The Flesh of My Flesh Affair

by nickovetch

Illya Kuryakin knew he had only one option left. He had been over and over it with his rational mind. He smiled at that, knowing his "rational mind" had been terribly suspect since falling in love—since falling in love with Napoleon Solo.

He had begun to see the signs that the relationship was causing strain on their professional lives, at least on Napoleon's. His lover had brushed the inferences aside, telling Illya that he was imagining it.

Alexander Waverly was dying. Slowly, but he was fading. The lingering illness had at least one blessing. It allowed him time to select his successor. Everyone at U.N.C.L.E.-HQ knew who it would be, who it had been all along.

When Section One began interviewing and investigating possible candidates, everyone knew it was merely a formality, merely the powers-that-be going through the motions. Illya was concerned, but Solo jokingly dismissed the attitude as Slavic somberness.

If Illya were concerned before, now he was downright worried. Solo should have heard about the appointment by now and Section One was still interviewing, going so far as to bring in possibles from Paris and Rome.

He told Napoleon just that and the fleeting look on his features told Illya more than Solo could say. Would say.

"What, Napoleon? You've heard something, haven't you?"

Solo sighed quietly. The downside to his relationship with Illya, a fellow spy, was that he could hide nothing from him. "No. Not officially. I'm supposed to meet with Waverly in a few minutes."


Napoleon turned away from the Russian, knowing the Slav could read him like a well-worn book. "About the selection," he said carefully.

Illya frowned and turned Napoleon with an ungentle hand. "The selection?" His frown cut deeper into his worry lines. "Not your selection?"

"Illya, I don't know anything yet. I'll find out soon enough for the both of us."

Which is Napoleon's way of telling me to leave it alone, Illya thought. He knew his partner better than Napoleon knew himself sometimes. He retrieved Solo's suit jacket from the chair it draped upon and held it out for him. As Solo slipped into the elegantly cut silk, Kuryakin carefully placed a small disc under one lapel. He certainly meant to get the news at the same time his partner did.

Brushing off imaginary lint, Illya caught the broad shoulders and smiled into the tired hazel eyes. Napoleon smiled back and gave Illya a quick kiss on the high forehead. "It will be all right, Illya. Whatever the decision."

He nodded in reply but the affirmation did not reach inside him. A knot of worry was tightening in his gut, tinting everything else with a touch of gray. He watched as Napoleon straightened his tie and cuffs and left for the meeting. Illya locked the door behind him and pulled out a micro-receiver he had been experimenting with in the lab section. Its range was abysmal but it made up for it by emitting crystal clear transmissions from close quarters. Just the thing he needed to surreptitiously attend the meeting upstairs.

Switching it on, he heard the faint echo of Napoleon's heartbeat. He smiled and his own heart beat a bit faster in response. Solo was nearing the elevator and greeting the women who ogled him in the hall. Kuryakin cleared his throat in annoyance. Napoleon would never change.

Lisa Rogers' voice came from the speaker. "Mr. Solo, he's ready for you. Go on in." Solo's voice was low and throaty as he replied, "Thank you, Lisa."

Illya imagined the resolute look Napoleon would be wearing and the set of those broad shoulders as he strode into the conference room. He roamed the corridors of U.N.C.L.E. like he owned them, as well he did. Waverly knew it, Solo knew it, and Illya had always known who the next ruler would be in their kingdom. Napoleon had earned the rightful place. He'd given his lifeblood, his soul to the promise.

As Illya had given his to Napoleon.

Waverly's voice filtered through his reverie and he shook himself back to attention.

"Mr. Solo, sit down, please. Would you like some coffee or tea?"

The American replied, "No, thank you, I'm fine."

Waverly cut to the case. "As you know we have been considering applicants to replace me as head of Section One. It has been no mean feat to wade through them all. We have given everyone equal time and consideration."

Illya heard the old man sigh and realized how tired he must be. Napoleon picked up on it, too, and asked if he were all right.

"What? Oh, yes; yes, quite. I was going to cite all the qualified personnel and the tedious selection process, but it all seems so unnecessary. Mr. Solo, we both know who is best qualified for the job. I don't need interviews and Rorschach tests to tell me what I already know. My successor is sitting here in front of me."

Illya grinned broadly at the admission.

There was dead silence on the receiver for a bit and Illya tapped the instrument to check its operation. He heard Napoleon clear his throat and nodded.

"Thank you, Mr. Waverly."

"Don't thank me yet, young man. There are...certain conditions to the appointment." He sounded uncomfortable to Illya, as though he were bringing up something distasteful.

"Such as?"

The Russian envisioned Solo's eyebrows somewhere in the vicinity of his cowlick.

"Mr. Solo, we both know how dangerous it is for agents to have encumbrances. It is doubly so for a section head. Number One, Section One does not have the luxury of liabilities."

"I don't think I follow you, sir. What...liability are you referring to specifically?"

"Don't be obtuse, Mr. Solo. Your relationship with Mr. Kuryakin has been indulged to a certain point. I turned a blind eye to it as long as it didn't compromise your ability to do the job. That time has passed. You will terminate the affair immediately if you wish to have the promotion."

Solo's voice turned hard and cold as he stood. "My relationship with Illya isn't a liability, sir. It's a miracle. I wouldn't be standing here today if not for him. He's saved my life professionally more times than either of us could count. And he's saved me personally as well. If not for Illya and his love, I would have eaten a bullet long ago."

Illya listened in stunned silence as Solo confronted his mentor, his words reaching deeply into the Russian's heart. One part of him was joyous at the way Solo defended him, but a larger part was horrified at his having to do so.

Waverly harrumphed and replied, "Don't be melodramatic, Mr. Solo."

Napoleon laughed out loud. "Melodramatic? Sir, you have no idea how much that stubborn, infuriating, incredible partner of mine means to me." Solo turned to exit. "But you're about to find out..."

Waverly cut him off before he could finish. "Don't be too hasty to make a decision here. Mr. Kuryakin will be taken care of. He may stay in Section Two, albeit with a new partner. Mark Slate, for example. His career will be in very capable hands—yours. Think of the power you'll have, the prestige. You can take the Section and make it yours, put your indelible stamp upon it—something I know you've longed to do. This is a gift, Mr. Solo. Take it."

"A gift?" Napoleon's fists clenched at his sides. "No, sir. There's a price tag attached to it. One I'm not willing to pay."

Illya closed his eyes against the pain in his heart. Napoleon was throwing away his dream, everything he had worked his whole life to attain. For what? For him? An emotionally battered Russian with too much baggage dragging along behind? He couldn't bear it. Napoleon deserved so much more. His happiness was worth more than that. More than anything. More than anything...the thought echoed in his tormented mind.

He heard Solo walk toward the door. No, my love, don't walk away. Turn around...

Waverly's voice called to him, weaker than it had been. "Napoleon."

He knew without seeing that it stopped Solo in his tracks.

"Give it some time. Please think about it. The council will wait three days for your answer."

"Three days...three months, it doesn't matter, Mr. Waverly. I won't change my mind."

Waverly slumped in his chair, the leather creaking. "Nevertheless, I won't accept your answer today. Three days, Mr. Solo. Three days."

Napoleon turned on his heel and walked quickly through the steel doors. Lisa saw the look on his face and let him go without comment.

Illya sat in the office, stunned. Napoleon didn't know that he knew. He still had the advantage. But he'd have to move quickly. He dismantled the receiver and put it away in his desk. Moving rapidly he unlocked the door and got out a file and began typing a report.

Solo came through the door two minutes later. His face was hard but he tried to keep the emotions from showing. Illya turned in his chair with an expectant look on his face. Kuryakin watched as Solo crossed the room and sat heavily in his chair.


Napoleon's gaze flickered to Illya and then dropped to the table top before him. "I, ah, was offered the job. I told him I'd think about it. I have three days to give them my final answer."

Illya appeared to understand. "I see. Don't want to appear too eager, eh?" He stood and offered Solo his hand. "Congratulations, Napoleon. No one deserves it more than you."

Napoleon didn't seem to know what to say and settled for shaking Illya's proffered hand.

The Russian stood and took the report he had been typing. "I have to go to Records and then I have some things to work on in the lab. Don't wait up for me tonight. I may go to my apartment if it's late when I'm through."

Solo seemed a bit dazed and only half heard his partner. "Ah, okay, sure, Illya."

As he walked to the door, he turned to his lover. "And, Napoleon, I really am proud of you."

The American agent smiled at him. "Thanks, Illya."

It was the smile that made it hard to keep going out the door, knowing it was the last one he'd ever see from his Napoleon. Illya returned it casually and forced his leaden legs to move. Somehow he made it to the hall. His feet automatically turned in the direction of the lab section. He'd find everything he needed there.

As he walked down the steel corridor Napoleon's words echoed in his head. The romantic of the pair, Solo had always let his feelings be known where the two of them and their relationship was concerned. Illya was the more reticent, preferring to keep his emotional content under wraps. But confronting Mr. Waverly, a man who was more like a father to Napoleon than a superior, that was taking it too far. Illya had always hoped Napoleon would have the common sense to know when to put his job, his career first. How like his emotional partner to let his feelings overshadow his practicality.

Luckily for Napoleon Illya was nothing if not practical. Hadn't he warned Napoleon time and time again that their relationship was holding the senior agent back? Napoleon couldn't see it, didn't want to see it. Very well. It was up to Illya to put things in order.

He had come to this country with the clothes on his back, distrust in his very demeanor, and a "No Trespass" sign prominently displayed. How aggravating that the debonair, dark-haired American agent had totally ignored the placard and wormed his way into the tiny piece of soul the lonely Soviet had left.

Illya knew Napoleon Solo as no one else did. He knew he would never give his lover up, even if it meant turning his back on the organization and the mentor who had molded him into the being he was.

Once decided on his present course, the Russian was methodical about its implementation. He had already run through dozens of scenarios, and short of returning to Russia, he knew that Solo would never stop until he'd gotten his partner back at his side.

If he set foot on Russian soil, he would either be shot as a traitor or sent to a gulag for being a sexual deviant. Illya smiled at the irony of it. If he did go home, the State would save him the trouble of killing himself.

The smile turned rueful as Illya reminded himself that there had been few times when he had been in control of his destiny. Napoleon may never understand this, or why he was doing it, may curse him for it for the rest of his life, but Illya had to do this one last thing. For Napoleon, for himself.

