Disclaimer: Don't own 'em. Don't make money off 'em. If pressed, I'd admit they belong to somebody else though I'm not sure who, but really that's slavery. They should be free! Rated NC-17 for m/m smut. Originally started for the "Dance" challenge on Muncle but it's way past the deadline now. I'm not good at writing to deadlines. :-)
Soundtrack: k.d. lang: Hallelujah; Jesse Cook: Closer to Madness;
Thanks to my betae, Ardent, Bluster, Ndannais, and certain other folks who shall remain nameless, for all their assistance, critical thoughts, and support.
"I beg your pardon?" Illya said calmly.
Alexander Waverly no doubt took that to be a request for a restatement, but Napoleon knew better. It was more along the lines of 'what the fuck?' He eyed his partner, seeing the heightened color flare along high cheekbones, and the tension that thinned his incongruously lush mouth. His normally-blue eyes had gone grey.
Waverly gave his sole Russian agent a stern look, clearly admonishing him for not paying attention. Either that, or Napoleon wasn't the only one who'd figured out that Illya was basically swearing in public.
"As I said, Mr. Kuryakin, you will be undercover as a member of the company. It's the best way for us to get someone in at a level where the normal workings of the company can be observed without disturbance. We've arranged a small accident for one of the other dancers and you will replace him."
Illya cleared his throat and looked at something over Waverly's right shoulder. "One assumes you are aware that not all Russians are trained in the ballet."
A tiny almost-smile nearly cracked Waverly's façade. "One assumes correctly, Mr. Kuryakin. Which is why you will be working in the corps de ballet, not as a principal dancer. I believe your background in gymnastics should stand you in reasonably good stead here. Sadly, none of our other agents even have that much physical training to draw on." He sent a jaundiced look around the table, and everyone rustled their files uncomfortably, looking as if they had personally failed him, and UNCLE.
For a moment Illya looked as if he were going to refuse, but finally he settled back into his seat in a disconsolate slouch. "Yes, sir."
"And me, sir?" Napoleon asked, smiling as he waited to hear what sort of assignment he had drawn. Perhaps a journalist, to interview the svelte young ballerinas. Or better yet, a photographer. He contemplated that thought with some satisfaction. Usually he would have had his pick of assignments, but this mission was one Waverly himself was running, possibly because the institution in question was one near and dear to his wife's heart.
"Ah yes. . ." Waverly looked at his file. "You, Mr. Solo, will be going in as an IRS agent."
Napoleon felt his smile grow tight. "I. . .R . . ."
"S," Waverly interrupted. "Yes, Mr. Solo. An Internal Revenue Service agent, an auditor to be precise. That way you have a legitimate excuse to examine their records for irregularities."
Napoleon glanced at Illya, who quickly raised a hand to scratch at his nose, but not quite quickly enough to hide the smirk. He caught similar expressions forming on several other faces around the table, and wondered if it would be too egregious a misuse of power to send them all on assignment to the Arctic.
After the meeting adjourned, he headed toward their shared office with Illya, who looked as disgruntled as Napoleon felt. Wanting a little payback for that smirk, Napoleon patted him on the shoulder with mock-empathy. "So, my little dove, you get a chance to show off your delicate grace and . . ."
Illya stopped, reaching out to grip Napoleon's arm by the biceps hard enough to make him wince. "Not another word," he hissed like an angry cat. "Not one."
Taken aback, Napoleon shut his mouth on the rest of his sentence. Illya usually responded to teasing with amused resignation, not outright anger. After a moment Illya released him and strode off down the hall. Napoleon hurried to catch up.
"Illya, wait! I'm sorry, I didn't realize it was a sore spot."
"I do not have 'sore spots,'" Illya said defensively as they entered their office.
Napoleon let that slide. "Right. In any case, I'm sure you'll do fine. I mean, how hard can it be to carry a girl in a tutu around the stage for a while?"
Illya rounded on him again. "Napoleon, you would make a more convincing dancer than I." His tone indicated that was about as likely as the moon turning out to be made of green cheese. "You, at least, are graceful, while I have all the grace of a bull elephant."
Aha. Napoleon distinctly heard quotations marks in that comment. "Who told you that?"
Illya dropped into his chair and kicked a foot rhythmically against his desk, making the metal flex. Napoleon waited patiently, eyebrows lifted. Illya thought for a while, and finally spoke, the words clearly pulled out of him against his better judgement.
"Gospozha Irina Markeeva."
"And who might Irina Markeeva be?"
"An instructor of what?" Napoleon asked gamely, though he was fairly sure he knew.
Illya glared at him. "Dance."
"Ah, like an Arthur Murray instructress?"
Illya's glare got hotter. "You know perfectly well not like an Arthur Murray instructress."
"Mmm," Napoleon said, non-committal. "So who was this woman?"
"She was a former Kirov dancer employed by our gymnastics coach to teach us how to move. With me, she failed."
Napoleon moved to stand behind his fuming partner and stroked his thumbs down the taut tendons in his neck before bending down to whisper in his ear. "I happen to think you move quite . . . nicely."
Illya leaned into his touch. "To my relief, Gospozha Markeeva did not indicate a desire to experience my aptitude or lack thereof in that area."
"Too bad for Gospozha Markeeva," Napoleon said, tugging at an earlobe with his teeth.
"Though I believe she might have made such evaluations with the twins, Tatiana and Xenia Stefanova."
Napoleon spared a moment to appreciate the mental image that conjured before shaking his head. "Well, no wonder, then. She just couldn't appreciate your. . . finer points."
"Napoleon, I was fourteen. I had no finer points. And as you did not lock the door, this is a rather dangerous time and place to indulge your ear-fetish."
"Which is," Napoleon murmured against his ear, "...half the fun." He found the knot of Illya's tie and began to tug it downward, his other hand reaching down to fumble at Illya's belt buckle. "Hiding anything in here today?"
Illya snorted. "Is that a strip of microfilm or are you just happy to see me?"
"Microfilm!" Napoleon growled, affronted, straightening up. "Microfilm?"
Illya sighed. "I meant no affront to your manhood, Napoleon. Don't think I didn't notice the way you were fondling that film the other day in Waverly's office."
"Don't think I didn't notice the way you unbuckled your belt like you were going to keep going. The fantasies that gave me about the conference table should keep me warm on many a cold, lonely mission."
Illya grabbed Napoleon's dangling tie and pulled him forward, leaning his own head back so their lips could meet, only to let go so abruptly that Napoleon, who had been resisting some so as not to fall over Illya's shoulder, was propelled up and back by his own momentum. He was about to complain when the door hissed open, admitting a scrawny, bespectacled fellow in a badly-fitted brown suit bearing a thick black binder.
"Here you are, Mr. Solo. Mr. Waverly said you'd need this to study up for your next assignment."
Napoleon accepted the binder with the sort of trepidation he usually reserved for unknown devices of probable THRUSH origin. "What is it?"
"The Accounting Department's abridged guide to the1964 Tax Code."
Napoleon couldn't even contemplate sending him to the Arctic for the smirk, since he wasn't Section Two.
To add insult to injury, the dance company's business office had a window that overlooked the practice floor. It was far too easy to glance up from the endless rows of figures to see the graceful, long-legged beauties and lithe, muscular young men of the troupe. And though even Napoleon could see that in comparison with the others Illya did indeed have a less practiced grace, his economy of movement and the controlled power of his lifts apparently impressed more than just his sporadically-cultured partner. Most of the girls and several of the boys made no secret of their interest in the newest member of the company. Illya had a veritable plethora of pulchritude to choose from.
That morning he'd overheard a flock of the boys engaged in a serious debate as to whether the new guy filled out his tights better from the front or from the back. They seemed to be evenly split on the matter, but either way, they all thought he was the coolest thing since Herman and the Hermits.
The fact that Illya was modest to the point of self-deprecation endeared him further, or so Napoleon gathered, listening to the chatter of the girls gathered around the coffee urn, inconveniently located in the business office where they all skirted him like he was a leper. It was disconcerting. He was used to being the one flocked-to. Even his mousy 'accountant' character usually got a few looks, but it had gotten around that he worked for the IRS, and that apparently had as much cachet as a shot of skunk spray.
They also thought Illya's accent was 'dreamy.'
He thought briefly about attempting an Anglo-Russian accent. Very briefly. Then he turned back to the books, embarrassed to have even thought about it. Fortunately finding an undocumented ten-thousand-dollar credit entry took his mind off his embarrassment in short order, and he applied himself more assiduously to his work. He was so involved in it, in fact, that it was only after two throat-clearings that he realized someone actually wanted his attention.
He turned and was confronted with a lean, bare torso, gleaming faintly with sweat, narrow hips and powerful thighs encased in tights that were... tight. Everywhere. He realized he'd been staring at someone's crotch for far too long and quickly looked up, meeting the man's extremely amused gaze. For a moment, just a moment, he didn't realize whose eyes he was staring into. Then, in the space of an eyeblink, he did recognize him. Not as his partner, but as a man who had shared his bed. They were not precisely the same person. This half-naked, sensual . . . no, blatantly sexual being, bore virtually no resemblance to his buttoned-up, intellectual partner. The dichotomy was disconcerting.
"Hello," Illya said, his Russian accent far more pronounced than it had been in quite some time. "Would you like a coffee?" He held a paper cup of coffee out toward Napoleon.
