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 smut. Originally begun for Muncle Theme Challenge #34 but as always, not finished in time.
Soundtrack: Crash Test Dummies: Superman's Song, Two Knights and Maidens. The Frank & Joe Show: Besame Mucho. Dave Carter & Tracy Grammar: Lancelot. The Rankin Family:Fare Thee Well, Love.
Beta thanks to Ardent, Ndannais, and my two Unsung Betae. Also to Shay for
correcting my New York geography.
Knights of the Umbrella and Bundle
© 2005 Kellie Matthews
Napoleon shuffled his feet quietly to get his circulation going, and shoved his gloved hands deeper into his coat pockets. A sudden snap had turned it damned cold for October, even inside the building. Napoleon had lobbied to get the power in the abandoned warehouse turned on so they could at least plug in a space heater while they used its windows to surveil the THRUSH installation next door, but Waverly had vetoed it. Too expensive, he said. Plus there was the possibility that after so long there might be problems with the wiring and they could end up burning the place down. Or that one of them would forget the place was supposed to be abandoned and turn on the lights... a suggestion both he and Illya found more than a little insulting.
Hopefully Illya would be back soon with the coffee he'd gone out to fetch, though by the time he got back, it would probably be lukewarm at best, since the closest place to get it was about twelve blocks away. Tomorrow night Napoleon would make sure he had a thermos. And a flask. And a scarf. Maybe one of those woolly Turkish hats.
A noise brought him to full attention and he crouched behind a wall as someone ascended the stairs to his left, not very quietly. A softly whistled rendition of Gymn Sovietskogo Soyuza 1 told him who was there and he stood up again and hissed softly to orient Illya on his position. A moment later a large paperboard cup was held out to him, steam leaking out around its plastic lid. Napoleon pulled off his gloves and took the container gratefully, feeling its heat leach into his cold hands. "Bless you, my son."
Illya snorted. "Any avian activity?"
"Nope. Not a creature was stirring, not even a bat."
In the dim light from the street lamp across the way which illuminated their den, he saw Illya raise an eyebrow. "A bat?"
"Well, there aren't any famous poems about Halloween." Napoleon removed the top and lifted the cup, sipping carefully. It wasn't as hot as his hands thought it was, so he took a bigger mouthful of its sweet bitterness, and only after the third swallow did he realize Illya no longer wore his winter coat. "Lose something?" he asked, plucking at Illya's suit jacket sleeve.
Illya shrugged, picking up the binoculars and lifting them to his eyes as he stared out the window. "It's not cold enough to bother with."
Napoleon shook his head. "I suppose this would just be a brisk fall evening back home?"
"We're a hardy people," Illya said, deadpan, lowering the binoculars again. "Only five more hours and the day shift takes over."
Napoleon shivered. "Please tell me the diner is open all night."
"It is. And I can make another coffee run later, provided our feathered friends don't decide to come home to the roost."
"Our feathered friends have enough sense to stay in their warm little beds. Only fools and spies would be out in the cold."
"Fools, spies, and all those unfortunate souls who have no beds."
"You have a lot of those in Russia?"
"Officially, none. Unofficially, we have learned to sleep four to a bed."
"Fortunately we don't have to worry about that here in the land of plenty."
Illya shot him an unreadable look. "Quite fortunate," he said, and picked up the binoculars again.
"Speaking of bed," Napoleon said silkily, stepping closer, much closer. "I'll be glad when we're off night shift."
The binoculars wavered for a moment as Illya shivered and rubbed the back of his neck with one hand. "Don't think about it. And don't make me think about it either," he said repressively.
"I know, I know." Napoleon sighed, and he was close enough that his breath stirred the hair near Illya's ear, and made him shiver again. "You sure you don't need your coat?"
"I'm fine. Look, is that a light on across the way or just a reflection from somewhere?"
Napoleon stepped away instantly and looked out the window. "Where?"
"East end of the building, first floor, down at the far end."
They both watched intently for a moment, and then Napoleon shook his head. "It's a reflection. Cop car. There." He pointed at the police car cruising slowly down the street, the driver angling the searchlight mounted on its door to sweep the alleys he passed.
Illya made a soft exclamation under his breath and shoved the binoculars at Napoleon. "Hold these, I'll be right back."
Before Napoleon could ask what was going on, Illya had disappeared down the stairs. He almost followed him, but realized that would leave their post unmanned and he didn't want to risk it, even though this was their fourth night watching the supposed THRUSH outpost, and previous nights had yielded no results at all. He suspected that the tip they'd gotten was a red herring, but since it had specified that the shipment of the latest and greatest in THRUSH weaponry was to come in 'sometime' during the next ten days, then ten days of surveillance were required.
He turned his attention mostly back to the warehouse across the street, intensely curious as to what had set Illya off. Finally he heard footsteps again, and started to duck out of sight.
"It's just me," Illya said, his voice seeming very loud in the quiet, even though he was almost whispering.
"What was that all about?" Napoleon asked as Illya took up a position next to him.
"I was afraid I'd left the door ajar," Illya said, tugging the binoculars from his hand and lifting them. "I didn't want the police to come investigate. You know how they hate to share jurisdiction."
Napoleon stared at his partner narrowly, but it was hard to see anything with the binoculars in the way. The explanation seemed a little fishy to him. Illya was the last person on earth who would be careless like that. "Had you?" he asked, curious.
"No. I suppose it's akin to the feeling you get when you're two hours into a plane flight and start to wonder if you've gone off and left the iron on."
Napoleon couldn't resist. "You own an iron?" he asked in tones of amazement.
Illya smacked him across the back of the head without even lowering the binoculars. "You know perfectly well I own an iron."
"Ow," Napoleon complained, rubbing his head. "Save the rough stuff for the bad guys."
"That was just a love tap," Illya murmured. "Pay attention."
"To what? There isn't anything worth paying attention to." At least not out there, he thought, letting his glance slide down Illya's compact frame.
"Yet." Illya said, and then he shivered.
Napoleon wasn't anywhere near him, so this time it wasn't his fault. He smiled. "I thought you said this was just a brisk fall evening."
"No, you said that. And it was just. . . what's the saying . . . someone walking on my grave."
That made Napoleon cold in an entirely different way. He opened his coat and stepped close so he could wrap the sides around Illya, under his arms. "Don't say that. Just let me assume you're cold."
"All right then, I'm cold," Illya said agreeably, accepting Napoleon’s warmth, finally. "You're terribly superstitious for a rational man."
"I've never claimed to be rational."
Illya snorted at that, clearly amused.
Napoleon spent the rest of the uneventful stakeout keeping his partner warm in a sadly platonic fashion. At six a.m. their replacements arrived and they headed back to headquarters to file their report before going home to sleep, and Napoleon couldn't help but notice that Illya's coat wasn't in the car. He almost asked about it, but the fact that Illya clearly didn’t want to talk about it made him hold his tongue.
It also made him suspicious. Why would Illya have abandoned his coat on a cold night, and where, and why lie about it? Being a spy he could think of a lot of reasons he didn't like, and none he did like. He studied Illya as he leaned toward the receptionist to get his badge, and then shook his head. Ridiculous. He was sure Illya hadn't killed someone between the diner and the warehouse and ditched his coat because he got blood on it. And he was fairly sure if Illya was leaving clandestine messages for the GRU or the KGB, he would find a less obvious way to go about it. There was some rational, reasonable explanation. . . that Illya didn't want Napoleon to know about.
Maybe he'd spilled coffee all over it or something. Illya wouldn't lie to him about something important. Napoleon was pretty sure about that.
He stayed pretty sure until, looking for Illya so they could leave, he found him talking to Mandy, leaning close, laughing. Illya had a hand on her arm. He stopped, curious as to what they were talking about in such an intimate fashion. Realizing that they hadn't seen him, he ducked back around the corner and listened.
". . . how tall is she? Is she slim or full-figured?" Mandy was asking.
"She comes to here," Illya said, and Napoleon wished he could peek around to see Illya's gesture. "She's not large, but somewhat. . . full around the top."
"Hmmm. . ." Mandy mused. "I'd guess she's about a size ten, then. As long as you're not buying her something really form-fitting, that will probably do. And she can always exchange it if it doesn't fit."
Illya was buying a woman clothing? Who? Napoleon sorted through a mental list of the women they knew, trying to think of one who was about a size ten and full-busted, whom Illya knew well enough to want to shop for. He only came up with one prospect. Lisa Rogers. That alone was enough to raise his hackles. It was a rare woman that he didn't like, but Lisa was an exception. And it had nothing to do with the fact that she seemed to be utterly immune to his charms. He was willing to admit, though, that it might have something to do with the fact that she liked Illya, and Illya liked her. Enough that she was one of the women Illya occasionally took to bed.
None of the others made Napoleon jealous, though, and he wasn't sure why. Not that it mattered. He just didn't like the smug little know-it-all.
"Do you have a place you'd recommend?"
"Well, you can't go wrong at Bloomingdale's, really. The quality's excellent and the prices are reasonable."
"Excellent, thank you. I appreciate the advice."
"Any time, Illya. Just one thing. . . who is she?"
Illya chuckled. "No one you know, Mandy."
Interesting. If Mandy didn't know her, then it wasn't Lisa. Now Napoleon was even more curious. He couldn't think of any new women in Illya's life. Or any old ones who'd made a reappearance, either. He heard footsteps approaching and stopped hiding, stepping into view.
