|Illya hated solo missions. He recognized Mr. Waverly's purpose
in sending him out by himself, but thought it tended to backfire
spectacularly. Illya always emerged from such missions with the
reinforced opinion that, while he could work by himself, he would rather not.
"Is Napoleon back from his mission?" he asked Mark as they walked toward Illya's office. Whenever Mr. Waverly split up his top team, he ended up sending them both out solo. It was either that, or be driven to distraction by the agent remaining at headquarters.
The hesitancy of Mark's answer immediately put Illya on guard. "Uh... yeah... I guess you could say that." He seemed inordinately interested in his feet. Illya halted his brisk stride and grabbed Mark by the arm to reel him to a stop.
"What do you mean by that? Is he hurt?"
"No, not really."
The strained reticence wasn't at all like Mark. Illya's impatience to drop the files he was carrying in his office and hunt down Napoleon grew exponentially. He turned briefly from opening his office door at Mark's parting shot.
"He thinks he's you."
But Mark was retreating rapidly, and someone inside his office growled for him to "either enter or go away and be done with it." The voice was Napoleon's... sort of; the tone... well, it might have been Illya himself. The faint accent was a perfect imitation, as was the somewhat clipped manner of speaking Illya had adopted to minimize that lingering accent.
Apparently he hesitated too long, for he was roundly cursed for wasting valuable time. Illya blinked. He'd never suspected Napoleon knew that much idiomatic Russian.
Taking a deep breath, Illya pushed the door open and strode in. Once inside, he suddenly discovered he wasn't at all prepared for what he found.
Napoleon wore black pants and a black suitcoat over a similarly somber turtleneck -- Illya's standard attire. He wondered where Napoleon had found the clothes, for he knew for a fact their like was not to be found in the sartorial splendor of his partner's wardrobe. The unrelieved black displayed the broad shoulders and deep chest in a way Napoleon's expensive suits never had. His hair was uncharacteristically mussed, his soft brown eyes chilled. Napoleon looked solid and powerful and, in fact, somewhat frightening. Illya suddenly understood Mark's discomfort.
Napoleon had apparently decided to ignore him in favor of the paperwork he was diligently bent over, which gave Illya an opportunity to study the man. As he did so, he came to realize just how well his partner knew him. Every movement was spot on, every expression mimicked him perfectly. For all the differences in their height, build and coloring, he might as well have been watching himself. It was disconcerting to watch this Napoleon in action, for Illya knew, with a vaguely frightening sense of familiarity, that he was seeing himself as others saw him. It was both highly disturbing and oddly comforting to realize that Napoleon's knowledge of him went that deep.
"Either state your business or go away." The harsh edge to Napoleon's voice shocked Illya out of his reverie. "I have better things to do than be stared at like a side-show attraction."
"I... sorry," Illya managed after a moment, having no idea what to say. He fumbled for the door and stumbled out into the hall, belatedly remembering to pull it shut behind him when another growl from inside reached him.
Not once had Napoleon actually looked at him. Illya was almost
grateful he hadn't had to meet his partner's eyes. He really needed a
drink, but that was out of the question. Illya settled for an audience
"Ah, Mr. Kuryakin. I was expecting your visit as soon as you'd seen Mr. Solo." Waverly leaned back in his chair and began tamping tobacco into his pipe.
"What happened to Napoleon?"
The head of U.N.C.L.E. North America didn't even blink at the rudely preemptory question. "No one's really sure of that, Mr. Kuryakin. Mr. Solo spent two days in the tender care of Thrush before he could be located and released. Unfortunately, Mr. Slate discovered he was rescuing a certain 'Illya Kuryakin,' rather than the man he'd expected. Medical Section was unable to accomplish anything with him, and was finally forced to release him to me."
"They tried everything." There was a brief pause while Waverly concentrated on lighting his pipe. Illya continued to pace the room. "It seemed reasonable, after nothing seemed to bring him out of it, to simply wait until you returned."
"Why wasn't I told?" Illya slapped his hands down against the desktop in an uncharacteristic display of anger. Waverly didn't even blink.
"Your mission was too important to interrupt. Mr. Solo was in no particular danger, and I deemed it not only acceptable, but necessary, to keep his condition from you until you had satisfactorily concluded your assignment."
Illya wasn't really listening to the spiel. He'd heard it before, when other agents had demanded to know why they'd been kept in the dark about their partner's injuries, or even deaths. Thank god it wasn't Napoleon's death he was facing here. This situation, while disconcerting, was at least temporary. Illya would do whatever was necessary to bring about the return of his friend. Assuming it could be done. Assuming this wasn't permanent. Finally, his restless pacing slowed and he slumped dejectedly in a chair.
Illya speculated unwillingly on what it would be like to lose Napoleon permanently. The constant threat of his death was something to which he'd grown, if not resigned, at least accustomed. The possibility now of losing him to something Illya wasn't sure how to fight was completely unnerving. Illya cleared his suddenly tight throat, realized belatedly how nervous he sounded, and turned the noise into an amused snort. Waverly raised an eyebrow at him and he forced a shaky grin.
"I never guessed Napoleon knew me so well."
"Ah yes," Waverly nodded. "He has done a rather remarkable job."
"Yes, except... do I always seem in such a bad mood?" The question was out before Illya knew it. He fought a blush as his superior scrutinized him. Finally, Waverly released Illya from his penetrating gaze and smiled slightly.
"Not at all, Mr. Kuryakin. However, your mood does tend to suffer under the care of our Medical Section. Mr. Solo's behavior is reasonably close to what I wager yours would be if we kept you confined to headquarters for three days." He sighed, and chewed pensively on the stem of his pipe. "I dared not let him loose in his condition. Oh, he's physically healthy, and not mentally lacking in any discernible way, despite his current confusion. In short, he's precisely as capable of handling himself as you are. However, I dare not contemplate what sort of trouble he'd get himself into if he were allowed to wander about the city believing he's you."
Illya thought about that a moment, wincing at some of the scenarios that came to mind. "What reason have you given him?"
"Just that he's under observation due to the time he spent as a prisoner of Thrush. He's not at all happy about it, you can be sure. Especially when he was denied access to the laboratory."
Illya almost smiled at the thought of Napoleon even entering the labs. He sobered quickly enough upon considering the hazardous materials he regularly worked with and the probable consequences to an untrained man attempting to use them. He frowned. "Three days in headquarters and no access to the labs? No wonder he's in a bad mood. He must be going stir crazy by now."
Waverly sighed. "Decidedly. There was nothing we could do until you returned, however."
"And now that I have?"
"It will bear some thinking on." Waverly leaned back in his chair and contemplated his pipe for a minute. "Perhaps if you spent some time together...?"
"Perhaps." Illya thought about it for a moment, then nodded decisively. "It might work. Getting him out of headquarters would also be a good idea. If nothing else, it's bound to improve his mood, which couldn't hurt."
