Napoleon Solo paused at the receiving desk in UNCLE's New York headquarters and allowed the beautiful woman there to pin a visitor's badge onto the lapel of his custom made suit jacket. He flirted with her mildly while he waited for admittance, enjoying the flash of her dark eyes, the glimpse of bosom afforded by her crisp white blouse. When the doors slid open he left her with a final wink and moved through the corridor with his easy stride. He was exhilarated to be here. He didn't know what assignment Alexander Waverly had in mind for him, but it would be interesting and challenging, he was sure. It had been over four months since his last job and he was ready for a new case.
He had been an agent for hire his entire career. Independently wealthy, he had no need of a steady salary, or the multitude of other benefits they attempted to woo him with. What did he care for health insurance, he who had several million dollars in a bank account paying him more in interest than he could reasonably spend in a lifetime? What did vacation days, sick time, personal leave mean to him when he could work when he chose and play whenever it pleased him? He was not an organization man, he told himself, when the camaraderie he sometimes sensed at UNCLE HQ tempted him. He was a loner—by name and by nature. He didn't need anyone. So he closed his heart to any perceived warmth, and hardened himself against it. He didn't need it—or anything. He was sufficient unto himself. So he took only those assignments that interested him, and that originated from the right side. There was a right side, and a wrong side, and he served the right. If his actions were, on occasion, less than noble, so be it. He served the right with all that was in him, good and bad.
He turned down more offers than he received, but had never yet refused Alexander Waverly. Waverly's principles were high—higher than his own, and he never offered Napoleon anything of a mundane or routine nature. If Waverly had sent for him it meant something fascinating, dangerous and difficult, of that he was certain. He entered Waverly's office, greeted the three men there and seated himself, flicking a bit of nonexistent lint off his faultlessly creased trousers as he did so.
"For the past year we have been attempting to recruit a young man from the former Soviet Union," Waverly began without preamble. "His name is Illya Nickovitch Kuryakin, and he turned twenty years old this year. Until recently he lived with—and under the thumb of—his uncle, a former KGB agent named Ivan Petrovich. Petrovich has made a second career of blackmail and extortion, using the young man in question—his own deceased sister's child—as both bait and reward. To describe the boy as dissatisfied with his situation is to grossly understate the case. He holds a vast quantity of sensitive material in his memory, and had finally agreed to come over to us with it when—disgracefully—the UNCLE agent we had been using to contact him turned traitor. He betrayed us, and betrayed the boy also, to Petrovich. The boy disappeared. For a time we thought Petrovich had killed him, but we have discovered that in fact he has been sold—sold into the hands of a slave trader who specializes in children and blond boys. He has shipped Kuryakin off to the slave mart in Bezir. He is en route now—presumably with his information still intact. We want you to get him out—without letting it be known who you are, or who you work for. We must assume that Petrovich is keeping an eye on the situation from Moscow, since much of the information concerns him. When he feels his nephew has been punished enough he will reel him in again. We need to get there first. You will adopt the identity of Jamir Quahar, a desert chieftain of mixed blood, and in that guise buy him yourself off the auction block and bring him out."
"If he's already twenty what interest does—oh." For answer Waverly had flashed a photograph on the screen above them. The boy in the picture looked nearer sixteen than twenty. Wide blue eyes, set at a distinctive little slant, stared warily at the camera. His blond hair was long, hanging below his shoulders, cut into deep bangs above fair, winged eyebrows. His eyelashes were a shade darker than his hair, a rich, burnished gold. He possessed flawless skin, elegant bone structure and a generous mouth. A bruise high on one cheekbone and another, in the shape of a hand, on the other side spoke of harsh treatment but the hard edged chin was held high and those eyes gave away nothing except a deep suspicion. He was exotic, and exquisite, and Napoleon no longer wondered how Petrovich could have so successfully used him in his subterranean dealings.
"He cannot know who you are, or what your purpose is," Waverly continued. "Given that he was betrayed by one of our operatives, he would have no cause to trust you and might even turn you over in hopes of a more favorable arrangement. Do not underestimate him, Mr. Solo. He has a brilliant mind, and will be quick to detect anything out of the ordinary in your demeanor. You must be his owner—his master—in fact as well as in appearance. Given your proclivities," he concluded, voice dry, "I trust this will not be beyond your capabilities."
Napoleon scowled. It was true that his sex life was diverse—he preferred women, but men had a certain flavor as well. He had been in groups, large and small, and there was little he drew the line at. Sex was his only release from the pressures of the life he had forged for himself. But there were limits. "I do not rape children." He was looking again at the face on the screen.
"I would not ask you to." Waverly sounded angry. He was clearly not happy with this arrangement, and if a better way had presented itself would no doubt have taken it. "He has attained his majority and is sexually experienced—a professional. His appearance is the only thing childish about him. You are to purchase him, and remain at the bazaar until the gathering is ended—one to two weeks from your arrival. Quahar has some business to attend to, and has made its furtherance one condition of our using his identity. The other condition is that you uphold his reputation. Quahar would not abuse such valuable property needlessly, but he would enjoy it. Make no mistake about it.
Napoleon looked some more at that beautiful face. It was all in a good cause, and certainly an intriguing prospect. Just look at him. And, as Waverly said, a professional—trained to please powerful men. "You will signal us when you are ready to leave," Waverly continued, "or if you are in danger of discovery, and we will pick you up. At that time all will be explained to Mr. Kuryakin, and I expect he will be overjoyed at his rescue from an unpleasant and dangerous situation."
"I suppose that's true." Certainly a good cause. No harm done—Kuryakin should be grateful.
"Then you accept?"
"Yes." It'll be a tough job, he thought, but somebody has to do it. He grinned suddenly, and Waverly looked him disapprovingly.
"You may go directly to Section 8 where your papers are already prepared. "
Illya spat in the face of the man inspecting him. It was the only defiance he could make at the moment; naked, pinned between two strong men, legs spread wide, ankles chained to iron rings in the floor. It was an awkward position and he couldn't have maintained it without the men beside him. If released he would have fallen forward, onto his face—which was how they liked him, spread eagled and face down. He had fought them all the way here, all the way from wherever he had been when he regained consciousness, across the desert to this place, which he knew was the slave market because he had heard them talking. They had tried everything—persuasion, the threat of violence—but he had early realized that they had no wish to lower his value by bruising him or breaking his bones. Even the hot iron they had brought close to his flesh, so close that the hairs on his arm were singed, had been an empty gesture. They had flogged him, with the wide leather strap that didn't cut his skin but which hurt him, and hurt him more each time. They had starved him, and deprived him of water and sleep. They were under orders not to rape hiim and he supposed he should be thankful for small favors. They had wanted to use his mouth but he had bared his teeth at them, daring them to put their tongues or their hard members inside. No threat could move him and in disgust they abandoned the effort. Now he was here, and the owner of the slave mart was looking him over, wiping the spittle off his face as he did so. He questioned Illya's owner as to what means they had used to try and tame him, and nodded slowly.
"Lay him out again for flogging," he ordered. Illya struggled as they dragged him to a platform, pinioned him over it, feet and hands bound to the supports. The slave trader wielded the flat leather strap with a skill Illya had not yet experienced, beating the backs of his thighs and his buttocks with a calculated cruelty that soon had him crying out in pain despite his resolve not to. When it stopped he gasped for breath, cursing himself for giving them the satisfaction. Then the trader traced a line delicately along his left flank. "Here," he said and the strap rose and fell again, and again—for what seemed an eternity it continued and always in the exact same spot. No matter how he twisted and jerked aside it was the same, and he began to feel he would endure anything rather than have that same place be struck even once more. But nothing he did could change it, and when he was too exhausted to struggle, too exhausted to cry out he was beaten some more. Finally they hauled him to his feet and the man lifted his chin with the handle of the strap. From somewhere Illya called up every ounce of courage he possessed and spat again. His mouth was dry and nothing came out of it but the effect was the same. The man jerked back, eyes widening. He lifted his fist and Illya waited for the blow, but it never came. The dealer sighed.
"We will drug him then," he said finally. "It will lower his asking price but we cannot have him creating a scene on the block. Confine him here for the remainder of the night." He led them out back to where a wicker cage hung from a tree. It was constructed in such a way that once shoved inside Illya couldn't sit down, could only stand despite his trembling legs. He sagged against the bars, then jumped when someone pinched him. The dealer brought the handle of the strap down hard on the offender's wrist.
"No marks!" he ordered sharply. "And no attention of any kind. Leave him alone with his pain, and his hunger. Leave him alone with his thoughts of tomorrow when he will be displayed naked and sold to the highest bidder. His new master can worry about his lack of discipline. Thirsty, are you?" he added to Illya who was, he was desperately thirsty, but wouldn't say so. The dealer poured a cup of water from the pouch at his waist and set it on the ground where Illya couldn't help but look at it. Then they left, and he was indeed alone with his thoughts.
They were poor company. He was filled with rage—at his uncle, at the agent who had betrayed him, at himself for having harbored hopes that he could escape the intolerable life his uncle forced him to lead; the hope that he had found sanctuary with this organization which had offered him a new life, a good life where he could work and be respected for the work he did. And he was terrified of what lay ahead of him—the humiliation of being sold like a horse or a cow, the shame of being naked in front of all those men who would be bidding for him, the fear of a new unknown owner. Alone in the dark Illya stared at the cup of water, and hope faded within him.