"Busy tonight?" he asked Illya.
Illya looked at him with a lifted eyebrow. "Same as you, warehouse surveillance again."
"That 'tonight' was metaphorical."
"Ah. You meant now."
"I thought I'd go home and get some sleep."
"A sad waste of a good bed."
Illya shook his head. "I don't want to be the one who has to tell Mr. Waverly that I fell asleep on duty and missed the appearance of our quarry because I spent the time I should have been resting doing unmentionable things with you. It's only two more days, Napoleon. Surely you can survive that long."
Napoleon sighed, pouting a little. "All work and no play. . ."
"I am a dull boy, Napoleon. You're the shiny one."
Not quite sure if that was a compliment or an insult, Napoleon changed the subject. "You know, if you're trying to impress a lady friend, then I'd try Saks, not Bloomingdales. It has more cachet."
Illya stopped walking, so Napoleon stopped too, enduring Illya's scrutiny.
"You have no self-control. Or shame."
"Absolutely none," Napoleon agreed, grinning. "So, want to come home with me?"
Illya shook his head, but his mouth was curved in subtle amusement. He studied Napoleon for a moment, and then he crossed his arms and leaned back against the wall. Recognizing his 'bargaining' posture, Napoleon waited expectantly.
"If I come home with you, will you feed me?"
Napoleon thought about what he had in his cupboards and nodded. "Sure." He decided to sweeten the pot. "And I'll give you a back rub."
Illya's eyes lit. "Deal."
Napoleon sighed ostentatiously and shook his head. "You know, there are people I don't have to bribe into sleeping with me."
"Yes, well, one always has more appreciation for the things one must work for."
"You know, that's rather profound," Napoleon said thoughtfully. A door swooshed open a yard or so down the hall and one of the file clerks stepped out, her presence reminding him that it was a trifle indiscreet to be standing in an UNCLE hallway making an assignation with his partner. He nodded toward the exit. "Come on, I'll give you a lift."
"How kind of you." Illya fell into step beside him.
* * *
Illya had his tie off before they were halfway through the apartment door. His suit coat followed it onto the wing chair as he followed Napoleon into the kitchen. "So, what do you have? Spam and white bread?"
Napoleon gave him an offended look. "Just for that I'm going to make you eat vegetables."
Illya held up his hands in mock horror. "No, please! Not that! I'll tell you anything you want to know."
Napoleon rolled his eyes and opened the refrigerator, bending down to check the crisper. Pulling out an onion and three carrots he handed them to Illya. "Here, make yourself useful. Chop these."
"You didn't tell me I had to make my own lunch. How do you want them cut?"
"The carrots thin and the onions coarse."
Illya nodded and went to the sink to rinse the carrots, then got a knife from the drawer and the chopping block from behind the range. Napoleon broke several cloves off a head of garlic, and took out a stick of butter and the half-bottle of Fumé Blanc left from dinner three nights earlier. He found a box of frozen peas in the freezer and added them to the growing pile on the counter, along with the packaged sliced ham he'd bought for sandwiches. It wasn't prosciutto but it would do in a pinch, though he was half tempted to see if he had any Spam just to twit Illya. Finally he rummaged until he found the jar of white asparagus he'd bought once upon a time to make Tournedos Oscar but the date had gotten cancelled by an assignment before he'd had a chance.
Having collected his supplies, he got out a large pot and a skillet from the cabinet next to the stove. Tearing open the peas he ran warm water over them until they were thawed, and tossed them into the skillet. Putting that on the stove, he filled the large pot with water and watched Illya chopping vegetables, his large hands wielding the knife with a chef's efficiency. Noticing his gaze, Illya stopped and lifted his eyebrows.
"Am I doing it wrong?"
"No, not at all. I was just thinking how at home you look with a knife in your hands."
Illya chuckled. "I can debone a chicken in three minutes."
"And a THRUSH in one."
Illya snorted. "Fortunately that's not on the menu today. Speaking of which, what are we making?"
"Ah, mystery meal. Served at commissaries the world over."
Napoleon snatched a spatula out of the dish drainer and waved it threateningly. "You’re pretty mouthy for a guy who wants free food."
Illya brandished the last intact carrot back at him. "Careful, I have your carrot hostage."
Napoleon leered at him lasciviously. "Not yet you don’t." He punctuated the comment with a hip thrust for emphasis.
A momentary flicker of confusion crossed Illya’s face, then came the dawn of understanding, followed closely by a smirk, and then he tipped his head slightly and looked at the carrot he held, then back to Napoleon. Gazing steadily at him through half-lidded eyes, Illya slowly, deliberately, slid the narrow tip of the carrot between his lips. And kept going. And going. And he wasn’t chewing.
The sudden absence of blood to his brain made Napoleon a little dizzy. The spatula fell to the floor as he watched Illya tip his head back a little and swallow repeatedly as the carrot slid deeper. He was achingly hard, remembering viscerally how that mouth felt on his body: heat, wetness, flutter of tongue, teeth a tantalizing menace.
"God," he rasped. "Illya. . ."
He saw the flare of triumph in Illya’s eyes, and the carrot was teasingly withdrawn again. It was almost as erotic to watch in reverse. His mouth was dry and his cock a heavy, pulsing weight at his groin, stretching his closely tailored trousers uncomfortably. Illya tossed the carrot into the sink and moved forward with the grace and intent of a predator. Napoleon swallowed nervously as Illya sank to his knees, put his hands on Napoleon’s hips, and looked up, an unholy gleam in his eyes.
"Nyeeeaah. . . what’s up, Doc?"
It took a moment for that to register on what little of Napoleon's brain was still functioning on anything other than a reptilian level, but once it did, he was lost. He started to snicker, then chortle, and soon he was doubled-over, whooping with laughter, breaths coming in strangled gasps whenever he could catch one.
Laughing too, Illya took advantage of his dangling tie, wrapping it around a fist to pull Napoleon off balance until he fell across Illya, taking them both to the floor. Desperately trying to breathe, Napoleon put his hands over his ears and his face against Illya's shirt and steadfastly ignored the little body-quakes he knew was Illya's laughter until he had himself somewhat under control. Finally he stuck out a hand and found the floor and pushed himself up to look down at Illya's flushed, smug, face.
"Bastard." He sighed deeply, and stretched against Illya's prone body. "I needed that."
Illya nodded. "I know. You've been tense since Nevada." He shifted a little, looking at Napoleon searchingly. "Do you want to talk about her?"
Napoleon shook his head. "No."
Illya didn't take offense at his blunt refusal, he just nodded. "All right. Shall we finish making lunch?"
Napoleon nodded, and Illya let go of his tie so he could stand up. Napoleon stayed where he was for a moment, enjoying the contact, then levered himself up and to his feet. Illya uncoiled beside him a moment later, flexible and strong, like his bones were made of spring-steel. He watched as Illya turned on the water in the sink and washed the carrot he'd been teasing Napoleon with, then returned to the cutting board to slice it neatly in thin rounds. Resilient. Intelligent. Brutally forthright. Great sense of humor. Blond. Sexy as hell.
Oh yeah. He'd figured it out, even if Thrush hadn't.
'Do you want to talk about her?' No. No need. No need at all. But now there was a 'her' for Illya to talk about, it sounded like. And Napoleon couldn't quite bring himself to ask. Instead he devoted himself to lunch with all the intensity of a mission prep. Set the water boiling for the pasta, melted butter in the skillet and added the onions and carrots to sweat, then crushed garlic with the side of his butcher knife and threw it in too. A few strokes of the same knife rendered both ham and asparagus into manageable pieces and they too went into the skillet, along with most of the wine and two handsful of grated Grana Padano Stravecchio he'd brought home from Italy on their last trip.
As the sauce reduced, he put spaghetti in the boiling water along with a pinch of salt, and then downed the last few swallows of the wine straight from the bottle. Illya set the small kitchen table with flatware and napkins and then disappeared from the room for a few moments, only to return with another long-necked green bottle. Napoleon eyed him askance.
"Isn't it a little early in the day to be raiding my wine stash?"
"Technically yes, but since for us this is more dinner than breakfast, no."
"True." Napoleon opened the utensil drawer and pulled out his corkscrew. "Here."
Illya nodded his thanks and took it, opening the bottle with a few deft twists before retrieving two glasses from the cabinet over the sink and filling them. He set one down on the table and sipped from the other as he came to hover over Napoleon's shoulder. "Is it done yet?"
"Almost, o ravenous one. Drain the spaghetti, would you?" Napoleon speared a carrot with his knife and nibbled at it, then turned off the flame under the skillet. If the carrots were done, the rest should be, too.
Illya put down his glass and squatted to get the colander from the cupboard next to the oven. Napoleon admired the view for a moment, and then the equally appealing one that came as Illya stood back up, put the colander in the sink and dumped the spaghetti into it. As the mound of steaming pasta drained, Illya retrieved his wine, then moved out of the way as Napoleon got down two large, shallow bowls and divided the noodles evenly between them, then did the same with the sauce. Setting the bowls down on the table, Napoleon motioned for Illya to sit, and glanced at the wine. Illya had chosen his other bottle of Fumé Blanc, which made him smile. Nothing got past Illya's eagle, if slightly farsighted, eyes. Not even the kind of wine Napoleon was using in his spaghetti sauce.
