|"So good of you to finally join us, Mr. Solo."
Napoleon flushed slightly under his supervisor's deceptively mild reproof. "I'm sorry I'm late, sir. I was..."
"Never mind that now." Waverly brusquely waved away the explanation. Napoleon bit his tongue to stop the flow of words, stingingly reminded that his boss had no patience for tardiness and even less for excuses. "I called you in to introduce you to your new partner."
Only then did Napoleon notice the other man in the room. His blush heightened momentarily, then disappeared entirely when he recognized the blond agent. He swore he could feel the blood run away from his face, and that which did not settle in his feet pooled disquietingly in the region of his groin.
Dear God, Illya Nicolaievich Kuryakin.
Kuryakin stepped forward, the bland expression on his face at odds with the icy contempt in his eyes. "A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Solo," he said politely. His handshake was firm, all business. Neither of them gave in to the impulse lesser men might have, to make the handshake into a battleground.
Luckily, Mr. Waverly misread the reason for Napoleon's stutter. "I'm sorry; I neglected to introduce you. Mr. Solo, your new partner: Illya Kuryakin. And, of course, Mr. Kuryakin, you already know Mr. Solo."
"I know of him," Kuryakin amended scrupulously, and entirely mendaciously. They knew each other quite well indeed. In, Napoleon thought somewhat hysterically, the biblical sense.
"My new, ah, partner, sir?" He forced his voice to remain calm, unconcerned. "I wasn't aware there was any problem with my solo work."
"None at all, none at all." He waved the idea away with a gesture of his pipe. "Merely that we thought it better to get you partnered before something... untoward happened. Your last mission was a close shave. A very close shave indeed. Mr. Kuryakin is also in need of a partner, and our personnel department thinks you might do nicely together. Now," he added briskly, turning to the papers spread across his desk, his attention already elsewhere, "why don't you show Mr. Kuryakin around a bit? He's new here. From the London office."
I know. Napoleon took a deep breath, then turned his friendliest smile on the young Russian. "Shall we?" His gesture took in the door.
Kuryakin's answering smile would have looked right at home on a barracuda. "Why not? Do lead the way, Mr. Solo. You're the expert here."
It was hard to turn his back on that predatory smile, but Napoleon forced himself to do it smoothly, without hesitation. Show no fear; wasn't that the agent's creed? It worked well enough when facing homicidal maniacs with guns, but seemed somewhat lacking when facing a man who had every reason to hate him. A man wronged. For all his social graces and suave sophistication, Napoleon Solo had no idea how to deal with this situation. And that little Russian prick knew it too.
|He really ought to have known better.
If he'd had any sense, he never would have taken the bet.
Napoleon hadn't been Waverly's fair-haired boy then. Just a run of the mill agent, still damp behind the ears, cocky, with the arrogance of the young. With, too, a deceptively thin facade of self-assurance and savoir faire covering a central core of uncertainty.
"Someone sitting here?"
Napoleon glanced idly up from his paper and blinked, startled. Tom Killeen stood next to the small table where Napoleon was reading and nursing a pint along with his grievances. Napoleon had liked the tall, sandy-haired agent from the first. There was just something about him, something solid and dependable. Something that said 'I could be a good friend to you' which lingered in his eyes and smile. He hadn't seemed as disapproving as the other London Enforcement agents. While Killeen had never been friendly before, he hadn't quite been unfriendly either. Napoleon smiled, almost shyly, and shook his head.
"No, help yourself."
Killeen put his half-full pint glass on the table, his eyes making a slow scan of the crowded pub as he sat. "No, go on reading," he said as Napoleon folded the paper away. "I don't mean to interrupt."
"I... was finished anyway." Napoleon dropped the paper on the floor. He raised his glass for a quick sip, hoping the shaking of his hands wasn't noticeable. Get ahold of yourself, he thought savagely, you're not back in high school. "You... ah... I didn't know you were back from Italy." Napoleon winced at his inept attempt at conversation.
Killeen smiled faintly. "Got back this morning." He glanced around the room again, his gaze vaguely proprietary. "I always come here to celebrate a successful mission." He drained off the pint and stood. "Want another one?"
Napoleon stared briefly at the proffered hand, then quickly drained his glass and handed it to the man. He watched Killeen make his way through the throng around the bar and shook his head disbelievingly. For months, these people had treated him like a pariah, and now one was buying him a beer!? He took a deep breath and tried to calm himself. If he didn't get it together, Killeen would decide that Napoleon was nothing but an American bumpkin, and leave again. Napoleon was too desperate, and too goddamned lonely, to risk that.
"Here we go." Killeen slid the pints onto the table and himself back into the chair, his movements sinuous and graceful. "To coming back alive." He held out his pint.
"To coming back alive," Napoleon repeated hastily, lifting his glass to touch Killeen's. He took a quick gulp, hiding his grimace -- he was never going to get used to warm beer -- and cast about frantically for something witty to say.
"You're on loan from New York, right?" Killeen asked.
"Yeah. Six months."
"Must be difficult, living and working in a foreign country." Killeen grinned. "Even if we do speak the same language."
"Almost." Napoleon forced a small smile. Being seconded to the London office for six months to help fill a gap left by a few unfortunate recruiting failures was not the high point of his career so far. His cocksure attitude, taken as earned in the New York office, had ruffled all the wrong feathers across the pond.
It wasn't until years later that Napoleon learned his poor reception had had more to do with the attitude of the London CEA -- who was less than pleased to have his recruiting mistakes shown up and an infant agent dumped in his lap -- than with anything he had done. All Napoleon knew at the time was that he was homesick and lonely and altogether miserable.
Killeen was nodding, but before he could say anything more, he was dealt a hefty clout on the shoulders. His attacker slid grinning into the chair beside him, broad-shouldered and pink-cheeked.
"Tommy-boy, so this is where you've been!" He glanced around brightly before fixing his eyes on Napoleon, who wondered if the display was for his benefit or someone else's -- it was clear he'd been the focus of the man's attention the whole time.
"Hello, Elliot," Killeen drawled quietly. "You know Napoleon Solo? Napoleon, this clumsy oaf is Elliot Durning."
"Pleased." But Elliot wasn't even looking at Napoleon anymore. He craned his head to see over the crowd at the bar. "Ah, here comes Greg with our drinks." He stood and waved over the other man, a stocky, bearded agent Napoleon recognized from his first day's orientation at London headquarters.
Greg Chatham plopped the drinks on the table with a thump, and himself in the only free chair with a deep sigh, which he quenched in his beer. When he put down the glass, half-drained, his bright black eyes fixed on Napoleon. "Well, hello there. It's the Yank dumped on our shores these many months ago. Waterloo, was it? Or Wellington?"
"Napoleon." He smiled, an open friendly 'see, I can take a joke' grin, and was rewarded with a shout of laughter and a hard thump on the shoulder from Durning. Chatham raised his glass in mock toast and drained it. And Killeen, whose eyes seemed to be waiting there steadily for Napoleon to meet them, smiled and nodded slightly, as if in approval.
Napoleon made himself comfortable in his chair and picked up his pint. Things were finally starting to look up.
"...can't believe it," Greg Chatham muttered into his fourth -- or was it fifth? -- pint. "This fool Yank has prob'ly slept with every bird in the secretarial pool. Haven't you, Leo?"
Napoleon hid his wince in his beer. The subject wasn't exactly something he cared to discuss; not here, not now, not ever.
He'd always had a way with women -- probably came from being brought up in a predominately female household when his aunt and uncle had taken him in after his mother's death. He loved women, loved the way they looked, everything from demure to dangerous; the way they felt, with their soft curves; the way their minds worked, convoluted and coy. And women, in return, seemed disposed to return his affections.
Whatever bragging rights he had, Napoleon wasn't the sort to tell tales. In this case, however, he wasn't interested in bragging. Though he'd found that his attentions were welcomed here, and the company of the women at London headquarters had gone a long way toward assuaging his loneliness, he'd made the mistake of confusing sexual interest with friendship. He'd been licking his wounds when Killeen invited himself and his friends in.
Napoleon really didn't want to think about it right then. He certainly didn't want to hear Durning and Chatham discussing his conquests. Or rather, the conquest that had been made of him, if they but knew it. But he wasn't fool enough to derail the conversation. He was too lonely to turn aside their salacious interest, and too broke to turn down the offer of a free drink. Or three.
"Of course he has." Elliot Durning slung a chummy arm around Napoleon's shoulders. "Leo here can get anyone he wants."
God, but he hated that nickname. His father had called him that. "Oh, well, I wouldn't say--"
"Anyone at all," Durning continued, his loud friendly voice trampling Napoleon's soft denial. "A credit to the whole Section, that's what he is."
Napoleon smiled reflexively and picked up his pint again. He was drinking too much, but they were drinking at an even faster rate, putting down the beer as if it were water. Every time the glasses were drained, Chatham or Durning or Killeen headed back to the bar, returning with a round for everyone with no suggestions, covert or overt, that Napoleon ought to buy -- a good thing, as he had only a few coins in his pocket. As they put away the pints, Durning and Chatham became more voluble and more affectionate, and if they were treating him more like a kid brother than an equal, it was still better than the silent brush-off he'd gotten from the Section Two agents for months.
"Oh yes, a credit to the Section." Tom Killeen said it with a smile. He wasn't drunk, or chummy, but his smile held something that looked like real affection. "You know, Napoleon," Killeen leaned across the small table, his weight resting on his elbows, his voice lowered, "I think Durning might be right."
"Come on." Napoleon shook his head dizzily.
"Really." Killeen smiled again. His tone was a 'just between us' murmur, though Durning, hanging on Napoleon's shoulder as he was, couldn't help but overhear. "But you should expand your interests, my boy. There's a new blonde in Research and Development who's something else."
"Oh yeah." This smile was knowing, appreciative. Napoleon almost jumped when Killeen's hand covered his own and squeezed affectionately. "You should give it a try. I bet it wouldn't take you two months." Napoleon stared, captivated by brilliant green eyes and the warmth of the hand on his. God, he was drunk.
"How much?" It was Durning.
"How much what?" asked Chatham, the bright spark of interest in his dark eyes.
"Killeen just bet that Leo couldn't pull the new blonde in R & D within two months."
"I didn't--" But Killeen was interrupted.
"Two months!?" Chatham snorted. He slurped beer. "Hell, why make it so long? Good old Leo could do it in two weeks."
"Yeah, but how much?" Durning demanded doggedly.
Napoleon blinked, dizzied by the speed of the conversation. He shook his head and opened his mouth to stop this before it went too far into a subject entirely inappropriate for bets. He hesitated, however, a conversation he'd overheard earlier that day replaying itself.
Oh really, Helen, you must try him. These Americans are really quite impressive in bed.
You know I'm not interested in dating, Susan.
Who cares? So you have to humor him through dinner and a little dancing. At least you get what you want in the end. And boy do you get it!
"A month's salary," Chatham decreed, nodding decisively.
Napoleon's mouth shut with a snap, and he felt all the blood drain from his head. A month's salary? God, he couldn't afford that! He couldn't even afford to eat right now; if it weren't for the fact that U.N.C.L.E. considered the headquarters commissary a benefit of employment, he'd have starved a week ago. He cleared his throat, preparing with some embarrassment to say that he didn't have it, that everything he made had been sent to his aunt in the States to pay his uncle's hospital bills. And the vast majority of his salary for the foreseeable future would go the same way.
"No, that's too much." Killeen's cool, friendly tones. "It wasn't intended to be a bet anyway."
Napoleon looked up, and caught the flash of compassionate green eyes, a touch of amusement dancing in their depths. Before he even realized what he was saying, the words "No, it's a bet" popped out of his mouth.
"Thatta boy," Chatham crowed. Durning gave him such a clout between the shoulder blades that he almost brained himself on the table.
Killeen slowly sat back in his chair. He tilted his head to one side, and smiled with only half his mouth. "Now Napoleon, you know you don't really want to do this."
"Don't I?" He felt belligerent now. And his pique at the way the girls at headquarters had used him was still gnawing away at his guts. Damned if he'd worry about their honor, if such they had. From now on, the women of U.N.C.L.E. London could look to themselves. "Don't you think I can?"
"Of course you can," Killeen soothed, an adult to a small child. "You don't have to prove it."
But the more he counseled against it, the more determined Napoleon became. He wasn't going to have Tom Killeen think he'd judged the young American wrong. He wasn't going to be belittled in the other man's eyes.
"Very well," Killeen sighed finally. "But make it two months, will you?"
A small enough concession.
It only occurred to Napoleon later that he had been very drunk. And very skillfully played.
|"Well," Napoleon said with forced cheer as they left Waverly's
office. "What would you like me to show you? Headquarters? New York?"
"I've been here for a week now," Kuryakin said dismissively, "I know my way around headquarters, thank you."
"New York, then?"
They walked side by side down the corridor, and Kuryakin didn't turn to glance at him even once. "I have a map."
"Mr. Waverly wanted me to--"
"Mr. Waverly wanted us to get to know each other," Kuryakin interrupted shortly.
Napoleon turned a pained laugh into a cough. "Little need for that," he managed as they stepped onto the elevator.
Kuryakin put his back to the wall and faced Napoleon fully for the first time since they'd left Waverly's office. "I don't know you," he said pointedly, his eyes cold, "and you don't know me. Right?"
"Illya, I can't tell you how sor--"
Kuryakin took one step into Napoleon's personal space. "Right?"
Napoleon took a careful breath. He nodded. "Right." He was surprised at how defeated he sounded.
When the elevator doors opened on the fifth floor -- Research and Development -- Illya got out. Napoleon stayed where he was.
His head still ached abominably, but that was nothing compared to his stomach. He knew, though, that it wasn't the hangover which tied his gut into knots and made his heart beat too fast.
It wouldn't hurt to just look at the girl, would it? And if she was the type he'd have naturally been interested in, then it wouldn't be out of place to speak to her. And maybe go further, if she was interested. Nothing wrong with that. Nothing wrong with dating a girl he found attractive, was there? And if it just so happened that he won a bet in the process, that would be... totally out of line. No matter what the other women here had done to him, or that they'd used him just as callously.
How could he have gotten himself into this mess? Christ, but he was stupid. A stupid, stubborn fool, who ought to go to the others and break the deal right then and there. And he almost might have. Could have, if it had just been Durning and Chatham. But he couldn't stomach facing Killeen. Not as a failure, and certainly not as a welcher.
Better that than a degenerate, a reprobate, a heartless womanizer, a--
The elevator stopped at the floor which housed Research and Development, and Napoleon nerved himself to step off.
He would just go and look at the girl.
The elevator doors closed behind him, cutting off that line of retreat. Napoleon took a deep breath and strode with assumed confidence down the hall. Killeen had given him the woman's last name. He'd have to ask someone to direct him, but he let half a dozen people walk past before he worked up the nerve to accost one.
"Excuse me." He smiled charmingly at the plump woman with the horn-rimmed spectacles. "Can you help me?"
She blushed becomingly. "Yes?"
"Could you tell me where to find Kuryakin?"
The incipient smile vanished without a trace. "Two doors down; the lab on the left."
"Ah, we've never met before. Is there..."
"Kuryakin is alone," she said curtly, as if he was missing the obvious.
"Thank you." But she was already walking away, the tap of her high heels impatient on the uncarpeted floor.
The door in question had a glass insert. Napoleon sighed in relief -- at least he could get a look at the girl before he had to face her. Charm her. But, he realized as he peered through the window, there was no woman in the lab. None at all. Just a slight young man bent over a notebook, scribbling madly. A blond young man...
"Excuse me." The voice behind him made him jump and whirl around. "Gotta delivery for Mr. Kuryakin."
Blinking stupidly, Napoleon watched the boy from the mail room push through the lab door and jolt the young scientist inside from his reverie. Package and signature exchanged, the delivery boy was on his way out when Napoleon stopped him.
"Is that Mr. Kuryakin?" He was very glad his voice didn't shake.
"Course," he replied impatiently. Napoleon held him back with a hand on his arm when he would have left.
"Is there anyone else here named Kuryakin?" Napoleon asked desperately.
The delivery boy laughed. "What, you think we need any more bloody Commies?" He shook his head, pulled his arm from Napoleon's slack grip, and took off down the corridor.
Luckily there was a men's room a few doors farther down the hall. Napoleon braced his locked arms on the sink and breathed heavily for several minutes before he was sure he wasn't going to throw up. Then he splashed cold water on his face and straightened up slowly, feeling a great deal older than his tender years.
"Idiot," he told his reflection in the mirror. "God damned stupid son of a bitch." There were a great many other things he might have called himself, but he was too sick to bother.
