This story originally appeared in Clandestine 2, distributed by Lionheart Distributors.
Napoleon Solo huddled in his office pretending to be Illya Kuryakin. Oh, he didn't sport a new shaggy blond hairstyle or slink around Headquarters in tight black pants--oh, God! Those pants!--and black turtleneck. Nor did he speak with a sexy, British-tinged Russian accent. No, Napoleon Solo resembled his partner of three years—and lover of six months—because he was brooding. Not that he'd never himself brooded, but Illya had honed the technique to a new art form and Napoleon drew on his extensive, firsthand knowledge of that technique now.
Damn the rotten little Russian, anyway. Napoleon pulled himself back from that line of thinking. It wasn't Illya's fault that he was upset. Not directly. When they first became lovers, Napoleon convinced himself it was just a matter of convenient sex. Originally, they only sought each other out when no one else could be found. Within a month, though, Napoleon found himself going to Illya even when there was a willing woman practically throwing herself at his feet. To make matters worse, when Illya begged off, Napoleon would simply go home. Alone. By himself. And jerk off. With any other lover, he would have plunged into his little black book and found himself another date for the evening. The implications disturbed him. It spoke of emotions he neither wanted nor was ready for.
We never said we'd be exclusive to each other! And that was the crux of the matter, wasn't it? Illya never asked for a promise of exclusivity, yet Napoleon seemed to have imposed the condition on himself. How did it happen? Face it, Solo, you know how. Oh, yes. He knew. Sex with Illya was so phenomenal, so mind-blowing that after their first few trysts, every time Napoleon considered another partner for an image of the normally stoic, emotionless Illya in the throes of passion crossed his mind. Pouty lips parted in pleasure, heavy-lidded, sultry blue-eyed gaze, silky blond hair fanned over a pillow. When he thought of his Russian looking like that for someone else, man or woman, he would lose his desire for whoever was with him. To make matters worse, his desire for his partner then kindled into a raging inferno that only Illya could douse. A truly vicious cycle.
Napoleon rubbed his face and moaned. He couldn't go on like this. He had avoided committing to any one lover since his wife died and he had no intention of starting now. He would just have to quit thinking of Illya whenever he was with someone else. After all, what were the odds that the loner Russian would take anyone else into his bed? Slim. More likely, none. Even before Illya had a steady lover he seldom had sex with anyone. Now that he enjoyed a steady diet, Napoleon doubted the man would seek anyone else out. He breathed a sigh of relief. Of course! He didn't have to worry about someone else seeing his Illya in a state of unbridled passion!
He smiled and straightened his tie, brooding done. If only he could teach Illya how to get over such a mood as well as his partner had taught him to get into one! His smile softened at the thought of his blond lover. Had to admit the man looked sexy as hell when he submerged himself in a good Slavic brood.
Napoleon's thoughts were interrupted by the intercom. "Napoleon," Lisa Rogers' seductive voice purred, "Mr. Waverly wants to see you right away."
Lisa. A prime candidate to help him get reacquainted with the fairer sex. Napoleon grinned lasciviously as he firmly replaced the fantasy of Illya Kuryakin with one of Waverly's beautiful secretary. He still had the silly smile on his face as he met up with the blond man outside their respective offices.
Illya regarded him with suspicion, blue eyes narrowed. "What are you so happy about?"
Napoleon wiped the smirk off his lips. "Ah, nothing. Nothing at all."
The famous Kuryakin ghostly smile flitted across Illya's features. "Good. We wouldn't want you to be happy." Illya glanced at his friend and lover from beneath his lashes. No. Something else was going on in that mind and he didn't like it. He recognized the signs of Napoleon on the prowl.
Not that he would say anything if Napoleon saw someone else periodically. They had made no promises of cleaving only unto each other. He, himself, had considered a separate liaison on a few occasions in the last six months. But his friend kept him so sexually sated that he never acted on the idea. Why would he desire a stranger when the only person in the world he trusted completely made himself so available? Besides, since Napoleon apparently had forsaken all others about a month after they'd become lovers, Illya saw no reason not to do so, as well.
Unfortunately his Napoleon sense told him that was about to end. He quickly squelched the jealousy that reared its ugly head. If Napoleon felt the need to seek stimulation outside their relationship, he wasn't going to stop him. Still, he wondered what he lacked in comparison to Napoleon's other lovers. He grimaced inwardly. The answer was obvious. Breasts. He didn't have them. Not like a woman at any rate. Since he had no intention of growing some, there was not much he could do about that. He repressed a sigh. No use letting Napoleon know it affected him. Perhaps Illya should use the opportunity to add a little variety to his own sex life. He was used to variety, after all, since he never had a steady lover before falling into bed with Napoleon. Could be a nice change.
As they arrived at Waverly's office, it was Napoleon's turn to covertly study his blond counterpart. He wondered what he was thinking. It made the senior agent nervous whenever Illya sported that inscrutable look. He didn't have time to wonder about it right now but filed it away for later inspection. He settled into his normal place at the circular table and turned his attention to their boss as Illya did the same.
Mr. Waverly seemed unaware of their presence for several seconds, a vaguely surprised look on his face when he looked up at them. Napoleon knew better. The old fox knew everything that happened within the building. One couldn't go to the men's room without the Old Man knowing.
"Mr. Solo, Mr. Kuryakin, I have an assignment for you," he said in his gravelly voice. He paused, looking distinctly uncomfortable to the point of ignoring the pipe in his hand. Napoleon sat up straighter. Mr. Waverly seldom hesitated and very little fazed him. Out of the corner of his eye, he noted Illya stiffen in response, as well. He wondered what grave situation was causing their boss's nervousness.
"Harrumph!" Mr. Waverly said as he began to fumble with his pipe. "It is more of a personal favor rather than an assignment, actually."
The agents relaxed, the cause of the Old Man's discomfort now obvious. The Head of U.N.C.L.E. New York despised any man who used his power over others for personal gain. As a result, the elder gentleman seldom asked for favors and was embarrassed when he did. "Of course, sir. I'm sure I speak for Illya," he glanced at his friend who nodded his support, "as well as for myself when I say we will be happy to do whatever it is you need."
"Humph, yes, of course, Mr. Solo." Mr. Waverly filled his pipe with tobacco, then toyed with the idea of lighting it. Napoleon wondered what the favor was. He'd never seen Waverly look quite so constipated before. "Yes, well, it's actually a favor for my wife, gentlemen."
"We would be pleased to do whatever the lovely Mrs. Waverly needs of us, Sir," Illya said.
"Quite. It's rather silly, but for a good cause." The Old Man allowed a small smile to alight on his normally gruff face. Amusement twinkled in his watery blue eyes. "Although, I dare say, Mr. Solo, you will probably find it to your liking."
Two sets of eyebrows, one dark, one light, jumped upwards. "Oh?" Napoleon said, his interest piqued.
"My wife's club, The Women's Awareness League, is holding a fundraiser in order to raise money to help fund a new homeless shelter."
"Oh?" the agents chimed in unison, Solo's voice lilting with interest, Illya's sounding flat.
"Erm, yes. They are staging an evening based on a popular television show, The Dating Game. Have you gentlemen heard of it?"
Napoleon's eyes lit up. What luck! He'd just decided he needed to find some female companionship in order to distance himself from his male lover and here his boss was dropping it in his lap. An all-expense paid weekend to an exotic locale! "Yes, Sir! I've, ah." His eyes flicked to Illya. No reason to let Illya know how much the idea appealed to him. He tried to tone his excitement down. "I've, ah, heard of it."
Illya was probably the only human being in the world that would have caught the thrilled nuances. He frowned at Napoleon's exuberance. Napoleon's excitement about this Dating Game prospect made Illya wonder if he was bored with their relationship and ready to end it. He chided himself for jumping to conclusions. His first assessment of the situation was probably correct. Napoleon merely wanted to add a little spice to his sex life. Even so, thinking about Napoleon showing the same enthusiasm with another as he showed with him painted a very disturbing picture. "I'm afraid I don't know anything about it," he said.
Napoleon shifted in his seat to face him, obviously enjoying the chance to be the informed agent. Well, why shouldn't he be? He was so seldom in that position. Illya schooled his expression to one of polite interest.
"It's a game where three men compete to win the heart of the woman by answering a number of questions. The bachelor she finds most charming gets to spend an all-expense paid weekend with her." He grinned. "You haven't got a chance." Illya rolled his eyes.
Waverly interrupted before his agents could take it any further. "Each member of the Women's group is to provide two possible contestants for the game. Mrs. Waverly requested the two of your to be her offerings."
Illya didn't exactly like the way his boss phrased that. It made him feel like some sort of virgin sacrifice.
"The reason she asked for you, Mr. Solo, is obvious," Waverly continued. "Since we make use of your considerable charms on a regular basis, you were a logical choice. As for you, Mr. Kuryakin . . ." His eyes sparkled with humor. "Her exact words regarding you were, 'women melt around that young man like ice cream on a summer sidewalk.'"
Illya shifted uncomfortably in his chair. He hated being the center of attention. Then he caught the sour look on Napoleon's face and decided this Dating Game thing might not be such a bad idea. If Napoleon felt jealous about the possibility that Illya would get the date, maybe he wasn't bored with him, after all.
"You are to report to the Women's Center's conference room at two this afternoon for your auditions."
Napoleon paused. "Auditions, Sir?"
"Ahem, quite, Mr. Solo. The Women's group consists of over fifty members, consisting of the elite of New York City, Long Island and all the suburbs. Two possible contestants each gives them a large number from which to choose those to best represent the cream of the crop, so to speak, of the eligible bachelors of New York."
Napoleon smiled in confidence. "I'm not worried, Sir."
"Hmmph. I'm sure you're not, Mr. Solo."
Illya was worried. He really didn't want to do this. Unlike his partner, he hated being on display. He and Napoleon came at the same problem from different directions. Napoleon possessed a devastating charm to go along with his startling good looks. The senior agent used that to his advantage, whether for information or sex. Illya, too, knew his own power afforded to him by his looks. One of his KGB instructors once told him he was the perfect combination of both masculine and feminine beauty, a look which appealed to both sexes. Many people desired him. But they only wanted to own him, as the art lover sought to own a favorite Renoir. Something to show off to others and then lock away. Not for loving. Never for loving. Until Napoleon.