Illya sat, picked up his fork, and then hesitated.
Napoleon lifted his eyebrows. "You waiting for someone to say grace?"
Illya snorted and shook his head, twisting his fork to load it with noodles, and then spearing a piece of asparagus on the tines. "I was wondering if it would be impolite to dispense with the fork and just put my face in the bowl."
"Oh, maybe a tad," Napoleon said musingly. "Besides, you might burn your lips. That wouldn't be any fun."
Illya finally lifted his fork, tasted, and his eyes closed in what looked almost exactly like orgasmic bliss. Napoleon was familiar enough with that expression that he could compare the two easily. The main difference here being that Illya wasn't sweating, and his hair was still, for him, neat. He lifted his eyebrows questioningly as Illya swallowed and opened his eyes.
Illya took the hint. "I'm fortunate that your ingenuity extends to the table. This is very good."
Napoleon lifted his wine and looked at Illya over the rim of the glass. "My ingenuity extends to . . . ah. . . other areas, as well," he said, tipping the glass to his lips.
Illya paused mid-chew, then swallowed and smiled sharkily. "And that also is my good fortune. But I'm still going to finish my food before I drag you to the bedroom and fuck you through the mattress."
Napoleon choked on his wine and set the glass down hastily, coughing. "Illya!"
Illya gazed back at him innocently. "Do you need assistance?"
Napoleon shook his head. "No, but you need your mouth washed out with soap."
A sly, subtle smile curved Illya's mouth. "I can think of far more pleasant occupations for it."
It was clear he wasn't going to win this round, so Napoleon surrendered with as much grace as possible. "I'm looking forward to it," he said, turning his attention back to his plate and trying to ignore the appetite that had been piqued elsewhere. It turned out to be surprisingly easy as the memory of Illya saying ‘She's not large, but somewhat. . . full around the top’ insinuated itself into his thoughts. He imagined Illya with some busty ... blonde? Redhead? Brunette?
It bothered him that he didn’t have the slightest idea who she was. How had that happened? For God’s sake, they lived in each other’s pockets. When and where had Illya managed to hook up with a woman he liked enough to spend money on? And why hadn’t he mentioned it? The only reason Napoleon could think of was that Napoleon had an admitted tendency toward poaching. But so did Illya. He poached from Illya, and Illya poached from him. It was all in fun.
This one, clearly, was not available for poaching. That sent up a warning flare. He didn't like that. He was tempted to remind Illya that they weren't supposed to get serious. Except that would mean admitting that he was bothered. And . . . he wasn't about to do that.
Illya's voice intruded on his brown study and Napoleon looked up to find himself the subject of intent scrutiny. He pushed his plate away. "Too tired, I guess. Or maybe I should have made scrambled eggs. I wasn't in the mood for dinner. It's the wrong time of day." He got up and carried his dish to the counter, digging around to find the Saran wrap and wrestling a piece off to stretch across the bowl before he put it in the refrigerator. Returning to the table he picked up his wine glass and sipped.
Illya looked up from his almost-empty bowl, eyebrow lifted. Napoleon sent him a jaundiced look. "Don't start."
A small smile curved his partner's mouth. "I wouldn't dream of it."
"Uh huh. Just remember, I've seen you breakfast on vodka."
"It's not breakfast unless you've been to bed. Otherwise, it's still last night, and it's a nightcap."
"Is that how it works?"
"So I've been told. And didn't we already have this conversation?"
"I'm tired, so shoot me." Napoleon finished his wine in a few decisive swallows, then took the glass to the sink, washed it, and set it in the drainer to dry. That done, he started on the rest of the dishes. After a few moments Illya brought over his bowl and plate, setting them in the soapy water in the sink, and got the towel off the refrigerator door and started drying.
"They can drip," Napoleon said.
"The glasses will spot," Illya pointed out.
"Thank you, Heloise."
Illya regarded him for a long, silent moment, and then put down the towel and reached into the sink to tug at the skillet in Napoleon's wet, soapy hands. "I'll finish up here, go get ready for bed."
Though Illya’s tone was sociable, the words were imperious, and for a moment Napoleon almost argued, because that was just what they did, but then he stopped himself. Illya was present, and willing, something that he might not always have. Sometimes discretion really was the better part of valor. He surrendered the skillet. "Sounds good to me."
He headed for the bathroom, brushed his teeth, thought about shaving and decided it would take too much time so he just did a quick wash-up instead. After putting a couple of necessary items on the night-stand, he hung up his suit, pitched his shirt and underwear into the laundry basket and was about to turn down the bed when a soft sound from behind him caught his attention and he turned to find Illya watching him, his expression an odd mixture of speculation and concern that sent a little shiver down Napoleon’s back.
Instantly the speculation vanished, and Illya moved forward, yanking the covers back with one hand as the other wrapped firmly around Napoleon’s arm and urged him into the bed. "In you go, Napoleon. I’ll join you in a moment."
Napoleon slid between the sheets and watched Illya disappear down the hall toward the bathroom. He settled himself comfortably against the headboard, one knee raised, hands clasped on it to remove the temptation to touch himself, because he wanted Illya's hands on him, not his own.
He heard running water, which was as it should be, but then the slide-thump of the medicine chest's sliding panel being opened. He started to call out to Illya to let him know that he had everything they'd need on the night-stand, but then he heard the hollow thump-whack of the cabinet under the sink. Puzzling, since he only kept cleaning supplies down there. Next he heard the rattle of the shower-curtain rings on the bar. What on earth was Illya doing? Cleaning the tub?
He was about to get up and go look when Illya finally appeared in the bedroom doorway, stripped to his boxers and carrying the bottle of baby oil Napoleon kept for those times in between partner or playmates when he did have to make do with his own hands. He wasn't sure what Illya was planning to do with it, but as Illya stalked toward him, pantherish and determined, Napoleon felt his breathing speed up and his skin flush. Deliberately he leaned back, making a show of putting his hands behind his head, the sheet slipping down to his waist as he did so.
Reaching the bedside, Illya put the bottle down on the night-stand and flipped back the covers, eyes raking Napoleon's body appreciatively. "Turn over," he ordered, his voice soft and rough at the same time, like a cat's tongue.
Wordlessly Napoleon complied, surprisingly aroused. Or maybe not so surprisingly. He wasn't afraid to let Illya indulge his dominant side now and then, so long as he got his turn at some point. He lay on his stomach, arms crossed under his head, eyes closed, as relaxed as he could be with sexual tension thrumming just under his skin like he'd been struck by lightning.
He heard the soft scrape of plastic on plastic as Illya uncapped the oil. His body tensed a little in anticipation, not the kind you experienced when some bad guy was about to go after you with a whip, but rather the shivery kind he vaguely recalled from youthful birthdays when you knew you were going to get something really good but weren't sure what, yet.
The sound of skin rubbing rapidly against skin supplied him with a matching visual, slick hands being chafed together. Then friction-heated palms settled against his shoulders, strong, broad hands sliding down on either side of his spine, fingers digging lightly into his flesh, molding it. There was no pause, no gentling of pressure as they followed the slope of his back, rode the rise of his buttocks, and then traced down his thighs to his calves, and ankles, finally coming to a halt, palms pressed against his soles.
It wasn't what he'd expected at all. An explosive shiver wracked him, made him gasp. One hand lifted away from his left foot, and then there were two hands on his right one, thumbs pressing firm channels into his sole, wringing another gasp and twitch from him, not that he was ticklish, but . . . God, he hadn't realized his feet ached until Illya's touch released the pain and left him sagging with relief. Before he’d quite absorbed the change, Illya was repeating the action on his left foot. Again his whole body jerked at the burst of radiant pain, then shifted into boneless relaxation.
"What is that?" he managed to ask, surprised how slurred his voice was.
"Just something I learned in a bath house. Do you like it?"
"Mmmhmmm," Napoleon muttered into his arm, unable to be more precise. "Wait. ' thought I was supposed to rub you?" He pushed up on one arm.
"Changed my mind." Illya released Napoleon’s foot, hands shifting to cup his calves, working slowly upward from there. At some point the touch disappeared briefly, then returned, slicker than before. The silky sweep of oiled fingertips against his inner thighs made Napoleon sigh and shift his legs apart in lazy invitation, but Illya didn’t take him up on it, instead his hands moved on to Napoleon’s buttocks, the circling pressure of his thumbs waking his nearly-damped arousal once more. He pushed back into Illya’s touch like a cat, offering himself blatantly, but Illya just settled a palm against the small of his back, pressed him down against the sheets, and resumed his massage again.
Napoleon opted not to argue. Illya had never done anything quite like this before, so he wanted to see where it was going. He hoped like hell it wasn’t going where he was afraid it was going, which would be . . . nowhere.
Abandoning his more sensitive regions, Illya's hands moved on, up his back to his shoulders, down his arms to his hands, even his fingers were massaged. It was very nice, very relaxing, and . . . not at all sexy. Until Illya leaned down, lips against his ear, and whispered seductively. "Turn over."
Having given up hope that the massage was leading anywhere interesting, Napoleon was almost annoyed with Illya for sounding seductive. He lay still for a moment, contemplating faking sleep, but that was petty. Not that he was above being petty from time to time.
