Napoleon Solo entered the hotel room feeling more silly than exhausted. The day had been a waste. Who the hell was he supposed to be anyway? A big game hunter in Hong Kong? The Hong Kong office must have lost its mind. He tucked the riding crop under his arm and removed his pith helmet, tossing it on the foot of the bed.
Illya Kuryakin did not even stir, as if an ingrained monitor told him Solo posed no danger, as if he sensed, even in sleep, there was nothing amiss. Sighing, Napoleon dropped into the chair facing the bed and toed off his shoes. He looked down at his rumpled, fawn-colored linen suit and grimaced: the disheveled great white hunter had returned home without a trophy.
His partner slept atop the bedspread, curled in a tight ball. And who the hell was Illya supposed to be? Right now he looked deceptively angelic. His coolie hat was upended on the bedside table, listing toward them both, the not-so-innocent gun nestled like a deadly steel guard dog in its crown. The eye makeup remained in place, ineffective now, not that it ever had been otherwise. A blond-haired, blue-eyed Chinese rickshaw driver? As Illya left the Hong Kong office in his raggedy costume, Napoleon had told him he looked like a chorus member from a high school production of "The Flower Drum Song." The pointy hat had hidden his hair then, but still he looked absurd. And now? Napoleon smiled at him and Illya shifted as if sensing the evaluation
Tapping the riding crop against his lips, Napoleon watched his partner sleep. He felt keyed up, anxious, the way he often did at the start of a mission. The great white hunter, empty-handed for today. Napoleon grinned and shook his head. He had failed to discover the location of the portentous auctions Intelligence said were being conducted in Hong Kong, and had chased one dead-end lead after another. It had been a humiliating search, all the more so in his ridiculous disguise. Trick or treat.
Illya snuffled in his sleep, drawing himself in a tighter ball. Halloween for the both of them. As if a touch of eyeliner would render Illya Asian. He didn't even speak Chinese too well; his linguistic skills in the language did not extend much beyond ordering takeout from Billy Lee's joint on 44th street.
Why hadn't he bothered to change his clothes? Illya still wore his patched outfit, a dark short-sleeved shirt and cropped chinos cinched to his thin waist with a length of hemp. The soles of his feet were dirty. And he hadn't removed his makeup. Hmm? Normally he was as fastidious as a cat, eager to clean himself when his fur was mussed. Lick himself clean. Napoleon smiled as an image of Illya's tongue came unbidden to his mind.
Earlier in the day, he had felt a guilty enjoyment watching Illya apply the makeup, drawing the eyeliner over the lids of his eyes, the result not so much Oriental as sexually ambiguous. Illya had not minded the scrutiny, not one bit, even as Napoleon rested his prominent chin against his friend's shoulder and smirked at both of their reflections in the mirror. In fact—Napoleon's fingers slid along the riding crop in his hands, stroking it. Illya had been flirting with him as he got into character. And he was still flirting, even in sleep. He had not gotten out of character.
Because he wanted to play?
They had done it once before. In Paris. The role-playing got a little out of hand. A little? Napoleon bit the end of the riding crop, smiling as he remembered another hotel room, smaller but more chic than their current accommodations. Illya was dressed like a French cat burglar, all in black, a beret perched on his head. Even though their ruse was over, they had continued in character, satisfying curious onlookers in the hotel. When they alighted from the elevator and entered the privacy of their room, they still didn't stop the charade.
Illya begged the French inspector Napoleon impersonated for leniency, his French wheedling, so rapid-fire and colloquial Napoleon had trouble following it. Dislodging the beret, Napoleon ruffled his friend's hair before grabbing a handful of it. "I think we sweat you now, pussycat," he said in English, employing an outrageous French accent and repeating a threat he had made earlier for the benefit of the diamond thieves.
Illya's eyes widened in mock fear and he cowered like the punk he had been imitating.
"I send you to the Bastille for your crimes."
"You need to update your references," Illya said, grinning a little as he cowered.
"Details. Don't derail me." Napoleon shook Illya by his hair, wondering what exactly they were doing. Unless? They were standing close to each other, so close their bodies almost touched. Napoleon started to pet Illya's hair, winding his fingers in the silky strands. "Unless." Napoleon left the thought open, allowed an out just in case he had gotten things wrong.
His friend's big blue eyes widened with feigned horror, tinged with a vague amusement. But he also leaned forward so there was no longer any space between them. "Oh no, monsieur, I could not—" he stammered. "Please—"
"Please me," Napoleon said, pushing on Illya's head.
It was like a fantasy; it was a fantasy. Illya dropped to his knees as Napoleon undid the belt of his trench coat and then of his trousers, his cock rigid with anticipation as he lowered his zipper. "I let you go if—"
"But I've never done this before, monsieur," Illya replied, his voice tremulous. He still spoke in French, but his accent no longer sounded Parisian.
"I will give you zee instructions. If you listen well I will let you go. C'mon, pussycat."
Oh lord, he had orchestrated every moment of the most exquisite blowjob he had ever received. Perhaps the little French cat burglar had been a virgin to such activities but he doubted Illya shared his inexperience. Illya obeyed Napoleon's instructions to the letter, laving the underside of his cock, slowly then more rapidly. He hadn't gagged when Napoleon pressed it deep in his throat and he raised his eyes when he commanded him to do so. He swallowed every drop of semen when Napoleon came, the orgasm prolonged and knee-buckling in its intensity.
"Clean me off," Napoleon said in his churlish tone and started to harden again when Illya obeyed, his eyes slitting like a blissful cat as his tongue swiped Napoleon clean. Then he started all over again, his cheeks hollowing as he sucked, his eyes once again staring into Napoleon's, bright and steady as distant headlights.
This time Illya undid his own trousers and started to play with himself. Momentarily slowed down by the entrancing sight, Napoleon moaned in appreciation before snapping his hips back and pulling his cock free. "You are here to please me, not yourself." Napoleon kept his tone stern.
Illya sat back on his heels looking frustrated and just a bit dangerous, suddenly not at all like the street punk. Then he returned to character, bowing his head and fumbling to refasten his trousers. Waiting. Napoleon took a couple of hobbled step to the bed nearest him and sat down, snapping his fingers impatiently as a summons. His cock went fully hard as he watched Illya crawl toward him. For just a moment, no longer, he wondered what the hell they were doing and found he didn't care. He put aside his misgivings as Illya knelt between his legs and resumed the second blowjob, this time without touching himself.
"Get up," Napoleon said, his mind at once languid with pleasure and spinning with ideas.
"Monsieur?" Illya stood as directed but looked uneasy, fidgeting a little. His rubbed his fingers together against his thumbs the way he often did when he was nervous.
"Take off zee clothes," Napoleon ordered.
Now Illya hesitated and backed up a step. Napoleon almost expected the game to end then and there.
All of Illya's mannerisms became strictly his own, the cat burglar persona quite forgotten. But suddenly he removed his jacket and pulled his black turtleneck over his head, reaching to unbuckle his belt. His eyes bore into Napoleon's with defiance as he pulled his trousers down with studied casualness, toeing off his loafers before pulling them free.
Illya paused again before standing in only his briefs. He shook his head and held up one finger, both gestures fleeting, cautioning. Unmistakable. He pulled down the briefs and kicked them aside.
A frisson of sharp disappointment assailed Napoleon as he struggled to rearrange his thoughts around a different scenario. He had understood without needing the words; he almost always understood Illya. His friend did not want to be fucked. Maybe he was a virgin in that way. Napoleon really didn't know.
"Get on zee bed, pussycat," he said, back in character. He slid the stifling trench coat off his shoulders and watched as Illya leaned against the upholstered headboard. "Spread zee legs." Napoleon looked at him from head to toe. "No, wider."
Illya blushed but did as he was told. His cock was only half-aroused and he averted his face, closing his eyes.
"Look at me." Napoleon had lost the French accent but Illya eyes snapped forward at attention and he looked, once again, like the street punk, a sullen smile twitching his full lips. "Look at me and play with yourself," Napoleon commanded.
"Do you want to watch me come?" Illya snarled in French.
"No, I want to watch you play with yourself. Do not presume to bring yourself off."
Illya shrugged and resumed his ministrations. The coldness of Illya's eyes bothered Napoleon, but this was a game. An unexpected game, but it was still fun. Fucking Illya should be the next stage but Napoleon knew that was off limits. For now. Too soon for that anyway, and still it was all Napoleon could think of doing. In their partnership of less than a year, despite Illya's intelligence and experience, he, not Illya, functioned as planner, as point man. So why didn't he have any ideas now? What if he told Illya to turn over? Napoleon entertained the possibility. He'd comply; Illya often just obeyed.
"You want to fuck me, don't you?" Illya asked, sounding like the surly guttersnipe he impersonated.
He so often read Napoleon's mind too.
"Do you want me to?"
Napoleon caught the slight shake of his friend's head. It had not been a challenge really, Illya wanted reassurance. Perhaps he wanted more connection, as did Napoleon. It might be nice to kiss and stroke each other but that wasn't the game. They couldn't get it confused. What would the damn inspector want?
He made the decision and slapped Illya's hands away and took over. For the first time since they began playing, Illya moaned, the sound deep and as heartfelt as a whispered prayer. Napoleon grinned at him; they grinned at each other. The masks fell for just a moment.
"So, you like this?" Napoleon asked, again working the accent as he worked his friend's penis. "Feels better when I do it, no?"
Illya grunted something that sounded like assent. "Please, let me...please. I'll suck you off again."
"Oh, you will." Napoleon removed his hand from Illya's cock and stroked the inside of his widespread thighs. He regretted his role. The inspector would never make a move to reciprocate, never take that beautiful cock in his mouth. The inspector would demand the cat burglar get on his knees and suck him once again. And so he did.
Napoleon could not shake the memories from his head as he planted his feet on the bed in which his partner slept in a compact ball. He didn't remember Illya turning but his back was now to him. Despite his best efforts the memories, not all of them pleasant, persisted.
They had played so long in Paris, the role-playing becoming increasingly confused. At times they departed far from their characterizations, as if they had misplaced their scripts or had forgotten the words, and relied instead on fanciful improvisations. Napoleon could not recall why the inspector ended up with the cat burglar beside him in the narrow bed or why such a man would even care how many times he could make the little guttersnipe come. Illya had almost missed his rendezvous with the dark-haired chanteuse and her alleged boyfriend, tugging his black clothing on with a dazed expression as he hurried out the door.
Then Illya had gotten beat up, and when Napoleon saw him again, he still looked dazed, though more colorfully so, his face mottled with cuts and bruises. But he came to the rescue, piloting a helicopter and following Napoleon's rash instructions to the letter, even though tense and uncomfortable with the impossible expectations. After he executed a graceful landing on a moving truck, Napoleon remembered giving Illya a slight victory hug. It felt as if they were as one in that adrenaline-charged moment.
Still later, Napoleon assumed a different role, one he would have cause to regret. He turned his partner in to Waverly like a tattletale; let the old man know of Illya's failure to find the jewels hidden so obviously in the furniture. Illya sputtered with outrage as if not quite believing the betrayal. "You blockhead!" he blurted, struggling to find a proper expletive and sounding instead as defeated and ineffectual as Charlie Brown. Despite the success of their mission in Paris, even in unexpected ways, he had not protected Illya. He had meant, only, to play a little joke of one-upmanship and in doing so violated every rule of partnership, unraveling the fragile trust between them.
And why? He just hadn't behaved well. It had seemed, at the time, like just another game, no different than some of the others they had played. Did it come too close on the heels of their other game? Did Illya feel too defensive?
They almost parted company for good. Illya had been so angry he refused to talk to Napoleon for weeks. Frosted him out. Their sexual relationship not only did not continue, they almost had no relationship at all.
At their scheduled briefings in the conference room, Illya would listen to Waverly and only to Waverly. When Napoleon spoke, Illya swiveled his chair to stare out the window, his disinterest so pointed he might as well have plugged his ears with his fingers. Twice, he figured out a way to distance himself from Napoleon on missions, so that they ended up in separate countries on the first, separate continents on the second. Twice he had refused to work with Napoleon at all, though in subtle ways. Waverly did not tolerate outright refusals. Somehow Illya had maneuvered himself away from his partner, performing his solo and Solo-less missions with aplomb, proving his worth.
Waverly eventually noticed the distance between his two best agents. "Sort it out, Mr. Solo," he said, his meaning indeterminate but clear nonetheless. Perhaps he also gave his Russian agent the same lecture; Illya's behavior suggested this was not the case.
Only recently had the friendship resumed. Napoleon, not needing Waverly's push, had tried to rekindle it as if blowing on a flickering ember. He asked Illya to dinner.
He asked Illya to dinner again.
"No. Thank you."
He asked Illya to help him decode a microchip.
"How about dinner then?"
"No. Thank you," Illya said. A grin, quickly hidden against his shoulder, accompanied this rebuff.
Napoleon grew more creative and left two tickets for the ballet on Illya's desk. Metropolitan Opera. Orchestra. Almost center. Nureyev and Fonteyn. Romeo and Juliet. There were no strings attached to the gift. One of the tickets reappeared on Napoleon's desk on the day of the performance.
Without making plans, they joined each other shortly before the ballet, taking their seats from opposite directions and at the same time. It was as if their meeting were inadvertent, yet choreographed, two old friends, by happenstance, finding themselves seated next to each other. Napoleon, dressed to the nines, elbowed Illya's side, pointing with his chin. "Jackie Kennedy," he whispered, indicating a reed-thin woman a few rows ahead of them. Illya leaned forward and lifted himself slightly, nodding in recognition.
As if not to be outdone, Illya scanned the crowd and pointed with his index finger in the opposite direction. "Ed Sullivan," he said, smiling. His eyes continued to scrutinize the audience and he shook his head. "And more luminaries of the covert sort."
"Who? Thrush?" Napoleon asked but the lights flickered and went dim.
Afterwards, Napoleon's hands stung from the sustained applause of countless curtain calls. Both men and women littered the stage with inexhaustible bouquets and shouts of "Bravo," "Brava," "Margot!" "Nureyev!" The dancers performed a rehearsed ritual with the abundant flowers. Nureyev, on his knees, bowed deeply to his partner as she brought a favored bouquet to her nose before holding a single rose forward and kneeling next to him. Napoleon glanced at Illya who applauded rhythmically, his eyes shining. As the din began to die down, Napoleon played his trump card. "Illya, I can get you backstage? You can meet them."
"Oh?" Illya's eyebrows shot up in surprise and he gave Napoleon a sidelong look.
"I know someone. And with your Russian you could—"
"I could do what? No."
"Why not? Come with me." He squeezed Illya's arm lightly, directing him the way he had done in the helicopter when they were still friends.
Illya pulled away and proceeded in the opposite direction. "I think I can explain." He excused himself, bowing quickly, and darted up the aisle almost to the front of the house, only a few rows from the orchestra pit. Napoleon narrowed his eyes, watching his slight friend slither up the aisle like a black-clad snake swimming against the tide. Did he want to meet Ed Sullivan?
Illya paused, bowing again as he allowed Ed Sullivan to pass by, his eyes wide with false delight as he said something to a tall, elegantly dressed man. The man shied away but Illya persisted, both hands gripping the man's wide shoulders. Napoleon could hear Illya's voice boom in an uncharacteristically hearty greeting, but he could not make out the words. The man looked panicked and tried to push Illya aside; grimacing as both cheeks were kissed Russian style. Judas style.
"Napoleon!" Illya held the man close with one hand, the other waving merrily, urging Napoleon to join them.
The opera house had emptied somewhat though still buzzed with the thrill of the ballet. Napoleon made his way up the aisle, perplexed by Illya's sham.
