The Red Pawn Affair

by Mishka

October 22, 1962

Napoleon was punishing Illya because he was annoyed. It was Monday and they had just flown in from Europe. It was because it was Monday that Napoleon was annoyed. So he had dropped Illya at U.N.C.L.E. headquarters to handle all of the paperwork related to the mission and headed off to meet a date he had arranged after they had arrived at the airport. Illya didn't mind about the paperwork. Doing it himself was easier than fixing Napoleon's mistakes. He did mind that Napoleon had left him at headquarters with his luggage and no ride to his apartment, which was inconvenient, but somehow not too surprising. Napoleon was feeling..."frustrated" and he wanted Illya to know it.

"No, Napoleon. Must I keep explaining the rules to you on every mission?" He sighed in a blend of mock and genuine annoyance. He couldn't tell if Napoleon was simply teasing or was serious. "Missions are too dangerous for 'extracurricular' activities."

"But the mission," Napoleon said, pulling Illya tightly against him and breathing warmly on the back of his neck in such a fashion as to cause the hair on Illya's legs to stand up, "is over."

Overcoming this tempting invitation, Illya pulled away. "No, it is not. The mission is not over until we are safely back at headquarters."

"You're suggesting that there are loose ends?"

"There may always be loose ends. I had one such 'loose end' stab me in the shoulder on a previous mission. I will not make such a mistake again and I will not risk making such a mistake with your safety just to satisfy your libidinous desires." He recalled the event in question and unconsciously rubbed the scar in question. He mentally thanked his gymnastics and ballet instructors for the rigorous training that had enabled him to twist like an eel and so avoid the original deadly thrust of the assassin's hand.

He headed toward the bathroom. Napoleon moved to cut him off. "If your shoulder is bothering you I could massage it for you," he offered in his most charming and seductive tones, laying one strong hand on his partner's shoulder and beginning to work the muscle. Illya drew in a long, slow breath to demonstrate his exasperation, and to control any physical reaction that this enormously appealing offer had for him.

He gave an exaggerated sigh. "Napoleon, I made you agree to two simple rules when we began our relationship. What were they?"

Napoleon stepped back, crossed his hands in front of him and began to recite as if he were a schoolboy. "No physical relations on missions, period, end of story. And we restrict our relationship to the weekends. Did I get them right, mother?" He cocked his head to the side so his forelock fell beguilingly down on his forehead.

"Now if you would ever act according to them, we would be doing well."

"I am not rule oriented. You know that. I trust to luck and work things out as I go along. ... And besides, it is a weekend."

"It is a mission first, a weekend second. And if you want to be with me, you will follow these rules because I have excellent reasons for both of them. They have to do with preserving both our necks and our positions. So if you will excuse me, I am going to brush my teeth and start reading the latest Annalen der Physik before I go to sleep." With a skip and sidestep he eluded his partner and succeeded in making the safety of the bathroom.

Illya had set the boundaries with Napoleon for specific reasons. The one pertaining to missions was obvious. The rule about weekends came from maintaining their already, somewhat strained public reputation as straight male partners who were simply, very good friends. Napoleon, forced to occupy his time during the week, maintained his previous habits of dating various women most of the time. Illya, long used to this behavior, found it did not bother him most of the time, although on occasion, when Napoleon chose to be especially perverse, he knew ways to spark his partner's jealousy through his behavior. Doing so was dangerous, however, because Illya rapidly discovered that he could just as readily spur Napoleon's love of the hunt with carefully chosen looks or gestures, or by making casual references guaranteed to turn his partner's thoughts back like a compass needle to his north.

Illya's understanding of Napoleon's hunting instinct underscored his determination to hold to the weekend rule. He realized that for Napoleon the excitement of attempting to seduce him into breaking it added to the desire, and for adrenalin driven people like the two of them, stimulation was as necessary as air. The rule about not having sex while on a mission, however, was different. He had no intention of breaking it, and he had a hard time making Napoleon comprehend the difference.

While in the bathroom, Illya changed into his baby blue pajamas, the ones that Napoleon had lately taken to referring to as his "safety pajamas," at least when he wasn't complimenting him on well they brought out the color of his eyes. He re-entered the bedroom to discover Napoleon lying on his own bed writing up mission paperwork, an activity he regarded with immediate suspicion. "If you are going to pretend to be busy, Napoleon, you should choose something it is remotely possible that you might actually be doing."

"I thought I would help us get a head start on the paperwork instead of putting it off until the last minute," Napoleon responded virtuously.

Illya, having tossed his clothes in the general direction of his bag, regarded him with the utmost suspicion, "Unh hunh." Then he looked around. "What have you done with my journal?"

"What journal?"

"The Annalen der Physik, the journal I told you I was going to read. I left it on my bed and you have taken it."

"Why on earth would I take a physics journal that I couldn't possibly understand? I suppose it might help me get to sleep, though. Maybe I should try borrowing those from you while we travel just for that reason." He mimicked opening a communicator and then spoke in a semblance of a Russian accent, "Open Channel D. Mr. Waverly, I regret to report that Mr. Solo just died of boredom when he was accidentally exposed to one of these tedious journals I am always reading. " He switched to a cultured British accent, "How many times have I tried to warn you about leaving those about where 'ordinary mortals' might find them Mr. Kuryakin?"

"So you are boasting about your intellectual inferiority? That is an interesting argumentative strategy."

"I'm merely saying that I have better and more interesting things on my mind."

"Sometimes I think you have only one thing on your mind."

"Perhaps, but you like me that way."

"You make a pleasant diversion, on occasion," Illya admitted with an amused half smile, "however, if you are going to refuse to hand over my journal, I am going to turn out the light and go to sleep. We have an early flight in the morning."

"I still have to change into my pajamas, mother."

"Perhaps you should have thought of that before you started stealing my property," Illya said as he reached for the light and plunged the room into darkness. He heard Napoleon stand up toss the papers he obviously had not been working on aside. He heard him fumble around, curse softly after barking his toe on something, make his way to the bathroom and then Illya was momentarily blinded as Napoleon flooded the room with light before he shut the door. Napoleon came out again shortly and went to his own bed and lay down.

"You can come and sleep with me if you promise to behave."

"I'm not sure I can promise that."

"Then I'm not sure you can come and sleep with me, but I hope you will." A pause of several seconds and then he heard Napoleon get up and move over to join him. "You better be wearing your pajamas or I am sending you straight back over there." A pause. Napoleon returned to his bed briefly and came back again, this time getting under the covers.

He felt Napoleon curl up around him, appropriately clad. "If you try to screw me while I am asleep I will know and I will make you suffer for it morning," Illya yawned.

"Sometimes you are one big pain in the ..."

"No, that is you, but not tonight, so stop complaining, rude American."

Napoleon pulled him close. "Tiresome Russian," he whispered softly as he gave Illya a hug and gently stroked his hair.

"Annoying American," Illya responded sleepily as he laced his fingers between Napoleon's and snuggled backwards so he could be safely cocooned in the curl of his partner's body.

Illya had barely received his #2 badge from the receptionist when he received a page on his communicator from Mr. Waverly's secretary Sheila, "Mr. Kuryakin, please report directly to Mr. Waverly's office."

"On my way. Kuryakin out."

One swift elevator ride and a long hallway later Illya entered Mr. Waverly's office, where he found the older U.N.C.L.E. chief flipping through some papers on his desk with a disturbed look on his face. "Ah, Mr. Kuryakin, I'm glad you're here, but I'm afraid the reason I've had to call you in is somewhat puzzling."

Illya stood silently waiting to see what this was about.

"We have received a request from the Soviet Embassy in Washington demanding your return."

"My return, sir?"

"Yes, they have asked that you be 'returned to them immediately.' Those were their precise words. The implication was that you were to be withdrawn from our service."

For a moment, Illya felt as though his world had stopped, and then as though it had reversed direction. He wasn't breathing. He could hear his pulse, pounding in his ears, making him feel dizzy and unfocused as though he might keel over at any moment. Unconsciously he reached out to place a hand on the edge of the desk. Mr. Waverly was watching him attentively.

"I take it this is as unexpected to you as it was to me. Apparently they intend for you to withdraw from U.N.C.L.E. and go to the embassy and report for further duty to a Mr. Aleksandr Fomin."

"Aleksandr Fomin." Illya repeated Mr. Waverly's words.

"Aleksandr Fomin, or more accurately Aleksandr Feklisov , the head of the KGB here in the United States." This was a statement, not a question. Mr. Waverly knew the true identity of the KGB Station Chief. "Apparently they are looking at putting you back in harness again Mr. Kuryakin. I must say I don't understand this abrupt about face on their part, but I have been unable to speak with Mr. Fomin to discuss the reasoning behind his decision.

"As a result," he continued, "I'm afraid that I find myself in a most difficult position. Of course, I wish to retain your services. I believe that you know that I consider you one of our finest agents. However, you have always been officially 'on loan' to us, as it were, at the discretion of your government. The understanding was that it was, for all practical purposes, a permanent assignment. But, as I said, given the formal agreement, Fomin is entirely within his authority to make this request as far as I know.

"Assuming that you would still prefer to stay in U.N.C.L.E.'s service if you had a choice," he paused to get a reaction. Illya nodded numbly. "My thought is to temporarily suspend your service contract but not actually withdraw you from your position. We'll send you to Washington to meet with Fomin and perhaps in the interim I can get some sort of official answer out of the embassy. With any luck we will be able to straighten this out and get you back here. But if not, we can take care of any paperwork and packing up your belongings and send your things on to you if necessary. I expect Mr. Solo will be able to sort out what you need or want to keep.

"In any case, you need to go home and pack your essential belongings and head to Washington today. As soon as possible. Leave your U.N.C.L.E. documentation, communicator, devices and weapons here in your desk. That way they will all be together for your, shall we say, hoped for return. Lock your desk and leave the key in Mr. Solo's."

"Napoleon." Illya almost whispered the name. He didn't even realize he'd said it aloud and Mr. Waverly discretely let it pass. Would he see his partner before he had to leave?

Illya stood in his apartment looking around. He'd taken a taxi to get here. He had two cases essentially packed. The contents were mostly clothes, toiletries, a small packet of personal papers and a few books. The rest of his books, records, clothes and belongings, he was leaving behind, many perhaps for good. Then his eyes fell on his chess set, all set up to play on the small table by the window.

"Why is it we always play using my chess set?" Napoleon had asked one Sunday afternoon as Illya was setting up the board while he poured them each a drink and sliced some cheese to have with crackers.

"Because it would be difficult to play with mine since I do not own one," Illya responded, setting up the black pieces for himself after having set out the white ones for his partner as a nod to the host.

