s Castle in the Aire

Castle in the Aire

by ChannelD

Illya Kuryakin stood at the edge of the castle moat, and looked up at the imposing, brilliantly lit structure in front of him. Despite its Gothic appearance, electric lights blazed from every window, and the ancient looking drawbridge was powered by a smooth and silent engine. The security blocking access to that bridge, however, had led him to this side approach. He stripped off his clothes and tied them into a neat little package with his belt. Just before taking the plunge he suddenly remembered another moat years ago, and an unlikely warning from a girl with something extra, and dropped to his knees, peering cautiously into the water. The strong scent of chlorine came to his nostrils and he smiled. Modernity continued, even to the water—no piranhas in here. He slipped under the water and swam, holding his clothes on top of his head with one hand; his hair also tied up because when he entered the castle, hit the nearest employee over the head and appropriated whatever ridiculous costume he was likely to be wearing, he couldn't be wet.

It was a dangerous undertaking. Inside this castle were some of the worst men in the world. Leaders of Thrush, leaders of various terrorist organizations—heads of neo-Nazi and other fascist groups, secret police from every nation—once a year they gathered and enacted their darkest fantasies; dressing up, role playing, having orgies—who knew what they got up to. Frankly he could have cared less, except for one important difference. This year they had Napoleon Solo in there with them. It had taken several weeks to confirm the information but the latest tip was good, he was sure enough of it to be coming in himself despite his informant's warning.

"They'd like you," he'd said, eyeing Illya as they sat over a drink at a Manhattan bar. "Biggest complaint they have is everyone's hired help—no real thrills in that. An UNCLE agent—one who looks the way you do"—he smacked his lips—"and one who didn't want to be there—they'd love you." He made a kissy sound. "I'd love you, sweet cakes and if I'd seen you before we made our arrangement the price for this information would be higher. If you get my drift."

Illya rolled his eyes. "Let us please remember we're professionals. If everyone is hired help, why is Mr. Solo there?"

"Don't know. But it can't be healthy for him, can it."

No. Illya didn't say so, but he thought it. It had been over three months since Napoleon's disappearance. He had not arrived to meet Illya for lunch, as prearranged, and no one had seen or heard from him since. He had come to work that morning, had logged on from his office, but then had evidently stepped off the face of the earth. Illya, increasingly frantic, had called in every favor he was owed, contacted people from his past, from Napoleon's past, from old archives he had searched into the night and finally someone had spoken to someone who had met someone else who had seen Napoleon in the company of one of the organizers of this yearly bacchanal. Illya had tried to get in as a servant, as a guard, a cook—as anything, but security was iron solid and he had been left with no option except to sneak in, find Napoleon and get him out—by any means necessary. So he swam the moat, long blond hair piled on top of his head, dark clothing on top of that, swam easily with his free arm and silently urged Napoleon to hang on, because he was coming. UNCLE may have written him off but Illya hadn't, wouldn't, would never give him up.

Deep within the castle a security alarm beeped. Two men in uniform came to study the screen. "In the moat," one said. "Another false alarm?" The sensors were notoriously hyper sensitive and had gone off five times over the past twelve hours, twice for birds, once for a fallen leaf and twice for no apparent reason.

"Check it out anyway, Stevens—and Patchel. If it is an intruder use your best judgment."

"Yes sir."

Illya climbed out of the water, stood for a moment getting his bearings and letting the water evaporate off his skin. No doors in sight, but a place like this must have alternate ways in. The catering men and cleaning crews wouldn't parade through the main banqueting hall, so he would get dressed and explore the perimeter. He lowered his bundle and was working at the buckle on his belt when he was struck on the back of the head. It was a smashing blow and even as it drove him to his knees he knew it was all over—at least for the moment. He was blinded with pain, dazed with the force of the impact and then his hands were jerked behind his back and cuffed there. He struggled, because he had to and was struck again before being hauled to his feet. His clothes were examined and then so was he, and his heart sank at the expressions on their faces. "They'd love you," his informant had said. All the information on this gathering indicated that that was true enough and now—now they had him. He lifted his chin.

"Release me at once," he demanded. "My people are right behind me, and it will only go harder on you if—" a backhand across the face silenced him.

"Your people are nowhere near here," Stevens told him coldly. "Or you wouldn't be swimming around all by your lonesome. Come on. We're supposed to use our best judgment—"

"I judge we fuck him, hit him over the head again and throw him back into the moat," Patchel offered, and Stevens made a disgusted sound. "It's our only chance to get in on the action, Larry! All the muckety mucks are getting laid big time and we get nothing! And now this" he leered at Illya "just drops into our laps! Why shouldn't we grab it for ourselves?"

"And that's why you'll be a security guard the rest of your life. Don't you recognize him from our files? This is Illya Kuryakin. UNCLE's top agent—one of 'em."

"An UNCLE agent?" Patchel peered into Illya's face. "What's he doing here?"

"Good question. What are you doing here, Kuryakin? Somehow I doubt you've come to join the party." And, when Illya only stared back at him, Stevens shrugged. "You'll tell them, if you won't tell us," he said indifferently. "Get his other arm, Patchel. We'll take him to Overton."

"An UNCLE agent!" Overton sat up in his leather chair and looked hard at Illya. "You have no business here."

"Yes I do," Illya said. He recognized leadership when he saw it, and the trappings of this man's authority were all around him. "I'm here for Napoleon Solo and I'm not alone."

"You look alone to me," Overton pointed out, and Illya shook his head.

"Only temporarily. You didn't really think you could kidnap an agent of Mr. Solo's stature and get away with it? I'm just scouting ahead. When they don't hear from me they'll come behind—in force."

"Maybe ten years ago they would have. Not anymore. But you say you're here—you think you're here—to rescue Solo?" He began to grin. "To save him?"

"Yes," Illya said and all three men burst out laughing. It made his blood run cold. "And if you've already harmed him..."

"Oh, no," Overton said between guffaws. "We haven't harmed him at all. That's right—Kuryakin. Solo and Kuryakin. How could I have forgotten? You were his partner, weren't you, back in the good old days."


"And now he's disappeared and you're here on your white horse to the rescue." He laughed again. "Well, I'll tell you what. Such courage and devotion shouldn't go unrewarded, should it, Stevens."

"No sir."

"Take him to Solo then, since that's what he wants. Bring him in—just as he is—well, wait a minute." He walked over to Illya, reached behind him and yanked his hair band loose, letting it cascade down his back, over his shoulders, around his face, framing it in gold. "Yes," he said softly. "Just as he is. Solo's in the main hall. Bring his partner to him."

"Excuse me," Stevens said diffidently. "Mightn't he—I mean isn't there some information we could get out of him before they tear him apart? A top UNCLE agent—isn't that a valuable resource?"

"It's a good thought, Stevens, but we've had this one before. He'll tell us nothing. And if he did we'd never be sure what was truth, what was lies, what was a trap—no. He wants to see Solo—bring him there."

"Yes sir." Illya was pulled out of the office, down the hall and onto an elevator. His mind was racing. Napoleon was in the main banqueting hall? What were they going to do to him? Was he here as entertainment, was Illya's reward for his search to watch Napoleon die, horribly, before he himself was thrown to the crowd? Torn apart, Stevens had said. Well—at least Napoleon wouldn't die alone. At least he'd know someone had cared, that someone had come looking for him. Unless the situation changed radically, that would just have to do.