They came for him with the first light, kicking over the water as they did so and Illya watched longingly as it sank into the sand. But he still wouldn't give in, still resisted them as they pulled him from the cage and back inside the tent. He was laid over the whipping platform again but on his back this time, spine painfully stretched across the bar. Two men held his arms out, and two more gripped his ankles. He turned his face from side to side because it was all he could do and then the dealer knelt behind him, trapping his head between muscled thighs. He pinched both nostrils closed, and jammed a funnel between Illya's teeth. A bitter liquid was poured in and it filled his mouth. He tried to keep it there, but someone began rubbing his throat and he swallowed despite himself, swallowed again and again until the funnel was removed, his nose released. He gasped for breath. They held him and he felt his strength leave him, his arms and legs heavy and useless. When they pulled him to his feet he leaned on them, helpless to do otherwise, and was half dragged, half carried outside. There he was submerged in a basin of water. One man scrubbed his body and another washed his hair while he choked and strangled, drowning and unable to so much as lift his head to breathe. More dead than alive he was brought out of the tub, dried off and dressed in a clean white robe. They pushed him into a seat, the agony of it after his flogging yesterday wrenching a moan from him and they laughed. Someone took a comb to his hair, yanking it through the tangles until it felt as if it were being pulled from his scalp, and then a white turban covered it. He could hear the sale going on, the cries of the bidders, the shout of the auctioneer and when it was his turn they lifted him completely off his feet and, suspended between the two biggest he was brought up the steps and on to the platform.
Napoleon straightened. He had worried a little that he might not recognize his contact, but the face he'd seen on the screen was unmistakable despite the turban concealing his hair. He frowned. Something was wrong—Kuryakin hung limp between the two huge men flanking him, holding him off the ground. A murmur went up as the crowd noticed his condition. The owner of the slave mart came forward and held up his hand for silence. Napoleon listened. The boy was drugged, the dealer admitted it frankly. He was wild and uncontrollable and the opening bid would, as a result, be considerably lower. It will take a strong man to tame him, the dealer warned. They had tried their best, but without scarring him it had proved impossible. So they had drugged him and were offering him for sale as he was—no lies, no pretenses. As the dealer spoke he reached out and ripped the robe away, leaving him naked. All around Napoleon a sound went up—a bestial sound, growling and avid. The boy's body was as beautiful as his face—slim, and fine boned. Even in his drugged state he was aware—he made an effort to turn away and the men holding him shook him between them, hard and then the dealer pulled off the turban and his hair spilled down, a pale gold, tumbling over his shoulders and down his back, catching the sun's rays and holding them. He bent his head, retreating behind it but the dealer grabbed a handful and pulled him back.
Napoleon's throat tightened. It was pitiful, that small figure so ruthlessly pinned between those brutes, denied even the feeble comfort of hiding his face from the crowd. There was nothing erotic about this. It would be harder than he had thought, to play the role of a man aroused by such a naked display of power—and powerlessness.
The bidding had begun but with less enthusiasm than his appearance would otherwise have brought—no one really wanted a slave so intractable that the fearsome dealer himself had had to resort to drugs. Napoleon waited until there was silence and then, while the auctioneer was looking about hopefully, strode forward. "Twenty thousand U.S. dollars," he said and there was a commotion around him. It was a fabulous price, considering the circumstances—more than twice the highest offer so far and the auctioneer wasted no time in accepting it.
Napoleon was waiting at the platform when the boy was brought down, eyes rolling back in his head now as the drugs pushed him into unconsciousness. Napoleon looked him over. "I will waste no time on this," he said shortly. "Bring him to my tent. Prepare him for gelding. But wait until he regains consciousness. I want him to know what is being done." He turned away, then stopped. "Fetch me when it is time. I will supervise the procedure myself. Do not start without me, on peril of your life."
"Yes, lord." Both men saluted him, then dragged their prisoner away.
It was over three hours later that his servant came to tell him that the boy was awake. Napoleon nodded curtly, and let them wait another ten minutes before returning to his tent. He steeled himself as he went. He had planned this out, with one eye on Quahar's reputation and the other on results desired. He had no intention of fighting Illya Kuryakin every step of the way. Resistance had to be crushed now, thoroughly, decisively, no matter how cruel it would seem. And it would seem cruel—would be cruel. But Kuryakin was no innocent in this. He had been an active accomplice with his uncle, and had presumably known the risks when he approached UNCLE with his store of no doubt carefully selected information. UNCLE was supposed to be the right side, of course, and the betrayal was reprehensible. It was only correct that Waverly was moving to rectify matters. As for Kuryakin, he had stepped into the seamy waters of espionage of his own volition. He was fortunate to be rescued, and in no position to question the methods. Napoleon pushed aside the issue of how much of a choice Kuryakin had ever had, raised by one of the KGB's most notorious criminals. It was a moot point now.
No physical harm would be inflicted. The threat of pain, terrible unimaginable pain, combined with the promise of kindness would bring Illya Kuryakin to heel. He was only twenty, after all. Even an older, more seasoned agent would not be able to stand against what was about to happen. This boy had no chance. And it was all for the best. In the long run he would be grateful. Surely he would. And if he wasn't—if he hated Napoleon Solo for what was about to happen—what of it? It meant nothing to him.
Illya was indeed wide awake. He was tied down on the ground, arms and legs spread wide. When Napoleon entered those blue eyes fastened on him and the hatred in them almost concealed the fear. But Napoleon saw both, and hardened himself again. He drew a chair up beside the prone figure, made an elaborate show of settling himself comfortably. He wore the robes of a high ranking chieftain, and his appearance brought instant respect.
"I have purchased you," he said coldly, "because I fancy having such a pretty little animal around me. But I am not interested in a battle. You will be castrated to remove your ideas of resistance." The boy's eyes widened in horror and when the physician's assistant lifted the heavy shears he broke, as Napoleon had known he would.
"No! No, no—lord, no, please! Please..." he was pulling frantically at the restraints but they were unyielding. Napoleon made an impatient gesture.
"Silence him," he ordered and a rag was stuffed into the boy's mouth, a strip of cloth tied around his head, holding it in place. "Proceed." Another assistant gripped his testicles, pulled them taut away from his body and the shears were closed around the thin skin connecting them to his groin. He was screaming behind the gag now, the sound muffled but still clear to the crowd of onlookers peering through the opening of the tent. "Is the cauterizing iron ready?" Napoleon asked and the man stoking the fire nodded, held it up, glowing white hot from the flame. Kuryakin moaned, a trapped animal sound. He seemed about to strangle on the gag and Napoleon prodded him with his foot.
"I will give you one opportunity to address me. The gag will be removed—but do not make a sound until I give you permission. You will not get another chance. Am I clear?"
Illya nodded wildly and kept nodding. He would obey. He would do anything. All that was in his eyes, and Napoleon nodded.
"Two roads lie before you," he said. "You can continue to fight me and be gelded, seared with the iron, whipped. Or you can submit. In that case you will be unharmed—indeed, you will be petted and indulged, should you please me. That is all I wish to hear from you. Obedience—or no." He paused and the boy only stared at him. Napoleon nodded approval. "You may speak."
"I will obey you."
"Very well," Napoleon said and the shears were removed, Illya's testicles released. Napoleon squeezed the boy's face between his fingers. "You will never get a second chance. If there is anything less than total obedience this," he indicated the equipment around them, "will only be the beginning. Nod if you understand and agree."
Illya nodded as best he could with his face held in that iron grip, and Napoleon let go. "Untie him," he ordered. When Illya was free Napoleon rose. "So," he said softly. "We shall see if your obedience is of words only. Fetch me the whipping platform and the strap," and his body servant hurried out the door. It was not only Illya who was frightened into compliance—all Napoleon's servants were filled with a new eagerness to serve him well.
When the contraption was brought into Napoleon's tent he took the leather strap in his hands. "Go," he ordered Illya. "I will not have you dragged, nor see you bound. Lie yourself upon it and await my pleasure." He had heard, while he waited for Illya to recover from the drugs, of the beating inflicted the night before so when Illya blanched and trembled he understood—but he kept his implacable expression and watched stonily as the boy pulled himself up, stumbled across the dirt floor to the device and draped himself over it. The strap was designed to leave no mark on the valuable human merchandise for which it was intended, but a deep ominous bruise showed where the slave dealer had focused his attentions. Napoleon reached down, touched the place with one finger, then lifted the strap.
Illya couldn't even feel shame at his position, at the way he had placed himself there. All he could feel was fear, and a desperate urgency to please, to show his willingness to do anything his new master ordered. He felt as if he had been literally beaten into the ground by a club. He didn't care how he abased himself now, so long as he never again had to feel cold steel against his most private place, so long as he didn't have to picture the searing iron placed against raw and bleeding flesh. When he felt the strap, laid on him and slowly dragged up his back, then down, stopping right at the place that was still so painful he had to put both hands over his mouth to stifle the screams that wanted to escape. The strap rose and everyone in the room seemed to hold their breath—then it descended—gently, almost caressingly.
"I am satisfied," Napoleon said and tossed it aside. "Here." He dropped a robe on the ground in front of Illya's face. "You may rise, and put this on. There is a stew in the pot outside. Bring me a bowl—and bread. Toasted bread." He turned away and with a wave of his hand dismissed the crowd of onlookers, leaving them alone.
Illya pushed himself up off the platform. He was very grateful to be spared the strap and, as he slipped the robe over his head his gratitude deepened. It was a slave's robe, no mistake but it was soft and warm—comforting against his skin. He hesitated for a fraction of a second at the tent flap—frightened of the crowd of people out in the courtyard, around the cooking pot. But he feared the man behind him more so he went, and found that no one spoke to him, or attempted to touch him. A path opened for him as he approached the cook pot and he didn't have to ask before a heaping bowl was placed in his hands. He toasted a chunk of bread over the fire, and returned to the tent. Napoleon accepted the food and made a downward motion with his hand. Illya sank to the ground at his feet and Napoleon patted his head.
