[image of Napoleon Solo]

Finders Keepers

by Taliesin

[image of Illya Kuryakin]

"Open Channel D."

"Where are you?"

"At the airport. Where else would I be when my partner forgets to pick me up?"

"I can't make it out to JFK at the moment."

"Oh? Why is that? A hot date, by chance? I do hope I'm not interrupting anything."

"Don't be catty, Napoleon. If you must know, I'm still at Headquarters."

"It's after eleven on a Friday night, Illya. You know what they say: all work and no play--"

"They don't have to work for Mr. Waverly when he's in a snit."

"Careful what you say over the communication lines, little comrade; the walls have ears."

"I know that. Mr. Waverly is in a meeting with the auditors. The walls are currently deaf. Are there any more ridiculous American sayings you'd like to try out on me tonight?"

"Not at the moment. An accounting meeting at eleven p.m.?"

"I'd venture to guess that someone isn't very happy."

"Well, I know I'm not. How am I supposed to get home? Walk?"

"Carrying the latest Thrush codes in your pockets?" Illya sounded scandalized. "Of course not. Take a cab. There is one waiting for you, if you'd bothered to check."

"Anyone I know?"

"He's new; fresh from survival school -- Jamison."

"I remember. Why a rookie?"

"Everyone else has the flu."

"All right. I'll be seeing you soon. And Illya? Stay warm; we wouldn't want you getting whatever's going around."

Illya's answering growl brought a tired smile to Napoleon's face as he tucked his communicator away. Mr. Waverly didn't approve of unnecessary chatter on overseas channels, so he hadn't talked to his partner since being sent to the Pyrenees to track down an U.N.C.L.E. sympathizer willing to sell Thrush code. It was good to hear his partner's voice again, even if he wasn't in the best of moods. Napoleon picked up the overnight bag he'd been living out of for the past week and headed off to find his taxi.

Illya switched off the communicator and indulged in a brief smile. It was good to have Napoleon home again.

With a sigh, he returned to the most recent salvo in the seemingly endless barrage of forms generated by and for the CEA's office. At least, he thought with a touch of malicious glee, Napoleon would soon be back where he belonged. Doing the damned paperwork.

"Mr. Solo, sir?"

Napoleon stirred out of a light doze and sat up a little straighter in the back seat of the cab. Sleeping in front of a rookie wasn't good form -- even if the man was so awestruck he'd barely managed to stutter out a greeting when Napoleon climbed into the cab. The overwarm atmosphere of the car, however, coupled with a long flight, had conspired to lull him to sleep.

"Yes, Jamison?" He focused blearily on the shock of red hair which was all he could make out of the boy's all-American freckle-faced good looks in the reflected glare of the streetlights.

"Sir, we seem to have... I mean, there is... I think someone's following us, sir!" he finally managed to blurt out.

"How long?" Napoleon struggled out of his overcoat and draped it over the seat next to him; the cab was decidedly stuffy.

"I'm not sure, sir. Maybe since we left the airport."

Napoleon ran a weary hand over his face. "Don't call me 'sir,'" he mumbled, turning to look out the back.


Napoleon sighed. "Just make a couple of turns, Jamison. Nice and easy; we're not trying to lose them yet." He scanned the street as the driver carefully followed his directions, spotting not one but three cars, spaced carefully in the surrounding traffic, which followed their movements.

"Well, sir?" Jamison asked when Napoleon turned back in his seat.

"Yes, we do have a tail. See if you can lose them, okay?"

"Yes, sir," the boy answered with commendable vigor. Napoleon quickly grabbed the armrest when the cab slewed violently around the next corner, muttering unkind things about youthful high spirits under his breath. The boy was good, though, now that taking action had settled his nerves a little.

Jamison took three corners quickly in succession -- one left and two right -- straightened out for five blocks, then began turning again, weaving in and out of traffic through an increasingly confusing maze of streets. He turned into a convenient alley, shot through a hair-raisingly small gap in traffic into another alley, and emerged onto a busy street. They'd lost one of their pursuers.

"Where the hell are we?" Napoleon demanded, holding onto the front seat with both hands as they skidded around another corner on two wheels and a prayer.

"Somewhere in Brooklyn, sir."

"That helps." He swung around to look out the back again when the plaintive wail of a siren cut through the night. "Great," he muttered as the police car swung onto their tail.

"Should I pull over, sir?"

Napoleon rubbed his hands over his face again. If they stopped, Thrush would catch up. However, if they didn't stop, the police cruiser would call for backup, increasing the chances of injury to an innocent bystander.


He sighed. "Yes, Jamison; pull over."

The young agent slowed as he turned onto a quieter street and eased to the curb, the police car pulling up behind them. Their Thrush tail must have dropped back when the police entered the chase; the street was empty but for the U.N.C.L.E. cab and the cops. Napoleon took a deep breath and leaned stiffly back in the seat as a uniformed officer walked up to the driver's window. He'd been on less than friendly terms with New York's finest since that mess with the thought translator.

"Where's the fire, son?" the cop asked as Jamison rolled down the window. "You don't get a bigger fare for getting them there faster, you know."

"Yes, sir," Jamison stuttered, "you see, sir..." Whatever else he might have said was lost when one of the Thrush cars put in a belated appearance.

The car screeched to a halt just behind the police cruiser, its occupants spilling out onto the street almost before it had stopped moving. Only two, luckily. Napoleon rolled out of the passenger side of the cab as they approached, his gun already clear of its holster. He grimaced at the roadside grime liberally smearing his suit, and shivered in the cold evening air. A necessary evil; he was lost if he got trapped in the vehicle. Instantly losing interest in Jamison, the cop started back toward his car as his partner stepped out, both men advancing to meet the Thrush. One of the approaching Thrushies pulled something out of his pocket -- something which slid like quicksilver out of his fingers and crashed to the ground. A billowing cloud of reddish smoke suddenly engulfed all four figures.

Napoleon held his breath as he approached the rapidly dissipating cloud of nerve gas. He could make out four bodies on the ground and would have laughed if he'd had the breath to do so. He tucked his gun back in the holster and waited a few seconds for the gas to clear, leaving the stunned men scattered on the street. Napoleon quickly handcuffed the unconscious bodies together, using the stunned police officers' own cuffs, relieved that they were close enough to the side of the road to leave safely where they were.

Jamison had emerged from the cab and was standing in the open door gaping at him when Napoleon returned to the vehicle.

"Fledglings," Napoleon explained, his tone lightly flavored with disgust and the laughter which wouldn't quite be banished. He climbed into the cab and tried unsuccessfully to brush off his pants. "Let's go."

It was too easy. Napoleon had known it was too easy when they left the police and Thrush sleeping it off. They hadn't gone more than half a mile before one of the other Thrush cars picked up their trail again. It only took another quarter mile for the other car to joined in, and the chase was on in earnest.

They slalomed through the streets, winding their way through a dizzying number of twists and turns. Jamison was good, Napoleon privately admitted -- he must have excelled in U.N.C.L.E. driver training. But the Thrush drivers were almost as good, and there were two of them -- if one lost the U.N.C.L.E. cab, the other soon caught up, so that they were never without at least one tail.

"I think it's time we split up." Napoleon decided finally. The light they were approaching turned yellow. "Run the light."


"Run it!" It was red when they streaked through to a cacophony of irate horns. "Turn here and stop."

Jamison brought the cab to the curb with a screech. Napoleon tumbled nimbly out and slammed the door. Jamison took off again with a squeal and the foul odor of burning rubber. By the time the pursuing cars rounded the corner, Napoleon was safely hidden in a dark doorway and wishing he hadn't let Jamison put his overnight bag in the trunk.

"Channel D open." Illya sincerely hoped he didn't sound as tired as he felt.

"I've lost him, sir." The voice was young, panicked, and definitely Jamison's.


"I'm sorry, Mr. Kuryakin; I just couldn't lose them."

"Start from the beginning, Jamison," Illya instructed wearily.

"We had a Thrush tail from the airport, sir," Jamison managed with commendable calm. "Mr. Solo said to lose them, but they were too good. He had me let him out of the cab and drive off. I think it worked; I've still got one on my tail. Shall I lose him and go back for Mr. Solo?"

"No, that's fine, Jamison," Illya decided hastily. "Just come back to Headquarters; use evasion pattern J." The last thing Napoleon needed was an U.N.C.L.E. cab cruising the area, leading Thrush back to his trail. Assuming he'd managed to evade them in the first place.

"Yes, sir." Relief evident in his voice, Jamison signed off.

Illya flipped a couple of switches to open a new channel. "Channel A open: Napoleon, are you there?" Only the faint hiss of the open channel answered him, and Illya shut it down after two more failed attempts to raise his partner.

He put the microphone down and rubbed his hands over his face, allowing himself to slump a little in his seat. Just what he needed. The end of a long week running Section Two in Napoleon's stead, with half the staff out sick and the auditors breathing down Waverly's neck and what does Napoleon do within half an hour of arriving home but get himself into trouble. And leave Illya holding the bag, sitting around Headquarters waiting to hear from him. No point in rushing out blind; he'd just have to wait until Napoleon could call in.

Thankfully, the wait wasn't as long as he'd feared.

"Mr. Kuryakin, the operator is on line one with a collect call," one of the communications girls -- Sandy? Nancy? he could never remember her name -- informed him after about ten minutes.

"I'll take it." Illya was hard-pressed not to snatch the phone off its cradle. "Yes?"

"Do you suppose someone could pick me up before dawn?" Napoleon asked in aggrieved tones.

Illya smiled involuntarily. "You did have a ride, Napoleon," he pointed out, almost cheerfully. "It's hardly my fault that you decided to jump out of the cab."

"Those Thrush cars might have had something to do with it," Napoleon responded in mock temper.

"How many?"

"Three. One of which is out of commission for a little while at least."

"Jamison still has a tail. He'll decoy that one out to Queens before losing him."

"Which means there's at least one still around here somewhere." He sighed. "Wonderful."

"Where are you calling from?"

"Hell if I know. A phone booth."

"Can't you be more specific?"


"Thanks, that helps." Illya sighed.

"Oh, I left two stunned Thrushies handcuffed to two equally stunned New York cops. You might want to arrange for their pickup."

"How did you...? Never mind," Illya decided, not sure he was up to hearing this. "I assume you have no idea where."


"I thought so." He jotted a quick note to himself to let Mr. Waverly know it would be necessary to contact the New York police and explain the situation diplomatically. He winced; Waverly wouldn't be happy about that. Although, if he got the codes he was waiting for... "Do you still have the item you were carrying?" Illya asked circumspectly; they were, after all, on an unsecured line.

"Of course," his partner replied with some pique.

Speaking of which. "Is there any particular reason you're not using your communicator?"

Napoleon cleared his throat. "Perhaps because I've misplaced it somewhere?"

"Mr. Waverly won't be pleased. He's been defending the 'spendthrift' habits of Enforcement Section all day."

"It's probably still in the cab. Along with my luggage. When are you coming to get me?"

"I'm not -- with Mr. Waverly in conference and the Chief Enforcement Agent out gallivanting around, someone has to run things here."

"Very funny. How do you suggest I get home?"

"Call a cab? Which reminds me -- why did you call collect?"

"Because I have two fifty franc notes, twelve thousand lire and..." There was a pause and the sound of change rattling. "...assorted small coins in my pockets--"

"Forgot to change your money again, didn't you?" Illya interrupted with a smile.

"--including one ten ruble piece," Napoleon finished blithely.

"Why are you carrying around rubles?"

"I like to take something Russian with me on these jaunts," Napoleon voice dropped an octave, "and as you were otherwise occupied..."

Illya blinked. "Napoleon, is it just me, or something about the communicators?"

"What?" He sounded genuinely confused, so Illya obligingly rephrased the question.

"Are you in the habit of flirting with everyone you talk to on a communicator, or is it just me?"


"Yes, Napoleon, flirting. You do it to me constantly."

"But... I..."

Illya was torn between amusement and annoyance -- it was quite a coup to have rendered Napoleon speechless, but his reaction made it clear he hadn't been flirting deliberately, which was something of a disappointment.

"Could you please send someone to get me?" Napoleon asked finally, just short of pleading.

"If you could figure out where you were..."

"I'll call you when I do." He hung up with a bang.

Illya blinked at the dead receiver for a moment before putting it down gently. Then he smiled to himself. Must have struck a nerve.

Napoleon pushed his hands into his pockets, his shoulders hunching further against the wind. He'd left his overcoat in Jamison's cab. Along with everything else he needed. To make matters worse, he didn't know who he was more annoyed with: himself or Illya.

It was embarrassing for the top agent in U.N.C.L.E. New York to end up wandering the streets of New York with a few foreign bills and the new Thrush codes in his pockets. He couldn't really blame Jamison, or Illya, or even himself for ending up in this situation. This was clearly one of those days -- nights -- when the vaunted Solo luck completely deserted him. Or worse, started working against him.

Napoleon kept up a brisk pace, traveling in a generally western direction, hoping he'd be able to flag down a taxi soon. So far, it seemed to be a lost cause, and keeping an eye out for both taxis and interested Thrushies was giving him a headache. Probably all for nothing, too. He very much doubted a cab would pick him up in his presently disheveled condition, even if he found one.

"If I have to walk all the way back to the East Side, I'm going to kill that little Russian bastard," he growled to himself, immediately feeling better.

After a minute, he smiled. "Flirting with him?" How in the world could Illya think that? It would mean he was... well... interested in his partner. Napoleon flirted with women as a matter of course; it didn't really mean anything. But Illya seemed not to recognize that. Which meant that if he thought Napoleon was flirting, he must think Napoleon wanted to get him into bed. Oh lord! Now there was an image.

He chuckled. "Be like cuddling up to a porcupine." That image conspired to completely crack him up, and he laughed aloud, badly startling a passerby, who gave him a very wide berth. The next person he passed -- an older man in a tattered coat -- gave him a sympathetic look and pressed a dollar into his hand.

