Disclaimer: Don't own 'em. Don't make money off 'em. If pressed, I'd admit they belong to somebody else though I'm not sure who, but really that's slavery. They should be free! Rated NC-17 for m/m and m/f/m smut. (Yes, there is actual hetsex in this. It's been so long I nearly forgot how to write it...)
Soundtrack: Phil Roy: Issues & Options; Peter Gabriel: Secret World Live; Jesse Cook: Gravity; Chet Baker: Deep in a Dream.
Thanks to all the lovely people who betaed this for me lending insight, firmness, and the occasional smack upside the head. As before, thanks to Linda Cornett for the tapes, zines, and enthusiasm. And also, thanks to the very helpful Aneiric for correcting my Russian. --Kellie
© 2004 Kellie Matthews
After checking the third cell and finding it empty, Napoleon started to wonder if the tip about Illya's whereabouts had been wrong, or worse, a ruse to lure him into investigating. Waverly had wanted him to wait, but impatient to find his missing partner, Napoleon hadn't. It was, he realized, fairly predictable behavior. Just the sort of thing THRUSH would be expecting of him.
The main floor was still deserted. With heightened caution he set out to search the rest of the house, hoping that the distraction he'd arranged would hold the attention of its occupants for a little longer. All the guards were down by the gate trying to put out the brush fire Napoleon had started by tossing a cigarette into a stand of dry grass and weeds, right near where he'd seen them stand and smoke. They'd be less likely to suspect it was a diversion there.
Failing that, he hoped his backup would arrive before things got too out of hand.
He slipped cautiously up the stairs, thankful that the house was new and the treads carpeted, making them less likely to creak and betray his footfalls.
The first room he came to was being used as an office, equipped with desk, phone, typewriter, filing cabinets, and a squat, old-fashioned safe, but fortunately no occupants. The bathroom was likewise empty. As he approached the second room, a sound brought him up short, and he listened intently.
A moan. "Nyet, puzh . . . "
The timbre was familiar. The color of it. He knew that voice.
"English," a man snapped, interrupting. "This is tiresome."
"Please. No more."
Illya. Sounding more. . . broken . . . than Napoleon had ever heard him before. Eyes narrowed, he put his hand on the doorknob, turning it silently, pushing the door open slowly, just an inch.
"You know how to make it stop," the unfamiliar voice said silkily.
He couldn't see much. Just a sliver of what looked like a bed, and the backside of someone clad in those ridiculous baby-blue THRUSH coveralls. Someone female from the way they filled said coveralls as they bent over the bed. He couldn't see the man he'd heard.
"Now, now, Mr. Kuryakin," the woman purred. "You know that won't help. Just tell us what we want to know and we'll finish this."
Napoleon pushed the door open a little wider, saw a familiar bare foot, toes cocked toward the ceiling. Some sort of restraint looped the ankle and secured it to one sturdy bedpost. The taut calf and thigh above it were also bare. He couldn't see more than that. A second figure moved into his field of vision, this one very large and wearing a suit. He moved close beside the woman, reaching out.
"Mne nuzhno . . ." Illya gasped. "Eto prichin'ayet bol' mne."
That word Napoleon knew. He aimed and fired, twice in quick succession, wishing he had bullets not sleep darts in his Special. Nobody hurt Illya and got away with it. Not if he could help it. Eyeing the size of the man, Napoleon dispatched a third dart. Better safe than sorry.
The two figures crumpled, the woman falling to the floor, the man across the bed, and incidentally, Illya. Though the view was partly obscured by the prone man, Napoleon was finally able to see his partner. If the bare legs, chest, and arms were anything to go by, Illya was stark naked. He was also bound spread-eagled to the bed by restraints at wrists and ankles. His face and chest were flushed, his usually-bright hair dark and lank with sweat. He turned his head toward Napoleon, and his eyes seemed almost glazed, but when Napoleon came through the door the relief on his face was unmistakable.
"Puzhalsta, Napoleon," he panted. "Osvobodi men’a."
"Coming right up," Napoleon said, crossing the room quickly. He knelt on the bed and reached across to unbuckle the restraint on Illya's far wrist. The fact that Illya was speaking Russian worried him. Illya made a point of not speaking his native tongue, except with Napoleon, who had pestered him for language lessons.
"Ne mogu dyshat'," Illya panted.
"You can't what?" Napoleon asked, not placing the verb.
"Can't . . . breathe . . ."
Napoleon supposed having about three-hundred pounds of THRUSH goon draped across your diaphragm would do that. What was it about THRUSH that attracted guys who were roughly the size of a grand piano? He grabbed the man by the back of his suit and wrestled him off Illya, dropping him to the floor, not particularly caring that he broke his fall with his face.
When he turned back to Illya, his eyes widened, and then narrowed. What the hell? Illya wasn't just naked; he was very, very aroused. In addition, a narrow strap of what looked like black leather was wound around his cock and balls, which were dusky blue-purple with congestion. Napoleon flinched in empathy. God, that had to hurt. Wrists and ankles could wait. Never before faced with a situation that called for a touch of this intimacy with Illya, Napoleon shot him an apologetic glance.
"Look, I . . . um. . . sorry about this, but I kind of have to touch you. . . "
Illya bit his lip, closed his eyes, and nodded. A quick, embarrassed search revealed the snap that held the contraption closed. He popped the snap open, releasing the tension on the leather. Illya shuddered and moaned, hiding his face against Napoleon's thigh, and came.
Only luck kept it from hitting Napoleon in the face. Instead it splattered the wall, and the headboard, and the pillows. Napoleon watched, slightly awestruck by both range and quantity. No one back home in his adolescent 'shooting matches' could have matched either. He whistled softly. "Nice shootin', Tex."
After a moment he realized he was gently stroking his hand up and down Illya's thigh, perilously close to still-turgid genitalia. It was tempting to continue, but though they were close, they weren't that close, so instead he pulled away and went to work on the closest wrist restraint.
"What the hell were they doing to you?" he asked, freeing Illya's right hand, cataloging the bruises and abrasions scattering the pale torso and face. Looked like they'd started with the more mundane forms of torture before moving on to new territory.
To his surprise, Illya didn't automatically reach down to make sure he was all right, instead his hand went to his face, hiding his expressions behind his broad palm. “Oni pytalis' . . . I mean, they wanted information," he said dully, voice slightly muffled. "When other methods failed, they tried this."
"Pretty strange way to torture someone," Napoleon said, finishing with the buckle on the left. "Especially you. Obviously they don't know you very well. You'd think they'd save this sort of thing for me," he joked. "It's more my style."
"Perhaps they knew better than you think," Illya said, sitting up, face turned away as he leaned down to fumble with the buckle on his right ankle. "Ya skazal . . . I told them what they wanted to know. They just didn't know it."
Napoleon paused in freeing Illya's left ankle, staring at the back of his head. "What?"
"Ya govoril pa russki," Illya sighed. "They could not understand."
"Which is as good as not telling them at all," Napoleon said firmly.
"Would be, had I meant to."
Napoleon ignored him for a moment as the final buckle came free. "Come on now, up you go," he held out a hand to help Illya to his feet. Illya took it, but didn't move, instead he turned Napoleon's hand over, running his thumb across the lines of his palm, staring at it intently. After a moment he lifted it, holding it against his cheek for a moment before turning his head to let his lips and tongue follow the same course, up to his index finger, which he took into his mouth, the touch warm, wet, and slick.
Napoleon shivered with response, then tried to tug his hand free, consternated. Illya didn't do this kind of thing. But Illya's fingers wrapped around his wrist, holding him in place. "Horosho."
"Illya, cut it out!" he hissed. "What's with you?"
"We've got to get out of here, get up!"
His finger was reluctantly released, and Illya looked up at him from under his eyelashes. "Must we?"
"Yes. Now. Up." Napoleon said firmly, wondering why the hell his partner was behaving so oddly.
Illya sighed. "Very well." He shifted his grip, threading his fingers through Napoleon's, and let himself be pulled to his feet.
"First things first, we have to find you something to wear."
Illya nodded, and moved to crouch beside the curvaceous blonde on the floor, turning her over to unfasten the coverall she wore and begin to wrestle her out of it.
"Hey!" Napoleon protested, shocked. "What are you . . ."
“Ona - boleye moyewo razmera.” Illya stopped, looking frustrated, and shook his head. "She's more my size than that." Illya jerked his head toward the prone man as he continued stripping the coverall off the woman, leaving her clad in a bra and panties.
"Oh." Napoleon said unable to argue that point. "What did you mean, 'had you meant to?'"
Illya paused, holding the blue coverall. "Just what I said. Ya ne . . . was not deliberate. Ya sozhaleyu . . . hard for to think pa anglijski . . . in English." He shook himself, clearly concentrating. "Had I more control, I would have told them words they understood."
He sounded bitter and angry. Napoleon wasn't entirely sure what all his captors had done to him, but at the very least he had to be feeling humiliated. Even so, he was sure Illya was exaggerating his own responses. "Look, Illya, we all have our moments of . . . "
"Dostatochno, Napoleon. Nothing will change facts."
Napoleon sighed. "We'll talk about this later. Right now, we're here to retrieve some plans, so let's get them and get the hell out of here."
Illya nodded and struggled into the coverall. As he tried to pull it on, one leg at a time, he wobbled like a drunk, and Napoleon reached out to steady him. Illya leaned into him for a moment, his head against Napoleon's shoulder, and then he slowly pushed away, his gaze on Napoleon's face. That close, Napoleon could see that his pupils were dilated far more than they should be, and suddenly understood what was going on. Illya was stoned half out of his mind.
Illya touched Napoleon's cheek with two fingers. "Pretty eyes."
Napoleon smiled and ruffled his hair, something that he'd never dare under normal circumstances. "Thanks, partner, yours too. Now come on, get dressed, and let's pray you can still crack a safe stoned."
Illya pulled himself up to his full height and lifted his chin. "I," he said with great dignity if not grammar, "can crack safe in sleep."
With Napoleon helping, Illya finally finished dressing and then turned and walked toward the door. His gait was awkward, completely without his usual grace. Napoleon's gaze moved to the assortment of sex toys on the bedside table and his gaze narrowed.
"Did they . . . are you . . . hurt?"
Illya's eyes met his. "Nyet."
"Illya," he said again, losing the sympathy and adding a note of command.
"Pravda. Is true."
Their eyes held for long moments. "All right then. Let's go crack that safe."
He would have a go at cracking his partner later.
* * *
Somehow Illya managed not to think about it while they recovered the plans for the latest THRUSH superweapon and made good their escape, meeting up with the backup team from the closest UNCLE branch office about a mile down the road. It wasn't so hard at first, as thinking about much of anything took quite a lot of effort, but hours later, back at said office, after finally getting a chance to actually look at the plans, it began to grow easier.
Then he had to try very hard not to be resentful of the fact that everything he'd gone through had been for the sake of a set of utterly useless blueprints, since the production of the weapon as designed would require breaking several laws of physics, which he was fairly sure was still impossible. It wasn't the first time they'd risked life and limb for similarly useless plans, either. Sometimes he wondered if a group of science-fiction writers had stumbled upon a novel way to make a living-- by designing impossible weapons for intellectually-impaired THRUSH overlords. It wouldn't surprise him at all.
To his relief, Napoleon had made no further attempts to question him, and seemed completely unembarrassed by what had happened. Sometimes he thought Napoleon must have been gifted at birth with an extra store of self-possession by some itinerant witch or fairy, like in that animated film of Sleeping Beauty. Not only had Napoleon taken everything in stride, but once they'd reached the local office, he had somehow found clothing to replace the coveralls that marked Illya as even more of an enemy than his name and nationality did. Granted, just dungarees and a plain white shirt, but he'd been grateful. Even better, Napoleon had procured Illya the use of the local office's executive washroom with its small shower. He might not look dirty, but he felt it. Almost as if there was dirt under his skin.
There, under the hot, needle-sharp spray, his self-imposed calm had failed him and memories came back, as wrenchingly unspeakable as if he were still shackled to that bed with four hands and two mouths stripping him of all his illusions. He'd thought he was invulnerable. Prided himself on it. There was a saying about how pride went before a fall, and fall he had. He had never realized that while pain was something to which he had become inured, pleasure was not.
It hadn't been much of an issue back at home, as he was generally too busy to indulge, and that factor hadn't changed once he had come to the United States. Here it was also coupled with the distrust factor. In general, Americans did not trust Russians. His few experiences since coming to New York had mostly been with European women. To cap it all, he had somehow come to associate pleasure with weakness. He scowled at the shower tiles. Clearly in that, he had not been in error.
He adjusted the water to cold and scrubbed harder, hoping the discomfort would desensitize his skin. It should not have affected him so strongly. It wasn't as if he were a virgin. But everything had seemed so . . . intense. Even now, hours later, colors seemed brighter, sounds louder, and his skin still tingled as if he were being touched all over by a faintly electrified field. He'd never been held on the edge for so long before. Until he felt as if he might actually expire from it. The worst of it was the shameful realization that the enemy had made him feel that . . . it was unbearable.
The only saving grace was that they were too ignorant to know they'd broken him. But that grace might not be permanent. Sudden nausea swamped him, making him gag. If they had recorded him. . . Gospodi pomiluy! He should have thought of that, should have searched for that before they had left. If they had a recording all it would take was a translator and he would have betrayed everything he held dear. He had to tell Napoleon.
He shut off the water and dressed without drying off, the heavy denim difficult to wrestle on over wet skin. Finally dressed, he pushed open the door, only to find Napoleon waiting on the couch in the next room. He looked up, brushing back the lock of dark hair that fell across his forehead, the gesture comfortingly familiar.
"Better?" he asked, then took a longer look at Illya's face. "What's wrong?" he asked, coming to his feet, concern on his face as he put his hand on Illya's arm.
The warmth of Napoleon's hand was almost painful on his chilled and strangely hypersensitive skin, sending an unexpected shower of sparks along raw nerves. He responded to the touch, cock thickening, balls tightening. Shocked, he pulled away abruptly, hoping Napoleon wouldn't notice. "What if they recorded me?"
Napoleon looked at him blankly for a moment, and then smiled. "Not to worry. While you were cracking the safe, I was checking for surveillance devices." He slid a hand into his pocket and came out with a small reel of magnetic tape. "I ran this across a magnet while you were evaluating those plans a little while ago. I figured you could burn it later, just to make sure."
Napoleon pressed the cool plastic into his hand. "Spasiba," he said, clutching it in relief. "Bolshoje spasiba."
"Any time, tovarishch. You'd do the same for me." He reached for Illya's arm again, and then stopped halfway there and redirected his hand to scratch his own neck in a movement that looked only slightly awkward.
Illya looked away. "You would not get yourself into such a situation to begin with."
"Oh, I can't say that," Napoleon said airily. "In this business you never know what sort of predicament you'll end up in." He turned toward the door, walking briskly. "I think UNCLE has had enough of our hides for one day. Our flight doesn't leave until ten tomorrow, so we're free for the night, the local office has made hotel reservations for us, and I got a recommendation for a good restaurant for dinner. I know you're always hungry, so let's go."
Illya realized his partner was doing his best to make things feel normal, so he nodded. "Ready when you are." He took a step, looked down at his feet, and managed a smile. "Though I think we must make a stop first, as most restaurants have a policy of 'no shirt, no shoes, no service.'"
Napoleon looked chagrined. "Damn. I knew I forgot something. I should have had Lindsey pick up shoes along with the clothes."
Napoleon smiled and winked. "Morton's assistant. She's very nice." His hands sketched a curving figure in the air.
Illya eyed him. "You would not rather take this Lindsey to dinner?"
Napoleon shook his head. "No. Come on, let's go."
Feeling oddly cheered, Illya followed Napoleon out into the warmth of a Southern Californian summer dusk.
* * *
Napoleon left Illya alone about what had happened until they were safely ensconced in their hotel for the night. When his partner had just picked at his dinner he'd been concerned. It was extremely rare that anything affected Illya's appetite. He'd hoped Illya would bring it up himself but after watching Illya sit on his bed cleaning his gun in silence for the better part of an hour, he decided it was time to try again.
Illya didn't look up. "Yes?"
"Everything all right?"
"Quite all right." He still didn't look up.
"I . . . ah . . . if you want to talk about anything, I'm here."
"I'm perfectly aware that you're here, Napoleon."
"Well, then talk to me, damn it!"
"There's nothing to discuss."
Napoleon stifled a sigh and lay back on his bed. "Whatever you say." Clearly he wasn't going to get anything out of Illya tonight.
Finished cleaning his gun, Illya slid it beneath his pillow, then picked up the overnight bag he'd bought at Woolworth's earlier that evening, along with socks, underwear, and a pair of canvas sneakers. Taking the bag with him, he disappeared into the bathroom and closed the door. A few moments later the shower came on. And stayed on. For a very long time. Illya always took long showers but this one was a record even for him. Especially since he'd showered earlier and hadn't done anything to get dirty since then. Napoleon sat up, listening hard for any sign of distress, but hearing only the water. He looked at his watch, eyes widening as he realized nearly forty minutes had passed. Finally, after another eight minutes, the water shut off.
Napoleon pretended to be absorbed in his New York Times when the bathroom door eventually opened, studying Illya surreptitiously over the top of the paper. He looked . . . grim. Mouth set, eyes hooded. Lacking pajamas, he wore only a t-shirt and briefs, and his exposed skin looked reddened, nearly raw. As Napoleon groped for some way to make Illya talk to him, Illya turned back the covers on his bed, slid into it, and snapped off his light. He lay like a corpse, stiffly, fingers interlaced across his chest. His eyes were closed, and his breathing determinedly slow and even.
After a few moments, Napoleon put aside his paper, turned off his own light, and lay back, worried, but unable to do anything about it. Eventually he drifted off. At some point he woke, and remembering, glanced over at his partner. His eyes were adjusted enough to the dark that he could tell Illya still lay in the same position, but now Napoleon could see the faint gleam of open eyes as Illya stared, rarely blinking, at the dark ceiling.
His first instinct was to offer the comfort of a hand on his shoulder and words of support. But then he remembered the way Illya had flinched from his touch earlier that day, and knew that his words of support would be perceived as implying weakness, so instead he stayed where he was and pretended he was still asleep until real slumber reclaimed him.
* * *
The flight back to New York was difficult. Flying coach often was, and right now it was worse than normal. Illya was in no state to cope with the shrieks of bored children and the press of people far too close. He managed to deal with it by closing his eyes and pretending to sleep, which allowed him to at least shut off one of his senses. It helped that Napoleon had let him have the window seat, so his partner's body served as a sort of insulation from the other passengers. He isolated himself from his memories by trying to recall the details of the latest physics journal he'd read. Finally the interminable flight was over and Napoleon found them a taxi to share from the airport. To Illya's surprise, Napoleon directed the driver to Illya's apartment rather than to the tailor shop.
"We're not going to work?" he asked carefully, not wanting to say too much in front of the driver.
"I talked to Uncle Alexander this morning. He said that since he'd be in meetings all day and we had a long flight we could take the rest of the day off and report in tomorrow morning."
Napoleon looked utterly sincere. But then, he always did, even when lying through his teeth. It was a gift. Illya was suspicious anyway. "I don't need coddling, Napoleon."
One dark eyebrow lifted. "If you want to go to work and sit around doing paperwork
until five, feel free, but I'm planning to enjoy my few hours of freedom and
get a good night's sleep in my own bed. That motel bed gave me a crick in my
neck. Plus I figure they owe us, anyway. They pay us like we work eight-to-five
but it's not like we can just take off work at five if we're in the middle of
"You have a point," Illya mused, and then frowned. "But if I get a bad performance review for poor attendance, it's your fault."
Napoleon grinned at him. "Since I write your performance reviews, I don't think that will be much of a problem, do you?"
For the first time in days, Illya felt the corner of his mouth lift with honest amusement. "No, I suppose not." He picked up his small duffel and opened the taxi door, then hesitated. "What is the fare to here?"
"Three bucks," the cabbie growled around the stub of cigar he had clenched in his teeth.
"Don't worry about it," Napoleon cut in. "I'll take care of it when I get to my place."
Illya looked at him suspiciously once more. Napoleon never paid for anything that didn't involve clothing or women if he could help it.
As if reading his mind, Napoleon rolled his eyes. "Did you forget your money is wherever your clothes ended up? I'll put it on our expense report."
Illya felt heat rise in his face. He had forgotten. "Thank you," he muttered, turning away.
He turned back, saw Napoleon leaning toward him with a neutral expression on his face, but concern in his eyes. "I . . ." He hesitated. "Sleep well, my friend."
Illya was sure that wasn't what Napoleon had meant to say, though he wasn't sure what he had meant to say. Most of the time he could read Napoleon like the proverbial book, but every so often that facility failed him, and this was one of those times. He didn't think Napoleon would like the truth, so instead of replying with 'unlikely' he simply nodded to acknowledge the concern, and then made his way up the stairs and into the foyer of his building. Realizing belatedly that his keys were somewhere in California along with his wallet and clothing, he touched the buzzer for the manager's apartment. After a moment, his landlady's not-so-dulcet tones grated out of the speaker.
"Mrs. Gutmark, forgive me, but . . ."
"Lost your key again, did you Mr. K?"
He was relieved to hear that she sounded more amused than annoyed. "I'm afraid so."
"Go on up, I'll meet you. Good thing I had a couple spares made. Seemed like the thing to do."
Indeed. He seemed to lose his keys every other mission. Perhaps he ought to just start leaving them with her when he left. It would certainly save a lot of effort. Maybe he should leave his clothing as well, and just go naked, since half the time he ended up that way. Realizing that he was becoming what Napoleon liked to refer to as 'punchy,' he moved to the stairs and started up them, feeling every bruise and sore muscle left from the beatings they had tried before they had resorted to more novel forms of torture. Reaching the third floor he leaned against the doorjamb of his apartment to wait.
A few moments later he heard shuffling footsteps and turned to greet his landlady, resplendent as usual in a worn pink chenille housecoat and a pair of turquoise terrycloth mules, her curlered hair covered with a brightly printed chiffon scarf. He wondered if she ever actually removed the curlers and put on clothing, as in nearly two years he had never yet managed to see her in anything else. It was almost a uniform. She studied him for a moment, and then let out a whistle and shook her head.
"You know, Mr. K., half the time you come back from these business trips of yours looking like a bantam-weight golden-glover who just went ten rounds with Cassius Clay. If I was you I'd think about getting into some other line of work."
"I'll take it under advisement," he said, ignoring her obvious curiosity as to what it was he actually did for a living. "May I have the key?"
"Oh, sure." She pulled a key from her pocket. It had a string attached to it, with a small round pasteboard tag that bore his apartment number. "There you go." She studied him critically. "You don't look so hot. Better get some rest."
"I plan to, thank you, Mrs. Gutmark."
He let himself into his apartment, closed and locked the door, reset the security system, and then dropped down onto the chair by the window with a sigh, trying not to remember what he'd resorted to in desperation while they'd had him on that bed. For a little while after Napoleon had arrived to deliver him from their clutches he'd been unable to tell fantasy from reality. Fortunately if Napoleon had thought his actions odd, he'd just put them down to the influence of the drug. Finally Illya managed to stop thinking about it. . . about anything at all, his mind deliberately blank.
After a while he noticed the light had changed, and his fingers were numb where they still held the straps of his carryall. Letting it fall to the floor, he stood up and walked to the bathroom, shedding clothes as he went. Once inside the small room, he turned on the shower as hard and hot as he could stand it and stepped into the white-tiled enclosure, letting the water run until there was only a trace of warmth left. After drying off, he crawled into bed, exhaustion finally getting the upper hand.
He awoke, throat sore, pulse racing, covered in sweat, and strongly aroused. Unfortunately he remembered quite clearly what he'd been dreaming about. He could still feel the imagined roughness of high quality lightweight wool against his cheek and lips, and smell the familiar scent of his partner's sweat. He stared into the darkness for a moment, and then jumped, startled anew at the sound of knocking at his door. Realizing that must have been what had woken him to begin with, he rose and pulled on his robe, its loose folds hiding the slowly subsiding evidence of his arousal.
Reaching under his pillow for his gun, he was momentarily shocked to find it gone, then he remembered having hung it, still holstered, over the bathroom doorknob. He shook his head at his own carelessness and retrieved his weapon on his way to the door. Standing to one side, he aimed toward the door as he called out "Who is it?"
"Mrs. Gutmark," came the slightly grumpy-sounding response.
He sighed and relaxed his stance, slipping his gun into the pocket of his robe but keeping a hand on it in case she had been coerced. He opened the door just far enough to see that she was alone before swinging it wide.
"Is there a problem?" he asked, knowing there was or she wouldn't be there at . . . he had no idea what time it was, but assumed it must be late.
She looked him up and down, frowning a little, but not in an annoyed way. She looked more concerned. "Mr. Horowitz in 4C said you were yelling something in a foreign language. I thought I'd better check on you."
He felt a blush start and looked away. "Forgive me, I must have been dreaming. I didn't mean to be a nuisance."
"We were just worried about you," she said, her expression uncomfortably fond.
She gave him a narrow look startlingly reminiscent of the ones Napoleon gave him when he lied, but then she looked away. "You know, my Jake, God rest him, used to have dreams that made him yell, if you could call them dreams. He was never the same after the war. Sometimes your eyes . . . look like his. Like they've seen more than they should have for someone so young." She shook her head, and then locked eyes with him. "He used to say he was fine, too. Right up until the day he washed a bottle of sleeping pills down with whiskey. I don't want to find you like I found him."