"I am pleased," he said. "Here." He offered a piece of gravy soaked bread and felt a pang when the boy tore into it. He himself had no appetite, and could only eat a portion of his meal. The next step in his plan was sexual—he felt it had to be. Else what had he just spent twenty thousand dollars for? Everyone would expect it—the boy would expect it. But it needed to be simple, and fast—for pity's sake. Kuryakin needed food, and sleep, and for sleep to happen it needed to be evident that the trials and traumas of the day were over. He set his bowl down. "You may service me," he said, and opened his robe. The boy looked up at him. He cringed when Napoleon lifted his hand, but he only stroked the blond hair, promising gentleness without speaking.
"Service me," he repeated. "With your mouth. That will suffice for tonight. Tomorrow I will teach you how to please me further."
Illya rose to his knees. This was an easy thing to do. He'd done it too many times to count, and always with relief that this was all they wanted. He was relieved now. And as he continued he thought—this isn't so bad. The man was clean, and had a fresh, pleasant odor—and his taste too was not unpleasant. Illya's mouth was so dry that it was difficult to get a good motion going but he did the best he could—and certainly this was not so bad. It didn't hurt, and furthermore the hands in his hair were gentle and when had anyone touched him gently? Never. So he continued, and when the man reached his climax that wasn't bad either—he sucked and swallowed, sucked and swallowed and then it was over. The man sat and panted for a few minutes, then patted Illya's head again.
"Well done," he said at last. "You may ask a favor of me and if it suits me I will grant it."
"A drink of water," Illya whispered, trembling in fear that this was too bold but he was so thirsty, so terribly thirsty. "Please—a drink of water?"
Napoleon felt another pang, a deep one and he rubbed his eyes, feigning sleepiness to hide the sorrow in them. "There is a jug in the corner," he said with seeming indifference. "Pour yourself a cup—but drink it slowly," he added sharply. "Else you will be ill. Are you hungry as well?"
Illya had barely restrained himself from gulping the cold water that danced so tantalizingly in the cup he held in shaking hands. He didn't know how to answer—didn't know whether the man wanted to hear yea or nay so he drank again, deeply, to avoid speaking.
"I asked you a question," Napoleon said and there was a warning in his voice. Illya wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and looked up at the man who now ruled every aspect of his life.
"Yes, lord. I am hungry."
"Here." Napoleon handed over his own bowl. "You may finish this."
"Thank you, lord!" There was even bread left and Illya used it to push the food into his mouth. He had thought he would devour it all and still want more but his shrunken stomach protested before he came close to finishing and he put the bowl down. "Thank you."
"Take it outside for the kitchen slaves to clean," Napoleon said. He stood up. "Then you may prepare me for slumber."
"Yes, lord." Illya hurried outside and added the bowl to the pile of dirty utensils near the cooking fire. When he returned he undressed Napoleon carefully, item by item, folding them and laying them on a clean stool, as directed. He knelt to remove Napoleon's sandals and then spread out the sleeping mat.
"You will sleep here," Napoleon said as he stretched out on the mat. "Remove your robe and come in beside me."
"Yes, lord." Naked, Illya slipped under the cover being held out for him. The man ran a possessive hand down his bare side.
"I have taught you to fear and obey me," he said and Illya nodded. "Tomorrow we will have a more pleasant lesson." He continued stroking Illya for a while, then his hand stopped and soon he was snoring.
Illya lay still. What an opportunity! This man was asleep—and he himself was free—he could slip away and escape through the silent camp. But then what? What if he were caught? 'This' his master had said, meaning the castrating shears and hot iron 'will only be the beginning'. And if he killed this man, and was caught—he didn't know what would become of him but it would be terrible. Besides—'petted and indulged,' the man had also said. Maybe—maybe he would wait. A better opportunity for escape might present itself and meanwhile—meanwhile it might be nice, to be petted and indulged. Why—just last night he had been beaten, and caged, and now look. His thirst was gone, he was well fed, comfortable—safe. Yes, he would wait.
Thus resolved he turned a little, into the warmth of the body next to him. The man patted him approvingly. He had been awake, then! Awake the whole time and waiting to see what Illya would do! He shivered under that knowledge and the man spoke.
"You are intelligent," he said, and twined a strand of Illya's hair around his fingers. "And your new docility pleases me. So long as you remain docile, you have nothing to fear—from me or any other. Your life will be as secure, and as pleasant, as it is in my power to guarantee. And my power in this matter is absolute. Do you understand me?"
"Yes, lord." The man was stroking his face now and Illya couldn't help it—he rubbed his cheek against that hand, which offered the nearest facsimile to kindness he had ever known. He was drawn into an embrace then, his head tucked into his master's strong shoulder, both arms around him and it wasn't frightening, not at all, it was sweet, and he was very tired so he closed his eyes and fell sound asleep.
Napoleon lay awake. He was confident that the lesson of today had been effective. Illya would be obedient, and he in turn could now treat him well without anyone wondering at it. And he would treat him well. Illya Kuryakin was a professional, no doubt about it. That had been the most professional blow job of his life. But he had turned into Napoleon's arms at the first sign of kindness, and something about that softened Napoleon in a way he'd never known. He pushed the thought away. He would not soften, not really. He would merely be kind. If it amused Quahar to spoil his new plaything, well, many had stranger whims and no one really cared.
The pain was enormous. Illya lay and let it wash through him, the pain in his arms, from being bound for so long; the pain in his legs and feet from the dreadful march through the desert, and the night standing in the wicker cage; the smart on the backs of his thighs and buttocks from the strap and, even worse, the pain deep in his left flank from the concentrated beating, a pain that ran all the way down that leg to his foot. He hadn't realized how much pain the drug had concealed. Now he doubted he'd even be able to move but he'd have to, his new master would have commands for him, a full day's work no doubt and even as he thought it he heard the other man's voice.
"Fetch my water and basin," he said and Illya struggled to his feet. There was a pang of loss as he left the shelter of the older man's arms and he was angry with himself. Just because he had learned not to fight back didn't mean—well. He pulled the robe over his head and hesitated at the doorway.
"Forgive me, but I don't know where the water and basin are."
"There are three fires out in the courtyard. See them?"
"One is food for rulers, one is food for servants and slaves and the third is heating water for washing. My basin is behind the tent. Wash it in the stream before taking it to be filled. You may wash when I have finished."
In your dirty water, Illya thought and bent his head so his hair concealed whatever his face might be showing. "Yes, lord. May I—would it be all right if I washed in the stream instead?"
Napoleon looked at him steadily. "Think you my leavings are unfit?" he inquired silkily and Illya shook his head.
"Oh, no, lord. But—then I would be clean, when I filled and carried your basin. It would be better—for you, I mean."
"Ah." He was amused. He himself wouldn't care to wash after another. "It will be cold."
"I don't mind."
It was nearly an hour later when Illya returned and Napoleon confronted him, switching his riding crop against his palm. "You were gone too long," he said sharply. "What kept you?" He stepped back, allowed Illya to set the steaming basin down. "I was waiting."
Illya had lost track of time as he submerged himself in the icy waters. He had scrubbed his skin, and his hair, and even the robe he wore. It clung to him now, still dripping a little despite his strenuous efforts to wring it out. His hair was also wet, hanging down his back. "I am sorry, lord. I was—I was very dirty."
He looked good enough to eat, flushed and glowing, hair pulled straight back from his face, dark gold against the robe, which was soaked to near transparency. It was with difficulty that Napoleon maintained his stern expression. He could allow no resistance—it wasn't in the script. Illya Kuryakin was supposed to be under his thumb after yesterday. Instead here he was, going swimming as if his time were his own. "We will choose another time of day for your bath," he said. "In the morning I do not like to be kept waiting. I have many duties. Unless you wish a taste of my switch?" He flicked it out, dangerously close to Illya's face and he flinched. "I have none of the dealer's scruples about a few judiciously placed marks. Or perhaps you have forgotten yesterday."
No, Illya certainly had not forgotten yesterday and no, he did not want to experience the bite of the riding crop on his bare skin. He dropped to his knees. "No, lord. I—I beg forgiveness."
"Bring my breakfast."
It hurt so much just to walk—every step an effort. He kept his eyes on the ground, focusing on each forward motion—first the good leg, then the other, pulled behind it. He tried not to limp, not wanting his master to think him crippled and return him to the dealer. With his head bent he didn't see the dealer himself in his path and ran right into him. He heard the outraged bellow and was struck to the ground with a savagery that took the wind out of him. "I'm sorry," he gasped, not daring to rise. "I'm sorry, sir—I 'm very sorry! I didn't see you..." he saw the man's cudgel rise and curled up, arms over his head. The club made a whistle as it descended and struck his back with a sickening thud. He screamed, hands flying to the spot, and too late saw it descend again, towards his face this time. Then it flew off into the air, seemingly by itself and it was the dealer now who yelled in pain.
The haft of Napoleon's sword had come down on his wrist, hard, hard enough to break it and he yelled again, cradling the injured arm close to him. "The next time you touch my property it will be the blade," Napoleon snapped. "How dare you strike what is mine?"
"He shoved me!" The dealer, a man of considerable influence of his own, faced Napoleon defiantly—but from the safer distance he had retreated to. "I will not permit anyone to push me aside!"
"Is this so?" Napoleon asked Illya, who cowered back into the dirt.
"I didn't see him, lord! I said I was sorry, I said—"
"'Tis the truth, master," the elderly woman who handed out meals put in. "I heard him apologize myself."
"Did you see the incident?"