Napoleon Solo, wearing black leather pants and a white shirt open at the throat sat on his throne, set well above the crowded banqueting hall, and accepted wine from the serving wench. She did a creditable job of acting awed, and frightened, and trembled fetchingly when he reached out, caressed her bare breast, but he wasn't fooled. She was an agent, as they all were—the men and women serving and the ones not serving but lounging on pillows; the man with the bulging muscles suspended from the ceiling in a leather harness, the identical twin girls in the cage in the center of the floor—all agents. There were no innocents here. He had heard several of the men complain about that, complain that feigned fear wasn't enough, that some real victims would liven things up but the security chief was adamant. Everyone inside the castle had to hold a B12 Security clearance or higher, and that would make Napoleon's job easier when the time came. When the time came and he blew up this place with everyone inside, it would make it far easier.

It had been an unpleasant and distasteful assignment, and he had carried it through by sinking himself deeply into the role he was playing. He'd let his darker side rise to the surface, displaying a casual cruelty that surprised him as much as it relieved him because there was no room for error, here, they thought him one of themselves. He had forced his way to the top of their hierarchy with a brutality that more than matched anything around him. He drank his wine, and sat up straighter at a commotion near the door.

Two guards came in, dragging someone—Napoleon couldn't see who but the crowd noise grew, like some great beast, growling and avid and then the guards were nearly through to him and they climbed the steps to his level and threw their captive at his feet.

Illya! Chained, naked, hair down and concealing his face but unmistakably Illya and the fury in Napoleon's shouted oath was real. He had warned them, had told Davenport and all the rest of them that they had to tell Illya something, because his partner would no more just let him disappear than he himself would if the situation were reversed. He had thought he had convinced them but evidently not. Evidently they had told Illya nothing, so Illya had searched for him and somehow, despite all precautions taken, had learned of his whereabouts and come to rescue him—and been taken himself. And now... Napoleon looked over him at the scene all around them—now the crowd had its victim, and they would... over his dead body. The resolution was set even before Illya lifted his head in response to Napoleon's voice and their eyes met. He saw Illya's widen in horror, and then he put his face down again.

Napoleon was under cover! He saw it all instantly. They thought Napoleon was one of them, and that was why Overton had been so amused at Illya's appearance. Napoleon was on assignment, a top secret and highly important assignment, and had Illya ruined it? Had he, in attempting to save Napoleon's life, endangered it? He cursed himself, and cursed UNCLE, too, for not telling him. He didn't know what to do now, so kept his face hidden, because Napoleon would have to call the shots from here on in. If Napoleon thought he had to let that crowd have him to maintain his own role here, well—Illya shuddered. They had grabbed at him, as the guards hustled him along, had grabbed at him and shouted suggestions and threats and he knew what awaited him. Even as he thought it a hand grasped his ankle, pulling him back and he kicked out with his free leg but that was seized too and he was yanked hard backwards, away from Napoleon's elevated seat towards the drop off. Napoleon shouted again.

"Enough! Silence!" And there was silence, stone dead silence and Illya judged from that just how well Napoleon had carried out his assignment. He was in some kind of authority here, and all Illya could do now was follow his lead to the best of his ability. The hands released him, then Napoleon was gripping his hair, pulling his head up so they were looking at one another again. Trust me, Napoleon's face said, as clearly as if he had spoken. Illya lowered his eyes in silent acknowledgement. Napoleon cleared his throat. "Well well," he said, softly, and at the malice in his voice a murmur of approval went up. "If it isn't my former partner, poking his nose—as usual—where it does not belong. Found a little more than you bargained for this time, didn't you." And, when Illya didn't answer, Napoleon shouted at him, the suddenness and violence of it making him jump. "Didn't you! Now tell me—why are you here!"

Illya didn't know what to say, so he said nothing. Napoleon pulled harder on his hair. "Up on your knees," he snarled and Illya struggled, managed to achieve the desired position. "The truth," Napoleon said and blinked once, very quickly.

The literal truth, then. Illya swallowed. "I thought—I thought you were a prisoner here. So I came..."

"To save me," Napoleon mocked him. "How noble of you. Surprised by what you find?"

"Yes." He curled his lip. "Aren't you ashamed, to be here, like this? With these..." he turned his head as best he could with Napoleon still holding it, and cast a withering look at the scene. "You—a traitor?"

"They're the traitors!" Napoleon roared. He let go of Illya's hair, stood up. "All the years I worked—yet they pass me over time and again for the big promotions, for the real power! Well, the laugh's on them! I don't wait to be given power—I take it!" He lifted clenched fists over his head. "I took it! I have more power now than those puling men in suits can dream of! And they'll find out, soon enough—but it won't be you telling them," he added, and his voice had dropped again to that low, deadly sound. "Of that you may be sure. All those years—looking down your nose at me because I enjoy my pleasures—setting yourself above me because you don't know what it's like to burn as a man should. Unchain him!" The shouted order made Illya jump again. "If he wants to escape—let him try!" He waited until Illya's handcuffs were removed, lifted him by the throat, turned so they faced the crowd. "Go ahead, Illya—escape." He nudged him towards the edge and Illya balked, stiffening his legs. "They want you to try it—don't you?" He raised his voice again, addressing those below and they shouted an enthusiastic affirmative. "Perhaps I'll have you put on display..." he turned Illya's face with hard fingers so he was looking at one of the leather harnesses, and Illya blanched. "Or spread out..." he indicated a table, with straps at both ends. "How long does it take to fuck someone to death, Illya? You're the scientist, you tell me. And what exactly is it that kills them? Loss of blood? Shock? Internal injuries?" He released Illya, stepped back a little, hands up as if about to shove him off the platform and, behind and below him, the crowd was silent again. "Well?"

"Napoleon..." and Napoleon struck him in the face with his fist, knocking him to the ground.

"Don't you dare call me that! I am not your partner" he sneered the word, "any longer! Call me Solo, as the least here can do!" And, when Illya didn't reply, Napoleon kicked him, and then again, and to keep himself from falling over Illya clutched at his foot, clung around his leg.

"Solo," he gasped, afraid now because this couldn't end well, it couldn't. Napoleon might well have to sacrifice him to protect his cover, his assignment which must be important. Knowing that didn't make it easier, didn't help drown out the sounds below him, or the terrible pictures in his head. "All right—Solo. "

"Stand up," Napoleon said quietly, and Illya did. "Turn around, so they can see you." Illya obeyed again and the noise rose. Napoleon came up behind him, gathered his hair in both hands, pulled it back behind his shoulders, stroked it. "An UNCLE agent," he said, and they muttered. "Number two, Section two. Head of the Chemistry and Physics Departments. A field agent for nearly ten years. Brilliant—how many scientific awards, Illya? How many papers published?" Illya only shook his head. "And beautiful." Napoleon brushed his cheek with the back of one hand. "Don't you agree, gentlemen, that he is beautiful?" Another roar of affirmation, even uglier now. Illya was shaking, from cold, from shock, from fear—and even knowing they could see it he couldn't stop it. "And so very pure." Again that mocking tone. "All the years I've known him, my fellow revelers, he's kept his lips and his legs together. Not all the wiles of the world's loveliest women, nor the persuasions of the most influential of men, have been able to make a breach in that adamant celibacy. In all those years, Illya, did you ever think that this—" he indicated the room in front of them "is what you were saving it for?" He wrapped Illya's hair around his fist, pulled him to the very edge of the platform. "Did you?"