"What do you mean you don't own one? You've been playing chess all your life. You must own one. Do you mean it's just not as nice as this one?" Napoleon's set was actually one of two he owned, both beautifully crafted. This one was had hand carved onyx pieces while the other consisted of pieces made of hand-turned wood, polished to the golden warmth of autumn leaves catching the sun.

Illya looked at him with amusement turning up the corners of his mouth. "No," he said carefully, "I mean I do not own one. In point of fact I have never owned one. One does not need to own a set to play chess." He bit down on his lip to prevent himself from laughing at his partner's look of astonishment.

"Not even a little inexpensive set?"

Illya shook his head, his eyes sparkling with amusement. "Not even. Really Napoleon, you act as though this were some sort of tragedy. Americans seem to regard owning things as an absolute necessity of happiness. We had sets in school, and at the orphanage when I was there. A few people even had them on the submarine where I was assigned. Friends had them all through college, even in U.N.C.L.E.'s survival school. I do not believe I have ever thought to myself, 'What I need more than anything is a chess set.'"

They had gone on to play that afternoon, but Napoleon could not get it out of his head that his best friend and partner in all things, and an excellent chess player, did not own a chess set. And so began a personal quest to find the perfect set as a gift. He spent an inordinate amount of time searching the city and other cities where they travelled on missions, never quite finding what he was looking for. He saw lots of different sets: ornate sets carved out of ivory where the men were delicately carved like armies of ancient Chinese warriors, modern Danish sets of soapstone that felt delightful in your hands—so smooth that holding a piece was like a caress, very traditional sets in black and white veined marble with stolid little pieces, and exotic steel sets with pieces so abstract it was hard to distinguish which particular pieces were which. (This last was not hard to discard from the list of possible choices.) Finally he found one he liked in a little import shop in Greenwich Village.

The set had red and white stone pieces. He liked the fact that the pieces were red rather than black, a little inside joke for his Russian friend. But it was the pieces themselves that particularly pleased him. They were hand carved in a representational style, looking like the figures, rather than abstractions, and unlike many sets the pieces had an artist's touch, with each piece being slightly different and each looking surprisingly animated. Each pawn posed in a slightly different attitude, holding his spear either defensively or offensively, in tune with his features and posture. The kings and queens each had different raiments and hair as well as facial expressions. The knights charged and leapt in various displays of prowess and valor, and the rooks were fighting elephants with castles on their backs and small figures mounted on their necks brandishing bows and arrows. The set cost the earth, and he didn't care. It was perfect.

The present left Illya speechless. Eventually he simply said, "Napoleon, it was not necessary. But . . . thank you ." After a minute or two, he gathered himself enough to cock one eyebrow and look mischievously at his friend, "Are you sure you are not feeling guilty about something?"

"If I was, you would never find out, you are not a good enough agent," Napoleon said with one of his most enigmatic smiles, but the twinkle in his eyes made Illya catch him in his arms and give him a hug and warm kiss by way of a thank you that was somehow easier for him to express than finding the right words.

Releasing Napoleon with a suggestion in his look of further gratitude to come he returned his attention to his new chess set. He happily examined each piece with such attention and care that even Napoleon, who liked his presents to be appreciated, eventually said, "You can examine them under a microscope later, let's play a game." It wasn't long, however, before Napoleon discovered an unexpected benefit to himself from his present. Illya's new set ruined his play. He had an unconscious reluctance to sacrifice any pieces because he loved them so. As a result, Napoleon quickly checkmated his partner by trapping his king in a crowd of his own pieces, unable to move and not quite sure how it had happened. Napoleon managed to exploit this weakness a couple more times before Illya saw how he was defeating himself, but even then he struggled dreadfully, especially when it came time to send a knight or rook to its fate.

Looking at the present he loved so much, Illya recalled both the further "expressions of gratitude" that he had paid Napoleon and also all of the times he and his partner had played on it since. He still found it hard to sacrifice the rooks and knights and it had become part of the game for he and Napoleon to engage in complex and vastly entertaining negotiations, deals and activities in order that he could keep them. He found his eyes becoming moist. Illya swallowed. He had not seen Napoleon at U.N.C.L.E. Illya had considered calling him on his communicator before leaving it at the agency, but eventually decided that it might be easier for both of them if he left without doing so. If he saw Napoleon, Illya didn't know if he would be able leave. He went to his chess set and began packing the pieces into the box the board made when folded in half.

Napoleon arrived at Illya's apartment shortly after one in the afternoon. He pounded on the door, using the code that they always used with each other even as he dug for his keys with his other hand. He heard it rattle in its frame from the strength of the blows. He didn't hear any sound from beyond the door as he shoved the key into the lock. He didn't notice that his hand was shaking.

As soon as he opened the door he knew Illya was gone. He couldn't have said how he knew, but the name he was about to call out died in his throat. And he knew too that Illya had left the place with the intent of not returning, or at least possibly not returning. He could feel it in the air. He looked around. It didn't look that different. His records were still there, and his record player. And almost all of his books were still piled around in the haphazard piles that somehow never prevented him from laying his hands on the one he wanted. And there were journals tossed about as always. There were even a few clothes in the closet. And that ridiculous chair he sat in to read was still by the window, with its light on the small table beside it. The bed was stripped, which could have been an ordinary change of linen, but somehow it wasn't. It was as if these had become props for a play of Illya's life, no longer used by the real man but waiting for a stand-in to come in and take them up.

Looking around with an agent's eye, he noticed things besides clothes were missing: he identified four books seemed to be gone, one of which he knew for sure was Melville's Moby Dick of all things, while he was fairly certain another was Tolstoy's War and Peace. He thought the other two were a complete collection of Shakespeare's works and Victor Hugo's Les Miserables but he wasn't sure. Even at his partner's voracious reading rate, those ought to give him something to chew over for a bit. He smiled. One of the little suspected aspects of Illya's nature was his romantic side, most visible in his reading choices. He felt his throat catch, wondering whether he would have the opportunity to tease him about that again.

He saw too that the chess set was gone, as well as the small wooden chest, enameled in the Russian style, in which he kept a few small keepsakes of a personal nature. He had never seen what was in that box, although he had occasionally seen Illya tuck something inside it. Recognizing the absence of these two items, more than anything else, made his partner's departure real to him, and he found himself sitting down heavily in Illya's reading chair and staring out the window into an urban landscape that seemed gray and bleak and endless.

"Oh Illy, I'm sorry," he whispered softly, not even noticing the couple of tears as they wended their way slowly down his face.

The train was pulling into Union Station. Illya was still feeling numb, despite having had a few hours to process the change that had come over his life. As many times as his life had been changed by the events of a moment, one would think he would be used to it by now, would have learned not to get comfortable, to let his guard down. But he had. He had allowed himself to think that perhaps he might be permitted to stay at U.N.C.L.E. He loved working there, felt as though he was making a contribution that was meaningful and actually using his talents. Although he still lived a life spent looking over his shoulder, it was different now. In America one did not have to constantly be on one's guard about every conversation. Even though he knew that both the KGB and the CIA spied on him, not to mention the ever present threat of THRUSH, their scrutiny was minor compared to the constant observation of family and neighbors that was the way of life in the Soviet Union. The thought of returning to that fishbowl existence bore down on him like one of those medieval pressing tortures. And he could not even bear to think of Napoleon. If his friend's face started to form, he firmly pushed it down into a sealed section of his mind, carefully guarded from prying eyes. In order for them not to find him, he too must not see him.

Illya gathered his belongings and headed to the taxi stand. He took a cab to the Embassy, mentally assuming a role as he would for a mission. He had concluded that this would be his best survival strategy for the time being. The Illya he had become was not prepared to be here, so he took on a role of someone who was, that master KGB agent he'd played previously, his own version of the infamous Frozen Soul, the KGB interrogator.

Having paid off his taxi, and given his driver a good tip as a sort of final act as Illya, he entered the Embassy and asked for Fomin, giving the secretary a cool, impersonal stare along with his name. She spoke briefly into the phone and he observed that she seemed to draw more into herself, telling him his persona was in place. Moments later he was escorted to the Rezident's office.

[All subsequent conversations take place in Russian unless otherwise indicated.] "Comrade Kuryakin," Aleksandr Feklisov stood and greeted him. "Does it feel good to be back on Russian soil again?"

Illya permitted himself a small tight smile. "At this point, it does not feel that different from American soil, comrade."

"Very true, comrade." The voice, like ice came from behind and to the right of him.

Illya turned and felt just a fraction's hesitation when he realized that the speaker was the Frozen Soul himself, Dmitri Aleksandrovich Todorov. Todorov was a small man, shorter than Illya at a mere 5'4" (although still taller than the Premier), with a slender build and thinning brown hair. His eyes were a rinsed-out, unhealthy blue just as his skin was the greyish-white of something that had been left in the basement too long and gone slightly off. He wore wire-frame spectacles that gave him a bookish appearance and had thin pale lips and oddly pale eyebrows and lashes, all of which tended to give him a weirdly blank expression and enabled him to vanish into the background. He would, Illya thought, make an excellent double-agent because drabness was a desirable quality in that profession. But Todorov had found his own niche in the KGB as one of its most formidable interrogators.

This little man who disdained to carry a weapon or wear a uniform would walk into a room with suspects and look down , and those cold, emotionless eyes would gaze at them as though at a beetle fixed to a board and begin peeling back their lives with a degree of psychological perception that was as impressive as it was terrifying. Terrifying because while he clearly understood completely how humans interacted and how emotions drove them, he understood it strictly in an academic sense, as one who observed it in others and found it interesting to poke his subjects to see them jump according to his expectations. He actually felt nothing and had no true emotional register with which to comprehend and feel that which he intellectually understood. And so like one who can not feel pain, he constantly tested to see what extremes he could provoke people to just to see what they could emotionally withstand and so further refine his understanding. The first step to destruction with Todorov was to appeal to the emotions he did not have. He did not bother to pretend.

"Comrade Todorov, it has been several years," Illya sliding into his own version of the figure before him.

Todorov looked at him slowly. He never hurried or rushed. He recognized that others became nervous by being made to wait. Illya expected this. It had been many years since he had seen Todorov, but he was no longer a junior KGB officer and he had been through much since then, much more than this man knew, and he too had learned used the virtue of silence and the gaze. He met Todorov's eyes and permitted himself just the tiniest tease of a cruel smile.

"Indeed. The Rezident and I wondered exactly what we would find when we called you back, comrade. I admit, I have some doubts."

"Doubts, sir?"