"Buy yourself a cup of coffee, brother." And continued on down the street without seeing Napoleon's startled stare.

Napoleon looked at the money in his hand, shook his head, and laughed again. Illya would say it was Napoleon's luck -- Napoleon preferred not to believe his luck had anything to do with stranding him in Brooklyn with the new Thrush code on his person, who knows how many cars of Thrushies on his tail, and exactly one American dollar to his name. Glancing up, he saw a sign at the end of the street which loudly proclaimed "all night eats" in neon letters. He shrugged. Good enough.

"Ah, so you're talking to me again." Illya used the levity to hide his relief; it had been nearly forty-five minutes since Napoleon's previous call.

"Do I have a choice?"

"Well, you didn't call collect this time, so you could have called a cab instead."

"After midnight? No taxi driver is going to pick up a fare from Brooklyn to the Upper East Side without seeing the color of his money. And I don't think he'd go for a hundred French francs."

"How did you get the money to call?"

Napoleon laughed. "A bum took pity on me and gave me a dollar."

"Ah yes... the kindness of strangers."

"Don't start quoting movies at me. Can you get me out of here?"

"Do you know where you are this time?"

"A diner called 'Mother's.'"

"Much better," Illya sniped. "Can't you ask?"

"I was lucky to get change for my dollar. Have records look it up."

"'Mother's' in Brooklyn." Illya scribbled it down and handed it to Nancy -- or was her name Candy? -- who rushed off to look it up for him.

"Yes. The sign says they have great pie."

"What a relief. And here I thought you might starve before help arrived."

"I might still. And you wouldn't want that, now would you?" The silence which followed Napoleon's teasing comment immediately alerted him to the flirtatious tone. He closed his eyes and banged his head lightly against the wall next to the phone. Maybe Illya was right -- he was flirting.

Thankfully, Illya refrained from comment. Mostly because Candy returned at that moment with the information he wanted.

"Napoleon, you're four blocks south of Atlantic Avenue."

"Good, then you can send someone to pick me up."

"Have you seen any little birdies recently?"


"Then take the subway -- it's only a few blocks. You can use the rest of your dollar."

"Illya," Napoleon ground out -- softly, so as not to alarm the people in the diner, "if you don't come get me, so help me, I'll--"

Illya laughed. "Oh, all right. Just stay put."

"Good. What kind of pie would you like?"

Whistling, Napoleon slid into a booth on the side of the diner furthest from the windows. His cheerful expression apparently had a positive effect on the waitress, who wandered over and swiped ineffectually at the table with a greasy rag.

"Anything I can get you, hon?" She must have just come on-shift, because she looked as fresh and chipper as he was tired and rumpled.

Napoleon smiled at her. "A cup of coffee, please. And may I see a menu?" It would take Illya at least half an hour to get there, and Napoleon's stomach reminded him that the airplane food had been less than adequate.

She smiled. "Special is roast beef and gravy."

Accepting that a menu was a lost cause, he smiled back. "Okay, that sounds good."

"Be a couple of minutes, dear. I'll get your coffee."

Napoleon kept an eye on his surroundings while he ate. The diner was apparently some sort of neighborhood hangout; it was nowhere near as deserted as he'd have expected, given the hour. At least half the tables were occupied, with young couples stopping in for dessert after the late movie, deliverymen eating a belated dinner after their last rounds, teenagers out past their curfew, and the occasional lone diner like himself. The reason was clear: despite the greasy look of the place, the food was surprisingly good.

He was almost done with the roast beef when the waitress came by to top off his coffee. "Anything else, dear?"

"How about a slice of apple pie?" Illya would like that.

Napoleon checked his watch again as the waitress went off to get his pie. Unless traffic was atrocious, which was hard to believe this time of night, Illya should be there soon. He looked up again just as a car pulled up at the curb. It was dark and sleek, and too much like the cars which had tailed his cab to be a coincidence. Napoleon swore under his breath and slid out of the booth. Two men had already gotten out of the car, and were clearly waiting for their companions to emerge. They had the unmistakable look of Thrush gunsels.

"Where're you going, hon?" The waitress set his pie on the table with a slight flourish.

"I need to make another phone call," he improvised quickly, sliding past her.

"Don't be too long, or your pie will get cold," she called after him. He nodded distractedly.

Napoleon took shelter quickly in the short hallway at the back of the diner which led to the phone and restrooms. He could hear the Thrush flock into the diner and a quick glance around the corner caught them roosting between him and the door. He retreated to the men's room, slid the bolt behind him, and put his back against the far wall.

It wasn't clear whether or not they knew he was there. If Jamison had picked up the tail after he left the airport, Thrush may not have known the identity of his passenger. Or Napoleon could have picked up the tail in the airport itself, or even back in France, in which case they knew exactly who they were looking for. They couldn't have followed him to the diner; they wouldn't wait a good half hour before coming in after him. It was possible they'd traced his call to Headquarters and only just arrived. On the other hand, it might be one hell of a coincidence.

Didn't really matter, though, did it? One way or the other, he couldn't take the chance of walking past them to the door. And he couldn't let Illya walk into the trap.

Napoleon cautiously opened the bathroom door a crack and peered out. One of the Thrush goons was dropping change into the telephone, luckily with his back to Napoleon. He withdrew quickly, sliding the bolt home silently. It looked like he'd be using the rest of his dollar on the subway after all, and on a call to Headquarters... if he could find another phone.

Next time I go anywhere, he thought as he jimmied the bathroom window, I'm going to carry two communicators.

Napoleon dropped silently to the ground outside and started walking briskly down the alley. He didn't see the second Thrush car until it was almost too late. Even so, though he managed not to walk directly into its path, someone must have seen him, for it began to swing around. Napoleon didn't have time to worry about where the second car had come from. He began to run. With any luck, he could lose them long enough to get to the subway unseen or, failing that, at least give them the slip once on the train.

Illya would have to take care of himself.

Only in America, Illya thought as he drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. After midnight, and it had still taken him twenty minutes just to get to the Manhattan Bridge. And what should he find there but another traffic snarl up. Construction, apparently, or repair. Either way, west bound traffic was blocked entirely, and alternating with east bound traffic to get through.

He'd hoped to get to Brooklyn, pick Napoleon up, and be back at Headquarters before Mr. Waverly realized he was gone. That was looking less and less likely, and he wasn't looking forward to facing Waverly's wrath when he got back.

He inched forward a bit after the car in front of him. On the other hand, he'd have Napoleon by that time, and the CEA was eminently qualified to deal with Mr. Waverly, angry or no. Illya smiled.

All in all, the evening was going far better than the rest of the week had. It was a strain to fill Napoleon's shoes while he was out of town, especially with Waverly in a rotten mood. And, Illya admitted unwillingly to himself, it was a bit lonely without his partner around. However, Thrush interference aside, the evening was going pretty well. Napoleon would soon be back at Headquarters and, if their last little chat was anything to go by, he was definitely disconcerted by the charge of flirting. And Napoleon disconcerted was Napoleon, hopefully, vulnerable.

The car behind Illya honked impatiently. He snorted; lot of good that would do. At this rate, it would be at least another fifteen minutes before he made it to the diner to pick up Napoleon. Oh well... Napoleon was a big boy; he could take care of himself.

Napoleon peered cautiously over the top of his paper. It was yesterday's, and had picked up more than its share of dirt from the floor of the subway car, but it provided a modicum of cover.

There were definitely at least two Thrushies on the train with him. He'd made it onto the car in Brooklyn with only a moment to spare, but apparently there was just enough time for his pursuers to jump aboard as well.

Though he'd secreted himself in a dimly lit seat behind cover of the paper, Napoleon knew it was only a matter of time before they cornered him. He could see one of them from where he sat -- tall, with lank blond hair, and a face younger than he'd seen on any agent since their run-in with the Figliano school, the man paced back and forth between the closer door and the far end of the car, earning him the annoyed glares of the passengers. Napoleon shook his head. Thrush would have to do better than that if it wanted to get the better of U.N.C.L.E.'s trained agents.

He watched as the man abruptly stopped his pacing and threw himself down on an empty seat. It looked like youthful pique, until the little Thrushie hunched awkwardly into the wall and tucked his head into his coat collar, for all the world like a turtle in a shell one size too small. Talking on his communicator, no doubt. Napoleon wondered absently how long it would take the man to learn that hiding in the open was the best way -- if you looked suspicious, people would be suspicious; whereas, if you talked openly to your pen, they just assumed you were off your rocker.

The "covert" conversation went on for quite a while, and Napoleon sighed. There would be a flock of little birdies covering every subway stop near Headquarters now that they knew he was on the train. He mentally weighed his odds and found them sadly lacking. So... he'd have to get off the train either before Headquarters or after.

The Thrush fledgling finally finished his conversation, his head emerging suddenly from his coat collar. For a second, Napoleon pictured a bird sleeping with its head under its wing -- a much more appropriate image than a turtle -- then brushed it aside with a faint smile. The man started pacing the car again.

After a couple of minutes, a short heavy-set man stepped through the connecting doors from another car and joined him. Together, they began wandering slowly and apparently aimlessly down the car. Before Headquarters then. The train began to slow as it approached the next stop. Napoleon set aside his newspaper and rose, making his way nonchalantly toward the door, like any other departing passenger.

They spotted him immediately, of course, and their pace increased. He brushed his fingers over the comforting bulge of his gun, then reluctantly dropped his hand. There were too many people.

The train drew to a halt and the doors opened. Napoleon was within a foot of the doorway when he stopped and leaned casually against the wall. Confused, the Thrushies halted their advance. Napoleon looked at them, smiled sweetly, and dived out the closing doors.

He'd timed it perfectly. Not too soon, so that they could follow him; not too late, so that his passage through the doors would trigger them to reopen. Napoleon coughed out a chuckle; he'd distinctly heard a thump just after the doors closed, and could picture the young blond running full-tilt into them. He rolled to his feet on the dirty concrete pad and watched the subway bear his Thrush tail out of sight, pressed against the windows and, if their contorted expressions were anything to go by, swearing angrily at him.

Napoleon brushed himself off and headed out of the station. It wouldn't take them long to get back on his trail. He needed to find a phone.

Illya entered the diner and glanced around. The place was surprisingly busy, and he wasn't having any luck spotting Napoleon.

"Just take a seat, hon, and I'll get to you," the waitress urged as she went past. He waited until she made her return and contrived to look lost and just slightly helpless.

"I was looking for a friend of mine," he told her mournfully. "Perhaps you've seen him? Medium height, dark hair, handsome."

She smiled. "Table three, at the back there. He went to make a phone call."

Illya thanked her and wove his way through the tables to the booth she indicated. There was half a cup of lukewarm coffee and a piece of pie. But no Napoleon.

He sat down to wait. There wasn't anyone but himself Napoleon was likely to call, and his communicator had been silent ever since he left Headquarters, but he wasn't particularly worried. Probably Napoleon just wanted to use the facilities and was too polite to tell the waitress that. For a ruthless killer, Napoleon had very provincial manners.

Illya glanced around, taking more time to survey the room now that he wasn't scanning for Napoleon. The diner was about half full -- mostly young people, with a few older couples here and there. A young man with a white apron knotted around his waist was clearing coffee cups off a table near the door.

"Can I get you anything, dear?" The waitress was back, pencil poised over her pad.

"Um, no thanks. I'll just wait for my friend."

"Suit yourself." Her interest lost, she disappeared quickly.

Illya tapped his fingers idly on the table. It was just like Napoleon to get him all the way out here and then make him wait. He glanced at the piece of pie. Apple, unless he missed his guess. He picked up Napoleon's fork and took a bite. Yes, apple.

He put the fork down and clasped his hands in his lap. After a couple of minutes, he started drumming absently on the table again. The couple in the next booth glared at him. Stopping with an effort, Illya swiped another bite of pie, grumbling about ungrateful partners.

The longer he cooled his heels in the diner, the greater the chance that Mr. Waverly would conclude his meetings and go looking for him. Waverly was already in a bad mood; he wouldn't be any happier to find out that Illya had absented himself from Headquarters. Still, he shouldn't be too surprised. After all, while the cat's away... Illya shook his head; now Napoleon had him doing it!

He helped himself to another forkful of pie. It's not like he was really needed in Headquarters. Even Thrush calmed down a bit after midnight. And if their activities the past week had been any indication, clearly Thrush had been hit with the same flu epidemic as U.N.C.L.E. No one felt well enough to do anything. He licked his lips. Mother's Diner did have good pie. The crust was especially flaky.

Five minutes later, he'd finished off the crumbs, and Napoleon still hadn't put in an appearance. Illya decided he wouldn't feel guilty for eating the pie. It served Napoleon right for keeping him waiting. However, deciding that ten minutes was a lengthy absence, even by Napoleon's standards, Illya pushed the empty plate away and wandered to the back of the diner to look for him. No one on the phone, as he'd expected. The bathroom door was locked, but there was no response to his knock.

Luckily, before he was resolved to do something drastic -- like knock the door down -- his communicator beeped. Illya lifted the phone receiver and cradled it between his head and shoulder as he pulled out his communicator. If there was anything he hated, it was getting caught talking to his pen.

"Kuryakin here."

"Mr. Kuryakin, I'm routing a telephone call to your communicator," the communications agent informed him briskly, switching over before he could respond.


"Napoleon? Where the hell are you?"

"Where are you?"

"I asked first."

"Damn it, Illya!" He actually sounded worried. And a bit winded.

"At the diner."

"Hell. Get out of there! Didn't you notice the little birds?"

"I haven't seen any."

"The black car out front, and a whole flock just inside the door."

"There's no car out front and no one near the door."

"Figures. They must have all followed me. I think I lost them in the subway, though."