He felt bruised, gut-punched. He'd actually believed it, actually thought that Killeen might like him. That any of them might. Christ, he should have known better.
Killeen had set him up. When he thought back, through the murky, beer-soaked haze, the man had never once used the word "woman," or "girl," or "she." God, he should have known. Should have noticed the way Chatham chuckled when Killeen named the person Napoleon was to seduce. And Durning had smirked, hadn't he? Killeen had only looked on with a half-smile, coolly pleased with himself.
He should call it off. He'd have to call it off. He couldn't... Hell, why be coy; he could. He'd had a certain amount of experience with his own sex, during the war. But that was a long way away, under entirely different circumstances. A woman he might romance lightly, offering nothing and taking nothing beyond the moment's pleasure. But to seduce a man... If Kuryakin wasn't already that way inclined, it was probably impossible; if he was, well, Napoleon wasn't sure he wanted to reopen that part of his past anyway. And the consequences of being caught were infinitely less pleasant.
But a gentleman didn't back out on a bet. His father had taught him that; amusing, given that whatever else his father was, he was no gentleman. Didn't mean that Napoleon hadn't taken the injunction to heart, though. A gentleman always paid his debts, too. Napoleon couldn't afford to pay. He couldn't afford to lose.
Oh god, but he couldn't afford to win this one either. Nor even try to. He'd have to call it off.
He splashed water on his face again, drank a little, took a deep breath to calm the roiling of his stomach, and marched out of the bathroom and down the corridor. When he passed the lab door, however, he couldn't help looking through the window again.
Kuryakin was still in there, still alone. He was reading now, bent over a thick book splayed open on the lab table. The rest of the Research and Development department seemed deserted. Napoleon realized with some surprise that it was lunch time. And the young Russian was sitting in his lab, reading. Very much alone. Like Napoleon.
What would it hurt? Just to say hi to the fellow?
Napoleon nerved himself and pushed open the door. Though he was certain Kuryakin heard him enter, the Russian didn't look up from his book. Napoleon moved a bit closer to catch the title of the book and the narrow shoulders seemed to tense slightly. Napoleon smiled faintly. War and Peace, of all things.
"Interesnaya kniga." Napoleon commented genially. He couldn't quite manage heartily, but the friendliness in his voice was unforced.
The young man's head came up at Napoleon's comment about the book, an enthusiastic smile lighting his face. "Da, da, v'i znaete, shto ya nye mog naiti v Rossiu, i--"
"Whoa!" Napoleon held up both hands to stem the flow of words -- something about not being able to find the book in Russian. "Medlenno, pozhalsta! Slow down. My Russian's rusty." A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth.
"Of course," Kuryakin said immediately, his English only lightly accented. "My apologies."
Napoleon waved off the apology and settled one hip on the edge of the lab table. "Your English is very good," he remarked.
"For a Russian." Kuryakin looked up at him through his bangs, a tentative smile flirting with the corner of his mouth. "Your Russian isn't bad."
"For an American." Napoleon smiled, his natural friendliness taking over.
"Not many Americans learn Russian." It wasn't quite a question, but Napoleon had a suspicion that it would have been if Illya had felt more secure.
He shrugged. "It seemed like a good idea at one time." In Korea, in the army, with the threat of Communism bearing down all around and not a damned thing to do through the endless nights. Except talk, and study, and fuck. He wondered briefly what had happened to Michael -- sweet Michael, with his Russian grandmother and his misleadingly innocent, freckle-faced all-American good looks.
"Know your enemy?" Illya asked, his voice touched with sly amusement.
Napoleon smiled. "Are we enemies?"
|"Umph!" The air knocked out of him, Napoleon lay on his back on
the mats and glared at his partner. "Take it easy, Kuryakin. We're not
"I'm sorry," but he wasn't, "I thought we were practicing."
"Yes, practicing." Napoleon levered himself to his feet. "Not trying to kill each other."
"How do I know the limits of my partner's abilities if I'm always pulling my punches?"
"How do you ever get assigned field duty if your partner's in the hospital?" Napoleon forced himself to breathe evenly and calm down. Kuryakin had been... difficult from day one. Not that he could blame the man, but he wanted to live long enough to complete their first mission together. "This sort of thing could get us both killed," he added in a quieter tone of voice.
Kuryakin made no response, not betraying by even the slightest sign his sure knowledge that Napoleon was referring to more than their sparring sessions. He ran his hands through his hair, fluffing the blond mop becomingly, then unconcernedly patted it back into place. Napoleon decided to take his silence as agreement.
"All right, Illya, let's try it again."
He was flat on his back again so quickly the room continued spinning even after Napoleon's body had stopped moving. Kuryakin had him pinned painfully. "Don't ever call me that," he hissed in Napoleon's ear.
"I don't have much choice," Napoleon gritted out, flexing his muscles to get the measure of Kuryakin's lock. "I can't keep calling you 'Kuryakin.'"
Illya seemed to think that over. Napoleon was peripherally aware of the subtle glances from the other occupants of the gym. He hoped Illya made up his mind soon; they were attracting too much attention. Finally, Illya grudgingly allowed, "If you're going to use my name, pronounce it right."
"I'll try," Napoleon promised. "But I'm not sure I'll succeed. Force of habit, you know," he added spitefully, letting his annoyance get the better of him. Illya hissed, his grip loosening slightly. Napoleon executed a quick twist and roll, but ended up just as trapped. "Come on, Illya -- cut me some slack here. I've tried to explain, to apologize--" He broke off as Illya's grip tightened, cutting off his air.
"I told you not to talk about that," Illya ground out, and the very air snapped with menace. However, after a moment, he loosened his grip. Napoleon pulled away and sat up. "Don't think it means anything, Napoleon."
"Of course not." Napoleon rotated his shoulders carefully. He finally broke the charged silence with a forced smile. "Try not to leave bruises, tovarisch," he said, just loud enough to reach curious ears, "they're hard to explain."
|"I'm sorry, you'll have to explain... why are you sorry you're
broke?" Mr. Kuryakin -- Illya -- suddenly smiled and glanced down at
his lunch. "Well, I guess that's understandable."
"I guess." Napoleon tried not to look like he was bolting his food. The cafeteria fare was mediocre at best, but he'd had no breakfast.
"But why tell me?"
Why indeed? Why had Napoleon felt completely comfortable telling Illya all about his situation? About how, with his uncle's terminal illness confining him to the hospital, Napoleon was expected to become the man of the family, the one who was supposed to hold everything together and support his aunt and cousins. And about the money he'd sent. He hadn't told anyone else about that. No one to tell; no one who wouldn't find it quaint. Amusing. No one who woke the sense of belonging in him that this out of place Russian evoked without even trying.
"Well, ah," Napoleon smiled. "Because I want to take you around -- show you London -- and I don't have the money to do it right."
Illya tilted his head and stared at Napoleon with a bemused expression on his face. "Take me around? Why?"
Napoleon blinked. "Well... because I like you." To his surprise, Illya blushed a tender shade of pink. It was, he thought, rather becoming. Seeing that his companion was tongue-tied, he jumped to fill the silence. "I suppose there are things we can do without money. Illya..." He saw Illya's reflexive smile and sighed. "I'm saying it wrong, aren't I? How is it pronounced again?"
Illya shook his head. "Never mind. It's not a problem."
"I rather like it," Illya overrode Napoleon's objection. Now it was Napoleon's turn to lose his tongue. After a minute, Illya smiled shyly. "I'm sure there are things we can do without money."
"Good." Napoleon's delight was genuine. It wasn't until he saw Durning grinning at him from across the cafeteria that he remembered how he had come to speak to Illya in the first place. His appetite suddenly gone, he pushed away his half-full plate.
After making a date-- arrangements --to meet Illya later, Napoleon went in search of Tom Killeen. He couldn't do this. Well, he ammended scrupulously, he could. Illya was so starved for company, as desperate as Napoleon himself for a little human warmth, that he would be easy to seduce. Too easy. Napoleon would never be able to live with himself if he followed through. He probably wouldn't have even if it had been one of those heartless women he was picturing when he agreed to the bet. But he certainly couldn't now. Winning this bet would not be worth the price, let alone the forfeit.
He found the older man in the agents' lounge, thankfully alone.
"Ah, Napoleon!" Killeen smiled, his greeting warm. "How are you?"
"That was a dirty trick you pulled," Napoleon said in a low tone as he took a seat next to the other man. He was careful to keep all but the faintest traces of anger out of his voice.
Killeen sobered immediately. "I'm sorry, Napoleon. It was only supposed to be a joke. If that idiot Durning hadn't turned it into a bet..." He seemed genuinely unhappy.
Napoleon sighed. "And if I hadn't been fool enough to take you up on it." He brushed a hand through his hair. "I can't do it."
"Of course you can."
"I mean I won't."
Killeen nodded thoughtfully. "It is a difficult situation. To continue would be... well, problematic. The young man may not be... interested. Or if your inclinations don't tend that way..."
"That's not what I meant." Napoleon looked at Killeen with carefully concealed distaste. He'd definitely misjudged the man. Perhaps Killeen hadn't intended to set him up -- it was possible -- but his attitude wasn't one Napoleon approved of, or could even stomach. "If nothing else, he's Russian, Killeen--"
Napoleon blinked. "Tom. If even a whisper of... well, if it got back to his government, it could be fatal for him." He smiled ruefully. "Not to mention being fatal to my career."
Killeen smiled gently. "What do you think of us, Napoleon? We're all gentlemen; it's a gentlemen's bet. It'll never go beyond the four of us."
Napoleon sighed in frustration. Gentlemen, indeed. "I want to withdraw. No harm, no foul."
Killeen was already shaking his head. "I wouldn't do that, Napoleon. Now I, personally, would be happy to let you back out, but Chatham and Durning..."
"What do they have to do with it? The bet was between you and me."
"Ah, but the others placed side bets between themselves on the matter. And they hate to lose. If you forfeit now, you'd better hope you get transferred back to New York within the week."
"Is that a threat?" Napoleon stood, every muscle stiff with indignation, and no little touch of fear. Chatham and Durning drunk might seem little more than fools, but they were excellent agents; not the sort of men one wanted to cross. And Killeen...
"No, no." Killeen smiled. "Just a friendly warning, Napoleon. Just a friendly warning."
|"I'm warning you, Napoleon -- this better be the right way."
"I may not have the best sense of direction, Illya, but I can read a map." His voice came through the headphones with only the slightest distortion.
"Fine. Just get me out of here." Illya took as deep a breath as he could manage in the confined space and started crawling again. To distract himself, he mentally redesigned the communication system they were using to completely eliminate the distortion. Finally, he came to a junction.
"Right or left?"
"Left." The immediacy of the response was reassuring.
Illya squirmed his way around the corner and into a duct that seemed narrower than the previous one. "You're sure?" As if he could back up now.
"I'm sure. What's the matter, Illya? I thought you said you weren't claustrophobic."
"There's a difference between claustrophobia and the perfectly reasonable fear of enclosed spaces."
"If you say so, tovarisch."
He could hear the amusement in Napoleon's voice and it annoyed him. Very few people would recognize Illya's dry as dust pronouncement as a joke of sorts. It was infuriating that Napoleon, of all men, was one of those people, and after only a month of partnership. It reminded him of how well the other agent knew him, and why. Illya forced himself not to grind his teeth and focused on squeezing through the narrow tunnel.
Another junction. "Which way?"
"Napoleon, if you're directing me in a circle..."
"Oh ye of little faith."
"And we both know just how much faith I should place in you," Illya said after he'd negotiated the turn.
The worst part of the mission was over. The bug had been successfully planted inside Thrush's New York office. It would take them at least a month to realize it was there, and provide some excellent intelligence in the meantime. Assuming, of course, that Illya himself got out without being caught.
It was a good thing his voice didn't carry far. He hated to admit it, but the conversation was necessary to keep his mind off just how tight the space was. He really wasn't claustrophobic, but there was barely enough room for his body in the duct, and he had to fight the conviction that he displaced the air around him as he wiggled and squirmed his way along. He knew perfectly well that if he got stuck there was no way his partner, even with all of U.N.C.L.E.'s resources, could get him out of the ventilation system of a Thrush outpost. He wondered briefly if Napoleon would even try, then shook his head -- of course he would; it was just the way the man was. Besides, he wasn't the injured party. Illya smiled viciously as he considered how much effort he would apply to getting Napoleon out of a similar situation.
"If you're unwilling to discuss the subject, Illya, there's no point in bringing it up."
Illya gritted his teeth at Napoleon's perfectly reasonable tone. It made him feel like a petulant child.
"I'm sure you'd like for me to just forget what you did. Make it easier on you." He grinned ferally in the dark. "Sorry, Napoleon, but my memory's not nearly as facile as yours."
"Did I ask you to?"
Illya crawled through the ductwork in silence, unwillingly aware of the rather odd tone of Napoleon's voice in those last words. He wasn't certain what emotion he was hearing.
"What happened to that pretty little girl from our last mission?" Napoleon asked after the silence got too long. "I thought you two were getting along rather well."
Illya felt a flare of triumph. Was that jealousy? "We were, thank you."
"Were? Not are?"
"I think we established that my private life is none of your business." He felt a cool draft of air, the silent herald for the next junction. "Up or down?"
Oh good; that would be much easier than down. He didn't fancy trying to crawl head-down through a duct only half an inch wider than his shoulders. With much grunting and wiggling, he managed to get himself into the new duct, heading up as directed.
"Well," Napoleon continued, once Illya was quietly absorbed again, "it's no shame to lose your head over a pretty young lady."
"You said that at the time. What's the matter, annoyed you didn't get her?"
"No." He could hear the smile in Napoleon's voice. "But maybe a little relieved you didn't decide to walk into the evening arm in arm with that doctor."
Illya stopped dead. "And what do you mean by that?" he asked, his voice a low threat.
"Nothing at all, tovarisch. Just observing that he seemed quite taken with you."
"I wasn't aware that was any of your business." He started climbing again, or crawling; the space was so cramped that the only difference between going up and going horizontal was whether gravity pulled at his feet or his belly.
"No, I suppose not." There was a long pause. "He was very concerned about your well-being."
"Somebody has to be," Illya murmured, annoyed with himself, annoyed at the tiny flame of hope fanned by Napoleon's jealousy. He didn't know, on the few occasions he even allowed himself to consider what had happened, who he was more disgusted with: Napoleon or the weak, hopeful boy he'd seduced. The memories tried to rise up and overwhelm him, taking him back to the blackest time in his life, a time he'd barely survived. Furious with himself, with the weakness he couldn't seem to shake, Illya forced it down deep and focused on the job at hand, not speaking except to ask which way to turn at the next junction. Napoleon obligingly kept his answers short and to the point. After a while, however, the silence began to tell on Illya.
"Almost there," Napoleon said, moments before Illya broke down and reopened the conversation. In another minute, Illya's eyes picked out the first faint gleam of light from Napoleon's flashlight.
In minutes, he'd reached the opening, squeezing breathlessly into the duct which grew smaller as it approached the outside. The crosshatched grill had been removed and Napoleon was waiting there to help him out.
Exhausted and limp with relief, Illya didn't resist as Napoleon's hands worked him free of the pipe, lifted him out, and set him gently on the ground.
|Napoleon didn't take his hands off Illya's waist until he was
back on solid ground. The view from the parapet was amazing, but he had
no desire to lose the young man over the side. It was a long way down.
Illya was laughing as he turned toward Napoleon, flushed with excitement and the brisk burn of the wind on his cheeks.
And Napoleon kissed him.
The kiss was quickly broken by Illya, who stepped back with a surprised exclamation. Napoleon forced himself not to reach after the man and, after regarding him a moment with his head tilted to one side, Illya smiled slightly. And stepped forward again to kiss him back.
Thus it was that they exchanged their first kiss in the Bloody Tower of London. On St. Thomas's Tower, which stands over Traitor's Gate. How very appropriate, Napoleon thought before he could bury the self-disgust down where he couldn't hear it anymore. It was surprisingly easy to hide from himself, when all was said and done.
They'd been all over London for weeks now, every spare moment they had. Illya was right, there was lots to do without money. Or, at least, with very little ready cash. Napoleon did all his eating at headquarters now, saving what little money he had for their outings.
They'd been to Kensington Gardens, and strolled endlessly around Hyde Park. To the Tate Gallery and the British Museum. Not activities that Napoleon was used to, but things Illya seemed to like. And which weren't very expensive. They'd been to numerous movies on the weekends; Illya called them "pictures" and seemed as entranced by the films as the most innocent small town boy taking in his first film. Then, afterwards, he'd spend hours discussing the film in the most knowledgeable terms, leaving Napoleon feeling like they'd seen different movies. Sometimes, they went to a cafe and ordered a pot of tea and two scones and sat all day reading and watching people pass by. They spent hours at a time in the public houses, nursing a single pint each while they talked about everything and nothing. Or simply sitting in silent companionship.