"Napoleon?" Illya no longer sounded seductive. His query was very soft, designed not to wake a sleeping partner, but it sounded a little . . . disappointed?
Napoleon didn't respond and after a moment he heard a soft sigh, and felt the bed shift as Illya got up. The sigh decided him. He rolled over. "Going somewhere?"
Illya turned, startled. "You're awake."
"Barely. You’re not stopping, are you?" he asked, stretching in a way he knew displayed everything he had to advantage.
One corner of Illya’s mouth twitched upward; clearly he was quite aware of Napoleon’s shameless manipulation, but he didn’t seem put off by it. "Certainly not, if you’re awake and . . ." his gaze flickered downward, ". . . up for it."
Napoleon grinned. "Oh, I’m up for it." He chanced a scan down Illya's torso, and brightened at the thinly-disguised evidence that Illya was up for it too.
"So it appears." Illya hooked his thumbs into the waistband of his boxers and stripped them off.
It never ceased to amaze Napoleon that with a suit on Illya looked boyish, almost scrawny, but once he took his clothes off there was nothing boyish about him. Beautiful musculature, just the right amount of body hair, and a cock that matched his hands, being slightly disproportionate to his frame. In a good way.
Illya put a knee on the bed, and Napoleon watched appreciatively as he crawled forward on all fours, coming to a halt straddling Napoleon's thighs, the warm weight of his mostly-hard cock nudging tantalizingly up against Napoleon's fully-hard one. Napoleon waited expectantly. Illya leaned across him to pick up the baby oil from the night-stand again, pouring some into his palm, putting the bottle down and then chafing his hands together before bringing them down on Napoleon's shoulders.
Napoleon almost swore with frustration as Illya's hands flexed on his shoulders, kneading. Not this again. After a moment they moved down to his biceps, then back to his shoulders, finally sliding down to his chest and around his ribs, which almost surprised a laugh out of him, reminding him that he was just a little ticklish. Because Illya had to lean forward to do all of that, each motion rubbed his groin against Napoleon's with a maddening lack of rhythm. He stood it for as long as he could, but finally he'd had enough.
"Illya," he grated.
"What are you doing?"
That took him by surprise. "What?"
"I said . . ."
"I heard you." He thought about it for a moment. "Do you think I need to be appreciated?"
Illya lifted an eyebrow at him, clearly amused, and said nothing. Napoleon made a face at him. "Fine. I feel appreciated. I feel very appreciated. I would feel even more appreciated if you would stop teasing and get down to what you promised me over breakfast." Gripping Illya’s hips in both hands, he pulled him down and rocked his erection up hard against Illya’s for emphasis.
"Did I promise you something over breakfast?" Illya asked with exaggerated innocence.
"I seem to recall something being said about fucking me through the mattress." He let his fingers slide back from Illya’s hips to the firm curves of his ass, caressing.
Illya clicked his tongue disapprovingly. "Now whose mouth needs washing out?"
"Damn it, Illya . . ."
Illya laughed and settled on top of him, reaching up with both hands to slide his fingers into Napoleon’s short-cropped hair. "So impatient, moi droog. Very well. If fucking is what you want, fucking is what you’ll get." He lowered his mouth to Napoleon's and kissed him, hard and deep, taking, not asking. Not that he needed to ask. Ever.
Napoleon lost himself in sensation. The rasp of beard-shadow was nearly painful; he'd long ago learned that even if he could barely see it, he could feel it. Illya's beard was much rougher than his own. The silky press of tongue against his lips more than made up for any discomfort though. He opened to that demand, tongue meeting tongue slickly.
When Illya finally unclenched his fingers from Napoleon’s hair and lifted his mouth, Napoleon’s lips felt swollen and sensitive, almost bruised, and he was struggling to catch his breath. Though Illya was quieter, his breathlessness was betrayed by the rapid swell and ebb of his chest. After a moment Illya lifted off him, balancing on one arm, and reached for the oil again, drizzling a little down Napoleon's belly before putting it back. Easing back down, he rocked his hips slowly, the oil making skin glide almost frictionlessly against skin.
Napoleon worked a hand between their bodies, managing to capture the heavy length of Illya's cock against his own, sheathing them both in the circle of his palm. Illya stopped rocking, lifted, and reached down to push Napoleon's hand away. Grinning, Napoleon went to put it back, and Illya caught his wrist firmly. Surprised, Napoleon lifted his gaze and his mouth went dry at the intensity in Illya's eyes. He stopped resisting the grip on his arm, and Illya let go, lifting his hand to stroke Napoleon's jaw, then his lips, with two fingers.
Napoleon let his lips part, tongue flicking out against Illya's fingers, tasting the faint sheen of oil on them, never dropping his gaze. Illya pressed his fingers between his lips, and Napoleon let him, sucking them in, slowly tracing their shape with his tongue. That drew a smile from Illya, and a slight softening in his gaze. He drew his fingers out again and leaned in, hovering, lips almost touching Napoleon's, until Napoleon closed the distance between them.
A knee pressed between his, and he let his legs part. Damp fingers trailed down his left thigh, stroked the sensitive skin behind his knee, and then cupped beneath it, urging it up.
He brought his knees up on either side of Illya's thighs. Illya slithered back a little, then came up onto his knees and reached down to slide his palms against Napoleon's stomach, then his own. That puzzled Napoleon until Illya moved just so and the light caught, gleaming, on his hands for a moment before they slipped out of sight between them and. . . .
He closed his eyes, breath caught somewhere between a sigh and a groan as two thick, slick fingers circled, pressed, and pierced. There was always that moment of doubt before his body remembered, and yielded. He didn't understand why every time they did this he'd somehow forgotten how damned good it was. And they weren't even to the best part yet. He shifted restlessly, pushing down against Illya's fingers until they hit just the right spot with just the right pressure and his cock jerked and wept a thick tear.
Illya bent nearly double and his tongue flickered, soft and hot, against the taut flesh of Napoleon's penis, licking him clean, teasing around the flange, before his lips closed over the sensitive glans in a delicate, sucking kiss. Between Illya's fingers and his mouth, Napoleon was seconds away from coming. He reached out and tangled his fingers in Illya's thick, silky hair, and tugged.
"Not that way," he growled.
Illya lifted his head, blue eyes still intent enough to make Napoleon shiver with pleasant apprehension. "No?" he asked.
Napoleon shook his head. "Through the . . ."
". . . mattress," Illya finished, smirking. He slipped his fingers free, leaving Napoleon hollow and wanting.
Callused palms slid up the backs of Napoleon's thighs as Illya leaned in to take Napoleon's knees over his shoulders. Napoleon clutched at the sheets, wishing he had more to hang onto, because it was hard, hard not to fight, to allow himself to be so exposed. Everything in him had been trained to never show vulnerability, even to someone he trusted with his life, and this was as vulnerable as a man could be.
Sensing his tension, Illya pressed forward and brought their mouths together, and the slick wet heat of their kiss fired him past programmed protest. There was a brief, snub touch, pressure, then a steady in-forging of flesh into flesh. Gasping, Napoleon let go of the linens and groped for Illya's biceps, fingers spread around the taut muscles, feeling them flex as Illya rocked slowly in shallow, sweet thrusts that took him deeper and deeper until they were fully fused.
"All right?" Illya whispered, mouth skimming along his jaw, teeth nibbling at the tender flesh there.
"More?" Napoleon asked, not caring that his voice was shredded with need.
Illya gave him more; a sharp, hard flick of hips that drove him ruthlessly deep and bowed Napoleon's back into an arch echoed by the tendons in his throat as he threw his head back and whined his pleasure. The rhythm Illya set for him was punishing and perfect, the kiss of hard belly against his aching erection adding random sparks of accentuated sensation. He flexed and pushed against Illya's body, resisting only to enhance.
Weight shifted against Napoleon as Illya leaned on one arm so the other could reach between them, broad palm and heavy fingers wrapping around his cock.
Napoleon caught his wrist. "No."
Illya's eyes met his, sharp and puzzled.
Napoleon lifted his hips, making Illya slide inside him. "Just . . . you. Just this."
The grin that shaped Illya's mouth was feral, and he tugged his wrist from Napoleon's grasp, shifting again to brace both hands against the bed as they'd been before. There was a slow, slow slide almost completely out, a moment of stillness, and then a hard, swift plunge.
"Yes." The word hissed out from between his teeth, and the twist and flex of two bodies striving for the same goal began again, the piston-surge of Illya's cock inside him unbearably sweet, pushing him harder and harder until he broke. His hands clamped hard on Illya's forearms, and somehow Illya froze deep inside him, letting him feel each pulse as it started, deep at the root, where Illya was buried inside him. His whole body shuddered, hot spatters painting his belly and chest. Illya gasped, panting above him, waiting for the last spasm to pass.
"Now," Napoleon whispered.
Illya lunged, taking his own pleasure in a flurry of wild, uncoordinated thrusts. Since he'd already finished, Napoleon could feel the flood of heat inside when Illya came, something he was usually too distracted to notice. When Illya sagged against him, struggling to catch his breath, Napoleon scrabbled for the covers, tugging them up around them, holding him close, reluctant to let go and have the air steal Illya's heat from him.
