In the darkness there was nothing but Illya's voice and the voice of the wind. The wind threaded through bare tree branches and caught on the cliffs. Sometimes it rose in a wailing howl and sometimes it softened to almost nothing. And there was Illya's voice, rising and falling too, softly making loops of song that sometimes made Napoleon's eyes drift closed but sometimes gave him an odd tingling feeling down the length of his spine. It was so strange how a tonal change could provoke physical, visceral reactions.
Illya paced from window to window, singing low and soft. He came back over to the fire and threw on another log, and between those soft, rich, incomprehensible words he blew little puffs of air into the embers, and first smoke billowed, and then flames flared. And then the song continued, soft, abstracted, as if his thoughts were far away. Listening to Illya sing in Russian was like listening to velvet. He could have lain for hours and just drifted on that song.
The wind rose again, the corner of the cabin shook. There was a scream somewhere in the gale.
'Is that a wolf?' Napoleon asked, sitting up a little from his pillows on the cot bed.
Illya turned and came back to his side, the song dying in his throat. He put his hand on Napoleon's shoulder and made him lie down again.
'I didn't know you were awake,' he said, and his voice was as rich and dark as the song, as the dark night, as the corners of the cabin that were out of reach of the firelight. 'No, the only wolves are the ones in the song.'
'Are there wolves in the song?' Napoleon asked. 'I thought it was a lullaby.'
Illya pulled up a chair and sat next to the bed. 'It is a lullaby, Napoleon. It warns little children to stay away from the edge of the bed, or a wolf might eat them.'
Napoleon regarded him. 'Humph. Very soothing people, you Russians.'
'When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall, and down will come baby, cradle and all,' Illya said in refutation. 'Somewhat like when you fell from the branches of that tree this morning like a clumsy, oversized child.'
Napoleon rubbed his hand over his nose. 'Yeah, okay. I take your point.'
'Many folk songs, lullabies included, make great use of minor tonality, Napoleon. They are comforting and pleasant, but the minor key imparts an emotional undertone to the music, a slight sense of unease. It is a very sophisticated but instinctive manipulation of the listener. The same is seen in folk tales. The happy home, the loving parent, perhaps, which is intruded upon by the sense of the unheimlich. Something is wrong, something threatens. A warm blanket is much more comforting when there is a storm outside.'
Napoleon smiled sleepily. 'You are a very clever Russian. Did you know that?'
Illya shrugged. 'I know my IQ is rather high, yes.'
'Hmm. Modest too.'
Illya regarded him then, his eyes shadowed from the fire on the other side of the room. 'What point is there in obscuring facts known to both of us? There's no one else here.'
Napoleon grunted again, shifting on the bed and pulling the covers a little closer. 'This is a hell of a way to spend Valentine's Day, isn't it? Stuck in a cabin in the Arctic winter, miles away from anything.'
'Miles away from capitalist ploys to line the pockets of the rich,' Illya replied with a slight smile. Napoleon suspected that was Illya's dream of a perfect Valentine's.
'Oh, you're so romantic,' he said witheringly.
Illya arched an eyebrow. 'There is not even one definitive Saint Valentine,' he commented. 'And the two Valentines for whom the day is named were both martyred horribly.'
'Well, then, I should think roses and chocolates would be a relief,' Napoleon said rather tetchily.
It was Illya's turn to grunt. He got up from the chair to throw more wood on the fire, and he struck a match and held it to the hissing gas ring. Blue light flared to vie with yellow, until Illya turned down the flame and put the kettle on to heat.
'We both knew we would be here for Valentine's Day,' he said, his back to Napoleon, his shrug a silhouetted movement against the firelight. 'Do you want coffee?'
'I'd love some,' Napoleon said with feeling.
As Illya busied himself pouring aromatic grounds into the coffee pot he started singing that song again, sweet and simple and filling the cabin with its softness. It was so hard not to fall asleep.
'I don't even know what time it is,' Napoleon commented as the kettle began to whistle.
Illya removed the kettle from the heat, waited just a moment for it to go off the boil, and then poured a steaming stream of water into the pot. The scent of coffee billowed into the room anew, and wisps of steam curled lazily up towards the rafters.
'It's barely five o'clock,' he said. 'You'd think it was midnight. I rather miss seeing the sun.'
Napoleon swung his legs over the side of the bed and stood before Illya could stop him.
'You shouldn't fool around with concussion,' Illya grumbled, but Napoleon ignored him and padded across the room in socked feet. He twitched the curtain away from the window and looked up into the sky.