Illya closed his eyes. "Do I want to know where you are?"

"Um... Chinatown?"

"Why in the world didn't you take the subway all the way to Headquarters?"

Napoleon sighed. "They called ahead; Headquarters would have been surrounded And they were closing in on me on the train. The only way I could lose them was to jump off just before the train left the station."

"So you have lost them?"

Napoleon hesitated. "I'd be very surprised if they weren't already on their way back."

"Okay, where are you now?"

"You remember that restaurant where we had dinner last month? The one with the huge gold dragon out front?"

"Yes. I'll be there in--"

"Perhaps we should arrange to meet someplace else?" Napoleon interrupted. "I'd like to keep moving, in case they find me again."

Illya sighed. "All right, tovarisch. I'll meet you at The Bitter End."

"That's a bit pessimistic, don't you think? Even for you."

As was no doubt intended, that actually surprised a laugh out of Illya. "It's a coffeehouse at Bleeker and LaGuardia."

"Illya, that's all the way in the Village."

"You wanted to keep moving. If you start now, you'll be there before I am."

"Should I get a table near the front?"

Illya blinked, realizing that Napoleon had done it on purpose that time. It was ridiculous to feel so warm inside. "Just get there, okay?"


"And Napoleon?"


"Next time you flirt with me, be prepared to follow through," he warned, his voice as serious as he could manage.

There was a startled silence on the other end.

"See you at the coffeehouse," Illya suggested, taking pity on his shocked partner.

"Ah... sure. Oh, Illya?" he added before Illya could sign off.


"Make sure you give that waitress a big tip."

"What? Napoleon!?" Shaking his head, Illya stowed his communicator back in his pocket and hung up the phone. Trust Napoleon to leave him the bill.

Napoleon hung up the phone and wended his way out of the crowded restaurant. He had the insane desire to whistle cheerfully as he emerged onto the street. If he was inclined toward self-deception, he'd say it was because the sleepless vibrancy of Chinatown always tickled him. Honestly, however, he knew it was the conversation with Illya, as bizarre as it had been.

He stuck his hands in his pockets and rattled the change: one pocket ringing out with what he knew to be a foreign note, the other conspicuously quieter. It wouldn't be long before his one American dollar was used up; he was almost out of phone calls. Hopefully, though, he was almost home too. Funny, but he wasn't picturing Headquarters or his apartment when he thought that. Just a certain blond Russian.

Napoleon turned west and started up the street, skirting the fantastic displays and keeping an eye out for potential Thrushies. Truth be told, he was almost certain he hadn't lost them all with that trick on the subway. With their resources, they'd most certainly made it back to Chinatown by now, and with reinforcements.

He'd gone half a dozen blocks before his suspicions were confirmed. There was someone following him. Napoleon crossed to the other side and turned the corner, just to make sure. Yes, definitely someone following him. Someone who really wasn't very good at it. But then, if the Thrush gunsels he'd run into so far that night had been any good, he'd already be in the New York satrap, trying very hard not to succumb to their drugs. Fledglings, as he'd told Jamison. He wondered vaguely where all the experienced Thrush agents were.

Not that he missed them.

Napoleon ducked around a sidewalk display of... something fishy, walked quickly through the bustling grocery and straight through the back doors into an area obviously reserved for employees. Shrugging and smiling at the excitable man who shouted at him in Chinese, he pushed blithely out into the rear alley, wondering if Illya could translate whatever nasty name he'd just been called. Then he took off at a run.

That little trick only gained him a moment or two, and Napoleon made the best of it. When the alley met the next street, he dashed quickly across, navigated the next alley, then turned north at the corner. He slowed to a brisk walk as he made his way up the crowded street, then ducked into the next alley and picked up speed again. The alley was almost pitch black in comparison to the bustling, brightly lit street he'd just come from. His only consolation was that anyone following would have just as much trouble adjusting to the alternating light and dark of his route. Unfortunately, the Thrush gunsels dove ahead into the shadows with the unwary exuberance of the untested, keeping pace with him effectively. He knew they were still there, as he occasionally heard a shout, or caught the sound of footsteps pounding behind him. For a time, however, he managed to stay ahead of them, zigzagging generally northwest, still aiming for the Village.

Unfortunately, his luck was bound to run out sooner or later. The way the night had been going, he wasn't all that surprised when it turned out to be sooner. They passed from the crowded, brightly lit streets of Chinatown, where life never seemed to stop, into a shadowy no-man's land of quiet, sparsely peopled streets. Napoleon moved quicker, kept more to the shadows, the alleys. But he wasn't intimately familiar with all the sidestreets between Chinatown and the Village, and he finally turned into an alley without an outlet. They were on him before he could double back.

Belly down on the filthy pavement behind a dumpster, Napoleon tried very hard not to breathe in deeply. He inched a little to his right until he could peer around the lower edge of the piled garbage. The elongated shadows of three Thrushies merged with the solid depthless black of the alley. His eyes adjusting fairly quickly to the darkness, Napoleon saw the trace of movement as two of them started forward, leaving the third to block his only escape, the diffuse light gleaming off a bald pate indicating quite clearly where the man stood guard. Napoleon drew back farther into thick shadow, hoping against hope that they would just pass him by.

But they knew he had to be there, and he knew the mindless determination of Thrush -- they'd stay until dawn to flush him out if they had to. He glanced at the gun in his hand -- drawn instinctively, even as he dove into the silence and shadows -- and weighed his options. He didn't have a silencer, even if that would have worked at this range; any noise and they'd be on him in a heartbeat, and he couldn't take out all three before one of them got him.

They drew abreast of him, the closer one faintly visible in the darkness as his blond hair caught the light, the other little more than a rustle of movement. Napoleon held his breath now for reasons more deadly than the rank smell of refuse, remaining utterly still as the faint gleam of eyes turned in his direction. He tensed, preparing to attack the moment the alarm was sounded, even though he knew it to be hopeless.

Napoleon nearly flinched when a sudden noise from the back of the alley jangled his nerves. The Thrushies reacted instantly, dashing toward the noise, leaving only the one between Napoleon and the street. Not hesitating to see what stray animal had just saved him, Napoleon leapt out of concealment and made his bid for freedom. The Thrush in his way went down without a sound, the crack of gunfire overly loud in Napoleon's ears. He heard the shout behind him and put on a further burst of speed, rounding the corner with only a moment to spare, the buzz of a bullet passing close by his ear giving his feet wings.

There was no crowd here, as there'd been in Chinatown, to help obscure his trail. Napoleon dashed down the first street he came to, hoisted himself quickly over a seven foot brick wall and dropped into a tiny courtyard behind someone's residence before the sounds of pursuit drew near again. He wiggled between the wall and a barren bush, settling into a soft mat of dead, dry leaves and hunkered there in the darkness and silence.

Running footsteps pounded up the street, accompanied by shouts both breathless and annoyed. They passed him by, continuing on up the street in impassioned pursuit. When it had been quiet for a full two minutes, Napoleon slowly released his breath in a careful sigh and tucked the gun back into its holster.

"What are you doing here?"

It was a damned good thing, Napoleon thought even as he leapt to his feet, that he'd already put away the gun.

"Damn!" Illya thumped the steering wheel in a rare display of annoyance. How could they have managed to arrange construction work on both the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges on the same night?

Westbound on the Brooklyn bridge looked completely closed off and he knew from the drive out there that it was useless trying to get anywhere quickly on the Manhattan. The Williamsburg was well out of his way, but the only way he'd get to the Village in anything like a reasonable time. Napoleon would wait, of course, but it seemed a given that Illya would be facing Waverly's wrath before long. Rushing out to help Napoleon inevitably got him into trouble. Why could he never remember that?

He'd finally reached the Williamsburg bridge when his communicator beeped at him. He steered the car with his wrist while he uncapped the pen and pulled out the antenna.

"So help me, Napoleon, if..."

"Mr. Kuryakin."

Illya broke off so abruptly he almost swallowed his tongue. The voice was definitely not Napoleon's. And it didn't sound at all happy.

"Ah... yes, Mr. Waverly?"

"Where are you?"

"The Williamsburg bridge, sir."

"Do I, or do I not, recall giving you explicit instructions to stay at Headquarters until I concluded my meetings?"

"Um... yes, sir, but Napoleon--"

"How many times must I remind you that Mr. Solo can take care of himself?" There was a brief pause, during which Illya nervously wondered if he was expected to answer that. He sincerely hoped not; he couldn't think of any answer that wasn't impertinent. "For that matter, why isn't Mr. Solo at Headquarters? His plane landed more than two hours ago."

"Napoleon's experiencing some difficulty in shaking a Thrush tail, sir."

"I take it that's why I have the New York police registering official complaints about interference in their operations in Brooklyn--" Illya closed his eyes briefly; he'd forgotten to leave Mr. Waverly a note about that. "--and unverified reports of gunfire near Chinatown."

"Chinatown, sir?" Illya released the steering wheel for a moment to wipe a suddenly damp palm on his trousers. "It's possible, sir."

"Where is Mr. Solo now?"

"In the Village." Hopefully.

"Then go and get him, Mr. Kuryakin," Mr. Waverly ordered with a perceptible degree of impatience, "and get back here."

"Yes, sir!"

Illya had never been so relieved to hear his boss sign off. He quickly returned the communicator to his pocket, raked his hair with fingers that shook just slightly, and loosened his tie. "You'd better be all right, Napoleon," he muttered under his breath, and speeded up as much as possible in the surrounding traffic.

Luckily, both for Illya and the rest of the drivers in New York, he didn't run into any further difficulties until he reached the Village. He was beginning to think things were looking up; a totally unwarranted thought, as it turned out.

There wasn't anyplace in front of The Bitter End to park.

Illya sighed and took a turn around the block. Then the next block. He cruised around ever widening concentric circles, finally finding a place roughly three blocks east of the coffeehouse. He quickly parked and hopped out of the car, shoving his hands into his overcoat pockets as he hurried back to his rendezvous. Though it only took a few minutes to reach the club, he barely resisted the impulse to pick up the pace as he covered the last block. His impatient partner would be furious by now.

"Hey, Mr. K; you're late!"

"What?" Illya turned back to the man at the door.

"Action started hours ago." From the sound of things, it was still quite busy inside; par for the course on a Friday night. "But we always got room for you." The doorman held out his hand with a smile. "Two dollar cover charge," he sounded amused at having to issue the reminder.

"Oh, um... Sorry, Lou." Illya patted his pockets absently. He'd forgotten about the cover charge. He froze in the act of pulling out his wallet and closed his eyes wearily, remembering Napoleon's single American dollar. "Ah... has someone tried to get in for free within the last half-hour?"

"Other than you?" Lou asked pointedly, a good-natured smile touching his thin lips. "No."

"You're sure? A dark-haired man, a few inches taller than me?"



Lou shook his head gently. "Haven't seen him, Mr. K. You comin' in?"

"Ah... no."

"Sure? We got some great music tonight."

"No... thanks. I've got... somewhere else to be." Illya had the presence of mind to throw the man a brief smile as he moved off.

He hesitated a few feet away, undecided. If Napoleon hadn't made it to The Bitter End yet, and he hadn't called in... Illya remembered the reported gunfire near Chinatown and closed his eyes again.

"If you've gotten yourself shot, Napoleon..." he muttered under his breath as he hurried back to his car.

Which wasn't there.

Illya looked up and down the street, making careful note of the same landmarks he'd absently noticed when he parked. He turned around, a full 180 degree circle, for good measure. Nobody on the street, nothing suspicious looking, just the empty gap along the curb where his car had been.

Wonderful. Anticipation of his next meeting with Mr. Waverly had just soared out of all bounds. How do you explain the disappearance of an automobile to a man who'd spent all day assuring auditors of the fiscal responsibility of his agents?

Illya buried his face in his hands. "He'll kill me."

After a minute, he scrubbed roughly at his face and decided with Slavic fatalism that he could only be killed once, and if he was truly lucky, his partner would murder him before Mr. Waverly could get around to it.

Illya glanced around to get his bearings, chose a route which would take him roughly toward Chinatown, and set off to find his partner.

"It was silly of the fuzz, thinking you were some kind of criminal," the young lady cooed.

"Um... yes, wasn't it?" Napoleon quickly pulled the white t-shirt on over his head and shot a glance at his gun and holster. However, they were still half-buried under his ruined jacket, and the lovely lady with her pseudo-hippie airs was still on the other side of the door. A half-open door, against which she was surely leaning, thankfully on the other side, in deference to his "shyness." At least she'd accepted his explanation for dropping into her yard without question.

"I mean... I wasn't sure when I found you in my garden, but all it took was a good look at you. How they could have made such a mistake about a man like you..."

Napoleon winced. He seemed to have made another conquest -- helpful under the circumstances, but hardly his intention. He was just glad Illya wasn't around to twit him about it. He fumbled a bit with the button fly on the jeans, wincing as he got them fastened. Definitely too tight. However, beggars can't be choosers, as they say. Damn, those clichŽs he trotted out to annoy Illya were starting to take over. Napoleon quickly donned the shoulder holster and pulled on a garishly tie-dyed work shirt, buttoning it up halfway to cover the gun and leaving it untucked for good measure. He didn't even want to look at himself in a mirror.

"Do the clothes fit?" she asked.

"See for yourself." He emerged from the room, trying to pretend that he usually dressed like a cross between a hippie and a hillbilly. At least it was better than a bum reeking of garbage.

"Oh, definitely! They look much nicer on you than they did on Paul," she decreed, wrapping her arms around his neck and smothering him in bleached blond tresses.

"Ah... Alexandra," he managed around a kiss. "It's not that I'm not grateful for the help... and the clothes, but those men..."

"Yes?" She planted a kiss on the corner of his mouth and pouted prettily, batting her eyelashes. He manfully restrained a sigh and bent to kiss her properly.