Illya wasn't exactly easy to be with, given his quiet and sometimes sharp moods. But he needed someone so desperately, while simultaneously trying to keep everyone at bay, and hiding his need even from himself, that he was oddly hard to resist. He was quiet and withdrawn, but could be drawn out of his shyness with a well-placed verbal poke, at which point he displayed a cutting wit which Napoleon enjoyed immensely, even when it was used on himself. He seemed the perfect companion for Napoleon's loneliness, an antidote to the feelings of isolation that had plagued him since his arrival in London. And Napoleon knew that he was rescuing Illya from a similar silent limbo -- if the American had found his welcome somewhat lacking, the Russian had been greeted with distinct distrust and dislike.
He'd managed to forget how he'd met Illya, to push aside all the reasons this was destined to end in disaster. Napoleon was enjoying himself too much to let it all go now.
He also wasn't paying enough attention to his work. He knew that. Napoleon spent half the time he wasn't with Illya thinking about their last outing, and the other half dreaming up new things to do. He shrugged off the guilty feeling his inattention spawned -- they weren't giving him anything important to do anyway: just boring reports to read and collate. Not only was he kept in headquarters, he didn't even get security duty. He needed a little excitement, and the best cure for that had turned out to be a certain blond Russian.
He was falling in love, but he didn't know it then. He didn't know until it was far too late.
|"Damn it, Illya; you're cutting it too close. Another minute and you'd have been too late."
"What are you complaining about?" Illya shoved wet hair off his forehead and knelt to examine Napoleon's bonds. "I got here, didn't I?"
Napoleon craned his neck to look up at the blade suspended precariously over his head and shuddered. "I don't care much for close shaves."
"I'll have you out of there in a minute, so stop complaining."
"What happened to you? You look like a drowned rat."
"There's only one rat, here, Napoleon." The ropes were stubborn, and neither of them had a knife.
Napoleon didn't respond to the verbal jab. After three months, he told himself, naturally he was getting used to them, but the truth was, they hurt just the same. He wondered if they'd hurt any less if they weren't true.
"Jumped up Count in a jumped up castle," Illya muttered, his fingers sliding on the knots, "why didn't anyone guess he'd have a moat?"
"Oh, any monsters in the moat?"
"Not any more," Illya replied grimly. He gave a small cry of triumph when the knot finally began to yield to his fingers. "Hold still, Napoleon; I don't have it yet."
"Hurry up, will you? That damned blade is making me nervous."
"It's not going anywhere," Illya reassured him perfunctorily, "and neither are you, so hold still until I can get the rest of these knots. Who tied you up, a troop of Boy Scouts?"
"Very funny." He was silent a moment, until the feel of Illya's warm body straddling his hips, and the clever fingers moving over him, lightly touching here and there as he worked at the ropes, began to have an unfortunate effect. How humiliating, to still be aroused by the touch of a man who felt nothing but disgust for him. "Did it work?"
"What? Oh, yes. Your capture distracted them sufficiently to allow me to remove the experimental module from their possession."
Napoleon smiled, part relief, part gratification. "We do work well together, don't we?"
It sounded like agreement. But, not being sure, Napoleon decided it was safer not to pursue the subject.
After a minute of silent concentration, Illya said, "April asked me how she and Mark could be as good a team as you and I are."
"Really? What did you tell her?"
"All Mark has to do is make her fall in lo-- seduce her to win a bet, and they're set."
Napoleon squeezed his eyes shut and breathed shallowly. God. He knew he deserved that, but it didn't hurt any less. Illya had said it for his benefit; there was no chance he'd actually told April that. It was intended to cut, and it did, sharply, bloodlessly, but not painlessly.
"Well," he cleared his throat. "I suppose that's one way to do it. If you feel that way, why the hell didn't you just ask for reassignment right at the start?"
"And get sent back to the labs, my chance at Section Two 'delayed' again while they found someone who didn't mind working with a 'Commie'? Better to make do with what I had, thank you very much. I told you to hold still."
"The ropes are loosening. If I can just..." he wiggled experimentally. "Oof!" The knee in the center of his back made it hard to breathe, let alone move.
"There are three more knots to untie before I get you loose, and your moving around is tightening them up."
"Okay," Napoleon managed tightly. "Get off me; I'll behave."
"I sincerely doubt that." But he did take some of his weight off Napoleon's back. "But you're right," he added after a minute, "we do work well together."
Sure, thought Napoleon, hate is as good as love at making a man preternaturally aware of his partner. And why let the fact that their partnership bled, that it reopened old wounds and kept them ever fresh, why let that stop them, if it was successful? If it didn't hurt so damn much, it would be funny. Oh, he could go and ask for reassignment, come up with some perfectly innocent reason he no longer wanted to be partnered with Illya. Only he couldn't bear the thought of working with anyone else, or the idea of someone else guarding this man's life.
How humiliating indeed. To love where there was only hate.
|"Easy, love, I'm here." Napoleon crooned soft words to his lover
without paying much attention to what they were, the words spilling
from his lips with the same instinctive ease with which he decided
where next to touch those same lips to Illya's pink-flushed body.
"Napoleon," Illya gasped. His hands, those broad strong hands, molded themselves to Napoleon's head, fingers tangling in his hair. Napoleon smiled against Illya's flat belly as the pressure of the man's hands made it clear where he most desperately wanted Napoleon's mouth.
Oh yes, he wanted that as much as Illya.
He kissed the sharpish point of each hip, then the inside of each thigh, then drew his tongue lingeringly up the length of Illya's proud erection. Illya's breathless swearing music to his ears, Napoleon slipped his mouth over the musky cock and swallowed it down. The first time he'd attempted to take Illya so deep, he'd nearly choked, but practice had corrected that problem. Oh, the hours of lovely practice... Napoleon smiled as best he could around the tantalizing mouthful, then drew slowly off, reluctantly letting Illya's warm salty flesh leave his mouth.
The vividly pink crown he licked delicately around, the solid shaft which listed just slightly to the right, the dusky pink skin that crinkled around Illya's balls were all intimately familiar to him now. But no less intoxicating than the first time. Illya moaned as Napoleon nuzzled his tender balls, bending and spreading his legs to give him more room. His hands grasped Napoleon's head firmly and guided him back to his weeping cock. Napoleon obligingly took him in again, moaning at the taste, the smell, the feel of it. He held still and let Illya's bucking hips drive his erection down his throat, letting his moans escape around the solid flesh, the vibrations driving Illya's passions higher.
He knew Illya was close, could feel it in the tense, shaking muscles of the strong thighs. Napoleon took his lover's hips in an iron grip and held him still as he went down on him, until his nose was buried in short flaxen hair. Then he swallowed, his throat closing around Illya's cock. And swallowed. With a muffled shriek, Illya came, thrashing under Napoleon's hands. Napoleon drew back to let the last spurts land on his tongue, so he could savor the taste.
When, trembling, every inch covered in sweat, Illya collapsed back on the bed, Napoleon gently released his spent cock, tenderly cleaning it with long delicate strokes of his tongue. Muttering in his native tongue, Illya pushed Napoleon's head away from the too-sensitive area and hauled him up by the ears to kiss him.
"Careful, you'll break them off," Napoleon said with a smile, once the voracious mouth had released him. He half-closed his eyes in pleasure as he rubbed his erection purposefully against the other man's smooth belly. "God, Illya..."
A broad, strong hand wrapped around Napoleon's cock, the compression first delicious, then...
"That'll break off too, if you don't watch it," Napoleon warned him with a stifled gasp.
Illya looked him steadily in the eye, his grip relaxing to run a loose circle of fingers up and down Napoleon's hardness. "I want you to fuck me," he said without stumbling over the unfamiliar word. He must have practiced it.
Napoleon couldn't help it that his cock leapt at the words. But he shook his head. "No, dusha moya. But we can make love."
"Then make love to me."
Napoleon laughed breathlessly. "I thought I already was."
With a growl, Illya tugged playfully on the impatient flesh in his hand. Napoleon's groan escaped him, his head falling back. Illya's free hand tangled in Napoleon's hair and pulled him back down to stare into intense blue eyes. "I want you inside me."
"Oh god..." Napoleon bent to kiss Illya fiercely. "Are you sure?"
"Would I say it if I wasn't?" Illya kissed him back just as fiercely. "I want to belong to you."
"We belong to each other, schertze moi," Napoleon corrected gently.
Illya blinked at him. "Am I? Your heart?"
"Do you doubt it?"
Illya smiled. "I won't, when I have you inside me."
Napoleon's chest felt tight.
"Well?" Illya asked impatiently.
Napoleon kissed him deeply, losing both of them in the sweet playful battle of tongues and teeth, and withdrew breathlessly. "Yes. Oh yes, my Illya."
He reached for the bedside table, pulling out a tube of lubricant he'd never used on anyone but himself. Looking down at his lover, trying to stay sane in the grip of those eyes and that body, he said, "I think it would be easier on your side."
With a quick smile, and an even quicker kiss, Illya rolled onto his right side and tucked his left leg up against his chest. Napoleon straddled the bottom leg and slicked up his fingers. Holding his breath, he pressed one finger into Illya; then, when Illya only moaned and shivered, two. With as much care as he could muster, Napoleon stretched Illya, sliding more lubricant into him until they were both panting hoarsely with the effort of maintaining control.
Finally, he slicked himself down and tossed aside the tube. He knew the correct position was to lie on his side behind Illya, but Napoleon didn't think he could thrust properly from that angle. Thrust into Illya.
"God," the moan escaped his lips, barely a breath of sound. Illya's head turned, the brilliant blue eyes watching him almost calmly. Still straddling Illya's right leg, Napoleon hitched closer, hooking his elbow under Illya's bent leg to help keep it back. His balls slid teasingly along Illya's inner thigh as he lined up and pushed in.
Pained gasps escaped them both, and Napoleon stopped with just the head in, but Illya's wordless wiggle shifted him a little deeper, and the moment passed. Napoleon slid to his full length inside Illya, and stopped again, panting, the hot, tight embrace eating at his restraint. With a wordless noise, Illya wrapped an arm around Napoleon's neck and pulled him down for a desperate kiss. Their mouths met for only a brief biting moment before the position became too awkward, and Illya fell back to the bed.
Napoleon braced himself and began to thrust, moving in and out in slow measured pace, as if his speed was set, his course guided for him by Illya's lower leg. The slick, perfect pleasure ran from his cock to his toes to his slowly melting brain; he let his head fall back, let his body do what it did best. He almost didn't notice Illya's hands on his chest at first, until they gave him a solid shove. At that, Napoleon's head came forward with a snap.
"Out," Illya panted, his fingers slipping on the sweat which beaded Napoleon's chest.
He complied immediately. "Did I hurt you?"
Illya shook off Napoleon's anxious touch and rolled to his back. He pulled his legs back and sent a fiercely burning look at Napoleon. "In. Davai, davai! "
"Okay," Napoleon laughed breathlessly, "I got it. Now, now." But the laughter didn't last for more than that second; it was engulfed in the swift flames of passion, fired by Illya's urgency.
Napoleon thrust hard into Illya's unprotesting body, driving deep home in a single thrust. Illya's scream didn't even slow him; he recognized the same wounding pleasure he felt. Napoleon took Illya's legs over his arms as he bent low over him, fucking him with violent, pounding strokes. Their mouths met, sucking and biting at each other, devouring. It didn't take long. Not long at all for the piston of Napoleon's cock to pound them both into submission.
When Napoleon felt the warm spray of Illya's come on his belly, he let go what little control he had left. His climax overcame him like a tsunami, his cries of completion swallowed whole by Illya's voracious mouth. He collapsed onto his lover's body, and lay panting.
Illya's legs curled loosely around Napoleon's hips, his arms cradled him while he slowly returned to himself. When he had some breath back in his lungs, Napoleon pushed himself slowly up on his hands and began to withdraw.
"No." Illya's fingernails dug into Napoleon's hips, pulling him back. "Stay."
"I'll try," Napoleon panted. He brushed the damp hair off Illya's forehead and laid a tender kiss there. Then he nestled his head on Illya's shoulder and they both wallowed in the feeling of connection until it finally slid away from them.
|"Why don't you let me help?" Napoleon asked, reaching to do just
that. Illya slid lithely away to finish struggling with his jacket at a
"I'm fine, thank you." With a grimace, Illya finally managed to get it off. He tossed the offending garment over the back of a chair and laid himself cautiously on the hotel bed. Face down.
"You're not fine, and you know it. That bitch did a number on your back." Napoleon's fists clenched involuntarily. "I wish she wasn't dead."
"I don't." Illya's voice was muffled.
"No, of course not. But I wish I could give her back some of what she gave you," he said savagely.
Illya turned his head to peer up at Napoleon. "No you don't. You're incapable of mistreating a woman. Besides," his head dropped back to the bed, muffling his voice, "she would probably have enjoyed it."
"Perhaps." He forced a smile. "But I think you overestimate my chivalry."
Illya snorted. "I know I do."
Napoleon sat on the edge of the bed. "Come on, Illya, off with the shirt." Unprepared for the swiftness of his partner's response, Napoleon found himself on the floor, cradling a sore jaw and blinking dazedly. Shit! After six months, you'd think they could at least focus their aggression on the enemy and not each other.
"I think I'll keep it on," Illya said calmly as he lowered himself gingerly back to the bed. Blossoms of red had appeared on his shirt.
"Crazy Russian," Napoleon mumbled. He hauled himself to his feet and approached the bedside again. "I was only trying to help."
"I can do without your help." Illya's head was turned away; his hot words fired at the wall. "I don't need anything, thank you Napoleon," he added stiffly after a minute.
Napoleon took a step sideways to the chair Illya had hung his jacket over and fished in the pockets. "So the doctors gave you this," he held up the tube of ointment he'd found, "just on a whim."
"Napoleon, I'm warning you. I'm in a decidedly unpleasant mood, and it would be better if you left me alone."
"Yes, I noticed that." He rubbed his jaw; it would definitely bruise. Thank heavens they'd just come off an assignment, and no one would think twice about his bruises. He'd feel better about the bruises and Illya's injuries if the mission hadn't been a wild goose chase. A failed attempt to track down the mysterious head of a new Thrush satrap. Their bug in Thrush New York had hinted that the new satrap would cover most of the eastern seaboard. "But you need this stuff applied to your back, and there's no one around but me to do it."
Illya muttered something Russian and obscene into the mattress. He sighed when Napoleon cautiously laid a hand on his sleeve, and reluctantly allowed the other man to remove his blood-stained shirt.
"I'm going to put this stuff on your back." Napoleon tried not to wince at the angry lash marks. "I'm just warning you, because Mr. Waverly has the room next door," -- even he had hoped to find the leader of the new satrap and destroy him and it before it could become operational -- "and if you shoot me, he'll hear it, and come over here. And he'll probably want to know what happened."
"Just get on with it."
Napoleon smiled at the back of Illya's head, and immediately regretted it. He rubbed his aching jaw once more before opening the cream. Illya hissed at the first touch, not quite squirming away, though the quickly aborted shift of his body clearly indicated that he wanted to.
"Sorry," Napoleon said softly. "I don't want to hurt you."
"I find that hard to believe." All the weary world was in his voice.
Napoleon closed his eyes briefly. "I know. I wish I knew how to--"
"We're not going to have this conversation, Napoleon." There was steel in Illya's voice, though not, thankfully, in his hand. Napoleon had been joking about Mr. Waverly, but only a little; their relationship was full of landmines and when Illya was exhausted, as now, they were set on a hair-trigger.
"Of course not," Napoleon agreed carefully. He cast about for another line of conversation to distract them both from the pain as he tended Illya's back. "I hear you and Mark made a pretty good team on that last mission."
"What's the matter, Napoleon, are you worried?"
Napoleon dabbed the ointment gently on Illya's injuries, careful not to let his reaction to Illya's acid taunt affect his hands. "Should I be?"
Illya's laugh was harsh. "Maybe you should." He rolled away and stood up. Napoleon stood too, the bed between them. "If either of us had any sense, he'd put in for a transfer."
Napoleon's chin came up slightly. "If that's what you want, I'll do it as soon as we get back to headquarters," he offered evenly.
Illya laughed again. It was the kind of laugh that belonged on a bloody battlefield. "No, Napoleon. You don't get off that easily." He pulled his shirt on gingerly as he headed for the bathroom. "Neither of us do." The door closed softly behind him.
