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!
Soundtrack: Eastmountainsouth: Eastmountainsouth. Venna Teng: Harbor. Steve Tyrell: It Had To Be You. Rod Stewart: Bewitched Bothered & Bewildered. Harry Connick, Jr.: The Very Thought of You.
Thanks to my betae, Ardent, Bluster, and Shayheyred for their insightful comments and willingness to tell me what I need to hear even when I don't want to hear it. Thanks to Linda Cornett for the tapes, zines, and enthusiasm. And also, thanks to Aneiric for correcting my machine-generated Russian. --Kellie
"All right, so what's bothering you this time?" Napoleon asked irritably as his partner dropped a file on his desk and then turned to leave without saying a word.
Illya paused in the doorway and lifted one pale eyebrow, eyes as cold and blue as glacier ice. "What makes you believe anything is bothering me?"
"Oh, nothing really. Just the little fact that you haven't said two words to me since we got back. And it's been three days." He didn't mention the fact that Illya seemed to have been avoiding him as well. Normally they ate lunch together every day in the commissary, but not since they'd returned. Nor had they had dinner, which they usually did at least twice a week.
"Must I remind you that it was difficult for me to speak at all until just recently?"
Napoleon suppressed a guilty flinch, knowing he was indirectly responsible for the damage to Illya's throat. In fact, his voice was still much huskier than normal, giving his usually crisp speech a peculiarly intimate tone. "I. . . uh. . . no. I'm sorry about that."
Illya sighed. "Of course you are. You always are."
Napoleon frowned. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Illya's gaze pinned him. "It is supposed to mean that it would be a novel occurrence if occasionally you placed my safety above your libido."
This again. Illya never ceased to harp on his harmless little flirtations. The fact that in this particular instance he was right only added to Napoleon's irritation. If he hadn't stopped to flirt, that guard would never have run across Illya and nearly strangled him. He picked up the file Illya had brought him and flipped through it, looking at the analysis of the new explosive THRUSH had been working on. The very explosive which Illya had been injured in retrieving. Another stab of guilt made him snappish. "At least I'm not a damned eunuch like some people around here," he muttered.
The silence that followed his comment was so intense he could hear his own heartbeat in it. He waited for the explosion he knew would come. And waited. And waited. Finally, unable to stand it any longer, he turned to look at Illya, who . . . wasn't there. The doorway was empty, the door closing silently on its tracks.
Napoleon sighed. Oh, very well done. A hit so far below the belt he couldn't even pretend it had been anything else. And now Illya was offended. With very good reason. He pushed his chair away from his desk and stood up, heading into the corridors to track down his partner and apologize.
The only problem was, Illya was nowhere to be found. He wasn't in the lab, his office, in medical, the armory, not even in the commissary. Rare occurrence that it was, Napoleon knew when he was being avoided, and decided to try again later. After all, he knew all of Illya's haunts. He would find him, eventually. And in the meantime, maybe his partner would have calmed down, and he wouldn't be risking any loose teeth.
That night he stopped by Illya's apartment with a fifth of Stoli as a peace offering, but there were no lights on, and no one answered the door. He had a key, and could have let himself in to make sure that Illya wasn't just sulking, but had a feeling that if he did it would just make things worse, so he didn't. He tried the jazz club he knew Illya frequented, but there was no sign of him there either. Later that night he tried calling the apartment. The phone rang seventeen times before he gave up. He couldn't, at the moment, recall a time when Illya had let a snit go on this long, but there was a first time for everything.
He drank three scotches and ate no dinner. Probably not a good idea, he reflected later, as it did nothing but exacerbate the peculiar mixture of guilt, regret, and unease he felt. The remark had been utterly uncalled for. After all, it wasn't as though he didn't know why Illya was, as he had so charmingly put it, a eunuch. He tried not to think about it, but of course, the more he tried, the more insistent the memory became.
Left alone with his new partner for the first time, he'd eyed him sourly. For God's sake, he was the premier agent in UNCLE. What the hell was Mr. Waverly thinking, saddling him with a scrawny, wet-behind-the-ears Russian whiz-kid for a partner, even if he had passed every test with flying colors and was older than he looked? Noting the wary look in his erstwhile partner's eyes, he'd pasted on a smile he knew did nothing to disguise his annoyance. "So, Mr. Kuryakin. Any questions?"
Kuryakin eyed him back, his expression disconcertingly unreadable. After a long, slightly uncomfortable pause, he shook his head. "No, Mr. Solo. No questions. There is, however, something of which you should be aware before you agree to this assignment."
Napoleon almost laughed. As if he had a choice in the matter? No. Mr. Waverly had made that quite clear, at least to him. Still, he was curious now. "What would that be?"
Kuryakin hesitated for a moment, and then he squared his shoulders, feet apart, and hands locked behind his back in a strangely military stance, and lifted defiant blue eyes to meet Napoleon's gaze evenly. "Those who arranged for me to come here consider my posting here to be . . . how do you say. . . something of a joke."
Napoleon scowled. "UNCLE is no joke."
"Ah, no. You misunderstand. I am the joke, on you, or rather, on UNCLE." The direct gaze slid away from his to focus on something over his left shoulder, and faint color stained the skin over sharp cheekbones. "They believe I am defective."
Napoleon had seen the man's files. Even he had to admit they were impressive. A PhD in quantum mechanics. A stint in the Soviet Navy, little hints about possible other affiliations, though none overtly stated. He'd gone through UNCLE's rigorous survival training like a hot knife through butter. If this was what the Russians considered defective, he wasn't sure he wanted to meet the cream of the crop. "If that's so, they certainly took pains to conceal it," he said, waiting for further explanation.
Kuryakin nodded. "Indeed."
"Enlighten me then," Napoleon prompted, when it was clear no further explanation was forthcoming. "What is this defect they find so amusing?"
If he hadn't been watching closely, he wouldn't have seen the slow expansion of stomach muscles that betrayed the deep, slow breath Kuryakin took then. His eyes remained focused on whatever it was he saw over Napoleon's left shoulder.
"While I am functionally bisexual, I am primarily homosexual. I wish to assure you that it should not prove to be a problem. I realize it is potentially dangerous, but I will be celibate for the sake of safety. However, I felt it would be unfair of me not to allow you the option of refusing the partnership should you be uncomfortable with what I am."
Napoleon was still processing the first sentence, trying not to let his jaw drop. Unused to feeling out of his depth in any social situation, but needing to find something to say, he seized on the first part of the other man's statement. "What do you mean by 'functionally bisexual?'"
Blue eyes flickered to his face quickly, assessing, a hint of surprise in their clear depths. "I can perform with women, should it be required. It is not distasteful to me, it is simply not my preference."
The idea that someone would find having sex with a woman distasteful made Napoleon blink a little, but he supposed there must be someone, somewhere, who did. He groped for more words to fill the awkward silence. "Does Mr. Waverly know?"
The look Kuryakin gave him was scathing. "I would not keep potentially damaging information from my superior."
Napoleon thought about that potentially damaging information, prodded his own comfort level to see if it balked. To his surprise, it didn't. And the fact that the man he'd thought of as a 'scrawny, wet-behind-the-ears Russian whiz-kid' had just revealed shockingly personal information to both him and to Mr. Waverly, two people who could make his life a living hell if they wanted to, stunned him. For Kuryakin to do such a thing took a kind of courage that was beyond his comprehension. He cleared his throat, and tried a smile. A real one. "In that case," he extended his hand. "Welcome aboard, Mr. Kuryakin."
At work the next morning, Napoleon still couldn't locate his partner. Around eleven, he took a stack of files and staked out a table in the commissary, waited until one, and when Illya still hadn't made an appearance he'd had enough. He retreated to his office, took out his communicator, and asked for Illya.
"Agent Kuryakin is unavailable," came the unexpected response.
"What do you mean he's unavailable? How can he be unavailable?"
"I'm sorry, Mr. Solo, but that's all the information I have." Sherry sounded genuinely apologetic.
"Who told you he was unavailable?"
"It came straight from Number One."
It did, did it? He thanked her, and headed for Waverly's office. After cooling his heels while his superior finished a briefing, he pushed his way past the exiting agents and stood in front of Mr. Waverly's imposing desk, trying to look casual.
The old man calmly closed the file he'd been perusing, and looked up at him. "I don't believe that's any of your concern, Mr. Solo."
"My partner disappears and it's not my concern? Since when?"
"Don't be melodramatic. A vacation is hardly a disappearance." He reopened the file and started to page through it.
Napoleon wondered for a moment if THRUSH had developed a new device that sucked all the air out of the room, but then he realized that his superior showed no sign of distress, so it must just be him. "Vacation?"
"Two weeks," Mr. Waverly said, without looking up. "Though he has far more time off coming to him. While his medical leave balance is appallingly low, his vacation balance is somewhat excessive and I suggested he use some of it. It will make personnel happy, as they won't have to cash out quite as much at the end of the year."
"How could you do that without notifying me?" Napoleon demanded, shocked.
Mr. Waverly closed the file again, and looked up at him with a frown. "I was not aware that I was required to consult you on personnel decisions, Mr. Solo."
The reprimand was gentle, but clear, and Napoleon flushed. "Of course not, sir. I was just. . . surprised that no one informed me."
That got a lifted eyebrow. "Mr. Kuryakin did not discuss his plans with you?"
Waverly's surprise only made the knot in his stomach worse. "No."
"Hmmm," Mr. Waverly said, annoyingly noncommittal.
While Napoleon waited impatiently for him to continue, Mr. Waverly filled his pipe, tamped it, lit it, and puffed for a moment. Finally he looked back at Napoleon.
"Have you ever been to the zoo, Mr. Solo?"
"Of course." He wasn't sure what the zoo had to do with anything but the old man wasn't given to making meaningless obscure references. He had to be going somewhere with it.
"Have you noticed the behavior of the large predators. . . tigers, panthers, wolves, and the like."
Waverly nodded. "A predator kept for long in captivity will often become. . . disturbed. They pace the confines of their cages, they are irritable, aggressive, and may become dangerous to their keepers. The look in their eyes is. . . not something I care to see in one of my agents. I felt that Mr. Kuryakin needed out of his cage for a while."
Napoleon considered that unsettling image, and then shook it off, turning to his superior with his most persuasive smile. "Where'd he go?"
"I suspect if he'd wanted you to know that, he would have told you."
"I just want to make sure he's all right. You know what an irresistible target he would make if THRUSH found out where he was."
"Another excellent reason not to tell you, since having two irresistible targets in one location would be even less . . . resistible. He can take care of himself, Mr. Solo."
"But . . . "
Mr. Waverly's gaze lost some of its amused paternalism. "Leave it be."
Never let it be said that he didn't know how to make a graceful retreat. "Yes, sir. Two weeks, you said?"
"Two weeks," Mr. Waverly confirmed. "In point of fact, your own vacation balance is getting somewhat out of hand. May I suggest you take this opportunity to enjoy some time off yourself? I hear the Bahamas are nice. And there's been quite a dearth of avian activity there of late, so you can probably even leave your field-glasses at home."
In other words, THRUSH was at least temporarily out of commission in the area. The Bahamas. Hm. For some reason, it didn't really appeal. "Is that an order, sir?"
"Certainly not. You can go anywhere you like."
Napoleon ruthlessly controlled a triumphant smile. "I guess I'll just have to come up with a good spot on my own."
"I'm sure you'll find something. After all, there are lovely women all over the world."
"Indeed there are. Good afternoon, sir."
"Good afternoon, Mr. Solo."
Officially free to choose a destination, Napoleon set about researching vacation spots. Despite the fact that Illya hadn't been back to the Soviet Union in over a year, he was fairly certain his partner would not have gone there, since he might be at risk from those of his former compatriots who unofficially disapproved of his officially-approved UNCLE posting. Same went for any of the Eastern Bloc countries. He was equally sure that Illya wasn't in the Bahamas, or Mr. Waverly wouldn't have suggested them. He briefly considered the idea that it might have been a bit of reverse psychology, then dismissed it. It wasn't Mr. Waverly's style. Unfortunately that still left an awful lot of territory to consider.
Not to mention the fact that the idea of Illya going anywhere on vacation was ridiculous. His partner just didn't. . . recreate. His idea of a good time was cozying up to a physics journal, or working overtime in his lab. Napoleon wondered if there was such a thing as a 'great libraries of the world' tour. If so, Illya would be on it. As long as the only women on the tour were in their seventies and motherly. The man was a damned eu . . .
Damn it. He'd just done it again. The thing that had, he suspected, precipitated Illya's sudden uncharacteristic absence. Or at least the thing that had been the proverbial last straw. He thought once again of Mr. Waverly's too-evocative description, and shivered at the image of his partner pacing a too-small cage, back and forth, back and forth, as graceful and deadly as a wolf. A white-furred, blue eyed wolf, body lean and sleek . . . Okay, where the hell had that thought come from? He shook himself. Vacation. Where would Illya go on vacation? What would he be looking for, what didn't his UNCLE 'cage' allow him?
The answer was obvious, even to him. Maybe especially to him. He felt an unexpected blush fire through him at the image his mind supplied to go along with the thought. Lean and sleek indeed. That sort of thought had snuck up on him occasionally, usually in those circumstances where they were hanging, half-clothed, from manacles in some THRUSH dungeon. Though what that said about him he didn't really want to think about too closely. Now all he had to do was figure out where a guy would go on vacation if he wanted to get lucky. . . with another guy.
Damn. Usually if he wanted to know some obscure fact, he'd just go down to Research and ask, but this time. . . he stopped, and smiled. He could still do that. He just had to be discreet. Twenty minutes and a brief flirtation later, he had a list of potential locations supplied by a helpful file clerk who had been eager to assist him in locating places to look for a mysterious enemy agent of a certain persuasion.
Armed with the list, he set about doing some legwork, and hit the jackpot on the third airline he tried. The ticket agent had remembered selling a ticket to 'cute' blond man of Illya's general height and build who spoke with what she thought was a British accent. An invitation to coffee garnered him a look at the flight manifest, and a quick scan showed that one Elijah Curie had booked a flight to San Francisco. He knew Illya liked to keep his pseudonyms easy to remember, and that one had the advantage of having the same initial sounds as his real name. Not to mention including a tip of the hat to a pair of famous scientists.
He had destination and name, now all he had to do was find his partner in a city of seventy-five thousand people. Easy as pie.
It occurred to Napoleon that the phrase 'easy as pie' in this case might better be expressed as 'easy as pi,' because he felt like he'd been endlessly repeating the same action out to infinite decimal positions. 'Elijah Curie' had effectively disappeared once he reached San Francisco. He hadn't registered at any of the hotels and motels that Napoleon had checked. And he hadn't just stuck to the four-star places he would have chosen himself, since knowing Illya, he was in some fleabag dump because God forbid he do anything as bourgeois as staying somewhere nice.
After realizing he couldn't possibly check every place of lodging in the greater San Francisco metropolitan area, at least not without help from the local office, he'd changed his strategy. Assuming Illya was on the make, Napoleon needed to find places where men went to meet other men. Some subtle if embarrassing questions to the hotel's concierge had narrowed his search to clubs in the section of town rumored to be the most likely place for a man's man to hunt his prey.
One thing about having now checked out about a dozen such clubs, he was almost starting to feel comfortable in them. And he'd learned how to politely turn down a pass from another man without getting his hackles up. No sign of Illya so far, though. Still, he would wait in this place a while, just to be sure. It was his third club of the night, and he'd found a nice dark corner in which to sip a martini, making it last so he wouldn't get too buzzed. This place felt right. Righter than the other clubs, anyway. This one was smaller, darker, and the music playing was not the bright, danceable pop the other clubs had featured, but the sultrier strains of John Coltrane.
He scanned the room, and felt a little shiver of awareness go through him, but saw no bright platinum head anywhere. He drank again, feeling frustrated. It felt. . . he felt. . . close. His instincts were telling him that Illya was here. Somewhere. Suddenly remembering Illya's skill at disguises, he realized that perhaps he wasn't looking for the right thing.
He studied the club's patrons more carefully, looking for form and motion instead of color. And. . . there. At the bar. He couldn't see his face yet, and the coloring was off, but if it wasn't Illya, it was someone who was a perfect match in height and build. He moved like Illya too, lightly, and with barely-leashed tension. As he watched, a tall, dark-haired man approached the guy and he turned slightly toward Napoleon. Oh yeah. It was him. His silver-blond hair had been dulled to a warm honey shade, and a pair of wire-rimmed glasses with slightly tinted lenses camouflaged his distinctive eyes, but it was him.
As he watched, the taller man leaned in close. Too close. Napoleon pushed his chair away from the table, ready to go to his partner's aid, but Illya stepped back smoothly, reestablishing some distance, and shook his head with a small, clearly insincere smile. The dark man frowned, then shrugged and walked away. Napoleon realized his heart rate had spiked, and he was breathing too quickly. Deliberately he moderated his breathing, feeling his pulse slow as he did. He was too programmed. . . usually when someone got that close to Illya, it was to attack, and his own instinct was to defend. However, he was fairly sure that Illya didn't want defending against this sort of attack. Not to mention the fact that as Mr. Waverly had said, he could take care of himself. Obviously.
It rankled a bit. Suddenly Napoleon wasn't sure why he had come. Illya didn't want him there. Neither did Mr. Waverly. So why had he gone to such lengths to flout their wishes? A few moments of introspection brought him to the realization that somewhere inside he had expected Illya to need rescuing, but, as he watched his partner gracefully turn down a second attractive, dark-haired man, it was quite clear that he didn't. He tossed back the remainder of his martini, not tasting it, and signaled a waiter for another. As he waited for it, he continued to watch Illya. A lanky blond who didn't look more than twenty approached Illya, and his smile suddenly warmed. Napoleon watched, astonished, as they began to talk animatedly.
"Your martini," the waiter announced, distracting him.
Without looking up, Napoleon dug a bill out of his pocket and handed it over, vaguely aware that it was a five. "Keep the change."
"Thanks!" The waiter was clearly pleased with the exorbitant tip. There was a pause, then he leaned closer. "Let me return the favor. Don't bother with that one. You'll never get anywhere with him."
Napoleon looked up. "With who?" Idly he noted that the waiter was a handsome young man, about six-foot-two with blue eyes, dark, wavy hair and a muscular build.
"The lethal blond you're watching, the one with the accent."
Lethal. Napoleon thought it interesting that the young man had chosen that particular description for Illya. "Why won't I?" he asked, curious.
"Because you're dark haired. He never looks twice at brunets. Blonds, redheads, guys with light brown hair. Anything but guys like you. Or me," he added ruefully.
No dark haired guys? His competitive streak reared its head, and for an instant Napoleon was tempted to go over and say hello to Illya just to prove to the waiter that he could. His partner wouldn't brush him off like he had the other two men. Then sanity asserted itself and he realized that under the circumstances, Illya probably wouldn't talk to him. He'd be too pissed-off for conversation. No, best to just appear to take the waiter's recommendation. He raised his martini glass in a slight salute. "Thanks. A shame, though."
The waiter sighed. "You're not kidding. He's really got. . . something."
"Something?" Napoleon asked, amused. "What sort of something?"
The waiter gave him an incredulous look. "Don't tell me you don't feel it. You were staring at the guy too."
Napoleon looked again, trying to see Illya through the eyes of a man who liked men, and . . . yeah. He did have. . . something. Something pretty magnetic, actually.
"And that's not all," the waiter said, leaning closer, almost whispering. "It's not just show. He took Marek home with him the other night, and he hasn't been the same since."
The waiter gestured. "The guy he's talking to now. He likes novelty. Never goes out with the same guy more than once. Until now. Ever since Monday night, Marek's been trying for an encore. And somehow I don't think it's just because they both speak about six languages."
A frisson of unease slid down Napoleon's spine. It seemed awfully coincidental that a young man with a Slavic-sounding name and a facility for languages would just happen to show up here, looking for action with Illya. And Illya was relaxed, his guard down. Maybe he did need watching over, after all.
"You know, he might not go for dark and handsome, but. . . I do," the waiter said suggestively.
It took Napoleon a good thirty seconds to stop thinking about Illya possibly being in danger, and realize he'd just been propositioned. The waiter seemed to take his silence for interest, because he went on.
"My name's Brian," he said, scribbling something on a cocktail napkin. "I get off at two." He handed Napoleon the napkin, which had a phone number on it, and smiled.
Brian had a nice smile. A little crooked, kind of endearing. If Napoleon were going to let himself be picked up by a man, this one wouldn't be half bad. But he had other plans. He took the napkin and tucked it into his pocket. "I'll keep that in mind," he said noncommittally.
Brian studied him for a moment, and his smile turned wry. "No, you won't, but it's nice of you to say so."
Napoleon smiled back apologetically. "Sorry."
"It's okay." He looked back at the pair of blonds at the bar. "Maybe once this guy leaves, Marek will go back to normal."
Something in his tone made Napoleon look at him more closely. "I thought you said he doesn't do repeat business."
Brian's gaze didn't move from the taller of the two men. "He doesn't. I don't count, we're just buddies."
"Ah," Napoleon said. He knew what that meant. He had a few of those himself, though of a different gender. "Did you go for Mr. Accent to try to make your friend jealous?"
The blue gaze flicked down, met his in surprise. "I . . . uh. . . ." Even in the shadowy, smoke-filled atmosphere of the bar, the young man's blush was readily apparent, and his smile grew even more wry. "Maybe," he said, finally.
"Maybe you should let your friend know."
Brian looked over at the bar again. "I don't want to scare him off."
Napoleon shrugged. "It's up to you, but that would be my advice. Which, along with a quarter, will get you a cup of coffee."
That got a chuckle. "Yeah. Thanks. Guess I'd better get back to work before Vince notices me over here trying to pick you up instead of working and cans my ass."
Considering the ass in question, every bit as pretty as any girl's, that would be a shame. Napoleon went back to watching Illya. He looked. . . younger. No, not really younger, just different. It took him longer than it should have to realize why. Illya's habitual frown was missing. He looked better without it. Why hadn't he noticed before just how often that frown was present? What sort of person just ignored obvious signs that his friend was unhappy? He ignored the little voice inside that answered 'an asshole.'
Out of his usual setting, Illya seemed more approachable too. Obviously the lanky blond thought so, because he was arguing with Illya in a way no one in UNCLE would dare. He gestured toward the door, and Napoleon leaned back, deeper in the shadows. Illya shook his head, but the other man repeated his gesture, and after a moment, Illya nodded. The way the younger blond's face lit up, Napoleon could guess what Illya had just agreed to. Realizing they would shortly be leaving, Napoleon quickly slipped out of the bar and looked around. There were several businesses on either side of the bar whose shadowed doorways offered concealment, and he ducked into the closest to wait.
After a few moments, Illya emerged, the younger blond trailing him. They spoke for a moment, and Napoleon scowled. They weren't speaking English, damn it. Napoleon knew some Russian, but he wasn't good enough to translate the rapid-fire dialogue between these two, especially not when they were talking so softly he was missing every third word at least, and the conversation was sprinkled with laughter. He was concentrating so hard on trying to translate what few words he could catch that he almost missed it when the conversation shifted to English.
". . . where I am staying?" Illya said.
"Of course. I was just there on Monday."
"Good. Meet me there. That way you will have your car. I wouldn't want you to be late for classes again."
"Yeah, that'd be hard to explain twice in one week," the young man said, laughing.
Illya nodded and then, startlingly, reached out and let his fingers trail through the other man's floppy blond locks. "I am looking forward to it, moi krasivyj mal'chik."
Napoleon actually took a step forward, almost out of concealment, ready to grab Illya's hand and pull it away, before he realized that really wouldn't be the smartest thing he'd ever done. He wasn't even entirely sure why he wanted to do it.
"Not as much as I am," Marek responded, turning his head to press his lips against Illya's wrist. "Race you there?"
Illya shook his head. "Nyet, my friend. I do not wish to run afoul of local law enforcement. I shall be quite staid, and if you arrive before me, so be it."
Wise of him. To get a speeding ticket while on vacation would lead to no end of ridicule back at HQ.
Marek sighed. "All right, I guess. See you in a bit."
Illya nodded and walked toward a nondescript blue sedan with a rental-company sticker, while Marek headed in the opposite direction. Napoleon suddenly realized he was in trouble. Even if he had a tracking device on him, which he didn't, he couldn't have used it, because then everyone in the local office would know not only that he was there but also that he was tailing his own partner. Which would get back to Mr. Waverly. And he couldn't just follow Illya because he knew without a doubt that Illya would spot him. He was good, but Illya was every bit his equal. Frustrated, he eyed the young man loping across the street toward a rattletrap Beetle, and suddenly smiled.
Illya might spot a tail, but he was willing to bet that Marek wouldn't, and Marek was going the same place as Illya. Even if Marek was THRUSH, he was too young to be anything but a raw recruit, and probably didn't have much training on spotting a tail. Problem solved.
Their destination turned out to be a cluster of cheap ocean-view vacation bungalows called Casitas del Mar, just north of the city proper. No wonder Napoleon hadn't been able to figure out where Illya was staying. He'd never have found the place on his own. He shook his head in amusement at Illya's choice of lodging. Leave it to his partner to end up on a rocky, forbidding Northern California coast instead of on some warm sandy Southern California beach. Stopping his car just short of the entrance to the property, he killed his lights and watched as the Volkswagen wound its way to the cabin farthest from the main road. Didn't that just figure? He couldn't cruise past it casually. Probably deliberate on Illya's part, for security reasons. Noticing that the sign for the place said there were vacancies, he decided to rent one so he'd have a place to park his car and an excuse to be out wandering the property.
Ten minutes later and twenty dollars poorer, he had the key to the cabin closest to Illya's, and a map of the area which included a nature trail that conveniently ran right past that last cabin. He parked and got out of the car, then set out on foot. There wasn't much in the way of lighting, but there was a three-quarter moon and once his eyes adjusted, he could pick out the pale gravel of the trail and the surrounding landmarks. Though he could faintly hear waves, and even smell the iodine tang of the ocean, he couldn't see it. There was a slight rise and steep drop-off between him and it.
A glance down at himself made it obvious that his white shirt was far too noticeable, so he grabbed a handful of dirt and smudged it over what showed between the lapels of his dark jacket, and then set off toward Illya's. He stayed off the gravel to avoid its betraying crunch, keeping to the dry grass beside it, which muffled his footsteps. It took him only a few minutes to reach the other cabin, and he inspected it cautiously, checking for an alarm system. He was surprised not to find one. That didn't seem like Illya.
Of course, neither did running off to California without a word. Neither did picking up strangers in bars. He really didn't like the realization that he didn't know Illya as well as he'd thought. Nor did he like the idea of Illya with this guy. Didn't he realize how unsafe he was right now? A man was never more vulnerable than when he was intimately engaged with a lover. That was one of the first lessons an agent learned. Sure, a man needed release, but he ought to have checked this guy out first.
In fact, Napoleon didn't like anything about the last few days. He felt like he was missing an arm, and he wanted it back. He wanted his world back the way it was supposed to be, with Illya at his side, making snide comments and giving him dirty looks. Illya was his partner, damn it. He belonged back in New York, with Napoleon. That was all there was to it.
He slid a hand inside his jacket, feeling for the reassuring weight of his Special before picking his way carefully across the lawn to the window. A quick look through the slight gap in the curtains showed him an empty living room. The furnishings were generic-- a plain sofa, a television set, a coffee-table. That at least seemed familiar, since it was covered with books and journals. Even on vacation Illya couldn't do without his books.
He waited for a while, watching, but there was no sign of either man. Which, of course, meant they were already in the bedroom. He supposed that was one benefit to sex with other men. There was no need for the pretense that you weren't going to end up in bed naked. With a woman, you had to work her up to it, seduce her out of her inhibitions. The idea of seducing Illya made him smile. He could practically hear Illya's reaction: 'Do not be ridiculous, Napoleon. If you wish to have sex, simply say so. There's no need for romantic nonsense.'
Personally, he thought maybe Illya needed a little more romance in his life, but the idea of just being able to discard all that and get straight to the action did have its own appeal. His body certainly thought so, he realized, reaching down to rearrange himself in his clothing. He really had to stop thinking about sex and start thinking about surveillance. That was why he was here, after all. He was watching Illya's back, since the damned fool didn't appear to be doing it himself.