"No," Illya managed. He knew what part Napoleon needed him to play, and just because he didn't want to play it didn't let him off the hook.

"The more fool you," Napoleon said, and pushed him off. Illya screamed, he couldn't help it, as he pitched forward into that seething mass of hands, hands clutching at him, grabbing him in the most intimate, private places, dragging him down and then a blinding pain flashed through his scalp and he cried out again as he was lifted, swung in mid air, Napoleon still holding him by the hair, the agony almost more than he could stand, and then he was dropped. He expected to be devoured, but he was back on the platform, at Napoleon's feet and he clutched at them again. "On your knees," Napoleon told him, and he pushed himself up.

Napoleon moved to the front of the platform, looked with mocking amusement at the havoc he had wrought, at the two men who had been trampled to death in the rush, at the others nursing black eyes, bloody noses. "You will have him," he promised, then shouted again. "But not tonight!" He swung back to Illya, who shrank away from him. "It is for me you have been saving it, unawares, all these years. They will get what's left when I am finished. And I will teach you things tonight, partner mine..." he bent over, squeezed Illya's face, kissed his mouth, a loud, smacking, sucking kiss and when he was released Illya was crimson with shame. "I will teach you things you never wanted to know, and when I am through—" he turned to the front. "And only when I am through!" back to Illya now. "You will know you are above nothing." Napoleon struck him again, sending him to the floor again, putting a booted foot on his head, pressing it down. "Tomorrow I will order you into the harness .."

"No," Illya begged. It was easy, to play this part after all. He was terrified. All he had to do was let it show. "Oh no, please..."

"Suspended, and helpless—within easy reach of all my friends here..." another roar of approval... "and at some point during the festivities we will hoist you high—and release you. You will die, Illya, die in a welter of hands and mouths and dicks, covered with blood and come and—why, that's the end, isn't it." He smiled. "The end of the story. Take him to my quarters." He lifted his foot, and Stevens and Patchel, who had watched the whole thing in open admiration, came and grabbed Illya by the arms, pulled him to his feet. "Take him to my quarters and secure him there—but remember" he leaned in closer. "Until tomorrow he is mine. Lay a finger on him at your peril."

"Yes, sir!" Both saluted.

"I understand it is a difficult thing I am asking." He flicked Illya's nipples, hard enough to sting, and Illya closed his eyes. "In recognition of that fact I promise you the job of escorting him from my quarters back here tomorrow, and securing him into the harness. You may do whatever you wish with him en route."

"Thank you, sir!" They exchanged smirks with one another—they'd get in before the crowd and, more importantly, Napoleon Solo would be pleased with them. And Solo had wiped the arrogance off Kuryakin's face all right. Napoleon snapped his fingers, and they left with their prisoner between them.

It was a long wait, in Napoleon's quarters—heavily medieval in decor. There was an enormous curtained bed, so high off the floor that a step stool stood beside it. A fireplace took up most of one wall and Illya wished it were lit because it was cold in here, very cold and he couldn't stop shivering although how much of that was shock he didn't know. The hands on his body, the loud voices, the drop off the platform, the lewd comments from the guards as they escorted him here had all been a profound shock to his nervous system and he was still vibrating with it. But Napoleon had saved him. Napoleon had pulled it off, had gotten him out of there, alive and relatively unscathed and now he was safe in Napoleon's own room. When Napoleon returned surely he would remove the restraints. Illya's wrists were cuffed behind him again, and secured to a ring set low on the wall. An iron collar was around his neck, fastened by another chain to a wall sconce, keeping him bolt upright on his knees. The least movement on his part brought a strangling pull on his throat and once, when his leg cramped he hung there for an endless time, gagging and choking before he regained his position. And, as it grew later, fatigue began to overtake him and twice he nodded off, brought roughly back to consciousness by the cruel jerk on his neck. But when Napoleon came he would fix all that. Napoleon would unchain him, and find him something warm to wear and... the door opened and he couldn't help it, he recoiled at the sound because maybe it wasn't Napoleon, maybe it was someone else, the two guards maybe, and he helpless... but it was Napoleon, looking blessedly familiar in this strange place. Illya exhaled with relief. Napoleon stretched, then elaborately rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands, scratched his ears before turning to close and bolt the door.

They were being monitored. Illya recognized the signals, and the implications hit him, like blows to the stomach, one after the other. They were being monitored—visually and audibly. So Napoleon would have to maintain his role. Absurdly, Illya's first regret was for the warm clothes he'd been expecting. And could Napoleon even unfasten the collar around his neck? And would Napoleon have to... Napoleon would have to... carry out the threats he'd made in the hall? But—how could that be? Napoleon wouldn't—didn't even want to—Napoleon was standing over him now, and Illya looked up. His legs cramped again—both of them this time and he crumpled, brought up by the collar around his neck and he couldn't breathe, couldn't... then Napoleon had him by the hair, was holding him up and he could breathe despite the pain. He gasped, rested his forehead on Napoleon's stomach, easing the pull on his scalp and comforted by the scent of him, his warmth.

"Not so high and mighty now, are we," Napoleon said, and his voice was amused. "I must confess the sight of you on your knees before me pleases me. And you want to please me, Illya. Trust me." His voice altered just a little bit at those last words, and Illya nodded. He did. He trusted Napoleon. "Let me fix this," Napoleon went on, "so you can do me. That's as good a start to the evening as any. Do me, Illya. You'll never be able to feel superior to me again once you've had my cock in your mouth."

Napoleon reached up, took the chain off the wall sconce and Illya collapsed. Napoleon let him be for as long as he dared—a minute or two, no longer, then tangled both hands in his hair again. "This is no time to rest," he said, still sounding amused. "Maybe I'll let you rest when we're finished—if you can, thinking about tomorrow. But for now—" he pulled Illya's head towards his crotch, unfastened his trousers—"do me." He had wondered if he'd be able to perform at all, under these circumstances but he had to, they'd be watching—he knew they'd be watching. Had known it even as he had had Illya taken to his room. For excitement, for diversion, to be sure of him—they'd be watching.

The stakes were so high, now—the assignment, of course—first and foremost the damn assignment. With one shattering blast he would scatter and confound their enemies, remove the pack leaders and watch the dogs run wild. It was important, but no longer enough. He would carry out his mission—but he would bring Illya out, too, untouched by the evil around him. To do that he had to make this convincing or they would come in, they would drag Illya from him and... so he sank deeper into his role, and shoved his erect penis into Illya's mouth.

And Illya did nothing. He only knelt there, clearly frozen by surprise. "Suck me," Napoleon said, voice harsh. "Suck me until I come." He hoped that was plain enough—would he have to draw a diagram? But no, Illya began, obediently, to suck and Napoleon groaned, fingers tightening in that soft hair, hips thrusting. "Put more tongue into it," he instructed and when Illya did he came, explosively, surprisingly fast. Illya swallowed it without waiting for instruction, and it sent another paroxysm of pleasure through him. He pushed Illya away when it was finished, pushed him hard because he wanted to embrace him, and sagged against the wall.