Illya's tone offered something other than a beverage, but mindful of the others helping themselves to coffee, Napoleon drew the character of a prissy, unloved, brown-suited accountant around himself before responding. The unloved part wasn't so hard at the moment. "I, uh, . . . sure." He accepted the cup and looked over the tops of his prescriptionless half-glasses at Illya. "Thank you, Mr. . . ."
"Illya will do. And you are?"
Napoleon twitched a little, as if startled, wondering what the heck Illya was up to. They were supposed to be operating independently here, but he couldn't just ignore him. "Alsop. Nathaniel Alsop. How do you do, Mr., uh, Illya?"
"Much better now, Mr. Alsop," Illya said cryptically.
"Illya, come on, leave the boring old accountant to his boring old books," one of the dancers called.
Illya didn't acknowledge the distraction, and instead let his gaze range very deliberately downward, where it lingered a moment before traveling back up again. Napoleon could almost feel it, like a physical touch. And he responded to it in the same fashion. Instantly he became the focus of the other three dancers in the room as they realized just what it was about the unprepossessing fellow that had attracted their quarry's attention. Their attention did little to quell his response. He was, after all, a bit of an exhibitionist.
"I suspect," Illya said silkily, "that the books cannot be that boring, can they, Mr. Alsop?"
"Oh, no," Napoleon assured him with chipmunkish cheer. "Not at all. Accounting can be quite fascinating, really."
"Perhaps you would care to tell me all about it over lunch?" Illya asked seductively.
Napoleon finally got it. Illya had figured out a way for them to pass information without arousing anyone's suspicions. Brilliant. Wishing he had the facility to blush on cue, he lowered his eyes bashfully, and then peeked up though his lashes. "Why, I'd like that very much, Mr. . . . Illya."
Illya winked. "Good, then I will meet you here at noon." He turned and walked toward the door, the other three dancers trailing after him like ducklings after a mother duck.
Quickly crossing to the door, Napoleon caught it to keep it from closing. He was just in time to hear a snatch of conversation as the group headed down the stairs.
". . . did you know?" one of them asked.
"I am very observant," Illya said smoothly. "And his suit is a little too small."
Napoleon closed the door, chuckling. Not to mention Illya had prior knowledge. However, he was right. The suit was too small. It was why he'd chosen it from the offerings available in Outfitting, thinking it made him look cheap. He hadn't counted on the fact that it displayed his assets a tad too clearly. On the other hand, maybe that was just as well. He settled back down at the work-table, sipping at the coffee Illya had handed him. He smiled as he realized Illya had doctored it perfectly to his tastes.
"My reputation will never be the same," Napoleon mourned as Illya, large brown bag in hand, escorted him into one of the small rooms in the back of the theatre. Usually the private dressing rooms were reserved for guest artists, but as there were no performances scheduled for another three weeks, they were currently unused. He did wonder briefly how Illya had managed to procure a key, and then decided he didn't want to know.
"You have no reputation here," Illya reminded him. "And as it stands, your reputation can only be enhanced."
"Is that so?" Napoleon asked, amused, as Illya closed and locked the door.
"It is," Illya assured him. "It's human nature to desire what one cannot have, and to be jealous of those who can. So since they cannot have me and you can, they will envy you, and your reputation will thus improve."
Napoleon shook his head, laughing. "Sometimes, Illya, you amaze me. What's for lunch?"
Illya opened the paper bag and brought out a white-wrapped parcel, handing it over. "For you corned beef on rye with catsup and mustard." He shuddered. "For me, pastrami with sauerkraut. And no, you may not have my pickle too."
He pulled two bottles from the bag as well, and expertly opened them one after the other by pressing the bottom of the cap against the edge of the makeup table and giving each a sharp blow with his other hand. Handing one of the hourglass-shaped bottles to Napoleon, he lifted his own and drank.
"No chips?" Napoleon complained.
Illya grinned, and reached in the bag again, tossing over a small cellophane bag. "I didn't forget."
Napoleon happily ripped the bag open and started on his chips. Illya unwrapped his sandwich, and they ate in silence, finishing their food quickly. Too many interrupted meals had trained them to wolf their food while they had the chance. Finally Illya drained the last of his Coke and set the bottle down with a sigh.
"What have you found?"
Napoleon swallowed his last bite and licked the pickle juice off his fingers before replying. "Money in, and money out, large amounts, with no record of who put it in or why it was taken out. It seems to always come in on performance nights, so it's hidden in the ticket income, but the number of tickets sold doesn't match the amount of money taken in by a long shot, unless the box seats are selling for several hundred dollars a night."
Illya nodded. "Money laundering."
"Looks like it to me. What about you? Anyone acting suspicious?"
Illya rolled his eyes. "Acting like five-year-olds, yes. Acting suspiciously, no. I don't believe that anyone in the company itself is tainted. At least no one I have so far encountered. The principal dancers rehearse separately, so I can't tell about them, but from what you say the problem appears to be at the administrative level, not with the talent. Considering your discoveries, perhaps I would have been better off going undercover in the ticket booth."
"And in so doing deprived all those lithe young things of the sight of your glorious derriere, not to mention more northerly attributes? That would have been a crime."
"I don't care to be ogled like a side of beef," Illya complained. "And they touch me when they have no good reason to do so. Do they think I won't notice?"
"I think they think you'll be flattered," Napoleon said. "I would be. However," he held up his hands to forestall Illya's protest. "I know you're not me and I know you don't like it. Hopefully we can get this squared away quickly and you can go back to being your normal self, my little yozhik." He used a Russian word he'd once heard. Yozhik. Hedgehog. The perfect appellation for something that was cute and appealing, but at the same time spiny and unapproachable.
"Yozhik?" Illya asked, glowering, but there was a hit of a smile lurking around his mouth.
"Yozhik," Napoleon confirmed. "Though, not so little, I suppose." He eyed Illya's crotch, now sadly hidden behind a pair of black jeans.
"I should say not." He glanced at his watch.
Napoleon craned over, trying to see it too. "What time is it?"
"So, what should we do to kill twelve minutes?" Napoleon asked with careful nonchalance.
"Not that," Illya said severely.
"Why not? After all, isn't that why Mr. Illya brought poor unsuspecting Mr. Alsop in here to begin with? You don't really expect anyone to believe we locked ourselves away just to eat lunch, now do you?"
"I . . ." Illya began.
Warming to his argument, Napoleon interrupted Illya's response. "I mean, I can't go back out there looking less than thoroughly debauched, can I? What would people think? Both of our reputations would be in shreds! I mean really, I . . ."
Apparently surrendering to the inevitable, Illya grabbed him by the lapels, yanked him close, and kissed him.
Interesting. Dill pickles and Coke.
Fortunately after a few seconds, he was no longer aware of anything but the feelings Illya's mouth evoked. Napoleon was vaguely conscious of Illya standing up, body sliding along his own, rubbing against his growing erection. Then he was being walked backward until something hard caught him behind the thighs. . . the makeup table. He sat, and Illya pressed forward between his parted thighs, glanced at his watch, and then unfastened Napoleon's pants with a quick, practiced motion. As Illya tugged his briefs down, an equally practiced lift of his hips freed his now-erect cock.
Napoleon closed his eyes, waiting. There was a slightly longer pause than he was expecting, and the faint click of something hard meeting wood, but before he could open his eyes to identify the sound, he felt lips against the his cock, and caught his breath in anticipation. Seconds later he was engulfed in cool, wet strangeness. . . a simmering, tickling flow all around him, instead of the soft warmth he'd expected. The sensation, like nothing he'd ever felt before, startled him into a sharp exclamation, his hips bucking upward.
Illya's strong hands spread across his hips and held him still, and the peculiar feeling continued, bursting against him, almost painfully pleasurable. Gasping, he opened his eyes, looked down, saw Illya right where he should be, eyes closed, lips tight around his cock. The sight was familiar, the feeling wasn't. How the hell was he making that extraordinary sensation?
The coolness changed, warmed, and the tingling lessened. Then Illya swallowed, and suddenly the sweet suction of lips and tongue and palate drew him deeper, deeper. The abrupt change was too much for him. Struggling against the hands the pinned him, he strained upward, control shattered as his body pumped again and again into the familiar heat of Illya's mouth.
He fell back against the mirror, panting. The surface of it was cool and smooth against his sweaty neck. After a few seconds, Illya gave him a last lick and then released him, looking smug as he glanced at his watch. "Four minutes, give or take a few seconds. Do you feel properly debauched now?"
"Brag, brag, brag," Napoleon mumbled. "What the hell was that?"
Illya didn't answer, just picked up the bottle that sat on the makeup table a few inches from Napoleon's left thigh and took a sip, his eyes never leaving Napoleon's.
For a moment Napoleon mourned the loss of a chance to taste himself on Illya's tongue, and then his eyebrows shot up as he made the connection Illya was encouraging. "Coca-cola?"
Illya grinned. "An interesting experience, no?"
"And how the hell did you know about that? Don't tell me they have Coca-Cola in the Soviet Union."
"Of course they do, if one is willing to pay black-market prices. However, it's quite easily obtainable in both Paris and Cambridge, and sometimes physics labs are very dull," Illya said, smiling sweetly. "The poor students must find ways to relieve the monotony."