Stunned, Illya could think of no response for a moment. He'd never gotten used to the fact that Americans could be so disconcertingly blunt. After a moment he shook his head. "I would not. It's not that bad. I won't let it be."
She looked at him for a long moment. "All right. You make sure of that."
He nodded, and she turned and started to shuffle off. "Mrs. Gutmark?"
She turned, eyebrows lifted.
"I'm sorry for your loss," he said awkwardly.
She smiled gently, looking not quite as worn or as old as usual. "Thank you, Mr. K."
He waited until she had gone down the stairs, and then closed his door, mentally apologizing to Mr. Horowitz in 4C. He glanced at the clock and sighed. It was only a little after ten. He had a long night ahead of him. Going to the kitchen, he tried his graduate-school advisor's old remedy for sleeplessness, sweetened condensed milk thinned with a little tea and a shot of whiskey, heated in a pan. He drank it down, and then not liking the way it coated his mouth, he detoured to the bathroom and brushed his teeth.
He thought briefly about taking another shower before he realized that his skin already itched from all the showers he'd taken in the past two days, and none of them had made him feel any cleaner, nor would they. The taint he felt was not emanating from his skin.
As he replaced the toothpaste in the medicine cabinet, he saw the vial of sleeping pills the doctor had given him the last time he'd gotten shot. He hadn't taken them then. Pain had never interfered with his ability to sleep. He remembered staring at the ceiling all through the previous night. Remembered the dream. Opening the bottle he shook one pill into his hand, hoped it didn't react badly with whiskey, and swallowed it dry.
* * *
Napoleon watched surreptitiously as Illya walked into Waverly's office for the daily agents' briefing. He looked better, or at least more rested, than he had the previous day, but there was still a tightness about his expression that told Napoleon all was not well. He took a seat next to Napoleon and opened the file in front of him with only a curt nod acknowledging him, another sign that something was off. Most briefings they spent rolling their eyes and making faces at each other over all the idiotic things THRUSH had come up with that week. Mr. Waverly cleared his throat, demanding focus. Illya kept reading.
"Good to have you back, Mr. Kuryakin."
That got his attention. Illya looked up, startled, as Waverly went on.
"I've reviewed the report on the California operation. I think we were fortunate that the weapon design was impractical."
"Indeed, sir. Quite fortunate," Illya said drily, and then turned to Napoleon with an unreadable expression that Napoleon instantly recognized as 'Report? What report?'
He smiled blandly back at him, trying to convey 'Later.' It must have worked, because Illya turned his attention back to Mr. Waverly as he continued the briefing.
Briefings seemed interminable at the best of times but today's was worse than usual. Probably because Napoleon spent the time wondering which body part Illya was going to damage once they were alone. Tricking Illya was never without consequences. Finally it ended, and they walked in silence to Napoleon's office. Once inside, Napoleon waited for the door to close behind them and then turned, waiting. He didn't have to wait long.
"Would you care to tell me just when you wrote 'our' report?"
"Last night. Couldn't sleep, so I decided to be productive."
"I see. And my signature?"
"What sort of agent would I be if I couldn't forge a signature or two?"
Illya snorted. "May I read the report?"
"Waverly has. . ."
"Your copy," Illya interrupted.
"I, ah, already gave it to Marcia for filing."
Illya looked at him for a long moment, then frowned and left the office. Before the door slid shut he glimpsed Illya at Marcia's desk, and winced. He was sure she hadn't had time to send it down to the file room yet. A few moments later the door slid open again, readmitting Illya, who held a familiar manila folder. He sat down on the edge of Napoleon's desk and started to read.
Napoleon briefly considered sitting down, but decided against it. Better just take it standing up.
When he'd finished reading, Illya looked up, his gaze flat. "It seems you left out some details."
"Nothing I felt was relevant," Napoleon said carefully.
"You don't consider it relevant that I broke under interrogation?"
"We've already discussed that. As far as I'm concerned you didn't break, since you had enough presence of mind to use a language your captors didn't understand."
Illya stood, dropping the file on the desk, and came forward, fists clenched. Napoleon braced himself, but Illya merely moved into his space and stood there for a long moment.
"You're not that naïve, Napoleon. It wasn't deliberate on my part, and it was sheer luck that none of my captors spoke Russian. As it now stands, there are at least two THRUSH agents who know exactly what to do to break me. I am a liability."
"No, there are not," Napoleon said firmly, sure of himself here. "They have no idea. I suspect your use of Russian under the circumstances was a result of training, not luck. And in any case, you were high as a kite so whatever you said probably made about as much sense as Jabberwocky. By the way, the California office sent in the report on your blood sample. They were very excited about it, said they turned up a pretty high concentration of some amphetamine they've never seen before. They'd like to talk to you about it when you have time." He turned and sorted through the stuff on his desk, found the paper he wanted and held it out. "Here's a copy of what their lab guys told our lab guys."
Diverted, as Napoleon had hoped, by something scientific, Illya took the page,
frowning as he read.
"Methylene-dioxy-N-methylamphetamine? And they've not encountered it before? I wouldn't have thought an amphetamine would produce such responses, but then, I'm a physicist, not a . . ." He stopped suddenly, and glared at Napoleon. "I will not be so easily distracted, nor will I have you covering for me. Mr. Waverly should be informed."
Napoleon took a step forward, using his slight height advantage. He rarely felt the need to invoke rank, but he knew nothing else was going to work. "As CEA, it's my call whether or not an agent is a security risk. I've evaluated the information and feel confident the situation won't repeat itself. End of discussion." He saw Illya was about to protest so he made it more official. "That's an order."
Illya shut his mouth, sent Napoleon a look that would have stripped paint, and turned to leave. Napoleon stepped forward, putting a hand on his shoulder to stop him and urge him to turn. Illya stopped, but didn't turn. Napoleon found himself staring at the back of Illya's neck, noticing the way his hair curved against the fine-grained skin there. "Illya. . ." he said, not quite sure what he wanted to say.
A slight shiver ran through his partner, and he briefly considered removing his hand, but decided against it. Sometimes their lives depended on being able to touch each other. Illya would just have to get over this.
"Yes sir?" Illya growled, surly and sarcastic.
That response, so normal, made him smile. He relaxed his grip on Illya's shoulder and rubbed it lightly. "We need to get ready for that little job Waverly wanted us to do."
"A milk run," Illya grumbled, leaning very slightly into Napoleon's touch. Pleased by that small sign of acceptance, Napoleon put both hands on his shoulders and rubbed harder. Illya sighed and rolled his head from side to side. "Why do we have to take the new graduates out? Why can't their trainer?"
"You already know the answer to that. Waverly wants them to experience working with senior agents."
"Couldn't they make do with someone slightly less senior?"
"Now, Illya, it's an honor to be selected."
Illya looked back over his shoulder, a faint smile shaping the muscles around his mouth. "I trust I don't have to remind you what happened the last time we were given such an honor?"
"No." Napoleon made a face.
"Good. I would prefer not to have to work with a dozen random agents while you recover from a sprained ankle."
"That won't happen again."
"Lightning doesn't strike twice. Besides, it's your turn to get hurt this time."
He chuckled, patted Illya's shoulders and then pushed slightly with his fingertips. "Get a move on. We have a freshman class to intimidate."
* * *
Someone was stroking his hair. It was quite pleasant, really. It had been a long time since anyone had done that. Occasionally the hand would stray a little lower, thumb smoothing along his cheekbone. That also felt good. He turned slightly to encourage that, and the thumb slid down to his mouth, across his lips, parting them slightly. Even better. He liked this dream. Let his tongue flick out to taste. That was odd. The flavor of gun oil was not one he generally found erotic.
The thumb returned to his cheek, and despite the taste, he wanted it back. He turned his head, the movement oddly difficult, feeling the scratchy softness of wool against his face, smelled a familiar, comforting male scent, combined with the heavy, sweet fragrance of freshly mown grass. He nuzzled into the wool and warmth and felt it growing beneath his cheek. Fingers attempted to slide between him and the wool, and he pushed them aside with his nose. Inhaled deeply that familiar scent, shifted his own hips to try to adjust the press of a seam in an increasingly sensitive spot. If he was dreaming about this, then that meant it was Alexei who held him, though his times with Alexei had never featured gun oil.
Alexei cleared his throat.
That pleasant baritone did not belong to Alexei. Illya's eyes shot open and he shoved himself off Napoleon's lap, trying to scramble to his feet and failing miserably as vertigo canted everything about twenty degrees off true and his arms and legs failed entirely to move as directed. Napoleon caught and held him, pulling him back into his lap.
"Stop that, settle down." Napoleon shook him slightly, caging him firmly with both arms, leaning across his middle to keep him in place. "It'll be at least ten more minutes before you should even think about moving."
"What . . ." he began, and then he remembered. The training mission. He had come up behind Napoleon and one of the trainees, hissed to get Napoleon's attention, and apparently startled the trainee, who had whirled around and . . . shot him. He remembered starting to fall, remembered Napoleon's look of horror, and that was it. "Winkler," he said heavily.
Napoleon winced. "Yeah. Winkler."
"The new formula?"
He sighed. Napoleon was right. The new sleep-dart formula lasted much longer than the old one and had a paralytic component as well. He was essentially helpless until it wore off completely. Resigned to remaining where he was, he turned his head and looked around. They appeared to be sitting in the shade of some trees. "Where are we?"
"The park across the street from where we staged."
"Where are the trainees?"
Staring up at Napoleon's face from beneath it, he could see Napoleon's jaw tighten.
"I sent them back to HQ. It was obvious they weren't ready to be out of school yet."
"Mm," Illya said noncommittally. It did seem a bit unfair to punish the whole class for the transgressions of a single student, but then, he wasn't CEA. After a few moments he realized something odd. Unless given the antidote, it took a good half hour to forty-five minutes for the new formula sleep-dart to wear off enough that the subject achieved consciousness, slightly longer for the paralytic to wear off completely. However, having experienced the antidote's side-effects before, he was fairly certain he had not been given any. "How long have we been here?"
Napoleon moved his arm to look at his watch. "About forty-two minutes."
Illya mulled that over. Napoleon had apparently been sitting on the ground in a park, holding him, for nearly an hour. "Why?"
Napoleon didn't pretend not to know what he was asking. "We both know what that antidote's like. Definitely a case of the cure being worse than the disease. I think it took four days for the damned headache to wear off last time. It was a nice day, the park was handy, this little copse nicely secluded, and I figured I owed you, since it was my fault you got shot anyway."
"How was it your fault?"
"I tempted the Fates, my friend. I shouldn't have brought you to Their attention."
Illya thought back, and realized what Napoleon was referring to. He chuckled. "This is much better than a sprained ankle."
He saw the contours of Napoleon's jaw change and knew he was smiling.
"It wasn't your fault." The words came out of his mouth without conscious thought. He pressed his lips tightly closed as if that would prevent it from happening again.
Napoleon shifted a little and looked down at him. "No? I thought it was always my fault when things go wrong."
"I should have realized the trainees would be jumpy. My performance is off today."
"Why is that?"
Damn. Cornered himself. "I . . . slept poorly last night." He wasn't about to admit that he'd still been feeling a little hung-over from the sleeping pill. They made him feel slow-witted for hours after they should have worn off. It was why he hated using them.
"So this was all just an underhanded way of getting a nap?" Napoleon joked.
"Certainly," Illya replied. "You're such a slave driver I knew I could never get one without external assistance."
Napoleon laughed, shaking his head. "Sneaky Russian."
He gave Napoleon a smug smile, one he didn't feel. Napoleon seemed more relaxed now, which was good, but if it hadn't been for the after-effects of the sleep-dart, Illya would have been far from the same state. Instead, his mind was tense, but his body was relaxed, and it felt extremely strange. He wondered if Napoleon had noticed his erection earlier, which had subsided at some point during his panic attack. There was really no way to know, though. Wondered too if he had imagined a matching response when, mostly dreaming, he had nuzzled Napoleon's groin. Probably not, he decided. Napoleon made no secret of his sensual nature. He probably responded to stimulus much as Pavlov's dog to a bell, and with as little shame.
Turning his thoughts away from Napoleon's responses, he found himself wondering what ever happened to Alexei. Odd. He hadn't thought of him in years. Had very nearly forgotten him entirely. Just a boy on a collective farm, both of them. He had been what. . . thirteen, fourteen? Alexei a year or so older. It must have been the scents that had triggered the memory. Cut grass and male sweat. The park lawn had been recently cut. Good thing Napoleon was wearing a dark suit, so there was little chance of grass-stains. Remembering those moments just before realization had set in brought something else to mind.
"You were stroking my hair," he said.
Napoleon hesitated a moment. "Yeah. Guess I was." He gave a forced sort of laugh. "The girls in the secretarial pool were right. It is soft."
"All the ones who moon over your hair."
"There are girls who moon over my hair?" He tried to put just the right note of wonderment into his voice.
"Well, that and your ass," Napoleon said, with a look that told him he'd overdone it.
Illya decided to make a joke of things. That was what Napoleon did whenever things got awkward, and it generally seemed to work. "Did you want to stroke that too?" he asked, batting his eyelashes.
"No, but I might spank it if you don't cut that out," Napoleon growled in mock-annoyance. "Do you have something in your eye or is that supposed to be flirting?"
Illya sighed. "You are not generally so critical of your conquests."
"That's because I don't plan to make the same mistake as my namesake," Napoleon said. "How are you feeling? Ready to try standing up again?"
Illya tried moving his arms. They seemed to be working. Bent his knees. So far so good. "Yes, let's give it a try."
With a moderate amount of assistance, Illya got to his feet and back to Napoleon's car. It wasn't until much later that he realized Napoleon had not only been stroking his hair, but his face as well. Even his mouth. He knew he hadn't imagined that. It was why he'd tasted gun-oil. Odd behavior, though perhaps nothing more than reflex. Generally when Napoleon's lap was occupied, it was with a woman. It also occurred to him to wonder just what Napoleon had meant about his namesake. There was an obvious reference there. Too obvious, really. And it was far too late to ask.
He turned over in bed, settling himself comfortably, determined not to need chemical assistance getting to sleep. As he drifted off, he congratulated himself on his success.
* * *
Napoleon settled himself in his favored chair for the morning briefing, looking around for Illya. He wasn't late, yet, but since he was usually early it was odd not to find him already there. Though, come to think of it, Napoleon had gotten there first the day before, too. Five minutes passed, and every other seat was filled, but Illya's remained empty. The clock clicked over to eight, straight up, and Waverly came in. He glanced around the table as if taking attendance, his gaze pausing for a moment on the empty chair to Napoleon's right. A moment later their eyes met and he could sense the question there. Since he honestly had no idea where his partner was, he gave a slight shrug. Waverly frowned, but began the briefing anyway.
When Illya still hadn't put in an appearance by the end of the briefing, Napoleon was worried. He nodded in response to Waverly's signal that he stay, and waited for the other agents to leave. When the door closed behind the last one, he was on his feet immediately.
"One of the trainees shot Illya with a sleep-dart yesterday, the new formula. He seemed fine when I left him but it's not like him to not show up for work."
"Indeed. I heard about the mishap. I trust the trainees are getting additional friend-and-foe recognition work?"
"I have them drilling on it for the rest of the week."
"Excellent. Perhaps you ought to check on Mr. Kuryakin."
Napoleon would have done so with or without orders. He knew the route to Illya's apartment like the back of his hand, and since it was past rush hour, it didn't take him long to get there. He dashed up the stairs, past Illya's bathrobe-clad landlady who was sweeping the foyer, and on up to Illya's apartment. He knocked impatiently at the door. There was no answer. He knocked again, harder.
"Illya? It's Napoleon. Let me in."
Still no answer. He pressed his ear against the door and heard nothing, save for the low electronic hum of the security system. He was somewhat reassured that it was on, because it meant that whatever was wrong, it probably didn't involve THRUSH. Unfortunately it left some sort of reaction to the sleep-dart as the most likely answer and he didn't like that idea much better. He rattled the door. "Illya!"
"Is there a problem, son?"
He turned, startled, embarrassed that he'd let anyone sneak up on him, even if it was just Illya's landlady. "He didn't show up for work this morning. We were concerned."
The worried look on her face didn't put his mind at ease. "I'll get a key," she said. "Wait here."
She was back surprisingly quickly, and as she worked the key in the lock she looked at him. "He hasn't been himself the last couple of nights. Mr. Horowitz, who lives next door to him, says he's been having nightmares. He's looked terrible, but then, you know that, if you work with him. Half the time he comes back from his business trips looking like something the cat dragged in."
"We. . . ah. . . " he paused, trying to think of a good lie.
The woman held up a hand and shook her head. "I don't need to know. There you go, it's open. Sorry it took so long, it's a new key and I think it wasn't cut quite right. You know how to work that alarm he's got?"
Napoleon nodded. "I do, thank you." He pushed the door open and stepped inside. "Illya?" There was no response.
He closed the door, disarmed the alarm and unholstered his gun, just in case. The kitchen and living areas were empty, the door to the bedroom slightly ajar. Sidling over to it along the wall, he glanced inside long enough to see that there was definitely someone in the bed, though he couldn't see enough of them to decide whether or not it was Illya. He cautiously pushed the door open wider, checked to make sure the room was empty of other occupants, and only then turned to the bed. Though he was sprawled on his stomach with his face buried in the sheets, it was definitely Illya; he'd know that hair anywhere.
He stared for a moment, and couldn't quite tell if Illya was breathing or not. Holstering his gun, he reached out and laid a hand on Illya's back just above his waist; found reassuring warmth and felt the faint rise and fall of breath. With a sigh of relief, he shifted his hand to Illya's shoulder and shook him.
"Come on, Sleeping Beauty, time to rise and shine."
There was no response. Thinking Illya was joking around, Napoleon rolled him roughly onto his back, but the blankness of his expression and the bonelessness of his body quickly convinced him otherwise. He checked his pulse, found it steady and strong. Thumbing back an eyelid, he realized Illya was definitely sleeping the sleep of the heavily sedated. He rubbed at his jaw, trying to decide if he should call a doctor or just let Illya come out of it naturally. He'd never heard of someone waking up from a darting and then going back to sleep, but Illya had a well-documented sensitivity to sedatives. Maybe that was in play here.
Deciding he wasn't equipped to make a decision without advice, he took out his communicator to call in and check with Medical. As he twisted the device to the 'on' position, he noted absently that a small brown vial sat on the nightstand, a half-full glass of water next to it. He stood for a moment, staring at it, and then twisted the communicator back to the off position. He knew that little brown bottle, had a half dozen just like it in his medicine chest at home. They came from UNCLE's pharmacy. He picked up the vial and read the label, recognizing the drug as a sedative. Every agent was familiar with sleeping pills, they all needed them from time to time, or most of them did, anyway. Illya never took them, even if they were prescribed.
Shaking the contents of the bottle into his hand, he counted, matching the quantity against the number on the label. Two were missing. That was a relief in itself. If only two were missing, he didn't really have to worry about a possible overdose. He replaced the pills and capped the bottle, then sat down on the edge of the bed and watched Illya sleep, trying to make sense of things. Something had changed. Changed enough to push Illya into atypical behavior. What?
He didn't look different. A strong, compact body. Not much in the way of chest hair, but more on his groin and legs. Skin mottled with bruises, their varying ages providing every shade of the rainbow, provided your rainbow was only made up of purple, red, green, brown and yellow. That view was familiar. Napoleon often faced a similar one when he looked in the mirror after a shower. Where they weren't bruised, they were both pale. It had been a long time since either of them had been anyplace sunny for long enough to get a tan. Both of them had an assortment of places that would never tan again, too. One didn't go unmarked for long in this business, and they'd both been at it for longer than he cared to think about.
It struck him suddenly that some of those bruises scattered across Illya's chest were oddly symmetrical. Rounded. Almost the shape of an open mouth.
He made a more thorough survey, glad Illya was still out for the count, because otherwise he'd be risking a broken nose. There were similar marks on inner thighs, uncomfortably close to the soft cock. In fact, one mark bloomed on the pale sheath of foreskin itself. He frowned, realizing he knew exactly what had changed. But why? Over the years they'd both occasionally used their bodies as bargaining chips, Napoleon more often than Illya, but it wasn't unheard of. What made this any different?
It didn't take much thought to find the answer. Illya had always been far more selective about his sex partners than Napoleon. In fact, Napoleon had never quite figured out what attracted Illya, as some of the most beautiful women left him wrinkling his nose in distaste, while some of the oddest of them seemed to catch his attention. But no matter what, even when it had been for a mission, it was always his choice. No one ever cajoled or intimidated or teased Illya into being with someone he didn't want. This time was different. This time he'd had no choice. They'd taken away his autonomy, and for Illya that was like taking away his air.
Well. He could do something about that. If Illya needed a little boost to his sense of autonomy, he'd get one. Napoleon wasn't CEA for nothing.
* * *
Illya stared at his face in the mirror. A stranger stared back at him. A dark-haired, swarthy-skinned stranger. Only the eyes were familiar. He often wished he'd been born with brown eyes. So much less noticeable when working undercover, especially in the Middle-East or Latin America. Digging the jar of Albolene out of his shaving kit, he smeared it on, beginning the process of erasing Rohan Singh from existence. He yawned in mid-smear, nearly giving himself a mouthful of makeup-stained cold-cream, and stopped to lean heavily against the sink with a sigh. He was so tired.
Rallying, he wiped his face with the hotel towel, mentally apologizing to the laundress who would have to try to make it white once more. As he turned, his reflection caught his attention again, and he stared, noticing that the dark makeup had caught in the fine lines around his eyes and mouth, highlighting them. He looked his age, a novel occurrence. He also looked exactly like he felt: tired, bleak, and. . . lonely. He closed his eyes briefly. Opened them again. His reflection hadn't changed. Neither had reality.
He'd always had fast reflexes. By the time he thought about what a stupid idea it was, the mirror was spiderwebbed with cracks, a few pieces falling into the sink with a chiming sound, and his knuckles were bloody. Lovely. For once he'd managed to get through an assignment without a scratch from the enemy, and he had to go and do it himself. He sighed, shaking his head, wondering how he was going to explain the hotel bill on his expense report. 'Self-indulgent fit of temper' would hardly fly with bookkeeping, though his CEA might excuse it. Or would have, once upon a time.
He turned and started the shower, put his dye-remover and shampoo where he could reach them, and undressed, dropping his clothes on the floor to be disposed of later. The white velvet vest with its mirrors and golden embroidery might once have amused him enough to take home, but not this time. The plain white cotton kurta and pants were nothing special, and there were beggars at every street corner who would be glad for them, even with a few bloodstains from his dripping knuckles. He hated India. Too many people hungry. It brought back memories he would prefer to pretend he didn't have.
He stepped into the shower and wet his hair, then poured half the dye-remover over it, rubbing it in, feeling it burn and bubble in the cuts on his hand. Good. They wouldn't get infected. He stood out of the feeble spray to let the remover work untouched for a few minutes, knowing he ought to be doing this in the mirror, knowing he ought to be timing it, but not really caring as he idly watched sable rivers course down his body. After a while he stepped back under the spray and rinsed, then repeated the process. His knuckles stung less this time. Or perhaps he just felt it less. One got used to pain after a while.
Finally he finished up washing and turned off the shower. He put on a pair of pajama pants, knowing better than to sleep nude on a mission, no matter how much he preferred it. Sitting on the edge of the narrow bed, he wished he had a bottle of something at least a hundred proof. Failing that, he wished he had that little brown bottle he'd thrown out the day he'd slept through the morning briefing. His jaw tightened as he remembered waking to find a note from Napoleon giving him his next assignment: a solitary excursion. Nothing else. Not even a richly-deserved reprimand. Knowing he'd earned that curtness he had performed his duties as required and returned, hoping that would be that and things would then go back to normal in at least his professional life.
They hadn't. After six weeks and four assignments, all unpartnered, all ridiculously easy, the message was clear enough. Not only did Napoleon not trust him as his own partner any more, he didn't trust him to be anyone else's partner either. Nor did he trust him with anything more critical than missions anyone a week out of Survival School could have handled. He was finished as a Section Two agent. Napoleon was just giving him a chance to make a graceful exit by making it seem like it was his idea. He'd be back in New York in eighteen hours. It was time to bow to the inevitable.
He knew Napoleon was right. He couldn't be trusted. The dreams that haunted him nearly every night brought that home. And at this point, as tired as he was, he didn't trust himself to hide his inappropriate reactions to Napoleon's presence any longer, which was yet another reason to be glad their partnership was over. At least that wouldn't be an issue. All that remained was to decide if he should request Section Eight, New York, or give in to his desire to flee and ask for London instead. With a sigh he turned out the light and lay down, hoping for a few hours sleep before the dream came back.
* * *
Illya had gotten to the briefing well ahead of him again, Napoleon noted. He hadn't been late or missed one since the day after the sleep-dart incident. And frankly, he looked like he could use another one of those. He'd been annoyed that Illya had taken a seat halfway around the table from him, but it did afford him an excellent view. It wasn't a good one. If the bags under Illya's eyes got any baggier they'd need their own porters.
His hair was odd-looking, dry and . . . well, fluffy was the only word for it. Not silky, as it had felt under his hand during that hour Illya spent sleeping in his lap. It was also a paler and more uniform color than usual, but streaked with muddy brown in some spots. Recalling that Illya's last assignment had been in India, he surmised a less-than-successful attempt to remove a dark dye, but it wasn't like his partner to be that haphazard about anything.
