|If it wasn't one thing, it was another.
Scarcely had they returned to headquarters after a grueling mission before they were sent out again. In fact, they received a summons to Waverly's office from the receptionist immediately upon entering the building. Napoleon made a face, straightened his tie in the overly fussy manner which always meant he was tired, and lightly took Illya's arm as they strode down the corridor. Suppressing a yawn, Illya let himself be guided.
Mr. Waverly was on the phone when they entered his office. He glanced up briefly and waved them to their usual seats. Illya sat with his hands on the table in front of him, fingers laced, watching Napoleon out of the corner of his eye. True to form, Napoleon fidgeted as they waited, swinging his chair idly from side to side. After a moment, Waverly hung up and turned his full attention to his agents.
"A situation has arisen in the northwest," he began without preamble. "The last inventory from our Seattle office can't account for the whereabouts of several very expensive pieces of equipment. I want you to fly out there and find out what's going on."
Napoleon exchanged a quick glance with Illya. "Excuse me, sir, but that sounds like a problem for Section Six."
"Not when the missing equipment includes components for the new laser rifle the Lab's been working on."
"Ah. Yes, sir, I see what you mean."
"I was hoping you might."
"Who is our contact in the Seattle office?" Illya asked hastily. It was never a good sign when Waverly indulged in crisp sarcasm. He was probably as tired as they -- it was, after all, close on two in the morning.
"Edward Moulton." He gave the tabletop a push. "The dossier and tickets." Illya caught the documents as they spun past, earning a half-hearted scowl from Napoleon.
"Very well, sir." Napoleon pushed himself to his feet. "We'll look into it and report as soon as possible."
"You do that, Mr. Solo," Waverly said absently, turning to the next folder.
His eyes on the paperwork, Illya stumbled slightly as he stood. "The flight is at six," he said to Napoleon.
"Plenty of time to get to the airport," Waverly said without looking up.
"Ah, yes sir." Napoleon made shooing motions at Illya, and followed him quickly out the door.
"Why the rush?" Illya asked once it had closed behind them. "We've got four hours."
"Four hours I'd rather spend relaxing than doing the paperwork on our last assignment." Napoleon strode rapidly away.
Illya glanced briefly at the door to Waverly's office, then scurried after his partner. Napoleon looked sidelong at him as he caught up, the near corner of his mouth turning up.
Illya yawned, and Napoleon's smile broadened.
"You can sleep on the plane," he suggested, taking Illya's arm. "Right now, I want breakfast."
"At two in the morning? Where are we going to find anything?"
"I know just the place."
Unlike Illya's refrigerator, which if memory served held a bottle of catsup and two desiccated apples, Napoleon's always seemed to be full. He couldn't have a neighbor lady keep it clean and stocked while he was on missions; it would be a horrendous breach of security. Maybe fairies did it for him.
Napoleon made the fluffiest, most delicious scrambled eggs Illya ever tasted. And he knew to make a lot: a whole dozen. Illya even managed to stay awake long enough to eat his half. Or maybe more than half. Napoleon finished first and disappeared into the rear of the apartment. Yawning, Illya set his dishes in the sink and followed.
"Did you set the alarm?"
Napoleon lay atop the covers, his hands under his head. "Of course," he said without opening his eyes.
"Good." Illya toed off his shoes and climbed in. He'd wake up anyway -- he always did -- but it didn't pay to take chances. He shivered, imagining telling Mr. Waverly that they'd overslept and missed their flight.
Napoleon wrapped an arm around him, and Illya settled against his partner's side. This was nice. He couldn't remember anymore the first time they did this. He certainly couldn't remember having had a conversation about it -- it wasn't the sort of conversation he thought either of them capable of having. It just happened.
Illya went days without feeling the touch of anyone but his partner. Except, of course, the bad guys, but punches and kicks didn't count. In his own country, there were hugs, and slaps on the back; kisses, and warm strong handshakes. It was so different here that Illya could barely tolerate the casual touches which were allowed, so pitifully inadequate were they. Just when Illya was sure he couldn't take one more day, one more hour, one more minute, of this Western world and its paranoia about physical contact, his partner was there. Napoleon was always there, using his hands, his body, to feed Illya's starved skin.
Napoleon was warm. Illya rolled farther, sprawling atop his partner. Napoleon's arms merely tightened; he never seemed to mind letting Illya sleep on him.
Two hour's sleep to travel on.
"Wake up, Illya. We're here."
"Hm?" Illya stirred against the firm pillow, and blinked open sleep-encrusted eyes. The pillow, which turned out to be Napoleon's shoulder, shifted out from under his cheek as Napoleon leaned forward to pay the taxi driver. Illya blinked. "I fell asleep."
Napoleon held the door as Illya clambered out of the car. "Yes. You, tovarisch, slept all the way across the country, and all the way across Seattle."
"Why didn't you wake me up?" Illya turned his collar up against the rain which splattered down fitfully from pewter clouds.
Napoleon pushed open the door of Giorgi's Tailor-Made Attire. He glanced back with a quick smile and a half-hearted shrug. "Didn't seem much point." He nodded to the man at the counter and headed for a changing booth. Illya crowded in beside him, waiting impatiently while they were scanned and identified.
"Napoleon." Illya laid a hand on his arm, the sleeve of Napoleon's expensive suit smooth and cool under his palm. Napoleon glanced down at Illya's hand with gentle surprise. "Thank you."
The smile was slow and just slightly crooked. "My pleasure."
The door opened and they walked into the reception area of U.N.C.L.E. Seattle. Other than the unfamiliar woman behind the desk, they might as easily have been in U.N.C.L.E. New York, or U.N.C.L.E. Paris, or U.N.C.L.E. Ouagadougou. Illya was never sure if he found it comforting or vaguely disturbing. Like finding himself unexpectedly down the same rabbit hole.
Illya frowned as Napoleon flirted with the typically pretty receptionist. He nudged his partner out of the way and took the badge the woman handed him. "Are you coming?" he asked as he headed for the door. He could hear Napoleon's sigh from several feet away.
"Sometimes I think you were raised by wolves," Napoleon said as he caught up in the corridor.
"Big white Russian wolves." Illya deliberately added a touch of the feral to his grin.
Napoleon looked taken aback for a moment, then he smiled. "Fetch, boy."
"Wolves, Napoleon, not wolfhounds." He turned at the next corridor and entered the elevator.
Napoleon shrugged. "If the shoe fits..." He rocked back on his heels, making a show of watching the floor indicator tick off the levels.
"Are you calling me a dog? You know how I feel about dogs, Napoleon."
"Hm, yes." He grinned irrepressibly. "I also know how you look when you're on the scent of something."
Illya sighed, trying not to smile. "That would be bloodhounds, then, not wolfhounds."
"Whichever you prefer." He followed Illya off the elevator. "By the way, are you following your nose to our contact, or are we on our way to the cafeteria?"
"Edward Moulton is in Section Eight."
Napoleon shook his head. "And naturally, you know everyone in the Lab. Even those in different parts of the world."
"Not everyone." He pushed open an unmarked door and stepped into the familiar surroundings of a laboratory. He breathed in the mingled odors of dust, gas, and chemical fumes, and smiled. Illya always found something comforting about the buzz of industry in a lab. "I think you'll find Edward somewhat... memorable."
He wound his way through the busy lab, Napoleon following, as usual, a little too close. When a woman in a lab coat carrying a boiling beaker with a pair of tongs cut sharply in front of him, forcing a sudden stop, Napoleon collided with him. He took, Illya thought, rather longer than necessary to recover himself and step away. He shook his head and plunged onward, reaching back to grab Napoleon's coat and force him to sidestep around the soldering iron someone had left half-off a lab table, the hot tip sticking out. Waverly would have been understandably upset at having to replace Napoleon's sleek jacket.
Moulton turned from his work, a smile winking in and out on his round face. "Illya! What are you doing here?"
"You reported equipment missing, Edward."
"Well, I didn't expect, y'know, I didn't expect Enforcement to take an interest." He ran his hand sideways over his short curly hair, and down his beard, one finger nervously stroking his bare upper lip.
"When it's the new laser that's missing?"