"You seem to have settled in to your American assignment very well," Todorov said, walking forward and continuing to study Illya. "U.N.C.L.E. gives you an apartment to yourself. You travel widely and stay in luxurious accommodations. You have a wealthy American partner with whom you are on very intimate terms. I think that you are more American than Soviet now, eh? Perhaps you are less a good communist than a good capitalist faggot."

Illya knew that Feklisov was watching closely. The accusation was designed to provoke him into a rash act of self-defense that would ultimately become an admission of guilt. This was nothing to what Todorov could do, barely an opening salvo, so he treated it as such. He laughed. "Ah comrade, you've lost your touch. A 'capitalist faggot', eh? I hope if you really are intending to interrogate me you have something strong enough to merit at least a shot of vodka to steady the nerves. For if this is what you have planned, I will need to ask the Rezident if he can provide some strong tea before I fall asleep. I have been traveling for most of the day. Right now I have not even got the energy to smack the impertinence out of you."

Blessings to all of U.N.C.L.E.'s interrogation training, and his own intuitive understanding of KGB techniques, this response caused Feklisov to chuckle. "Leave off, Todorov. Go and find some flies to pull the wings off of, and send in an attaché to take comrade Kuryakin's cases to his room."

"Yes, Rezident." With a final cold look at Illya, Todorov left.

"Be careful not to pull his tail too hard my friend," Feklisov said, "He can be a dangerous man."

"I am aware of that, but so can I," Illya responded, "And I really am quite tired, and quite unclear about why I am here. If my loyalty is in question, I would prefer the issue be raised directly rather than have that old devil come at me sideways about it."

"Ah, but that is the only way he knows how to move, you know that, sideways and roundabout, like a snake, unpleasant but effective. However, he is not here for you."

Illya reflected that if he were they would hardly tell him so and took this information with the large serving of salt it deserved.

Feklisov continued, "I have called you back because we are in need of information and I am hoping that you may be more useful to us directly than as an agent in U.N.C.L.E.

"Last Thursday President Kennedy met with Ambassador [Anatoly] Dobrynin and abruptly repeated his warning to him that the installation of any nuclear missiles in Cuba would be treated as an aggressive act by the United States. The Minister explained to him that we do not have any missiles in Cuba, but he said that the President did not appear to believe him."

"Is there a good reason why he should not?" Illya asked.

"Not that the Minister is, was," he corrected himself, "aware of. And then this afternoon we received a copy of this communiqué that the President sent to the Premier." He handed a document to Illya, who took it and scanned over it, quickly at first, and then going back and reading it more slowly with a creeping horror as the implications of the contents became clear. Kennedy's letter indicated that long-range nuclear missile bases were being located on Cuba secretly by the Soviets and had been discovered by the Americans. Kennedy was determined to take action to see to it that they were removed.

"The Premier has placed missiles on Cuba?" Illya asked incredulously.

"You know what I know," Feklisov said, indicating the letter.

"This is idiotic. It is suicide. What was he thinking?" Illya felt his temper rising, all of the anger of being manipulated and moved back and forth by organizations and nations at their whim without a thought for his concerns or wishes welled up in his recognition of the utter, astounding short-sightedness behind the decisions that had led to this point.

"Are you calling our Premier an idiot?" When Todorov had slid back into the room, Illya did not know, and at that moment, he did not care.

"No, I am saying that all of the people who were involved in this entire process that led to this decision, down to and including you if you squeezed an approval out of someone's mouth, have behaved foolishly and without any understanding of the country or people with which they are dealing," Illya said coldly, "And they, or you, may well have condemned us all to die."

He glared at Todorov as if he were looking at some disgusting creature that had just crawled out of his food prefatory to crushing it beneath his heel. Somewhat to his own surprise, Todorov looked away first. In the back of his mind he heard Napoleon's voice, soft and warm, "Bravo, my little Illy the terrible." He hastened to shut that voice away again, but was pleased to know it was there.

Napoleon was summoned in to work on an emergency call-in, just about the only thing that could have forced him to stir from the chair in Illya's apartment. When he arrived at headquarters, he joined Mr. Waverly in an a briefing with the other Section 1 heads and their CEAs at which they all received the information about the President's impending national address. All of U.N.C.L.E. was horrified at this particular sequence of events, which had bypassed their own intervention efforts and detection methods as well.

They were also upset at the sudden Soviet repossession, for lack of a better term, of Mr. Kuryakin, whom several of them knew personally, and liked. The Asian CEA, who did not care especially for either Napoleon or Illya, raised the question of whether the Russian might have been acting as a double agent, gathering intelligence from U.N.C.L.E. and whether the entire "recall" was merely a cover for his being brought in from the cold by KGB.

Mr. Waverly saw Napoleon start to respond and waved him back. "Well Mr. Mei, I can understand your concern, and would have shared it had I not been personally involved both with Mr. Kuryakin's original recruitment and then with his receiving the news of his callback today. It was absolutely clear that this notification came completely out of the blue and that it was not something he desired. I have good reason to have total faith in Mr. Kuryakin, and he has proved himself on multiple occasions, even, I may add at the expense of his own nation in at least one case. We could raise doubts about anyone, Mr. Mei, but unless we have any sort of evidence to give them credence, I think it is best to keep them unvoiced." Murmurs of approval came from the various Section 1 leaders and Napoleon settled back to simply glower at Mei over the screen link up.

The leaders struggled to come to terms with whether there was a role for the agency or whether this was really the U.N.'s ballgame at this point, if anyone's. Ultimately they decided that they would offer their assistance to the President and the Premier, as well as the U.N., but that otherwise there was little role for them to play. Perhaps, it was suggested, Mr. Kuryakin might be able to achieve more where he was than if he had remained in his previous position.

Napoleon had gone home rather than try to resurrect his date. He didn't feel up to making small talk and he knew that there was only one person he wanted to take to bed and that person was completely unavailable. He picked up a sandwich and headed back to his apartment, stopping to pick up both his and Illya's mail on the way upstairs. Illya's consisted of a couple of journals and a bill. His own was even less interesting. He ate his sandwich and poured himself a scotch. He decided to go and change into his pajamas. Carrying his drink he walked into the bedroom, flipped on the light and stopped dead. On his bed lay a pile of rumpled clothing, a folded paper, and the chess set.

He set down his drink and walked slowly toward the bed. Before he was halfway there he could smell Illya. He stopped and drank it in. The clothes Illya had left were the ones from their recent mission that he hadn't had a chance to wash. Some of them were also the ones he had been wearing that first night they had made love in their little bolthole apartment down by the docks, his jeans and one of his turtlenecks and that blue checked flannel shirt. In his mind he saw Illya as he had been that night, vulnerable, happy, and so amazingly beautiful when he realized that what he had secretly longed for and never expected to have had suddenly been handed to him, if at the worst possible time. (See the Black, White and Lavender Affair).

And the clothes all smelled deliciously of Illya, that smell he thought he might never smell again. He knelt down by the bed and buried his face in them, closing his eyes and letting himself be surrounded by his partner's scent and his partner's love.

But why had he left the chess set? He picked up the note and something rolled out of it. A red pawn. It was the one Illya liked best. Napoleon smiled and held it between his fingers as he opened the paper, written in Illya's beautiful script.

Polya— I do not have much time before I must leave, but there are things I need to say before I go.

First do not think that I left without telling you goodbye because I did not care, but rather because I care too much. Had I seen you, I could not have left you, and about that I had no choice. Know, however, I leave you my heart. I do not know what will happen. Mr. Waverly has made it possible that I may return, but I cannot allow myself to hope for it. Too many disappointments in my past make me disinclined to have faith in such possibilities.

This time you and I are the pawns my friend, moved about by much bigger forces. Sometimes we have a tiny but important role to play, but we may just be tossed away and lost. But we both know about pawns. Once and awhile the pawn masters the board. Keep an eye out for the pawns, my friend.

I am leaving this set with you in the hope that I may come back to claim it someday. Take care of it for me.

Love, Illya

P.S. You won't be able to play with it with anyone else. I am taking a piece you will need to barter for.

Smiling, Napoleon instantly opened the set and looked in. All of the larger pieces were there, but when he looked at the white pawns, one was missing, the one that had a particularly determined chin.

That night Illya and the other members of the Embassy watched President Kennedy's speech on television. Illya heard nervous chatter around him at the speech's conclusion. He had found nothing surprising in Kennedy's remarks, but rather a largely predictable series of conclusions, that had every probability of a bad ending. After his outburst of the afternoon, he'd settled into a state that Napoleon called Russian Rumination—a melancholy expectation of the worst. Illya's eyes moved around the room, observing the reactions of Embassy personnel. He noticed Todorov pigeonholing Feklisov and another KGB officer and talking earnestly with them while glancing occasionally in his direction. That was probably not good, but he couldn't work himself up to worry about it. The spectre of possible nuclear war loomed to large in his mind. Others gathered in nervous knots and chattered about what might happen. What was obvious to Illya was that the entire population of the Embassy had been kept in the dark , left with their asses hanging in the wind as Khruschev himself might have said, had he not been the one doing the hanging.

Abruptly he stood and strode over to Todorov's little huddle in order to address Feklisov. Ignoring Todorov, he addressed the Rezident, "Comrade, I am very tired. I have been traveling since very early this morning and have had many unexpected revelations and changes today. If you do not mind, I am going to my quarters and get some sleep in order that I can think more clearly and be of some use to you in the morning."

Feksilov nodded. "Of course. We will talk more then."

"Gentlemen," Illya nodded to Todorov and the other man and headed to the exit where he consulted with a guard and was directed to his room.

Illya wanted to get away to think. He realized that while he still could shut out the world mentally, his years with U.N.C.L.E. and in the U.S. had acclimated him to working in solitude, a luxury he had not been able to indulge in the Soviet Union. He would have to relearn certain skills, that was clear. But for tonight, having readied himself for bed, he lay down and thought about what he knew and what he expected and feared about the situation in Cuba.

Working with U.N.C.L.E. had given him opportunities to interact with various heads of state, mostly of small countries, but he and Napoleon had briefly met the Soviet leader while serving as part of the security detail for Nikita Khruschev's visit to the United States in 1959. He had followed coverage of the Premier's visit with interest, and had enjoyed his brief meeting with him. While Napoleon had not known quite what to make of the Soviet leader, Illya had felt a certain affinity for the man. Illya and the Premier both came from the Ukraine and both identified with the simple peasant background of the region and with the system that had made their own success possible. While he was a very different personality than the Premier, Illya appreciated the other's ability to climb to the top of the bureaucratic heap of Communist Party structure, survive Stalin and set the country on a more moderate path. These were no small accomplishments. But he saw too that Khruschev's mercurial personality, tendency to personalize international relations, and bull-in-a-china-shop diplomatic style baffled others and often made them underestimate the Premier's intellect and misidentify his actions as thuggish.