"This is my American friend, Napoleon Solo," Illya said, his hands digging into the man's shoulder with tensile strength as he performed the forced introduction. "Napoleon, this is my dear friend Vladimir Mikhailovich Smakov. Imagine we meet here."
Napoleon extended his hand and Smakov pumped it once, mumbling, "A pleasure," before hurrying away, almost vanishing into thin air.
"The pleasure is all mine," Napoleon replied to the retreating figure. "Who was that masked man?"
"What?" Illya asked, shrugging as if disinterested in the meaning of the comment. "Would you like to go to dinner? I didn't have time to eat. I'm hungry." Illya turned toward the exit. "I think you can understand now why I can't go backstage."
"Who was he?" Napoleon grasped Illya's shoulder, stalling him.
Illya raised an eyebrow. "Someone I used to know and who wouldn't want to be—what's the expression?—caught dead in my company?"
They were almost alone in the opera house and made their way up the gently sloping aisle, shoulder-to-shoulder. "He's not watching you though," Napoleon said.
"No, of course not. Nothing to do with me at all. Nureyev. They still watch him. And why not? It's probably a plum assignment, attending all these ballets."
"What?" Napoleon asked as they entered the lobby. "It's been more than a few years since he defected."
"Nineteen sixty-one. A few years and still memorable." Illya met Napoleon's eyes and smiled. "You do understand I cannot be seen with Nureyev. He's been convicted of treason in my country and, truthfully, if the likes of me appeared backstage, I'm sure it would only alarm him."
"Oh." Napoleon shook his head and frowned. "I just thought you would like to meet him."
"It can't happen," Illya replied. "Where do you want to eat?"
"I don't know. I guess I didn't think this through. How 'bout the Russian Tea Room?"
"Ah, no. Too obvious." Illya took Napoleon's arm lightly and guided him outside, a crowd before them queuing for taxis on 39th street. "I really am happy you understand."
"Wait a minute." Napoleon stopped dead in his tracks, pulling him arm away. "What do I understand? All I understand is you can't go backstage without repercussions. Are you saying something else?"
"It's wrong what he did." Illya glanced up and down the busy street.
"No it's not." Napoleon pointed his index finger in Illya's face. "It is not wrong for an artist of his caliber or anyone else to seek freedom. Why are you here?"
"I'm just here on loan. You know that. Until—"
"Until what? You can never return, you also know that. Visit now and again, perhaps. You can't go home. Please quit pretending there is any line to toe. There is no going back. That bridge is burned. You can talk to whoever you'd like: Nureyev, Ed Sullivan, Jackie Kennedy."
Without discussing their destination, they walked to a French bistro down the street and continued arguing through dinner. Napoleon was shocked by Illya's reactionary point-of-view and found the discussion almost painful. Did he even know his friend? Did he want to know him? He had quite enjoyed the French cat burglar, but Illya now sipped his coffee in silence and yawned. His eyes threw off shafts of boredom and he seemed a million miles away, or maybe just a few thousand.
Napoleon put aside the argument. They had said enough. "Do you remember when we first met?" he asked, wanting to return to the fresh start of another time.
"Yes," Illya replied, his voice low and wary.
"Heather introduced us," Napoleon continued.
Illya straightened and took a long draw on his cup of coffee. His eyes met Napoleon's for a moment and darted away to stare into space. "I remember. We were introduced a great number of times and we pretended to meet each time. Yes, Heather performed the first introduction. She knew us both."
"Not just us though."
"She's engaged now. Impressive diamond," Illya said, tapping his own improbable wedding ring. "Let's not dredge up her past."
Napoleon smiled. "We went out—you, me and Heather. And she left us."
"We weren't paying enough attention to her. Napoleon," Illya glared at his friend, "she introduced us and we fulfilled any promise we may have had for her. Is Heather another regret?"
"No, not my point. I wish her only happiness and best of luck to her fiancé," Napoleon said, clinking his coffee cup to Illya's. "We talked that night. As if we were old friends. You and me. I didn't even notice she left. You didn't either."
"I suppose we were always old friends." Illya's eyes now held Napoleon's but there was nothing encouraging in the challenging, staring-contest gaze. "Old friends introduced any number of times. We live and learn." Illya waved his hand in disinterest.
Napoleon grasped the fluttering hand and pinned it on the table. "Remember? I asked you if you liked America. New York. I asked you what you missed and if you were ever homesick. You didn't pause to consider. You said: 'Boundaries are meant to be crossed' and took me to task for even asking."
"I did?" Illya started to smile and then bit his lower lip.
"I'm quite sure Nureyev feels the same."
They started to argue again and argued well into the night, like old friends, older friends. But when Napoleon invited him home, Illya refused. He said he wanted to go home.
And now the invitation was before him. Another disguise. But this one made no sense: Chinese rickshaw driver and great white hunter. No, no, no, Chinese whore and American customer. That could work. Yes, their friendship was more tenuous now but it could work. Something had to work. What should he call him? Napoleon felt uneasy; their friendship was so uncertain. Their dinner after the ballet had only obscured what they meant to each other. To confuse it with sex...
He flicked the riding crop he held in his hand lightly, ever so lightly, against Illya's ass.
And miscalculated the response.
Illya's eyes flew open, panicked. He reached forward and grabbed the gun in the coolie hat, pointing it at Napoleon's forehead. And paused, his mouth forming an "O" of dismay.
"When did you get home?" he asked, his voice as casual as if asking Napoleon to afternoon tea.
Home? As if home were a hotel room in Hong Kong? There was something sweet in the question even if delivered from behind the threat of an U.N.C.L.E. Special. Illya returned the gun to the crown of his hat and struggled to a sitting position against the ornate headboard. The hat listed away from them with the weight of the gun.
Napoleon smiled into the lowered eyes, the eyeliner just a bit smudged. He drew the riding crop over his palms.
"Did you get anywhere?" Illya asked.
"Not yet," Napoleon replied, caressing the riding crop. "Not yet," he repeated, introducing another meaning entirely.
Again, just as in Paris, Illya shook his head and held up one finger, then flicked his wrist a few times, miming a whipping gesture. His eyes did not deny but he established the ground rules, his meaning obvious. No riding crop.
Napoleon chose to ignore the unexpressed plea. He brought the riding crop slowly between Illya's legs, opening them with it, tracing lazy circles with its tip until Illya sighed.
"How much?" Napoleon asked.
Illya pushed the riding crop away from his crotch and shook his head. "Put that away and we'll discuss terms."
"Ah, but I think you like it." Napoleon glanced at Illya's response, the erection his gentle ministrations with the whip had produced. His own cock swelled with the implied threat. Drawn by the look in Illya's eyes, he moved toward the bed, kneeling to one side of his friend. Illya yanked at the riding crop and Napoleon fell on top of him, unwilling to release it.
They kissed. They hadn't done so in Paris. Napoleon hardly noticed Illya tugging the riding crop away, and let his fingers uncurl from it as their mouths engaged, hungry for the connection. It felt like forgiveness, as if nothing had transpired between them, nothing to damage their friendship. Illya scooted down from the headboard and Napoleon moved on top of him, covering his friend's body. The riding crop fell on the floor. "How much?" he whispered.
"For?" The question sounded garbled as he sucked on Napoleon's tongue. "American dollar," he said, though it was difficult to understand between the desperate kisses.
Napoleon pulled back and stared into the vaguely Oriental blue eyes. "How much for all of you?"
Illya stilled beneath him. "Fifty dollar," he said, moving his head to one side. "I'll suck you for that."
The accent sounded uncertain, a touch Charlie Chang but mostly Illya. "No," Napoleon replied. He gave Illya a quick, unsatisfying kiss. "Fifty dollars American buys all of you."
"Do you have it?"
They grinned at each other, the façades falling for just a moment. Illya had guessed correctly; Napoleon didn't have the cash. He hadn't had the cash to pay for dinner after the ballet. Still, did his friend have to be so literal? Couldn't he just play along?
"How about a credit card?" Napoleon asked.
"No." Illya shook his head. "How about if I buy you?"
Napoleon shook his head rapidly, startled. "You have, uh, fifty dollars?" Even as the words tumbled from his mouth, Napoleon knew he shouldn't have asked a question to which he didn't know the answer. His Eastern European friend always carried cash, hard cold cash in various currencies, sometimes in shocking amounts. But Illya didn't look cold. No, he smiled into Napoleon's eyes and kissed him.
Napoleon melted against his partner, rearranging his original stratagem. Chinese whore and rich American with no money, it made little sense. Oh, what difference did it make? Illya's hand moved between Napoleon's legs, stroking him to hardness.
"That feels good," Napoleon encouraged. "How 'bout a freebie?"
"A what?" Illya tilted his head. "Free. Oh. Be? Be what?"
"Huh?" Napoleon undulated against the stroking hand and shut off Illya's pedantic ruminations with another kiss. Breaking away for a moment, he stared into the Oriental-cast blue eyes. "I do have a little money."
"Not enough for what you want though. I give you discount and suck. Thirty dollar?"
Napoleon rolled on his back and pulled his money clip from the pocket of his linen trousers. He counted out three tens and threw in a single for good measure. "Thirty one dollars for a blowjob and a fuck." He handed the entire clip to Illya. "It's pure gold," he said of the money clip.
"Not enough," Illya replied, shaking his head. He withdrew the three tens, shoving them in his pocket. Then he returned the money clip with the single dollar bill. "Just suck."
"No suckee," Napoleon said mangling part of a punch line of a hoary joke about a Chinese laundry: No tickee, no something or other. "I've already had that."
"Not from me."
"Sort of from you."
"No, I've never seen you before. And if you want something different each time you had better start saving your money."
"I want a fuck." Napoleon sounded coaxing, a hint of impatience coloring his tone.
"Confucius say: 'Good thing come to those who wait.'"
"That's not Confucius."
Napoleon met the grin for a moment and leaned over the side of the bed to retrieve his riding crop. He brought the tip of it under Illya's chin and held his gaze. "I believe Mao said, 'Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.'"
"That is not a gun," Illya replied, his eyes darting toward the U.N.C.L.E. Special in the crown of his hat.
"Don't even think about it," Napoleon warned, his hand reaching under his suit jacket.
Illya lifted an eyebrow in response, a crooked smile twitching at his lips. "Think about what?"
Napoleon pressed the riding crop in Illya's hands, transferring the symbol of power. "What do you want?"
"Not this." The riding crop hit the wall. "Not this." Illya fished the three ten dollar bills from his pocket and threw them in the same general direction.
Napoleon shied away, though this was so like Illya. Direct. Not a game. There was anger behind his gestures. All was not forgiven.
"You will never have enough money for what I want," Illya said. "You Americans think you can buy anything."
"What?" Napoleon asked. "I thought the price was fair. I don't have enough money for what you want?"
"For what I want?" The familiar frown line bisected Illya's brow for a moment and then he shrugged. "Kiss me?" he asked, sounding timid.
Though kissing had nothing to do with the role-playing and made no sense to the scenario in Napoleon's mind, he nevertheless pulled his friend into his arms and kissed him thoroughly. It seemed odd, Illya asking to be kissed, but as they deepened the bond it started to feel like the right thing to do, as if Illya was forgiving the transgressions in Paris.
They said nothing at all as they removed each other's clothing. Once naked, Illya spread his legs and Napoleon climbed between them and into the inviting embrace, their hard cocks aligning. Napoleon thrust against his partner, the frottage feeling at once delightful and frustrating. Oh, it felt good enough but Illya turned away as he hugged Napoleon closer. Illya's skin felt gritty, as if he was covered with Hong Kong filth.
"You're more than a little grimy," Napoleon said.
"Am I?" Illya asked.
"Yes, you feel sticky." Napoleon held Illya's face in the palms of his hands, redirecting it as he kissed him again. He traced the delicate flesh behind Illya's ears, rewarded by a sharp intake of breath.
The two-tone, singsong call of the communicator interrupted his exploration. Napoleon started, rolling off of Illya and pulled his communicator from the inside pocket of his jacket. "Solo," he said with crisp annoyance.
"Napoleon. Are you all right?"
"Yes." Napoleon glared at his communicator.
"You were supposed to call in fifteen minutes ago."
"Well, log me in then." Napoleon often missed connections; the communication girls remembered for him. Usually he was charmed by their endearing and efficient concern, even when they interrupted the activities they sensed delayed his reports.
"Is the moon full in Hong Kong tonight?" the girl simpered in a low intimate voice.
Napoleon pushed Illya's head to one side and gazed out the window, checking the night sky. "As a matter of fact it is," he replied in a low purr. "Full and lovely and lonely."
"Oh." She sighed. "I wish I could be there with you and the moon would not seem so lonely. A full moon in June in Hong Kong. Or is there another June with you?" she asked, sounding forlorn.
"Huh?" Napoleon tapped the communicator against his lips, belatedly understanding the play on words. "Just the month. There is no other June except you, June. No April or May either. I have nothing else to add. Perhaps in July, but for now—"
"Whoa. Not so fast." She no longer sounded forlorn. "One moment please, Mr. Solo."
"Mr. Solo." Waverly's voice boomed. Napoleon rolled his eyes at Illya and connected with eyes that had been rolling long before. "Yes, sir."
"I understand you made quite a spectacle of yourself today. Have you ascertained anything, anything at all?"
"Is Mr. Kuryakin with you?"
Illya shielded his eyes with his right hand as if searching on shore for a boat lost at sea, looking this way and that before shaking his head. Napoleon grinned at him and followed along with the mimed plea. "No, sir. He's not here."
"He's not?" Waverly sounded displeased. "Tell him, when you see him, to continue the surveillance of the dock. But you are not to continue with your current strategy. You are attracting too much attention as—what are you? A lion tamer?"
Napoleon banged the communicator against his head. "Not really, sir. I'm a big game hunter."
"Hong Kong doesn't have big game of that sort."
"Of course not." Napoleon did not add the disguise was not his idea.
"Where is Mr. Kuryakin? I trust you two have sorted out your personal difficulties."
Both Illya's mouth and his eyes widened in amazement as he started to grin. "He should be back soon," Napoleon said and landed a playful swat at his partner's face. The gentle clout succeeded in wiping away any trace of amused derision. "Shall I have him call when he returns?"
Illya, still wide-eyed but now subdued, shook his head vigorously.
"No need," Waverly said. "Goodnight. It is night there, I believe."
"I believe," Napoleon muttered, dropping the communicator back into his jacket pocket. "Is it night here?"
"Yes," Illya said, nodding, his expression at once solemn and bewildered. "Perhaps we should be sorting out our difficulties while the moon is full." Illya held his arms wide and seemed to dismiss what amounted to an overheard conversation.
Napoleon fell into the embrace and resumed the sensual examination of Illya's ears, pressing his thumb and index finger against one of the small earlobes. He felt relieved Illya required no further explanation, that there was no recrimination in the dark blue eyes, that his mouth opened for a kiss and nothing more. Illya had nothing to add, and even if he did, he said nothing.
It didn't take long. Illya's expression hardly changed as he came, bathing Napoleon's belly with semen. He gasped almost inaudibly, his eyes snapping open and widening for a brief moment, the reaction so controlled Napoleon almost doubted his friend had come. He could feel the evidence, a viscous warmth against him that made his movements glide in slippery disappointment.
Napoleon concentrated on his own orgasm, grasping Illya's ass in both hands as he shoved against him. The friction felt good but so maddening, not enough. One of the reasons for Napoleon's reputation in bed was he didn't have hair-trigger responses. He could last for hours but he did require something more intense at the end.