It struck Napoleon forcibly how little he knew about Illya's past. How much he took for granted. He'd never stopped to wonder before where Illya had learned some of the things he knew. He had a momentary vision of Illya in a lab coat, eyes closed and pants open as some faceless fellow knelt between his knees and relieved his boredom. Something of what he felt must have shown in his face, because Illya's smile widened.
"Me?" he asked airily. "Never. Was he a close friend?"
"She, and no, she was not."
She. Napoleon relaxed a little. Women he could deal with. "So," he leered. "What would Mr. Illya like his new conquest to do for him?"
Illya eyed him sourly. "Mr. Illya would like for his new conquest to stop making him sound like a hairdresser."
Napoleon stood up, and tugged on a wayward lock of hair behind Illya's ear. "If the curlers fit. . ."
Illya caught his wrist, and bent it backward, not painfully, but the threat was there. Napoleon let himself be pushed to his knees, his face inches from Illya's crotch. The dark denim was taut over what lay beneath it, and the layered scents of laundry detergent and male arousal filled his senses. He rubbed his cheek against the strained fabric, and mouthed it. Illya released his hand.
"Suck me," he whispered, fingers stroking through Napoleon's hair and skimming the sensitive edges of his ears.
Hands free, Napoleon opened button and zipper. "Dress in a hurry?" he murmured, pushing the heavy jeans down around Illya's thighs so the zipper's teeth were no longer a threat.
"Mm. I wanted to get to the deli quickly so I could get back to meet you by noon."
"If you don't stop wasting so much time being clever, I'm going to be very uncomfortable when we leave here," Illya complained.
Taking pity on him, Napoleon wrapped his hand around Illya's cock and stroked, once, twice, then let it stay at the base using just enough pressure to keep the sensitive glans exposed. Bending his head, he dipped a pointed tongue-tip into the eye. Illya shivered, his hands coming to rest on Napoleon's shoulders, fingers flexing encouragement. Teasing a little, he drew a delicate line around the flange with his tongue, rubbing firmly against the sensitive spot on the underside where the foreskin attached when he got there.
Illya's hips swayed forward and his hands lifted to cup Napoleon's head and tip it back a little as he pressed himself forward against Napoleon's lips. Napoleon got the hint. After all, it was one he'd given often enough. He let his lips part, taking Illya's cock into his mouth, relishing the slide of smooth, hot flesh over his tongue, the way the head bumped against his palate. Illya shifted his grip, fingers framing Napoleon's jaw, gentle, but insistent. He relaxed into Illya's hands, let him hold, let him control. Illya began to rock, slowly at first, but with increasing speed.
He knew that it wouldn't take long, because Illya wasn't holding back. He could hear it in the staccato hitch of his breathing, and the soft sounds he made in his throat, and the flex and shiver in the thighs under his steadying palms. He let his mouth open wider, swallowing over and over again, fooling his gag reflex so he could take Illya deeper. Heard the sharp inhale, felt the fingers tighten, carefully, not enough to hurt, and then the need to swallow was real as warm liquid spilled down his throat.
Just when he was really starting to need a full breath, Illya eased back, sliding out of his mouth, his softening cock glistening wetly. Perversely, Napoleon missed it now that it was gone. Illya stroked Napoleon's hair, and with his thumbs rubbed away the tears that had leaked from the corners of his eyes, an autonomic response to taking him so deeply.
"You do that far too well," Illya said huskily. "We still have three minutes. What shall we do with them?"
Napoleon leaned forward, resting his head against Illya's thigh. "Nap?" he suggested.
"Know anything about the Mafia?" Napoleon asked as they sat in the park under a tree eating their lunch.
"I know they are supposedly very fond of solving problems with cement," Illya said around a bite of hotdog. "Why?"
"I'm thinking we have some garden-variety organized crime going on here."
"Not our avian friends?"
Napoleon shook his head. "Not this time. I mean, for one thing, neither one of us has been captured and tied up in a basement."
"True," Illya mused. "Two weeks in, and still no torture, no drugs, no raving megalomaniacs. It does seem a little . . . tame . . . to be one of their operations." He wiped his fingers on the paper napkin from the hot-dog vendor and then tapped his fingers on his knee. "In fact, I have not had a single article of clothing destroyed so far."
"And I haven't been thrown in the closest available body of water."
Illya shook his head. "Definitely not THRUSH. Shall we tell Mr. Waverly? Have him call in the police instead?"
"I don't know. It's kind of nice not to be getting shot at or beaten up for once. It's tempting to do this a little while longer. Besides, we probably ought to have something in the way of actual evidence first."
Illya sighed. "I suppose. But I was hoping we could wrap this up before the first performance." He fidgeted with his napkin.
Fidgeting? Since when did Illya fidget? Napoleon studied him carefully. "Don't tell me you have stage fright!" he asked in surprise.
"Very well, I won't."
"You've been on stage before, you did fine." Fine was actually a bit of an understatement, but Illya wasn't much for effusive praise.
Illya sighed. "That was easy. I can sing, I can play an instrument, I can speak."
"So what's the problem now?"
Illya shrugged. "I am not a dancer."
"You could've fooled me."
"You're not exactly a trained observer," Illya pointed out drily.
"I may not be trained, but you don't look that different from the others, frankly."
Illya shook his head, looking exasperated. "Don't be ridiculous. It takes years of practice, which I don't have. I am good at faking, but I know that's all it is."
"Did you ever stop to think that maybe they're all faking, too?"
"No." Illya crumpled the foiled paper from his hotdog decisively and tossed it with perfect aim into the rubbish bin two yards away.
"Then you're not using the brain God gave you," an acerbic voice put in.
They both jumped and turned. The speaker was an older woman with sharply-carved, imperious features. Her greying dark hair was caught in a bun atop her head, and she was dressed all in black, the severe color emphasizing her lean, but not frail frame. He recognized her immediately as the Ballet Mistress who'd been putting the dancers through their paces in the practice room beneath his office.
"Madame LeCrone! I didn't see you there," Illya said.
She looked amused. "Clearly." She looked from Illya to Napoleon, and back. "People often fail to see what is before them."
Napoleon started to say something diversionary, but Illya's hand on his arm tightened a little, and he waited to hear what she would say next.
Madame LeCrone nodded and smiled at Illya. "I knew when you first moved for me that you were not quite what you wanted me to believe. Now I see that neither are the two of you."
"What makes you say that?" Illya asked, polite, but wary.
She shook her head and her finger. "I've been watching you. You two. . . you are so like an old married couple. You are comfortable with one another. The youngsters may not see it, but it's obvious to anyone with eyes and a little experience that you did not just meet. And though you say you are not a dancer, Mr. Karenin, I see training in you. Kirov, I think. You may be terribly out of practice, and you've had some injuries which have affected your balance and flexibility, but the training still shows. Who was it? Grigorovich? Ospienko?"
"Irina Markeeva," Illya said sullenly.
"Ah." Madame LeCrone tapped her mouth with a finger. "That explains a great deal, but not all. Tell me, should I be concerned that you two are skulking about the Company with secretive and ulterior motives?"
"Oh, not at all," Napoleon said, turning on the charm. "We're on the side of the angels, of course."
"Mm, and you would hardly tell me if you were not, now would you?" she asked.
"No, really," Napoleon assured her. "You could call us problem-solvers."
"Tres bien. I'm glad to hear it." She still looked suspicious.
"You're right though, we have known each other for . . . quite a while," Illya said, trailing his fingers down the back of Napoleon's neck in a shiveringly familiar fashion. "However, while such relationships as ours may be unexceptional in our world, Nathaniel works for the US Government, and they are not so. . . accepting. You will not tell on us, will you? I would hate for him to lose his job. We cannot survive on my salary alone."
Napoleon watched admiringly as Illya effortlessly sidetracked the woman. His partner could tell some really beautiful lies. His seemingly guileless blue eyes and butter-wouldn't-melt-in-it mouth withstood even the most experienced lie-detectors.
Madame LeCrone softened visibly. "No, no of course not. I wouldn't think it. I wouldn't want to get you boys in any trouble." She winked and smiled wickedly, and Napoleon could see a glimmer of the lovely girl she must once have been.
"Merci, madame. Nathaniel and I appreciate your discretion."
She focused on Illya then, looking stern. "As for you, Mr. Karenin, buck up. You may not be a great dancer, but neither are you a terrible one. There's nothing wrong with you that hard work and some time spent with a good masseur wouldn't clear up. Most importantly, you need to stop favoring your right leg."
Illya nodded gravely. "I will endeavor to do so."
She extended a hand to Napoleon. "It has been an interesting encounter, Mr.—Alsop, is it—but I must go, I promised Madeleine that I would help her with the steps for the solo before everyone else returned from lunch."
Napoleon would have kissed her hand, but she resisted and instead shook his, firmly, then let go and headed across the park toward the theater. Napoleon watched her for a moment, and then turned to look at Illya with an arched eyebrow.
"Well, that was embarrassing," Illya muttered, looking about as sheepish as Napoleon felt. "I can't believe I didn't notice her there."
Napoleon nodded, grimacing wryly. "We need to be more careful. Just because our quarry doesn't appear to be Thrush doesn't mean they're not dangerous."
Famous last words, Napoleon thought, going up on his toes to try and relieve some of the stress on his arms. He hated being strung up with his arms over his head. He could deal with outright torture more easily than with the burning numbness of muscles and nerves never meant for that position and its attendant lack of circulation. He tried wriggling his fingers, but soon stopped because he couldn't really tell if they were doing anything, and trying made his arms hurt even more.