"Yes I did, didn't I just see it all—the boy not watching his step, true, watching the ground as if he expected to read his fortune there, not looking about him and then him running into the revered gentleman here and being knocked off his feet and then it was he said sorry. Said he didn't see him, said he was sorry—very sorry, he said he was. Yes, that's just how it happened." She was delighted with the crowd's attention and preened herself. "Just that way."
"Wash your hands and face before you fetch my meal," Napoleon snapped at Illya who struggled to his feet and hurried towards the tent, making a wide circle around the slave dealer.
His back hurt ferociously, and his knee was skinned and bleeding where he had hit the ground but he was deeply grateful for the crone's support—and his master's as well. It was wonderful to be under someone's protection, even if only as a piece of expensive merchandise. He washed hastily in the used bucket of water, forgetting that he had not wanted to use it, and rinsed his knee off as well before returning to the cooking fire. The old woman handed him a bowl full almost to overflowing with rich, thick porridge.
"Careful," she cautioned. "It's hot."
"Yes," Illya said. He could feel the heat through the bowl, nearly scalding his hands. He wondered if his master was angry with him. He might have stopped the slave dealer because he planned to punish Illya himself. Would he—would he reconsider last night's reprieve? After all, Illya had been late back from fetching water and now was late with the meal. Would he have to face again the cold steel, and the hot iron? He wanted to run but where could he go? And how far could he get? Not even across the courtyard. They would grab him, they would drag him back, and fling him at his master's feet. And then surely his master would—so he forced his legs to carry him back.
He was trembling as he entered the tent and the man's face didn't reassure him. It was set tight and hard, and his mouth was grim. Illya trembled more as he went to his knees again, extended the bowl in hands that shook so badly that the bubbling mixture spilled over, coated his left wrist. The pain was blinding and he cried out, dropped the bowl, cried out again.
Napoleon grabbed the basin of water, poured it out, refilled it with the water pitcher, ice cold straight from the stream. He caught Illya by the arm, dragged him forward and plunged the injured hand into the water.
The pain disappeared so quickly that Illya thought the man must have cut off his arm. He must have—with one swing of that sword he had cut off his arm as punishment. He drew a ragged breath and screamed, a high thin sound of wretched terror, like a rabbit in a trap, Napoleon thought, not understanding. Illya opened his eyes, needing to see, needing to know and there was his hand, looking oddly disconnected, the fingers still moving. Horror wiped his mind clean, and turned out the lights.
Napoleon caught him as he fell and eased him down, strode to the entrance of his tent. Everyone was staring at him and he realized with wry amusement that they thought he had punished Illya for colliding with the slave trader—who was nodding approval from across the courtyard—punished him so ferociously that he had wrung those dreadful sounds from him. "Fetch me clean cloths," he snapped at his head servant. "And more cold water—and food from the servants' fire." Illya would certainly not be able to fetch and carry today. He returned to the boy's side and checked his arm. It was bright red, and would be sore, but no blisters were rising. He accepted the cloths, soaked them in the fresh water and made a compress, wrapping it around the injured hand. He had changed the cloths three times when his patient stirred.
"No, no, my arm, no..." Napoleon was unwrapping the compresses, which had warmed again, and he prodded the boy's shoulder.
"It is not so very bad," he said gently. "See? It is red and painful, that is all, but..." he stopped at the look on Illya's face.
"It is—" Illya stared at his arm, once again being swathed in cold wet cloths that felt delicious against the burn. "It is still—oh." He looked up at Napoleon. "I thought—I thought you had cut it off. I thought—thank you. Thank you."
Napoleon was horrified. "Of course I didn't cut it off! For what—for dropping my meal? There is more where that came from, it is a trifle." He brought himself under control. Of course that was what Illya had thought. Of course it was. But it hurt him. "Perhaps you did not understand me last night," he said finally. "I will punish disobedience, true. Should you prove defiant, should you resist me, you will pay dearly. But for an accident, no. I am a just man. Is that why you were shaking so? You feared punishment for knocking against the slave dealer?" He waited until Illya nodded. "No. You did not intend any offense against him, and you attempted to explain and apologize. You did nothing wrong. Do you understand me better now?"
"Yes, lord—well, no. I do not understand you at all. But I will obey you."
Napoleon paused in rewrapping the injury and cocked an eyebrow at him. "That is all that matters. You are correct. You do not need to understand. Obedience is all I require." There was silence while Napoleon sampled his belated meal, then handed Illya the bowl that had arrived with the cloths. "Here. You need to eat something." He felt another pang at the speed with which the watery gruel disappeared. Brusquely, he gave over his own nearly full plate. "The cooking fires are always kept going," he said, voice stern again to hide the unfamiliar—and unwelcome—lump in his throat. "I do not wish you to be hungry. Eat whenever you feel the need."
"Really?" Illya's eyes widened again, and how beautiful they were. Napoleon looked into them, fascinated. They were the blue of the desert sky itself, seemingly clear and without guile but a man could drown in those depths. A brilliant mind, Waverly had said. All that information, information which could bring secret cabals down, which would cost the lives of many enemy agents—all behind those eyes. He took a strand of Illya's hair between his fingers, studied the varying shades—from palest gold to a deep rich honey, with threads of copper flashing in the firelight.
"You are very beautiful," he said, voice husky now. "But I think you are in pain from more than this burn. Show me where." Illya shifted onto his side and Napoleon pushed up the robe and frowned at the bruises—the new one, from the dealer's stick, and the blackened place on his left buttock. "This is where the strap landed?"
"Repeatedly, I hear."
"Yes, lord. For a very long time."
"The pain must have been terrible."
"But you would not yield."
"No, lord. Not then." Again it seemed he could feel cold steel against his private parts and he shuddered. "Now I have."
Napoleon was thinking the same thing, and wished suddenly that he could just tell Illya Kuryakin the truth, explain that he was no longer in any danger, that he had been rescued already and was safe. But he couldn't say any of that, because Waverly was right. Kuryakin had no reason to trust UN:CLE. His reaction was too unpredictable to be permitted. "Now you have yielded," he said finally. "Remember that."
"For today you are excused from your duties." He rose, and shouted for his body servant. "Remove these items," he directed. The last compress had done the job, Illya's arm was pink, still, but the fiery red was gone. "And fetch the healer."
It turned out to be the same old woman from the cooking fire. She examined Illya carefully, frowning over the dark bruise. "This has done damage," she declared firmly. "There is nothing to be done for it but wait for time to heal it. This—" she indicated the newer mark, on Illya's back, "narrowly missed crippling him but it too will be well in time. Someone was quick with this burn." She inspected it. "It will be invisible within two or three days. If he did not have to work," she gave Napoleon a sidelong look "I have a soothing drink that would do much for the pain."
"Yes master." She hurried out and Napoleon turned back.
"Remove your robe," he ordered. "Any benefit it gained from its immersion in the stream this morning is gone." True enough—it was filthy. "I shall have it cleaned and returned to you for the morning. You will not need it today. In fact," he appraised Illya as he pulled it over his head, "it would be an impediment."
"Yes, lord." Illya shivered as he handed it over. He knew—and dreaded—that look. But he would obey. He had no choice, and maybe the old woman's potion—he accepted the steaming drink and swallowed it down, wrinkling his nose at the bitter taste—would help.
Napoleon was untying the sash to his robe when a discreet scratch at his tent flap made him turn. "Master—the shipment of horses has arrived early," his chief body servant reported. "They are two hours journey away. If we go now we will be among the first to inspect—and choose."
"Ready my mount," Napoleon ordered. This was one of Quahar's stipulated business transactions. He had to go. Turning back into the tent, he frowned at Illya, who was sitting on the mat watching him anxiously. "I must leave," he said abruptly. "For the remainder of the day." His frown deepened. What to do? He should secure Kuryakin—an ankle cuff fastened to the tent stake would do it. He could leave food, and water, and the offal bucket. It would be the sensible thing and yet—he pulled up the same chair he had used last night, and settled himself just as he had then. The silent reference was not lost on Kuryakin who paled, shrank away from him. The involuntary gesture tugged at Napoleon's heartstrings, because it was so futile. The body's response to danger was to put distance between it and whatever threatened harm, but all he would have to do was reach out, and there was nothing to prevent him from causing all the harm he pleased. He cleared his throat.
"I can chain you," he said deliberately, "or I can trust you. The latter may be foolhardy—but the former seems unduly punitive when you have been so obedient. Does your word mean anything?"
The blue eyes flashed unexpectedly. "As much as yours!" he shot back and Napoleon grabbed him. What the hell—swiftly he twisted one arm up behind the boy's back, forced him to his knees, then down, forehead pressed into the rug. With the other hand he raised his riding crop, brought it down, stopping just short of the averted face, making him duck his head even lower. It made a dangerous swish and he cried out. "Pardon, lord!" Napoleon pushed harder on his arm. "I beg pardon!"
"I may have to beat you within an inch of your life," Napoleon snarled. He would have to step this up, clearly, because something wasn't working. "Just before having your manhood sliced from you and stuffed down your impudent throat!"
He would just keep coming back to that because he could do it and Kuryakin knew it. Napoleon had the power to have him beaten, mutilated, tortured and killed. No one would interfere—no one would care. Doubtless no one had ever cared. He loosened his grip. "I will ask you again. Does your word mean anything?"
"Once given, will you keep it?"
"Yes, lord." Napoleon reached under him, squeezed him intimately, not hard enough to hurt but the threat was plain. "I will keep it." Napoleon's hand moved back, passed over the cleft, paused there.