He thought about how the two world powers had gotten to this point. The real problem lay in the fact that people in the Soviet government had very little sense of how Americans feel and think. It was the U.S. placement of missiles in Turkey that provoked the desire by those in the Soviet government to place a similar set in Cuba. It was a matter of pride.

But Soviet leaders didn't understand the way that Americans would react to such a situation. Americans regarded the entire hemisphere as theirs when it came to defense. Never suffering invasions or intrusions of the sort experienced by the Soviet Union, they could not tolerate the thought of missiles on their borders. Their mere presence was invasive to Americans in a way that Soviet leaders did not fully appreciate, while American leaders self-perception of themselves as regional saviors (appreciated or not), demanded that they take action to remove what would be seen as virtually an infection of the American hemisphere's body.

All of the actions to date were entirely predictable, especially given the secretive nature of the missile installation. The President and the American people felt betrayed by the man that so many Americans had found to be charming and amusing during his 1959 tour. Who was Khruschev, they would be wondering, the laughing man who visited his friend's farm in Iowa and hobnobbed with starlets in Hollywood, or someone who wants to destroy the American way of life and the world?

Americans tended, in Illya's experience, to see things in black and white, as if on their televisions. Things or people were good or bad, and when they became more morally complex, they tended to simply try to assign them a category. This did enable them to act in surprisingly idealistic ways that Illya admired, often making them capable of extraordinary heroism and generosity when other nations' populations more jaded perspectives inclined them to do less. But it could also lead them into rash behavior, and in any case, had to be allowed for in any encounter.

The Soviet leaders had not, he thought, fully realized that they would be the villains in this piece. To an extent, Americans perceived everything as though it were a television program or movie, and by not understanding this, those leaders did not see what their inevitable role would be.

Illya sighed. What worried him most was not actually the leaders of the two powers, although he wondered how much pressure they were under to take aggressive action, either to save face or to "keep the nation safe." He suspected both were feeling a great deal. Soldiers, after all liked to be soldiers. But he also suspected that both men were thoughtful enough that they would hold back, if possible, from that ultimate act. It is easy to recommend violence, but much harder to take the final responsibility it, especially if it may mean mutual destruction.

No, the leaders weren't his real concern. What worried him were the pawns.

They yanked him out the duct like a snake from a hole. The THRUSH man whose face had appeared in the air conditioning duct directly ahead of Illya had been as surprised to see him as he was to see a face abruptly arrive from above. They must have already removed the screws prior to his moving into this short section of the duct and then they yanked up the grate and the man had stuck his head and shoulders down and the jig was up. The duct was narrow and Illya had no way to turn around and while he tried to wriggle back, the corner made the move even more impossible to execute expeditiously then it would have been otherwise. Fortunately he had already planted the C4.

The men had been looking for a chess pawn. He and his fellow watchman had been playing. One had taken the pawn and then fumbled it and somehow dropped it down the grate at just the right angle that it slipped through. A freak accident. And naturally the set had been borrowed from someone else so they needed to get the piece back. And so Illya was discovered. And shortly afterwards, Napoleon.

Napoleon looked at his relatively new partner, trussed up and silent, for any clues regarding the status of the mission. Illya managed the tiniest suggestion of a nod and Napoleon returned his glance to the gloating THRUSH chief before him. Napoleon's expression was bored and cool.

"I expect you'll be surprised to learn that it is all because of this that we caught you, Mr. Solo," the man said, holding the inexpensive black pawn in front of Napoleon's face. Solo raised an eyebrow. "Yes, this little chess piece ruined all of your elaborate plans!" He seemed quite excited about it.

Napoleon looked back at him thoughtfully. "So what you're telling me is that it wasn't a well-designed or efficient security system, but just dumb luck on your part that prevented us from succeeding?" He put extra emphasis on the word "dumb."

The THRUSH chief, Sylvester Shrike, narrowed his eyes and glared at Napoleon. "It does not just take dumb luck, as you choose to call it. It is how one reacts to an opportunity that determines success or failure. Our operatives responded efficiently and trapped not only your Mr. Kuryakin here, but yourself as well, and we have also successfully neutralized the 6 explosives that Mr. Kuryakin had planted."

Illya wondered which two they had missed. He hoped that they weren't about to find out by having the floor erupt beneath their feet. That would be awkward. He and Napoleon risked exchanging a glance. It sounded as though they had also missed the charges his partner was to have planted by the cooling unit. Napoleon gave a suggestion of shrug. He didn't know, but apparently didn't know that they had found them either, which was something.

"So you're saying it's not just being dumb and lucky, it's knowing how to use those abilities? You must try to remember that in the future, Illya," Napoleon voiced the remark like an precocious schoolboy.

"I shall endeavor to remember it, Napoleon," Illya intoned solemnly. This earned him a sharp poke in the back from the man behind him who had a gun trained on him. If he had an opportunity to fight, this guard was the one he intended to make a particular effort to take out. He seemed to have a fondness for using his gun barrel to try and punch holes in Illya's back.

"You will not have a future to remember it in!" said Shrike. "As soon as you have had an opportunity to witness the accuracy of THRUSH's new targeting system, you two will become targets yourselves, for much smaller projectiles." He practically chortled.

Shrike tossed the chess pawn at the computer console, no longer needing it to make his point. Watching, Illya saw the subsequent events occur with a sense of inevitability. The watchman who had first seen Illya, and whose concern for the pawn precipitated later events, automatically moved to retrieve it before it rolled off the console and disappeared again. Simultaneously Shrike reached back for a paper cup he had placed on the console. A paper cup...of cream and possibly sugar-laden coffee. On the main computer console for the targeting system, a place where no one except the station chief would have dared to even have a drink, much less set one down. The two men's hands made contact, and as is common for men in such a situation, they both jerked their hands back slightly as a result. And one or the other, but almost surely Shrike, hit the full cup of coffee and sent it spilling over into the control panel and keys of the targeting system while everyone looked on in horror.

And that's when the bombs went off . . . not under their feet. They were the ones designed to further dismantle the air conditioning system. That made sense. Those two were significantly remote from the other six that they could be missed.

Outside, the charges Napoleon planted could be heard, followed moments later, and somewhat farther away by those at the remote storage unit where the spare air conditioning unit had been kept. Any complex system this dependent on high-powered computers required a powerful air conditioning system in order to keep it from overheating. Regardless of how badly Shrike had managed to disable his own system, disabling all of the air handling units and duct work would damage the delicate circuitry that ran constantly to making geophysical calculations that were part of what made it work. The fact that Shrike kept an entire back up air conditioning unit on site in this remote location confirmed what they had suspected. There was little margin for error in relation to overheating. And that had been their backup plan.

The explosions staggered everyone. Well not quite everyone. Napoleon and Illya had been waiting for their moment of "dumb luck" and snatched it. Illya, with his hands bound behind and to him, spun and kicked the stunned guard behind him such a blow that the man dropped like a stone. He then ducked his head and brought it up again with tremendous force into the jaw of his other guard, whose own weapon had not been drawn. Once, when arguing with Illya, Napoleon had said he had a head like a rock. Apparently he did. The move caused him little pain but the guard apparently had a glass jaw, because he too looked to be down for the count.

Napoleon meanwhile, at this point still unencumbered by any bindings because Shrike was too anxious to gloat, disarmed the man nearest him, taking charge of his machine gun before knocking him unconscious with the butt of it. He quickly disposed of two batches of security guards before they had time to fully grasp the situation. Machine guns weren't accurate, but they were great for clearing a room.

Unfortunately they were not especially useful for destroying computer equipment unless you knew just what you were aiming for, and Napoleon didn't. But Illya did. He called to his partner, telling him which units to target and where. Illya spotted Shrike trying to crawl away between pieces of equipment. He had sufficient room to get a running start, jump up onto the railing on the level he was on and leap down onto Shrike's back with such force that he heard the crack before he stumbled awkwardly forward, unable to balance or catch himself with his arms. He did manage to turn enough so that when he crashed into the wall it was his shoulder and back that took the blow, however, not his face. His partner found a knife to free his hands.

"You alright partner? That was a nifty little dance number, but I think you need to work on the ending a little more. Maybe next time you should try using your arms."

Illya glared at him for a moment. "Thank you. I will take that under advisement." Then he picked up the pawn, which had fallen off the console after all, the man who had borrowed it dead. Soon U.N.C.L.E.'s cleanup crew would arrive.

They both looked at it.

"It was a good plan," Illya said, "We just couldn't plan for the pawn."

"Sneaky things, pawns." Napoleon said, "Obviously all you can do, is keep an eye out for the pawns." Thoughtfully he tucked the pawn in his pocket. To this day it sat on his mantle.

From that mission forward, "Keep an eye out for pawns" became a phrase between them, a reminder, a caution, a phrase of affection. Now Illya worried about the thousands of pawns that could abruptly change the play in an unexpected way in this international game of nerves upon which millions of lives depended. Too many keyed up people doing too many new and unusual activities targeting people they saw only as caricatures. Too, too many pawns.

He saw Illya from a distance. The heat was intense, rising from the earth in waves that made the intense blue of the sky vibrate before his eyes. His partner was walking toward him along the dusty road, his white shirt unbuttoned most of the way because of the heat, but tucked in and his sleeves rolled up. He wore a straw cowboy hat on his head. When he saw Napoleon he swept the hat off and waved it making his golden hair shimmer like a halo.

Then Napoleon saw the flash—brilliant, searing, filling his field of view and silhouetting his partner for a fraction of second of awful silence before the shock Napoleon knew would come. "No!" he cried as he saw his partner turn to dust before him.

His own cry woke him. Napoleon sat up, sweat streaming down his body, his heart racing. He saw his partner's clothes in the bed beside him and for one horrified fraction of second thought somehow his partner had disintegrated and then slowly, with difficulty, pushed the vision away and replaced it with the hardly less comforting reality. He got up and made his way to the bathroom, still shaky. Turning on the light, he looked at himself in the mirror.

"Solo, you look like hell. What are you going to look like when he's been gone a week?" Maybe it was the missiles in Cuba . . . but somehow he really didn't believe that.

Illya also spent a fitful night and was up early. He got some breakfast and went looking for Feklisov. The Rezident was tied up for a time but then was able to see him.

"Comrade Kuryakin, did you have a good night's rest."

"Not especially," Illya answered. "I had rather too much on my mind."

"As did I. You said a number of provocative things yesterday, comrade. Comrade Todorov is quite certain you are a dangerous influence and need to be dealt with accordingly."

"And what do you think?"

"I have yet to make up my mind. I do think that at least part of what you said about the Premier receiving bad advice is interesting. I would like you to explain further about what you meant."