The irony of having warned himself to pay attention and then having failed to carry through with that made the situation that much worse. But really, who would have thought anyone would kidnap an IRS agent? That was just asking for trouble. Trouble not even a hardened criminal wanted to incur. Everyone knew that.
He'd gone along meekly enough, not wanting to blow his cover, and hoping for clues to figure out who was behind it all. Unfortunately they'd blindfolded him, so he hadn't gotten much in the way of clues, though he did know that one of his captors was named Jimmy and the other Jerry, that it had taken about an hour to get to where they had stashed him, and part of the roads had been unpaved but well-graded. The house he'd been delivered to had a foyer large enough to echo slightly. Not a lot to go on.
He wondered how long it would take Illya to find him. Of course, they were having a late rehearsal tonight so he wouldn't even know Napoleon was missing until after that was over. He sighed, and wrinkled his nose, hoping to dislodge the blindfold enough so that he could get a glimpse of his surroundings. No luck. He twisted his wrists experimentally in their bindings, but all that did was rub raw patches on his skin. Jerry and Jimmy were good at their jobs.
The sound of brisk footfalls brought his head up, seeking the source of the sound. There was a click, and then a slight brightening of his world, as light slipped in around the edges of the blindfold. There was a startled intake of breath.
Napoleon was startled. The voice was female, and from the sound of it, elderly. After a moment whoever it was clicked her tongue twice.
"Gerald, James, were you not instructed to make Mr. Alsop comfortable?"
There was a pause, and then one of his kidnappers spoke. "I, uh, yeah."
"Does he appear to you to be comfortable?"
"No, ma'am. We, uh, thought you were, um . . ."
"Speaking euphemistically? No indeed. Remedy the situation at once."
Her voice was not really familiar, he knew that, but the accent and cadences put him in mind of Madame LeCrone, which gave him a mental picture of the voice's owner. Still, memories of Edith Partridge kept him from being too trusting of kindly older ladies with ulterior motives. He wondered if this one was as proficient with the rack and red-hot poker as Edith had been. The blindfold was tugged away from his eyes and he squinted in the sudden brightness, feeling someone working at the bindings on his wrists. After a moment he was able to focus on the plump, cheerful, countenance of a tiny white-haired seventy-ish woman who was staring up at him intently.
"Ginevra was wrong. They're not brown at all."
Napoleon blinked. "What aren't?"
"Your eyes. They're more of an . . . " she peered more closely. "Olive!" she declared. "They're olive."
The ropes around his wrists slid away, and his arms dropped to his sides, useless for the moment, leaden and aching. He couldn't stop the flinch, and the woman's gaze softened with sympathy. "Poor dear. I really am sorry. I had no idea that 'comfortable' meant something entirely different in American. Come along, Martine and I will see what we can do about your arms while we chat."
"Who's Ginevra? And who is Martine? And for that matter, who are you?" he asked, following her down the hallway, assessing his surroundings. Real parquet flooring. Gorgeous oriental carpets. Furniture which, unless he missed his bet, would fetch a pretty penny at Sothebys. His hostess wore Chanel. Not the perfume, she actually smelled lightly of lavender, but her clothing: a classic Chanel suit in blue and cream. Not a knockoff. There was money here. Lots of it.
"All in good time, Mr. Alsop." She ushered him into a beautifully decorated sitting room and gestured him to a seat on a chaise lounge. "Do you take coffee, or tea? We have both." She gestured at the tea-cart
"I'm afraid I'll have to pass," he said, though the thought, and smell, of coffee was tempting.
"I assure you, it's quite safe, we haven't tampered with it," she said, looking distressed.
Napoleon found himself smiling reassuringly. Odd, considering who was the kidnapper and who was the kidnap-ee. "Of course not. I just don't trust myself not to spill anything on your lovely furnishings." He flexed his fingers with an exaggerated wince. The pins and needles of returning sensation were painful, but not incapacitating. There was no reason for her to know that, though. A moment later he felt vaguely guilty as her eyes filled with tears.
"I'm so very sorry," she said mournfully. "It's difficult to get good help down here."
He focused suddenly. That was the second time she had intimated she was something other than American. He put together his meager clues. She had sworn in French. Her accent, though was decidedly not Parisien. And in English there was something about her dipthongs . . . "So, tell me," he prompted.
She looked up from the tea cart. "About?"
He smiled. Gotcha. Though what a sweet old Canadian lady was doing kidnapping hapless accountants still remained to be seen. "Well, how about why I'm here for starters?"
She regarded him for a long moment. "Ginevra might have been wrong about your eyes, but she was right about the other."
"You are not what you seem."
"I'm not?" he asked ingenuously.
She shook her head. "You are far too calm for a man who has been kidnapped at gunpoint."
"I'm an IRS agent, ma'am. We're trained to stay calm under unusual circumstances. People pointing guns at me aren't all that uncommon in my line of work. We, ah, aren't exactly popular."
She looked puzzled. "I thought you were an accountant. What is this 'IRS?'"
If he'd needed proof she wasn't American, he had it now. "The Internal Revenue Service. The taxation authority of the US government."
She paled and put a hand over her heart. "The. . . government?" she squeaked.
"Henriette, I need to see you," a new voice said abruptly from the doorway behind them..
Napoleon turned to study the newcomer. A handful of years younger than his hostess, but clearly related. Sisters, probably. Petite and perfectly turned out in a cream Chanel suit with blue trim– the reverse of her sister's choice. Napoleon wondered if that was deliberate. The woman looked at her sister.
"Where's the other one?"
"Not here yet. There was a late rehearsal."
The other one? Illya. Napoleon suddenly hoped that his partner was paying better attention to his back than Napoleon had been.
The newcomer sighed and jerked her head toward the door. "Come on."
His hostess, Henriette, nodded meekly and followed her sister, the elusive Martine, he assumed, out into the hall. As the door closed behind them he caught a glimpse of Jimmy and Jerry flanking the door. No point in trying to rush the door, then. As soon as he heard the latch click, he was on his feet. A quick check behind the curtains revealed that the french doors had locked burglary-bars on the outside. Damn. So much for escape.
He prowled the room, looking for clues. There was a lot to look at. There were oil paintings by three different Makovskys, and a watercolor portrait signed by someone named 'Alexeef.' The subject was a pretty little girl with blonde curls, a high forehead, a full, amused-looking mouth, and deep-set blue eyes. There were porcelain plates depicting various Tsarist military scenes. A collection of enameled . . . stuff; boxes, vases, and something that looked kind of like a gravy boat but probably wasn't. There were even a few silver, gilt, and crystal items he thought were probably Fabergé, but they were locked behind glass and he didn't feel like picking the lock to check. The books on the shelves were by Gogol, Pushkin, Tolstoy, and a dozen other authors equally hard to pronounce.
No doubt about it. There was a decided theme. Every priceless knicknack on the curio shelves, every painting, every book, had originated in the Soviet Bloc, long before the idea of a Soviet Bloc had existed. Napoleon had a feeling the furniture and carpets had too, though he was less sure of their provenance.
A sheet of stationary on the elegantly carved mahogany desk contained half a letter written in French. He skimmed it quickly, discovering it to be a solicitation for donations for a good cause, namely the reestablishment of the Russian monarchy. Hmm. How did Russian monarchists and ballet and money laundering fit together? It couldn't be a coincidence that he'd ended up here. There was some connection, somewhere, he just wasn't seeing it yet. Damn it.
He picked up the letter to examine it more carefully and then hastily dropped it on the desk and turned as he heard a commotion outside the door. A moment later, said door was flung open and someone pushed roughly inside, then the door slammed once more. The person, head covered with what looked like a pillowcase and hands bound in front of himself, stumbled, and swore. Napoleon did too, under his breath, recognizing not only the sleek male body clad in nothing but black tights, but also the crisply exasperated tones. Quickly he crossed the room.
"Hold still, let me get this off you."
Illya stilled instantly, his head coming up, turning blindly toward the sound of Napoleon's voice. Napoleon began to work at the cord that bound the pillow-case over his partner's head. After a moment he heard a sigh issue from within the folds of fabric.
"I suppose it's too much to hope that you are here to rescue me?"
"I was sort of hoping the reverse might be true," Napoleon admitted, loosening the knot and pulling the cord away, then tugging off the makeshift hood.
Static made Illya's blond hair stand out around his head like dandelion fluff until he shook his head in irritation, which made at least some of it lie down and behave itself. His gaze went first to Napoleon, a quick, intent flicker up and down, and then once he'd determined that Napoleon was in one piece, it ranged around the room, analytically cataloguing its contents. Napoleon worked at the ropes around Illya's wrists, waiting for his reaction. It wasn't long in coming. Illya let out a low whistle.
"Neveroyatnyj, did the Hermitage have a jumble sale?"
Napoleon chuckled. "I wondered something along those lines myself." He freed Illya's hands and soothed a thumb across the reddened skin left behind. Illya pulled his hands away impatiently and headed for the closest window.
"They're barred," Napoleon said. "And the door is guarded."
Illya stopped in mid-stride and sighed. "Ah. Well then, tell me what we know."
"We know there are two older ladies in the house, Martine and Henriette, I'm pretty sure they're sisters. A third woman was referred to by first name but I didn't recognize it."
"What was it?"
Illya sighed. "Madame LeCrone."