Edward looked at Napoleon, startled, as if he'd only just noticed him standing there.
"Edward, this is my partner, Napoleon Solo. Napoleon, Edward Moulton."
The two men shook hands.
"You did report the new laser missing, isn't that right, Mr. Moulton?"
"Not exactly, Mr. Solo." His left forefinger went to stroke at his upper lip again.
"What exactly, Edward?"
He looked down at the papers spread across his labtable-cum-desk. "Well, Illya, y'know, there's missing and then there's missing. I told Miss Jamieson, I told her, y'know, he said there's a difference between missing and misplaced." He glanced up at Illya out of the corner of his eye, a smile twitching at his mouth as he savored the words. "He said there's a difference between missing and misplaced."
Illya rigorously controlled his smile at Napoleon's confusion. Edward Moulton was sharp as a tack, and didn't have a mean-spirited bone in his body. But his conversational style did take some getting used to.
You think the laser is misplaced instead of missing?" Illya asked. "I take it Miss Jamieson didn't agree with you."
"Sure she did. She agreed with me entirely. Then, when she went on her vacation, y'know, well, then I started to think about it. And I said to myself, y'know, he said maybe it's more important than that. He said maybe I really ought to report it missing. Not the whole laser, y'know. Not the whole laser. Just, y'know, the parts that got shipped out."
"You shipped parts of an experimental laser out of the lab?" Napoleon asked, visibly grabbing onto the part he'd picked up.
"No." Edward rubbed his bare lip. "But somebody did." He pawed at the pile of papers on his lab table. "I've got the manifest here somewhere."
The look Napoleon shot Illya over Edward's head promised retribution at some later date for not forewarning him. Illya sketched a shrug. He saw no point to "warning" anyone about Edward, and Napoleon probably wouldn't have listened anyway.
"Here." Edward plucked a sheet of paper from the deluge and handed it to Illya. Napoleon moved to read over Illya's shoulder.
"Someone," Edward said, "arranged to send the major components of the laser to our auxiliary lab outside of Seattle. Miss Jamieson asked me who might have done it, but I had to tell her, he said, it couldn't have been any of my people, y'know? An' the signature on the manifest is illegible. Y'know, it's illegible."
It was indeed. Illya squinted at the shipping manifest this way and that, and couldn't even make out the initials. He handed the paper over his shoulder to Napoleon.
"I take it when the shipping company..."
"Viking," Napoleon supplied.
"When Viking showed up to collect the boxes, no one guessed something was amiss?"
"It was Saturday," Edward said, "and the boy in the lab was, y'know, new. He figured someone'd forgotten to tell him about it. And we use Viking for our shipments all the time -- the non-secured stuff. Since it was just going to the secondary lab..."
"I get the idea." Illya grimaced. He was glad he hadn't been that new lab boy -- a mistake like that tended to get one an interview with the local chief. And, while Elliot Roberts was no Mr. Waverly, Illya had no doubt that his tongue-lashings stung just as fiercely. "I take it the laser components never showed up at the secondary lab?"
"Nope." Edward shook his head vigorously. "First time Viking ever lost a shipment."
Illya glanced back and caught Napoleon's eye. Napoleon cocked his head, raising one eyebrow. Obviously, he didn't believe the shipment "lost" any more than Illya did.
"Guess we'll have to talk to the people at Viking," Napoleon said. "Mind if I take this, Mr. Moulton?" He waved the manifest.
"Go ahead." Edward turned back to his lab table. "I'll never
miss it in this." A few papers floated to the floor at his gesture.
"I don't suppose there's any doubt we're in the right place."
The sign over the building, and on the side of the truck standing in front of the building, said "Viking" in large red block letters. The front door seemed to be just to the right of the large overhead door. Three concrete steps descended from the people-sized door, hugging the brick wall of the warehouse with a railing to protect the ungainly. Both doors were closed.
Illya turned off the windshield wipers. The rain had taken a, no-doubt brief, hiatus. He pulled the loaner car from headquarters into the space next to the truck and shut off the engine. "Do you want to do the talking or should I?"
"You've been doing fine so far--" Napoleon interrupted himself with an enormous yawn, "--why stop now?"
Illya shook his head. "You know, if you hadn't spent the entire flight flirting with that stewardess, you might have gotten some sleep."
Napoleon opened the car door. "How do you know what I was doing? You fell asleep before we even took off."
Illya scowled at Napoleon and got out of the car. Before he could think of a proper response, a man emerged from the building. He was short, squat, and entirely bald. The sleeves of his red plaid shirt were rolled back to the elbow.
"Can't park that here," he said from the top of the concrete steps. "This here's private property."
"Are you," Illya glanced down at the manifest, "Sam?" He moved toward the man, and felt Napoleon come up behind his right shoulder.
"Why'd you want Sam?" The man leaned beefy arms on the railing.
"His name's on this paperwork." Illya handed it up to the man, who looked it over suspiciously before handing it back.
"So it is."
"If I'm reading this correctly, that means he took down the order for shipping."
Napoleon's hand touched the small of Illya's back and stayed there, fingers warm and solid. Illya made a concerted effort to keep his patience. "May we speak with him?"
"Any particular reason why not?"
"Sam's not back yet."
Illya felt Napoleon's amused snort on the back of his neck.
The truck which turned into the fenced yard of the warehouse just then was large enough to make the one already sitting before the building look like a baby. The cab swung wide as the driver dropped the truck into reverse and slid it neatly into place. Without, Illya saw with relief, damaging the U.N.C.L.E. car. They destroyed enough of those a month without getting them squashed by semis. The driver stuck an arm out the window and waved.
The man they'd been speaking to waved back, and shouted over the dying engine noise: "These fellas wanna talk to you, Sam."
The driver who hopped out of the cab proved to be short, and slim, and very female. Standing on the ground, her head barely topped the bottom of the door. Her hair was blond and bobbed, her earrings glittering in the fitful sun. She wore a denim shirt with the sleeves cut off at the shoulders, blue jeans, a black belt, and heavy black work boots.
Illya felt the ghost of Napoleon's laugh against the back of his neck again. "I think," Napoleon said, "it's my turn." He plucked the manifest from Illya's fingers and strode jauntily out to join Sam next to the truck.
Illya jumped as the door behind him banged. He turned and saw that the bald man had gone back inside. Illya leaned back against the cement stairs and crossed his arms over his chest as he watched Napoleon exercise his wiles on the young lady.
She wasn't exactly Napoleon's type. Napoleon usually went for women who were utterly feminine, soft, slightly vulnerable -- with, of course, a few exceptions on that last one. At least, he always had. Illya had grown adept at reading Napoleon's body-language over the years. He was also intimately familiar with how his partner worked, the approaches he took, the things he said. He grinned faintly to himself. He could probably guess precisely what they were saying to each other.
Sam ducked her head and looked up at Napoleon from beneath her lashes. He smiled down at her. Illya blinked. The smile, he could see, was genuine. Not the practiced one he used for flirting information out of women, or the one for encouraging innocents to help. It was precisely the kind of smile... that he often gave Illya.
Illya blinked. When had he started thinking of that smile as his? The first time Napoleon had held out his arms, confidently expecting that the trust between them would hold if Illya accepted the invitation? The first time Illya had laughed at the way Napoleon looked in the morning -- fuzzy and vague and sleepy? It wasn't the smile he gave his women, Illya knew that without doubt. That smile was pure sex, and their relationship wasn't about sex. It was about... damned if Illya could put it into words, in any of the languages he spoke. But Napoleon's smile pretty much summed it up.
And here he was giving it away to some female truck driver.
A moment later, Napoleon gave her his arm, and they headed toward Illya. Illya didn't bother to uncross his arms, or offer his hand to the girl. Not that it mattered. She parted from Napoleon and ran up the short flight of steps without a single look at Illya.
"Thank you, Samantha. I'll be waiting for your call."
She laughed merrily and shook her head. Her disappearance into the warehouse was punctuated with a loud bang. Napoleon continued to smile at the closed door for a moment.
Growling silently, Illya pushed himself upright and headed for the car. He had the engine running before Napoleon slid into his seat. Napoleon pulled the door quickly shut as Illya backed out of the warehouse lot. He looked sidelong at Illya.