Honestly, Napoleon was getting a little desperate. He was running out of missions he could send Illya on by himself, and it didn't seem to be helping in any case. If the bags were any indication, Illya still wasn't sleeping worth a damn. After the fiasco that had resulted the last time he'd used one, he was sure Illya wasn't taking sedatives. Napoleon didn't want to send him to get his head shrunk. . . too many good agents had been ruined that way, but he didn't know what else to try. He'd briefly considered asking Mr. Waverly's advice, he had given Napoleon a few curious looks over the Section Two assignment logs lately. But that would involve exposing Illya's secret, not to mention his own complicity in covering it up, so he really didn't want to do that if he could help it.
He managed to pay attention through the briefing, taking notes in between shooting surreptitious glances at Illya. Maybe it was time to give up, get Illya drunk and make him talk about it. Although he had a feeling if he tried that, he'd be the only one who ended up talking. Finally the meeting ended, and he shot to his feet, moving to Illya's side as he headed to the door.
"Illya. . ." he began.
"Napoleon," Illya interrupted. "Here. These need your signature." He shoved a stack of papers at Napoleon and slipped neatly into the flow of exiting agents, leaving Napoleon behind with his hands full.
He sighed, and caught Waverly looking at him with narrowed eyes. He quickly left the conference room before the Old Man could flag him down. He'd find Illya later. After all, he knew where he worked, he knew where he lived, he knew where he ate, and he controlled where he went.
He took Illya's reports back to his office to read and sign off on. As usual they were impeccably written and perfectly typed. As usual Illya had succeeded at everything Napoleon had sent him to do, with embarrassingly little effort. As usual he'd even kept the expenses low. Although in the latest report, the hotel bill seemed a little high, considering it was a flea-trap in Bombay. He pulled the receipt and studied it, wondering how Illya had managed to break a mirror. Wondered if Illya had gathered up the shards, face down, and thrown them in the closest river. The thought of pragmatic Illya doing any such thing made him smile. Closing the last report, he noticed a loose page beneath it. As he pulled it free and read it, his smile faded, replaced by a frown he could feel. He shoved his chair back and headed out to find Illya, the page crumpled slightly by his grip.
Out in the corridor, people got out of his way. Even the women. He pushed into the small office Illya occupied, and slapped the page down on his desk.
"What the hell is this?"
Illya took his time answering. "A Form T-Ten, I believe. The new version."
"Don't," Napoleon snapped. "Illya, why?"
Illya's chin came up and his eyes narrowed. "We both know why. I should have done this after you sent me to Brest alone. I understand that you're giving me an easy out. Let me take it."
For the first time . . . ever . . . he saw a flicker of uncertainty in Illya's eyes. "You heard me."
"Tell me what you think I'm doing. Lay it out for me, in detail."
"You. . . won't partner me, not with yourself, nor with anyone else. You send me out alone, on missions a child could handle. I'm not stupid, Napoleon. It's simple arithmetic. You don't trust me, and I understand that, because you're not stupid either." He shrugged eloquently "You're CEA. You do what you must, and I do what I must." He proffered the request for transfer once more. "One signature and the problem is solved."
"Oh, Christ." He rubbed his forehead. "I can't believe this. You thought . . . " The hell of it was, he could see how Illya would come to that conclusion. And how on earth could he explain his real motivations without putting Illya's back up? He had to fix this. An idea came to him. "Come with me. I want to show you something."
Looking wary, Illya stood and followed Napoleon back down the hall to his office. Once there, Napoleon pulled the last six weeks worth of field agent assignment logs from his desk and handed them to his partner.
Illya looked puzzled. "What am I . . ."
"Look at them. Just look."
Illya looked, leafing through the pages, scanning quickly. After a moment he frowned, stopped, looked at the first sheet again slowly, then the second, stopped once more at the third. "You've been going out alone?"
"Damned straight," Napoleon growled.
Illya looked confused. "I assumed you were working with someone else."
Napoleon looked him straight in the eye. "Never. Never anyone else. If not you, no one."
A strange expression came over Illya's face. "You can't work alone. It's not safe."
Napoleon snorted. "Like it's ever safe?"
"Napoleon, it's not a joke. You're CEA. You're too valuable to take these sorts of risks."
"I'm no more valuable than you are. Not one bit. If Waverly thought differently he wouldn't have approved the rosters."
Illya's gaze flickered down, lingering on Waverly's initials scrawled at the bottom of the page. "I don't understand."
"I thought . . ." Napoleon took a deep breath, this was the rough part. He reached out and grabbed the visitor chair, thrust it at Illya. "Sit, please."
A wry smile quirked Illya's mouth. "Is it that bad?"
"I . . . don't know. I'm just making it a little harder for you to deck me."
Ash-blond brows knit over puzzled blue eyes. "Why would I . . ."
"Just sit, all right?"
Illya sat. Napoleon went around to his own chair and sat down, needing the distance of the desk top between them. "That day you slept through the briefing, I went to your apartment to check on you."
"I assumed as much, as you left me a note, and so far as I know we have not yet discovered a way to teleport objects."
"And I'm sure you'd know, since it's right up your alley. In any case, I was there for . . . quite a while actually. Until I could see that you were beginning to come out from under the sedation."
"You were watching over me?"
"I . . . yeah. I guess I was. I was a little worried about you. You never take sedatives."
"Not never, just rarely. And you saw the reason why." His tone was clipped, but his gaze was searching.
"Yes. I did. And that led me to wonder just why you would take them, when you know how they affect you."
Illya crossed his arms and glowered. "And?"
"The only reason you'd take them was if you thought you had to. Your landlady said you were having nightmares, but you don't have nightmares. I've seen you shoot someone in the face at point-blank range and sleep like a baby an hour later. So what could be giving you nightmares?"
The glower deepened and Illya's posture got worse. "Go on."
"There was only one thing I could think of that had changed. You'd been put in a situation where you felt you had no control."
"There's nothing unusual about that. It happens about once a week or so in our profession."
"Not like that it doesn't." He stared at Illya, daring him to contradict. After a long moment, Illya's gaze shifted away, and he inclined his head every so slightly, acknowledging the hit. "So I decided to try to give it back to you, as much as I could, anyway."
He saw the light dawn. "You sent me out alone so I could be . . . the boss?"
Napoleon gave him a weak smile. "Yeah."
Illya shook his head. "Perhaps I should hit you. I didn't think you were such a fool."
Napoleon glared back. "Watch it."
"You know better than this. The last thing I should be is in charge of anything. I am a security risk. You know this, yet you persist in ignoring it."
"You are not a security risk."
"I am. I can't be trusted."
"Illya, that's ridiculous. Of all the people in the world, I trust you the most."
"As I said, a fool."
"I may be a lot of things, my friend, but a fool is not one of them," Napoleon said silkily. "What will it take?"
Obviously poised to continue the 'are not/are too' argument, Illya appeared taken aback by Napoleon's shift in tactics. He paused, looking puzzled. "What will it take to do what?"
"To convince you that you're not a threat."
"I . . . don't know." He looked distinctly nonplused.
"What are you afraid of?"
"Everyone breaks sometime. You know that. We've both broken to veridicals."
"Veridicals are another matter entirely. Pharmaceuticals can cause responses that are beyond conscious control."
Napoleon gazed at him, lifting an eyebrow. Illya flushed slightly, and Napoleon knew that was the only acknowledgment he was going to get that at least part of his conjecture was right. This was about control. "And speaking of pharmaceuticals, we still don't know what the hell that stuff was that they gave you. Section Eight's been after me for weeks now to get you down there to talk to them about it. And by the way, I know I've left you two notes about that, so stop ignoring them."
"Is that an order?"
"Yes. We've got to know what they're playing with, if not for your sake, then for the sake of other agents who might run up against this stuff. You know that."
Illya's gaze fell and he was silent for a moment, then finally he sighed. "You're right. I will talk to them." He closed his eyes for a moment, then reopened them, still not looking at Napoleon. "It's just difficult."
"You don't have to get into specifics about what happened," Napoleon said gently, standing up and going around the desk to take the assignment logbook from him. "Just tell them, clinically, how it affected you. You're good with words."
He softened his voice, and put a hand on Illya's shoulder. "Why is it so hard this time, Illya? We've both been tortured before, we've both been drugged before." He already knew the answer, but he was hoping Illya would tell him. He had a feeling he needed to.
Obviously uncomfortable, Illya shrugged under Napoleon's touch, and his hands flexed into fists. "Because they made me . . . like it." The confession was whispered.
"Illya, that's an autonomic response, no more controllable than a chemically induced one."
"Untrue. Arousal can be controlled."
"Controlled, maybe, but not eliminated. And even that depends entirely on the circumstances. I've had my share of . . . uncontrollable inappropriate reactions." He wondered for a moment how Illya would take it if he confessed that he often felt vaguely aroused in his presence. That afternoon in the park he'd been unable to keep from touching, though he'd managed to keep it to socially acceptable areas, save for sometimes straying to stroke his thumb across Illya's surprisingly soft lips. When his tongue had flicked across Napoleon's thumb the jolt of sensation had gone straight to his groin, shockingly intense. "Give me two days," he said suddenly.
Illya looked up. "For what?"
"To figure out a plan. I don't want to lose you, Illya, as my partner, or as my friend."
A faint hint of color washed across Illya's face. "I can be one without being the other."
Not if you're in London, Napoleon wanted to say, but he didn't. Instead, he kept his tone carefully even. "What can I say? I'm greedy. I want both." He smiled wryly. "Two days, Illya. Take that damned transfer form and stick it in a drawer for two days. If I haven't figured out a plan by then, I'll sign it. Against my better judgement, but I'll sign it. And promise me if I come up with a plan, you won't reject it out of hand."
Illya regarded him suspiciously. "What if it's a stupid plan?"
Napoleon lifted an eyebrow haughtily. "I would never come up with a stupid plan. Two days. You owe me that."
The corner of Illya's mouth twitched, but somehow he managed not to smile. "Very well. Two days."
* * *
"This is a stupid plan," Illya said flatly.
They were in Napoleon's apartment, Illya had agreed to meet him there when Napoleon hadn't felt comfortable talking about his plan at work.
"Eccentric, maybe, but not stupid," Napoleon said. "Now your plan, that's stupid."
Illya suppressed his annoyance. "My plan is practical."
"How?" Napoleon demanded. "How is it practical to split up the best team UNCLE has because you're afraid of a little torture?"
"I am not afraid!" Illya growled, fists clenching.
Napoleon lifted an eyebrow. "So it was your evil THRUSH lookalike who told me he was afraid of breaking?"
Oh, how he regretted admitting that. It was too late to take it back now, though. Illya glared at him. "I do not see how going on a date with one of your old girlfriends is supposed to help."
"It's not a date and she's not an old girlfriend."
"Do you mean to tell me there's a woman in New York with whom you haven't slept?" Illya asked mockingly.
"I never said I hadn't slept with her, just that she was never my girlfriend. I don't have any girlfriends, and I haven't since I was eighteen."
"A nice distinction."
"But an important one. Do you remember Dr. Evan Hollander?"
Illya frowned thoughtfully, memories stirring. A tall man, lean, greying hair and piercing gray eyes, but a kind smile. Prone to wearing too-large cardigans. "The Dr. Hollander who was killed three years ago by a THRUSH prisoner during an interrogation?"
"The very one."
"For a psychiatrist, he wasn't so bad." There were often cases which required that an agent be re-vetted by a psychiatrist. Illya had seen him once, and he'd been easier to bear than most.
"Joyce was his wife."
"Was this before or after you slept with her?" Illya teased.
"Both." Napoleon's gaze was level. "But before you jump to conclusions, let me explain that the before was at her husband's suggestion. She's . . . something of a professional."
Illya's eyebrows shot up. "A professional? You mean a prostitute?"
Napoleon sighed. "She's not a prostitute. She has a master's degree in psychology."
"Ah, so she's a psychologist."
"No. It's hard to explain exactly what she does. She was a psychiatric nurse before she married Evan Hollander, and before that she put herself through college as a very expensive call girl, so maybe she's a little of both. She knows a lot about sex, and a lot about the human mind, and even more about how the two intertwine. In any case, she's very good."
"As a psychologist or a prostitute?" Illya asked flippantly.
Napoleon didn't look like he was joking. Illya was beginning to realize he was serious. "Am I supposed to talk to her or have sex with her?"
"Talk, absolutely. Both, if you like."
"And what good will that accomplish?"
"You might be surprised. Look, I spoke to her about the situation already, and . . ."
Illya felt like he'd been punched in the gut. "You told her about me?"
To his surprise, Napoleon suddenly reached over and took both his hands. "Illya, relax. I talked to her in the abstract. I told her I had a 'friend' who . . ."
"So she knows it's me."
Napoleon gave him an odd, bared-teeth smile. "I suspect she thinks I have more than one friend. And I'm fairly sure she figures I'm the one with the problem. After all, it wouldn't be the first time I've needed her help, and when someone starts out a conversation with 'I have a friend who...' he's usually talking about himself."
It suddenly dawned on Illya that twice now, Napoleon had implied that he had experienced difficulties requiring him to seek this person's help. "Why?"
Napoleon looked puzzled. "Why what?"
"Why did you need her help?"
"I . . . ah . . ." Astonishingly, Napoleon blushed, and then shook his head. "That's not relevant at the moment. We're talking about you."
Napoleon's response was too-gratifyingly quick. He shouldn't allow that much reaction to it, but he did. "What did she say?" he asked to distract himself.
"She asked me if I realized my 'friend' had been raped."
The blunt words were shocking, stealing his breath. Illya sat back, pulling his hands away. "I was tortured," he managed to say, his tone astonishingly steady.
"Illya." Napoleon tried to recapture his hands. "She's right. I knew it from the first, I just let myself pretend otherwise. Because that's not something that happens to men. Not to you, especially."
"Don't be ridiculous," Illya snapped, trying to slow his breathing, trying to swallow back the acid at the back of his throat. "Neither of them even had their clothes off."
"That doesn't matter. I looked it up. The dictionary definition is 'sexual activity carried out forcibly or under threat of injury against the will.' If that doesn't describe what they did to you, what does?"
Illya shook his head. "No."
Napoleon drew breath to speak, then slowly let it out again. "Will you see her? Talk to her?"
Illya started to refuse, but before he could form the words, Napoleon interrupted him.
Illya glared at him. "You have no sense of fair play."
Napoleon grinned, unashamed. "None whatsoever."
To save face, he let some time go by before giving in as they had both known he would. "Very well. I'll talk to her." He paused just long enough for Napoleon to start to look smug, and then he put in his caveat. "But, you must tell me why you saw her. Otherwise, no deal."
The smug expression fled Napoleon's face instantly. "Remind me never to play poker with you, tovarischch."
"Why on earth would I be so foolish?" Illya asked, tapping his fingers on the chair arm. "Well?"
Napoleon was silent for several seconds, his jaw set. "If that's what it takes, then fine. I'll tell you. I just hope you'll remember that this was your idea," he said cryptically.
The capitulation was a surprise. "Napoleon, you don't . . ."
"Yes. Yes, I do. If I'm asking you to let someone else see into your head like that, then it's your right to ask the same of me."
His words betrayed the fallacy of Illya's earlier accusation. He'd known they were untrue the moment he spoke them. Napoleon's sense of fairness was actually quite profound.
"It was a long time ago. I was a little over a year out of Survival School at that point. You know what a honeytrap is, right?"
"I got pegged for a lot of those, early on."
"Somehow this does not surprise me," Illya said drily.
"Yeah, well, it did me. I'd gone to work for UNCLE figuring on being a cop, not a whore."
The bitterness in Napoleon's voice surprised Illya, and he decided to forgo any further snide remarks as Napoleon went on.
"There were a lot of politician's wives, scientist's wives, the occasional businesswoman or widow. I was supposed to find out if they or their husbands were being indiscreet with secrets, or worse, outright working for the other side. To be honest, I didn't like myself much most of the time, but I did what I was asked, and kept hoping for something more. I even went so far as to register my dissatisfaction with my supervisor, I asked for a little more variety in assignments." He laughed humorlessly. "An object lesson in being careful what you wish for. My next assignment was indeed a little more varied. The mark was a German businessman."
"Napoleon, you don't have to . . ." Illya said softly, wishing he hadn't insisted on the bargain.
"Yes, yes, I do. I think you should know."
"I do know, Napoleon. I understand. It must have been very difficult for you." He felt guilty for making Napoleon dredge up unpleasant memories.
Napoleon laughed again, this time with more genuine humor. "Difficult? Not particularly. I knew it was supposed to be a punishment for complaining, but what I discovered was that it was far easier, and I actually enjoyed it. What was difficult was going back to the bored housewives. It was more honest with a man. I had to tell so many lies to the women. After a while, I found I couldn't . . . do my job with the women. That's when they sent me to see Evan Hollander, and he sent me to see his wife. Interesting relationship they had, but it worked for them."
Illya couldn't decide which astonished him more, the idea of his partner ever being unable to perform with women, or discovering that he enjoyed the company of men in a more than fraternal fashion. On the whole, he thought the first was the greater shock. "It seems she must have helped."
"What she did was help me stop feeling guilty about doing my job, which gave me the freedom to enjoy women again. And maybe not feeling guilty isn't a good thing by normal standards, but since when do any of us in Section Two live by anything resembling normal standards?"
Illya nodded. "True enough."
Napoleon stood suddenly. "So, you have an hour and a half, you'd better go get ready."
"An hour and a half to do what?" Illya asked, confused.
"You're meeting Joyce for dinner at Albinoni's at eight."
He stared at Napoleon for long seconds, and then shook his head. "What would you have done had I refused?"
"Had dinner with her myself. Now go make yourself presentable and don't embarrass me since the reservation is in my name."
"Contrary to popular opinion, I do know how to behave in public," he said, giving Napoleon a dark look as he stood and went to the door. Stopping there with his hand on the knob, he turned back. "Napoleon?"
Napoleon's face was transformed by the rarest of his smiles, the one that had no hidden meanings. "Any time, partner."
Since Albinoni's was not far from his flat, Illya took his time getting ready. He showered and shaved, and put on his good suit, the one he'd bought in Milan, blue-gray silk, and perfectly tailored to accommodate his shoulder holster. He smiled, remembering Napoleon's surprise and annoyance the first time he'd worn the suit. It had been clear that his partner had bought into the common view that Illya didn't know how to dress well, and incidentally was not to outshine him sartorially.
Illya had refrained from pointing out that if one dressed too well on the job, one would end up spending a lot of money replacing expensive suits ruined by the excesses of their missions. By dressing cheaply and practically on the job, he preserved his nicer things longer. Napoleon had, oddly, not learned that lesson yet and so his expense reports were achieving legendary status.
He was quite curious about Joyce Hollander, especially about Napoleon's second visit to her. He had said he'd consulted her twice, both before and after her husband's death. He wondered what had happened in the past three years that would have required such a visit, and why he hadn't noticed any change in Napoleon's behavior. It was a puzzle, and he'd always had a weakness for puzzles. He would have to subtly sound out Mrs. Hollander and see if he could reach any conclusions.
The evening was muggy, so he opted to take a taxi, not wanting to arrive sweating and rumpled. Stepping into the restaurant seven minutes early, he stood just inside the entrance, studying the clientele with a practiced eye, picking out a pair of illicit lovers, the usual cadre of married and courting couples, a few family groups, and a scattering of businessmen. There didn't appear to be any other agents present, from either side.
He relaxed slightly and was about to check in with the maitre d' hotel when the door behind him opened, admitting a woman. She looked faintly familiar. After a moment he realized he'd seen her once before, at a funeral. She glanced at him, but he gestured for her to go ahead, wanting his suspicion confirmed. She hesitated, looking as if she found him familiar as well, but then with murmured thanks she stepped forward to the maitre d's station.
"I'm meeting someone. You should have a reservation for Solo."
His suspicions confirmed, he took a moment to study her as the maitre d' consulted his reservation book. She was not at all what he'd expected. Shorter than he, even in heels, she was in her late forties or early fifties, with the rounded body of a mature woman, not a girl. Subtly made up and impeccably, but demurely dressed, she wore her silvering blonde hair in a smooth French knot instead of a teased rat's nest. She was nothing like Napoleon's usual blowsy, busty creatures. She had that most elusive of qualities: class.
"Mrs. Hollander?" he asked, stepping forward.
She turned, startled. "Yes?"
"Illya Kuryakin. I'm Napoleon's friend."
Her eyes widened and she studied him for a long moment, her sherry-brown gaze frank and assessing, then she shook her head and smiled, putting out her hand. "Mr. Kuryakin, forgive me, I'm a little surprised. Somehow I thought I'd be meeting him here tonight."
Illya allowed himself a small smile. "He suspected you might." He took her hand, kissed it in the European manner, and then tucked her hand over his arm and turned to the maitre d' who was hovering with a pair of menus. Her hand tightened on his arm and he looked at her, questioning.
She studied him for a long moment, and then shook her head. "This is entirely the wrong venue for you, Mr. Kuryakin. It's Napoleon's style, but not yours. Why don't we find someplace more suitable?"
Half an hour later, suit coat draped over the back of his chair, sleeves rolled up, facing Joyce Hollander over a platter of souvlaki, dolmades, and spanakopita with a bottle of retsina at hand, he began to concede that perhaps Napoleon's idea was not so stupid after all.
* * *
"Late night?" Napoleon asked, watching Illya stretch lazily in the chair across the desk from him, yawning. He might have worried a little if Illya hadn't been looking better-rested of late. As it was, he figured the yawn was one of boredom, not fatigue.
Illya looked back at him, amusement lurking in his eyes. "Not particularly." He picked up the paper cup of coffee he'd brought from the commissary and sipped. "What's on the agenda today?"
"I've got to finish up next month's schedule, so I guess you're free to go play in the labs until two, when we have a meeting with Phil down in the armory to go over the modifications he wants to make to the Specials."
"Would you like help with the schedule?"
"No, no. I can do it by myself. Last time, Waverly asked if I had you doing my job for me again, though I still don't know how he knew."
"Probably because I suggested you send Greene to Helsinki because he speaks some Finnish."
"Speaking of which, how did you know that, since it wasn't in his file?"
"He dropped a weight in the gym one afternoon and I overheard him swearing in Finnish."
"Ah. Yeah, that would do it. And why didn't he mention that in his skills listing?"
"Because he didn't want to be sent to Helsinki. He's from Arizona and hates cold weather."
Laughing, Napoleon shook his head. "Go on, get out of here and let me work."
Illya smirked and left him to his scheduling. Napoleon leaned back in his chair and stared at the door he'd left through. Not knowing was driving him crazy. It had been two weeks since he'd set Illya up with Joyce, and he still had no idea what was going on. The only things he did know were that the transfer form had not reappeared, and the bags under Illya's eyes had begun to fade a bit. His partner wasn't talking, though, and if the bags were fading, they weren't gone, and he still seemed touchier than normal.
Napoleon tapped his fingers on his desk, reminded himself that 'these things take time' and then gave in and picked up the phone and dialed. After the third ring it was answered, the voice familiar.
There was a moment's pause while she identified his voice, then she laughed softly. "Napoleon, how nice to hear from you. I wondered how long it would take you. You held out longer than I expected."
He sighed. "All right, so I'm predictable. I just called to see. . . I mean . . . are things . . . going well?"
"I suppose that depends on your definition of 'well.' I have to say, though, I like your Mr. Kuryakin. He has wonderful manners."
Napoleon frowned, startled. "He does? We are talking about Illya aren't we?"
"Yes, we are, and yes he does. But he’s a very reserved young man, so it's going rather slowly. Though I do have a bit of an advantage, since he trusts your judgement and you vetted me."
"He's not that young," Napoleon protested. "He's less than a year younger than I am."
"And you're a young man to me too, Napoleon," she reminded him. "Though it's sweet of you to forget that."
He grinned. He did forget, actually, that she had a decade and a half on him. She didn't look it and she certainly didn't act it. "So, ah. . . are you getting anywhere?"
She tsked into the phone. "Napoleon, you know better."
"Damn it, Joyce, I need to know if I should send him out again yet, or keep him here. I think he's starting to go stir crazy. He shot a rubber band at me during the morning briefing."
"So this is the boss asking, not the friend?"
"Both," he admitted.
"Very well then, as his boss, I can tell you things are improving. And by the way, your instincts were good. Giving him more independence as a way to reaffirm your trust in him was an excellent idea, though it might have been better if you'd actually told him why you were sending him out alone."
"If I had, he'd have decked me," Napoleon said wryly.
That got another laugh. "Quite possibly. You were a bit between the devil and the deep blue sea there, weren't you?"
"You have no idea."
"Oh, I think I might. As for sending him out. . . it's up to you, but be aware that he still doesn't sleep worth a damn alone. And if you don't send him out by himself, whoever goes with him will need to know that he has frequent nightmares."
Since he knew Illya had been getting at least some rest lately, it was easy to read between the lines. Joyce was sleeping with Illya. It wasn't a surprise, but somehow he'd managed not to really think about it until now. It was disconcertingly disturbing. He knew both bodies very well, and his mind instantly supplied images– both pale-skinned and golden-haired, but one lithe and muscular, and the other soft and generously curved. Something similar to, but warmer than a shiver snaked through him, its origin uncertain between the two imagined forms. It was chased by an odd burst of irritation, and he cleared his throat. "I'll, ah, keep that in mind."