He slipped into the lab. A few technicians were about, checking experiments or cleaning up a station. No one gave him a second look. They were used to him coming and going at all hours of the day and night, puttering about with one obscure chemical combination or another.

Illya had recently done an inventory of the Chemlab's stocks and knew exactly what he needed. He sat on the stool at his usual perch and felt his Special brush against the edge of the counter. He ran his fingers lovingly across the grip, feeling the "K" stamped there. He remembered when Napoleon had given him the weapon, shortly after his first mission.

It was because of that which kept Illya from using the Special or any other gun for that matter. He didn't want his Napoleon to have to see the aftermath of such an action. Violence was such an everyday occurrence to them both in their profession. It didn't seem right somehow to go out that way voluntarily.

Cyanide flashed through his mind as he ran down the list of chemicals stored at the facility. Quick, painless, it was a perfect ending for a spy, wasn't it? If a bit cliché, he could be forgiven for it.

Unfortunately, the drug was only issued under a triple redundancy requisition. That took time, time that Napoleon would put to his use and ferret the Russian's plan out before its completion. That would not be allowed. Illya did not like to fail. He would not fail in this.

Napoleon looked around the empty room after Illya's exit. His ego made him consider giving Illya up for the power, the prestige of the position. But the quiet, the void that remained after his partner left, that convinced the agent that he was doing the right thing, the only thing.

He could no more give Illya up than stop his own heart from beating. It saddened him to have to hurt Mr. Waverly like this but the old man had gone too far. Illya was the line that could not be crossed. Waverly had always pushed and prodded and drawn his own line in the sand. Up 'til now there had never been a time when Napoleon had stepped over it. Nothing else had ever been so important as to make him even consider it.

Very well. Waverly would get his answer in three days. Until that time he still had a job to do. He pulled a report from his desk and began reading it.

Kuryakin knew his profession well. The KGB and U.N.C.L.E. had made sure of it. He knew a lot about poisons; which ones worked quickly, which drew the death out with agonizing slowness, and which ones were so deadly the poisoner took as much chance as the poisoned. He had no wish for a painful or slow death, but he wanted no chance of reversal as well.

All these parameters rolled around in his brain as the scientist in him ticked off the list of possibles. A metal was the answer, they were all highly toxic, he mused. But which one?

Lead—too much needed for his purpose. Cadmium—not enough on hand. Copper—takes too long. Same for zinc. that one intrigued him. Readily available here in the lab although in the form of phenyl-mercury salts. He'd have to ingest or inject it.

Illya crossed to the file cabinet and took out the hazardous material data sheets. He looked up phenyl-mercury and quickly scanned the information there, carefully putting the log book back when he was done.

It would work, he reasoned. Not so fast that he wouldn't make it out of the building, yet not slow enough for him to have to suffer through the effects for long. His mind set, he went to the cabinet that housed the corrosive and dangerous chemicals. He pulled out the salt crystals and mixed up a solution. Drawing the milky substance into a syringe, Illya went into one of the unused microscope cubicles and sat. He removed his jacket, rolled up his sleeve and applied a tourniquet. He paused just as the needle approached his bulging vein, calling up an image of Napoleon to give him strength.

He imagined Napoleon sitting in Waverly's chair, surrounded by gorgeous secretaries and barking out commands. A soft smile rose on his lips as he pushed the needle in. Loosening the tourniquet, Illya depressed the plunger and gasped quietly as the acidic solution burned its way into his arm. He could actually follow the drug's course through his body, he realized amazedly as he detached himself personally from the clinical proceedings.

He had an immediate metallic taste in his mouth and swallowed repeatedly. Other than a little light-headedness he felt all right. He stood slowly and placed the syringe into the refuse container against the wall. His quick eyes darted around the lab and saw nothing out of place or incriminating left there.

He left the lab for the last time, memories of this place washing over him as he walked to the exit. He casually greeted familiar faces in the hallways, keeping his mind on getting out of the building while he still could and while Napoleon was still otherwise occupied. If he'd had to see his lover's face or look into those hazel eyes once more, he knew he'd be lost. Thankfully he entered reception and handed his badge to Wanda. "Leaving early tonight, Illya?"

A faint ringing had started in his ears and he hoped he'd heard her correctly. He smiled at her and nodded. His legs were starting to tremble just a bit and he headed for the door to Del Floria's.

Made it, he sighed to himself as he stepped out of the changing cubicle and up the stairs to the street level. Del Floria called "Good night, Mr. Kuryakin," to him, but he did not hear it over the roar in his eardrums.

He flagged a cab and gave him the address. Sinking gratefully into the seat he lay back and closed his eyes. It seemed a split-second later that the cabbie was leaning over him, shaking him gently. "Hey, buddy, you okay?"

Illya sat up, his head spinning and the dizziness doubling. He concentrated on the sidewalk and got out slowly. Handing the cabbie a bill, he forced his feet to track properly and take him up the stoop. He was never more grateful to have an elevator in the building. His vision was wavering but he managed to push the number four button and felt the old car lurch into operation. Unfortunately the motion made him nauseous and he retched once before forcing his stomach to behave itself. Not yet. Can't fall apart yet, he told himself.

He stumbled down the short hall to his apartment and slid the key into the slot on the second try. His knees were shaking and the beige walls seemed to be pulsing in and out at him. Strength fading he barely got the door to shut and lock before leaning against the opposite side gratefully.

Lurching to the couch, he flopped bonelessly onto it. The metallic taste was overwhelming and he wished he could get a glass of water. Rolling over slightly he reached for the knob on the drawer underneath his battered coffee table. The motion caused him to lose his balance and he fell the rest of the way to the wooden floor, a grunt of pain escaping him. He still searched for the drawer, pulling it out and feeling the bottle of Stoli under his questing fingers. He pushed it away and numbly searched through the contents. Smooth metal, square shape. He pulled out the framed picture of him and Napoleon at an office Christmas party that April had taken and given them both.

His vision sparkled and swam but he could make out the smiling face of his partner looking back at him. It was the last thing he wanted to see. It would be enough to get him through.

Napoleon looked at his watch and decided he'd had enough for one day.

He stretched and rose from the chair, running a hand through his hair as he did so. What had Illya said to him as he left? Something about being late tonight and not waiting up for him? Oh, well, Napoleon decided he wouldn't be much company tonight the way he was feeling. He'd make an early night of it.

Solo reached around and pulled his jacket from the chair, catching it on one of the arms. As he tugged, a glint of metal caught his eye and he frowned. Pulling back the lapel he discovered the silver disc. It was U.N.C.L.E. issue and he sat back down heavily. Illya. It had to be. The little rat had bugged him, his own partner. He started to become annoyed but realized the conversation his Russian spy had overheard. The blood drained from his face as he imagined how Illya felt as he heard the command from Waverly.

A rare curse left him as he bolted from his chair and dashed down the hall. He pulled his communicator from his pocket and called reception. Wanda's voice drifted from the pen. "Yes, Mr. Solo?"

"Wanda, has Illya left the building?" He stepped into the elevator and pushed the lower level. He tapped his foot impatiently while the lift descended too slowly for his liking.

"Yes, Mr. Solo. He signed out about an hour ago."

"All right, thanks. Connect me to Mr. Slate, please."

A moment later Mark's cheerful voice greeted him. "Napoleon. What's up?"

"I don't know for sure, Mark. Perhaps nothing. Have you seen Illya in the last couple of hours?"

"No. I was in Records tidying up some reports most of the afternoon. Why?"

What was it Illya had said? He'd had to go to Records for a while...

"And Illya never made it to Records this afternoon?"

Mark let out a gust of breath. "Not while I was there, mate. Napoleon, something's going wrong, isn't it?"

Solo growled into the microphone. "Not if I can help it. Meet me at Illya's place. I'm going now."

He burst into Reception startling Wanda as he threw his badge on the desk. Another two steps and he whizzed through the tailor shop, eyeing Del Floria as he went past. "Illya come through here a while ago?" he asked breathlessly.

"Yep. He seemed out of sorts. Didn't answer me when I talked to him."

Alarm bells were going off by the time Solo jumped in his car and raced down the street toward Kuryakin's flat. The thought of finding an empty apartment, clothes and belongings packed and Illya missing made him tromp down harder on the accelerator. Illya could disappear easily enough, and stay disappeared. Solo knew how good of an agent he really was and bit down on the panic rising.

He had to calm down. Illya could just as easily be sitting down to supper as boarding an overseas flight. But Solo's inner sense told him otherwise. He knew the Russian, knew him like the back of his holster. Illya would not have taken Waverly's words as anything other than disaster. Disaster for Solo. And he was the kind of man who would not sit back and let the disaster unfold if he could do anything about it.

Unfortunately all of Illya's options were terrifying to Solo. He wouldn't go back to Russia, would he? Illya knew what waited for him there. No, he would run and hide or he would...

Panic seized Solo's insides at his next thought and he turned the next corner on two wheels. He could see Illya's building and he parked half a block away, leaping from the car almost as it was still moving.

Sprinting to the brownstone, he raced up the stairs and didn't bother with the elevator. He'd teased Illya many times about its slowness and antiquated action. Running up four flights only gave him time to pump more adrenaline and he swooped down the hall to number 404. His hands shook as he pulled out his key to the apartment. Not bothering to knock, he swung the door in and took a tense look around the small living area.

"Illya?" he called in the silence. No answer. No sound. He pulled his Special and stepped into the room. It looked the same as the last time he was here. Nothing out of place or amiss. He looked toward the stereo and saw a shoe sticking out from behind the couch.

Looking over the back, he saw Illya lying on the floor, clutching a picture frame tightly to his chest. His eyes were closed and he was so pale he was almost white in the dusky twilight.

Solo came around the couch and touched one still hand. "Illya." His skin was cold and clammy and the pulse was weak and thready. A quiet moan came from the blue-tinged lips and Solo bent down to hear.

"Polya." The name was unclear, Illya's tongue thick and numb from the effects of the mercury. "Too late..."

Napoleon bent and lifted the limp form onto the couch, shaking him and slapping his cheeks lightly. "Illya, Illya, can you hear me? It's me, it's Napoleon."