They stared at one another ruefully, silently acknowledging that yet again they had been careless. They should have checked the woman out thoroughly as soon as it became clear she was suspicious of them.
"So, go on. What else have you learned?" Illya asked, going to stand in front of one of the oil paintings, leaning close to squint at the signature.
"They're Canadian, I think. At least Henriette is. The goons are hired help, locally and recent, not very well broken in yet. And the ladies are apparently fund-raising for a worthy cause."
Illya had moved on and was standing in front of the watercolor, frowning at it thoughtfully, but at Napoleon's pause he glanced over quizzically. "What worthy cause?"
"The, ah, restoration of the Romanovs to power," Napoleon said casually, not sure how Illya would react to that.
Illya snorted and rolled his eyes. "I wish them luck. The ones who are left will kill one another over who gets to be Tsar. That does explain this, though." He nodded toward the watercolor.
"Meaning?" Napoleon asked, moving to where he could see the painting better.
"Meaning it's a painting of Grand Duchess Alexandra Romanov, as a child."
Napoleon studied the picture, then looked back at Illya to respond, then he stopped, and looked from Illya to the picture and back again. There was quite a resemblance there, though he had a feeling Illya wouldn't much care for being compared to a little girl. Must be a typical Slavic type. "Huh."
Napoleon shook his head. "Nothing."
Illya stared at him suspiciously for a moment, but then he shrugged. "At least the money laundering makes sense now. The sisters have been running their donations through Le Ballet du Nord in order to throw the KGB off the scent."
And there it was. The answer that Napoleon hadn't quite been able to pry out of his brain. "My thoughts exactly," he lied smoothly.
The amused look Illya shot him told Napoleon he hadn't fooled him for a minute. "It's not a bad plan, really, but we do need to stop them before they cause an international incident, or put themselves in harm's way."
"Yes, we do," Napoleon tapped his index finger against his lip thoughtfully. His eyes went to the painting once more, then back to Illya, then to the painting, and back once more. Resemblance. . . oh, yes. He started to grin. "I have an idea."
"I have learned not to trust that smile," Illya said warily. "Why do I have a terrible feeling I am not going to like this idea?"
"Because, my little apparatchiki, you are a smart Russian."
"I'm not sure whether to be more offended by the comment about my size or the implication that I am a mindless flunky," Illya said after several long, chilly seconds.
Napoleon chucked him under the chin goodnaturedly. "Neither, because you know I'm only teasing. You're certainly no flunky, my prince."
Illya's eyes narrowed. "Prince?"
"Why, yes. What else would one call the grandson of a Tsar?"
Illya groaned. "Napoleon, no."
"Who better to tell them there's no need to be restore the Romanovs to power than the man they want to restore?" Napoleon asked airily.
"Nicholas and his entire family were executed in 1918," Illya lectured severely. "I cannot be his grandson."
"Never heard of Anastasia?"
"There have been several, actually, all lunatics and con-artists."
"All right, if you don't like that angle, there's always the 'dallied with a serving wench' slant."
"Why can't you be the prince?"
"Because I'm not Russian, and I don't look like the kid in the painting."
"I don't. . ." Illya stared at the painting, and frowned, then he shot a disgusted look at Napoleon. "It's a chance resemblance."
"I'm sure it is," Napoleon said soothingly. "I'm sure your illustrious ancestors were never anywhere near the imperial bed. But chance or not, we can use it to our advantage."
"They'll never believe it. It's too big a coincidence."
"You know, I've found that the bigger the lie, the more likely people are to believe it."
"Only if this room is not bugged."
"They're amateurs, Illya. The only bugs we're likely to find in here are moths."
"Still, they brought us here for their own reasons . . . whatever they are. They will be unlikely to believe that they just happened to abduct a prince. What do they want with us, anyway?"
Napoleon shook his head. "I don't know. They seem very keen on the decorative arts. Maybe they just want us to hang around the place and look pretty."
"I suspect it's more likely that they want us to stop snooping around and leave them in peace." Illya said drily, just as the sound of voices in the hallway outside brought them both around to face the door as it swung open. Only one sister entered the room, the younger one, Martine. Napoleon locked gazes with his partner for a moment, and Illya's eyelashes dipped slightly in assent before he turned toward her.
"Good evening, Mr. Mr. Alsop, and Mr. . . . Karenin, is it?"
"It is the name I currently use," Illya said dismissively. "But you know as well as I that it is not my real name. Since you already know my surname, I will give you my others, Illya Alexeievitch, madame, at your service."
He bowed very slightly from the waist as he gave his name, and Napoleon wondered how he managed to come across with such continental urbanity despite the fact that he was standing there half naked, with his hair looking like he'd been caught in a wind tunnel.
Martine frowned. "I have no idea what you're talking about. Why would I know your surname if it's not Karenin? You're not making sense."
"Am I not?" Illya moved a few steps, and Napoleon realized he was putting himself in a position where Martine couldn't help but see both him and the painting in a single glance. "Come Madame, there is no need to play games. We both know why you had me brought here, though I fail to see why it was necessary to subject Nathaniel to such indignity as well. And frankly, holding me will do you little good. What is left of House Romanov has never acknowledged my existence and will hardly be likely to part with any of their meagre fortune to ransom me."
Martine's eyes flickered from Illya's face, to the painting and back, and after a moment they widened. "Illya . . . Alexeievetch?" she asked, falteringly.
Napoleon suddenly realized what Illya was doing and had to rub his nose to camouflage his smile behind his hand. Illya was claiming descent not from any of the discredited Anastasias, but from the lost Tsarevitch himself, Alexei.
"But, the Prince, he was killed . . ." Martine began.
Illya folded his arms and arched an eyebrow, a pose Napoleon was absolutely certain he'd stolen from Yul Brynner in The King and I. He made a mental note to buy Illya a new robe, something Oriental, in royal blue brocade, with gold medallions, in honor of tonight's performance. However theatrical, it was effective. Martine shut up. Her gaze slid between Illya and the painting several more times, and then she suddenly turned and dashed out the door. A moment later, Henriette accompanied her back into the room.
"Don't be ridiculous," Henriette said, her face a study of disbelief. "It's impossible."
"Just look!" Martine said, turning her to face Illya, still strategically positioned near the watercolor.
Henriette looked. And her blue eyes widened just as he sister's had. "Mon dieu!" she exclaimed. "C'est incroyable!"
It really was quite remarkable. Somehow, without special makeup or clothing, without anything but himself, Illya had managed to actually increase his likeness to the child in the painting. For one insane moment, even Napoleon was momentarily convinced. Then he remembered the utter disgust in Illya's voice as he said 'it's a chance resemblance' and he knew better. It was just Illya being someone else again. A little too convincingly for comfort.
"You see?" Martine said.
Henriette nodded, and groped for a chair, sitting down heavily. "How is it possible?"
All eyes turned toward Illya. Napoleon looked forward to hearing Illya's explanation. It was sure to be good. Illya gave an exaggerated shiver. "Have you something I could wear? I was not given time to change before I was brought here. Not only is it chilly, but this attire is hardly appropriate for polite conversation."
A quick conference in French ensued between the sisters, with several mentions of someone named 'Philippe' and then Martine stepped out of the room, presumably to see about finding Illya something to wear. Henriette went to the tea-cart and slipped her hand beneath the tea-cozy on the pot.
"The teapot's still warm," she announced. Would either of you care to join me for a cup?"
"Two sugars, please, and some of the chocolate biscuits." Illya said, as he sat down on a chaise. Or rather, lounged down, one dirty bare foot resting with utter nonchalance on the silk upholstery, knee cocked, elbow resting on his knee, big hand artfully lax as he waited for his treat to be delivered. Definitely The King and I. Napoleon could practically see the ankle-bracelets.
Henriette ate it up. Tea and biscuits were delivered with a tiny curtsy. Illya accepted them with a sultan's indifferent nod, and lifted the cup, and Napoleon cleared his throat. "Maybe I should, ah, try that first?"
Illya shot him a look that probably seemed affectionate if you didn't know better. "Ah, 'Tasha, that's very brave of you, but I don't think it's necessary. If they wished to kill me, they would have done so already."
It was all Napoleon could do to bite his tongue on the indignant "Tasha?" that threatened to erupt from his mouth. "If you say so, Illyusha," he retaliated sweetly."
"Tea, Mr. Alsop?" Henriette asked politely.
"If the coffee's still warm, that would be nice," he said, just to be contrary.
She touched the side of the silver pot briefly. "I'm afraid it's not as warm as the tea, but it might still be drinkable," she said apologetically.
"That's fine, and I take it with cream."
She poured, and he deliberated over the cookies, finally taking a thin, sugar-crystalled ginger one. He'd finished it and was thinking about another one when the Martine slipped into the room, her arms full of clothing. As one of the guards closed the door she stopped short and looked at Illya, her lips compressing slightly as her gaze moved to where his foot rested on the chaise, but she didn't say anything, instead she just held out the bundle in her arms.
"Here you are, Mr. . . . ah . . ."
"Karenin will do. I am used to it."
Martine nodded. "Anyway, these should fit you well enough. They're not fancy, but they should keep you warm. You can change in the bathroom down the hall. John and Carl will escort you."
Napoleon wondered how Carl had gotten into the mix with Johnny, Gerry, and Jimmy. Maybe they called him Carlie.