"If you take him outside these walls, you'll have to watch out for him," Waverly cautioned unnecessarily. "I will hold you completely responsible for anything that happens."
"Yes, sir." Illya rose and moved toward the door, turning back as he realized that the situation was about to get very complicated. "If he's me, then who am I supposed to be?"
"Hmm. An excellent question, Mr. Kuryakin," Waverly agreed. "Useful as you are, we hardly need two of you." He puffed meditatively on his pipe for several minutes.
"I suppose Napoleon is out?" Illya asked carefully after a bit. Waverly's lips twitched.
"Switch places? No, though the idea is intriguing, I'm afraid it's impossible. Mr. Solo has demonstrated a tendency towards high agitation, bordering on violence, at even the mention of his own name. I think it would be a bad idea to confront him with himself, as it were."
"If I'm to watch over Napoleon, I'll have to stick close. If he plays his role consistently, there aren't many people he's going to accept as a constant companion."
"What would you suggest?"
"Napoleon's familiar with my history; why not an old friend from Russia? Someone he's never met, but whose previous connection with me he's heard about?" Illya paced as he mused, his voice occasionally almost too faint to be heard. "Piotr Ivanovich."
"Piotr Ivanovich Gruschenko. A captain in the KGB. I was partnered with him before my transfer to U.N.C.L.E. I've mentioned him to Napoleon on one or two occasions."
"Won't be a problem, sir. Piotr is short, with blue eyes and light brown hair. As that's all the description of him Napoleon has ever heard, it should fit reasonably well with my own."
"And the explanation for Captain Gruschenko's presence here?"
"A short-term loan to U.N.C.L.E., perhaps? Naturally I'd want to be partnered with my old friend Illya, and we'd spend a lot of off-hours together."
"You would have to spend all your time together, if I'm to allow Mr. Solo out of here with a clear conscience. And I daresay he will become suspicious of being partnered with no assignment."
"Give us an assignment, then. Something harmless, to keep him busy and working with me."
Waverly nodded after a moment's consideration. "I have just the thing." Pressing the intercom to his secretary, he ordered shortly, "Bring me the file on the Heatherton case." He flipped the switch to another channel and waited until Napoleon answered. Illya found it very disconcerting to hear his own name spoken shortly in response to the summons -- like finding himself, suddenly and against all the laws of physics, in two places at the same time. "Mr. Kuryakin, report to my office at once."
"How do you intend to explain your earlier visit to your... er, his office?" Waverly asked as they waited for Napoleon to arrive.
"I don't think there'll be any need, sir. He barely glanced at me, and probably wouldn't allow himself to recognize me now. It makes a certain sort of logic -- he could hardly keep up the illusion if he allowed himself to see me clearly, any more than I could remain unperturbed if I suddenly ran into my doppelganger. He won't really see me until you introduce us, and then he'll just see Piotr."
They were interrupted by the soft hiss of the door. Illya hadn't realized how tense he was until he felt the distinct warmth of relief at seeing Waverly's secretary, rather than Napoleon, enter the office.
The reprieve was short-lived, however. Napoleon walked in as the secretary left. His complete indifference to the beautiful woman drove home the situation as nothing else had.
"Sir?" Napoleon seemed not to have noticed anyone else in the room.
"Ah, Mr. Kuryakin." Waverly glanced up from the file he was perusing, nothing in his look or manner suggesting this was different from any other mission briefing. Illya was oddly startled to hear his name directed at Napoleon, though he shouldn't have been. He forcibly composed himself as Waverly continued. "I believe you know Captain Gruschenko?"
Recognizing a cue when he heard one, Illya stepped forward. "Illya Nicolaievich!" He took a startled-looking Napoleon by the shoulders and kissed him on both cheeks. "Mnogo lyet."
"Speak English, Piotr Ivanovich," Napoleon reproved, not unkindly. "You're in America."
Not thrown by the response, for it was precisely what he'd have said himself, Illya repeated his greeting in English. "It's been a long time, Illya Nicolaievich." Under the circumstances, it was a challenge not to stumble over his own name.
"Too long," Napoleon agreed with a faint smile. "I thought you were still KGB."
"I am. Now on loan, as it were." He smiled broadly. Piotr had never been as reserved as Illya. That would help here -- allow him to draw Napoleon out of his acquired persona. But it was an effort to get into the part.
"Ahm," Waverly interrupted. "Be that as it may. I do have a job for you gentlemen."
"Both of us?" Napoleon covered his surprise well.
"Captain Gruschenko is, as he said, on loan from the KGB to assist us with a small matter." He spun the table about, swinging the file around in front of Napoleon, who picked it up and glanced at him quizzically. "We know Dr. Michael Heatherton has been selling American nuclear secrets to the Russians for some months now." He glanced at Illya, who had the presence of mind to nod. "That's, quite frankly, not a matter for U.N.C.L.E. However, we've recently received intelligence to suggest that the good doctor has begun selling those same secrets to Thrush. That is our business." He paused to glare at his pipe, which had expired quietly from neglect while he spoke. Setting the offending item aside, Mr. Waverly clasped his hands together on the table and continued. "I want you to watch Dr. Heatherton. The surveillance is all set up; we're pulling the current agents off the assignment because they can't distinguish between Russian and Thrush buyers. You, Mr. Kuryakin, should be able to identify the latter, and Captain Gruschenko has been called in to spot the former. The surveillance address is in the file. Any questions? Good. You may go," Waverly dismissed them efficiently, sparing an extra moment's sharp-eyed glance at Illya before the two men walked out.
"Where can we talk?" Illya asked quietly as the door to Waverly's office slid shut behind them.
"My office," Napoleon responded absently, heading for Illya's small cubbyhole.
"No." Illya grabbed him by the arm. "Where can we talk?"
"This is U.N.C.L.E.," Napoleon responded with some asperity, "not KGB headquarters. We don't bug agents' offices."
"Be that as it may, moy droog, perhaps we could get something to eat?" Piotr would have probably called him tovarisch, given the prickly tone of the conversation. A meaningless word -- all Russians are "comrades" under communism. A true friend was something else entirely, a reminder which might help him get under Napoleon's guard.
Napoleon sighed a little in apparent exasperation, then smiled slightly. "It is
good to see you, Piotr Ivanovich." He touched Illya's arm lightly,
steering him toward the Del Floria's exit. Illya was careful to let his
steps drag slightly, as if he didn't know the way out.
The near-silent trip to Veselka's, at 9th and 2nd, at least gave Illya time to think. He warmly cursed Waverly for not allowing more time to work this out before bringing Napoleon in. The Heatherton case seemed straightforward -- exactly as Waverly had described it, except the part about U.N.C.L.E. not recognizing the Russian agents in question.
However, KGB was hardly likely to just offer that information and the use of an agent to U.N.C.L.E. -- cooperation only went so far. A minor hole Waverly had left to Illya to fill, once Napoleon got around to asking.