"C'mon, I can make it feel good for you. I won't hurt you, I promise. I know what I'm doing."
Napoleon waited for his partner to say more, but Illya seemed sleepy and disinterested, selfish now that he had been sated. He even yawned, squirming under the weight of Napoleon's body. His blue eyes blinked up, the eyeliner smudged, no longer suggesting an Asian slant but just adding to his unkempt appearance.
"A blowjob. You threw the money somewhere," Napoleon said. Their disguises had long ago become confused. Napoleon sensed the communicator discussion had thrown a wall between them.
"Okay." Illya shrugged, as he slid down between Napoleon's legs. "I'll put it on your tab."
The battered door, painted an alarming shade of turquoise, creaked a little as Napoleon swung it open and grimaced. The 60-watt light bulb hanging from a wire in the center of the ceiling cast sinister, horror movie shadows on the grim accommodations, making them appear even more squalid than they had seemed earlier. Napoleon grimaced again. He took a few steps toward the nearer of the twin beds and tripped over a mound of clothing, lying like a dirty mutt on the speckled linoleum floor. This time he grimaced and swore.
"Napoleon?" Illya called, sounding worried.
"Yes, it's just me." Napoleon glanced around the dreary hotel room, kicking the clothes out of the way. He couldn't quite blame Illya for the mess that caused him to stumble. Of course, Illya had abandoned the rags like a second skin. Not as if they deserved any other fate than to be tossed aside, abandoned. Illya had worn his grubby disguise when they arrived at the hotel and must have shed it soon after. "Where are you?" Napoleon asked.
"In here," Illya said.
Napoleon heard a splash of water.
"You're still in the bathtub?" Napoleon crossed the small room and opened the bathroom door. "It's been over three hours."
Illya smiled at him, ducking his head in an almost apologetic manner. "I fell asleep," he said. "But I'm no longer filthy. So don't call me that anymore."
"Good God," Napoleon said. "You'll catch your death—" He reached into the water, testing its temperature. It felt warm enough.
"I filled it a few times," Illya explained. "Before I fell asleep." His damp head tilted against the rim of the tub. "Why are you home so early?"
"I am here," Napoleon paused between each word for emphasis, "because you went out of your way to suggest my intentions were not sincere. 'I thought you were more special than the rest of them,'" Napoleon quoted, doing his best to imitate his friend. "You put a bee in Salty's bonnet. She wanted to feel special. We all do." He knelt beside the bathtub and waggled an annoyed finger at his friend. "You kind of ruined any chance I might have had."
"Pity," Illya said. He picked up a soiled washcloth from the side of the ancient, claw-footed tub and started to clean himself. "I still feel dirty."
"Well, you look like a very pink prune." Napoleon touched Illya behind his ear, lingering on the spot he knew was sensitive. "Have you washed behind your ears?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Yes. I've washed everywhere. And don't even think about it."
Napoleon removed his hand and shrugged comically.
"Did you bring me something to eat? I'm hungry," Illya said.
"I thought you would have ordered room service."
"Room service?" Illya stood and stepped out of the bathtub, rubbing himself dry with a threadbare, not quite white towel. He stalked out of the bathroom, tying the damp towel around his waist. "We're in a Third World country. No room service. I'm hungry," he snarled.
"You could have come out to dinner with Salty and me. I did ask you, Salty did as well. Are you going to pull jealous snits now?"
"Now? What does that mean?" Illya found his suitcase, the one Napoleon had brought for him. He opened it and started to pull on his clothes. "Jealous? Don't flatter yourself. I rescued the both of you."
"I know." Napoleon tried to sound placating. Illya, thank God, had stayed behind, ignoring Napoleon's instructions. "Don't make waves," he had told his partner, but a tidal wave had come to his rescue despite his expressed orders. Later, said wave had poured cold water on his budding romance with Salty Oliver.
Napoleon understood in a way but he didn't dismiss Illya's reaction to mere annoyance. He recognized the jealousy behind Illya's refusal to even consider going out to dinner with them. The dinner with Salty had not gone well and neither was this conversation with Illya for that matter. Napoleon usually did a better job of juggling his affairs.
"Waverly, ah, you didn't have to deal with him. He wanted you back in New York today, expected you back. You didn't make connections, and even though our mission was a success, he was annoyed."
"Well, that's how he is," Illya said and then returned to his original complaint. "I'm very hungry." Illya folded his arms, his white shirt clinging to his damp skin. "You know, I haven't really eaten in almost a week."
"I'm sorry. I know the penal colony was rough going. But we asked you to come with us, remember? You were too occupied with your little snit."
"Did you bring me a roll, anything? A doggie bag? I am rather loyal."
Napoleon took a deep breath and tried harder to remain reasonable, though his temper threatened to get the best of him, nipped at his heels like an annoying little dog. "Look, Illya, this has been a long day. I think you are exhausted. Why don't you go to bed and we'll find a big breakfast somewhere before our flight."
"I'm too hungry to sleep." Illya tucked in his shirt and pulled a rumpled jacket from the suitcase. "I'm going out."
"Go to bed. You're just tired."
"No, you go to bed," Illya said. "Or are you too frustrated to sleep? That's why you want me to go to bed, isn't it?"
"That is absolutely—" Absolutely correct? Absolutely absurd?
The door slammed on Napoleon's unarticulated words.
Napoleon shook his head and blew his friend a kiss, the way he had earlier from the balcony of the Governor's house when Illya had commandeered the jeep. He had been so grateful Illya disobeyed orders and returned to rescue him. He supposed he would have to work on expressing his gratitude another time. Juggling Illya was like juggling a bowling ball amid ping-pong balls.
Much later, Napoleon woke up when Illya returned and flicked on the bedside lamp. He glanced at his travel alarm clock; it was almost five a.m. Illya's face was flushed, red with more than sunburn, and he looked as if he had had a snootful of whiskey. He also looked strangely blissful, bright with contentment.
"Did you find something to eat?" Napoleon asked.
"Oh, yes," Illya replied, sighing. He peeled off his clothes, dropping them on the floor. Once stripped to his briefs he climbed under the covers of the other twin bed. "I even had a good meal."
"And what does that mean?" Napoleon asked.
Illya just snored in response.
Despite what he had said about wishing he had a dress like that, Napoleon found the burnoose Illya wore enticing. The sun had bronzed his partner's fair skin; his face beneath the Arabian headdress glowed with sun-kissed beauty. The knife wound, and Napoleon had not known about that when he playfully pointed out his partner to the marriage-minded Arab girl, was obviously bothering Illya. His face, as he stared out the slatted wooden shades of another hotel room, was etched in pain.
"Don't be a shit," Napoleon cajoled, approaching him warily. "You really do look fetching in that dress."
Illya turned from the window and glared a warning at Napoleon, pulling off his headdress with one hand. His hair glinted in the late afternoon sun, bleached almost white. It shone like a beacon and Napoleon could not quite resist its thrall.
It had been well over a month since Hong Kong and Chaqua had been a total bust. There had been few opportunities to explore their budding sexual relationship. Something about Illya's disguise granted Napoleon permission to pursue him once again and he ignored the turned-down mouth, pouting with anger, ignored the hostility in Illya's eyes.
Spreading his arms in invitation, Napoleon started to sing: "I'm the sheik of Araby. Your love belongs to me. At night when you're asleep. Baby, into your tent I'll creep."
The stern blue eyes widened with incredulity as if Napoleon had taken leave of his senses, and maybe he had. But Napoleon saw in them, for just a moment, a flash of amusement. Moreover, Illya's lips twitched, the pout no longer so firmly in place as he turned to gaze at the Bay of Aqaba. He seemed to be struggling not to smile.
Napoleon required no further encouragement. Laughing, he took the headdress from Illya's hand and set it on his own head. Napoleon drew his friend into his arms and, still singing, danced him toward the bed. "And you'll rule this crazy land with me. I'm the sheik of Araby."
The bed creaked as they fell on it, Napoleon straddling Illya's body and pinning his arms over his head. He kissed him quickly, intent on chasing any residual animosity from Illya's eyes. Already breathless, Napoleon withdrew for a moment and tilted his head to gaze at his beautiful friend.
Less than a week ago, when Illya had gone missing in the Arabian Desert, Napoleon had not abandoned his cool demeanor and still managed to drive Waverly to distraction with his constant inquiries. Oh, he made one of the girls, Mitzi from Research, take the brunt of the Old Man's ire. Napoleon kept himself detached throughout, though the artifice of maintaining appearances proved close to impossible. He dreamed of Illya at night or sensed he did, waking up to reluctant reality and unable to conjure up the content of his dreams or their meaning. Only that he would face another day and get through it, his professional mask in place. He felt disconnected from his worry, so he put it out of reach and figured out a way to insinuate himself into Illya's assignment.
The concern for his partner's fate never faded but he continued to function. A small part of him accepted Illya's demise but mostly he railed against it, certain he would be able to sense some sort of void if Illya were really dead. To feel they shared a cosmic connection seemed superstitious, even sentimental, and he was not given to either emotion. He continued to be pragmatic and optimistic; those were the attributes in himself he recognized and allowed. His indifferent and protected heart did not react when he saw Illya again. Of course he was alive. He had no doubt.
"I'm really glad you're all right," Napoleon said. "I was worried about you."
They didn't often, in fact they never confessed such concerns. Illya looked confused, his mouth opening in surprise. "I'm fine. I suppose I should thank you for saving me from those soap suds. Even if you did trip over your own feet."
Napoleon brought his hand to his heart. "Your gratitude is overwhelming. But let's take a look at that leg, my limping bunny." Napoleon grasped the hem of Illya's burnoose and pulled it up to reveal white, woolen leggings and a length of frayed, gold lamé fabric tied around his waist. He unwrapped the decorative sash, clucking in appreciation as he set it aside and lowered the tight trousers over Illya's ass, stopping to pull off dusty boots before completing the task. Illya clutched the dirty, makeshift bandage around his thigh and twisted to his side.
"I can kiss it and make it better," Napoleon teased, lifting Illya's leg as he started to unravel the bandage.
"Oh, forget it. Don't." Illya's arms wound around Napoleon, pulling him in a tight embrace. "It itches a little and aches, that's all."
Napoleon smiled, welcoming the hug and returning it, happy with Illya's suddenly playful mood. Only infrequently did Illya smile the way he was doing now, and Napoleon found it as addictive as a drug. "What itches and aches?" he asked. "What needs to be scratched? I'm feeling a bit of an itch and an ache myself."
"Hmm," Napoleon echoed. "I'm the sheik of Araby—"
"Quit singing. Your voice is almost as bad as your handwriting. Don't tell me you charm anyone with it?"
Again the smile blindsided Napoleon. It seemed dreamlike, unreal, and sent a jolt right to his heart. And elsewhere.
"And what do you want, my sheik?" Illya turned on his stomach. Napoleon stared at the proffered ass, almost as white as the burnoose and swallowed. "I told you good things came to those who wait. I'm ready now."
"And why now?" Napoleon squeezed the pale globes of Illya's ass, first one than the other. They fit so perfectly in his hands and he could not resist exploring a bit, spreading the cheeks and insinuating a finger along the crack. Illya squirmed beneath him, shivering slightly. Napoleon closed his eyes, as his fingers continued their examination, pausing at the tight entrance to Illya's body. Pushing forward, he moved his index finger beyond the tight ring, feeling minimal resistance as he twirled it inside.
Illya lifted his hips in silent invitation, shivering more forcefully as Napoleon started to finger fuck him. "Oh," Illya gasped, as Napoleon brushed against his prostate, sounding surprised, before he squirmed away, trying to dislodge the busy finger.
Opening his eyes with reluctance, Napoleon stared down at his partner. "Do you really want to do this?" he asked.
"Yes, Napoleon." Illya's reply sounded at once sure and challenging, even dismissive. At the same time, Napoleon caught a note he could not identify in the singsong cadence.
"May I ask you why now? I'm not pretending I haven't wanted this."
"Isn't it time?" Illya pressed himself against Napoleon's finger.
Napoleon sheathed his finger once again into the warm embrace of Illya's body, pulsating it against his prostate.
"Touch me," Illya said.
"No, touch me."
"This is you." Napoleon rotated his finger.
"No, me," Illya clarified.
"This is you," Napoleon repeated, not the least bit puzzled. He knew what Illya wanted but he wanted Illya to say it. "I am touching you."
Illya head swiveled to face his tormentor. Expecting a fierce glare, Napoleon was startled to see, instead, unfocused blue eyes, softened with longing. "Me, not me," Illya whispered. "I am yours. Shouldn't we enjoy our homecoming?"
Our what? The serene blue eyes held the dazed brown ones for a long moment. All Napoleon could do was gulp in response. A rational part of his mind admired the technique as he struggled to still his own trembling, to steady the rapid thud of his heart. "Uh," he finally managed, sounding like a nervous kid on his first date. "I need to, uh, get some lubricant."
Illya hissed as Napoleon withdrew his finger.
"You also need to take off your tuxedo," Illya said as Napoleon stumbled into the bathroom and rummaged through his Dopp kit. "But leave on the hat; it suits you."
Napoleon's hand touched the Arabian headdress he had forgotten was still on his head and smiled at his reflection in the mirror. It certainly did suit him, absurd or not, and he centered it on his head. "I'm the sheik of Araby. Your love belongs to me," he sang as he returned to the bed, leaving his clothes behind him like breadcrumbs, marking his way as if he could return.
He stroked Illya's back. "You've done this before?" he asked.
Much later, after engaging in almost an hour of meandering foreplay, Napoleon entered Illya and knew, in that moment, his friend had lied to him. He just knew. Something about how Illya stiffened, holding himself ramrod-straight, something in his bewildered, slit-eyed expression, told Napoleon this was the first time. Napoleon did his best to hold back but was too engaged to withdraw completely. "Are you all right, my friend?" Napoleon asked, lowering himself gently against Illya's back.
Napoleon urged Illya on his side, making sure his good leg rested against the bed and pressed himself tight. "I'll go very, very slow." He held Illya's limp form close like a treasured doll, fragile but not made of china, more like a rag doll. One would hardly take a china doll to bed. It was difficult to remain still but he did, waiting for Illya to get used to the penetration. Though it was something he had wanted to do, it was hard to believe he was actually pressed so deep in his friend even as his balls rested against Illya's ass. It was too late to go back. Then, as if distancing himself from the reality, he recalled what Illya had told him when they had first met, something that had made such an impression he wrote it down. "Remember what you said to me about leaving Russia?"
Illya shook his head and swallowed a shallow breath.
"Remember? I asked if you ever got homesick."
"What does this have to do with anything? I'm not—"
"Shhh. I'm not asking you now." Napoleon planted a quick kiss behind Illya's ear, begging silence, something he seldom asked of his friend. "You said you never got homesick, ever, and I shouldn't put such thoughts in your mind because they were not there. We barely knew each other, but you were angry at my question as if I had no business asking it. Then you said something, something that meant so much to me I wrote it down: 'Boundaries are meant to be crossed.'"
Illya tilted his head and stared at Napoleon, his mouth opening slightly. He took a deep breath and smiled. Leaning forward, Napoleon kissed the smile, licking at the corners of it.
It took a long time but Napoleon managed to draw an orgasm from his friend. Once again, Illya barely made a sound even as he bathed Napoleon's tight, busy fist with semen. Though it was difficult to maintain control, Napoleon barely moved in his partner's snug body, rocked gently against him until he, too, reached climax.
This was a dream of his, a fantasy, to be sheathed in Illya. The reality did not quite compare to his imagination. He swallowed his disappointment, dismissing it. "Are you all right?" Napoleon asked.