He cautiously circled around to the back of the cabin, with its wide redwood deck and big, west-facing sliding-glass door. This particular cabin actually had an ocean view, the drop-off to the ocean being less hilly here, and the deck and door took advantage of that. There were probably some spectacular sunsets here. At the moment, however, his interest lay in the view inside, not the one outside. To his surprise, they had opened the curtains and the door, leaving only the screen closed. The wide doorway framed the room, boxing it in, making it feel as if he were watching a movie, not reality. A lamp on the dresser lit the room with a warm amber light, the glow spilling out onto the deck as well. He avoided the lit area and found a shadowed corner behind a large charcoal grill that would mask his presence, and finally forced himself to actually look at the two figures entwined on the bed.
Illya's back was to him, and he noted the scattering of familiar scars on it, the taper from surprisingly wide shoulders to narrow hips. Noted too, the rhythmic flex and shift of muscle beneath skin. Curled like commas, head to groin, there was no doubt in his mind what these two were doing. Heat flashed across his face and, disconcertingly, spread downward. He shook his head. Just because someone was getting some didn't mean he needed to get interested. 'Monkey see, monkey do' did not apply here. Pay attention. Be alert.
The figures on the bed shifted, Illya pushing his 'friend' onto his back, one hand wrapped around the lanky blond's erection. The expression on Marek's face was slack and blissful. If he was planning on killing Illya, he was apparently going to wait until after he came. As Illya lowered his head, mouth closing around turgid flesh, a little shock of arousal went through Napoleon, instantly chased by a flare of irrational anger. He shook himself hard, and managed to tip over the bag of charcoal, knocking a couple of the briquettes onto the decking. They made very little sound, but he saw Illya pause and look up.
Even yards away and through the mesh of the screen door, he could see the icy blue of Illya's eyes. He stayed absolutely still, barely even breathing, until Illya was apparently satisfied that there was nothing wrong and went back to what he was doing. Drawing a long, shaky breath, Napoleon closed his eyes and shivered. That had been much too close. Maybe he shouldn't watch. Just listen, and wait. He focused determinedly the potted plant in one corner of the deck which moved in the faint breeze. Much less dangerous.
Or it would have been, if the damned door hadn't been open. If he hadn't discovered he could hear soft sighs, moans, and grunts, a smattering of words. At least when you both spoke several languages, it didn't get quite so repetitive when someone started chanting 'fuck' over and over. The raw, broken sound of the unfamiliar voice drew his gaze again, and he stared, transfixed.
Illya lay on his back at an angle across the bed, and Marek straddled his hips, impaled, riding him. Illya's hands on his hips guided him, slowing him when he tried to speed up, one of them sometimes moving to trail teasing fingers down Marek's erection, which jumped and leaked, looking painfully hard, attesting to the pleasure the young man felt. Somehow Napoleon had always assumed that it would hurt to be taken that way. Which now that he thought about it, was a stupid assumption. He'd done it with a few women and they hadn't complained. And considering the women he usually went out with, he was sure if it had been unpleasant they would have.
Marek lifted a hand and traced the outline of Illya's lips with one finger. Illya's lips parted, tongue flicking out to taste that tip before he sucked the entire finger into his mouth. A moment later, Marek pushed a second finger between Illya's lips. Napoleon watched shadows form in the hollows of Illya's cheeks as he sucked on the fingers, and remembered the way his lips had stretched around something larger. The image in his mind made him gasp aloud. Marek conveniently moaned, covering for him, and shuddered, and came, wet streaks painting Illya's belly.
Illya's fingers clenched on Marek's hips, tight enough that the skin beneath them blanched, and he thrust upward once, then again, and Napoleon's eyes flashed to his face as he came. Beautiful. Beautiful. Utterly beautif . . .
It took him by surprise. He'd known he was aroused. Couldn't help but know. But hadn't realized just how much. Had pretended not to notice. But the pulsing explosion of warmth across his groin was insistent, undeniable, and he clenched his fists, trying not to give voice to his pleasure. When it was over, he shuddered, aghast, unable to pretend any more. He knew why he'd just come. Knew it all too well. And suddenly his own behavior began to make sense in a way it hadn't before.
And he panicked.
And he ran.
In his own dark bungalow, he lay on the bed, staring at the ceiling he couldn't see, with three words echoing through his head over and over again. "Oh my God." He supposed he ought to try thinking of something else, but the only other thing he seemed to be able to think was "I am so screwed." Well, other than remembering in graphic detail what he'd seen through that window. And he really didn't want to be remembering that, so he went back to thinking "Oh God" with the occasional "I am so screwed" thrown in.
That was about the size of it, all right (he really shouldn't be thinking about size right now). And every last thread on the screw was his own damned fault. Events connecting like knee-bone to thigh-bone (and, God, don't think about thighs, either) from his actions to his words to his actions to . . . coming in his pants like a teenager at a peep-show. If he hadn't teased Illya, then Illya wouldn't have left, and he wouldn't have followed, and he wouldn't have watched, and he wouldn't have seen, and he wouldn't now know, without a doubt, all kinds of things about himself that he really would rather not know.
Like the little fact that he wanted his partner. Like the fact that he'd been acting like some kind of spurned lover. If he'd heard of anyone else pulling this kind of crap with a woman, he would have suggested they be arrested. Or at least see a shrink. He, the man who prided himself on not getting emotionally involved with his women, had just broken every one of his self-imposed rules. With a man. A man who, at least at the moment, didn't even particularly like him.
Christ. He was so screwed. He couldn't imagine how things could possibly get any worse. The one saving grace was that Illya didn't kn. . . .
A faint sound caught his ear and jerked him into full, adrenalin-flushed awareness. He wasn't alone. There was someone else in the bungalow. Had he even locked the damned door? He couldn't remember now. Couldn't remember anything but pushing through that door and stumbling to the bed, flinging himself down, his whole body still shaking.
Slowly he turned his head toward the sound, made out a shadowy form in the doorway. He eased his hand under his jacket, fingers stealthily brushing the butt of his gun.
"I wouldn't," his visitor said, in clipped, accented English. Somehow all three syllables dripped cold fury and menace.
Things were worse. They were definitely worse. Napoleon heard the faint click of a safety being released.
"Did you enjoy the show?" Illya asked in a deceptively conversational tone.
Wanting to sit up, but not daring to, he knew Illya's temper, Napoleon sighed, and shook his head. "Christ, Illya. I'm so sorry."
There were about four or five seconds of silence, and then Illya's voice exploded out of the darkness.
"Gavno! Chort vozmi, shto ti zdes' delayesh?"
Shit indeed. "I. . . uh . . . ."
There was a fumbling sound and the overhead light snapped on. He stared at Illya. Illya stared back.
"I just. . . I was worried . . . " Napoleon began.
"Tui. . . you. . . you followed me?" Illya somehow managed to sound both bewildered and incensed. "Why?"
"I told you, I was worried. You left!" He winced, wondering if he could sound any more petulant. "I mean, you left without a word, and I wanted. . . needed, to apologize. Mr. Waverly said I should leave you alone. . ."
"Which is much like waving a red cloak in front of a bull," Illya snapped, recovering some of his usual aplomb.
Napoleon acknowledged the truth of that with a nod and a wry grimace.
"So you follow me here, and you spy on me? You Americans have very strange ways of apologizing."
"No, that wasn't why I . . . I thought he might be THRUSH, I wanted to make sure he didn't hurt you."
"His name is Marek, his parents came here from Poland after the war, and he is first in family to go to university, which he does, at Berkeley. Bozhe moi! You think I am so foolish?" Illya ran a hand through his hair, and pinned Napoleon with an icy glare. "You think I am some girl that you must protect? Sleeping with men, moi droog, does not make me less of one myself."
"No, it doesn't," Napoleon acknowledged with slightly more fervor than he'd meant to. Illya's eyes narrowed, and Napoleon spoke quickly to distract him. "I wasn't thinking. I was just reacting. You've never gone off like that before."
"And your privileges do not extend to me, is that it?"
"Huh?" Napoleon said, trying to figure out what Illya meant by that.
"It is all right for you to go away for days with some woman, but not for me to . . . indulge?"
"What? No! I didn't mean that!
Illya studied him for a long moment. "Did you not?" He sounded unconvinced as he pushed away from the door and turned, then paused and looked back over his shoulder. "Good bye, Napoleon. Go back to New York."
The light snapped off as Napoleon rolled to his feet, trying to ignore the discomfort of his clammy boxers. It took him less that ten seconds to reach the door, but Illya was already gone, the front door open to the night. Napoleon stared into the darkness for a long time, wanting to follow, knowing better. If they were going to salvage anything of their partnership, he had to back off, now. Suddenly he wanted a drink. Wanted one badly. He glanced at his watch. Barely midnight. He still had time to catch a couple before last call. With a sigh, he turned away from the door and went into the bathroom, where he took off his pants and boxers and cleaned up, then dressed again, sans the sticky cotton. The silky sweep of the lining of his pants against his cock was depressingly sensual.
Leaving the key on the television along with a few bills for housekeeping, he shut off the light and locked the door behind himself.
Not really knowing where else to go, Napoleon returned to the Golden Horn, the bar he'd just left a couple of hours earlier. At the moment, its all-male clientele was just what he needed. No women around to try and cajole him out of his mood, or to pry at the reasons for it. Men, surely even these men, knew when to leave a guy alone with his thoughts. He snorted. These men. Apparently he was one of those men. The shadowy back table was still empty, so he slid into it, and before he'd even had a chance to look around for a waiter, a martini appeared on the table in front of him. Startled, he looked up into Brian's sympathetic face.
"You look like you could use this," the young man said. "It's on the house."
"Thanks." Napoleon knocked it back as if it were water, and craved something less civilized. He debated the wisdom of that for a moment, and came to the conclusion that this was the last place on earth THRUSH was likely to be looking for him. He should be safe enough. And if he wasn't, well then, he wasn't. "Scotch. Something decent. Bring the bottle. And a large glass of water."
Brian's eyebrows lifted, but he nodded, and took himself off toward the bar like a good little waiter, returning a few moments later with a half-full fifth of Glenlivet, an old-fashioned glass, and a tumbler of water. "We didn't have a whole bottle of the good stuff. Tomorrow's stock day. It'll be ten-fifty, and Vince wants the money up front, sorry."
Napoleon nodded and handed him a twenty. "Keep the change."
Brian nodded, and looked at him worriedly. Napoleon sensed prying coming on, and shot him a forbidding look. Brian took the hint and left him alone with his bottle. Napoleon drank the water first, having long ago discovered that doing so helped stave off hangovers, and then poured most of the bottle of scotch into the empty tumbler, ignoring the old-fashioned glass. No point in doing things halfway. When he drank, the smooth burn of alcohol scorched his esophagus and settled in his belly like a pool of fire. That was better.
Eventually the fire faded to a dull flicker, and taut muscles began to loosen. First his shoulders, then his neck, then his jaw. He rolled his head to ease the ache in it, and the room spun a little, but not nearly enough. He regarded his glass critically. Only about a third of the original volume remained. Diligently he went back to work on emptying it.
The soft comment made him look up, and this time his head swam much more satisfyingly. He lifted his glass to his attractive young waiter in a mock toast, and downed the last of its contents, reaching for the bottle to empty it into the glass. He couldn't pick it up, though. It seemed to be stuck to the table. After a moment he realized that there was a hand on the bottle that didn't belong to him, holding it down. He scowled up at the waiter. "Let go," he said emphatically.
"Where are you staying?" Brian asked, ignoring his order.
"Right here." He tapped the table.
Brian sighed. "It's closing time. I'm taking you home."
Napoleon smiled at him provocatively. "Still want to make your friend jealous?" Thank God he could still flirt. It wasn't much different from this angle.
Brian chuckled. "You'd regret it in the morning. Besides, I think he's feeling bad enough as it is."
Napoleon looked a question at him, and Brian nodded toward the bar. Napoleon followed his gaze. The lanky blond he'd last seen coming all over Illya was now slouched disconsolately on a bar stool. He frowned. What was he doing here?
"I guess Mr. Accent told him to take a hike," Brian said. "He's pretty down."
"He's better off," Napoleon said. "Ill. . . " he caught the mistake just in time, and corrected himself. "Elijah's not very nice when he's pissed."
Brian abruptly sat down next to him in the booth, frowning into his face. "Elijah? How'd you know that was his name?"
Napoleon played with his glass, mesmerized by the way the thick greenish glass seemed to distort his fingers. "We're. . . friends. Were friends." Realizing Brian had taken his hand off the bottle, Napoleon picked it up and swigged straight from it, not wasting time with the glass. Illya would approve. Would have approved. He was going to have to get used to using the past tense.
Brian swore. Napoleon thought he looked much too young to be using that word with such facility. He clicked his tongue. "What would your mother say?"
"She taught it to me," Brian said with a snort. "What's your name?"
Napoleon had to think for a minute before he remembered which alias he was using. "Paul Singleton."
"Nice to meet you, Paul. Come on. Let's go to my place."
Napoleon frowned. "I hardly know you."
Brian sighed. "I don't want to have sex with you."
"Oh." Napoleon thought about that. "Why not?" Granted, he didn't want to have sex with the guy, but he wasn't used to rejection.
"Because you're drunk and brokenhearted, and I'm not stupid enough to inflict that on myself."
That made a certain amount of sense, though Napoleon wanted to argue the brokenhearted designation. It wasn't as if he and Illya had been more than friends. Or had they? Perhaps a question for sometime when he was more sober. Or perhaps not. "Then why do you want to take me home with you?" he asked reasonably.
"Because," Brian's expression grew wry. "You're drunk and brokenhearted but you're nice, and I don't want you to get rolled in an alley or jumped by the guys who come down here looking for fags to beat up on around closing time every night."
"I have a perfectly good hotel room," Napoleon said. "And I can take care of myself."
Brian shrugged. "Okay, have it your way. But you've still got to leave. It's closing."
Napoleon pushed himself carefully to his feet, waiting for the floor to steady under him before proceeding further. It wasn't too bad. He'd certainly been worse off, though the cause was usually forcibly administered pharmaceuticals, not recreational alcohol. Tonight the alcohol was more pharmaceutical anyway. He nodded politely to Brian and made his way out into the night.
It was cool and humid, he guessed there would be fog before dawn. He took a step toward the lot where he'd left his rental car, and then stopped. With as much as he'd had to drink, it might not be wise to drive. The last thing he needed was a drunk-driving charge for UNCLE to cover up, and his hotel was relatively close, only ten blocks or so. The walk would do him good. He set off.
He was only a few blocks from the bar when he realized he was being followed. Remembering Brian's warning, he moved a little faster, and once he'd rounded a corner, ducked into an alley. After a few moments, he chanced a glance back the way he'd come, and sighed. Not a thug, but a self-appointed guardian angel. Brian. He thought about confronting him, and decided not to. He just wasn't in the mood. If the kid wanted to make sure he got home in one piece, who was he to stop him? He stepped out of the alley, pretending to zip up, and carefully didn't notice Brian, who was trying to be inconspicuous in a doorway.
A bit more than halfway back to his hotel the sounds behind him got louder, and closer. He guessed Brian had given up trying to be sneaky. He was smiling to himself about that when Brian suddenly shouted "Paul! Watch out!" and not from close by.
He was still drunk enough that it took three seconds too long to process that he was Paul, and that if Brian wasn't close, who was? The blow to his kidneys sent him to his knees, gasping, but he recovered fast and lashed out with one foot, sweeping his attacker to the ground. The other man hit hard, head bouncing against the unyielding sidewalk, and lay still, but a second man lunged for him, a blade flashing in his hand, and a third, wielding what appeared to be a baseball bat, stalked forward, tapping the bat against his hand.
"Hand over your wallet," Bat-thug ordered. "And the ring, and the cufflinks," he snapped, eyes flickering over Napoleon's well-cut suit and accessories. "Now!"
Armed robbery. How. . . droll. Napoleon hid a smile as he slid his hand obediently into his suit, not toward his inside jacket pocket, but rather toward the grip of his Special. Just as he began to ease it out of its holster, the sound of running feet and a flicker of movement caught his eye. Shit! "Brian, no!" he yelled, but not fast enough.
Bat-thug pivoted and swung, and the bat caught Brian right across the midriff. Brian folded over the bat and went down, momentum propelling him forward as he did, so his elbows and knees caught the brunt of his fall. Despite the fact that he was clearly incapacitated, Bat-thug whacked him across the lower back, apparently just for fun. Brian curled into a ball, moaning.
"That," Napoleon said silkily, "was mean." He slid his Special out from under his coat. "And I don't like it when people are mean to my friends." Both of the ambulatory thugs had gone very still when he brought out the gun, watching him warily. "Now, let's try this again, in reverse. Both of you drop your weapons, and take out whatever cash you have at the moment."
The two men complied, faces reflecting an odd combination of anger, fright, and confusion.
"Very good. Shorty, get the money from your buddy."
It was amazing how compliant a gun made some people. Thug number two, the short, stocky one, snatched the wad of bills from his accomplice's hand, combining it with his own.
"Excellent. Give it to my friend there." He indicated Brian with a flick of his eyes. "A generous donation to cover any medical expenses he might have incurred here tonight."
Brian pushed himself up on one arm, panting a little in pain, looking confused. Napoleon gave him a reassuring nod. Shorty looked at the money, then at Napoleon, and with a growl, shoved the wad of money toward Brian. After a moment of hesitation, Brian took it. Napoleon nodded toward the prone third thug.
"Now, I suggest that you gentlemen pick up that garbage and get out of here."
He waited until they had disappeared around a corner two blocks down before he slid his Special back into its holster and went to crouch beside Brian. "Can you stand?"
Brian nodded. "Yeah, it hurts, but I don't think they broke anything."
Napoleon helped him to his feet. "Come on, we're pretty close to my hotel. Let's go check you out. Unless you think you need to go to the hospital?"
Brian shook his head sharply. "No, no hospital. Hate those places."
Napoleon nodded. "I share the sentiment."
They started walking, slowly. After half a block Brian cleared his throat. "Are you a cop or something?" He sounded wary.
Napoleon chuckled. "You could say that." UNCLE was, after all, a law enforcement agency of sorts.
After another block, Brian spoke again. "I didn't know they let guys like us be cops."
"Guys like. . . ah." Napoleon realized what he meant before he finished formulating his question, and thought about it for a moment before answering carefully. "Actually, the finest 'cop' I know is a . . . guy like us. Guys like us can be anything we like, so long as we're discreet."
Brian sighed. "Yeah, that's the problem, isn't it? It gets to be a drag."
Napoleon frowned. "What do you mean?"
"I mean you can't let on. Can't ever be yourself. You've always got to pretend you're like everyone else."
Napoleon frowned, considering that. Somehow it had never occurred to him that there was a reason why Illya never let his guard down. He'd thought it was congenital, or developed over a lifetime's exposure to Russian winters, but it wasn't that at all. He was guarded because he had to be. He had no choice. It was an unpleasant thought.
They rounded the corner onto Geary, and Napoleon started across the street toward his hotel. After a moment he realized Brian was no longer following. He was standing on the curb, staring at the hotel.
"Coming?" Napoleon prompted.
"You're staying there?" Brian said, sounding awestruck.
"Yeah," Napoleon eyed The Clift's façade with a jaundiced eye. He'd have preferred the Sir Frances Drake but it had been booked solid. "I'm being cheap," he joked.
"Cheap?" Brian boggled. "They'll never let me in," he said, gesturing at himself.
Granted, he was a mess, the knees of his jeans torn and bloodied, his white t-shirt streaked with dirt, his hair disheveled. But then, Napoleon was a bit of a mess himself. "Of course they will," Napoleon said. "Come on."
Looking dubious, Brian followed him up to the door, where the doorman paused a moment to survey them before recognizing Napoleon and opening it. Brian hesitated a moment, and then followed. They were halfway across the lobby when someone cleared his throat.
"Excuse me, sir, you can't. . . "
Napoleon turned and saw the concierge standing behind them, giving Brian the evil eye. Before he could continue his sentence, Napoleon interrupted.
"Ah, there you are. Kindly have a first-aid kit and some extra towels sent up to room 402. And if you can find something, a pair of pants and a shirt, size . . . " he eyed Brian "Twenty-eight long, and medium."
The concierge gaped like a fish. "Excuse me?"
"Frankly, I'm surprised you don't warn your guests about the surrounding neighborhood. As I was walking back to the hotel, three men attempted to relieve me of my wallet. This young man came to my assistance. Surely we can't let such heroism go unrewarded."
The suspicious look vanished instantly. "Of course not, sir. I'll have the items delivered to your room as soon as possible. Is there anything else you require? Should I call the house physician?"
Napoleon glanced questioningly at Brian, who shook his head vehemently. "No, I don't think that's necessary. Just the first-aid kit."
With that, Napoleon led Brian to the elevators. As the doors closed behind them, Brian relaxed with a sigh.
"Laying it on a little thick, there," he said with another of those surprisingly attractive lopsided smiles. "After all, I wasn't exactly helpful."
"You have to, with his type. And you provided distraction, actually, so don't sell your contribution short." Stopping in front of his room, Napoleon unlocked the door and opened it. "Now, let's see about those knees. Take off your pants and sit on the bed."
Brian snorted. "These aren't exactly the conditions I wanted to hear those words under," he said, hands already undoing buttons. He winced as he peeled the snug denim down and let his pants fall to his ankles, effectively hobbling himself since he still had his shoes on.
Napoleon studied Brian's injured knees, carefully not noticing the tanned thighs above them, or the white briefs, or the curve of what lay beneath. And definitely not comparing him unfavorably to Illya. Not at all. "I'll just go get a washcloth," he said, hoping his tone was smoother than he thought it was.
He shrugged out of his suit coat on the way to the bathroom, and tossed it on the dresser, rolling up his sleeves. In the bathroom he ran warm water over the washcloth and considered his reactions, both to Brian, and more importantly, to Illya. It didn't make sense. Why was he suddenly aware of other men in a physical sense? He'd been around Illya for over a year and had never thought about him, or any other man, that way. Well, except for that time when Illya had been covered in mud, wearing nothing but his boxers. . . or maybe when he wore his black suit with a black turtleneck. . . which come to think of it was kind of most of the time, and there was Thomas, from the London office, who had always struck him as particularly dashing. Back in Korea, he'd gone brothel-trolling with friends, and perhaps paid as much attention to his buddies as to the girls.
And then there had been Kate. Lovely Kate, the petite blonde NYU graduate student he'd dated for a while not long after he'd been partnered up with Illya. Almost two months, actually, a record for him. The one who liked some rather . . . unusual . . . things in bed. Things that had sometimes left him wondering if he could talk Illya into a menage a trois. And occasionally wondering if he could talk Illya into a . . . menage a deux.
Okay, so there had been signs. Signs he'd deliberately, even willfully ignored. But they had never been like this, so strong. So undeniable. It was disconcerting.
The water running over his hands was now almost uncomfortably hot, recalling him to his task. He filled the ice bucket with water, dropped the washcloth into it, shut off the faucet and grabbed the soap, then headed out to the main room and knelt in front of Brian. "This will hurt," he said apologetically. "But . . ."
Brian grimaced. "I know, I know. It's for my own good. Have you ever noticed how people always say that when they're about to hurt you?"
Napoleon chuckled, rubbing soap across the washcloth. "Actually, yes, I have. All too often." He set to work on Brian's left knee, cleaning gravel and dirt out of the abrasions as gently as he could. Only a slight tensing of muscles under his hand or the soft hiss of a sharp intake of breath betrayed that Brian was in pain. After rinsing out the cloth in the ice-bucket, he re-soaped it and set to work on the right knee, which was worse, a fairly deep cut bleeding in a slow trickle down Brian's shin.
A knock at the door made him look over his shoulder. "Who is it?"
"Concierge," came the reply, very quietly. Clearly the man didn't want to disturb the other guests.
"Come in," Napoleon said. "The door's unlocked." He turned his attention back to the job at hand, but a sudden gasp from Brian made him look up, and the look on Brian's face alerted him that something was wrong before he even heard the voice.
"Are you hurt, Polya? The concierge had a first-aid kit and . . ." Illya's voice trailed off.
Startled both by the familiarity of the voice and the unprecedented use of a nickname, Napoleon pivoted just in time to catch the way Illya's gaze moved between him and Brian, and the interplay of reactions on his normally stoic face. Shock. Anger. Disbelief. Pain. Then his gaze dropped, and his cheeks flushed. "Izvenitye, I didn't. . ." he let yet another sentence to uncompleted as he moved to set the items in his hand on the suitcase valet near the door. "I will go."
He was out the door before Napoleon could even begin to react.
"Shit," Brian said.
"You've got that right," Napoleon muttered. "Look, I'm sorry, but . . ."
Brian waved at the still-open door. "Go."
Napoleon pushed to his feet, already running, bypassing the elevators, knowing Illya would have taken the stairs. When he rounded the corner at the second floor he saw Illya a half-flight below him, which told him that his friend was seriously distracted. Normally he would have been on the street by now.
Illya stopped, and Napoleon could almost see his spine straighten, his shoulders go back before he turned.
"You did not need to leave your friend."
"He's not a friend."
Illya's eyebrows lifted. "You seemed quite. . . friendly."
The urge to blurt 'It wasn't what it looked like!' was nearly overwhelming, but Napoleon knew better. "I was mugged tonight, he came to my rescue," he explained tersely.
Illya's eyebrows lifted further. "Rescue? You?"
Napoleon chuckled. "I know. But he had no idea I didn't need any help. Unfortunately, he got in the way of a baseball bat. He didn't want to go to a hospital so I brought him back here to make sure he was okay." An angle occurred to him, and he played it. "I could use your help. You're better at checking for internal injuries than I am."
"Internal injuries?" Illya sounded doubtful.
Napoleon nodded. "He got clobbered pretty good a couple of times. Once in the stomach, once across the kidneys."
Illya gave an empathetic wince. "You suspect a rupture?"
"I don't know. I hadn't had time to do more than clean up the bloody knees yet."
Illya sighed in exasperation. "You don't start with the incidental injuries, Napoleon, you know that."
"You're right," Napoleon said with exaggerated humility, chancing a sidelong look at his partner. "I'm a little. . . drunk."
The blue eyes narrowed, searching his face. "How little?"
"Um. . . almost half a bottle of scotch."
"That wouldn't usually make you so careless," Illya said, still suspicious.
"There might be other contributing factors," Napoleon allowed cautiously. "I . . . didn't expect to see you again." The 'ever' was unspoken but hung between them anyway.
Illya looked away. "I . . . may have overreacted."
Napoleon stared at his feet. "I shouldn't have followed you."
"No." Illya fidgeted. Illya never fidgeted. After a moment he went on. "But after some thought, I believe that I understand why you did."
'I doubt it,' Napoleon thought.
"I have often been tempted to follow you," Illya continued, staring at the wall as if it held the answer to every scientific question ever asked, "when I had doubts as to the affiliation of your companion, and concerns for your well-being."
"You have?" Napoleon said, startled. It hadn't occurred to him that Illya ever worried about him. He liked the idea a little too much. A sharp nod answered his question. Illya still wasn't looking at him. He wasn't quite sure why. Nobody liked admitting they were wrong, but it wasn't like Napoleon hadn't done it too. Unless. . . his eyes narrowed. "You, um, didn't do it, did you?"
The blush that fired his partner's skin answered the question even before the almost-whispered reply did.
The idea of Illya watching sent an unexpected shiver of arousal through him. He shifted uncomfortably and cleared his throat. "I guess we're even, then."
"So it would seem." Illya looked up finally, only not at Napoleon. His gaze was turned toward the stairs instead. "We probably ought to go check on the boy before he expires of neglected internal bleeding."
Napoleon wasn't too worried about the possibility, but he didn't need to let Illya know that. "God, you're right. Come on."
Leading the way up the stairs, it suddenly occurred to him to wonder how the hell Illya had found him, and he stopped and turned. "Ah, if you don't mind my asking. . ." he began.
"It was simple," Illya said, cutting off the question. "Since you would not wish to attract attention from our avian friends, you would not choose the most elite hotels in the city, which eliminated a certain percentage of lodgings. Neither would you lower your standards to the run of the mill or below, which eliminated far more. You would also wish to be in a central area so as to facilitate your search. That left me very few choices. This place was the third on my list. And, really, Napoleon. 'Paul Singleton?' Far too easy."
Napoleon grinned. "What can I say, 'Elijah Curie'?"
That earned him a chuckle. "Point taken. Now, to your friend?"
By the time they returned to the room, Brian was standing in the open doorway, looking ill at ease in a white button-down shirt and black pants that had probably been part of a bellhop's uniform.
"I didn't know if you had your key and I didn't want to run off and leave you locked out of your room," he explained. "But I'll go now."
Illya shook his head, and urged him back into the room with a gentle hand on his shoulder. "Not just yet, if you please. Kindly remove your shirt and unfasten your trousers."