Surveillance was certainly a low-key, only mildly dangerous occupation, which ought to afford abundant time to work on Napoleon. But surveillance of a man selling nuclear destruction to Thrush was hardly "harmless." Illya sighed. Well, knowing Mr. Waverly, he had more than one team on this, so any foul-ups wouldn't prove completely disastrous.
In truth, Illya was more concerned about how he was going to get his partner back. So far, every reaction had been perfect. Illya wasn't sure why he was looking for mistakes in the facade. He somehow doubted that shouting "aha, gotcha!" was likely to break the spell and get Napoleon back.
Illya had never taken Napoleon to Veselka's before -- his partner tended toward more continental fare and teasingly turned his nose up at the ethnic Ukranian dishes served at the restarant. This was quite a change. He watched Napoleon wash his piroghi down with kvas with evident relish and felt his spirits sink a little more. Illya loved the fermented drink of rye bread, sugar and mint; Napoleon couldn't even stand the thought. If Napoleon could take the persona that far, how in the world was Illya going to carry this off?
Napoleon glanced up from the meal he was eating with uncharacteristic zeal. "You don't look very happy, Piotr," he decreed, sitting back and picking up the kvas again.
"You know me," Illya respond with a forced grin, "I'd rather be in Paris."
A blank expression passed fleetingly over Napoleon's face. The first crack. It disappeared rapidly, however. "Yes," he agreed vaguely, moving quickly on to another topic. "I'm surprised they let you come at all."
"So was I." Here it came: that answer Waverly left for Illya to invent. "I believe your Mr. Waverly called in some favors."
"Hm." Napoleon sipped at his drink. "He might have saved himself the trouble. I--"
"Wouldn't recognize the new faces," Illya broke in. Napoleon shot him a disgruntled glare, to which he smiled.
"I'd forgotten how well we worked together," Napoleon allowed after a moment.
"Quite." Illya let his smile broaden. It faded instantly once Napoleon returned to his food.
Truthfully, he and Gruschenko hadn't been all that effective together, which was the only reason their KGB masters had let Illya go to U.N.C.L.E. They had been good friends -- surprisingly so, given the disparities in their personalities. Gruschenko was gregarious and outgoing, with a wicked sense of humor. Much like Napoleon himself, in fact. Yet somehow he, like Napoleon, had managed to make friends with a shy, bookish Russian scholar who'd found himself bewilderingly in the middle of a spy game which suited him with almost frightening perfection. But Illya had never felt the connection with Piotr that he did with Napoleon.
No, the synchronicity Napoleon felt was the one Illya had shared only with him. And would share again, Illya vowed silently.
They went from the restaurant straight to the surveillance set-up. The hotel was fancy -- a distinct step above the sort of place U.N.C.L.E. agents were usually expected to stay while on missions. Much as Mr. Waverly hated penny-pinching, there were always budget considerations. In this case, however, the expensive hotel was necessary.
According to the file, which Napoleon had read aloud on the ride over, Dr. Heatherton was visiting New York on an extended research trip. He'd opted to live in a luxurious hotel, rather than set up housekeeping for himself. Whatever he was being paid for his knowledge, it was clearly generous.
The surveillance equipment was top of the line, naturally. No peering through windows with binoculars. No need, even, for directional microphones. With some unknowing help from hotel housekeeping, U.N.C.L.E. had planted a whole slew of microphones in the doctor's room.
Virtually undetectable to all current Russian and Thrush technology, the miniature surveillance equipment only had one drawback: the receivers had to be within a hundred feet. Thus, the surveillance set-up was one floor down from the good doctor's room.
The hotel room was enormous. Lavish, almost to the point of decadence, and well-appointed. In addition to two double beds, the room contained a couch, chairs, coffee table and lamp arranged into a kind of sitting-area, the ubiquitous desk and TV. Mr. Waverly had even authorized the use of room service.
Illya flipped open the suitcase which had been left for him on one of the double beds. Waverly had been prompt in supplying clothing for them both. He watched Napoleon pick up the bag which Illya kept in his locker in headquarters in case of emergency and drop it negligently on the floor beside the bed before sprawling across the bedspread. He didn't dare let his eyes linger on Napoleon, lying there so casually with his hands behind his head as he stared at the ceiling.
Illya returned his attention to the suitcase. Contrary to his usual habit, which was precisely what Napoleon had just done, he unpacked the bag. If only to find out what he had. Two suits -- one gray, one brown -- neither as well-tailored as Napoleon's usual, but better than his own. One light blue shirt, one white, and a selection of colorful ties. Plus the usual underwear and toiletries. Waverly had done well. In fact, had he but known it, he'd touched remarkably accurately on the real Piotr Ivanovich's tastes. Not that it mattered -- all that was needed was clothing which in no way resembled that in Napoleon's own overnight bag. Or rather, Illya's.
It occurred to Illya that Waverly must have been the one who supplied Napoleon with "appropriate" attire. Though they were almost of a height, very few of Illya's clothes would have comfortably fit Napoleon. The style was Illya's, as was the bag, but the clothes had been replaced with Napoleon in mind.
Illya stowed his borrowed shaving kit in the bathroom, then shut the door behind him. He silently closed the lid and sat on the stool, head in hands, fingers burrowing restlessly through his hair.
This was getting confusing. If he didn't watch it, pretty soon he wouldn't even know who he was, and that wouldn't do Napoleon any good.
It would probably be easier, in some senses, if he tried to think of himself as Piotr Ivanovich Gruschenko. That was how he usually got into his disguises. But without makeup it felt like a farce, and if he was Piotr, he'd have to think of Napoleon as Illya.
Illya sighed explosively.
Napoleon was Illya. Illya was Piotr. Only Napoleon had never met Piotr, so Illya didn't have to try for accuracy. All he had to do was be not-Illya. Except, since Napoleon had never met Piotr, he didn't know how Illya interacted with Piotr. Which made his Illya impersonation less accurate than usual. So Illya wasn't quite Piotr, and Napoleon wasn't quite Illya, and nobody was Napoleon, and Illya was starting to feel like that unfortunate girl in Carroll's book. Except this hotel, no matter how nice, was no Wonderland.
Illya rubbed his hands roughly over his face, told himself to
get a grip, and stood. He used the facilities, flushed, washed his
hands, took a deep breath, and went back out.
Afternoon passed into evening. Heatherton hadn't put in an appearance yet -- no doubt still out doing whatever he did when not selling out his country. The audio was on the speaker, to alert them when there was something to hear.
Meanwhile, Napoleon sprawled on the couch, reading a book he'd fished out of his bag. Illya couldn't remember when he'd stashed it there. Quantum mechanics was definitely out of Napoleon's league, but Illya had given up expecting him to drop the pretense hours ago. Perhaps it was no pretense. Napoleon was very bright -- he simply wasn't interested in physics. As Illya, however, he was -- and it wasn't inconceivable that he was making some sense of the text. It was, however, disturbing.