Kuryakin groaned and tried to turn on his side, retching painfully. Solo held him until the spasms passed and tried to talk to his partner. Napoleon took the picture from Illya's nerveless fingers, afraid he would cut himself on the glass. It was then that he saw the picture. Fear blossomed in his chest and he shook Illya once again.

"Illya. ILLYA! What's wrong? What did you do?" He assessed Illya more clinically, trying to let the field agent in him process what the lover could not. Shortness of breath, sweating, nausea, tremors...

Solo swore again, leaning close to smell Illya's breath. He pushed the jacket and shirt sleeves up and saw the puncture mark on the inner elbow.

Hauling Illya up he pulled the slight man to him, anger causing him to lose a bit of his normal, tight control. He slapped once, hard, on both sides of his face, hard enough to leave fingerprints on the soft cheeks.

Illya stirred, moaning again.

"Illya, please. Come on, wake up! What did you do? What did you take? ILLYA..."

Solo turned as a noise at the door startled him. Mark came inside, pistol drawn and ready for mayhem. Napoleon heard a siren's wail coming closer.

"Napoleon?" he asked. "I called for an ambulance on the way."

"Mark, help me. Illya's taken something. Tried to kill himself. We've got to..."

He stopped as Illya spasmed in his arms and began to choke. They turned him on his side as Solo cleared his airway. The Russian's pallor began to be tinged with blue and Mark cried, "He's not breathing, Napoleon!"

Feeling for a pulse and not finding one, Solo shoved Illya onto the floor and began mouth-to-mouth. Mark knelt beside him and started chest compressions.

Slate began sets of ten and watched Solo puff air into Illya's lungs. "Do you know what he took?"

Napoleon breathed for his partner and shook his head. Between puffs, he spoke quickly. "No idea. But, knowing Illya, something nasty."

Unfortunately, Mark agreed with the assessment. He heard the rattle of a gurney coming down the hall and yelled, "In here, 404."

Neither man looked up to see the attendants. Slate filled them in on their patient while still ministering to him. He checked for a pulse and felt another body slide next to him. "Nothing, Napoleon."

"Keep going," one of the medics encouraged. "I'm getting a line in him and then we'll try adrenaline."

A second medic pushed Mark's hands away long enough to rip open Illya's shirt and drive a very long needle into his chest. He replaced Slate's hands and nodded. Slate was on autopilot and didn't let the grisly procedure get to him. Napoleon's eyes were large in the creeping darkness.

"Push a liter of sodium chloride with bicarb into him stat. I'll hang another." The orderlies conversed in clipped tones, their professional demeanor calming Napoleon. He covered Illya's mouth with his once more and breathed into him. Before he could repeat it, he felt a puff of air against his lips. He shot upright and pushed Mark off. "Check his pulse."

Frantic fingers searched and Mark smiled in relief. "It's there. Hang on, Illya, boy."

Kuryakin coughed and began breathing raggedly on his own. A mask was fitted over his face and his blood pressure taken. Solo didn't like the frown on the medic's face at the numbers.

"Right. We're going. NOW."

Napoleon pushed the table out of the way and helped maneuver Illya onto the stretcher. He made to follow but one of the medics placed a large hand on his chest, blocking him. "You'll be in the way. Let us do our jobs."

Napoleon started to protest but felt Mark's hand take hold of him. "Come on, old son. I'll drive you. We'll be there before the ambulance, I'll wager."

Slate felt the tremors in Solo's body and hooked an arm around his waist. "He's in good hands, Napoleon. Can you walk?"

The way his knees were knocking Solo wasn't sure but he nodded. "Of course."

"Then let's go, shall we?"

Slate drove like a lunatic. Solo approved. They did indeed reach HQ before the ambulance. Mark jumped out and blocked traffic to usher the rig in. Napoleon was in the emergency bay, dragging a confused doctor out into the street and filling him in on the patient soon to arrive. The ambulance screamed into view and shot into the receiving bay.

Solo pulled the doors open before the driver could get out. He helped lift the gurney and got out of the way when the medical professionals swarmed the cot. Backing up, he bumped into the solid form of Slate and felt calming hands on his shoulders.

Kuryakin was assessed while he was wheeled into the emergency room. He was deathly white and looked even worse than he had in the apartment. Stripped, lying naked on the sheets, he looked like a corpse. Solo turned away as the team inserted catheters and other torturous looking devices into the body of his lover.

Mark saw the look and steered Napoleon to the nearest chair. He got him a glass of water and kept close as Illya's blood and urine were taken for analysis. Slate knew the longest part of the night was ahead—the waiting.

After Kuryakin was thoroughly triaged, the attending doctor gave a concise report to the CEA. "Your agent is critical. Until we know the poison he was injected with, all we can really do is wait and try to purge as much of it from his system as we can. Depending on the components of the poison we may be able to reverse the effects if we act quickly. The lab work will be done as fast as humanly possible."

Napoleon thanked the doctor mechanically and asked, "May I sit with him?"

"I don't see why not. He's comatose. Bear that in mind. I assume Thrush is responsible for this atrocity?"

No, I am, Napoleon wanted to shout. He heard Mark answer for him. "Yes, of course." No point in killing Illya's career if he pulled through.

The doctor walked away shaking his head. He had seen it all in his years at the Command.

Napoleon crept closer to the still form of his partner. A nurse was just finishing putting him in a gown and covering him with a sheet and blanket. She smoothed Illya's hair and patted him gently on the arm as Napoleon took his place at his side.

"If you need me, just push the button, Mr. Solo." Unlike the doctor earlier, she knew that Kuryakin was Solo's partner, not just one of his agents. "As soon as I hear anything, I'll let you know, sir."

He looked at her gratefully and gave her a watery smile. "Thank you."

When they were alone, he reached over and took Illya's hand in his. Mark came up and pulled the privacy curtain around them and winked. Napoleon was touched by the gesture. He cleared his throat. "Thank you, Mark. I don't know what I'd have done without you..."

"No problem, Napoleon. Illya's my friend. You, too." He disappeared behind the curtain and Solo heard him get on the communicator and report.

Silence dominated the room. It made Napoleon uneasy and he began to talk to Illya to ease the discomfort. He squeezed the cold hand in his and tried to talk around the lump in his throat. "Why, Illya? Why this way? Couldn't you talk to me about it before going off half-cocked? I'd have set you straight right away, my love. Nothing is worth this." Tears ran down Solo's face as he watched the mute form lying so still. The shock caught up with him and he lowered his head, resting his cheek on Illya's forearm.

Slate was finishing his report to Waverly's secretary. The Old Man had actually gone home for the evening, an uncommon occurrence. He heard the soft whispers first and the quiet sobs next. His face hardened as he felt for Napoleon. If that had been April...

Mark closed the door to Illya's room, keeping a vigil for his friends and their need for privacy.

An hour and a half later, Dr. Jack Martin swept down the hall, frowned at Mark, the closed door and the situation in general. He'd been called in to manage Kuryakin's case and he was mad as hell it had taken so long for someone to notify him. Technicians in hematology were still shaking at the dressing down they'd received for the amount of time the analyses had taken. Martin had the printouts and had collected the night shift assigned to Kuryakin. Once they knew their roles in detail, Martin dismissed them, watching them scatter like so many mice.

By the time he reached Illya's room he had reined in most of his temper and consequently didn't disembowel Slate when he bodily blocked the door. Slate held his ground and said quietly, "Just give them a moment, please." Martin softened his stance a bit knowing Slate was just protecting his own. Section Two agents were so predictable...

Slate slid into the room and peeked around the curtain. Solo was sleeping, his head pillowed on Illya's shoulder. Mark gently shook Napoleon awake and gave him a head's up.

Exactly sixty seconds later, Jack Martin pulled the curtain back and glared at Slate until he left the room. He went around to Illya's other side and began taking his vitals. He didn't like what he saw on the bed any more than what was in the lab reports. Napoleon somehow looked worse than his partner. Martin was used to that, too. Partners frequently needed medical attention in pairs.

"I have the lab results." Solo's head jerked up at that and he stared at Jack. "They're not good."

Napoleon sighed and looked at Illya's drawn face. "Go on," he prodded.

"Phenyl-mercury. Commonly called mercury salts. Whoever shot him up with the stuff knew exactly what he was doing. It's extremely toxic in small amounts." Jack drew blood from Illya's arm and pocketed the vials. "I'm going to compare this sample with the first one and see if we've made any progress at flushing the poison out."

Napoleon needed to know more. "What kind of effects can we expect from this stuff?"

"Mercury is highly nephrotoxic in any form. It is readily absorbed into all major organs, including brain tissue and can be a real bitch to remove. You've heard of the 'Mad Hatters?'"

Solo nodded, closing his eyes and rubbing his forehead. The thought of Illya being brain damaged was too much to grasp.

"Well, their dementia was caused by chronic exposure to liquid mercury. There isn't a lot of medical data or research available for Illya's acute type of exposure."

"But there is treatment available?" Solo asked hopefully.

Jack looked at his hands. "Yes, to some degree. I'll know more where we stand after I analyze this recent sample. But, Napoleon, it doesn't look good. I'm sorry." He walked out quickly, wanting to take the blood to the lab himself and light another fire under them there.

Solo stood, stretched and used the facilities. He splashed cold water on his face and avoided looking in the mirror. Sticking his head out the door, he saw Mark slumped in a chair on the other side. He motioned him in and gave him instructions on what he needed from his office. "I'm setting up a temporary command post here, Mark. You know what to do."

Slate nodded and volunteered to bring fresh clothes and something to eat on his way back. Solo threatened to promote him. "To your job? No thanks, mate."

Napoleon watched the Brit disappear down the corridor and was glad he was on their side.

An hour later, Solo had set up the empty half of Illya's room as his temporary office, wolfed down an early breakfast and changed into clean clothes. He'd left a report on the situation on Lisa Roger's desk knowing she'd brief her boss as soon as he came in for the day.

The rudimentary and routine tasks had given him something to do, keeping his mind occupied and not allowing him to dwell on Illya's condition. Kuryakin was still unconscious, hooked up to every available monitor and machine by the look of it.

Napoleon shook his head trying to alleviate the fatigue that had settled over him like smoke. At least it had been an uneventful night in the Command. He was grateful for that.