After a few moments Illya sighed and slipped free, reaching for the hand towel Napoleon had left on the night-stand, using it to swab them both down enough that they wouldn't stick to the sheets, then he dropped it on the floor and curled up against Napoleon's back, one arm across Napoleon's stomach and one thigh over Napoleon's leg in a possessive clinch. For the first time since about midnight Napoleon relaxed completely. Sleep claimed him within minutes.
* * *
The sound of the toilet flushing woke Napoleon. He reached out automatically, his hand finding sheets still warm from Illya's body. He didn't think anything about it until he heard the soft click of the front door closing. At that he sat bolt upright and looked at his alarm clock, frowning. It was only a little after one. They didn't have to be at work until six, they could sleep for at least four more hours. Why was Illya leaving, and where was he going, and why hadn't he said anything?
Napoleon got out of bed, snatching his robe from the closet and slipping into it on his way to the front door. He pulled it open just in time to see Illya disappear into the stairwell at the end of the hall. He was either going to his own apartment, or out. Napoleon ducked back into the apartment and dashed to the window, pulling the left edge of the curtain away from the window just enough that he could clearly see the building's front steps.
When there was no sign of Illya within five minutes, he relaxed a little. Clearly Illya had gone home, probably to shower and change. If he was anything like Napoleon he smelled like he'd spent the night in a brothel, and while lllya might not be quite as fastidious as Napoleon, he wasn't about to go out like that. That gave Napoleon a few minutes to clean up, too.
He ducked into the shower just long enough to scrub the smell of sex off his body, and was in, out, and toweled off again in five minutes. He found the note when he went to shave, it was propped on his razor. "Have errands to run. Meet at the warehouse at six." There was no signature.
Napoleon stared at the note for a moment, feeling a little waylaid. The fact that Illya had left him a note took some of the mystery out of his absence. But not all of it, because it still didn't explain why Illya had lied to him. And that set him on edge.
It wasn't like they'd promised to never lie to each other. They did it all the time. But this wasn't a tall tale, or a diversionary tactic designed to distract Napoleon while Illya cut him out with a girl. What bothered him this time was the sheer innocuousness of it. Why lie about a coat? And did his 'errands' have anything to do with it?
Only one way to find out. After wrestling his slightly-damp body into an undershirt and briefs, he threw on a pair of dark slacks and a thick gray sweater, shoved his feet into a pair of dock shoes, grabbed a driving cap that would give him a little camouflage, and headed out to wait for Illya to leave the building. He was going to get to the bottom of things.
He didn't have to wait long. Less than ten minutes passed before Illya exited the apartment building and began to walk briskly. After several minutes of cautious tracking Napoleon came to the conclusion that Illya was headed for Lexington Avenue, which meant he was probably going to Bloomingdale's. He was a little miffed that Illya hadn't taken his advice about Saks.
He dropped back and followed at a much greater distance so Illya would be less likely to spot him. Sure enough, at 59th and Lexington, Illya stopped, looked up for a moment at Bloomingdale's distinctive Art Deco facade, and shook his head with a strangely rueful expression before proceeding through the brass-and-glass doors. Napoleon waited a few moments and then accompanied a large family group into the store for cover. A quick scan of the premises revealed Illya getting into the elevator. Watching the indicator, he made a note of which floors to check, and took the stairs.
Illya was, as Napoleon had expected, on the women's wear floor. Though, oddly, rather than in lingerie or accessories, he was standing in the middle of the outerwear section looking critically through a rack of coats.
Napoleon wondered if he ought to offer his services as a present buyer, because Illya was clearly out of his league. You bought a woman lingerie, or a silk scarf, or a cashmere wrap. Not a coat. Then suddenly it hit him.
Illya was missing his.
But he was shopping in women's wear.
He had a sudden, awful moment of wondering if having sex with Illya all this time had done something to his sartorial sensibilities, but the idea was so ludicrous he nearly gave away his location by laughing out loud. No. No, there was surely a reasonable explanation. Perhaps he'd loaned his coat to someone who needed one, and wanted his back, but didn't want that person to go without. . .
Actually, that made perfect sense. More so than a mysterious new girlfriend, by quite a lot. All except for why Illya would lie about it. That still didn't make sense, but Napoleon felt as if a weight had been lifted. Though it also made him feel a tad slow on the uptake.
He watched Illya wave away three different clerks as he examined at least a dozen coats from various racks, finally returning to a rack he'd looked at before and removing a coat he'd previously rejected. He lifted the sleeve, looked at the price tag and made a face, but still turned, with a determined expression, toward the register.
On the way there, Illya suddenly stopped in front of a display of sweaters and fingered the top one, then carefully went through the pile, pulling one out of the middle of the stack without disturbing the rest, like a magician. Another display, this one of wool slacks, caught his attention and a pair of those, along with several pair of socks, was added to his haul before he finally made it to the register. The three salesgirls, all of whom had been circling like sharks, converged on the register to fight over who got to ring him up, but finally the one who looked like a miniature Jean Shrimpton waved the other two girls away and took Illya's items.
Napoleon moved closer, sidling up behind a pillar to listen to the exchange.
"So it's your aunt's birthday?" the pretty brunette was cooing.
"Well, not yet. But with the mails, you know . . ." Illya said vaguely.
"Oh, of course. So you're sending this to England?"
"Mm." Illya's reply was noncommittal.
That didn't seem to faze the clerk. "I've always wanted to go to England. It must be so fab! Are you from London?"
Napoleon could almost hear Illya sigh. "Cambridge, actually."
"Cambridge. Huh. What's in Cambridge?"
"Nothing much of note. Just a small, poorly-regarded university," Illya said repressively. "May I have the total, please?"
"Oh, sure." The register ka-chinged noisily as she punched in the sale. "Seventy-two dollars and eleven cents. You're lucky the pants are on sale now, twenty percent off."
"Indeed." There was a pause. "My change?"
"Here you are, sir. Have a nice day." Apparently she'd finally noticed the snubbing. She sounded put out and insincere.
Napoleon smiled, and shook his head. Illya was definitely on a mission of some sort. Undistractable, even by pretty brunettes. He briefly debated going home now that he knew there was nothing nefarious going on with his Russian, but curiosity got the best of him. He had to know the end of the story, and he strongly suspected if he didn’t find it out for himself, he never would. He headed down the stairs, looked around, and almost cursed himself for waiting so long to follow when he didn’t spot Illya anywhere. Finally though, a flash of bright hair caught his eye near the 60th street exit and he wove his way quickly through the aisles just in time to see Illya disappearing into the subway station.
Hurrying down the steps, he pushed his way a little rudely through the crowd, not that anyone seemed to find that unusual. Somehow he managed to get into the next car back from the one Illya was in just as the doors closed, and stayed there until Illya exited the train at Astor Place, just north of the East Village and its predominately eastern European community. Interesting. Also interesting was Illya’s actual destination, the Salvation Army store on 4th. It was so small that Napoleon didn’t dare go inside, so he waited just around the corner, trying to ignore the odor of boiled cabbage that was coming from somewhere nearby, and trying not to get distracted by the girl in the psychedelic print miniskirt and very thin gauze top bickering with the street-vendor across the way about some beads. Fortunately Illya didn’t spend much time in the shop. When he came out, he had a second big shopping bag, this one plain and brown, nothing like Bloomie’s distinctive Kinigstein bags.
He followed Illya a few blocks east, to the St. Mark’s churchyard where he made his way past the graves to sit down on a bench near the back. Napoleon went around the block so he could watch through the fence from behind while Illya took out his purchases– in addition to what he'd bought earlier there was now a pair of Army Surplus wool pants and a heavy sweater, neither of which appeared likely to fit either Illya or a size ten woman– then used his pocket knife to carefully remove the tags from the clothing he’d bought. That accomplished, he put all his purchases into the plain bag, and deposited all the tags into the Bloomingdale’s bag.
Curiouser and curiouser.
Illya stood up decisively, and Napoleon scrambled for cover behind a wall, swearing under his breath as the rough brick snagged his sleeve. Minutes later, they were back at the subway once more. Napoleon, a little out of breath, watched Illya pitch the Bloomie's bag in a trash bin and then buy a token and head quickly for the platform where the M-line had just arrived and was letting off passengers. After a moment of mental map review, Napoleon started to smile. He knew where Illya was headed now. Roughly, anyway. Illya’s coat had gone missing somewhere between Junior's and the warehouse, ergo, the person for whom the new coat had been purchased was most likely in that area as well, and that was Illya’s destination.
Still smiling, Napoleon dashed back upstairs to find a cab. Since Illya had further to go, with a little luck he could make it across the bridge to the Fulton station before Illya arrived there.
* * *
Illya's new girl was a tiny thing, barely came to his chin, though she was indeed a tad busty. However, since she couldn't be a day under fifty and she seemed to already have a boyfriend, it wasn't something Napoleon was terribly worried about. She was wearing Illya's missing coat, just as Napoleon had suspected. It amused him to realize that Illya would rather lie than be caught being nice to little old ladies.
He'd managed to get to the subway station in time to watch Illya emerge and walk over to Junior's, coming out a little later with a large take-out bag in one hand and the large brown shopping bag in the other. From there his path led directly back to the warehouse where they'd been set up for the past five days. Or rather, to a small shed in the alley behind the warehouse which, according to the sign on its door, had once housed flammable items. It had been empty for over a year, though, just like the warehouse itself, seized for nonpayment of taxes. Conveniently for UNCLE, federal cases were slow in working their way through the system.