Illya had decided that if he was condemned, it would be for what he honestly believed. "I think that no one advising the Premier, obviously not anyone in the Presidium, but no one in the embassies, or if you will excuse me saying so, in the Agency, truly understand the nature of the American people or, for that reason, American politicians." He watched Feklisov look at him sharply, but the Rezident did not object. He might simply be allowing Illya to hang himself. But Illya decided he could not stop now. "The reason that none of you understand is because you never really spend time with real Americans. The closest you get are journalists and politicians, people intent on using you. Most of the time you spend time with, well, diplomats and our own countrymen."

"But you do?" Feklisov said with a degree of skeptical amusement.

"Yes. I have to. My work requires it for many reasons. Most of the people I work with are Americans since I work in U.N.C.L.E.'s New York office. But I also go to clubs, restaurants, museums, date American girls, and have American friends. While undercover, I have worked with dockworkers, athletes and college professors. I feel that I can safely say that I have met and gotten to know a broad cross-section of American society. Do I agree with everything Americans believe or think about their country? No. But I find a number of things that I do respect. And among those things is a strong sense of pride in their country, much as we have in ours, as well as a sense of responsibility for others." "I'm not sure what our leaders thought would happen when they installed the missiles in Cuba—that the United States would just get used to it? That is not the way Americans think." He continued to explain the way he saw the country responding to acts they regarded as aggression carried on in "their territory." He also went on to say that one of the less attractive elements in the American character was a rather narcissistic assumption that their opinions were always correct. He smiled. "This too is not unlike some of our own people."

Feklisov snorted with amusement.

"What is crucially important to understand," Illya continued, "Is the difference that American politics makes in the situation. Unlike our own leaders, who exercise more control over the electoral options ... available to the Soviet people, " he paused tactfully prior to continuing, "The American system demands that their politicians must, at least every 2 or 4 or 6 years, behave in ways that appeal to popular opinion, and in actuality cannot ever really disregard its influence. In that sense they are always performing for an audience in a way that our leaders are not. This has a great impact on the decisions that they are able to make."

Feklisov was thoughtful. "Do Americans respect their politicians?"

Illya smiled, "That is difficult to answer. The best answer would be both yes and no. Most Americans feel a respect for political offices, like President, for example. They may not like the man in office. They may even hate him. Often they will make fun of them. But in a crisis, they will come together behind him. Now, for example, you would, I suspect, find few people who not stand behind President Kennedy. And the President, in turn, must act in a fashion that will make the people want to do so."

"It is most unfortunate that your work has never brought you in contact with the President."

"Because then you would have better information?" Illya said quizzically.

"Possibly. I admit, we do not have intelligence of the quality I would like and that is a problem, especially now." This admission told Illya that they must have no real inside operatives at all, or Feklisov wouldn't have said this much. The two talked a bit longer and then Feklisov dismissed Illya, telling him that for the moment he was simply to stay in the Embassy pending decisions on his future assignment. Heading back to his room, Illya felt that he was getting an understanding for why he was there. Feklisov was scratching around desperately for information, desperately enough to scratch all the way up to New York for Illya at U.N.C.L.E. to see what he knew. He wondered if he had provided enough to be useful. And if he had, did that make it more or less likely that he would being going back to New York, staying with Feklisov, or if Todorov had his way, heading home to an unknown fate.

It had been a long day and Napoleon was tired. That morning he'd arrived to find that Mr. Waverly was leaving for Washington and transferring responsibility for the New York office to Napoleon in his absence.

After pulling just about every string he held, Alexander Waverly had gotten admitted to ExComm, the Executive Committee of the Security Council, the President's closed advisory committee, strictly as an observer. How he had achieved it, Napoleon had no idea, but he felt reassured by the fact that his boss would be there. He also felt better when he learned that Mr. Waverly intended to speak with the Rezident at the Soviet embassy about Illya's situation.

But it didn't make him any happier to be responsible for all of the administrative details of the agency, especially when everyone in the agency was tense and all of the communication lines from overseas were in an uproar over events in Cuba. He must have had at least 30 communiqués from various U.N.C.L.E. branches and divisions in the United States and abroad with questions related to the events in the Caribbean. And then there had been all of the anxious questions from people at headquarters itself. Because it was him in charge, women from around the office in particular seemed to be making a point of coming and seeking reassurance from him that things would be alright. He reminded them that the agency had an air raid shelter, one of the best in the city, and apparently sounded confident because people went away more assured than they had come.

If only he could reassure himself. Now that he had a moment alone, he reached up and found the string around his neck and drew forth the red chess pawn from where it dangled against his chest, a comforting reminder that somewhere Illya existed and presumably gave him a thought occasionally.

The intercom buzzed. Napoleon sighed and looking at the pawn, hit the buzzer and said, "Yes, Sheila, who needs me now?"

Illya rarely remembered his dreams.

It was this that made the fact that he remembered this one so unusual. He had been standing on a stage with his ankles chained. In front of the stage were several chairs. In one was Todorov, his eyes virtually invisible behind his spectacles, in another was Mr. Waverly, looking somewhat rueful, and in a third was Napoleon, his expression unreadable.

Todorov smiled coldly. "We will take him. He is a Soviet citizen after all. And we have a special place arranged just for him,"

"Alright then, he never really did belong here. We thought maybe he would fit in but in the end he was just so... Russian," said Mr. Waverly, looking at him with disappointment in his eyes.

Napoleon stood and walked up a short flight of stairs onto the stage. He touched Illya's chest, which the dreamer realized suddenly was bare. His partner pursed his lips slightly as he ran the finger downward, tracing the line of hair that disappeared into a pair of tight white swimming trunks made tighter still by Illya's rising response to this gesture. Abruptly Napoleon turned to the other two. "Yes, you're right. He was fun for a while, but we just can't trust you Russians. You had better take him back and put him in a cage or whatever it is you have in mind for him." He turned back to Illya and looked at him for a moment, his head cocked to one side like he was inspecting a curious specimen, "Too bad, really." And then he was dropping something to the floor. The red pawn. He raised his foot and crushed it, grinding it to dust beneath his shoe while Todorov and Mr. Waverly applauded.

And then, in the way of dreams, Napoleon and Mr. Waverly were gone and there was just Todorov, smiling the smile that sat on the surface of his face, like a pasted picture, and saying, "Isn't funny that they think you are too Russian? You and I both know you are no more Russian than they are." And suddenly Todorov was gigantic and raised his shoe and crushed Illya to dust beneath it, while far away Illya heard the sound of applause.

Illya woke up drenched in sweat, feeling clammy, cold and very, very alone. He closed his eyes and slowed his breathing to control an underlying sense of panic. What if U.N.C.L.E. wouldn't want him back? Maybe they would feel double-crossed by what had happened in Cuba and feel that he, like other Soviets could not be trusted. Perhaps Napoleon would no longer trust him, would no longer want him for a partner of any sort? He felt sick at the thought. Maybe it would be best just to go back to Moscow and forget about everything and everyone.

He knew he was letting his fears run wild. He was so tense and frustrated that his body ached with it. He put on shorts and a t-shirt and went to find the Embassy's gymnasium.

Alexander Waverly met with Anatoly Dobrynin, the ambassador, to whom he explained his concerns regarding the loss of Mr. Kuryakin's services. "Especially at this time, Ambassador, I feel that it is doubly important to keep any and all possible lines of communication open between our countries. I can't help but feel if we were able to build up more such connections, a situation such as we find ourselves in currently might be prevented."

Dobrynin nodded. "I must agree with you, Mr. Waverly. Unfortunately our leaders sometimes do not see things quite the way that you and I do."

Feklisov knocked and entered the room.

"Ah, Mr. Fomin." Waverly stood, greeting the Rezident politely with his cover name. "I have come in the hope that I might make you reconsider your decision to withdraw Mr. Kuryakin from U.N.C.L.E.'s service at this time. I was just telling the ambassador how extremely valuable he has been to the organization and that at this time I would appreciate his contributions as a representative of his country as well. "

Dobrynin frowned at Feklisov. "Fomin I would like to speak with you a moment, in private. If you would excuse us, Mr. Waverly?"

"Of course, Mr. Ambassador." Waverly regarded Feklisov blandly. He had opted to go to the ambassador for a reason. He was not sure whether or not the KGB chief could be persuaded to return Illya to U.N.C.L.E., but he thought that the ambassador might be under pressure already, both from his own people and from the Americans. Those pressures might be irresolvable, but Waverly could offer him a situation framed in a like context that he could resolve. It would give him a sense of satisfaction to do so, he suspected, and if it did and helped U.N.C.L.E. out, all to the good.

Dobrynin and Feklisov withdrew to the next room. Dobrynin regarded the KGB chief cooly. "You did not inform me, comrade, that you had recalled Kuryakin permanently. I thought you had merely requested he return temporarily for some reason. I do not believe that officials at home would feel that this would be the best time to be altering our arrangements with U.N.C.L.E. do you? We have enough spoons in enough pots already, no?"

Feklisov had already been giving serious thought to sending Illya back. He didn't like to look as though he was being pressured into doing so, however. "My original request for Mr. Kuryakin's services was, I regret to say, somewhat overzealously phrased by the secretary who drafted the communiqué. I had not intended it to sound as though we were necessarily planning on withdrawing him from U.N.C.L.E.'s service. I have found his information very helpful, but I had already decided to send him back to his agency."

"I'm most encouraged to hear that comrade," Dobrynin said, "Have you informed Mr. Kuryakin of this fact? And do you still require his services?"

Feklisov shook his head, "I can send him back today. Shall I send him in to see Mr. Waverly?"

"Yes, I think that would be most appropriate. Oh, and make sure you keep Todorov on his leash. He upsets people and I don't need him slipping about inadvertently running into unexpected visitors."

"Yes, Ambassador."

Illya met Mr. Waverly in the same Embassy reception room where the conversation with Dobrynin had taken place. He had not had a chance to shower or clean up because the aide sent to find him had located him sparring with a KGB agent who was six inches taller and 50 pounds heavier. He had been enjoying himself for the first time in several days because he was winning and others in the gym had gathered to watch. By rights he shouldn't have been. The other man had reach and power on him, but Illya was fast and knew how to make each blow count. In a real fight he wouldn't have restricted himself to fists with an opponent of this size, so it pleased him to be doing so well with such limited options at his disposal.

"I apologize for meeting you without changing first, sir, but I did not want to keep you waiting." Illya had no idea why Mr. Waverly was here, but despite the lingering memory of his dream, he allowed himself some hope.