He started to open his mouth to convince Mr. Waverly he wasn't right for the job when he caught a glimpse of his partner's flushed olive skin. Illya's eyes narrowed. Napoleon only looked like that when . . . The man was sexually excited! He found the whole idea stimulating! Illya clamped down on his intended protest. "I'd be happy to help, Sir."
Bushy gray eyebrows raised in surprise. He'd probably expected the objections he'd almost received. "Very well, gentlemen. You have your assignments." He turned away in dismissal.
As they left the office and walked side by side down the hallway, Napoleon held his glee in check. What luck! An all expense paid weekend to some exotic place with a beautiful woman!
"You are assuming the woman will be beautiful."
Napoleon stared at him, startled. "Huh?" Had he said that out loud? He thought over the last few seconds. No. He hadn't. Illya was just using that psychic bond they shared. A bond that had strengthened since becoming lovers. Useful in the field but damned daunting otherwise. "You just seem very excited about the assignment. You must assume the woman who chooses the bachelor will be beautiful."
Illya's mild tone would have fooled anyone in the world except Napoleon. His trained ear picked up the storm brewing beneath the indifferent facade. Damn! His own anger started to rise. How dare the man get upset! It wasn't like Illya owned him! Napoleon thought it was a good thing he was about to set the brakes on this relationship before it got out of hand. When they reached Napoleon's office, he grabbed Illya's arm. "My office, Kuryakin. We need to talk."
Illya scowled at the hand squeezing his biceps. Napoleon released the arm and waved him toward the now open door. He felt a chill as the Russian brushed past him.
The slight blond planted his feet in front of the desk, crossed his arms and glowered. "What?"
Succinct as always. "What are you upset about?"
Shields Napoleon hadn't seen in his presence in six months slammed over his partner's face. His stomach twisted at the sight. He didn't understand exactly why it bothered him. Illya did that whenever he felt threatened or attacked and it just meant he hadn't felt that way in his presence for quite some time. Instead of acknowledging what that said about the trust the distrustful man placed in him, Napoleon became irritated.
"I'm not upset," Illya intoned, his voice completely devoid of inflection. "If that's all . . ."
"No that's not all!" Napoleon snapped. "You're jealous!"
Illya's blue eyes widened in innocent astonishment. "Me? Jealous? Certainly not."
Napoleon almost . . . almost . . . bought the act. "No? Then why do you seem bothered by my going on a weekend trip with a beautiful woman?"
"You are assuming you will win."
The American snorted. "You can't possibly believe you have a chance?" Napoleon regretted the words the second they left his mouth. Silence descended. Complete, ominous silence. The air around the Russian frosted so noticeably Napoleon almost expected to see his partner's breath turn to vapor. The expression in the blue eyes was one he'd only seen directed at the most repugnant of Thrush agents. Now it slammed him full blast. Napoleon winced at the impact. "Illya . . . ."
The younger man whirled and headed for the door. Napoleon hit the button on his desk that locked it. Illya stopped when it didn't open. "Let me out, Napoleon."
"I didn't mean that the way it sounded."
The blond head bowed. "If you're tired of me, Napoleon, just say so. I have no problem going back to being friends. You do not need to resort to personal attacks."
Uh-oh! He might have pushed things too far. He wasn't ready to stop having the Russian as his lover. He would be a fool to give up the most mind-blowing sex he'd ever experienced. He just wanted a little distance. He approached the black-clad figure carefully, as though stalking a starving wolf. He wrapped his arms around the hard-muscled body and nuzzled the silky hair.
"I've told you not to do that here!" Illya hissed as he tried to shrug him off but was trapped between Solo and door.
Napoleon ignored his request to cease and desist office necking as he'd done every other time in the past. "I'm not tired of you, Illya," he murmured as his lips moved to nibble Illya's ear. He felt the coiled muscles relax and congratulated himself. He was making headway. No one else could talk the stubborn Slav down like Napoleon Solo.
Illya regarded him over his shoulder. "Then what is this all about?"
Napoleon turned him around and kissed the full lips. He lost himself in the sweet-tasting mouth for long seconds. After several minutes of nonstop kissing, Napoleon pulled his face back while pressing his erection into Illya's hip. "Does this feel like I'm tired of you?"
"No," Illya panted breathlessly, the word sounding more like a moan than an answer.
"I still desire you but I never said I'd give up women." The body beneath his hands stiffened. Damn. Lost him. Sometimes the stubborn Russian was more trouble than he was worth. Napoleon's ire raised its ugly head once more. "Damn it, Illya! I never promised to be exclusive to you!"
Illya easily shrugged out of Solo's embrace this time, showing just how much he wasn't trying before. Napoleon's heart lurched at the sight of the completely unreadable face in front of him. It had taken months of practically living in each other's back pockets to learn to read Illya, a language just short of impossible for most to master. The fact that he couldn't read him now was bad.
"You're right," Illya finally said softly, an element in his tone Napoleon couldn't quite identify. "We never did promise exclusivity. I apologize for my reaction." He smiled.
Napoleon was so relieved to see those luscious lips curving upward that he didn't notice the smile didn't reach the calculating blue eyes. He also didn't notice Illya's pronoun use until the blond man left. He was too engrossed in self-congratulation to think about it until his inner voice, which annoyingly enough liked to play devil's advocate, pointed it out. WE. Illya had said WE never promised exclusivity. And the tone he couldn't identify, that annoying little voice happily labeled for him. Challenging.
The rotten Russian! Challenging him--HIM! Napoleon Solo! The Don Juan of New York Headquarters!--to a game of "get the girl". He was determined more than ever to win that weekend, though not quite for the same reason as before. Now he had a more compelling purpose. To make sure Illya didn't.
The two agents arrived at the Women's Center at exactly two o'clock that afternoon. A smiling middle-aged woman with a middle-aged figure handed them each a clipboard with questionnaire. "If you gentlemen will go into the main conference room there and fill these out, we'll get to you shortly." She pointed to a large room where other contestant hopefuls sat scribbling. Illya gave her one of his rare smiles, the one that was so sunny it could melt an iceberg. The one that made Napoleon want to grab him and fuck him senseless. The woman didn't stand a chance. Her own smile widened and a dreamy look settled on her slightly wrinkled face.
The American agent stifled a moan. Illya had a charm that rivaled his own when the man wanted to turn it on. Its intensity burned through one's defenses in a matter of seconds and turned its victims into puddles of molten desire. It was an unstoppable force. Napoleon never thought about it in relation to others because the little Russian so seldom gave it to anyone but him. He thought about it now. The blond dynamo had turned his charm switch to 'on' and there would be no survivors. It appeared as if Illya planned to rub Napoleon's nose in the non-exclusive rule he'd declared.
Solo's lips pursed in disgust as he noticed all the women within range of that radiant smile were fluttering their lashes at his lover. HIS lover. Jealousy threatened to overwhelm him until Illya turned to him and the smile, that special smile normally reserved for him and him alone, dropped into a smirk. The brat knew how he'd affected everyone in the room, including Napoleon.
Napoleon's eyes narrowed. Two could play at that game. The Solo charm was quite devastating as well. He took the woman's hand and lightly kissed it. "Thank you, young lady." She blushed, looking like she might swoon. Napoleon's smile which rivaled Illya's turned smug.
Illya quirked an eyebrow, but didn't otherwise comment. He decided that if he had to participate in this silliness—and he did since he had no doubt Mr. Waverly would not be pleased if his two agents didn't make a good showing—at least it could prove interesting to find out who would win this contest. He took his questionnaire into the room and searched for two empty chairs. He found them. Unfortunately, they weren't together. "I guess we'll have to split up."
"What?" Napoleon sounded a bit upset at the prospect. "Come on, Illya. Our little argument this afternoon isn't worth breaking up over," he whispered.
Illya grinned, absurdly pleased at Napoleon's reaction. "I meant in here. There aren't two chairs together."
Napoleon reflected the grin. "Yes, well, I knew that." He pointed to the right. "There's a couple not too far from each other."
Illya nodded. Napoleon took the first empty place they came to. Naturally. Illya continued four chairs down. As he approached, he couldn't help but notice the breathtakingly handsome man in the seat beside it. A nun would be hard pressed to not notice him. Perfectly groomed rich chestnut colored hair gleamed in the subdued lighting. He looked like he worked out, too. A lot. Before the affair with Napoleon, Illya tended to prefer a woman as a bedmate, but even then he had not been above considering a man for that role. Especially when that man looked like this. Maybe a nonexclusive rule for he and Napoleon would be a good idea after all. "Excuse me," he asked. "Is this chair taken?"
As the man looked up, irritation at the interruption glittered in his green eyes. His gaze raked over Illya's body before staring into his blue eyes, irritation evaporating. "No, it's not." He sounded like a native New Yorker, but not from one of the blue-collar neighborhoods. His voice chimed with the cultured tones of upscale Park Avenue. "I'm Ian Stone," he introduced himself as Illya settled into the other chair. He held out his hand in greeting.
"Illya Kuryakin," he returned, taking the hand. Ian had a good, strong grip. And a nice smile. Too bad the man was heterosexual. At least, Illya assumed so, since he was here looking to win a date with an eligible young lady.
He caught a look of disapproval on Napoleon's face and grinned to himself. Of course the Chief of Section Two of U.N.C.L.E. caught the exchange. Illya was again delighted by the reaction. He really didn't want anyone other than Napoleon. He had remained exclusive to Napoleon for the last six months by choice. He never lied to himself about that. He felt things for Napoleon he'd never felt with anyone else in his life. It scared him, terrified him, but excited him as well. He just dealt with it as he dealt with all fear. He ran headlong into the middle of it. Up to now, it had worked.
He turned his thoughts away from his partner, placing the clipboard over his lap so no one else would see the physical evidence of those thoughts and slipping his glasses on, turned his attention back to the questionnaire. Question One: Name? That one was easy. He sped through the basics. Address, (he used Del Floria's since he never gave out his real address), phone number (U.N.C.L.E.'s line reserved for just such purposes), eye color (blue), hair color (blond).
One of the Club members called a name and the other man beside Illya moved in response, providing a vacancy right next to him. A vacancy which Napoleon wasted no time filling. The brunet leaned over and perused Illya's answers. "You'll never even get in the game with boring answers like that," he chortled. He sounded insufferably pleased.