"They could be back any moment," he whispered in her ear a few minutes later.

She sighed. "Well, if you must go..." But she demanded several more kisses before allowing him to unwind himself from her arms.

"Thanks." And they really were heart-felt. "I don't know how to repay you."

"Just bring back the clothes yourself." She winked.

"Ah... yes..." He smiled charmingly, wondering if he could get Illya to return the borrowed attire. Or better yet, Mark... or April. He got another kiss for his pains before he could politely make his escape.

He wondered for a moment, as he stepped out onto the street, why he was even trying to escape. He could have simply called Illya from Alexandra's phone and waited there to be picked up. Of course, he hadn't been lying when he told her the Thrush gunsels might return -- anything was possible. But it didn't seem all that likely. Any other night, he'd have remained in the lovely lady's arms and said the hell with it. Not tonight. She had seemed too grasping, too desperate, and ultimately not desirable enough. Not desirable at all. Napoleon wasn't sure what to make of it, but he was pretty sure it was somehow Illya's fault.

His train of thought derailed abruptly when the chill wind picked at his clothing. Napoleon wrapped his arms around himself, stamped his feet and shivered a bit for good measure before heading on his way. Although it was possible the Thrush goons were still around, he hadn't seen any yet, and was hoping he'd thrown them off entirely. Not only had he come out the front door onto a different street, but he'd have been very surprised if they recognized him in his borrowed clothes. In fact, he was hoping no one would recognize him in this get-up.

God, would this night never end? It was past one in the morning; he'd been on one plane or another since the previous day, and on the run since eleven. What he wouldn't do to see Illya again.

Napoleon walked briskly north, wishing for the hundredth time that night for his abandoned overcoat.

Illya stuffed his hands into the pockets of his overcoat and lowered his head to the brisk wind as he hurried generally southeast toward Chinatown. The angle of his trajectory would bring him across the most direct route between Chinatown and Bleeker Street in a matter of minutes. Then he could simply follow the route back toward Chinatown until he ran across Napoleon. Illya steadfastly refused to believe that his partner had been detained by anything more deadly than a pretty lady.

He fidgeted on a street corner for the couple of minutes it took for the traffic to clear, glancing about as he waited. His quick scan of the area noted and dismissed a man in jeans and a long-sleeved multicolored shirt crossing the street two blocks west with the absent thought that only an idiot would be out without a coat in this weather. Something familiar in the man's bearing drew his attention back, but by then the man had moved out of sight. And it was now safe to cross. Illya shrugged and continued across the street and on his way.

"Yob tvoyu mat," he swore devoutly under his breath at the next gust of wind, beginning to wish, for the first time that week, that he'd come down with whatever flu was going around the office. Illya hated being sick, but he'd take coughing and a runny nose any day over running from one end of New York to the other after his wayward partner.

The wail of a siren broke the calm serenity of night, startling Illya rather more than it should have. He caught a glimpse of an ambulance on the next street and picked up his pace to keep it in sight. It was going in the right direction, and he just had a feeling about it. Instinct usually served a spy well -- Illya only hoped he wasn't dashing after an emergency vehicle summoned because somebody's gray-haired old aunt had fallen out of bed.

He didn't have to keep up the pace long, for the ambulance only continued a few more streets before slowing as it drew up to the mouth of an alley. Illya had slowed to a respectable gait before he strolled down that block, and no one seemed to notice his approach, putting it down to simple morbid curiosity.

They made quick work of loading a man into the vehicle. As Illya sidled closer, he was given only a momentary glimpse of the man on the stretcher, but it was enough to loosen the tight band of fear around his chest. Definitely not Napoleon; Napoleon had more hair.

Illya backed off again before anyone noticed his intrusive curiosity and glanced quickly into the alley. A dead end. If he'd known that, he wouldn't have been worried about the man on the stretcher; Napoleon would never have gotten himself penned into a blind alley. He retreated and paused to consider his course as he watched the ambulance take off once again into the night.

He was already halfway to Chinatown; by now, he should have run into Napoleon. Unless his annoying partner had taken another route. His introspection was broken abruptly by a muffled shout. A blond man jogged into sight from around the southeast corner of the block, a darker man appearing a moment later from the southwest corner. They met in the middle of the road, and turned almost simultaneously to see Illya standing near the mouth of the alley.

For a moment, all three remained frozen in a motionless tableau. There was no doubt that they recognized him as U.N.C.L.E. as instantly as he recognized them as Thrush. The hounds scenting the fox. Then, as if at an unspoken command, they were off -- Illya dashing northwards with the Thrushies hard on his heels.

He had half a block's jump on them, and used it to disappear rapidly around the corner. Spying a tall brick wall ahead which demarked the edge of someone's property, Illya hauled himself over the top with no finesse whatsoever, practically throwing himself to the ground inside. An angry shout accompanied the racing feet which thudded off down the street, both fading into the distance. He had the impression that the night wasn't going well for them.

"Again?" A feminine voice brought Illya belatedly to his feet. His rapidly scanning eyes picked up a mass of blond hair in the diffuse lights from the house as he brushed dirt off his suit. "This must really be my lucky night!"

"Cover charge? What cover charge?"

"Two dollars."

Napoleon sighed and thought about beating his head against the brick wall of the coffeehouse, but decided that the thin balding man at the door would probably misunderstand.

Interestingly enough, no one had even blinked at his attire. But then, Napoleon thought as he watched a garishly dressed couple exit the club and saunter down the street, this was hardly one of the classy uptown clubs he normally frequented. Dressed as he was, he'd get kicked out of one of those before he even got inf. Not that he'd made it through the door of this place either.

"Well?" the man prompted, not unkindly. He was actually being very patient, given the sudden rush of people moving in and out of the club.

Napoleon shook his head. "I'm afraid I haven't got two dollars." He hesitated. "I was supposed to meet a friend here, can you tell me if you've seen him?"

The man was already shaking his head dolefully, making the thin ponytail at the nape of his neck sway, his attention distracted by a couple anxious to get into the coffeehouse. "Friday night's busy -- lotta people going in and out."

"Okay, then can I use the phone?"

That got him a careful once over, but he must not have looked too threatening, because he was waved in. "You can go in to make a call. Phone's on the wall to the left. And I'm watching you," he added as Napoleon sidled past.

"I'm sure you are," Napoleon muttered under his breath. While on his way to the phone, he made a quick visual survey of as much of the coffeehouse as he could see. No luck; no Illya.

Napoleon pulled out his meager handful of American coins, dropped a dime into the phone and briskly told the operator the number. He counted the remaining coins while listening to the phone ring, then returned them to his pocket with a sigh. Thirty cents. He was beginning to doubt he'd make it home before his change ran out.

"Number Two, Section Two," he demanded without preamble and without waiting for the communications agent to rattle off her cover identity. He was immediately put on hold, and entertained himself by wondering which of the pretty agents it might have been. The usually entertaining speculation fell peculiarly flat -- he found he didn't really care.

"Illya Nicolaievich Kuryakin, where are you?" he asked the minute the line cleared.

"Mr. Solo, why, may I ask, are you using the phone lines?"

Napoleon closed his eyes and this time he did give in to the impulse to knock his head against the wall. Gently. "Ahm... my communicator is currently..."

"Yes," Mr. Waverly prompted briskly.

"Um... in one of the U.N.C.L.E. cabs, sir."

"I'm not going to ask why you left it there--"

"It's probably better if you don't," Napoleon muttered quietly, not sure if he was relieved or not when Waverly continued as if he hadn't heard.

"--I do, however, want to know when you think you could see your way clear to return to Headquarters."

Napoleon winced. No one did sarcasm better than Mr. Waverly, not even Illya. "Actually, ah, sir, I was trying to reach Illya to arrange that."

"Mr. Kuryakin's communicator isn't responding. That's why your call was routed to me."

"Oh..." Napoleon found himself rather frighteningly at a loss for something to say. Lack of sleep catching up with him, no doubt. "Well, then..." He rested his forehead gently against the wall. "I don't suppose you could send someone to pick me up?" he asked after a moment, hoping he didn't sound quite as plaintive to Mr. Waverly as he did to himself.

"Not at the moment, Mr. Solo. It's bad enough to have Mr. Kuryakin out gadding about after you; I can't spare any other agents for the same purpose. Just be patient; I'm sure Mr. Kuryakin will show up eventually."

"Ah... yes, sir." But Napoleon was talking to a dead line. He slowly hung up the phone and wandered back to the door, his hands sunk dejectedly in his pockets. He really didn't want to wait outside in the cold for his partner, but tonight was apparently not a good night for trying out his charm on the man at the door.

"You find your buddy?" the man asked as he slipped back out onto the quieter, colder street.

"Huh?" Napoleon blinked. "Uh... no. I'm afraid not."

"What's he look like?"


"Your friend," the man prompted. He smiled, showing crooked teeth. "Now that it's quieter, maybe I'll remember him."

"Short, blond--"

"Mr. K!" the man interrupted before Napoleon could continue. "Yeah, he was here about ten minutes ago."

"Illya Kuryakin?" Napoleon frowned. "But I didn't see him inside."

"He didn't go in. Seemed distracted. Asked if anyone had tried to get in without paying the cover charge, and took off without waiting around when I said no one had. Hey, he must have been looking for you!"

"Yeah, something like that," Napoleon agreed, wondering if his "luck" could get any worse tonight. "Any idea where he went?"

The man was already shaking his head. "Headed off that way." He pointed generally northeast.

"On foot?"

"Yeah; he was moving pretty fast, too. Said there was someplace he had to be."

Napoleon hesitated, torn. If he stayed put, Illya might return to see if he'd made it to the club yet. On the other hand, ten minutes wasn't too long, and he might be able to catch up with him, if he had any idea where exactly Illya was going.

"He might have been headed for the Russian bathhouse on St. Mark's," the man supplied amiably. "We talked about it once, and it's off that way."

A bathhouse? Napoleon thought about it a moment. He knew there were times Illya greatly missed the comforts of home. And the Russians were as partial to saunas and baths as the Swedes. He smiled a little. If anyone could find a genuine Russian bathhouse in New York, it was Illya.

Problem was, he couldn't think of any reason his partner would have headed off for a bathhouse instead of sticking around to pick him up. Unless... Without his communicator, Napoleon was at a distinct disadvantage -- it was perfectly possible that Illya had been redirected east by a call from Headquarters, and had no way to inform Napoleon of the change in plans. Didn't mean he was headed for the bathhouse, but that also was possible.

So, all things considered, it was also possible that Napoleon could catch up with his partner if he headed in that direction. He wasn't entirely sure it made any sense, under the circumstances. But then, under the circumstances, nothing made much sense tonight, and it sounded as good to his weary mind as anything. Napoleon cocked his head to one side, shrugged his shoulders, and decided. In the face of such uncertainty, he'd rather keep moving than huddle uncomfortably outside the club where any passing Thrushie might yet spot him.

"Thanks," he threw over his shoulder as he headed off, his pace brisk in an attempt to warm his blood.

A fluent and profane stream of Russian accompanied Illya's rapid footfalls.

He'd seen him; he'd actually seen Napoleon. And continued on without recognizing him. Not that he could have been expected to recognize his sartorially perfect partner in that get-up, but it was the principle of the thing! Now, thanks to that man-eater, Alexandra, out of whose clutches he'd barely escaped, he was more than ten minutes behind Napoleon. Illya yanked off his tie with a frustrated jerk and thrust it into his pocket.

Without breaking stride, Illya pulled his pen out of his pocket. It was imperative that he catch Napoleon before he wandered off again upon finding out his partner wasn't at The Bitter End.

"But I'm getting there," Illya muttered as he assembled the communicator and twisted the top to activate it.

Nothing, not even static. Illya gently shook the device, sighing when the action produced a quiet sound from a delicate technological marvel which definitely shouldn't rattle. Stopping his headlong rush for a moment, Illya quickly investigated the problem. He pulled out the microphone and screwed off the connecting cap. Upending the pen sent a rain of tiny, glittering and very expensive debris to the sidewalk like candy dust from a pixie stick. Probably landed on it when he jumped off the wall. Illya reassembled the useless shell of his communicator pen and tucked it back in his pocket, then resumed his walk, picking up the pace a bit.

If Napoleon wasn't waiting for him, he'd handcuff the man to a streetlight the next time he saw him.

He was too distracted to notice the shadows flitting up the street after him, staying well back to avoid notice...

Needless to say, Napoleon wasn't waiting for him. He'd missed him by about five minutes. Illya wasn't entirely surprised, given the way the evening had gone so far.

"Which way did he go?" he asked Lou, with every outward sign of patience.

"You didn't meet up with him?"

"Obviously not." It took a certain amount of effort to force his clenched teeth apart enough to utter the words.

"I sent him off after you. Thought you were headed east, to that bathhouse we talked about."

"What?" Illya asked, genuinely confused.

"Don't you remember? Couple of weeks ago? We had a long conversation about Russian bathhouses." He shrugged. "I told him maybe you'd gone over to that one on St. Mark's."

"The bathhouse on St. Mark's..." Illya repeated softly, making an effort not to gape. "The gay bathhouse on St. Mark's?" He tried very hard not to notice how his voice had risen on the word "gay."

"Oh, is it--?"

Illya didn't catch the rest of the sentence. He was moving as fast as two feet could carry him toward the establishment in question. If he hadn't been quite so worried about catching up with Napoleon, he would have stayed to point out that the conversation was not about Russian bathhouses, but bathhouses in Russia, which was a very different thing.

As it was, he was too busy trying not to think about Napoleon dressed only in a towel, in a room full of men who'd no doubt find him just as appealing as Illya did. Oh god, what a night!

If there was one thing Napoleon was not going to do, he decided as he entered the bathhouse proper, it was take off his clothes.