"I regret the need to absent myself," he said and pressed slightly with one finger. The boy's whole body jerked and he turned his head enough to stuff one fist into his mouth, stifling the sound that came when Napoleon pushed harder. Then he straightened. "Kneel before me," he ordered and Illya straightened. "Look me in the eye."
Illya did, and there was a silent question in his. It was occurring to him that despite all the threats and the fury, he had not actually been hurt by this man yet. The crop had come close twice now, but had not landed. The strap had landed—but gently. His arm had been twisted—but not severely. Perhaps—perhaps this man did not really want to hurt him. The opportunity to deal out pain had arisen many times now, and had not been taken.
"What are you thinking?" The question was shot at him so quickly he answered without hesitation.
"That I do not understand you in the least, lord."
"Is that important?"
"No..." he was doubtful. "I suppose not."
"You are correct. If I leave you, alone and unfettered, will I find you here when I return?"
There was only one answer to that. "Yes, lord."
"Do I have your word?"
"You would accept it?"
Napoleon used the handle of the riding crop to lift his chin. "When I require more than a yes or a no, I will inform you."
"You understand that there is nowhere for you to run. I have many eyes and ears in the camp. I will receive a full report of your activities. If you leave the boundaries I permit, you will be seized and held until my return."
Boundaries? He was to be allowed to leave the tent? But he only nodded.
"You may go as far as the cooking fire, to obtain water for washing, and food. You may go out the back and down the trail to the latrines. That is all."
It was generous. "Yes, lord."
"Tell me what will happen if you go anywhere else."
"I will be taken, and held for your return."
"At which time the castration will be carried out with no more nonsense. I heeded your entreaties once—do not imagine it will ever happen again. Your ankle tendons will be severed, so you will spend the remainder of your considerably shortened life on your knees pleasuring me until I weary, and then I will have you thrown to the slaves in the work pit. It will be an unusual opportunity for them, and be assured they will take full advantage. You will die of it. Do you understand me?"
"Yes lord." Why had the man bothered to ask for his word, then, if he was going to issue such fearsome threats as these? Illya wasn't worried by them—he had made his decision to stay last night. He had nowhere to run. That was the truth. All his plans, his dreams, his hopes, were crushed. He had thought he could make a life for himself with his brain, which he knew was formidable. But no. His body was all this man wanted, as it had been all his uncle wanted—as it had always been all anyone wanted. He blinked, and tears burned his eyes, threatened to spill over. He held them back, then came that gentle touch again, on his cheek this time.
"But you will stay."
"Yes, lord." He held very still, not wanting the hand to leave.
"So you have nothing to fear. Do you?"
"And the rewards for obedience are equal to the punishment for defiance." He smiled, then, as one would at a child—or a pet. "Yes?"
"Very well." Without another word he walked out of the tent, leaving Illya alone.
Alone. Still on his knees, Illya allowed himself to feel the luxury of it. Alone. He had not been alone since his capture. Always he had been surrounded by men—grabbing at him, pushing him, pinching him, beating him. And now he was alone. And so very sleepy—he yawned, and curled up on his mat. The sound of feet made his eyes snap open, then he recognized his master's sandals.
"Here," Napoleon said and laid a robe across the table. "You can hardly walk about the camp naked. Your own is still being cleaned. Wait." He left, then returned, draped a lightweight cloth over Illya's nude body. "Rest," he said. "You will need it."
"Yes, lord." Illya yawned again and watched his owner leave. The cloth over him was made of the finest linen—he could feel its quality against his bare skin. It was light as a breeze, comforting. Petted, and indulged—he sighed, and slipped into sleep.
He awoke some time later, very hungry and thirsty, and needing desperately to use the latrine. When he stood up there was some soreness, still, in his left leg but he felt much better. Pulling the robe over his head he peered out the front flap, mouth watering as the scent of roasting meat came to his nostrils. It would not be for him, of course—but perhaps his master would give him some if he pleased. He hoped that he would. He would be quiet, and still until it was over. It was all they ever got from him. His well honed skills deserted him in those final moments. All he could hope for was that it wouldn't hurt too much, and that if it did perhaps this time he would be permitted more of that drink that took pain and buried it deep, so deep he couldn't even find it anymore.
But right now he had to use the latrine. He drank from the water cup and went out the back, made his way down the trail. He was aware of being watched and remembered what Quahar had said—that he had eyes and ears all through the camp. Well, let them look. He had permission to be here, and surely no one would dare touch him. They feared his master, he had seen it in the eyes of the slave dealer. He stumbled and slid down the steep path and ended by tripping over a rock and tumbling head over heels to the bottom—to the vast amusement of those already there. He ignored them, and tried to ignore, too, the pain in his leg which had flared up at his fall. He relieved his aching bladder, and did his other business which took a surprisingly long time—the rich food after the weeks of near starvation wreaking havoc with his stomach. When he finally emerged he was weak, legs shaking under him and his hunger was gone. Adjusting his garment, he began to climb the trail again.
It was difficult going. He scrambled up, clutching at roots and tree branches, but he lost his footing twice and wound up at the bottom. Perplexed—it shouldn't be so difficult—he looked about for someone to ask. There must be an alternate route—but there was no one in sight. He sat in the mud and frowned. Where were they all? Just a short time ago the latrines had been full of pushing noisy men—now the area was deserted. Just then he heard the horn blow and realized with cold horror that dinner had begun and soon his master would be back—might be back already! He began fighting his way up the trail again, too fast for caution, and fell once more. His head struck something hard and seemed to explode with pain. Before he had time to wonder about it, everything went dark.
Napoleon stood at the entrance of the empty tent and glared around, fists on hips. Whirling, he went to the courtyard, rapped out his question and his face darkened further at the reply he got. No, Illya had not been to the cooking fires all day. Gone, then. He had waited only until Napoleon was out of sight and fled. Back in the tent he cursed himself. How could he face Waverly and tell him he had had his contact and let him escape? How could he have accepted the boy's word, given as it was under duress? He had allowed his own folly to overcome reason. He had felt sorry for Kuryakin, had admired the spark of independence and courage he seemed to retain despite the circumstances. He hadn't wanted to chain him up, and now he had run. Of course he had run. Of course he had. Into who knew what danger; an escaped slave was fair game for anyone.
Napoleon went out the back and stared down the hill towards the place where the latrines were concealed behind a mound. Drawing a deep breath he bellowed "Boy!" He should give Illya a name, he couldn't keep calling him that, as if he were nothing—if he found him. "Boy!"
Illya opened his eyes to more dark—it was full night. He heard Quahar's voice and the fury in it made him quake and press himself into the earth in a vain attempt to hide. Terror washed over him, and the dreadful images swarmed through his brain. Beaten, castrated, crippled. Thrown to the slave pit.
Then he thought again. His master was a hard man, but claimed to be fair. Perhaps Illya could explain, perhaps he would be believed. He remembered that hand, gentle on his hair; the cover so carefully laid over him and at that moment he wanted nothing more than to be back under the protection of Lord Quahar. "Lord!" His voice was so weak it frightened him. How could he hope to be heard? He tried again. "Lord!" That was better. "Here! I am here!"
Napoleon ran towards the sound, down a steep path that twisted through the trees before plunging precipitously towards the latrines. He saw Illya huddled in the dirt, and leaped down.
Illya heard the rushing footfalls, then a pause before the light thud of landing. In another moment Quahar loomed over him, and the fear rose up again. He screamed, a weak, despairing sound. "I am sorry, lord! I fell and I couldn't—I am sorry! Please don't... please don't hurt me!" He had been hurt so much, he couldn't bear to be hurt anymore, not once more, but what he could and couldn't bear was irrelevant. No one cared. They would hurt him as much as they liked. He was crying finally, broken and crushed into the dirt. And then strong arms were under him, lifting him, holding him against a broad chest, his head falling onto his master's shoulder. Quahar strode around the latrines and began climbing a different path, a much easier one. To what was he being carried? Punishment? Or—he raised his eyes to his master's face, looking for a clue there to his fate.
Napoleon was grinding his teeth so hard his jaw hurt. He hated this role, hated acting the monster; hated seeing Illya's naked terror and knowing he was the cause. " I'm not going to hurt you," he said, and his voice shook. "No one will hurt you anymore—you are safe. Do you hear me? You are safe."
Illya nodded, sobs quieting as Quahar strode easily along this new path. He was safe, he was... he was in the arms that had never yet harmed him. Then he was laid carefully on the sleeping mat.
"All right," Napoleon continued, relief making his legs weak. His mission was safe and this boy was safe, too. He was dirty, and in pain—frightened out of his wits but safe. "I see it was not your fault. I should have shown you the easier way. Did no one see you on that path?"
"They saw me come down. I fell, and they laughed." Illya wiped his face with his arm, leaving smears of dirt across his cheeks. He saw his master's face harden.
"They laughed at you? And did not correct your mistake?"
"Yes, lord. I mean—no, lord. I mean..."
"I understand you. Why have you not eaten? It is late, and you have had neither dinner nor supper. What means this?" He was trying again to sound stern but the blue eyes that looked up at him were not afraid, not anymore.
"I slept, lord—and when I woke I needed to—go out the back way first. And then..." he choked up and his hands tightened convulsively on Napoleon's robe. Napoleon patted them.
"You will eat," he said soothingly. "You will be cleaned up, and dressed, and you will eat your fill. And then—" he had to smile at that dirty face, the mud streaked hair "we shall see. You certainly are prone to getting dirty, but it is easily remedied." He deliberately kept his voice light, and rose to his feet. "I am going to settle in my new horses, and eat my own meal. When I return—well. As I said, we shall see."
"Yes, lord. Thank you." He meant it. He was deeply grateful—for the arms that had picked him up and carried him to safety, for forgiveness—for not being hurt again.