Illya sat back on his heels and watched him. Was that it? It hadn't been unpleasant—actually the contrary. It was Napoleon's smell, and Napoleon's taste—he licked his lips. And then Napoleon turned and their eyes met again, and Illya blushed furiously, shaking his hair forward to conceal it. "Don't do that," Napoleon said, and began undressing. He dropped his clothes to the floor and Illya saw him noting the placement of each item, obviously for faster retrieval later. Napoleon had a plan. It cheered him, to think it. "Don't bother hiding," Napoleon went on. "You'll have no secrets from me soon enough. Get up. Get on that bed. Spread your legs—you'll open them tonight, Illya, after all this time. First your lips..." he leaned over, licked them. Illya was so surprised he jerked backwards, hit his head on the wall. Napoleon laughed.

"But..." Illya began, then flinched as Napoleon grabbed the chain, pulled him to his feet with it.

"But what?"

"Well—aren't you finished? I mean..." he looked at Napoleon's organ, which was flaccid between his legs. Napoleon threw his head back and laughed out loud.

"You think that's it? You think you're getting off with a blow job?" He dropped the chain, grabbed Illya's shoulders and slammed him into the wall. He did it twice more, then pressed against him, hardening as he did so. "I suppose you expect all those men" he said each of those three words, 'all those men' slowly, deliberately, watching Illya's face, "are going to be satisfied with blow jobs? Not likely."

"Don't be ridiculous," Illya said sharply. "I'm not going to..." the force with which he hit the wall this time knocked the wind from him and he couldn't regain it, couldn't breathe... and Napoleon was shouting in his face again.

"They'll break your fucking jaw then! You still think you have some kind of choice? Maybe you didn't understand me before! You are going to be trussed up like a damn Thanksgiving turkey, Illya, wide open, and hung from the ceiling where they can all get at you and the last damn choice you made was to come in here and that was it!" Illya's diaphragm finally expanded and he gasped in a lungful of air.

"But I came in here for you!" he burst out. "Because I wanted to help you! Because I thought we were friends! Please, Napoleon, let me go!" Napoleon clamped a hand over his mouth and nose, suffocating him. He struggled frantically but after a moment his body lost strength and he sagged. Napoleon put his face right into Illya's own.

"We were never friends," he hissed. "Never. It amused me that you thought so—and suited me, because it meant you'd go the extra mile for me—like tonight. Only this particular mile brought you here. And tomorrow you will suck them, and let them fuck you, and do any other hideous thing they want to you and you have no choice at all! Am I making myself clear?" He released Illya's face, watched him gasp for breath. "But first," he went on, voice silky now, "I'll fuck you. And..." but he had to stop talking then because Illya had stopped listening. He twisted away, actually getting free for a moment because Napoleon was taken off guard, but then he yanked him back by the chain, lifted him by his upper arms, threw him onto the bed. He could not remember ever using his full strength against his partner before, but he did it now because this had to end. At any moment they would send someone in here. He fell on top of Illya before he could get up again, using his superior weight as a weapon, pinning him deep into the mattress. He wound the neck chain around the bedpost and, when Illya kicked at him Napoleon punched him. It was a short, sharp uppercut that dropped him back onto the bed, motionless. Napoleon leaned over him, put his mouth to Illya's ear.

"What the hell are you doing?" he whispered urgently

"I can't..." Illya tried one more time to wrench free and, desperate, Napoleon lifted his fist again. Illya's body stilled, and they stared at one another.

"Give it up," Napoleon hissed. "Let them see you give it up. Please. I don't want to hurt you anymore." Then he raised his voice. "Maybe I'll just get Stevens and Patchel in here to hold you down! Would you prefer that?"

"No," Illya whispered. "No—I don't—no."

"Then stop this. It's been fun but now—now I want obedience. You should obey me, Illya, you know you should. I'm your senior partner, am I not?"

"Yes—no—I don't know." Illya was shivering violently now, teeth chattering, and Napoleon hardened himself against the urge to hold him close. He sat up.

"Turn over, Illya," he said in his best order giving voice, and Illya only stared at him. "Turn over," Napoleon repeated evenly, "so I can fuck you."

"No! I don't want to, I don't..."

Napoleon ground his teeth. "Then I'll call for Stevens and Patchel. They're right outside the door. I'm sure they'll be happy to oblige." He started to get up and Illya cried out.

"No! Don't—you don't have to call them." He swallowed. "I will. I mean—I'm going to. I am." He did, rolling onto his stomach but clamping his legs together and Napoleon laughed again.

"No, that doesn't cut it. Open them, Illya, or..." but Illya didn't wait to hear the threat, shaking his head in a wordless negation of Stevens and Patchel. He spread his legs, buried his face in the pillow and waited.

Napoleon settled over him, and stroked himself a few times to bring himself to the peak because this should be quick. Illya, chained now to the bed, hands still cuffed behind him, was clearly helpless so Napoleon could finish up, then conveniently pass out. With the show over his audience wouldn't watch for much longer, and besides there was still a riot going on in the banqueting hall that they would be eager to rejoin. So Napoleon grasped himself with one hand and probed with the other.

He couldn't do it. Illya was fear tight, every muscle rigid and it would hurt, like this, would hurt terribly, would rip him apart and he couldn't do it, was losing his erection at the very idea. He swore softly, mind racing.

"Hold on a minute," he said, and let the cruel edge come back into his voice. "So you're going to let me."

"Yes." Illya's voice was muffled in the pillow.

"Just lie there like some fucking virgin martyr and let me."


"Not good enough."


"Not good enough, partner mine. Partners should share everything, isn't that right?"


"Roll over."



"You mean onto my back?"


"All—all right." Illya did so, having some difficulty with the neck chain which was getting tangled with the pillows. Napoleon adjusted it, made sure it was secure.

"I'm going to teach you something else," he informed Illya, watched Illya shiver at his tone. "Ask me what."


"That you're a whore just like the rest of us."

"What?" A faint edge of indignation crept into his voice. "I am not!"

"What else would you call someone who could find pleasure in circumstances like these?" He traced the line the collar was cutting into Illya's flesh. "And in contemplation of tomorrow? Only a whore, Illya. A slut, if that word can be applied to a man."

"But I'm not..."

"But you will. You begged me not to do it. You said you don't want to." He ran his hand down Illya's abdomen, watched Illya shiver again. "Am I right?"


"You'll be begging me to do it soon enough."

"No." He set his mouth obstinately. "I won't. I don't want you to do it, and I won't like it."

"Shut up, Illya."

"I won't..." Napoleon put a fist to his face.

"Shut the fuck up, or I'll break your jaw myself and save them the effort in the morning. Not one more word out of you unless I say so. Clear?" And, when Illya only stared at him, "Answer me! Am I making myself clear?"

"Yes, Napol..." Napoleon slapped him.

"What did I say about that!"

"Solo," Illya said hastily.