Fortunately the shed wasn't particularly well built, and Napoleon found a pretty good view of its interior through a pair of small holes in one wall where something had apparently once been bolted. He had to be careful because the walls were rough wood, and whatever had been removed from the wall had left behind splinters. He pulled one out of his hand as he watched Illya hunker down between the man and woman who were clearly living in the shed, he felt vaguely ashamed of his own breezy dismissal of the idea that anyone in America lacked for a bed. He knew better. He'd seen people all over the country sleeping under newspapers and on steam grates. He'd seen soup kitchens with lines out the door. He wasn't even sure why he'd said it, apart from some misguided streak of nationalistic one-upsmanship.
The food was distributed first, a half dozen foil-wrapped hamburgers, three orders of fries done up in twists of greasy paper, a quart of cole slaw, and what looked to be half of a chocolate layer cake. There was more than enough for three, which was clever of Illya, both because it would seem less like charity if he shared the meal, and because the left-overs should keep at least until the next day in the chill temperatures.
Their conversation was quiet, almost whispered, and without putting his ear against the wall Napoleon couldn't hear more than a word here and there, but when Illya lifted his sandwich the Negro gentleman stopped him with an outstretched hand, and proceeded to say grace. Illya didn't close his eyes or bow his head, but he did watch with grave patience until the man finished. The burgers and fries steamed when unwrapped, the scent wafting out through the holes in the wall to make Napoleon's mouth water. He thought about heading back to Junior’s to get dinner for himself, but curiosity kept him where he was.
"Chyort!" the woman said suddenly, her voice carrying this time, and in it Napoleon could detect more than a hint of Eastern Europe. "Please excuse, hands are dirty, I must wash."
"Where . . . ?" Illya began.
"Building across street has outside faucet. People there let us use."
Illya nodded and went back to his meal, as did the other man. The woman stood and walked toward the door. Napoleon ducked back into the shadows beneath the edge of the loading dock. He heard the shed door open and close, then the sound of receding footsteps. After waiting a few moments for good measure, he slipped out of his hiding place and squinted through the bolt-hole again, trying to get a good view of the inside, but it was difficult. He was about to step closer when something hard and pointy poked him in the middle of the back.
"Okay, buster. Put hands in hair!"
Put hands in hair? He couldn’t help but smile as he gamely lifted his hands to his head, recognizing the voice and the accent. "You got me."
"I did." She sounded quite self-satisfied. "Illya, Joseph, I find some snoop! You come?"
Her voice was pitched to carry, and a moment later both Illya and the shed’s other occupant came around the corner. The concern on Illya’s face turned to a kind of amused irritation the moment he saw Napoleon.
Illya sighed and shook his head. "It’s all right Masha. Napoleon, put your hands down."
Napoleon directed a glance back over his shoulder at the woman behind him, and discovered she wasn’t holding him at bay with a pointy stick or something equally innocuous. Unless he was very much mistaken, it was a bayonet. A dull bayonet, but, a bayonet nonetheless, and with enough effort it could be . . . painful. He looked back at Illya. "I think I'll leave them up until the lady says otherwise."
"Masha, really, it's all right. The snoop is just my partner."
"Partner? Not KGB?"
Illya snickered. "No. Definitely not."
"Oh." The pressure against his back eased. "You may put hands down now."
Napoleon lowered his hands and turned. "Thank you, ma'am. . . ?" he let his voice carry the question as he glanced at his partner.
Illya took the hint. "Napoleon, May I present Marya Mayakovskaya and Joseph Dorsey. Marya, Joe, my partner, Napoleon Solo."
Napoleon turned around and finally got a good look at his captor as he reached to take her hand and kiss it. She looked to be in her late fifties, but it was difficult to tell, a hard life could etch skin and silver hair early, but her gray eyes were bright with humor and intelligence. She quickly switched the bayonet to her left hand and let him kiss her right.
"Nice manners," she said, looking past him to Illya. "Except for snooping part."
"How did you know I was there?" Napoleon asked, a little chagrined to have been caught.
"Saw shadow come and go behind holes in wall."
Napoleon winced. It was a ridiculously amateur mistake.
"Don't feel too badly, Napoleon," Illya said comfortingly. "Masha was a sniper with the Red Army during the Great Patriotic War. She knows a thing or two about covert operations."
She smiled broadly, showing a missing right bicuspid tooth. "Is true. Is where I met Joe, in Austria, by the Steyr. He was tank mechanic. Very good."
Napoleon shifted his attention to the man who looked to be a handful of inches over Napoleon’s own height, with a wiry build and close-cropped grizzled hair. His eyes, like his wife’s, were gray, their paleness startling in his dark face. He smiled fondly at his wife and nodded.
"I was with the 761st. We hooked up with the Red Army in Austria before they went on to Berlin.2 Met Marya when she took care of a couple of Krauts who were trying to pick me off while I fixed a jammed tread on an M24. We figured their friends wouldn't take kindly to that so when I got the tread freed up we invited her along for a ride so she wouldn't have to worry about them. 'Course we didn't know she was a girl." He grinned and winked. "Imagine our surprise when she took off her hat and coat."
Napoleon chuckled. "I can imagine. Look, don't let me interrupt your dinner, the food will get cold."
Marya shrugged. "Food is food hot or cold. Is nice to meet Illyusha's friend. He speaks well of you."
Napoleon lifted an eyebrow in Illya's direction. "He does, does he?"
A faint flush tinged Illya's face and he turned. "Napoleon's right. Let's finish dinner before it gets cold."
Joe nodded and started back around to the front of the shed. Marya hesitated, looking at Napoleon. "Will you join us?"
"Thank you, but I had dinner already," he lied smoothly, not wanting to help himself to food they obviously needed. It wouldn't kill him to go without. "I'll just go on in." He nodded toward the warehouse door.
Illya glanced at his watch. "We have another forty-five minutes before we need to relieve Graham and Brennan."
"But . . ."
"Come and sit."
Illya sounded exasperated, so Napoleon surrendered gracefully. "All right."
There were four empty fruit crates upturned around a table with three matching legs and a fourth made from a two-by four. As they sat down and began to eat again, Napoleon distracted himself from the mouthwatering smells in the air by looking around. Joe and Marya had clearly made an effort to make the shed habitable. A small window had been cut high on one wall to let in light, a clear plastic shower curtain folded several times and nailed across it to keep out the elements. He could tell it had been a shower curtain by the holes for the rings along one edge, and the little white daisies printed all over it. In addition to the makeshift dining set, there was a pile of neatly-folded blankets in one corner, and two well-worn olive-drab duffel bags were propped against the wall. The name 'DORSEY' was stenciled on one of them.
A shelf held several tall glass jar candles, the sort you saw in Catholic churches and homes. Joe's earlier prayer hadn't sounded Catholic, though, so Napoleon assumed they were just there for light, and the glass containers made them safer. Smart. The same shelf held a large pitcher and bowl, like something out of an old Western. An empty mayonnaise jar on the table held a sheaf of iris, dried and faded almost to translucence but still a pleasing spot of color. Iris bloomed in the spring, though, and it since it was October now, and the dried flowers had to be too fragile to transport any distance, they made him wonder just how long Joe and Marya had been living in the shed.
A nudge in the side got his attention as Illya slid a piece of foil his way, bearing half a hamburger and a pile of french fries. "Eat these, I'm full."
Since he knew from long experience that Illya was never full, Napoleon knew that was as much a lie as his own, but he was grateful for it. He'd make it up to Illya later. Even lukewarm the fries were great, greasy and salty and starchy. He finished them first and then the burger, which had only mustard and pickles on it. He would have preferred mayonnaise and catsup, maybe some tomato too, but he'd long ago given up being finicky. A spy couldn't afford to be. Balling up the foil, he looked around for a place to throw it away, and seeing none, tucked it in his coat pocket to dispose of later. The quiet was a little uncomfortable, and for once he didn't know what to use for a conversation opener.
"I'm afraid I need my coat back," Illya said abruptly, leaning down to drag the big Salvation Army bag out from under the table. "But I brought you a trade." He wrestled the coat out of the bag and shook it out. "Here."
Napoleon had to stifle a laugh. As gift-giving went, it was spectacularly graceless. Marya looked at the coat, then back at Illya, shaking her head.
"Is too nice. I cannot."
"I went to the Salvation Army," Illya said. "It's all right."
Napoleon noticed how he hadn't actually lied. Nice touch. He also realized that maybe Illya's awkwardness had been deliberate.
Marya looked at the coat again. "Salvation Army?"
"Over near St. Marks. You know the one?"
Marya nodded. "Is very strange why people give away good things."
"Isn't it?" Illya concurred. One corner of his mouth twitched, but only Napoleon noticed, since everyone else was looking at the coat. "Let's trade."
He stood up and held out his hand. Marya hesitated a moment longer, then nodded and stood up to shrug out of Illya's coat. Joe stood too, and took the new coat from Illya, helping Marya put it on after exchanging a look with Illya that said he wasn't fooled. Marya stroked a hand across the plush faux-fur collar of the coat, then down the heavy sleeve.
"Is warm," she said approvingly.
"Good, I thought it would be," Illya said, pulling on his own coat and pushing the paper bag back under the table with his toe.