At first, Illya read the file on Napoleon's previous mission, which Waverly had had the foresight to slip into his luggage. He'd also had the foresight to have it printed in Russian on unmarked paper, so as to avoid making Napoleon suspicious. He spent the rest of the afternoon staring blankly at the television, seeing none of it while he tried to make sense of what he'd read.
Napoleon's mission had been simple -- hardly, in truth, much more than a courier assignment. The only reason the top agent had been brought in was that the "item" to be delivered was a person, and the young lady in question claimed not to trust anyone but Napoleon. A rat should have been smelled, but there'd been no reason to suspect foul play from that source. They all had their reasons for believing it was on the up and up; Illya just hoped Napoleon's was more pertinent than his appreciation for the young lady in question.
Napoleon failed to make his fourth check in and, since Illya was out of the country on a mission, Mark had been sent after him. Two days later, he'd returned to headquarters with "Illya Kuryakin" and no one knew why. Or what Thrush had wanted, for they'd clearly wanted something; Napoleon had borne the unmistakable signs of low-level Thrush interrogation: his body bruised and his blood swimming in a cocktail of chemicals designed to make him more accommodating.
It was, to put it bluntly, infuriating.
"Hungry?" Napoleon's voice pulled him out of introspection. He had the phone in his hand, ready to call room service. Illya switched off the TV and headed for the bathroom.
"Yeah. Order me something; I'm going to take a shower."
"What?" Napoleon's query stopped him as he reached the door. Illya closed his eyes tightly a moment, then swiveled around.
"Ah... steak, salad, coffee, something chocolate for dessert."
Napoleon nodded and Illya quickly put a locked door between them. He took a deep breath in the solitude of the bathroom and quelled the tiny involuntary tremor of his hands. It had been years since he'd had to tell Napoleon what to order for him.
Illya turned on the taps in the bath, using the noise for cover as he activated his communicator.
"Yes, Mr. Kuryakin," Mr. Waverly's gruff voice responded almost immediately, "how are things going?"
"Nowhere yet, sir," Illya admitted.
"That's as to be expected. What can I do for you?"
"I was thinking... if we knew what Thrush wanted--"
"We might find out what was done to Mr. Solo," Waverly finished for him. "We're ahead of you there, Mr. Kuryakin. I already sent Mark Slate and April Dancer out to see what they could dig up. Anything else?"
"Ah... no, sir. I'm switching my communicator to transmitting only."
"Good idea. It might be... hard to explain to Mr. Solo. I expect you to check in at this time every evening."
"Very well. Good luck, Mr. Kuryakin."
The connection went dead and Illya returned the pen to his
pocket. "I'm afraid we're going to need it," he murmured under the
Dinner had already arrived by the time Illya finished his shower. He changed quickly into the gray trousers and blue shirt. The shower provided an excellent excuse for changing out of his black suit and tie. Illya rolled his sleeves up to his elbows and joined Napoleon in the room's small sitting area, where he'd spread dinner out on the coffee table.
Dinner was definitely not a success. In fact, only Napoleon's stubborn obliviousness kept it from being an unqualified disaster. Illya was too busy thinking up leading questions to focus on his food, and Napoleon was too focused on his food to bother giving more than half an answer to any question.
Making matters worse, Napoleon had ordered nearly twice as much food as Illya and proceeded to inhale every bite. And that, Illya thought with some pique, was definitely an exaggeration. He never ate so much at one sitting.
To top it all off, Heatherton returned just as Illya finally
got to his dessert, and he never did find out if the chocolate mousse
lived up to its reputation.
Surveillance was the most boring job an agent could be stuck with.
Certainly, by the time they'd listened to Heatherton bumble about the hotel room, order room service, watch the evening news, shower, and eventually turn in for the night, Illya was convinced that the only positive to the situation was the posh surroundings. They discovered three totally useless pieces of information: Heatherton's diet was atrocious, he sang off-key in the shower, and talked incessantly to himself. A pity he never said anything interesting.
After twenty minutes of continuous snores emanating from the speakers, Napoleon and Illya decided to get a little sleep themselves. Napoleon switched on the device which would sound an alarm if Heatherton's phone rang, or the hotel door was opened, and cut off the continuous snoring.
Clad in a pair of unfamiliar white pajamas, Illya slid between the sheets and watched Napoleon finish preparing for bed. His partner's light blue pajamas weren't an identical match to the pair currently at home in Illya's dresser, but they were close. He looked cute.
The lights went out and Illya composed himself for sleep,
knowing he hadn't put a single dent in his partner's clever unconscious
They were awake the next morning before Heatherton roused. Illya ordered breakfast from room service while Napoleon was in the shower, and had to call back and change the order a couple of minutes later when he realized he'd ordered Napoleon's favorites. He somehow doubted that was a good omen for the day.
The mission proceeded well. Soon after listening to Heatherton noisily consume his breakfast, they overheard a suspicious phone call. Once it was concluded, Illya played back the tape, though his conclusions were the same the second time through. The caller had done a very poor job of disguising his accent and had, in addition, a rather distinctive lisp. Illya jotted down the time of the call, and his educated guess about the man's identity, in the log. If it was KGB, they weren't being very careful. But then again, they weren't always.
It wasn't his problem to worry about, however. Or his place to draw the conclusions. That was what made this sort of surveillance the best cover for Illya's real endeavor (and what made it so boring). They were only there to listen in, to make note of their observations and to let a walking team know if it sounded like an assignation or drop was planned. Everything was recorded, so others could draw their own conclusions. Their job was to sit in a hotel room until told otherwise, and listen in on another man's life.
It was a pity Illya's real mission was proving such a failure.
Napoleon wouldn't talk about Illya's childhood. He wouldn't reminisce about when Illya and Piotr had been partners. He wouldn't be drawn out in any way. He wasn't angry, or threatened by the attempt, he simply said he didn't want to talk, his response no more nor less than Illya's usual response to such personal questions.
If Napoleon was aware of the gaps in his memory as "Illya," he didn't show it. Most likely, his mind simply glossed them over in self-defense. Just as it had certainly prevented him from seeing his own brown-haired, brown-eyed reflection in the mirror that morning when he shaved.
If the consequences of Napoleon's condition weren't so damned terrifying, Illya would have been intrigued by the ingenuity of the human mind.
Spending time with Napoleon under the circumstances was certainly different. It was actually quite pleasant not to have to argue with him over whose turn it was on the headphones. And they chatted for a bit in Russian, making Illya mildly homesick and leading him to wonder why he and Napoleon never talked in his native tongue. Perhaps, he thought sadly, because he'd never demonstrated any desire to do so, always preferring to practice his English. He even spent a half-hour in a highly enjoyable discussion of theoretical physics before he remembered Napoleon shouldn't have understood a word.