"Not at all. I will send someone to attend you."
It was the old woman from the cooking fires. She clucked over Illya in a most gratifying way and pulled his torn clothing from him. She washed him all over with warm water, good soap and careful hands. She applied a hot compress to his flank, where the pain resided and within a few minutes he felt better. Then she washed his hair, dropping scented powders into the rinse water so it smelled sweetly of lavender and roses. It was while she was drawing the comb through it that Illya began to realize just why she was taking such pains. He was being made ready—when Quahar returned he would expect—he would want—so she was making Illya ready, making him beautiful, scenting and combing his hair, rubbing sweet smelling oils into his skin. He shuddered away from her hands, and she clucked again.
"Now then, don't take on like that. It will not be so very bad. I will give you some more of my special drink—not enough to make you sleep but enough to dull your senses a bit."
"I do not wish his senses dulled," Napoleon said flatly from the door and she looked up at him.
"Only to ease his pain, lord."
"There will be no pain," Napoleon said and she chortled.
"Hear that, boy? There will be no pain." She chortled again and Napoleon strove to repress a smile. But he remained stern and she rose to her feet, bowed before him and left the tent.
"Here," he said and helped Illya sit up, handed him a bowl. It was food from his own plate- tender meat in a rich gravy, ladled over soft bread. It smelled wonderful and Illya managed to eat a very little bit but his stomach was clenched tight and he couldn't manage much. He choked down a few mouthfuls, then set the bowl down.
Napoleon didn't press him, and set it aside without comment. He turned, and removed his robes. When he returned to the mat Illya had rolled over, onto his stomach, and spread his legs.
He was resolved to give satisfaction. He knew he had no choice, and besides he wanted to please this man, wanted to feel that gentle touch again, and if he had to endure—that—well, he would. It was better than being tied down, or held down—it was better than being thrown to the work pit. So he lay still, face buried in his arms to stifle his cries of pain and waited.
"Turn over," Napoleon said, softly. "I wish to see you."
Without a word, Illya complied. He put an arm over his face again and Napoleon shook his head.
"I said I wish to see you," he repeated, and took hold of Illya's wrist, pulled it down. Illya watched him fearfully. Napoleon smiled, hoping to reassure him—he looked so scared, for a professional! He supposed that when it came down to it, the sort of man Ivan Petrovich would court would be a less than gentle lover. He wished now that he could back off, let Illya eat his meal in peace and sleep unmolested. But he had started this, and now needed to finish it—if he could. He wasn't aroused—there was nothing arousing in this much fear. Pleasure should be mutual, he thought, and spoke.
"I am going to teach you about pleasure," he said softly. "Yours as well as mine." He stroked that blond hair again, ignoring the involuntary recoil that Illya tried to hide. "I will tell you everything I am going to do before I do it. Nothing will take you by surprise, except for pleasure. And I do not achieve my desires by inflicting pain. I promise you, you have nothing to fear. Did I not tell you that so long as you obey me I will not harm you?" He waited for an answering nod, and when it came he slid both hands down Illya's chest, to his stomach, hearing his quick intake of breath. "This is all for now, just touching you. Your skin is very soft." It was, incredibly soft, but his ribs and his collarbone were too easily felt. He needed feeding, needed someone to care about him because it was evident that no one ever had.
How sensitive he was! He jumped at each new touch, twisted helplessly when Napoleon trailed gentle fingers up his sides. He touched Illya everywhere, not focusing on any one place. yet—stroked his arms and his throat, caressed his face, his lips—back to his hair again, both hands in it. He put his face there, inhaling deeply. He could have done without the perfumes—Illya's own fresh scent more than sufficient—but the old woman had meant well, he knew. She had wanted the boy to find favor. He slid his hands up the insides of Illya's thighs, and Illya moaned. The sound startled Napoleon, and delighted him, and he moved back up. Putting his mouth to Illya's ear he whispered—and felt him jerk in surprise at the flood of sensation. "Now I will kiss you," lips behind his ear now, feeling the pulse racing against his mouth.
"Yes, lord." Illya had been lost in a sea of sensation, body rising and falling with the current as if he were once again swimming in the lake behind his uncle's home. He had almost forgotten what lay ahead in the bliss of being touched, stroked—he moaned again, wanting it to continue and Napoleon obliged, drawing him into an embrace, hands moving down his back now, and then their lips met.
Illya's were closed and tight. Napoleon kissed him for a long time before using his tongue, and when he did Illya opened his mouth. Napoleon probed, then withdrew. "Not like that," he said gently. "Kiss me back." He returned to Illya's mouth and tried again, then stopped. "Wait a moment," he said, and rose. Pulling a robe over his nakedness he put his head outside the tent and spoke briefly to his guard; waited a moment, then returned with a bowl full of ripe cherries. Setting it down he gathered Illya in again, trying to soothe him.
"I'm sorry." Illya supposed he was not very good at this. They didn't want him to kiss them back, usually didn't kiss him at all. When they did, they seemed determined to choke him with their fat, wet tongues. Well, he was allowing that, and what more did this man want?
"Don't be sorry." Napoleon stroked the hair back from his face, smiled into his eyes. He had expected something different, something more... professional. "You like this, do you not?" he murmured, and ran a hand down Illya's spine then, for the first time, caressed the exquisitely tender flesh of his buttocks. Illya gasped, quivered, hips moving forward, pressing their lower bodies together. Napoleon ground his teeth some more. He was painfully aroused now and the feel of Illya's semi erect organ rubbing against his nearly pushed him over the edge.
Illya's eyes opened wide at the contact. He didn't seem to understand the signals his body was sending him, was clearly frightened by them, so Napoleon backed off again. Drawing several deep breaths, he picked up one of the cherries. "Do you want this?" he asked and Illya nodded. Napoleon brought it down, brushed it against Illya's lips, smiling when they opened. "Not yet," he instructed and obediently Illya closed his mouth. Napoleon teased him, dragging the fruit along his lower lip, tracing the delicate little curve of his upper. "Now," he whispered and Illya's lips parted again. Napoleon teased him some more, dipping it in, then withdrawing it, tickling Illya's tongue with it and finally sliding it between his teeth, tugging lightly at the stem, tossing it aside when it broke. He took another cherry and did the same, even slower. By the time he was on the third one Illya was reaching for it with his tongue, sucking it in, licking his lips when it was gone. Napoleon smiled at him.
"Kissing," he whispered, using his tongue this time to tease Illya's red stained lips, "is like that."
"Yes," Illya said faintly and when Napoleon's mouth came down on his he welcomed it, both arms around Napoleon's neck now, and this time when Napoleon's hands cupped his bottom, pressing them together he was fully aroused, gasping and crying out, not afraid anymore, even when Napoleon rolled over on top of him he wasn't afraid. He reached up eagerly, pulling him down, legs twined around Napoleon's hips. Napoleon's hot breath back at his ear made him cry out again, in ecstasy.
"I am going to take you now," Napoleon whispered, using his tongue to probe deeply into Illya's ear, feeling his frantic attempts to press his head closer, to press their bodies closer. "And there will be no pain. Yes?"
"Yes," Illya whispered in return and arched his back, offering, surrendering. Napoleon entered him with infinite care, watching his face for any signs of pain, or fear—but saw neither. Illya was crying aloud again, calling out for him—"Yes! Yes yes yes oh! Oh!" Napoleon clamped his mouth down, silencing him, silencing himself because surely Lord Quahar wouldn't shout out his pleasure over a slave. Illya sucked on his tongue greedily, seemingly drawing the soul right from his body. It had never been like this; impossible to tell, now, who was master and who was slave because they belonged one to another, they owned one another. Napoleon did shout into Illya's open mouth in that final frenzy and then he collapsed, feeling Illya's arms clasped about his neck, Illya's legs slip from their position about his waist. He put his face into Illya's hair, breathing deeply, still holding Illya's body hard against his own, still kissing him, finally drawing back to look into his face.
Illya smiled at him. It was a shock, to see it—he had not had the slightest indication that the boy even knew how to smile but he did and oh, Illya Kuryakin's smile was not to be missed. It was a slow, lovely thing, starting in the corners of his mouth, spreading across his face like sunlight, brightening those blue eyes. Napoleon couldn't help it, he kissed him some more and then they lay quiet, wrapped up in the embrace.
"Sweet," Napoleon whispered against his temple and Illya moved even closer. "So sweet," Napoleon repeated and squeezed him, feeling, with great joy, Illya squeeze back. They lay there for a long time and finally Napoleon sighed, propped himself up on one elbow. He offered another cherry, smiling, and Illya nipped it off the stem, smiling too. Then his stomach grumbled and he laughed, an enchanting sound and Napoleon laughed too. "Does that mean you are ready for your supper?" he teased, and those wonderful eyes laughed back at him.
"Yes—if it please you, lord."
"It pleases me," Napoleon returned honestly. "You please me—" and he almost called him by name, almost threw it all away by using the name he wasn't supposed to know. But Illya didn't seem to notice. Illya was just staring at him with his eyes wide and full of—full of love. Napoleon swallowed. Love. He wasn't supposed to make this boy love him and he himself certainly wasn't supposed to feel anything in return but... he pulled Illya closer and Illya laid his head down on Napoleon's shoulder. He didn't seem to care if he ever ate again, but his stomach said differently and Napoleon grinned and got up. He went to the tent flap and ordered dinner for two, of the very best the camp had to offer and when it came he and Illya sat side by side and ate, and fed one another, and drank honeyed wine. When they were finished they turned one to another again and it was even better the second time, Illya urging him on with wild inarticulate cries and he driving himself home with a savage yell of his own. When it was over they collapsed together onto the mat and the world, Napoleon thought, was surely changed around them both.