It wasn't exactly in the agent handbook of things to do when you're being pursued. And he didn't want to end up explaining to Waverly why he'd stripped down like an actress in one of those B horror movies Illya insisted on dragging him to. Those movies operated on a logic all their own: when chased by murdering madmen, always put on the most revealing outfit you can find, or nothing at all.

Napoleon shook his head violently. His mind was beginning to wander. Though he could hardly be blamed: not only was he having the longest day in history, the events of the last few hours had about as much internal logic as one of those horror movies.

Why else would a bathhouse be the only place in New York he could get into with only thirty cents American, one hundred francs, twelve thousand lire and ten rubles? It was the rubles which did the trick, of course. He hadn't thought they would, but the guy at the door (actually a Russian, for some strange reason) apparently didn't see much currency from the old country. He'd tossed Napoleon a towel and told him to take his pick of the rooms. He hadn't, however, been of any help at all in locating Illya.

Napoleon had decided not to dwell on the suggestion that he could find all the "friends" he wanted inside.

But he was definitely not going to take off his clothes.

He sighed, wishing he knew for certain that Illya was even inside. However, since Napoleon hadn't seen his partner on the walk over, he really didn't know what else to do. The bathhouse didn't appear to have a phone... not that it would have done any good if it had, given that Mr. Waverly wasn't disposed to rescue his second in command and Illya wasn't answering his communicator. At least the bathhouse was warm -- a signal consideration, given how badly Napoleon was shivering after walking all over lower Manhattan without a coat.

He was sorely tempted to find whatever room the doorman had meant, blockade the door, and stay there until sanity once again reigned in New York. With a sigh, he concluded that it might be a very long siege indeed, and he'd be better off taking a look about the place, in case Illya really was there. And if he found the room on the way, well... he'd consider it.

Napoleon arbitrarily opened the first door he came across. A dense cloud of steam billowed out as he passed through, the moisture and heat permeating Napoleon's clothes instantly. He stopped a few feet inside the door and draped his towel around his neck while he waited for his eyes to accustom themselves to the murky atmosphere.

The first thing he realized was that these were the main baths, comprised mostly of steaming hot tubs, the atmosphere as heavy with water as a sauna. The second was that he seemed to be the center of attention. Not all that surprising, given that he was still fully clothed.

Well, perhaps not all eyes were on him. Napoleon blinked, wondering if he was hallucinating. He could swear he'd seen two completely naked male bodies entwined in a heated embrace. Oh hell, it can't be... The curtain of steam lifted for a moment on another side and he clearly saw a powerfully built man thrusting enthusiastically into the receptive body of a slender and eager partner. The muscular man's earthy growls of enjoyment blended harmoniously with his partner's pleasurable moans. The wreathing mists hid the couple before Napoleon could make the effort to draw his astounded gaze away. He closed his eyes wearily.

"Well, hello gorgeous."

...a gay bathhouse, he concluded the resigned thought.

"You must be lost."

Napoleon opened his eyes and kept them very carefully trained on the wet naked chest of the curly-haired blond whose towel was draped over one shoulder. "Ahm..." he cleared his throat nervously, "why would you say that?"

The man smiled and tugged on Napoleon's shirt collar. "You're overdressed."

"So I am. I'd better go change..." he started to back up, but the grip on his shirt wasn't released.

"Why bother..."

"Hmm?" Napoleon was having a hard time making his eyes obey. He really wasn't interested, he assured himself, in finding out if the man was a natural blond. Just looking for a polite escape. Or something.

The man stepped closer. "...when I can help you out right here?"

"Um... no. Really, I can..." Never mind subtlety. But as he retreated, the blond latched onto the towel around Napoleon's neck and reeled him back in, plastering himself damply across Napoleon's chest. Any further excuses Napoleon's beleaguered mind might have produced were cut off when a voracious mouth settled on his. He was almost too overwhelmed to attempt a struggle.

"Back off," someone growled from behind Napoleon. Strong hands reached around him to push the blond away. The man stumbled back, his expression a cross between surprise and annoyance.

Napoleon wasn't entirely certain he should be relieved. He didn't think his ego could stand being fought over like a bone between two junkyard dogs. His qualms were justified a second later when an equally strong body was pressed hard against his back, arms wrapping tightly around his chest. His training was excellent; he could throw off either of them, but he didn't want to risk hurting anyone unless it became absolutely necessary.

"No fair," the blond complained petulantly, "I found him."

"But I had him first," the man at his back responded rapidfire. Napoleon almost slumped in relief. Illya. He stiffened again, in shock this time, when one of those eminently capable hands slid down to firmly cup his groin. "He's mine."

The two blonds glared at each other over Napoleon's shoulder. For an endless moment, during which Napoleon wondered frantically how long he could endure Illya's intimate touch before embarrassing himself, there was a standoff. The stranger backed down first, holding up his hands in a small gesture of surrender before turning and walking away. To his chagrin, Napoleon's eyes were drawn momentarily to the firm globes of the departing backside.

Illya sighed, slowly letting the tension seep out of his body, and leaned momentarily against Napoleon's back. Regretfully, he released his partner, manfully refraining from giving the delicious handful a parting squeeze. He stepped around in front of Napoleon, aware he was still in his partner's space and not caring. "How do you get yourself into these things?"

"Hey, don't blame me for this!" Napoleon didn't really care too much that his offended tones didn't entirely cover his relief. He just hoped he didn't look as flushed as he felt. "I wasn't doing anything."

"You never do anything. So why is it I'm always rescuing you from amorous ladies? And now men," he added disapprovingly.

"I didn't encourage him," Napoleon argued defensively.

"You're in a gay bathhouse, Napoleon!"

"I'm fully clothed!" As, to Napoleon's great relief, was Illya. He was damned if he'd have any of these men ogling his partner.

"You're asking for trouble, fully clothed or not." Illya sighed in exasperation. It didn't help that Napoleon's damp white t-shirt was clinging lovingly to his chest. "There isn't a man in this room who doesn't want what I've got."

"And what exactly have you got?"

"Damned if I know." Illya shook his head, torn between annoyance and affection. "Could we just get out of here?"

"It would be a pleasure." But he stopped within two steps of the door, so abruptly Illya ran into his back. Napoleon's sigh was resigned, but he kept Illya behind him as he obediently backed away from the gun leveled at his chest. "Or maybe not."

"Here I thought I'd lost you," the blond Thrush advanced arrogantly, his lank hair suffering from the humidity, "and your little friend leads me right back to you. How convenient."

"Yes, isn't it?" Napoleon's plans for rushing the man suffered irretrievable damage when two more Thrushies materialized out of the steam, also with guns drawn. He was aware of the general stir of fear and confusion in the room, but put it out of his mind for the moment.

"Napoleon, if you back up again, I'm going to end up in very hot water," Illya muttered, his breath oddly cool against Napoleon's neck in the overly hot room.

"I think we're already there."

"What, you don't think we can take them?" Illya demanded, deliberately loud enough to be heard clearly by the Thrush gunsels.

"I didn't say that," Napoleon responded, getting into the tempo of the act. He casually grabbed one end of the towel around his neck. "I just think we shouldn't take any chances." He whipped the towel off in a quick arc, snapping it against the blond Thrush's gun hand. Illya dove at another Thrush before he could fire, knocking him back into his companion, who was still fumbling with his gun. The hapless Thrush tumbled backwards into one of the hot tubs sunk into the floor. As he floundered, three naked men immediately removed themselves from the water.

By that time, Napoleon had his own gun out. Unfortunately, he'd lost track of the blond Thrush who was apparently the leader of this crew. For that matter, he'd lost track of Illya as well. The steam made it hard to see where everyone was. It was like fighting in a low-flying cloud. Thank heavens that, for once, the Thrush muscle were apparently as leery of firing into a crowd as the U.N.C.L.E. agents -- which really only confirmed the impression that they were new on the job.

A blur of motion caught out of the corner of his eye wasn't enough warning. Napoleon staggered sideways under the weight of his assailant, his gun flying from his hand, landing somewhere with a distinct plop. He put all his frustration into his return blow, knocking the blond nuisance clear off his feet and back into a swirl of steam. Ignoring the man for the moment, Napoleon headed off to retrieve his gun, peering ineffectually through the fog.

He nearly found another hot tub with his foot. It played host to five occupants, who were enjoying the hell out of the floor show. Napoleon had the sinking feeling that his gun was somewhere in there with them, a theory which was supported by the dark familiar object he could barely make out through the water. He took one look at the men in the tub, two of whom were otherwise engaged, and sighed -- there didn't seem much point in asking someone to hand him his gun. He'd have to fish it out himself.

Illya wondered where Napoleon was. He ducked another wild punch and spun lightly away from his attacker, getting in a solid blow as he danced out of range. It was easy enough to put one of these fledglings down -- Thrush needed to work on their hand-to-hand combat training -- but they didn't seem to stay down. Not enough sense, apparently. He couldn't swear to it, but he was sure there were more than three of them by now. Luckily, poor visibility kept them from organizing enough to come at him more than one at a time.

"Napoleon!" he bellowed during a break in the action.

"Coming, Josephine," someone near Napoleon called in a lisping sing-song. Startled, Napoleon almost lost his balance and fell head first into the hot tub. He had a feeling at least one of the men in the tub would have welcomed that. Sleeve sopping wet to the shoulder, Napoleon finally retrieved his gun from the water, morally certain he'd touched a few things in his blind groping that he didn't want to know about.

"Hang on, Illya," he shouted as he stood up, "I'm coming."

"Not yet you're not," someone else called out.

Napoleon found himself torn between frustrated anger and hysterical laughter. He stomped down hard on both. "Where are you?"

"Right here." Illya tapped Napoleon on the shoulder, restraining a smile when his partner jumped a foot.

"Don't do that!" Napoleon looked around for their assailants. He could still hear the muffled sounds of a battle somewhere in the room. Which didn't make much sense, if his partner was right in front of him. "How did you manage that?"

Illya manfully kept his face straight. "Do you know who runs most of the gay bathhouses in New York? The mob."

The steam cleared momentarily, giving Napoleon a glimpse of half a dozen muscular goons quickly mopping up the Thrush infiltrators. Their blond leader exhibited a bit too much resistance, and was summarily dumped head first into a vacant hot tub. The hysterical laughter threatened to escape again.

"Should I say they're all washed up?" he asked with feigned solemnity.

"Please don't," Illya groaned.

"Perhaps they should throw in the towel?" Napoleon suggested,

"Napoleon," Illya warned, his serious tone not quite masking his amusement, "I still have my gun."

"Right." Napoleon returned his own, now useless, weapon to his holster, wincing when a stream of lukewarm water poured out of the barrel and down his side. "Shall we?"

"I think we'd better," Illya decreed, eyeing the mob clearing crew uneasily. He didn't really want to tangle with them and, as the only other clothed men in the room, he and Napoleon stood out as interlopers. "This way; there's an exit out the back."

"I'm not going to ask how you knew that."

"You'd be amazed what I know." Illya flashed one of those lightning smiles at him and turned to lead him out of Wonderland.

The state of semi-arousal Napoleon had been struggling with ever since Illya wrapped his arms around him and claimed him died without a whimper the moment he stepped outside. He swore viciously under his breath, highly annoyed at his "luck," which decreed he should go from tired and cold to tired and cold and wet.

"What's the matter?" Illya turned bemused eyes on him.

"Can we just get to the car, please?"

"Um..." As Illya hesitated, Napoleon's expression shifted from pleading to confused to annoyed. Illya sighed, irritated to realize he'd have to come clean. "I'm not sure where it is."

"You don't remember where you parked?"

"No," Illya denied, exasperated, "I know precisely where I parked. The problem is, the car isn't there."

"You lost the car."

"Yes, Napoleon, I lost the car."

Napoleon shivered and wrapped his arms around himself, not finding much warmth in the clammy cloth. "Then call Waverly and get us out of here."

"Ah..." Illya shifted uneasily on his feet. "Here," he pulled off his overcoat and draped it around Napoleon's shoulders, "take this. I'm still dressed warmer than you," he pointed out to forestall any arguments.

Napoleon wasn't particularly disposed to argue. He quickly pulled the coat on, finding it warm and fragrant from Illya's body. He tucked it tighter about himself for more than just warmth.

"Thank you," he sighed, heart-felt. "Now, about your communicator..."

Illya muttered something unintelligible.

"What was that?"

"It broke," Illya flared.

Napoleon blinked at him. He looked down at his own mismatched and damp attire, scanned Illya's slightly more than usually rumpled suit, and finally meet his partner's suddenly sparkling eyes. The hysterical laughter won. The two of them leaned against the back wall of the bathhouse and laughed until they could hardly stand up.

"Come on," Illya managed finally, thinking he heard a noise from inside the building. "We'd better get out of here."

"Any suggestions?" Napoleon asked as they traversed the alley and started down St. Mark's Place.

"Find a phone; call a cab," Illya turned to his partner with a smile, walking backwards up the street in front of him. He pulled out his wallet. "I have money."

"Well I'm glad somebody does." He grabbed Illya's arm and turned him around to walk forward again.

The street was quiet, and they passed along it like wraiths in a graveyard. New York might be the city that never sleeps, but it did occasionally take cat naps. The wind darted around them, tugging playfully on Illya's suitcoat and making the tails of Napoleon's overcoat flap. Napoleon ran one hand over the lapel of the coat and smiled, appreciating the gift. He glanced at Illya, seeing his partner's arms crossed tightly over his chest, and felt guilty.

Illya glanced up, surprised, when Napoleon's arm encircled his shoulders. The taller man smiled and tucked Illya nearer his body, though not so close that they couldn't walk comfortably. After a moment, Illya shook his head and settled in to enjoy the closeness. He wondered if he might get more from his partner on this crazy night, if he played his cards right.

"So, that's a Russian bathhouse." Napoleon was hard-pressed to keep his face straight.

"Nyet! In Russia, the water is much hotter, and the bathers bring bunches of birch twigs with leaves on them."