"Yes. I'm fine." Illya snapped his hips forward as if he couldn't bear the penetration for another second.
"You're sure you're okay?" His penis felt as if it had been torn from Illya's body.
"Yes. I said I was fine."
"Why did you lie to me?"
"Lie?" Illya turned away, curling up to sleep. "My leg hurts," he said, changing the subject and sounding wooden. "The rest of it was good."
"Well, don't go overboard with your praise." Napoleon rose from the bed. "I'll clean us off." He looked down at Illya. "You're shivering. Get under the covers. Are you sure you're all right?"
Illya nodded, pulling the covers around him.
When Napoleon returned with a damp washcloth, Illya had not moved. In fact he was asleep and did not waken even as Napoleon cleaned him, pressing the washcloth first over his lax penis, his belly and then between the cheeks of his ass. Putting the washcloth aside on the nightstand, Napoleon stroked Illya's back. A slick sheen of sweat pooled between his shoulder blades. His skin felt warm, almost hot.
Napoleon pulled the covers surrounding Illya aside and started to unravel the dirty bandage that covered the knife wound. Obviously it would need some cleaning as well, and he ignored Illya's sleepy attempts to pull the covers back over himself.
The wound was deep and only partially healed. Puss oozed from both sides of it and the skin surrounding it was a rainbow of blue and yellow bruises. Napoleon pressed a light kiss just below the injury, sniffing. It smelled putrid. "I'd say I could kiss this and make it better. I think you should go to the hospital." Napoleon kept his voice level but was horrified at what he saw. He recognized the obvious signs of infection.
"Here in Aquba?" Illya said, his voice low and wide-awake. "Are you mad? They'll probably amputate my leg. Ignore it. Go to sleep. Kiss it and make it better. Then go to sleep."
"It's bad, Illya. You need medical attention. What were you thinking?"
"By what? Goodnight, Napoleon."
"Shit. You little shit. What the hell were you thinking? Why tonight, Illya? I would never have—"
"Goodnight, Napoleon. It was distracting. More than that. I'll be fine. Just sleep with me. I'm fine. Nothing hurts. I'm a little cold." Illya snatched the covers and pulled them to his chin.
"Good partners don't lie. You have a duty to inform me of minor incidentals—such as your leg is infected, not to mention you are a virgin."
"Oh, don't be dramatic."
Napoleon stood up again and retrieved an almost empty bottle of hydrogen peroxide from his toiletry kit, damning himself for his earlier lack of curiosity. He wetted another washcloth with scalding water. Pulling the covers back down he poured the liquid directly on the knife wound.
"Owww. What are you doing?"
"It doesn't hurt." Napoleon watched as the hydrogen peroxide bubbled up on the injury and pressed the washcloth against his friend's leg. "We should have this attended to. And how are you feeling otherwise?" Napoleon stroked Illya's ass.
"I'm going to catch pneumonia. Give me the covers, please. I told you I was fine."
"You told me a lot of things tonight."
"Oh, go to sleep."
Napoleon stretched and crawled under the covers beside Illya, pressing his body close against its clammy warmth, wrapping himself around the still form.
The comfortable stillness did not last long.
It seemed to Napoleon as if they had slept for scant minutes when Illya started to shiver again. Napoleon pressed his hand to his friend's forehead. "You're feverish," he said. "I'll get you some aspirin."
Illya mumbled something in response.
Again Napoleon rummaged through his toiletry kit and wondered how he could be so dim-witted. No question Illya had goaded him and he didn't really blame himself for not resisting. It was hardly as if Illya had been delirious, not at all; he knew what he was doing. But still, Napoleon wished he had explored his instincts, examined under the bandage and chosen to see beyond Illya's sunny, enticing smiles. Aspirin in hand, he returned to the bed and kicked the discarded Arabian headdress aside, wondering why Illya had lied to him and knowing he had lied all the time.
The long night faded into a longer day, an endless and grueling trip home.
Illya was still not out of the infirmary in New York's Headquarters almost two days later. He was healing, better every day, but the fever proved daunting and had not abated for long.
"How's our boy?" Napoleon asked at the nurses' station.
The two nurses there smiled in response, sitting up at attention. "He's just dandy," the prettier of the two responded, batting her eyelashes. "He said he was hungry but, jeez, it's like feeding the lions at the zoo. Betty and I were debating which of us would throw in his tray."
"Where is said tray, uh, Betty?" Napoleon asked, wishing he knew the other nurse's name. She seemed much more promising. "I'll be happy to do the honors."
"Over there," Nurse Betty said, indicating a tray on a stainless steel cart. She did not bat her eyelashes. "And go ahead. Be our guest."
One of its wheels twirled obstinately, causing the cart to rattle and lurch as Napoleon pushed it forward. He directed it toward Illya's room then had another thought. "May I?" Napoleon asked, approaching Betty and not waiting for a response. He took the stiff, cardboard cap from her head and balanced it on his own. It fell off. "How do you keep these things on?"
Betty glowered but the pretty nurse scampered around the tall counter and picked up the fallen cap. She drew herself close to Napoleon, too close, and smiled at him. "Bobby pins," she explained, taking one from her own cap and spending a long time, too long, fastening it to Napoleon's hair. She pressed her breasts against him. "I think that will hold it. Your hair is sort of short. I guess that's why girls are nurses."
"I suppose. But I need the proper authority to perform your duties. How do I look?"
Betty rolled her eyes but the other nurse giggled. Napoleon, once again, wished he knew her name; he had seen her before. Oh yes, she was much more promising.
"Good morning," Napoleon sang, sweeping into Illya's room with the rattling cart. "How are we today?"
Illya's bed was cranked to a sitting position and he sat, arms folded, a thick paperback face down in his lap. He did a double take, gazing at the nurse's cap on Napoleon's head. "Judging from the way you look and the way I feel, I'd say we're not doing well."
"May I do anything to make you more comfortable?" Napoleon asked.
"Yes. You can take me home."
Napoleon set the breakfast tray on the wheeled bedside table, pushing it toward the bed. He reached forward and placed his hand on Illya's brow, the way he had done so often as they missed their flight connection in Heathrow, and felt blessed coolness. "No fever," Napoleon said. "You just have to maintain this state for twenty-four hours. And then you're free to—"
"Yes?" Napoleon sat on the bed, transferring the breakfast tray to the hospital table and sliding it between them. "What do we have here?" He removed the cover from the meal and grimaced. "Oatmeal," he exclaimed as if it were chateaubriand. "And, uh, English muffins. Three selections of jam." Napoleon examined the small packets. "Grape, strawberry and, uh, I guess there's two grapes."
Illya glared at the nurse's hat on Napoleon's head. "Who gave you that? Betty or Nancy?"
Napoleon said nothing, filing the pretty nurse's name away for further use. Nurse Nancy shouldn't be too hard to remember.
"Where have you been?" Illya asked. "I want to get out of here." Illya spread his arms, gesturing at the windowless room as inviting as a cell.
"Busy," Napoleon replied, clearing his throat. "I wrote our report and—"
"Three days to write our report?"
"Not three, barely two. You haven't been here three days. I did come yesterday afternoon and you were sound asleep. Last night you were once again dead to the world." Napoleon raised his eyebrows, shrugging. "So, I finally had to give up and write the report by myself."
Illya rolled his eyes. "I'm surprised you remember how."
"Oh, why don't you eat?"
Illya brought a spoonful of oatmeal to his lips. And then another. "You could get me out of here," he said, pushing the tray away.
Napoleon pushed it back. "I did check on you. Eat."
"All right." Illya tucked into the oatmeal, finishing it with a single-minded efficiency, an 'are-you-happy?' gleam in his eyes. "Done, all done," he said, banging the spoon into the bowl.
"Good boy," Napoleon approved. "Would you like grape or, uh, strawberry jam on those English muffins?"
"I would like to go home. And I can handle the English muffins all by myself." He picked at the packet of strawberry jam, trying without success to open it.
"Are you sure you don't need help?" Napoleon asked, a small tinge of amusement coloring his tone as he watched his partner's eyes narrow with barely controlled fury. Illya finally got hold of the tiny, gold foil edge of the packet and yanked it triumphantly as if performing a clever trick. A large bite of English muffin was soon in his mouth, the red jam staining its edges before he licked it away.
Napoleon swallowed, averting his eyes from the darting tongue. "How has your fever been?" Napoleon rattled two pills in a shallow, accordion-pleated paper cup he picked up from the tray. "You need to take your medicine."
"It's aspirin, Napoleon. Nothing magical. Aspirin. I have aspirin at home. And I can take antibiotics at home as well."
"I have been. The fever comes and goes." Illya dry-swallowed the tablets and made a face. "Are you happy?"
"Delirious." Napoleon nodded and the nurse's cap fell forward. He squashed it on his head with an annoyed hand. "Drink some milk with those. Aspirin is hard on the stomach." Napoleon opened the small carton of milk on the breakfast tray and handed it to Illya, or at least he tried to.
"I don't drink milk," Illya snarled, pushing it away.
"Just a sip or two. C'mon. How are you going to grow up big and strong?"
"Will you stop fussing and get me out of here. Get me my clothes." When Napoleon made not the slightest move, Illya growled. "Please," he added as an afterthought.
"No." Napoleon shook his head emphatically, ending that discussion.
They sat in silence for a long time. Illya folded his arms and stared into space, his brow bisected with the familiar frown line. Napoleon watched the clock, measuring the slow sweep of the second hand and wondering when he could make a graceful exit. He supposed ten minutes did not really constitute what the nuns in elementary school had termed a Corporal Work of Mercy. Still, visiting his sick partner, even briefly, should earn him a high place in heaven, probably right next to the Angel Gabriel. Or God himself.
"What are you reading?" Napoleon finally asked, knowing full well small talk never worked with Illya, even when he was in good form.
Illya nodded at the book and said nothing.
"Hawaii," Napoleon answered for him. "Are you liking it?"
"I'm on page seven. Volcanoes are busy forming the islands. It is dull."
"Oh, it gets better. Give it a chance."
"It can't get much worse. There are no books here anymore the way there used to be. I don't know what became of them. It was either this or Valley of the Dolls. I've already read that."
"Really." Illya nodded.
"You've read Valley of the Dolls?"
They sat in silence for a few moments. "Did you like it?" Napoleon asked.
Illya rolled his eyes. "Yes, very much. An extraordinary book. And this one," Illya inclined his head to the book on his lap, "I could read it at home. I have about a thousand or so pages to go. It should keep me grounded." "There's no one to look after you there." Napoleon waggled his eyebrows. "Cheer up a little. You're always looking for peace and quiet. Enjoy it while you have the chance."
"You could take me to your place." Illya lowered his eyes looking at once woebegone and sly, as if butter and a few other things might melt in his mouth. "You could take a few days off. Don't you have them coming?"
"I would, I really would," Napoleon said, ignoring the unexpressed promise behind the words. "But I'm flying to D.C. this afternoon, playing bodyguard for the newly elected, democratic leader of an emerging—"
"Someone else could do it," Illya interrupted.
"Not if Mr. Waverly told me to. Look, I really would get you out of here if I could. I know it's dreary. But you know how sick you were. Just give it a little while longer."
Illya nodded, looking almost sensible. He even took a sip of milk, crossing his eyes and grimacing as he swallowed it.
"That a boy," Napoleon encouraged, smiling fondly at his friend. He looked up at the clock, visions of Nurse Nancy dancing in his head—and then other thoughts. He took Illya's hand in his and acknowledged all that was now between them as he squeezed it. "I'm forgetting my duties as your nurse," he said, a slow smile twitching at his lips. "Perhaps you need a sponge bath?" Napoleon lifted his eyebrows, promising more. He pushed the wheeled table aside, shoving it alongside the cart and cranked the bed back. "As your nurse, I'm here to make you feel better."
Illya leaned forward and flicked the cap from Napoleon's head. "I would prefer you be my partner right now. Rescue me."
"We've already been through that." Napoleon stood and wet a washcloth in the sink a few feet from the bed, running the water until it steamed. "You probably feel sticky after sweating through those high fevers. I thought you would burst into flames—you were so hot on our flight home." Napoleon sat next to Illya and patted his forehead with the warm cloth. "Would you like me to clean you off?"
"I don't know." Illya sounded uneasy.
"I think you know," Napoleon said. He tugged the covers from Illya's body and grabbed the gray hospital gown by its hem, pleased when Illya lifted his hips, allowing it to be yanked to his armpits.
Napoleon wasted little time, swiping Illya's chest and then his belly with the washcloth before moving lower.
"Oh," Illya said. "Oh," he said again, almost moaning, as Napoleon circled the warm cloth around Illya's already hard penis.
"We'll get you very clean," Napoleon said. "You like being clean, don't you?" Napoleon grinned. "You always did. Always so clean. My little pussycat, always so tidy." Napoleon wrapped the washcloth around his friend, stroking rhythmically.
"Hand...it's too hot," Illya said. "Please, your—"
Napoleon had the bedclothes pulled to Illya's chin almost before the door opened fully. He beamed, as if delighted by the interruption.
"I have to take his vitals," the pretty nurse said. Nurse Nancy, Napoleon remembered. She was all efficiency, though she smiled at both men as she approached the bed. "Excuse me," she said, nudging Napoleon out of the way. "Your left arm, please." She took a blood pressure cuff from a metal basket affixed to the wall behind the bed and attached it to Illya's arm, watching the dial above the basket as she inflated it with a rubber ball. She frowned at the result, then inflated it again and frowned again.
"Is there a problem?" Napoleon asked, all wide-eyed concern.
"Not really," she replied. She wrote something on a chart attached to the foot of Illya's bed. "It's just high. Do you feel all right?" she asked her patient.
"I did," Illya muttered.
The nurse moved back to the head of the bed and took a stethoscope from the same basket and pressed it to Illya's chest, looking up at the clock on the wall. "Your heart is racing," she told him, placing her hand on his forehead. "But you feel cool. Let's take your temperature."
"Oh, let's," Napoleon said, retreating to a far corner of the room.
Illya allowed the thermometer under his tongue, his eyes seeking Napoleon's. They just looked at each other for a moment before exchanging smiles. A few minutes later, the nurse withdrew the thermometer and read the results. "Just a little fever," she said as she shook it. "Ninety nine point two. Much better. But still I'm going to call the doctor about your heart rate and your blood pressure."
"No, please don't," Illya said. "Come back in an hour or so and check again." He looked at her, his eyes soft and beseeching. Napoleon could see she was charmed; who wouldn't be? "Napoleon and I were arguing. That's all."
Nancy turned toward Napoleon and glowered.
"Just a little," Napoleon said, defending himself by measuring a mere inch between his index finger and thumb. "Just a little disagreement."
"You don't disturb him or you're out of here." Nancy's fists rested on her hips, her elbows akimbo as she defended Illya.
Napoleon shook his head and smiled, his eyes connecting with Illya's. How quickly his clever partner could turn the tables on him. "You're right, I should go. I'm sorry, Illya. Please forgive me." He ducked his head, his expression more woebegone than anything Illya could ever conjure. He started to turn.
"No!" Illya's voice was loud with disapproval before he softened it. "No. Nancy, would you leave us, please? We have a few matters to discuss, a few, um, odds and ends about our mission. The last one."
The nurse looked at Illya and then Napoleon. "Just settle down, you two," she admonished and left the room.
"Hmm," Napoleon said as the door clicked shut. "I guess I should go. We're not getting along, are we?"
"You said we weren't. Do you plan to ruin all my flirtations? I am now persona non grata with the cute nurse."
"It was all I could think of. And it worked. She's not all that cute anyway," Illya grumbled.