Napoleon awoke just before dawn. He could hear the first stirrings outside his tent and could hear, too, the soft breathing by his side. He eased himself free, rose, pulled on his robe and stepped out front.
His guard was standing by the fire, one eye on the tent flap, the other on the path along which his relief would arrive. He gave Napoleon a salute and Napoleon nodded frostily. He sat down on a boulder and stared across the road.
What had he done? He had only wanted to make it pleasant for the boy, not to hurt him—he wouldn't even have carried out the act except there was no possible excuse not to. He had already roused some curiosity in that sharp brain—'I don't understand you' Illya had said, not once but twice. No, he had had to carry it through. And maybe it wasn't so bad—Illya had been grateful, that was all. There didn't have to be more to it. And if there was—well, he needed to nip it in the bud. He would greet his property in the morning with a command, or a criticism—something that said unmistakably that Illya was a slave and nothing more, that he himself had enjoyed the sex without any emotional connotation. Yes, that was what he would do. He would say—well, he couldn't think of anything right now but it would come to him—something cold, and cutting, something that would salvage his role. He nodded to himself and rose. Yes, he would think of something.
Illya had been dreaming of his past—of the hope that had filled him after he had made contact with the UNCLE agent, of the travel papers he had seen with his own eyes; the offer of a full scholarship to Cambridge University, the promise of a position with this international organization, in their science department, perhaps, or communications—he had spent the past week walking on air. Then he had come home one evening from his uncle's latest client and the precious papers had been in his uncle's hand. His uncle had torn them up right in front of him as strong arms seized him from behind, then had crammed a gag into his mouth... and hope was gone. He had struggled towards wakefulness, because there was a new hope now—a warm embrace, gentle hands, a kind voice—he had reached out and found nothing there, sank back into sleep with all hope gone.
Napoleon crossed the floor quickly, his new resolutions forgotten. The unhappiness written across the young face, those outstretched hands, laid across the place where he had been, broke his heart. He gathered the boy in, hearing him murmur, still deep in his dreams, "No hope, no hope ever again."
"There is always hope," he said huskily, rocking that thin body, smoothing back his hair, kissing his cheek. "Always. Don't give up, sweetness. I promise you, I give you my word that there is hope." He had to stop talking then because he had already said too much but Illya, comforted, snuggled closer, pressing his face into Napoleon's neck.
"My lord," he whispered and the addition of the personal pronoun stabbed Napoleon to the heart. "My lord—I thought you had left me."
"No. I stepped out for a moment, that is all. See? I am here, and all is well."
"Yes." Illya relaxed back into slumber and Napoleon lay there and swore at himself. Had he gone mad? Just because Illya Kuryakin was beautiful—he was no stranger to beauty, male or female. Because he was young, and frightened, and helpless—those were not qualities that had ever appealed to him before. Because he was brave, despite his fear, because he had fought against his fate for as long as possible, and yielded only to intolerable pressure, because he had found the spirit to defend his honor when Napoleon had questioned it—because he was brilliant, and proud—he was an assignment. Napoleon turned his head, looked into that face, the face of his assignment, his contact, his mission, his—he groaned, tightening his arms.
His own heart's darling. He had gone his entire adult life without love. And now he had found it—or it had found him. He couldn't even place his finger on when it had happened. When he'd seen that face on the screen? Pitied the defenseless, drugged boy on the auction block? Picked him up off the ground, felt those arms go around his neck? Whenever it was, the joining last night had only sealed it, not begun it. It had been too late for him long before he knew he was in danger.
He sighed. And it was useless. Useless because Illya was his assignment and you never ever fell in love with your assignment. And Illya was only twenty years old—older by far in terms of experience, much younger in affairs of the heart. He had never known kindness—how could Napoleon use it to bind them together now? When this was over he would have to set Illya free—let him spread his wings and fly off to Cambridge; let him learn that he didn't have to accept the first gentle touch that came his way, that he would no doubt be loved many times. Illya wasn't like him, a jaded man in his full maturity, who had more than enough experience to know that what he felt was real. Yes, he would have to let him go. But for right now—he laid his cheek against soft blond hair—he could hold him close.
When Illya opened his eyes he was looking into his master's face. Napoleon had been watching him sleep, enthralled by the faint touch of color in his cheeks, by those long thick eyelashes, such a delectable shade of gold; by that adorable mouth. He wanted very badly to kiss it, to feel it curve upward again under his own, but Illya needed to have his sleep out. And he needed to think of something to say when Illya awoke, needed to find the right words to reestablish their relationship, needed to swiftly disabuse him of any ideas the past night's lovemaking might have brought. But when those blue eyes opened, widening and darkening as they met his—he couldn't. Couldn't do it. Couldn't say or do anything to cloud that face. So he leaned down and kissed him instead, and Illya kissed back, hungry for him, reaching for him. Instead of setting the boy right Napoleon found himself making love to him again, sinking into his body, drowning in those eyes, inhaling the scent of him. When the finish came he shouted aloud again, Illya crying out too and he knew the whole damn camp was awake and could hear them and the hell with them all.
It wasn't until later that he found some small portion of the words he needed. He was washing himself in the bucket Illya had brought and Illya was sitting watching him, eyes shining. "Do not presume on this," he said, trying once more for sternness and still not succeeding. "Do not—slack in your duties, or in the respect you must show me."
"Oh, no, my lord." Illya looked shocked. "I won't. I will serve you—" he spread his arms wide "—with everything that is in me."
"Hmph." Napoleon dried his face. "See that you do. I do not wish you to get notions above your place."
And that stung, he saw it in the sudden flush, in the eyes lowered too quickly and although that had been his intention he couldn't bear it, caught Illya into his arms again. "In here," he whispered, "I can show you my open heart. But out there—" he gestured towards the tent flap, the camp beyond, "they would not understand. It would make you enemies."
"But you will protect me, my lord—from my enemies."
"Yes. But best not to make them at all. Best not to—stand out, to attract attention." He couldn't say any more—didn't dare. Illya drew back and regarded him curiously.
"I do not understand. And I know I do not need to. But they have already looked at me very oddly indeed, my lord, when I went for your water. I believe" he blushed and Napoleon, enchanted, could only kiss him some more; helpless, it seemed, before the emotion sweeping him.
"What do you believe?" he asked finally when he released Illya's mouth.
"I believe they heard us, my lord." Illya adjusted the folds of Napoleon's robe, went down on his knees to fasten his sandal straps. "Last night. And this morning."
"I suppose that was inevitable." It worried him, because Lord Quahar would not have soft feelings for any slave, no matter how much—he looked at Illya again. "I do not wish to attract attention," he repeated and Illya nodded solemnly.
"I will do my best, my lord."
And he did—he carried it off splendidly. He fell all over himself, when they emerged from the tent, to serve Napoleon and serve him well. He elbowed the other slaves aside at the cooking pot to get there first, while the food was best and—to Napoleon's vast if hidden amusement—flirted shamelessly with the old woman ladling out the meal, coming away triumphant with the choicest cuts of meat, the richest gravy, the freshest vegetables. He served Napoleon on his knees and hastened to fetch anything he seemed in need of. He followed Napoleon wherever he went unless bidden to wait and then those great eyes were on him always and he made no attempt to hide the adoration in them. And Napoleon, retreating behind his most austere manner, treated him with a distant reserve that did nothing to diminish the boy's obvious hero worship. He knew they were successful when no other than the slave dealer himself came up beside him.
"You have tamed that one nicely," he observed in a condescending tone. "It is an interesting combination, cruelty and..." he winked and Napoleon, knowing he referred to Illya's ecstatic cries of the night before, grinned suddenly. "But it seems to have worked."
"Regular little hell hound he was too," one of the men who had brought Illya in said admiringly. "We flogged him and tied him out in the sun—couldn't do it for very long, though, with that skin—kept him hungry and thirsty and without rest—but even after all that he'd still spit in your eye as soon as look at you. And now see." Illya was hurrying to Napoleon with the cold water he'd snapped his fingers for. They all waited while Napoleon drank, and handed back the pitcher.
"You may bathe," he said curtly and Illya bowed.
"Yes, my lord. Thank you, my lord." He hastened off and the slave trader guffawed.
"Yes, he's tamed down nicely," he repeated, and nothing more was said about it.
The days passed, one much like the other. Napoleon kept Illya close by his side at all times, under a carefully maintained front of amused indulgence. He bought him treats from the traders, obtaining at the same time a warm wrap, and comfortable sandals. Not wanting to leave him alone in the camp, which was always roiling with intrigue and the scent of potential violence, Napoleon purchased a jeweled collar and lead so he could bring Illya everywhere, to even the most important gatherings; popping choice morsels into his mouth while they talked business, allowing him to have his own cup of wine. Later, when they were alone, he would probe Illya's impressions of the evening, and was always impressed by the depth and width of his observations. He never forgot anything, and he missed little.
Napoleon took him up on horseback and they rode across the desert sands together, Illya's hair whipping back into Napoleon's face, his supple body one with the horse. Napoleon had learned that Illya's apparent fragility concealed a surprising strength, that once his injuries healed he was fast, and graceful—graceful as the gazelles which occasionally wandered into camp with the goats. Napoleon did all these things and more, spoiling Illya shamelessly, but no one doubted that Quahar held the reins of power as surely as he held the end of Illya's leash when it suited his fancy to put it on him.