The wide steel door opened and allowed light from the corridor to spill over the threshold. Napoleon squinted, trying to make out the face of the intruder. His hand automatically reached for the butt of his weapon.

"Hey, don't shoot, I'm unarmed," Jack Martin said as he raised his arms into the air mockingly. Solo snorted and kept his hand where it was a second longer than he needed. Dr. Martin ignored him and checked on his patient. After a quick triage, he pulled a chair next to Solo's desk and sat heavily.

"It's not good news, is it, Jack?" he asked, seeing the drawn features darken with the prospect of his next words.

Martin sighed and looked up at Napoleon. They had known each other for years now, as doctor and patient, but as friends, also. The friend was having a much harder time than the doctor.

"The mercury levels have dropped some. But the damage to his internal organs is worrisome. His liver seems to be detoxifying itself but the kidney functions are practically non-existent. He hasn't had any urine output at all since admittance. He's fluid overloaded now and we have to start alleviating that immediately. "

Napoleon sighed and looked Martin in the eyes. "Will he live, Jack?"

The doctor took over at this point and stubbornly refused to give up as long as his patient breathed. But he also owed Napoleon the truth. "I don't know, Napoleon. I'm starting Illya on chelation therapy. We inject chemicals into his body that bind the mercury and allow it to be eliminated naturally. It can't reverse the damage but it will keep more from occurring. It's painful and time-consuming therapy."

The American agent could hear the hesitation; hear what Martin wasn't telling him. "But that's not the worst, is it? What is it, Jack?"

Damn Napoleon for being good at his job, he thought as he settled into the hard chair. "We'll have to put a shunt in his arm to start dialysis. He has no appreciable kidneys left, Napoleon. All we can do is try and keep his BUN and creatinine levels down. Those values tell us how much waste is building up in his body. That will only buy Illya some time."

"Time for what?" Napoleon heard the unspoken words. Illya was dying. His partner, his lover, dying by degrees. And there didn't seem to be anything he could do about it this time. No last-ditch, death-defying lunge and save, no hair-raising rescue at the last second, no bringing his Illya back from the brink. He raised haunted eyes to Jack's face and saw something there, a shred of hope.

"Jack?" His heart beat faster, wondering if his fair-haired partner had one last card up his shabby ill-tailored sleeve.

"I've started processing his tissue for typing, and we're doing more blood tests. He's eligible for a kidney transplant. He's officially on the top of the transplant team's list due to his critical status. I've contacted Dr. Johann of Strasburg and he's willing to fly in and do the procedure with his own staff here at U.N.C.L.E."

Napoleon's voice was low with shock. "Kidney transplant?" He looked at Illya lying quietly on the bed and shook his head. "Isn't that experimental?"

"No, it's becoming more and more widespread, actually. I've even assisted with one. It's not as barbaric as it sounds, Napoleon. We just have to find a suitable donor and do the procedure. Of course, it has enormous risks, but it's Illya's only chance."

He paused and looked away for a moment. "It's unfortunate that Illya doesn't have any living relatives."

"Why?" Solo asked.

"The rejection rate decreases with homologous tissue. A blood relative makes a better match. Except Illya doesn't have any family."

Solo stirred. "He has me."

Jack touched Solo's elbow. "I know, Napoleon. He's lucky he does have someone who loves him. This is going to be an uphill battle with no guarantees. Illya's going to need all the help he can get."

Solo stood and faced Martin. "So where do I sign up for the compatibility tests?"

Martin's square face split into a grin as he took Solo's elbow and steered him into the hall. He guided him around the corner to the lab annex where a line of Section Two agents all stood, filling out forms and having their blood drawn one at a time. Most were in their off-duty clothes, having heard about one of their own's need and coming down to Medical to help out.

Napoleon had to swallow before he could say anything. He walked past the men and women, calling each of them by name and feeling his eyes mist over with emotion. He stopped and turned his head. He felt a familiar hand take his arm and lead him to the front of the queue. Mark Slate's friendly voice rang out in the corridor. "I don't think anyone would mind you cutting in on this particular line, eh, Mr. Solo?"

He allowed Mark to tow him to the front, feeling the pats and encouraging hands on his shoulders from his fellow agents as he passed. Slate already had filled out his forms and helped Solo out of his jacket. The duty nurse smiled as she rolled up Solo's sleeve and quickly took a blood sample, labeling it and setting it on the tray with the others. Napoleon never felt a thing, his emotions reeling with the display of fraternity. He wished with all his heart that Illya could see it.

By the time he returned to Illya's room, the medical technicians had placed the shunt and were hooking Kuryakin up to the dialysis unit. It was a bulky piece of equipment and Napoleon had to walk around it to get to his partner. He tried not to watch the blood pumping through the tubing into the machine and back into Illya's body. His partner was still out, his silence disturbing Solo more than the gruesome procedures his body was undergoing.

After the nurses left, Napoleon sat on the edge of Illya's bed, holding his cool hand. "Come on, Illya. Wake up and argue with me, at least. Please." He watched the monitors bleep and blip for a time and then went back to his desk.

Solo began to gauge the time by the machine Illya was connected to. Mornings and afternoons were dialysis. Evenings were chelation therapies. And in between he kept to his duties and watched the world go on around him.

Solo was lost in a bewildering accounting report when he heard a soft sound. He looked up sharply to see Illya's eyes struggling to open and his body twitching slightly.

He jumped from the chair and was at his side in an instant. Pulling gauze from the medical tray, he gently wiped Illya's eyes and murmured encouragements to him. Solo stroked the forearms, taking care of the intravenous lines. Illya's breathing sped up and he fluttered his eyelashes a few times before coming awake. He coughed and cleared his throat.

Napoleon raised a glass of ice water to his mouth and let him sip it slowly. He didn't speak; merely let his starving eyes drink in the sight of his partner back with him.

Illya's head fell back against his supporting hand and Napoleon stroked the fine hair there. The beautiful blue eyes focused on his face and he saw the flash of recognition in them. "Napoleon?" Illya's voice was weak and rusty, but it was the most beautiful thing Solo had heard in days.

He smiled as he felt tears gather in his eyes. "Yes, dushka, it's me."

His smile caused a similar response in his lover until a quick gasp of breath broke the moment. Illya's face paled and he turned away toward the wall. Napoleon grasped the hand he still held tighter and pushed the call button quickly. He spoke concisely to the duty nurse and filled her in.

"Hold on, Illya. Help's coming."

The floor nurse came in with a syringe of morphine and injected it into Kuryakin's central line. He struggled and tried to stop her, but Solo's hands stilled him. "No, no," he pleaded. The shot took effect quickly and Illya relaxed, resigned.

After they were alone again, Napoleon said softly, "There's no reason for you to be in pain, Illya."

The Russian's words were slurred by the morphine but intelligible. "Napoleon, no. I don't want any help. I don't...deserve it. Let me die, please..."

"What are you talking about? Let you die? You don't know what you're saying."

Clearly fighting to stay conscious, Illya shook his head. "I failed, I failed you. Can't even do this right..." He finally lapsed into sleep as the drugs took hold.

Napoleon held his hand for a long time after, knowing he'd have to fight his partner's mind now as well as his failing body.

Napoleon kept his daily reports to Mr. Waverly direct and concise. They had not talked of the previous deadline although it had passed some time ago. Waverly didn't press and Solo didn't volunteer anything. He had other more important things to deal with. Apparently, Waverly did, too. He had found the time to visit Illya in Medical, though the Russian was sleeping at the time. Their boss was shocked at Kuryakin's condition, as Napoleon was at Mr. Waverly's. He'd gotten thinner, his voice was harsher and the gait was slower, more pained. Napoleon reluctantly admitted that the two people most important to him were slipping away from him.

Illya would have fits of restlessness, waking at all hours, confused and disoriented. Dr. Martin told Napoleon that it was normal, that mercury could affect Illya's memory and the kidney dialysis only kept the worst of the symptoms of kidney failure at bay.

Illya's confusion actually helped in a way. It allowed them to treat the surly patient without him fighting them. Napoleon held Power of Attorney status for Illya, and it made the process easier on all of them. Mark was the only other person who knew the truth about the poisoning and they decided to keep it that way. A transplant would never be allowed on a suicidal patient. Napoleon hoped he could convince his partner that everything would work out for them.

The results of the tissue-typing came into Dr. Martin's office late the next afternoon. There were three names on the list who matched enough of the parameters to qualify as donors. One was Julia Meyers. Technically, she was in Section Two but now worked in Communications. She was also married with a baby. Jack removed her from the list.

The second name was Frank Weidekamp. Pulling his medical file, Jack perused it quickly. Frank had been hospitalized recently with chest pains. He was hyper-tensive. He was also crossed off the list.

Leaving him with one name left. He buzzed his secretary and had her call the agent to his office. He wanted privacy for this conversation.

Fifteen minutes later, Napoleon Solo, Number One, Section Two, knocked on the door and let himself in.

"You wanted to see me, Jack?"

Martin frowned. He indicated the chair opposite him. "Sit."

"Do I at least get a bone?" Solo smiled but it didn't reach his eyes. He was exhausted, Jack noted and frowned harder. The dual stress of the job and his partner's illness was wearing Solo down. That made this decision that much harder.

Martin pushed the sheet of paper on his desk over to Solo. "That's the list of possible donors for Illya. You'll note your name is on the bottom."

"And that the other two have been crossed off?" Solo asked without asking.

Martin looked at his desk top. "Yes. For medical reasons they have been disqualified."

Napoleon smiled the predatory smile he was known for. "That seals it then. Makes it easy, actually. When do we begin?"

"Hold the phone, Napoleon. I still have to sign off on this and I don't like it."

"What's not to like? I'm a match for him and I want to do this." Solo's features hardened as he saw the battle lines being drawn across the desk.

"You forget, Napoleon, who else I am responsible for here."

Solo sighed loudly in the room and looked at his lap. "Illya."

"How good of you to remember him," he said not unkindly. He knew how hard this was for Solo. "I know he's fought you about treatment. I'm not sure why but I have my suspicions. And I know he wouldn't want this procedure if he were in his right mind." He looked Napoleon in the eyes and asked quietly, "Would he?"

Solo couldn't meet the perceptive gaze. "But he's not in his right mind. What do you suggest I do? Let him die a slow, lingering death? Is that what you want, as his physician? As his friend?" He did lift his head then and smoldering hazel eyes bored into Martin.