Napoleon almost reminded him about the other things in the bag, then he decided that if Illya was pushing it under the table, he probably had a reason, and kept his mouth shut. Illya's generosity made him feel a little guilty, though, and he cleared his throat. "You know, my aunt is on the board of the Greater New York Charitable Association, she could probably find a place for . . ."
"Nyet!" Marya's face had gone chalk white. "Nyet. Ne vovlekite gosudarstvo, oni otdel'at nas! Oni vynud'at men'a vozvraschat's'a!" She clutched at Joe's arm and sent a panicked look at Illya.
"Shh," Illya said, putting his hands on her shoulders firmly. "Eto horosho. My ne budem delat' etogo. Ne volnujtes'. On ne ponimayet. Ya ob 'asn'u eto yemu. Okay?"
She nodded shallowly. "Okay. Okay. Ya sozhaleyu . . . "
"No, it's all right. I understand, and it's all right." He stepped back, letting his hands drop to his sides, and moved to the door. "Come on Napoleon, time to go relieve our compatriots."
Wondering what on earth he'd said to upset Marya so, Napoleon nodded an apologetic good night to the couple and followed his partner out and around to the other side of the building and the door they had keys for.
"What did I just put my foot in?" he asked quietly as Illya unlocked the door.
"I'll tell you after Graham and Brennan leave."
Napoleon wanted to argue, but knew better. Fortunately the other agents didn't want to linger. Their day had been as dull as Napoleon and Illya's night had been, and they were eager to escape. Once they heard the door close firmly behind them and from the upstairs window saw them heading back toward where they'd left their car, Napoleon turned back to Illya with lifted eyebrows.
"She's not a legal immigrant. She's afraid if anyone finds that out, she'll be sent back to the Soviet Union."
Napoleon stared at him. "She's been here since nineteen-forty-something and she's not legal?"
Illya shook his head. "You don't know how hard it is for a Soviet citizen to emigrate. And if that were not enough, she's technically a deserter. She never returned to her unit after she met Joe. They married in France, and then they managed to get her to Mexico when he came back to the US. Once he was discharged he went to Mexico and brought her back across the border with him illegally."
"Huh." Napoleon thought about that for a moment, and then shook his head. "You know, I don't think anyone at the Association would even think to ask for any sort of proof of citizenship."
"I know, but to them, it's not worth the risk. She's too afraid they will be separated, either because of her illegal status, or because they are a mixed-race couple."
"Ah." He couldn't really argue with that. Not that he thought it would really happen, they were married, after all, but fears weren't necessarily rational. "How did they end up living in a storage shed, for heaven's sake?"
"Joe has arthritis and was laid off his job as a mechanic because he's just not fast enough any more, and Marya can't get a job because of her illegal status."
"What about his social security and military pension?"
"Their daughter is studying biochemistry at Oxford."
"Ah." That explained that. He frowned. "What sort of daughter lets her parents live in a shack so she can go to an expensive school in England?"
"One who does not know. And neither you nor I will tell her."
Illya shook his head. "I gave Joe my word."
Napoleon thought about that, and shrugged. "I guess we'll just have to find some other way to help, then."
Illya looked at him for a long moment, and then nodded, a smile lurking around the corners of his mouth. "I suppose we will."
* * *
Just after two a.m. Illya nudged Napoleon's arm and pointed toward the river where a boat was pulling up to the dock of the warehouse across the street. "Looks like our ship has come in," he announced, lowering his binoculars.
Napoleon gave him a wounded look. "You stole my line."
Illya chuckled. "I can quip as well as the next man. If you're the next man."
"Ouch. See if I remember you in my will. What are they doing?"
The binoculars lifted again. "Tying up. I need to get closer and see what their cargo is. It could be something legitimate."
"At two a.m.?"
"Time and tide . . ."
"... wait for no man, I know. Come on, let's go."
"I'll do it, they'll be less likely to notice one of us than two." He handed the binoculars to Napoleon. "I'll contact you by communicator if things look suspicious and you can call in the team."
Before Napoleon could protest, Illya was gone down the stairs. "Who's in charge around here, anyway?" Napoleon grumbled under his breath, not sure he wanted to know the answer. Taking his place at the window he watched Illya as he emerged from the door below and pulled a dark cap over his bright hair, then began to slip from shadow to shadow as he crossed to the other warehouse. Eventually he slid around a corner and disappeared. Napoleon trained the binoculars on the boat. He could see movement, but not well, they were working in very little light. It was hard not to count the seconds as he waited for Illya to check in. He had a bad feeling, and he'd learned to pay attention to those.
He'd worked himself into enough of a nervous state that when his communicator went off it startled a year off his life. He snatched it out of his pocket and twisted it on. "Solo."
"Looks like our informant was right." Illya's whisper coming from the tinny speaker sent a shock of relief through him. "I count five Thrush drones and one boss-type. They're unloading crates and storing them in the warehouse. They dropped a crate on the dock earlier and I managed to get a look at the contents when it broke open. It appears that they've modified their rifle again. And there's another type of crate I haven't gotten a look inside yet. I’m going to . . ."
Illya's sentence ended abruptly, and Napoleon could someone shouting in the background.
"Hey! You! What are you doing?"
"Call in the team." Illya hissed, and then the transmission ended abruptly.
Hell. Napoleon switched frequencies and called in the team they'd had on standby for the past week just in case the arms shipment turned out to be real, and tried not to picture a flock of THRUSH goons converging on Illya. Closing the connection, he slid the communicator into his pocket, and unholstered his gun. He’d wait five minutes, and if Illya hadn’t called him back by then, he would head over himself.
There was no question in his mind as to whether or not to wait for the team to arrive.
"Damn it, Illya," he groused to thin air, pacing as he waited, watching the seconds sweep by the glow-in-the-dark hash-marks on his watch. One minute. Three. Five.
That did it. He started down the stairs, trying to strategize, wishing the team wasn't ten or fifteen minutes away. He needed help now, not in fifteen minutes. Needed some sort of distraction. Someone to draw attention . . .
He stopped, hand on the door, considering, then shook his head, dismissing the idea. No. No, they were innocents. They were old, for heaven's sake. Arthritic. But he remembered the press of a bayonet in his back, and the story of a battlefield romance between a Russian sniper and an American tanker. Thought about two people stubborn enough to give up everything to make sure their child had a place in the world better than their own.
Pushing open the door, he made a beeline around the building to the shed, saw a glimmer of light through the drill-holes, and knocked impatiently. The light went out instantly, and he knocked again. "Joe, Marya!" he hissed. "It's Napoleon. I need your help."
The door opened an inch, the wider. "Mr. Solo? What's wrong?"
"I think they’ve got Illya."
They didn’t ask who, or why, or how, they just exchanged a look, and then Joseph stood. "What do you need us to do?"
"Furnish a distraction so they won't notice me going in."
"The warehouse next door. The river side."
Joseph nodded. "We'll think of something."
Marya crouched down beside a fruit crate on the floor, moving a few things, and finally stood up, holding a half-empty liquor bottle. She held it up, shook it a little, and smiled. "We will be very distracting."
Napoleon grinned back. A pair of drunks would be an excellent distraction. "Perfect."
He slipped across the street to wait in the shadows the corner of the THRUSH warehouse and watched them jog to the end of the block and disappear around the corner, only to reappear a few moments later, laughing loudly, stumbling and weaving, and singing a somewhat slurred and erratic version of 'When a Man Loves a Woman.' Joe had an excellent clear tenor, and Marya managed a decent, though intermittent, harmony. Marya waved the bottle around as they progressed, and they took care to stay where the streetlights would be sure to catch them as they passed from pool of light to pool of light.
Judging that they'd be right where he needed them in a matter of a minute or two, Napoleon swiftly made his way around to the opposite side of the building so he could slip inside when the Thrushies' attention was focused on the drunken couple passing by. Reaching the corner he chanced a glance around the wall and saw that, despite having stumbled across his partner, at least some of the goons were continuing to unload the boat. The scrape and thud of heavy crates being moved nearly drowned out his distraction, but a sudden shout caught everyone's attention and as one they all moved toward the other side of the pier to check out the impromptu concert.
They had changed songs now, and Marya was belting out 'It's My Party' at the top of her not inconsiderable lungs, though her version appeared to be titled 'Is My Party' and Napoleon was fairly sure Lesley Gore's lyrics did not include anything about Stalin. He wondered if the Thrushies had noticed the altered wording as he slunk into the warehouse, hiding behind a stack of crates as he scanned the room for any sign of his partner.
He spotted Illya almost instantly, helping one of the Thrush goons move a pallet of crates with some sort of large pivoting hand-truck and nearly dropped his weapon in surprise. Illya was helping? He glanced around, looking for the guy who had to be holding a gun on his partner. There wasn't one. Illya and the goon maneuvered their pallet into place and then stepped back. The goon took a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped his sweating face with it. While he was occupied, Napoleon stepped out from behind his crate and waved at Illya.
Illya's glanced over at the movement. His eyes widened and he made a shooing motion with his hands, just as the goon lowered his hanky. Napoleon ducked back behind his crates, but apparently not fast enough.
"Okay Blondie, hands up. And you behind the crates, come out of there or this guy gets it."
Crap. Napoleon stepped out, smiling brightly and pretending not to notice the fact that the goon was now holding a gun on Illya. "Hello there. I'm the, ah, dock safety inspector. I was just checking to be sure all the, um, regulations are being observed."