"Christ, how long can this continue?" Napoleon asked the empty room. "How long before you're satisfied? Oh, Illya..." He sat down on the bed and rubbed his hands over his face and through his hair. "I know you don't believe me, Illya," he said wearily, confessing the words Illya wouldn't let him say, "but I never meant to hurt you."
|"Did I hurt you?" Napoleon asked solicitously.
Illya smiled brilliantly at him as he lowered himself cautiously into the chair. "No," he said with calm certainty.
Napoleon shook his head, a deep sense of wonder suffusing his chest. How was it possible that this creature of blue and gold, of infinite curiosity and knowledge, should want to be with him? That this man should have let him inside, inside the walls and the deep privacy, inside his body. He knew his face was wreathed with smiles, and not only couldn't stop, he couldn't even feel self-conscious about it.
"What do you want?" he asked finally, with a nod toward the bar.
"Oh..." Illya shrugged. "A half-pint?"
Napoleon smiled and shook his head. "You can do better than that."
"But you're broke."
"Not that broke." Napoleon leaned across the table, his voice low. "Not too broke to celebrate, Illyusha."
Illya blushed a charming shade of pink and smiled shyly. "I... vodka. Please."
Napoleon grinned. "Coming right up."
It took a couple of minutes to push his way through the throng to the bar, and a couple more to get the attention, let alone assistance, of the bartender. Napoleon smiled to himself as he realized he was fretting over the few minutes he was separated from his lover. Oh, but he had it bad.
Drinks in hand -- vodka for Illya and scotch for himself, paid for with the last of his paycheck -- Napoleon turned back to join his friend. His steps slowed and stopped on seeing someone else at the table with Illya. The interloper leaned in close, and Illya leaned away slightly, the tiny withdrawal speaking volumes to Napoleon. He pressed rudely through the crowd to arrive quickly at the table.
"Napoleon! How nice to see you again!"
Napoleon sank slowly into his seat, all thoughts but one fled. Killeen. Oh God. Oh Christ. How could he have forgotten? He glanced quickly at his surroundings and his fists tightened around the glasses he held. In his rosy, love-blinded world, he hadn't even noticed what pub they were celebrating in.
Illya smiled at him tentatively. "Is that for me?"
"Oh, yeah." Napoleon set the drinks on the table and pushed Illya's vodka over to him. Illya lifted the glass to him in silent toast and offered him a secretive smile. Napoleon automatically lifted his own glass, but put it down again without drinking. Looking confused, Illya took only a sip of the liquor and returned his own glass to the table.
"Tom," Killeen corrected with an engaging smile.
Illya ducked his head slightly, his expression caught between suspicion and pleasure. "Tom was just telling me how you two met."
"Oh?" Napoleon coughed on air. He was spared, if that word could apply to the hell he was in, any further reply by the arrival of Chatham and Durning, bearing a round of pints for everyone.
For several minutes, the conversation was general: a chorus of greetings, some good-natured complaining about the crowded pub and the petty annoyances of the day. The others were too loudly exuberant to notice that Napoleon and Illya didn't join in. Napoleon took the opportunity to lean close to Illya.
"This isn't what I had in mind," he murmured into Illya's ear, his nose brushing the fringe of soft blond. "Let's go somewhere else."
"That's okay, 'Polya," Illya whispered back. "I'm fascinated by your friends."
Though Napoleon doubted Illya really wanted to be there, drinking with strangers, he obviously thought it would be rude to leave. And, perhaps, even that Napoleon wanted to be there, regardless of what he said. Napoleon clenched his fists on his thighs, and cast about for a way out. His desperate gaze was caught and held by Killeen's calm green eyes, and Napoleon felt his heart sink -- there wasn't any other word for the empty aching feeling in his chest -- as he saw the glittering amusement lurking there.
"To Napoleon," Killeen said heartily, raising his pint. The others joined in, Illya with a bemused smile at his lover. "I tell you," Killeen said, after putting his half-drained glass down and wiping foam from his lips with a handy napkin, "there's no one I'd rather lose a month's salary to."
Napoleon's nails bit into his palms so deeply they drew blood.
Durning laughed heartily. "You may not mind losing money, Tom, but I would have. Almost thought I had, it coming down to the last minute, as it were. Leo here's lucky he didn't fail me. Right, Greg?" He poked a stiff finger into Chatham's side. The other agent frowned into his beard and poked Durning back, none too gently. Durning only grinned. "You're not going to refuse to pay up, now are you Greg?"
"Of course not," Chatham said sourly. He brought his pint to his lips and regarded Napoleon over it for a moment before drinking. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "You're better than I gave you credit for," he said reluctantly.
"Better at what?" Illya asked.
Napoleon drank off his scotch in one gulp and coughed painfully. His fingers were cold and shaking, and so was something deep inside his chest. He felt like he was in some personal version of Dante's inferno. And, he swallowed hard against his rising gorge, it was no more than he deserved. He had to stop this, had to say something, but his throat was closed up tighter than headquarters on security alert. He couldn't speak to save his life. Even to save something that had become, rather to his surprise, far more important than his life.
Durning and Chatham roared. Killeen leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers. He touched his index fingers lightly to his lips and smiled.
"Seduction," Chatham said.
"Fucking," Durning corrected with a wicked cant to his lips.
"Your friend just won a bet," Killeen told Illya.
"A bet? About what?" Illya asked, all innocence. But his eyes held a shadow of half-denied doubt.
"Whether or not he could get you into bed," Killeen told him gently.
Illya blinked. His pale face blanched, and he turned electric blue eyes on Napoleon.
And Napoleon knew that all he had to do was say no. This isn't so. Illya would believe him. Believe him over these men he'd never met before and didn't really like. Didn't trust. He trusted Napoleon. He wanted to believe.
Napoleon couldn't say a word. He couldn't lie to Illya.
The silence lengthened and held, quivering. Around them, the pub roiled with shouts and hearty laughter, but nothing penetrated the pool of tense silence which flowed from Illya to Napoleon and back again. Slowly -- oh, god, so painfully slowly -- the tender hope in Illya's eyes died. Napoleon watched Illya's expression become hard, his eyes glacial, ice filming over the deep hurt and betrayal. The broad hands quivered, curling into tight shaking fists, and Napoleon braced himself for the blow.
But Illya didn't even give him that release. He rose slowly to his feet and walked out of the pub with stiff dignity, leaving Napoleon hurting worse than if he had found himself on the floor picking up his teeth.
He turned slowly back to Killeen and, for the first time in his life, he hated a man. Killeen smiled, and the hatred grew.
And the man was himself.
|"Wake up, Napoleon; you'd hate to miss anything."
A foot prodded him roughly. Napoleon groaned and stirred. He rolled cautiously to his knees and looked groggily around.
"Oh good, a dungeon. I've always been fond of dungeons." He staggered to his feet, shaking his head to clear it, and took another look around. Dungeon might have been an overstatement. Basement was more like it, with a bare bulb dangling from the ceiling, a hard cement floor, and iron manacles cemented into the red brick walls. "Why are you all tied up?"
Illya rolled his eyes. "How should I know? They stuck me in the manacles, dropped you at my feet, and left."
"And may I thank you for the gentle wake up call." Napoleon rubbed his sore side, his mobile face miming injury, despite the fact that Illya hadn't actually kicked him very hard, and his head hurt worse than his ribs.
"Just get me out of here."
"I'd love to, tovarisch," Napoleon said with a grimace as he patted his pockets, then his collar, "but I don't have a lockpick on me. They even took my watch." He bared his wrist to demonstrate the fact.
Illya bared his teeth. "At least try to do something." He blinked, suddenly looking less feral. "I'm getting a cramp in my left leg."
"If worse comes to worst, I can always do something about that," Napoleon told him absently as he studied the thick metal cuffs which held Illya's wrists to the wall. His arms were stretched out to either side, not enough to be painful, and his feet were free.
"I'd rather you got me out of here and let me do something about the cramp."
"Well, we may not have much--"
Choice became just a word as the thick iron-bound door opened. Napoleon regretfully relaxed his tensed muscles as it became apparent that escape was not in the offing. There were too many guns and too many of the gun-wielders were standing out of arm's reach.
And the guns stayed out of reach, even when three of the goons bore down on Napoleon, their hands twitching with eagerness. He dropped into a crouch to meet their attack. Three was too many, however. He could block the left punch, and the right jab, but the roundhouse connected with enough force to make his vision spin. The kick he evaded, the gut punch he was ready for, but the kidney punch got through. Then the blows came too fast to react with anything but instinct, and he only fended off about half of them.
They withdrew unceremoniously once they had him on his knees. Without a word, the three bruisers and the three with guns left the room, the door closing with a definite clang behind them. Napoleon knelt on the cold cement floor, panting.
"You hold your left fist a little low."
"That," Napoleon panted, "doesn't help." He stayed on his knees a bit longer. His left leg was throbbing, and he was trying to decide if it would be worse to stay where he was, or to put weight on it. "Christ, what a way to be spending our anniversary."
It didn't take a perceptive man to see Illya icing over.
"Our first year as partners," Napoleon specified with an ugly grin. He shook his head, fighting a laugh he knew would hurt like the devil.
"You're bleeding," Illya said after a minute.
Napoleon pulled out his handkerchief and pressed it to the cut over his right eye. He waited until his breathing was normal again, then pulled himself to his feet and staggered over to give Illya's manacles another try.
He hadn't gotten anywhere with them by the time the goons were back. It could have been half an hour or two hours. Napoleon turned from Illya and surveyed the Thrush henchmen with a sigh. He wondered vaguely if it was the same three men who stepped forward to attack. There was something so... cookie cutter about Thrush muscle.
When they left, Napoleon collapsed to the floor. His ribs hurt badly, and he wasn't sure his knee would support any weight now. He lay on his back and let the cold seep into his abused muscles.
"I'd be happy to help next time."
Napoleon lifted his head enough to glare at his partner. Then he let it fall back to the floor, wincing as it bounced a little too vigorously. When his breathing evened out as much as it was likely too, he crawled over to Illya and dragged himself up his partner's body until he could reach the manacles. It was a point of pride that, for once, he was too sore and exhausted to find close proximity with the man's body arousing.
Illya's wrists were raw from straining against the shackles. Napoleon tucked his blood-spotted handkerchief between the metal and the thin wrists before he went back to trying to pick the lock with the tongue of Illya's beltbuckle.
"Napoleon, have you noticed something strange about these guys?"
"I've been a little busy," Napoleon said without looking away from the lock he was working on.
"Who's in command?"
Napoleon was silent a minute. "Who were we sent to try and flush out," he prompted, half-question, half-answer.
"The leader of the new satrap." He made some complex and completely untranslatable, but eminently Russian, noise. "We've got to stop taking these assignments; they're hard on a body."
Napoleon would have laughed, but the small snort he allowed himself hurt too badly to consider giving his ribs anything more to do. The door opened with a creak.
"Oh not again," Napoleon half-groaned as he turned carefully around.
"Why don't you let me out to play?" Illya suggested as Napoleon circled haltingly sideways, drawing the attackers with him.
"Only if you play nice." The voice was entirely too cultured to belong to any of the Thrush thugs in the room. Besides, it clearly came through a loudspeaker concealed in the ceiling. "It's very simple," it continued, "I want the new communication codes."
"What codes?" Illya asked.
As if on cue, the heavies closed in on Napoleon.
"They'll stop, you know," said the voice, "as soon as you start talking."
Before the circle tightened around Napoleon, his eyes met Illya's. He stared hard at his partner, and saw understanding in the familiar blue eyes. Napoleon knew that even in the unlikely event that Illya found it difficult to watch his partner's torture, he wouldn't speak. Whether motivated by love for U.N.C.L.E., or perhaps even some small glimmer of respect for Napoleon's fortitude, Illya would remain silent. Their line of sight was broken by a wall of Thrush thugs.
Napoleon didn't make it over to work on Illya's shackles after they left. He ignored Illya's recommendation not to sleep and lay with his eyes closed, cataloging his injuries. And the longer they waited between beatings, the more time he had to feel the bruises, the cracked ribs. It was extremely crude, and extremely effective.
He distracted himself for a brief period by trying to remember where he'd heard the Thrush leader's voice before. But he couldn't place it in his mental file of known Thrush. Perhaps Illya would know. However, Napoleon didn't have a chance to ask.
He didn't even bother pulling himself to his feet when the door opened on the next occasion.
"Come." The speaker was a muscle-bound brute with a lowered brow.
Napoleon ignored him.
Napoleon briefly entertained the idea that that single word was the only one the ape knew. He didn't resist when he was hauled to his feet, but he didn't help either. A gun boring into the small of his back, reawakening the pain of his bruised kidneys, got him moving as desired.
"Sorry, Illya," Napoleon said as he was herded out the door. "I'll be back."
"Don't be late," Illya called after him. Napoleon allowed himself a small internal smile. At least on a mission their relationship was calmer. Somewhere out in the battlezone, they found a place between enemies and friends where they could maintain a balance. Partners.
Outside the dungeon, the building had no pretensions of being a castle. In fact, it seemed like nothing so much as a continental retreat -- some little cabin in the Pyrenees. Despite the fact that he knew perfectly well they were somewhere in Maine. The hall was lined with thick carpeting and expensive artwork. Napoleon obediently limped after two Thrush henchmen, another two behind with guns, past several doors before being ushered into one. And now the scenery changed. Not a castle or a vacation home; a hospital, a laboratory. The muzzle of the gun was shifted to press with cold finality against his temple. Napoleon held perfectly still and let rough hands do with him what they would.
They left him, naked, strapped to a cold metal table. He would have glanced down at himself, but he really didn't want to see the bruises painted over the canvas of his skin. He tried craning his neck, but couldn't keep the doorway under observation. Shivering, Napoleon settled into the waiting game, trying not to let the lengthy delay unnerve him. Despite himself, he jumped when a man's voice spoke from the doorway.
"It's been a long time, Napoleon." A click and a whir, and the table swung up to a vertical position, bringing Napoleon upright.
"Tom?" Napoleon blinked. "You were reported killed by Thrush five years ago."
"Oh my, no. An exaggeration." Killeen smiled self-deprecatingly. His hands in his pockets, he leaned casually against the doorjamb. "Rumors of my death, and all that."
"You went over to Thrush," Napoleon said flatly.
Killeen laughed. "My dear friend, I always was Thrush."
"Friend?" Napoleon rolled his head against the metal table and tried not to shiver visibly. "What an odd word to use."
"Is it?" Tom Killeen pushed off the doorframe and strode slowly into the room. They were alone, much better odds than three to one, though Napoleon couldn't see what good it would do him, trussed up like a turkey. Besides, he wasn't entirely certain he wouldn't just end up on the floor if the restraints were removed. Killeen drew his fingers along the edge of the room's other table, brushing against scalpels, hypodermics, bottles of variously-colored solutions, and other items which Napoleon had tried not to notice. "It seems to me that I did you a favor."
Killeen picked up a hypodermic and expertly filled it from an unlabelled bottled. "I flatter myself that I introduced you to that lovely creature."
Napoleon blinked. "I suggest you leave Illya out of this," he said with quiet menace.
The needle was sharp; Napoleon barely felt the prick as it slid into his vein. But when Killeen depressed the plunger, the drug entered his bloodstream like a flame, licking hungrily across his nerves. Napoleon clenched his teeth and held back any sound.
"But Napoleon," Killeen told him, whisper soft, "Mr. Kuryakin, not to mention what you did to him, is an integral part of who you are now. How could I possibly leave him out?" he asked in a normal tone of voice.
Napoleon's lips remained tightly compressed. The initial burning sensation had passed, but it seemed he could feel the drug inch its way through his body, spreading out to every nerve, every tissue, waking every injury to new life. It was a deeply unsettling feeling.
"You want to know what I just gave you, of course." Killeen pushed aside the medical instruments and boosted himself up on the table. "It's something I've been working on for some time -- you didn't know I was a chemist, did you? No matter; I've honed my skills since I left U.N.C.L.E.'s restrictive aegis. So many rules about what could and couldn't be done." He shook his head. "How short-sighted."
"Whereas you see the long view," Napoleon said tightly. "Like Illya and me. How did you know...?"
"That you would be partnered, dear old Uncle Waverly's most promising team?" Killeen laughed delightedly. "I didn't. That, my friend, is just the icing on the cake."
He cocked his head to one side, his smile coy. "You were working on some very important reports, Napoleon. It was possible, if you'd kept your mind on your work, that you would have discovered some of my more... objectionable activities. It was necessary to keep you occupied." He hopped off the table and brought his mouth to Napoleon's ear. "He was sweet, wasn't he?"