On the downside, those two brief conversations were the only times he got more than a single sentence at a time out of Napoleon all day. It was horribly exhausting to be the gregarious one -- to start every conversation and try to keep it alive, while Napoleon tried to kill it. And invariably succeeded, too. It was upsetting to feel snubbed, and by himself no less. He knew he'd long since ceased being so uncommunicative with Napoleon. And that Napoleon had it almost right -- with every man except Gruschenko, and Solo himself, Illya would be just that disinclined to talk. It wasn't Napoleon's fault he had that part wrong -- Illya'd never said much about his partnership with Piotr.
All that aside, by the time dinner rolled around again, Illya hadn't achieved much over the day before.
Once again, they ordered room service and ate before Dr. Heatherton returned to the room he had left late that morning. It wasn't until, unfortunately, the man had arrived that Illya thought of a new tack to try.
Heatherton had just ordered room service and turned on the news, so it was safe enough to talk, there being little to incite interest on the headphones.
"You haven't said, Illya;" he'd never get used to addressing Napoleon by that name, "how do you like U.N.C.L.E.?"
"No, I haven't," Napoleon replied, pushing one of the earphones off his ear so he could hear Illya at the same time as Heatherton. "Why are you asking?"
Illya shrugged casually. "Curiosity. I simply want to know if my old partner is enjoying his new life."
"Yes," Napoleon replied simply. "In U.N.C.L.E., I'm doing something to improve the world, not just my own small part of it." The answer wasn't a surprise: it was nearly word for word the one Illya had given Napoleon a few years ago in response to the same question.
"Good. And your partner?" Illya tried not to hold his breath, but he felt light-headed anyway.
"Do you like your partner?"
A pause. "Yes."
"I haven't met him yet."
A longer pause. "No."
"What was his name again?" Illya waited while Napoleon's full attention seemed consumed by the equipment. When it became apparent that no answer was forthcoming, he prompted Napoleon again. "His name?"
"I don't have time to talk right now." Napoleon flipped the headphones back on and, when Illya tried to get his attention again, snapped, "We have a job to do."
Which effectively put paid to that attempt as well. Illya retreated to the bathroom to report to Mr. Waverly. Unfortunately, Mark and April hadn't uncovered anything yet, and Waverly had no better idea how to proceed than Illya.
He signed off, then spent a long time under a hot shower,
trying to think. By the time he emerged, the only conclusion he'd
reached was that he had to figure something out soon if he didn't want
to spend the rest of his life as Piotr Ivanovich Gruschenko.
The next day followed, up to a point, the same pattern as the first. Heatherton led an extremely dull life. However, he did receive two more odd phone calls before leaving for work. Illya logged them and forgot about them, as well as the man himself. There were other agents listening in at Heatherton's office and dogging his footsteps throughout the day. Illya and Napoleon had nothing more to do during the day than wait.
And play Illya's version of Twenty Questions.
He returned again and again to the partner question, intermixing it with other innocuous conversational gambits. In response, Napoleon seemed to grow more communicative... on any subject but his partner. There, he clammed up entirely.
Remembering Waverly's comment that Napoleon got violently agitated at the sound of his own name, Illya refrained from using it himself, pretending that he didn't know it. But he kept trying to make Napoleon say it. Without success.
"How long have you been partners?" Illya picked at his lunch, finding it hard to focus on the meal.
"Five years." Napoleon took a healthy bite of his sandwich.
"What was his name again? He's American, right?"
"What's he like?"
"I've forgotten: were you always this curious?"
"Right. Why do you want to know?"
Illya sighed. It was like pulling teeth. "In our line of work, your partner's more important than your God. Closer than your brother, wife, or mother. We were partners for two years, Illya. I just want to know what your new partner is like. To make sure you're safe."
Napoleon took another bite and chewed thoughtfully. "Very American," he decided after a moment. "Brash. Loud. Sometimes thoughtless. But good. Very good at his job."
"It doesn't sound as if you like him very much."
"He can be arrogant, but he has a right to be. As I said: he's good."
"I'm glad to hear the man's a good agent," Illya responded, a bit impatiently. How could he jog Napoleon's memory if all he was prepared to talk about was how good he was on the job? "But I asked you what he was like, and whether or not you liked him."
Napoleon cocked his head at an angle and studied Illya intently for a moment. Finally, he looked away. "Yes," he said grudgingly, "I like him. He's cocky, stubborn, aggressive, and opinionated. He can have any woman he wants, and often does... frequently at the worst possible time for the mission. He also has the luck of the devil, and more charm than any man should. And he knows it." He stopped, and considered Illya again.
"But there's no better partner," Napoleon continued after a moment. "He's good at his job, and he's good at keeping me safe." He finished off his sandwich, washing it down with the rest of his coffee. "He's a good friend," he concluded, as undisturbed by the apparent contradiction in his description as Illya would have been.
Illya was silent as he considered what this view of Napoleon through Illya's eyes meant, coming from Napoleon himself. By and large, he used the same terms Illya would have used to describe his partner. But he seemed far less understanding of his faults. Illya hadn't thought Napoleon really took his occasional jibe to heart, and he certainly hadn't guessed that Napoleon believed he was so disapproving.
It was definitely something to take up with him later. Assuming, of course, that he could get Napoleon back to take it up with.
The point at which the pattern of the previous day was broken was just after dinner, and had nothing whatsoever to do with Heatherton. When Illya called Waverly with the report of his progress, or rather lack thereof, he found that Waverly had a report of his own to make.
"Excuse me, sir, could you repeat that?" The running bath provided excellent cover, but it did make it hard to hear over the tiny communicator.
"Slate and Dancer were able to contact one of our moles in Thrush. The man's too low-placed to know exactly what their plans are, but he did know that Thrush was planning to raid the Arctic installation."
"Ridiculous," Illya snapped automatically before remembering to whom he was talking. "Sorry, sir. But that installation is shielded. In order to get in, they'd have to have the..."
"Codes," Mr. Waverly finished when Illya broke off. "Which Mr. Solo sets the first day of every month. Just before he disappeared."
"Why didn't anyone think of that before?" Illya asked himself, not aware he'd spoken aloud until Waverly answered.
"We did. We checked everything Mr. Solo had recently been involved in and changed all the codes as soon as his visit with Thrush was known. It is standard procedure." Mr. Waverly's sigh was audible over the communicator. "However, there was no way of telling which of his recent activities was their focus, and none of the old codes have been used anywhere."
"Which means he didn't talk."
"Unlikely," Waverly decreed with flat authority. "We must be realistic about this, Mr. Kuryakin. The Medical Section detected a chemical cocktail of truth serums in Mr. Solo's bloodstream, several of which are so new you agents aren't protected against them."
"But if the information he had hasn't been used, the only logical conclusion is that they didn't get it."
"That is one possibility, yes," Waverly conceded the point. "How that helps you, however..."
"It does present possibilities," Illya assured him before signing off. He returned his communicator to his pocket, then absently turned off the taps and returned to the bedroom, not caring that his dry hair would give the lie to his supposed shower.