Martin got up and paced the room. "No, of course not, Napoleon." He looked out his bullet proof window and turned to Solo. "I'll make a deal with you. I have to stop the chelation therapy before the procedure, anyway. That should help with his frame of mind. I'll step up the dialysis for the next two days and purify his system somewhat. He should be lucid enough to talk to coherently by then. If you convince him to do this and I can verify that with him, I'll sign the paperwork and get the ball rolling."

Solo stood and nodded. "I'll convince him." He turned to go and Jack cleared his throat. Solo did an about face and looked questioningly at him.

"I still have another problem." He looked pointedly at Solo's yellow badge. "Alex is fading, Napoleon. I don't know how much longer he can go on. And when he dies, you'll be the new boss." Martin sighed, hating to say it. "If you have this operation, you'll be compromising your ability to command—compromising the Command itself. Have you thought about that?"

Napoleon stood straighter and contemplated the question. It was a fair one. It was one he had an answer for. He had lain awake enough nights recently as he struggled with it.

"I'm going to tell you the honest answer, Jack. I have thought about it. I know this organization is bigger than any of us. That we're all 'expendable' as Waverly so often reminds us." He walked back to the chair and sat wearily.

"But I've given my life to this place. Given my health, my happiness, my very blood to this steel and glass palace. And done it cheerfully all the while. Maybe it's time for it to give me something back in return. Maybe it's time I was selfish for once. For me, for Illya. You know, I never saw myself as having a wife, two kids, and a cocker spaniel. I certainly never expected to fall in love with my partner." Solo laughed and looked at the ceiling.

"Imagine my surprise, now that that's happened. I find myself wanting some peace and quiet, some down time to be with the person I love. Don't I deserve that, Jack? Are you going to tell me I don't have that right?"

Martin said nothing, as there was nothing he could say. Solo was right.

Napoleon rose again and headed for the door. "If Illya dies, U.N.C.L.E. will still have me. I couldn't bear to lose both of them. But part of me will go with him. I won't be the man I am now, with him." He turned the knob and left the office.

As he walked the steel corridor, part of him was angry at Jack for baiting him. But a larger part knew he'd been doing his job, playing devil's advocate. Solo allowed a sigh he'd been holding in to gust out, feeling drained with the release. Martin had been the easy one to convince.

He walked into his partner's room, going automatically to his desk to check for urgent messages. He responded to one that needed his attention and wrote notes about the other ones that could wait. Pushing up he walked quietly to the privacy curtain and listened. The machines were always a constant background, and Solo had learned to block them out and still hear the cadence of his lover's breath.

He heard a quiet moan of pain and went to Illya's side immediately. He was awake, though his eyes were squeezed tightly shut and the thin hands were clenched at his sides. Napoleon pushed the call button and took one of the bunched hands in his.

Illya looked up at him, trying not to let the pain show on his face. "Napoleon," he greeted softly. "You've been gone a while."

"Too long from the looks of it. Illya, you need to let the nurse know when the pain gets bad." He pushed the sweaty bangs away from Illya's brow and caressed one smooth cheek with a finger. Illya leaned into the gesture, wanting the contact but embarrassed at his response. He turned his face away but Napoleon cupped his chin in both hands, pulling him reluctantly back.

"Don't, Illya. Don't turn away. Don't hide from me."

"Have to."

"Why? Why do you have to hide from me, miili moi?" Napoleon tried not to get angry at the routine response. Illya was still disoriented at best, disconnected at worst.

"Disappointed...didn't do it right. I failed you."

Solo felt the color rise to his cheeks at that. "Failed me? Because you're still alive?" He bent to kiss the dry lips as he whispered in the pink ear. "Illya Nickovetch Kuryakin, you're going to get better. You're going to get better and we are going to have a very long talk together, da?"

He pulled back as the nurse came into the room. She quickly took her patient's vitals and injected a light sedative into the I.V. port. She smiled at Napoleon. The entire nursing staff was enamored of Mr. Solo. They were quietly impressed at the way he took care of his partner, helping with the treatments, even changing the bedpan as needed. To a woman they were all astounded by his nurturing side and consequently were at his beck and call twenty-four hours a day.

"That should help him settle down and sleep, Napoleon." She assessed the agent with a trained eye. "If you don't mind me saying, you look like you could use some rest, yourself." She pointed in the direction of the couch in the makeshift office.

Solo grinned at her and nodded. "All right, I get the point. As soon as Illya settles in, I will."

Appeased, she left and closed the door behind her. Napoleon parked on the side of the bed and watched his partner fight the sedative. He stroked the high forehead and rubbed Illya's temples soothingly. Half gone already, Illya succumbed to the hypnotic fingers and dropped off, breathing deeply.

Napoleon trod wearily to the couch and dropped down on it. Tomorrow Illya's dialysis would double-time and he hoped he would be able to talk to him. Talk, coerce, threaten, whatever it would take to convince the stubborn Slav that he deserved to live. In order to do that, he'd have to be in peak form. Matching wits with Illya, even a debilitated Illya, was a daunting task. He fell asleep listening to the measured breathing of his partner.

A loud crash woke him out of a sound sleep. Angry voices were his wake up call. Moving quickly, Napoleon peered around the curtain to see his partner sitting up in bed, arms crossed over his chest and a fearsome scowl claiming his face. The morning duty nurse watched in horror as warm oatmeal oozed down the wall across from her patient. A large glob of the stuff landed with a plop on the cold tile floor. She looked at Solo in resignation and pointed a finger at her mulish charge.

"I give up, Mr. Solo. He's all yours." She turned on her heel and marched smartly away.

Napoleon shook his head and looked at his feet for a moment before tilting his head to gaze at Illya. "I guess this means Cream of Wheat is out, too?"

Illya looked at the wall and said nothing. The dialysis machine was working to cleanse his blood and was a constant background noise. Solo didn't even hear it anymore. Illya, however, turned a baleful eye to the contraption and said, "You can tell them to turn that off, as well."

"It's the only thing keeping you alive at the moment."

"Exactly." The unemotional way the word was delivered sent a chill down Solo's spine. He'd have further to go than even he had thought. Round One, Napoleon thought as he pulled a chair over to straddle.

He let loose the ragged sigh he'd been holding in, and saw Illya react a bit. Good, at least he responded to my emotions, he mused.

"This isn't just about you, you know, my stubborn Slav. You've been drugged up enough that clear thinking hasn't been an option. Now I want you to think about what this is doing to the people who love you. Me, for instance." Napoleon's hands gripped the chair back, knuckles whitening with the tension. He tried to rein in his hurt and anger, not wanting to give in to it so quickly.

Illya saw the tight control Napoleon employed, saw the bunched muscles in his hands and forearms. He knew how dangerous his partner was when he was angry. Rarely had he seen this amount of emotion in the professional Napoleon. He began to understand a little of what Solo had been through recently.

"I found you in your apartment, Illya. I was there when your heart stopped beating, when you stopped breathing." A shudder ran through the corded body and Illya grimaced. "I breathed for you, dushka. Gave my body's breath to you, willed you to come back to me. And by the grace of God or the patron saint of spies, you did come back. That's a gift that I don't want to be returning. Don't you dare make me take it back." Napoleon stopped and bit back a sob. Tears were gathering in his eyes and he blinked them away.

"I can't, Illya, won't lose you again." The last sentence was a bare whisper but Illya heard it loud and clear.


Solo gathered his emotions once again before he lifted his eyes to Illya's face. The blue eyes were filled with tears, too, and Illya scrubbed them away with the back of his hand before they could fall. Napoleon stayed in his chair, knowing if he went to Illya now he'd be lost and the battle would be, too.

"I just want to know why, Illya. Why you would think that killing yourself would be the best solution to this problem. Why someone as smart as you would do something as stupid as this..." Napoleon's anger did give way a bit then and he slammed his fist down on the metal bed railing, rattling it loudly and causing Illya to flinch from the raw display of emotion.

Napoleon looked away and took a deep breath. Illya was the only person who could make him crazy like this, strip away his control and leave his psyche exposed and bleeding. He was the only person worth the pain of it. Solo stopped his tirade and let his head drop onto his hands at the top of the chair. His shoulders slumped and he was suddenly very tired.

He heard his lover's soft voice, subdued by the turmoil in the room. "Polya. Forgive me, please forgive me. "

Napoleon lifted his head to meet the anguished face. He kept silent, wanting Illya to continue.

"I know you think I'm crazy for what I did. But it seemed the only option to me. Our relationship was dragging you down, Napoleon. No," he shook his head. "Don't deny that was true."

Illya sighed. "I know what U.N.C.L.E. means to you, how much a part of you this organization is. You're like a physical representation of this place, Polya. You are U.N.C.L.E." He paused to let his words sink in.

"When I saw what was happening, the missions that were denied you, the perks you should have had held back, it hurt me to see that. But I knew you would get your due. In time, you would be Number One, Section One, and all would be yours again. I let myself think that, let it keep my conscience salved, let it absolve me, let it lure me into a false sense of security about our being together." He stopped, taking a couple of deep breaths to calm himself.

"I let it continue because I loved you. And, I...I needed you. Once I let my barriers down and you came into my life, there was no turning back for me. I needed you like you needed U.N.C.L.E. You were my addiction. I craved you and liked it. I didn't want to stop. And with U.N.C.L.E., I didn't have to. I could have you both."

Solo spoke softly, "But that changed."

Illya looked down at his hands twisting the sheet, entwining it in his fingers. He nodded, not trusting his voice.

"But, Illya, I chose you, not U.N.C.L.E. You had me wired, you heard."

Illya looked up sharply at that, guilt readily apparent. "You made the wrong choice, Napoleon."

Napoleon stood, standing at Illya's side and taking his hand in one of his own. "No, Illya. I made the only choice. You."

Solo cleared his throat before he could speak again. "Do you think I could be happy without you, after knowing what my life has been like with you? Taking something away is crueler than never giving it to begin with. Don't you see that?" Solo looked down and spoke harshly, "I guess you never really loved me, then." He tried to turn away but Illya's grasp on his hand made it impossible.

"I do love you, Polya. With all my heart."