Napoleon squeezed his eyes shut and turned his head away, but he couldn't escape that voice.
"He was so young -- younger than he looked, even, did you know that? -- so... innocent, really. Despite his upbringing, he still wanted to trust people. To trust you. And, of course, he was beautiful; just aching to be loved. To be taken..."
"I told you--"
"But you didn't expect me to believe it, did you? After he walked out with that look on his face? Oh, Napoleon... tell me another one."
He was laughing, his breath fanning Napoleon's ear. Napoleon whipped his head sideways, hoping to feel the hard crunch of Killeen's skull against his own. But he wasn't nearly fast enough, or Killeen was too fast. Now the man stood in front of him, smiling, waggling a finger in front of his nose.
"Now, Napoleon, that wasn't very bright, you know. Even if you had succeeded, how would you get out of here?"
"What do you want?" Napoleon gritted between his teeth. Hot and cold chills raced through him with dizzying speed, and the roar of his own blood filled his ears, making him seasick.
"Just a little information, my friend. Just a little information."
"You were U.N.C.L.E., Killeen," Napoleon said wearily. "You already know everything you need to know."
"Now, Napoleon; I'm not that naive and neither are you." He didn't seem to be shouting, but his voice was too loud. And the lights -- someone had turned then up. Napoleon blinked, wincing at the brightness. "I already told you: I want the new communication codes. You can give me that, can't you, dear boy?"
"What-- What makes you think I would?"
Killeen leaned in close, his eyes trapping Napoleon's in an endless corridor of glittering emerald. "It's not really too bright in here," he said with a soft touch of commiseration. "Or too cold. And -- you might not believe me -- but I'm whispering."
Shouting. He was shouting and Napoleon's ears rang with it. He shook his head drunkenly. His ribs... every breath was an inferno.
"It's a pleasant drug, don't you think? Heightens the sense of touch. Nothing more than that, despite what you're feeling -- light hits the receptors in the eyes, sound waves strike the eardrums -- it's all touch. And it hurts now, doesn't it?"
Napoleon clenched his teeth to stop the whimpering. He felt Killeen lean in close, the air displaced by his movement a flame fanning over Napoleon's bare chest.
"I think," his breath flickered against Napoleon's ear, his voice stiletto-sharp, puncturing the cringing eardrum, "we'll put you back with your partner and see how long it takes him to figure it out. And," he smiled; Napoleon saw it through the bright crimson haze and thought of piranha, "whether he'll take pity, or advantage."
Killeen drew a single burning finger down Napoleon's chest, flaying him to the bone.
Illya was very careful to be on the opposite side of the room when the door opened. He didn't know why they'd released him from the manacles after taking Napoleon, but he wasn't about to question it. He'd almost had the door lock picked when a noise from outside alerted him. He had barely enough time to put his belt back on and try to look harmless.
He needn't have worried. The guards dumped their burden on the cold floor and left without a second glance at him. When the door slammed shut behind them, Napoleon cringed.
"Napoleon?" Illya approached his partner without circumspection, taking in the naked, battered form. "Napoleon?" He laid a hand on the bare arm and got knocked on his ass when Napoleon screamed and lashed out at him.
Illya righted himself and sat crosslegged, warily watching his partner. Napoleon was curled into a ball, shivering, whimpering on every breath.
"Bozhe moi, Napoleon, what did they do to you?" he murmured to himself.
"Illya?" Very hoarse.
Illya blinked in surprise. "Yes, Napoleon?"
Napoleon cringed. "Quieter, please," he managed through cracked lips. "Hurts."
"My voice--" he broke off at Napoleon's wince and started again at a whisper. "My voice hurts you?"
Napoleon made a sound like a laugh. "Everything hurts."
"Are you badly injured?" Whispered, it came out sounding like breathless concern. Illya grimaced.
"Not... badly. But the drug--" he broke off, breathing raggedly.
"What drug?" He forgot to keep his voice soft, and Napoleon flinched, a tear spilling from his tightly closed lids. He tossed his head as if it burned him, a sound like a whine caught in his throat. Forgetting himself, Illya reached out to brush the moisture off Napoleon's face. He sucked in a startled breath when Napoleon cried out at the light touch. "The drug makes your skin sensitive," he whispered, his voice barely a thread of sound, "right?"
Napoleon nodded gratefully, his eyes still closed.
Napoleon started to speak. Stopped.
"The voice sounded familiar; whose was it?" Illya frowned at Napoleon's lack of response. "You will be more comfortable if you lie flat," he suggested finally, thinking of broken ribs and fragile lung tissue.
After a minute, Napoleon slowly unfurled, hissing when his back touched the floor. The position would spread the contact over more of his body, but it had to be better than the tightly-compressed ball he'd been making of himself. Finally, he was lying more naturally on his back, utterly vulnerable in his nakedness.
Illya removed his shirt and draped it over his partner. Napoleon jerked at the light touch of the cloth and reached down to snatch it away, but Illya grabbed his wrist. He ignored Napoleon's whimper.
"Leave it there."
Breathing raggedly, Napoleon nodded. Illya released his partner's wrist and adjusted the fabric to cover his groin. He told himself it was because Napoleon deserved at least a little consideration, but the truth was he didn't like to see Napoleon naked. It provoked memories which rankled too deeply. It also provoked a more immediate reaction. Illya despised himself for the power this man's body still had over him.
"Now, Napoleon. Who?"
"Killeen," he said on a sigh.
Illya jerked back as if struck. His fists clenched at the flood of memories. "I thought he was dead," he said when he could manage a calm tone.
"Naturally." Illya's mouth twisted. "It's too bad you can't blame Thrush for everything."
Napoleon tried to smile. "He said... you'd feel... that way. Why do you think... he stuck me back... in here?"
Illya frowned. The only possible explanation was... unsettling. "He thought I might like to take revenge, is that it?"
"Something like that." Napoleon shifted, bit his lip, cried out at the self-inflicted pain. "So," he said, taking a stifled breath, "how 'bout it?"
"How about what?"
"Here's your chance, Illya." He smiled crookedly. "You can make me pay... for what I did."
Illya sat frozen for a long moment, staring at Napoleon's scrunched-up face. With his eyes squeezed shut, sweat and blood dripping off him, and bruises flowering across his torso like blossoms from a corpse, he was hardly the handsome young agent who had played such havoc with the naive Russian. But, though people aged, memory didn't, and the taste of his own humiliation was still fresh in Illya's mouth.
Illya moved without conscious thought. As if from a great distance, he watched his hand drift toward Napoleon, watched it trace a tentative line down one bare thigh. Napoleon whimpered and Illya snatched his hand back. Christ, what was he doing?
"I appreciate the offer," Illya managed to say stiffly, "but I'll take my revenge in my own time."
The heavy door banged open, startling them both. Illya scrambled to his feet, but he was grabbed before he could attack, and shoved back to the wall, a gun digging into his stomach. The guards hauled Napoleon upright, ignoring his stifled cries.
"How unfortunate," Tom Killeen said as he strode into the cell. "I do so hate to have to take a personal hand in this." He spoke as if he were mocking himself. "Oh well." He turned a gentle smile on Napoleon. "On your knees, Napoleon."
One of the guards hooked an ankle in front of Napoleon's left leg and brought him hard to his knees. He cried out, though Illya could see how hard Napoleon was trying to keep quiet. The effect of the abuse and the drug was stronger than his partner's will.
Killeen moved closer and bent to pick up Illya's shirt. He shook it out, folded it neatly, then handed it to Illya. The gun ground bruisingly into Illya's gut, and he took the garment slowly and gingerly. With a smile, Killeen turned back to the other guards. At a gesture from him, three of them grabbed Napoleon, restraining him on his hands and knees, laughing coarsely at his cries. The fourth took a tube of something from Killeen and, with a filthy gloat, went to kneel between Napoleon's legs.
"You can stop this any time," Killeen told Illya calmly, his eyes never leaving what they were doing to Napoleon. "All I need is the new communication codes." He moved away, drawn closer to his naked captive.
Napoleon was screaming, the slick fingers of the guard shoving ungently into him. Illya tried to close his eyes, to turn away, but Killeen shouted a command, and the guard dragged Illya to his knees next to Napoleon.
"So tight," Killeen murmured as he watched, "a virgin. Then you must have spread your legs for him." He shot Illya a twisted smile. "And he never gave himself in return?"
Illya clenched his teeth.
"He will now," Killeen told him. "It hurt -- didn't it? -- when he took you. It always does the first time. Now, with my drug in his system..." he laughed softly, "he'll think it will never stop hurting."
He knelt, nudging his henchman aside, and ran an appraising hand over Napoleon's flank. Napoleon writhed, straining against the hands which held him, but there was no escape. Illya turned his head away, and the muzzle of a gun forced him back, but not before he noticed the knife sheath strapped to the calf of the man holding Napoleon's right ankle. Killeen was unfastening his trousers.
"I always thought he was beautiful. Didn't you?" He slanted a glance at Illya and cocked his head suddenly. "Perhaps you still do. Or perhaps..." He smiled cruelly. "Perhaps you'd like to do this."
Illya closed his eyes, conscious of his own arousal, sickened by it. Warm breath fanned suddenly against his cheek, accompanied by a smooth voice. "Take him, Illya. Make him pay. Take back what you gave to him. He owes it to you."
He moved haltingly, as if in a dream. He was vaguely aware of Killeen's smile as the man gave way before him, shifting aside to let him past. Illya's hand tentatively touched the small of Napoleon's back. Trying not to hear his partner's whimpers, he trailed his fingers over purpling bruises, down over the curve of one buttock. Killeen moved in beside in, whispering explicitly in his ear. Illya let one hand drift to his fly as his left hand reached for the sheath he'd spotted earlier, found the hilt without fumbling, and smoothly drew the knife. He had the sharp point at Killeen's throat before he'd even touched his fly.
"Now," Illya said evenly. "You will all release Napoleon and slowly lay your guns on the floor." He breathed silently through his mouth, fighting the desire to gulp at the air. One hand held Killeen in a vice-grip, keeping him under the knife.
"Do it," Killeen ordered, his voice choked. He didn't move even a hair.
Slowly, the guards removed their hands from Napoleon, who curled haltingly and without a sound into a tight ball. One by one, they drew their weapons and laid them gently on the floor. As the last one hesitated, Illya grinned ferally.
"Try it," he challenged, "and your boss will die."
The final gun dropped to the floor. With a jerk of his head, Illya had the man slide it over to him. He transferred the knife to his left hand without withdrawing the needle-sharp point from the skin of Killeen's neck, and picked up the gun in his right hand. Then he shoved the man away from him, not trying to hide his disgust, and covered them all with the pistol. They backed obediently up at his gesture.
"You missed a perfect chance." Killeen's smile held an edge of superiority, as if he wasn't standing on the wrong end of the gun. "You think he'll ever give that to you voluntarily?"
"Your mistake," Illya told him as he quickly grabbed his shirt and returned to kneel beside Napoleon, "was in assuming that I wanted it." He gently coaxed Napoleon to uncurl, knowing he had to ignore the man's pain, and got a shoulder under him without taking his sights off Killeen and his men.
"Oh, you want it all right," Killeen told him as he half-carried, half-dragged Napoleon out of the cell, "and now you know you do."
Illya didn't bother to dignify that with a response. He got the cell door closed and locked and gathered Napoleon up from where he'd left him propped against the wall. "Come on, partner; let's go find your clothes."
But he knew, as he guided Napoleon's uneven steps away, that
Killeen had been right. And what he had raised would return to haunt
"For god's sake, sit down and stop hovering." Napoleon wasn't sure which was more disturbing: the way he felt, or the way Illya looked. His partner was as pale as a ghost.
"This is ridiculous. No one has even looked at you."
"Oh fine." Illya sat, but his restless fidgeting had nothing to do with the uncomfortable chairs inflicted on all residents of hospital waiting rooms. Probably adrenaline, Napoleon decided -- after finding his clothes and their communicators, Illya had called for a clean-up team, but there wasn't much chance of it getting there in time to catch Killeen still locked in the basement. Illya had shot two Thrush guards on their way out, but there were no doubt more lurking around, who would let their boss out. Probably already had.
Napoleon sighed. "This is a waste of time, Illya. Let's just go home."
But Illya was shaking his head resolutely, and Napoleon knew it was a losing battle. He leaned his head back against the cool wall with a sigh and gathered his strength to wait out the emergency room staff. He actually felt pretty good, though he knew it was merely a matter of comparison. Now that that damned drug was no longer running wild through his system, the aches and pains he felt were minor in comparison to those he'd suffered. Or almost suffered...
Napoleon clenched his fists involuntarily. "This piddling little hospital isn't up to U.N.C.L.E.'s standards," he complained to Illya, though he was aware it might be better to get checked out here first. In addition to a distinctly unpleasant ache, he still felt slimy down... there; the last thing he wanted was for a thorough U.N.C.L.E. physician to start asking difficult questions. Here, in this small town hospital, they'd deal with his visible injuries and not ask questions.
"We're a bit off the beaten path, in case you hadn't noticed. This is the best we can do." But he was on his feet in another minute, pacing again.
"If they ever get around to me," Napoleon added softly. He watched Illya through half-closed eyes for a bit. Nervous energy didn't steal one iota of his partner's lithe grace. He squeezed his eyes shut. God, and Illya had... and he'd almost wanted it. That was the really sick part -- through the haze of pain and humiliation, he'd felt his partner's touch and wanted it, even though he'd known it would be agony. "Can't you be still? You're making me dizzy."
"How can they run a hospital like this?" Illya's gesture took in the half-full waiting room and the complete absence of anyone who even looked like a doctor. "We've been here for an hour already."
"All the more reason to call it a day and go home." Napoleon suggested wearily.
"They gave you a good working-over. If you've got cracked ribs, it's best we know now, instead of after the long trip home."
"I think I've been in the field long enough to know a cracked rib when it happens to me," Napoleon groused. He just wanted to be home, where he could lock the doors and turn on the alarms. Where he didn't have to feel, or remember, or even look at his blond, too-handsome partner. Somewhere safe.
"Napoleon, you wouldn't know a cardiac arrest if it happened to you." Illya growled explosively under his breath. "What is taking them so long? Someone could die out here and they wouldn't even notice."
Napoleon cracked his eyelids. He turned his head to one side and then the other without opening his eyes any farther. His gaze took in the rest of the room's occupants, cataloging their visible injuries as he went: contusions, a little blood here and there, a racking cough, a possibly broken arm. "Nothing fatal that I can see."
"That doesn't excuse this lax attitude."
"Is this the Russian boy who stood in line for two days to buy a loaf of bread?" Napoleon teased softly.
"Three," Illya corrected absently.
Somewhat to his own surprise, Napoleon smiled. He closed his eyes again. Now that the pain had lessened somewhat -- and, he admitted with a grimace, Illya might be right about those ribs -- he felt very sleepy. With Illya keeping watch, he could afford to be somewhat less than fully aware, but his own vulnerability was frightening. He kept dropping half off, then jolting back awake. And, some part of his mind pointed out, how could he be sure he could trust Illya? He almost laughed at that. Despite all common sense, he did trust Illya. The problem was, he apparently couldn't trust himself.
"I'll be back," Napoleon said as he lurched to his feet, ignoring the pain in his knee. However, his intention of escaping to the men's room was cut short with little warning. The room turned a funny shade of gray to punish him for moving so fast. Napoleon felt hot, and dizzy, and knew he was going to pass out. Best to sit down again before he did it.
"...Napoleon?" Illya's voice faded back in from far away.
Napoleon blinked fuzzily, a black curtain still obscuring his vision. Illya's breath fanned his ear and he smiled at the pleasant sensation. Warm and a little dizzy, aching mildly in an... interesting place, Napoleon wished vaguely that he could remember what they'd done. It must have been fun. He turned his head into Illya's neck with a soft sigh. And wondered why he was fully dressed. And why his ribs ached abominably. And how had they both ended up on the floor anyway? Reality rushed in with a vengeance, leaving Napoleon gasping.
"Oh hell," he managed faintly.
"So you're back. Good." Illya's voice held a note of approval. "That was an excellent performance, tovarisch; you put them all in a panic. Someone is finally going to take a look at you." Illya's chest was warm and solid against Napoleon's back, his arms fitted snugly around his chest in unconscious parody of an embrace. One palm lay flat on Napoleon chest, warm and steady and silently comforting.
Napoleon overcame his flushed embarrassment enough to smile weakly at his partner. "Illya?"
"Be careful what you say. Someone might think you care."