"It is quite alright, Mr. Kuryakin. I have been speaking with the Ambassador to discuss your situation and he informs me that Mr. Fomin has decided that it is in the greatest interest of everyone at this time for you to continue your service to U.N.C.L.E." Mr. Waverly permitted himself one of those enigmatic little smiles.

Illya felt as though he was letting his weight down for the first time since Monday. He could hardly keep the expression of delight off of his face, but he kept his expression mostly neutral, directing only a small smile at his superior. One never knew who was watching or listening. "I see, sir. Do you know when I am to return?"

"You are to go back to New York today. If we had not decommissioned you, I might keep you here with me, but considering your current non-official status, that's not really an option. So it's back to New York with you, lad, so that you can be officially reinstated. By then Mr. Solo and I will have decided where you will be of the most use in the current situation."

"Yes, sir." Illya felt like spinning around for joy, or leaping, or something, but he merely nodded soberly, "I will be on a train this afternoon."

Mr. Waverly gathered his hat and umbrella to go. "Have a safe trip."

"I will, sir."

"Oh, and Mr. Kuryakin, good to have you back."

Illya smiled, more broadly this time, "Good to be back, sir."

Illya had no difficulty getting a ticket on the express train between Washington and New York. Getting tickets into cities was not hard; getting tickets out of cities was. Anyone who had the means and opportunity to get away from a likely "target city" was leaving for places seen as safer, while those who had to stay were identifying local air raid shelters and, in some cases, hoarding supplies. Air raid sirens were tested, making certain that everyone who might not otherwise be on edge was, as their piercing wail played out across cities and villages and people practiced responding to an attack that previously seemed the kind of thing that happened somewhere else to other people.

Illya found a spot in the club car where he settled with his copy of Les Miserables to read. He ignored others in the car until a man came and sat beside him and asked him about his book. Sighing inwardly, he said it was about a man who was pursued by an overzealous policeman for a petty crime and despite the fact that the man became a good man the police inspector felt he should be punished regardless.

"Hunh," said the man, who clearly had had too much to drink, "Sounds like the kind of things those Russkies would do don't it?"

"Victor Hugo, the author, was French, and he is writing about events in France in the nineteenth century," Illya said patiently.

"I didn't say it was about the Russkies, I said it sounded like them. Weren't ya listening?" The man narrowed his eyes. "He-e-ey," he managed to make this word sound as though it had several syllables. "Where are you from anyway? You don't sound like an American." He looked at Illya suspiciously.

Illya thought quickly. Clearly the man was drunk, and people were on edge, but at the same time he felt a certain frustration at people assuming things simply because of a nationality. Wasn't part of his job supposed to be challenging people's assumptions?

"I am from the Ukraine." It was honest, but for many Americans would not be as much of a flashpoint term as "Soviet Union" or "Russia".

"U-crane? Never heard of it. Where is it?" "Eastern Europe."

The man seemed to think about this. Illya wondered if he had been in the war, in which case he might have some sense of where the Ukraine was, although that was still unlikely. Suddenly a moment of clarity flashed in the man's eyes and he looked at Illya with the sort of shrewd cunning that drunks could suddenly acquire. "Eastern Europe my ass—that's part of Russia. You're a god damn Russkie!" His voice had become significantly louder. "Hey everybody, we got us a real live Russkie on this train, and he's trying to hide who he is by claiming he's from Eastern Europe!" The man turned back to Illya. "Are you a spy or something? Why you denying you're a Russkie?"

"I did not deny anything," Illya said calmly, carefully assessing the mood of the crowd, the part of Russia I come from, the Ukraine, is part of Eastern Europe."

"That's true," said a male voice from somewhere to the rear of the group.

"Well, why didn't you just say Russia though?" asked his interrogator and a few other people muttered "Why didn't he?" and "Why not?" and "What's he hiding?"

"Because if I had said I was from Russia, I was afraid this would happen," Illya said, gesturing to the crowd that had gathered. "But you should notice that I did not lie, either. I am not ashamed of where I come from. The Ukraine is much like your Midwest. Farming country."

"So what are you doing here? Why aren't you back farming?"

This one was difficult. He didn't have any of his U.N.C.L.E. identification, so this one would require at least one lie. "I am not a farmer. I am an import/exporter." He reached to pull out his wallet to get out one of the business cards for Oslo and Nikolas.

And that was when something hit him.

Someone was moaning. Illya wished the person would stop because whoever it was was making his head heard hurt more, if that was possible. He tried opening his eyes to see who it was. Perhaps it was Napoleon and he could tell him to shut up. Three anxious faces looked down at him: the porter's, a young woman's and a middle-aged man's. Not Napoleon then, him. That was unfortunate. The porter held a cool cloth to the side of his face and over his left eye. He thought perhaps he could stop moaning now. He moved his jaw experimentally. Nothing seemed to be broken or dangerously loose. That was good.

"What hit me?" His voice sounded slightly odd. His face must be swollen.

"This jerk just laid off and hit you with no warning or anything. Said he'd heard enough, 'Damn Soviet lies,'" the young woman was talking very fast, from nervousness or excitement probably. "It was SO unfair. I think he surprised everyone though, because people kind of backed off then, like they didn't want to be associated with him."

"It was a bit touch and go there for a minute. Hard to tell whether a crowd will become a mob or not. Fortunately this one didn't." Illya recognized the man's voice as the one who had supported his remark about the Ukraine being in Europe.

The porter looked down at him, "How 'bout we try to get you up into a booth, sir? You'll probably feel better once you sitting up like a man again." Illya accepted the porter's help getting to his feet. His head was still throbbing and he appreciated the man's strong arm around his shoulders. He let himself be guided to a back corner booth. The porter shook out the damp cloth to freshen it and then folded it into a new pad and handed it to Illya. "Can I get you something to drink, sir? Or perhaps a little something to eat? The crew feel terrible about what happened and we'll do anything we can to make sure the rest of your trip is comfortable."

"Would you get me another scotch? And could you find out what became of my book?"

"Yes, sir. Right away. Would you care for anything Miss?"

"I'll have a Manhattan."

"Of course, and you sir?"

"I'll take a whiskey, neat. Thank you, porter, you've been most helpful."

"So, my name is Joanie Travers, and this is Frank Thomas. We introduced ourselves while you were moaning on the floor."

"I am pleased I gave you an opportunity to get acquainted," Illya smiled slightly. Smiling too much hurt. "My name is Illya Kuryakin."

"Are you really a spy?" Joanie asked with entirely too much enthusiasm and energy.

"Of, course," Illya replied, "Aren't you?" Sometimes truth was the best way to go because no one would believe it.

"Now you're teasing me," Joanie frowned prettily for a moment, but then added, "But I guess I deserve it. It would be silly to imagine I'd meet a spy on the train to New York. Gosh, that would be exciting though."

"Do you really need any more excitement than what is going on in the world right now?" Illya asked curiously.

"Oh, you mean Cuba? I don't think anything will happen really. It's just men rattling their swords at each other like men have to do. You know, showing each other who's got a bigger this or that." She blushed suddenly. Both Illya and Frank shared a glance and then all three laughed. Illya stopped abruptly as his face hurt.

"I hope very much you are right, my dear," Frank said. "I would just feel more comfortable if these sabers weren't quite so dangerous to everybody else. What do you think, Mr. Kuryakin? Do you think anything will happen?"

"I sincerely hope not. I met Mr. Khruschev once, when he was visiting here in the United States as a matter of fact. I do not think he is the kind of man who truly wants to start a war. What worries me though are all the hundreds and thousands of people who are caught up in this, any one of whom might in some way cause something to happen that even the men in charge don't expect." He saw Joanie looking somber, so he added, "Of course those things might make a war less likely as well as more likely. It is just so hard to know."

The porter returned with their drinks and Illya's book, which had fallen beneath a table but appeared undamaged. He returned a minute later with brought some cheese and crackers, compliments of the train. "I also brought you some ice sir, in case that might feel better on your face."

"Thank you," he glanced at the porter's name tag, "Roger, you have been most helpful."

"Really," said Joanie after Roger had departed, "This conversation is too awful. It's all you hear these last few days. Cuba, Cuba, Cuba. Couldn't we please talk about something else?"

"Agreed," said Frank, who it turned out was a judge in upstate New York, and who, realizing that it must hurt Illya to talk, proceeded to entertain his two companions with amusing stories about events from his courtroom for the remainder of the trip.

Mark Slate met Illya as he was getting off the train and saying goodbye to Frank and Joanie.

"Illya you must come visit me at Columbia and we'll go out to a club someplace," Joanie insisted and Illya promised to try. Frank encouraged him to come by his court if he was up in Albany and they would have lunch or dinner and Illya assured him that he would and invited the judge to try and catch up with him if he was back in the city. "May we all live to do so," Illya said with a sad smile.

"From your mouth to God's ear," Frank said and Joanie added, "Amen."

Mark waited until the others left. "I thought Napoleon was overreacting when he sent me along to pick you up, but perhaps he knew what he was about. You run into anybody we know on the train?"

"Oh, you mean this" Illya gestured at his face and then gave what passed for a smile, "No, just someone who objected to my country of origin."

"Hope you cleaned his clock for him."

"No, never even saw him as a matter of fact," Illya admitted, "I was too busy watching the rest of the crowd to see if they were going to beat me up. Just never saw the one who actually did."

"I'm beginning to think everyone's gone right round the bend the last few days. Sounds like you're lucky you got off with just a black eye, mate."

"I suspect getting knocked out cold was a good strategy on my part," Illya said with his crooked smile.

"Always knew you'd use your head in a crisis," Mark said. "Here, let's get your stuff back to HQ." He lifted one of Illya's bags with a groan. "What in bloody hell have you got in here? The Kremlin's bleeding gold?" He stared down a man who looked suspiciously at him.

"Just a few books."

"A few books. More like the entire embassy's library. Afraid you'd run out of things to read on the trip back from D.C.?" He groaned as he heaved the suitcase along.

"You do not have to carry it. I am perfectly capable of carrying my own bag."

"Is that one any lighter?"

"No, actually I think this one is heavier. That one has my shaving kit in it so I did not have as much space for my books."

"I like to read as much as the next man, mate, but seriously, you'll give yourself a hernia toting this lot around."

"You forget, I did not know whether I would be coming back."

The calmness in Illya's voice made Mark look him in the face. "Well, I for one, am glad you did, mate. We could use more agents like you." Then he winked, "Besides Waverly would no doubt have saddled me with Napoleon for a partner if you hadn't come back and then he'd have been short two more agents before too long. Personally I don't know how it is you haven't killed him before now." He waved for a cab as they emerged at the cab stand. The two were both laughing as they got in and Mark gave the driver the address.