"Illya?" he called, still finding it odd. Napoleon obligingly removed the headphones and turned toward him. "What do you know about the Arctic installation?"
The response was instantaneous, and would have been gratifying if it weren't so disturbing.
Napoleon knocked over his chair in his haste to stand, and scuttled quickly away until his back came up hard against the wall. His eyes were completely blank and Russian phrases spilled over and over from his lips.
"Ya Kuryakin Illya Nicolaievich. Ya rodilsya v Kieve v 1934om gody. Ya Kuryakin Illya Nicolaievich. Ya rodilsya v Kieve v 1934om gody."
My name is Illya Nicolaievich Kuryakin. I was born in Kiev in 1934.
My name is Illya Nicolaievich Kuryakin. I was born in Kiev in 1934.
My name is Illya Nicolaievich Kuryakin...
Illya clasped his hands tightly together in his lap, and squeezed them between his knees before he could wrap them around the man's throat. He knew Dr. Edmund Thompson was the head of Psych Section and without a doubt the best psychologist U.N.C.L.E. had, but if he didn't stop being fascinated by the situation and do something about it, Illya wouldn't answer for his actions.
They were back at headquarters. Napoleon was in Medical, being told he'd passed out (which would certainly have irritated Illya and was no doubt having a similar effect on his partner), since he had no recollection of the incident. Another team of agents had been assigned to Heatherton and they were welcome to him. As far as Illya could ascertain, the man was only selling secrets to the Russians. Which was the Americans' problem, not U.N.C.L.E.'s. No doubt Waverly would allow that fact to leak to the Americans in short order, just as he would tell the Soviets if they'd stumbled across a Russian engaging in similar behavior. Illya really didn't care anymore, assuming he ever had.
Waverly quelled Illya's murderous response with a look, and turned his attention to Dr. Thompson. "If you wouldn't mind explaining, doctor?"
The man looked vaguely surprised, though whether it was at someone needing an explanation or the fact that someone else was in the room was difficult to tell. He blinked. "Certainly. Thrush had Mr. Solo heavily doped with hypnotics, drugs which make the mind more open to suggestion," he clarified pedantically and unnecessarily. "Most truth serums contain hypnotics of one sort or another; they are designed to have that general effect, after all. What Mr. Solo did was merely make use of the drugs in his system."
"How, exactly?" Waverly prompted.
"Apparently, he repeated to himself that he was Mr. Kuryakin until he believed it. In fact, Mr. Solo managed to convince himself he was Mr. Kuryakin so effectively, Thrush could do nothing to bring him out of it."
"Neither could you," Illya pointed out, perhaps a little maliciously.
"Yes, well, be that as it may..." Thompson frowned. "I can't quite understand why he did it -- one U.N.C.L.E. agent is as good as another to Thrush, isn't he?"
"Not when one U.N.C.L.E. agent knows the codes Thrush wanted, and another doesn't," Waverly replied succinctly.
"At this point," Illya broke in, "we should be more concerned with how to bring him out of it. Clearly it's not as simple as making him feel safely out of Thrush's hands, or he'd have already snapped out of it."
"Very perceptive, Mr. Kuryakin." Doctor Thompson conceded grudgingly. "Something more complex is going to have to happen here, if we want our Mr. Solo back."
"What did you have in mind?" Illya prompted irritably, impatient with the man's pedantic plodding. He bit back the desire to point out that, if Napoleon belonged to anyone, it was him.
"Well, there is one possibility, though it's impossible to tell whether it has any chance of success." Illya merely glared at the man until he proceeded. "Napoleon believes quite firmly that he's you, and he's done a remarkable job of playing the role. So far, he hasn't made any major errors, or been allowed into a situation where his own lack of certain skills would have caused him difficulty."
"Like the lab."
"Precisely. Up until now, nothing has happened to make him question himself. He was even able to reason away your own introduction onto the scene, with a little help from you and Mr. Waverly. However, there must be some areas of your life with which Mr. Solo is not familiar."
"What are you suggesting?" Illya asked icily. "That we push Napoleon into a situation he can't survive on his knowledge of me?"
"Nothing so dramatic. Simply introduce Napoleon to some aspect
of your life previously unknown to him. His unfamiliarity with the
situation and inability to cope with it may push him out of the persona
Illya was perfectly aware of how much of a mystery he appeared to the world at large. It neither pleased nor bothered him. He didn't actively cultivate the impression; he was merely uncomfortable sharing much of himself with people.
If there was only one person to whom he was not a complete mystery, it was Napoleon Solo. During the course of their partnership, countless imprisonments and innumerable stakeouts, he and Napoleon had talked about nearly everything. They knew each other's pasts, likes, dislikes, fears, dreams, and opinions on all manner of topics.
Illya supposed he could quiz the man on the minute particulars of his history; there were many small incidents he could bring to mind which had not been worthy of discussion. But he doubted that would do any good. Not being able to recall eminently forgettable moments from Illya's childhood wouldn't disturb Napoleon enough to make him abandon his cover. If, that was, he could be brought to believe Illya when he claimed to have knowledge of them. No, it had to be something big. Something to which Napoleon would be forced to respond. It had to be the one thing Illya had never let Napoleon discover about him for fear it would destroy partnership and friendship alike.
There was only one thing Illya had never told Napoleon. Only one thing that really mattered anyway.
Bisexuality came naturally to Illya. He was not ashamed or afraid of his sexual desires, merely inclined toward caution and privacy when acting upon them. Neither had Napoleon ever evinced a prejudice against homosexuality. There seemed no reason to keep his sexuality a secret from his partner.
No reason at all, except he was in love with him. A fact Illya knew Solo would guess, or at least suspect, once the truth of his sexuality was revealed, because Napoleon had a true genius for ferreting out the tender feelings of others. Even for a man as unprejudiced as Napoleon, there was a huge difference between knowing your friend was queer and knowing he was in love with you. The one could be more or less comfortably rationalized; the other was a direct threat. So long as Napoleon thought him straight, he was safe. Their partnership was safe. The truth was too dangerous by far to risk. Better to have what he did of Napoleon, for his friendship was a very rare and precious thing, than to lose it by revealing too much.
Now, to get Napoleon back for U.N.C.L.E., he would have to risk losing him for himself.
Illya took Napoleon home, returning to his own apartment for the first time since he'd fallen down this particular rabbit hole. It was more for his own comfort than Napoleon's, actually, although he supposed it might help to be in a familiar atmosphere. It certainly couldn't hurt.
Actually, since he was still playing Piotr Ivanovich, he let Napoleon take him home. It hadn't taken too much fast talking. Napoleon was eager to get home for the first time in a week, and Medical had, on Waverly's orders, forbidden him to go home alone. Letting Illya accompany him was clearly the lesser of evils.
By that point, it didn't surprise Illya in the least that Napoleon knew his way around the apartment very effectively indeed. So he just sat back and let Napoleon make him a guest in his own home.