"Yob tvoyu mat! Where are they?" Illya rummaged through the pile of dirty laundry on the bed. Then he opened his apparently empty suitcase and shook it vigorously. The only thing that fell onto the bed was his toothbrush, looking sadly squashed. Empty. Illya tossed the offending object away with a curse.
He had to jump quickly when the suitcase hit his bedside table, which wobbled on uneven legs and threatened to send the lamp crashing to the floor. He grabbed it before it could tumble and steadied the whole contraption. Then he sat on the bed and took a deep breath.
"Careful, Illya," he told himself, "you're acting crazy."
After a minute, he breathed out sharply and stood up again. The pile of dirty clothes on the bed went straight into the laundry bag, the suitcase into the closet, and the toothbrush into the garbage. And he still couldn't find his favorite blue pajamas.
For heaven's sake, what kind of agent was he if he couldn't even keep track of his pajamas? Illya rubbed his hands through his hair and sighed. A week-long assignment shouldn't have this detrimental an effect on his nerves.
And it had been an easy assignment at that. A 'present' from Mr. Waverly, the consolation prize for that disastrous trip to Maine. With Napoleon's injuries nearly healed, Waverly had sent them out on a milkrun. All they had to do was stay in the rented house, make it look innocently occupied, wait for the undercover agents who would make their intelligence drops at the house, and send on the information once acquired. Waverly only used Enforcement agents for the job because the delicate nature of the intelligence required that it be handled by agents with high security clearance. Easy.
A week in a house with Napoleon. Alone. Playing at domesticity. Sure... easy.
Illya poured himself a large shot of vodka and collapsed on the couch. For the first time in a week, he felt free. Safe. He didn't have to watch his words, or what he looked at or how. He didn't have to pretend he didn't see Napoleon watching him, always with that half-speculative, half-wary look in his eyes.
He didn't have to pretend that he wasn't still thinking of Killeen, and that basement cell. And fucking Napoleon.
Illya drained the glass in one gulp and poured another. And another.
After downing the third large shot, the pleasant warmth of alcohol racing through his veins, he rolled the glass between his palms while he thought. He'd worn the pajamas last night. The call had come in the morning, informing them that the assignment was completed: pack up and come home. He'd shoved everything into his suitcase and wolfed down breakfast in the kitchen while Napoleon was packing. And... Illya frowned. He didn't remember putting his pajamas in his suitcase. But he'd taken a quick look around before they left to make sure he had everything, and they hadn't been anywhere in his room then.
So if he hadn't packed them, and they weren't there when he left...
Before he could think better of it, Illya jumped to his feet and stormed out of his apartment. Napoleon lived two floors above him; it only took him a few minutes to get there. He pounded on the door.
"What?" Napoleon's irritated expression transmuted into surprise. "Illya?"
He pushed past the man and stood in the living room, glancing idly around, while Napoleon reset the alarms. He'd never been there before. Illya had made it a habit never to find himself in an intimate setting with Napoleon if he could help it.
"To what do I owe the honor of this visit?" Napoleon picked up a large tumbler of amber liquid from the coffee table and settled into the couch with a sigh. He was still wearing his coat. His tie, the knot loosened, hung around his neck, the first button of his shirt undone. He looked the very picture of American decadence. He looked good. Illya grimaced.
"Where are my pajamas?"
Napoleon smiled. "Now that's a novel way of starting a conversation." He swirled the drink in his hand, ice tinkling merrily against the glass.
His expression turning sour, Napoleon gulped half the contents of his glass and grimaced. "Don't use that tone with me, Illya. I've had just as hard a time this last week as you have." He drained the rest of his glass and coughed. "More," he added softly.
"You have no one to blame but yourself," Illya snarled. He breathed out carefully and forced a pleasant tone into his voice. "Where are my pajamas?"
Napoleon's smile had edges. "Yes, you're right. They did get into my bag. Strange, isn't it?" He rose and went to the sideboard to pour himself another drink. "I remember a time," he said without turning, "when you didn't wear pajamas."
Illya's hands contracted into fists. Knowing that Napoleon was only baiting him because he still felt off-balance about that scene with Killeen didn't stop the anger from rising. "My pajamas," he said, as calmly as he could manage.
"Here." Napoleon grabbed a bundle of worn blue fabric from beside the sideboard and tossed it at Illya, who caught it instinctively close to his chest.
He didn't have to shake out the fabric to know they were his pajamas. Illya shook his head. "What a juvenile way to get me up to your apartment."
Napoleon turned, his eyebrows lifting in surprise. "You think I planned this?" He laughed harshly. "I found them in the bathroom when I was collecting my toilet kit and assumed you'd forgotten them." He drained half his glass in one swallow. "Your opinion of my technique is less than flattering, tovarisch. Do you think, if I had any reason to want you up here, I'd resort to such ridiculous measures?"
Embarrassment colored Illya's cheeks dully. He ought to go back downstairs and try to forget he'd made such a fool of himself. Instead, his pride stung, he sneered, "You expect me to believe you don't want me here?"
"Yeah, partner, that's exactly what I expect you to believe." Napoleon downed the rest of his drink and placed the glass carefully on the table.
"Now that would be a first."
Napoleon's lips twisted, a dark gleam appearing in his eye. "Careful, tovarisch, you're protesting a bit too much, don't you think?"
"What do you mean by that?" Illya's chin came up defiantly. He held his ground as Napoleon approached him.
"Maybe," Napoleon murmured, his breath fanning Illya's face, "you're disappointed that I didn't contrive this," he removed the pajamas from Illya's hand and dropped them on the floor, "to get you up here." He kissed Illya.
Illya bit him.
Napoleon wiped the back of his hand roughly across his mouth. "What's the matter, Illya? You weren't so reticent in London." Not giving Illya a chance to respond, he wheeled and strode out of the room.
Illya's lips burned. The heat of anger quickly overwhelmed the heat of chagrin, not to mention any common sense he still possessed. Seething, Illya followed automatically, down the hall and through a doorway, stopping short when he realized he was in Napoleon's bedroom. He swayed a little as he stood staring at the rumpled bed. Napoleon turned from hanging his coat in the closet and looked at him, his quizzical expression turning mocking as Illya flushed and tore his eyes from the bed.
"You should be grateful I made it so easy for you to win your bet," Illya spat, not sure if he was more disgusted with Napoleon or himself. "You've always been a bastard."
"Perhaps, but never a rapist." His voice, tight with accusation, took Illya back to that cell, to the idea which had niggled away at his brain for the three weeks since. From the look in Napoleon's eyes, it did the same to him.
Illya's breath caught in his chest, hot, tight with anger. Desire. "Really?" he countered. "I suppose that's just a matter of perspective."
Napoleon's eyes were furiously dark. "I didn't take anything from you that wasn't offered."
"You took plenty. All you had to do to win that... that bet was get me into bed," Illya ground out. "You didn't have to make me love you."
Napoleon blinked, recognizing the honesty Illya hadn't meant to speak. He stepped close. "I'm sorry, Illya," he said softly, "I never meant to--"
"Never meant to what?" Illya interrupted before Napoleon could finish. "Never meant to screw me? Well you screwed me all right, Napoleon Solo." Taking it back to the purely physical, the part that didn't tear deep into his heart.
Napoleon's expression hardened. "Only because you asked me to," he said, the softness of his voice angry now, predatory.
Illya's hands shook. He laughed harshly. "I did, didn't I? I guess that means I've got more courage than you. God knows, the great Napoleon Solo would never let himself be fucked."
"For Christ's sake!" Napoleon breathed out harshly. He shook his head sharply, and his lips twisted in parody of a smile. "Killeen was right, then. It all comes back to that, doesn't it?" Napoleon stared at Illya for a moment, then nodded sharply. "You want parity? Fine." He grabbed Illya's arm and hauled him roughly toward the bed. "You want me to spread my legs for you? Make you feel like a man? Let you get some of your own back?"
Illya dug in his heels and Napoleon released him. Napoleon turned and walked to the bed, stripping off his clothes as he went, leaving them scattered on the floor. "You want it, you've got it."
Nude, he pulled the drawer out of the bedside table and dumped its contents on the bed. When he found what he wanted, he swept everything else, including the drawer, onto the floor. He viciously twisted off the cap and smeared his fingers with the lubricant. Illya swallowed hard as he watched Napoleon put his fingers inside himself.
Napoleon tossed the tube to Illya, who caught it reflexively. "Make sure you use that. Wouldn't want to have to explain a visit to the Med Section to Mr. Waverly, now would we?" His grin was ferocious, showing his teeth. Napoleon threw back the covers and spread himself face down on the bed.
Illya blinked. He looked down at the tube in his hand, then up at Napoleon, splayed nude across the bed and waiting for him. The shaking wasn't all anger now; desire flared deep in his gut. Illya unfastened his pants as he moved to the bed. He didn't bother undressing, merely pulled his hardening cock out of his clothes and mechanically slicked it up with the lubricant. His eyes closed halfway with the pleasure of his own touch, but he forced them open again. Couldn't risk having this vanish on him. He climbed onto the bed, shoving Napoleon's legs farther apart to make room for himself.
Illya knelt there for a moment, surveying his partner's body. There were still greenish splotches of color where the bruises hadn't completely faded, but even so Napoleon was beautiful. Illya couldn't help but find this man beautiful. He snarled. He grabbed Napoleon's hips in an uncompromising grip and pulled him into position. One hand guided his hard cock to the opening and Illya shoved in without mercy.
Napoleon's breath hissed between his teeth.
Tight, oh god was it tight. Virgin. Perfect.
Holding Napoleon's hips steady, Illya started a hard thrusting. No quarter, no mercy. No tenderness. A ferocious desire raged through him, driving his rutting, spilling hot queasy pleasure through his groin. He pulled Napoleon to his knees and shifted his hands to the man's shoulders, restraining him with a bruising grip, pulling him back into each thrust.
It was over quickly. Pounding hard into the pliant body, his thrusting paced only to his drive for completion, Illya felt his climax take him and squeeze out a few short bursts of grinding pleasure. There wasn't anything in it but physical gratification. Not even revenge.
Panting, he pulled roughly out and cleaned himself on the sheet. Lightheaded, Illya slid off the bed, stumbling a little. He tucked his flaccid cock away and quickly fastened his pants.
"Now we're even." Napoleon hadn't moved, his voice muffled by the mattress.
Illya's eyes touched briefly on the ravaged bed, skittering uncomfortably away. "We'll never be even," he said.
He got out quickly, not even hearing the door slam behind him.
The relief Napoleon felt when he heard the door close was devastating. Alone, thank god. He rubbed his face back and forth across the bed, wiping away the wetness on his cheeks. With a sigh, he rolled to his back, throwing his left arm over his eyes.
The seed Killeen had planted had come to flower, but the overblown blossom of desire had withered before it could reach its full potential. Napoleon should have known that it would, but he'd hoped...
What a farce.
As if they could ever be even. Not when Illya was wounded to the heart. Killeen was wrong. The question of who had fucked whom was merely a red herring. As if it would have been any different, if Napoleon had never been allowed to breach Illya's body. As if it would have hurt the other man any less to find out about the bet if he'd never taken Napoleon inside him. It was his heart which had been breached, and the wound never healed.
All Killeen had done was add gasoline to the fire. He'd given them a new battleground. Something neither of them had been able to avoid thinking about over the past three weeks. And now they'd done it. Between the two of them. And it didn't change anything. Not one damn thing. Except to make it worse, that thing which festered between them, by adding desire to hatred.
He ached, but he didn't care. Napoleon tightened his muscles, bringing the ache flaring to vibrant life, preventing the wetness any egress. He wondered how long he could keep Illya's seed from trickling out of him.
He didn't know what was sicker: to have offered it, or enjoyed it.
Napoleon brought his left hand up to his belly where it rested laxly, fingers just dabbling in the wet smear of his own come.
No one dared say a word to Illya as he swept into headquarters like a thundercloud. Not even to ask him what he was doing there outside his usual shift. It was just as well; he didn't think he could make sense at the moment.
He felt like everyone could tell, could smell his come, sticky traces in his pubic hair. He felt like "I fucked Napoleon Solo" was tattooed on his forehead.
He felt sick.
That sneaky bastard. Taking the moral high ground. Making them 'even,' as if anything Napoleon offered freely could compare with what he'd taken from Illya. Offered freely? Illya swallowed hard. Mostly freely. He shook himself back to his mental diatribe. Napoleon could never make himself into the wronged party, no matter what Illya had done.
He shuddered. What he'd done. Illya's fists clenched and relaxed again. It seemed he could still feel the aftershocks. The pleasure that hadn't been enough.
And he knew he'd spend the rest of his life wanting another taste.
Luckily, it was late, and there were few people around to question his behavior. Illya slammed into the agents' lounge, hoping to find some over-cooked coffee, though it would be a poor alternative for vodka. He shouldn't have come to headquarters at all, but he couldn't go home. He couldn't sit in his apartment, two floors below Napoleon, and... He stopped quickly on seeing someone already in the lounge, and turned about to leave.
Illya swung unwillingly back around, and tried to place the man in front of him. All he knew was that the bearded face evoked uncomfortable feelings.
"Greg Chatham," the man identified himself, offering a hand, then thinking better of it and withdrawing it again. He smiled uncertainly. "I wasn't sure if I'd see you while I was here."
Illya bobbed his head like a dunce. "On courier duty?" he asked absently.
"Yeah. I'll be out again in the morning." Chatham looked down at the coffee cup he was rotating in his hands. "I owe you an apology, Mr. Kuryakin. Several of us do, but Durning died last year and Killeen... well, you know about Killeen."
Illya flinched visibly at the name; fortunately Chatham wasn't looking at him. He could place the man now. Illya shook his head, wanting desperately to escape, but he couldn't seem to form the words to get himself out of there.
"At the time, it seemed like a lark, another way to tease that uppity Yank. It was Killeen's idea, of course. In hindsight, I guess he meant more harm than Durning or I." Chatham took a deep breath and glanced up. "Still, I'm the only one left to apologize, if you'll accept it." He smiled tentatively. "No reason you shouldn't, right? Since nothing came of it, I guess there was no harm done."
"Nothing came of it?" Illya managed to somehow sound only curious.
"Sure," Chatham seemed relieved at the innocuous response. "We shouldn't have made the bet, of course. And we certainly shouldn't have assumed anything when we saw you and Solo together in the pub. Said things we shouldn't have." His eyes went vague as he remembered. "Durning was furious to find out he'd lost after all. Blacked both Solo's eyes for him." He blinked, and shrugged.
"Did he?" Illya's mouth seemed to be working independently of his brain, which was whirling sickeningly.
Chatham nodded, a smile tugging at his mouth. "And, of course, Solo spent the rest of his time in London trying to pay off Killeen. Guess that's why you agreed to work with him, eh? Since he already paid for it."
"He paid for it, all right," Illya said. "Excuse me, I have to..." He gestured vaguely, already on his way out.
Illya walked down the corridor in a daze. After a minute, he began to run. Only when he was safely locked in the small bathroom off their office did he allow his brain to start functioning again.
He flipped the lid shut and sat down on the toilet. Illya buried his head in his hands and tried to think. Chatham could be lying, of course. But he didn't have any reason to lie that Illya was aware of. And, now that he thought of it, Illya had the proof of his own eyes that at least part of what Chatham said was true. He'd only glanced up at Napoleon for a minute that next day, when he told him to get out of the lab or he'd call Security, and he'd barely noticed the bruises then. At that point, he hadn't known or cared what they meant. Now he knew.
Chatham thought Napoleon had lost the bet. Napoleon had told them he'd lost. He'd lied.
It didn't change anything, he thought feverishly. It couldn't. Napoleon had still played on his emotions, seducing him only to win a bet. And he had won. He'd taken Illya to bed. He'd fucked Illya only the day before that horrible meeting in the pub.
And told the others that he hadn't.
Illya knotted his hands in his hair and pulled. It didn't help. For years he'd thought...
But Napoleon had protected him. Did that mean that he hadn't slept with Illya just to win a bet?
The breath shuddered in Illya's lungs. He thought it did.
He remembered that night, when he'd wanted so desperately to have Napoleon inside him. And how gentle and tender Napoleon had been with him. And how it had felt, to make Napoleon a part of himself. And how intense a feeling that had been, compared to what he'd felt only an hour ago, when he'd shoved himself into Napoleon with only anger beating in his heart.
Napoleon had protected him. Had, maybe, even loved him?
And Illya had... he'd...
He barely got the seat up in time. There wasn't much more than
the vodka he'd drunk earlier to come up, and when it was gone, his
stomach continued heaving. The ripping feeling in his gut wasn't any
worse than the tight sick despair in his heart.