"I've only answered the basics, so far. How exciting can eye color and hair color be?"
A clipboard appeared under his nose. He squinted at Napoleon's neat writing. Hair color: rich, dark chocolate brown. Eye color: liquid pools of melted chocolate with a hint of green. Illya rolled his eyes. "Stuck on chocolate?"
Napoleon flashed his roguish smile. "Women love chocolate."
So do I. "Well, the chocolate in your eyes must be old." He pointed to the 'hint of green'. "It's moldy."
Napoleon snatched the clipboard away. "I bet the ladies of the Women's Awareness League will pick the moldy chocolate eyes over the boring blue eyes."
Irritation stirred at the barb. Still, an attacking Napoleon was a worried Napoleon. "We shall see." Challenge issued and accepted. He would do everything in his power to win the young lady's attentions. Time to see if Napoleon was willing to practice what he preached. Illya attacked the questionnaire with new enthusiasm, listing his PhDs, his language skills, martial arts skill levels. He left out his marksmanship and cat buurglary abilities. Somehow he didn't think the women would consider that good date material.
"Mr. Solo! Mr. Kuryakin! I'm so pleased to see you!"
Illya looked up at the familiar voice to see Mrs. Waverly standing in front of them. He bowed his head slightly. "Mrs. Waverly."
As usual, Napoleon tried to outdo his partner by standing and kissing the woman's hand. "Ahhh! You are lovely as always, Madam."
Mrs. Waverly smiled. "Always the charmer, Mr. Solo." Her blue eyes twinkled with amusement. They looked so startlingly like her husband's. Illya wondered how long it took for long-term couples to begin to resemble each other. His gaze flickered to Napoleon. Would he want to start acting like Napoleon? Not really. Although he had disliked the idea of not being exclusive to each other when Napoleon had brought up the subject, Illya was beginning to think the man had a point.
Mrs. Waverly patted Napoleon's hand still clinging to hers. "We'll be with you soon, dear. Right now," she turned to Illya, "we need to instruct Mr. Kuryakin on when to show up for the game. Congratulations, Mr. Kuryakin! You've been chosen as one of our contestants!"
"What?" Napoleon and Illya said at the same time. They were doing that a lot lately.
"He hasn't auditioned yet," Napoleon added. Illya wondered that, too, but was more intrigued by the fact that his lover was upset by it. Oh, his tone was urbane enough, but the Russian could hear the underlying consternation.
"No, he hasn't. But the ladies all want him for the game." Her smile became wider as she leaned conspiratorially close to Illya. "I knew the women would melt like ice cream on a summer sidewalk once they got a look at those lovely blue eyes."
Illya blushed in embarrassment. "If you say so, Madam."
"I say so. Come along."
Lips quirking into a crooked, self-satisfied grin, Illya gathered his clipboard and fell in behind his boss's wife.
"Congratulations, Illya," Ian said.
Illya glanced back with the smile that had won over the hearts of the ladies of the Women's Awareness League. "Thank you, Ian. Good luck to you."
Napoleon scowled at his partner's back as he left. Damn rotten Russian, anyway! How did he manage to do that? Everyone knew that HE, Napoleon Solo, was the Lothario of U.N.C.L.E. How did Illya get himself chosen as a contestant without even trying out? You know how. It was the eyes. Those brilliant blue eyes that changed from the dark blue of a storm to the bright azure of the sky depending on his mood. And the hair. The soft, silky strands of a color one couldn't get from a bottle. A glorious mixture of honey, molten gold and platinum white. The black turtleneck that clung, hinting at the power of the muscles beneath. The tight black pants--oh God! those pants!
"I can certainly understand why they chose him," a nearby voice murmured. Napoleon turned his scowl to the speaker. It was the man who had chatted up his lover. He didn't like the way the guy was staring at Illya's ass. With great difficulty, he resisted the desire to beat the man's handsome face into an unsightly pulp. He doubted Mr. Waverly would appreciate such a thing being done in the midst of his wife's women's group.
Besides, he had nothing to worry about. Illya wouldn't give the man a second glance. Even before the two agents had taken their partnership to a new level the Russian seldom looked twice at people. He just wasn't that much into sex. Oh, yeah? That damned inner voice again. The image of the passionate, uninhibited lover who had occupied his bed for the last six months leapt to the forefront of his mind. He thought of the smile the blond had bestowed upon the handsome stranger. A smile he'd come to believe was reserved for him alone. Napoleon was beginning to think the stupidest thing he'd done in his life was to tell his lover they'd never promised to be exclusive.
By the time Napoleon finished with his interview and audition, passing both with flying colors, it was past six o'clock. He called Headquarters to see if his partner had stayed late working, experimenting, or waiting for him. He'd hoped perhaps Illya would do the latter, but apparently the Russian never returned. Worry nipped at the edges of Napoleon's nerves, but he believed it was just a knee-jerk reaction to the news no one had heard from his friend for several hours. The hairs on the back of his neck didn't rise and that gut-chewing fear didn't materialize, his usual indicators that something had happened to the recalcitrant Russian.
He wondered if he should drop by Illya's apartment. Would he be welcomed after all the fuss of this afternoon? Would Illya be alone? The black thought intruded against his will. That damnable inner voice again. All the more reason to drop in on him. His car turned toward the Village where Illya lived in the little hovel he called home.
Illya heard the familiar knock just as he fitted the second boot over his foot. Chyort! He suspected Napoleon would show up after he finished the audition and had hoped to be gone by then. Now he'd have to come up with a believable story about his plans for the evening. He wasn't about to tell him about the cooking class he'd signed up for. He'd never live it down. Whenever Napoleon insulted his culinary efforts, Illya insisted it tasted as intended. He never admitted to his lover, who was almost as accomplished in the kitchen as he was the bedroom (well, maybe not quite that accomplished, but still quite good) that Illya Kuryakin—a man considered brilliant in the labs, skilled with explosives, and magic with picking locks and pockets—couldn't fry an egg without ruining it. Tonight marked his fifth class. He'd done miserably the first two classes, until his teacher discovered his affinity for chemistry. Once she told him to think of it as a chemical experiment, he improved greatly. The teacher now had high hopes for him, especailly since he hadn't burned anything since then. Still, he wanted to make sure he passed before letting Napoleon know he'd even attempted the course.
He sighed as the knock sounded again, more insistent. He settled his boot, then went to open the door. As expected, Napoleon stood there, looking almost as delicious as the food Illya hoped to learn to cook.
"Hello," Napoleon said with a slow smile as he slid inside and closed the door behind him. "I thought we could have dinner together."
Uh-oh! His husky, seductive voice. The one Illya found practically irresistible. The Russian cleared his throat. "Actually, I have other plans," he blurted, suddenly regretting those plans.
Brown eyes lost the sleepy, bedroom appearance and took on a dangerous edge. The sweet smile tightened into a lustful one. Illya stifled a shiver not from cold or fear, but from arousal. How he loved that aspect of his partner. Urbane and polite was all well and good, but the Russian, vicious in his own right, liked a ferocious Napoleon. Maybe he could skip the cooking after all.
"Oh? And just where do you think you're going?"
Illya's eyes narrowed at the silky tone that now crept into Napoleon's voice. He used that one on innocents he was trying to manipulate for his own selfish purposes. He didn't care for that. Nor did he care for the words which sounded like something a father said to a straying child. "That is none of your business."
"It isn't?" Napoleon ran a finger down Illya's chest, stopping to rub the right nipple through the black fabric of the turtleneck.
A delicious feeling. Illya leaned into it. "No, it isn't," he said, marveling at how steady his voice sounded.
Napoleon moved closer, his gaze taking on a more distinct predatory glint. Bozhe moy, what that does to me! Illya thought. Cooking classes? Who needed cooking classes? It didn't matter if he burned the eggs in the kitchen. As long as he burned his lover to sated cinders in the bedroom, it didn't matter at all. And he was indeed fire in bed, at least with Napoleon. He'd never enjoyed sex so much in his life as he had for the last six months.
Napoleon kissed a pale cheek. "There's no point," he murmured, kissing Illya's newly shaven jaw, "for you to look for someone else for the night."
Someone else? Oh! Napoleon thought he had a date! And he was jealous! How dare he! Although, he kind of liked the idea of Napoleon being jealous. He'd never seen the American act this way with his women paramours. The few times one of them tried to make the Lothario of U.N.C.L.E. jealous, the man simply shrugged, said "c'est la vie" in that truly awful accent of his and moved onto his next conquest. A ghost of a smile played at Illya's lips. "So, you think I should stay home tonight?"
"Mm-hmm." Napoleon murmured between butterfly kisses along Illya's jawline as his hands reached around and fondled his butt.
"With you?" Illya closed his eyes, responding to the attention. Where was he about to go again? Oh. Yes. Cooking. In the bedroom.
Napoleon chuckled as he pulled back and studied the desire-flushed face. He took Illya's mouth, forcing his tongue between resisting lips. He knew it was an act. His fiery little Russian enjoyed the competition to see who would end up on top. So, for that matter, did he.
The competition he didn't like was that of other people vying for the blond's attentions. Like that Ian fellow this afternoon. Pushy bastard. Not that the man had a chance. The Russian was ice to the world at large. Only Napoleon knew of the inferno that raged beneath that arctic freeze. He planned on keeping it that way. As long as he kept him sexually satisfied, Napoleon Anthony Solo would own Illya Nikovich Kuryakin lock, stock . . . and cock. He broke off the kiss and started nipping down Illya's neck. "Yes, I want you to stay home with me tonight."
"Tomorrow night." Nip a little lower.
"Wednesday night." Lower.
"Thursday night." Even lower.
"Mmm." Illya's eyes flew open as the wrongness of Napoleon's last two statements pierced his testosterone-fogged brain. He pushed away and glared at Napoleon suspiciously. "What happened to Friday and Saturday?"
Napoleon smiled. An infuriating, smug smile. "Well, I'll be with the girl from the game, won't I?" He moved to start his lip assault once again
"Mmm." The timbre of the sound changed from the earlier ones. Napoleon didn't seem to notice as Illya placed his hand on his chest and rubbed it, coyly looking at his lover from beneath blond bangs. He saw the spark of triumph in the dark eyes and he knew for sure his partner, friend, and sometime lover was manipulating him. Manipulating him as he did his women conquests. Illya shoved hard, savoring the look of shock that replaced the triumph in Solo's eyes as he slammed into the closed door. "No, Napoleon, you won't be with the girl. I will. But, for now, I think you should leave. I. Have. Other. Plans." The cooking class suddenly felt like the place to be tonight. He could go fry something and pretend it was Napoleon's cock. Balls, too. Sauteed in butter.