Brian's eyes went wide and he shot a slightly panicked look at Napoleon.
Napoleon smiled at him reassuringly. "We just want to make sure you don't need to go to the hospital. Il. . . Elijah's a pretty good field medic."
"Oh." Brian hesitated for a moment, and then peeled off his shirt, unfastened his pants and pushed them down to his hips. "Okay?"
Illya nodded and moved closer to run his fingers down Brian's back, stopping here and there to press harder, and assess his pain level. Then he did the same thing in front, inspecting the darkening stripe across Brian's belly, sliding the waistband of his briefs lower so he could expose the point of his left hip, where bruising had already painted his skin with gaudy colors. Napoleon also noticed the way Brian's nipples tightened, and the flush that painted his face, the way he breathed, and the fact that the soft curve beneath his briefs became distinctly more noticeable as Illya examined him.
He could empathize. For a trained killer, Illya had remarkably gentle hands. Napoleon had lost count of the number of times he'd stood, or sat, or lain still beneath those hands as Illya poked and prodded, bandaged and soothed. He remembered sometimes being a little uncomfortable with his own responses to them, as well, putting it down to mission stress, or too-long a spell between stewardii. Now he could see that it hadn't been that at all. He felt a little stupid.
Finally Illya stepped back. "I don't believe there is any internal damage, however it would be best if you were observed for a few hours to make sure. Do you have someone with whom you could stay the night who could check you for signs of shock?"
Brian thought about it for a moment, then nodded. "Yeah, I've got a friend who lives a couple of blocks from me. He's probably still up."
Napoleon had a strong suspicion he knew who the friend was. "Why don't you call him and make sure?" He gestured toward the room phone.
Brian's eyes flashed from the phone to Illya and back as he hesitated, but finally he shrugged and nodded, and went to the phone. Napoleon watched Illya's eyebrows lift as Brian greeted Marek by name, and carefully controlled his expression. They both listened to Brian's half of the conversation. Brian tried to insist on walking, but his friend clearly was having none of it and after a few moments of argument Brian gave in and agreed to be picked up in front of the hotel. After he hung up, Napoleon thanked him again, which Brian and Illya both rolled their eyes at, and then Brian made his exit, leaving them behind watching until he disappeared into the elevator at the end of the hall.
"A beautiful boy," Illya said, closing the door. "He'll be all right."
Somehow it didn't seem strange for Illya to call a man less than a handful of years their junior a 'boy.' Brian was a boy. Illya was not. Napoleon wondered if he ever had been. There was a great deal he didn't know about his partner. The words seemed to call for comment, though. "Beautiful," Napoleon agreed. "But not your type?"
Illya's gaze snapped to his face, eyes sharp and hard as diamonds, face revealing nothing, only the pause before he answered letting Napoleon know that there was something to reveal. After a moment Illya shrugged with studied nonchalance. "No. Not my type." He leaned against the doorjamb, and looked around. "Two hotels, Napoleon? A little extravagant."
Napoleon shrugged. "I am a profligate American capitalist, after all."
Illya turned and walked over to the window, parting the curtains to look outside. "My view is better," he said.
"I'm sure it is," Napoleon said, though he might have disagreed. The sparkling dark of the ocean was far less colorful than the lights of night-time San Francisco. It all depended on ones definition of 'better.'
After a long pause, Illya spoke again. "My cabin has two bedrooms."
A shiver worked its way through him as he realized what Illya was really offering. Not a room. Forgiveness. But . . . "My presence might put a bit of a damper on your vacation plans," he pointed out. "Roommates tend to."
Illya didn't move from his position at the window. "That itch, as they say, has been sufficiently scratched for the moment, so you may rest easy on that score."
Napoleon didn't quite know what to make of that comment. To his way of thinking, there was no such thing as a sufficiently scratched itch. At least not that itch. "If you say so," he said.
Illya turned. "I have already done so. However, are you certain I would not be putting, as you say, a damper on your plans?"
"I'm fairly certain I could wrangle an invitation to stay the night . . . elsewhere, if the situation arose." Not that he was thinking about feminine companionship at the moment, but since Illya hadn't yet caught on to that fact he figured a diversionary comment was in order.
"I'm sure you could," Illya said dryly. "So, would you wish to combine our resources? Or do I presume? Are you here on business after all?"
Napoleon shook his head. "No. Waverly all but ordered me to take two weeks off. He suggested the Bahamas."
That drew a soft chuckle from his partner. "It appears we were both subject to his tender concern."
Napoleon snorted. "Tender as an old buzzard. He just wanted two weeks break from our expense reports."
"Our expense reports?" Illya asked pointedly.
"Ours. I ruin suits, you eat," Napoleon shot back.
"We both eat," Illya returned.
Napoleon was about to make comment that he didn't eat to sublimate, but thought better of it. Saying things like that was what had gotten him into this mess to begin with. "You really don't mind sharing your cabin?"
"Why should I mind? We routinely share quarters."
It wasn't quite the same, at least Napoleon didn't see it so, but if Illya did, he couldn't really argue that. "In that case, I accept. What is there to do around this town anyway?" Illya gave him a look, the corners of his mouth tipping faintly upward, and Napoleon felt an unexpected blush warm his face. "I mean, besides that," he amended lamely. Christ. He hadn't called sex 'that' since he was fourteen.
"To be honest, I'm not certain. I didn't originally plan this trip to see the sights," Illya said, voice full of dry amusement. "We shall have to find out."
As it turned out, there was quite a bit. Over the next few days they played tourist, eating at some of the four-star restaurants in the evenings, and a mixture of greasy spoons and holes in the walls in the mornings and afternoons. Napoleon thought he'd scored a coup when he discovered the Museum of Russian Culture, but his real success came with a facetiously mentioned trip to the zoo. Illya had lit up at the idea, and Napoleon found himself tagging along as Illya roamed from exhibit to exhibit with nearly as much enthusiasm as the groups of grade-schoolers that littered the grounds.
Surprisingly enough, Napoleon was enjoying himself. Part of that was just watching Illya react to everything as if he were no older than the children, uncharacteristically free with both smiles and laughter. It was infectious. Napoleon found it interesting, though, that Illya grew quiet and whenever they came to an exhibit of predators, and he would quickly move on to another area. He couldn't help but wonder if Illya felt the same kinship to them that Mr. Waverly had postulated. Stopping in front of the carousel, Illya became pensive as he watched the brightly painted animals carrying their small, giggling riders in endless rounds. Napoleon wondered suddenly if Illya had ever ridden a carousel. Somehow he suspected not. What would his childhood have been like? He never spoke of it.
"Have you ever been on one?" Napoleon found himself asking.
Illya turned and looked at him, clearly surprised. "A carousel?" When Napoleon nodded, he shook his head. "No. But I remember the zoo in Kiev. We went once, a special treat. There were ducks, and rabbits they let us hold."
Napoleon smiled, imagining Illya, all elbows and knees, holding a squirming rabbit. "How old were you?"
Illya frowned thoughtfully. "I can't have been more than five. Honestly, now that I think of it, I'm surprised there were any animals at all."
Napoleon did a little math, figured out that would have been the late Thirties, and understood. Not a good time in the Soviet Union. If any time was. Literally. He glanced at the carousel, and a thought struck him.
"Want to go for a ride?"
Illya gave him an exasperated look. "It's for children."
"There are a few grown-ups on it," Napoleon pointed out.
Illya watched for a moment, and then shook his head. "They're parents, see?"
"Those two aren't." He gestured toward a young couple riding side-by-side, the girl giggling as the boy leaned to try to kiss her, but the up and down motion of the carousel animals kept making him miss.
Illya shot him an odd look. "I suspect there might be objections to such behavior on my part."
Napoleon felt himself blush, imagining Illya and Marek in place of the couple. "I didn't mean that. I just . . . " He shrugged. "Just wondered." He frowned, suddenly worried that his presence was annoying. "Are you enjoying yourself?"
Illya looked at him, surprised. "Of course. Why would you ask?"
"Well, it's your vacation. I'm just kind of horning in on it," he said, bracing for a typical Illya sarcastic comment.
To his surprise, Illya's gaze warmed. "I would be having nowhere near so much fun without you."
Napoleon couldn't help but smile at that, so clearly sincere. "Glad to hear it."
"And you? Are you enjoying yourself?" Illya asked, eyes suddenly sharp.
"Yes," Napoleon said, with utter honesty. And if that enjoyment was tempered by increasing discomfort once he'd retired to his room at night, Illya didn't need to know that. He wasn't Illya's type and there was no use in wondering what it might be like if he was. Just because he was having more fun at the zoo with his partner than he'd had on any of his dates in the last year, that didn't mean anything. The important thing was that they were partners, and friends again.
"I noticed yesterday that you were eyeing the boats out in the bay," Illya said, shoving his hands into his jacket pockets, his gaze fixed on a sign describing the history of the carousel. "I asked at the motel office, and was told there is a place just up the coast from the Casitas which rents boats to recreational sailors."
Napoleon was instantly taken by the idea. It had been ages since he'd gone sailing, and he'd rarely gotten to ply the Pacific's waters. With some charts they could go . . . his enthusiastic planning came crashing to a halt as he suddenly realized that since Illya was prone to seasickness, he clearly intended for Napoleon to go sailing on his own. He was probably regretting his offer of shared quarters, and wanted time alone. More likely he wanted to call that skinny blond boy again. He felt a scowl shape his face at that thought.
"Napoleon?" Illya sounded concerned, no doubt triggered by Napoleon's expression and lack of response.
"Sorry. Momentarily distracted," he lied, nodding toward a conveniently passing young woman.
Illya's gaze followed his, and a slight frown creased his forehead. "You don't usually go for the married ones," he said, touching his own ring finger lightly, drawing Napoleon's attention to the gold band circling it. Napoleon had always wondered why he wore what looked like a wedding band. It seemed an odd affectation, though he sometimes suspected it was there simply to ward off unwanted attention.
Napoleon shrugged. "A pretty girl is a pretty girl. No harm in looking."
"No, no harm," Illya agreed. He looked again at the carousel, and rubbed the back of his neck. "I seem to be acquiring a headache. Would you mind if we returned to our lodgings?"
"Not at all," he lied. Again. He was doing a lot of lying lately. Something he didn't usually do with Illya. He didn't like it. But he liked less the idea of hanging around when he wasn't wanted, so as they started toward the exit, he suddenly stopped, snapping his fingers. "I've just remembered something I need to do. Why don't you go on back by yourself? I'll get a taxi later."
Illya's all-too-expressive face told Napoleon the 'something I need to do' ploy was less than convincing, but he didn't argue. "Will you be . . ." he stopped. "As you like. Enjoy the day."
He stalked rather stiffly off toward the parking lot, leaving Napoleon behind feeling guilty. Heading for the pay phones to call a cab, he shook off the feeling. There was no reason for him to feel guilty. After all, it had been Illya's idea to get rid of him. Just because he'd decided to do it his way instead of Illya's didn't mean he needed to feel guilty.
Napoleon spent the day trying to stay away long enough that Illya could do . . . whatever it was he wanted to do. He went to a movie, then out to dinner, flirted outrageously with Judy, his pretty blonde waitress, and arranged to meet her when she got off work at ten. They'd gone to a bar, had a drink, and she'd made it abundantly clear she was willing to share more than alcohol with him. He'd gotten as far as her apartment and that first kiss outside the door, when he realized he felt absolutely nothing for her. Not even a tingle.
Complete and utter disinterest.
That scared him more than any THRUSH torturer ever had.
He begged off with an excuse of an early flight and left her at her door with another kiss he didn't feel. Outside her building he stood for a moment, at loose ends. It wasn't late enough to go 'home' yet, he didn't feel like seeing another film, and in any case he needed another drink. Or two. Maybe even several.
The Golden Horn was beginning to feel like his own neighborhood bar. As he paused in the doorway to scan the room, an old habit that often stood him in good stead, he didn't spot Brian, but a familiar lanky blond was sitting at the bar. His eyes narrowed in recognition, and he guessed that meant he could go home now. Unless Illya had found someone else, which was all too possible. Brian had implied a certain lack of prejudice in Illya's choices, and they had been plural. He remembered that. No prejudice, that is, other than dark-haired men.
Frowning, he made his way over to the bar, sat down on an empty stool, and ordered a martini. He tried not to remember that he'd seen the kid naked. That he'd seen him come. It wasn't easy. The scene kept replaying on his mind's eye. Illya, his fair skin lightly flushed from exertion, with this kid riding him like a prize palomino. What would it be like to have Illya like that? He imagined his partner above him, head thrown back . . .
Napoleon shivered, and drained his just-delivered martini in one painful swallow, pressing a clenched fist against his suddenly tumescent groin almost hard enough to hurt. Where the hell had that been earlier with Judy?
"Hi." The voice came from his right. A little tentative, but friendly. "My name's Marek."
Napoleon turned and looked. The kid had moved over and was now sitting next to him, hazel eyes bright and flirtatious under surprisingly long eyelashes. Napoleon signaled for another drink, and pointed at Marek's nearly-empty glass. The bartender gave Napoleon another martini, and pulled a beer for Marek, who lifted it in salute. They both drank, and when Napoleon put down his glass, he put out a hand.
"Nice to meet you," Marek said, shaking his hand firmly. Not a bad grip for a skinny kid. Kind of like another blond he knew. Though Illya's size was deceptive. Only two inches shorter and only ten months Napoleon's junior, Illya somehow managed to look both years younger, and also smaller than he actually was. Two inches didn't make that much difference. Not in height anyway, Napoleon thought with amusement.
"You've got a nice smile."
As pickup lines went, it was fairly lame, but the kid couldn't be more than twenty-two. Only a year younger than Illya had been when he finished Survival School, Napoleon mused, but immeasurably younger in every way that counted. Feeling charitable, Napoleon cut him some slack with an equally lame but pleasant reply. "Thanks. So do you."
The answering smile brightened substantially. "I don't think I've seen you here before."
"I've been here once before. You were otherwise engaged."
That obviously piqued Marek's curiosity. "When was that?"
"Wednesday. He was. . . blond."
"Oh." The look on Marek's face was a near-indescribable mixture of irritation and longing. Napoleon was becoming all too familiar with the state. "Well, he's out of the picture. I guess he and his boyfriend made up."
Napoleon somehow managed not to choke on his martini. He had realized, of course, that Brian thought he and Illya were involved, but hadn't thought Brian would mention it to Marek. Boyfriend. Lord, this was getting to be rather operatic. Soap operatic. But he was curious, too. "That's probably just as well. He didn't look like much." He chose his words carefully to provoke the maximum response.
"You'd be wrong about that," Marek said, falling for it. "He's incredible. If it wasn't for the boyfriend, I'd've chained myself to his bed until he had to go back to England."
England, eh? So Illya hadn't bothered to tell his flavor-of-the-moment where he really lived. That was nice to hear. Right after he thought that, the rest of what Marek had said finally percolated through his consciousness. 'Incredible.' 'Chained to the bed. . .' once again that little blue movie flashed on the screen in his brain, and he had to shake his head to rid himself of the image, almost pressed his fist against his groin again. Would've, but with Marek so close it would draw his attention, something Napoleon didn't really need right now. He shrugged, lading the gesture with natural arrogance. "No offense, but I doubt you have the experience to be a good judge."
Marek snorted, and leaned back, one elbow propped against the bar, the other hand resting at his waist, thumb hooked in a belt loop, fingers pointing toward his crotch in a blatant bid for attention. "You'd be wrong about that, too. When you buy a car do you look at the model year, or the mileage?"
It was rare that Napoleon found himself without a witty comeback, but this was one of those times. He was too surprised by the sudden transformation of the slightly geeky kid into a smoldering sexpot who bore more than a passing resemblance to James Dean.
Marek studied him for a moment, and then chuckled. "I'm betting you're pretty low mileage for an older model year, and you're in great condition. How about a lube job?"
It was all he could do to keep his jaw from dropping, and from the heat in his face he knew he was blushing.
Marek leaned into his space, ran a fingertip across his lower lip, and whispered. "I'm really good with a grease gun."
For a moment Napoleon was balanced between a guffaw and a shiver. The shiver won. A seductive little voice in his head said 'why not?' He was curious. In fact, he'd been curious about this for a long time. Since his army days actually, and that was long before he'd been partnered with Illya. And while he knew it was Illya he wanted, he also knew Illya was out of the question. Not only were they partners, he wasn't Illya's type. Though if he was honest with himself he had to admit the latter was more an impediment than the former. If he couldn't have Illya, maybe having someone who had was the next best thing. He swallowed to moisten his dry throat, and smiled. "I bet you are."
Marek's grin widened. "My place or yours?"
The thought of seeing the expression on Illya's face if he showed up at their cabin with Marek in tow was kind of appealing, but discretion was always the better part of valor where Illya was concerned. "I'm afraid it'll have to be yours."
"No problem. Come on."
Napoleon threw a bill on the bar to cover their tab, and followed Marek, feeling the bartender's knowing gaze on him the whole time. Outside, Marek stopped suddenly, and pulled Napoleon into the same darkened doorway where he'd hidden on Wednesday night.
"What's wrong?" Napoleon hissed, scanning the street, one hand sliding into his jacket, reaching for his gun.
"Nothing," Marek said. "Just wanted to give you the coming attractions." He gripped Napoleon's chin in his hand and leaned in, bringing their lips together.
Odd sensations registered: tall, stubbled, hard, strong; but after a moment all the strangeness melted away, and he was left with lips against his own. Warm, soft lips, slightly parted, beckoning. He tasted, briefly. Tasted again. Beer. Not unpleasant. And the slick warmth was good, the flicker of tongue against his own even better. The tingle, missing when he'd kissed Judy, was back now.
He leaned in, bringing one hand up, fingers sliding through . . . the wrong hair. It was short. Too short. And it had the heavy, almost greasy feel of hairdressing cream. Not only was it wrong that he could actually slide his fingers through said hair without having them caught fast in a mesh of rats and lacquer, but it was also wrong that it wasn't fine, sleek and overlong.
He was rocked by the realization that he knew how Illya's hair felt under his hand. He knew, because he touched it. Frequently. Had been doing it for months. Affectionate little ruffles that he knew annoyed his phlegmatic partner no end. Gentle strokes when he was lying hurt on a cold concrete floor, or the somewhat less uncomfortable confines of a hospital bed. He knew what Illya's skin felt like, warm and silky, where it wasn't marred by scars. He knew where those scars were, and where most of them came from. He knew the subtle difference in inflection between amused and annoyed.
He wasn't just curious.
A hand on his shoulder shook him a little, bringing him out of his daze.
"I have to say this is a first. People don't usually fall asleep on me while making out." Marek's voice was wry.
Napoleon shook himself. "Sorry, I'm not. . . well, as you said, I'm kind of low mileage."
Marek's gaze brightened. "I knew it! That's okay, though, I know my way around." He trailed his fingers down Napoleon's cheek, then across his lips.
It was disconcerting to feel calluses on those fingertips, but oddly erotic too. Marek leaned in again, closer this time, his body pressing Napoleon's back against the cool, smooth glass of the door they stood in front of. Napoleon let him, deliberately reining in the well-honed instincts that told him any man who got that close was probably going to knife him. Marek kissed him again, lips as skillful and sweet as any woman's, despite the rasp of stubble that abraded his jaw and lips. Even that was faintly titillating. But after a moment, instead of concentrating on the man kissing him, he found himself wondering what Illya's mouth would taste like, and what Illya's shorter, stronger body would feel like against his.
Abruptly the pressure against his lips vanished. He opened his eyes and looked at Marek, who gazed back at him with a slight frown. Napoleon offered him an apologetic smile. "Sorry. I did it again, didn't I?"
Marek nodded. "Yeah. Is it me?"
"No." Napoleon shook his head. "No, not you. But . . ."
"I understand," Marek cut him off with a fatalistic shrug. "It would've been fun to change your oil, but it looks like you need a different mechanic."
Napoleon laughed softly. "Yeah, I'm afraid so."
"That's okay. I've got a friend who'll be relieved if I don't bring anyone home tonight."
Belatedly Napoleon remembered Brian, felt vaguely guilty, and silently wished him luck. "Good night then."
Marek nodded. "Good night."
A moment later Marek had disappeared around the corner. Napoleon went back inside to call a cab. As he waited outside the bar for his transportation to arrive, he tried to analyze his actions. He wanted to tell himself he'd been acting out of a combination of curiosity and concern for his partner, but he knew better, really. Now that he'd seen it, he couldn't believe he hadn't seen it before. He didn't treat Illya like he treated most other men. He treated him. . . like a potential conquest playing hard to get. He flirted, he petted, he teased.
God. For someone as private and reserved as Illya, it must have been unbearable. He probably thought Napoleon had been mocking him all these months. Or worse, playing some sort of weird power game. He was surprised he still had all his teeth. His prickly partner wouldn't have let anyone else get away with crap like that. And when Napoleon had finally exceeded even Illya's patience, he hadn't lashed out. He'd just. . . left.
And Napoleon, deprived of his toy, had followed, trying to get it back. He'd pried, spied, finagled his way into his vacation, and finally, tried to find out what he was like in bed. When he added up all the facts, Napoleon had to admit it sounded . . . bad. Circumstantial evidence, but he'd seen juries convict on less. He sighed, and palmed his face, raking his hair back off his forehead. Not that it mattered. Brian had made it quite clear that he wasn't Illya's type. Illya avoided men who looked like him, apparently with good reason.
Down the block, a car turned the corner, headlights momentarily blinding him and he automatically tensed, always alert for trouble, but as the car neared the familiar school-bus yellow color and triangular advertising sign on the roof put him at ease. The taxi slowed, and stopped, and the driver leaned across, rolling down the window.
"You call a cab?"
"I did," Napoleon said, opening the door and sliding into the back. It reeked of stale cigarette smoke and too-strong cologne, and he rolled down the window as he gave the address.
Unlike most cabbies in Napoleon's experience, the driver wasn't chatty. The silence gave him no quarter, and his thoughts, as before, strayed to Illya. And Illya's preferences. And he found himself once more a little piqued that Illya didn't like men who looked like him. It didn't seem quite fair that he had no preference other than that. Almost a personal affront. As if Illya didn't like him, not just men who fit his general description. No, that didn't hold water. Illya never acted as if he didn't like Napoleon. They were friends, good friends, despite Napoleon's recent behavior. It was real. Napoleon knew Illya well enough to know that he allowed few people as close as he did Napoleon. Not just few people, no one. So why did he avoid . . .
It hit him like a ton of bricks.
When he was a kid he'd gotten hooked on saltwater taffy one summer. He'd eaten the stuff by the bag until he got sick of it, and ever since then, he'd avoided it, knowing that if he ate one, he'd soon be eating a dozen, and the results would be less than pleasant. The same basic premise might apply here. There were two reasons why a man might avoid something. One was because he didn't like it, the other was because he liked it too much.
Napoleon considered that for a moment, tried to imagine Illya liking him too much. It was surprisingly easy to do. Seductively so. But he knew wishful thinking when he saw it.
Despite the fact that it was closing in on three a.m. when Napoleon got out of the cab, there was a light in the cabin. Which meant that either Illya was still awake, or that he'd left the light on for Napoleon. He hoped it was the latter. He wasn't sure he wanted to see Illya tonight. He was too unsettled, had too many thoughts running around in his brain. Too many feelings. Since he was hoping Illya was sound asleep in his own room, he unlocked the door and stepped inside quietly, only to see Illya sitting on the couch with a book in his lap, damn his luck.
Steeling himself, he moved into Illya's line of sight, and only then realized that Illya's eyes were closed behind his glasses. He was sound asleep, sitting up. If Napoleon hadn't known better, he would have thought he was just reading, but he had to be asleep or he'd have said something. He wondered just how tense you had to be to fall asleep like that and not end up sprawled on the couch instead of bolt upright. It didn't seem like Illya's vacation had relaxed him much.
Toeing off his shoes, he left them by the door and walked quietly to his own room. He briefly thought about brushing his teeth, and decided against it, worried that the sounds would wake Illya. He undressed down to his t-shirt, pulled on the boxers he'd been using for pajamas and got into bed, turning out the light and manhandling the rather flat pillow into some semblance of cushion.
Ten minutes later he was still lying there in the dark, staring at the thin line of light that shone under the door and thinking about Illya on the couch. Had he been waiting up, and eventually been unable to stave off sleep any longer, or had it been more prosaic? God knew most of what Illya read was boring enough to put an insomniac to sleep. A few more minutes of thinking about Illya brought him to the realization that it was odd that Illya had not woken when Napoleon entered the cabin. They were both light sleepers, ready to wake at the slightest sound. They had to be, or they'd be dead, considering the number of times they had been woken from a sound sleep by attackers. So why hadn't Illya woken to confront him with drawn weapon as he normally would? It couldn't be just because they were on vacation. Although, come to think of it, his own guard had been woefully lax. Still, even on missions, Illya was by far the more cautious of them. It wasn't like him.
What if . . .
What if he wasn't asleep?
Napoleon told himself he was being ridiculous, Illya was fine, he was just asleep. He wasn't drugged. He wasn't . . . dead. He was asleep. He kept telling himself that for a good five minutes. Finally he sighed, got out of bed, and padded out to the living room. Moving close, he watched carefully, finally managing to detect the steady rise and fall of Illya's abdomen as he breathed. Okay, not dead. That was good. Just asleep.
Damn it, he didn't usually suffer from an overactive imagination. Why now? There was nothing wrong. Nothing at all. Illya was asleep. That was all. He turned and padded back to his room, sat down on the bed, and couldn't bring himself to lie down. After sitting there for about five minutes he realized he was going to have to get up and make sure Illya was just sleeping. Though why anyone would drug Illya and then leave him on the couch was beyond him. Usually if one of them was drugged, he ended up chained to the nearest available flat surface with various implements of torture close at hand.
He pushed himself up and made yet another trip to the living room. Stood for a long moment watching Illya sleep. Really, he didn't look very comfortable. His neck was at a slightly odd angle, he'd probably wake up with a crick in it. Not to mention he'd have dents in his nose from his glasses, and he'd once complained that if he wore them too long they made his ears sore. So Napoleon would be doing him a favor by waking him up and telling him to go to bed. But the first thing that needed to go were the glasses. He moved closer, crouched down, and carefully began to ease them off Illya's face.
The next thing he knew he was on his back over the coffee table with Illya's arm across his throat. Mental note: Don't wake your deadly secret-agent partner from a sound sleep from less that two yards away. He should've thrown a pillow at him or something. He kept very still, tried to be as unthreatening as possible, not difficult actually, considering the uncomfortable arch Illya had him pinned in, and waited for Illya's brain to catch up with his reflexes.
It took longer than he'd expected. Twenty seconds at least, though it felt longer. The pressure against his windpipe eased a little, and Illya's gaze sharpened.
"Napoleon?" He sounded incredulous.
Since his throat was still under pressure Napoleon couldn't speak yet, so he smiled winningly instead, and waved the glasses he still held in explanation for what he'd been doing. The pressure against his throat eased completely, but Illya didn't seem inclined to get off of him. Instead he was staring at Napoleon's chin. Or maybe his mouth. It was hard to tell, as close as they were.
And then, to his consternation, Illya . . . sniffed. Once briefly, and then he leaned even closer and did it again, a longer, more drawn-out affair that time. That was followed by a shocked widening of eyes, and then suddenly Illya was scrambling back off of him as if he were a pinless grenade, staring at Napoleon as he lifted a hand to his own mouth and chin, touching them briefly, gaze fastened to the corresponding spot on Napoleon. The expression on his face was nothing he'd ever seen there before. Illya's usual cool cynicism was gone, and in its place was . . . hurt? No, worse than that. Betrayal.
"Illya?" His voice came out a little scratchy.
He saw the mask reform itself, Illya's features smoothing into their usual expressionless state. "Was there something you wanted, Napoleon?"
It took him a minute to figure out a reply. "I. . . no. I just thought you looked uncomfortable."
"I'm fine. You may give me my glasses and go to bed. I'm sure you must be quite exhausted." The last word was said with enough edge to draw blood.
Something was wrong, badly wrong, and he had no idea what it was, and if he knew Illya he never would. Not unless he got it out of him right now. "Illya, stop. Don't. Talk to me."
"Don't talk to you?" Illya asked, deliberately misinterpreting his words. "That's fine with me. I shall go to bed. Tomorrow I'll return to New York. I believe I have had quite enough vacation."
He stood up and began to stalk toward his bedroom. Napoleon managed to roll to his feet and stumble gracelessly after him, catching his arm just before he went through the door. "Illya, don't. Don't run. Talk to me."