When they got to the block with Del Florios, they got out a little closer to one of the walk-ups and let the cab head off before they made their way down to U.N.C.L.E.'s entrance. At the security station, Mark was surprised when Suzy apologetically handed Illya a green visitor's badge.

"What's this about, then, Suzy?" he asked.

"It's the rules, Mark. Until Illya is officially reinstated he can't wear his Section 2 badge."

"Oh this is a load of tripe. It's Illya. You know it's Illya. I know it's Illya. Even if he does look like he's been sleeping in a trash truck, we've all seen him looking worse. He'll be 'reinstated' as soon as he gets to his office and gets his things. That's all that means, Suzy. Give him his proper badge."

"Mark, this is not Suzy's fault. She is doing what she is supposed to do," Illya said. He smiled at her, ignoring the pain in his face to show her he held her in no way responsible for any inconvenience.

"Suzy, call Napoleon, he can give you the ok over the phone."

Illya saw Suzy hesitate and promptly understood . . . everything. "No, Margie, do not call Napoleon. It is fine. We will just go to my office according to the rules. Just escort me the last bit would you, Mark."

When they got into the elevator, with Mark still grumbling, Illya interrupted him. "Mark this is Napoleon's doing. It is some Napoleon Solo version of a welcome home. It is fine. Just get me to my office and everything will be alright."

"But you won't be able to leave."

"I know." Illya gave him his crooked smile. "It will serve him right."

Mark laughed. "I'm glad I'm not your partner either, mate."

Illya laughed. "You would not cause me the kind of grief that makes me behave this way." They had arrived at Napoleon and Illya's office. Illya realized that his desk key was locked in Napoleon's desk.

"You'll need to call him to get your keys and gun and paperwork," Mark said.

"No, I would hate to trouble him." Illya stooped down and felt along the underside of his desk until he found the pair of lockpicks held in place by tiny magnets attached to one end. He went to Napoleon's desk and in moments had it open. "Ever since Napoleon began locking his desk, I began opening it." He retrieved the key to his desk so that he could get his gun and other belongings. He also opened the deep drawer in Napoleon's desk that in his own was full of files. In Napoleon's it contained a bottle of scotch and a pair of glasses. "Drink?"

"That old dog!" Mark pulled out the bottle of exceptionally good scotch. He glanced at the door in trepidation.

"He won't be coming. His whole plan involves me sending for him, so he cannot come down here until I do so." Illya grinned. "Help yourself." He put on his holster and returned his special to its place, feeling the security of its weight again. He replaced his identification card in his wallet and his communicator in his pocket, finding great comfort in the familiar actions. He and Mark sat down to a leisurely drink. He took a couple of aspirin with his.

"To having you back," Mark said.

"To being here."

They finished their drink and then Mark, having once again confirmed that Illya intended to stay put, "toddled off to tidy a few things up" as he put it, before heading home. Illya relocked Napoleon's desk, returned his picks, and settled himself comfortably in his chair with his feet on his desk reading his book. It was about 45 minutes later when his communicator beeped.

"Kuryakin here."

"Illya, you haven't reported in."

"I was unable to Napoleon, I am trapped in our office. I only have a visitor's badge so I cannot go farther than the restroom. I could have reported in, but I am hardly able to be what you would call an active agent."

"You could have called." Illya smiled slightly at the mixture of irritation and disappointment in Napoleon's voice.

"I hardly required rescue, Napoleon. I knew you would miss me eventually, remember the rules, and come looking for me. I did not wish to ask for any kind of special treatment."

Silence. "I'll be right down." He was quite certain now. He could hear that amusement had one out.

"Thank you, Napoleon."

Switching off his communicator, Illya realized his heart was pounding. This was ridiculous. It was just Napoleon. They'd been away from each other on much longer missions than this since they had recognized their feelings for one another. But this time it was different. Those times he had known he would either be dead or coming back. And those times the world hadn't turned upside down in the interval. It was as if he had been running an incredibly long race, a race in which losers fell by the wayside to be swallowed by some terrifying darkness. . . .

Napoleon stood in the doorway, "That's not really a good look for you. What do you call it? Early Russian meat grinder?" Self consciously Illya reached up and touched the swollen side of his face and eye and winced. "I wouldn't do that if I were you." Napoleon advised, leaning against the door jamb, the picture of ease. "It looks painful," he added helpfully.

"Thank you for the advice," Illya responded, refusing to stand, but studying his partner closely, noticing how tired he looked, and that his face looked hollow around the eyes. Napoleon never had difficulty sleeping. The last couple of days had been hard on him. "Enjoying being chief in charge?"

"No. The whole place is in an uproar because of Cuba. Do you know anything more you can tell us?"

"I am afraid not," Illya said, and was. He stood and walked over to his partner, no longer interested in playing games, but only in supporting his friend, "And not because I cannot tell you, but because I do not think that those in the Soviet Embassy know anymore than we do. I think the Kremlin has kept them in the dark."

"You may not have heard, since you've been on the train, but Stevenson took Zorin to task in the U.N. about the missiles. He showed photos and everything. Your ambassador did not come out of the exchange too well. He just kept denying everything."

Illya shook his head. "When in doubt. . ."

"Deny" they said together, a mantra among U.N.C.L.E. operatives long used to working with politicians and diplomats.

"How did you get this?" Napoleon spoke softly as he reached up and just barely brushed Illya's damaged face, but his partner closed his eyes and found himself calmed by the contact. "I didn't really expect that you'd run into trouble, but I knew you were travelling without your weapons and identification and that that might make you a target for THRUSH if they happened to notice you."

Illya smiled crookedly. "Nothing so heroic I am afraid. Some drunken passengers in the club car took exception to the fact that I came from Russia."

Napoleon continued to run his fingertips across Illya's face, "You were lucky this was all you got. I take it you did not try to defend yourself."

"I might have if I had seen the fist coming," Illya said ruefully, "But I was too busy looking at the people in front of me to notice the man on the side who had not said anything but decided apparently that I had said enough." He could see anger in Napoleon's face. "It is alright, Polya. Everyone is frightened and that makes them want to lash out at someone, anyone. You want to now. Perhaps it was better that it was me than someone weaker and more defenseless. But the rest of the people on the train backed off after this happened and some of them were very nice to me."

Napoleon drew in a breath. "I have missed you, my friend. I have never felt the need to talk to you so badly as in the last few days when I wasn't able to."

"I know. It was the same with me. How soon can you leave, or do you have many hours of work still ahead of you?"

"I can leave. But I am on 24-hour call until Mr. Waverly gets back."

"Of course. Well I think it is high time you finally gave me that ride back to my apartment, Napoleon. We will pick up some dinner on the way. We are both too tired to cook. Then perhaps we shall play a game of chess."

"But it's Thursday."

"The circumstances are exceptional, Napoleon. I shall suspend the rules for the day, but only if you are so inclined."

They had not bothered to stop for food, the closer they got to home, the more inclined Napoleon found that he was and they decided to order delivery instead. So they carried Illya's bags up to his apartment, with even more complaining on Napoleon's part than from Mark, but no sooner had they gotten into the apartment than they were in each other's arms and the heavy bags and food was forgotten.

Napoleon practically dragged Illya to the bed. It was not as though his partner was unwilling, just not quite quick enough for Napoleon's taste. He flung Illya down on the rather hard and plain mattress. If Illya was surprised that there were sheets on it, he didn't have time to register the thought because he was so busy being ravaged by his partner's intense need, and reveling in the sensation of being so desired. Napoleon was gentle with Illya's face, but rough everywhere else, biting and grasping and tugging and pulling his partner into tighter and tighter embraces even as he stripped away his clothes. Napoleon wanted to consume his partner whole, needed to, to have him in such a way that he could never lose him again. Illya groaned deeply when Napoleon bit him again and again, leaving a trail of ownership down his neck, on his chest, and then down his belly. And when in one abrupt motion Napoleon took his partner's penis into his mouth and sucked upon it as if he would have it off, Illya cried, "Oh, Polya, take me please" and Napoleon felt his own need become even more pronounced. He knew what he wanted to, what he needed to do.

He reached into the drawer in the nightstand by the bed and found the lubricant. Looking into Illya's eyes, both the good one and partially closed one, he saw they'd gone dark with desire. Napoleon groped about for a cushion and then lifted Illya's hips and stuffed it underneath. He slicked up his fingers and reached down and began to prepare his lover for what was to come, slicking his opening and then massaging him first with one finger and then another, and enjoying Illya's squirming response. As he progressed he suddenly felt a slicked hand stroking his own member, preparing him in return. Illya had flexed around enough to reach him with that gymnast's body—god, that gymnast's body. Soon both were moaning with the same degree of unspent desire.

They had progressed slowly to the point of having sex in this fashion because Illya allowed Napoleon to define the boundaries of their sex life. The first time Napoleon had entered his partner had been revelatory in terms of sexual experience. They still did not do it often, but tonight he could settle for nothing less. He needed to be inside of Illya, to become one with him. He positioned himself and pushed, feeling that exquisite grasp that was his partner's hold upon him. He felt Illya relax and he slid himself in farther, aching to thrust. Illya held him in a velvety warm grip that was, yes, all the way down his shaft to the base. Somehow, impossibly, he became even harder and longer and heard as if from far away, his partner moaning "Now, Polya, please, please, now, make me yours" and he was rocking in this warm intimate place that was for him alone. He began thrusting fiercely, possessively, sliding across the sweet spot that made his partner tighten and moan with each stroke.

"You belong to me, my little Russian," he hissed, thrusting himself powerfully, deeply inside, and Illya cried out, "Always," and suddenly he felt himself release a flood and rush, an aching final thrust or two that drove out the last of his fears just as Illya himself poured forth on his own belly in a milky gush and fell back gasping.

He rested for a minute, flopped on top of Illya, enjoying the warmth of his body, the reassurance of presence.

"Miss me?" Illya said, his eyes closed.

"Not at all," Napoleon murmured.

"Ummm. I did not miss you either."

"That's what I thought. Did I hurt you?"

"I am fine. Napoleon, why is my bed made? I took the sheets off it before I left. I left them for the laundry to do."

Napoleon didn't say anything immediately and Illya opened his good eye to look at him. There was not much light in the apartment because turning on lights had not been a priority when they came in, but from the angle of his head and what little light there was, Illya could tell Napoleon was blushing. "You made my bed?"

"I wanted to believe you would come back to it." As simple as that. Illya felt the tears that had threatened to come to his eyes so many times in the last couple of days come to the surface again, but this time a few wended down his cheeks. "I came down here last night. I thought perhaps I would sleep better," Napoleon went on. "I have had the most terrible nightmares. We are apart; we are together but the bombs fall; the bombs fall and I can't save you but I survive."