"Come on, Illya," Napoleon wheedled as he reached his hands out to take the blond into his arms. He snatched them back to safety at Illya's glare, afraid the Russian wolf might just bite them off. His expression darkened dangerously.
This time, Illya didn't find it exciting. He found it infuriating. "Go home, Napoleon." He snapped out each word, leaving no room for misinterpretation.
"You really believe that girl will choose you, the Ice Prince of U.N.C.L.E. over me, a noted ladies' man?" He laughed, a decidedly unpleasant sound. "Think again, partner."
The Ice Prince lived up to his name. Napoleon swore the temperature of the room fell thirty degrees as he was treated to the Russian's blank, unreadable stare. "Get out while you still can," Illya said evenly, his voice dipping into the danger zone.
An ugly picture formed in Napoleon's mind of those blue eyes burning with passion as they gazed at someone else. To make things worse, his fertile imagination spurred on by that sadistic inner voice, no doubt, supplied a possible recipient of that gaze. Ian. "So who's it with?" he growled. The words came out before he could think to stop them. He kicked himself for revealing his jealousy.
"What are you talking about?"
"Your plans. You've got a date, don't you?"
Definitely jealous. Illya was careful not to let the satisfaction show on his face. "As I told you before, Napoleon, it's none of your business."
"Whatever you say," was the silky response. Illya flinched slightly. A bad sign, that silk. Napoleon's face closed completely, revealing nothing, even to the man who knew him best. An unusual occurrence. Illya wondered if perhaps he had roused Napoleon's jealousy a bit too much. Illya decided he was too angry to care. He shrugged into his jacket and hustled Napoleon out the door. They traversed the stairs in strained silence. Once outside, Illya glanced at his partner, who was standing with hands in pockets, looking innocent. Blue eyes narrowed. He knew better. "Don't follow me, Napoleon," he warned.
The answering smile didn't reach dark eyes. "Of course not." They went their separate ways.
Once Illya gave Napoleon the slip, the American stalked home, fully intending to find a willing bed partner from his little black book to help him pass the evening. After all, Illya . . . rotten Russian . . . had left him frustrated after getting him all worked up earlier. Napoleon sat on his couch, clutching what Illya had dubbed his 'date book,' grumbling to himself and thinking about all the ways he could make the blond regret throwing him out. Winning the date on Friday would be a great start. He fell asleep on the couch, black book still in hand and still closed.
While Napoleon spent his evening brooding, an art learned at the hands of a certain Russian, said Russian attended his cooking class. During the course of the evening, his instructor commented that if he had really been working with chemicals, he would have blown them all to kingdom come.
Illya hoped for an assignment. One that would take them both out of the country and away from the stupid Dating Game. He had no idea what had possessed him to ever agree to participate in such a thing. Yes, he did and it could be summed up in three words: The boss's wife. The only way to get out of it was for him to be on assignment or in the hands of a THRUSH torturer. As luck would have it, his luck, at any rate, THRUSH was taking a vacation. Of course. Never a THRUSH torturer around when one needed one.
More out of circumstance than design, he didn't see Napoleon at work for the entire week. He also didn't see him at home but then he had been working long hours in the lab and had not returned home before ten o'clock on any given night. He felt his cooking teacher was especially happy about that particular turn of events.
He finally caught up with Napoleon on Friday afternoon. He entered the cafeteria at one-thirty, well past his partner's normal lunchtime. Napoleon was there after all, sitting alone and eating a sandwich. He looked up as Illya entered and smiled, waving him over. Illya nodded, got a sandwich, chips, and iced tea for himself, then joined his friend.
"Long time no see," Napoleon said pleasantly, pleased to see his lover. Four days of celibacy was an eternity for him. He'd gone out on a couple of dates, but in each circumstance, he ended up finding the woman trite and unappealing. Both dates ended early, the women's virtue intact. "I was beginning to think you were avoiding me."
"I've been busy." Illya smirked. "I hear you have also been busy, orientating the new recruits." He took a bite of pastrami on rye.
Napoleon grimaced. "Don't remind me."
The Russian washed down his sandwich with a swallow of tea. "There must be at least a couple of gems in the group."
Napoleon reached to snag a chip. Illya slid his plate over a bit to give him easier access. "There are a few that might turn into something. But they are so young, Illya! We were never that young!"
Illya snickered. "Oh, yes we were. And that green, too. Give them time. They'll shape up."
Napoleon smiled. "I'm, ah, glad you feel that way. When I assign one to you on an assignment, I expect you to be the model of patience."
Illya snorted. "I will be my usual patient self."
"That's what I'm afraid of."
Illya grinned. "Then don't pair any of them up with me."
"I'm sure they would thank me if I didn't." He paused. "What's been keeping you so busy you couldn't even call me?"
Illya picked up a chip and toyed with it. "I did call. Last night. You weren't home." He popped the chip in his mouth so he wouldn't ask the question he really wanted to ask. Did you sleep with her? With a lover as insatiable as Napoleon, Illya was now used to having sex regularly. He was a little irritated that Napoleon had decided to scratch his itch with someone else while leaving him to tend to himself.
"Oh? Ah, what time?"
The Russian shrugged as he chewed the last bite of pastrami. "I got home around ten so maybe ten-fifteen."
"You should have tried again. I was home by ten-thirty." Napoleon dropped his voice to a level only Illya would hear. "I would have liked your company." He would have much preferred spending the night with Illya than his hand, which was what he'd ended up with.
Illya shrugged again. "I was asleep by then." No, he wasn't. He was pleasuring himself by then. "How about tonight?"
"Ah, well, I expect to be busy this weekend. Remember the fundraiser?"
"I'm trying not to."
"Why? Afraid of losing to the master?" Napoleon straightened his tie and shot his cuffs.
"Hardly. Besides, it may be a moot point."
"Oh? How's that?"
"They are planning on a total of ten games, twenty minutes each. For each game, there are three men. The chances are good that we will not be in the same game which means we both have the chance to 'go home with the prize.'"
Napoleon smiled widely. "The Old Man himself told me Mrs. Waverly said the women of her club were intrigued when she told them of our rivalry. They've slated us for the same round. Which means, partner, we will be competing against each other."
Illya shrugged with a nonchalance he didn't feel. If he were a betting man, he'd bet on Napoleon for this contest. Illya would be going into this with a distinct disadvantage. His charm was a visual one, and this game hid the male contestants from the woman. His ice cream melting eyes would do him no good from behind a screen. "We shall see," he said, hiding his insecurities behind a shrug.
"Well, it has been said I can charm the skin off a snake."
"And you don't believe I can?"
"Illya, my friend, you're more likely to take a knife and peel the skin off."
Illya couldn't argue with that. Still . . . "I managed to charm you, didn't I?"
Napoleon laughed. "I'm the one who lured you into my lair, my prickly Russian. Not that I mind having a wolf in my bed." And he was sorely disappointed to have missed his opportunity for just that last night. He mentally shook himself, glanced at his watch and stood to go. "I really must be getting home."
Illya frowned. "Already? It's only two o'clock."
Napoleon straightened his jacket and tie, then shot his cuffs. "The winners of the competition leave immediately after the event is over. I want to be well rested. Can't show the lady a good time if I'm too tired." He raised his eyebrows suggestively.
The thought of Napoleon entwined in someone else's embrace for an entire weekend nearly strangled the Russian. They hadn't spent a free weekend apart since becoming lovers. The idea of their weekend routine of making love, eating and conversation being shared with someone else irritated him. He sighed to himself. There was only one way to keep that scenario from happening. He would do his level best to win tonight's competition, thus keeping his lover out of a strange woman's arms. The thought of having to actually try to win this insipid contest strangled him even more. "Well, some of us have work to do. See you tonight." Illya picked up his dishes and carried them to the dish window.
Napoleon watched the retreating backside. Such a nice backside, too. Damn he wished he hadn't missed Illya's call last night. If he hadn't been out with Monique. No, no. He shouldn't think like that. He wasn't going to sit around at home waiting for his unpredictable lover to call. Not even when it meant dating a woman who thought insulting the fashion taste of every other woman in the restaurant served as stimulating conversation.
What if Illya won the contest? Even though he was very confident in his ability to woo the fairer sex, there was the "Illya Syndrome" to consider. That was the name he gave to the phenomenon whereby women fell at the man's feet and groveled for his sexual attentions. He didn't understand it. Oh, yes you do! Okay, damn it! He did understand it. After all, he was also a victim of the "Illya Syndrome." He just managed to check himself before he groveled. But damn if he didn't want to, sometimes.
Visions of his blond partner rolling around the bed with an empty-headed woman tormented him the entire taxi ride home. By the time he walked into his apartment, he no longer wanted to win the game in order to distance himself from Illya, but to keep the Russian out of a stranger's arms.
Napoleon showed up at the fundraiser at six-thirty sharp as instructed by Mrs. Waverly and her cohorts. Like the majority of the male contestants, he was resplendent in a tuxedo. He looked better in his than the others did, though. His lips pursed as he caught sight of Ian. Except, maybe, him.
He turned away from that particular thorn in his side and searched for a bright blond head. Although there were a couple of other blond men in the crowd, they tended to be darker blond in color. Not like the silky white-blond strands of his lover. Napoleon finally saw him, slight figure in his usual attire of black turtleneck, black suitcoat and tight black pants. Hmm. Delicious.
Napoleon shook off the sudden desire to peel those tight pants off that tight ass and have his way with him in front of the ladies of the Women's Awareness League. They'd certainly be aware after that! Although, by the hungry looks they threw Illya's way, they'd probably want to join in. The thought cooled his ardor. He didn't plan to share his Russian with anyone, ever. To that end, he reiterated his vow to win this stupid game and keep him out of the claws of some grasping female.
Illya's eyes were fixed on his lover as he moved in his graceful, catlike way toward him. "Hello," he said when he reached his side.