Illya looked at the hand on his arm. "If you value the use of your hand I suggest you let go of me. Now."
Napoleon knew a serious threat when he heard one. He let go. "Please. Talk to me."
Illya seemed to hesitate for a moment, but then he shook his head once, sharply.
"There's something wrong, don't try to tell me there's not. Why won't you tell me what it is?"
"If I have to tell you, then clearly there is nothing to talk about." Illya moved into his room, stood in the doorway for a moment, his hand on the door, ready to pull it closed, and a flash of expression broke through the façade, just for a moment. Pain. "Even if I wished to, I cannot talk to you while you smell of him, and bear his mark." Illya's eyes lifted briefly to his, and they were dark with hurt. Could you not at least have chosen someone . . . else? Cannot I have even one thing that is mine alone?"
Before Napoleon could figure out what Illya meant, the door closed between them. The click of the lock sounded strangely final. He stood outside the closed door, trying to make sense of Illya's words. What mark? What smell? Puzzled, he stepped into the bathroom and flicked on the light, looked at himself in the mirror, and discovered there was a definite drawback to kissing someone with a five o'clock shadow. It had never occurred to him that he might get beard-burn. He'd vaguely noticed the slight tenderness and dismissed it as sunburn from running around the zoo. It wasn't. And it was obvious. And that too-strong cologne smell he'd noticed in the taxi hadn't been left from a previous occupant. It was Marek's, rubbed off on him. And since Illya had bedded Marek at least twice, it was hardly surprising that he would recognize the scent.
When he decided to screw up, he did it in a big old way.
After peeling off his shirt and tossing it into his room, he grabbed soap and a washcloth and scrubbed himself until he was fairly sure the scent of cologne had been replaced with that of Dial. He pulled on a clean undershirt and then went to Illya's door and knocked.
There was no response. Napoleon frowned. Usually he at least rated a snappish 'What?' He tried again, and again nothing. He stood for a moment, trying to decide if he was going to let Illya not talk to him, and decided that if he wanted to salvage anything of their partnership, he couldn't. He went back in his room and dug through his suitcase until he located his lock picks. Granted, Illya was better with locks, but it wasn't like Napoleon didn't know how. He went down on one knee in front of the door, and slid the first pick into the lock.
"It's just me, don't shoot," he called out, hoping Illya wasn't as pissed off as he'd seemed.
He paused a moment, waited, and when gunfire was not forthcoming he put in the second pick. The lock was laughably simple. He probably could've popped it using a pen. Standing back up, he turned the knob, and opened the door.
There was no reply, and unless Illya was hiding under the bed, the room was empty. Frowning, Napoleon looked around, and noticed that the curtains shielding the patio doors were moving slightly in the breeze, billowing out into the night, then swaying back into the room. The door was open, which explained why the room was empty: Illya had gone out the back.
For one panicked moment he thought that Illya had already left for New York, but a moment later he realized his clothing still hung in the closet and there were books and sundry other personal items scattered around the room. He moved to the door, pulled aside the drapes, and stepped outside. Enough light came through the closed curtains that he could make out Illya's white shirt, pale hair, hands, and feet, where he leaned against the deck railing, staring out at the shifting glimmer of the bay. The light flashed off the curve of a glass as Illya lifted it to his mouth and drank. Hesitantly, Napoleon joined him there, staying quiet, waiting for Illya to break the silence. Finally, he did.
"Why did you follow me here, Napoleon?"
It was all he could do not to blurt out the first answer that came to his lips. 'Because you're mine.' Illya wasn't his. He knew that. He struggled to find another answer. An honest one. It took him some time, but Illya seemed content to wait. Or if not content, at least patient. Finally Napoleon managed to put his thoughts together.
"I followed because I belong where you are."
Illya gave a dry laugh. "'Whither thou goest,' Napoleon? Hardly your style."
But it was, Napoleon wanted to say. Or it once had been. But Illya hadn't known him then, he had no referent for that Napoleon. Napoleon barely did, himself, these days. He hadn't been that man in years.
"There is another 'why,'" Illya said softly, before Napoleon could gather his wits to speak. "Why did you do. . . what you did?"
An even harder question. He raked a hand through his hair, and then put it on the railing, holding it as if he expected to be blown off by a gale. "I did what I did because I needed to know," he said finally.
"Needed to know what?" Illya prompted.
He should have guessed Illya would never let that rest. "Needed to know what he has that I don't." It wasn't quite the truth, but it wasn't quite a lie either.
Illya sighed. "Must everything be about you, Napoleon? You lack nothing. Be assured your charms are undiminished. There is no need for this competition, I cede the trophy to you. Even if I wished to, I could never equal your record. You've too much of a head start on me."
"I hadn't realized you thought me quite so vain," Napoleon said, knowing that his hurt showed in his voice, and not really caring at the moment. As he waited for Illya's response, he could feel the weight of Illya's gaze on him like a physical thing.
"I would not have said it was so before," Illya said finally. "I always thought your vanity part of your camouflage, a way to keep others at arm's length. I wouldn't even think it now, but what else am I to think? In all the time I've known you, I have never seen you look at a man with so much as a hint of speculation. I can hardly be expected to believe that after being exclusively heterosexual since you first discovered sex, you've suddenly become aware that you are attracted to men."
Napoleon was momentarily taken aback by the revelation of just how well Illya knew him. Very few people ever realized that his vanity and casual sexuality were part of the role he played, and played very well. He was so shaken by the thought that it took him an unusually long time to figure out that Illya had just contradicted himself. And in that moment of unprecedented imprecision, he knew how he had to deal with this."Why not?" he asked, his voice surprisingly sure.
Illya turned toward him. In the faint light his face was unreadable, but the intensity of his gaze was undiminished by the darkness. "It's obvious why not," he said flatly, but there was a hint of uncertainty in his voice.
"Is it? I'll admit, it wasn't something I'd ever thought much about, not until I met you. Because all I knew of homosexuals before you was that they were . . . pansies. Weak, lisping cowards in outrageous clothing, who didn't like women, and had wild drunken orgies whenever possible. I was none of those things. If I happened to find an occasional man attractive, it was just a matter of aesthetics, right? Artistic appreciation. But then you came along and destroyed every one of those stereotypes. And I've watched you over the past year, and I've learned you, and there's nothing about you I don't admire, from your intelligence to your courage to your wit, to your defiance, to your strength, to your beauty. And since I couldn't have you, then having someone who had would be the closest I could come." He heard Illya's breath catch at that revelation, but he went on. "It didn't take me long to realize it wasn't nearly close enough. Just long enough to pick up beard burn, and the smell of Aqua Velva."
The silence lasted a long time. He started to count the seconds using his heartbeats as a guide, but they seemed uneven and unreliable.
"You did not . . . ?" The sentence trailed off on a slight uplift, asking the question Illya could not fully voice.
"No. He wasn't who I really wanted."
"I've rarely found that a barrier. Nor, I thought, have you."
"Usually not. This time was different."
Another long silence, and then Illya turned toward him slightly. The movement was barely noticeable, but spoke volumes. "I believe so." He lifted a hand toward Napoleon's face, and then let if fall again without touching him. "This is a very bad idea, Napoleon."
"We're partners. We should not be this close."
"We're already this close," Napoleon pointed out.
"What if we have a quarrel?"
"We have quarrels now. We work them out."
"It is very annoying when you have a good answer to every question," Illya snapped testily. He lifted his glass again, and this time Napoleon could see the muscles in his throat move as he swallowed.
Napoleon chuckled. "Tell me about it, tovarisch."
He wanted to make a move. Needed to. A flutter of nervousness tightened his stomach and dried his throat. There was so much riding on this. Was it wise to play with fire? He put a hand on Illya's shoulder, and knew the answer was a resounding 'yes.' He let his thumb stroke the long tendon in Illya's throat, felt that tendon stretch as Illya leaned into the touch with a little hum of pleasure. Because of that momentary yielding, it was a surprise when Illya's hand suddenly wrapped tightly around his wrist, the strength of those fingers reminding him how dangerous this game that was not a game could be.
"Be very sure, Polya," Illya said, the warning in his voice as clear as if he were speaking to an enemy agent.
Napoleon swallowed hard. "I am."
The sound of glass impacting wood was all the warning he got as Illya's other hand closed over his shoulder, and using wrist and shoulder he pivoted Napoleon until his back was against the deck railing, the wood catching him just above waist level. Then the hand on his shoulder was sliding up to his jaw, cupping it, tilting his head. He had just a moment to register the size of Illya's hand—so much larger than a woman's—and then warm lips closed on his own, not at all gently.
He let Illya lick his lips apart, opened to his tongue, almost forgot that his own tongue could play as well, he was so caught up in his own surrender. The harsh bite of vodka stung along the edges of the kiss, the taste pure as snow in his mouth. For the first time he understood Illya's appreciation for the stuff. Though from now on he would always want it flavored with Illya.
The deck railing dug into his back, so he put his hands on Illya's shoulders, pulling himself into the strength of Illya's hard-muscled body to ease the strain. In return, he felt Illya wedge a thigh between his legs and shift it higher, the arch of muscle supplying a maddening pressure against his erection. He'd been half-hard since they'd started the conversation, and the touch of Illya's hand on his face had been all he'd needed to achieve the other half.
Illya made a sound as he rubbed his thigh against Napoleon's cock, a sound Napoleon would be hard put to describe as anything but self-satisfied, and just as he was about to let his hands move from Illya's shoulders, the man in his arms went absolutely still. No more than two heartbeats passed, then their lips parted, and Illya's hands left him as he stepped back, allowing the cool, damp Pacific air to come between them, the contrast as shockingly frigid as an arctic cold front.
"I. . . can't," Illya said, his voice flat, his eyes fixed on some distant point beyond Napoleon's right shoulder.
"What do you mean, you can't?" Napoleon demanded, shocked. "I felt you. . . you want this. . . want me."
Illya sighed. "There are people I can use, Polya, and people I cannot."
Napoleon instantly knew which group he fell into, and a joyful ache spread through his chest and throat as he realized what Illya was really saying. Or what he thought he was saying. Best to make sure.
"How many people are on this list of yours?" he asked, raising a hand to cup Illya's face.
In the dim light he couldn't see the color that stained Illya's face, but he felt the heat of the blush under his palm.
"One," Illya whispered roughly, the word dragged out of him.
Ah God. He was right. The ache made it nearly impossible to speak. "Since when?"
Illya turned away, his gaze ranging out toward the glint of moon and starlight on moving waves. "Since the first time you laughed and I understood you were laughing with me, not at me."
That the moment of realization had not been one of physical desire came as a shock. That was what Napoleon was used to, it was all he expected from anyone, everything strictly on the physical plane. For Illya to choose a moment without a shred of sexual or even physical context was painfully revealing. Especially coming as it did from this too-private man. A word lay unspoken between them now, one Napoleon had acknowledged in himself earlier in the evening, without ever allowing it iteration. Too dangerous. But he couldn't leave things like this. Not now that he knew. How. . . how. . .
"Laugh with me now, then," he said softly. "And at me. God knows I deserve it after the crap I've pulled the last few days."
"No," Illya protested, though he was usually the first to laugh at Napoleon. It was never unkindly though, it was part of who they were, he played the straight man to Napoleon's clown, and vice versa when needed. Give and take so smooth it was as if they could read each other's thoughts.
Napoleon smiled. "Yes. And you wouldn't be using me, Illya. You know that. If you could have, you already would have. You're a ruthless son of a bitch."
Illya laughed bitterly. "Not where you are concerned."
"No. Which should tell you something."
"It tells me things I'm not certain I wish to know," he gritted through clenched teeth.
"Tell me about it," Napoleon said with a sigh. "The problem is, my friend, we can't go back, and we can't stay where we are. So we may as well go forward, eh?" He put his hand on Illya's arm, tugging him around so they were face to face, and then leaned in and brushed his lips against Illya's.
For a moment Illya didn't respond, and then his hands were coming up to hold Napoleon in place for a kiss as harsh, hard, and demanding as the man who gave it. He responded in kind, almost instantly hard again. This time when Illya drew back, it was only enough to speak, his breath coming hard and fast.
"I truly thought this was some peculiar ruse on your part, but I don't think even you could feign this." He slid a hand down Napoleon's torso to his thigh, where it slipped up under the edge of his boxers and cupped his erection.
The touch of Illya's warm, callused fingers was shockingly perfect, and Napoleon pushed into his hand, wanting more, wanting it now. He grabbed Illya's shirt, pulled it free of his pants, and yanked at it until the buttons popped free.
"I don't have so many shirts that you can destroy one with impunity," Illya complained.
"I'll buy you a new one," Napoleon growled, leaning in to kiss him again. Tongues battled, Illya's won the day, and then flicked away with a victor's arrogance.
"No, you will sew my buttons back on."
"Sure. So long as you don't mind a few decorative bloodstains," Napoleon said with wry grin. "Sewing is not exactly my forté."
Illya considered that. "I suppose allowances can be made, since you have other talents." His fingers shifted from cupping to stroking.
Napoleon shuddered, hips bucking involuntarily. Illya's eyes lifted to his, and there was a faint gleam of almost-superior amusement in them, along with heat like an acetylene torch. Napoleon suddenly wanted to erase that edge of smugness. Between the darkness and the black trousers and the distraction of that warm, knowing hand on his cock, it was hard to tell if Illya was as affected by any of this as he was. Time to find out.
He slid his hands into the gap where Illya's shirt hung open, finding the warm resilience of skin as he rested both hands on Illya's waist. The soft catch of breath told him he was on the right track. He let one hand range upward, fingers curving around Illya's ribs, thumb coming to rest just below his nipple. He wasn't entirely sure if that was a legitimate target, but it seemed as though what was sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander, and besides, he knew his own were sensitive. The other hand moved along the edge of Illya's waistband, located the button, and flicked it open.
Illya's hand tightened on his cock. Not painfully, just . . . enough to make him forget what he was doing for a few moments. By the time he remembered, Illya's stance had shifted, widened, and his free hand had come to rest on the back of Napoleon's neck, drawing him forward. To Napoleon's dismay Illya let go of his cock as his mouth closed demandingly on Napoleon's again. He would have protested, but Illya brought their hips together, and it didn't matter any more. He smiled smugly into the kiss as he discovered that Illya was definitely affected.
"I feel that," Illya said against his lips.
Napoleon chuckled. "So do I," he said, rubbing himself against Illya's noticeable erection.
"I meant the smile," Illya said, his hands sliding down Napoleon's back, coming to rest on the curves of his buttocks. "Mmm," Illya said happily. "Finally. Have you any idea how hard it is to watch you climbing up various fences, walls, stairs, and cliffs, and not touch?" he asked.
"I. . . uh. . . what?" Coherent speech suddenly deserted him, all his attention focused on the broad, warm hands whose fingers spread possessively over his backside.
"You have a lovely ass, Napoleon. It has been a sore temptation to me."
He experienced a momentary personality split, part of him wanting to protest the use of the term 'lovely' for any part of his own anatomy, while at the same time illicit memories of Marek riding Illya's cock sent a shockwave of want through him. The want won out. He grabbed Illya's hips and ground himself against the hardness so close behind black denim. And for once, Illya didn't smart-ass him in response. Instead he made a sound low in his throat, and the hands on Napoleon's backside gripped him harder, guiding him in a sinuous figure-eight.
Used as he was to the softly yielding contours of women, he found the feel of a hard male body against his own incredibly provocative. Too much so. "Illya," he gasped.
"What?" Illya growled.
"Can we move this inside before I come in my shorts?"
That got an honest-to-God laugh out of his normally taciturn partner, and he was released as Illya stepped back and swept a hand toward the door. "After you."
He was barely inside the room when Illya stopped him, arms going around him from behind, hands sliding up under his t-shirt, pushing it up, off, and then discarding it on the floor like garbage. Before he could recover from that, his boxers were being removed just as ruthlessly. He took a step toward the bed, and was stopped by firm hands on his hips.
"Ne shevelis'," Illya ordered tersely. "Be still."
He stayed still. His reward was the touch of Illya's mouth at the base of his neck. He dropped his head forward with a sigh, and Illya bit him on the back of his neck, just hard enough to sting. The sensation made his cock jerk and his pulse pound. Before he could recover wits enough to speak, that mouth was moving downward, pressing a kiss between his shoulder-blades, tonguing a trail down his spine. All the while those broad hands held him captive with gentle pressure on his hips. Another nip, this time on the soft under-curve of his left buttock, made him jump and gasp. He was acutely aware that he could feel the heat of Illya's breath on his skin. The sensation made him shiver. He could almost feel it not just on his back, but phantom echoes on his lips, and his cock.
Illya's hands slid backward, cupping his cheeks, thumbs pressing them apart as that maddening tongue slipped from the small of his back past the indentation of his tailbone, and finally touched between his buttocks, a hot, wet flicker against the hidden furl there, where no one had ever touched him sexually. The shock of it was like fire through him, instant conflagration, and his knees gave out as he came without a touch on his cock, pearly droplets spattering the wooden floor in front of him, glinting in the light. Illya's arms went around him, pulling him back against his chest, supporting him, hands soothing over his chest and belly.
Once he'd regained his senses, Napoleon's first reaction was embarrassment. "Sorry," he said hoarsely. "I'm usually good for more than that."
Illya's fingers pressed against his mouth. "Shh, it was beautiful. Don't apologize." There was a shift of weight, and then Illya stood, and held out a hand. "Come to bed?" The look on his face was hawkish and intent, neither unfamiliar on his face. Only the slow passage of tongue over lower lip showed that concentration to be sexual.
It was on the tip of Napoleon's tongue to remind Illya that he would need some time before they could continue, when it hit him that it was entirely possible for them to continue whether or not he was hard again. The lump in his throat made it difficult to swallow. He'd thought he would be the one in control here, but he was suddenly all too aware of the fact that he. . . wasn't. Not at all. He was naked, vulnerable, exposed. All the control was in Illya's hands—he was even still wearing his jeans and shirt, though at least that hung open where Napoleon had torn the buttons free. That helped a little.
Something of his thoughts must have shown in his face, because Illya's expression softened a little. "We need do nothing you don't want, Polya."
Reassured, he let Illya brace him to his feet, and they took the few steps to the bed together. Illya pressed him down onto it, and then stepped back, deftly unfastening the buttons at his wrists before dropping his shirt to the floor. Next his hands were at his waist, unsnapping, unzipping, and then pushing both jeans and briefs down together so he could step out of them. He stood for a moment, letting Napoleon look his fill.
He knew Illya was fit, but for the first time he could admit without reservation that he was also beautiful in a way that stirred him sexually. Though not a big man, he was well-proportioned, muscular shoulders and chest tapering to narrow waist and hips, long, muscular thighs, perfectly shaped calves, hell, even his damned feet were beautiful. After cataloguing Illya's more familiar features with new eyes, Napoleon finally allowed himself to look where he hadn't dared before. A narrow line of ash-blond hair arrowed downward from Illya's navel, spreading into a neat delta that framed a mostly-erect, uncircumcised penis, and below that the soft, pendant globes, downed with that same ash-blond, the color of the undermost layer of Illya's multihued hair. His skin was fair, but not white. It held a subtle, almost golden undertone.
For a moment he thought he'd spoken his thoughts aloud, but then he realized the voice had been Illya's. He lifted his gaze, brown to blue, and saw that Illya looked as shaken as he felt. It was oddly comforting. "I think that's my line," he said, resurrecting a trace of his usual savior faire.
Illya looked down at himself. "It's a serviceable body," he said, dismissing his own attractions with a shrug.
Napoleon chuckled. If he didn't know better, he'd think Illya was fishing for compliments. Or, maybe he was. Everyone liked a compliment now and then. "Eminently serviceable. So why don't you get over here and let me service it?"
Illya snorted at the pun, but came to the bed, easing himself down with unconscious grace. Despite his brash words, Napoleon was suddenly at a loss as to how to start. None of his usual bedroom moves seemed appropriate. He was trying to come up with a new one when he felt Illya's fingers under his chin, nudging his face up until their gazes met.
"We're not so different, Polya."
He blinked, and then smiled gratefully, understanding. Of course. He leaned forward and brought their lips together. This time softly, gently, putting all his native sensuality into the touch of lips on lips and tongue on tongue. Illya made a soft sound low in his throat, and his hands stroked down Napoleon's back encouragingly. Reminded that his own hands were unoccupied, he set about correcting that omission. Seeming to recognize Napoleon's need to study the unknown landscape of his body, Illya lay back and let him explore.
It was strange, discovering the smoothly muscled flesh of a man, feeling the silkily abrasive shift of hair under his palm instead of smoothly shaven skin as he stroked the long curve of inner thigh. The ridges of familiar scars marred the body that was as dear to him as his own, but discovered the rise of a taut nipple crowning the sleek curve of a pectoral. New too, to find instead of the softness of cleavage under his lips, a bony hollow at the base of Illya's sternum where ribs curved upward to protect the vulnerable heart behind them. There was something disturbingly erotic in the fact that no perfumes disguised the earthy scent of him, or left an acrid, chemical taste on his tongue. Nothing but the taste of salty skin.
Finally his exploration became bolder, and for the first time he filled his palm with the pulsing weight of another man's erection, the feel of it both familiar and alien. He tightened his grip experimentally, stroked, felt the slide of foreskin, the kiss of moisture at the tip. Illya's gasp sent tendrils of heat through him, stirring his own lax cock to sleepy life once more. He stroked again, more firmly, and felt Illya arch into his touch. Grinning at his ability to coax that response he met Illya's eyes, their blue no longer glacial, but hot as the base of a flame. The encouragement there and in a softly curving mouth gave him permission to continue, so for a while he played, learning what touches evoked gasps, or movements, and which didn't, until at last Illya caught his hand and moved it away.
"Not yet," he whispered.
Before Napoleon could find something new to play with, Illya's hands curved over his buttocks and drew him down so they were cock-to-cock. He was fully erect again, surprising this soon. He'd always been able to go a couple of times a night, but his usual recovery rate was slower. Then those hands slid lower, urging his thighs apart so he was straddling Illya's hips before they returned to caress his buttocks. He couldn't bite back a moan. This was so close to his fantasies, so close to what he'd seen. Was that deliberate? Was this Illya's preferred position? It dawned on him that perhaps he should be afraid. Did Illya want to take him? Was that where this was going? He'd imagined himself doing the taking, because it was what he knew, but the image that had stirred him most over the past few days was that of Marek, impaled. Thinking about it opened an ache inside him, a need to know, to have, to be one, like that.
Unconsciously he shifted his weight until he could feel the strong arch of Illya's cock behind his balls, between his cheeks, just resting there, an insistent presence.
Illya's hands settled on his hips once more. "Polya?" he asked, his gaze serious and questioning.
"I want you," Napoleon admitted. It was strangely freeing. "Inside me," he clarified.
There was no mistaking the surprise that generated. Or the response. Beneath him, he felt Illya's cock twitch strongly, and a flush swept upward from mid-chest to stain Illya's checks with bright color. There was a moment of silence as Illya drew in a deep breath and let it out. Napoleon bit his cheek to quell a grin, knowing he was testing Illya's control, and proud of that. Finally Illya spoke.
"You do not have to. There are many other ways. Just like this is good." He rocked beneath Napoleon, rubbing against him, sending little tremors of pleasure shooting through him. "I can take you in my mouth, or use my hands. I do not require more of you, Napoleon."
"I've done it before. . . I mean, the other way. With a woman. I liked it." God bless Kate.
"Of course you did," Illya said, amused.
"Do you like it?" he prompted.
"I believe you know that already," Illya said, his voice heavy with sarcasm.
"Yeah," he admitted. "I can't stop seeing it. Can't stop thinking about it. Can't stop wishing it had been me."
Illya shook his head. "You needn't be jealous. Without ever touching me, you already have much more of me than he ever will."
"I want all of you," Napoleon said hoarsely. "I want to be in you, I want you to be in me. I want everything. But I can only have one piece at a time and . . ."
Suddenly he was on his back, shocked breathless by the sudden shift in position, and by the predatory fierceness on Illya's face. A shiver of trepidation went through him as he wondered what he'd gotten himself into. He'd seen that same expression on Illya's face when he was faced with a laden table after three days in a THRUSH cell without food. He braced himself as Illya bent his head, but the expected bite didn't come. Instead his lips barely grazed Napoleon's chest, this a hot tongue licked a path down the center of his chest, down, down, and the remembered touch of Illya's tongue in a place where no one had ever touched him sexually before made him arch.
Illya laughed, a low, warm sound, like nothing he'd ever heard from his partner before. "You are marvelous, Napoleon. I have seen, but I could never really look, before."
Illya's European-flavored English sometimes gave his speech an oddly quaint quality, but the sentiment was clearly heartfelt. "Ditto," Napoleon gasped as Illya's tongue found his navel and plunged into it, making him see stars behind tight-closed eyelids. God, how did he do that? His navel had never been sensitive before.
Coolness replaced the heat of Illya's mouth as he blew across the damp spot on his belly, then lips pressed against the soft skin below his left hipbone, sucking softly. Sparks shivered through him, and he thrust upward again, begging for the touch of lips against his cock. For answer, Illya spread his hands on Napoleon's thighs and trailed them lightly down to his knees, then back up, rubbing the hairs the wrong way and making him shiver irritably.
"Damn it, Illya," he complained.
"You wanted me, you get me. My way," Illya said, voice as cool as water, no hint of the velvety warmth it had held moments earlier.
He knew that voice. He'd learned it brooked no argument. He was torn, habit wanting to assert control, but instinct warning him away from it. As he argued with himself, Illya pushed his thighs apart and his knees up. He tensed, unable to stop himself.
"You wanted me," Illya said again, the velvet back.
Napoleon relaxed, deliberately, letting his head fall back, eyes closing, releasing the breath he'd held.
"Yes," Illya whispered. "Like that."
Fingers stroked up his inner thighs, thumbs coming to rest against the taut curve of tendons where hips and thighs joined, fingertips brushing his balls. Warm breath and then warm, slick tongue flickered against the head of his cock and he jerked and gasped. If he hadn't come already, he would have then, he knew it. Another flick, and he opened his eyes to look down the length of his body at Illya's head where it was bent over him. As if on cue, Illya looked up and smiled smugly, tongue moistening his lips before he lowered his head again this time rubbing his hair against Napoleon's erection, the strands sliding like silk against his skin.
"So beautiful," Illya said, touching a finger to his cock, right at the tip, drawing a shining thread of pre-ejaculate out a little way before it broke. The combination of sensations was amazing and Napoleon shivered, thighs spreading wider, shamelessly inviting. The tickling shift of hair disappeared, replaced briefly by the sandpaper-roughness of stubbled jaw against the less-sensitive base of his shaft, then a mobile tongue was sliding over and around his balls. Broad hands slid beneath him, lifted, and once again he was exposed, vulnerable, and then that didn't matter at all as wet heat slid and probed. Coherent thought deserted him as he was re-introduced to that astonishing new pleasure.
Illya took his time, hands and mouth deliberately taking him almost to the finish line again and again, but never letting him cross it. When he thought he could stand it no longer, Illya guided him over onto his belly, and he rocked against the smooth sheets, spread out and gasping. The touch of Illya's tongue was replaced by two thick fingers slicked with something from a jar on the nightstand, pressing inexorably inward, showing him yet another thing he'd missed out on all these years.
The initial aching burn eased quickly, leaving nothing but pleasure behind. He pushed back against Illya's fingers, panting, wanting, craving the shocks of pleasure that rippled through him each time Illya found that hidden place inside him. Amazing. All this time he'd considered himself sexually sophisticated half of their partnership. So much for that idea.
Something in his movements must have alerted Illya that he was close, because suddenly he was alone, and he moaned, feeling abandoned. He felt the bed shift as Illya lay down beside him, and a hand curled around his hip, tugging.
"Take me inside, Polya." Illya's voice was rough and breathless, the urgency in it a shocking contrast to his usual sang-froid.
It took a moment for more than the tone to sink in, for the words to really register, but finally Napoleon made sense of them. A peculiar combination of terror and desire spiked through him, though the realization that Illya was catering to his fantasy tempered his reaction with heat. He pushed up to his knees, and clumsily straddled Illya's thighs. Illya put a hand on his hip, guiding him, the other hand guiding himself.
The burn-ache returned briefly as he was breached. He forced himself to breathe deeply as he eased down, his body adjusting to something quite a lot larger than two fingers, but thankfully just as slick. He braced his hands on Illya's thighs, and felt the muscles there tremble under his palms as Illya fought the urge to thrust. It was the strangest give and take of vulnerability and control he'd ever experienced, and it was incredibly erotic. To have Illya's power leashed under him, part of him, and yet to be to so completely at his mercy . . . the thought made him move faster, and the burn flared for a moment, pulling a hiss from him, and Illya's hands bit hard into his hips, stilling his progress.