"In a hurry?" he asked mildly.
"Where to next?" Illya asked, ignoring Napoleon's question.
A gust of wind threw fat raindrops against the windshield. Illya flicked on the wipers. "I know you're tired, Napoleon, but it's a little early in the day to give up. Mr. Waverly won't be happy if we don't figure out where those boxes went."
"What? You're joking."
"Scout's honor," Napoleon said, holding up three fingers. "Sam remembered the shipment all right. Just after she got the boxes to the warehouse, someone called and changed the destination on them."
"Did she remember who?"
"He said his name was Edward Moulton."
"Edward? No chance. I don't believe it."
"Neither do I. Her description of the caller's voice certainly didn't sound like him."
Illya snorted. "I'm sure." The light at the next corner turned red. His fingers tightened on the steering wheel as he stomped on the brakes. "Where in New York?"
Napoleon's hand was braced on the dashboard. "Sam's going to look that up, and call us at our hotel."
In its unpredictable way, the rain lightened, and the sun came out from behind the gray scudding clouds. Illya played a fast jazz beat on the steering wheel with his fingers. He used one hand to swing the car around the corner when the light turned green.
"Let's get something to eat on the way back to the hotel," he suggested. "I'm starved."
"No," Mr. Waverly said, "I want you to fly back to New York immediately."
Napoleon looked at Illya over his communicator. "According to Viking shipping, the boxes haven't reached New York yet, sir. Perhaps we should--"
"I'm sending a team from Section Three to stake out the destination address. As soon as the boxes arrive, we'll intercept them and that will be that. In the meantime, Mr. Solo, there are items at headquarters which require your, and Mr. Kuryakin's, attention."
"The paperwork for your last mission, for example."
Napoleon winced. Illya tried to look sympathetic, but didn't quite manage it. Napoleon was the one who'd made the decision to skip out on the paperwork in the first place. And besides, Illya would have his own fair share of reports to fill out when they got back.
"Oh, and Mr. Solo..."
"Come to my office immediately when you arrive in the morning. I've had to schedule a meeting with Mr. Butler, and you and Mr. Kuryakin."
"Uh... yes, sir."
"Mr. Butler?" Illya said after Napoleon had returned his communicator to his pocket.
Napoleon pursed his lips. "There's a Butler in Section Three. Not very popular with his fellow agents, if memory serves, though I'm not sure why."
"And we have a meeting with him tomorrow morning." Illya flopped down across the bed.
"You heard Mr. Waverly."
"What do you suppose it's about?"
Napoleon shrugged. "Beats me."
"I'm telling you, they're gay!"
This, thought Mr. Waverly, was going to be interesting. And in no small part entertaining.
"Gay? What is gay?" Illya frowned. His accent seemed slightly more pronounced than usual.
"Happy," Napoleon supplied with an affected shrug.
"There's something wrong with that?" Illya turned limpid blue eyes on his accuser, his confusion obvious.
Butler sputtered, taken aback. But not for long. "You can't fool me," he growled, putting his hands flat on the table and leaning toward Illya. He was just smart enough, Waverly saw, not to get too close. "I know what you pansy fags get up to on those trips of yours."
"Saving the world?" Napoleon suggested mildly.
Butler made an odd noise in his throat.
"Pansy fags?" Illya blinked. "No, I know that one. A fag is," he said, his accents shading toward Cambridge, "a cigarette." He cocked an eyebrow at Butler. "And a pansy..."
"A plant," Napoleon confirmed.
Illya lifted both eyebrows, turning a bemused expression on Butler.
Butler sputtered like a teakettle and whirled to face Waverly, his frustration getting the better of his good sense. "There are laws. I can't believe this of an organization like U.N.C.L.E. Our best agents, a couple of queers!"
"Queer?" Illya turned to Napoleon for clarification.
"Odd," said Napoleon, his lips twitching.
"By whose standards?" Illya demanded, eyeing Butler's increasingly twitchy behavior.
"I'm talking about homosexuality, goddammit!" The man burst out.
"I think you've said quite enough," Waverly decreed with a dry finality which utterly obscured his own amusement at the game Napoleon and Illya were playing. The accusation was another matter, however. "What evidence do you have? I assume you came prepared to defend your accusations?" Waverly asked with perfect calm, ignoring the half-concerned, half-amused look Napoleon shot him.
"Well, they share hotel rooms, for one."
"My secretary makes their travel arrangements at my orders, Mr. Butler. Single rooms are less of a security risk and cheaper." Waverly pulled out his pipe and began filling it from the humidor on the table. "Anything else?"
"They're always looking at each other."
"I hardly see anything wrong about that; it's simple good manners."
"But they even do it while you're talking to them!" The man protested, his voice cracking.
"Do they?" Waverly mused. He frowned at his top agent. "Mr. Solo, from now on you will do me the courtesy of paying attention when I'm speaking to you."
"The same goes for you, Mr. Kuryakin."
Satisfied, Waverly returned his attention to his pipe. "Proceed, Mr. Butler."
Butler was starting to look rather red about the face, the deepness of the tone indicative not of embarrassment, but growing temper. "They're always touching each other!"
"In Russia, it's common for friends to stand close and engage in physical contact. I'm sure Mr. Solo is simply making his partner feel at home."
"But... but... They disobey orders in order to rescue each other. And violate the hospital's visiting hours and spend all night and frighten the nurses." Butler's entire stock of remaining evidence tumbled out all at once in a desperate bid.
"Field agents' lives depend upon their partners, Mr. Butler. It's hardly unusual for them to show concern for each other's health and well-being." Waverly looked on with mild curiosity as Butler sputtered ineffectually. "Surely you must have had some sort of concrete evidence before bringing forward charges of this nature?"
Butler made a strange, strangled noise. "They're a couple a fairies, I tell you!"
Illya shot a startled look at Napoleon's back, as if he expected wings to start sprouting any moment. It was all Waverly could do to keep a straight face.
"I think that's about enough. You are dismissed, Mr. Butler." His choler in no way dissipated by the light dismissal of his charges, Butler stalked toward the door. "And Mr. Butler, I will hold you personally responsible if any of these rumors begin circulating headquarters." Much chastened, the red little man slunk out of Waverly's office.
"You are dismissed as well, gentlemen," Waverly added after a minute, gesturing absently with his pipe. "You have, as I told you, until five tonight to complete the paperwork on your previous mission."
"Yes, sir." Napoleon offered, pushing himself to his feet, a quirk of his eyebrow inviting Illya to join him.
Waverly waited until the door slid shut behind them to indulge in a hearty laugh.
Illya waited patiently through Napoleon's interrupted morning ritual of coffee and flirtation. By neither look nor word did he indicate any urgency, but Napoleon could tell he was absolutely bursting to speak. He smiled to himself and refused to be rushed.
Finally, coffee in hand, they escaped the agents' lounge and retreated to their office. Illya leaned against his desk and sipped his coffee, his eyes tracking Napoleon's movements. He waited until Napoleon had sat down, shuffled with something less than full attention through the paperwork that had accumulated while they were in the field, and sipped gingerly at his hot coffee, before asking his question.
"What is 'homosexuality'?"
Napoleon sprayed coffee across his desk. Coughing, he set down his cup and grabbed a handful of napkins from the top right-hand drawer. He glared at Illya as he blotted coffee spatters off his paperwork. "Don't do that!"
"Do what?" Illya asked with wide-eyed innocence.
Illya ambled over to Napoleon's desk and hitched his hip up on the dry corner. He raised his cup to his lips and asked over the rim, "You don't think it would work?"
"I think we were pushing it as it was. Mr. Waverly was beginning to have trouble breathing, did you notice?"
Illya smiled. "I did. So was Mr. Butler."
"Butler." Napoleon let his lips curl to match the sour taste of the name in his mouth. "Useless busybody."
"He seemed," Illya said calmly, "to be having trouble maintaining his composure."
Napoleon's lips twitched, the flavor this time amusement. "Who wouldn't upon finding their accusations handled by Abbott and Costello?"