"Better." He began stroking Illya again, both hands now, touching him intimately, watching the color burn in his face. Even as he watched, Illya turned away. Napoleon gripped his jaw, turned him back. "I'm going to watch you," he said softly. "You can't hide from me, and you can't fool me either—I know you far too well. You like this..." fingers feather light on the insides of Illya's thighs and Illya moaned, caught himself, began to close them, gave Napoleon a frightened look and let him push them apart again. "You're learning," Napoleon praised him, sitting up now so he could have better access, rolling Illya onto his side so he could caress his back, the backs of his legs, his buttocks... Illya moaned again and this time he didn't cut it short. Napoleon reached around, fondled his testicles, watched in satisfaction as he began to harden. He stroked it. "Tell me, Illya." He stroked it some more. "Does this shame you?" And, when Illya didn't answer, he changed his grip, subtly but the intimation of pain was there, excruciating pain and Illya flinched. "A direct question requires an answer. Does this..." he pumped it and Illya's hips moved involuntarily, "shame you?"


"Say it."

"It shames me."

"Want me to stop?"


"Ah." He did, and Illya cried out. He had said he wanted Napoleon to stop but his body protested, hips arching forward again, organ straining—and Napoleon went back to caressing his sides, his legs, his arms—his face, teasing his lips with one finger, blowing into his ear, making him jump.

"Please," he whispered, and recoiled from Napoleon's upraised fist.

"Please? Please what? Please stop? Or please continue?" He ran the tip of one finger up the shaft, paused at the tip. Illya groaned. "Answer me, Illya, or I'll beat the crap out of you here and now."

"Please—continue." He barely choked the words out. Napoleon squeezed him, pumped him some more, then stopped. Illya whimpered, a soft, wounded sound that made Napoleon's heart tighten, his eyes blur with tears. He bent his head over his partner to hide them. He didn't dare show tenderness now, didn't dare—he thought of them dragging Illya away, pulling him out the door by the neck chain and he—he would try, he would die trying but they were too many for him. "So now the game has changed," he mocked, instead of saying any of that. "And now I want to hear you. Keep talking, Illya. As long as you're talking, I'll keep on. If you stop—" he withdrew his hand—"so do I."

"All right." Illya shuddered, and, when Napoleon touched him again, he arched his back, legs opening wider. "What do you want me to say?"

"Do you like it?"


"Tell me."

"I like it." He was trying to hide his face against his arm now.

"Do you love it?"



"I love it."

"Keep talking."

"I like it, I do—I love it—oh, Nap—Solo, don't stop, please don't stop, please touch me—" Napoleon's touch was feather light now, making him frantic. "Not—not like that!"

"How then? Tell me."

"Harder, oh, yes, harder" Napoleon slowing, slowing "and faster. Harder, and faster, yes, like that, thank you—oh, I love it, I do yes! Yes, yes—oh!" He cried out again, inarticulately, and pulled against the wrist cuffs. Another convulsion shook him, and then it was over.

Over. Illya lay panting and in that moment, in that instant when his body was completely lax Napoleon flipped him over and drove himself home, Illya's body open, and yielding to him. As he did so Illya cried out again, in renewed pleasure and Napoleon reached around in front, gripped him once more, and infinity beckoned.

They were in another place, a quiet beautiful place, just the two of them—no audience, no chains, no raucous crowd below, no guards at the door—just this peace, and stillness. Within that stillness Napoleon turned to his partner and said, without words, Illya. It's always been you. And Illya answered him It's only ever been you, Napoleon. And they couldn't kiss, because Illya was still on his stomach, bound to the bed and Napoleon was still playing his role, and somehow they both knew that but the important things had been said, and this place they were in was the only place that mattered. The only place that was real.

Illya's hair smelled good. Napoleon lay and panted, inhaling its scent with each breath. It smelled fresh, and clean, as always—a faint hint of chlorine, the musky undertone of sex—he breathed it in deeply. Then he remembered where they were, and why... I don't even remember coming, he thought, dazed. I don't remember thrusting, or coming—we were someplace else. He felt a savage pang of longing for that place, wherever—whenever—it was and, simultaneously, a wave of fear that they had given themselves away. He lay still and, after a while, when no one pounded at the door, he relaxed, a little. Illya stirred under him. Oh, don't call me Napoleon, he thought despairingly, because I'll have to hit you and I'd rather cut my hand off than lift it against you again. But Illya didn't say anything, he just lay there. Napoleon wondered if Illya felt as lost and adrift as he himself did right now. He didn't dare console him, could only rasp, "Be quiet now," and hope Illya heard the comfort in his voice. "Be quiet," he repeated. "Or you'll keep me awake. And you don't want me awake, Illya, because if I were fully awake I'd turn you over to Stevens and Patchel. Are you in a hurry to meet your next lovers?" Illya shook his head. "Then let me sleep. Be as still as you can, and as quiet as you can—and enjoy it, Illya, because it's the last bit of peace you're ever going to have, this side of the grave. Which you won't get because whatever remains of you after the party will be left with the other garbage for the dogs to eat. Got me?"

"Yes" He was so cold—Napoleon patted him surreptitiously under the covers.

"Good. I should call them in now but you're a handy little bed warmer so I'll keep you around for the rest of the night." He draped a possessive arm and leg across Illya, wanting to offer what heat and solace he could; waiting, waiting for that time when the castle would be in the depths of sleep, when the party goers would be unconscious on the floor, for the time when he could make his move.

Illya lay still, and quiet as bidden. His mind was in a turmoil, and he tried to quiet it as well, because at some point Napoleon was going to put his plan into action and he needed to be ready, so he could help. But he was filled with so many conflicting emotions he couldn't even begin to think about any of them. Fear—he had been as afraid, tonight, as ever in his life, hearing and seeing that mob, falling from the platform into their rough, greedy hands. He was still afraid, thinking of it. Shame, too, filled him at the memory of his own voice, pleading. He had thought his humiliation complete, when Napoleon's fingers had brought his organ to life, making it rise and stand erect, straining towards that touch. But humiliation was never complete, there were always new depths to plumb, that was something else Napoleon had taught him. Again he heard his own voice, saying those terrible, shameful things, and colored hotly.

He stared at the back of Napoleon's head, remembering. He had begged for it—I love it, he had said, and he had loved it, it had been so good, that release. And then—oh, and then—he flushed again. Napoleon had turned him over and plunged into him, piercing him deeply, and sweetly—and they had been one. How wonderful it had been. They had been one, and surely nothing, now, would be the same between them. If they lived. If the mission succeeded. If—Napoleon shifted, turned as if in sleep, but Illya knew him too well to believe that. Napoleon was wide awake, and in a moment their eyes met.

Napoleon's expression was grim, as if in contemplation of their present danger. And as Illya looked into those brown eyes, the full awareness of his dependence overwhelmed him. His life was entirely in Napoleon's hands. Only the strength of Napoleon's formidable will stood between him and... he saw that harness again, saw himself in it, and his lips trembled. Save me, his eyes pleaded, and, I will, Napoleon answered silently. They stared at one another for another moment, then Napoleon turned away. He lay as if unaware that his partner was even there, but when Illya shivered Napoleon's arm and leg tightened under the covers, drawing him, secretly, closer.