He heard the concern in her tone. "I'm fine, Joyce. Thanks for the information."
"Napoleon." This time her tone was admonitory.
"I mean it, I'm fine," he insisted. "I got over that some time ago, as you no doubt recall."
"Mmmhmm," she said dubiously. "And now that I've actually met him, I can't say that I blame you."
"Joyce," he sighed. "Enough. I've got work to do, I'll talk to you soon."
"Wait. Illya mentioned something to me about having been drugged, but wasn't sure he was allowed to give me details, since it could be classified. Is it all right for him to tell me?"
"Is it important?"
"Actually, it could be. There's been some interesting work done recently on the use of psychotropics in neural reprogramming and I'm wondering if this could be related."
Oh Lord. He'd read about that in the latest brief on recent CIA activities, but that angle hadn't occurred to him. If THRUSH had gotten ahold of that report too. . . "I'll tell him it's all right to talk to you. You know the confidentiality drill."
"Like the back of my hand, even if you are paying for this, not UNCLE. Don't think I didn't notice where that check came from."
"I . . ."
"You're a good man, Napoleon."
There was a faint click as she hung up. He stared at the squat plastic-and-metal device in annoyance, as if it were the phone's fault that Joyce could read his mind. Some secret agent he was. He cradled the handset, then sighed, rubbed his forehead, and picked up the schedule again. One of the unassigned missions caught his eye and he looked at it for a long moment before writing his own name, and Illya's, next to it. Time to get back in the saddle.
* * *
"California?" Illya hoped he didn't sound like he felt. The name of a state should not make him feel like someone had reached inside him and wrapped a fist around his lower esophagus.
"Yup. Escorting a prisoner from a federal facility upstate. Apparently he's made two almost- successful escape attempts lately and they decided to move him to a higher-security federal facility in California, well away from the pals he's made here in the East. It shouldn't be a difficult job, but this particular prisoner is one I'd like to see to personally."
Illya leaned over Napoleon's shoulder to get a better look at the file. "Colonel Esteban Aquilla?" The name was vaguely familiar. THRUSH, definitely, but where had he heard that name before? He scanned the dates on the file, noticed that Col. Aquilla had been incarcerated for a bit under three years, and checked to see what he was in for. Ah. "This is the man who murdered Dr. Hollander."
Napoleon bared his teeth. "Indeed."
Illya bared his teeth back. "I suppose it would be wrong of me to hope that he attempts to escape while in our custody?"
"I suppose it would," Napoleon agreed. "But just in case, I'm fully prepared to authorize use of lethal force."
"Very practical, considering his track record. When do we leave?"
"As soon as we can get packed. It should be a quick trip there and back, but I thought we'd spend the night in beautiful downtown Lompoc and come back in the morning, so it's not quite so grueling. We're hitching a ride on a Fed puddle-jumper up to Ray Brook, where we'll pick up Mr. Aquilla and bring him back here to Kennedy . . ."
"And from here we're flying commercial, no doubt. Steerage."
Napoleon's mobile mouth quirked in a wry smile. "You know the budget. Though really, it's coach, not steerage."
"Steerage would be preferable. At least one can move about."
They stopped at Napoleon's apartment first and Illya waited as he packed, then they drove to Illya's apartment. Napoleon waited outside as he ran in and threw a few things in a duffel. As he packed, Illya told himself that the nature of the job should mitigate some of the discomfort of visiting California again. It was the first time since . . . No. He wasn't going to let that matter. It wasn't as if he could add 'will not visit California' to his file. Greene had to go to Helsinki, and he had to go to California. If he let himself be bothered by revisiting places where he'd been tortured, his travels, not to mention his effectiveness, would be severely restricted. He refused to allow anyone to have that sort of power over him, therefore he would not be bothered.
The idea of sharing a hotel room with Napoleon again was more challenging. Lately he'd been able to sleep without the interruption of disturbing dreams and while he hoped that was due to progress on his part rather than Joyce's presence in his bed, he wasn't entirely sure. The problem was delicate, and it influenced his packing. He opted for his flannel pajamas even though they would be overly warm in California. He just had to hope that their hotel room was air conditioned, because he wasn't going to give up their heavy, loose fit for a different sort of comfort. Tossing his shaving kit into the duffel along with his clothing, he heard Napoleon honking impatiently outside. He shook his head with a sigh, stuffed a book into the bag and then cinched it closed on his way out. Tossing the bag into the back seat, he glared at Napoleon.
"What's the hurry?"
"We need to be at the airport by eleven, so we're cutting it close."
"And whose fault is that?" Illya grumbled. "You took forty-five minutes to pack. I took under ten."
"Now, you see? That's why you always look rumpled on missions."
"I always look rumpled on missions because someone always assigns me the dirty work," Illya said darkly, hiding a smile. It felt good to be working with Napoleon again, and falling back into their familiar routines. "Who are we flying with? The FBI?"
"No, a couple of US Marshals. They're taking a prisoner up and we're tagging along for the ride."
"Never let it be said that UNCLE agents don't travel in style," Illya said, settling back in his seat to watch Napoleon maneuver the big Ford through downtown traffic on their way out to the airport. He left city driving to Napoleon who had more patience with it. He preferred the open roads where he could indulge his love of speed. They managed to make it to the airfield with about twenty minutes to spare, and they boarded the small plane and found seats in the back.
Napoleon made their introductions with the two US Marshals, both men in their late thirties, built like American football players, respectively named Ford and Jones. Jones, a balding fellow with a large nose and dark brown eyes, shook hands and eyed Illya curiously, his gaze lingering on his hair.
"What kind of name is Kuryakin, anyway?"
Illya tried not to wince at the mispronunciation, and bent to stow his bag, pulling out his book before he pushed the bag beneath the seat. "Russian."
"But you're English, huh?"
"No, although I did postgraduate work at Cambridge." Illya straightened up.
"So where are you from?"
Illya looked him in the eye. "The Soviet Union."
Brown eyes widened, slid toward his shoulder, seeing the characteristic distortion caused by the shape of the holster under the suit, and then narrowed. Illya knew that look. Very few in American law enforcement took well to the idea of a well-armed Russian national traveling with impunity within the borders of their country. He mentally braced for unpleasantness.
"Your prisoner, what's he done?" Napoleon asked suddenly, circumventing what Illya had been sure would be an unpleasant conversation. He gestured toward the elderly gentleman being shackled to his seat by the other marshal. The guy looked about as dangerous as a goldfish.
"He's a currency forger. Makes twenties so good even Uncle Sam had trouble telling them from the real thing."
"Ah." Napoleon's voice conveyed boredom.
Illya slid into his seat, aware that Napoleon was watching him.
"How about you boys, what are you up to?" Jones asked.
"Picking up a prisoner for a transfer to Lompoc."
"Yeah. With two near escapes and a half-dozen murders under his belt, they decided they wanted him someplace else." Napoleon rubbed his neck, and took off his suit-jacket, then unholstered his gun. "Hey, Illya, hold this for me, would you?"
He handed the weapon to Illya who took it without comment, watching with amusement as Napoleon ostentatiously readjusted the fit of his shoulder holster, which he was sure had not needed adjusting at all. The harness was an old one, well-broken-in, and Napoleon would never put up with a badly fitted one for more than a few moments in any case. Illya waited a few seconds after Napoleon put his jacket back on, and then cleared his throat.
"Would you like this back?" He held out Napoleon's Special, butt-first.
"Oh yeah, thanks." He took the weapon, settled it into its holster, and slid into the seat next to Illya.
Illya sent him a look that told him he knew precisely what he'd been doing and Napoleon sent him one back that said he'd be damned if he'd put up with some uppity US Marshal showing disrespect towards his partner over something as petty as nationality. Napoleon could say a lot with a look.
Illya rolled his eyes, opened his book, and began to read.
After that, the flight was uneventful, and when they arrived at Ray Brook, they were immediately shown in to see the warden. Napoleon made their introductions to the warden, handing over their I.D.s and the papers authorizing them to collect Aquilla. The man at the desk didn't take time to look suspiciously at Illya, he just looked relieved.
"Thank God you're taking this guy off our hands, he's a pain in the ass."
"In what way?" Napoleon asked, clearly curious.
"In what way is he not is more like it. You'll see."
He escorted them to the holding cell where their prisoner was being kept to await transfer. Even though Illya had read Aquilla's dossier, he wasn't quite prepared for the sheer size of the man. He had to be at least six-foot-six, and probably three-hundred pounds or more. He felt a bit like David to Aquilla's Goliath. Napoleon's two additional inches made absolutely no difference.
"We're with UNCLE," Napoleon said. "We've been assigned to escort you to your new abode."
Aquilla, hawk-faced and craggy, muscles bulging beneath his plain gray prison jumpsuit, took one look at them and burst out laughing.
"You're what UNCLE is sending to escort me? How did I get so lucky? This will be a piece of cake. What's your name, Slick?"
Napoleon barely controlled a sneer. "Napoleon Solo."
Aquilla's eyebrows shot up. "Napoleon Solo?" He shook his head. "UNCLE must be in a bad way, if you're their 'finest.'" He looked toward Illya, his gaze sliding down his body in a way that made Illya want to shudder, though he didn't. "Who's your pretty friend?" Aquilla asked, his voice silkily insinuating.
"Illya Nikolaievitch Kuryakin," Illya answered, locking eyes with the behemoth.
Aquilla blinked first, lowering his gaze and then shooting a sidelong glance from one of them to the other. He looked a little. . . disconcerted, but his next words were still brash. "I see Waverly fears me enough to send both his top agents."
Napoleon looked bored, and studied his nails. "Waverly didn't make the assignment roster. I did. You see, Illya and I have a personal interest in making sure that you get what you deserve."
That crinkled the giant's brow beneath his shock of heavy, dark-brown hair. "Personal? Have we met before? It's so hard to remember all the little people."
Napoleon frowned and started to speak but Illya put a hand on his arm and he subsided.
"We have not met," Illya said softly. "But perhaps the name Hollander rings a bell?"
The crinkle deepened for a moment, and then smoothed. "That UNCLE shrink? What does he have to do with anything?"
"Nothing much, really," Napoleon said, oozing charm. "But Mrs. Hollander is a friend. A very particular friend, you might say. To both of us." He smiled, the toothy, gleaming smile of a shark.
Aquilla's gaze shifted to Illya, who didn't bother to smile. After only a second or two, Aquilla paled slightly and shivered, though the air in the cell was quite warm.
"I want a different escort."
"Tough," Napoleon said succinctly. "Now come along, we have a plane to catch."
Much to Illya's annoyance, Aquilla behaved himself through the entire trip, barely even glancing toward freedom much less making a move for it. He and Napoleon remained alert for any sign of trouble during boarding, the changing of planes at JFK, landing at Lompoc, and the short drive to the prison, but no trouble materialized. It was more than a little frustrating. Illya took little satisfaction in the fact that Aquilla seemed relieved to be separated from the two of them by the sturdy bars of his cell once the door closed between them. Napoleon was scowling as they walked out into the dusty California night.
"Well, that was no fun," he complained, rubbing his neck. "I was expecting more excitement out of him."
"A bit of a let-down," Illya agreed. "After reading his files, I wouldn't have thought him so easily cowed, especially not by one of the 'little people.'"
Napoleon shot him an enigmatic look. "You only say that because you've never been glared at by yourself, partner." He looked at the rental car awaiting them and made a face. "I can't believe they booked us in a station wagon."
"With his size, it's just as well."
Napoleon shrugged and yawned, then looked sheepish. "Sorry, long day. You hungry?"
He was, but they'd been up for nearly twenty hours. Since Napoleon rarely admitted to fatigue, Illya decided to take pity on him. "Let's locate our hotel. Surely they have room service, or if not we can order in. I noticed a Chinese place on the way here. The sign said they deliver."
Napoleon nodded. "Sounds good to me. You want to drive?"
Illya stared at him. "Do I want to drive? A station wagon? In town?"
Napoleon chuckled softly. "Whatever was I thinking? But that means you navigate."
* * *
Napoleon came awake abruptly with a sense of mild disorientation, but it took only seconds to put the pieces together, helped along by the fact that the parking-lot lights came through the motel room's thin curtains making the room nearly bright as it would be at noon. The lingering aromas of garlic pork and ginger beef from the empty takeout boxes in the garbage solidified his awareness of place.
He lay quietly for a moment trying to decide what had woken him– probably the sound of a door closing somewhere along the breezeway. He never slept well in places like this, where the doors and windows faced an open parking lot. The access was too easy. The room was also stuffy and airless, as it was a warm night, and all that the 'air conditioner' was doing was making the room humid as well as hot. Too awake and uncomfortable to go back to sleep easily, he decided to get up and open the window for a while to air out the room.
Slipping out of his own bed, he padded past Illya's on his way to the window, and paused, suddenly realizing what had woken him. The cadence of Illya's breath was faster than normal, and slightly irregular. He shook his head at the realization that just a change in his partner's breathing could wake him up. He stood beside the bed, watching Illya, remembering Joyce's warning about nightmares, trying to decide if Illya was in the grip of one, or if it was just an ordinary dream.
In the dim light he could make out a sheen of sweat on what bits of Illya's skin he could see– face, throat, the slight vee of chest between the lapels of his pajama top. He frowned, recognizing the dark blue flannel Illya wore. Flannel pajamas on an eighty-seven degree summer night? Was Illya nuts? Sure he'd packed in a hurry, but why hadn't he just slept in his t-shirt and briefs when he figured out he'd brought the wrong pajamas? Not only that but he had all the covers over himself– sheet, blanket, and cheap, thin spread. Crazy Russian. Napoleon reached out and took hold of the top layers of covers. Illya stirred, frowning.
"Just me, partner," he whispered reassuringly. "Don't worry."
Illya relaxed at the sound of his voice, without fully awakening. Napoleon tugged carefully at the covers until they slid away, leaving just the sheet over him. He dropped the excess covers in a heap on the floor and was about to step away to open the window when he was suddenly struck by the odd way Illya was lying– on his back, in sort of an 'X' position, almost as if . . .
Realizing the significance of that posture, Napoleon scowled and started to reach for Illya to shake him awake. No nightmares on his watch. Something stopped his hand a bare inch above Illya's flannel-clad shoulder. Illya moved, one arm pulling back from its extended position, fingers spreading to touch the shadowed skin between lapels. He sighed. Moved again, one knee bending, hips shifting, the movement liquid, sinuous. Napoleon studied him again, this time close enough to see the parted lips, the tension in his face that wasn't anything even close to pain or fear. An expression he remembered viscerally.
Suddenly everything clicked.
Not a nightmare.
A shock of memory . . . hot, hard-silk flesh in his hand, too briefly. His fingers flexed, itching to feel that again. His arm moved, hand hovering over the rise not at all disguised by thin layers of sheets and flannel. And he knew why Illya had brought flannel. Knew why he'd waited until after Napoleon slept to change. Knew why he'd layered bedding over himself on a night he should have been sleeping naked and uncovered.
God, he wanted to touch. More than touch. He wanted to taste, to smell. The desire for it arced through his body, shocking as it fired him to match Illya's arousal. Deliberately he straightened, letting his hand fall to his side, and equally deliberately he moved over to the window, finding the latch and opening it, quietly sliding it back on its track to allow air to flow into the room, slightly cooler than the temperature inside. He stood there, forcing himself not to look at Illya, not to watch the arching flex of hips and thighs, to listen to the sound of the neon motel sign buzzing in the parking lot instead of Illya's broken breathing.
He didn't understand why Joyce had been coy with her description. Surely she knew him well enough to know he wouldn't be shocked, and it would have helped to have some warning. At least, he thought it would. Until Illya had moved, and Napoleon had remembered so clearly the way he'd felt. . . the way his face had pressed into Napoleon's thigh as he gasped out his completion . . . until that moment he'd managed to somehow not know how much that had affected him.
He shook his head with a humorless smile. And he'd thought Illya was the one repressing. Maybe he should have gone to see Joyce himself instead of sending Illya. She'd helped before, the first time he realized his feelings for his partner had moved beyond appropriate. He'd gotten that under control once and for all. . .
He remembered to open and turn his hand before he hit the wall, saving himself broken knuckles, though the slap made his palm hurt.
"Napoleon?" Illya sounded breathless, startled, and confused.
Damn. He'd woken Illya. Not too surprising, really. Napoleon controlled his expression and turned, making sure his lower half stayed in shadow. "Sorry I woke you, It was too warm in here so I decided to open the window."
"It is . . . rather warm," Illya said, his breathing slightly slower.
"Yeah, and you brought the wrong jammies," he said, with forced lightness. "I've got a spare set of lightweight ones. Want to borrow them?"
It wasn't fair of him, he knew that. It would make no sense for Illya to refuse his offer, and he'd have to explain why he'd rather stay in the ones he had on, which Napoleon was sure he wouldn't do.
"That would be very kind," Illya answered after a long moment of silence. "Though I think I will shower first. I seem to have been sweating like a pig."
Napoleon almost smiled. That was his clever Russian. He moved to his suitcase and opened it, taking out his spare pajamas, handing the neatly folded fabric to Illya, who had left his bed and stood at the foot of Napoleon's now. Taking them, Illya disappeared into the small bathroom, the light coming on only after the door had closed. Napoleon stared at the line of light under the door, wondering if Illya would take a cold shower or a warm one. And if a warm one, would he finish what his dream had started?
He closed his eyes for a moment, imagining that. Illya naked, wet, one broad, square hand wrapped around his cock, stroking.
He shuddered, clenching his fists, which didn't help at all. He heard the water come on, and tried not to think about Illya. About Illya naked. About Illya . . .
He was past that. Long past it. Snatching his robe from his still-open suitcase, he pulled it on, grabbed the ice-bucket off the table where they'd left it after dinner, and stomped out to the ice-machine to fill it. Three minutes later, back in their room, he stuck both hands into the ice, counted to sixty, pulled them back out and shoved them both down the front of his pajama bottoms.
The cold shocked the lingering remnants of his arousal into submission, and he lay down on his bed and pulled the pillow over his face, ordering himself to stop thinking about his partner.
A little while later he heard the bathroom door open and Illya padded softly past him. He heard the footsteps pause next to the bed and figured Illya was wondering if he was awake. He pretended he wasn't, taking slow, even breaths. After a moment Illya moved on and he heard the soft creak of the other bed as Illya lay down. Eventually he heard Illya's breathing even out again, steady, soft, a faint hint of a snore every now and then as the air forced its way past nasal passages slightly distorted from an old break.
He pulled the pillow off his face and wondered how the hell he was going to get over Illya this time.
* * *
Voices woke him, soft, high-pitched whispers, giggles. Illya opened his eyes, noted it was not yet full daylight, and listened carefully, only relaxing after he placed the voices as those of children. A throatier whisper-- their mother-- urged them to be quiet as she herded them past the other guest's rooms on their way to the car. A slight, blessedly cool breeze stirred the curtains at the open window. Open window. He touched his chest, felt the thin, smooth texture of cotton broadcloth. No dream, then. He was wearing Napoleon's pajamas.
It was far from the first time, but this time felt . . . different. He remembered being startled awake, Napoleon had blamed the window but for some reason the sound he remembered was not the slide of a window in its track, but the hollow slap of skin against plasterboard. He'd been confused though, startled from a dream. Bozhe, that damned dream again. Always the same, since . . . He refused to think of that. At least he hadn't embarrassed himself.
Suddenly paranoid, Illya wondered if Napoleon had noticed. He'd been sharp-eyed enough even in the dark to note that he was wearing his flannel pajamas. The idea that Napoleon might have stood watching him heated his face, chagrin and arousal warring for dominance within him. Was that why Napoleon had offered his spare pajamas? Had he thought Illya had come to climax, and needed a fresh pair?
He scrubbed a hand over his face wearily. He would almost be willing to put up with the inevitable teasing he'd get from Napoleon if only he could. He was beginning to wonder if he ever would again. Joyce had assured him the situation would resolve once his emotional responses to the situation leveled out, but the frustration was intense. Certainly he had regularly gone for much longer periods without sexual release, but not with the prokl'atyj dreams stirring him up all the time and then leaving him hanging.
Joyce had been a little testy with him on the topic of his supposed over-susceptibility to pleasure. "You eat if you're hungry, don't you?" she'd asked. "If you eat regularly you won't starve. Same goes for sex. Indulge yourself more often and then it won't be such a shock to the system when you get it. And I'm not talking about do-it-yourself. People need to be touched. It's a scientific fact that babies who aren't touched and held are not as healthy as those who are. That goes for grown-ups too."
He was somewhat taken aback to find that her prescription for a solution basically added up to 'get out more.'
Still, he supposed he ought to tell her about the dreams. They just seemed so ridiculously. . . juvenile. Not to mention he didn't really want to tell her precisely whom he was dreaming about. The fact that she was being paid by UNCLE might mean she was obligated to report on him to Napoleon, since he was, after all, CEA. Illya wanted to avoid the awkwardness that might bring. Napoleon had displayed amazing equanimity so far, but Illya didn't want to push his luck.
He still thought he would be better off transferring to Section Eight, but much to his dismay he'd found, that there was very little Napoleon could ask of him that he wouldn't at least attempt to fulfil. It was an annoying failing on his part but one he hadn't quite been able to shake.
He lay for a few more minutes, not thinking of anything in particular, and had finally acknowledged that he was not going to go back to sleep when the raucous ring of Napoleon's travel alarm startled him upright on the bed. Before he could reach for the clock himself, Napoleon groaned and one hand flailed out, finding the clock and pushing the button to silence the bell. After a moment he heaved himself onto his back and turned his head to look at Illya. "I," he announced portentously. "Slept like crap."
Illya suppressed a smile. "It was uncomfortably warm," he acknowledged, and then fingered the sleeve of the pajama top he wore. "Thank you, for these. They were a godsend."
Napoleon gave him a lopsided smile. "So you finally admit I'm a god, do you?"
"In your own mind, certainly." Illya swung his legs over the side of the bed and stood. "I seem to recall a twenty-four hour diner on the road not far from the airport. If you get up now, we'll have time to eat before we get on the plane."
Napoleon sighed and pushed himself up to a sitting position. "Yeah, yeah. Just give me a few minutes to make myself presentable, and we'll be on our way." He yawned widely and scratched his head, leaving his hair sticking up every-which-way.
Illya sometimes wondered if he was the only one privileged to see Napoleon looking less-than-well-groomed. He suspected his friend usually got up before his women, so they would never see him looking like this. He knew Napoleon would hate to be told it, but he looked endearingly boyish when he first woke up, all his practiced charm abolished by pillow-wrinkles and stubble.
When he was still sitting there staring blearily off into space two minutes later, Illya leaned over and poked him in the ribs. "Up, lazy capitalist dog."
Napoleon jumped and glared. "That's no way to treat your boss, communist boor."
"Boss will have rebellion on hands if worker does not get food soon," Illya said, deliberately thickening his accent.
"Boss is skilled at counterrevolutionary tactics," Napoleon retorted, attempting a similar accent.
Illya burst out laughing. "Napoleon, please. You sound like someone from China trying to imitate the fat sergeant on that terrible television comedy about prisoners of war in a Nazi camp. Leave the accents to me."
Napoleon looked put-upon as he headed for the bathroom. "Just for that, I'm going to give you every assignment I can scare up involving a non-native speaker."
"Do you not already?" Illya asked as Napoleon closed the door.
He'd been informed that the sound that issued from behind the bathroom door was called a 'raspberry.' He had always wondered exactly why, as the term made absolutely no sense to him. Stripping off his borrowed pajamas, Illya reached for his suitcase to get underwear and socks just as the bathroom door reopened. Startled he turned as Napoleon stepped out, wearing only the bottom half of his pajamas.
They stared at each other for a moment, Illya far too aware of Napoleon's bare chest, considering the fact that they'd seen one another naked more times than either could count. Not to mention the fact that it was a perfectly ordinary chest, nothing at all special about it. Shoulders. Clavicle. Pectorals. Smooth, pale, soft-looking skin, tan disks of nipples, slightly erect at the moment.
Bl’ad! Don't notice that! And this was not at all an appropriate time for his body to declare itself, either. Trying to short-circuit the increasing tingle in his groin, he quickly looked up, just in time to catch Napoleon's gaze drifting southward with slow deliberation. When that gaze lingered for longer than socially acceptable at hip level, he felt himself blush– the curse of fair skin– and hoped that Napoleon would think his state was just the leftover engorgement of a common morning erection. Just when he was about to cover himself like a coy schoolgirl, Napoleon's gaze snapped suddenly north again.
Their eyes met, and he thought he saw something flare in the depths of Napoleon's eyes. Something like the look he got on a case when all the clues finally came together and he figured out the nature of the problem they faced. Illya sincerely hoped he had not, but that seemed unlikely when Napoleon suddenly flushed, looked away, and cleared his throat.
"I, uh, forgot my shaving kit," he said, gesturing toward the folding valet that held his suitcase.
Spell broken, Illya turned and picked up his own bag, pulling out an undershirt and briefs. "Ah," he said blandly, nothing more required. As he began to dress, he heard Napoleon rummaging in his suitcase, then heard the bathroom door close once more. He waited until he heard the shower come on before allowing himself to sit down, heavily, on the edge of the bed. He rubbed his temples to try to ease the sudden tension he felt, and sighed. Perhaps now Napoleon would not be so reluctant to sign the transfer request.