Napoleon fingered Illya's lapel, knuckles 'accidentally' brushing against the muscular chest. Napoleon's fingers itched to feel the soft skin he knew lurked beneath the black knit. He cleared his throat as he dropped his hand before he did something he shouldn't do in public. "I see you dressed up for the occasion," he said sarcastically. "You must not want to get chosen by the young lady, after all."
Illya's slight grin said he knew the knuckles were no accident. "We will be behind a screen and she won't see us until she makes her choice. By the time she sees I'm not wearing a tuxedo, it will be too late to change her mind. In the meantime, I'll be comfortable."
Napoleon chuckled, amused as always by his partner's devious turn of mind. Only Illya. May he never change.
"Hi, Illya!" They both turned at the intruding voice. Ian. He of the handsome face and well-toned body. Napoleon scowled in disgust. "You made it, I see." Illya flashed Ian a brilliant smile.
Napoleon's scowl deepened. That smile was his and his alone! How dare Illya give it to someone else! Illya's covert glance his way made him realize he did it precisely because he knew the effect it would have on his lover. Napoleon forced himself to relax, determined not to give the slight blond the reaction he hoped for. There was no cause for concern, anyway. Ian was straight or else he wouldn't be competing in a game in which the prize was a date with a woman. You're here, aren't you? He gritted his teeth. One day he was going to strangle that maddening inner voice. Probably on the same day he strangled his obstinate little Russian.
"Attention, everyone!" Mrs. Waverly said. The men fell silent. "Our first three bachelors are Napoleon Solo . . . ." Napoleon pulled himself to full height and stepped authoritatively to stand beside Mrs. Waverly. " . . . Illya Kuryakin . . . ." Illya slipped to the front of the crowd. " . . . Ian Stone." Ian flashed a grin at Illya and a grimace at Napoleon as he fell in beside them.
Mrs. Waverly led them to the stage area. Illya could hear the sounds of the gathering crowd on the other side of the curtain. She had told him the audience had paid five hundred dollars per seat. He'd watched the Dating Game on TV during the week. Why anyone would spend such money to watch some woman ask three men silly questions and decide whom to date for the weekend was beyond him. He could think of much better things to do with five hundred dollars. Arrange his own weekend with a person he already knew and liked for one thing. Someone like Napoleon.
"You'll be Bachelor Number One," directed a woman with bottle-blond covering the gray in her perfectly coifed hair. She pointed to the first chair to the right of a large, white screen and gently pushed him toward it. "Bachelor Number Two," she said to Napoleon as she showed him to the second chair.
"By process of elimination," Ian said good-naturedly as he sat in the last chair, "I assume I'm Bachelor Number Three."
The woman nodded and smiled. "We're starting in about five minutes. Speak clearly and the mikes should be able to pick you up." She nodded at three microphones suspended above them.
Napoleon straightened his cuffs, watching Illya fidget out of the corner of his eye. "Nervous, tovarishch?"
"We are being displayed on a stage in front of two hundred people we can't see because of the bright lights in our eyes. Why would I possibly be nervous?" Illya deadpanned.
Napoleon blanched. He hadn't thought of that. He wondered, somewhat belatedly, if there might be THRUSH in the audience waiting to shoot them down. Then he realized Waverly was also out there and the security was probably tighter than a drum. He scrunched his face at his partner.
Illya grinned as he leaned in and whispered, "I helped plan the security for the event."
Napoleon's retort was cut off by lively music. The stage curtains parted, stopping just before the three waiting men were revealed. The music ended at the same time. "Good evening and welcome to the Women's Awareness League's First Annual Find-A-Date Game Fundraiser! I'm Skip Page and I'll be your host for tonight!" the emcee hyped in his pleasant baritone voice. "The concept of this game is very simple! Backstage in a soundproofed area, we have a lovely young woman armed with questions awaiting a chance to find a date with one of these three bachelors!"
Applause thundered and the bouncy music started up again as the curtain opened the rest of the way to reveal the men. Security or no security, Illya scanned the crowd. The lights were bright, but not so much so that he couldn't see some of the audience in some detail. He'd required that as part of the security planning. He had no intention of sitting in front of people he couldn't see. Although with important people like the Rockefellers, the Vanderbilts and the newly elected Mayor Lindsay in attendance, he had no doubt there existed even more security than he knew about. He noticed Napoleon also checking the audience. At least they were still on the same wavelength in some things.
Illya listened with half his attention to the droning of the emcee. "Bachelor Number One has a Ph.D. in Quantum Mechanics. He speaks ten languages fluently and has a working knowledge of ten others. Please welcome Ill-yah Cure-yak-kan!" Illya flinched at the butchering of his name. The audience didn't seem to mind as they clapped enthusiastically.
"Bachelor Number Two is an international salesman for the Harcourt Trading Company. His favorite pastime is sailing on his thirty-foot sloop, the Pursang. Meet Napoleon Solo!" Illya snorted. Sailing wasn't exactly Napoleon's favorite pastime. Napoleon threw a sideways glare at him, then plastered his most charming smile on his face as he waved to the audience. The clapping increased and Napoleon turned his smile on Illya. Illya ignored him.
"Bachelor Number Three is an associate attorney with the law offices of Swindle and Swindle. He enjoys dancing, weight lifting and martial arts. Say hello to Ian Stone!" More wild clapping. Ian raised a hand in salute. Illya tilted his head and leaned forward a bit to get another look at him. He had thought the man had the right musculature for a martial artist. Ian grinned at him and raised his eyebrows. Napoleon's lip curled as he leaned forward just enough to block Ian's view of Illya.
"For extra fun," Skip hyped on, "you can compete with each other by choosing whichever bachelor you think will take the lady's heart in each game. You'll find a clipboard under your seats with the line-up for tonight's games!"
Illya wondered if they were all drunk. They had to be. Only a drunkard would spend five hundred dollars to fumble around under an uncomfortable chair while dressed in eveningwear. He leaned toward his bachelor competitors and murmured low enough for only them to hear. "It is a bit disconcerting to watch several hundred socialites dressed to excess and digging around under their chairs as though looking for spare change. Amusing, but disconcerting." Napoleon snickered. Illya had a wicked sense of humor which came out at the oddest times.
Ian's shocked gaze flicked to the audience, half of which still fondled the undercarriage of their chairs, then to the Russian. Illya raised a single eyebrow and Ian clamped his lips tight in a partially successful attempt to stifle his laughter. Napoleon's mirth fled. He sniffed in irritation at the man's intrusion into his and Illya's moment. How many times had the man done that now? Three? Four? Too many in Napoleon's mind. He decided he could kill two birds with one stone tonight. Keep Illya out of the lovely young woman's arms and show Mr. Ian Stone just who was the better man. Yes. He liked that idea.
The music's tune changed slightly as Skip introduced the young woman in question. "Our first young lady is an interior designer for the Bessinger Design Firm. She's a fan of rock and roll and a lover of cats. Please give a big welcome to Miss Jennifer Harlow!"
The crowd applauded loud and long. Napoleon perked up. She must be some looker for such a response. Keeping Illya out of her hands was important, but he decided that putting himself in them could be of equal importance.
The music ended. "So, Jennifer, what is your favorite rock and roll band?" Skip asked.
"Oh, I love the Beatles!" she giggled.
She actually giggled. Illya despised giggling. Just how old was this woman? He forced himself to sit still and not peek around the screen to find out. From her somewhat high-pitched breathy voice, she sounded fifteen. Surely she was at least eighteen. He hoped for at least twenty. At least at twenty, she would be in the same decade as he. A decade he had only one foot in since he would see thirty on his next birthday.
He sighed to himself. Was preventing Napoleon from having a weekend with this girl worth the trouble of enduring that same weekend himself? He glanced at his lover. Flushed, eyes wide, nostrils flaring. If Napoleon were a dog, his tongue would be hanging out and his ears standing at attention. Pretty sure bet something else stood at attention, as well. Oh, yes. Assuring Napoleon got nowhere near the brainless beauty was worth the worst kind of torture. Even the kind involved with spending time listening to the Beatles and playing with cats.
"Let's let our bachelors say hello, Jennifer. Bachelor Number One?"
Illya started, realizing Skip meant him. "Yes?"
"Say hello to our lovely young lady."
"Oh. Um. Hello," he mumbled.
"Please speak up so the microphones can pick you up, Bachelor Number One. Bachelor Number Two, say hello to Jennifer."
Napoleon smirked, obviously enjoying Illya's embarrassment. "Well, hello, Jennifer. How are you this evening?"
His voice was smooth as the liquid pools of chocolate his questionnaire declared as his eye color. Jennifer murmured her approval. Ian took his turn, the "hello" rolling off his tongue seductively. Illya cringed inwardly. He had sounded like a frog.
"They're all yours, Jennifer," Skip said.
"Oh, goodie!" Jennifer giggled. The sound crawled up Illya's spine. "Bachelor Number Two . . ."
Uh-oh. In the TV show, the first question was always directed to Bachelor Number One. He should have been first. The fact she skipped him over for Napoleon couldn't be good. Solo knew it, too, judging by the triumphant look on his face.
" . . . I love a foreign accent."
Oh! She should have asked him! He was foreign! And he had an accent! He would have had her eating off his fingers if she'd asked him that one!
"In your best foreign accent, tell me what your ideal date is."
Napoleon straightened. "Of course, my dear," he proclaimed in what Illya could only surmise was a French accent. A truly heinous French accent. The Russian squinted as the discordant sounds hit his eardrums. Napoleon continued, unaware of his friend's consternation, or, perhaps to spite it. "My ideal date would be one spent with you."
"Oh, how sweet!" Jennifer gushed. "And I absolutely loved your accent!" Napoleon smirked at his lover. Illya rolled his eyes.
"Bachelor Number Three, same question," she mewed.
"Ah, my favorite date is one that includes fish and chips," Ian declared in passable cockney.
Illya's eyes glazed. Fish and chips. That sounded rather good. He hadn't eaten since breakfast.
"Oh, loverly!" Jennifer said. Her cockney was not passable. "How about you, Bachelor Number One?"
Ah! His turn! This was a question tailor-made for him. He glanced smugly at Napoleon. "My ideal date is one in which I discover new things about my companion and about the world." He talked in his normal, light accent of Russian tinged with British.
Silence. Dead silence. She must be stunned, awed, and completely enamored. "Um, that wasn't much of an accent," she finally murmured.