It had been late by the time Illya was able to arrange Napoleon's release. They sat on the couch in his living room drinking chilled vodka until even later. Finally, knowing that if he had any more dutch courage, he wouldn't be able to carry out his plan, Illya forced himself to act.
"Ah, Illya Nicolaievich," he sighed, throwing his arm over Napoleon's shoulder, "it is good to see you again. And even better to finally be alone."
Surprised, Napoleon looked sidelong at him, but he continued before Napoleon could say anything to derail the scene.
"No more of that ridiculous Dr. Heatherton and that inane mission. Just you and me." He was laying it on thick -- the real Piotr Ivanovich would be appalled -- but it gave him the courage somehow to press his lips to Napoleon's.
For a startled moment, he was sure Napoleon kissed him back. Before he could be certain, however, he was pushed roughly away.
"What the hell was that?" Ah, a touch of the real Napoleon -- Illya rarely used that word, even under difficult circumstances. It was easier to swear in Russian.
"A kiss, Illya. Surely you haven't forgotten those." Illya feigned shocked disappointment. "Surely you haven't forgotten me? Forgotten Piotr Ivanovich... the afternoons we spent in Paris...?"
"We had... sex?" Napoleon stumbled over the words.
"Illya Nicolaievich, I'm surprised at you! We were lovers, though obviously it meant more to me than you, for I have not forgotten a moment of the time we spent together." If Napoleon were himself, he'd surely have smelled a rat by now. His experienced partner would disdain to use such obvious blandishments.
But he wasn't himself, and he wasn't completely "Illya" anymore either. Thrown very much off-balance, he didn't seem to know what to do. Or who to be.
A few more words, Illya thought, a few kisses. It wouldn't take more than that and Napoleon would return to himself. And if a certain Russian was storing every touch in his memory against later drought, well, who could blame him?
"Lovers... Piotr, I..."
"Never mind," Illya urged, "I know to you the past is past. Let's make the most of the present. They're sending me home tomorrow."
Illya kissed Napoleon again, harder. His tongue parted his partner's lips and dove inside, exultant at being unopposed. At first, Napoleon merely allowed the kiss. Then, with a sudden snap, he began participating. Surprised, Illya gasped, giving Napoleon full access.
Just one more minute before Napoleon put a stop to it all.
Just one more...
Illya really wasn't certain how they made it down the hall. He supposed, once he found himself in the bedroom, that he must have been guiding, but he didn't remember. It was hard to think of anything when his bare chest brushed Napoleon's. Even harder to think of why it shouldn't be happening.
He pushed Napoleon down on the bed and crawled on top of him to make a feast of his nipples. He didn't stop until the little brown nubs were tight and hard, and Napoleon writhed under him.
It was the work of a moment to divest his partner of the remainder of his clothing. Napoleon was hard, the tip of his erection leaking with excitement. Without a thought but to taste the man he loved, Illya swooped down to capture the hard flesh in his mouth. Napoleon cried out harshly, his body arching, thrusting his cock deeper into Illya's mouth. He took it all, savoring the taste and solid bulk of the man.
Quickly, hands and mouth working in unison, he drove Napoleon's pleasure to the limits and sent him twitching and crying off the edge. Swallowing the sweet bitter taste of him, Illya released the spent cock and nosed lower, under the tender velvet sac, to lap at the furled core of him.
At that featherlight touch, a wounded cry was torn from Napoleon's throat. His limp cock twitched and began to grow once more as his body demanded a different form of completion.
Illya propped himself up to look into Napoleon's eyes. Half-shuttered, they glittered blackly at him, reminding him briefly of why he was there.
It was impossible to tell if Napoleon gazed back from behind the veil of desire, or Illya. If the former, he could certainly say no. If the latter... surely the mere suggestion of this thing, which Napoleon had never done or considered, would bring him winging back as nothing else.
Yes, Illya thought hazily through his own desire, either way he will stop me if he doesn't want this.
A quick fumble through the bedside drawer produced a tube of lubricant which certainly wasn't as old as it looked, nor less efficacious for its apparent age. Napoleon whimpered and drew his legs back when Illya touched him there with a slick finger.
He worked his fingers in carefully: one, and two, and three. Creating as much pleasure as he knew how in the invasion and gentle stretching. He sucked on the head of Napoleon's cock as he worked the tight muscles, careful not to take him too far. Careful to leave him panting, wanting more, when he drew his mouth off, and fingers out.
It was something of a surprise to realize he still wore his pants and shoes. Illya scrambled off the bed to strip efficiently and returned within a few seconds.
Illya prepared himself quickly. He took Napoleon's legs over his arms and pushed them back as he moved in. He pushed himself in carefully, slowly, though the tight hot perfection demanded he plunge deep and fast. Napoleon threw his head back with a groan which seemed to come from the depths of his chest. But he didn't protest, and his body rose to meet Illya's, making the connection complete.
A low growl rumbled in Illya's throat, the only noise which seemed to encompass the depth of the pleasure. He looked down on Napoleon through slitted eyes, marking the pleasure he saw on his lover's sweaty face. He pulled slowly out, and rode home again, savoring the hot embrace of Napoleon's body. Napoleon rocked in response to the next thrust, and they quickly settled into a driven rhythm older than time.
Illya knew he wouldn't last. It had been too long since he'd been pleasured by other than his own hand. It was too perfect, too tight and hot, too much what he'd desired for too long. He freed a hand to grab Napoleon's jutting cock, stroking him to the rhythm of his thrusts.
In moments, Napoleon's head fell back on a gasping moan, hot liquid spurted unevenly into Illya's hand. Illya cried out as Napoleon's contractions squeezed him unmercifully, driving his pleasure to the breaking point.
It was only as he shuddered in the grips of his climax that he remembered the kvas.
And realized that Napoleon would accept and find pleasure in anything
he thought Illya did, so long as he thought himself Illya.
Illya fled his own apartment at dawn. The bittersweet joy of watching Napoleon sleep was no match for his sheer terror of the moment when his partner and friend would awaken and put an end to partnership, friendship and, if he were very fortunate, Illya's miserable existence. The torture of waiting finally drove him out.
The streets seemed dead to Illya. He'd roamed them many nights, too restless to sleep, and never found them so lonely or dismal. Eventually, in the late morning, his wandering feet took him to a bar he sometimes frequented -- it was always dim and quiet, poorly lit and even more poorly peopled. Illya went there to drink in the dark silence, unquestioned and unobserved.
His time sense didn't check in with him at all that day. Perhaps people woke, businessmen scurried off to work, hustled through their meetings and lunches, ran away home, dined with their wives and girlfriends, drifted off to sleep before a squawking television as the sun set. Perhaps life passed its usual hours of light before returning to dusk again. Perhaps. Illya didn't notice. The bar was a safe harbor, and if there was a brighter world outside it didn't dare penetrate the gloomy interior.