"What for?"

"For whacking themselves. Or each other."

Napoleon wasn't entirely certain if Illya was serious, but found he didn't really care. His smile almost got away from him. "Really? And I thought the one we were just in was kinky..."

"Napoleon!" Half laughing, Illya gave him a good shove.

Napoleon staggered sideways, chuckling. A shaft of light opened suddenly onto the street from the doorway of the brownstone they were passing, followed by something large and low which barreled down the walk, out onto the sidewalk and straight into Illya. Napoleon had wheeled and reached for his gun before realizing they weren't under attack. It was just as well; he figured there was a fifty-fifty chance his sodden gun wouldn't fire anyway.

"Get it off me!" Illya shouted, pushing at roughly eighty pounds of fur and slobber which had him pinned to the ground.

"Sorry, Illya," Napoleon managed in a strangled voice, "my gun's not working. I think she likes you," he choked out before collapsing against the fence, laughing too hard to speak further.

Illya growled, which startled the dog no end, but didn't deter it from trying to wash his face with great swipes of a very broad, very wet tongue. "You'd better help me out, Napoleon," he warned in between sputters. "My gun still works."

Napoleon, unfortunately, was truly helpless with laughter, even in the face of dire Slavic threats. Succor came from another quarter, finally.

"Bad dog," a female voice scolded from somewhere beyond the muffling fur, "bad dog. Let the man up." Slowly the dog was dragged off its victim, who lay on the ground panting for a few moments more, until Napoleon contritely offered him a hand up.

"Traitor," Illya accused softly as he scrambled to his feet.

"Now, Illya," Napoleon began consolingly.

"Bad dog!" The woman continued her monologue as she dragged the animal toward the open doorway. "Bad dog, Tiny."

"Tiny?" Illya asked, his eyebrows rising along with his voice.

Napoleon lost his slender grasp on consolation and doubled over with laughter again, so hard he could barely breathe. A strong hand pounded him overly hard between the shoulderblades until he got the whooping gasps under control and straightened up.

"Are you okay?" She'd apparently gotten the dog shoved back into the brownstone while Napoleon was indisposed. Napoleon nodded silently, somewhat overwhelmed by her large curlers and violently colored flower-print housecoat. "And you, young man?" She turned to Illya and solicitously brushed him off.

"I'm fine, ma'am," he replied stiffly.

"Why don't you come in and wash your face," she suggested, patting his cheek.

"That's not necessary, Miss..."

"Thelma," she supplied brightly.

"...Thelma. We wouldn't want to intrude," Illya began, ignoring Napoleon's speaking look. He was, in turn, ignored by their rescuer, who took him firmly by the hand and led him to the door with no less assurance than she'd used in disposing of the dog.

"Nonsense," she proclaimed. "You boys come on in and rest a moment. It's the least we can do after Tiny played so rough with you."

Napoleon trailed along behind, trying very hard not to start laughing again. The look Illya shot him made it quite clear he'd find himself on the business end of his partner's gun if he didn't regain some control and get them out of this.

The dog, luckily, had retreated to some other part of the house and didn't put in a return appearance when they entered. The living room into which they were ushered, however, was nearly as dangerous as the dog, having been decorated with the same color and fashion sense displayed in Thelma's choice of attire. Napoleon blinked twice fast and decided then and there that he was going to come down with a raging headache if they didn't make their escape quite soon.

"You sit here, dear, and I'll get you a washcloth."

"Really, ma'am, it's not necessary..." Illya sounded almost desperate. But she was already bustling into the kitchen. "What are you grinning at?" Illya demanded, scowling at Napoleon.



"Ask to use the telephone," Napoleon suggested, sotto voce.

"I'd rather walk all the way back to Headquarters." Illya sat back in the fuchsia armchair and crossed his arms over his chest.

"Well I wouldn't."

"Then you ask for the phone."

"Illya! And just when you're getting along so well with your host..." Napoleon smiled. Illya scowled.

"Here you go dear." She was back with the promised washcloth. However, she didn't hand it to him, instead using it to polish Illya's face as if he were a wayward five year old. One glittering blue eye was all that remained visible, glaring fixedly at Napoleon as he frantically muffled his laughter into a series of gasping coughs.

"Miss... Miss Thelma," Illya managed finally, eluding the deadly cloth. "May we use your phone?" He figured if they didn't, he might not survive the next ten minutes. Napoleon -- he paused to scowl at his helpless partner, wincing at the sight of that tie-dyed shirt against the puce couch -- was obviously going to be no use whatsoever.

"Certainly, dear--"

"Thelma," a voice roared, basso profundo, from somewhere upstairs, "I told you to take that damned dog out, not have tea with it."

"We have guests, dear," she called back.


"Yes, dear. A couple of darling boys from the bathhouse up the street."

"How did she...?" Napoleon mouthed at Illya, afraid of interrupting the shouted conversation between the lady and her as yet unseen husband.

Illya pinched the white shirt between thumb and forefinger and peeled it away from Napoleon's chest. Napoleon swatted his partner's hand away, and smoothed the damp fabric down again, scowling at Illya's triumphant expression.

His breath suddenly a bit short, Illya forced himself to look away. He'd just realized he could see Napoleon's nipples through the wet t-shirt.

"You invited the perverts from next door to tea?!" the man shouted down the stairs.

"No sir," Illya interjected calmly, "only two of them."

Napoleon kicked him.

"Calm down, dear; I'll come up and explain." As Thelma started for the stairs, Napoleon stood and touched her lightly on the shoulder, half afraid she'd scream and her husband would come thundering down the stairs.

"The phone?"

"In the kitchen, dear," she directed with a motherly smile, patting him on the shoulder before climbing the stairs.

"Hurry," Illya whispered as they headed for the kitchen, "before she comes back."

"What's the matter, Illya," Napoleon asked softly over his shoulder. He pushed through the swinging door and fumbled for a light switch. "Don't you like Thelma? Oh my god!"

The kitchen was entirely in shades of pink: mauve, bubblegum, rose, coral, salmon and a couple hundred other varieties Illya didn't know the name for. Though he completely understood Napoleon's horror, Illya found the thought of the imminent return of their "dear" hostess far worse. He pushed Napoleon out of the way and reached for the phone which hung on the light pink wall next to a refrigerator which was precisely the same shade as Pepto-Bismal. Useful, he thought, since the kitchen itself gave him indigestion.

Napoleon leaned weakly against the wall as Illya quickly called Headquarters. He tried closing his eyes, but he was a little afraid the hot pink dinette set might jump him when he wasn't looking, so he fixed his gaze on his partner instead. The blond hair was mussed and a little flyaway, blue eyes weary but as brilliant as ever, and the rosy tint to the cheeks was a far more appealing color than any of its surrounding pink brethren. It was no hardship at all to stand there looking at Illya.

"Mr. Waverly? Yes, sir. Yes, I found him." Illya grabbed Napoleon's lapel and pulled him closer, tipping the phone so they could both hear.

"If you found him, Mr. Kuryakin," Mr. Waverly said with precise diction, "why haven't you returned to Headquarters?"

"Well, sir, we ran into a few difficulties..."

"I'm aware of that, Mr. Kuryakin. I've been cleaning up your 'difficulties' since I got out of my meetings."

Napoleon cocked an eye at Illya, who shrugged eloquently. They weren't kept in the dark long.

"The Brooklyn police are extremely annoyed that one of my agents gassed two of their officers and handcuffed them to their patrol car, Mr. Solo."

"Thrush gassed them, sir, and themselves in the process," Napoleon explained quickly. "I just handcuffed the Thrush to the officers so they wouldn't get into trouble while I was gone. I guess the Thrush came to and got loose before the policemen did..." Illya was looking at him with an expression of disbelief.

Mr. Waverly's harumph suggested he was equally unconvinced. "We seem to be having a lot of 'difficulty' with the New York police tonight. The Manhattan police are complaining about gunfire in Chinatown -- you wouldn't know anything about that as well, Mr. Solo?"

"Um... I might, sir."

"Well, I had to send two security agents that I can't spare to St. Vincent's to guard the prisoner once he gets out of surgery. With the current flu epidemic, we need all our security agents at Headquarters. Please try not to shoot any other Thrush agents tonight."

"Yes, sir." Napoleon added "small chance of that anyway" under his breath, squirming at the still clammy feel of the shirt under his holster.

"Mr. Kuryakin," Waverly continued, "I do hope you can tell me why the Manhattan police are also holding one of our automobiles?"

"Oh, good!" Illya exclaimed, relieved. Napoleon raised an eyebrow at him, and Illya barely resisted the desire to stick his tongue out at him. There was an equally questioning silence on the other end of the phone, but he wasn't nearly suicidal enough to admit to either of them that he'd been certain the car was stolen.

"I'm glad you think so, Mr. Kuryakin, because I'm going to have Accounting take the parking fines and impound fees out of your next paycheck."

"Yes, sir," Illya responded wearily. "If we could--"

"One minute, Mr. Kuryakin, I'm not finished. I'm especially eager to find out why one of our new agents, a Mr. Jamison, is calling in from Jersey for directions on getting home."

Napoleon choked. Illya merely closed his eyes and leaned his forehead against his partner's shoulder.

"Evasion pattern J," he said into the phone.

"Mr. Kuryakin, evasion pattern J is designed to help an agent lose a tail in Queens," Mr. Waverly responded acidly, "would you care to explain how the young man ended up on the other side of Manhattan?"

"I don't know, sir," Napoleon took the phone to respond, "perhaps we need to equip the U.N.C.L.E. cabs with better maps." Illya shook his head against Napoleon's shoulder, making a muffled noise that was probably laughter. Napoleon absently wrapped his free arm around his partner's shoulders. "If you don't mind, sir, we'd really like to get home sometime tonight."

"So would I," Mr. Waverly assured him. "In fact, I was on my way out of the building when Communications routed your call through. Drop the microfilm you're carrying at the Lab tonight, if you would, Mr. Solo. I'll want to look at the decoded file first thing in the morning. Good night."


The drone of a dialtone brought Illya out of his retreat. He cautiously raised his head from the sweet haven of Napoleon's collarbone and sighed. He took the phone out of Napoleon's hand and hung it up, then gently tapped his partner's sagging jaw closed.

"I didn't get a chance to tell him about my suit," Napoleon managed weakly after a moment.

Illya shuddered. "Just as well you didn't."

"Now what?"

"Call a cab."

"Awright, you two, no funny business in my house." Basso profundo -- from directly behind them.

Napoleon and Illya both jumped about a foot, quickly disentangling themselves from their misleadingly compromising embrace and turned to face the man. For a moment, Napoleon's voice eluded him entirely; he had a feeling Illya was having the same problem. Thelma's husband was a dainty bird-like man, whose appearance was in no way in keeping with his voice.

"It's not what you think, sir," Napoleon managed as he was shoved through the door to the living room, a deceptively delicate hand in the center of his back. Illya stumbled through after him, bumping into him and almost sending them both crashing to the floor.

"I know what I think," the deep voice responded. "I think you perverts had better get out before I sic my dog on you."

"Henry!" Thelma's voice came from the stairs. "If you can't say something nice about someone--"

"Quiet, Thelma," he roared, a ridiculous sound from such a small man. Small or not, however, he muscled them both to the door. Not that they were resisting -- even if Illya had had the inclination, he was far too astounded to raise any complaints.

"Now dear, don't be difficult," she coaxed. "I think it's sweet."


"Of course. It's obvious they're in love."

The front door opened, and Napoleon stumbled through gratefully, Illya hot on his heels.

"At least let the dog out while you're at it," Thelma called down to her husband. The door closed, cutting off whatever else might be said.

At this point, Napoleon considered as they hurried down the walk, he wouldn't be at all surprised if the Mad Hatter put in an appearance.

"Must be my day." The blond Thrush fledgling levered himself away from the fence and moved to block the sidewalk. His gun was leveled once again on Napoleon's chest. "You just keep walking into my path."

"Oh, not again!" Napoleon was disposed to get very cross in a minute or two.

"How did you get away from--"

"They dropped me and the others out in the alley and told us to scram," the man interrupted Illya blithely. "The others were... indisposed. But I can take care of you two myself."

"All by yourself?" Illya asked, planting himself firmly next to Napoleon on the sidewalk. He looked the fellow up and down, letting his lip curl at the water puddling slowly on the sidewalk under the man. "Are you sure that gun even works?"

"Do you want to risk it?"

"Perhaps not." Napoleon cocked his head, thinking he heard movement inside the brownstone. "Tell you what -- I'm getting tired of all this. Why don't I tell you where I hid the microfilm and we can both go on our way?"

"Sounds good to me." He sniffed, and shoved wet hair off his face.

"Napoleon, don't," Illya put in, his tone a perfect blend of shock and horror.

"Stay out of this," Napoleon ordered harshly. He grabbed Illya by the arm and pushed him past the Thrushie, who let him pass without argument. "There's a dead-drop -- a hole in the bottom of a loose brick -- on the other side of the fence. You can't miss it."

"I'll be back for you two," the dripping Thrush threatened as he stalked to the opening in the fence. At the same moment, the door of the brownstone opened and Tiny came galloping out. The collision couldn't have been better timed. "Ow! Lookout you damned mutt! Get off me!"

Illya sniggered. Napoleon grabbed his hand and dashed off down the street. He didn't hear any gunfire behind him, which he took to mean that the Thrush gunsel had dropped his weapon at the impact. Even assuming the gun still worked, Tiny and her people were perfectly safe. Once he extricated himself, his anger would be directed entirely at his escaped prey.

"Hold it," Illya shouted, pulling back on Napoleon's hand, hauling him to a stop.

"We are in something of a hurry," Napoleon pointed out, panting.

"I'm tired. Aren't you?"

"What a stupid question."

"Then why run?"