"Jealous?" Napoleon crouched to pick up the nurse's cap on the floor and balanced it on his head. "Would you still like a sponge bath?"
"Yes. Please. Very much."
Illya lay under the tree, staring up through the branches, as if entranced by the colorful lights. He flicked his index finger against the base of a bubble light and smiled, looking smug, as it sprang to life again. "Why do you even put up a tree?" he asked. "Why bother?"
"Because you look so cute under it," Napoleon replied.
It seemed to take some effort, but Illya chose to ignore the obvious taunt. "Aside from that," he said. "Don't you have family in New England, an aunt or a cousin or something? Why don't you spend Christmas there?"
"And spoil the Norman Rockwell perfection?" Napoleon made a face. "When I could be home for the holidays, corrupting you instead?" Napoleon moved from the couch and knelt next to his friend. He took a sip from his glass of Scotch, the ice cubes tinkling melodiously against the cut glass crystal of his tumbler. "I'm perfectly content where I am. Moreover, if you'll recall, I had to take my partner home before he made a complete fool of himself. Again."
"Me!" Illya sputtered. "You're the one who sat in my lap."
"You were the one playing Santa." Napoleon countered, the image of this year's improbable U.N.C.L.E. Headquarters' Santa bringing a grin to his face. Santa sat on an elaborate, gilded throne (and where did that come from?) in the center of the commissary, wearing a black turtleneck and shoulder holster, a plush red stocking hat with white trim and pom-pom askew on his head. No beard. Not fat either; he looked as stark and thin as a stovepipe. A comely U.N.C.L.E. girl, bounced on his lap, her arms around Santa's shoulders, her fingers playing with Santa's ears as she cooed something in baby talk that sounded not at all like anything a baby would say.
"What was in that punch anyway?" Napoleon asked.
Illya shrugged and tilted his head back to gaze at the lights, tapping an anodized gold metal bell on a low branch with the same delicate motion he employed to restart the recalcitrant bubble light. It dinged dully in response. "Does this take a long time to put up?"
"Not really. I had help. Judy and Carol."
"Both of them at the same time?" Illya's eyes darted toward Napoleon and he looked genuinely baffled. "How do you do it? How do you keep them all happy?"
Napoleon chuckled and took another sip of his Scotch. "You were the one with all the girls in line waiting to sit on your lap. Maybe I should ask you." His glass tilted as he set it on the felt skirt under the tree and sat back on his heels.
The annual Christmas party, to which Waverly turned a myopic if not blind eye, was in full swing when Napoleon finally managed to break away from an endless conference call with his Australian Section Two counterpart. It was not that he didn't expect to see Illya there, or that he even gave it a moment's thought. His partner made at least a token appearance at such gatherings. Hell, hadn't he led the U.N.C.L.E. girls in an intricate, Slavic-tinged version of "The Stroll" the first year he was in America?
The line of giggling girls waiting to sit in Santa's lap surprised him, though he wasn't quite sure if mere surprise did justice to his reaction. He felt a jolt of intense irritation and struggled to hide his dismay beneath a too-hearty, almost feral grin. No one had paid much attention to his arrival and Napoleon was well aware he did not like to relinquish center stage, especially to his partner. Not only that—another line of disgruntled, Section Two agents stood with arms folded, glaring at Santa Illya who seemed to have garnered the lion's share of feminine attention. They looked like dangerous wallflowers, wilting up against the wall next to an aluminum Christmas tree festooned with spent shell casings. Even though Illya seemed oblivious to all the attention, both benevolent and bitter, Napoleon sensed a rescue was in order.
And so, he butted into line and took the next turn, settling himself heavily on Illya's lap. Illya had spilled a half-ladle of sherbet and vodka-enlivened Hawaiian Punch down the front of his turtleneck and mumbled, "Ho, ho, ho?" almost choking on the traditional greeting.
Even now Illya's lips were stained a little red from the punch. "Do you remember what I said I wanted for Christmas?" Napoleon asked.
"I seem to remember something about peace on earth and a Porsche, not necessarily in that order." Illya narrowed his eyes. "And another request so obscene I would not deign to repeat it."
Napoleon chuckled. "You don't have to repeat it, my bashful boy. If you'll recall, Santa has already granted that request and a few others I didn't think of."
Illya's eyes widened before he averted his face, hiding the appealing flush that colored his cheeks. "You really haven't been a good boy this year. You know, Napoleon, everyone talks about us. You shouldn't give them additional cause."
"I was hiding in plain sight. You were making a spectacle of yourself." Napoleon picked up his almost empty drink and rose to his feet, his knees popping with the effort. He turned on the tuner of his hi-fi, fiddling with the dial. Think of all the fun I've missed, think of all the fellows that I haven't kissed... Napoleon took a few swaying steps in the cramped room, bumping against a chair displaced by the Christmas tree. The globe of his liquor cabinet hung open on its hinges, sliced in half at the equator. "'Santa baby I want a yacht, and really that's not a lot,'" Napoleon sang, simpering along with Eartha Kitt.
"This is an execrable song," Illya said.
"Oh, get in the spirit. 'Santa cutie and fill my stocking with a duplex and checks-'"
"I can't believe you know the lyrics."
Napoleon waggled his eyebrows. "Hey, Santa cutie, would you like anything?" he asked, adding a generous measure of Scotch to his own watered-down drink and a few slivers of ice from the ice bucket. "Vodka? Whiskey? Uh, more punch?"
"No, thank you. It's late. I should go home. Especially if you're going to keep flinging the word 'cute' in my direction."
Napoleon pretended not to hear and poured another Scotch, neat, for his friend. He knelt once again beside the Christmas tree, setting the glass on Illya's stomach, under the sweater he wore. "This is as close to home as you're going to get."
Illya shivered before winding his fingers around it. "I said I have to go," he said, but sat up and threw back the drink in one efficient gulp.
"That's eighteen-year-old Scotch," Napoleon chided.
"I'm sorry," Illya mumbled, setting the empty glass behind him as he consulted his watch. "I'll see you—"
"No, no, no. We haven't exchanged presents." Napoleon inclined his head, indicating a large box wrapped in shiny silver paper. There were other presents under the tree but this was the largest by far.
"Oh." Illya frowned as he stared at the present. "I didn't know about an exchange. I don't have anything for you."
"That's okay." Napoleon waggled his eyebrows. "You could always sell your hair and buy me a watch fob."
"What?" Illya raised an eyebrow in confusion.
"You know, like 'The Gift of the Magi.'"
"O. Henry. You know the story."
Illya shook his head.
"Forget it," Napoleon said. "I'll take it in trade."
"I can't accept it under those conditions," Illya replied, sounding distressed. "I'm too sore."
Napoleon smiled and ran his fingers through Illya's hair. The memories pleased him and he leaned down to plant a kiss behind his friend's ear. "I'm sorry if I was too rough. I didn't mean to be. It's just been a long time." Napoleon kept his voice hushed but felt chagrined by the implied criticism. He hid his uneasiness by setting the large present within his friend's reach.
Illya brought it to his lap and unwrapped it like an impatient child, clawing at the silver paper as if he had never been given a present before. He lifted the lid of the Brooks Brother box, separating the tissue paper as if opening a curtain and smiled, without delight, at the contents. "A robe," he said. "It's nice. Thank you." He almost tossed the box aside and resumed staring through the branches of the tree, settling once again on his back.
"You sound disappointed." Napoleon had no idea what Illya had expected. Maybe the robe seemed at once too personal and too generic, a one-size-fits-all Christmas present. "It matched your eyes."
"I'm not disappointed at all. Thank you. I only wish I had got you something." Illya looked thoughtful for a moment. "Though not something that involves my selling my hair."
"It's just a story, Illya. I have it here somewhere; you should read it. I don't think people sell their hair these days. I didn't mean to alarm you. And it's not your holiday. I understand."
Illya lifted his head and reexamined the present, his fingers touching the terrycloth loops with the same encouraging delicacy that served to reanimate the bubble light. "I need a new robe. Mine is threadbare. Thank you." He sounded at once polite and indifferent.
"It's for here. When you're here. So you feel at home. And won't steal my clothes." Napoleon directed his chin at the Irish fisherman sweater Illya had co-opted from his wardrobe. It looked good on him, the wheaten shade matching his blond hair and such a welcome relief from his friend's austere, black to gray wardrobe. Illya had a tendency to take his belongings home and not return them. Though this particular sweater, a gift from the New England aunt Illya had remembered, was not a favorite of his, he did not want to relinquish it. He hadn't even worn it yet.
Napoleon recalled a scenario from a few months past. An U.N.C.L.E. girl in Communications had complimented Illya on his sweater, Napoleon's sweater, a favored wine-colored, cashmere V-neck. Illya had looked down at it and shrugged. "This old thing?"
Illya again stared up at Napoleon, his head resting on the felt tree skirt Napoleon's grandma had made. "I really should go. I have to go."
"What? You don't have to go. It's almost Christmas day, for Christ's sake. Where are you going to go tonight? Everything's closed. East side, West side—the sidewalks of New York are rolled up tonight."
"It's not like that in New York."
"So you would leave me alone on Christmas?"
"When are you ever alone for long?" Illya waved his hand vaguely. "I shouldn't have stayed. I have plans."
"You do not. You're lying to me. And you should never ever do that." Napoleon affixed his friend with a pointed glare, acknowledging and condemning the lies. "Don't go. Why do you want to leave?" Had Illya made a date with one of the U.N.C.L.E. girls who had vied to sit on his lap? From vast experience with such matters, Napoleon well knew these girls would wait up for such assignations, pick up the phone on the second ring.
Illya settled back. He hugged his arms around himself and said nothing.
"Did I do something wrong?" Napoleon wondered if he had misplayed the gift-giving. Had he embarrassed his friend with the meager largesse of a robe? Had he alarmed him with the hair-selling story? It was just a damn robe and he really hadn't expected anything in return from Illya, especially not his hair.
Or has he misplayed the sex? Illya said he was sore. Had he been, as Illya implied, too rough? But Illya had straddled him, impaled himself on Napoleon's cock. Illya had controlled it all and if he felt sore now, he had devised every insensitive movement.
This time it had been as Napoleon had always imagined and well worth the wait. His body still pulsed with the memory. He had not felt restrained, not at all; there was no frustration, no tentativeness to the connection even as he felt himself pinned flat to the mattress, centered there. Illya had lowered himself on his cock, his feet to either side of Napoleon's head, his gymnast's arms poised to either side of Napoleon's knees. He reclined slightly on his elbows as if performing backwards push-ups. Illya's head had been thrown back so that all Napoleon could see was the long neck, taut in an attitude of offering. The play of his friend's gulping throat muscles proved so erotic, Napoleon had turned away, struggling to forestall his own climax.
A slight, prolonged gasp was all that announced Illya's orgasm: that, and the fluid that splattered Napoleon's belly, his chest and his hands like warm buckshot. Using his knees for leverage, Napoleon maneuvered his friend forward, wanting to see his expression. The sudden shift of position caused Illya to sit down hard on the rigid cock and he moaned, his head falling forward so all Napoleon could see was a crown of shining blond hair. Illya continued to rock, his feet still planted beside Napoleon's head, his arms now hugging Napoleon's legs in another backwards hold. Napoleon stilled and quickly teetered over the edge, imprisoned in the close embrace of his friend's body.
Illya fell forward and cuddled close before falling asleep, almost on top of Napoleon.
An hour later, Illya reappeared from the bedroom wearing the fisherman sweater and his own pleasingly snug trousers. He selected, with unerring taste, something that looked good on him, as he had done before. Napoleon already had snagged the burgundy robe from the hook of his bathroom door. He had another robe for his female guests, short and white with pink gingham piping. Now there would be something appropriate for Illya.
Wasn't it a good gift? Thoughtful? Well-selected?
"I'm not a mind reader. I enjoyed today. What the hell is the problem with the robe?"
"Nothing. Thank you. I enjoyed this evening too. I did," Illya said as if arguing with himself.
"So stay. You know we can do other things."
Illya leaned forward, balancing his head on the palm of his hand as he met Napoleon's eyes. "We can?" He stared speculatively as if visions of more than sugarplums danced in his head. "Cross boundaries?"
What did he mean by that? Napoleon frowned in bewilderment. They got together once in awhile, although their engagements had no regularity, just seemed to happen now and again like a sudden thunderstorm, tonight more full of lightning than anytime before. It had been such an unusually long time, no wonder they had both responded so strongly.
He had not insisted Illya leave the party though he had wanted him to leave. Illya left willingly. No one expected them, the Section Two stars, to actually stick around.
Napoleon seldom did more than make a cursory appearance at such parties, maintaining a strictly decorous pose. God forbid he would make a public spectacle of his preferences and ruin his chances with those not chosen. Though everyone knew he was a flirt, Headquarters' Lothario, he played his affairs close to the vest. It was well-known, acknowledged, that he spread his net far outside of U.N.C.L.E., that he did not limit himself to the small pond there. He only fished, at odd hours, in the local fishing hole.
Illya, for his part, was also free to leave. He had an even easier role since no one expected anything of him. It had been years since he had dated anyone at U.N.C.L.E., anyone that is except... Napoleon shook the thought from his head. Illya held himself off-limits, unattainable, the reason why a line formed for his unlikely Santa Claus incarnation. Illya seemed to have no concept of his attractiveness and the girls fell like an avalanche.
Despite what Illya had said about Napoleon's indiscretion, no one had paid the slightest attention when they left. Sure, he had sat in Illya's lap and whispered more than sweet nothings in his ear, but that was a tease, a ruse, a private joke. Just between them though, it invigorated the party, broke it wide open. The girls circulated, once again; Napoleon had lifted the magic spell as he cast one of his own.
They left at the same time but not together. Illya followed the whispered plea. Surely, even if tongues wagged, no one really imagined what they did later. Napoleon was sure of that. As with all of his affairs, he kept this one behind closed doors.
Dear Illya, dear silent Illya, who came home with him, not a peep of protest, encouraging the kisses in the hallway and later on in bed. He encouraged it all, his Santa hat disappearing like a forgotten party favor.
"Don't go. I'll make you dinner," Napoleon said. "Turkey and mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce and dressing and—"
"Oh." Illya turned away. "I didn't notice these preparations."
"I have a turkey in the freezer. And I have the other—"
"Napoleon! Who is lying now? I'll stay, I promise. But the meal you describe." Illya smiled. "You know I don't cook much. But even a small turkey has to defrost. I know that much."
"We could go out then."
"To rolled up sidewalks? It's late."
"Something will be open. This is a big city."
Illya nodded, his original premise confirmed. "I'll call for takeaway from Billy Lee's. He's always open."
Less than an hour later, the white cartons were spread out on Napoleon's glass and chrome coffee table. Their chopsticks clicked like castanets as they ate, almost in time to the Christmas carols wafting from the hi-fi. Illya even sang along at times, demonstrating an endearing, almost aggressive familiarity with both the religious and secular songs. He knew the Latin words to four verses of "Oh Come Oh Ye Faithful" and then capped this performance by mimicking all three of the Chipmunks as if he had studied their voices: "'Me I want a hula hoop.'"
Napoleon dissolved with laughter, dabbing his jovial tears with a fistful of paper napkins.
The blue robe was almost the same color as Illya's eyes, just as Napoleon imagined when he bought it. Illya only wore it while they ate and didn't wear it for long.
Still, he never really liked the robe. He ignored it on subsequent visits as if it were a disguise he did not choose to assume.