Napoleon guffawed, quickly turning it into a cough at Illya's frozen stare. Personally, he thought Illya's accent sexy as hell. He could hardly contain his glee that the woman turned out to be completely oblivious to it. It also made her completely insane, in his opinion, but if it helped his cause, he didn't care.
He did care about the gaze Ian cast in his partner's direction, complete with a small, mysterious Mona Lisa smile. If he didn't know better, he'd think he saw interest glinting in those green eyes. Sexual interest. No. No. Couldn't be. He shook off the jealousy. Amusement. Yes. Amusement over Illya's embarrassment. Anger replaced the jealousy. He'd punch the man's lights out later for being so insensitive. Right now, he had a contest to win. One which would allow him to bed a woman for a weekend while keeping Illya from doing the same. A very important contest.
Jennifer's somewhat irritating voice cut into his thoughts. "Bachelor Number Two."
He'd have to kiss her a lot in order to keep her mouth shut. "Yes, Jennifer?"
Illya stiffened at Napoleon's tone, recognizing it as his lover's bedroom voice. He hadn't heard Napoleon use it on anyone else in six months. Even while flirting Napoleon had stopped employing it. The fact he used it now bothered him greatly.
"Bachelor Number Two, could you describe Bachelor Number One to me?"
The smile on Napoleon's face fell off as he turned to gape wide-eyed at Bachelor Number One. Illya schooled his features to blankness and raised one eyebrow as if to say, "And just how ARE you going to describe me?"
Napoleon nearly choked as he stared at his partner, best friend, and lover. Frost rolled off the Russian in waves, an icy wind blowing across Siberian snow. The hot seat never before felt so frigid. He knew he had to handle this carefully or Illya would never forgive him. He couldn't quite face the idea of never making love to or waking up next to the man again.
"Ah, well, ah . . . ." He hesitated, the devious centers of his mind working furiously. Illya's questionnaire flashed into his brain. Of course! He'd use the same description Illya used for himself! "He's ah, blond, and, ah, has blue eyes."
"Is that all? Just blond and blue eyes?" Jennifer asked, obviously expecting more.
"Yes, well." Napoleon cleared his throat, trying not to see the danger glittering in those blue eyes. "Ah, he is wearing a black turtleneck, jacket, and pants." He was not going to tell the woman just how tight and sexy those black pants looked on the blond. Oh, no. He would never tell her that.
Jennifer made an exasperated noise. "Would you say he's handsome?"
Hell yes, he was handsome! Gorgeous. Sexy. But there was no way he was going to admit that to a woman who might want to use that hard body for her pleasure. Illya's questioning expression became less frigid and more amused as though reading his mind. Rotten Russian! No matter what he said, he was doomed and Illya knew it. "He's okay," he finally mumbled. Illya probably would only deny him sex for a couple of weeks for the compromise.
The audience laughed openly at his discomfort. Many of them furiously scribbled on their clipboards. Illya shifted in his chair, immensely disliking being on display for the overdressed, bourgeois capitalists. He should never have agreed to this. He repressed a sigh. As if Waverly gave him a choice.
"Um. Okay," Jennifer relented. "Bachelor Number Three, maybe you could give me a better description of Bachelor Number One?"
Illya's gaze flicked to Ian. The man's cool appraisal caressed his body. Illya frantically tried to put a stop to his burgeoning response. Long practiced techniques kept his cock at only half-mast but he couldn't quite stop the flush that heated his skin. Luckily, he doubted the audience would notice. Not so luckily, Napoleon did, if the glower on his face was any indication.
"Well," Ian purred, "Bachelor Number Two was indeed right that he has blond hair and blue eyes. A more detailed description, however, would be hair the color of honeyed wheat and eyes the color of the sky on a bright spring day. A bit shorter than average, but he looks like he works out. All in all, anyone who appreciates the masculine form would find him quite nice to look at."
Illya's eyes widened and he quickly looked away from Ian. A glance at Napoleon's snarling visage told him he didn't want to linger there, either. That left the audience. His gaze was caught by shrewd, blue-gray eyes. Mr. Waverly's eyebrows rose high, his expression a cross between exasperation and amusement. Or perhaps it was hysteria. The way his lips worked, he did appear to be on the edge of a mental breakdown.
Jennifer was gushing again. "Wow, Bachelor Number Three! You are a very thoughtful man! I like that!"
"Er, thank you." Ian sounded like someone was strangling him. It was subtle and Illya doubted the vacuous Jennifer or the equally vacuous Skip or even the clueless audience heard it. His trained ear did, though. He sneaked a peek, but couldn't tell what caused the man's difficulties.
"Bachelor Number One, your turn now! Please describe Bachelors Number Two and Three."
Napoleon sat up straighter. A pleased twinkle settled in his eye. He gazed at his lover expectantly, daring the Russian to do better than he did.
Illya licked his lips, considering. Napoleon hadn't exactly extolled his virtues when asked. Not like Ian. He wondered what was more important. Keeping Napoleon away from the girl but mad at Illya or risking the chance of his lover spending the weekend in bed with Jennifer, but not mad at him. He weighed the two. A mad Napoleon was better. He could get around that by going Ice Prince on his partner. "His eyes are moldy chocolate. His hair is chocolate, too. You know how chocolate looks when it sits out in the car on an extremely hot day, all melted and greasy."
The audience loved it. Loud, raucous laughter broke out. Ian joined them.
Napoleon's head turned slowly to regard his errant lover. Illya swallowed his own grin at the look on the brunet's face. Did he think Napoleon might get mad? Livid was probably a much more appropriate term. The Russian drew on some of his earliest training and stared at his lover with wide-eyed innocence.
Too bad Napoleon didn't buy it. A pleasant smile blossomed across the handsome face. It made Illya nervous. Although not so much as the glint in the moldy chocolate brown eyes. It said the American was about to pull off the kid gloves and pursue the prize of a weekend with Jennifer with a vengeance.
Illya swallowed. He had no chance at winning. Maybe before, although with Jennifer's reactions to his answers, not highly likely. But if Napoleon was only partially trying before and planned on really trying now . . . He had no chance. A smirk and raised eyebrow hid his lack of confidence. He nonchalantly turned away from that insipid smile.
Once the audience settled down, Jennifer said, "Forget giving me a description of Bachelor Number Three." Her voice choked with what Illya thought might be disgust. "And one more thing," she added snidely. "You can stop with that hokey accent! It didn't work the first time around and it won't work now."
"Yes," Napoleon muttered, his sibilant 's' more pronounced than usual. "Your accent is atrocious."
"Yes, it is," Jennifer agreed. "And I would appreciate it if you wouldn't use it anymore."
"I'll try my best," Illya said flatly, his features smooth and expressionless.
Skip interrupted. "You have time for a few more questions, Jennifer."
For the next few minutes, Jennifer asked questions of Bachelors Number Two and Three, but conveniently forgot Number One even existed. Each time Napoleon was asked, he threw his lover a look of smug victory as he gave his answers. His perfect answers. Eloquent answers. Suave, debonair answers. And Jennifer ate it up like one would an excellent bowl of borscht.
While he was ignored, a small part of Illya's attention remained on scanning the audience for signs of trouble. The rest of his mind went on thinking about what this turn of events meant for the relationship he thought he and Napoleon had built the last six months. Apparently there was no relationship. He could accept that. He just wished he knew before he let some of his guards down. Before the ice surrounding his heart melted enough to allow a certain dark-haired American into it.
How was he supposed to know? No, they hadn't discussed making theirs an exclusive relationship. But when Napoleon Solo, the infamous lover of New York and beyond stopped seeing anyone else, and Illya was as close to certain of that as possible, what was he to think? For the four years of their partnership Illya never knew Napoleon to remain loyal to any lover nor any relationship to last longer than a few weeks, much less six months. Any logical person would assume their relationship had shifted into a new category.
Well, Illya Nikovich, that will teach you to assume anything. Especially where Napoleon is concerned. The true stupidity of it all was the fact he let himself actually feel something for a noted womanizer. Stupid? Insane.
He noticed Napoleon trying to get his attention but he ignored it. Probably just wanted to gloat. They both knew who had won this contest. Not Illya. And although Ian was not blundering quite like him, his answers tended to be just a little off. A little too mundane. Almost as if he didn't want to win. Figured. Illya was so inept at dealing with people, a man who wasn't trying did better than he did even when Illya was really working at it. His spirits sank a little more.
Napoleon watched his friend fall into a proper Russian brood. Although the handsome face held a blank, nonchalant expression, he could see the melancholy lurking in the back of those beautiful blue eyes. Napoleon knew why. There was no way Jennifer would choose Illya for her weekend companion. He rather doubted she would go for Ian, either. No, she would choose him, thus making Napoleon the unequivocal victor of his and Illya's competition.
He didn't feel very victorious. He felt guilty about the whole sordid situation. He tried to catch Illya's attention but the blond studiously ignored him. Rotten Russian! At a time when all Napoleon wanted to do was gather him in his arms and soothe away the depression, Illya wouldn't even look at him. Napoleon wondered if he could throw this contest at this stage of the game. Maybe if he started giving really bad answers, she'd pick Ian instead.
"Bachelor Number Two," Jennifer said. "If we were stranded on a deserted island, what would you do?"
Napoleon stopped himself before he did what came naturally and said something incredibly romantic in grand Napoleon Solo style. Instead, he thought about what Illya would say. "First, I'd build a signal fire in case any ships happened by. Then I'd make us a shelter and find food and water. I guarantee you would survive, my dear."
The audience shifted in surprise. They hadn't expected such an answer from him. Illya also shifted, but not in surprise. Napoleon recognized it as anger. What did he do this time? He tried to throw the contest! Why would Illya be mad about that?
Illya glared at his soon to be ex-lover, eyes narrowing suspiciously. That was not a Napoleon answer. That was the Illya Kuryakin way of thinking. Napoleon was not only rubbing in his triumph, but showing that he could beat Illya at the seduction game even if he acted like him. Cossack! The man had seen the last of a certain Russian's ass unless there was a bullet lodged in it.
"One moment, please! Jennifer . . . ." Skip's voice cut through Illya's ire. The emcee talked lowly for several seconds. The Russian strained to hear what Skip said, but couldn't quite catch it.
He did manage to hear a feminine sigh and Jennifer's whine. "Do I have to?" At another murmur from Skip, she said, "Oh, all right." Another sigh, then, "Bachelor Number One," she snapped petulantly.