Illya set aside his teacup and saucer and accepted the clothing, then ducked out to change. Napoleon ate the remaining chocolate cookies off Illya's plate, and drank lukewarm coffee while Martine and Henriette conferred in whispers near the desk. After a few minutes Illya returned, wearing a cabled turtleneck sweater, and blue jeans whose too-long legs had been turned back neatly, showing plaid flannel lining. His bare feet were hidden by a pair of sheepskin house slippers. Illya looked a lot more comfortable, though it was always a shame to cover up that body. Napoleon wondered idly if they'd given Illya any underwear.
Illya went and picked up his tea, and gave Napoleon a reproachful look as he noted his missing cookies. Napoleon gave him his 'you snooze you lose' look, and studied Illya surreptitiously. The heavy sweater was knit in a marl of black, brown, and cream wool, and the whole outfit was just oversized enough to make him look a little waifish, which Napoleon figured might actually help their cause. He wasn't going to tattle that the 'waif' was a ruthless tactician who loved to blow things up.
"More tea, Mr. Karenin?" Henriette asked, lifting the pot.
Illya nodded and held out his cup. After the ritual pouring and sugaring, and the consumption of several ginger cookies, Illya sighed. "Thank you for the clothing, or should I say thank whomever they belong to. They're quite comfortable. I'll be sure to have them cleaned and returned to you."
Martine and Henriette exchanged a speaking look, and Martine cleared her throat.
"You needn't return them. They were going to be given away in any case. They belonged to our nephew, Philippe."
Napoleon's empathic antenna went up. He caught the flicker of a glance from Illya and relaxed a little, knowing he'd heard it too.
"That's very kind of you." Illya paused, and looked concerned. "May I ask, is your loss recent?"
Martine fished a handkerchief out of her pocket and dabbed at her eyes as Henriette nodded. "A bit under six months ago."
Napoleon was putting pieces together. The money laundering had started about five months earlier. There was a connection there. Somehow.
"My condolences," Illya said gravely. "How did he die?"
Illya looked at Napoleon, who shrugged. It didn't make sense to him either. At the moment there was only one war that everyone called 'the' war. His own 'the war' had been Korea. Illya's had been World War Two, which had only vaguely affected Napoleon's life, growing up safely sheltered by American borders.
"Forgive me, but you are Canadian, are you not?" Illya asked.
"How did you . . . " Henriette began, only to be shushed by Martine, but it was too late. Her intent was clear.
"I thought so. How did your nephew come to die in an American war?"
"He volunteered. He was going to school here, and a lot of his friends had gone. He felt it was the right thing to do, to go and fight the Communists."
Every assignment had its 'a-ha!' moment, that instant when the last puzzle piece clicked into place and the solution became clear. Napoleon was confident now that they would be able to steer the encounter to its desired outcome. Illya didn't usually take point when the persuasive arts were concerned, he generally preferred more . . . straightforward tactics, but not because he wasn't capable. He just knew how much better Napoleon was at it and usually chose to cede the field. In this case, though, he was the logical lead.
The habitual sharpness of Illya's 'work' face gentled as he slowly set his cup down, his expression softening into something less purely honed and more humanly lovely. Not that Napoleon would ever say that word to him. He valued his teeth.
Illya reached out and took Henriette's hand, her narrow, knotted hand was lost between his large, strong ones. "I'm very sorry for your loss, and I understand now why you've done what you have, but I must ask you to stop doing it. This course you've set on could bring harm to you, and certainly will to others if it continues. I cannot have that on my conscience. Even if I wished to rule, and to be honest neither I nor my erstwhile relations are fit for the task, I could never live with the lives that would have to be sacrificed to make such a thing happen. Do you understand?"
Napoleon could see the struggle against capitulation in the faces of both women.
"No," Martine said insistently. "We must do something, for his memory."
"Of course you must," Illya agreed, his tone silkily reasonable. "You must find another memorial for your Philippe, but it should not be one that will bring more death. No other young men should die so senselessly. Tell me, what was he studying here? What did he hope to do with his life?"
Oh, very nice. Napoleon hadn't even thought of that. Yet. Of course.
"He wanted to be a teacher." Henriette put in, a little tentatively.
"There you go, then," Napoleon said brightly. "Endow a scholarship at his university to help others become teachers. And it's even tax deductible." Nothing like staying in character.
"That was pretty eloquent, what you told Martine and Henriette," Napoleon said, fingering the soft wool of Illya's sweater, arms looped loosely around Illya's waist and chin propped on Illya's shoulder as he stood in Napoleon's kitchen eating cold fried chicken out of the refrigerator, the small bulb shedding a golden glow over them both.
Illya swallowed and wiped his mouth on his hand. "No one should have to die simply because some politician wishes to prove his political system is somehow morally superior to another. I should hope that if there were a real prince he would feel the same way."
"You are a real prince," Napoleon said, squeezing him a little.
Illya pushed at him with greasy fingers, making a face. "Please, I'm trying to eat."
Napoleon caught his fingers in his mouth and sucked them. . . salty, and flavored with chicken fat. He let them go a moment later when Illya tugged them impatiently free so he could take another bite. "Isn't that a bit . . . hypocritical? Isn't that just what we do every day?"
He finished his chicken and tossed the gnawed bones in the trash. "Are you trying to pick a fight? Because I know you're not that stupid."
Napoleon stepped back, hands in his pockets as he leaned against the wall. "No, I'm not. Seriously, we go out every day and risk our lives for what is, essentially, a moral judgement."
"We're not ignorant, barely-trained eighteen-year-olds."
Napoleon sighed and raked a hand through his hair. "No, but we once were."
Illya gave him a flat stare. "Speak for yourself."
Napoleon bristled, stung. "So you're telling me that we're wasting our time? We're no better than THRUSH, imposing our arbitrary morality on others, regardless of justice?"
Illya looked startled. "Bozhe . . . no! Of course not."
"Then just what are you saying? Because that's what it sounds like to me," he demanded, vaguely aware that he was taking Illya’s comment far too personally, but needing to get it off his chest.
Illya pulled two beers out of the refrigerator, closed the door, and uncapped them. "Come, let's sit. I'll try to explain."
Still fuming, Napoleon followed him into the living room. Illya sat down on the sofa, and Napoleon deliberately took the wing chair facing him. Illya lifted an eyebrow and handed him a beer. Napoleon set it on the lamp stand and waited. Illya sipped his beer and then set it aside.
"I don't usually speak of politics, my friend, because the gulf between your upbringing and mine tends to lead to these sorts of conflicts. It's a lesson I must relearn periodically. In any case, I should have been more precise in my wording. I used the word 'morality' where I should have said 'ideology.' I think we can both agree that there is a vast difference between, say, a war between two countries with differing ideologies, and the work we do against THRUSH and its ilk, can we not?"
Napoleon gave a cautious nod, not quite ready to let go of his anger yet.
"THRUSH has chosen to operate outside the social contract, and that is also something that we can agree on, regardless of our respective ideologies."
Napoleon felt his eyebrows lift. "Hobbes? Locke? From you? Won't your comrades back home be shocked?"
Illya's lips quirked. "Rousseau, and no, Marx was quite fond of him. One of his essays stated that 'Each of us puts his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will, and, in our corporate capacity, we receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole.' THRUSH has put itself outside that whole, and in so doing, rendered itself an enemy to the whole. And this particular whole happens to encompass both your ideology and mine." He picked up his beer and made a mock-toast in Napoleon's direction.
Napoleon thought about it for a moment, and then reached for his own bottle, wrapping his fingers around its cold, wet surface and leaning forward to touch the lip of it to the lip of Illya's bottle. They met with a faint sound, halfway between a tap and a chime. Their eyes met, and Illya leaned forward until their lips did as well. No sound this time, until Illya sighed a few moments later and pulled back.
"We are . . . good?" he asked.
Napoleon nodded. "Sorry. I should know better."
"Yes, you should." Illya was clearly not mollified.
"Let me make it up to you?" Napoleon said, sliding to his knees on the carpet between the chair and the sofa.
"You may try," Illya said, a hint of King Mongkut flavoring his diction and behavior as he sipped at his beer with a bored expression.
Napoleon looked down, hiding his grin. It was tempting to say "Yassuh, massa," but that really didn't fit the scenario. Illya had taken off the slippers as soon as they'd gotten through Napoleon's door, so his feet were already bare. That was good, it would make getting the heavy jeans off easier. He picked up one foot in his hands and pressed his thumbs hard against the dirty sole, rubbing in a circular motion.
"Oh." The word was a sigh as Illya's head fell back, eyes closing. "Yes."
Napoleon smirked. "Good?"
"Mmmm," Illya murmured, flexing his toes. "Dancing is very hard on the feet."
He gave Illya's other foot equal attention, and then moved up a bit. "How about calves, is it hard on those?"
"Quite. They tend to cramp up."
"Poor Illya," he slid his fingers up under the rolled jeans, stroking the heavy, bony ankles, then the powerful calf muscles. "You know," he said nonchalantly. "I could do better work if you took your pants off."
"Yes, I imagine you could," Illya said drily.
He glanced up to catch Illya's knowing gaze. "Yes, definitely." He moved back a few inches. "Up you go."
Illya stood up, unsnapped and unzipped, and hooked his thumbs into his waistband, pushing down. Napoleon grabbed the outseams and tugged helpfully. The jeans slid down slowly, revealing a snug band of black fabric around Illya's waist, and below that the triangle of equally tight black fabric designed to hold his genitals up out of harm's way while he danced.