He finished dressing mechanically, packing Napoleon's pajamas in his own bag to launder and return after they got back home. He had just cinched the bag closed when the familiar, annoying tones of a communicator sounded. He retrieved his communicator from the night table only to realize that it was Napoleon's that was demanding attention, not his own. He went looking for it, finding it in the pocket of Napoleon's suit coat where it hung in the 'closet.' One of these days he was going to get them to add a volume control to the damned thing. Or perhaps silence it altogether, and add a vibrating alert mode as well. Much more discreet. He twisted it on, and raised the antenna.
"Open Channel D, Kuryakin here."
"Ah, Mr. Kuryakin. Where is Mr. Solo?" Mr. Waverly sounded faintly annoyed.
"In the shower. May I relay a message?"
"I'm afraid your bird has flown the coop, Mr. Kuryakin, and it's up to the two of you to see that he's returned to his cage."
It only took a moment to realize what Mr. Waverly meant. "Aquilla."
"Indeed, Mr. Kuryakin."
Illya suppressed the urge to swear. "We're on it. Kuryakin out." He deactivated the communicator and turned to rap sharply on the bathroom door, opening it an inch. "Napoleon?"
After a few seconds, the shower-curtain was drawn back and Napoleon peered out, looking rather drowned-rattish and annoyed. "What's the emergency?"
Napoleon swore, shaking his head. "He must have had this planned from the start. No wonder he was so well behaved on the trip out. He just had to wait until we left."
Illya nodded, frowning. "That's quite clear. I should have insisted on reviewing their security plans before we left."
Napoleon narrowed his eyes at him. "I'm sure you meant to say that we should have."
Illya shrugged a little, allowing Napoleon his fantasy. Napoleon slicked his hair off his forehead with one hand and then reached for the curtain. "Call the penitentiary and tell them we'll be there in half an hour and we want to see every last detail, and call in and cancel our flight reservation. I'll be out in five minutes."
Illya nodded as the curtain was pulled back into place, and set about his assigned tasks.
* * *
They were both tired and much the worse for wear, but as usual Illya had gotten the short end of the stick. Through the last two days Napoleon had watched him trying to disguise a limp, and once they'd completed the mission had made him see a doctor, who had declared his right ankle strained, swathed it in elastic bandages, and given him a pair of crutches he refused to use until Napoleon had ordered him to. At that point he'd given in with ill grace, muttering darkly under his breath, but Napoleon didn't much care if he liked it or not.
Finally on their way back to New York, Napoleon couldn't help but notice that the stewardesses had moved the passengers on either side of them to empty seats several rows away. He supposed he could understand that. He could also understand why the service was much less personal than usual. A week in the same suit, some of that time spent running, jumping, and climbing in ninety-degree temperatures, tended to make people want to keep their distance. The fact that Waverly had booked them on a plane without even time to clean up once the mission had been . . . completed . . . only exacerbated the problem.
He glanced over at Illya, in the aisle seat so he could stretch his leg out in the aisle whenever possible. He'd leaned the seat back and was staring at the little air-flow valve above himself with an unfocused expression, his blond hair a little stringy and his face lined with fatigue. "How are you doing? Need some aspirin?" Napoleon asked softly, reaching for the tin in his coat pocket.
Illya shook his head. "No, but I could use a drink."
Napoleon grinned. "That I can help with." He pushed himself up and waved at the red-headed stewardess.
She didn't look happy, but she came. "What can I do for you, sir?" she asked, keeping her distance.
"I'd like an orange juice, and a cup of ice, please."
She looked puzzled. "Just ice?"
"Just ice," Napoleon confirmed, with a vague gesture toward the bruise that spread across his left cheek.
She nodded then. "Of course, sir. coming right up."
He waited impatiently for her to return, and once she'd been and gone, he set the cups on Illya's tray table and then leaned down to tug his carry-on out from under the seat in front of them. Unzipping it, he pulled out a fifth of Smirnoff. "I thought you were looking a little peaked, so I got this at the duty-free. It's not Russian and I'm afraid you'll have to take it on ice, but beggars can't be choosers."
He was rewarded with one of Illya's rare, brilliant smiles. "You'll hear no complaints from me, my friend. And as it is American vodka, ice is not even a mortal sin."
"You don't believe in sin, anyway." Napoleon poured a generous measure of vodka over the ice in Illya's cup and handed it to him.
Illya took the cup and sipped, wincing a little, no doubt as the alcohol stung the cuts inside his mouth. The word about Illya's glass jaw must have spread throughout THRUSH now, as they always seemed to aim for it. He took a second, larger sip, the first apparently having anesthetized the nerve endings.
"Better, thank you."
"You're quite welcome." Napoleon added a judicious amount of liquor to his own orange juice. There wasn't room for much, at least not until he drank some, and the orange juice was from a can, but it wasn't as bad as it could be, and at least they were both alive.
Illya turned his head. "How much trouble are we in?"
"None," Napoleon said firmly. "Aquilla was killed during an escape attempt, and that's God's own truth."
"Mr. Waverly won't think it was a little too convenient?"
"Convenient?" Napoleon let incredulity color his voice. "Since when is it convenient to chase a killer across half of California with him and his pals shooting at us every chance they got?"
The corners of Illya's mouth turned up. "There is that." He sipped again, and sighed. "I suppose it's not as if we let him out."
"No. And it's hardly our fault if the Feds don't screen their prison-guard applicants for criminal connections."
"No, true." Illya finished his drink, fished an ice cube out with his tongue and sucked on it.
Napoleon concentrated on his Screwdriver until Illya's hand moved into his peripheral vision, holding the empty cup, rattling the ice in it.
Napoleon chuckled. "You sound like Oliver Twist." He leaned down to retrieve the bottle from between his feet and refilled the glass.
"If I were Oliver Twist I would be drinking gin, not vodka," Illya pointed out.
"I have a bottle of that, too," Napoleon said obligingly.
Illya shuddered delicately. "Not without vermouth and olives, thank you." He looked curiously at Napoleon. "What did you do, buy out the duty free? They do sell liquor in New York you know."
"I know, but it was Tanqueray and a very good price."
"I thought I was the cheap one."
"You're rubbing off on me."
Illya's lips quirked upward again, and he hid the smile behind his cup, draining it before holding it out once more. "Another shot?"
"One more, but that's all. I don't think any of our fellow passengers would care to hear you singing Russian folksongs while you dance Cossack-fashion in the aisle."
Illya studied the aisle speculatively. "There is not enough room, in any case."
"Small favors," Napoleon said, and filled the glass again. It always amazed him how much liquor Illya could put away without showing any sign of ill-effect. Maybe the old joke about Russians drinking vodka along with mother's milk wasn't so farfetched after all. He finished his own drink and stared out the window at the passing clouds. Now that the mission was over, his brain had resumed worrying at his other puzzle.
How many pieces did he have now? Piece one: Illya couldn't sleep alone, confirmed by Joyce. Piece two: Illya was having wet dreams that didn't seem to ever actually get to the wet part. A week in close quarters had confirmed that one. Piece three: or maybe this should have been piece one, Illya had been . . . how had he put it when Illya objected to Joyce's original definition. . . sexually assaulted. Yeah. Maybe not quite rape, but definitely assault, and definitely sexual. Four: Illya became sexually aroused in his presence. Confirmed by walking out of the bathroom six days earlier and catching Illya stark naked, plus a couple of other incidents Illya had taken pains to conceal. Five: He had a copy of a memorandum outlining how the CIA was testing what they called psychological reprogramming techniques involving stimulating hallucinogens, and if UNCLE had a copy, he was pretty sure that THRUSH did too. The CIA was sloppy. Six: the assault had involved a stimulating hallucinogen. Seven: Illya resisted pain quite well, but resisting pleasure didn't seem to be something he had much experience with.
The idea of his partner not resisting pleasure sent tendrils of distracting heat through him and he shifted in his seat, glancing over at Illya to make sure he hadn't noticed. He hadn't. In fact, his eyes were closed, lips slightly parted, and his cup was about to slide from lax fingers. Napoleon eased the cup from his slack grip and set it on his own tray, then settled back in his seat, watching Illya as he slept.
Taking each feature by itself, Illya's face shouldn't have been attractive. Broad, high forehead, eyebrows a shade too close to the eyes, nose slightly off-center from an old break. A jaw like something from a sketch by Siegel & Schuster that was oddly offset by a slight softness to the flesh below the chin that never went away no matter how much weight he lost. Lips that looked somehow too soft and lush to belong to that face, something Illya tried to disguise by keeping them thinned in irritation. But somehow when every piece was combined into a whole, the results were striking. Especially when his eyes were open, their clear, brilliant blue expressing the intelligence and humor behind the mismatched features.
And then, of course, there was the hair. Of which Illya was remarkably and understandably vain. Good thing Thrush hadn't figured that part out yet, or their torture sessions would probably involve threats of shaving his head and Napoleon wasn't sure Illya could withstand that.
"You're staring at me," Illya said softly.
Startled, Napoleon's gaze lifted from Illya's lips to his eyes, which were open, and wary.
"Guilty," he admitted.
"I was . . . wondering."
"Many, many things. What did they want?"
Illya blinked at him, clearly surprised. "What did who want?"
"The birdies who were torturing you some weeks back, when you supposedly broke."
Illya's gaze slid away from his and his jaw tightened. "I told you what they wanted."
"No, you never did. Just that you answered them in Russian."
"Why do you want to know?"
Illya sighed. "They wanted to know the location of UNCLE New York headquarters, how many entrances there are, and where they are located. Also the locations of the other head offices and the same information about them."
That got his attention. He sat up straighter. "That's all?" he asked, trying not to sound incredulous.
Apparently he failed, because Illya's gaze lifted and narrowed. "Yes, why?"
"Illya . . . they already know all that."
"They don't know the location of the fifth entrance."
"Neither do you."
Illya's lips twisted a little in an acknowledging grimace. "True."
"Why were they torturing you for information that's probably printed in the 'THRUSH Guide to UNCLE'?"
"I. . . don't know." Illya frowned. "It makes no sense."
"Not unless that's not what they were really after."
"If they were after something else, why didn't they ask that?"
Napoleon thought he might just know the answer to that, and he contemplated telling Illya, and decided against it. He needed to talk to Joyce first. "Good question," he said finally.
Illya frowned, staring at him. "Why the hesitation?"
Napoleon shook his head, smiling wryly. "I should know better. I hesitated because I have an idea what they wanted, but I want to do a little more research before I say anything about it. I could be wrong."
Illya widened his eyes. "You? Wrong?"
Napoleon glared at him. "Watch it or I'll . . . ruffle your hair."
Illya gave Napoleon a defiant look. "Try it and I'll break your wrist."
Napoleon chuckled. "You're so predictable."
Illya made a face at him and then settled back against his chair back. "We must talk to Joyce."
Startled by that echo of his own previous musings, he looked at Illya warily. "About?"
"Aquilla. I think we should probably tell her in person, not over the phone. It might be difficult for her."
"Ah." Somehow he'd completely forgotten about that aspect of things, but Illya was right. Joyce did deserve to know, and to be told in person. Sometimes Illya could be remarkably insightful. "Yes, you're right of course. I'll make the arrangements after we get back and debrief." And that phone call would let him ask a few important questions with which he hoped to either confirm or deny his theory.
Illya nodded and reached for his glass on Napoleon's tray-table, draining the last swig from it before settling back and closing his eyes again. This time, Napoleon didn't assume he was asleep, and for the rest of the flight he went back to putting together his mental puzzle, adding in the new piece he'd just obtained. He was still missing a segment or two, but it was looking more and more as if the resulting picture only made sense when the pieces were put together one specific way.
They were met on the ground at Kennedy by a car from UNCLE, which took them immediately back to HQ for debriefing. It was another three hours before Napoleon was alone in his office with the phone, having ordered Illya to go home while he took care of some duties that couldn't wait. Which there were, but they were easily dealt with, leaving him one last thing to do before he went home. He'd deliberately sent Illya home so he could talk to Joyce about his suspicions. He felt guilty about doing it before they had a chance to tell her about Aquilla, but being Chief Enforcement Agent frequently trumped being a friend.
Once he was finally free, it took him a little while to work up the nerve to actually call Joyce. It was the last thing he wanted to do. He was tired, sore, had a headache from drinking on the plane, and generally felt like he'd been swimming in a vat of dirty crank-case oil. All he really wanted was to go home, peel off his clothes, shower, and fall into bed. But there were too many things to do first. He stared at the phone for a long time with the sort of wary tension he usually reserved for enemy agents with guns, or poisonous snakes, then finally took a deep breath, lifted the handset, and dialed.
"Napoleon!" she said warmly. "Welcome back, finally. I thought you two were only going to be gone overnight."
"You know how these things go."
"Well, yes and no. I know things often don't go as planned, but in specific, how did it go with the two of you? I've been wondering."
She would get right to the point. He picked up a pen and drew circles on his desk blotter. "Not too badly, though I have a bone to pick with you." He tried for a light tone. "I wish you'd warned me about those 'nightmares' Illya's been having."
"I did!" She sounded indignant.
"You, ah, didn't tell me they weren't nightmares."
There was a short silence. "They're not?" Joyce asked uncertainly.
That took him by surprise. He'd been sure she knew, and more than a little pissed off at her for not mentioning it. He wished he could see her face. "No, they're not."
"So what are they?"
"From what I can tell, they're . . ." The pen tore a hole in the desk blotter, and he cleared his throat. "I'd say they're about two-thirds of a wet dream."
The silence was longer this time. "Oh."
"But they never seem to . . . finish," he added uncomfortably. It felt intrusive, almost voyeuristic, to be talking about Illya this way.
"Oh, of course. Yes. That makes sense, actually."
"Now it makes sense, but you didn't notice before we left? That's a little hard to believe. I mean, for God's sake, Joyce, you're sleeping with him."
There was a moment of silence, and he felt guilty for snapping. Finally she responded.
"Don't jump to conclusions, Napoleon. Just because I'm sleeping with someone doesn't mean I'm having sex with them."
As soon as she said it, another piece clicked into place. Another piece he didn't want. "I'm afraid that interpretation hadn't occurred to me."
"I'm not at all surprised. But I am sorry I didn't pick up on the dreams. I should have. That was probably difficult for you."
"Yeah, it was." Not that he'd admit it to anyone else. "I need to ask you something about Illya that probably violates confidentiality, but I have to know."
"Since the . . . incident in California, has he had. . . ah, has he been able to . . . " He felt himself blushing, which was ridiculous. He wasn't asking for prurience's sake, he honestly needed to know, but all of the sudden it was impossible to ask the question.
"You want to know if he's had an orgasm since then?" Joyce asked crisply.
"Yes." He almost sagged in relief as she took the need to ask the question away from him.
"I don't know," she said thoughtfully. "I haven't been with him the entire time, so it's impossible to know, but just judging from his responses to me the time we did try it, and from what you've told me, I'm guessing that he hasn't. Do you know whether or not he was functional before that?"
He chuckled. "Oh yeah. Definitely so." He closed his eyes briefly against the memory of coming back to their shared hotel room one night a few months earlier, having unexpectedly struck out with his lady of choice for the evening, and opening the door on Illya, who . . . hadn't. He'd watched for much too long before quietly closing the door. He knew he had. His gaze had not been on the lovely red-head with Illya either. His gaze had been locked to the graceful curves of Illya's back and ass. He'd felt guilty about it for weeks.
"I thought as much. He doesn't strike me as the non-functional type. I assumed the problem was residual psychological trauma from the assault, but it sounds like you think differently?"
"Maybe. I've got a theory anyway. Do you remember what we talked about briefly before I left on this mission? About the use of hallucinogens in psychological reprogramming?"
"Yes." The single-word answer was drawn out, and ended up an up note, making it both a statement and a question.
He was on firmer ground here, it wasn't so personal, so talking about it came as easily as it usually did. "The CIA's been on that same track. The memorandum I saw about it indicated they've had some success with it. The drug THRUSH used on Illya seems to have been a lot milder than what the CIA has been using, but I wonder if it's possible it might have a similar end effect just the same." He briefly outlined all but one of his puzzle pieces for her, laying them out in no particular order just to see what she would make of them.
When he finished there was a moment of silence, and then Joyce whistled softly. "They were trying to reprogram Illya."
"It's the only theory that makes any sense," he agreed, not sure whether to be relieved or dismayed by the fact that she'd come to the same conclusion.
"It does. Except for one thing. What on earth could they have been reprogramming him for using sexual response?"
"I think they believed that if they could program him to only respond sexually to them, they'd have a means of keeping him at their beck and call."
"That seems pretty farfetched," Joyce said dubiously.
Napoleon snorted. "If you think that's farfetched, you should see some of the other schemes they've concocted over the years. Compared to them, this one's positively ordinary."
"I see. So you think Illya's been programmed only to respond to those two THRUSH agents who were torturing him?"
"Ah, no. Not . . . exactly." Now he was getting into delicate territory and had to work to keep his tone even.
"No. Because I, uh, interrupted their programming session at a . . . critical juncture." There. It was out.
There was another long silence, then a sharp inhalation.
"Did he. . ."
"Yes." Napoleon interrupted. "Almost as soon as I touched him." His fingers curled, remembering the touch of hot, silky flesh, the hard, smooth surface of the leather.
"Oh, Napoleon," she said, her voice full of unwanted sympathy. "You know what that probably did, don't you? It transferred the trigger for the programming to you."
Napoleon managed not to swear. He wasn't sure how. "That's . . . what I was afraid of."
"But wait, if that's the case, then he should be showing sexual response to you."
"I . . . left out that part. I wanted to see what you thought before I mentioned it. He's definitely responding to me sexually."
"Did he ever, before? I know what you told me two years ago, but. . . it's been a while."
"Not long enough to change that."
"You sound sure."
"I think I'd have noticed," he pointed out.
"Not necessarily. Illya's very good at hiding things, just like you are."
"Then why isn't he hiding it now?"
"Because he's under tremendous emotional stress, and you're the one person he feels relatively safe around. It's all right to let the leash slip a little around you."
Napoleon shook his head, noticing that he'd ripped another hole in his desk blotter. "I don't buy it. I mean, sure, I know he's stressed now, but I would have known if he'd been interested before. For God's sake, Joyce, I was looking for it." He didn't usually let exasperation show. He was known for his patience, but even he had limits.
"You're probably right," she said soothingly. "Relax. I'm just playing devil's advocate."
"Assuming we have the right diagnosis, how the hell do we treat it? We've got to do something to break the conditioning."
"You know, you don't have to. If you do nothing about it, it could be very convenient for you."
Her tone was slyly suggestive, and it scraped across his nerves like sandpaper, as did the fact that the idea of using Illya like that was simultaneously tempting and repugnant. The fact that he could find it tempting at all was disturbing in a way that made his stomach lurch. Anger swept through him, cold and sharp. "You're a good friend, Joyce, so I'll let that go this time, but I suggest you never say anything even remotely similar to me again."
She laughed softly. "That's my Napoleon. I had to point it out, you know."
Damn her. She'd been deliberately baiting him. "Duly noted," he said curtly, still seething. "Now, suggestions?"
"Absolutely not. I just told you, I'm not going to take advantage of the situation." It was a good thing they weren't having the conversation face-to-face, because his temper was frayed nearly beyond control.
Joyce sighed loud enough for him to hear it over the phone. "Napoleon, you have to be involved, if even just peripherally. Otherwise he won't be able to respond enough for anyone else to even have a shot at . . . weaning him away."
"What do you mean, peripherally? You're either involved or you're not."
"Don't try to convince me you're a conventional thinker, Napoleon. Not with your sexual history."
The proverbial light-bulb went on over his head. "A ménage á trois?"
"Exactly. You need to be there to supply the basic trigger, but then someone else can take over, and possibly if you're there and in effect giving him permission, it would break the conditioning, let his subconscious as well as his conscious mind know that it's all right for him to want someone else."
"Do you think that will work?"
"Honestly? I don't have the slightest idea. But it's the only thing I can think of that might."
"I see." Napoleon tried not to think about what that would entail. Tried to think of it as a mission. Failed abjectly at both.
"Are you going to be all right with this?" Joyce asked, far too astute.
"I'm going to have to be, aren't I?" Napoleon said flatly. "And if I'm not, then you can do more business picking up the pieces afterward."
"Napoleon . . ."
He cut her off. "It's part of the job. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've been wearing this same suit for a week now and my secretary refuses to get closer to me than ten feet, so I'd really like to get home and shower and change. Are you free this evening?"
"I am at the moment. Did you want to talk more about this?"
"Actually, there's something personal Illya and I need to talk to you about. How about if we come by your place around eight?"
"Personal?" She laughed. "I'm not sure what could be more personal than what we've been talking about, but eight is fine."
"Good. We'll see you later."
He hung up the phone and slumped wearily, elbows on his desk, hands in his hair. The conversation had left him feeling tense and vaguely nauseated. Occasionally the idea of resigning from UNCLE was very, very tempting. Sometimes he almost wished he worked for the other side. None of this would be happening if he did. Life would be so much easier.
But then he never would have met Illya, either. Except, perhaps, on the wrong end of a gun.
* * *
The sound of the door buzzer startled Illya awake. It took him a moment to realize what seemed so odd about this particular awakening. For the first time in ages he'd woken without the awareness of unfulfilled arousal. He pushed himself upright, realizing he'd fallen asleep at his dining table. Luckily he'd just been reading mail, not eating, though the telephone company might not feel the same good fortune after receiving a bill stub that had been rather disgustingly drooled on. The buzzer kept buzzing, so he stood up and crossed to the door, standing to one side, gun drawn.
"Who is it?"
Illya put away his gun, deactivated the security system, and then unlocked the door and swung it open. Clearly he'd slept at his table for some time, as Napoleon had been home, showered, shaved, and changed into a clean suit before coming over. He wondered what time it was, but he'd left his watch in the bathroom. Napoleon studied him for a moment, head cocked slightly to one side, lips quirking upward ever so slightly.
"You have letters on your face."
Illya swore and swung around, heading for the bathroom, leaving Napoleon to close the front door. In the mirror he could see that the damp bill had left its imprint on backward on his face; he could clearly read it in the mirror. With a sigh he got a cloth and scrubbed it off.
"Dare I ask?"
Napoleon was lounging in the bathroom doorway, much too close, watching him intently. Meeting Napoleon's eyes in the mirror, an unexpected shiver of desire swirled through Illya, and he nearly swore again. Grabbing his towel, he began drying his face, speaking into the towel. "I fell asleep on some papers."
"Ah. Sorry to wake you." Napoleon sounded genuinely apologetic.
"So why did you?" Illya hung up his towel, and then rinsed the washcloth and draped it over the showerhead to dry.
"We've got a date."
Startled, Illya turned to look at him. "A . . . date?" He wracked his brain, trying vainly to remember anything of the sort. The term itself was disconcerting; Napoleon didn't usually refer to their dinner engagements as dates.
"Yes, a date, with a lady."
We. Date. Lady. Something clicked. "Ah. Joyce."
"Joyce," Napoleon confirmed. "We're meeting her at her place in half an hour."
Illya frowned. "A little warning would have been nice."
"I know, my fault. I got tied up at work, and then when I got home I . . . kind of forgot. Sorry."
"I'll go change."
Napoleon's gaze raked him from head to toe. "Don't worry about it. Just wear what you have on."
Illya looked down at himself. Dungarees, undershirt, bare feet. Not what he usually wore to meet a lady, but comfortable. "May I at least put on my shoes?" he asked jokingly.
"Why? We both know you'll have them off ten minutes after we get there."
Illya glared at him. "I do have some manners, Napoleon."
"Joyce still gets the company treatment? I would have thought you two would be past that by now."
For some reason the innuendo and the arched eyebrow made heat surge across his face. "There is a time and place for being casual," he said stiffly. "I wouldn't think the purpose of our call would lend itself to that."
"I don't think she's going to be too upset that Aquilla's dead."
"No, but it will bring up memories." Illya shrugged. "With women, one never knows what that might mean."
"True." Napoleon moved toward the door, then stopped. "Well, what are you waiting for? Shoes."
Illya resisted the urge to glare and went and put on his loafers, the only shoes that he could wear right now, with his ankle bandaged. He left his crutches, hoping Napoleon wouldn't remember if he walked carefully enough, and grabbed his maroon sport coat on the way out the door, because it felt odd not to wear one. Napoleon studied him as they got in the car, and shook his head. "Only you could make that combination look good, my friend."
The compliment was unexpected, but Napoleon's tone was sincere, not teasing. Illya felt his face heat again. "Perhaps I should take up fashion design," he suggested drolly.
Napoleon laughed. "Yeah, I can see that. You with your buyers lined up at gunpoint. 'You will buy this style this season.'"
The image was patently absurd, and it made him smile. "I'm sure I would be a great success."
Oddly, Napoleon's gaze grew thoughtful. "I suspect you'd be a great success at anything you set your mind to."
Illya looked askance at him. "Napoleon, are you all right?"
Napoleon blinked, and put the car in gear. "Perfectly," he said, a smooth, practiced lie. "Just a little tired. But we should get this over with."
His tone was bleak, and Illya wondered what on earth was going on in his head. He knew better than to ask though. Napoleon didn't lie to him often but when he did, nothing on earth would get the truth from him. Napoleon found a parking place a few spaces down the block from Joyce's familiar brownstone, and they walked up to the building in silence, rode the lift up to her apartment in silence.