"Oh Polya, I am sorry. I also did not sleep well. I too had dreams I think. But I only remember one. In it Mr. Waverly did not want me back for U.N.C.L.E., and you did not want me back at all. You both said I was an untrustworthy Russian."

"Illy, I would never think that of you. I trust you more than I trust anyone in the world. Even more than I trust myself. I would never admit it to anyone else and I will deny I ever said it, but your judgment is sounder than my own."

He paused for a moment or two and then spoke in a different tone of voice. "So you are telling me the world is on the edge of Armageddon and what you are most frightened of is that I'm going to reject you?"

Illya frowned. "I do not think I said that."

"I think you just did. You were more worried about me trusting you than about being destroyed by a nuclear holocaust."

"I do not believe I mentioned a nuclear holocaust at all," Illya said with irritation.

"That's exactly my point. You were so absorbed with your concern about me that you totally forgot about the possibility of nuclear war. "

"I hardly forgot about current events, Napoleon."

"Apparently you did, or they were the least of your concerns," Napoleon was up on his elbows crowing delightedly down at Illya, who was looking decidedly grumpy.

Illya shoved Napoleon off and to the side and got up, heading to the bathroom. Behind his back, Napoleon watched him, no longer looking smug, but instead merely amused and aroused at the sight of Illya's beautiful back and ass illuminated momentarily by the bathroom light before he pushed the door to. He got up and went to the door and knocked on it.

"What would you like on your pizza?"

"What I always want."

"Anchovies it is then."

The door opened swiftly. "I do not want..." Illya got no further because Napoleon had pulled him into his arms and was kissing him, slowly and deeply this time, holding the Russian tightly to him and when he released him from the kiss, still not releasing him from the embrace. He looked down into his face, not teasingly or with unbridled desire, but with love. He loosened his grasp enough to reach down and catch the string around Illya's neck from which hung the white pawn. He paired it with the red pawn that hung around his own neck. They both looked at them.

"I have never felt more like one of these than I have this week, you were absolutely right my friend," Napoleon said, "So inconsequential. So helpless. I am not used to being on the sidelines."

Illya reached out and closed his own hand around Napoleon's, catching the pawns inside both. "Nor am I, but now, at least we are together." He pulled himself closer into Napoleon's circling arm. "Now you said something about pizza?"

Napoleon burst out laughing. "How reassuring that your stomach will always keep us firmly anchored to reality, my friend." He slipped into the bathroom and got a cloth to wash up, calling out, "Shall we go upstairs to my place?"

"That would require putting on clothes."

"Hedonist. We will have to put on clothes for the pizza delivery man in any case."

"You can. You like putting on clothes." Illya had gone to rummage in the refrigerator, since he had heard it humming. He got out a chilled bottle of vodka. "I prefer taking them off." He gave Napoleon a wicked smile that took his partner's breath away. "Are you going to order the food or am I going to have to find something else to do?"

Napoleon found himself just standing there, unable to move, captured by the expression in those mesmerizing blue eyes, their power not diminished in the slightest by one being partially obscured. If anything it gave him a piratical appearance that Napoleon found even more desirable. Illya walked toward him swirling the vodka in his glass as he looked into the face of the partner he felt he had come so close to losing. He stopped in front of Napoleon, studying him. Napoleon gazed back. How had it come about that this scrappy, tough little Russian loved him more than anyone else? What had he done to deserve it?

Illya took his hand and led him to the bed, gently pushing him down and climbing and sliding into place on top of him. He wasn't speaking, but his eyes said everything that needed saying. He began kissing Napoleon in a series of long slow sweeping kisses and bites up and down his face and down his neck, pausing to dwell in the hollow of his neck while Napoleon's head fell back with a long sigh. Illya worked his way down Napoleon's torso, pausing to lavish attention on his partner's nipples before rising to his knees to work his way farther down. He rubbed the side of his face against Napoleon's belly, inhaling deeply and worked Napoleon's penis with sure strong strokes that made his partner arch and moan with desire.

Then he slid up to Napoleon 's face, his hand still caressing and said softly, "I want you, Polya, the way you wanted me. I want to experience all of you, to know that you are mine. I will be very gentle. Do you think this is something you can trust me enough to give to me?"

This was something they had never done before. Napoleon had taken Illya, but never the other way around. It was in many ways, the ultimate barrier for Napoleon to cross in his sense of who he was and his acceptance of what they did to and with each other. To surrender himself to another man in this fashion would be a demonstration of love and trust as well as a commitment to their relationship that he had yet to make. Illya had never hurried him about it. Never asked. But today, after this week, he needed to. He wasn't sure why, but he needed to. Napoleon looked into his lover's eyes and saw nothing but love and desire. He felt his fears slip away.

"I want to," he said, "I want you to. I want to know what it feels like to have you inside of me. But," he hesitated.

"You are a little afraid." Illya smiled. "That is natural. I will be slow and gentle and make sure that each step is a pleasure for you or we will stop." He raised up on one arm and kissed his partner, deeply and profoundly, letting his tongue tease Napoleon into a state of anticipation. Then he began to make love to him in a way he never had before.

Napoleon thought that he was being careful with his partner when he prepared him, but he realized that compared to Illya he was an amateur. Illya turned each stage into a performance, using his long musician's fingers to stroke inside of Napoleon and send a series of sensations that he had never imagined through his body, like fire directly to his brain. And each additional finger was simply a new stop on the instrument he was playing, giving new options to the sensations he created. At one point, when he was using all four, Napoleon arched his back so much he thought it would break, or he would, or the bed, before Illya released him momentarily from the thrill of that internal performance. And then there was a new performer, and Napoleon realized that Illya had entered him, almost without him realizing. Not far or hard, but was definitely there. Illya watching his reactions closely . He began gently to ease forward and Napoleon moaned, but it was not pain but pleasure that spoke in that sound. Illya aching with desire from the extended foreplay, focused on each sensation as he gently, gently began to move in the glovelike opening. He had deliberately worked Napoleon to a fever-pitch to make the actual experience be less sensitive than what had gone before and now as his partner reached forward to grasp at his thighs he knew he had succeeded.

"Oh God, Illy, I need you, all of you." It was as though the words released him and he slid smoothly forward the last bit, still watching his partner's face. Then he pulled back slowly and steadily, caressing Napoleon's sweet spot, and the sensation made them both cry out to each other and to God. "Fuck me, Illy, fuck me now." And Illya did, as if released from a spell, he released himself to the sensation he waited so long for, that he had imagined for years, and then all conscious thought left his mind and there was only sensation, hot sweaty, sticky sensation, like falling and not caring and finally realizing you've stopped and there is just you and this person you love beneath you, with your breath short and a silly smile on both your faces.

Illya shifted carefully until he was laying beside his partner, "Pain?"

Napoleon shifted about experimentally. "Not really. Kind of an odd sensation, mostly."


"Wonderful. I'm just sorry I've waited so long." He smiled, "It seems like I keep having to say that to you."

"I appreciate you ... sharing yourself with me." Illya looked down shyly.

Napoleon reached over and caught his chin and lifted it. "You just taught me that I still have a lot to learn. That was ... amazing." Illya blushed. He never knew how to deal with compliments. He had never been used to them. Napoleon caught his friend's head and pulled it close for a kiss. "And I did not know you believed in God."

Illya's expression turned from embarrassment to annoyance. "I do not."

"Then you must have been referring to me at that moment," Napoleon said with a grin.

"If it amuses you to think so, go right ahead, but when your head gets too big to let you leave the apartment do not expect me to feed you."

Napoleon laughed.

"Come on tovarisch, give up your natural lack of prudishness and pull on some clothes and we will go upstairs to my place to spend the night. We'll call for food and both get some sleep. I think we can both use it. And nothing against your Spartan preferences, but my bed is considerably more comfortable."

Illya smiled. "If you insist," pretending to not to care but preferring Napoleon's bed himself. He tossed back his vodka, which was sitting on the side table, while Napoleon cleaned himself up in the bathroom, and then followed suit. He slid into clean black slacks and a turtleneck, hiding the trail of bite marks that ran down his body. He gathered up the other belongings he would need in the morning and was ready to go.

It was not long before they were eating pizza and drinking tea, Illya declaring his head was starting to hurt again and he thought he'd had enough alcohol. After gorging himself on two thirds of the pizza, Illya stripped off his clothes, used the bathroom and got into Napoleon's deliciously comfortable bed only to find his old clothes. He smiled as Napoleon walked in.

Napoleon refused to be embarrassed. "You forgot your laundry."

"So you left them on your bed? What an interesting choice."

"Shut up and stop looking smug before I stuff that shirt in your mouth and tie you up with the jeans."

"That might be entertaining."

"Some other night perhaps," Napoleon yawned, "Right now, I'd really just like to get some sleep." He put his own clothes in the hamper and hung his suit. After a sojourn to the bathroom he too slipped into bed. Illya had already turned out the light.

"Napoleon I trust you are wearing pajamas."

"You trust wrong then."

"In that case, I am not sure I can let you sleep with me. It is Thursday." Napoleon reached out and found Illya's naked shoulder and pulled him close. "We will just have to trust each other my banged-up little Russian."

Illya gave a contented sigh as he slid back into the protective curve of Napoleon's body. "I will try my dangerous American. Napoleon?"


"Is this my home?"

"Yes, my dear friend . . . my love, this is your home."

"I am glad to be home."

"I am glad you are home too. May we both still be here tomorrow."

"I love you, Napoleon, even if you are an egocentric American."

"I love you too, Illya, even if you are an untrustworthy little Russian."

They interlaced their fingers, Illya snuggled tighter into Napoleon's embrace and they both slid off to a deep and restful sleep.

The world did not come to end. The Soviets ultimately withdrew the missiles from Cuba, but Illya's concern was justified. War was much closer than people at the time realized. Only forty years later, when papers were released from the Kremlin archives did it become clear just how close the two nations had actually come and how seriously the Americans had misjudged and misread the situation in Cuba. More than one pawn could have, and nearly did, push the world over the edge and into war during those terrifying days in October, 1962.

The KGB chief Aleksandr Feklisov and the ambassador, Anatoly Dobrynin, are real people, who I have taken fictitious liberties with in this account. Their roles in the Cuban Missile crisis are in some dispute. I have tried to make their actions here such that it would be in conflict with nothing that they are recorded as having actually done. The character of Todorov, however, is entirely my own creation.

If you would like to read the most compelling account of the crisis that gathers together the material from the KGB archives and other sources and thus paints the most complete picture to date of all the events, I recommend: Michael Dobbs, One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khruschev and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War. Knopf, 2008.

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