"If that is true, then it must be my love you doubt. If you truly knew how much I loved you, Illyusha, you would never think of hurting me like this, of leaving me without you. What if the tables were turned? How would you feel if it were me in this bed?" He knew he'd struck a nerve by the fleeting look of horror that ran across Illya's face before he could call it back.

Napoleon stood and took another calming breath. Round Two. Ding ding ding.

"All right. You're going to have to prove it to me, Illya. Prove to me that you love me. Put your money where your mouth is so to speak."

Solo moved to stand next to the dialysis unit, placing his hands on the tube which carried Illya's lifeblood. "Live, Illya. Live for me. Live with me. I won't take anything less than everything."

Illya watched his blood flowing through Napoleon's fingers, thought of Napoleon's breath flowing into his lungs not so long ago. His partner had held his life in his hands figuratively so many times before. Now that it was literal it sank home even more. Illya sagged with the realization. He let his eyes slowly drift up to meet Napoleon's, blue and hazel locking in a moment of instant rapport.

"How, Napoleon? That thing will only keep me alive for so long. And the life it gives isn't very pleasant."

Napoleon wanted to grin but kept his face schooled. Round Three.

Illya's jaw dropped almost to the floor and stayed there throughout most of Napoleon's carefully prepared speech. Solo smiled at that. It wasn't often he could flap his unflappable partner.

"You can't possibly be serious!" Illya was indignant with outrage. "A transplant?" He scowled and spat, "I am not a petunia."

"No, you're more like a stinkweed, miili moy. A very thorny one, too."

The glacial glare he got in response was worth the effort. "Look, the preliminary work has already been done. I'm actually the best match for your procedure. It must be Fate. Kismet. Anyway, you're stuck with me, Illya." Solo winked at him and saw a tiny smile threaten one corner of the full mouth.

"Tell them to look harder." The droll humor was returning as Illya continued to improve mentally and physically. Now even he ignored the machinery around them, accepting it as another burden to be born. Stoically, of course. He was Russian.

Napoleon snorted. "Sorry. Medical already tested everyone in Section Two and most of Section One volunteered, too. Of course, most of the senior agents were disqualified due to age and other concerns."

Illya's eyebrows rose at that. "Everyone in Section Two?"

Napoleon smiled softly at Illya's question. His partner would find it difficult to believe others cared enough about him to intervene on his behalf. "Ninety-eight percent participation rate."

Illya did laugh then. "I knew my sparkling personality would foster holdouts."

Napoleon grew serious. "The other two percent suffered from malaria or hepatitis recently. No-goes." He watched in amusement as Illya's color turned pink to his collarbone. Accepting overtures of friendship from others had always been hard for the elusive Russian. Being confronted with such an outpouring of camaraderie was overpowering. Solo watched Illya duck his head and gave him a minute to deal with the feeling.

He dragged a comfortable chair next to the bedrail and sank into it gratefully. After another minute he glanced to the puddle of mush on the floor. "If I buy you breakfast do you promise not to make me wear it?"

Illya's color had returned to normal. Now he blushed furiously red and smiled sheepishly.

Solo rang the buzzer for the nurse and stretched his legs out in front of him resting them on the bed. He laughed out loud when the same nurse came in brandishing a food tray in front of her like a shield. "Is it safe to come in?"

Napoleon looked to his partner. "Well, Mr. Kuryakin? Are you going to behave yourself and stop abusing the staff?"

Illya had the good grace to look chagrined. "I will agree to stop abusing the staff if they stop abusing me with oatmeal..."

The nurse dropped the tray and smiled at Illya. "I'll see if I can find something a bit more accommodating to your stringent tastes." She winked at Napoleon as she left.

Illya shifted on the bed and a bolt of pain immobilized his body. He tried not to cry out but Napoleon was instantly there, taking his hand and helping him ride it out. "How bad?" The hazel eyes were full of matching pain as Solo waited for the spasm to pass.

Illya took deep breaths and felt the pain begin to recede as quickly as it had come. He sagged into the bed and closed his eyes. "Getting worse. I'm not as nauseous or dizzy now but the pain is coming back more often. Still, an equitable trade, I'd say." He turned his head and looked into Napoleon's worried eyes.

"We can't waste any more time, Illya. You need the transplant now."

"And what about you, Napoleon? What do you need?"

Solo was puzzled and didn't reply save for an arched eyebrow.

"Perhaps I should rephrase that. What does U.N.C.L.E. need? It certainly doesn't need its Chief Enforcement Agent restricted to bed rest and flat on his back. There isn't anyone remotely qualified to fill your shoes. And with Mr. Waverly infirmed..."

"Mark Slate can take over temporarily. I already have my office set up here in this room. It wouldn't take much to keep it going this way for a while longer. Besides, Illya, I have accumulated leave that Personnel is always begging me to take and get off their rolls. I'd be doing them a favor."

Illya saw through the paper-thin argument in a heartbeat. He sighed and stared at his partner with ice blue eyes. "U.N.C.L.E. may be able to function without a Number One or a Number Two. It most certainly can't with them both indisposed."

Now we get down to it, Solo realized. Round Four, and the final round, I hope...

He took Illya's other hand and held on to them both as he caught the blue gaze once more. "But, Illya, don't you see? U.N.C.L.E. has been functioning without both of us for some time now." Getting to his feet he released the cool hands of his partner and paced the length of the bed.

"Oh, Napoleon Solo may have been coming to work every day, sitting at his desk, taking care of assignments, looking to all the world like the real thing." He put his hands in his pockets and turned to face his lover. "But the truth of it is the real Napoleon Solo stopped existing when you stopped breathing on the floor of your shabby apartment. He stopped breathing, too. When your heart stopped beating, his did, too."

Napoleon stopped and collected himself for the final barrage. Illya had turned his face away upon hearing Solo's words, too emotional to trust himself with a look.

"So, you see, my fine Russian friend, we've both been mere shades of our true selves for a while now. If you let yourself die, the real Napoleon Solo will never come back. U.N.C.L.E. will lose us both permanently."

He let that sink in for a moment, then went to Illya's side and caught the strong jaw in his hand. "Illya. Look at me." The beautiful face turned to regard him and he felt a sharp pain in his heart at the look of love there.

"You might as well take a kidney, dushka moya. You already have my heart." He pulled the unresisting man into his arms and kissed the upraised lips before he could answer.

Thirty-six hours later Napoleon Solo came back fully into his body. He wished he hadn't. A haze of pain kept him from regaining full consciousness and voices echoed and reverberated around him. He thought he heard his partner call his name once and he tried to answer.

A cool hand touched his forehead and he heard a soft voice whisper to him, "It's all right, Napoleon. Illya's fine. So are you. You both came through the procedure with flying colors."

Well, I'm certainly flying now, he thought as a rush of morphine hit his system and he floated away.

Somewhere an alarm was going off with annoying regularity. Napoleon thought that someone should turn off the alarm clock really, really soon or he'd be forced to shoot it. He turned his head toward the sound and cracked open his bleary eyes. The light assaulted his eyes and made him dizzy, but stubbornness was a Solo family trait and he stuck it out. A few seconds later he could focus and he saw a nurse hovering at Illya's bedside. He couldn't see Illya since she was blocking him, so he cleared his throat to get her attention.

She smiled at seeing his open eyes and greeted, "Ah, Mr. Solo, so good of you to join us." Before he could reply she popped a thermometer in his mouth. As she turned to get his chart he saw the blue eyes of his partner looking back at him. He tried to smile but had a matching glass tube in his mouth as well.

The nurse pulled Illya's thermometer out and frowned at the reading. A minute later she gave the same frown to his partner. "You boys always have to do things in pairs, don't you?" Solo tried to shrug but the pain in his back stopped him cold.

Dr. Jack Martin strode into the room and asked cheerfully, "How are my two favorite patients doing?"

Nurse Evans grunted and said, "They're your only patients, Dr. Martin."

"Shh, Mary. You'll give away my little secret."

"Well, they are both currently running fevers of 100.8 and 101.1 respectively."

Illya gave a look to Napoleon and said, "Over-achiever."

Napoleon scowled back. "You're just jealous."

Martin tapped his foot. "Boys, boys. Competitive in all things, I see. Well, you both just won yourselves a full course of antibiotic shots with an I.V. chaser."

Martin positioned a chair between the two beds and propped his feet up on the med-stand. His look was casual but he took in the signs his patients were exhibiting. Illya was paler than normal and his breathing was faster than it should be. Napoleon's darker coloring gave less away but he, too, was masking pain. I hate treating enforcement agents, Martin thought.

He looked from one to the other and asked gently, "How's the pain?"

Both men tried to shrug away the question and they gasped in tandem. Martin signaled the nurse and she pulled a vial from her pocket. She quickly drew up two doses and gave them to Jack. He injected Illya first and then Napoleon before he could protest. Both patients relaxed and began to drift with the drug.

Just before they sank into oblivion, Martin heard Illya say, "Bet I wake up first..."

He waited until he was in the hall before he roared with laughter. This was going to be an interesting convalescence.

He heard the teasing voice as he walked toward the physical therapy suite. Illya. Dr. Martin stopped just outside the door and listened in shamelessly.

"One more, Napoleon. One more."

A grunt of pain and Solo's aggrieved voice said, "That's what you said after the last one. And the one before that."

"I lie."

Solo swore and arched backwards one more time, pulling his body off the floor and back toward his partner sitting on his lower legs.

"Higher," Illya commanded and Napoleon went one inch more. "Good," he praised and Solo let out a breath and sagged back to the cool mat. "You did one more than I."

Napoleon panted. "And I'm going to make you pay for every one of them, you sadist. Just as soon as I can get up."

Illya smacked his calf. "If I thought you could move, I'd be worried." The Russian was stiff himself getting to his feet but wouldn't let Napoleon see it.

He reached down and offered his partner a hand. Napoleon glared at him for a second and then grinned. He let Illya haul him to his feet and they both tried to catch their collective breath.

Dr. Martin cleared his throat before he walked through the door. "How's the therapy going?"

Napoleon hobbled to the nearest chair and sat heavily. "Swell."

Illya smiled at Martin and replied, "Don't mind him, Jack. He's always crabby until he showers."

Solo scowled at him. "Then what's your excuse?"

