friend of mine from work."

One of Illya's eyebrows dashed up to hide beneath his bangs, but he plastered on a smile. "I'm pleased to meet you."

"You're British?"

Illya's answer was a bland smile. "Nellie, did you want me to mash these with butter, milk, and eggs, or just butter and milk when they are ready?"

"All three please." I looked over at my mom and smiled, a look of Christian charity on my face. "Nick's a bachelor, Mom, and I cook for him so he gets a decent meal once in awhile."

"He is skin and bones. That is very kind of you, Nellie." Her hands were up and patting her hair into place.

Well, a boner at least, I thought as I nodded. "Would you like to stay too? There's enough."

"I was just dropping in to see if you wanted to come home to dinner on Sunday after church?"

"It wouldn't be a problem. I made enough to feed an army," I laughed. Mom looked to where the platter of cheese and crackers and the bottle of wine sat. "Nick, do you need more wine? Excuse me, Mom."

I grabbed the bottle and headed for the kitchen, praying she stayed put and didn't follow. Illya was peeling potatoes and putting them in the pan. He'd found a mess of salad stuff that I'd bought, determined that this time I wasn't going to gain weight on vacation. He'd managed to, in the course of a few minutes, make it look as if we'd been cooking for hours.

"Thank God you know your way around a kitchen," I whispered as I poured wine into a glass with a less-than-steady hand.

"Are you sure about broccoli?" he said loudly and I looked at him with a puzzled expression just as my mom walked in.

"Broccoli is chock full of Vitamin C and beta carotene, both of which you can use in abundance, Skinny," I said, laughing. "Tell him, Mom."

"She knows what she's talking about." Mom was still suspicious, although the scene we presented her was nothing short of Ozzie and Harriet - provided Ozzie had even known where the kitchen was.

In the end, Mom did stay and we actually had a pretty good time. Illya dazzled her with stories of growing up in London and Paris, all of which I'm sure were lies. He was funny and charming and knocked the socks off of her.

We sent her on her way finally, Illya insisting that he was quite willing to clean up the mess in the kitchen in exchange for the meal we'd eaten.

Mom patted my hand, a little happy from the wine we'd fed her, as I tucked her into a cab and gave the driver directions.

"He's a very nice young man, Nellie, but is he one of us?"

"I don't know what you mean, Mom."

"Nellie, is he a Protestant?"

"I never asked, Mom, we're just friends."

"Well, I'd hold on to that one hard and force his hand, sweetie. Men like that don't come around often."

I cheerfully waved good bye and watched until the taillights had disappeared. Mom had a way of coming back into a room and I wanted to be sure she was gone, really gone.

I walked back into my apartment, feeling a bit like a limp rag. Illya had cleared the table and was squatting in front of my record collection as I came in.

"I cannot believe we pulled that off. Thank you for being so nice to her. She thinks you're wonderful and a Protestant."

He grinned as he put an album on the turntable and turned the stereo on. "They happen in the best families."

Frankie started singing and Illya held open his arms. I remembered that first time I'd danced with him. It was to another Sinatra song, Strangers in the Night. I remembered how wonderful his arms had felt holding me and I went into them again willing.

Fly me to the moon

Let me play among the stars

Let me see what spring is like

On a-Jupiter and Mars

In other words, hold my hand

In other words, baby, kiss me

Without missing a step, Illya slipped in and caught my mouth with a kiss. We still moved, but it was more of a rocking motion.

Fill my heart with song

And let me sing for ever more

You are all I long for

All I worship and adore

In other words, please be true

In other words, I love you

I knew I'd never head those word from Illya, not and have him really mean them, mean them the way I would need the man I married to mean them. He broke off the kiss and held me even closer. I rested my head on his shoulder and realized he was singing along with Frankie.

Fill my heart with song

Let me sing for ever more

You are all I long for

All I worship and adore

In other words, please be true

In other words, in other words

He kissed me again, unable to say that last line, unable to protest his great love for me. We weren't in love, and I knew that. And I was okay with it. This was nice, I knew the rules and I didn't mind them. I knew Illya would never hold me, never stop me, and he'd never stand in my way the day I found someone else. Until then, I was more than happy just to dance with him.

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