"Never mind." He chucked the damp napkins into the trash next to his desk and picked up his coffee cup. He shot Illya a warning look before lifting the cup to his lips and taking a sip.
"So you don't think we can add homosexual to the game?" Illya also sipped from his cup, then cocked his head to one side. Napoleon found himself thinking how angelic, and attractive, his partner looked, and shook himself for the thought.
"And how many languages do you speak again?" Napoleon asked pointedly, knowing precisely how many.
"It's illegal in the Soviet Union, Napoleon." Illya shrugged, an eloquently gallic gesture he must have picked up while studying in Paris. "It wasn't exactly on the vocabulary list in my English classes."
Napoleon shook his head. "It's not going to fly, Illya. A word with Latin and Greek roots a mystery to you? Not with your scientific background."
"Damn," Illya said softly.
"I think we have enough," Napoleon said judiciously, though he found himself unable to suppress a grin at Illya's disappointment. "Enough to rout Butler's ilk, at any rate."
"Ilk?" Illya echoed.
"Don't tell me you don't know that word either."
"Oh, I know it just fine." Illya paused to swallow a mouthful of coffee. "Just never heard anyone use it in conversation before."
"Watch yourself." Napoleon shook a handful of coffee-stained papers at his partner. Illya laughed at the mock warning. His expression turned serious soon enough, however.
"It's unfortunate that it's necessary."
"Hm?" Napoleon looked up from the top paper on his pile, not really ready to get down to reading it anyway. "Routing Butler's ilk, you mean? As long as we're good partners and better friends, Illya, the occasional rout will be necessary."
"It's ridiculous." Illya snorted. "It's not like we..."
"No, it's not."
"I know my reputation with the ladies--"
"Or lack of it," Napoleon supplied.
Illya glared. "--doesn't help, but you'd think yours..."
"Mine," Napoleon said, a hint of swagger in his voice, "isn't harmed in the least. Every time headquarters goes through a resurgence of that particular rumor, the sweet young things are piled up three deep outside the door, panting to prove the wonders of heterosexuality to me."
"You needn't look so pleased about that." He peered into his cup, as if the lukewarm coffee sloshing in the bottom held the secrets of eternity. "Perhaps it would be better if we didn't--"
"Now hold it." It was difficult to keep the anger out of his voice. "What we do -- or don't do -- in our private lives is our own business. We're not going to let a bunch of gossiping busybodies dictate to us. Are we?"
Illya shook his head without looking up.
Illya was silent for a minute. "Do you regret it?"
Napoleon thought about strong arms and a warm body that wanted nothing from him but the warmth of his own body. No relationship in his life, oddly enough, was less demanding or more rewarding. He waited until Illya's eyes finally wandered his way. "Not for a minute," he said, all trace of teasing washed from his voice.
A touch of high color graced Illya's fair cheeks. He seemed, for a moment, completely tongue-tied. "Perhaps," he said finally, "we ought to be worried about what Mr. Waverly thinks."
Napoleon smiled. He leaned comfortably back in his chair. "You
heard him. Waverly doesn't care what we do, as long as we don't do it
in the streets and scare the horses."
Slowly drowning in a sea of paperwork, Napoleon looked up with undisguised relief when Illya stormed into the office. He raised an eyebrow questioningly.
"You have a call." If Illya'd been born a dog, he couldn't have bristled more fiercely.
Napoleon raised the other eyebrow.
"She won't speak to anyone but you."
Napoleon eyed his partner's almost visibly raised hackles. "Angelique?"
At the name, Illya's scowl, if possible, deepened. "That woman trucker," he corrected.
"Sam?" Napoleon picked up his phone and pleasantly asked the U.N.C.L.E. operator to put the call through to him, only pulling his considering gaze from his partner when he was connected. "Samantha?"
"I told you not to call me that." Her laugh was warm and delighted. Much like Illya's, on those rare occasions that Napoleon startled laughter out of him.
"I stand corrected." Napoleon leaned back in his chair and smiled reflexively. Illya came around Napoleon's desk and leaned back against it, his arms crossed over his chest.
"I take it someone must have told you it was me on the line. Or are you that good?"
"I'm that good," Napoleon teased. It felt as if Illya was breathing down his neck. He shot him a look, which Illya naturally ignored. All Illya did was hoist himself up on the edge of the desk and look as if he were growing roots. "Illya told me you were on the line," Napoleon admitted.
"Illya?" Before Napoleon could respond, she answered her own question. "Oh, the handsome blond with the scowl."
Napoleon grinned. "Yes," he said, looking at that self-same scowl, "that's the one." He watched the scowl deepen, and reluctantly drew himself back to the matter at hand. "To what does U.N.C.L.E. owe the honor?"
"I think I have something for you."
"Wonderful!" He tilted forward again and began looking for a pen and something to write on. Illya was so close, Napoleon's hand inadvertently brushed his thigh. Illya didn't move. Which was a problem, because he was practically sitting on the paper. "Just let me get something to write on," Napoleon told the woman on the other end of the line, directing his most speaking look at his partner.
Illya, however, though he was looking straight at Napoleon, ignored the entire thing. Napoleon grabbed the paper and tugged heartily, retrieving enough of the top sheet to make some scribbles on.
"Okay, go ahead, Sam." He started writing, his elbow bumping into Illya's thigh. A glare produced no results. "They're where?" Napoleon asked, not certain he'd heard correctly.
"How'd they get there?"
"Someone called up the Viking warehouse in Denver and requested that the shipment be rerouted to Chicago when it came through their office."
"And they did it."
"I'm afraid so. Napoleon--"
"You're only one woman, Sam. You can't do everything."
She laughed again. "Don't tell my boss that."
"He wouldn't believe me if I told him." He handed the paper to Illya, the word "Chicago" underlined three times. Illya took it, gave him an inscrutable look, then hopped off Napoleon's desk and went over to his own, and the phone on it. Napoleon breathed a little easier. "Do you have an address?"
"Of course. Do you doubt me?" she teased.
"Never." Napoleon frowned at Illya's back, which seemed to have tensed. What the hell had come over his partner? He took down the address as she read it to him, almost without hearing it. "Wonderful, Sam," he said when she was done. "You have no idea how important your help has been."
"I'm glad I could help. Oh, and Napoleon, there's one more thing..."
When Napoleon hung up the phone a moment later, he was grinning from ear to ear. When Illya turned from his own phone call and caught sight of him, his eyebrows drew together in a frown. Napoleon didn't make him wait long.
"You've made our flight arrangements to Chicago?"
"The flight's in an hour."
Napoleon stood, grabbing his jacket from the back of the chair. "Well, come on then." He stuffed the scrap of paper with the address on it into his pocket. "If we hurry, we might still intercept them."
"The boxes aren't there yet?"
"Not for another three hours."
"What are we waiting for?" Excitement snapping in his eyes, he
snatched up his coat and proceeded his partner out the door, unaware of
the fond, exasperated shake of Napoleon's head.
"How can you possibly have fallen asleep again?" Napoleon tossed his bag into the back of the rental car and climbed into the passenger seat.
"Airplanes make me sleepy."
"All moving vehicles make you sleepy. Are you sure you're safe to drive?"
Illya scowled at him. "Safer than your driving any day."
Napoleon refrained from comment. "Very well. Then give me the map, I guess I'm navigating."
Illya muttered something that sounded very much like, "We're never going to get there."
Napoleon shot him a look. And stopped for a moment to watch the setting sun gild Illya's hair. His partner's attention was on the road, and it was safe to look, for a minute or two.
Illya's response to Butler's accusations had startled him. The rumors were nothing new -- they'd started not long after he and Illya were partnered. Napoleon had always been the kind of man to touch. Illya was the sort of person who needed the occasional touch -- as long as it was from the right person. It was, Napoleon considered, remarkably flattering to be that person. He didn't particularly care what anyone thought about it. They'd evolved a method of dealing with outright accusations largely to keep Mr. Waverly from being overly annoyed by them.
Napoleon was surprised that this latest round seemed to worry Illya. How could he think that their friendship was anything but a joy to Napoleon?
"Are you sure this is it?"
"Here," Napoleon said, handing over the slip of paper with the address on it, "see for yourself."