"Mmmm. You should wear that all the time," Napoleon said, unable to resist running a finger down the center of the well-filled pocket.
"Say that after you've had to wear one. I find it quite annoying."
Napoleon tilted his head, studying it. "It doesn't look that bad, sort of like a jock-strap."
Illya turned slightly, then reached back and hooked a thumb in the narrow strap that disappeared between his buttocks. "Athletic supporters were not designed to be invisible under tights," he said with a wry grimace. "These chafe."
"I could. . . massage that for you," Napoleon said, leering lecherously as he patted the taut curve of one cheek with his hand.
Illya laughed, shaking his head. "Give me a day or two and I might take you up on that."
"I'll write out a rain-check," Napoleon said. "Here, if it's so uncomfortable, let's get it off you." He slid a hand between the fabric and Illya's stomach, moving it down until his palm cupped the warm, slightly sweat-damp mound of Illya's cock. "There, now you can get it off without catching anything."
"Very philanthropic of you," Illya said, his voice only slightly breathy as he complied, and the dance belt joined his jeans around his knees.
"Mmmhmm." Napoleon stroked the freed shaft slowly, running his circled fingers gently up and down it until Illya started to firm in his grip, then he released him and took a moment to push Illya's loosened clothing down and off. Illya balanced with a hand on his shoulder as he stepped out of the tangle of fabric. When Napoleon looked back up, the heavy sweater had slipped down, covering Illya to mid-thigh. Frustrating. "I suppose dancing is hard on your thighs, too?" he asked hopefully.
"It's hard on the whole body, really."
"Well, we can't have that." He stood and slipped his hands beneath the soft wool, pushing the sweater upward, letting his hands brush Illya's smooth skin all the way up. Illya lifted his arms to assist, and a moment later the sweater landed on the sofa and the static made Illya's hair a brilliant halo around his head for the second time that day. Naked, pale skin slightly flushed, Illya crossed his arms and lifted an eyebrow.
Napoleon laughed out loud and shrugged out of his suit coat, tossing it aside, stripping off his tie as he knelt again, looking up. "Your command, my prince?"
Illya snorted, amused, but after a moment his gaze intensified. He put a hand on Napoleon's head, stroking his hair for a moment, then cupping his jaw. "First, I want your mouth."
The command was no less of one for being spoken softly. The fingers on his jaw didn't push, didn't move at all, but he knew they could. Even would. And 'first' sent shivers through him. Napoleon put his hands on Illya's narrow hips as he leaned forward to plant dry kisses along the side of his half-hard cock. The skin beneath his lips was warm, and soft as chamois, scented with the musk of an active male body. Closing his eyes he let his tongue explore, tasting the mineral salt of dried sweat.
Against his mouth Illya's cock grew taut and sleek. He pressed his lips to the tip, let it part them, and his teeth, let it slowly slide across his tongue. Illya's thumbs stroked beneath his jaw the way one would pet a cat. He opened his mouth wider, tilting his head back, breathing through his nose, and pressed forward until his lips brushed the crisp sandy curls that surrounded the base of Illya's cock.
"Stop," Illya said firmly. "I said first. Not so deep, I don't want to finish that way."
Napoleon's first impulse was to suck Illya off faster than he could say 'et-cetera,' but the game had been his idea, after all, so he allowed Illya to prevail. Besides, he liked his hair where it was. Drawing back, he went for light, maddening flickers of tongue against hot, smooth flesh, concentrating on the sensitive area below the head, keeping a hand around the base to remind himself not to go down too far. His other hand rested at Illya's waist, the muscles there firm beneath his fingers. Firmer than usual, actually. Illya was always fit, but he was really in fighting trim now.
Maybe they should add ballet to the fitness regime at headquarters. He wondered what angle to take with Waverly when he offered the idea, how best to word it. Of course, convincing the other agents that ballet wasn't 'sissy' might take some doing, too. Though if he let the girls in the typing pool get a look at Illya's reshaped physique they might do it for him.
Fingers suddenly tightened in his hair hard enough to smart, pulling his head away from his prize, tilting it upward. The imperious frown on lllya's face came as a bit of a shock.
"Am I boring you, Napoleon?" Illya asked coolly, still in character.
"Ah. . . what. . . no!" Napoleon stammered, caught completely off-guard.
Illya studied him for a moment, his expression changing subtly, softening. "In that case, perhaps you would care to tell me what's wrong? While I might not expect more from anyone else, from you, I do." Illya let go of his hair and trailed his fingers across Napoleon's cheek to his lips, stroking them with the pad of his thumb.
"Nothing's wrong," Napoleon said. "What makes you think something's wrong?"
Illya sighed and turned, reaching for his sweater. "I can count on one hand the number of times you've ever been this distracted during sex."
Napoleon pulled the sweater out of his hands. "Oh no you don't. You're not putting that back on."
"I'm cold," Illya complained.
"Then we'll get in bed. You're not getting dressed again. Come on."
"Is this about me telling you what to do?" Illya asked from behind him.
Halfway to the bedroom, Napoleon stopped abruptly. "No."
"All right," Illya said, accepting that at face value. "I didn't think so. It was your idea, after all. And you don't usually have a problem with it." He passed Napoleon and walked into the bedroom, then looked out again. "Coming?"
Following Illya into the bedroom, he found himself waylaid, Illya's capable hands stripping him in short order. Before he could really think, they were in bed with the light out, Illya settling back with a sigh, curled slightly toward him, but not touching. Napoleon lay for a few moments in the darkness, until it began to dawn on him that Illya was . . . going to sleep.
"Don't you want to . . ."
"Not unless you're going to be a full participant."
He said it gently enough to remove any potential sting, but the situation was strange. Not that they made love every time they shared a bed, but . . . well, okay. Maybe they did. Since they'd become lovers, anyway. No, they didn't usually indulge during missions, it was too dangerous, but afterward, it was almost a ritual. Napoleon lay there for a few moments, feeling strangely awkward. Finally he couldn't stand the silence.
"You did a good job tonight. Well, the whole affair, really. You're better at undercover work than I am."
"Yes, I am," Illya agreed matter-of-factly.
"It was amazing to watch you in there." It came to him suddenly, what had been bothering him. "It was like you became someone else right in front of my eyes, without any preparation, or makeup or costume or anything. You just . . . did it. I don't understand that. Me, I'm always who I am, no matter what. I'm Napoleon in a funny hat, or a moustache, or a different suit. But you. . . you're someone completely different. Sometimes I wonder . . ." He stopped abruptly, aware he was babbling.
"You wonder?" Illya prompted.
The bed moved a little as Illya shifted, turning to face him more fully. "Please, finish your thought."
"Really, it's ridiculous."
"Let me be the judge of that."
Napoleon sighed. "All right, fine. I was going to say that sometimes I wonder if I really know who you are, or if the Illya I think I know is just . . . another role."
He was glad of the darkness. He sounded like an idiot. There was a long silence, and then Illya's hand touched his hair lightly, slid down his throat, came to rest on his chest, palm flat against his breastbone, as if checking his heartbeat.
"You know me, Napoleon," he said simply. "You know me."
The quiet truth in his voice was a disproportionate relief. "Well, yeah, of course I do," he said, trying to minimize his reaction. "I mean, we've worked together for . . ."
Illya's fingers spread on his chest, the slight pressure stopping him in mid-sentence.
"You know me, and I know you," Illya said, still in that quiet, intimate tone. "No one else knows you as I do. No one else knows me as you do. And if perhaps neither of us knows quite who we are, all we have to do is ask the other."
Strangely, that made perfect sense. Napoleon found himself smiling into the dark. "So, tovarishch.. . . would you like to show me who I am?"
The soft chuckle Illya made was so low he almost felt rather than heard it.
"I would be delighted." Illya moved, settling over him, a warm, solid presence. "You," he whispered, bending his head, "...are my partner."
It was a surprisingly soft kiss, gentle, a brief brush of lips, which then lifted away from his to touch the corner of his mouth, then his chin, his tongue making a brief lap against stubble-rasped skin. Then another, slightly higher. A hot, damp flicker in the sensitive shell of his ear made him laugh and scrunch his shoulder, but then fingers tracing the ticklish spot below his ribs on the other side made him curl protectively in that direction, which left his ear unprotected. Illya took full advantage, using his tongue again, then his teeth on the lobe, gently.
"No fair," Napoleon gasped in response.
"Fair does not enter into it," Illya whispered back, and then tongued a line down Napoleon's throat to his collar bone, the stripe going from hot to cool as air touched the moisture left behind. A series of careful nips flared the nerve endings along his shoulders into life, and then Illya was licking again, butterfly-light flickers down his sternum. Without even being touched, Napoleon's nipples grew taut, anticipation raising gooseflesh on his skin, but Illya's tongue never touched either of the sensitive aureoles, choosing instead to draw abstract patterns over the smooth skin of his chest and belly, until Napoleon thought he would go mad.
"Please, Illya," he whispered, threading his fingers into the sleek blond locks. "Please."
"Please what, Polya?" Illya had the nerve to sound amused.
"I am doing something," he answered, and then licked a circle around Napoleon's navel, and blew on it, making him shiver at the contrast between wet-hot and wet-cool.
"Something more," Napoleon clarified, lifting his hips suggestively.