"Uh huh," the goon said dubiously. "First we got a guy looking for work at two in the morning, then we got a safety inspector inspecting at two in the morning? I wasn't born yesterday, you know. Get over there by your friend, Blondie."
Illya came to stand next to Napoleon. "We would get the only clever one in the bunch."
"I guess their recruiting standards have gone up."
"No talking!" The goon growled. "Walk toward the dock. I'm going to ask the boss about you two." He gestured with his gun.
With a dual sigh of resignation, they did as ordered. When they stepped out onto the dock, Napoleon could see that the distraction was still in progress. Joe and Marya were taking turns on 'Stop in the Name of Love.'
Napoleon saw Marya look their way, her attention probably caught by the movement, and suddenly a small flare of light blossomed in her hand. A moment later the flare brightened, and she lifted the wine bottle, pulling her arm back like she was winding up for a throw that would take out a base runner. The bottle arced a brilliant path through the air, peaking over the chain-link fence that separated Joe and Marya from the Thrush contingent, and then started downward. Illya hissed in surprise and grabbed Napoleon's arm. "Come on!" he whispered.
Focused on the burning bottle, their captor didn't notice as they sprinted around behind the warehouse, and he was even less likely to notice a moment later when the bottle hit the ground and burst in a rush of liquid fire and the Thrushes on the dock scattered away from the flames like a flock of startled birds.
Illya was up and over the fence in a heartbeat, Napoleon followed a moment later, landing just in time to spot Joe and Marya sprinting away from the other side of the building at a clip that belied their age. At the same time, four station wagons gunned their way up the street, screeched to a halt beside them and began to disgorge the UNCLE strike team Napoleon had called. Illya hesitated, looking toward his friends, then at the team, then at Napoleon. Napoleon waved a hand toward Joe and Marya.
"Go make sure they’re okay and that none of our little birds follows them. I’ll take in the team."
Illya nodded and jogged off, and Napoleon turned toward the team.
* * *
Alexander Waverly perused their report in silence, his furrowed brow wrinkled deeply in concentration. Finally he looked up, his pale eyes sharply appraising. "Your report states that you were materially assisted by two civilians, however you failed to note their names and addresses or bring them in for a debriefing. Is there a reason for that?"
Illya shot Napoleon an ‘I told you so’ look. He’d said it was unlikely that Mr. Waverly wouldn’t notice such an omission and felt it would be better to leave Joe and Marya out of the report entirely. Napoleon, having a longer acquaintance with Waverly, left it in. He assumed a solemn mien.
"Yes sir, that was deliberate. To identify our comrades could put them at risk." He saw Illya roll his eyes at the noun he'd chosen, and fought back a smile.
"What sort of risk?"
"I'd rather not say."
Thunderclouds were less threatening than Waverly's scowl. "I don't recall giving you the authority to countermand my orders."
"Ah. . . no sir, you haven't. I just didn't realize it was an order."
"I'm not in the habit of speaking simply to hear my own voice, Mr. Solo."
"No sir, of course not. The risk would be that of deportation as an illegal alien, and arrest for aiding and abetting illegal immigration."
Illya sighed, and Waverly's eyebrows shot up. "Illegal immigration?"
"Yes sir. And possibly trespassing."
Waverly made a noise that in a less dignified person would probably have been termed a derisive snort. "If UNCLE reported people for trespassing we'd all be in dire straits. Now, details, man. Just what are we talking about here?"
Napoleon told the story without embellishing it, confirming details with Illya as he went. By the end of the tale, Waverly was tapping his pipe impatiently.
"Ridiculous situation. Shameful. I'll make a few calls and have this put to rights immediately. And Mr. Davis in Personnel was just telling me he wanted to find an older couple to put in charge of a new UNCLE safehouse across the river in New Jersey. I think a resourceful pair like this would be ideal for the job." He chuckled, shaking his head. "A Molotov cocktail. Ingenious. It's clear Mrs. Dorsey made good use of her wartime experience in coming to your assistance."
"Indeed, sir," Napoleon said, striving to keep his tone from veering into smugness. "Did you have any other questions about the report?"
"No, no. I think we're all finished here. I trust the two of you will see that the Dorseys are adequately housed while we get all the details ironed out. I'll have Accounting issue vouchers to cover their expenses, within reason of course." He looked sharply at Solo.
Illya nodded, "I'll make sure he doesn't get them a suite at the Plaza, sir."
Not that he needed to. Napoleon knew that the couple was staying at Illya's for the night, and that could be stretched out as long as needed. It was a good excuse for Illya to bunk in with him.
"Good. See that you do."
Waverly put down their report and picked up another, their cue to leave. Napoleon made it all the way to the elevator without smiling, but the minute the elevator doors closed behind him, his grin broke free.
"You knew he'd do that, didn't you?" Illya asked.
Napoleon squinted up at the floor indicator as if it were hard to see. "Well, maybe not precisely that, but I knew he'd do something. The immigration problem was my main objective, the new job's just a bonus."
"You are without doubt the most manipulative bastard I've ever met," Illya said admiringly.
Napoleon's grin widened. "Why thank you."
"I shouldn't have doubted you."
"No you shouldn't have. But you can make it up to me later."
That was all the warning he got before he felt Illya's hands on his shoulders, turning him around and pushing him up against the elevator doors, before his mouth was claimed for a bright, fire-hot kiss that was over much too soon. He was still leaning against the doors, panting a little, when they slid open behind his back and would have spilled him out into the corridor on his ass had Illya not grabbed him by the lapels and steadied him until he found his balance.
Illya smirked at him not at all apologetically as he let go and smoothed Napoleon's coat with both hands. Napoleon resettled his jacket and turned around to face the three people (two night-shift secretaries and a fellow enforcement agent) who were waiting for the elevator to empty. He assayed an expression of amused tolerance he wasn't at all sure worked, and exited the elevator, Illya a step behind. If anyone laughed, they were polite enough to wait until they were out of earshot.
"Lunatic," he muttered under his breath as they stepped out of the dim confines of Del Floria's into the chilly, dark, and quieter-than-normal streets.
"I believe the correct response is 'it takes one to know one,'" Illya replied crisply.
Napoleon slung an arm around his shoulders and squeezed him. At four in the morning it was likely no one would see him do it, not even a THRUSH surveillance operative. "So it does."
Illya returned the squeeze briefly, then stepped back. "Thank you, by the way."
"Not mentioning my shopping trip in the report."
Napoleon chuckled. "Don't worry, your reputation is safe with me."
"Thankfully nothing else is. Oh, and Napoleon?"
"Next time, just ask. It will save wear and tear on your shoes."
Now, that was hardly fair. "I did ask." He had. About the coat. About the woman.
"Not the right question."
"Ah." He understood now.
"Yes, ah," Illya said. "Come on. Let's go home."
Home. Napoleon knew his smile was a little goofy. He didn't care.
We styled ourselves the Knights of the Umbrella and the Bundle; for, wherever we went ... the umbrella and the bundle went with us; for we wished to be ready to digress at any moment. We made it our home nowhere in particular, but everywhere where our umbrella and bundle were. --Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862).
* * * Fin * * *
Comments to: kellie at mrks.org
1Gymn Sovietskaya Soyuza is the transliterated title of the Soviet Union's national anthem. The anthem was adopted in 1944. The music was composed by A. V. Aleksandrov and the lyrics were written by Sergei Vladimirovich Mikhalkov. The lyrics were rewritten in 1977 to remove references to Stalin. After the collapse of the USSR, Russia adopted a new national anthem but it never gained popularity, and at the end of 2000, the melody of the old Soviet national anthem was adopted as national anthem of Russia and new lyrics were written. If you want to hear it, please right-click the link and save the RealAudio file (the MP3 version was too big) to your own hard drive rather than playing it directly off my site. I'm not sure which version of the lyrics this features. :)
The Hymn of the Soviet Union
Be true to the people, thus Stalin has reared us,
Inspire us to labor and valorous deed!]
Sing to the Motherland, home of the free,
Bulwark of peoples in brotherhood strong.
O Party of Lenin, the strength of the people,
To Communism's triumph lead us on!
In the vict'ry of Communism's deathless ideal,
We see the future of our dear land.
And to her fluttering scarlet banner,
Selflessly true we always shall stand!
Unbreakable Union of freeborn Republics,
Great Russia has welded forever to stand.
Created in struggle by will of the people,
United and mighty, our Soviet land!
Sing to the Motherland, home of the free,
Bulwark of peoples in brotherhood strong.
O Party of Lenin, the strength of the people,
To Communism's triumph lead us on!
Through tempests the sunrays of freedom have cheered us,
Along the new path where great Lenin did lead.
To a righteous cause he raised up the peoples,
Inspired them to labor and valorous deed.
2Historical Note: Obviously Marya and Joe are fictional, but the all-Black 761st
Tank Battalion (sometimes called the "Black Panther Battalion")
did link up with the Soviet Army at the River Steyr in Austria, however from
what I have read, they were not officially given a part in the historic
due, quite likely, to racial discrimination. Also many women served in the Soviet
military during World War II, notably as guerillas,
snipers, and pilots.
One (undocumented) statistic I found stated that "70% of the 800,000
Russian women who served in the Soviet army in WWII fought at the front. One
hundred thousand of them were decorated for defending their country."