Illya compared the street and number and handed it back. "All right. You get to do the talking this time."
"Thank you very much." Napoleon climbed out of the car and shoved the door shut a little harder than necessary. He tugged his jacket into place, took a deep breath, and entered the doors neatly stenciled "Harrow's Mortuary."
"Good evening, gentlemen. How may I assist you in your time of need?"
Illya's hand rested lightly on Napoleon's shoulderblade, and Napoleon was sure he felt a suppressed quiver of amusement run through it. He ignored it with an effort, and studied the woman in front of him. She was tall, her eyes level with his in -- he glanced surreptitiously down at her feet -- flats. Her straight black hair was pulled back in a severe bun, but her gray eyes held the faint radiant warmth of compassion.
"Ah... may we speak with Mr. Harrow, please?"
Amusement touched her eyes without finding its way into her face. "I'm afraid you'd need a spiritualist for that," she said in the same soft gentle lilt. "My name is Ellie Fredericksen. Perhaps I can be of assistance?"
"Perhaps." Napoleon was at a loss: his usual smile seemed out of the place in the somber surroundings. He settled for the slight lifting of the corners of the mouth which was his partner's stock in trade. "We're..." he cleared his throat... "we're looking for... an item... which was, or will be, delivered here today."
"Of course. This way." She let them in stately procession past two black-draped doors and opened the third such door. "In here. You must be from the Harrison family," she added.
Illya collided with Napoleon just inside the doorway. Napoleon closed his eyes briefly, trying not to commit the feel of his partner's lithe body to memory. After entirely too long a moment, Illya stepped away. Napoleon turned to Miss Fredericksen.
"I'm afraid we've got started on the wrong foot. We're not here for..." His gesture took in the rows of empty chairs and the, almost certainly occupied, white lacquered coffin at the head of the room.
"Oh no!" Flustered, she put her hands to her suddenly quite animated face. "I'm so sorry, I merely assumed--"
"It's quite all right," Napoleon assured her, guiding her deftly from the room. Illya closed the door to the viewing room with a gentle click. Keeping one hand under her elbow, Napoleon delved into his breast pocket with the other. "We're from the U.N.C.L.E., as you can see." He showed her his ID card.
"But what would U.N.C.L.E. want with Harrow's?"
"Perhaps we could have this conversation somewhere more... appropriate?"
"Of course." She shook her head briskly, falling back into her professional mien. "My office is this way."
The office door said "manager." She gestured them to a couple of comfortable chairs before the desk and seated herself behind it. "Now." She laced her fingers on the polished surface of the desk. "I can't for the life of me think what sort of business U.N.C.L.E. would have with Harrow's. Unless, of course," she said, her pewter eyes glowing, "you've decided to offer us an exclusive contract for all your... business." Even her laugh sounded decorous... funerary.
Napoleon couldn't help but smile. "No, I'm afraid not. It's a simple matter, really, Miss Fredericksen."
"Ellie." He smiled again. The animation of her private, as opposed to her business, face, was lovely. "We've tracked a shipment of very important boxes here."
"A shipment? Here? Of what?"
"Nothing to do with your line of work, and a great deal to do with ours," Illya said. Napoleon shot him a quick frown. When he looked back at her, however, Ellie was smiling at Illya, apparently unperturbed by his abruptness.
"Well," she said slowly, "I'll have to consult with Andrew -- he's my assistant. He takes care of all deliveries." She rose and turned to an inner door, then back again with an exclamation. "I've just remembered--"
"I'm afraid Andrew left early today."
"Perhaps," Napoleon suggested carefully, "we could take a look around?"
"I'm not sure..."
He rose and took her slim fingers in his own. "Surely," he said with an intimate smile, "it would be okay for us to... look."
She swayed toward him, her eyes large and luminous. "I don't suppose it could hurt," she said softly. Suddenly, she seemed to recollect herself. She drew herself up. "I really must prepare for the Harrison family -- they'll be here in half an hour. You..." she waved vaguely as she headed for the door, "you can look around as you please."
Napoleon watched her walk away, his lips curving up in aesthetic appreciation of the gentle sway of her hips. He jumped when the back of Illya's hand swatted his chest.
"Let's check out the back."
Illya's hips, Napoleon noticed as he followed him to the inner door, didn't sway nearly as much. In fact, he moved forward with an economy of motion that was--
"The basement or the alley?"
"What?" Napoleon moved up behind Illya and looked over his shoulder.
"Basement," Illya pointed at the steps going down to the left, "or alley," to the door at the right.
"Ah... Perhaps we should check out the rest of the mortuary first?"
"I think Miss Fredericksen might have noticed if there were some extra boxes lying around, don't you?"
Napoleon scowled at Illya, who scowled right back.
"Basement or alley?"
What had gotten into him? He was acting like a bear with a sore head. The vagaries of Illya's moods were not for the faint of heart. Not having any particular desire to check out the basement of a mortuary, Napoleon silently indicated his intention of investigating the alley for any signs of a recent delivery. Or any Thrush activity.
Napoleon slipped the lock and had his hand on the doorknob when the scream came. Ellie. He turned back the way he'd come, and the door slammed into his back. As he stumbled to his knees, Illya came charging back up the basement stairs.
"Napoleon, look out!"
Napoleon launched himself into a roll, feeling the thump of bullets in the carpet where he'd just been. The familiar bark of Illya's gun returned fire. Napoleon's roll carried him through into Ellie's office, and he catapulted himself to his feet. A quick glance back through the door showed him Illya popping out of cover in the stairwell to fire through the alley door. His fire kept the Thrush agents under cover, making it impossible to say how many of them there were. Illya caught Napoleon's eye and waved him away.
As usual, duty took precedence over emotion. Illya could take care of himself; it was Napoleon's job to take care of the innocent. Ellie's scream had come from somewhere near the front of the building. He headed for the other door, his gun in his hand by the time he reached it.
Slipping through the black-draped halls of a mortuary at dusk, hoping to avoid the bullet which his itching skin proclaimed was waiting around each successive corner, was something out of a cheesy horror movie. Next thing he knew, no doubt, a cat would spring out at him from nowhere. Fabric brushed against Napoleon's gun hand, and he nearly squeezed off a reflexive shot. The drape swayed again, too heavy to billow in the breeze.
Napoleon crouched and insinuated himself between the drapes. He peered cautiously through the door to the dimly lit viewing room. The man had one thick hand wrapped in Ellie's dark tresses. He tugged, using the pain to trap her against his body. They swayed, knocking over another chair. In the dim light, the shiny white surface of Harrison's coffin seemed almost to glow behind the struggling figures.
"The boss didn't mention how pretty you are," the man said, almost conversationally, his grip in Ellie's hair cranking her head back. "I don't mind if you don't want to cooperate. I'd rather enjoy myself with you first."
Napoleon aimed at the man's round, shining face and squeezed the trigger. Ellie screamed again, a half-muted shriek, when her attacker stiffened, a look of blank astonishment on his ruined face, and pitched over backwards, taking Harrison's coffin with him.
In a moment, Napoleon was at her side, gathering the whimpering girl into his arms. She snuffled against his jacket, calming in quick short breaths.
"Thank god," she whispered. "Thank you." Her kiss was urgent and eager, and interrupted.
"Sorry," Illya said, though he didn't look it. He dropped his hand from the switch as Napoleon blinked owlishly in the sudden glare. "I see you've got one." He gestured at the dead man.
"The others?" Napoleon asked.
"Dead. And there are three boxes with Viking labels in the basement."
He looked insufferably pleased. And gloriously unharmed.
Napoleon ran his hand comfortingly over Ellie's hair. "It's sometimes necessary..." he trailed off as she turned calm gray eyes on him.
"Do you suppose...?"
"I don't know what Thrush's policy is regarding remains," Illya said, the ghost of a smile around his mouth. "However, the police will probably prefer to remove the bodies themselves."
"Of course," she said imperturbably. With perhaps just the slightest touch of regret.
Napoleon's eyes met Illya's and suddenly it took a great deal
of effort not to laugh. And even more not to wish them somewhere
Illya leaned wearily against him as he fumbled to open the door to their hotel room. Tired though he was, Napoleon wasn't at all interested in shaking him off.