"Slowly," Illya ordered. "Relax."
"I want. . . "
"I know. Give it time. No hurry." The breathlessness in Illya's voice belied the calm of his words.
"Now," Napoleon insisted.
"No." Illya's voice was as firm as his grip.
"Annoying Russian," Napoleon growled.
"Obstinate American," Illya growled back.
The burn was gone again. Illya wouldn't let him slide any further down but there were other options. and Napoleon rocked his hips experimentally. Illya gasped, and his hands loosened, thighs flexing as he thrust upward.
Napoleon pushed down as Illya pushed up, feeling himself open in a way he'd never experienced, feeling simultaneously conquered and conquering as he watched Illya's face go tight with pleasure. This time he didn't stop until he felt the flat plane of Illya's belly under him. Once there he stayed put, panting a little, stifling the urge to wince, sure the ache wouldn't last long and determined not to give Illya an excuse to object. Just as it began to ease, Illya slid a hand down his belly, wrapped his fingers around Napoleon's cock, and stroked.
Napoleon arched, and bucked as sensation exploded through him from two separate points, meeting somewhere inside him. "Ah fuck!" he gasped.
"Da, vozl'ublennyj, medlennej, bud' ostorozhen."
The realization that he'd reduced Illya to Russian was icing on the cake. He had no idea what the words meant, but the tone was all that mattered. Rough and desperate, it was a goad in itself. Napoleon leaned forward, hands on Illya's shoulders, and let instinct take over. God, so good. That flash of pleasure every time he came down on Illya's cock, doubled by the tight clasp of Illya's hand around him, stroking just right, knowing just how fast, how hard, and the perfect place to rub his thumb. . . so good, too good, too damned much . . .
He rocked, half-mindless as waves of pleasure pulsed through him. This time the spatter spread across skin, not wood, silver streaks on pale gold. He watched through half-closed eyes as Illya smeared a thumb across one splash, and then put it in his mouth, sucking it clean, eyes closed in pleasure. Apparently that was the trigger Illya had needed, because he shuddered, strong thighs lifting them both off the bed as he cried out wordlessly, and then sagged back, panting, one hand spread across his face as if that could hide what he felt.
Spent, Napoleon sagged too, curled over Illya's sweaty torso, head tucked into the curve of his shoulder, until the unaccustomed ache in his thighs and backside forced him to move. As he did, Illya's softening cock slipped free, and he couldn't suppress a faint yelp of discomfort as he discovered that maybe Illya had been right about going more slowly, after all.
Illya lifted his hand from his face and looked at him with an all too familiar 'I told you so' expression, softened this time by amusement. "Lie down," he said huskily. "I'll be right back." He pushed himself up into a sitting position and then rose, padding toward the door and the bathroom beyond.
Napoleon flopped over onto his back, and abruptly decided that he would be better off on his front, so he rolled over, and buried his face in the crook of his elbow. Pleasantly tired, he vaguely registered the sound of water running as he began to drift off. A moment or two later a warm, wet cloth was being plied gently against his ass. Despite the gentleness, he winced.
"I . . ." Illya began.
". . . told you so," Napoleon finished for him. "Yeah, yeah. You were right. I admit it."
"I hope you weren't planning on any recreational bicycling in the near future," Illya said drily.
"Thankfully, no." The 'o' in 'no turned into a wide yawn.
Illya patted his rear. "Go to sleep, Napoleon."
There was a click as the light was turned off, and then the bed shifted as Illya got up to go put the washcloth away. He almost asked why he was back to Napoleon from 'Polya' but he was too sleepy to string the words together, so instead he did as Illya had suggested, dozing until a vague feeling of disquiet pushed his heavy-lidded eyes open once more.
He was disoriented for a moment until he remembered, and smiled. Until he realized that he was in Illya's room and in Illya's bed, but there was no Illya in it with him. He slid a hand across the bed, found the sheets next to him were cool. A glance at the luminescent hands on Illya's alarm clock told him it was coming up on four-thirty a.m. He sat up, and made a face as his body protested, making a mental note to let Illya set the pace next time. At least until he got used to it. Swinging his feet to the floor he stood up and went in search of his partner.
Not in the bathroom. Not in the other bedroom. The living room was dark, but the grey light of dawn was seeping in around the curtains and he could make out the pale lump of Illya on the couch, a jacket pulled haphazardly across him as a blanket. He stood for a long moment, frowning, trying to come up with a logical reason why Illya was sleeping out here instead of in his own bed. Nothing occurred to him. He moved closer, started to nudge Illya's shoulder, and then remembered what had happened last time he'd woken him from a sound sleep. Opting for safety, he moved back a few inches.
He sounded alert, as if he hadn't been sleeping at all, the transition between Illya asleep and Illya awake almost instantaneous. If Napoleon hadn't seen him do the same before, he wouldn't have believed it.
"You are, apparently."
Napoleon sighed, too muzzy-headed for a battle of wits. "Cut it out. Why are you out here instead of in bed?"
There was a long moment of silence before Illya spoke. "You were there," he said, as if that explained everything.
"You were sleeping." Again, that patient, reasonable tone, the one that held the expectation of a finished conversation.
Napoleon prayed for patience. Illya's mind often worked in mysterious ways but at four-thirty a.m. he wasn't up for solving the puzzle. "Right. And that means you can't sleep there too—why?"
"I . . . ." For once Illya sounded at a loss. He sat up, rubbing his hands over his face, then through his hair. "I thought you would prefer it."
"Well you thought wrong." He held out a hand. "Come on."
Illya hesitated, but finally allowed Napoleon to pull him to his feet and silently followed him back to the bedroom. Napoleon got back in bed and waited. Illya sat down on the edge of it, but didn't lie down. Napoleon sighed.
"Okay, my stubborn Russian. What's going on in your head? Do I have cooties or something?"
"Cooties?" Illya echoed, sounding puzzled. "What is cooties?"
"They're sort of like lice, but they're invisible. You can only catch them with intricately folded pieces of paper."
There was a moment of silence. "There is no such thing."
Napoleon chuckled. "There is in the minds of adolescent girls."
Illya stiffened. "I am not an adolescent. . . "
"Whoa!" Napoleon broke in, trying to mollify his now-offended partner. "I didn't say you were! It was a joke, and I'm still half asleep, so it didn't make much sense. Look, I'm just trying to understand. Usually when I make love with someone, they don't hightail it off to the couch when we're done."
A little of the stiffness faded from Illya's posture, but not all of it. "Ah. You must forgive me, I am not familiar with the . . . etiquette of the situation."
It sounded like Illya was saying he'd never had a lover stay the night, but he couldn't mean that, could he? Surely at his age, he had to have had that experience at least a few times.
"We've slept together often," Illya went on. "But under quite different circumstances. I wasn't sure of your preferences in the matter, so it seemed best to let you sleep alone."
Napoleon was surprised by how relieved he felt that his worst-case-scenario was wrong. In fact, the explanation actually made a certain amount of sense, coming from Illya, anyway. "For the record, if I'll sleep with you as partners, you'd better believe I'll sleep with you as more. Now lie down, for God's sake. Or if not for God's, for mine. I'm too tired to have to come chasing after you again. And get naked. If I'm naked, you should be too."
"That might be too much of a temptation," Illya said, pulling off his undershirt and dropping it on the floor beside the bed, then skinning out of his briefs.
"I'm sure you can resist," Napoleon teased. "After all, you resisted me this long."
"Who said I was referring to myself?" Illya asked smugly, sliding under the covers.
Resisting the urge to smack him in the back of the head, Napoleon settled under the covers, smiling as he drifted off to sleep again.
The next time Napoleon woke it was to full daylight, and this time nothing felt wrong. If not for the usual morning bodily-function urges he would have been content to stay curled front-to-back against his partner for longer. It wasn't the first time he'd woken to find himself in that position with Illya, they'd had to share a bed on numerous occasions and he tended to appropriate bed-space, but it was definitely the first time they'd both been naked while in that position.
Maybe that was why he hadn't noticed before just how well they fit together. Everything seemed to fall comfortably into place, right down to the way his morning woody fit neatly against the curve of Illya's ass. He wondered how Illya would react to being woken up under these circumstances. Hopefully not the same way as last night. Although, come to think of it, ending up flat on his back under Illya might not be such a bad thing. He was nothing if not adaptable, it was one of his best qualities.
Unfortunately, his body had other plans. With a sigh he unwound himself from Illya and headed off to the bathroom to take care of things that couldn't be put off. When he returned to the bedroom, he found that Illya had moved to the middle of the bed, sprawled out on his belly like he owned the place, head partially buried under a pillow. Stooping to pick up his boxers from the floor, Napoleon pulled them on and then moved to stand beside the bed. A moment's observation told him Illya was awake, he could tell by the cadence of his breathing, so he sat down on the bed next to him and ran a finger down the long line of his spine, stopping just above his hips where the sheet still covered him.
"Wakey, wakey," he said cheerfully.
Illya made some sort of reply, unintelligible through the muffling pillow, but clearly not cheerful. A morning person Illya was not.
"Hungry?" Napoleon asked, dangling the one carrot he knew would get this particular mule moving.
One corner of the pillow lifted, and he could make out tousled blond hair and one blue eye beneath it. "You are cooking?" Illya asked.
"I am if you get up," Napoleon said. "I'm not serving you breakfast in bed." They were both decent bachelor cooks, but Illya was the lazier when it came to mornings. They'd gotten into the habit of Napoleon making breakfast and Illya making lunch or dinner, whichever they happened to be 'home' for.
"Eggs?" Illya asked hopefully, the pillow lifting slightly more. "Bacon? Toast?"
"And tea, I know. I'll put the kettle on," Napoleon said, eyeing the tempting curves of Illya's backside, barely concealed by the sheet. He itched to touch, and to taste the sleek curve of his shoulder, but didn't want to put a strain on their newly expanded relationship by making assumptions. Illya was prickly and unpredictable at best, and Napoleon had a suspicion that he didn't like to be taken for granted in bed any more than he did out of it.
"I see I have you very well trained," Illya said, just a hint of curve to his lips.
Just for that, Napoleon decided he could touch. He whacked Illya hard on the buttocks with the flat of his hand and almost simultaneously scrambled off the bed and out of retaliation range. Illya was out of bed nearly as fast, stalking toward him with an expression that sent Napoleon backing toward the door. Illya's nakedness should have made him look silly, but somehow. . . it didn't. Napoleon was suddenly reminded of Mr. Waverly's comparison of Illya to a large predator. He'd hit that nail right on the head.
"Now, Illya," he said placatingly. "If you kill me, who'll make breakfast?"
Illya stopped mid-prowl and thought about that. Frowned. Sighed exaggeratedly. "You're right. Besides, breaking in a new partner would be tedious."
"Especially since you've just got your current one broken in to your liking," Napoleon said with a grin.
An answering smile flashed back at him, unexpected and bright. "That's true, too." He yawned, stretched, and moved toward the bathroom. "I'm going to take a shower."
Ah, the one decadent Western luxury that had thoroughly corrupted Illya's Socialist soul, Napoleon thought, amused. He'd be in there until the hot water ran out. Some things never changed. Illya was still . . . Illya. Clearly he always would be. That was amazingly reassuring. Now that the anticipated awkwardness of the morning after was over with no discernable difficulties he could admit to the tension that had been resident in his belly since he'd left the bed. He'd been afraid he'd messed things up, but things seemed normal between them, the same give and take, the same banter, the same patterns. Clearly he just had to emulate Illya's admirable nonchalance. The watchword of the day was 'nothing's changed.'
He put the kettle on one of the back burners to heat water for Illya's tea, started his own coffee percolating on the other one, and got the frying pan out of the cupboard. Suddenly realizing that cooking bacon in nothing but his boxers was like asking the Gods for a blistered stomach, he detoured to the bedroom to retrieve his undershirt. Spotting Illya's shirt and pants crumpled on the floor, he picked them up, shook them out, and draped them across the foot of the bed. That close, the lingering scents of himself, Illya, sweat, and semen lingering in the rumpled sheets almost overwhelmed him. What should have made him wrinkle his nose in distaste instead had him half-hard within seconds.
Okay, at least one thing had changed. He wondered if he would ever be able to smell Illya's sweat again without getting hard. That could get awkward, considering how many times in any given week they ended up sweating, and in whose company. He settled a hand on the bed, fingers sliding over the sheets, remembering the satin-warm texture of skin instead of fabric. He shivered, shook himself, and went back to start breakfast. Be cool, he reminded himself. Nonchalant.
During breakfast he kept looking up to find Illya watching him with an odd, almost puzzled expression. He wondered what he was thinking. Was he, like Napoleon, feeling his way in the dark here? That made no sense. Surely this was familiar to him. He was the one with all the experience in this particular situation. Napoleon wasn't used to relationships where you had to think about anything more the next morning than a graceful way to bow out. Deciding that maybe Illya was trying to determine if he was all right, Napoleon set down his coffee mug, looked over at him, and smiled. "What's on the agenda for today?" he asked with determined casualness.
Illya blinked as if the question surprised him, finished chewing his bite, and swallowed. "I had made no plans."
"Ah. Well, any thoughts?"
There was a moment of silence, and then Illya looked away. "My last suggestion was not a success, so it is your turn to choose."
Napoleon frowned, trying to remember what Illya might have suggested that he'd turned down. "What suggestion?"
"I suggested we go sailing."
Napoleon barely stopped his jaw from dropping, but didn't manage to stop his mouth. "We?"
Illya regarded him rather as he would an interesting experiment. "Come again?"
"I thought. . . but you hate sailing."
"I do not."
"You do too. It makes you sick."
"I hate being sick, I do not hate sailing."
"But if sailing makes you sick . . ."
"It is not a logic problem, Napoleon. After the last time, I mentioned the problem to Medical. They gave me a drug which mitigates motion sickness, a combination of diphenhydramine and chlorotheophylline. I carry a supply at all times now, as one never knows when one will be required to use water transportation."
Holy cow. Illya hadn't been trying to get rid of him yesterday. He thought about how that one domino had set the whole stack tumbling, one event leading to the next until he had ended up out on that deck with Illya last night. He didn't know whether to laugh or cry. His entire world had been turned upside down on the strength of one mistaken assumption. "I . . . uh . . . didn't know," he managed after a moment, aware that Illya was still observing him intently.
Sure enough, Illya picked up on his emotions. "Does this have some bearing on your reaction to my suggestion yesterday?"
"I . . . yeah."
Illya sipped his tea, looking thoughtful. "You believed I was making a suggestion that I didn't mean to follow through on?"
More sipping, then Illya's eyes lifted to his. "You thought I was suggesting you go on your own? That I wanted to, as they say, give you the slip?"
Napoleon nodded. "I thought you were just trying to be polite about it."
Illya laughed, shaking his head. "Napoleon, when am I ever polite to you?"
After a moment's thought, Napoleon started to grin. "Good point."
"And have you not learned by now that I don't say things I do not mean? Well, not to you," Illya amended.
Napoleon took a sip of coffee to disguise the fact that he couldn't speak for a moment. After swallowing, he made the attempt. "I guess sometimes I need reminding."
Illya's gaze narrowed a little bit, not in anger, but in concern. "Are you all right?"
Napoleon nodded. "Fine. You really want to go sailing?"
"If you would. It's your vacation too, and it seems unfair to do only things I enjoy."
Picking up on the uncertainty Illya projected, Napoleon wondered how someone whose face was that expressive ever managed to lie to anyone, but the fact remained that he was a master at the craft, when he needed to be. Maybe he could only read Illya like a book because Illya let him, while he didn't let anyone else. That thought warmed him a little. "I've enjoyed everything we've done," he said, with a slight emphasis on 'everything.'
One corner of Illya's mouth twitched a little as he suppressed a smile, but he managed to keep his gaze serious as he responded. "Good. I would hate to think I'd failed to entertain you."
Napoleon chuckled. "No fear of that, my friend. You're endlessly fascinating." He finished his coffee and picked up plate and mug, heading for the sink. "I'll wash, you dry, and then let's go see what we can find in the way of boats to rent for the day."
The day was clear, warm and sunny, though a steady breeze filled the sails and kept it from being stiflingly hot. Napoleon had found a spot on the leeward side of a tiny, uninhabited island, and taken in the sails and deployed the anchor so they could eat lunch, sandwiches from a deli near the marina where they rented the boat. Illya had displayed no sign of seasickness since they'd cast off. Apparently the medication was working. As if to confirm his lack of queasiness, he wolfed down his sandwich, pickle, and chips and sent covetous glances at Napoleon's food until Napoleon sighed and gave him the remaining third of his sandwich and half a pickle.
"How can you eat like that all the time and still keep your boyish figure?" Napoleon asked, only half teasing. When they'd first partnered up, he'd gained eight pounds in less than a month by unconsciously trying to match Illya bite for bite. He'd finally had to mentally declare Illya the winner in that contest.
"Genetics," Illya said around a bite.
"Ah yes, that superior Soviet blood."
"Precisely," Illya said, in a suitably superior tone, which he then spoiled with a smile. "That and an inefficient metabolism. I don't store calories easily. It has proven problematic at times."
Napoleon knew that all too well, from those times when they'd been captured and held for hours, or sometimes days without food. He hated that. Hated that he could do nothing about it, and the fact that he knew Illya too well to be fooled by his casual indifference. Napoleon knew full well that the act was designed as much to convince Illya himself that his hunger was unimportant as it was to sucker their captors.
"Napoleon," Illya's voice was firm. "Do not."
Napoleon looked up to find Illya watching him intently. "It's hard not to."
"I know. But we are on vacation."
Napoleon nodded. No reason to spoil this rare moment of peace.
Illya sighed and stretched. "The sun feels good. I heard it was always foggy here." He pulled off his t-shirt, leaving himself clad only in swimming trunks. They were a weathered blue-gray, and modestly cut, but thin enough to reveal the outline of the soft flesh beneath them as Illya leaned back on his elbows, facing the sun, eyes closed, legs slightly spread.
"Not always, just usually," Napoleon said, taking advantage of Illya's closed eyes to look his fill. At the moment Illya looked less like a wild animal, and more like a sunning tom-cat. "You're right though, this is nice." Nice. He frowned, annoyed by the inanity of the conversation. Surely they had better things to talk about than the weather. Illya's casual reaction to the drastic change in their relationship was beginning to wear thin. It had to have meant more than . . .
Suddenly Napoleon's last two trains of thought hooked up and became a single locomotive with multiple engines, running down the track at full bore. The frown on his face transformed into a smile. Illya had nearly taken him in this time, but he was not as dim as their usual THRUSH captors. Illya didn't like to admit to having needs, much less desires, not even to himself. And if Napoleon tried to force him to do so, he would probably have about as much success as an enemy agent. However, Illya nearly always admitted the truth to him, eventually. It just took him a while, and he had to feel safe before he could do it. Waiting was something Napoleon didn't like but could do. And if he didn't push, maybe eventually Illya would feel safe enough to do it. Though not pushing was harder than waiting.
One thing he couldn't do, though, was pretend it hadn't happened. He'd tasted the forbidden fruit and he wanted more. A sudden snort of laughter surprised him as he remembered how often 'fruit' was used as a word for men who loved other men. Forbidden fruit indeed.
At the sound, Illya opened his eyes and glanced over at him questioningly.
He grinned. "Just thinking of succumbing to temptation," he explained.
An eyebrow lifted. Napoleon pushed aside the remains of their lunch and moved to straddle him on all fours. Illya looked surprised, but a hint of a smile curved his mouth.
"Did you want something, Napoleon?"
"I'm afraid we didn't bring anything sweet."
Napoleon thought about that for a moment. "No, that's true. I can call you many things, but sweet isn't one of them. You're more along the lines of an after-dinner drink. Something like a good cognac—strong, and smooth, and definitely something that will go to your head."
"And get up your nose?" Illya asked blandly, eyes bright with amusement.
Napoleon laughed. "Yes, but that's part of your charm." He grew serious suddenly, and shifted his weight so he could trail a hand down Illya's bare chest, warm from the sun, and slightly slick with suntan lotion. "But I do want you. Like last night."
Illya slid a hand down his back, cupped his ass, then shifted his fingers to the cleft and pressed firmly. Napoleon flinched, and Illya sighed and shook his head. "Not wise so soon."
Remembering his decision to take Illya's lead in this, Napoleon shrugged. "Something else, then? What do you like?"
Illya slipped his fingers beneath the hem of Napoleon's t-shirt and hooked them into the waist edge of his trunks. "I like almost anything. Why don't you surprise me?"
"Almost?" Napoleon asked, prompting.
"Almost," Illya confirmed, the single-word response thwarting Napoleon's curiosity.
"Fine, don't tell me, but don't blame me if you get something you don't like."
"I know you, Napoleon, if I told you, you could not resist trying it."
He acknowledged the truth of that statement with a wry grin, and wondered how the hell he was supposed to surprise the poster-child for imperturbability. Most of his bedroom talents didn't exactly translate. A man's body and a woman's were so different. On the other hand, he had a man's body, and he knew what he liked. Including one thing he very rarely got, too, because most women just wouldn't, and those who would . . . well, sometimes he worried that Angelique might forget she had teeth. Still, how hard could it be? He'd never had any complaints about his technique from the other side of the fence, and he loved doing it. There was something about having someone writhing and moaning under you that made it worth every second. Sure, it would be a little different, but he could walk and chew gum at the same time.
It felt odd to reach for the waistband of Illya's swim trunks, to ease his fingers behind the ruched fabric and find the drawstring. Part of him kept expecting Illya to belt him for daring to touch him so intimately. But he didn't, he just lounged there, waiting and watching. If his gaze hadn't been so warm, it would have been impossible, but Napoleon finally managed to fumble the drawstring loose, and slip both hands beneath the trunks so he could ease them down. As he did, Illya straightened his legs, pushed up on his hands, and lifted himself completely off the deck in a seated position, like the gymnast he was.
"Showoff," Napoleon muttered, tugging the trunks the rest of the way off.
Illya let his weight settle back against the deck. "You would rather I did not help?" he asked, sounding amused.
"I didn't say that." He tucked the trunks into the equipment locker. If they took a wave, he didn't want them washing overboard. Explaining a bare-assed Illya to the boat-rental guy wasn't his idea of a good time, though there was always the 'a shark ate my shorts' excuse.
A study in amber, Illya was pale gold against the darker gold decking, his hair even paler now that the dulling false color had been washed out. In full daylight, Napoleon couldn't help but notice Illya had no tan lines. He slid his fingers down chest and flat belly, stopping with his fingertips pressed against the warm, slightly moist skin of his hip. "Illya, I'm shocked."
Illya smirked. "That back porch is quite handy, there are no close neighbors, and there has been just enough sun."
"What about random hikers?"
"I can hear them coming for at least half a mile. Plenty of time."
No wonder Illya had heard him out on the porch the other night. Napoleon felt his face warm as he remembered Illya entwined with a lanky blond, curled like two cats, lapping. . . He closed his eyes as if that could remove the image from his memory.
"Napoleon?" Soft. Curious.
Napoleon refused to open his eyes, knowing they would reveal too much. Illya was his, goddamnit. His. He wanted to remove every trace of others from him, make him forget everyone else who had ever touched or tasted him. The sudden, intense jealousy was shocking, he couldn't remember ever feeling like that before. Sex didn't matter to him. Sex was a game. Who his lovers had slept with or might sleep with was inconsequential. But Illya was different. Illya was his.
"Polya?" This time Illya sounded concerned.
The use of the diminutive pulled him out of his daze. He opened his eyes, keeping them focused below Illya's waist. "Just planning," he lied, his voice husky. Fortunately Illya wouldn't know why.
"It's an acquired taste, like coffee, or caviar," Illya said, a hint of dry humor in his voice.
"Both of which I love." He leaned down and pressed a kiss to the hollow of Illya's throat, tasted the sun-warmed skin there. Illya tasted like he smelled—a faint hint of suntan lotion tinged with sweat. Not unpleasant. Erotic. He trailed his tongue down the firm curve of one pectoral, stopping out of habit to taste the taut nipple. Illya reacted instantly, breath hissing through teeth, body tensing, half-erect cock giving a distinct twitch. Surprised, Napoleon looked up to find Illya's eyes closed this time, lower lip caught between his teeth.
A heady feeling of satisfaction surged through him at the realization that he'd finally gotten through Illya's damned self-possession. He wanted more of that. Needed to know he could affect Illya as strongly as Illya affected him. He bent his head, took the hard nub between his teeth and tugged gently. One of Illya's hands cupped the back of his head, fingers flexing, though Napoleon wasn't sure whether he meant to encourage or hinder.
Following instinct and desire, he tongued a path down to Illya's navel, and from there followed the narrow trail of ash-blond hair that thickened to a delta of sweat-damp curls around the base of Illya's cock. It was the first time he'd been this up-close and personal with a penis other than his own. It was oddly fascinating the way the foreskin smoothly gloved the shaft, but had begun to draw back to reveal the dark-flushed glans as Illya grew more aroused. It wasn't like he didn't have the same basic equipment, it was just different from this perspective.
He stroked a finger up the underside, and then nudged the foreskin back a little more, completely exposing the gleaming head. Illya sighed and shifted his thighs further apart. Napoleon moved a hand between them, cupping the soft weight of his testicles, then letting his fingers move higher, wrapping them around the base of Illya's now-erect penis, tilting it outward from where it lay tightly against his belly, making it more accessible. His own cock was hard, had been since he'd first considered doing this, the thought arousing him, though he had to admit that part of his pounding pulse and tight stomach were due as much to anxiety as lust.
For some reason this, even more than the penetration of his body the previous night, seemed fraught with meaning. He could, he supposed, have argued that the previous night he'd been drunk and not completely in control of himself. He knew better, really, but he could have said it, if pressed for an explanation of his behavior. But this? There was no way to make this anything but voluntary. He wanted this. Wanted it so much it made him ache, even as it scared the hell out of him. Not because he was in any physical danger, but because it meant too much to him, and he wasn't sure it meant the same thing to Illya.
Even as he thought that, Illya's fingers slid into his hair, petting softly, then moved down to stroke the side of his face, and press against his lips.
"It's not a test you can fail. I don't want you to do anything you don't want to do."
Realizing Illya had read his hesitation as distaste, Napoleon looked up, meeting lllya's gaze candidly. "I do want to. A little too much."
He saw comprehension come into those concerned blue eyes, saw them widen, then Illya nodded solemnly. "Ah. I see."
"Do you?" Napoleon pressed.
A faint smile lifted one corner of Illya's mouth. "Oh yes. Last night. . . you have no idea. I was shaking like a leaf."
"You were calm as a rock," Napoleon countered.
"Either I am a better actor than I thought," Illya said, "or you were not paying attention."
Napoleon snorted rudely. "I wasn't paying attention to much of anything not located between my waist and knees."
Illya chuckled. "And how does this differ from usual?"
Napoleon tightened his grip around Illya's cock just a tiny bit. "For a man with another man's hand on his tender parts you're pretty . . . " he stopped abruptly, realizing he'd just boxed himself in, word-wise.
Illya's smile broadened. "Cocky?" he asked.
Wishing he'd never taught Illya that bit of slang, Napoleon suddenly had an idea how to wipe the smug grin off his partner's face, so he did it. Forcing himself not to overthink things, he parted his lips, leaned forward, and let the smooth, warm flesh fill his mouth. He couldn't see to be sure that the grin was gone but he heard Illya moan and felt him shiver, and was pretty sure he'd accomplished his goal.
It was very different from what he knew. Instead of a woman's richness, just the faintly salty taste of clean skin. He supposed that would change. Oddly, there was little strangeness in feeling his lips stretch around a man's circumference, instead of molding to the soft folds of a woman. Just. . . rightness. It shook him to discover that something he'd always thought of as the worst kind of insult could feel so good.
Cocksucker. That's what he was now. Or . . . would be, if he ever got around to actually sucking instead of just letting it lie there in his mouth like a tongue depressor. He gave it a try, his tongue clicking softly against the long hollow in the underside of Illya's cock. Illya gave a little thrust in response, which made him smile around his prize. This wasn't so hard. He pulled off a little, then slid down, swirling his tongue around the velvety softness of the exposed crown, then probing the little slit there, finally finding a hint of the bitterness he'd expected. Illya gasped at that, and Napoleon felt a jolt of arousal go through him at that response.