She was being forced to ask him a question! Titters from the audience indicated they knew it, too. Illya wished he could slink away and lick his many wounds. He would rather subject himself to a Thrush torture session than this. He threw up every shield in his formidable collection, schooling his expression into one of indifference. No one would know his embarrassment at being singled out so. "Yes, Jennifer?" He practically yawned her name as though her very existence bored him.
"What do you like to do in your spare time?" She sounded like she didn't care one way or the other, since she was forced into civility.
The idea of giving an innocuous answer never occurred to him. No. Pent up frustrations from the last week of anticipating this stupid game overrode good sense. If he was going to go down, he was going to go in a conflagration of flames that rivaled one of his most spectacular explosions. He smiled wolfishly. "I like to play with Schrodinger's Cat."
"If you like cats so much, Bachelor Number One," Jennifer sneered, "why don't you have one of your own to play with instead of a friend's?"
Illya's feral expression made Napoleon nervous. Even the previously unflappable Ian seemed apprehensive. What was the devious Russian up to now?
"No, you don't understand. Schrodinger's Cat isn't a friend's pet. It's a puzzle of quantum mechanics." His voice dipped into indulgent professor mode. That made Napoleon even more nervous. That tone usually indicated an explanation of something extremely unpleasant.
The American wasn't disappointed.
"The idea," Illya went on, "is to put a cat into a sealed box containing nuclear material and a complex machine consisting of a hammer, a vial of acid and an electron as a trigger. When the electron is triggered, if it remains unmoving, the hammer remains unmoving, which, in turn, keeps the vial intact and the cat lives. On the other hand . . . ."
The audience murmured uncomfortably, afraid of what came next. Napoleon glanced to Waverly. The blue-gray eyes were wider than he'd ever seen them, the face whiter. He fervently hoped his partner didn't cause their boss to have a heart attack on the spot.
Illya forged forward, seemingly oblivious to the reaction he caused. " . . . if the electron moves at all, even the tiniest bit," he scrunched his shoulders and held his thumb and forefinger slightly apart to indicate a small distance, "the hammer drops, breaks the vial which releases the acid, thereby killing the cat."
Jennifer squeaked, a very satisfying sound in Illya's opinion. The audience had gone completely still. By the look on Waverly's face, Illya knew he was going to pay for this transgression, but the vicious little beast Napoleon often accused him of housing within his slight body didn't particularly care. There were times Illya threw caution and good sense to the wind and followed his heart. Becoming Napoleon Solo's lover was one. This was another.
"But that's not the most fascinating part," he continued, becoming animated as he warmed to his subject and the response it elicited in his victim. "Due to the electron's quantum nature, it can technically do both things at once. By the theories of Quantum Mechanics, the electron stays still and moves simultaneously and therefore, the cat is both alive and dead at the same moment in time. At least until the box is opened, which must be done in order to observe the outcome of the experiment. Of course, the act of opening the box may actually be what kills the cat."
He leaned back in his seat wondering if he still had a career, yet curiously unrepentant. A stolen glance at his boss showed he had no worries, anyway. Waverly shook his gray head, a look of frustrated bemusement on his face. Illya knew he would pay for his irreverence for the Women's Awareness League's fundraiser, but, luckily, not with his job. He'd probably be assigned to writing reams of reports but he doubted it would be anything worse than that.
The rest of the audience sat in stunned silence staring at him with morbid fascination as though he were some strange and grotesque corpse found in the middle of Central Park. His gaze slid to Napoleon, who stared at him in open-mouthed shock. Illya was absurdly pleased. Wordlessly, he reached over and tapped Napoleon's mouth closed. Over Napoleon's head, he caught a glimpse of Ian. The lawyer's eyes teared as he gallantly attempted to swallow his laughter. Illya shrugged and gave him a tiny smile. At least someone appreciated his sense of humor, act of desperation though it was.
Skip cleared his throat. "Um, I think it's time for us to let Jennifer decide which Bachelor she is going to choose for a romantic weekend." He sounded a bit strangled, but barged valiantly onward. "Will it be, um, Bachelor, ahem, ah, um, Number One."
The whole audience seemed to choke on that one. Napoleon couldn't blame them. What the hell was Illya thinking with that cat thing? He not only crashed and burned on that one, but disintegrated. It suddenly occurred to him that had been the point. Illya, having already lost the interest of the woman and the contest between them, threw it away completely. That way he could honestly say he lost on purpose and save a little face. Leave it to his Russian to find a way to turn a loss into a strange sort of victory. The talent irritated Napoleon but he also admired it.
"Bachelor Number Two." Skip said that one easily. "Or Bachelor Number Three. We'll give you three minutes to decide."
"No need, Skip," Jennifer said. "I already know who I want to spend the weekend with. Bachelor Number Two."
The audience didn't seem surprised as they compared their own picks. Neither did Illya. "Congratulations, Napoleon. You won."
Napoleon's victory tasted like ashes in his mouth. All because he was afraid of the emotions the Russian evoked in him. He mentally kicked himself. He may have destroyed the best thing that ever happened to him just to spend a weekend with a woman he'd never met when he could have spent it making love to a brilliant, interesting, dangerous, sensuous, passionate blond Russian. He didn't win. He lost more than he thought possible. "Illya," he began.
Skip's drone interrupted anything he might say. Which was probably a good thing, since he didn't know what to say. "Bachelor, ahem, ah, um, Number One has a Ph.D. in Quantum Mechanics, which should be obvious to us all at this point." The audience laughed nervously. "He is fluent in ten languages and has a working knowledge of ten more. That's his real accent, by the way, Jennifer. Say hello to one of the men you didn't choose, Ill-ee-yah Cure-yah-can!"
Illya pushed himself off the chair and stalked around the screen. The petite, big-breasted bottle blonde shied away from him as his icy gaze slid over her. Of course. Just Napoleon's type. He would enjoy himself immensely this weekend, no doubt. Illya turned away from her and faced the audience.
"Bachelor Number Three is an associate attorney with the law offices of Swindle and Swindle. He enjoys dancing, weight lifting and martial arts. Say hello to the other man missing out on your charms, Ian Stone!" Ian came out all smiles. He pecked Jennifer on the cheek--she didn't shy away from him--and moved to stand next to Illya.
Illya noticed Ian's smile changed subtly, became soft and seductive, as his gaze raked over him. It made him warm and gave him the chills at the same time. So did the way their shoulders brushed as they stood side by side.
The bouncy music started as Skip extolled the virtues of Jennifer's dream date. "Bachelor Number Two is an international salesman for the Harcourt Trading Company. His favorite pastime is sailing on his thirty-foot sloop, the Pursang. Jennifer, welcome your date for the weekend, Napoleon Solo!"
Skip swept his arms toward the screen from which Napoleon emerged with a flourish. Illya stared straight ahead, unwilling to see the look of sexual excitement he'd come to associate with himself directed at the vacuous Jennifer. He gratefully exited when Skip none-too-gently nudged him toward the side of the stage.
Napoleon sadly watched his lover's retreating backside. There was a good chance he'd never get to see the perfect ass hiding beneath those tight pants again. He tore his eyes away and looked at the woman who made it possible. He smiled at her as he studied her features. Blonde hair that came out of a bottle, with a 'do stuck together with that lacquer called hairspray. Nothing like Illya's soft strands of, as Ian had so aptly put it, honeyed wheat. Her curves were nice enough, but he wasn't sure he'd like the softness as much as he did Illya's slight but hard-muscled body. He no longer looked forward to the weekend in . . . where? Atlantic City? So much for exotic.
Illya stood in the wings listening to Skip describing the wonderful trip to Atlantic city. Napoleon would enjoy that. He liked the sun. Illya didn't. He burned too easily. He much prefered the cold. Well, he'd have an entire weekend alone to form the ice back over his heart. It was obvious his time with Napoleon as a lover was over. Come Monday, it would be back to just partner and friend. It would be hard, but he would handle it as he handled all painful things. Freeze it out.
Ian came and stood beside him, shoulder brushing once more. "So, your friend won."
"Which means your weekend is free, right?"
Illya frowned as he pulled his gaze from Napoleon's smiling face and settled it on Ian's. "What makes you say that?"
The handsome man shrugged. "You two seem very close, that's all."
"Hmm," Illya answered suspiciously.
Ian put his hands in his pockets and rocked on his heels. "This Schrodinger's Cat sounds rather intriguing." He tilted his head and his green eyes sparkled at Illya. "Could I buy you a drink while you explain it to me in more detail?"
A ton of cinder blocks fell on his head. Ian was interested in him! Illya raised an eyebrow as he flicked his gaze from Ian to Napoleon and back to Ian. Why not? Napoleon made his position on their relationship perfectly clear. Why should he sit around by himself this weekend when a perfectly acceptable and willing man offered his company? Ian was easy to look at and, from what he could tell so far, intelligent. He could prove a stimulating companion. "Where?"
Ian sighed in relief and smiled. "You can choose."
Illya's shy smile crossed his lips. "Do you like jazz?"
Green eyes sparkled with undisguised glee. "It's my favorite. I have a hard time finding people who share my obsession with it, though."
The weekend might not be so bad after all. At least it would keep him from brooding the whole time. Napoleon thought Illya enjoyed his depressions, but he really hated them. He just found it hard to pull himself out of them sometimes. If Ian could help him with it, he didn't mind. He'd work on his deep freeze next week. "How about The Fairer Sax in the Village?"
Illya stiffened as Skip stopped his droning and Napoleon and Jennifer exited the stage, arm in arm. He supposed he should congratulate Napoleon and wish him a fun weekend. If he wanted to save their partnership, and he did, he'd have to simply accept this and move on. He hardened himself against the hurt that penetrated deep inside and the feelings that wanted expression. He held it all in check.
Jennifer recoiled from Illya as he approached. The action infuriated Napoleon and he found himself feeling slightly repulsed by his date. His eyes narrowed as he realized Ian followed close behind his lover.
Illya's eyes were glacial as they acknowledged and dismissed Jennifer in one glance. They didn't warm appreciably when they settled on him. Napoleon rocked on his heels. He'd be in for one of Illya's Siberian winters once he got back from this weekend. Not an unexpected outcome and he'd weathered such things before, but still not a pleasant prospect.