Napoleon waited for over two hours before he dared slide his hand under the mattress, come out with his set of picks. He'd had it in case he was locked in his room—which he was, at first, but not anymore—and now he brought his arm around quietly, shifted as if restless in his sleep, mounding the covers over the neck chain. Quickly he inserted a pick into the place where it connected to the collar, worked at it for a few minutes and it clicked free. Illya stiffened a little, then lay still again and Napoleon felt a swell of admiration. Despite everything that had happened tonight Illya was with him, was alert and ready but it wasn't time yet, so he snored a little to signal that and they lay side by side and waited some more.

It was time. He could feel it, could practically smell it. He had tried, on and off, to unlock Illya's manacles, to remove the neck collar, but was unsuccessful. So he gave it up, rolled silently off the bed and was around it and there to catch Illya as he came off his own side, help him bring his legs around so his hands were cuffed in front of him. That was all he could do now, but it was better than nothing. He scooped up his clothes, pulled on the leather pants, draped the loose fitting shirt around Illya's bare shoulders, buttoned the top two buttons. Taking Illya's hand, he crossed to the fireplace, worked loose the stones that concealed his bag. He took out his gun, then paused. Lifting it, he laid it gently against Illya's temple and Illya nodded, understanding that Napoleon wouldn't let him be taken alive, that come what may he'd be spared the harness, the hands, the... he smiled at Napoleon, who smiled back at him, then Illya looked away.

He felt shy with Napoleon, now, and tried to push it from his mind because they needed to work together, needed to be a team again and for that to happen he couldn't think of Napoleon's hands on him, his own voice begging... they moved to the door.

Napoleon opened it, not trying particularly hard to be quiet and grinned at Stevens and Patchel. He beckoned and they perked up, hurried inside where Napoleon shot them, one after the other with his silenced pistol, so fast that Patchel was still staring hungrily at Illya when Stevens slumped to the floor and Napoleon turned the gun on him. Then they slipped out. Napoleon had spent the past five weeks exploring every inch of the castle, and now he knew just where the vulnerable places were, just where to place the explosives and he did so, running through the dark corridors, Illya keeping up with him, holding draperies back for him, lifting furniture so Napoleon could affix wires, keeping watch while Napoleon set charges. It took nearly two hours, but when they were finished Napoleon led the way to the little used service entrance he had discovered and in seconds they were outside. Once there Napoleon paused, took inventory. The drawbridge was up so he went to the edge of the moat, kicked off his shoes. Illya gripped his arm.

"There must be sensors in the water, Napoleon," he whispered, voice the faintest breath of sound. "That's how they caught me."

Sensors? Napoleon stared at him in dismay. He hadn't considered that although he should have, he should have... he thought furiously. It was the only way out but if they swam it now the castle would be alerted. "We wait," he whispered back and Illya nodded. It would make their escape more problematic but the job would be done and that was the important thing. Both knew it, and Napoleon squeezed Illya's hand once then they hunkered down and waited. When the faintest dawn light was in the eastern sky Napoleon squeezed Illya's hand again and they eased into the moat, shoes and all because now speed was of the essence. They swam quickly.

"They were on me right after I came out of the water," Illya said as they reached the other bank, and Napoleon nodded.

"Yes. But you were on their side. Now they have to cross. Run, Illya. Run like hell." He caught Illya's arm and they ran. He could have moved faster alone, Illya unable to reach his full stride with his hands fastened together but he wouldn't leave Illya so they ran, and then the explosions began. A series of rapid fire blasts came from behind them, and Napoleon looked for cover but there was none. He tightened his grip and ran faster, pulling Illya now, Illya barely keeping on his feet and then the shock wave hit them. It lifted them, and threw them separately forward. Napoleon landed face down in the dirt and a rain of debris came around him. With a solid thump a large piece of castle wall came down not six inches from his head and he crawled behind it, looking around frantically for Illya. Illya should have been thrown in the same general direction—there he was! Napoleon crawled towards him, grabbed his leg, dragged him back behind the improvised shelter. He drew Illya up close, curled his own body over him, felt Illya's breath on his neck and sighed with relief. Objects flew over them—body parts, utensils, furniture, stone from the walls, wood from the drawbridge. A computer keyboard. A telephone. And still the explosions continued, but finally they slowed, then stopped. Napoleon sat up, looked in the direction they had come from. A huge cloud of black smoke was boiling towards them and he grabbed Illya, leaped up and ran again. They ran together, choking and coughing on the smoke, faces blackened with it, eyes streaming, but they were ahead of the worst of it and after a while it was behind them, and they slowed to a walk.

Napoleon turned to look at Illya, and had to laugh at his dirty face, his wild tangled hair. Illya laughed back at him and for a moment the events of the past night were forgotten, and they were UNCLE's most successful team once again, for the first time in nearly four years. They had done it, they had destroyed the enemy and escaped with their lives once again and they grinned at one another, and then Napoleon's face softened and he reached out, pushed a strand of hair off Illya's forehead. Illya looked at him, eyes wide and questioning. He seemed about to speak, but the roar of a helicopter came from above them and both looked up. The globe symbol on the side proclaimed the identity of the craft, and Napoleon nodded.

"We're rescued," he said, and was disappointed. Who knew when they'd have a chance to talk now? And maybe... as he gave Illya a boost onto the ladder, came up right behind him to help him hold on, keeping him in place as he moved his hands together from one rope rung to the next... maybe it was just as well. It had been a humiliating experience for Illya—why would he want to discuss it? And he himself—it wasn't as though he were attracted to men. No, he certainly was not. It had been a necessity, that was all. He forced himself not to think of that magical place, the place he had wanted to stay in forever, the person he had wanted to be with—forever. No, that wasn't him. Not at all. And as soon as they got back he would... he would prove it. He would call Jerri, or Angela—and he would prove it. So he followed Illya onto the helicopter, and the next time Illya looked at him Napoleon looked away, looked out the window, and Illya flushed and he looked away too.

Napoleon showered and changed at the office and now, having been debriefed, and impeccably dressed once more he was on the phone. "Jerri. Hi. Yes, I'm back. Yes, I know it's been a while. No, I wasn't..." he laughed. "Did you miss me?" He had called Jerri because she was simply the most beautiful woman of his acquaintance, a flame of a woman, with a mass of copper curls, milk white skin, another triangle of flame down below, cherry tipped breasts, lush and full, tiny waist. He would make love to her tonight and that would show—that would prove—well, it would be wonderful. It always was. And he wouldn't think of that disturbing interlude again.

He looked up, and Illya was standing in the doorway, blond hair clean and combed, tied neatly once again into its ponytail, blue eyes shining, his face soft so Napoleon deliberately said "I'll see you later, Jerri. I'll pick you up from here, and we'll go to my place and have our dinner sent in." He lowered his voice but not too much; he wanted Illya to hear everything. "Yes, we will. We'll eat in bed and then take it from there. See you soon." He hung up and looked at Illya, face impassive.

Illya was stricken to the heart, and was concentrating on not letting it show. He hadn't been able to stop thinking about that—that time out of time, when he and Napoleon had been together, when their bodies and hearts and souls had been together, when Napoleon had spoken love to him without speaking and he had answered—and had believed that nothing would ever be the same again. Now, looking into Napoleon's carefully expressionless face he understood that he had been wrong, had been foolish, just like all the women Napoleon complained about. "One night of sex and they think it's true love," he had said, scornful and Illya flushed hotly now because wasn't that just what he had thought? Yes. So he stood still, collecting himself, then gave Napoleon a weak smile. "I—um, just wanted to thank you. For saving me."