"Other than the fact that he won't be happy when he catches up?"

Illya smiled and directed Napoleon's attention to a jaunty man dressed in biker leathers who was strolling down the cross street. His gait suggested supreme confidence, and his off-key whistling extreme content. The back of his leather jacket proclaimed 'Hell's Angels' in vivid flaming letters. About halfway down the street, a bike could be seen gleaming in the light of the streetlamp.

"What happened to calling a cab?"

"You want to wait around for one?" Illya didn't wait for a response. He quickened his pace to catch up with the biker, pulling his gun as he went. Napoleon altered his path to come up on the bike from the other side.

"Nice bike," Illya called, keeping his gunhand behind his back.

Surprised, the man spun around. "What would you know about it?" he demanded insultingly.

"Enough. Yes," he said as he approached the motorcycle, "a really superb machine." Illya brought the gun forward. "But is it worth your life?"

Tough was one thing; a gun in your face another. The man backed up, his hands open and out. Napoleon straddled the bike and pushed it off the kickstand. "Keys?" he asked politely. Illya waggled the gun at the biker, who quickly produced the keys and tossed them to Napoleon.

"Thanks," Napoleon responded. The bike roared quickly to life, and Illya climbed on behind his partner, the gun never wavering from the machine's erstwhile owner. "We'll get it back to you tomorrow."

With that, he gunned the engine and zipped off down the street. Illya quickly returned his gun to his holster and slipped his arms around Napoleon's waist.

"Only you would steal a motorcycle from a Hell's Angel," Napoleon called back over his shoulder.

Illya laughed.

"I'm freezing," Napoleon complained as they pulled up in front of Del Floria's.

"You could have let me drive part of the way," Illya pointed out with something less than sympathy. "Let's go." He reluctantly released Napoleon and hopped off the bike.

"I'll stay here."

"Are you crazy?" Illya frowned at him. "If that Thrush idiot doesn't manage to find you again while you're waiting out here, you'll freeze to death."

"I'll take my chances." Napoleon looked at the set of Illya's jaw and sighed. "I am not, under any circumstances, going to walk through U.N.C.L.E. Headquarters dressed like this."

"Oh, but it's okay if I do?"

Napoleon eyed Illya's rumpled and mud-streaked suit. "They've seen you in worse," he said dismissively. "But I'd never live it down." He watched Illya's amused gaze take in the tight jeans, nearly see-through white shirt, and hopelessly wrinkled tie-dyed overshirt, all tucked under Illya's blue overcoat, and nodded decisively at the tick twitching at the corner of his partner's mouth. "I rest my case."

"Have you forgotten you're the one with the microfilm?"

"Here, take it with my blessing." Napoleon pulled open the coat and quickly unbuttoned his fly.

Illya knew Napoleon was only retrieving the microfilm from the hidden pocket in his underwear, but he was hard-pressed to keep his composure. There was something about Napoleon unfastening his pants for Illya which was just too good to pass up. He waited patiently, trying very hard not to stare too obviously, while Napoleon fumbled with stiff fingers to tease the slip of microfilm out. When the tiny piece of plastic was deposited in his hand, he closed his fingers around it and rested his fist on Napoleon's shoulder.


Ignoring his partner's confusion, Illya reached down to slide his hand quickly into the warmth of Napoleon's jeans, stroking the soft white underwear encasing warm tender skin. He turned his head to catch Napoleon's gasp beneath his mouth, pressing a quick kiss to parted lips. "I warned you. Flirt," he whispered before turning to jog up the stairs.

Napoleon stared dazedly after him. The door had been closed behind the retreating form for more than five minutes before he remembered to fasten his pants.

Illya called himself seven kinds of fool as he released the safety catch under Del Floria's counter before pushing the button on the steam press and letting himself in through the fitting room. The key he'd grabbed from Mr. Waverly's office before heading out to find Napoleon had electronically deactivated most of the after-hours security alarms, and he dealt with the rest by pure force of habit, as his mind was most definitely elsewhere. He wondered ruefully, as he walked briskly down the hall to deposit the microfilm with the boys in the Lab, if Napoleon would still be outside when he returned.

Illya made it back through the fitting room door in record time -- quite a feat, given that he was very careful not to run and attract Security's attention on the monitors. As he slipped back through Del Floria's, his eyes landed momentarily on the framed sign that hung in the shop: "Honesty is the best policy." Illya snorted and pulled the door firmly shut behind him.

Napoleon was still there.

"Move back," Illya directed as he approached, going for the straightforward approach.

Still a bit dazed, and more than a little confused, Napoleon obligingly scooted back on the seat to let Illya in front of him. He had no doubt that Illya was right, and he'd be warmer in back where he wasn't taking the full brunt of the wind.

"You want your coat?"

"No, keep it." Illya kicked the motorcycle to life and pulled away from the curb. He was relieved when Napoleon wrapped his arms around him without reserve, pressing himself close.

Napoleon pushed closely against Illya's back. For the first few minutes, he didn't really think about anything, merely basked in the warmth emanating from the solid form. Then the sensation of the throbbing engine under him, and that self-same solid form in front of him, began to penetrate. Napoleon rested his chin on Illya's shoulder and tried very hard not to nuzzle the delicately shaped ear. He wasn't entirely certain where they were going with this, but he knew he didn't want to end up in the hospital before he figured it out.

By the time Illya drew up to the curb, Napoleon was so hard it hurt and alternating between hoping Illya wouldn't notice the erection pressed up against his back and wondering what would happen if he did. Under the circumstances, it was hardly surprising it took him a moment to realize he wasn't home.

"This is your building, Illya."

Illya turned off the engine and pocketed the keys, slipping expertly off the bike. He was careful not to let the triumph show in his eyes, but he couldn't do much about the erection Napoleon would see if his cast his eyes a bit lower. It had been hard to steer a straight course with the distraction of Napoleon's hard cock nudging his tailbone.

"Your building's farther from Headquarters."

"And how do you suggest I get home?"

"You could call a cab," Illya suggested wickedly. Napoleon scowled. "Just stay here tonight, okay?"

"Oh, all right," Napoleon conceded with relatively good grace, all things considered. He swung himself off the motorcycle and followed Illya toward the stoop.

"Don't sound so enthusiastic," Illya threw over his shoulder, "you could always walk home, you know."

Napoleon thought about planting a solid kick in that pert little backside, but he wasn't sure he could get his foot that high. The tight jeans were even tighter now. He carefully adjusted himself and decided it was just as well -- Illya did still have a working gun, after all.

Once in his apartment, Illya headed straight for the kitchen. Napoleon hung the overcoat neatly in the closet and wandered into the bathroom adjacent to Illya's bedroom to splash a little cold water on his face. He was at that stage of tiredness where the fatigue seemed to have receded a little, giving him a new surge of energy. That didn't stop him from feeling faintly muzzy-headed and longing fervently for bed. He caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror and grimaced. God, how ridiculous. Napoleon pulled off the tie-dyed shirt, struggling a moment with the wet sleeve before it yielded, and draped it over the towel bar. Better. Not good, but better.

His jacket and shoes discarded, Illya was leaning against the footboard of the bed when Napoleon emerged from the bathroom. He drank directly from the bottle of vodka he'd retrieved from the freezer, savoring the icy burn of the liquor, then offered it to Napoleon. His smile might have been a little wolfish, for his partner hesitated a second before taking the cold-streaked bottle from him and drinking.

Napoleon coughed and set the bottle on the dresser. He glanced at Illya, half-smiling as he waited for the inevitable disagreement, and drew in a hard breath. Nothing special, just Illya. Illya waiting for him, reaching for him. Napoleon could no more have resisted the pull of his partner's desire than he could have defied gravity. He came into Illya's arms with a sense of homecoming.

Illya's lips were cool. His tongue, gaining entrance to Napoleon's mouth without so much as a by your leave, was cold. He tasted of vodka and himself; it was hard to say which flavor was more intoxicating. Napoleon groaned, falling into a kiss which stripped away all qualms, all concerns, all inhibitions.

Without releasing Napoleon's mouth, Illya guided him to the bedside, keeping him distracted with hungry kisses. Once there, he pushed his partner down on the bed, quickly peeling the damp t-shirt over his head and tossing it to the floor. Napoleon looked up at him, dazed and flushed, his tousled hair giving him an oddly vulnerable look. Illya bent and kissed him reassuringly before kneeling to strip off his shoes and socks.

Illya wasn't surprised to feel Napoleon's hands on his shoulders, in his hair, as he performed the simple task. Warm fingers carded through his hair, stroking him like a cat. It was an effort not to push his head against Napoleon's hands and purr unabashedly. It only took Napoleon a few seconds to get around to Illya's shirt, and no more than a moment to deal with the buttons and strip the offending fabric off.

Illya came up off the floor in one fluid motion, pushing Napoleon back on the bed, possessing his mouth in an almost violent kiss which took away his breath and his will in a single masterstroke. That was okay, Napoleon decided fuzzily; breathing was overrated anyway.

Delightedly, he ran his hands up and down Illya's bare back. The hard lean chest pressed up against his own was quite a change of pace from soft feminine breasts, but no less welcome for all that. In fact, the sheer muscular power of the embrace was quickly becoming all too intoxicating -- Napoleon didn't think he'd ever get enough of it.

Illya shivered as Napoleon's fingers traced his spine again, the simple caress stripping away his remaining defenses, firing his arousal. The experienced hands paused at the small of his back, but only for a moment before diving under the waistband of his trousers to plunge as far as the constricting material would allow. Illya broke off the kiss with a gasp when the tips of Napoleon's fingers pressed lightly at the very base of his spine, teasing the crack of his ass.

He turned the surprised, and very much aroused, reaction into a line of kisses and nips, exploring the strong column of Napoleon's throat. It was with a small shudder of regret that he felt his partner's hands withdraw to tightly clasp his waist, then down again, this time outside the trousers, to cup his buttocks. Illya bit the point of Napoleon's shoulder once, hard, and pushed himself upright again.

Napoleon stared up at him, panting, his legs still dangling off the bed, feet brushing the floor. Not the best position in which to continue this seduction. Illya smiled at him, delighted to see a fine sheen of sweat break out on Napoleon's skin in response. Standing between Napoleon's knees, and enjoying the view immensely, he started unbuttoning the jeans.

"You should wear jeans more often," he told Napoleon as he made quick work of the buttons. In fact, he'd thought he was going to have a heart attack when he first saw Napoleon in the bathhouse, his deliciously rounded butt revealed by the tight denim.

"Not my style," Napoleon gasped, lifting his hips to facilitate the removal.


Illya tugged resolutely on the still slightly damp material, quickly working the pants over Napoleon's hips and down his thighs. His underwear went along for the ride, which didn't bother Illya in the slightest. When the pants could go no farther without Illya changing positions, he paused, running one finger lightly up the underside of Napoleon's tumescent cock. A pleasured gasp escaped Napoleon's lips, his erection twitching. Illya smiled again.

If Illya did that once more, Napoleon thought, he wouldn't be responsible for his actions. That smile was deadly.

He watched out of heavy-lidded eyes as Illya stepped back and dragged his pants fully off. The look was good on him, he knew: brooding, seductive... It wasn't one he used with women, usually -- there he was acting, not reacting. Here... he didn't object to letting Illya take the lead -- it was very seductive, not to mention exciting, to be the focus of his partner's intense attention.

Napoleon's chest tightened on an unfinished breath when Illya stripped efficiently out of his pants and underwear. He paused a moment, inviting Napoleon's gaze, which was very appreciative -- Illya was all cream and strawberries gilded with pale gold. Illya took Napoleon's hands and pulled him to his feet, enclosing him in a warm embrace. Skin to skin, Napoleon gasped, the temperature flaring wildly. Illya flung aside the blankets and clambered onto the crisp clean sheets, bringing Napoleon tumbling with him into another close embrace.

Napoleon wrapped an arm around Illya's waist, pulling his partner up to initiate another kiss, and was quickly lost again. There was something about the oh so arousing shape of Illya's mouth that fit Napoleon's perfectly. How could he possibly have been content making do with anyone else when this perfection was awaiting him? Surprised by his own romanticism, Napoleon wasn't foolish enough to share the flight of fancy with his stoic Russian partner.

So distracted was he that said partner had managed to pin him on his back without a struggle. Illya frowned at his preoccupied bedmate and bent his head to administer a punishing nip to the point of that cleft chin. Surprised, Napoleon yelped.

"Pay attention," he commanded before soothing the injured area with a swipe of his tongue. As he followed that up by nipping and licking his way down Napoleon's chest, he was assured of his partner's full attention.

Napoleon writhed under the focused assault, panting, every inch of skin alive and either reacting to a touch or anticipating one. He tried instinctively to wiggle away when Illya's tongue dipped into his ticklish navel, but strong hands on his hips kept him in place. Napoleon stilled as his partner's talented mouth slid a little aside to nuzzle the hollow of his groin. Though Illya's destination had been clear for some time, Napoleon held his breath, not quite believing it.

Illya smiled to himself, taken by his partner's breathless anticipation, and lapped delicately at the head of the rosy cock. Napoleon gasped audibly, and Illya's smile grew wider. He curled his tongue around the head, teasing Napoleon with slow, rasping licks. Then, unable to wait any longer, he took the heavy, throbbing head in his mouth, closing his eyes to enjoy the spicy taste of him, the warm weight on his tongue.

Fingers brushed almost reverently through his hair, and Illya looked up without releasing the savory mouthful. Napoleon's eyes met his for a moment of heated communion, then his head dropped back against the sheets, as if he didn't have the strength to hold it up any longer. Illya dipped down, taking the entire length of his partner's weeping cock in his mouth, letting it bump against the back of his throat. Just the sounds Napoleon was making were almost enough to bring him off. But Illya wasn't ready for that yet.