"If you're going to throw up, let me know so I can get out of the way. This is a new suit." Napoleon's smile swam into view through the pounding agony of Illya's headache.
Illya groaned and rolled onto his side. A warm hand rested at the small of his back, anchoring him as he slowly became aware of the soft grass under his cheek, and the loud cheeping of nearby birds.
"Birds," he managed thickly.
"Yes, there are."
"Uh, no." He could hear a smile in Napoleon's voice. "I think they're sparrows, actually."
"Napoleon..." Illya groaned miserably.
"Yes, Illya, I know. Thrush. I had guessed that already, you know. Right about the time you tried to kill me."
"When I... wha--" In the midst of sitting up, Illya felt his stomach heave. Strong hands shoved him around and held his head while he vomited. When he was done, they picked him up and settled him again in the grass, away from the smell. He swallowed, grimacing at the sour taste in his mouth. He hated throwing up now, not that he'd liked it before. But now the taste brought him inevitably back to what he'd done. He didn't drink vodka either. Well, mostly; no Russian ever stopped drinking vodka. But he didn't drink it often anymore. "I tried to kill you?" he asked, once his stomach had settled a little.
"Uh-huh." Napoleon's shadow took the sun off Illya's face.
"That nasty little doctor is dead, by the way."
"Oh good." Illya wouldn't have called him little -- he was only about five foot, it was true, but almost as big around as he was tall.
"Why do these people always call themselves doctors?" Napoleon mused aloud. "They certainly don't adhere to the Hippocratic Oath."
"First, do no harm," Illya quoted.
Illya heard Napoleon shift, then his head was lifted and resettled on something firm and soft. He opened his eyes slightly, wincing at the light, and found himself with a marvelous view of the underside of Napoleon's cleft chin. He didn't know how Napoleon could stand to have him so close; if it was a special kind of torment for Illya, what must it be like for the man he'd...? Swallowing hard, Illya closed his eyes and fought the impulse to turn and push his face against Napoleon's belly.
"I tried to kill you?" he asked again.
"Yeah, you did. Lucky you missed."
"Mr. Waverly would have been upset," Illya murmured. He heard Napoleon's chuckle and felt it vibrating through his cheek. Napoleon's hand was warm on his chest.
"I wouldn't wish that debriefing on my worst enemy."
How interesting, Illya thought, that apparently I'm not it. He really couldn't understand Napoleon. A month. The first week was hard -- Illya could hardly see straight through the haze of guilt -- but they'd since reached some kind of common ground. Most of that could be attributed to Napoleon. The man had never indicated by word or deed or even the smallest gesture that he even remembered what Illya had done to him. Maybe he really did think it made them even. But it didn't -- Illya knew that what he had done to Napoleon was so far beyond the pale, even if Napoleon had won money for seducing him, they still wouldn't have been even. No one deserved what he'd done to Napoleon. No one.
"It's a good thing you're clumsy when you're brainwashed," Napoleon said into the soft breeze. "I would have hated to have to shoot you."
"Me too." The aftereffect of the drugs making him sleepy, Illya rolled his head sideways and burrowed his nose into Napoleon's sweet-smelling shirt. The pleasant smell of Napoleon's body filled his head and he realized with a gasp what he was doing. Illya jerked himself upright and swayed there, swallowing another wave of nausea.
Napoleon's hand slid loosely off his shoulder. Illya could feel the burning touch of Napoleon's gaze on the back of his neck. He wrapped his arms around his legs and pressed his face against his knees.
"You were brainwashed, weren't you?" Something painful lurked in Napoleon's voice.
"Of course," Illya managed through a tight throat, scrupulously hiding his pain. He shouldn't let the question hurt him. There was nothing too heinous to suspect of a man who had... raped his partner. Illya felt the bile rise at the back of his throat. "I don't have any reason to want to kill you," he said thickly.
"You don't?" There was surprise in his voice.
"No." Illya didn't dare turn to face the man.
The smile was back. "I'm glad to hear it."
Illya tightened his grip on his legs, his fists clenching.
God, the relief in Napoleon's voice, as if the fact that Illya didn't
want to kill him was some sort of gift. How had they done this to
"I said, I heard you the first time."
"Well then, would you mind favoring me with a response?"
"I don't know what you're so snipey about, Illya," Napoleon said as he ducked under a waterlogged branch. "I got you out of that tree without incident."
"And I'm supposed to be grateful?" Illya didn't duck quite far enough and got a faceful of wet leaves. "It's your fault I ended up it in the first place."
"Well, I thought I heard dogs." Napoleon turned to look back at his partner and couldn't help grinning at the bedewed countenance. Illya simply glared at him. "Come on, sourpuss; we've got some walking to do."
"Which brings us back to my earlier question. Are you sure you know where we are?"
"Exactly? No." Napoleon sidestepped carefully down a steep mossy incline. Illya growled and followed him. "But if you look through there," he crouched a little to point through the trees, "I think you'll see Willamette Valley."
Napoleon felt the warmth of Illya's body close to his back and forced back his excitement. He held carefully still as the other man rested a hand lightly on his shoulder for balance as he followed Napoleon's finger. Napoleon held his breath at the sweet proximity of his partner, the light touch of his hand. He lived for such moments.
It was ten times worse, now that he knew what it was like to have Illya inside him. Even in anger. Christ, but he was messed up. The man hated him, for god's sake.
Well, perhaps hate was too strong a word. Finally too strong a word.
He couldn't see how that bedroom farce they'd played out had helped matters any, but there was a strange sense of release, of change. At least the growing strain which had gripped them both after Killeen's little staged scenario had been drained off. The week afterward had been hellish, but over the last six weeks their relationship had stabilized into something that wasn't quite comfortable, but wasn't an armed standoff either. Illya was still hopelessly restrained and unapproachable, but Napoleon was beginning to believe there might be hope.
Maybe, when this mission was over, he'd try to talk to his partner. Maybe even confess all. He was starting to think that Illya was no longer in the mood to kill him if he brought it up. Maybe they could reach an accord. Napoleon tried not to hope for more than friendship. He closed his eyes a moment to savor the warm scent of his partner.
He would have been able to enjoy the moment more if they'd a had gun. Any gun. That sort of thing gave a certain sense of security to men on the run.
He forced himself to open his eyes again long before he was ready and stared down into the valley. The sun chose that moment to come out from behind the clouds and lit up the fields below, making them glow with a green so verdant it seemed to bleed life. Napoleon smiled. Only in Oregon.
"So." He cleared his throat. "That means we're either in the coastal mountains or the Cascades. Depending on whether we're east or west of the valley." He straightened up and turned to face his partner.
Illya shook his head. "And naturally, you don't know if we're east or west of the valley."
"Well," Napoleon donned an earnest expression, hiding the manic joy he felt at the simple moment of accord, "moss is supposed to grow on the north side of trees, isn't it?" He made a show of inspecting the nearest tree. "Hmm... seems to be growing on every side of this tree. You know what that means, don't you?"
"I'm sure you're going to tell me."
"We're at the south pole."
Illya rolled his eyes. "Tell me, Napoleon, how in the world did you pass the Survival School map course?"
"It's an island, Illya," Napoleon said, standing with his hands on his hips, surveying their surrounding as he tried to decide which way to go, "how lost can you get?"
"The mind boggles." Illya brushed past Napoleon and started down a barely perceptible animal trail. "Come on. If we don't stop bumbling around, Killeen's men will pick us up again before we go two miles."
"You take the fun out of everything, tovarisch." Napoleon meekly followed his partner, disappointed that the lighthearted moment was over, even though he knew Illya was right. Tom Killeen was no joke. "I still wish I knew what he was doing out here. He's supposed to be setting up a satrap on the East Coast."
"Maybe he got lost," Illya offered, pushing a branch out of his way.
Napoleon ducked, successfully dodging the return sweep of the branch, but he still got showered with water droplets. "Very funny."
"Actually, that's not far wrong."
The U.N.C.L.E. agents dropped like stones and crouched in the wet undergrowth, casting about for the source of the voice.
"Only it's the rest of Thrush which is lost, not me."
Close. Too damned close. Napoleon felt a hard object prod his right shoulder. It was with a familiar sense of resignation that he rolled over to find himself looking down the barrel of a Thrush rifle.
"And so are you, of course," Killeen continued urbanely from behind his henchmen. "Rather more literally at the moment than usual, I should say. Get up, why don't you?"
With a sigh, Napoleon scrambled to his feet and stood to face the traitorous ex-U.N.C.L.E. agent, Illya at his shoulder. He wiped wet fern off his face with a grimace, peripherally aware of Illya fussily removing twigs from his hair.
"Excellent." Killeen's smile was warm, genial. "It was very rude of you to go for a walk before I had a chance to talk with you. I've been looking forward to continuing our conversation, after we were so rudely interrupted the last time."
"Then why did you set up your fat physician to take us both out?"
"You saw my hand behind that? Excellent, Napoleon, my boy." He shrugged winsomely. "Dr. Liebnicht had a serum he wished to test on a strong-willed subject. Who better for the experiment than Mr. Kuryakin? But I would have been devastated had he succeeded."
"You don't seem much devastated by the good doctor's untimely demise."
Killeen shrugged. "I didn't say I was attached to the poor fellow. Shall we be going?" The two Thrush goons with him assumed more menacing stances, and Napoleon smiled a little at Illya's resigned air. Killeen drew his pistol: a Walther P-38. "Not an U.N.C.L.E. Special, of course, but modified to my own design. It can shoot sleep darts or bullets, like the Special. My companions, however," he gestured at the gunsels, "are using regular Thrush issue. So please don't try anything. We have so much still to talk about, you and I."
"Well," Napoleon sniffed and scratched his cheek with one finger, "I'd hate to miss that."
In a second, they swung into action, side by side, like pistons in an engine. Reacting instantly to Napoleon's non-verbal cue, Illya dove at the man on the left while Napoleon headed to the right. They both ignored Killeen for the moment in favor of the guys who would be shooting bullets.
It was over so quickly.
Illya's flying attack ended with a satisfying crunch as his clasped fists broke the man's neck. Napoleon knocked his target's weapon out of his hands and Illya shot him with the other man's rifle before he recovered enough to hit back. Napoleon had just stooped to pick up the man's gun when he heard a soft pfutt. He spun to see Illya sinking slowly into the ferns. He fired reflexively, and saw blood and metal spin away from Killeen's right hand.
With a shout, Killeen dropped to the ground. Thinking the man was only diving for cover, Napoleon took a second to line up his next shot. A second too long. Killeen came up with the rifle, bloodied hands working the action without a fumble. Napoleon fired, and saw the handsome face disappear in a haze of red seconds before the pain hammered into him, dropping him to the ground.
The only sound in the forest was the soft patter of dripping leaves.
The first thing Napoleon noticed was the smell of damp earth. Then blood. The pain clawed at his leg, and he knew he was awake. He pulled himself awkwardly to a sitting position and looked around. None of the bodies around him moved; he was certain the Thrush, who were closer, weren't breathing. Illya was too far away to tell for sure. Forcing the fear aside, Napoleon nerved himself to inspect his wounds.
One hole, entry, a couple inches above his left knee. No exit hole, which meant the bullet had hit something inside. He forced himself to bend and straighten the leg, deciding that, despite the screaming pain, nothing was broken. So if the bullet had hit bone, at least it didn't hit with enough force to break it. Not a good place to be shot. Not that there was any good place to get shot. Still, the U.N.C.L.E. medics could probably take care of it without even leaving him a limp, if he didn't move around too much.
Napoleon stretched painfully to his right and hauled the dead gunsel's body over to him; a brief search revealed a serrated knife in its sheath against the small of the man's back. Napoleon wiggled out of his jacket and used the knife to cut out the inner lining, then put the garment back on, shivering. He cut and ripped the material into strips and stuffed half of them into his pocket. Gritting his teeth in the lapel of his jacket, Napoleon tied the strips of cloth as tightly around his wound as he could without passing out. He wasn't bleeding dangerously yet, but the surrounding undergrowth was liberally spattered with blood, some of it his. The bleeding slowed to a trickle.
Then he dragged himself over to Illya.
His hand trembled as he pressed it to the pale column of the throat. Illya's pulse beat evenly against his fingers. Napoleon bent his head over Illya, eyes closed, chest aching with relief. He tried slapping Illya on the cheeks a few times before giving up. If Killeen had patterned his sleep darts after U.N.C.L.E.'s, Illya wouldn't come around for hours. Not moving around too much wasn't an option. They had to get out of there quickly. It was only a matter of time before Killeen's other henchmen thought to come looking for their boss.
Napoleon set his teeth and hauled himself a few feet away from Illya, where a few thin saplings sprung hardily from the rich soil. Using the serrated edge of the knife, he began sawing at the springy green wood. It was hard work, and he was sweating and shivering by the time he had cut three lengths of wood, each about an inch and a half in diameter. He measured two of them against his leg, from the sole of his shoe to his upper thigh, and cut them to size. Then he pulled the cloth strips from his pocket and set about tying the splint to his leg.
He'd be lucky to get ten feet this way. Lady luck was usually on Napoleon's side, but in this case it didn't really matter because luck would have nothing to do with it. Necessity was all he had. Grabbing the third length of wood, Napoleon dragged himself back over to Illya and confronted his next challenge.
First, he tied Illya's wrists loosely together with a soft strip of cloth. Getting himself up on his good knee, with the splinted leg stretched out awkwardly before him, Napoleon grabbed Illya's arm and hauled the limp body across his shoulders. Illya's head lolled against the back of Napoleon's left shoulder. He slipped his left arm through the loop of Illya's arms. Napoleon settled the weight as best he could, forcing away everything but the task at hand. He wrapped his right arm tightly across the back of Illya's legs and picked up the crude staff. Napoleon planted the staff in the ground before him and hauled himself laboriously to his feet. A groan escaped him as he dragged his injured leg slowly under him, but he persevered until he was upright, Illya draped across his shoulders.
Panting, Napoleon briefly released the staff to resettle Illya's weight. The test of his balance was almost too much, and he grabbed for the stick again. Then, with a deep breath, he took his first step.
Downhill. That was the direction. Ever and always downhill. But he couldn't go straight down to the valley. He cut in a shallow angle across the slope, as much as his leg would allow, and hoped he reached the valley floor before he passed out, or Thrush found them again. The backup team would be somewhere down there. If he could just get to them.
Plant the staff, lean his full weight on it, take a step with the good leg, then drag the splinted leg up even with the good one, and bring up the stick. Plant the staff...
Napoleon fell into a pattern, mechanically repeating the steps again and again, slowly making progress. Illya's weight seemed to grow, but he only resettled the body occasionally, when it seemed he might slip off. If he dropped Illya, he'd never get down and back up again.
"Trust is a funny thing," Napoleon told the unconscious man, trying to stay awake and alert, "don't you think? You're trusting me with your life, and you don't even know it. When we first met, you trusted me with your heart." He stopped for a moment, and eyed the path ahead, trying to pinpoint the most even route. "Damn stupid of you, I suppose. But then," he shoved aside branches, skirting as close to the trees as possible to avoid the ferny morass in the hollow, "I trusted you with my heart. I don't suppose you ever thought of that."
Napoleon let go of Illya's legs for a second to wipe his sleeve across his face. It wasn't warm in the damp shade of the trees, but the exertion was more taxing than anything he'd been forced to do. He could see his fingers shaking violently as they passed across his field of vision. He didn't dare stop walking this time, and had to drop his arm back across Illya's legs quickly, for fear of the other man sliding off.
"That's okay, though," Napoleon panted, "I know it wouldn't be fair of me to expect you to think of that. Under the circumstances." He passed through a warm patch of sunlight, and back into the shade, shivering. Napoleon noticed the change in temperature, but little else, his vision narrowing down to a strictly focused tunnel.
"Maybe it did occur to you," he murmured, the thought nothing new. "It's changed in the last couple of months. It's... friendlier. But you're still too distant."
Something salty stung Napoleon's eyes. Blood? He wiped his hand across his face and looked at it. Sweat. "You could try, though," he said in between gasps. "Even if all you wanted... was what you got last time. I wouldn't mind. Though do I miss the boy... who loved me." He slipped slightly on the uneven footing, but caught himself in time. He stopped and leaned his forehead against the nearest tree, and waited out the agony shooting up his leg.
When it had receded somewhat, he pushed off and continued. "I'm leaving," he added after a minute, "quite a trail." He'd seen as much when he took that short break. A light dappling of red was spattered on the green foliage he'd passed. Something sharp ripped agony through his leg every time he took a step. He tried not to think of what walking was doing to him. It didn't matter. Nothing mattered but getting Illya to safety.