Illya moved lower and bit his hip softly. "Like that?" he asked when he lifted his mouth.
"No, damn it," Napoleon growled. "And you know it."
Illya laughed. "Do I?"
"Put your mouth on me," Napoleon ordered.
Illya pressed his lips to the bare skin just above the thatch of curls at his groin, and Napoleon could feel the grin on Illya's face as he did it.
Aha. Illya was being literal. If Napoleon wanted something, he had to say it, in words without double meanings. "Suck my cock?" he asked, startled at how husky his voice sounded all of the sudden.
Illya lifted his head, and in the faint light filtering in from the living room Napoleon could see he was smiling. Then Illya lowered it again, and Napoleon waited, breath held, as Illya's mouth moved closer. He barely held back a moan as his cock was enveloped, and for a few seconds the suction was absolutely perfect. Then as his head fell back and his eyes closed, the close embrace of lips and tongue vanished, leaving him cold and abandoned.
"Illya!" he protested, opening his eyes and lifting his head again just as . . . oh, yes: lightning-fast flicker of tongue around the head of his cock, far-too-quickly withdrawn. Before he could repeat his protest, Illya's mouth closed around him again, sucking slowly, languidly, tongue stroking and swirling.
The pleasure of Illya's mouth on him was sharp, like little sparks under his skin, dragging faint gasps out of him. And every time Illya pulled away and left him cooling in the breeze, it was that much harder to hold onto his control. Embarrassingly, his breathing was already a little ragged, and he felt the little tremor in his thighs that told of rapidly-approaching climax.
With both of Illya's hands on his thighs there was no hiding that from him. Illya lifted his head again, and rubbed his hands down Napoleon's thighs and back up again soothingly. "Not yet," he said quietly. "Hold on for me. We're not ready yet."
"Not sure I can," he admitted, feeling his face heat.
"Oh, you can," Illya declared authoritatively. "I'll help." He moved, straddling Napoleon's thighs, and lowered himself until they were pressed together chest to chest, hip to hip, and cock to cock.
"That's supposed to help?" Napoleon asked, unable to resist stroking his hands down Illya's back, feeling the strong muscles under the scarred skin, and then filling his palms with the fine, firm curves of his ass.
"Mmhmm," Illya said, rocking slowly, very slowly, against him, a sinuous wave of flesh against flesh.
Napoleon thrust up against him, breaking the rhythm.
"Oh, no," Illya said, shaking his head and clicking his tongue. "None of that. Slowly, Polya. Slowly. Softly. Just relax." He started rocking again, maddeningly slowly.
Sweat formed between them, slick, removing some of the seductive friction. The lazy slide of skin on skin was nearly hypnotic. His thighs stopped shaking. He reached up and clutched a fistful of hair, bringing Illya's mouth to his. "Bastard," he whispered against his lips.
Illya laughed into his mouth and kissed him, then lifted away. "Absolutely." He shifted his weight, pushing up on his hands, pinning Napoleon's thighs together with his own.
Napoleon knew he couldn't break that hold. Illya's thighs were legendary. Cool air seeped between them everywhere but the narrow band from bellies to balls, and the contrast gave him the shivers again. Illya began to rock again, but side to side this time, hips describing a strange pattern against his. He closed his eyes, hands still on Illya's ass, feeling his flesh compressed and caressed by Illya's.
He picked up the movement, echoed it in reverse until he could feel the pattern in his own body. Damn him. Figure eights. Like a dancer, following some unheard music. But the echo was good, it brought them into a rhythm that gradually grew faster, sharper. Yes. God, he was starting to ache. He needed to come. He imagined some miracle that would let him flip Illya over, imagined rubbing against him, imagined pushing those powerful thighs apart, and sliding into the sweet heat of lllya's ass.
"Oh no you don't," Illya said, stilling. "This is my show, Polya. Open your eyes."
Frustrated, Napoleon growled.
Illya pressed his fingers against Napoleon's lips. "Hush." He sat up.
Napoleon caught his fingers in his teeth, refusing to let them go, tired of playing. "Now," he growled around Illya's fingers, nearly unintelligible.
"Soon," Illya soothed. He reached behind Napoleon's head and pushed the pillows away from the headboard. "Turn around and get up on your knees."
Excitement shot through him, and he obeyed, shaking a little with anticipation. There was no one else he would trust to do this to him, and he craved it like an addict sometimes. Not even so much the physical joining, though he'd come to love that, but the trust that was as potent as any drug.
Hands braced on the headboard, he waited, but didn't hear the drawer in the nightstand open. He frowned a little. They'd never done this without something to ease the way, and he wasn't sure he wanted to.
"Trust me?" Illya said softly, reading his mind.
"Always," Napoleon said without hesitation, feeling the tension leave him again.
Arms slid around his waist, and he felt the satin-and-stubble rasp of Illya's cheek against his shoulder. "Spread your legs a little."
He shifted his knees wider on the bed. A moment later the blunt, broad shaft of Illya's cock nudged up . . . between his thighs. Not higher? He was puzzled.
"There now, together again."
Oh. Interesting. Napoleon brought his knees closer together again, enclosing Illya's cock between his thighs. It felt . . . strange. Different. Good. Illya locked his left arm around Napoleon's waist and leaned back a little, taking their combined weight against himself. His right hand found Napoleon's and guided it down to Napoleon's cock, wrapping his fingers around himself.
"Bring yourself off for me," Illya whispered in his ear.
Anticipation shocked through him, and he stole a sideways glance. . . Illya's face was too close to see well, but he could tell from the angle that his gaze was on the spot where their overlapped hands encircled his cock. His pulse picked up instantly, and he tightened his grip. He felt a slight tremor in Illya's fingers, and felt the twitch of his cock where it was snugged beneath his testicles. He stroked once. Again.
His hips swayed naturally, and . . . oh. Nice. Different. The way his movements guided both of them, the way Illya's body cushioned his, the way Illya's cock rubbed not too hard, not too soft, against his sensitive perineum and more-sensitive balls. He set his own pace, lazy at first, a slow stroke and play and slide, liking the feel of Illya's hand still loosely clasped around his. But the build-up had been going on a long time and his body was demanding. His strokes became steadier, more determined, gained a little twist at the end of each stroke that silked his foreskin across the glans and made his hips buck.
Illya's breathing grew faster in his ear, shallower, and his hips weren't just following, but echoing Napoleon's motions, adding momentum.
"Horosho, Polya." With a moan, Illya shuddered against Napoleon, satiny heat suddenly slicking Napoleon's inner thighs as Illya came.
Electricity seemed to sweep through him, a flush of need he couldn't fight. "Illya!" he breathed, and that was it. His body seized up, shuddering as he came, shooting hard, white streaks painting the dark cherry wood of the headboard.
"Ochin krasivy," Illya panted. "So beautiful." He reached out and smeared his fingers through the streaks, then brought them to his mouth and licked them clean.
Napoleon's body twitched at that, like it wanted to come again, but couldn't quite manage yet. His legs were shaking again. Illya pulled back and leaned over, and they tumbled to the bed on their sides, cupped together like two spoons in a drawer. They lay there for long moments as their breathing slowed to normal, and the sweat on their bodies dried, and finally Illya pushed up on one arm, reached over to click the light on the nightstand on, and looked down at him.
"Do you know me now?" he asked, a trace of concern in his gaze.
"Da," Napoleon sighed sleepily, dragging one of the pillows over and stuffing it under his face, wishing Illya would turn the light out again.
"Who am I?" Illya sounded very amused.
"And who are you?"
"Da, indeed, Polya," Illya said, lying back down, pressing a kiss against the back of his neck.
Interesting, the difference between the sound of 'amused' and the sound of 'happy.'
"I will admit, even though it wasn't particularly taxing I'm glad this affair is over," Illya said after a moment.
The fact that Illya, normally taciturn, liked to talk after sex, was one of the few drawbacks to their relationship. Napoleon forced himself to respond. "Mm? Why's that?"
"I won't have to actually appear on stage when the ballet opens this weekend."
Napoleon opened his eyes and turned over so he could look at Illya. "Ah, didn't Mr. Waverly talk to you about that?"
Illya stared at him, narrow-eyed. "About what?"
"The, uh, guy you replaced. He can't come back for another week. Mr. Waverly promised the director that you'd stay until then."
He wondered if he should ask Medical to check Illya's blood pressure more frequently. Surely it wasn't good for him to splutter and fume like that. After two aborted attempts at speech, Illya finally managed coherence.
"He did what? How could he do that? He knows I . . . ." Illya's voice trailed off, and he eyed Napoleon suspiciously.
Napoleon couldn't keep the corner of his mouth from twitching.
Illya pounced, his fingers finding the ticklish spots under Napoleon's ribs for real this time. "Ubl'udok! Zloye zhivotnoye!"
Napoleon somehow managed to grab his wrists and rolled over, pinning him down. "Temper, temper, partner."
Illya sighed and stopped struggling. "Asshole," he muttered.
"Mmhmm. But I'm your asshole," Napoleon said winningly.
That got him a low chuckle. "So you are. So you are."
The painting of Alexandra Romanov mentioned above can be found here: http://kellie.mrks.org/fic/mfu/ARomanov.jpg
Neveroyatnyj = Unbelieveable
Bozhe = God
tovarishch = comrade
Horosho = good
Ochin krasivy = very beautiful
Ubl'udok = Bastard
zloye zhivotnoye = Evil beast.