Illya had been there often. Her husband's death benefits must have been substantial, as she had an entire floor. He liked the place. She had wonderful taste-- elegant yet comfortable, much like her. She could afford the best, and indulged herself. By going to her apartment he could indulge vicariously. As Napoleon had guessed, under ordinary circumstances he would have had his shoes off almost immediately. The feel of the cool oak parquetry and thick, soft carpets under his bare feet was nearly irresistible.
Joyce had recognized that treasonous sensuality in him from the start. One night, unable to sleep, he'd nosily opened her linen closet and slid his hands in among the sheets, absorbing the different textures. She owned silk sheets. He'd never known anyone else who did. Not tacky, slick-sticky satin, but silk, whisper-soft and fine. She had linen ones too, washed so many times they were nearly as soft as the silk, but heavy instead of airy. And Egyptian cotton, which he fancifully imagined the offspring of some illicit midnight mating between the other sheets. He'd wondered if anyone made velvet sheets. She woken up and caught him at it and he'd been embarrassed, but she'd just laughed and pulled the sheets out and wrapped him in them.
He only wished he found Joyce as compelling as her linens. Truthfully he wasn't quite sure why he didn't. She was lovely, and he enjoyed her company very much. Normally he would have been happy to take her to bed, but of late he only seemed able to reach arousal in his sleep, and he always woke before he finished. Joyce said it was because of what had happened in California, but he didn't think that was true. He'd been tortured countless times in the past, sometimes in sexual ways, and never before had such a reaction.
After spending a week alone with Napoleon, he was fairly sure he knew what it was. His first experiences with sex had been with a boy, and apparently that was coming back to haunt him. Not that Napoleon was a boy. Not at all. It was just his luck to be partnered with a man who was constitutionally unable to not exude sex-appeal. He sighed, and Napoleon shot him a questioning look. Illya shook his head as the ancient lift creaked to a halt, and he opened the cage and let them out.
Joyce opened the door before they even got to it. She was dressed casually, in a wide-skirted sundress printed with large flowers, her hair up in its usual chignon. "I heard the elevator, come in." She eyed them as they stepped into the apartment, and nodded approvingly. "Illya, you look marvelous. Napoleon, why don't you try that?"
"Because I could never pull it off, my dear," he said with a wink. "I'll stick to my Brooks Brothers."
"You're much too young to be getting stuffy, Napoleon," she admonished, leading them into what she called the living room.
The low table in front of the sofa held cheese, fruit, an uncorked bottle of wine, and three glasses. She noticed the direction of Illya's gaze and smiled knowingly. He returned her smile ruefully. She knew him well, for someone who hadn't known him long. She sat directly in the center of the sofa and patted the cushions on either side of her. "Come sit."
As they complied, flanking her, she poured wine into the glasses, the liquid a mellow straw-gold. Picking up her own, she waited for them to do the same, and then lifted the glass. "To coming home safe one more time."
Three glasses met with a crystalline chime, and they all drank. Napoleon's eyes met Illya's and then flickered downward. The slight frown that followed told Illya that Napoleon had remembered about the crutches, and the narrowed eyes told him he'd be hearing about that later. He made innocent eyes back at his partner and took a second sip of wine, savoring the light, fruity complexity. A chenin blanc, he was sure, possibly a Vouvray.
He glanced at the label, confirmed the appellation, and silently derided himself for knowing that. Every day he spent away removed him more and more from the person he'd been when he left Kiev all those years ago. France had added a moderate distance, Britain more, but America had taken him the furthest. He could easily have returned home from France, almost as easily from Britain, but now . . . now it would be very, very hard.
"So, what's this mysterious personal thing we have to talk about?" Joyce asked.
Startled, Illya looked at Napoleon, feeling his face go hot, suddenly certain that Napoleon had brought him here to discuss his inappropriate behavior over the past week. Napoleon returned his gaze, looking puzzled, and then cleared his throat and looked at Joyce instead.
"It's about the assignment we just finished."
"Go on," Joyce prompted.
"We were escorting a prisoner from Ray Brook to Lompoc."
The held breath sighed out of Illya's lungs almost loudly enough to be noticeable. Of course. They had already discussed this. It had even been his idea. Illya saw Joyce tense at the name of the first location, though she was turned toward Napoleon so he couldn't see her face. Napoleon reached out and took her hand, shooting a glance at Illya that conveyed an order. Illya complied, settling a hand gently on her shoulder.
"It was him, wasn't it?" she asked, her voice rough. "That bastard."
Napoleon nodded. "Yes."
"You were gone so much longer than you originally planned. Did he get away?"
"For a while. He'd set up an escape at the new prison, for after we left. Fortunately we hadn't left town yet."
"You got him."
Illya felt her sag. "Thank God."
She tensed again. "He didn't kill anyone else, did he?"
"No, no not this time."
She sagged again, and Illya decided that in attempting to be kind, Napoleon was actually making things worse for her, as she imagined all the dire possibilities. He decided to take matters into his own hands.
"Colonel Aquilla was the only casualty of his escape attempt, Joyce. I was forced to shoot him to prevent him from taking a hostage."
She turned from Napoleon with a gasp, staring at him, eyes wide in a face drained of all color save the subtle sweep of cosmetic across her cheeks and eyelids. "He's dead?"
Illya nodded, and was startled at the expression of satisfaction that transformed her face. "Good," she said calmly. "He deserved that. And not just for Evan." She lifted her wineglass and drained it in three large swallows, then held it out. As Napoleon poured more wine into it, she looked defiantly at Illya. "Is it wrong of me to hope he suffered?"
He caught the troubled expression on Napoleon's face and shook his head minutely. "No, I don't think it is, considering how he made you suffer. I think it's quite natural."
She nodded and drank her wine too quickly again. Napoleon frowned. Illya drained his own glass and nodded for Napoleon to fill them both. "You're falling behind, Napoleon. Joyce, have you another bottle?" he asked, as Napoleon tipped the last few drops into Illya's half-full glass.
"Three," she announced. "In the refrigerator, chilling."
"Good. Go get another, Napoleon."
Napoleon opened his mouth as if to object, paused, then closed it again with a disgruntled look and sketched a mock salute as he stood. Illya studied Joyce, looking for signs of distress other than her level of alcohol consumption, which was slightly higher than usual. She seemed calm, though, only a hint of tension around her eyes. She caught him watching her and smiled.
"I'm all right."
"Yes," she said firmly. When he arched an eyebrow at her, she reached out and took his hand. "It was a long time ago, Illya. Life. . . goes on."
He nodded. "Yes, but so do memories."
Joyce looked away, and then back, her expression rueful. "Are you sure your degree is in physics, and not psychology? In any case, a little wine and some distraction will help." She lifted her glass again, sipping more slowly this time as she pushed with her shoulder until Illya turned so she could settle back against his chest. Kicking off her shoes, she poked at his left shoe with a toe.
"Why are you still wearing those?" she asked. "And what did you do to your foot?"
"It's nothing, just a . . ."
"He sprained his ankle, and he's refusing to use his crutches, which means it will take longer to heal," Napoleon said, returning from the kitchen with a bottle in one hand and a corkscrew in the other. "Will you talk some sense into him?"
"No." Joyce leaned her head back until she could look up at Illya with a mischievous expression. "He's Russian, you know. They enjoy suffering."
"We do not!" Illya protested.
Napoleon and Joyce both snorted in unison. Illya shot Napoleon a jaundiced look. "You two are ganging up on me."
Napoleon smiled his shark smile. "But of course." He sat down again and opened the wine, refilling all their glasses.
Joyce didn't pick hers up immediately, instead turning to look at Illya again. "This isn't comfortable," she announced. "Take your jacket off."
Amused, Illya complied, handing his coat to Napoleon who draped it over a chair.
"Good. Now, move your legs. . ." She pushed his thighs apart like she was positioning a doll, and then slid between them and leaned back against him. "There. Much better."
Napoleon mouthed "cheap drunk' at him. Illya had to suppress a laugh.
"I saw that," Joyce said tartly. "And this wine wasn't cheap so I'm not really. For goodness sake, Napoleon, take off the coat and tie. Both of you take off your shoes. You're not at the office."
Obediently Illya managed to toe off his loafers, wincing a little as the elastic bandage made the right one harder to remove. He looked up to see that Napoleon had discarded his jacket and was in the process of unfastening his tie. As he pulled it from his collar, the whisper of silk against cotton made him remember the feel of Joyce's linens against his hands, and when Napoleon unbuttoned his top two buttons, the narrow vee of exposed skin at his throat made Illya itch to touch. He shifted slightly on the couch, trying to slide away from Joyce's warm, soft curves so she wouldn't feel what that tiny glimpse of Napoleon's skin had done to him.
Disconcertingly, she followed him, her curvaceous derrière staying pressed quite closely to his groin, and worse, she moved her free hand to stroke his thigh. He thought he might stop breathing. Oblivious to it all, Napoleon knelt to untie his shoes and remove them, then his socks, before resuming his place just inches away on the couch. Barefoot, in suit pants and casually unbuttoned shirt, his hair falling over his forehead, he looked like an advertisement for sex. Illya's fingers closed on the arm of the couch, white-knuckled. Joyce chose that moment to . . . wriggle.
Illya couldn't help it. He whimpered. Very softly, but unmistakably. Napoleon's gaze went unerringly to his face, and he could feel the prickle of capillary expansion as a blush fanned across his face. Napoleon's eyes widened, and then Illya was suddenly distracted as Joyce squirmed around to face him, brushing the pad of her index finger across his lips.
"I want you."
He absorbed that with a feeling of stunned disbelief. That she would say that, with Napoleon right there . . .
Then she held out a hand to Napoleon. "And you."
Illya was sure Napoleon would turn away, but instead he just looked at Joyce, who gazed back intently. They seemed to be communicating something Illya wasn't privy to, and then Napoleon reached out and let her take his hand, let her pull him toward them.
He watched, fascinated. The shock of pleasure that swept him as their lips met was startling, as intense as if it were his mouth meeting Napoleon's. His own lips parted, his tongue moistening them, echoing what was taking place just inches away. He lifted a hand to gently trace the line of Joyce's arm, then slip beneath it to cup the rounded softness of a breast. It wasn't who he wanted to touch, but he didn't dare that. Just being close would have to do.
Joyce pressed herself into his hand. Illya could feel the hard knot of her nipple through both the dress and the bra beneath it. He trapped it between two fingers and she inhaled sharply. He could hear the moist sound that her lips made as they parted from Napoleon's, and then she was kissing him instead. He returned the kiss eagerly, tongue searching out not her taste, but one more elusive. Ridiculous, really, since he had no way of knowing just who he was tasting. Still, her mouth was hot and moist under his, and if he closed his eyes he could concentrate on the familiar scent of Napoleon, and pretend the mouth under his was thinner, more mobile, and perpetually quirked upward at the corners.
Fingers brushed against his on Joyce's breast, shifted to the other side, and she arched forward, gasping into his mouth. The movement gave him some slight relief from the pressure at his groin, until a hand slid into the space thus created, fingers first on his inseam, then moving to cup the mound between his thighs where his cock strained against the too-tight fabric of his jeans. It wasn't until his hips had hitched involuntarily upward into that touch that it registered that the hand was too large to be Joyce's.
Illya couldn't breathe, couldn't move, just sat frozen as sure fingers took his measure, thumbed open the button at his waist, and worked the zipper down a little ways. By that point he was seeing pinpricks of red against the black of his eyelids, but when he felt the brush of callused fingers against the skin of his belly he finally had to breathe. Freeing his mouth from Joyce's, he sucked in a long, loud breath. She started kissing his jaw, nibbling, ran her tongue around his ear, which made him shiver. He turned his head and saw Napoleon, a slight frown on his face as his hand worked between them.
Something . . .
Something wasn't. . .
Napoleon's eyes met his, and he saw no fire in them, but rather something that looked disturbingly like guilt. Napoleon's gaze slid away, followed by the hand on his body.
The voice was Napoleon's but it might as well have been his own.
"Napoleon!" Joyce protested.
Napoleon sat back, taking a shaky breath, raking a hand through his hair. "Not like this. I'm sorry. He has to know."
"Know what?" Illya asked.
It was difficult thinking past his arousal, but Illya was used to thinking under difficult circumstances. 'Why' implied that there was a reason other than the obvious, and that the reason was one Napoleon seemed to feel guilty about. He set Joyce away a little, removed his hand from her breast.
Napoleon did. Starting with California, and ending with the CIA, repeatedly filling all three wine-glasses along the way, until Illya had to put his down, afraid if he continued to hold it, he would break it, and he could not allow that much to show. He wanted to say the idea was ridiculous, but he couldn't. The theory explained too much, too well. Occam's Razor would seem to imply it was correct. There was still a data point missing though.
"Reserving judgement for now, just how does your theory explain this?" Illya asked, waving a hand in a vague circle that included the three of them. Napoleon looked at Joyce, clearly asking for a rescue. Illya wasn't about to let him off the hook so easily. "Napoleon?"
"I . . . we . . . thought that maybe if, I mean, if there was a situation like this, where I was around to . . . but there was someone else, too, and that it was all right. . . well, we hoped it might undo the conditioning." He rubbed his face nervously and this time his pleading glance went to Illya.
"Ah." Illya stared thoughtfully into his wine. How ironic, to be offered something he wanted very much, but for very nearly the worst possible reason. Still, he hadn't been raised to be impractical. It was possible that continuing with their scenario would indeed 'fix' the situation, whether or not he wanted it to be fixed, and would also serve as likely his only opportunity to indulge himself with Napoleon. A glass half-full was better than no glass at all. When he looked back up, both Joyce and Napoleon were gazing at him expectantly. He shrugged. "I suppose it cannot hurt."
Illya nearly laughed at the dual sighs of relief his words provoked. Really, the situation was nearly farcical. He wasn't at all sure he could recover the arousal which had wholly fled during Napoleon's nervous and convoluted explanation. Discovering that one was the subject of a psychology experiment wasn't exactly conducive to the necessary mood. The wine helped, though. He drank a little more, and then leaned his head back against the couch, eyes closed.
Two hands came to rest on his shoulders. He deliberately tried not to analyze whose they were as they slid down to his waist and tugged at his shirt until it came free of his loosened jeans. Next they pushed the shirt upward until it bunched under his arms, which he lifted so the shirt could be stripped off. The air conditioner that kept the apartment comfortable even in New York's midsummer heat sent a breeze across his exposed skin chill enough to chase a ripple of gooseflesh across it.
Lips brushed the corner of his jaw, then the corner of his mouth, finally came to rest fully on his. Not kissing yet, just . . . resting there. He breathed in, and his partner's scent was unmistakable. His lips parted automatically for the exploration he was sure would come. He'd seen how Napoleon was with women. He liked to lead. Illya had no reason to believe it would be different now.
But it was. He grew tired of waiting, tired of sharing breath, and leaned forward just a little, tipped his head, just a little. Let his tongue slide across the soft pad of lower lip, caught it in his teeth and tugged, just a little. Napoleon gasped at that, and seemed to melt against him, only broadcloth separating their chests. He felt a knee press into the couch beside his thigh as Napoleon had to move forward for balance. Suddenly wanting to keep him off-balance, Illya fisted a hand in Napoleon's hair, not easy, as short as it was, and moved him to a better angle, letting his tongue sweep in deeper, felt the first tentative flicker of Napoleon's tongue against his own.
It was good. More than good, marvelous. Napoleon smelled right, and felt right, and tasted right, and the way he opened to Illya was perfect, exactly what he needed. His body responded, and he found himself wishing his jeans were open just a little further. As if reading his mind, someone slipped a hand between his thighs and began to ease the zipper down more. Not Napoleon's hand this time, he could tell that by the light scratch of longish fingernails against his stomach. The realization that he was being intimately touched by two people who actually cared for him was almost unbearably erotic. His usual fare involved no emotions, just sex. It was much better this way. Shockingly so. It had never occurred to him that it would make a difference.
He slid his free hand down Napoleon's back to rest at his waist, feeling the dampness of sweaty cotton there at the small of his back. He slipped his fingers beneath the waistband, and then a shudder ran through Napoleon. Illya let go instantly and pulled back, searching Napoleon's face for some sign that it was a good shudder, and not a bad one.
Napoleon refused to meet his gaze.
A bitter taste welled in the back of Illya's mouth. He pushed Napoleon roughly away and rolled over the arm of the couch, gaining his feet, searching for his shirt and trying to refasten his jeans at the same time. He found his shirt and picked it up, pulling it on, not bothering to tuck it in. Shoes. Where were his shoes. . . damn. Under the coffee table. He knelt to fish them out, ignoring the twinge of pain in his ankle.
"Illya, what the. . . ?"
Napoleon sounded confused. Illya twisted around, glaring. "I'm not so desperate as to take something less than freely offered, Napoleon. I'll find another solution."
"It is freely offered, Illya," Napoleon said quietly.
Illya stood up and worked his feet into his shoes. "Oh yes. So freely that you can't even look at me." He looked at Napoleon again. He seemed terribly sincere, but Illya knew what a good actor he could be when he wished. He shook his head. "No, Napoleon. I won't do that to either of us. I value you far too much to jeopardize what we have by doing this." He turned to walk out of the room.
He was too well-trained to disobey a direct order. He stopped in the doorway. Waited.
"Joyce, tell Illya why I came to see you the second time, two years ago."
Napoleon's tone was almost desperately conversational. Illya knew him well enough to know he only sounded like that when they were in so much trouble he didn't expect them to get out of it alive. He turned. This was important. Very important.
Joyce was staring at Napoleon, clearly shocked. "Napoleon . . ."
"Just tell him."
"I . . ." She looked from Napoleon to Illya and back, and then nodded. "Yes. Yes, all right." She turned back to Illya. "He referred himself to me because I'd been able to help him in the past when his sexuality began to interfere with his ability to do his job, and he hoped I could help again, since this was a variation on the same thing. The main difference being that the first time he was having trouble getting it up, and the second time he was having trouble keeping it down." She smiled. "It seemed that his feelings for his partner had become. . . unprofessional."
Illya spent a moment trying to remember who Napoleon had been partnered with two years ago before he realized that he had been Napoleon's partner for nearly three years now. And with that he understood what Joyce was telling him. He stared at her for a moment before turning incredulously to Napoleon.
"You must be joking!"
Napoleon shook his head, clearly embarrassed. "No. No, joke at all."
"We worked out a few tricks that seemed to help," Joyce said quietly. "Such as not looking at you if he was feeling aroused."
He was unaccountably dense today. That took several seconds to sink in. "Oh," he said faintly, when it finally did. He stayed where he was, irresolute, stunned by the unexpectedness of the confession, indirect as it was. Napoleon stood, walked over to him, and took his hand. Startled, Illya tried to pull it back but Napoleon's grip was firm as he brought Illya's hand down to his groin.
"Does that feel unwilling?" he asked, his voice rough.
"No," he admitted, fingers automatically curving to fit around the unmistakable erection beneath summer-weight gray wool. Neither too large or too small, he evaluated, like the rest of him. The only thing outsized on Napoleon was his ego, but Illya wouldn't have him any other way. Experimentally he pressed the heel of his hand against the hard length, and was rewarded by Napoleon pushing him up against the wall and claiming his mouth the way Illya had expected him to do in the first place.
Actually, not quite the same way. There was nothing studied or subtle about this kiss, it was deep and raw and aggressive in a way he'd never seen Napoleon behave before. He liked it, liked the wildness, liked more the idea that he'd provoked it.
He'd kept his hand in place, rubbing in counterpoint to the unsubtle hip-movements Napoleon was making as they kissed, until Napoleon suddenly pulled away, wrapping his fingers around Illya's wrist when he would have continued. "Wait, stop," Napoleon said breathlessly. "Much as I'd like to keep going, this won't solve our problem."
"Solve what prob. . . ah." That problem. He looked over at Joyce, who was watching them intently.
She smiled. "You know, I can think of a much better place to continue this." She started toward the hallway that led to the bedrooms, and then stopped and gave Illya a level look. "Oh, and Illya, check any worries about pity-fucks from either of us at the door, all right?"
She swept out of the room, leaving them both gaping after her in astonishment.
Illya recovered first, and quirked a smile at Napoleon. "One would almost think she was Russian."
"Or French," Napoleon mused, then he grinned, and swept a hand toward the doorway. "After you."
"Yes, I know. I go first and check for booby traps."
"Somehow I don't think those bo. . ."
"Napoleon!" Joyce admonished, stepping out of one of the doorways to beckon to them. "You're not a twelve year old, nor are you Groucho Marx."
Napoleon blushed and gave an apologetic smile. "Sorry."
Trying not to laugh, Illya stepped into the room where Joyce waited, and suddenly realized it was her own bedroom. Until now, he'd never seen it. She'd always had him use one of the guest rooms if he stayed the night, and joined him there if he needed it. Unlike those rooms, this one was clearly lived-in. Not that it was dirty or cluttered, it just . . . smelled good. Like a room someone occupied. There were other telltale signs– a scatter of earrings in a shallow raku bowl on the dresser, the closet door slightly ajar to reveal clothing, not empty hangers within, a pair of sheer stockings draped over the back of the chair at the vanity whose surface held an assortment of cosmetics.
Then there was the bed. Possibly the largest bed he'd ever seen. The covers had been turned back to expose linen sheets. His fingers remembered the cool, heavy weight of them on the shelf. He was vaguely glad they weren't silk ones. Joyce stood beside the bed, her fingers on the top buttons of her dress and her eyes on him, dark, and wide. Something stirred in him, almost startling. He took two steps forward and put his hand on hers, stopping her progress. With his other hand he tipped her face to the proper angle, and touched her mouth with his.
Her lips were full and soft. She opened to his tongue readily, and tasted of white wine and need. Under his fingers he felt her breath, quick and shallow. He cupped a breast, thumbed the nipple to erection beneath her clothing. She shivered, and rocked her hips against him. Intrigued, he found the folds of her skirt with one hand and slowly rucked it upward until his fingers discovered skin. He slid his fingers up the silky length of her thigh, all the way to her hip without having his progress impeded by any sort of undergarment.
"Still don't care for panties, eh?" Napoleon asked from just behind them, silkily amused.
Illya controlled a startle– he hadn't realized Napoleon was so close. The startle turned to a shiver of his own as Napoleon touched the back of his neck lightly. After a moment he realized it was a fingertip tracing the line where his hair met his neck. Funny that Napoleon would touch there, as he was always making derogatory comments about the length of his hair. Joyce broke the kiss, and went up on her toes a little to look over his shoulder.
"Panties just get in the way," she said huskily, pressing herself tightly against Illya as she leaned forward enough that Napoleon could kiss her.
He could hear the moist sound of their lips meeting, and remembered how each set of lips had felt against his own. Sandwiched between two bodies, one softly rounded, one firmly muscled, he was surrounded by warmth and desire. Napoleon's interest was unmistakable, pressed against his backside as it was. He remembered the trespass of youthful fingers and wondered what it was like for an adult. Joyce was still pressing against him in small, rhythmic movements that told him of her need. Still holding a handful of Joyce's skirt, he slid his other hand off her breast and out from between them as he reached down, both hands beneath her skirt now, and cupped the soft hemispheres of her buttocks in his hands, lifting her up high enough that his own erection pressed into the hollow where mons pubis and thighs met.
Joyce made an amusing little squeak of surprise and wrapped her arms around his neck as her feet left the ground. He heard Napoleon laugh softly, and someone nipped his earlobe, distracting him for a moment so it was a good thing she was holding on or he might have dropped her. From the angle, it had to have been Napoleon. That was confirmed a moment later by the slide of tongue against the back of his neck, and the tug of teeth at a lock of his hair.
Both actions sent sparks straight to his cock. He began to have some hope that this was going to work.
Shifting his weight to his uninjured leg, he wedged a knee between Joyce's legs and slid the fingers of one hand into the gap between her thighs from behind. Almost immediately Napoleon's hands moved to support her so Illya could touch as he pleased. And everywhere he pleased to touch was already slick with arousal, and she squirmed against him wonderfully.
The scent of her was very strong now, rich and earthy. Illya searched forward, upward, and . . . there. Yes. Finding. He pushed two fingers up inside where she was hot, and so, so wet, shifted his ring finger to stroke the bud of her clitoris, and she gasped, her knees coming up around his thighs, her flesh pulsing where it surrounded his fingers. He held his fingers still inside her while she shook and panted. After she quieted, it wasn't until he slid his fingers out of her that she finally lifted her head from his shoulder, her mouth curved in a smile with just a hint of smugness to it.
"Mmm," she said, reaching up to pull the hairpins from her chignon and let her hair fall loose around her shoulders. "That was fun."
Napoleon laughed. "Oh, yes."
Illya eased her back down to her feet, and she took a step back. Before Illya could move, Napoleon had wrapped his fingers around his wrist and pulled his hand up to his mouth, tongue sliding between index and middle fingers, tickling, tasting the drying moisture on them. Illya stood staring like a fool at the sight of Napoleon's mouth on his fingers, imagination running riot, imagining that wry, teasing mouth wrapped around his . . .
Napoleon chose that moment to suck both fingers into his mouth, surrounding them with wet heat yet again, only this time augmented by the flick and rub of tongue. Illya closed his eyes and clenched his teeth, fighting for nearly-nonexistent control. He might have come then if his jeans hadn't been quite so tight. Fortunately he had the urge under control once more moments later when someone– Joyce– reached forward and popped the snap on his jeans. Dejà vu. Only this time his zipper made it all the way down, and he had to sigh a little in relief as the constriction eased.