Illya grudgingly put out his hand. Napoleon took it, running his index finger along Illya's palm in one of his normal affectionate gestures. Illya acted as though he didn't notice. "Congratulations, Napoleon." The softly accented voice was devoid of inflection. He only did that when he thought his feelings might get used against him.
Illya dropped his hand. "Hope you enjoy your weekend." He looked questioningly at Ian. "Ready to go?"
"Whenever you are."
Go? With Ian? Napoleon didn't think he liked that idea. And he knew he didn't like how Ian seemed to undress the Russian with his eyes. His lust-filled green eyes. Jealousy reared its ugly head and bit Napoleon on the ass. "Ah, Illya!" Illya turned back to him and raised a questioning eyebrow. It never ceased to amaze Napoleon the variety of emotions Illya could put into that eyebrow. He bounced on the balls of his feet. His smile was feral, hinting at danger. "And just where are you two going?"
Illya stared at him for several long seconds before finally intoning, "That, my friend, is none of your business." He spun and stalked away.
"Be right there, Illya!" Ian called after him. He turned to Napoleon with a smirk.
Napoleon wondered if the man knew how close he was to having that smirk shoved down his throat. Along with his teeth. "Yes, I'm very pleased you won," Ian continued. He glanced meaningfully at Illya's exiting form. "Very pleased." He leaned in and whispered in Napoleon's ear. "You see, I only participated in this because my boss made me. He doesn't know I'm gay." The smirk grew broader and he trotted after his date for the evening.
Napoleon's heart dropped into his feet.
Early Sunday afternoon Napoleon stopped at his apartment long enough to drop off his luggage then immediately set out for Illya's place. He stood in front of the brownstone that housed his friend's apartment, heart in his throat. What kind of reception would he receive after his stupidity last week?
He climbed the stairs with determined steps and soon stood before Illya's door. Without stopping to think he knocked their code to let the paranoid Russian know it was he and not some crazed THRUSH scientist wanting a subject for a new experiment. Not that Illya didn't have reason to be paranoid. Such things did happen to him with alarming regularity.
Illya froze his hand that held a glass of vodka at the familiar knock. He frowned, puzzled. What was Napoleon doing here? Probably coming to regale him with tales of his weekend with the lovely Jennifer. Past experience told Illya the man's sexual encounters with her would be recounted in gory detail. No thank you. He lifted the glass to his lips, but didn't lift a finger to answer the door.
No, he didn't care to hear about how much Napoleon enjoyed Jennifer's company. He didn't care to see the self-satisfied look Napoleon sported after a weekend sex marathon. Especially since he'd turned down the opportunity to do the same. He was so disgusted with himself. Ian practically threw himself on his cock and he'd turned him down. Napoleon might not feel the need to be exclusive, but Illya obviously did. He felt guilty about kissing another man and about entertaining the idea of sleeping with him. How pathetic. Not to mention insane. He always knew he was off-balance. A bit more, even, than the average Section Two agent. He must have finally gone around the bend.
The knock sounded again, more insistent this time. What was he doing back so soon? He decided he didn't care to know. "Go away, Napoleon," he muttered under his breath. "Chyort!" he muttered when he heard the key scrape the lock. He'd forgotten about that. "Go away, Napoleon!"
Napoleon paused when he heard the command. What was going on in there that Illya didn't even want to let him in for a minute? "Fucking Ian."
Damn it! He thought he killed that thing! Well, if his inner traitor was right, he brought it on himself. He considered going home and waiting to talk to Illya tomorrow. Correction. Apologize to Illya tomorrow. Or, he could ask Ian to leave them alone so they could get this straightened out now. That would be better. He took a deep breath and twisted the key.
He was ready for the sight of Illya entwined with Ian. He wasn't ready for the sight that actually greeted him. Illya sat on his threadbare couch, staring at him with angry, bloodshot, bleary eyes. A large, nearly empty bottle of vodka was on the coffee table in front of him and a large, full glass was in his hand. He wore white underwear and black socks. All in all, he looked fairly comical. And sexy as hell.
"I don't remember inviting you in."
"You gave me a key. That's an invitation of sorts." Napoleon jiggled his key ring.
Illya contemplated the statement for a second. "Oh. I suppose it is. Now that you're in, what do you want?"
Napoleon surveyed the apartment. Unless Ian was hiding in Illya's tiny closet, an unlikely event considering it was barely big enough to hold Illya's coat, he wasn't here. "How, ah, was your weekend with Ian?"
"That had better not be jealousy I hear, Napoleon."
"No. No." Yes. Yes. He squelched it, though. He'd brought up the nonexclusive spectre in the first place. Although his immediate reaction was that it applied only to him, his sense of fair play sent that idea packing rather quickly. Illya was right in asserting Napoleon had no say in whether or not he bedded the man. But the thought of Ian with his sexy blond made him sick.
"Mmm." Illya sipped his vodka. "Want a drink? I think I have some scotch in the cabinet."
Napoleon helped himself to the liquor. He shook his head as he glanced at the label. It was a brand he'd never heard of. He kept the most expensive vodka in his freezer for Illya and in return, Illya kept the cheapest scotch for him. Ah, but what most people wouldn't realize was that Illya buying the scotch at all meant a great deal. He poured some in a jelly jar glass and took a tentative sip. Not too bad. It only choked him a little. He tossed in a couple of ice cubes. Drink in hand, he returned to the living room.
"To what do I owe this visit?" Illya asked. "For that matter, aren't you back from your trip a little early?"
Napoleon dropped onto the couch. "She, uh, developed a headache."
Illya pulled his glass away from his lips and drew back. Delight and amusement flickered in the back of his eyes, quickly suppressed. "Did she?"
Napoleon rolled the jelly jar between his hands. "Yes, well. I don't think she had a very good time."
"Oh, come now, Napoleon. You are nothing if not a fun host."
"She didn't seem to think so."
"Hmm," Illya snorted. "She struck me as a fool when I met her. I believe my assessment has been vindicated."
Napoleon was heartened. Maybe this weekend hadn't done as much damage as he'd thought. "You think so?"
"We didn't even spend much time on the beach. Jennifer doesn't like the water.
"How boring." Illya unsuccessfully tried to suppress a yawn. "Sorry. I didn't get too much sleep this weekend."
"Of course not. He was too busy having sex with Ian." SHUT! UP! Even if that were the case, it was none of his business. His tormentor fell silent, but he knew it was lurking, just waiting for another go at him. "It sounds like you had a much more pleasant weekend than I did."
Illya shrugged. "Not really."
"Oh? Didn't you spend it with Ian?"
The blue-eyed gaze darted away. Another nonchalant shrug. "Part of it. Friday night."
"Oh." They sat in silence for several minutes. What else could he say?
"Illya, you're mine and I don't want to share you with anyone, ever?"
Yes. Thank you. Very funny. He stopped just short of dismissing the notion. Why not? Wasn't this whole misunderstanding caused by the fact they'd never discussed what they both wanted out of the relationship?
"Not exactly. It was caused by you being afraid of . . . "
Enough! He was very aware of his fear of commitment. Yet without his knowledge or conscious consent, he had committed himself to a blond-haired blue-eyed Russian wolf. So why not make it official? Obviously his good sense got over the fear. Surely his ego could as well. "I didn't sleep with her."
"Jennifer. I didn't sleep with her. I, ah, couldn't."
Confusion creased Illya's brow. "You couldn't? As in, couldn't perform?
"Oh, I could have performed. At least, I assume I could have if I had cared to try."
Illya sighed impatiently. "What are you talking about?"
Napoleon's own patience frayed. "For such a brilliant man, you are extremely dense! Do you want me to spell it out?"
Hard-headed Russian. He wasn't listening. Napoleon slammed his drink onto the coffee table, then pried the glass from Illya's hand and placed it beside his own. He leaned in and brushed a kiss across the Russian's soft lips. "I think you and I should be exclusive."
"Exclusive? To each other?"
Illya chuckled. "Good. I didn't want to be insane by myself."
Napoleon laughed as he dove in for another, more passionate kiss. Illya responded, hungrily sucking his tongue into his mouth. Napoleon groaned and wrapped his arms around the hard, muscular body. "I thought about you every minute I was with Jennifer," he moaned as he trailed small kisses across his lover's stubbled chin and down his pale throat. His hands roamed over the hard erection, barely covered by the thin fabric of his underwear. God, he felt good! His own hard-on pressed painfully against the zipper of his pants. "She didn't smell as good as you. She didn't taste as good as you."
Illya shoved his chest. He glared at him accusingly. "You tasted her?"
Of course the detail-minded Russian would pick up on that. "I kissed her a couple of times." Illya started struggling out from under him. Napoleon used his extra weight to pin him in place. "And you're telling me you didn't at least kiss Ian? I know you never went in for dating much, but I also know that once you let someone catch you, you're a willing participant in things."
Illya's struggles ceased. A petulant expression settled on his face as he folded his arms across his chest. "I kissed him once," the Russian admitted.
Even though Napoleon had suspected as much, the admission still twisted his insides. "You kissed him?"
Illya looked at him in defiance. "Once! You were on a romantic weekend. And you had reminded me we had not promised exclusivity."
Napoleon pulled back and regarded Illya seriously. "So I did. I was wrong."
"And you're sure you want a commitment with me?"
"Tell me again."
Napoleon shook his head, a rueful grin on his face. "I want for us to be exclusive to each other."
Illya just stared at him. Did he believe it? He suddenly glanced around, then pushed Napoleon away and jumped up, searching for something. "Wait. I want to record it."
"What?" He was willing to accept exclusivity. He was willing to commit to Illya. Damned if he was going to record it because Illya was too paranoid to accept his word. "Like hell you are!"
Illya stopped his search and looked at him, mischief in his blue eyes. Napoleon growled in mock anger as he jumped to his feet and tackled Illya. They both went down in a heap and rolled around to see who came out on top. This time he won, straddling Illya's hips in such a way their groins rubbed deliciously against each other. He lightly ran his fingers over the pale chest. He was beautiful. And all his. "You're mine, Illya and I don't want to share you with anyone, ever."
Illya replied with a smile. That smile. He noticed differences between this one and the one Illya had given Ian. That one was contrived, not quite natural. This one was as genuine as they came. As long as he could bask in that smile that was reserved for him alone, Napoleon knew he could forsake all others.