The forest grew warm around him, and Napoleon scrabbled at his coat, then his shirt, getting them open. He felt dizzy, and the familiar queasy feeling suggested he was close to passing out. The prospect made him frantic. After a time, however, the feeling receded a little.
"Don't worry," he told his unconscious passenger, "I'll be able to hear them in time. Can hide you in the bushes. They'll keep following the trail."
It occurred to him that he wasn't making a whole lot of sense. But he was cooler now. He stumbled across a narrow track without recognizing it, passing back into the undergrowth on the other side and continuing in his slow decent by degrees.
The first scattering of raindrops passed unnoticed. Then the sky opened up and the rain poured down in a solid sheet of water. Napoleon looked up out of one eye and had just enough energy left to smile. Figured.
"They'll keep following the trail. Follow it to me," Napoleon mumbled to himself, forgetting that the rain would wash the blood away. The world tried to slant crazily away from him, but he didn't go with it. The weight on his shoulders anchored him. It was all that mattered. His steps were getting shorter, the effort of dragging his busted leg greater. The pain, oddly enough, was lessening, fading out of his conscious mind. "Owe you that much at least."
He kept walking.
"Hey, Illya, you're back!"
Illya acknowledged April's greeting with a wave, but didn't slow his quick stride. He'd been told at the Del Floria entrance that he was wanted in Waverly's office as soon as he got in, and he didn't want to keep the old man waiting. Though he would much rather have tracked Napoleon down instead.
Illya had been in every country in the world in the last month. Not unusual, in the life of an U.N.C.L.E. agent. But he'd been in all those places without Napoleon and he missed him.
If Waverly wasn't calling him in to take him off solo missions, Illya decided, then he'd just have to ask. He was tired of only hearing Napoleon's voice on the communicator; when, that was, Napoleon wasn't too busy with his own missions even to talk. What was the use of having a well-trained team if you kept sending them off in different directions?
The door to Waverly's office slid aside, and Illya walked in. He smiled automatically, and more openly than was his wont, when he saw his partner sitting at the round table. The serious expression on Waverly's face, however -- and the fact that Napoleon wouldn't meet his eyes -- sobered Illya up immediately.
"Ah, Mr. Kuryakin, I see you made it back from Switzerland safely."
"Yes, sir," Illya responded promptly. "If you want my report..."
Waverly waved that aside. "I'll wait until the paperwork is filed." He leaned forward and lifted the top off his tobacco humidor, frowned into it, then replaced the lid. Illya had been about to make his way around the table to where Napoleon was staring so intently at his hands, but he decided it might be better to remain standing. Waverly's fussing with his pipe was usually a bad sign. "I called you in because... well, you have a right to be privy to this conversation."
Napoleon's head came up sharply, but if Waverly saw the expression on his face, he ignored it. Napoleon's gaze dropped back to his hands.
"Mr. Solo," Waverly continued. "Would you care to repeat what you've just told me?"
"Not particularly." Napoleon grimaced. He cleared his throat. "I, ah, I have just officially submitted my resignation."
For a moment, Illya didn't understand. Resignation. The word got stopped at his internal translator and sent back to his ears for a recheck. Surely he hadn't heard right.
Napoleon took a deep breath. "Yes." He didn't look at Illya.
"But, you... I..." Illya ruthlessly reigned himself in to silence, forcing himself not to speak again until he could do so clearly.
After a tense minute, Mr. Waverly said, "I've already, of course, made it clear to Mr. Solo that he could take a desk job. Perhaps even my job, eventually. You have the capability, I think," he told Napoleon.
Napoleon shook his head slowly, ruefully. "I'm sorry, sir."
"So am I." Waverly stood abruptly and stood looking thoughtfully at the young agent. "Very well, then; if you're set on this path..." He nodded sharply to himself. "Your resignation is accepted. Conditionally." Waverly allowed a slight smile to grace his lips. "There will always be a place here for you, if you choose to accept it."
"I..." Napoleon looked stunned. He cleared his throat again. "Thank you, sir."
Waverly nodded. He picked up his pipe and stepped away from the table. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some things to see to in Personnel."
The two agents barely noticed his tactful retreat. Illya's eyes only followed Waverly until his boss passed where Napoleon was sitting. Then his gaze changed focus and settled on Napoleon. He barely heard the door close behind Waverly. Sitting with his head bowed, his hands laced together tightly on the table, Napoleon looked... smaller somehow than Illya remembered. He consciously forced his hands to unclench.
"You were just going to leave."
Napoleon's chest expanded on a deep breath. "Yes," he said, his voice muted.
"Without telling me?"
"I..." Napoleon laughed without humor, "wouldn't have known what to say."
"Try." Illya watched Napoleon shake his head. He took two quick, controlled steps to the table and laid his hands on the cool surface, pressing them down hard and flat. He didn't know if the feeling in his chest was anger or grief. "Tell me why you're leaving."
"I can't go out in the field anymore," Napoleon said to his hands.
"I..." Napoleon hesitated, still not looking up, "I seem to have lost the knack."
"I handled that thing with Killeen poorly." He glanced up, a quick look Illya couldn't place. "You-- we might have been killed."
"No, Illya." Napoleon shook his head resolutely. Illya saw his Adam's apple bob as he swallowed. "I can't go out in the field again."
Floored by the certainty he heard in his partner's voice, Illya had no choice but to believe him. Maybe later he could convince Napoleon that he was wrong. But he had to keep in him U.N.C.L.E. to do that. Illya swallowed and tried again. "Then why not take the desk job? Why leave U.N.C.L.E. entirely? Is it something I--"
"No!" Napoleon's hands unlaced themselves and curled into hard fists on the smooth table. "It's nothing you've done, now or ever," he added more softly. He uncurled his hands and gripped the edge of the table.
"Then take the desk job." Illya knew his own voice, knew how close he was to pleading.
"Why, dammit!" Illya's hands raised and smacked sharply down on the table. "Na khuya? Napoleon, look at me! "
Napoleon turned his head and raised soft brown eyes to meet Illya's fiery gaze. "I can't sit at a desk, zadushevnyi droog," -- Illya blinked, his eyes stinging. Behind the soul friend. How had Napoleon come to know that peculiarly Russian phrase? And since when had it applied to Illya? -- "and see you go out in the field, and wonder if you'll come back." Napoleon inhaled deeply and looked away. "Knowing... someday you won't."
"It was always that way," Illya said softly.
Napoleon laughed harshly. "But when I was in the field with you, I had a hand in it. I could see to it that you came back. Or die trying."
Illya's breath seemed caught in his lungs. His chest ached.
"I'm... sorry, Illyusha."
Illya barely heard the soft whisper. He couldn't keep on, not without breaking down. His emotions running too high for bearing, he instinctively sought to retreat. There would be another chance. There must be. He pushed off the table and turned blindly toward the door.
Just before it hissed open, Napoleon said, "Take care of yourself, partner."
"And you," Illya managed, his throat tight.
He walked out without looking back.
Napoleon sat in the silent room for a long time, his hands holding tight to the table, his gaze trained somewhere in the far distance. For the first time since a certain night in London, the past looked brighter than the future. He wished that he could know for certain if he was doing the right thing. But it was the only thing, so what was there to question?
The important thing was to keep Illya out of it. Make sure he stayed where he belonged, doing the job he did best. There must be no confusion, no doubt. It was for the best. It had to be.
The hiss of the door broke him out of limbo, and he turned to offer a friendly smile to the secretary.
"Mr. Solo!" She smiled and touched light fingers to her breast. "You startled me. I didn't realize you'd still be here."
"Not for long, Sandy," he told her. "Not for long."
Napoleon leaned down and grabbed his crutches from the floor. Holding them together in his right hand, he used the left to steady himself on the table as he struggled awkwardly his feet. He fitted the crutches to his armpits with the growing ease of familiarity and maneuvered away from the table. The heavy brace on his left leg made him clumsy, but he was getting used to it.
"Do you need any help, Mr. Solo?"
"Napoleon," he corrected automatically. He smiled. "No, I can
make it on my own." He had made his slow way almost to the door before
adding in a low voice. "I'll have to, won't I?"
"...hear he resigned?" Illya heard as he emerged from the elevator. In another frame of mind, he'd have been fascinated by the speed with which gossip traversed these halls. In still yet another frame of mind, he'd have sharply reprimanded the young agent for carrying such gossip.
As it was, he was too stunned to react. Even when the gossip's audience of one responded with a surprising, "Well, he had to, didn't he?"
They had boarded the elevator he'd just vacated, and the doors closed before he could follow up on that last comment.
Illya shook his head and stalked down the corridor toward his office. He needed to get away, somewhere safe, impregnable. Somewhere to think.
Napoleon was leaving U.N.C.L.E. Just walking off. Without warning or explanation, Illya's partner, his unacknowledged anchor in the world, was simply picking up and taking off. Leaving. Abandoning him.
And he knew that his reaction was all out of proportion. Knew that he was acting more like a jilted lover than the logical, cool, efficient agent he was supposed to be. And in the morass of surprise and guilt and betrayal, one thing rose uncompromisingly to the top. He just wished he had the right to act like a jilted lover.
Illya stopped dead in the middle of the corridor, not noticing the stream of foot-traffic which split and flowed around him. He took a deep breath and relaxed his fists again. Stupid. Just because Napoleon wouldn't be with U.N.C.L.E. anymore didn't mean they didn't still live in the same building. It didn't mean they wouldn't see each other. That they couldn't be friends.
Could they be friends?
Well, Illya thought, no way to find out if he didn't try. It was possible, just possible, that Napoleon might forgive him for what he did. He'd come to realize, over the last month of solo missions, that it was important to at least try. Because he did want to be Napoleon's friend. And maybe something more...
He turned and strode back the way he'd come with new purpose. He'd look in Waverly's office first, then Napoleon's office. If Napoleon wasn't still in headquarters, then he'd go to the man's apartment. Napoleon would have to go back there sooner or later. And Illya would be waiting. When Mark got in his way, he practically growled at the young man.
"Illya!" he smiled sunnily. "Hey, I was surprised not to see you helping Napoleon move."
"Move?" The word stopped his single-minded efforts to step around the British agent.
"Sure, didn't you know?" Mark broke off, a rosy flush painting his cheeks. "I'm sorry, I forgot you were on assignment. Sure now, he needed help getting things arranged, with his leg and all."
Illya grabbed Mark's collar and pulled him through the nearest door, not noticing or caring whose office it was, only that it was empty. "What are you talking about?"
"Have a care, Illya, that's my new jacket!" Mark straightened his lapel with a frown.
"What. Are. You. Talking. About?"
"Think, Illya!" Mark said with some asperity. "He only just got out of hospital last week. You can't expect the man to be bouncing around, packing and such, with a gammy leg."
"Gammy..." Illya tried frantically to place the word from his time in England. For some reason, it failed to call up any associations. But a nameless terror nibbled away at his brain, knowing more than he dared admit.
Mark's expression turned serious. "Amazing he's walking at all, actually." He shook his head, his expression wondering. "I was in the backup team, you know. I've never seen anything like it, him dragging himself off that mountain carrying you. So much blood I couldn't see how either of you could be alive."
Illya opened his mouth, found no words ready, and closed it again. He felt like Mark had set off a stun grenade in the small office.
Mark's eyes narrowed. "You didn't know. For god's sake, Illya, how could you not know?"
"I..." Illya shook his head slowly. "I had another mission, right away," he said dazedly, "I spoke with Napoleon on the communicator, but I never saw..."
"For Christ's sake, Illya, what are you going to do?"
But Mark was talking to empty air. Illya had bolted.
He broke every traffic law on the books, but found only bare walls and empty space in Napoleon's apartment.
|It was overcast, the sky a blank sort of white which made the
heavens look dull and empty. There wasn't anyone else in the cemetery.
The marble headstone was laced with thick gray veins. It wasn't overly large or ornate. Just simply carved words which were all that remained of a good man.
He hadn't tried to make it to the funeral. In fact, he'd deliberately stayed away. But he'd known then that he would inevitably find himself -- as he did now -- approaching the grave, a couple of white roses in crinkly paper in his right hand. The broad oak spreading its branches over the grave made this corner of the cemetery dim, yet somehow inviting. It wasn't a bad place to spend eternity.
Napoleon leaned heavily on his plain silver-capped cane as he knelt beside the grave to lay the flowers across it. The dew soaked through the knees of his pantlegs in the few minutes he knelt there. He had just regained his feet with an awkward grace painfully learned, when a familiar figure stepped out from behind the oak tree.
"I knew you'd come here eventually," Illya said.
A smile tugged at the corner of Napoleon's mouth. "I should have known you'd be waiting."
"Yes, you should have." A pause. "You disappeared very effectively, you know."
Napoleon simply looked at him in silence, drinking in the sight of this man, whom he'd never stopped loving. For some reason, he was surprised that Illya didn't look any different than he had when Napoleon last saw him over a year ago. The wounds of their association, no longer fresh, gave a brief twinge at this unexpected meeting, then faded like an antique photograph to tints of sepia and brown. And Napoleon found himself saying, "I told them you weren't my lover."
Illya's smile was rueful. "I know."
Illya stepped forward, his hand coming to rest absently on the tombstone which stood between them. "Chatham told me. I met him at headquarters that day, after I left you."
He should have had to say more, but Napoleon knew with the ease of instinct which day that was. He shook his head. "Oh, dushka, was that why things changed?"
Illya looked down at his hand, and Napoleon's gaze followed, the flushed pink of his skin seeming very much out of place against the gray stone. Napoleon's chest felt tight and yet, with every word, they loosened the biting chains that bound them both.
"What fools we were, schertze moi." He smiled gently at Illya's sharp look. "You always have been, and always will be, my heart, Illya. Don't ever doubt it."
Illya's throat worked. "How can I help it?" he got out, his voice hoarse. "After what I did to you..."
Napoleon laughed. "What a tangled web we've woven, the two of us. Illya," he said seriously, touching fingers which trembled almost imperceptibly to the back of Illya's warm hand, "please tell me you haven't been blaming yourself all this time for being no better than I was."
"Did nothing more than what we both wanted."
Illya blinked, his blue eyes brighter than Napoleon had ever seen them. He moved his hand out from under Napoleon's without haste or visible reluctance and cast his eyes down at the new grave. Recognizing the retreat, Napoleon turned his eyes to the rich loam as well.
"Not Thrush," Illya said. "Nothing more sinister than a heart attack. Not entirely unexpected, given his age and the stresses of the job. A job he offered to you at one time, if memory serves." He looked up at Napoleon through his bangs. "They want you back, you know. U.N.C.L.E. has lost a valuable asset, some say its very soul."
Napoleon shook his head. "I can't fill Alexander Waverly's shoes, Illya. And if I could, I certainly can't walk in them." He tapped the thin metal which banded his left leg. "Besides, I haven't been U.N.C.L.E. for more than a year."
Illya came around the grave, but kept a careful distance between them. "You never stopped being U.N.C.L.E., Napoleon. He never took you off the active list."
"I took myself off." Napoleon took a last look at the headstone and turned away. He could hear Illya's soft footsteps behind him as he strode away, broken gait adapting poorly to the soft damp earth.
"You might have told me," Illya said after a while.
"At the time," Napoleon said, hiding a sigh of relief when they reached the paved path, "it seemed like the best thing to do. You might have made it even more difficult to leave than it already was. And I couldn't stay," Napoleon added with heavy honesty.
"You even convinced Mr. Waverly not to reveal your whereabouts," Illya said, a tinge of accusation in his voice.
"I knew he'd be keeping an eye on me, whether I liked it or not." He smiled quizzically. "Did you really look for me?"
"Did you think I wouldn't?"
"I guess... I knew what I wanted you to do, but we rarely get what we want." Napoleon smiled slightly. "Have you ever read Oscar Wilde? 'We are each our own devil,'" he quoted, "'and we make this world our hell.' I didn't want pity," Napoleon said fiercely, "and I didn't want you to do anything because you felt you owed me. I thought... you deserved to be free of me."
"Napoleon Solo," Illya stopped him with a strong hand on his arm, "what makes you think I could ever be free of you?"
"That's what I was afraid of," Napoleon murmured.
The hand on his arm tightened as Illya leaned close. "What makes you think I want to be?" The blue eyes sparked with emotion, their fire quenched in dark brown pools. And a great deal was exchanged, of anger and pain and guilt, of hopelessness and desire and love -- above all love -- which could and would never be spoken.
Some might have thought it sacrilegious, but to the two men kissing in the quiet cemetery it was nothing short of a miracle.
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