Napoleon gasped when the encompassing heat released him, leaving his tender cock to pulse in the unforgiving chill of the room. His hands slid from Illya's head as the other man sat up, and Napoleon didn't even have the strength to protest. Nor could he muster the effort to be concerned about how completely Illya had taken control of this encounter. Although Napoleon had always liked strong women, he'd never completely given himself up to a lover as he had to Illya. He closed his eyes, complete in his vulnerability.

The tight grasp of slick fingers drew a groan from Napoleon's throat, and brought his eyelids winging open. Illya was smiling that heated grin at him again. Napoleon thrust his aching cock into Illya's fist, not caring how much he gave away in his desperate impatience. Illya only held him for a moment, however.

Illya smiled down at Napoleon as he straddled the other man's chest. He had a moment's wonder that his partner could be so vulnerable before him, and a moment's concern that Napoleon might risk this same vulnerability with his other lovers, but he impatiently brushed both aside. He reached back to apply the lubricant to himself, quickly, perfunctorily. It had been a while, but he was ready; he'd been ready for Napoleon for months. Illya steadied Napoleon's cock and slowly impaled himself on it.

Gasping at the tight heat, Napoleon forced his eyes to stay open. The sensations were overwhelming, but he couldn't let himself get lost in them -- not if it meant missing this. Illya's torso, gleaming with sweat, trembled with the effort of going slow. His head was thrown back in abandon, allowing only the faintest hint of his smile to show. And he was smiling: a heady, satisfied curve of kiss-swollen lips.

Napoleon's hands wrapped around Illya's hips, guiding him down the last few centimeters. He drew his legs up to brace Illya's back. Then, finally, he let himself feel it, the intensely tight heat which enclosed him in throbbing sensation. His back arched, pushing head and shoulders into the mattress, eyes closed, hands tightening, pulling Illya down harder against him. His chest heaved, lungs fighting for breath.

Illya ran his palms over Napoleon's smooth chest, bushing his fingertips delicately over the tender nipples. He took Napoleon's hands, prying them from his hips, and entwined their fingers. The dark eyes were open again, meeting his own with languid pleasure. Illya rested their clasped hands against his thighs and slowly lifted up, trembling to feel Napoleon's cock slide partway out, then down again into the cradle of Napoleon's thighs.

Napoleon couldn't draw a breath, couldn't take his eyes off the gold-touched beauty moving over him. He remained still with an effort, fighting the need to lift his hips every time Illya rose, not allowing his cock to seek that perfect connection and drive home again. Illya's fingers tightened hard on his own, reminding him again that his partner controlled this. He was entranced, for a moment, by the point where they connected, watching his shaft reappear for a few seconds, then be engulfed again as Illya impaled himself once more. Napoleon drew his eyes away with an effort, looking up over the sweat sheened length of Illya's body to meet an intensity of blue, and was captivated.

Illya licked his lips, panting with the intense pleasure. Trapped in Napoleon's dark eyes, he rose and fell, unable to look away. His body shook with the tension, feeling about to fly apart with wonder.

Desperate suddenly for a kiss, Illya leaned forward, dragging their clasped hands up over Napoleon's head to brace himself. Napoleon groaned against Illya's lips as the angle of their bodies intensified, even as it drew his cock partway from its heated sheath. Illya's tongue dove deep in Napoleon's mouth, was captured and sucked on with all the intensity of Napoleon's desperation. He drew back slightly to whisper against his partner's lips.

"Now, Napoleon," he panted.

Napoleon didn't need any further prompting. He planted his feet more firmly against the bed and thrust up into Illya's encompassing heat. The angle wasn't perhaps the best, but at the moment it hardly seemed to matter. Illya's mouth closed hard on Napoleon's, his tongue thrusting with the same desperate rhythm as Napoleon's cock, driving up into his welcoming body. Napoleon bucked hard, thrusting himself mindlessly into Illya. His thighs trembled with tension, the muscles cramping under the strain, ignored in the overwhelming pleasure.

Illya gasped against Napoleon's mouth, finally releasing his partner's hands. He braced his left hand at Napoleon's side, wrapping the right around his aching cock, jerking it to the same rhythm as the hard flesh impaling his body. Napoleon's hands took hold of Illya's hips again, holding them steady for his driving thrusts.

Every muscle quivering with the onset of his climax, Illya sat back, his weight driving Napoleon's hips to the bed, his cock deeper into Illya's ass. His head thrown back, Illya fisted his cock, holding Napoleon deep inside as the pleasure spilled out of him. His jerking muscles clamping down with intense pleasure on the hard cock which still impaled him.

Napoleon was close. So close. Illya's hot seed spilled over his chest, splattering him with the evidence of his lover's pleasure. His own need held momentarily in abeyance, he watched wonderingly as Illya's flushed face screwed up with ecstasy as his climax hit him, then slowly relaxed, sated. He rubbed his hands gently up and down Illya's hips, wanting so desperately to move, forcing himself to wait for Illya.

The blond head lowered until Illya's forehead rested on Napoleon's breastbone. Great gasping breaths slowly came back under control, and Illya lifted carefully off, rolling to the side. Napoleon closed his eyes, his muscles trembling almost spasmodically, cock pulsing angrily. A few good jerks and he'd spill. His reaching hand was stopped, however, and he turned to glare at Illya.

Who lay on his belly next to Napoleon, face turned toward him. His hand left Napoleon's wrist as soon as their eyes met. He got his knees under him, raising his hips without moving his head and shoulders.

As guidance, it wasn't much, but a man as experienced as Napoleon, regardless of the circles in which he was experienced, didn't need more. With a sound suspiciously like a sob, he rolled to his knees and positioned himself between Illya's spread legs. He used one hand to line himself up and pushed forward with a moan.

Illya's eyes squeezed shut as Napoleon's hard cock pushed into him in one clean stroke. The first moments of penetration were always the best for him -- being opened, filled -- and this... this was exquisite. He let loose the moan rumbling through his chest, savoring the thick hardness impaling him.

Napoleon's balls swung against Illya's, his hips flush against his lover's sweet ass. He bent forward to lay his head on Illya's back, just resting there a moment. He pressed a kiss there, between the jutting shoulderblades, and pushed himself back upright. He wrapped his hands around Illya's hips and held them still as he pulled back out, then pushed home again. The brief pause had given him a second wind, and he began a slow rocking.

This, Illya thought muzzily, was perhaps the thing Napoleon did best in the world. He was a superlative spy, an excellent shot, and no one made better drinks, but at this he was a natural. He rocked counterpoint to Napoleon, moaning softly at the feeling of being emptied, then filled again. But it wasn't... quite... perfect.

"Harder, Napoleon," Illya pleaded, wanting nothing more than to feel the strength of his lover.

Napoleon increased his pace slightly, sliding home with a bit more strength, lost in the wonder of this tight, hot pleasure. Getting closer with every thrust, but holding back, holding onto his control.

"I won't break," Illya ground out. "Harder, dammit!"

The impatient tone got through where little else would have. Stung, Napoleon thrust strongly, without regard for his partner's comfort. The appreciative moan he got in response finally broke all those fine habits of concern.

Napoleon thrust hard, pounding into Illya with no restraint. He fell forward to brace himself on the mattress and thrust heavily into Illya's welcoming body, mindlessly fucking. The powerful rhythm shook their bodies, and Napoleon changed position again, wrapped one arm around Illya's waist to hold him steady as he rammed home.

Illya moaned, his erection filling out again in response to the pounding pleasure. Napoleon ground into him perfectly, holding back nothing, taking him with savage abandon. Taking him like he'd never taken anyone before, giving what he'd always held back. He was growling in Illya's ear, a heavy animal sound which reverberated through his chest and shook Illya's body almost as much as the hard thrusts. Illya tried to thrust back against his partner, but he was held too tightly -- all he could do was hang in Napoleon's powerful embrace and feel himself being impaled again and again until he half-believed Napoleon's driving cock would rip him apart, and welcomed the thought.

Napoleon's climax slammed through him without warning, taking and shaking him with waves of almost unendurable pleasure. He shouted, thrusting harder as the pleasure pumped out of him, burying his teeth in salty skin as the last spasm ripped through him. Hot liquid splashed against his arm, and he realized vaguely that Illya had come again just before the ripples of Illya's climax sent another wash of pleasure through him and he drowned in the warm rush of sensation, sinking willingly without trace.

Interior alarm clocks were a pain in the ass, Napoleon thought groggily as he slowly regained consciousness. Unlike their mechanical brethren, they couldn't be smashed or thrown across the room when they shouted at you to wake up.

Shifting sleepily, Napoleon found his cheek pillowed on soft warm skin. He smiled. Always nice to know you had a fantastic evening, even if it takes a few minutes to come back to you. He turned his head, careful not to scrape the tender skin with his stubble, and pressed a kiss to a smooth salty shoulderblade. A mental inventory failed initially to retrieve the previous night's activities, but did turn up the fact that while he was pleasantly sore, he wasn't hard. It was unusual for Napoleon Solo to wake up without a morning erection, unless he'd had very little sleep, or the sex had been very good.

A moment later, when his memory finally put in a belated appearance, he realized that it had been both a very late night and very good one. It came as something of a jolt to him, not entirely mental, that he was sleeping with, or more properly on, his prickly Russian partner.

"If that means you're awake," Illya mumbled, his voice muffled, "I trust it also means you're going to get off me."

"Um... sorry." Napoleon hastily rolled off the warm masculine body, trying not to notice how reluctant he was to do so. "Didn't mean to squash you."

"You didn't," Illya yawned, sitting up to stretch achingly. "I have to pee." He slid out of the bed and padded, unconcernedly naked, toward the bathroom, turning back for a moment at the doorway. "And shower." He brushed a hand over his semen-crusted belly with a faint smile. "I'm a mess." He disappeared behind the bathroom door.

Napoleon tugged the blanket back over himself, marveling that Illya had had the presence of mind to get it over both of them last night before dropping off, and settled on his back, ignoring the sound of water splashing in the bathroom. He also needed a shower, but wasn't sure enough of his welcome to go in there after Illya. The last twenty-four hours seemed to have been designed to drive him crazy -- out of control, frustrating, and just plain bizarre. And he didn't know into which category having the best sex of his life with his very male partner fell.

When Illya emerged from the bathroom, using a small towel to dry his hair, the larger one wrapped around his waist barely secured, Napoleon was still lying in bed, his hands clasped behind his head as he stared at the ceiling.

"We have a lot to do today."

"Hm?" Napoleon responded vaguely.

Illya frowned, resisting the impulse to stick his tongue out -- with his luck, Napoleon would catch him at it. "Mr. Waverly is expecting us at Headquarters in less than an hour, so we'll have to return the motorcycle this afternoon sometime."

"And the clothes," Napoleon put in without looking away from the ceiling.

"Oh right," Illya considered. "I'll take those back for you."

"That's okay, I can do it." Napoleon sat up, arranging the pillows behind him so he could lean back. He hadn't forgotten his intention of finagling Illya into taking the clothes back to the clinging Alexandra; it was just suddenly equally unpalatable to put Illya within range of her.

"No," Illya decreed, "I'm not letting you near that woman again. You'd never make it back."

"Oh, you've met her?"

"Unfortunately," Illya responded dryly. Finished with his hair, he lobbed both towels through the bathroom door and moved to the dresser to find some underwear. It took considerable effort to appear unaware of Napoleon's appreciative scrutiny as he dressed. "I'll take the clothes back and you can return the bike."

"Not on your life! It was your idea to steal a motorcycle from a Hell's Angel, you can risk life and limb returning it."

Illya's tousled head popped through the collar of his turtleneck and he turned to regard Napoleon appraisingly, his hands on his hips. After a moment, he smiled slyly. "Then we do both tasks together. Agreed?"

Thinking of riding on that bike again, with his arms around Illya, or Illya's around him, Napoleon slowly returned the smile. "Agreed." He looked Illya's slim form up and down, remarkably disappointed to see it disappearing under a layer of clothes, and decided that, odd as it was, nothing had ever been more perfect. "You know, Thelma might have been right."

"Thelma?" He pulled on his pants, not entirely unhappy to be almost completely dressed -- this way, he'd have no distractions when Napoleon finally rose naked from the bed.

"You know, the one with the dog."

Illya's lip curled. "Oh, her."

"Don't sound so disapproving, Illyushka. The lady may not have much taste in clothes, but she's remarkably perceptive when it comes to the finer emotions."

Illya ran over the evening's lunacy in his mind, and began to smile. "You may be right." He brushed back his hair with both hands. "Are you getting up? Mr. Waverly is expecting us."

"Unfortunately, my dear Illya," Napoleon drawled without moving, "I haven't a thing to wear."

Illya frowned, then shrugged. "You could borrow one of my suits."

"Not on your life. I wouldn't be caught dead in one of your suits, even if it fit me."

"We're not that different in size, Napoleon."

"Perhaps not, but we're a world apart when it comes to taste."

"At least get cleaned up," Illya urged. "I'll find you something to wear while you're in the shower."

Napoleon yawned. "Very well." He tossed back the covers and strolled into the bathroom, well aware of the way Illya's eyes followed him and nothing loathe to put on a show for him.

The shower curtain was pushed back partway through his morning ablutions, and Napoleon suffered the indignity of being grabbed by the ears and yanked into an enthusiastic kiss. He was more than willing to comply. After a minute, Illya released him from the steamy embrace and pulled the curtain closed again.

"Clothes are on the sink. We've got a meeting with Waverly in twenty minutes." Illya closed the door behind him and leaned back against it to catch his breath and wait, a smile twitching at the corners of his mouth.

Napoleon rinsed off, shut off the shower and grabbed a towel. As he was drying off, his eyes fell on the clothes so thoughtfully provided. A pair of jeans, white t-shirt and familiar tie-dyed shirt.

"Illya Nicolaievich!"


Feedback is always appreciated.

[link to the Reach homepage]