Napoleon released his fingers and helped Joyce peel his jeans down, Napoleon tugging from the back while Joyce attacked the front. When they got them down to his ankles he toed out of his shoes again, and then stepped unsteadily out of the tangled denim.
"Oh my." Joyce spread her fingers over the bulge in his briefs, rubbing lightly. "I guess it's true what they say about good things," she said with a smile and a wink at Napoleon over Illya's shoulder.
Illya bristled. "I am n. . ." Joyce silenced him with her mouth. When she pulled back a moment later, he continued. ". . . not short."
That made both Joyce and Napoleon laugh. He was about to continue his complaint when Napoleon's hands came to rest on his hips and he forgot. The hands slid under the edge of his t-shirt and. . . upward. Damn it. But Napoleon was pushing the shirt up while he was at it, so that was all right. Joyce let him go as Napoleon got the shirt up around his collarbones, and then it was tugged off over his head. As soon as his shirt was off, Joyce reached for his waistband, but Illya caught her hands. Being the only one undressed was just a little too vulnerable for him.
"Your turn now," he said firmly. "And you Napoleon." He let go of her hands and began to undo the long line of buttons down the front of her dress. When he had it open to her waist, he slid a finger inside to trace a finger along the lacy upper edge of her bra. "Why this, but not panties?" he inquired curiously.
To his surprise she blushed a little, looking down at where his finger rested on her skin. "Vanity, really. When you get to be my age, things aren't quite as . . . firm as they once were."
"Ah." He slid both hands around her beneath her opened dress, found the clasp of the bra and unhooked it, then pushed both it and her dress off her shoulders. As they fell to her feet, he brought his hands back around to cup the weight of her breasts. "Soft is good," he said, bending to kiss the valley between them before turning his head to take one taut nipple in his mouth.
She stroked his hair with one hand, cupping his head. "You," she said, a note of fond severity in her voice, "are as bad as Napoleon."
Illya lifted his head and grinned. "I am a quick study." He glanced at his partner, who stood stock-still, watching them, and frowned. "Have you forgotten how to work buttons, Napoleon?"
Napoleon shook himself, face flushed, lips parted. "Sorry. Got a little. . . distracted." He briskly began to unbutton his shirt, pulling the tails free.
As Napoleon unfastened his cufflinks, Joyce nudged Illya and nodded toward Napoleon, eyebrows lifted. For a moment Illya didn't understand, but then Joyce drew a fingertip down a line from his navel and he got it. Turning away from her, he unfastened the button at Napoleon's waistband, and then drew down the zipper.
Napoleon went utterly still, like a man trying to avoid being seen by a tiger. Illya looked up and met his eyes. Napoleon licked his lips nervously, heat and wariness warring in his eyes. Hands on Napoleon's hips, Illya eased himself down to his knees and then hooked his thumbs beneath the elastic waistband of Napoleon's briefs and pushed both trousers and briefs down. When he looked back up, Napoleon's gaze was fastened on him avidly, eyes all pupil, breathing decidedly shallow.
Illya rested a hand on Napoleon's thigh, and let his gaze fall again. Something-- the delay, the nervousness, the strangeness of the situation-- had robbed some of the steel from him, he was only half erect now, foreskin coyly hiding the head. Illya wondered if performing fellatio was like riding a bicycle. . . would one remember how even when one hadn't done it in well over a decade? There was only one way to find out. He leaned in, and brushed his lips across the velvety flesh.
He heard a gasp . . . two, really. One from above and one from behind. He smiled. He hadn't really thought about the effect it might have on Joyce, but killing two birds with one stone was always good, proverbially speaking. A hand settled on his head, too broad to be Joyce's. There was a slight tremor in the fingers that slid through his hair, and he knew as surely as he knew his name that Napoleon was fighting the urge to guide him. Napoleon was, as the saying went, a smart boy.
Illya let his lips part, licked a path along the side of Napoleon's cock, which had rapidly regained its former level of erection. That made it easier, when he got to the tip, to part his lips and let it slide between them, warm, and thick. He loosened his jaw, and took it deeper. Napoleon made a soft sound, and his hips moved in an involuntary thrust. Illya let him, let him do it again, relaxing into it, using his tongue to tease. He liked the taste, clean, faintly salty, faintly bitter. Liked the feel of him in his mouth, the dichotomy of soft and firm.
"God, Illya." Napoleon shuddered, and his fingers went from stroking to clenching, and then he pulled back, using the fingers in Illya's hair to hold him in place when he would have followed. "No. Not me." He released his grip, slid his fingers down to Illya's cheek, and gently turned his face toward Joyce. "Not me." he repeated.
Oh, yes. He'd almost forgotten that there was more of a purpose to this exercise than simple pleasure. That knowledge tempered his own arousal considerably, but the unabashed desire he saw in Joyce's gaze mitigated the sting a little. He didn't look at Napoleon as he uncoiled himself from his crouch and lifted her up, then lay her back on the huge bed. She sprawled back against the pillows invitingly, posing like a pinup girl from the nose of a bomber.
He grinned his appreciation and knelt beside her, leaning down to kiss to the hollow of her navel. Only then did he notice the pale, silvery line of old scar tissue that bisected her belly below his lips. He wondered what it was from. She had never mentioned children, so he didn't think it was a caesarian scar, and it was very old. He knew from personal experience that scars didn't go pale for decades. He followed the line down to the vee of curls on her mons, a darker blonde than the strands spread on the pillows.
He stroked both hands over the swell of her hips before placing his palms against the soft inner curves of her thighs, pressing them both outwards. Knowing what he wanted, Joyce brought her knees up, and he moved between them, pressing a kiss directly between her thighs, where she was as slick, sweet and salty as a Japanese plum. She squirmed a little under his tongue, rocking against his caresses, her breath coming fast and irregularly. He imagined how she would feel around him, and felt some of his lost arousal reassert itself. It was too early to declare the experiment a success, but so far, it appeared to be working.
The bed gave a little, and he knew Napoleon had joined them. A quick glance upward showed him Napoleon's distinctive, graceful hands on Joyce's breasts, a sight that gave him a quick flicker of jealousy, but was erotic nonetheless. He watched, everything else momentarily forgotten, as Napoleon framed a nipple between his fingers and dipped his head to suck. As moist lips closed round hardened flesh Illya felt the jolt as clearly as if it were his own flesh Napoleon tasted. He closed his eyes and returned to his task, concentrating on feeling Joyce, on pleasing her, on using her pleasure as a springboard for his own.
She was responsive, murmuring encouragement, touching him where she could reach. Touching them. Moving uninhibitedly under his touch. Their touch. Napoleon's confession of desire had rocked Illya, amazed him. Only now was he beginning to really comprehend it. He wanted to touch Napoleon, he was so close, bare and beautiful, scarred and smooth. But he didn't dare. That wasn't why they were here. The ache in his groin intensified, and he found he was rocking against the heavy linen. The return of conscious desire was like standing front of a fire after being hours trapped in a blizzard – it was good, but it hurt, too.
Under his hands and mouth he felt Joyce tense, and that was enough warning to push back a little as she suddenly sat up, her eyes locking with his.
"Illya, now?" she asked.
He knew what she was asking, and nodded shakily. "Yes. Now."
She held out a hand, and he moved up the bed to kiss her, a wild, hot duel of tongues. As the kiss ended, she surprised him by pushing him down onto his back and straddling his thighs, one hand on his shoulders, the other reaching between them to position him. There was a moment when Illya's eyes sought Napoleon, kneeling beside them, watching them with the oddest expression on his face, but then Joyce sank down, enveloping his cock in wet heat, her body enveloping his with softness.
A sound escaped him, low, animal. He was embarrassed by it, until suddenly Napoleon leaned down and kissed him, a slow, almost languid exploration. Illya rocked his hips into the slick, wet heat of Joyce's body, and opened his mouth to Napoleon's eloquent tongue. Between the two of them, he was ready to go off like a firework.
"Napoleon," Joyce said softly.
Illya felt Napoleon jerk a little at the sound of his name, and after a moment their lips parted as Napoleon reluctantly drew back. He shoved a hand through his hair in obvious frustration and sighed. "Sorry. I can't . . . I keep . . ."
"I know." She rocked against Illya, catching her lower lip in her teeth for a moment, then releasing held breath. "It's all right. Go to my vanity, get the jar there."
Napoleon tilted his head, looking at her speculatively, and then he grinned. "Oh, yes." He was off the bed, across the room, and back in a matter of moments, moving behind Joyce, straddling Illya's legs just as Joyce was.
"What . . . ?" Illya began, a little breathlessly.
Joyce smiled and put a finger against his lips. "You'll see."
As the words left her mouth, she jerked backward with a sharply indrawn breath, nearly unseating him, but not quite. When she resettled against him, slowly, he could feel a slight, odd pressure inside her that hadn't been there before.
"Two fingers, Napoleon," she said, her voice husky, her head back against Napoleon's shoulder.
The odd sensation against his cock increased, and Joyce arched and sighed, shivering a little. The pressure changed, shifted, moved. Shocked, Illya realized what Napoleon was doing, and gasped, his whole body tightening. No . . . not yet . . .
Joyce reached for his hand, laced their fingers together. "Hold on."
He tightened his fingers on hers, carefully, knowing he couldn't grip as hard as he needed to without hurting her, and that distraction kept him from thinking about what else was going on until suddenly Joyce's hand clenched his and she pulled in a long, shuddering breath through her teeth. Inside her he felt slow movement, something sliding along him, like a finger touching without touching.
"Bozhe. . ." Illya gasped, bucking involuntarily deeper.
"God," Napoleon echoed, his arms coming around Joyce, beneath her breasts, holding her tight against him as he forged inward.
"Oh, God," Joyce panted, one hand clenching on Napoleon's forearm where it braced her, the other painfully tight around Illya's fingers. "So much . . ."
"I can . . . stop," Napoleon grated, his voice harsh. Illya could see him, face partly obscured by Joyce's tangled blond hair where he rested his cheek against her head, eyes closed, lips parted, his expression twisted in a grimace of pleasure.
"No!" Joyce gasped. "No. It's. . . good." Her hips swayed forward, then back, minutely, as her body gradually relaxed, accommodating them both. "Good," she repeated, shivering.
It was so much more than good. The hot, wet grip of her around him. Napoleon's cock, so close, too close, but not close enough. Illya wanted to thrust, but the combination of her weight and Napoleon's on his legs allowed him little leverage. Still, he did as much as he could, lifting into their movements, matching his rhythm to theirs. He watched, gaze sliding between Joyce's face and Napoleon's, until he couldn't bear watching any more, and reaching out blindly, he put his hands on Joyce's hips, cupping them tightly, urging her on since he couldn't give her the depth he wanted to.
She followed his cue, starting slowly, gradually using more movement, more force, every shift of her body making him more and more aware of Napoleon, so close they were almost touching, yet held separate by living flesh. He tried to keep up with her, but she moved harder, faster, and he finally just stilled and let her take him as she pleased, bringing herself down on him in percussive movements that buried him deep, her hands clenching at his shoulders, panting desperately, like a racehorse.
Sensing how close she was in the flush that painted her skin and the distant focus in her eyes, he moved a hand from her hip and parted the wet blonde curls at the apex of her thighs, slid his fingers between the plump lips, sought, and found the swollen bud there. Capturing it, he thrust up into her as hard as he could, and at the same time pressed her clitoris gently between his fingers.
Joyce's thighs clamped tight along his flanks, body arching like a drawn bow, a long, soft moan forcing its way from her as she shuddered and clenched above him and around him. Napoleon gasped, and Illya felt him drive deep into her over and over again, felt the swelling press of Napoleon's cock against his own, and whatever had been holding him back . . . broke. The combined sensations, and realizations, were too much. Pleasure spread over him, through him, tightening every muscle, even curling his toes, and then finally, finally, he was there, emptying himself into her clinging depths as heat exploded through him, senses awash in pleasure that stole his breath and left him limp and gasping.
Distantly he was aware that Napoleon had gone still as well, the only sound in the room was that of their breathing gradually evening out. He felt . . . relieved. Relaxed. And oddly closer to Napoleon than ever before. He'd worried this might interfere with their connection, but it hadn't. There was a strange tightness in his chest, and his throat, though, one that prodded him to speak. He cleared his throat, looking for his voice. "Napoleon?"
Napoleon lifted his head from where it rested against Joyce's shoulder and looked at him, his expression dazed, and strangely soft.
"Mmm?" he asked.
Suddenly faced with having to actually speak, Illya realized he had no idea what to say. He wanted to say things that he . . . couldn't. He groped for something else, something that didn't sound embarrassingly saccharine, and found it. "You were right. It worked," he offered, smiling, waiting for Napoleon to be insufferably pleased that once more, he had been proven right. Napoleon loved to be right.
For long moments nothing happened. Illya thought he might not have heard, but then something. . . changed . . . in Napoleon's face, and the softness there vanished. He blinked slowly, took a deep breath, and straightened his shoulders. The smile he offered seemed tired.
"Good. I'm glad."
He eased back, and Illya felt the pressure against him disappear, saw Joyce flinch a little. Napoleon leaned in to kiss her neck. "You okay?"
She smiled, pushing a sweaty lock of hair out of her face. "I'm very good, actually. Hungry though. I'm going to go clean up, and then we can make some inroads on the food. You two are welcome to use the guest bath."
Napoleon nodded. "Thanks." He got off the bed and bent to gather up his clothing before heading for the bathroom down the hall with the ease of long familiarity.
Illya watched him go with an odd feeling that something was off. He would never have suspected Napoleon of being so perfunctory with his sex-partners afterward. If he was, then how on earth had he managed to keep them coming back for more? Of course, this situation was hardly usual. He frowned a little, realizing that whether or not Napoleon had actually wanted him, what they had just done had been no spontaneous act of desire, but more along the lines of a medical prescription. He was sure Napoleon would be different afterward, the next time.
"Illya? Why the frown? Is something wrong?" Joyce asked, pressing a fingertip between his eyebrows.
His attention abruptly brought back to the moment, he was embarrassed to realize he'd just done precisely what he'd been faulting Napoleon for. "No, nothing's wrong. I was just woolgathering, and I tend to frown when I do that." He summoned an apologetic smile. "Napoleon says one day my face will freeze that way and I'll be sorry."
The concern faded from her eyes, and she smiled. "I don't think it quite works that way, but you should definitely smile more." She leaned down and kissed him softly, a kiss between friends, passion gone. "You have an adorable smile."
He scowled. "I am not adorable."
Joyce laughed, and lifted off him. "No, of course not. Deadly UNCLE agents never are." She gave him an arch look, and then walked away into the master bath.
Without her warmth, the cool, air-conditioned air on sweat-damp skin made him shiver, and he pulled the covers up over himself, laying back to wait until one of the bathrooms was free.
* * *
Napoleon's grandmother had always told him that virtue was its own reward. Which was probably why he'd grown up to be as non-virtuous as he could. Frankly, being virtuous was a drag.
He'd always been a sexual being, well, at least, since he'd hit puberty, but somehow he'd actually thought that once he'd done it, he'd have gotten it out of his system and things would be better. Hah. Talk about being a cockeyed optimist. Instead of getting it out of his system, now he was constantly plagued by thoughts of his partner, naked, on his knees. . .
A shudder of want coursed through him, remembering that. Illya, who went to his knees for no one, voluntarily sliding down, touching him, his mouth soft as it was smart, and as hot as his demeanor could be cold. Christ, he'd nearly come the instant Illya touched him. He was very nearly coming now just remembering it.
The office door hissed open and he rolled his chair closer to his desk as Illya stepped into the room, looking at him curiously. "You are here," he said, sounding surprised.
Napoleon lifted an eyebrow. "Is that so unusual an occurrence, considering the fact that it's my office?"
"Only when you were supposed to be in a section two agents meeting that you called, eleven minutes ago," Illya said dryly.
Napoleon swore, closed the file he'd been trying to distract himself with and rose, buttoning his jacket. "Sorry. I lost track of time," he said apologetically, gathering up the meeting materials.
Illya stood in front of the door, blocking his way, his gaze slightly narrowed as he studied Napoleon's face. "Is anything wrong?"
Grateful it was his face and not something lower that Illya was focused on, Napoleon shook his head an summoned a smile. "Not a thing, partner."
Illya didn't look convinced. "You've been rather distracted of late. It's not like you."
"Spring fever, maybe. It'll pass. Speaking of which, may I do so before we're any later?"
Illya studied him a moment longer and then stepped aside, allowing him to trigger the door mechanism. He stepped out into the corridor and headed for the conference room at a brisk pace. He sensed rather than saw Illya fall into step beside him.
"Is it possible to have spring fever in August?" Illya murmured as they reached the conference room and the door opened.
"It's spring in Australia," Napoleon said, stepping inside. "My apologies, gentlemen, shall we begin?"
"Well, I wouldn't really call it spring for another month or so," Kit Kittridge pointed out, clearly having heard Napoleon's comment..
Napoleon forced a smile. "Thanks for the Australian weather report, Kit."
There was a ripple of laughter, and he took a deep breath and took charge of the meeting as he was supposed to. Throughout, he was intensely aware that his second in command was watching him with a speculative, narrow-eyed look Napoleon knew all too well. It was his 'analytic' face. Never a good sign, when one had something to hide.
He forced himself to ignore Illya and go through the briefing on the latest design variations in THRUSH's armory, using the slides and diagrams prepared for him by Section Four. It didn't take long for him to go over the hardware, most of the agents were already familiar with the changes, having encountered them in the field. Finally he ran out of the things he was comfortable talking about and got to the thing he wasn't.
"Before we adjourn, there's something Section Eight asked me to give you a heads up on." He looked out at his fellow agents, and hoped he could get through this without screwing up. "THRUSH has apparently taken a cue from the CIA, and are experimenting with personality reprogramming using psychoactive drugs. A blood sample taken from an agent on whom they attempted this programming was analyzed, the drug was synthesized, and then given to test subjects."
He felt Illya's gaze on him, an almost physical thing. He was careful not to look at him, not to reveal in any way that he was the agent they'd recovered the sample from. He was also acutely aware that he was being manipulative as hell, forcing Illya to recognize that his reactions to the drug had been responsible for his actions that day, nothing more, but in a venue where he couldn't argue. It wasn't fair and he knew it. He also knew it was the best way to deal with it. He took a breath, and went on.
"They've determined that it provokes extreme hypersensitivity to stimuli, disorientation and susceptibility to suggestion. Fortunately for us, it's not as strong as the one the CIA is using, since theirs has been known to send people out tenth-story windows. Currently we don't have a protocol for it, but we're working on an easily transportable antidote, something you can put in your aspirin tin and carry with you, though as we all know, sometimes even that's not close enough. In any case, forewarned is forearmed. They said the test subjects who knew what they were getting had far less trouble coping with its effects than those who didn't."
"So what do we do if they give us this stuff in the meantime?" Burroughs asked, scowling.
Napoleon smiled ruefully. "What we always do. Roll with the punches as best we can, and remember that when pharmaceuticals are involved we don't always have much choice in how we respond. UNCLE knows that, so don't blame yourself for whatever happens."
He finally chanced a swift glance at Illya, and to his surprise, he wasn't instantly crisped. Illya actually looked. . . calm. And thoughtful. Not at all what he had expected.
There was some discussion of various THRUSH pharmaceuticals already encountered, which gradually shifted over to general yakking-- grumbling about assignments, sharing funny stories, and commiserating over injuries. Napoleon let that go on for a while. Section Two agents had little normal social interaction. It was always good for them to talk to others who understood what it was like to be an agent.
Glancing at his watch, he saw it was close enough to quitting time that he could dismiss the group and assume that most of them would make plans to go for a drink and resume their bull session, so he did just that. As he packed up the left-over handouts he was keenly aware that Illya had lingered after the others had left. He was even more keenly aware that Illya was standing not a foot behind him, so close Napoleon could feel the warmth of his body. He braced for an explosion.
"I hear you have a date with Raquel tonight," Illya said.
"What?" Napoleon turned and stared at him, startled. He'd been expecting a rant, so the comment was completely out of the blue. Not that he'd mind going out with the dark-eyed Italian lovely who had recently joined the translation staff, but he was fairly sure he'd remember it if he'd made a date with her, and he . . . didn't. "Where did you hear that?"
"Around," Illya said vaguely, waving a hand, employing the usual code for the impromptu employee gatherings that tended to happen near the water cooler or the coffee urn.
"Well, 'around' was mistaken."
"Ah. I must have gotten the name wrong."
Napoleon shook his head. "No, that can't be it either. I don't have a date for tonight."
Illya smiled a predator's slow, toothy smile. "You do now."
God damn it. Illya had made up that whole thing about Raquel, he was sure of it. Napoleon realized he should have been warned by the fact that Illya had passed on gossip, which he almost never did. He sighed and shook his head. "One of these days, I'll learn not to underestimate you."
"I doubt it," Illya said with a shrug. "Perhaps over dinner you will tell me why you've been avoiding me all week." He moved closer. "You've been very neglectful."
Napoleon tried to take a step back and nearly fell over the chair he hadn't pushed under the table properly. If he didn't know better, he'd have said Illya was flirting with him. But damn it, he did know better. 'You were right, it worked' rattled through his brain, putting paid to that brief bout of wishful thinking. "I haven't been avoiding you, I've just been busy," he lied. Chancing a direct look, he could read the knowledge of his lie in Illya's gaze.
"I know," Illya lied right back. "Shall we say seven o'clock, at Guenther's?"
"Sure," Napoleon managed. He loved Guenther's and Illya knew it. He wouldn't be able to excuse not showing up on the basis of disliking the food.
Illya nodded and turned to leave. As the door hissed open, he stopped and spoke without turning around. "Oh, and Napoleon, if you aren't there, I will come find you."
He stepped through the door and it shushed closed behind him. Napoleon stared after him, knowing that was a promise, and a threat. He could try hiding out in a hut in Borneo and Illya would still find him. He resigned himself to dinner, and wondered where he could buy saltpeter. He needed something, some sort of distraction, someone to help . . . help. Of course. Who better to help than someone who already had helped?
Pleased with himself, he finished gathering up his papers for Dianne to distribute to those agents who hadn't made the meeting, and headed for his office. Once inside it, he sat down at his desk with a sigh and reached for the phone. He'd already dialed half of Joyce's number when he stopped. It wouldn't be fair to Illya to show up with Joyce in tow. Illya hadn't invited her. Just him. Still, maybe she would have a suggestion or two. He finished dialing and waited impatiently for her to answer, jumping in as soon as she had.
"Joyce, hi. It's Napoleon. I need your help."
"Again, Napoleon? What's wrong?"
"Illya invited me to dinner."
There was a moment of silence before she replied. "Well, yes, I can see how that would make you call a psychologist," she said, laughing. "Napoleon, you two eat out all the time. Why is it a problem now?"
"I'm. . . having a relapse."
"Ah. Well, that doesn't surprise me at all. But you know, he knows now. You don't have to hide it."
"Yes. No. I mean . . . I'm his partner, Joyce, and his boss."
"That didn't seem to bother either of you the other night."
She was right, it hadn't. "This is different. I just need some advice on how to. . ."
She interrupted him. "Look, Napoleon, I'm not getting in between you two again. Not that it wasn't fun, but that was a job, a very specific one, and that problem is solved. Everything else is up to you and Illya. I'm sorry, but sooner or later we all have to figure these things out for ourselves. That's just part of life."
"So you won't help?"
"Not this time, my dear."
He sighed. "I'm afraid of making a mistake."
She laughed softly. "Aren't we all? It's nice to hear you admit you're human though. Sometimes you're a little too sure of yourself."
"I'm not really, I just fake it very well."
"Really, Napoleon, you're not going to con me with the ol' 'low self esteem' dodge. I know you better than that. You're supremely sure of yourself in most ways, especially when you know you can manipulate the outcome to your desired specifications. The only problem you have here is that you don't want to manipulate your partner, and that's actually a good thing."
"Who says I don't?" Napoleon muttered.
"This phone call does," Joyce said, giving him no quarter. "Now hang up and go get ready for dinner. And don't even think about standing him up. He'll find you."
He said good night and hung up, wondering if she had tagged him with a listening device. He sat there for a few more moments, then rubbed his hands on his pants and stood up, disgusted with himself. For God's sake, it was just dinner with Illya. Something they'd done a thousand times. Illya probably had no idea that Napoleon had taken his simple offer of dinner as an invitation to a two-man orgy on Guenther's clean white tablecloths. In fact, he was a little ashamed that Illya had needed to resort to subterfuge to get Napoleon to stop avoiding him. They were friends, damn it, the least he could do was remember that.
He glanced at his watch and realized it was after six. He'd be hard pressed to make it to Guenther's by seven. Somehow he managed it, though, stepping through the restaurant's doors at two minutes before seven. Illya looked up from his watch and lifted an eyebrow.
"You made it." He sounded faintly surprised.
"I would never keep you waiting, partner."
Illya cocked his head a little and studied Napoleon interestedly. "Then why have you?"
Napoleon wasn't sure what that meant, but fortunately the maitre d', though it was hard to think of Ed Guenther that way, chose that moment to turn to them, menus in hand. "Your usual table, Mr. Solo, Mr. Kuryakin?"
Illya nodded. They ate at Guenther's often enough to be considered regulars, and Ed showed them to their preferred spot, a table in the back near the service doors. They liked it because the noise from the kitchen let them talk more freely and anyone standing still for more than ten seconds was automatically suspect. They sat, and Ed tried to hand them menus, but Illya waved his off.