"Touché, Napoleon," Martin said. Illya glared at the American agent and reached for a clean towel. He flipped it at Solo's head and took another for himself. "I'm glad to see you're both doing so well. Because it looks like we'll have to kick you out of here a bit early."

The agents glanced at each other uneasily. An early exit from Medical was unheard of.

"Alexander Waverly died last night. Peacefully, at home with his wife."

Illya turned and walked to the only window in the room. Napoleon draped the towel around his neck and held onto the ends. He didn't respond.

Kuryakin stared out the window without seeing anything. After a moment he went back to his partner, sat next to him, and draped an arm around his shoulders. He didn't need to speak.

In a moment Napoleon spoke. "You know, that old man exasperated the hell out of me, continually reminded me how expendable I was, how pompous and arrogant I was, and how I was going to kill myself doing something terribly foolhardy one day. He pissed me off almost daily and never seemed satisfied no matter how I tried to please him." He sighed and turned misty eyes to his lover. "And I loved him like a father. I'm going to miss him for the rest of my life..."

Illya tightened his grip on the broad shoulder and felt the tremors vibrating through Napoleon. "I'm sorry, Polya," he whispered.

Jack stood in front of the two men and said, "As the attending physician, I signed the death certificate. That makes you officially Number One, Section One, Napoleon. As of 11:48 last night."

Napoleon started and shook his head, clearing it. "The Board of Directors will have to approve my selection first."

Martin smiled. "They already did. At 8:03 this morning." Jack reached a hand out to Solo and the stunned man took it dazedly. "I'd say 'Congratulations' but I know the job too well..."

He released Solo and said, "I'll be turning you both loose as of tomorrow morning, pending a scheduling of stringent P.T. and ridiculously frequent check-ups for the both of you. It will be almost as annoying as being here." He clapped Napoleon on the back and nodded to Illya as he left.

Illya stayed next to Napoleon, both men caught up in their own feelings. Solo felt isolated, even with the warm arm of his lover draped around him. Illya wanted to take some of the burden from Napoleon but was unsure how to proceed. And there was another problem now; the original thorn in their side that seemed to have grown into a dagger.

Kuryakin sighed and withdrew his arm, standing up to pace in the crowded room. He pointedly did not look at Solo, not wanting him to read his expression just yet. Napoleon had enough to deal with at the moment without his melodramatic Russian partner adding to it.

However, Napoleon Solo could read his partner like a see-through book, and right now Illya Kuryakin was open to page one, chapter one. He rose with difficulty and came up behind Illya, taking him by the shoulder and stopping the nervous pacing. Illya did not turn, but his body was tight and unyielding.

"Illya. I know what you're thinking. Take it easy. I'll take care of it."

The Russian did turn then and repeated, "Take care of it? Just how are you going to do that Napoleon? Simply march into your new office, call a meeting of the directors and tell them that we are lovers?"

"Actually that was pretty much what I had in mind..."

His partner sputtered and cursed and Solo had to laugh at the horror on his face. "Look, Illya, let's take things into account here, get them in perspective." He indicated a bench and they both sat.

"I'm in command, partner. Like it as not, I'm the policy maker around here now. The Board has already voted me in. It's going to take a hell of a lot more to vote me out even if they want to now. If you think I won't take advantage of that, you are mistaken."

Illya shook his blond head. "But, Napoleon..."

"No 'buts.' Mr. Waverly may not have liked our arrangement, but he's gone now. I'm not going to ram this down their throats, but I am going to make certain they know where I...where we stand. And that has been and always will be...together, Illya."

"Napoleon..." Illya whispered.

Solo cleared his throat, needing to ask Illya one more thing. The bright blue eyes gazed at him and he said seriously, "I need a Number Two. Know anybody qualified for the job?"

Illya sighed and said, "Always a bridesmaid, never a bride." But his eyes were shining as he looked to his lover. "Number Two, huh? I won't have to change my badge."

"Yes, you will, Illya. The color, anyway." Napoleon stood and offered his hand. Illya clasped it and they shook solemnly.

Napoleon broke the moment and said, "I'm going to call a meeting first thing in the morning. Be in my office at 9:00 a.m. sharp."

"As if I had a choice..." Illya said grumpily.

"I'm still your boss, Illya." He grinned wickedly.

"Napoleon, you're everybody's boss now." Illya couldn't help but laugh as the truth of it caught up with his partner. The new chief sagged back down to the bench as his knees gave out.

"I told you I'd get you back for all those reverse sit ups..."

Napoleon Solo, Number One, Section One, sat back in his comfortable leather chair and looked at his surroundings. Lisa Rogers had been flitting about all morning, changing the place to meet Solo's personal and professional needs. Mr. Waverly's belongings had been removed before he'd come in—using the Fifth Entrance, of course. He smiled as he remembered getting off the hidden elevator, walking slowly to the desk and "the Chair" only to find Lisa had beaten him to it. His new badge, white with a black number one, was waiting for him.

He looked down at the badge affixed to his jacket and wondered again at the seemingly meandering journey that had gotten him to this point. His eyes traveled to the portrait of Alexander Waverly he'd made sure to put in a prominent place. He owed the man so much, had learned everything he knew from him. He didn't want to forget.

However, it was his office, now. Where the humidor once sat was a sextant. And instead of a teapot there was a Mr. Coffee on the service. He had kept the bottle of Glenfiddich, however. He was not a fool...

It still felt strange to be on this side of the desk. Solo knew it would take a while to settle into his new role. His intercom buzzed and Lisa's voice greeted him. "Mr. Kuryakin to see you, sir." He smiled at the "sir" part.

"Send him in, please." He leaned back in the chair and waited for his lover to appear. A moment later Illya came through the steel doors, his eyes immediately drawn to the sight of Napoleon in his rightful place at Number One's desk. A quick glance noted the changes on the desk and he looked around at the rest of the office. Illya stopped when he saw the painting and nodded his approval.

"He would be pleased, Napoleon." The blue eyes sparkled as he added, "As am I."

Napoleon cleared his throat before he replied. Illya's new badge was also going to take getting used to. Right number, wrong color, he thought. No, right color. Very right.

The door opened again and Lisa fixed a cup of coffee for her boss and brought it to the desk. "Would you like some coffee, Mr. Kuryakin?"

He made a face and asked, "Is there tea?" There was a look exchanged between Lisa and Napoleon and he wondered what they were up to.

"There might be," Lisa replied. She sauntered over to the coffee service and opened the cabinet underneath. Bending low she reached into the recess and pulled out a samovar. An expensive one from the look of it. Placing it next to the Mr. Coffee she ceremoniously poured Illya tea into one of the tall glasses. He goggled when she took a spoonful of raspberry jam and added it to the tea. She offered it to Illya and he tried a sip. His eyes closed in pleasure.

"Just the way I like it, Lis...Miss Rogers. Thank you." She smiled and winked at both of them on the way out.

Illya sat in one of the armchairs opposite Solo and raised his glass in a toast. "Hail to the Chief," he said and was surprised when Napoleon actually blushed.

They both drank from their cups and neither man spoke for a while.

"New badge looks good," they said to each other in unison, then laughed out loud.

"Okay, we can't start doing that in public," Napoleon joked. "We'll have to tone down the telepathy."

Illya snorted and then winced at the stab of pain that shot through him. "Don't make me laugh, Napoleon. It still hurts..."

"Don't remind me. We have to check in with Martin after the meeting, too."

"You mean the Marquis de Sade? What tortures does he have in mind today?"

Solo smiled. Illya was his old self again. Snide, cynical and crabby. He had forgotten how much he'd missed that part of his partner. Among other parts...

Napoleon shook himself from that train of thought and finally replied, "Oh, the usual should be enough."

Solo looked at his watch and set his coffee down. "Ready?"

Illya gulped one final swallow of tea and said, "Not really, but you won't let that stop you."

Smoothing his jacket and tie, Solo checked Illya's suit before they left. He looked good this morning, although he had lost weight he'd need to pick back up. Del must have taken in the suit he was wearing because it actually fit the lean frame. Maybe there was hope for Illya's wardrobe now that he was in Section One. Napoleon led the way out into the hall and heard the light tread behind him. He smiled.

They were assembled and waiting for him when he arrived. He thought he heard a few grumbles as Illya came in right behind him and stood at his elbow. Solo sat first and Illya took the empty chair on his right. It seemed appropriate enough, Napoleon mused.

"Thank you for meeting with me on such short notice. And please accept my condolences on the loss of Mr. Waverly. We'll not see the likes of his caliber again."

A chorus of "Hear, hear," greeted his remarks and he smiled. Most of the Council were the old guard and all were Waverly's contemporaries if not his friends. Because of that he cut to the chase early.

"I'm not Alexander Waverly, nor do I care to be. He was a unique individual and I won't try to fill his shoes. I prefer to wear my own, thank you. To that end, I have appointed Illya Nickovetch Kuryakin to the position of Number Two, Section One. It is my right to make such a selection." He saw the gray heads nodding around him. Good.

"I've also selected Mark Slate to head Section Two. He will, of course, make his own designation as to his Number Two."

Mr. Azuma spoke. "Is not Mr. Slate a bit young for that position?"

Solo nodded. "Yes, he is, but then so was I when Mr. Waverly appointed me. I think Slate will be fine. Time will tell."

Napoleon got up from his seat and stood behind Illya's chair, hands on the top of it. He could see the tension in the thin shoulders and knew Illya would really rather skip this next part of the briefing. But for Napoleon he would stay.

"Gentlemen, there is one other aspect of my selection I'd like to bring up for discussion. As most of you know, Mr. Waverly made me a conditional offer of Number One a few weeks ago, before he died. I did not give him an answer but will tell you now that I was disinclined to take the role under his restrictions."

Solo sighed. Illya cleared his throat ever so softly and Napoleon knew he was with him. "Waverly knew that Mr. Kuryakin and I have a personal relationship outside of the office. We are partners in every sense of the word." He heard a few quiet murmurings at that admission and gave the men time to take it in.

"I am informing you to give you the opportunity to tell me to my face if that bothers you enough to cause misgivings about my ability to do the job." He looked at the lined faces around the table each in turn, allowing them the time to speak up. "Anything you say in this room will be kept in this room. Speak freely now, because when we walk out that door, I'll brook no further interference about our relationship or how it relates to our jobs."