Napoleon found him at about dusk. Illya should have known he would. Perhaps he had known. He'd nursed his way through half a bottle of vodka and was still not really fortified to even look at his partner. Naturally Napoleon had tracked him down. Who knew him better? After the last week, how could he doubt that Napoleon knew the most minute details of his life? Perhaps he had wanted to be found. Yes, he thought he rather had.
Was it a good sign that Napoleon had made the effort to find him or a bad? Illya couldn't quite decide.
A pair of feet moved into his line of sight. Napoleon's feet, though he couldn't have said precisely how he knew they were Napoleon's. Illya didn't bother raising his head to confirm the identification. He'd rather imagine the pleasantly friendly expression he'd seen so often on his partner's face than the grim and angry one he assuredly wore now. All of this assuming, of course, that Napoleon was himself again and that it had not all come to nothing. Illya wasn't sure which would be worse, to look up and see Napoleon scowling at him, or himself looking back from behind his friend's eyes.
The man standing opposite him in the gloom remained still and silent. He made no move to speak or sit at Illya's table. His silent patience wore at Illya's drunken nerves.
"Napoleon." Not a question or request, simply the man's name. Illya didn't look up from his glass, nor did he expect an answer.
"Yes." Calm, quiet, Napoleon's voice. Also Napoleon's tone. Against his will, Illya glanced up; he smiled involuntarily. Napoleon looked like himself again, more casually clad than Illya could remember ever having seen him, but nonetheless himself again.
"It is you," he exclaimed without thinking, as unable now to take his eyes off Napoleon as he had been to even glance at him before.
"Yes, it is. Finally." And he sat down opposite Illya. Casually, as if everything between them had not changed irrevocably. Honey-brown eyes, clear and calm, gazed into starlit blue, and Illya found he couldn't look away. "When I woke up this morning... there I was." He smiled infectiously. "It was startling. Waverly called before I could go looking for you, and I've spent all day at U.N.C.L.E. talking to Psych Section and letting Medical run tests." Napoleon spread his hands with an embarrassed grin. "I'm sorry for everything I've put you through."
"You're sorry?!" Illya's laughter was painful mockery. Finally released, his eyes fell back to his vodka. "Shouldn't that be my line?"
"Why?" So simple, then. No anger, no hatred, just why? "What do you have to apologize for?"
"Don't play games with me." Illya's snarl made Napoleon blink, for all the world as if he truly didn't understand. "Nothing you can say I don't already know. No speeches. Just a good swift kick in the balls and you can be on your way."
"And why should I want to do that? It took a lot of effort to find you here, you know."
"Don't you remember?" Illya's eyes came up for a moment to search Napoleon's. Could he really be ignorant of all that had happened?
"I remember everything." Napoleon's soft velvet voice deepened, both seductive and menacing.
"Ah, well then..." He could hear the fragile unhappiness in his voice and wondered if Napoleon could as well. He hoped not. Blinking back the burning in his eyes, Illya stopped toying with the shot of vodka and drank it off in one swift motion. He poured another and downed it as quickly. Napoleon's strong fingers closed about his wrist as he poured a third.
"Why not? Why should you care?"
"I care because I do, Illya." He propped his chin on one hand and regarded Illya through twinkling eyes, a slight grin curving his mobile mouth. Illya hated that look -- that devil-may-care, 'I know something you don't' look. "You know, for a smart man, you're not very bright."
"I could have said no."
"Not if you were me, you couldn't."
Napoleon blinked. "You know, that almost made sense."
"You were me, and I told you we -- you and Piotr -- were lovers," Illya fumbled his way through an explanation impossible to keep straight sober, "so of course you didn't say no."
"What?" Confused at the non sequitur, Illya frowned.
"Lovers. Were you and Gruschenko lovers?"
"No," Illya admitted, bewildered. "I only said that because they said I needed..."
"I know what you and Waverly discussed with Thompson," Napoleon interrupted. "They told me about it this morning."
"And you told them...?" Illya found it hard to work up horror through the mantel of vodka, but he was sure he could manage later.
"Only that it worked," Napoleon assured him with a smile.
"I was an idiot to try it that way," Illya mourned. "There must have been something else." He realized suddenly that Napoleon was no longer holding his arm and downed the shot in his glass quickly, coughing as it burned the back of his throat. He must not be drunk enough yet. "I raped you."
Napoleon winced. "Why don't you say that a little louder, Illya?" He turned serious immediately. "You didn't. I wanted it too."
"No, you didn't. Illya did, but--"
"Let's not go into that again." He seemed impatient, but not angry.
Illya blinked owlishly at Napoleon. "You should be shocked."
Napoleon laughed. "I suppose, but when was there time? I was too busy being shocked at being myself again. And at having been you for a week. That's a lot to deal with at once, Illya Nicolaievich. Not to mention trying to find some decent clothes." He grimaced.
"You look good," Illya managed shakily, not sure whether it was vodka or relief which had just hit his stomach and scrambled his nervous system.
"Only you would think that." Napoleon smiled ruefully, then looked hard at Illya. "You know, when I first came in, I was actually happy to see you'd been drinking. I knew it was the only way I'd get an honest answer out of you. Right now, I'd settle for a straight answer." His voice was so low, he might have been talking to himself. He seemed, suddenly, a little sad, as if he hadn't found quite what he'd come looking for.
Illya snickered drunkenly. "You'll have to go somewhere else for straight answers."
Napoleon winced at the pun. "Very funny." He drew invisible lines on the table with his finger for a moment. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"Why didn't you tell me you were homosexual?"
"'M not. 'M bisexual."
"You couldn't prove it by me." Napoleon grinned half-heartedly. "Or any of those lovely ladies you don't chase."
"I couldn't tell you." Illya skipped back to the original question.
"Why not? Do I seem so..." he fumbled for a word.
"Virtuously heterosexual?" Illya supplied bitterly.
Napoleon sighed. "Whatever. Did you really think I'd react that badly to finding out my friend was homosexual?"
"No. But," he explained with drunken simplicity, "it's different when your homosexual friend turns out to be in love with you."
Napoleon brightened visibly. "Now that's the kind of straight answer I was hoping for." Illya blinked owlishly at his partner's sunny grin and didn't resist when Napoleon lifted him bodily out of the chair and marched him to the door.
"Where are we going?" Illya had the presence of mind to ask as they emerged onto the dusky street. The fresh air hit him like a cold slap, driving back the vodka and clearing his mind somewhat. Napoleon's hand was very warm at the small of his back, a gesture as intimate and meaningful as could be risked on a public street.
"Home. Where you can sober up, and we can talk about how much I enjoyed making love with you, before doing it again."
"Didn't make love with you," Illya disagreed, though not very vehemently. "Made love with Illya."
Napoleon sighed. "Then you'll be happy to explore what making love with Napoleon is like." He scowled at Illya briefly, but his tone was almost teasing when he said: "And no talking back. I'm not going to argue with you about this anymore."
"Good," Illya said with great satisfaction, "I'd rather make love anyway."
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