"I'll have the usual," he said. "And a beer. Not American."
Ed looked at Napoleon, eyebrows lifted. "The Wiener Schnitzel, and I'll take a beer too. American."
Illya looked amused. Ed left to put in their order and a bus boy came over to fill their water glasses and leave off a basket of the restaurant's trademark black bread and butter. Napoleon picked up his glass, drinking not so much out of thirst as to keep from having to ask Illya what he'd meant. Fortunately Illya seemed to have forgotten about his question.
"So what has kept you so busy this week?" Illya asked, picking up his own glass and playing with it, tracing a finger through the wet ring left on the table by the bus-boy's carelessness.
"Oh, you know, the usual stuff." Napoleon said vaguely. "Schedules. New agent assessments. Reviewing applications. That kind of thing. Got a little behind while we were chasing Aquilla. I'm sorry I've neglected you."
Illya gave him a look. "I don't need to be entertained, Napoleon. You should have let me know you were so busy, I could have been of assistance. After all, I've done the scheduling before."
Napoleon gave him a wry smile. "I know, and as you know, so does Mr. Waverly." He let Illya infer what he would from that.
Illya nodded. "Ah. You are still in trouble, then?"
"Not really, but he doesn't want me to neglect my own organizational skills."
Ed returned then, setting down two large glass mugs, their outsides thickly frosted, one filled with liquid about the color of coffee, the other with something pale yellow. Napoleon didn't want to think about what the color reminded him of. Maybe he should have said non-American too. Both mugs had only narrow heads of foam, proof that the bartender knew how to pour properly.
Illya picked up his mug and raised it to his lips, and then stopped and looked at Napoleon. He changed the course of the glass, moving it toward Napoleon instead. "To honesty," Illya said.
Napoleon hesitated for a moment before angling his own mug to meet Illya's. "To honesty," he echoed.
They both drank, and then Illya set down his mug and unfolded the napkin from around the basket of bread, taking a piece for himself and slathering it heavily with butter. He offered the basket to Napoleon, who declined. After that toast, he was feeling distinctly nervous. He watched Illya bite off a chunk of bread and chew it contentedly, no hint of upset or anger on his face. They might almost have been just partners having dinner. Maybe they were, to Illya. But there was that toast. . .
Illya swallowed his bread, washed it down with beer, and only then spoke. "Yes?"
"I was just wondering what made you pick that toast? Honesty isn't exactly something we UNCLE agents have a lot of practice at."
"Perhaps not in our work life," Illya said, sipping his beer. "But we have always been honest with one another."
Honest, if you didn't count lies of omission, Napoleon thought. He nodded though. "Yes. We have."
"I would prefer it to remain so between us."
Napoleon winced. "Me, uh, too."
Illya's eyes flickered up, then back to his bread. Catching the reproach in those eyes, Napoleon very nearly made a fool of himself by blurting out his feelings, but thankfully Ed reappeared just then, this time carrying two plates. He set Napoleon's schnitzel and Illya's knackwurst at their respective places and then stepped back.
"Is there anything else I can bring you gentlemen?"
Napoleon looked at his beer and was suddenly afraid to drink any more of it. Not that a beer had ever loosened his tongue before, but he was too close to doing it without assistance to take the risk. "I'd like a coffee please."
"Make that two," Illya said from across the table. "Mit schlag."
Napoleon couldn't help but smile. "You just want an excuse to eat whipped cream."
"One needs no excuse to eat whipped cream," Illya said smugly.
Napoleon was suddenly struck by a vision of Illya licking whipped cream off his fingers, and felt a flush climb his face as his pants grew a little tight in the crotch. He closed his eyes, which didn't help at all, just allowed that vision more prominence. He opened his eyes and looked over at Illya, the real one, just in time to see him stab a fork into his knackwurst and slice a large chunk off the tip in a quick, efficient motion. He flinched, pants loosening once more. Illya would probably want to do that to him if he had any idea where his partner's thoughts were leading. Deliberately, Napoleon turned his attention to his own meal. As usual the cutlet was fork-tender, and a little lemon drizzled over it gave it a pleasant sharpness.
They ate in silence for a while, too busy to talk. When Ed brought their coffees and a large bowl of maple-syrup sweetened whipped cream, Illya stopped to liberally lade his cup with the stuff and slurp it artlessly, licking the residue off his upper lip after he lowered the cup. If he didn't do the same damned thing nearly every time they ate at Guenther's, Napoleon might have thought he was being deliberately provocative. Since he did, he tried to ignore the recurrent heaviness in his groin, and shifted in his seat until the fold of trouser that was pinching him eased. He looked up to find Illya watching him speculatively.
Damn it. He hadn't blushed in fifteen years, at least.
"You never answered my question," Illya said, turning his cup in slow circles in its saucer.
"What are you waiting for?"
Illya hadn't forgotten after all. There were a couple of different ways Napoleon could interpret that question, and though usually their communication verged on psychic, this time he needed help. He wasn't about to guess which interpretation was correct, there was too much riding on an error. "I'm not sure I know what you mean."
Illya rolled his eyes. "Napoleon, don't be thick. It's been nearly a week now, and you still haven't done anything."
Well, all right. He was referring to what Napoleon thought he was referring to. "What is there to do?"
"If your reputation is to be believed, I'm sure you can think of many things," Illya said. "You did say you wanted to, did you not? And had wanted to for quite some time? Generally my hearing is excellent, as is my recall, but I will admit to being slightly distracted at the time." He was frowning a little now, seeming less certain than he had a moment earlier.
The comment surprised Napoleon more than a little, and then he understood. Illya'd spent the last week waiting for the other shoe to drop. Sighing, he pushed his plate away and shot a quick glance around, hoping that none of the other diners were THRUSH agents with parabolic microphones. Or KGB, or hell, even CIA or FBI. "I know what I said, but that doesn't mean I plan to act on it. You're safe, don't worry."
"Don't worry?" He looked, and sounded, puzzled. "Why would I? And why do you not plan to act on it if it is what you want?"
Napoleon was starting to get exasperated. "Look, I'm a grown up, I know I can't have everything I want."
"No, in general one can't, but there is nothing to stop you now, not in this."
Angry now, and extremely uncomfortable at having this conversation in a public place, Napoleon leaned forward and lowered his voice. "What stops me, partner, is the fact that I don't trespass where I'm not wanted. I don't know where you got the idea that I have no self control, but get rid of it."
Clearly startled, Illya sat back and stared at him for long moments, eyes narrowed in thought.
Napoleon grabbed his beer and took a big swallow of it, grimacing at the tepid, sour liquid.
Finally Illya steepled his fingers and looked over them at Napoleon. "I believe you are laboring under a misapprehension."
"Yeah," Illya returned his volley in flawless Brooklyneese. "You believe I don't want it too."
In the silence that followed Illya sipped his own beer, slowly, with no expression of distaste. Napoleon turned his words over and over in his head, and there was really only one way to interpret them. "But you said it worked, damn it. You said it."
"I said what worked?"
"What . . . what we did. With Joyce." Frustrated, Napoleon got out his wallet and dropped bills on the table until there was more than enough to cover the check. "Let's go. We can't talk here."
Illya nodded and stood, reaching for his own wallet.
"Don't worry about it, it's covered."
Illya shot him a very strange look, but put his wallet away and followed as Napoleon made his way to the door. Almost there, Ed Guenther stopped them, looking concerned.
"Mr. Solo, Mr. Kuryakin! Is there a problem? You're not leaving before dessert are you?"
"Sorry, emergency," Napoleon said apologetically. "We've got to go."
Ed nodded sagely. They weren't the only UNCLE agents to frequent the place, so he was used to his customers having to leave precipitously. "Good luck, then," he called as the door swung closed behind them.
Outside on the sidewalk, Illya watched Napoleon like he might a bomb about to explode. Napoleon nodded toward the corner.
"My place. Let's walk. We can talk there."
Illya nodded and fell into step beside him. It was just six blocks, but neither of them made small talk as they walked. Napoleon kept hearing Illya's voice in his head, repeating "You believe I don't want it too." Maybe it hadn't worked. Maybe Illya was still fixated on him. Maybe Napoleon should have left Illya and Joyce alone together after that first time to see if Illya stayed fixed. God, he should have thought of that.
They entered the building together, went up the stairs together, shoulder-to-shoulder in the narrow stairwell. It felt oddly comforting, oddly normal. Until they got to his door, when suddenly he felt tremendously nervous. It was neither a familiar or a pleasant sensation. He shook off the feeling, opened his door and motioned Illya inside. He locked the door behind them and reset the security system, then turned to find Illya standing just a foot away watching him intently. It was a little disconcerting.
"Can we talk now?" he inquired politely.
Napoleon nodded. "Yes, of course."
"You said that I said 'it worked.' What were you referring to?"
"The, ah, sex. With Joyce. You said it worked, it fixed the problem. But if you're still thinking you want me, then it must not have. "
"That's flawed logic, Napoleon. One does not necessarily equate to the other."
"Well, you never did before, so why should you now?"
"Who says I never did before?" Illya asked, unknotting his tie and pulling it off, then tucking it into the pocket of his jacket.
"I. . . you never said anything."
"Neither did you," Illya pointed out.
"How the hell was I supposed to bring it up? 'Oh by the way, I want to fuck you'?"
Illya looked amused. "Actually, that would have probably worked quite well." He shrugged out of his jacket and hung it over the back of a chair. "However, it's not socially accepted. Desire between men is not discussed, either in your world or mine. Certainly not acted upon. But you need to know that this, between us, has nothing to do with THRUSH's clumsy attempts at psychological programming. In fact, the difficulty I had, which is now quite resolved, was probably caused at least as much by me as it was by them."
Napoleon seized on the part of Illya's statement that had concerned him most. "How do you know it's resolved?"
"I've tested it. Repeatedly. Sometimes more than once a day, since last week. The problem was never that I couldn't become aroused, but that I could not reach culmination. That problem is definitely fixed."
Closing his eyes against the image in his head of Illya 'testing' only made things worse, so Napoleon focused on Illya again, watched as he removed first one cufflink, then the other, and dropped them into his shirt pocket.
"How could you have caused the problem?" he asked, dry-mouthed.
"Whenever they did something to me I found pleasurable, I deliberately conjured a fantasy of my own to account for it. And a good many of those fantasies were of you. Most, in fact, considering what they were doing."
There was a slight flush on Illya's face as he spoke, and it deepened as his fingers moved to the buttons on his shirt and began to undo them, one by one.
Napoleon swallowed until he got some spit in his mouth. "Me?"
"You," Illya confirmed.
That took a moment or two to sink in, by which time Illya had finished unbuttoning and was now pulling his shirttails from his pants. "Ah, what are you doing?"
This time the look Illya gave him was decidedly less amused and more ironic. "I should have thought that was obvious." He stripped off the shirt and leaned to drape it over his jacket before turning back. The thin cotton singlet he wore beneath the shirt clung to his leanly muscled torso as provocatively as lace and satin might frame a woman's breasts.
"Illya . . ." his voice was a bare whisper.
Illya locked eyes with him as he moved closer, close enough that Napoleon could feel the radiant warmth of his skin. He pushed his hands beneath Napoleon's suit jacket and pushed it off, tossing it across the same chair his own things occupied, then he reached to unknot his tie, drawing it slowly through the tunnel of his collar and then discarding it on the coffee table. Napoleon felt frozen in place by Illya's gaze and his own indecision. If this was wrong then why did every atom of his being insist on how right it was? As Illya started to unbutton his shirt, he finally forced himself to move, catching incongruously thick wrists in his hands.
Illya allowed himself to be stopped, his gaze bright, challenging, and shockingly sure. Napoleon mentally ran through all the reasons why they shouldn't be doing this. Not one of them was good enough. Slowly he released Illya's wrists, surrendering to the inevitable. "No reason."
Illya's smile was feral and triumphant, and Napoleon could still feel it as their lips met. The sharp edge of a tooth nicked his lower lip, but he ignored the brief pain. It was an appropriate reminder of just who he was with. He opened his lips to the touch of slick, hot tongue, let his own tongue join in, stroking, tasting. A sudden vertical object behind his back turned out to be the wall-- he hadn't even realized Illya was backing him toward it until he couldn't back up any more.
Illya braced his hands against the wall and rocked his pelvis into Napoleon's. They were both hard; Napoleon ached with it, his body demanding release. Illya's rapid, panting breaths betrayed his need. Feeling the substantial mound constrained by Illya's snug black trousers, Napoleon vividly remembered how he'd looked naked; the heavy thrust of engorged flesh, paler foreskin easing back to expose the dark rose glans. Remembered the jolt of aroused jealousy he'd felt, very aware that he hadn't been jealous of Illya, but rather of Joyce. He'd imagined what it would be like without her. He hadn't come close, and they didn't even have their clothes off yet.
Suddenly Illya shifted his hips back a little and slid his hand down Napoleon's chest, thumbing open the button on his pants and yanking down the zipper. The sudden easing of constriction made him gasp into Illya's mouth, drawing a soft chuckle, and then his mouth was freed entirely as Illya stepped back and reached for his shirt buttons again, opening them with swift efficiency before tugging the shirt off and tossing it aside, then impatiently pulling the t-shirt beneath it up and off.
Feeling completely and unfamiliarly out of control, Napoleon put his hands on Illya's shoulders. "Don't you think we ought to move this into the . . ."
"No." Illya said. "Here. Now." His hands were on Napoleon's loosened pants as he slid down to kneel at his feet.
The raw urgency in Illya's eyes was contagious. Napoleon lost the urge to assert himself as Illya slid his pants and boxers down. "Whatever you want," he whispered.
Illya looked up, eyes speculative. "Yes?"
Napoleon licked his stubble-abraded lips and nodded. "Yes."
"This then, for now."
He wrapped one hand around the base of Napoleon's erection, leaned in and dragged his lips slowly up and down the length of the shaft, licking, sucking. The pleasure would have been profound enough on its own, but the astonished joy Napoleon felt every time he realized it was Illya doing this for him intensified it almost past bearing. His hips thrust involuntarily, begging for more friction.
Illya's tongue slicked teasingly up the underside of him, circled the tip, dipped into the os with a quick, firm flicker. He shuddered, knowing with embarrassed amazement that he was going to come before they'd barely started, and unable to do a thing about it. Then one of Illya's big hands pushed between his thighs, cupping his balls for a moment before wrapping thumb and forefinger around the looser flesh between the base of his penis and his testes, gently constricting it. He almost laughed then, realizing Illya knew just what he was doing. The urge to laugh disappeared as Illya opened his mouth and let Napoleon's cock slide inside.
Christ, yes, he definitely knew just what he was doing. The hand carefully imprisoning the root of him kept him from exploding into the heat and suction as Illya tortured him mercilessly, keeping it up until he was moaning and bucking and, damn it, begging. Two fingers joined the tongue that plagued him, sometimes in Illya's mouth, sometimes not, and then they were gone again, only to reappear a moment later, pressing between his cheeks.
It had been a long time since he'd done this. Not since Waverly had realized that the man who was so good at honeytraps had other useful skills, but he hadn't forgotten how good it could be; that initial burn and pressure, the momentary bloom of panic, quickly lost as his body fought to accommodate Illya's thick fingers. His knees began to shake and he started to slide down the wall. Instantly Illya pulled away, unwrapped his hand from around Napoleon's cock and braced his hip, keeping him up, and the fingers inside him were gently withdrawn. They stared at one another, their ragged breathing the only sound for long moments,
"I want to fuck you." Illya broke the silence. "Here. Now."
The repetition of that earlier insistence, with the fillip of unaccustomed vulgarity was electric. Napoleon swallowed hard, and nodded. "Yes."
Something almost like surprise flitted across Illya's face, followed by uncertainty. "I've never . . ."
Now it was his turn for surprise. "I thought you . . ." he began.
Illya shook his head. "No, we never got farther than fingers, and it was a very long time ago."
Napoleon took a deep breath. "It's all right. I'll talk you through it." The idea of telling Illya how to take him almost sent him to his knees again. He waited until the shiver stopped and then turned toward the kitchenette, then nearly tripped on his pants, pooled around his ankles.
Illya didn't laugh. "What do you want? I'll get it."
"The shortening. Cabinet next to the stove."
Illya looked confused. "The sh. . . ah. Yes." A quick, absurd flash of grin and Illya was darting into the kitchen, yanking open the cupboard. While he was searching Napoleon managed to kick off his shoes and step out of his pants and boxers. When Illya turned around, familiar blue can in hand, Napoleon was braced against the breakfast-bar. Illya's eyes widened, tongue flickering across his lips.
"You are sure?" he asked, sounding very Russian all of the sudden.
Napoleon nodded. "Utterly sure."
Illya stripped efficiently, dropping his remaining clothes carelessly where he stood, and then moved into place behind him. After a moment he set the opened shortening can on the counter. Napoleon could see the marks his fingers had left in the smooth, white paste. They were deep. Good. "Two fingers, like before," he instructed.
Pressure again, easier this time, creamy slickness melting on skin, easing the way.
Uncharacteristically obedient, Illya followed orders. Napoleon breathed into the stretch, pushing back, controlling a flinch. Illya's lips grazed the back of his neck and they both sighed.
"Curl your fingers forward a little, and angle them down."
"Ah, fuck," he breathed, unable to keep from jumping a little as those fingers unerringly found what he'd wanted them to find.
"Is that a good 'fuck' or a bad one?" Illya queried in his ear.
"Good," Napoleon panted. "Definitely good. Do that again."
Fingers stroked into him, pulling back, stroking again. It was easier now, much easier. Muscle memory, he supposed. There was still a little rasping friction inside though. Without being told to do so, Illya slipped his fingers free, and Napoleon saw him dig into the shortening again. Then the touch between his cheeks returned, gently stroking the opening for a moment before pushing back inside. They slipped right in, pressed deep, and just right. Quick study, his Russian.
"You're very tight."
"It's been a . . .awhile. God, keep doing that."
"This?" Illya stroked firmly, and brought his other hand around to curl slippery fingers around Napoleon's straining erection.
"Don't," he panted. "You'll make me come."
Illya laughed. "Isn't that the idea?"
"Not yet, damn it." He clenched his hands on the counter. "That's enough. Slick yourself up and do it. Steady at first, gentle."
The fingers that reached for the can again shook a little, and that was oddly reassuring. He heard short, shallow breaths, then greasy fingers were gripping his hips as the broad, blunt head of Illya's cock nudged up against him, pushing in. Breathe. Breathe. Christ. Illya was thicker than anyone he'd let do this before. He had to be nuts to think he could take it without practicing with something smaller first. . . For a moment the sensation verged on real pain, only to suddenly ease as his body stopped resisting, opening to the insistent pressure.
Illya didn't stop to let him get used to it. As instructed, he just kept the pressure steady, sliding deeper and deeper, until he stopped, gasping, buried as deep as he could go.
His name was whispered like a blessing, like another man might say 'God.' It made him feel strangely powerful.
No one would ever believe Illya could sound like that. Awed.
"You are all right?"
He nodded, unable to speak.
"Napoleon?" This time his name was a question, sharper, concerned.
He finally found his voice. "Yes. Fine. Good. Great. Wonderful. Now move, damn it. Fuck me."
Slow, strange slide out, then slightly faster reentry. Then again. Again. Each time a little smoother, a little faster. He pushed back into the thrusts, canting his hips to the perfect angle to make Illya's cock hit the sweet spot on the in-stroke, and drag across it again on the out-stroke. He stood it until Illya kissed the back of his neck as he pushed in, and that was too much. He shuddered, panting as pleasure exploded through every nerve, his cock pulsing and jerking as the countertop beaded with strands of pearly white.
Illya gasped, fingers tight enough on his hips to leave bruises. "Napoleon!"
"Fuck me, Illya," he ordered. "Hard."
Again, Illya complied, powerful pile-driver strokes pushing Napoleon's hips into the counter, only the protection of Illya's hand cupped over his cock keeping it from being ground against the hard surface. He was still half hard, every thrust milking another runnel of semen out of him, prolonging the pleasure nearly past bearing. "Come, damn it," he gasped.
As if that was all he'd been waiting for, Illya lunged deep and held there, trembling, gasping. A sudden, vague sensation of spreading warmth inside him told him that order, too, had been obeyed.
Relieved of the need for resistance, Napoleon let his shaking muscles relax, sprawling across the counter with Illya's weight on his back. It was a little uncomfortable, what with Illya's arm pinned under him, but he didn't really care. Minutes passed, and Illya finally stirred.
"Bozhe, Napoleon. That was . . ."
Napoleon smiled sleepily. "Yeah. It was."
He felt rather than heard Illya's chuckle.
"My arm is numb," Illya said after a moment.
"You're the one who had to do it in the kitchen."
"Are you complaining?"
"Good." Illya braced his free hand against the counter and pulled back.
"Ow," Napoleon hissed.
"What?" Warm fingers slid down his backside, touching gently.
Illya freed his other hand, pulled him upright and turned him around, eyes worried, mouth set. "It's not nothing if I hurt you."
"No, really, it is nothing," Napoleon insisted, though something in him was warmed that Illya cared enough to worry. They were still on the same wavelength, still firing on all cylinders. "Sometimes it just smarts a little coming out."
"Ah." Illya considered that for a moment, and when he looked back up there was a familiar gleam of mischief in his eyes. "Perhaps you would care to show me how it should be done."
His cock gave a feeble little twitch at the realization of what Illya was offering him, but he'd been too well-fucked to be of any immediate use. He smiled wryly. "Give me a half hour or so, and I'd love to."
Illya shook his head and clicked his tongue. "Really, Napoleon, half an hour? You disappoint me."
"Do I?" Napoleon challenged.
Illya gaze softened, the teasing light gone. "No, Polya. Never." Their eyes locked for long moments, and then Illya looked away, slightly flushed. "Do you know what I want now?"
"Dessert?" Napoleon guessed.
Illya's eyes widened. "How did you . . . "
"Easy. I know you, partner. I've got about half a gallon of vanilla ice cream in the freezer, will that do?"
"For me, perhaps. What will you have?"
Napoleon's gaze slid very deliberately down, then back up. "I'll, ah, save my appetite for later," he said, deliberately broad.
"Wait a minute, I thought you didn't like ice cream, Mr. 'I'll-have-a-coffee,'" Napoleon said, remembering a certain café, and Illya's stubborn refusal to have anything resembling a treat.
"Well, beggars can't be choosers," Illya said with a shrug.
Napoleon chuckled. "Help yourself to the ice cream, then, I'll be back in a minute."
Napoleon ducked into the bathroom to do a little necessary clean-up, pulled his robe from the back of the bathroom door and shrugged it on. Returning to the main room he found it empty. Then he noticed that the kitchen counter was clean, and Illya's clothes were gone from the floor. He had a brief moment of fear, wondering if Illya had freaked out and taken off. Then he realized his own clothes were missing too, and that the light was on in the bedroom. His pulse slowed to a less frantic rhythm. Crossing the apartment he stopped in the bedroom doorway and almost laughed. Illya was sitting naked and cross-legged in the middle of his bed eating ice-cream out of the carton.
Illya looked up, swallowed, and smiled. "I brought two spoons."
Napoleon smiled back. "Good." He dropped his robe and climbed onto the bed, reaching for the spoon Illya held out. "Better than coffee?" he asked blandly.
Illya looked him up and down just as deliberately as he had done earlier, and smiled wickedly. "Much." He licked ice-cream off his spoon, and then cocked his head. "You know," he said quietly. "I was afraid that my response to pleasure would end up being my downfall, but I see that I was wrong."
"Is that so?" Napoleon asked, digging his own spoon into the carton.
"Mm. I should have known better. I have only one true weak spot."
Intrigued, Napoleon lifted his eyebrows. "Which is?"
Illya smiled. "You. You are my Achilles heel, Napoleon."
Napoleon reached across to thumb away a smear of ice-cream from Illya's mouth. "Funny, I could say the same, only in reverse."
"I suppose it's just as well that we've discovered this, yes?"
Napoleon nodded. "I'll watch your feet if you'll watch mine."
Illya nodded firmly. "Done."
* * * Fin * * *
comments to: Kellie at mrks.org
Note: The CIA really did run a program (code-named MK-Ultra) in the 1960's testing hallucinogens, most notably LSD, for mind-control and personality reprogramming. An article on it can be found here: http://www.frankolsonproject.org/Articles/Spin.html (the website is run by the son of a man who was a casualty of the project). The (in)famous Timothy Leary was also a strong proponent of a more benign use of similar techniques for 'expanding consciousness.' In doing a little research for this story, I discovered that Cary Grant was one of the method's more famous adherents. Live and learn. :)
Russian Translations (approximate)
"Nyet puzh. . ."
"No, pl. . . ." (truncated 'please.')
"Mne nuzhno' . . ."
“I need to. . .”
"Eto prichin'ayet bol' mne."
"You're hurting me."
"Get me free."
"Ne mogu dyshat',"
“Oni pytalis’ . . .”
"They tried to . . ."
"Ya skazal . . ."
"I told. . ."
"Ya govoril pa russki,"
"I spoke in Russian."
“Ona - boleye moyewo razmera.”
"She’s more my size."
"Ya ne . . ."
"I can't. . ."
"Ya sozhaleyu . . . "
"I'm sorry . . ."
"pa anglijski . . ."
"Thank you very much."
"Lord have mercy!" (or Good Lord!)
A strong curseword -- like “fuck!” Very popular.