They enjoyed another dinner, a late, long one in Lisbon some months later. The dining room of the Ritz lived up to its reputation. Napoleon had eaten there once before; Illya had only read about it in the guidebooks he so often perused. Though they both often knew of and sought more esoteric, out-of-the-way restaurants, neither had the energy for such excursions tonight. And why bother? The Ritz was a luxury they seldom knew.
Illya popped a small strawberry in his mouth from a bowl set between them and smiled, sighing as he took a sip of espresso before downing the dregs of a glass of Madeira. His mood was so light and uncomplicated, Napoleon wondered if he even knew his friend. He had certainly never seen him so cheerful or unguarded. If it was merely another disguise, Napoleon wished Illya donned it more often.
"He'll reappear someday," Illya said, breaking a long silence.
"Yes, someday, somewhere when we least expect it, smile, you're on—" Napoleon paused, struggling to rearrange the closing catch phrase to "Candid Camera."
"—Dr. Klein's surveillance camera," Illya completed. "Running down corridors, attacking the odd guard or two, pretending to be an unusually fit and violent professor of sociology from an unusually obscure school. How did we lose him?"
"I don't know. We have his virus and its antidote. Let's not worry about the rest of it for now." Napoleon brought a large spoonful of strawberries to his mouth, his tongue darting, lizard-like, to convey them into his mouth, one by one. "Oh, these are good," he said.
"They should be. They cost a fortune." Illya stared as if transfixed by Napoleon's busy tongue.
"You ordered them. I was merely an innocent bystander to your extravagance."
Often they rehashed their missions at such celebratory dinners, making pointed criticisms of each other couched in playful one-upmanship. This time they avoided such malicious analysis, any tension between them charged with anticipation. They exchanged a long look and Napoleon did not require the words: Illya was as eager as he to return to their beautiful room in this exquisite hotel.
Neither really wanted to talk about their mission, but old habits do not just curl up and die.
"How did Luis know Dr. Klein? What was their relationship? We really do owe him."
"I'm not sure," Illya replied, sounding careful, as if walking a tightrope. "Your Sandy, wasn't she the key? You said she met him at—somewhere—on her prolonged adventure abroad. How would they cross paths? A banker and a mad scientist?"
"Even mad scientists need financing, especially mad scientists. I guess we owe her too."
"Maybe she had her fun," Illya said, rolling a strawberry between his thumb and index finger.
"As did Luis."
They met each other's eyes, suddenly wary. "But about Luis," Napoleon said. "The Lisbon office had him pegged but what was he really about?" He recalled watching on closed circuit TV the tousled-haired, flamboyantly dressed and vividly handsome Luis, swaggering like a gangster in Dr. Klein's laboratory, as if he owned the place. As if he owned the world. How his long fingers did a sleight of hand, playing with the Bunsen burners and the beakers, their contents a kaleidoscope of brightly colored liquids. He talked to the doctor but all the while his searing dark eyes focused on the prisoner. A uniformed Thrush guard held a gun to Illya's back. Luis chose just the right moment to fling a vial of purple-hued, bubbling liquid at the guard and pulled Illya to safety. They ran hand-in-hand out of the laboratory, Luis the faster. Dr. Klein disappeared.
They both owed much to Luis.
"I don't know," Illya shrugged. "Maybe U.N.C.L.E. can pay for his schooling. He's bright and he told me he wanted to go to university, but I doubt that's what he wants."
"Oh?" Napoleon brought his full glass of Madeira to his lips. He didn't give a damn if Luis returned to school or fell off the face of the earth.
"Here you are!" A breathless and breathy voice exclaimed.
The girl, Sandy, appeared out of nowhere, clutching a navy Pan Am carry-on bag to her chest, her full head of auburn hair mussed. Both Napoleon and Illya had kissed her goodbye at the airport, wishing her bon voyage, God speed and good riddance. At the time she seemed a bit wistful to see her adventures ending but also happy to be returning home. Out of harm's way. She had hugged both agents at the ticket counter and had not looked back. No, she looked forward to an expected ring from a dear and reassuringly normal loan officer. "We'll look you up when we're next in Kansas City," Napoleon had promised her. He had never been to Kansas City and could not imagine the circumstances that would bring him there.
So why had she turned up again?
"Sandy!" Napoleon said. "What happened?" He stood and pulled out a chair for her.
Illya slumped, leaning his elbows on the table and spooning the last of the tiny strawberries in his mouth.
"Hi fellows," she said as she sank into the green upholstered chair, "I'm so sorry to impose upon you," she said in her direct, Midwestern way. "Storms over the Atlantic. We sat on the runway for an hour and then got turned back. My flight was cancelled and it just seemed a waste to spend the night at the airport when you have that big room here. I hope you don't mind." She smiled flirtatiously at Napoleon, taking a cookie from an elaborate basket at the table. The basket itself was edible, fashioned from the same buttery cookie dough.
"Of course we don't mind," Napoleon said so automatically he sounded as if he was reading from a script. He looked at his partner, ignoring the frost in the blue eyes, the down-turned mouth. "We don't mind, do we, Illya?" Napoleon punctuated his question with a well-aimed elbow to Illya's side.
"I can sleep on the sofa," Illya replied with stiff magnanimity. "Or elsewhere," he added almost inaudibly.
His glacial eyes moved from Napoleon to Sandy and back again, lit with a dawning suspicion. Napoleon wanted to assure him he, too, was disappointed and wished he could also assure Illya he had not slept with Sandy, that this was not the reason she knew about the splendid hotel room. It was the truth. He was innocent of at least one part of the traditional ethical dilemma. Should he be judged by his acts or his intentions? He didn't sleep with her but he had wanted to. Still, Illya was reading more into the situation than existed. He was guilty of only intent—a lesser sin? Napoleon hadn't expected to see Sandy again, at least so soon. Maybe his travels would encompass Kansas City some day.
"Oh, I'll sleep on the sofa," Sandy said. "God, these cookies are delicious." She took another.
"Are you hungry?" Napoleon asked. "I'm not sure the kitchen is still open but I'm sure we can arrange something."
Illya stood, bowing slightly. "I can go back to where I was staying. I'll just give Luis a call; he'll put me up. Napoleon. Sandy." He bowed again.
"Don't be ridiculous," Napoleon said, pulling on Illya's sleeve as if that would keep him rooted. Illya yanked his arm away and moved quickly through the dining room, weaving through the mostly empty tables.
Napoleon was on his partner's heels at once and shoved him into the hallway so hard they both lost their balance for a moment. "You're not going anywhere," Napoleon hissed. "You're acting like a spoiled brat. We owe her, at the very least, a place to set her weary head."
"It's sensible." Illya rubbed the small of his back, wincing in pain. "And quit pushing me around."
"I didn't know it was you yesterday, you know that. What the hell were you doing in the hotel room anyway? You're lucky I didn't drill through that thick skull of yours."
Illya never had explained to Napoleon's satisfaction, but yesterday when he returned to his hotel room, he sensed it was occupied. Occupied? Steam poured from the bathroom as thick as a fog on a Scottish moor. Napoleon had pulled his gun, sneaking toward the bathroom. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed one of the beds appeared slept in. Slept in? The bed linens were in shambles. Who's been sleeping in my bed? He yanked open the bathroom door and slammed his gun into the back of a figure he could barely make out in the heavy steam.
"Oh," the figure exclaimed in an all-too-familiar voice.
"What are you doing here?" Napoleon asked his wet and naked partner, who had fallen to his knees from the force of the blow, the breath knocked out of him.
Illya pulled himself up, both hands gripping the edge of the marble sink, and staggered out of the bathroom, pitching himself face first on the unmade bed. "You're not supposed to be back here until after six," Illya said, between shallow, panting breaths.
"And you're not supposed to be here at all." Napoleon sat next to his partner. He reached forward and rubbed Illya's lower back. A livid bruise was already forming. "Why are you here?"
"I needed a nap and a shower. My accommodations are not quite so fine, as you know."
"I understand that. Lisbon set up your cover, not me. But aren't you taking a big risk by coming here? Don't you think you could be putting the whole mission in jeopardy?" Napoleon's hands moved lower, kneading the solid cheeks of Illya's ass.
Napoleon seldom refused to answer when opportunity knocked and Illya lying naked in his bed was a rather loud knock indeed.
Illya turned to face him. "You didn't hit me there," he said, staring pointedly at the errant hands.
"Sorry." Napoleon removed them with overstated care. "While I'm apologizing, sorry for hitting you, too."
"You took me my surprise. Again, what are you doing here? How did you get in?"
"You're asking me how I got into a hotel room?" Illya made a face at him.
"Well, you don't seem to be telling me why. Or why the bed looks like this. You even ordered room service." Napoleon's eyes swept to a tray next the bed. "What kind of nap were you taking?"
"A nice, long one." Illya rolled away from Napoleon and stretched, avoiding his friend's puzzled eyes.
Napoleon shook his head. "What were you doing? A nice, long nap? Explain please."
"You have another." Illya pointed to the other bed. "I was going to remake this one and I will. Do you require two pristine beds?"
"No," Napoleon said, scowling as he stood to one side of the mysterious room service tray. "One usually suffices."
"Good." Illya was quickly on his feet. He remade the disheveled bed, bringing it to quick, efficient order so that it looked untouched and more perfect than the other. It almost saluted in sarcastic derision. "I have to be going. I'm meeting Luis and his gang of hoodlums. The Lisbon office was correct for a change. Luis does have some sort of an association with our Thrush scientist, though they hardly met at university."
"How so then?"
Illya shrugged. "I don't really know. We can't communicate too well given we don't share a language, just a smattering of Spanish. Luis gets around, moves in circles both high and low. I think it's his looks that opens doors."
"Is he handsome?"
"Very. He looks like you actually. A younger version of you," Illya clarified, grinning mischievously.
"Oh." Napoleon did not react but felt a jolt of irritation, which escalated as Illya stood and rummaged through his open suitcase as if it were his own. "What are you doing?"
"You don't mind?" he asked, tugging on a pair of Napoleon's briefs.
"Yes, I do mind," Napoleon said as Illya pulled one of his tee shirts over his head.
"But mine are soiled and the rest of my clothes are at the office." Illya moved to the bathroom and reemerged a few moments later fully dressed. The horned-rimmed glasses and the tweedy jacket with suede patches at the elbows gave him a professorial air, which made sense. He was impersonating a sociologist supposedly writing a book on European street gangs. "Thanks for letting me use your room. I'll get your underwear back to you sometime."
"Consider it a gift," Napoleon called after him, scratching his head in consternation.
He hadn't given much thought to Illya's impromptu visit but he mulled it over once again as they stood, almost nose-to-nose, in the hallway outside the restaurant. It still didn't make sense. But he sensed Illya was guilty of more than intent. He could play on such guilt.
"You are going to march right back in there and make up to Sandy. Apologize for your rudeness." Napoleon waggled his finger in Illya's face. "Look, I'm disappointed too. I did not plan this. But she helped us when we needed her and the room is big enough for the three of us. And you can arrange for Luis's continuing education. But you are not returning to him. Got it?"
Napoleon braced himself for at least an argument and would not have been surprised at a blow to his solar plexus. So he was stunned when Illya just nodded his head, his eyes no longer cold. "You are right," Illya said and led the way back to the table.
Sandy had eaten all the cookies and was breaking off the handle of the basket when they returned. "I'm so sorry," she said to them. "This wasn't a good idea. I can see that." She looked miserable and confused.
On the rare occasions Illya dusted off his seldom-used charm, it could be a devastating weapon. "Not at all," he said, sitting beside her and smiling a slow, lopsided grin that begged forgiveness. "Let's get you some dinner." He summoned the waiter with an imperious wave of his hand and, without asking her preferences, ordered dinner for her in a commanding tone that grated like fingers snapping. The waiter with sweeping, apologetic bows explained in halting English that the kitchen was closed. "Lead me to the kitchen, then. I'll make it myself." Illya sounded to the manor born. "You would refuse such a beautiful guest? " The waiter, similarly charmed, bowed low and Sandy's dinner appeared shortly afterward.
Much later, they ended up sitting on one of the beds in the hotel room playing poker and sharing a bottle of Chateau Latour from an off year that they had brought with them from the restaurant. Illya lost repeatedly and did not even seem to have a poker face, grimacing at one bad hand after the other, grinning with delight at the few good ones. While neither of them played cards often, Napoleon knew Illya's skills at poker from costly experience and wondered where this suddenly inept dumb blond came from. It wasn't even fun taking his money; it was like stealing candy from a baby.
But Sandy was charmed and shook with laughter, spilling wine on her paisley shift. She giggled again as Illya laid down his hopeless cards, face down, snorting in dismay at his bad fortune. Throwing a handful of almost worthless centavos into the center of the bed, Illya leaned back against the ornate headboard as Napoleon dealt another hand. Sandy discarded a card and looked expectantly at Illya whose head lolled sideways, the cards and the glass of wine sagging in his nerveless hands.
"I think he's trying to tell us something," Sandy said. She consulted her watch. "It's late."
"He probably just had another lousy hand," Napoleon said, taking the wine glass from Illya's limp fingers and then the cards. He examined them, curious. Illya had a full house, three kings and a couple of tens. It was not a hand to cause instant slumber.
"You take the other bed. I'll sleep on the couch," Napoleon said. "Unless you think we can move him." He urged his partner flat on the bed and Illya curled on his side, dead to the world.
"God, he's adorable," Sandy said, patting Illya's cheek. "Too bad we weren't playing strip poker. He'd be naked as a jaybird." She clasped her hand to her mouth. "Oh my, I'm afraid the wine has gotten the better of me."
Napoleon just laughed. "I think the day is just catching up with all of us."
"Speaking of strip poker," Sandy began, blushing a little, "I don't have anything to wear. My luggage is still on the plane."
Napoleon glanced at his friend curled up on the bed and realized Illya, the dumb blond, had rather cleverly staked his claim to it. "May I offer you a pair of my friend's pajamas?" he asked. "Doesn't look like he'll need them."
A few minutes later, Sandy, too, looked rather adorable in the too-large, navy pajamas, her face scrubbed of makeup, her hair a tumble of auburn. "Goodnight, Napoleon," she said shyly. "Dream of the angels." She pulled the covers around her as Napoleon arranged an extra pillow on the couch. "Napoleon," she called in a loud stage whisper.
"I'm sorry about the other day."
Napoleon did not at first know what she was talking about and then remembered. "That's quite all right. I understand, I really do. And I hope you'll be happy with, uh—"
"Mitch. His name's Mitch. But I'm sorry I led you on. This trip to Europe was my last little fling but I found I could not be untrue to him even though I really was tempted. Thank you for being a gentleman about it."
"Well just don't let anyone know. You'll ruin my reputation." Napoleon winked at her. "Goodnight."
Both Sandy and Illya were fast asleep in their separate beds when Napoleon emerged from the bathroom in his own pajamas. He took an extra blanket and a pillow from the closet and turned off the lights. Though the couch was not uncomfortable, he shifted restlessly, finding sleep elusive.
He must have fallen asleep even as he struggled with his habitual insomnia, as he listened to the distant blur of street noise from the open French doors of the balcony, as he despaired of Sandy's periodic snoring. The disruptive sounds must have lulled him into a light sleep at least, easily disturbed when Illya woke to use the bathroom.
Not that Illya was silent. First the toilet flushed, followed by a broken-glass crash and a muttered oath. Then the shower went on and Napoleon listened to his partner hum and then not hum, for what seemed like the better part of an hour. Illya tiptoed back into the room and used a pen-sized flashlight to peer into his suitcase, growling as he poked through his clothing.
"Sandy has your pajamas," Napoleon whispered, interpreting the growl.