Save me, Illya's eyes had begged him and he had... he had taught Illya—was, from the look on his face, still teaching him. "You're welcome. Thank you—for coming to my rescue."

"Oh. Well. That's gracious of you, since I almost ruined your mission."

"They should have told you. I warned them." And then, because he didn't want to leave it like this, because Illya was his friend, still, his best friend as well as his partner "Meet me for lunch tomorrow? In the cafeteria," he added hastily because he didn't want Illya to think he was asking him out, because...

"Thank you." Illya correctly interpreted Napoleon's confusion, and had to look away from it. "But no. I won't be here."

"Why not?"

"I'm suspended." He smiled again because it was supposed to be a punishment, but right now the prospect of two weeks off work with no possibility of being called back in, two weeks to gather himself together and put the events of last night behind him was everything he desired. Well—he looked at Napoleon again, and blushed. Not everything. He was just like those women. True love was what he had thought he had experienced. But just because Napoleon didn't share the feeling didn't make his own less real—or less valid. His chin went up at the thought. After all, Napoleon hadn't needed to do all that. Napoleon could have gone straight ahead and... "Why didn't you just do it?" he asked bluntly. "Instead of... of making me feel it too."

"I couldn't," Napoleon said and, with equal bluntness, "I lost it when I realized it would hurt you."

"Lost what?"

"My hard on." He emphasized each word. "I lost my hard on, my erection, my..."

"All right." Illya looked away. "I get it." How stupid Napoleon must think him.

"And I was afraid that if they saw I couldn't, well..."

"Yes." Napoleon didn't have to draw him a picture. "Then—thank you again, I suppose."

"Illya—I'm sorry it had to happen like that—I mean, for you—I mean since you never... I'm sorry it was a bad experience for you."

"It wasn't," Illya said fiercely. "It was—it was glorious. At the end." Don't you remember? his eyes asked. When you turned to me, and I to you—and there was nothing else in the universe besides the two of us—how can you dismiss that? And what expressive eyes Illya had, how clearly they spoke of love, and longing—Napoleon swallowed, forced himself to look away because he remembered and Illya was right, it had been glorious. He had never experienced anything like it but he wasn't that way, he wasn't—he was a normal heterosexual man, a man who enjoyed sex with women and only with women and never mind that it had been—had been—never mind.

"I was right after all," he said. "A man can be a slut." And he hadn't meant it to come out like that, had meant it lightly, almost as a compliment but Illya whitened, recoiled. "Hey, look—I didn't..." but then Illya was gone. Napoleon went after him, shouted down the hall "Illya! I didn't mean—I'm sorry!" but the door to the stairwell banged shut and he couldn't even be sure Illya had heard him but the four other people in the hall had, they turned to look at him curiously so Napoleon withdrew into his office and just stood there for a long time before leaving for his date.

The sex was great. Napoleon told himself that, as he lay beside Jerri on his king sized bed with the goose down mattress, comforter and pillows. The sex was great, the ambiance was great—it was all great. He didn't need to look for anything else. It had been—he put an arm across his eyes—great. It was always great. But it hadn't been magical, had it. It hadn't been—extraordinary. He had traveled to no special, secret place. He and Jerri had been together—but separate. Their souls had not communed. They had not become one. All those clichs he had sneered at in his pride, they were all—could be—true. For him. For Illya and him.

He missed Illya. The sex had been great, but now it was over and he was alone. Was always alone. He had thought that was just the way that life was—but now he knew better, didn't he. Because he had found it—in the middle of terror and shame and brutality, in the depths of the castle that he and Illya had transformed into a mystical kingdom of their own he had found it, and he had turned his back because of—what? Gender. Illya's gender. When in that place, there had been no gender. It's always been you, he had said to Illya and It's only ever been you, Illya had responded. And then he might as well have slapped Illya's face.

He saw Illya again, at his office door, that stubborn chin held high as if trying to prove it didn't matter to him that Napoleon was standing there making a date. Saw Illya defending what they had shared, trying to carry it off, giving way under Napoleon's taunt—whether he had meant it that way or no. How could he have been so cruel? And stupid. Stupid. Because instead of lying here feeling empty he could be in Illya's embrace. Could have made transcendent love to him again here, in the comfortable security of his own home, without an audience, without chains and threats and role playing. Could... he rolled over, sat up. "Jerri."

"Hmm?" She yawned, and rubbed her eyes and he looked down at her, beautiful and sensuous in his bed and how could he have ever thought that was enough. "Napoleon? Where are you going?"

"I have to go out," he answered, and walked into the bathroom. "I'll see you at work."

"Fine." She sighed, ran both hands through her curls, sat up herself. "Share a cab?"

"No thanks. Want a shower?"

"No—I'll just go home and smell you on me the rest of the night."

"Jerri—" he paused, came back out. "Maybe that's not such a good idea."

"I knew something was different. What is it, Napoleon?"

"I think—I'm pretty sure—I'm giving all this up." He hoped. He hoped Illya wasn't mortally offended with him. He should apologize. He should...

"All what? Me personally?"

"Dating." There. He'd said it. But she still looked blank, so he elaborated. "Women."

"Don't tell me." She got up, pointed a finger at him. "You and Illya." Napoleon didn't know what his face was showing, but whatever it was she laughed aloud. "It is! You have finally seen the light!"

"Jerri—I really don't know what..."

"First tell me I'm right."

"Well, I haven't actually asked him..."

"But you're going to. Aren't you."

"But he may not..."

"Napoleon Solo, Illya has been in love with you for years. You didn't know it, and I'm not sure he knows it, but anyone with eyes can see it. He'll say yes. Now you take your shower and go." She pushed him towards the bathroom and, without further argument, he went.

Illya wasn't home. Napoleon stood outside the apartment door and rang again, and again. But he already knew he'd get no response. Illya knew his special ring. Napoleon used his own key, disengaged Illya's alarm and came inside. Dark, quiet—empty. So where was Illya? He turned on Illya's computer and checked—blinked. Illya had rented one of UNCLE's now unused safe houses upstate, in the Adirondack Mountains. He had rented it for the entire two weeks of his suspension and had apparently packed up and gone. Napoleon frowned. Then he logged in himself, took two weeks leave—he had it coming, and after the latest adventure they owed it to him and they knew it. He was on his way downstairs when his cell phone rang. "Yes?"

"Napoleon?" It was Rebecca, his personal assistant.

"Yes?" Whatever it was he was taking this leave, he was going after Illya and he'd be damned if...

"I got your leave request—and your destination. Are you joining Illya?"

Did everyone in the office know his business? "Why?"

"Because to get where he's going he had to rent a four wheel drive. I just don't think your cute little..."

"Four wheel drive?" Where the deuce had Illya gotten to? "What for?"

"It's up one mountain and down another and along a dirt track. Anyway, Napoleon, I've taken the liberty of reserving you a Jeep Grand Cherokee. All you have to do is pick it up."

"Thank you, Rebecca." He was touched. "I appreciate that."

"Well, I don't like to butt in, but he was nearly out of his mind while you were supposedly missing and I think it was a rotten trick not telling him..."