He sat back in his seat and folded his hands in front of him. Illya looked straight ahead, neither to the left or the right.

Solo spoke once more, quietly. "If you believe this will compromise my ability to be chief, I will step down. You would be free to choose another successor. I would retire from U.N.C.L.E. quietly and cause no problems."

There was a snort of derision from Mr. Breckinridge. "Retire? Choose another successor? Mr. Solo, we all of us know you are the only man for this job. You were born to it. Waverly knew it, we know it. And you know it." He paused as Solo smiled at the truth of it. "As for your private lives, I don't care a whit whom you choose to sleep with. If I had cared about that, I've had been up in arms a long time ago, now wouldn't I, Mr. Solo?"

There were guffaws around the table as the old men recalled favorite Solo legends they'd heard from the younger agents. Napoleon had sense enough to blush a bit.

Azuma addressed the assemblage. "Then, gentlemen, we are agreed? If so, this meeting is adjourned."

Napoleon walked to the door and shook hands with each man as he left. The doors closed and Illya let out a very loud sigh of relief. Napoleon returned to his chair and sat down again next to him. "Well?"

"Well, I think you have a very large pair on you, Napoleon. Brass ones."

"Actually, I'm thinking of having them bronzed..."

Illya choked, trying not to laugh, holding his arm against his side. "Please, Napoleon, it hurts..."

Napoleon came closer, bent to the ear in front of him. "I'll kiss it and make it better...later."

'Later' was much later indeed. Solo had meetings with each department head throughout the day, and they both had to see Dr. Martin before grabbing a quick lunch in Solo's office. Afternoon was spent in Physical Therapy where they tried to outdo each other in repetitions and weights. Both men were sore and exhausted by the day's activity by the time they could pack it in and go home. 'Home' tonight was Napoleon's place, Illya being too tired to catch a cab or take the subway.

The rise in position meant greater security for Napoleon. He was chauffeured to and from the office now and Illya made no bones about hanging on to his shirt-tails. He made the driver stop at a take-out stand and pick up dinner for them. He looked at Solo over the cartons of Chinese between them and said seriously, "I believe I could get used to this..."

Napoleon slapped his hand when he tried to sneak an egg roll. "Hey, you eat last. You're Number Two, you know."

"But I try harder..."

Napoleon leaned close and whispered, "Don't I know it." He was amused as Illya's face and neck turned red immediately.

Kuryakin leaned back into the luxurious leather seats and sighed. Half an hour later the limo pulled into the parking garage at Solo's apartment and he had to shake the Russian awake. "Come on, sleeping beauty. We're home."

Illya grumbled but snagged most of the paper cartons and watched as the bodyguard keyed the penthouse's elevator. He got in first, checked it out and nodded to his boss. Illya got in and eyed the large man as he said goodnight to Solo.

"See you in the morning, Bruno." Napoleon pushed the button and the door closed leaving them truly alone for the first time in weeks. A large gust of breath left Napoleon. "I didn't think we'd ever get home."

Illya thought of Napoleon's place as his home, too. He had belongings there as well, and frequented the apartment nearly as much as his own. He couldn't wait to get in the shower. And eat, of course. He wondered if he could manage both at the same time.

Once inside the apartment, Napoleon began setting the food out on the table. "Why don't you go grab a quick shower and I'll have dinner ready when you get out?"

Illya smiled and said, "You really are a mind reader, Napoleon." Pulling off his jacket and tie he made it to the shower in record time. Much as he wanted to luxuriate under the hot water, his stomach reminded him of other matters. Illya dried off with a thick towel and snagged Napoleon's robe from the hook on the door. Cinching the sash and rolling up the too-large sleeves made for a comfy fit and he ran a comb through his unruly hair. He could smell the moo-goo gai-pan and his mouth watered. If he never had hospital food again it would be too soon for his liking.

Treading softly across the thick rug the Russian spy sneaked up on the unsuspecting American agent and pounced. Illya wrapped wiry arms around his lover's waist and buried his face in the strong male scent of Napoleon's neck. They had been forced to celibacy while in the hospital and now Illya realized how much he had missed their intimacy.

"Just what do you think you're doing, Mr. Kuryakin?" Napoleon asked as he divided the stir-fried rice onto two plates.

"Mmm. Familiarizing myself with forgotten territory," he teased as he nuzzled along the strong chin. Solo turned into his embrace and the food was forgotten as his dark lover took command of his incursion and invaded terrain of his own.

Head thrown back, Illya gasped as the familiar sure touch of his lover ignited him like a torch in tinder. It had been so long...

Napoleon moaned as he felt his lover trembling under his hands and lips and he pulled the smaller body to his, molding them together. "Illya, dushka." He broke the embrace and led Illya to the couch, urging him to lie down. Throwing off his own clothes, he joined Illya in repose. The smooth skin outlined in the vee of his robe begged to be touched and tasted and Napoleon bent his head to the act. Illya cried out and arched into the hot lips trailing across his chest blasting him with heat and passion.

Napoleon settled between Illya's legs, resting his torso carefully against him. He was harder than he'd ever been in his life, the enforced celibacy weighing heavily on him now. Taking a calming breath he slowed the assault, knowing they would both be on a razor edge tonight.

The slender Russian's head was arched on the long neck, his eyes closed, his body waiting to be worshipped as he knew only Napoleon could. He felt warm fingers trailing up the outside of his leg, outlining the muscles and tickling the firm flesh. Across his hips, over his pelvis and then the knotted sash fell open, exposing him completely to his beloved's touch.

Napoleon swallowed, the beauty of his companion's body beckoning to him as never before. He started at the prominent collarbone, nuzzling and nipping and leaving love-bites behind. Illya's arms came around him, adroit fingertips running up and down his spine with tingling results. Moaning with need, Solo delved lower, licking the taut nipples one at a time until Illya sobbed. He felt the leap of Illya's erection against his and tried not to thrust against it. Too soon...

Slipping down the slender ribcage, Napoleon made sure to pay attention to each individual knobbed ridge, making a mental note to fatten his partner up post haste. While his lips played across the tight belly, his hands caressed the knees and inner thighs where he knew Illya was incredibly sensitive. Solo's lips and hands met at the junction of thigh and groin, and a quick gasp from Illya brought Napoleon back to reality.

The thick pink scar stood out livid against the otherwise perfect skin of his beloved. Some might think it ugly, a permanent mar of previously virgin skin, but Napoleon lavished attention on the reminder of their connection, their union of flesh. He licked along its length, kissing gently, hearing Illya pull in a breath at the intimacy. It was not a gasp of pain, but an acknowledgement of what they had shared and how much Napoleon treasured him.

"Polya," whispered from Illya's mouth. Strong fingers grasped his shoulders and Napoleon was pulled up the golden body, kissing every inch of skin he could manage along the way. Mindful of their recent surgeries, Solo gently reversed position so Illya was on top. His partner arched against the larger body below him and moaned as their erections slid along side each other.

Illya lowered his head, wanting Napoleon to know how he cherished him, how he had missed him. He kissed along the faint dusting of darker hair that arrowed down the deep chest, that arrogantly led him to the place he sought. Napoleon's scar was higher up on his belly, the darker pigment of his lover hiding the keloid skin better. Just below the ribcage, the puckered skin was starting to shrink, and Solo's hair was already growing back in over it. Illya caressed the area with his cheek, feeling the raised ridge and stroking against it like a cat. Solo groaned at the contact, raising his hips upward in mute supplication.

Illya kissed the scar, his eyes misting over as he realized how close they had come to losing everything. He froze for an instant and Napoleon felt the change in the supple body. Looking down his body to his lover, he met the emotional gaze and blinked rapidly as his vision blurred.

"Loosha, come here." He pulled the Russian up into his arms and held him tightly against his chest. Their hearts beat against each other, reminding them once again of their physical and emotional bond.

Napoleon took Illya's mouth tenderly, kissing him deeply and slipping his tongue in to play with its twin. Napoleon wanted to make it last but the erotic feel of Illya's tongue tickling the roof of his mouth had him writhing with lust against the hard body of his lover. He thrust up and Illya met him need for need. Illya matched the rhythm of his tongue to the thrusting of his cock as they locked together and grew closer to completion. Solo twined his legs around Illya's calves bringing them tightly together and felt the warm hand snake between their sweat-slicked bodies. One touch of the caressing fingers was all it took and Napoleon cried out into the devouring mouth still locked onto his as his orgasm blasted out of him, scorching his nervous system as it roared out his long-checked release.

Illya felt the strong spurts cover his milking hand and splatter against his abdomen and he was lost, his own release triggered by Napoleon's. He arched back, feeling muscles pull from disuse and cried out as well at the intensity of his own orgasm. Napoleon supported his back as he surged into the release, feeling his seed jetting out in wave after wave to join with his lover's. The ravages his body had endured caught up with him and Illya sagged against his lover, spent in more ways than one. He felt the pool of fluid they'd created spread between their bellies and tiredly realized they'd need another shower.

Napoleon panted against Illya's body, feeling him slump exhausted on top of him. Heady from the strength of the pleasure he'd just received, he trailed shaking fingers across the back of his partner, too sated to worry about the wreck they'd made of the couch and dinner. Bending down he ghosted light kisses across the crown of the bowed head against his chest.

Minutes later Illya still had not moved. His chest rose and fell rhythmically against his lover's. "Illya?" Napoleon tightened his arms around the sleeping man. "Wake up, lyubov."

A sleepy, "Hmm" was his answer. He shook one shoulder gently, hating to disturb Illya but needing to move them to a more comfortable spot. "Illya, if you wake up I'll give you a 'Solo Special' in the shower."

He heard the quiet chuckle against his chest as Illya replied, "I think I just had one."

Napoleon laughed and raised them up to sit on the couch. He glanced down at their sticky bodies and wrinkled his nose. "I meant a back massage and you know it." Solo glanced in the direction of his bedroom and said, "I happen to know my housekeeper just changed the sheets today. Shower first, bed second."

Illya thought of the incredibly comfortable king-sized bed in Napoleon's bedroom and sighed. "Bath instead. I'm too tired to stand up."

Napoleon chuckled again and pulled Illya up into his arms. "What I have in mind doesn't require standing at all..."

"Napoleon," Illya grumbled as he let himself be pulled down the hallway. It was good to be home...

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