When he used his mouth on a woman, it wasn't so much because he liked it as because they liked it. He was good at it, but it was just a means to an end. There was something about making love with Illya that felt a thousand times more erotic than anything he'd done before. Truthfully, he'd been bored with women lately. Until now, he hadn't known why, had just put it down to stress. It wasn't stress. It was the fact that they weren't . . . Illya. They weren't his equal.
The only women who'd really moved him in ages were women who had something in common with his partner, either his intelligence-- like Kate, or his deadliness—like Angelique. Even then, none of them had made him feel this way. None of them stole his breath and made his heart pound, none of them had spring-steel strength or dangerous, sharp-edged intelligence. Being with Illya actually aroused him without a single touch.
To have all that fierceness momentarily his made him hard as a rock. Made him remember what it had felt like last night to be that trusting. To give himself completely into Illya's keeping . . . God, he wanted that again. And would have it as soon as he could convince his stubborn partner. For now, though, this would have to be enough.
Determined to give as good as he'd gotten, Napoleon set about learning what Illya liked. The flick of his tongue against the sensitive frenulum was a winner, so were long slow licks, and firm suction. Even just a tiny, playful hint of teeth, though, resulted in a painful yank at his hair that told him very clearly what Illya didn't like. He backed off instantly, and a moment later blunt fingers rubbed soothingly at the sore spot as Illya whispered an apology.
His jaw ached a little, unused to the prolonged stretch, but the way Illya rocked under him made it worthwhile. The salt-bitter taste grew stronger, making his mouth water, making him shake a little with want. His own erection was difficult to ignore. Grateful for the forgiving knit of his nylon trunks, he shifted his free hand down to cup his aching groin and began to stroke Illya with the other, his fingers circling the portion of cock that his mouth couldn't manage. Suddenly Illya's hands were cupping his face, urging him away from his prize. Napoleon resisted, protesting wordlessly.
"Stop. Come up here," Illya growled, his voice as sharply clipped as it might be on a mission. Only the extraordinary breathlessness saved it from sounding like an order.
Napoleon didn't obey, but did free his mouth enough to ask: "Why?"
Illya gave an exasperated snort only slightly tempered by the fact he was naked and at Napoleon's mercy. "I don't think you'd appreciate the results if you continue."
It took Napoleon a moment to decipher that, but when he did, he started to grin. "Why, Illya, how sweet of you to spare my delicate sensibilities." He ignored Illya's glare, and tightened his fingers a little, stroking firmly, pleased when Illya's hips echoed his motion and the glare went unfocused. "But don't you think you should let me decide what I might or might not like?" He dipped his head and gave Illya's cock a long, slow lick from the base to the tip, then let it slip inside again. The bitter-salt taste was strong now, and slick against his tongue. Truthfully he wasn't at all sure Illya wasn't right, but he'd be damned if he'd admit it. He wasn't going to finish in second place to some damned kid.
Napoleon sensed Illya's surrender in the shuddering sigh that followed, in the rhythmic rocking that echoed the stroke of his fingers and tongue, in the carding of Illya's fingers through his hair. The awkward gentleness of that touch made him ache, knowing how little chance Illya's hands got to deal anything but violence. The sense that he was competing with Illya's former lovers abruptly disappeared. This was about them, no one else. About the way they felt about each other, all denials aside. Even before last night they'd been closer than brothers, closer than lovers. This just made that a little more real.
He tried to put all the care he had never been able to express into the touch of his hands and mouth, tried to show Illya what he meant to him. Ignoring in the ache in his jaw and the ache in his groin he stroked and sucked and licked until Illya's hands clenched in his hair and he arched and filled Napoleon's mouth with alkaline sweetness. As the first spurt hit his tongue his own body went tight and his cock pulsed and he nearly choked on Illya's semen because he was gasping out his own pleasure.
Coughing a little, Napoleon pillowed his head on Illya's thigh, relaxed and wrung out, feeling the fine hairs like silk under his cheek.
"Are you all right?" Illya asked, one of his hands trailing down from Napoleon's hair to his cheek, idly rubbing over the hinge of his jaw as though he knew it was sore.
Though, now that Napoleon thought about it, he probably did. He felt warmth in his face, and knew it wasn't from the sun. "Yeah. Fine. Just forgot you can't breathe and swallow at the same time."
"No, I meant that I did nothing for you. I'd like to."
"Not needed," Napoleon said, even more embarrassed now. Until today he'd have been hard-pressed to remember the last time he'd come in his shorts. Not since his voice had broken, he was pretty sure. Now he'd done it twice in twenty-four hours. He sensed Illya looking at him curiously and refused to meet his gaze.
Illya shifted his leg a little, pressing his shin against Napoleon's damp groin. "Ah," he said a moment later. "You . . . I . . . " He sighed suddenly, and shifted, pushing himself up to a sitting position. Napoleon started to sit up as well, but Illya put a hand lightly on his hair. "No, stay, it's nice."
"You, I?" Napoleon prompted, shifting a little so he was looking up at Illya but still using his thigh as a headrest. "Does that mean something?"
Eyes fixed on the distant horizon, Illya scowled. "I just . . . you are confusing me."
Napoleon couldn't help but smile. "I'd better mark the calendar."
Illya's eyes slitted, but his mouth curved. "Do. I doubt it will happen again."
"No, of course not. What've I done to confuse you though?"
"Have you done this before?"
"Er. . . this? Which this?"
"Any of this. With a man."
"Ah, that this. No."
There was a long silence as Illya regarded him thoughtfully. "That being the case, you seem remarkably sanguine about it."
Napoleon sorted through replies in his head. He didn't know what Illya wanted to hear. Most of the time he could tell what Illya was thinking, but not this time. Finally he opted for the truth. "It seems strangely . . . natural," he said finally. "Being with you, like this."
He didn't think he imagined the relief that shaded Illya's eyes. "Do you think so?"
He nodded. "I do. And, ah, you?"
"You. How do you feel about it?"
Illya looked away, a faint hint of color washing his cheeks. "It seems so to me, as well," he said quietly.
If Illya had been watching him then, Napoleon was sure he'd have seen relief in his face, just as he'd seen it in Illya's moments earlier. There was still more unsaid than said, but just getting this far had been hard enough.
Suddenly he felt Illya tense a little. "Polya?"
He lifted his head to see what Illya was looking at, and saw a line of clouds building toward the west; flat, gray bases with towering white plumes above them. He swore softly. "We need to get back."
"I assumed as much," Illya said. "Go clean up, I'll stow our gear and bring up the anchor."
Napoleon nodded and went to sluice himself down with some of their fresh water. As the cool water raised gooseflesh he smiled wryly. At least he hadn't been fully clothed.
"Napoleon?" Illya called.
"Where are my trunks?"
For a moment Napoleon was strongly tempted to tell him they had fallen overboard, but he wanted to keep all his parts in working order. "The equipment locker," he called back, turning to unfurl the sail.
The storm caught up with them before they were even halfway back. Medical's little present proved no match for the heavy seas and in no time Illya's complexion closely mirrored the leaden green of the sky. Despite that he worked doggedly alongside Napoleon to keep them steady, in-between bouts of leaning over the side while Napoleon wondered if he ought to tie a rope around his waist to be sure he didn't fall overboard. The same wind that roiled the water filled the sails, though, and they managed to make it back to the marina in what Napoleon suspected might record time.
The slicker-clad rental agent looked relieved to see them as they tied up, no doubt happy that Napoleon hadn't been lying about his sailing experience and happier still not to be having to call the coast guard and the insurance company. Napoleon started to chat about how west-coast water compared to east coast, but a glimpse of Illya's expression was enough to cut short the conversation. the woeful look might be an act, but then again, they were both chilled, wet, and Illya was probably queasy, since they hadn't yet made it to terra firma. Picking up the bag that held their extra gear, Napoleon moved to the gangplank.
"Coming?" he asked. "Or did you want another tour around the bay?"
Illya gave him a tight-lipped scowl as he stepped onto the rain-slick ramp, and nearly took a header off it into the water. Napoleon caught him by the back of his t-shirt and hauled him back to safety, letting go of his shirt only after he'd wrapped an arm around his waist. He kept that arm around him until they reached the dock, and only then let him go.
"Was that necessary?" Illya asked, rubbing at his throat where the fabric had drawn tight when Napoleon caught it, coughing a little.
"I suppose not," Napoleon snapped. "You probably couldn't get any wetter, and you can swim." Irritated, he took a couple of steps away, then realized Illya hadn't moved. He stopped, looking back at Illya with a lifted eyebrow.
Illya crossed his arms, looking as if he was nailed to the dock. "While I appreciate that you kept me from falling into the bay, there was no need for you to then escort me up the ramp like some silly girl at a dance."
Enlightenment was immediate. He should have thought of it himself. Illya had always hated even the slightest hint of condescension about his size or abilities, and if he thought Napoleon was treating him like a woman that would be even worse. Especially now, with the uncertainty of the added . . . facet to their partnership. Sensing that his reply could be pivotal, Napoleon chose his words carefully. "I was worried your sense of balance might be off from the motion sickness, that's all. I'd like to think you'd do the same for me if the tables were turned."
Illya considered that for a moment, and finally nodded, grudgingly.
Relieved that he'd dodged that bullet, Napoleon gestured toward the street where they had parked. "Shall we head back? With this storm, it seems like a good time to take advantage of that fireplace in the cabin. I can't think of a more romantic way to spend a rainy afternoon than lounging in front of a fire with you."
As soon as the words were out of his mouth he realized that they sounded like something he might say to a woman, and he was afraid he'd just lost all the ground he'd gained. Illya did give him a sharp look for a moment, but then he shook his head, a hint of humor quirking the corners of his mouth.
"You cannot help yourself, can you?"
Napoleon gave him a wry smile. "I'm afraid not. Flowers, candy, romantic music. It's just what I do."
Illya sighed. "Just. . . try to keep it to a minimum."
"Duly noted," Napoleon said, leading the way to the car.
It wasn't until they were in their car and on their way that Illya spoke again. "Actually," he said out of the blue, his voice calm and carefully uninflected. "A fire sounds pleasant."
Napoleon ruthlessly controlled his answering smile.
"Do you need the bathroom?" Illya asked as they entered the bungalow. "I want a shower. I reek of ersatz coconut."
Napoleon rather liked the smell of suntan lotion on him, but having Illya out of the way for a few minutes suited his plan. "Go ahead, I'm fine."
Illya nodded and disappeared into the bathroom. Realizing the place really was chilly, Napoleon went to the fireplace, opened the damper, and lit the fire already laid there. After waiting to make sure it caught, he headed into the kitchen where he put apples, a wedge of cheddar, and a couple of rolls on a plate alongside a knife. Illya would need to eat now that his stomach had settled. Returning to the living room, he put the food down on the coffee table, and stood for a moment, listening to the sound of the shower. He imagined Illya there, flushed from the hot water, soap bubbles sliding down his body, alternately hiding and revealing.
He stepped into the bathroom, shed his clothes, and put a hand on the shower curtain, but a well-honed instinct for self-preservation made him hesitate before barging in. "Illya?"
"Care for company?"
There was a short silence, then a nonchalant. "If you like."
He liked. Pulling aside the curtain, he stepped inside the shower's small confines, and then reclosed it. Illya shifted to allow him access to the water, which Napoleon took brief advantage of before turning around to see what he'd really come in for.
Definitely flushed, but Illya's rare tan rendered it rose-gold instead of pink. No bubbles obscured any of him at the moment, so there was nothing to see but bare skin, sleek with water. He reached for the shampoo bottle, and then paused, obviously noticing Napoleon's gaze.
"Would you like a photograph?" he inquired.
Though Napoleon knew he was being teased, the thought of a picture of Illya like this that he could take out and admire at will was much too tempting. He looked up and met amused blue eyes. "Actually, yeah, I'd love one. But I suspect that taking nude photographs of one's partner might be considered a little outré, even for me. And God help us if THRUSH ever got ahold of it. I have enough trouble keeping their paws off you now."
Illya rolled his eyes. "Napoleon, have I ever mentioned that you're odd?"
Napoleon smiled. "Why no, I don't think you have. Give me that."
Illya curled both hands possessively around the shampoo. "Wait your turn."
"I am. I want to do you."
Illya's eyes narrowed. "You want to do what to me?"
"Wash your hair."
He looked at the bottle, then at Napoleon, clearly puzzled, then shrugged and held it out. "As I said. . ."
"Odd. I know," Napoleon said, squeezing a dollop of shampoo into his palm, then putting the bottle down. "Turn around."
Illya turned, and Napoleon worked his fingers through Illya's hair, raising a lather that made the silky texture even silkier. He massaged firmly, and felt Illya sway back against him, heard a soft, purring sound. He hadn't known that wolves purred, he thought, feeling a smile curve his mouth.
He worked his way down, using the slick suds to facilitate a massage of strong neck and shoulder muscles, then let his hands slide along Illya's sides, thumbs meeting in the groove of his spine. He felt the slight irregularities of scars under his fingers as he moved them. Finally he allowed himself to cup the succulent rounds of Illya's ass, something he'd been wanting to do for a very long time. Longer than he'd consciously admitted.
The sudden absence of relaxation in the body against his told him he'd made a strategic error. He was too well-versed in the body-language of seduction to mistake that reaction. He didn't yank his hands away, but he knew he had to move them, so he began a leisurely return to Illya's hair. By the time he got there Illya had relaxed again, though not as much as before. Not quite sure now what touches were allowed, Napoleon guided him under the spray to rinse, and turned away to wash his own hair.
A moment later Illya's hands joined his in working shampoo into his hair. "That was very pleasant," Illya said. "Let me return the favor?"
"Sure," Napoleon let his own hands slide out from under Illya's, letting him take over. It did feel good.
Like Napoleon had earlier, Illya let his hands drift downwards, massaging shoulders, back, hips, then his fingers strayed slickly between Napoleon's cheeks, the touch unabashedly sensual. Napoleon consciously controlled his response, remembering what a flinch earlier had cost him. Illya's fingers slid lower, between his thighs, ostensibly washing, but in reality caressing. Napoleon widened his stance to make it easier, feeling his cock begin to harden. Whatever the problem had been, it was clearly not serious enough to be a hindrance now.
Illya washed him all over, hands returning to his hair several times for re-soaping, and then he was thoroughly rinsed before Illya let go of him. "Ready?"
Not quite sure what Illya was referring to but not really caring, either, Napoleon pulled himself out of his sensual fog long enough to nod. Illya turned off the water, urged him from the tub, grabbed two towels off the bar, and then led Napoleon, dripping, out to the living room. Thankfully the fire had warmed the room to a comfortable temperature while they were in the shower. Illya eyed the wooden floor in front of the hearth with a slight frown, and then turned to grab the cushions off the couch, tossing them to the floor, then spreading the towels over them.
He pushed Napoleon to his knees there, a hand carding through his wet hair to push it back off his face, and then he was suddenly still. Napoleon glanced up to see what had distracted him, and nearly laughed. The plate on the coffee table. Two basic instincts at war: Food. Sex. Food. Sex. Illya was stalled out like a car with sugar in the tank. Napoleon twisted around and stretched to reach the plate, wrapping his fingers around an apple before turning back. He thought about offering it up on his palm like some imaginary Roman slave boy, and then decided there was a better way to go. He took a bite, then leaned back and looked up at Illya invitingly.
Illya didn't have a Ph.D. for nothing. He dropped to his knees, and leaned in. Their lips met, and Napoleon pushed the bite of apple into his mouth. Illya pulled away to chew, then a moment later was back again, licking the sharp, sweet juice from Napoleon's lips, searching out more of that flavor in his mouth. When he'd gotten it all, he drew back, and they were both panting a little and rock hard. Napoleon offered him the apple. Illya snickered.
"How very metaphorical of you, Napoleon. Are you Eve, or Lucifer?" he asked, and took it, finishing it off in about six bites before chucking the core into the fire. For a guy whose idea of good conversation was 'yes' and 'no', Illya had a surprisingly big mouth. Apparently the apple had taken enough of the edge off one kind of hunger that the other reasserted itself. He pushed Napoleon back on the cushions, and straddled him, taking both himself and Napoleon in one hand, stroking them together.
The touch itself was electric, but the knowledge of what Illya was doing was even more so. To be tight up against the hot, slick length, to feel that strong hand around him. . . it was all he could do not to come on the second stroke. The past twenty-four hours had robbed him of all his illusions of worldliness and left him as eager and trigger-happy as a teenager. He wanted more contact, wanted to feel Illya against him all over, not just where hand and cock met. He wanted more kissing.
Summoning up some resolve, he put a hand on the floor and pushed, hard, and managed to flip Illya onto his side, and then he rolled, completing the move, so Illya ended up beneath him. Startled, Illya let go, and Napoleon caught both of Illya's hands in his own, lacing their fingers together, pressing Illya's hands to the floor as he stretched out over him. For a moment he felt Illya tense as if to resist, but as Napoleon lined up their cocks and started to rock against him, he relaxed, a contented look spreading across his face.
It was simple. Basic. But so good, feeling smooth muscles instead of soft curves, the rasp of hair on the thighs against his own, and the unmistakable heavy thrust of cock against his own for eight, ten strokes. A spasm of want shook him and he pushed up, panting, and shifted forward, grinding his hips into Illya, pushing hard. Illya's fingers tightened on his and he shook and sighed, slick heat spreading between them. The knowledge that he'd just made Illya come was enough to set Napoleon off too, and he shuddered to a halt as the spasms shook him to the core.
Feeling like Jello, Napoleon sank down, head on Illya's shoulder, catching his breath, feeling Illya doing the same. After a while he noticed that his left side was warmer than his right, toasted by the heat radiating from the fireplace. It was a good thing they weren't closer, or it would be too warm. As it was, it just added to his general feeling of contentment. Illya lifted a hand after a while and ruffled his hair.
"We need another shower," he said, sounding sleepy and amused.
"Later," Napoleon growled.
"I'm hungry," Illya complained.
Napoleon groped around until the fingers of his right hand found the edge of the coffee table. Pulling it a little closer, he fumbled until he found the plate, and pulled it off, nearly dropping it. Finally he got it within range and one-handedly hacked off a chunk of cheese and picked it up with one of the rolls. "Here."
"How romantic," Illya said drily, but he took it.
"Hey, you're the one who wanted the mushy stuff kept to a minimum."
"True. Thank you."
"You're welcome. Now shut up and let me sleep."
Illya chuckled, but didn't speak, busying himself with eating. Napoleon settled himself more comfortably, smiling. He could get used to this.
"This is . . . very nice," Illya said after a long pause.
Napoleon was startled by Illya's unexpected loquaciousness, but tried not to show it. "Mmmhmm."
Illya's next words were even more startling. "I've never had this luxury. Always before, it was . . . what is the phrase . . . any port in a storm? Just a brief tie-up at an anonymous dock. Never a . . ." He paused, clearly groping for the right word.
"Never a familiar harbor?" Napoleon asked, extending the metaphor.
"Yes. Yes, exactly."
Napoleon smiled. He could deal with being a familiar harbor. To a sailor, harbor meant home. And he and Illya both were sailors.
It took Napoleon a moment to figure out that what had woken him wasn't the muscle-aches in unfamiliar places that came from being well-loved by his partner, but rather the fact that said partner was no longer in bed with him. It felt odd not to have him there. They'd spent most of the day in bed, doing everything they could think of to each other. Well, almost. There was one thing Illya never offered, and Napoleon had never asked for. Not because he wasn't interested, but because he had a strong feeling the answer would be no. Otherwise they'd have already done it, since in the past few days they'd worked their way through the rest of the basic catalog. At least twice.
It dawned on him that Illya had been gone longer than a trip to the bathroom would warrant, so he sat up, noting that he was hardly even sore, even though Illya had taken him twice that day. More evidence of his adaptability, he guessed, not to mention his flexibility and fitness. Just before he'd fallen asleep earlier he'd been pleased that he was able to keep up with Illya, even though he was new to this. He'd also been rather smug about the fact that he'd gotten Illya to stop worrying about his ability to handle all-out sex more than once every couple of days. Sure, Illya was great with his hands, and his mouth, and frottage was as sweet and hot as Chinese mustard, but he really liked having Illya inside him.
As he listened intently for any sound that would tell him where Illya was, he noticed the curtains on the patio doors were moving slightly. Deja vu. With a feeling of foreboding he got up, pulled on his robe, and walked over to the door, pushing aside the curtain to look out. As he'd expected, Illya was sitting there, naked, moonlight turning his daylight gold to silver in some strange alchemical reaction. For a moment he considered leaving him there since he obviously wanted to be alone, but something, perhaps the fact that tomorrow they had to return to New York, told him that it might not be the best idea.
Not 'Polya.' A bad sign. Though at least there was no bottle of vodka in evidence this time.
"What's up?" Napoleon asked, not sure he wanted to know. As the time to return to New York had grown closer, Illya had seemed more and more distracted, even brooding at times, but he'd shaken it off before. Hopefully tonight would be no different.
"This was a mistake."
Napoleon felt like he'd been punched. "Is that so?" he snapped.
"It is." Illya scowled and rubbed his forehead. "When I joined UNCLE I vowed I would never do anything to compromise the organization. I've broken that vow. Worse, I compromised you as well."
"Compromised?" Napoleon snorted incredulously. "Me?"
"It's no laughing matter," Illya said icily. "I have no self-control where you are concerned. I should never have allowed myself to put you at risk."
Okay, now that was just insulting. "Hang on just a second there partner. I seem to recall being a pretty active participant in the proceedings of the last few days. If there's blame to be assigned, and I'm not saying there is, then spread it around. If I remember right, I talked you into it, on this very deck."
"You didn't understand what you were doing."
Now he was starting to get mad. "Like hell I didn't."
Illya looked at him candidly. "You thought of the repercussions this might have for you, should we be found out? The personal and the professional ones?"
Napoleon started to respond that of course he had, but . . . he hadn't.
Illya caught his hesitation. "I didn't think so. You never do."
"Is that right? Nice to know your real opinion of my abilities."
"Your abilities are not in question, Napoleon, only your judgement when it comes to matters of sex."
"Sex, huh?" Napoleon growled. Was that all this was to Illya? Sex? He'd thought it was more. He'd been sure of it. "I think I've done a pretty good job handling my sex life so far, partner." He used the word like a knife, and was pleased to see Illya flinch.
"You've been lucky," Illya muttered.
"It's not luck, it's skill."
Illya rounded on him, clearly poised for an acid response, but then he suddenly stopped and shook his head. "I will not do this. I won't fight with you. There's no reason. It was my responsibility to put your welfare before my own desires, and I failed."
"I'm no more your responsibility than you are mine."
"I had thought that was exactly what we were, partner," Illya said quietly.
Unlike Napoleon, he didn't use the word as a weapon. No one else would have seen the hurt that had flashed momentarily across his face, and it was quickly masked, but Napoleon had, and it sapped the anger from him.
"It's my duty to see to your welfare," Illya continued. "And I always thought, you to mine."
His gut tightened. "That's not what I meant. Of course we're responsible for each other as partners. But this isn't the same. We're both adults, and adults make their own decisions."
"And their own mistakes."
"I don't feel it was a mistake," Napoleon insisted.
"I do. Please understand, the consequences should we be caught are. . ." He shook his head, swallowing hard. "We would be separated. I can't allow that."
Okay, that he understood. Wrongheaded as it was, the worry was something he could relate to. "Look, Illya, it's okay, really. You're not in Russia any more," Napoleon began.
Illya cut him off. "In this, I think there may be little difference."
There were a million responses Napoleon could make to that, but he knew every one of them would be useless. Once Illya had made up his mind, he was the immovable object. He'd learned early on in their partnership that trying to be the irresistible force did nothing but make Illya more implacable. If he tried to take it further, all they could do to each other was damage, and he wasn't going to do that. Illya meant too much to him, and if this was the only way he could maintain at least a minimal relationship, he'd do it. No matter how much it hurt.
"I don't believe it was a mistake," Napoleon repeated, trying to keep his tone even. He badly wanted to say more, to tease and cajole until Illya gave in, but knew it was pointless. It would take a lot more than that to bring Illya around. He had every intention of accomplishing it, but he knew it wouldn't be easy.
Quietly he pushed himself to his feet and headed inside. As he reached the door Illya's voice stopped him.
He turned. "Yes?"
Illya was staring out at the sea as he spoke. "I'm sorry."
"So am I," Napoleon said, and stepped through the door. He stood for a moment, uncertainly eyeing the bed, and realized he couldn't return to it. He gathered his clothes from where they were scattered on the floor, and went back to his own room for the first time in days, taking off his robe and sliding between the cold sheets. It was going to be hard sleeping alone. It had taken him no time at all to grow accustomed to Illya's presence in his bed, despite the fact that it had been years since he'd spent an entire night with another person. He'd forgotten how nice it was not to wake up alone. It looked like he was going to have to learn that all over again. He just hoped that what they'd done wouldn't affect their partnership, because he knew that going without Illya in his life at all was simply not possible.
Sometime, a long time later, he wasn't sure how long because he'd forced himself not to look at the clock, even though he was still awake, he heard a sound, and tensed, then relaxed as he recognized the scent of the person who had entered his room. He kept his breathing steady and even as he heard Illya move closer, felt the bed give as he sat down on it. Something prompted him to shift over, to lift the covers, and wordlessly Illya slid beneath them, moving in close. There was a moment of adjustment as they got comfortable again, without ever saying a word. As he felt Illya's breathing even out and his body relax into sleep, Napoleon finally took a full breath again. Maybe it would be all right. Clearly even though Illya's mind thought they were a mistake, his heart thought otherwise. Napoleon was still his safe harbor.
When he woke again it was daylight, and Illya was gone.
They had booked separate flights back to New York, and Napoleon strategically made sure he was on the earlier of the two. He spent the flight plotting. He had to convince Illya that he was just being paranoid. Sure, it came with the territory and Illya had more reason than most to worry about his secret becoming widely known, but they were spies for God's sake. They knew how to be discreet. In fact, he had a couple of ideas about that already and after he finished his first task, he'd go put them in motion.
After claiming his bags at the airport, he gave his taxi driver the Del Floria address rather than that of his apartment. He flirted automatically with the girl who pinned on his badge, nodded appreciatively at all the women he passed, and made his way to Waverly's domain.
"Good afternoon, Laura, is the Old Man in?" he asked the secretary du jour, placing his bags next to the couch. "Mind if I leave these here for a minute?"
"Not at all, Napoleon, and yes, he is. But you'd better hope he didn't hear you call him that or you'll be cooling your heels out here for the rest of the day."
"It's a term of endearment," Napoleon said breezily. "You know, 'old man', like 'dad.' Do you think he might have a moment free in his busy schedule to see me?" He perched a hip on her desk and leaned toward her as if she were the most interesting thing he'd seen in a decade.
She blushed, flustered. "I think. . . I . . . just let me check."
"Thank you my sweet," he said, studying her backside as she disappeared through the door to Waverly's office. Illya's was better.
He reviewed what he planned to tell Mr. Waverly. He wouldn't mention Illya outright, though he was fairly sure he wouldn't have a fit about it in any case. It wouldn't be the first time a CEA had an affair with his second in command. It wasn't public knowledge, but as CEA, he knew things that few others apart from Alexander Waverly were privileged to know. He also knew that if Mr. Waverly had a problem with homosexuality, he would never have hired Illya to begin with. He knew his boss too well to think he hadn't gone into that with eyes open. He'd known what Illya was long before he'd been accepted as an agent. The fact that Illya had told him about it had only confirmed his partner's innate honesty and honor.
Waverly's door opened and Laura stood there, gesturing him in. "He'll see you."
"Thank you, my dear," he said, giving her a little salute as he slipped past her and into the inner sanctum.
As usual, Mr. Waverly sat at his desk, file in front of him, looking more like someone's elderly butler than the head of a secret multinational law enforcement agency. He glanced up as Napoleon entered, and gave what passed for a smile.
"Mr. Solo, welcome back. How was your vacation?"
"Very enjoyable sir, the Bahamas are lovely this time of year." Of course, he hadn't been anywhere near them, but he did know for a fact that they were lovely this time of year.
"I'm sure they are." Was it his imagination, or had one shaggy eyebrow lifted just a fraction? He studied the craggy face, but found no clue in its placid expression. "What can I do for you, Mr. Solo? I didn't expect to see you until tomorrow."
Napoleon looked pointedly at one of the chairs, and Mr. Waverly took the hint. "Take a seat. Would you like me to ask Miss Stone to fetch coffee?
"No, thank you, I'm fine." Napoleon sat, his posture carefully nonchalant. "I stopped in because I thought I ought to alert you to a . . . development that should probably go into my confidential dossier."