The laser components had been locked up securely for the night in the nearest bank vault. Come morning, an U.N.C.L.E. security team would arrive to carry them back where they belonged. It would be officially over then.
As far as Napoleon was concerned, it was near enough to being officially over now. The door finally yielded to his key. Illya peeled himself away from Napoleon and entered the room under his own power. Napoleon shoved the door shut with his foot as he turned to his partner.
Illya walked into Napoleon's arms. In the privacy of their hotel room, there was no one to comment on the fierceness of their embrace. For long minutes, for both of them, there was no U.N.C.L.E., no Thrush, no duty, and certainly no homicidal maniacs. No one else in the whole of the world. Just two men, and the strength of arms, the warmth of bodies, hearts and lungs working in rhythmic tandem.
Napoleon sighed at the feel of Illya's soft breath on his cheek. He closed his eyes and buried his face in the curve of his partner's neck, and breathed in the sweet, comfortable scent. Illya's coat was rough and slightly gritty under his palms.
"Alley?" he asked, absently brushing dirt from the fabric.
"Basement," Illya said into Napoleon's neck. He moved his head slightly. "Lipstick."
"Hm, and perfume. Ellie."
Napoleon smiled at Illya's perfectly non-committal response. He was always non-committal about Napoleon's interaction with women. Except when he wasn't, and Napoleon felt the sharp side of his tongue. The thought arose that he wouldn't mind feeling any side of Illya's tongue, and Napoleon shoved it away. This wasn't the time or place.
Illya nodded against Napoleon's collarbone and slipped lithely out of his arms.
Napoleon toed off his shoes and flopped down on the lumpy mattress. He opened his arms in invitation, and in a moment, Illya burrowed against his side. Napoleon closed his arms around his partner and sighed. The bedspring which, a moment ago, had been digging into his hipbone faded quietly away.
He chuckled softly to himself. More than half asleep, Illya made a questioning noise. Napoleon only tightened his grip, not inclined to explain his thoughts. How rare it was to lie on a bed with a warm and welcoming body in his arms, and be fully clothed. How lying fully clothed on a lumpy hotel mattress with Illya was simultaneously more arousing and more comfortable than any women he'd ever slept with. How the infamous Napoleon Solo found the comfort more alluring than the arousal. How quickly Butler would be back in Waverly's office could he but see them.
And how little this had to do with sex. How much to do with necessity.
It was always the same after missions. Days of frantic activity, with the weight of the world, and its future, resting on their shoulders, days of either not knowing where his partner was or knowing all too well what kind of danger he was in, days in which he himself was either wooed or wounded. It was a relief to stop, be quiet and still and merely breathe. And to feel his partner breathing against him.
The shrinks no doubt had a word for it. Something about human contact and reaffirmation of life. But Napoleon wasn't interested in words. In these moments, he was more at peace, more content, than any other in his variegated life.
He turned his head until Illya's soft hair tickled his nose, and sighed blissfully.
It was dark, and close, and Illya was heavy on his chest.
Napoleon's mouth was excessively dry, and a headache throbbed just behind his eyes. The blackness was absolute. Disoriented, Napoleon tossed out a hand, flailing for the lamp on the bedside table. His knuckles hit something very hard and very close with a muffled thud.
"Napoleon?" Illya slurred, stirring.
Napoleon pressed his thumb against Illya's mouth, finding the full lips unerringly in the dark. Illya fell instantly silent. Napoleon slid his fingers down Illya's right arm and took his hand in his own, guiding it slowly out to meet the wall which shouldn't have been there. It was covered with cloth, slick and smooth and slightly padded. Napoleon reached out carefully to the left, and found the same surface mere inches away. His heartrate increased perceptibly, an unpleasant thought surfacing.
Illya hitched himself up and placed his mouth against Napoleon's ear. "Do you think they've buried us yet?" he whispered.
Napoleon shivered, half at having his conjecture seconded, half in helpless response to the wash of Illya's breath over his ear.
"I hope not," he whispered back. "It's the height of ill manners to give someone an early send off," he quipped to cover his unease.
Illya's weight shifted, bearing rather heavily on Napoleon's chest for a moment, and Napoleon could hear him fumbling over their heads. He subsided with a gust of breath. "I think I can feel a breeze at the cracks."
"Good. I'm rather fond of breathing."
And growing fonder of feeling Illya's chest rise and fall against his own. Napoleon closed his eyes -- not that it mattered without any light -- and gave himself a stern talking to about appropriate times and places. Unfortunately, it didn't seem to have any appreciable effect on his libido.
"Shall we?" Illya asked softly.
"What!? Shall we what?"
Illya hissed annoyance and tapped Napoleon sharply in the shoulder with stiffened fingers. He heaved up suddenly, his knee coming down between Napoleon's legs.
"Sorry," Illya grunted. His hands pressed hard on Napoleon's shoulders, and Napoleon reached up in the dark and pushed back. It seemed to Napoleon that the lid creaked faintly, but that was all. After several long minutes of strain, they gave the effort up, and Illya landed back on Napoleon's chest with a soft whuff.
"This is ridiculous," Napoleon said.
"They are designed to last until Judgment Day," Illya remarked. He made a resigned effort to make himself more comfortable. Napoleon gritted his teeth and tried not to notice the wriggling.
"Why the hell do they put locks on the outside of coffins?" he burst out suddenly.
"You'd prefer they put them on the inside?"
"Well, it would be more convenient."
Suddenly, Illya's chest began shaking. Tiny puffs of air sprayed against Napoleon's neck.
"What's so damned funny?" Napoleon demanded, knowing perfectly well. He let the grin spread unseen across his face, wrapped his arms snugly around his laughing partner, and waited him out. "We're the only men in the world who'd need the locks on the inside," he said after a while.
"Undoubtedly," Illya said. He nuzzled his face against Napoleon's shirt, seeking a comfortable spot.
Napoleon licked his lips and wished for a glass of water. At least the headache had mostly faded. "Formula six?"
"Seven, I think," Illya said. "How'd they get it into the hotel room? Didn't you lock the door?"
"Of course I locked the door," Napoleon said without heat. After a minute: "Neither of us did a security check."
There was nothing whatsoever to do but wait for someone to come along and let them out. That the someone would prove to be Thrush was almost inevitable. In his early years with U.N.C.L.E., Napoleon would have tried to anticipate all the possible scenarios and plan for every one. Experience had taught him that it was impossible to plan for everything, or even anything, when the variables were unknown. It was better just to wait and see. And think about something else in the meantime.
Illya's leg was still between Napoleon's thighs, a warm arousing weight. Sanity strongly suggested that Napoleon make Illya move. Desire demanded otherwise. Napoleon licked his lips again.
If there were four Thrush agents or less, they could probably take them. Unless they had the foresight to light the room brightly, in which case their sojourn in the dark would be a distinct detriment. On the other hand, it was possible that Thrush...
Illya's fingers were playing in the hair at the nape of Napoleon's neck, rucking slowly up through it, then petting it down again.
"Do you..." Napoleon's hand found Illya's face, palm cupping his cheek, fingers sliding into those baby-soft strands. He lost his increasingly disjointed train of thought.
"Napoleon?" He rubbed his head against Napoleon's chest.
"Ah, you... uh..." His hips flexed instinctively, pressing his aching groin against Illya's firm thigh. Brushing, all unexpected, an equally firm erection. "You..."
"Napoleon." Illya's head lifted. His breath kissed Napoleon's lips before his mouth did.
There were no more words. There was only slippery soft heat, and strong hard power, and the feather soft brush of Illya's hair against his cheek. Napoleon didn't even manage to get their clothing out of the way, rushing in a breathless dash for pleasure, completion overtaking him with a speed it hadn't since the first time, with Jeanette Wilson in the back seat of her father's car in high school.
Gasping, Napoleon held Illya's jerking hips against his own. His other hand rubbed his partner's back, stroking in unconscious time with the breath which sobbed against his throat. Pressing hard, holding tight, holding with the strength of something far more than mere desire.
And Napoleon laughed with what little air he had. For it had never had nothing to do with sex.
And it was still about necessity.