"Yes, yes, I agree with you, Rebecca. It won't happen again." It wouldn't. If he and Illya were—together, Illya would have the right to know—not necessarily where, or why, but that he was on assignment and not missing or dead. "Thank you."

He did need the four wheel drive. The Jeep bounced and jolted over the ruts, upward and downward, clouds of dust rising all around him. He had driven through the night and now it was morning. He'd been on this dirt track for nearly an hour and according to the directions the house should be right about... he rounded a curve, and there it was.

It was nothing special, just a simple one story frame house with a deck overlooking a steep back yard. Napoleon walked up the wooden steps and knocked on the door. No answer. He knocked again, then peered through the glass. Nothing moved. He didn't have a key, so he walked away, rested his hands on the deck railing. It was a beautiful view, certainly—blue mountains rolling away into the distance. He sighed. Where was Illya? The Blazer he'd rented was in the driveway, so he'd arrived safely, but where... Napoleon's eyes were caught by a spray of blue flowers lying on the ground. There was a little path there leading through the yard, down the slope and disappearing into the woods. It was just the sort of thing Illya liked, and were the flowers a signal for him? But Illya didn't even know he was coming. Impulsively he scribbled a quick note—"Looking for you. Wait for me." He hesitated, then added "Love, Napoleon." He had never signed his notes 'love' before. Would Illya even notice? He didn't know. He wedged it into the door frame and set off down the trail.

He walked for what seemed like a very long time—he was perspiring and wishing he had taken the time to change out of his business suit but he hadn't. In fact—he stopped and blinked at himself. He hadn't even packed a bag. He had nothing with him. No change of clothes—not so much as a toothbrush. He had done this entirely on impulse, and now he was on a wild goose chase into the wilderness. Then he saw the little pile of rocks, three of them, slightly to the left of center of the path. He stared at them. Another of the old code markers—how long had it been here? He squatted down, picked one up. Clean. Intrigued, he quickened his pace. A little further up the path forked. He looked at the tree branches on his eye level and sure enough, one was bent ever so slightly to the right. He turned that way and continued on, and although the path didn't divide again there were occasional signs that he was on the right track—an acorn balanced on a boulder, a twig across a leaf... the path curved upward, and he bent into the climb.

It crested, and he was standing on the edge of a field full of wildflowers—Queen Anne's Lace, bluebells, daisies, goldenrod—a waving shifting mass of color. In the center of the field was an enormous boulder and Illya was sitting on top, cross-legged, naked, hair down, face tipped back to the sun's rays. Napoleon stood and looked at him for a long time, feeling the joy rise within him, sifting through every particle of his being the way the sun was sifting through the ever moving tree branches above them. Illya. His partner. His best friend. And now—he moved forward through the waist high flowers and a flock of blue butterflies rose from where they had been feeding, unnoticed. They swirled all around Illya, brushing his face, alighting briefly in his hair. He opened his eyes wide in wonder, stared around him, then he saw Napoleon.

He had been wishing he hadn't left those markers. He didn't even know why he had, except he couldn't believe Napoleon would hurt him so badly and not try to make amends. He wished too that he had gone back when he'd heard Napoleon call him, but he had been blinded by tears and only wanted to get away. The need to escape had driven him here, as far away as he could get on such short notice and then he had made sure Napoleon could find him if he were so inclined. He'd been thinking how stupid it all was, and how sad that Napoleon hadn't come, and if he hadn't left those marks he could at least tell himself that Napoleon didn't know about the meadow so he could keep his hope alive all the way back to the house. But here Napoleon was, standing behind a curtain of azure wings, in full business dress even to his wing tip shoes, smiling at him and—and holding out his arms.

Illya rose to his feet, outlined against the blue sky. Napoleon moved closer and Illya leaped off the rock directly into his outstretched arms. It bowled him over and they fell, rolling over and over on the soft grass, Napoleon holding Illya to him, kissing him, kissing his cheeks and his forehead and his nose and his chin and his throat, dizzy with the scent of him, the feel of him. Then they stopped rolling, and he was on top looking down into that beautiful face. He couldn't help thinking in superlatives now, couldn't name any part of Illya's body without putting an adjective to it, his exquisite coloring, his flawless skin, his extravagant eyelashes, his elegant body, his lovely mouth—he kissed it, and the world stopped again. He kissed Illya and here was that place, this flowery meadow, these butterflies settling down again all around them, this blue sky; here it was, because Illya was in his arms and that made the whole world a magical place. He caressed Illya greedily, hungry for the feel of him and Illya pulled at his clothes so Napoleon helped him, casting them away. Illya was calling his name, legs wrapped around his waist and there was no fear now, no shame, just this warm uprising of happiness. When he and Illya joined it was like flying, flying above the trees, above the mountains, still in that mist of blue wings, the earth under them turning, the heady scent of crushed blooms in their nostrils. Illya's scent was even sweeter, and wilder too, and then Napoleon was shouting aloud. Illya's voice blended with his and their voices were one, their bodies were one, their hearts and souls and minds were one.

Finished, they lay gasping for breath. Napoleon lifted his head first, looked down into Illya's eyes. "I'm sorry," he said hoarsely and Illya shook his head.

"It's all right."

"No it's not. I hurt you—how can that be all right?"

"I forgive you."

"Do you?"


"I thought I had something to prove, I thought—I don't know what I thought. But oh, my love, my sweetheart, my partner..." Illya was smiling up at him and it made his spirits soar. He laughed aloud in delight. He felt he had so much to say, and no words to say it with. And then they came to him. "It's always been you," he said, and Illya's smile faded.

"And it's only ever been you," he whispered, and Napoleon kissed him once more before helping him to his feet. They dressed and walked together along the path, holding hands, smiling into one another's eyes, stopping frequently to exchange kisses and they were nearly back at the house before Napoleon thought to ask about supplies. "Everything is inside," Illya said. "From when UNCLE used it. There are clothes, and linens, utensils—everything. That's one reason I came here." Because he couldn't even bear to pack, only wanted to run.

"Well, good." Napoleon squeezed his hand. "Because I brought nothing."

"You didn't?"

"No. I got in the Jeep and chased after you with never a thought of clothes or toothbrushes or anything."

"Surely you have your laptop." Napoleon's dropped jaw was his answer, and he laughed out loud. "Napoleon Solo. I won't know you without your laptop. Whatever will you do with yourself all day every day for two weeks?"

"Well," Napoleon said, stopping at the edge of the yard and drawing Illya back into his arms. "There's this, and this..." Illya pressed closer and they kissed some more before walking, hand in hand, up the deck stairs and inside. Once there they went straight to the bedroom and fell onto the double mattress with its cheap spread.

"Illya," he whispered.

"Yes?" They kissed again.

"When you first saw me, that night..."


"What did you think?"

"I thought I had ruined your assignment."

"Not that I was a traitor?"

"No. What a thing to say! Of course I didn't."

"Not even for a minute?"

"No. I know you, Napoleon." Illya smiled at him. "That's why I love you."

"Thank you." He was relieved. It had troubled him, that Illya might have thought that of him, however briefly. "I love you too, Illya. I have always loved you."

Illya reached out, touched his face, heart too full for words. Instead he traced Napoleon's lips with one finger, and Napoleon gathered him in and once again their bodies came together, and they crossed over into that magical place where they would live—forever. Together, forever.

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