"Oh." Illya flicked off the tiny flashlight. "What am I supposed to wear?"
"The towel looks nice. Not that I can see much."
Another growl. Napoleon could hear the rustle of clothing as Illya changed into something. "Are you having trouble sleeping?" Illya asked. "I really can sleep on the sofa. I can sleep anywhere."
"I know. Goodnight. I'm fine."
"All right." Illya crawled back into the bed. "Goodnight, Napoleon."
Napoleon closed his eyes for a moment. The cushions of the couch felt punishing, unfair as he felt the gap between them looming like the Grand Canyon. He stood up and took his pillow, placing it next to Illya's head and joined him on the far more comfortable bed.
Yet another growl. "Napoleon! I really can sleep on the sofa." Illya started to rise but Napoleon pulled him back, grasping the back of his tee shirt.
"Just stay. We can both sleep here, nice and cozy." Napoleon pulled his partner close, spooning against him. He nuzzled the hollow of Illya's neck, snuggling closer. Illya smelled of soap and shampoo, his hair dripping wet from the recent shower.
"Napoleon! May I remind you we're not alone?"
"You may. Remind me all you want. But I don't want you to be disappointed." Napoleon reached under the elastic of Illya's briefs and grasped his friend's balls, rolling them in his hands. "She's asleep," Napoleon whispered. "And you're always as quiet as the proverbial church mouse. Nothing I do seems to affect you much. Doesn't this remind you of all those communal apartments?"
"What do you mean?" Illya gasped, moaning as Napoleon stroked his cock, bringing it quickly to attention. It curled in Napoleon's hand as if burrowing into a comfortable home.
"Just a little reward for being so nice. Such a good loser should be rewarded."
"I don't need to be rewarded."
"Yes, you do. You were so sweet tonight. You know what they say." Napoleon's caresses turned more insistent. "Unlucky at cards—"
Illya's breaths came in short, hushed gasps.
"It's good you're always so quiet. Sometimes I think it's indifference but I can feel it's not quite that." Napoleon slowed the pace, snuggling close behind his friend. He pulled on Illya's underwear, exposing his ass, and pressed himself against it, his own erection pulsating. "Nice," he murmured, his mouth close to Illya's ear.
"Don't you dare," Illya hissed.
"Of course not." Napoleon patted Illya's head, sliding his hand down the wet hair, feeling the curve of his skull. "I just want to touch you. If you want I could—"
They both started as Sandy snuffled in her sleep, shifting so that she faced them.
"She's asleep," Napoleon whispered. "Too much excitement. Long day. The keen disappointment of a thwarted reunion with Mitch."
"Mitch who? Let's not do this now," Illya said. "I'm exhausted too."
"Are you exhausted?" Napoleon leaned his chin on Illya's shoulder looking down. "Are you?" he repeated, addressing his question to Illya's cock. "You seem so very wide awake." Napoleon squeezed the hard cock and then released it. "Go to sleep then." He grasped Illya's hips and used them for leverage as he rubbed himself against the cheeks of his ass.
It didn't take long, the friction not quite what he would have wished. The illicitness of Sandy sleeping nearby lent a certain spice to the connection. He rolled his body on top of Illya, rocking against him and came, the orgasm quiet and efficient, the way Illya's often were. When his breathing returned to normal, he turned away. "Night. Thanks."
"You said you were exhausted. Goodnight. Go to sleep."
A long pause and yet another growl. Illya shifted on the bed. "Napoleon?"
"Yes? You took a very long shower. Who were you thinking about?"
"Were you thinking of me? Not as good as the real thing, don't you think?"
"Your ego is... oh."
Napoleon rolled back toward his partner and hugged him, taking his mouth in a deep kiss. Whatever protests were poised on Illya's lips faded into silence as he pressed himself against Napoleon, undulating slightly. Napoleon reached down and once again caressed Illya's cock, his fingers exploring as if playing an unfamiliar musical instrument. "That's a boy," Napoleon encouraged as Illya pressed himself against his friend's hand, trying to create a more satisfying rhythm. "What do you want?" Napoleon waited a few moments for an answer and then sighed. "Did the imaginary Solo play a little rougher?"
"Rougher? No. Just more skillfully."
"Oh, ho," Napoleon said, his own penis swelling a bit with the admission as if puffing up with pride. "Gotcha. You're admitting to an imaginary playmate then. Tell me what you did with him in the shower, what he was like."
"Very quiet," Illya whispered squeezing his fingers around Napoleon's hand. "Very handsome. Very perfect. Idealized, the way fantasies often are."
"The reality is disappointing?" Napoleon asked, pouting theatrically.
Illya leaned forward and kissed Napoleon on the side of his cheek, then brought his mouth to his friend's lips. They kissed, their tongues dueling before Napoleon sucked Illya's tongue inside of his mouth, capturing it, the kiss becoming wet and a bit sloppy the way real kisses sometimes were. Napoleon stroked Illya's cock with more purpose and could feel Illya smile against his mouth, his tongue softening as his cock hardened. Sooner than Napoleon had anticipated, Illya arched against him, shuddering as he came.
"Better than the shower?" Napoleon asked before Illya had fully recovered.
A quick hug and a quicker kiss served to answer or forestall the question. Illya rubbed his face with cat-like affection against Napoleon's shoulder. Soon he was on his feet, making a quick trip to the bathroom and returned to clean Napoleon, glancing at Sandy a few times as if he had forgotten all about her. "This will have to wait," he said, squeezing Napoleon's hard cock with the warm washcloth.
"Yes." His reply was almost inaudible but still promising.
"I looked at your cards after you decided to pass out."
"Did I have a good hand?" Illya asked. "Should I have stayed up to play it?"
"A full house."
"Oh, I should have stayed up. But I found our house quite full enough."
Illya eventually slept on the couch. In the morning, if Sandy noticed the change in sleeping arrangements, she did not mention it.
Illya sat bolt upright. "What do you want to know?" he gasped, the words clearly articulated and quite unlike the muttering litany Napoleon had been listening to for much of the night. "What?" Illya repeated, sounding angry.
"Uh, nothing much," Napoleon replied, as if waiting for the question; he hadn't been asleep. He rested his elbow on the bed, cradling his head in the palm of his hand, and looked at his agitated friend. "I've just been wondering when you are going to settle down so I can get some sleep. That's all I want to know."
"Sorry." Illya ran his fingers through his disheveled hair, his respiration still rapid even as he relaxed. He reached for his partner to steady himself and Napoleon caught the bewildered expression, his own eyes accustomed to the dark.
"Are you feeling okay?" Napoleon asked.
"Yes, thank you." Illya took a deep breath. "I feel a little odd. Dizzy. The room is—"
"Spinning?" Napoleon supplied the word, reaching forward to lay the palm of his hand between Illya's shoulder blades, steadying him with long, reassuring caresses. "You've been flipping around for the better part of the night. You do that sometimes when you've been drinking. It's probably just the after-effects of the drugs."
The night had been long and restless. Napoleon doubted he had slept for more than a few minutes here and there, disturbed by Illya's relentless thrashing but more disturbed by the drug-induced revelations. Though the rescue had gone smoothly, Napoleon was still trying to come to terms with all he had learned from eavesdropping on the interrogation in the Thrush satrapy and talking to Illya later. Illya had not revealed U.N.C.L.E. confidences, nothing like that. The interrogation had proven unorthodox: the genial Thrush examiner focused on a more intimate line of questioning. Illya had revealed personal secrets about his relationship with Napoleon, most of them, of course, hardly a surprise to him. Napoleon tried, as he had been doing all night, to replay Illya's responses in his head and make sense of them.
"Sometimes. With Napoleon. Sometimes."
At first he, like the interrogator, had not been sure of Illya's meaning. Even when they talked later, Illya's thoughts seemed to meander in pointless circles: Yes, no, maybe so. Damn ineffective stuff this new truth serum. No wonder Illya felt dizzy now.
Still the disclosure rankled when he finally understood it. Illya said he not only slept with other men but also preferred to be on top when he did so. Though they never pretended their affair was exclusive, anything much more than playful, even casual, Illya's confession felt like a sucker punch. It awakened a seething jealousy in Napoleon, an emotion he had felt before but had never chosen to entertain, pushing it out the door like an uninvited guest.
Weeks ago, when he had caught Illya in their London hotel room with that model again, the wild blonde Illya had met on a train last New Year's Eve, he did not recall feeling the mildest twinge of jealousy. Only a bit of amusement, perhaps, that Illya, like any mere mortal, could not resist the obvious charms of a pretty, ditzy and sexually abandoned girl. He was almost glad at the discovery and had watched the sexual byplay for a kiss and a thrust longer than necessary before clicking the door shut.
So why should he feel jealous if Illya's trysts were not confined to the fairer sex? Try as he might to rationalize his feelings, he still could not deny having them. He felt betrayed, as if Illya not only cheated on him but also cheated them both by his refusal to express his preferences, his needs. Illya did not see the difference and Napoleon could not explain why it wasn't the same. And still, he remained sure it was not.
And the other revelation—should it have been such a surprise really? Illya said he loved him and had said as much to the interrogator. Napoleon had taken advantage of the truth drugs, had insisted Illya repeat the sweet assertion. It had felt so good to hear it. Illya loved him; they loved each other. So now what?
It was like rummaging through another's belongings, the guilty delight of reading a letter left out on a desk. He should not have probed Illya's subconscious. All he had discovered was his own fault. Neither jealousy nor love had a role in their lives.
Illya's eyes bore into Napoleon's, wide with worry. "I'm sorry," he said and shivered.
"No, no, no," Napoleon murmured, realizing the gaping silence of his extended ruminations had made his partner nervous. He rubbed slow circles against Illya's back. "Have the drugs worn off?"
"I think so," Illya said, leaning forward as if he might be sick, his head between his knees.
Napoleon sat up and patted the back of Illya's head. "You're all right?"
"Yes." Illya sat up straight and took a deep breath. "Just dizzy, as I said. I feel a little warm."
"You seem to have a bit of a fever," Napoleon agreed, his palm against Illya's forehead. "But it's warm in here. Maybe you should take off my robe."
Illya glared at Napoleon and pulled the robe tighter, burrowing into it as if it were a second skin, one not of terrycloth but armor.
"Okay, okay." Napoleon withdrew his hands, raising them in mock surrender. "Tell me something, my friend. Why do you wear my robe? What's wrong with the one I gave you?"
"The drugs have worn off, my friend." Illya said, the 'my friend' sounding mocking. "You had your chance with the questions and I even recall your asking that one. Do you want me to put on the prison stripes again?"
Napoleon recoiled, ducking his head. If Illya had slapped him he doubted if he would have felt the sting as keenly. Yes, the oddball prison uniform Illya had worn in the Thrush satrapy proved a bit of a turn-on. A bit? Still, that's what they did so often, played silly games with their silly disguises. In retrospect, maybe he should not have been so eager. He did not take advantage. No, he had made Illya dinner and had behaved like a saint. A saint of sorts, a saint who now refused to respond in anger, who instead hummed a few bars of "The Sheik of Araby." A saint who held his breath and hoped he could jolly Illya out of his mood.
"I know, Napoleon." Illya buried his face in his hands. "I know. Probably the last thing you wanted to hear. But it still stands."
Napoleon's hand returned to Illya's back and comforted, his fingers trailing along the knobby backbone. This was something he wanted to confirm, hear again without benefit of the drugs. Napoleon felt unsure he wanted to explore all the ramifications. "We need to sleep. Early meeting tomorrow. Come to me." Napoleon urged his friend into his arms, kissing him chastely on his forehead and, at the same time, opening the robe. He held Illya close and it felt like embracing a furnace. "We can put this off. Talk another time. You sleep now."
"I'm awake now," Illya said. "'Your love belongs to me.'" Illya spoke the lyric to the song. "I know I said something quite different. My love—"
"Shhh." Napoleon ran his hands through Illya's hair. "Just go to sleep."
"I just told you I was wide awake." Illya paused between each word. "What else did I say that bothered you? What?" Illya snuggled close, his legs entwining with Napoleon's. They both sighed and started to thrust against each other, the motion familiar but raw now. "I recall your asking if we could ever just make love." Illya's voice caught and he moaned as Napoleon rolled on top of him and stilled.
"I told you I loved you too. Do you remember that?"
"Did you?" Illya smiled up at his friend, his eyebrows disappearing into the fringe of his bangs. "Yes, I remember now that you mention it."
"And that I would show you in the morning."
"Is it morning now?" Illya inclined his head to the open window. "It's dark for morning. Early?"
"Yes. Very early. But morning, nonetheless."
"So, why have you stopped if you intend to show me? There's something more?"
"Not really. Perhaps," Napoleon amended, wrestling with his mixed emotions. His mind felt jumbled and he felt unsure if he wanted to talk about it at all. He knew he couldn't make sense of his feelings. If he tried to explain them his shrewd partner would rip his arguments to shreds with bracing candor as unwelcome as a spray of ice water.
So they didn't talk for a while: Illya, as ever, the silent partner. Silent that is, except when he was playing a role. But the curtain had come down; their revels now had ended. They just held each other drifting on a tranquil sea.
"Nice," Napoleon whispered, breaking the silence. "I wish you told me. I wish I had known."
"What? Oh." Illya tapped his own forehead. "That."
"Yes. That." Napoleon didn't specify what 'that' meant, unwilling to put it in words and make it real again. "You never say anything. What works, what you want." Napoleon traced Illya's ear, squeezing the almost nonexistent earlobe between his thumb and index finger, twisting it a little. "I sense you like this but you never really say."
"Oww," Illya exclaimed. "No, I don't." He shook his head away.
"Woody Woodpecker called last night. That's who called."
Illya stared at his friend, a line of confusion bisecting his brow. "Woody Woodpecker? A cartoon character?"
"That Thrush fellow. The one who was interrogating you."
"Before you took over? His surname was 'Woodpecker?' Really?"
Napoleon shrugged. "Something like that. He was concerned about you. He also said I should take it like a man."
Illya buried his head in the pillow, stifling a laugh. His body shook with the effort. "I'm sure Woody would have been happy to," Illya snorted with derision, "take it like a man, did he say?"
Again they were silent for a while as Illya struggled to bring his amusement under control, his face pressed into the pillow, muffling his laughter.
"Okay, very funny," Napoleon finally said. "But it's what you want, isn't it? It's what you do? It's what I don't give you."
"What's the expression?" Illya disentangled himself from the confining body, his teeth flashing in the gray morning light as he met Napoleon's eyes. "I think Woody has opened a can of worms. Do worms come in cans?"
"I just, uh, I have to be honest. I never, uh, imagined your sleeping with other men. It bothers me. Can you understand that at all or are you just going to continue laughing at me."
"I'm not laughing at you," Illya said, still smiling. "It's just—don't you think this is a case of the pot calling the kettle black? We have a similar expression in Russian." Illya recited it as if clarifying the issue or sweeping it aside.
"So you're just going to speak in aphorisms. As usual, obscure or ignore what I'm trying to say."
"Which is?" Illya lifted a puzzled eyebrow.
Napoleon looked pained. "For one, you've never said what you really wanted, I mean in bed. Why didn't you ask if—" Napoleon's voice faded as if too self-conscious to complete the thought. "You often seem so indifferent. I had really hoped to draw some sort of response from you. It's what keeps me coming back."
The smile that had never left Illya's face widened. "So if I had been less of a challenge, you would have been satisfied and not be drawn back? Figure it out."
"You're putting words in my mouth."
"No, I'm not. Words are not what I put in your mouth. But it's at least what you imply. And your first complaint, that I never say what I want—does that mean if I had asked you would have complied? Or am I expressing thoughts you never had?"