'Look, Illya. Come look,' he said, his voice low in reverence.
Illya joined him at the window, crowding close to him. He had been close to fire and all of the front of his body was warm against Napoleon's back. Napoleon moved a little to give him more room, and said, 'Look.'
The aurora was streaming across the sky in delicate ribbons, waxing and waning, growing to monstrous proportions and then dwindling to almost nothing. The ground was white with snow and the trees were black skeletons, denuded of their cloaks of snow by the wind.
'Wow,' Illya said. Apparently it was beyond even him to be cynical in the face of such beauty.
'Kind of makes you believe in God, doesn't it?' Napoleon said. He was full of a feeling that didn't often enter him; a sense of awe that really made him feel that there was a plan to all of this, an unseen hand that had guided them both to this little cabin in the Arctic dark, and put those beautiful, ethereal curtains of light in the sky just for their eyes.
Illya snorted then. 'Napoleon, I am a physicist. I can tell you exactly what natural forces create that effect. I don't need God to believe in beauty.'
'What about that?' Napoleon asked, nodding towards the edge of forest. Three reindeer had just moved into view and were pawing at the snow.
'Ah, I also believe in Darwin. It must be a harsh life indeed for them at this time of year.' Illya put his hand warmly on Napoleon's arm and said, 'Back to bed. Doctor's orders.'
'You're a PhD, not an MD,' Napoleon grumbled, but he let Illya take him back to the bed.
'Yes, I studied considerably longer for my qualification,' Illya said rather smugly.
He settled Napoleon into bed and tucked him in more tenderly than anyone would expect from an unshaven man wearing Arctic clothing and a holstered gun. He went to find mugs and stir the coffee, softly humming again, occasionally breaking into those soft, almost slurring Russian words. Then he glanced at the door and back at Napoleon, and he picked up his thick parka from beside the fire. He shrugged it on, pushing his feet into his boots at the same time and stamping his toes right into their insulated depths.
'Hey, where're you going?' Napoleon asked.
Illya was lacing up the sturdy boots. 'I will be back in a moment.'
As he opened the door a whip of freezing wind entered the cosy space, but the fire started to push at the cold almost immediately. The door closed and Napoleon could hear Illya singing again, something hearty and rousing, deliberately loud. He suspected Illya was doing it so Napoleon wouldn't worry, but he did worry. He turned his head and listened keenly, anxious to catch every note even when they were effaced and almost erased by the wind. He wasn't sure it was entirely because he wanted to be sure Illya was okay, or if it were because listening to Illya singing in Russian was such an amazing thing.
Then Illya returned, bringing another howl of cold, stamping snow from his boots and clapping one hand against his side. Napoleon couldn't see what he had in his other hand.
'Silly Russian, going out without gloves,' he said.
Illya glanced over at him. 'I needed my fingers.'
'All the more reason to protect them from frostbite, my dear.'
Illya was over by the table again, pouring coffee, stirring in powdered milk, and doing something else that Napoleon couldn't see.
'Close your eyes,' Illya said, and Napoleon grumbled, 'It's so dark in here I hardly need to.'
Illya struck a match and lit the oil lamp and hung it from the ceiling. A warm yellow glow pushed the dark right back to the corners of the room. He turned back to Napoleon, his hair burnished gold and his cheeks pink in the new light.
'Now, close your eyes.'
So Napoleon obeyed. He lay there listening. There was a clinking and a rustle, and the solid sound of the coffee cups being put on a tray. The floorboards creaked under Illya's tread. He put the tray down on the low table by Napoleon's bed, and said, 'Now you may open them.'
So Napoleon blinked open his eyes. On the tray on the little table were two mugs of coffee steaming into the air. Next to the mugs was one of their rationed bars of chocolate, the purple wrapper and silver foil gleaming in the lamp light. Between them was a brown beer bottle stripped of its label, and in it a couple of crooked twigs adorned with the most beautiful and intricate blooms of lichen in pale greens and greys. Napoleon just stared for a moment in amazement. The lichen was one of the most beautiful things he had ever seen.
'Arctic roses,' Illya said economically. 'There's not much growing out there at this time of year. And chocolate. The packaging is not fancy but the taste is the same. It may not be a capitalist's dream, but happy Valentine's, Napoleon.'
And Napoleon grinned. Who said that his enigmatic, intelligent, incredible partner was a stranger to romance? The room felt a few degrees warmer all of a sudden, the light softer, the sound of the wind a comforting thing outside insulating walls.
'I love you too, IK,' he said.