Waverly's gaze sharpened, and the file on the desk was closed decisively. "Go on."
Napoleon suddenly felt nervous. He'd been focusing so much on the potential results that he'd kind of glossed over what he'd have to do to get them. It had seemed much simpler in his head. "I, ah, did a little experimenting while I was away."
"Not, I take it, of the Section Eight variety?"
He had to stifle an entirely inappropriate urge to laugh. Oh yeah, definitely of the Section Eight variety. Just not in quite the way Mr. Waverly meant. "No, sir. Of the . . . romantic variety."
A frown creased the craggy forehead. "Romantic. You haven't taken up with another THRUSH agent, have you Mr. Solo? One can overlook such a lapse once, but . . . "
"No, no," Napoleon interrupted. "Not a THRUSH agent. A . . . ah . . . a man." He felt himself flush, and winced a little at the graceless stammer. So much for suave. This was definitely more difficult that he'd anticipated. He clearly remembered when Illya had told him. God. How had he done it? Napoleon had known Mr. Waverly for years and it was hard enough. Illya hadn't known either of them from Adam at the time. He watched Mr. Waverly expectantly, waiting for surprise, but got . . . nothing. Not even a frown.
"A man?" Waverly echoed after a moment, his expression carefully neutral.
"I see." Waverly thought about it for a moment. "Has this anything to do with Mr. Kuryakin?"
The old man was sharp, he'd give him that. "Indirectly, perhaps," he said nonchalantly. "In that working with him has forced me to realize that my prejudices against such activity were based on stereotypes, not truths. But the impulse has been there for years. Since Korea, at least." So few people understood that there was an art to lying well, and it involved giving just enough of the truth to be convincing.
Napoleon endured several long moments of silence with no overt reaction from his superior before he finally spoke.
"Do you intend to continue such activity?"
"I might, given the right partner." Double entendres were also useful in lying. "But I assure you, I would be circumspect about it, and I will never put UNCLE at risk."
"Hmm." The response was noncommittal. "See that you don't. Is that all?"
Napoleon felt wary. Surely that wasn't going to be the extent of his response? "I . . . yes sir."
"Do we need to run a security check on this person?"
"No sir. I, ah, took care of it."
"All right then." Waverly opened his file again. "You can go. I expect you to be here for the eight o'clock briefing in the morning."
"Yes, sir." Relieved, Napoleon stood and headed for the door. Just as he opened it, Mr. Waverly spoke again.
"By the way, Mr. Solo, may I suggest you make more practical travel arrangements next time? Traveling from the Bahamas to New York by way of San Francisco is singularly inefficient. Your wallet will thank you."
For a moment Napoleon was frozen in place, but finally he forced himself to turn and look. Mr. Waverly appeared to be thoroughly absorbed in the file on his desk. After a moment he looked up.
"Was there something else, Mr. Solo?"
"No sir, thank you sir. I'll just, ah, be going now."
"Very good, Mr. Solo."
Napoleon left the office, wondering in a moment of paranoia if that last dentist he'd seen had put more than just a filling in his tooth. How the hell had Waverly known he'd flown in from San Francisco? Was he being tailed?
No, he was always on the alert for that kind of thing, and he'd have noticed. Still trying to figure out how Waverly had known, he stooped to pick up his bags and headed down the hall to the housing administration unit, wending his way through the maze until he found Bert Warren's desk. He could tell it was Bert's even before he saw the name plate because it was obsessively organized, every pencil in its own little cubby. Unfortunately, it was also unoccupied.
Setting his bags down, he took a seat in the visitor's chair next to the desk and waited. Only a few minutes had passed when Bert appeared, a rounded fellow in his mid forties, with thinning brown hair, bright blue eyes behind heavy-lensed glasses and a penchant for ties with palm trees on them. He was carrying a clipboard, and didn't notice Napoleon until he was nearly on top of him.
"Mr. Solo! What can I do for you?" he asked, putting down the clipboard and taking a seat behind his desk.
"Make it Napoleon, would you, Bert? I always think the boss is talking to me when people call me Mr. Solo. As for what you can do for me, you can tell me if there are openings in any of the UNCLE housing units near to where Mr. Kuryakin lives."
"Of course, Mr. . . uh . . . Napoleon. Is there a problem with your apartment?"
"No, not at all. In fact, I love it. But before I left on vacation Mr. Waverly was griping how slow our initial response time sometimes is, when we're coming from home. I pointed out that it was due the fact that it takes an hour to get from my place to Illya's if there's any traffic, and he said that's not acceptable, by which I gather he wants us closer together. Which means I'm going to have to move, if there's anything available, that is."
Bert studied him for a moment, then opened one of his desk drawers and pulled out a folder. "It seems a shame to move you if you're happy with your current place."
Napoleon shrugged. "We all have to make sacrifices."
Bert leafed through some pages in the file, and made a little humming noise. "There's nothing nice in the area, I'm afraid. I don't think either of these places would do for you at all, just not your style. Let me see . . ." He leafed some more, and then stopped. "Huh. Looks like Mr. Kuryakin isn't all that particular about where he lives."
"What makes you say that?"
"His address," Bert said, a little smile hovering around the corners of his mouth. "And the one before it."
Napoleon chuckled. "Good point."
"There's an opening in your building," Bert mused.
Napoleon knew that. In fact, there were two.
"Actually, it looks like there are two," Bert amended.
Suppressing a smile, Napoleon shrugged. "Yeah, but that doesn't do me any good. I don't think changing floors would make much difference in how long it takes for me to get to Illya's or vice versa."
"No, no, of course not, I was just thinking, what if we moved Mr. Kuryakin instead? Since he doesn't seem to be all that particular. It wouldn't be a hardship, your building is quite a bit nicer than his."
Napoleon pretended to consider the idea, then shook his head. "No. No, Illya might not care where he lives, but he hates change. And believe me, if he got wind that he had to move because the available options weren't 'my style' he'd probably strangle me."
Bert chuckled. "Well, what he doesn't know won't hurt him, right?"
Napoleon lifted his eyebrows. "You'd do that?"
"Sure," Bert shrugged. "No skin off my nose. After all, it's the boss's idea. Besides, that rat-trap he's living in is scheduled for renovation next June, so he'd have to move then anyway."
"I don' t know," Napoleon said dubiously. "You're sure there's nothing that would work for me?"
"I'm sure," Bert said decisively. "Don't worry about it, I'll take care of everything. It'll take a week or so, though, I hope that's okay."
"I'm sure it'll be fine. You're a champ, Bert."
"Just doing my job," Bert said, but he looked pleased.
Napoleon stood up and picked up his bags. "Well, now that that's taken care of, I think I'll go home and do laundry. That's one of the things I like about my building, the laundry room in the basement."
"Maybe Mr. Kuryakin won't mind moving so much once he realizes he doesn't have to go six blocks to do his wash."
Napoleon chuckled. "Maybe so, maybe so." Pleased with the results of his meddling, he headed for home.
"Where have you been?"
Trying to push open the door, fumble his keys out of the lock, and still not drop either of his suitcases, the cold slash of the voice across his consciousness brought Napoleon to instant alert, both bags dropping heavily to the floor as he grabbed for his Special. And, almost as instantly, recognition of whose voice it was let his hand drop heavily to his side instead. Pulse pounding, he attempted to recover his poise as he locked gazes with Illya.
Clearly Illya didn't find that amusing. "Your plane landed two hours before mine. I checked at the airport and you deplaned with the other passengers. When I arrived home, I called here, and you did not answer, so I came over to see if perhaps something was wrong. You weren't here."
A prickle of irritation ran through him. "I'm a big boy, Illya, I haven't needed a babysitter in years."
"Is that so? In that case, explain to me why you didn't engage your security system while you were gone, and why you didn't check for intruders when you returned?"
Though he tried not to, he knew his face registered his surprise at the revelation that he'd forgotten to turn on the security system when he left. Damn it. He hadn't realized how preoccupied he'd been. That was an amateur mistake. Now he'd have to go over the place with a fine-toothed comb looking for bugs and traps.
"I already swept your apartment," Illya said, his voice still registering irritation. "Your luck has held as usual, and everything is as it should be."
For a second Napoleon wondered if he'd said that stuff about searching for bugs out loud, but he knew he hadn't. It was just Illya being Illya. Not to mention nosey. And for that matter . . . "How did you get in here, anyway?"
Illya rolled his eyes and didn't answer. Napoleon felt a little better about picking Illya's lock that night in California.
"You haven't answered me," Illya said pointedly.
"I stopped by the office."
"Was there some sort of emergency? I didn't receive any messages." Illya's tone was concerned now instead of annoyed, and he took out his communicator and looked at it as if to make sure it wasn't damaged.
"No, no emergency. Just something I needed to do."
Illya looked at him narrowly. "Something that was so urgent you had to do it before you even came home and left off your luggage?"
"If I wanted to be interrogated I'd go hunt up a THRUSH satrap," Napoleon snapped, getting annoyed himself.
Illya's gaze sharpened. "You're being defensive."
"I am not."
Illya lifted his eyebrows, which was even more irritating than the more traditional 'are too' would have been.
"I'm not," he reasserted.
Illya crossed his arms and leaned his shapely backside against the back of the couch, expressing disbelief without saying a word.
"Fine," Napoleon snapped. "You want to know what I did? I turned in my essay on 'what I did on my summer vacation.'"
It was probably a good thing Illya was leaning against the couch, because he went white so fast that Napoleon had a feeling he would have fallen had he not been propped up.
They stared at each other for long moments, and then Illya pushed himself away from the couch and moved toward the door. "I suppose it's good, then, that I did not take the time to unpack when I got home."
Napoleon watched his back, running Illya's words over and over in his head. What on earth did he mean by that?
"How long do I have, do you think, before they come to fetch me? There are a few people I would like to say goodbye to."
He understood finally, and could have kicked himself for being flippant. "Illya, no one is coming for you."
Illya turned to look at him, his face expressionless but his eyes fierce. "You cannot think Waverly will let this slide, can you?"
"Actually, yes, I can. He would. Even if he knew. Which he doesn't." At least he didn't think so.
"You're not making sense. You said you filed a report."
"No, I said I wrote an essay, which was a lame attempt to make light of things. Here in the States, when elementary school kids go back to school in the fall they have to write reports about what they did over the summer. I forgot you have no shared context for the reference."
"So you did not tell him about me?" Illya asked. Uncertainty sounded odd on him.
"I didn't tell him about us. I did tell him about me. And I have to say, partner, that I don't know how you did it. Telling him, and telling me, when you didn't know either of us well enough to even guess how we might react. . . 'you're a braver man than I. . .'"
"Napoleon, stop quoting Kipling at me and try to stay focused. How could you tell him about you without telling him it was my fault?"
"Firstly, there is no 'fault' here, remember?" Napoleon said firmly. "Secondly, I told him I had sex with a man. I didn't say who, and I didn't say where, and we left it at that."
Illya's expression clearly stated he thought Napoleon had lost his mind. "Why?"
"Because I didn't want you going in there all noble and self-sacrificing and telling him you'd despoiled my innocence, that's why. So I headed you off at the pass, so to speak."
The flash of guilty fury across Illya's face told him he'd been right. Illya opened his mouth, clearly about to refute Napoleon's assumption, only to close it again without speaking. He glared daggers at Napoleon for several seconds, and then the muscle at the right corner of his mouth twitched a little. Then more. "'Despoiled your innocence?'" he asked finally. "Where do you come up with these phrases? They're quite lurid."
"My sister used to read true-confessions magazines."
Napoleon moved closer, put his hand on Illya's shoulder, and let his fingers slide higher, up to the silky hair at the back of his neck, stroking lightly. "You're not mad at me are you?"
For a few brief seconds Illya leaned into his touch, his eyes drifting half-closed, then abruptly he pulled away, shaking his head as if to rid himself of the feeling of Napoleon's fingers against his skin. "Napoleon, stop. We agreed that this could not continue."
"No, we didn't, you decreed it by fiat," Napoleon pointed out angrily. "I had no say in the matter. You made the decision for us both. But you forget one thing, partner."
"And that would be?" Illya challenged, squaring his shoulders.
Napoleon pushed forward into his space, tapping a fingertip against his chest. "You live in the United States now, not a dictatorship, and over here it's one man, one vote."
"The Soviet Union is not a dictatorship, and with the electoral college, the United States. . ."
"Don't quibble, Illya, it's beneath you. Just admit it."
"Admit what? That the United States is a governed by form of representational democracy?"
"That you didn't even ask what I wanted."
"I did not have to ask, I knew what your answer would be. You rarely want to do the practical thing."
"Sometimes the practical thing isn't the right thing."
"It is this time."
"You sound like a child."
"Uh-uh, don't try to put my back up. Just answer the question."
Illya stared at him for a long moment, and then abruptly shook his head. "I refuse to dignify this conversation with a response. I am going home. Goodbye, Napoleon."
Napoleon waited until he had the door open and one foot in the hallway. "See you in the morning, Illya. Eight o'clock briefing."
Illya hesitated for a moment, and then nodded. "Eight o'clock."
The door closed behind him, and Napoleon took a deep breath and then let it out slowly. Illya had almost had him off on a tangent, almost gotten him mad enough to agree that being partners in more than work was a bad idea. It was only the look in Illya's eyes when Napoleon had demanded an answer that had made him realize what was going on. He'd recognized what he saw there. Fear. And more. Something Napoleon still couldn't bring himself to name, because it felt too much like tempting fate. But he had seen it there, just like he'd felt it last night when Illya came to his bed after the fight. Just like he'd sensed it that first night, out on the deck.
It scared him too. Very little frightened him any more, probably not the healthiest thing to admit, but this did. Not the thought of having this feeling, because he knew he already did, no matter what else happened. He had it. But the thought of losing it. . . was too awful to contemplate. The last time he'd felt this way about someone, it had damned near killed him when he lost them. Despite that, he wanted this badly enough to do whatever it took to make it work out. The fact that Illya hadn't answered his question told him that Illya had no answer. And he knew his partner well enough to know that eventually he would admit that. Illya had many talents, but self-delusion was not one of his better skills.
Knowing it would eventually be resolved was little comfort in the middle of the night, though, when he lay awake thinking about how empty his bed felt, even though it had been empty most of his adult life and it had never bothered him before. He snatched sleep in five-minute increments, feeling like he was on a mission with no one to guard his back. Morning came too soon, and he drank half a pot of coffee, showered, shaved, and strolled into the eight a.m. briefing as if he hadn't a care in the world. It was a façade he did well.
Illya was three minutes late to the briefing, earning a reproving stare from Mr. Waverly. Napoleon found the dark circles under Illya's eyes peculiarly comforting, as was the surly mood that hovered around his partner like the proverbial dark cloud, making everyone who knew him at all avoid him like a plague-carrier. After the briefing Napoleon retired to his office to finish paperwork that was now a week past due, and occasionally looked over at Illya's desk, wondering where his partner had gotten off to. He'd probably dreamed up a project that would take him down to the labs, and away from Napoleon. The fact that he needed that distance made Napoleon smile, just as the door banged open and a thunderous-looking Illya stomped into the office.
"What are you smiling about?" Illya snarled. "They are making me move," he announced, not giving Napoleon time to answer. Dropping heavily into his chair, he sent it rolling against the wall, which he then pushed away from as he swivelled to face Napoleon. "Apparently it takes us too long to get ready for our missions living so far apart."
Napoleon made a face. "Mr. Waverly made a comment to that effect to me a few weeks ago."
"Why do not you have to move, then?"
Napoleon shrugged. "Who knows? Maybe there wasn't anything in your neighborhood. Those cheaper places rent quickly."
"I like my neighborhood," Illya groused.
"There's a laundry room in the basement of my building," Napoleon offered, remembering Bert's suggestion.
Illya shot him a narrow-eyed look. "I did not say where I was moving to."
Uh-oh. "No, but I know there are a couple of open apartments there. I was just thinking that if they want us closer together, the only way we could be closer than living in the same building is if you moved in with me."
Illya's eyes narrowed further. "Napoleon," he said warningly.
"Do not make jokes like that."
"Who was joking?" Napoleon asked, still a little puzzled. Then he got it. "Oh." He felt a smile curve his mouth, one he was utterly unable to stop. "That would kill two birds with one stone, wouldn't it?"
"That is not amusing," Illya snapped.
"No, it's not," Napoleon agreed quietly.
Illya stared at him for several more seconds, and then shook his head. "I do not understand you," he said a little plaintively.
"Yes you do. Better than you'll admit."
Whatever Illya's reply would have been, it was lost as both of their communicators warbled, summoning them to Waverly's domain.
"Napoleon? Can I talk to you for a minute?"
Napoleon looked up from his lunch to see Gerry Barrett, Section Eight's second-in-command, standing in front of him.
"Sure Gerry, what's up?"
Gerry studied him, shaking his head. "Man, that last mission must've been a rough one. I was going to ask you to tell Kuryakin to go see a doctor because he looks like hell but you don't look much better."
Napoleon shook his head. "Actually, the mission went smoothly."
"Okay, if you say so," Gerry said dubiously. "You guys pick up dysentery over there or what?"
"I don't know about Illya, but I'm fine. Just burning the candle at both the Candy and the Carla ends, if you know what I mean." Napoleon winked, hoping Gerry didn't ask for last names.
Gerry chuckled. "Well that explains you, then, but not Kuryakin, since he's barely left the lab all week and we all know he has no sex life."
Napoleon knew both were true, at least here in New York. The only sign of his partner he'd seen since they returned from Tunisia a week previously were the files Illya left on his desk when he was out of his office. Illya was very definitely avoiding him, which he didn't understand. It had been clear during the mission that their partnership had not suffered noticeably from their brief intimacy. In fact, it seemed sharper than ever, every move coordinated, seeming to read one another's minds more often than not. Why avoid him now, when they'd proven that everything was fine?
Or had they? During the mission they'd been too busy staying alive to worry about anything extraneous. They were both highly skilled at compartmentalizing when needed. However, the days since the mission ended had been . . . difficult. Without a reason to compartmentalize, it was much more difficult. Thanks to his own meddling, Illya was now just three floors below him in the same building and Napoleon lay awake every night thinking about that fact. Remembering. Aching. He'd spent nearly his entire adult life taking, as Illya had put it, any port in a storm, and he was tired of it. He wanted that safe harbor he'd briefly experienced.
Judging by Gerry's comments, he wasn't the only one suffering. And that had to stop. For both of them.
"I'll check it out," he said. "Thanks for the head's up."
Gerry nodded, and wandered off. Napoleon looked at his lunch, no longer hungry. Standing, he took his tray and set it on the dish return conveyor, then set off for the science labs. Halfway there his communicator beeped. He sighed, and stopped in the corridor, pulling it out. "Solo."
"Mr. Waverly would like to see you."
He sighed. Timing. "Thanks, Laura, I'll be right there."
He turned back to the elevator, retracing his steps. Now what? He stepped into the suite and raised his eyebrows at Laura, who was on the phone. She nodded and waved him in.
As usual, Mr. Waverly sat at his desk, surrounded by files. Napoleon sometimes wondered if they were just props to make it look like he actually gathered information through normal means instead of simply absorbing it from thin air.
"Ah, there you are Mr. Solo." He paused, eyeing Solo critically. "Are you quite well?"
"I'm fine, sir," Napoleon said, masking his irritation. "What can I do for you?"
"I wanted to commend you on this new program you've instituted. I don't know why I didn't think of it sooner. It shows excellent initiative on your part."
Napoleon stared at him blankly. "New program?"
"Yes, this idea of having an enforcement team's domiciles located in close proximity for ease of departure. Mr. Warren told me about it. A fine solution to the problem we discussed some weeks back."
Oh, that program. "I thought it might make things easier," Napoleon said smoothly, covering his surprise that Mr. Waverly knew about his little scheme. He supposed it had been inevitable. After all, as head of Section One, Waverly got reports from everyone, including Bert Warren. "Illya was none too pleased, I'm afraid, but hopefully he'll come around."
"I'm sure he will. He knows where his duty lies. Let me know how the experiment goes, and when we can start implementing " He spent a few moments loading his pipe. Napoleon waited. He hadn't been dismissed, so he had no choice. As Waverly tamped down the tobacco, he looked up again. "Speaking of Mr. Kuryakin, he's seemed somewhat out of sorts lately."
"More than usual?" Napoleon quipped.
The old man favored him with a glance that told him his humor was not appreciated. "More so than usual, yes. I had hoped that a vacation would help, however I'm not sure but what it actually exacerbated the problem instead. As his partner, are you aware of anything that might be bothering him?"
Waverly pinned him with a sharp, birdlike gaze. Napoleon kept his own gaze even and candid, and after a moment Waverly nodded.
"You may be right about that. I probably should have anticipated that might be the case."
"To be fair, it's always difficult to anticipate problems in an unfamiliar area."
Waverly looked at him for a long moment. "I did attend public school, you know, Mr. Solo," he remarked. "Still, I am concerned about the situation. He's far too valuable to risk losing, especially over something so essentially trivial."
Though puzzled by the reference to Waverly's scholastic past, Napoleon wanted to protest that sex was hardly trivial. It was one of the most basic instincts a human being had, and in their profession, denied the normalcy of love and marriage, it was one of the few comforts an agent had. He supposed to a man Waverly's age it must seem trivial, though he knew better than to say that.
You and Mr. Kuryakin are close, are you not?"
"He's my best friend," Napoleon said, hoping it was still true.
"And as his friend I'm sure it pains you to see him unhappy."
"Very much," Napoleon admitted.
After a puff or two on his pipe, Mr. Waverly stood and wandered over to the window, looking out at the city. "Do you recall a conversation we had shortly after I made you chief enforcement agent, regarding your romantic attachments?"
"Yes sir." He remembered it all too well, and with not a little discomfort. That had been right after the first time he'd slept with Angelique without it being an assignment, and a delay caused by getting out of her clutches had nearly made him blow the mission he'd been on. Waverly had called him in and bluntly informed him that he didn't care who Napoleon slept with, so long as it never interfered with a mission again.
"Good. How is your history, Mr. Solo? Are you familiar with classical Greek military history?"
"Er. . . not really, sir. I'm afraid my studies were mostly in US history." Napoleon was getting more than a little lost. The way Mr. Waverly was bouncing from topic to topic like a crazed rabbit had him wondering if there was something in his pipe blend other than tobacco.
"The state of education in this country truly appalls me," Mr. Waverly tsked, waving his pipe for emphasis. "How is one to avoid making the mistakes of the past if one doesn't know what they were? Even the Soviets have more sense than that. Mr. Kuryakin's education was much more thorough."
"I suspect Mr. Kuryakin is somewhat of an anomaly," Napoleon said a little defensively.
"True, true," Waverly acknowledged. "All right then, since your grasp of history is regrettably sketchy, I suggest you do a little research, specifically as relates to the Sacred Band of Epaminondas."
"Might I ask what Greek military history has to do with anything?"
Waverly gave him the enigmatic look he used for a smile. "I believe all will become clear once you familiarize yourself with the subject." With that, he returned his attention to the stack of folders at his elbow.
Clearly dismissed, Napoleon exited the office, feeling confused and somewhat taken to task, even though nothing had been said that even faintly resembled a reprimand. And he still needed to track down Illya and find out if he actually had picked up some kind of bug on their last mission, and if so, shoot him with a sleep dart and find a mail-cart to wheel him to Medical on, because he'd never go on his own.
He pushed the call button on the elevator and waited as it climbed to the top floor. When the doors slid open they revealed Gerry Barrett, carrying a thick file, obviously on his way to the same office Napoleon had just left.
"Gerry! Just the man I wanted to see," Napoleon said heartily. "Where has my partner stashed himself this time? It'll save me a lot of time if I don't have to play hide and seek."
"Lab seven, fourth one on the left. He's analyzing some kind of energy-absorbing artificial rubber compound, last I heard."
"Thanks. Wish me luck, I'm about to take on the wolf in his lair."
Gerry looked at him in mock-concern. "I hope you have your Special."
Napoleon patted his jacket where his shoulder-holster marred the smooth line of the tailoring. "Loaded and ready," he said, pushing the button for the sub-level where the labs were located. The doors closed smoothly, and the car began to descend. He fingered his gun a moment, and then raked his hand through his hair. He almost hoped Illya was sick, because that would be easier to deal with. And Illya was going to know he was being checked up on if Napoleon didn't come up with some legitimate reason for tracking him down.
As the doors opened and he stepped out, the perfect excuse suddenly came to him, and he smiled. Since Mr. Waverly thought so much of Illya's education, Napoleon would put it to use and save himself a trip to the library. Not to mention the trouble of trying to figure out how to spell Epami-whatsis. Whistling a little, he headed down the hall to the lab section, and counted doors. He checked the security card outside the door, saw there were no toxicity precautions in place, and touched the access button. The sensor in the door read his badge level, the door obediently slid open.
He saw his partner sitting on a lab stool, hunched over and scribbling on a steno-pad. In front of him were several trays containing small pieces of something dark. An acrid, melted-plastic sort of scent hung in the air, and made Napoleon cough. Illya started at that, dropping pen and pad as he whirled to face the door. The fact that he'd actually startled Illya told Napoleon things were not good. The strain visible in his face as he looked at Napoleon after picking up the dropped items told him more.
"Gerry said you look like crap. He was right," Napoleon said, studying him.
Illya's chin lifted as he studied Napoleon. A flash of something that looked like concern lit his eyes, but then he looked away. "You have little room to talk," he growled after a moment.
Napoleon shrugged. "Yeah, but I'm not the one everyone's worried about. I guess it must be your sweet, sunny personality that turns everyone around here into mother hens."
Illya scowled. "I'm perfectly fine. There is no need for anyone to worry. What do you want?"
Illya sighed. "Napoleon . . ."
"And I know you feel the same way. You're just too damned stubborn to admit it."
"I never said I did not. But you know we cannot."
"You've said that. It's bull."
"It is not. You don't understand, people will . . ."
"I don't care what anybody else thinks. Yeah, so there are risks. We take risks every day. This is right, and I know it, and you know it, and if we can't be trusted to do the right thing, why are we working for UNCLE anyway?"
Illya flinched and turned away. "Napoleon, please. This is hard enough. Don't make me doubt the one thing I do believe in."
Napoleon wanted very badly to growl an extremely foul curse, but he didn't. He sighed instead. "I'm sorry. I went too far." Part of his training had been learning when to back off during an interrogation. He'd just hit that point.
Illya acknowledged the apology with a twitch of a shoulder.
"I had a meeting with Mr. Waverly just now," Napoleon said, trying to change the subject.
"Do we have a mission?" Illya asked, turning, clearly eager. At least they still had that.
"No." Napoleon walked over and looked at the little chunks of black stuff on the trays. "What's that?"
"It is apparently called 'Zectron™.'"
"What does it do?"
Illya picked up a piece and dropped it on the floor. It bounced crazily around the room, a little black rubber ricochet. "That."
"Ah." It came to a stop about a foot away, and Napoleon leaned over, picked it up, and squeezed it. It yielded slightly. Illya came over and took it out of his fingers, putting it back on its tray.
"I thought it might have a practical application. . . perhaps in the soles of shoes, to act as a kind of shock absorber. I cannot seem to predict the angle of the bounce, though, which is problematic."
"I can see how that would be. You wouldn't want to jump off a wall and bounce right into the arms of your enemies."
"Precisely." Illya poked at the sample. "Very annoying. So how was your meeting with Mr. Waverly?"
"Odd," Napoleon said, frowning a little as he perched on the other lab stool. He still couldn't quite make sense of the conversation.
"What did you talk about?"
Napoleon met Illya's curious gaze, and pulled in a deep breath. "You. Sort of."
Illya's expression went wary. "Me?"
"He's worried about you. Wanted to know if I knew what was wrong."
Illya's gaze moved to the tray of rubber fragments. "What did you tell him?"
"That it might have been kinder to let you starve, figuratively speaking of course." He laughed humorlessly. "And I can apply that to myself, too. Once you've had a five-star Michelin meal, it's tough to go back to bread and water."
Illya flushed, jaw tightening. "You have a ready-made banquet at your fingertips, Napoleon, you need only consult your address-book."
Napoleon shook his head. "Dessert is all well and good, but a man can't live on it. He needs something more nourishing."
"Did you tell Mr. Waverly that as well?" Illya asked in a mocking tone.
"No, but maybe I should've. The conversation was a little strange, though. A little Alice in Wonderland."
"In what way?" Illya sounded intrigued despite his irritation.