"I can't answer that."
"Who can then?" The smile turned into a frown. "Should I have asked so you could refuse me?"
Illya didn't wait for a reply but hugged Napoleon closer, rolling on top of him. His hands stroked Napoleon's face, exploring the roughness of the early morning stubble there before his mouth descended for a long kiss. Napoleon opened his mouth to the insistent tongue and soon found it hard to remember exactly what they were talking about. They didn't seem to have any problems. Not really. When Illya finally pulled back, Napoleon smiled into sparkling blue eyes that looked both content and bemused.
"I just don't understand your seeking other men," Napoleon said. "Why would you do so if I'm giving you what you want?"
"We've gone through this. Men are easier than girls. And provide me with a greater pleasure. That's all." Illya took a deep breath, his face hovering close to Napoleon's. "Maybe you did not want me to ask. Has either of us been so forthcoming?"
Again Napoleon made no reply and Illya didn't wait for one. Napoleon froze as his friend's strong hands grasped his shoulders and tried to turn him. "Don't be difficult," Illya purred, as he urged Napoleon over on his stomach. "Did you ever wonder," Illya continued in the same purring tone, "if you were missing something? Something you can't get from all your girlfriends? Something you don't seek?"
"Uh, Illya," Napoleon stammered as he felt the drawstring of his pajama bottoms loosened, as he heard the drawer of the nightstand rattle, then the scrape of a jar opening.
"I like that you're jealous of me," Illya whispered. "That the shoe is on the other foot for once. Jealousy is so pedestrian, so bourgeois. I have so often wrestled with it. Did you never notice? I believe you commented on it now and again."
Napoleon arched his back and considered turning around as he felt a cool finger stroking between his buttocks. "I'm not sure, Illya," Napoleon said.
"Of course you're not sure," Illya replied, his finger now poised at the opening to Napoleon's body as he pulled the pajama bottoms lower. "How can you be sure if you don't know?" The slicked finger twirled, pressing slightly so that Napoleon contracted the cheeks of his ass. "Relax," the familiar voice said. "Relax. If it doesn't feel good we can stop." Illya moved his finger beyond the tight ring of muscle.
Napoleon squirmed, trying to pull away before allowing Illya's finger to penetrate just a bit deeper. It felt odd, not unpleasant really, just odd. Yes, he had experienced this sensation with a few of his more worldly girlfriends, but with them there had been no promise, no threat of any other sort of invasion. He had never had this done to him as ominous foreplay.
"Does it feel good at all?" Illya asked with almost a scientific detachment as he inched his finger in more deeply. "You don't want me fucking other men, or so you said. I don't do so because I can't fuck you, though sometimes I pretend it's you." Napoleon hissed as Illya touched his prostate. He started to shiver and could almost hear Illya smile. "I fuck other men because you are so seldom available to me and I wouldn't dream of allowing the reverse. I only trust you.
"And you fuck other women, lots of girls," Illya continued. "As if you are being true to me in a fashion. Your girls should mean nothing? I guess mine haven't made an impression on you. I don't quite see the difference. If we both confine ourselves to the fairer sex then that's all right? Is that what you want?"
Napoleon said nothing and bit the pillow as Illya withdrew his finger. He had lost track of the discussion and listened to the sound of the words but not their meaning, a pleasant drone and nothing more.
"Here's the thing," Illya said as he straddled Napoleon. "You may like this, you may not." He rested his weight against the back of Napoleon's thighs. "Again, how would you know? I can tell you I like it. I didn't know if I would. But I do. Very much. I worry a bit that you will too. We will cross a boundary and never return. That I may not get another turn. Sometimes that's how it is with boundaries—we cross them and there is no going back." Both hands splayed against Napoleon's ass, spreading the cheeks wide. "I like it best when you just push in all at once. Like this."
Napoleon gasped at the suddenness of the impalement. Though he had been listening to Illya, the low throb of his friend's reassuring voice and sensed he had been warned, his brain exploded with pinwheels of unexpected pain, bright lights dancing behind the lids of his scrunched-shut eyes. But he said nothing beyond a strangled, "Ugh."
Warm lips kissed the back of Napoleon's neck, Illya's own gasping breaths fanning the hot skin there. "Are you okay?" Illya breathed, his voice a whispery thread. "I can withdraw if you'd like." Illya was thrusting, setting an unhurried rhythm before he stilled. "You've got to talk to me. Come on, Napoleon. What do you want me to do?"
"Uh," Napoleon said as if it were an explanation and said nothing more.
"Is that a yes or a no?" Illya kissed the side of Napoleon's face, settling his weight more firmly on Napoleon's back. "I really don't feel like stopping. It is a great pleasure."
Napoleon finally found his voice, though had trouble recognizing it as his own. "It hurts." He sounded shrill, even squeaky.
"Sometimes at first," Illya agreed. "Try to move up a little so I can touch you. Get on your knees."
"I thought you said you'd withdraw if I didn't like it. I don't." Now his voice both squeaked and shook.
"I lied. You know I lie sometimes. You didn't allow me the courtesy of lies tonight." Illya's mouth was close to Napoleon's ear as he nipped the fleshy earlobe. His hands reached under Napoleon and pressed against his abdomen, reaching under his pajama jacket. Napoleon obeyed the slight pressure, rising to his knees as Illya struggled to keep inside of him. The angle of the penetration changed and Napoleon felt a brief flash of intense pleasure, still mingled with pain.
Illya whispered something so quietly Napoleon could not understand. "What?" he asked, suddenly eager to hear not just the words but also their meaning.
"I didn't lie," Illya's said, his voice clearer but still soft. "I really will withdraw." His hands as they reached under Napoleon to cup his balls felt as gentle as the hushed voice. "I really will," Illya repeated. "You can pound me into the mattress if you want."
"I'm getting used to it," Napoleon said.
"Good." Illya laughed breathlessly, his hand squeezing Napoleon's limp cock, stroking the underside of it. "Just what I want. You to be used to it." Illya laughed again. "I want you to enjoy it, you blockhead. Not endure it."
"You are a bit trying. It's difficult not to move in you, so frustrating. I'm so hard." Illya's voice changed cadence, almost pulsing with emotion. Napoleon found himself rocking slightly under the barrage of words, freer to move now that Illya was no longer lying on top of him, trapping him. He enjoyed the sense of freedom, of offering himself. But he strained to hear Illya's voice, something so often missing in their liaisons when they weren't role-playing. "I wish you were hard too. That this felt as good for you." Illya's hand was still gentle as it fondled the lax penis. "I told you I loved you. But I'm not sure I've ever made love to you. Not really. I know we've never done it this way but that's not what I mean. You are so right when you said I never said much. Enough." Illya shifted ever so slightly, still not thrusting. "I never knew what I should say. Or rather, I knew only what I shouldn't say."
Napoleon again felt a frisson of pure pleasure and inhaled sharply.
"I love you," Illya said. "You're so—I don't know how to express it—so wonderfully confident, so pleased with yourself. Arrogant. Selfish." The cock Illya continued to caress started to come to life, curling in his hand. "Yes, Napoleon," Illya encouraged. "I love your cock too. When it's deep inside of me seeking its own pleasure. Would you like to change positions?"
"No!" Napoleon hadn't meant to sound so adamant but changing positions was about the last thing he had on his mind. "This feels great, Illya. You are good at this."
"I know," Illya gasped. "I've got to move now, though. Okay? I'm done talking."
"That's fine. Go ahead."
The initial thrusts remained tentative but soon Illya picked up the tempo, as he plunged in and out of Napoleon. Still, he never relinquished control, careful of his partner's feelings. "Still okay?" Illya whispered.
"Oh." Illya slowed the pace though his hand milked Napoleon's penis more rapidly. "Good?"
Illya sighed and leaned forward to plant a kiss on the top of Napoleon's head. "You're making me a little crazy, my friend. This virginal unease..." Illya pressed himself deep. "Are you sure you don't want a bit more?"
"Hmm." Napoleon braced his legs against the mattress. He felt as if he teetered on the edge and tried to let go.
"Hmm," Illya mimicked. "I don't know what that means. Only I am so hard and so close and did I tell you how much I love you?"
"More," Napoleon gasped and then moaned as Illya thrust so hard it hurt again. "No, not like that. More."
"I love you?" Illya said again as if puzzled. "More of that?" He had stilled once again, though he shook with the effort to maintain control. "I love you," he whispered.
Oh, just perfect, exactly what he wanted. Napoleon responded to the words, pushing back against Illya, taking him deep and trying to angle the hard cock against the bud of his prostate. He concentrated and felt his balls drawing tight, on the brink, and played back Illya's words. They thrummed in his head, vibrating like a peculiar symphony. "I love you." His cock exploded, bathing Illya's hand with its release. He moaned, planting his knees into the mattress, trying to keep his balance. His brain and his penis finally seemed to coalesce, though it took a long time for both to recover from their unusual melding.
Illya was saying something, his hand now cradling Napoleon's spent cock before he moved to wipe it against the pajama jacket.
"What?" Napoleon asked, feeling as if he were in a fog. He shook his head trying to clear it, the force of his orgasm rendering him almost blank. Sometimes when Illya came, he too seemed to lose interest in continuing. Napoleon often found his friend's reactions selfish and definitely frustrating. But now he understood and steadied himself, hoping to be the better lover.
"May I, oh, please move. May I? Please."
"I forgot you were in me."
"Thanks." Illya punctuated his gratitude with a few vigorous reminders.
"Oww. Take it easy."
"You are driving me mad." Illya stilled once again, his breaths harsh.
"Go on," Napoleon said. "You're fine. It's fine."
Illya grasped Napoleon's hips, pulling him tight. "I want, oh, I want..."
Napoleon turned his head to face him. Illya moaned, as he met Napoleon's eyes.
"I love you, Oh, how I—"
"That's it." Napoleon planted his forearms on the bed and tried to give his friend what he wanted. He twisted his head in an almost painful angle and watched Illya's eyes lose their focus, watched as they closed, a blissful smile playing at the full lips. Illya shut his eyes, grimacing, and then arched against him. Once. Twice. Quiet this time as he always was.
Illya stayed inside, still hard even afterwards, as if he could start all over again.
"No more," Napoleon said.
"Oh." Illya withdrew and lowered his ass to his calves, crouching behind Napoleon. "Are you all right?" His hand reached forward and massaged Napoleon's lower back.
Napoleon stretched, his hands fisted as he curled on the bed. He then reached for his friend and pulled him close, sliding the irritating robe off his arms, pushing the distraction to the floor behind them. "I'm just fine. It was different."
"Different?" Illya asked, his face pressed against Napoleon's neck.
"Oh yes. Very. Did you like it?"
"Mm-hmm." Illya sounded sleepy.
"Have I hurt you in the past?"
"No." Illya arranged Napoleon on his side and snuggled against his friend's back, assuming the position he often did when he wanted to sleep.
"I just wonder because I didn't know how it felt, you know."
"Uh-huh. Never hurt," Illya said as his arms closed tighter, his warm body insinuating itself around Napoleon's, pulling him close. Napoleon felt Illya's still-hard cock poke into his back, impressed the erection had yet to subside.
"Good. And now that you have what you want from me, I don't want you doing it with anyone else."
"That again?" Illya murmured, draping a leg over Napoleon's hip and pulling him close.
"Yes. That again. Just promise me. Lie if you have to."
Napoleon heard a sigh then a yawn. "All right. I promise. Is this a one-sided proposition?"
"Of course not. It's just us now. You and me. No pretenses."
"No girls either?"
"No, I didn't say that. I meant—"
"I know what you meant," Illya interrupted. The leg that surrounded Napoleon turned into a knee and shoved. "I'm tired. Go to sleep. I don't understand where you draw your distinctions. You are exhausting."
Napoleon scooted back, pressing his ass against Illya's cock. "You don't feel so exhausted. How come you're still hard? Didn't I satisfy you?"
"What does that mean? You came; I can feel it. You're inside of me. What else do you want?"
"Oh, go to sleep," Illya repeated, his drowsy voice snappish. "It was just exciting for me. That's all."
"I was good?"
"Yes, Napoleon. Quit fishing for compliments. It doesn't become you."
"And so you won't be—"
"Napoleon!" Illya's fraying patience unraveled. "Leave it alone."
"Okay. Go to sleep. We have to be up in a couple of hours."
"I'm well aware. You're the one keeping us up."
"And you're the one up."
Napoleon turned toward his friend and leaned against the mahogany headboard of his old-fashioned bed, drawing Illya into his arms. Feeling sticky, Napoleon wiped his belly with his pajama bottoms, at the same time pulling Illya close so that he sat between his legs, in his lap, facing him. "This is interesting," he said, stroking Illya's cock. Napoleon drew his knees up so that Illya could lean back against them, comfortably trapped.
"Not so indifferent tonight," Napoleon continued. "Haven't I pleased you or have I pleased you too much?"
"I don't know, Napoleon." Illya tried to struggle out of the embrace. But he settled on Napoleon's lap, his eyes squeezing shut, his head resting on the uncertain comfort of Napoleon's knees.
"I do." Napoleon grasped the hard cock, his hands insistent. "I have been negligent." He took Illya's mouth in a long kiss. "I gave you something," he said, pulling back, his voice as silky and low as Illya's had been. "I've now given you what you gave me. But not entirely."
Napoleon stroked Illya's cock as he spoke and he smiled as he felt his friend tremble against him, the moan his ministrations produced sounding helpless and sweet. As if, this time, Illya refused to hold back.
"It meant so much to me when you said you loved me. I love you too. You want to hear it, don't you? I love you. Did I ever tell you I wrote it down, what you said?"
"Boundaries are meant to be crossed."
"Yes. You told me. Good you wrote it down because I don't recall saying it." Illya shivered in the tight embrace.
"You've crossed them. I did tonight. I do love you."
"Oh," Illya said. "Oh," he said again as his cock pulsated, bathing Napoleon's hand with his come. His back arched and his hands clutched at Napoleon's shoulders as his mouth opened for a kiss.
Napoleon held him, returning the kiss. He unlocked his knees, pulling Illya forward into a full embrace. "Go to sleep now. Early meeting."
It did not take long for Illya to comply, his breathing steady and deep.
Napoleon pressed close and then moved aside, smiling when Illya shifted in sleep, his arm reaching to keep his partner beside him. Napoleon's suit jacket was draped over the back of a chair and he reached into its breast pocket removing the communicator. "Open Channel D."
A little flirtation and it was not too difficult to rearrange the time of the meeting for early afternoon. Sarah seemed concerned when he told her of Illya's illness.
"Oh, Sarah, you should see him. Hot with fever. He'd be there. You know him. Please let Mr. Waverly know how ill he is. Let him know," Napoleon paused for dramatic effect, "the interrogation was not nearly as mild as he imagined it would be. Three days...let him know it took its toll."
"I will, Napoleon," Sarah said. "Mr. Waverly will understand."
Tomorrow would arrive soon enough. They would talk first and meet with Mr. Waverly later. Though he didn't know what he was prepared to give Illya, he could give him the morning.
Note: Illya's interrogation by Thrush in the final part of this story never occurred in canon. However, it is a scenario that I explored in "The Good Cop." I consider "The Good Cop" to be a footnote to "Crossing Boundaries." You don't have to read "The Good Cop" to understand "Crossing Boundaries" but, like dovetailing blocks, one helps complete the other. So to clarify: "The Good Cop" is only a prequel to the end of "Crossing Boundaries." "Crossing Boundaries" is both a sequel and a prequel to "The Good Cop." And yes, I have a headache too.