The lid gave an almighty, remarkably cliched, creak when it lifted.
The interior, Napoleon saw in the dim light, was a baby blue satin, not far different from Illya's eyes. He looked up and Ellie's surprised pewter eyes blinked at him.
"How the devil did you get in here?"
Napoleon let himself look at Illya. The fair cheeks were flushed -- with exertion and desire, it was to be hoped, rather than embarrassment. Napoleon hoped they both looked presentable. But he couldn't bring himself to be too concerned about it. There really didn't seem to be any right way to react to having the best sex of his life in a coffin with his fully clothed partner.
Illya knelt up, his knee just barely missing Napoleon's crotch. The gleam dancing in his eye proclaimed it entirely intentional. He swung out of the coffin and dropped gracefully to the floor, then held out a hand to assist Napoleon.
"We... ah... seem to have been kidnapped," Napoleon said as he climbed carefully out of the coffin. Its wheeled bier rocked uncertainly, and Illya's grip tightened. Once upon solid ground, Napoleon continued to hold Illya's hand, for a moment, risking Ellie's eagle eye. As soon as he'd retrieved his hand, Illya retreated to the far end of the room. While Napoleon was sure that he was checking for unfriendlies, he was also taking the opportunity Napoleon would have appreciated to adjust his clothes.
"Kidnapped!? And put in there?"
"Why not? Who would think of looking in there?" Napoleon restrained the impulse to scowl. He really wasn't feeling at his best -- sexual satisfaction tended to slow his thinking process, and his uncomfortably sticky underwear wasn't helping any.
"The next occupant, perhaps?"
"Perhaps." Napoleon eyed the coffin doubtfully. It looked familiar. It looked, in fact, identical to the one which had been dumped over by the Thrush he'd killed. The one holding the mortal remains of Mr., or Mrs., Harrison. "This, ah, this coffin, it isn't..."
"It's a display model," Ellie assured him, her smile uncomfortably knowing. "They all are." Her gesture took in the room, containing a half-dozen coffins on wheeled biers. Her hand returned to lower the glossy white lid, lingering to stroke the finish with proprietary care. "This is one of our most elegant models -- the Eternal Rest." She slanted a look at him, a thought brightening her face. "It was very comfortable, wasn't it?"
"Ah... yes... very." Napoleon shot a pleading look after Illya, who responded by coming back across the room.
"Of course," she said. "I knew it would be."
"I'm not sure I see how it matters to the usual occupants."
"Perhaps not," she said pertly, "but I'm sure you appreciated it. I thought U.N.C.L.E. agents were supposed to be the best. I should think you'd go out of your way to avoid ending up in there."
"We do," Illya said, laying his hand on Napoleon's shoulder as he rejoined them.
"You didn't do a very good job this time, now did you?"
"Good enough." Illya shared half a smile with Napoleon. "We're still alive."
"Alive in a coffin is better than dead in a coffin any day," Napoleon said.
"I suppose." She had the grace to look embarrassed. "But," she added defiantly, "I still don't see who could have done it, or why."
"Thrush," Napoleon supplied shortly, rolling his head around and wincing at the stiffness of his neck. "What time is it?"
"In the morning," Illya added, directing Napoleon's attention to the faintly rose glow intruding into the mortuary gloom through a haphazardly draped window.
"Hell," Napoleon said succinctly.
Illya nodded. "We were supposed to meet the U.N.C.L.E. security team ten minutes ago."
"I expect that pretty much wraps up why." He delicately adjusted his shirt cuffs, willfully ignoring the otherwise rumpled appearance of his suit. "I think that leads us back around to who, don't you, Illya?"
Illya ran his hands through his hair, straightened his tie, and shot Ellie Fredericksen a sharp look. "It certainly seems to."
"You already," she said with some asperity, "said it was Thrush."
"Indeed. And Thrush is made up of people."
"People who overheard us arranging our meeting with the U.N.C.L.E. team," Napoleon said, almost gently. "People with access to Harrow's Mortuary."
"Me." The male voice was followed through the doorway by an innocent-looking young man bearing a vicious little pistol.
"Andrew? What are you doing here?" Ellie blinked rapidly, backing with fine instincts behind Napoleon. "It's Sunday," she added inconsequentially.
"Clearing up the mess my rather slow associates made yesterday." He had a round freckled face, and a slow crocodile smile. "We've had... a little difficulty getting to those boxes, Mr. Solo. I expect we're going to need your assistance."
Napoleon shrugged elaborately, spreading his hands. "I'm afraid I can't help you. By now, our team will have retrieved them from the vault. They're out of both of our reaches."
Andrew shook his head in minute degrees. "No, I think not. The bank manager is exceedingly stubborn. He won't open the vault for anyone but yourself or Mr. Kuryakin, no matter what credentials they're carrying."
"You wanted us out of the way in case he tried to call our hotel..."
"To confirm our identities, yes. Mr. Kuryakin--" Andrew waggled the gun at Illya, who splayed his hands in front of him, "--you'll oblige me by staying put, please."
"Naturally." Illya smiled crisply. He laid his hands on the foot of the sleek coffin. His eyes met Napoleon's.
"What exactly do you want?" Napoleon demanded. "You can't expect us to just hand the laser over to you." Ellie gasped softly against the back of his neck, her grip further wrinkling his coat.
Andrew's matte eyes and shiny gun turned toward Napoleon. The minute his aim shifted, Illya shoved the coffin hard. Napoleon grabbed Ellie and carried her to the floor. The gun swung back toward Illya, and Napoleon gathered himself to leap. The wheeled bier caught in the carpet and skidded to a halt. Its momentum unspent, the coffin flew off the end of the bier, careering into Andrew. He squeezed off a shot as the full force of the airborne coffin caught him in the chest. A scream accompanied the sound of splintering wood.
"Illya?!" Napoleon scrambled to his side.
"I'm okay." Illya picked himself up and dusted himself off, his hands sweeping against Napoleon's, which patted with careful concern. Illya closed his fingers around Napoleon's. "I'm fine, Napoleon. The bullet hit the black coffin there." He pointed.
"Our Ave Maria model," Ellie wailed. She knelt to inspect the damage. "Our most luxurious model. And the Eternal Rest." She glanced at and quickly away from the coffin-cum-missile and the man beneath it.
Illya moved to investigate more closely. He knelt and removed the gun from Andrew's lax hand. After a moment's investigation, he stood, shaking his head slightly.
Ellie Fredericksen rose to her feet and primly brushed down her dark skirt. "I'm aware, gentlemen, that in all likelihood you have saved my life. However..." she glanced from one to the other, settling on Napoleon, "Harrow's Mortuary cannot afford the destruction of two top of the line models."
"Ah... I'm sure," Napoleon said, rubbing his ear with a finger, "that U.N.C.L.E. would be glad to reimburse you for the... loss."
"Two coffins?" Illya whispered as she turned away, satisfied.
Napoleon shrugged. "Better than two funerals."
"Thank god," Napoleon said as he shut the hotel room door behind him. Who'd have guessed it would take all day to straighten everything out?
It had taken a deft hand at diplomacy to deal with the local police, who were not used to such a high incidence of corpses at the mortuary. Or, rather, to the high incidence of people becoming corpses at a mortuary. Napoleon wasn't sure if the chief of police was relieved that Harrow's Mortuary had taken over the appropriate disposal of said bodies, or if he'd merely given in to the inevitable. Either way, he had the distinct impression and he and Illya would not be welcomed with open arms, so to speak, the next time business brought them to Chicago.
Getting the shipment on its way had proven just as taxing as dealing with the local authorities. After several unsuccessful attempts by Andrew's men to finagle their way into the bank vault, the manager had required everything but a blood sample from the U.N.C.L.E. agents before he'd open the vault. At least the boxes were now on their way back to Seattle under close U.N.C.L.E. security.
Rounding up the roving Thrush agents had been accomplished with relative ease, with the help of the security team. And thank heavens for that, because Napoleon didn't appreciate the thought of ending up in another coffin. There was no telling whether he and Illya would survive the experience next time.