"Well, one minute we were talking about you, the next about where he went to school, then he reminded me about something he'd told me once, and finally he was quizzing me about ancient Greek history. He was kind of put out that I didn't know what he was talking about, said American schools are a disgrace. Ah, you wouldn't happen to know anything about a guy named Epami-somebody and a sacred band, would you?"
He'd never seen Illya's jaw drop before. It was kind of amusing.
"Mr. Waverly said . . . you. . . he . . ."
"Is something wrong?"
Illya stared at him with the most peculiar expression on his face. Almost as if someone had smacked him in the head with a two by four, except without the pain part. Just the dazed part. "Napoleon, tell me exactly what he said to you."
So Napoleon did. And when he finished, Illya still looked dazed. He sat quietly for a few moments, and Napoleon watched him, worried. Finally Illya came back from wherever he'd gone. "I . . . think I need to go for a walk, Napoleon. I will see you later."
And with that he walked out, leaving Napoleon, several trays of Zectron™ fragments, and all his notes behind. It was a very strange reaction to a very strange conversation, and Napoleon felt even more confused than he had been earlier. Figuring someone else might need to use the lab, he set about collecting Illya's samples, stacking the trays together and putting them on an unoccupied shelf at the back of the room. He was about to leave when a bit of colorful paper lying next to a waste-can caught his eye. Assuming it was trash that had missed the basket, he bent to retrieve it, glancing at it absently, and then looking more closely as he realized what he held was empty packaging from a child's toy ball. Made of 'Zectron™.' There were several other identical packages in the trash, no doubt the source of all the samples.
He chuckled, shaking his head. Leave it to Illya to want to turn a toy into something practical, when most of the rest of the world was trying to do just the opposite. But that was the essence of Illya, and Napoleon wouldn't have him any other way. Dropping the package into the trash with the others, he decided it was time to visit the library and find out what it was about ancient Greece that had shocked his partner so.
"Have you found it yet?"
Napoleon didn't jump at the soft query. He'd known he wasn't alone in the stacks, but his intuition had told him that whoever it was didn't pose a threat. His intuition had been right. Open book in his hand, he turned, and met familiar blue eyes. "No, I haven't. There's an awful lot of Greek history to search through." He waved at the long rows of books that flanked them on either side.
"That is what librarians are for," Illya pointed out, his eyes amused.
Napoleon smiled. "After your reaction I was afraid I might shock the poor old girl. I figured it was safer for me to just look for myself."
"Very considerate." Illya perused the shelves of multicolored spines. "Ah, there you are," he said, stooping to pull out a volume bound in stiff, shiny maroon cloth, worn white lettering gleaming along it. "Athenaeus."
"Ah." Napoleon was not enlightened.
"Plutarch, and Plato as well," Illya said, pulling two more volumes, one blue, one black. "That should do." He turned, took a few steps, and then looked back at Napoleon. "Coming?"
Hastily Napoleon shelved the book he'd been holding and followed. Illya led them out of the maze of stacks with the ease of long familiarity. Napoleon wondered how much time he spent here, and was unsurprised when the librarian at the check-out desk took his books and his worn library card, and then smiled.
"Greek history, today, Mr. Kuryakin? Not your usual choice."
"A little research, Mrs. Morrison. On orders of our superior."
"Oh, work." She made a face, stamped his books, and handed them back. "Well, 'enjoy.'"
He nodded, oddly solemn. "I believe I might." He tucked the books under his arm and headed for the door. A step behind, Napoleon stepped out into the misty afternoon and stopped to pull his coat collar up against the chill. Illya seemed not to notice the cold as he moved to stand below one of the lions, reached up and touched a paw, then looked back at Napoleon with a wry smile.
"When I first came to New York, someone told me it was good luck. I have done it ever since, when I come here. Silly, to be superstitious, is it not?"
"Not at all." Napoleon joined him on the step. "We need all the luck we can get." He echoed the gesture, the marble cool and slightly slick under his fingers. "Did you drive?"
"No, I took the subway. Did you?"
Napoleon nodded. "Car's over there, come on. How did you find me?" he asked, leading the way.
Illya arched an eyebrow. "I am a spy, Napoleon." At Napoleon's snort of derision, he relented. "You mentioned your destination to Marcie. She remembered, as it seemed somewhat out of character for you."
Napoleon touched the back of his hand to his forehead dramatically. "Such a trial, being just a pretty face."
"A façade you carefully cultivate."
"True," Napoleon acknowledged, unlocking the car and sliding in, leaning across to unlock the passenger door.
"Where to?" he asked as Illya settled.
Since there was no need to ask whose yet, Napoleon put the car in gear and headed out. The silence between them was comfortable, broken only by the soft whisk of the wipers across the wet windshield. Illya opened one of the books, paging through it, until he found what he was looking for, then taking the checkout-card from its pocket in the back to use as a bookmark. He repeated the process with the other two books. By the time he finished, Napoleon was pulling into the parking garage under their building. Illya got out first and headed to the stairwell, waiting for Napoleon and then leading the way to the third floor, finally unlocking a door Napoleon had only seen the outside of. They stepped into the unfamiliar apartment, and Illya reset the security system, then turned.
Napoleon surrendered it and Illya hung it next to his own in the tiny closet by the door. He watched as Illya then took off his suit-jacket and folded it over the back of a chair, then stripped off his tie, unbuttoned his collar and cuffs, and rolled back his shirtsleeves, baring strong, tanned forearms.
"Sit?" It was a question, barely.
Napoleon took a seat on the couch that was eerily reminiscent of his own. He supposed UNCLE bought them in bulk. Illya sat next to him, put on his glasses, and opened the maroon-covered book, running a finger down the page until he found the spot he wanted.
"Mr. Waverly suggested you look up the Sacred Band. They're mentioned in many histories, though most translations tend toward coy euphemisms when speaking of them, often changing 'lover' to 'friend' in order to obscure the text's true meaning. Athenaeus wrote of them: 'The regiment among the Thebans which is called the Sacred Band, is wholly composed of mutual lovers, indicating the majesty of the God, as these men prefer a glorious death to a shameful and discreditable life.'"
He laid the maroon book aside and opened the black-bound one.
"From Plato: 'The beloved, when he is found in any disgraceful situation, will be pained at being detected by his lover. If there were only some way of contriving that a state or an army should be made up of lovers and their loves, they would be the very best governors of their own city, abstaining from all dishonour... For what lover would not choose rather to be seen by all mankind than by his beloved, either when abandoning his post or throwing away his arms . . . who would desert his beloved or fail him in the hour of danger?'" He closed the book. "Shall I read the Plutarch?"
Napoleon shook his head, swallowing against the thickness in his throat as he finally figured out what Alexander Waverly had told him. Told them. "No need," he rasped. "Crafty old bastard,"
Illya nodded. "Indeed." He blinked and cleared his throat. "I underestimated him. A failing I will not commit again." He reached out, put a hand on Napoleon's arm. "You were right, Polya, and I was wrong. You had more courage than I, to see it, to admit it, to embrace it, to risk everything for it. I was afraid." His voice was quiet, low, nearly a whisper.
"No." Napoleon shook his head. "You're the bravest man I've ever known."
"Not so brave, to run from you and hide behind lies. I was never afraid of what people would say or do. I was afraid to admit the truth to myself, because if I did, it would make losing you too painful."
"You won't lose me."
Illya looked at him candidly. "I could lose you at any moment. Even were we not what we are, life is fragile. Taking pleasure in one another would make no difference in the pain I would feel if I lost you. As you said that night in San Francisco, we are already this close. I would already lose the sun if you died."
"Don't," Napoleon said automatically, with an agent's instinctive aversion to the mention of death. "The Gods might be listening."
Illya nodded, not making light of Napoleon's superstition, as Napoleon had not made light of his, earlier. "The sentiment remains."
Napoleon nodded, unwilling to try his voice at that moment.
"I should have trusted you," Illya said. "I always have before. I don't know why I could not with this."
"Trust doesn't come easy in our business."
"It has never come easily to me in any venue. But you have never let me down, Polya." He stood up and held out his hand, palm up, fingers slightly spread. It was shaking almost imperceptibly.
He had never seen Illya's hands less than steady before, and it made him understand that no matter how cool and in-control Illya seemed, he was every bit as rattled as Napoleon himself. It made it that much easier to grip Illya's hand like he'd done a thousand times before, and let himself be braced to his feet. Illya didn't let go once he was standing, either, and with their hands clasped together the tremor was no longer evident.
Napoleon pulled him close and for long moments they simply stood there doing nothing more than breathe. If their breathing was slightly ragged, neither mentioned it. He waited for Illya to make the next move. He always had before. After a while it dawned on him that Illya wasn't going to. Illya was leaving it up to him. This was the only way Illya knew to show him that he trusted him with this as he did his life.
He was tempted to panic, but the ability to panic had pretty much been trained out of him. He'd been taught to plan instead. So he did. Without letting go of Illya's hand, he brought his other hand around and unbuttoned Illya's shirt to where it disappeared into his trousers. Black and white. Always so very basic, Illya, save for the peculiar extravagance of that claret-colored jacket he claimed he'd bought off a Petticoat Lane street vendor for a quid.
Being in the lead was familiar, but at the same time everything felt a few degrees off true. He wasn't used to leading in unfamiliar territory. No, that wasn't quite it, since he did that all the time. It was more that he wasn't used to going into the field without the confidence of intensive training. However, a good agent was skilled at improvisation.
Sliding his hand beneath the crisp white cotton of Illya's shirt, he touched warm skin, trailed his fingers down ribs, across belly, dipped a fingertip in the well of navel, and just below that, stroked the start of the narrow line of silky down that enticed his fingers lower. Unfortunately there was a waistband and a belt in the way. He thought about undoing both where they stood, but decided that it would be better if they were within reach of a horizontal surface. Preferably a soft one. He pulled back a little, caught Illya's eye, and nodded toward the bedroom.
Illya nodded back and stepped away, moving toward the narrow hall at the back of the apartment. Napoleon followed, and Illya opened the door and let Napoleon into his bedroom. It was, Napoleon realized with a little surprise, the first time he'd ever been inside Illya's bedroom. Here, finally, were the few bits of personality the rest of the apartment lacked. A Soviet Naval officer's hat hung on a hook next to the closet door. A long woolen scarf had been carelessly flung across the top of the walnut-laminate dresser. It was striped lengthwise in blue and gray and bore Cambridge's distinctive red and white badge toward one end.
Only two pictures graced the walls, one a charcoal sketch of the Rive Gauche, a view he recognized from past trips to Paris, and a watercolor which at first he took to be an abstract. Then, like a distant image coming into focus as it grows nearer, the blurs of azure, white, gold and olive resolved into a recognizable whole, an ornate Russian Orthodox church, complete with onion domes and crosses, partially obscured by a hazy pattern of branches that looked ice-glazed. The whole thing felt cool, and evocative of another place and time. He liked it. A lot.
Illya noticed his gaze. "St. George's," he said simply. "When I was a boy in Kiev, if I stuck my head out the window and craned a bit, I could see it from our apartment building."
"It's very good. Do you know the artist?" he asked, leaning closer to the picture, looking for a signature.
"Indeed, I know him quite well.," Illya said drily from behind him. "So do you."
Napoleon turned quickly, startled, both eyebrows lifted.
"Another lifetime," Illya said with a shrug.
Napoleon absorbed that fact, more astonished by that information than he had been by any of his multifaceted partner's other talents. He looked at the strong, square hands that had an artist's skill with a gun, explosives, and hand-to-hand combat, and tried to imagine them holding a brush. Oddly, he could. The same delicate touch he used in bed would translate to the sweep of sable on paper. He wondered what a paintbrush would feel like against his skin. He shivered.
The bedroom was small and it took only three steps to be close enough to Illya for the warmth of his body to relieve that sudden chill. He put his hands on Illya's shoulders, stroked his thumbs up the sides of his neck, the familiar gesture suddenly made unfamiliar as his thumbs encountered stubble. The shiver returned. He still didn't understand why being with Illya this way was so much more erotic than being with a woman, but it undeniably was.
Illya turned his head toward Napoleon's right hand, pressing a kiss against his wrist. his mouth was soft, sweet, left a hint of moisture there to cool. He let his left hand slide down Illya's chest until it came to rest on the button of his jeans. Illya swayed toward him, very slightly, but enough. He undid the button, slid down the zipper, carefully. Illya gave a faint sigh-- relief no doubt. He wore his jeans rather snug, and denim was unforgiving. Putting both hands on Illya's hips, Napoleon slid his thumbs beneath both jeans and briefs, and maneuvered them over Illya's erection, letting them fall to pool around his ankles in an indigo and white cotton snarl. Illya toed off his shoes, stepped out the entangled clothing, and shrugged his unbuttoned shirt off.
Napoleon was mesmerized, as always, by Illya naked. Somehow, clothed, he seemed less. Nude, he was the wild animal Waverly had compared him to. Sleek, lithe, dangerous. And now, aroused. The taut curve of hard cock spoke for itself. Illya reached out, took hold of his tie, and tugged.
"Do you not feel a trifle overdressed, Napoleon?" Illya asked his voice husky, amused, and . . . something else. Something Napoleon couldn't quite identify.
"You're absolutely right."
Illya let go of his tie as he shrugged out of his jacket and hung it over the doorknob. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Illya turn back the plain navy rib-cord bedspread, then fold the top sheet and blanket to the foot of the bed. It wasn't a big bed, just a full, and simply made, but its turned-spindle posts were real oak, rather than the walnut veneer of the rest of the furnishings. He had a feeling the bed was Illya's, not UNCLE stock. He turned to the dresser and placed his cufflinks and tiepin by Illya's scarf, then coiled his tie beside to them. He made short work of the rest of his clothes, tucking his shoes under the bed, folding his shirt and pants and putting them on the dresser before turning back toward the bed.
His breath caught. Illya was in the bed, on his belly, arms folded beneath his head, one knee canted to the side, exposing the shadowy cleft between sculpted buttocks, a hint of the soft weight of testicles showing.
"Illya?" he asked, suddenly uncertain, not wanting to misinterpret.
"Show me," Illya said, face hidden against his arm. "I need you."
He couldn't reply. For some reason his gaze fixed on the small of Illya's back. How many times had he seen that sliver of back bared as Illya climbed or fought? His gaze ranged higher. How many times had he seen that lean back barely concealed by the thin translucence of a wet shirt? How many times had he seen these strong shoulders bloodied or bruised? He sat down, put his hand on Illya's back, and traced a finger down the hollow of his spine. Illya lifted into his touch like a cat, hips pushing against his hand. He leaned down and kissed the pale white lines of scars, each in turn, knowing the origins of nearly every one. Knowing he would find out the origins of the ones he didn't.
Illya shifted restlessly. "If you intend to kiss every scar I have, we will be at this all night."
Napoleon chuckled. Now that sounded like Illya. "Is that a problem?"
"Yes," Illya growled. "Was it not you who taught me that in America, one gets what one wants when one wants it?"
"And wasn't it you who taught me, quite recently, that good things come to those who wait?" Napoleon responded. And wait, and wait and wait, he remembered, fondly. He settled a hand lightly on the firm curve of Illya's left cheek, gripping slightly
Illya tensed under his hand, but made a satisfied-sounding noise. The contradiction between vocalization and body language was puzzling, but then, very little about Illya was straightforward. He let his fingers slide down to the soft fold where thigh and buttock met, traced the silky flesh downward, between his thighs, pressing where Illya's fingers had moved on him, showing him from the outside a little hint of what he got on the inside. Illya sighed a little and brought his knee higher, issuing an unmistakable invitation.
"Do you have . . ."
Illya slid a hand under his pillows, brought out a small, unmarked plastic bottle. "Here."
Napoleon took it, opened the flip-up cap, and poured some of its contents into his hand. It was thin, more like water than oil, and he was dubious until he rubbed his fingers across the puddle and felt how incredibly slick it was. "Wow. Where'd you get this?"
"Section Eight?" Napoleon echoed, astonished. "I didn't know they'd branched out into an . . .er . . . personal line."
"They haven't. It was designed to make getting into a wetsuit easier. It simply occurred to me that it had other practical applications."
"So I'm told."
There was something about the warm amusement in Illya's voice as he said that was nearly as erotic as the idea of using the slick stuff on him. Closing his eyes, he tried to stop the rising tide of need in himself and remember how this worked. It had been a long time since Kate. Not so long since Illya had prepared him, though. Thinking about that did nothing to quell the impulse to wrap himself around Illya and hump the closest available surface. He shook his head, disgusted. No finesse. No. Concentrate. He rolled two fingers against his palm until they were drenched and dripping, then he slid them into place against the impossibly small entrance to Illya's body, and pressed them in.
Resistance met his attempt, but he remembered from before that it was always that way and persevered, keeping the pressure steady and careful. Finally the tight muscles yielded, and his fingers slipped past the outer ring of muscle. Simultaneously Illya gasped, his back curving, and his hands shot out to grasp the headboard with enough force to make the sturdy spindles creak a little.
Napoleon stopped instantly, his fingers barely inside. "Illya?"
Illya shook his head, drew a deep breath, and his hands relaxed on the headboard. "Go on."
"I'm getting the idea you're not enjoying this," Napoleon said dubiously, debating whether it would be better to take his fingers out fast or slowly, wishing he could see Illya's face, but it was hidden against the side of one arm.
"It's nothing. I just . . . haven't much practice," Illya said.
That made sense. After all, they'd gone at it like minks out in San Francisco and not once had Illya offered this before. Clearly he preferred to lead. Napoleon understood the feeling. But variety was the proverbial spice of life. That had been part of Angelique's appeal. He smiled. He wouldn't need that particular seasoning again, not now that he had this.
He flexed his fingers a little, then pressed them in further. Felt the tight furl slowly open for him, felt flesh like hot silk clutching his fingers. Illya's taut back and thighs tempered his need, though, as did the sight of strong hands white-knuckled on wood. He frowned, trying to make sense of the signals. Illya wanted this, offered this, but when it came down to brass tacks he was reacting like an untried vir . . .
Understanding came to him in a jaw-dropping rush. After a few seconds he swallowed some saliva into his mouth, and managed to find his voice. "Just how much practice have you had?" he asked with studied nonchalance, trusting Illya not to lie to him.
"Ni odnogo," Illya muttered. "There was never anyone I trusted enough."
It took a great deal of willpower to neither yank his fingers out or come. Once Napoleon had managed to subdue both urges, he spared a moment for feeling like an idiot. He wasn't usually so dense about matters of the body, or the heart. It was how he had skillfully avoided a good many unpleasant entanglements over the years. But he wanted this entanglement, and he had to do this right. Carefully he slipped one finger free, leaving the other still in place, and felt Illya relax a little. Better.
He relaxed some himself, soothed his free hand down Illya's back, and touched the faint, silver cicatrice of a cigarette burn on his hip with his lips. Shifting his hand to Illya's shoulder, he pulled gently but firmly until Illya gave in and rolled to his side, face still turned against his arm, but unable to hide the lack of erection.
Napoleon shook his head and tsked. "What makes you think it would be any good for me if it's no good for you?" he asked softly, placing a kiss in the smooth, unmarked hollow of his hip.
"I knew it would eventually be good," Illya said quietly. "It could not be otherwise with you."
Napoleon felt his face go hot. "Thanks for the vote of confidence, but how about we try to make it good all along? Unless there's some reason to rush. Are we expecting company?"
Illya shook his head, finally turning his head enough that Napoleon could see the rueful curve of his mouth. "Not expecting, but untimely interruptions are more the rule than the exception."
"Did you forget that the Old Man already gave me an assignment? I have a feeling we're off the duty roster for tonight."
He took advantage of the surprised parting of lips to cover them with his own. He pushed Illya over onto his back, shifting to lie over him, letting his weight push Illya into his touch, probing deeper, moving his finger as he remembered Illya doing, searching. . .
Illya arched into stillness, a soft cry lost in Napoleon's mouth as his hands lifted to grip his shoulders tightly. Napoleon stroked him again, and Illya shuddered, and pushed his hips down hard, tearing his mouth free to pant for breath. Napoleon smiled.
"You can dish it out, tovarisch, but can you take it?"
The flash of competitive irritation in Illya's eyes widened his grin.
"I can take anything you can dish out, Napole. . . ah!"
The near-yelp that the reintroduction of a second finger made of the last syllable of his name was amusing enough to make him hide his face against Illya's shoulder and pant ostentatiously to stave off the giggles threatening to erupt. God, he'd forgotten that sex could be fun. The thought of what Illya's face would look like if Napoleon ever accused him of being 'fun' triggered the urge to laugh again, but it faded rapidly as Illya shivered against his hand and moaned, hips moving as sinuously as any belly-dancer's, pushing a rapidly-hardening cock against Napoleon's belly.
"Polya?" he breathed, sounding a little surprised.
"Mmm?" Napoleon concentrated on stroking him, small movements, gentle, but firm. Tried to ignore the aching throb in his own groin. God. Finesse, Solo, finesse, he reminded himself.
Illya was finally relaxing around his fingers, so Napoleon changed tactics, flexing his hand in a rhythmic pattern, push-pull, until Illya's hips took up the movement in counterpoint. That didn't help Napoleon's efforts at control, since every time Illya moved, the silky skin of his abdomen rubbed maddeningly against Napoleon's cock. He tried to shift away a little, which only made things worse. Instead of getting less stimulation, he was getting more.
Illya clearly thought that was a great idea, as he rocked against Napoleon, painting a wide streak of damp heat across his belly. Napoleon started to move away again, but Illya had other plans. Illya flexed, heaved, and thighs that he had seen break a man's neck were suddenly wrapped firmly around his waist, trapping him.
"Bozhe!" Illya gasped, shuddering at the change in angle. After a moment he locked gazes with Napoleon, his pupils so dilated the blue irises were just thin coronas around endless depth. "More. Now."
The order made Napoleon smile. That was his Illya. Even when he was in the supposedly passive role, he was still in charge. It was a wonder he ever took orders at all. Still, it did seem like maybe it was time. Thank God. He pushed at Illya's thigh with one hand. "Let me up, and turn over."
Illya shook his head. "No." He lifted a hand, touched Napoleon's face with careful fingertips. "This way. I want to see you."
This way? Napoleon frowned a little. They hadn't done it 'this way' before. "Ah, how?"
"Let me. . ." Illya groped around one-handed until he found the little bottle, and managed to flip the top open and drip some of the slick liquid onto his hand. Dropping the bottle again, he reached between them, his hand closing slick and tight around Napoleon's cock, coating him liberally.
"Holy. . ." Napoleon hissed, gritting his teeth, his whole body taut with the effort of not losing control. "Warn me next time," he managed, as the world stopped spinning.
Illya nodded. "There. Now. . ." He shifted under Napoleon. "Brace your arm . . . yes, there." Curving his hips higher, Illya guided him to where his fingers were still pressed inside. "Simple, yes?"
Very. He eased his fingers free and replaced them with his cock, watching Illya's face as his lips parted, his eyes closed, his chin lifted, his neck arching. He whispered something unintelligible, a quick flinch tightening his features, then smoothing out as Napoleon held still, listening with his whole body for the signal to move further. He would not come. He wouldn't. He had to make this good.
After endless seconds Illya sighed, eyes opening, mouth curving upward. His hands moved to stroke Napoleon's back, and that was it, the signal he'd been waiting for that he hadn't known he was waiting for. He pressed forward, satin flesh enfolding him glove-tight, body-hot. "Ah, God," he whispered. "God." He couldn't stand it. He had to. . .
Illya lifted his head a little, and Napoleon bent his, meeting him halfway, lips touching, tongues sliding slick and perfect, echoing the movement of their bodies.
"More," Illya whispered. "Give."
Napoleon complied, moving mindlessly, joyously, meeting strength that matched his own, and not caring that Illya's fingers were leaving bruises where they gripped his hips, pulling him hard into each thrust. More. Give. Everything. Panting, knowing he was close, he worked a hand between their bodies, closed his fingers around the rigid length trapped against his belly, and pumped it hard as he would his own in some heated midnight fantasy.
Illya arched, and gasped, pulsing tight around him just seconds before slick heat spilled over his fingers. Yes. Somehow he'd done it right. He hadn't let Illya down. Trust as strong between them as always. He groped, found Illya's hand, and laced their fingers together. "Us," he growled. He finally let himself go, spending so hard his whole body shook with it. "Us," he breathed against Illya's neck.
"Nas," Illya returned sleepily.
"Any questions about the mission and your respective roles, gentlemen?" Mr. Waverly asked, looking from Napoleon to Illya and back.
"No questions," Napoleon said, "but I suggest a minor change in assignments."
"What change would that be?"
"Put me in as the motorcycle courier, and let Illya drive the backup car." He hadn't missed the ginger way that Illya had eased his posterior onto the conference-room chair this morning, and figured that spending the day on a motorcycle would not necessarily be a welcome duty.
Waverly frowned, and chewed at his pipestem for a moment. "Your reasoning, Mr. Solo? It seems to me that Mr. Kuryakin is better suited for the role. I'm afraid you lack a certain rebellious quality."
"I'll fake it," Napoleon said, thinking fast. "Illya fell yesterday, at the, ah, library. If things get hairy, I want whoever's on that bike at one-hundred percent, which he won't be if he's favoring a sore . . . leg."
Illya glared at him.
Mr. Waverly raised an eyebrow, his gaze swinging toward Illya. "You fell?" he inquired, clearly not believing a word of it.
Napoleon wished he could control that tell better, that damned 'ah.' Knowing Waverly wasn't looking at him, he mouthed: "Play along," at Illya.
Illya hesitated, then tucked his chin, eyes downcast, deceptively demure. "Yes, sir. I fell. Quite hard." His gaze flashed upward at the last, meeting Napoleon's eyes directly, barely-banked heat gleaming in them.
'So did I, partner,' Napoleon thought.
Waverly chewed his pipe some more, and then sighed and waved it vaguely in the air. "Very well, I suppose that will do just as well. Off with you now. I've other teams to see to."
"Thank you, sir," Napoleon said, picking up the case file and standing to leave. "Coming, Illya?"
He saw Illya open his mouth to make a snide retort, then he thought better of it. "Yes, Napoleon." He pushed himself out of his chair, and faked a limp as he followed. The limp mysteriously disappeared as soon as the doors closed behind them.
"Aren't you going to thank me?" Napoleon asked, once they were out of earshot of Waverly's bat-eared secretary.
"I like motorcycles," Illya complained.
"Not today, you wouldn't."
Illya considered that, and finally nodded. "Probably you are right."
"Of course I am." He waited a moment, and then prompted. "Well?"
"Thank you, Napoleon," Illya said, sounding like an eight-year-old thanking his maiden aunt for a pair of bunny slippers.
"If you really want to ride . . ."
"No, that is quite all right. You may indulge yourself in playing 'bad boy.' I know you just want to wear the leather jacket."
Napoleon chuckled. "True. You know, I've been meaning to ask you, and seeing Mr. Waverly just now reminded me. What does the school he attended have to do with anything? I mean, everyone goes to public school. It's not a big deal."
Illya stopped, eyed him, and smiled. "You are thinking of American public schools, Napoleon. English ones are quite different. I think you would call them boy's schools."
"Oh." It still didn't make any sense. They walked a few more steps, then suddenly Napoleon stopped, thought about the implications, and shuddered, making a face. "I really didn't want to know that."
"You're supposed to know what I need and not answer if I don't really want to know."
"I'm not psychic, Napoleon."
Napoleon smiled. "You're damned close, though. Come on, we've got work to do. Another day, another nest of birds to disturb."
Illya rolled his eyes, and followed.
Volkswagen of America incorporated in 1955 so it's possible for someone to have a 'rattletrap Beetle' by the time this story is set.
Zectron™ is the trademarked name for the substance of which Superballs are made. A composite of polybutadiene, with small amounts of sulfur to reinforce the material and serve as a vulcanizing agent. According to the patent, the ball was molded under some one thousand pounds of pressure per square inch at a temperature of about 320 degrees Fahrenheit. The compound wasn't created until 1965, so I'm fudging a bit. :)
Transliterated Russian phrases from http://translation.paralink.com/. It's been nearly 30 years since I took Russian so I needed help. Fortunately Shay steered me to the above link. I'm assuming pretty much everyone knows 'da,' 'nyet,' and 'tovarisch.' The other Russian phrases used are:
Gavno! Chort vozmi, shto ti zdes' delayesh?: Shit! What the devil are you doing here?
"Moi droog,": My friend.
Izvenitye . . .: Excuse... (broken off, would have been 'excuse me.')
Ne shevelis'.: Be still.
Da, vozl'ublennyj, medlennej, bud' ostorozhen.: Yes, lover, slow down, be careful.
Ni odnogo.: None.