They nearly hadn't survived telling Mr. Waverly about the coffins at Harrow's Mortuary, and arranging for payment of same. In fact, Napoleon was certain he'd still be trying to explain, if Miss Fredericksen hadn't taken his communicator from him and spoken with Mr. Waverly herself. The head of U.N.C.L.E. New York had sounded like less than his usual prepossessing self by the time Napoleon got his pen back.
Napoleon caught the small metal object and glanced at it. An U.N.C.L.E. lock. He cocked his head at Illya.
"Lock the door this time."
"I locked it last time," Napoleon muttered. He turned and affixed the additional lock to the door. Illya attached one to the window and drew the blinds against the late afternoon sun.
"Nice of Mr. Waverly to give us the evening off."
"There weren't any flights until tomorrow."
Illya smiled. "As I said, nice of Mr. Waverly to give us the night off."
Napoleon's smile grew in response to Illya's. He shrugged out of his jacket and draped it over a handy chair. And held his arms out to Illya.
Illya came into his arms like a heat-seeking missile. With a sigh, Napoleon closed his arms around Illya and nuzzled into the fine hair. He felt Illya's chest swell large and fall, his breath gusting against Napoleon's neck. "Nice," Illya murmured.
Napoleon smiled to himself. It was the oddest thing, to still feel so comfortable. He'd always assumed, he realized, that taking any steps to change the relationship he shared with Illya would dislodge something important. He should have known it was entirely too strong to be unbalanced so easily. Though they had now most certainly added sex into the mix, it was still the most undemanding relationship he'd ever had.
He let his hands play over Illya's back, finding and soothing the tightly-corded muscles. Illya settled more firmly against him, letting Napoleon support his weight. Napoleon switched to long, firm strokes, shoulders to hips, and chuckled to feel Illya purring against him.
"Nicer?" he whispered in Illya's ear.
Illya shook his head and pulled back, leaving Napoleon confused until he held out his hand. "Shower."
"Yes." Napoleon allowed himself to be tugged into the bathroom and enthusiastically disrobed.
The water was hot, but no hotter than Illya's body. Napoleon grabbed the soap and worked a lather down his partner's body, hands exploring every inch, less to get clean than to touch, to wrap his arms around slippery heat and thrust against Illya's slick skin. Illya returned the favor, paying special attention to Napoleon's groin, washing away the crusted evidence of their embrace in the coffin, his hand closing exquisitely around Napoleon's aching cock and stroking slowly.
Napoleon dragged Illya under the spray and helped speed the water down pale smooth skin with shaking hands. And when Illya pulled away and grabbed the soap again, he laughed, and joined his partner in doing it all over again. He kissed, daring Illya's sharp tongue and finding it, as before, hot and soft and malleable. And just as wicked in a kiss as it was with words. Illya's hair felt like wet silk. He plunged his hands into molten platinum and tugged Illya's head back, to lick and bite at the graceful curve of his neck.
"Napoleon." Illya shook free, returning Napoleon's unrepentant grin. He slipped the soap into Napoleon's hand, his expression dark and hot, and turned, bracing his hands on the cool tiles. Napoleon's chest seized on his breath.
Napoleon rubbed slippery hands down Illya's back, caressing, massaging. Entranced, he watched his hands fondle the perfect curve of Illya's buttocks, a finger daring to tease between the cheeks. He swayed forward, his teeth scraping the back of Illya's bent neck.
"Illya..." He pressed against Illya's smooth back, struggling to find a moment of rationality. "Illya... have you... before?"
Illya's hips swayed back, pushing his soft ass against Napoleon's groin. "Do it," he growled into Napoleon's groan.
Sense fled. One hand braced on Illya's hip, Napoleon took his cock in the other, giving it a couple of slippery strokes as he guided it into place. Illya's body closed tightly around him and, for a moment, he couldn't move. Couldn't bring himself to move. Finally, he pulled back shortly and pushed in again. And again.
"Davai," Illya panted between groans, "davai, davai."
Napoleon bit his shoulder, moaning as he increased the pace of his thrusts. He braced one hand on the tiles, his grip on Illya's flank sliding in water and suds. One foot slipped on the slick tub and he grabbed Illya around the waist, a breathless laugh escaping him. Illya's body shook in his arms.
"Bed?" Illya asked, his amusement muffled against his arm.
"Perhaps we'd better." Napoleon withdrew regretfully, tugging Illya with him under the spray to rinse off. Illya squirmed against him as he struggled to turn the water off and grab a towel. "Illya!"
Illya snatched the towel out of his hands, scrubbed it roughly over himself, and tossed it back. He disappeared from the bathroom, a soft laugh trailing behind him. Napoleon rushed to dry himself. He tossed the towel over the shower curtain rod and started for the door, turning back with a curse to dig in his toilet kit for something appropriately slippery.
"Napoleon, I'm waiting."
Napoleon groaned. He imagined Illya lying spread on the bed, waiting, his hand slowly working his flushed erection. Napoleon wanted to take Illya in his arms and look down on his face as he thrust into him, exchanging wet perfect kisses. His cock throbbed urgently. Ah, Vaseline, finally.
He came out of the bathroom with the tube in his hand and stopped short. It wasn't that imagination couldn't compare with reality (though of course it couldn't); but rather that reality had taken a different course. Illya knelt on the bed, his face buried in the pillows. One hand disappeared under his body, and Napoleon could see the muscles in his arm flex as he stroked himself. He groaned, all thought of looking at Illya's face as he took him fled.
Napoleon could have sworn he heard a pleased laugh as he squeezed the lubricant on his overheated flesh. He stroked to spread the stuff, rough and quick or he'd set himself off. The mattress creaked. They both cried out as he plunged into Illya's tight heat.
"Tverje," Illya groaned, rocking back into each thrust. "Davai mne tverje, Polya!"
Growling, Napoleon complied as best he could, thrusting harder, his hips snapping against Illya's ass. He reached around, displacing Illya's hand on his cock, stroking the soft iron roughly. Illya's hands braced them against the mattress, allowing Napoleon to wrap both arms around his waist and fist his cock. He stroked in time with his thrusts, and felt Illya's cock pulse and thicken.
And when Illya cried out, hot come spraying over Napoleon's
hands, Napoleon growled, and clamped his teeth around his own shout of
completion, his seed spurting into his partner's warm and willing body.
The bed was no less lumpy. Napoleon wiggled a little without managing to shift the broken spring poking him in the hip. He sighed. It hadn't bothered him a few minutes ago. Of course, a few minutes ago, he had better things to think about. If you could call it thinking.
Illya had managed somehow to roll over in Napoleon's embrace. After two tries, Napoleon succeeded in getting his elbows under him and lifting up to see his partner's face. He watched anxiously as Illya slowly stirred, lids lifting on those fair eyes. He felt as if he could see the thoughts play out through the sheer blue pools, flitting in shades and sunbeams, and yet he had no idea what was going through Illya's mind.
"Mr. Butler," Illya said, putting a finger against Napoleon's lips when he would have protested the introduction of that personage into their bed, "would be appalled."
"And you?" Despite himself, Napoleon held his breath.
"Oh I'm appalled too," Illya said with extreme gravity. "Why did we wait so long?"
Relief washing through him, Napoleon began to chuckle. "Fag?" he asked through his laughter.
"I don't smoke."
"I'm partial to roses, myself," Illya said, his grin shading into a smirk. "Fairy?"
"Don't believe in 'em." Except, he thought as he snatched a kiss from reddened lips, for you, my magical partner. "Queer?"
"No. Actually, I feel--" Illya stretched lazily, his bare limbs sliding exquisitely against Napoleon's. "--marvelous."
Napoleon locked his groan behind an enormous smile. "Gay?" he asked softly.
"Delirious," Illya whispered, his lips stretching into a smile to match Napoleon's.
Napoleon kissed Illya. He licked Illya's lips, his laughing teeth, the soft treacherous tangle of his tongue. He dabbled his fingers in the cooling splatter which adorned Illya's belly, drawing abstract designs until the laugher shaded into breathless delight.
"Well?" he asked finally.
Illya cocked his head to one side. "More?"
Napoleon fell on Illya, laughing, and snatched sweetly-flavored kisses.
Illya let out the grin which tugged at his lips. "Anytime."
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