Illya never once let on that he had lost his fear of this man just as he had lost his heart. He didn't understand why this ruse was necessary, but he no longer cared. He had never known such kindness, or been treated so gently. After the series of blows his life had been he had no defense against gentleness, no defense against love. He didn't expect it to last. He just accepted it from one moment to the next, dazzled by its beauty. His feelings were on his face, and in his eyes and his voice, and soon enough Lord Quahar's pretty little pet who knelt submissive at his side in his glittering collar was just another part of camp life and no cause for talk at all.
And at night—at night when they were alone Napoleon removed the collar, removed the expensive robe and made love to Illya with an expertise that deepened every time, as he learned more and more of what pleased him, what made him writhe under his master's skillful hands, what made him arch his back and lift his hips, pleadingly, what made him cry out or even scream aloud, to the amusement of the entire camp when he emerged the next day. The old women at the cook pot teased him mercilessly even as they chose the very best for his master's dishes. None of the men ever spoke to him, or looked at him twice—Quahar's proprietary manner discouraged even the most casual familiarity. Napoleon no longer tried to think of stern things to say—it would be cruel, that was all there was to it. He may not have set out to make Illya love him but it had happened, and he too—he, proud Napoleon Solo, who had vaunted himself on his emotional impermeability, was madly in love with this boy whom he could never even try to keep.
"Where do we go from here, my lord?" Illya asked him one night towards the end of the convocation. They had just finished a second round of lovemaking and Napoleon was amusing himself by wrapping strands of Illya's hair around his hand, admiring the patterns it made, then unwrapping it and laying it across his palm, pressing his lips to it, pushing it together in a mass, burying his face in it. Illya was still trying to catch his breath. It had been the sounds of yet another caravan preparing to head out early the next morning that had put the question in his mind. He regretted it instantly when Napoleon's fists closed around the hair he held.
The question had jolted him out of his pleasant languor, into the uncertain future. "Ask me nothing," he snapped and Illya quailed before his tone of voice. "I will tell you what you need to know when you need to hear it." It was by far the harshest thing he had ever said, and he tried to soften it, smoothing Illya's hair straight again, kissing the tip of his nose. "Such a pretty head need not concern itself with the morrow," he added patronizingly and Illya bit his lip.
"Please don't be angry," he whispered. "But I have to know—will you take me with you when you leave? Or will you sell me?" He had overheard gossip, that day, speculation as to how much Quahar could demand for him now that he was so thoroughly under control—and so well trained in the erotic act. Illya's voice was not the only one heard ringing through the silence of the night. 'Beautiful as the dawn, eager to please as a puppy, and able to make such a man shout aloud in pleasure—Quahar can name his own price' were the exact words he had heard and now, despite the warning he had just received, he had to know. Because if that were the plan, he would do away with himself. He would open his veins with the little dagger he had stolen and hidden under his mat and he would die; all hope indeed gone.
Napoleon looked at him, another rebuke on his lips and, once again, his resolve failed him. "I will take you with me," he answered finally and at Illya's open relief he had to pull him in, to hide his own face.
"Thank you, my lord." Illya relaxed. His master would not lie to him, he was sure. "I am sorry I was presumptuous."
"You are forgiven. Do not let it become a habit."
"No, my lord. I will not mention it again."
"Good." And he couldn't leave it like that, so he pressed his lips to Illya's cheek, savoring the taste of him. "Sleep well, sweetness. Have no fear—you are under my protection and will remain there so long as there is a need for it."
"That may be a very long time, my lord," Illya whispered. "I will need you until the breath leaves my body."
Napoleon's throat tightened. He had no business making promises, no business at all, so he kissed Illya's cheek again and, reassured, Illya curled up inside his embrace and fell asleep. Napoleon lay awake. It was indeed time for them to go—he had waited, not wanting to be among the first, nor the last. Tomorrow, he thought. I will signal them to stand by, and we will pack up and leave, with all our servants, in full view of the camp. When we stop for the evening I will take you for a ride. It is a common enough occurrence. We will ride into the night, and after we are well out into the dessert I will call for pick up. Then I will tell you everything. He sighed. I will tell you—and then I will set you free.
Napoleon carefully extricated his communications equipment from its hiding place, buried in the ground under his sleeping mat. He had sent Illya on an errand with several other slaves, well guarded, to purchase dried fruits and meats for their journey. It would take three or four hours, and he had told his guards to admit no one until further instructions. He had taken care to establish the habit of taking an hour or so every day apart and while in the beginning he, had been aware of them peering through the tent flap, after several times of seeing only his solitary figure kneeling they lost interest and, Napoleon knew, looked forward to this time when all they needed to do was stand by his tent and keep anyone else—even Illya—out. So now, today, Napoleon was confident that he would not be disturbed as he sought to establish the coordinates needed to put his rescue party on stand by alert. It was a difficult and demanding task, and he was glad to have something to focus his mind on besides the upcoming revelations he would have to make—and the parting that would result.
Illya ran, his heart slamming in his chest, his breath coming ragged, a pain tearing through his right side but still he ran. Before he and his companions had ever reached the market they had been overtaken by others from their encampment. "Raiders," one had gasped. "Coming from the north—descending on the camp! We were warned, and fled—flee with us! All who remain will be slain and no one will ever know our whereabouts. This is our chance for freedom!" So slaves and guards alike had escaped and Illya had raced back to camp, to warn Quahar. Freedom—what was that to him now? His master was in danger and that was all he could think of. Besides, the practical side of his mind told him the runaways would be captured sooner or later, by someone—if they lived. They had few provisions, and no shelter. He himself had never been so well off—and he loved Quahar, loved him with all the pent-up hunger of a heart that had never known love before. So he returned, slowing when he had to because the pain in his side demanded it but still hurrying forward.
The camp was nearly deserted. A thin cloud of dust, looking like a distant storm, was on the horizon and Illya knew it was the raiders, their horses kicking up the sand. They meant death to every living thing they encountered. Napoleon's guards had gone with the rest, so there was no one to stop Illya as he burst through the rich hangings into their living quarters.
Napoleon whirled at the sound of footsteps. Illya stood there, panting, chest heaving, hand to his side and, laid out on the mat was an elaborate maze of wires and circuit boards, lights flashing as contact was finally made. Napoleon rose and Illya stared at the equipment, eyes growing bigger and bigger, then he looked up at Napoleon.
An agent. He saw it at once. It explained everything. This man—his owner, Quahar, was no such thing, but yet another agent, from UNCLE or elsewhere, sent here for—what? "Are you going to kill me?" His voice was very small because he knew how valuable his information was, and knew too that there were many who would far rather see him dead than allow him to speak.
"To rescue you," Napoleon answered and there was another pause while they stared at one another. Then Illya heard the sound of thundering hooves and was snapped back into their present danger.
"Raiders, my—" he stumbled. "Raiders! Hear them? They will kill you—they will kill all in their path! I came to warn you!"
"All fled, my lord! And you must flee also—and quickly! They come now!"
"I have to pack this up," Napoleon said, already beginning to do so. Without the communications system no rescuers could find them. Even if they escaped the raiders they would be lost in the desert—how long could they live? Illya watched him, and saw that it would take too long.
"I will lead them away," he said and was gone.
"I will come for you!" Napoleon shouted after him but Illya didn't hear, he just raced to the corral, leaped upon the first horse he saw, turned her head away from the camp and dug his heels in. She reared and was off. Behind him he heard shouts from the raiders as they watched the slim blond boy riding away from them, and they changed direction to pursue.
Illya rode hard but they were gaining, he could tell and knew his end was upon him. 'You are under my protection' Quahar had said and he could only hope that was still true. He hoped... and then his chest was struck and squeezed, a terrible circle of agony and he was yanked backwards, off the horse. He hit the ground hard, rolling over and over, clawing frantically at the rope around him, dragged along the rough ground, and then he heard them dismount. He closed his eyes, not wanting to see his death, knowing it would be prolonged and terrible.
A savage war cry came from behind them and a thunderous noise erupted. It filled the world, and he clapped both hands over his ears, not understanding, suffocating from the rope, deafened by the cacophony around him, screaming out the last of his air and not knowing it until he tried for the next breath—and failed.
Napoleon mowed them down, teeth bared as he swung the automatic weapon in a semi circle, killing every man there. Then he dropped the empty gun and kicked his horse into a gallop again, leaning over, scooping Illya up, laying him face down across the animal's back. He used his knife to cut the deadly cord, hearing Illya gasp in a great lung full of air, a crowing whoop and they were away, riding for their lives. Not all the raiders had pursued Illya but it had been enough of a distraction that Napoleon had been able to pack up his precious equipment, arm himself and mount his favorite horse, a nondescript looking little brown gelding that could run like the wind. He saw them bring Illya down and wiped them out without compunction. Now, as they rode, Illya's breathing steadied and when he struggled to sit upright Napoleon helped him, helped him straddle the horse, wrapped one arm tightly around his waist to hold him on, the other hand holding the reins. Their pursuers fell behind, and turned back to rejoin their fellows in looting the camp.
He and Illya rode through the remainder of the day, slowing and finally dismounting when the sand became too soft to support the horse's hooves. Napoleon removed his bridle and sent him on his way with a smack on the rump—the animal would find water on its own, he knew, and would either join one of the wild herds further south or be picked up by someone. He and Illya continued on foot, neither speaking. They had too much to say to one another for idle conversation. When Napoleon found a place to stop, a shallow cave in the side of a rocky wall, they set up what small camp they could, still in silence. Napoleon had brought food and water—he had thrown a blanket across the horse and they spread that out now. Illya sat cross legged and watched Napoleon hook up his equipment again, sending out the signal that they needed to be picked up, and just where they were. Finished, he sat too and they regarded one another. Rescue wouldn't come tonight, they had told him, so there was time—time for the conversation he had been dreading.
"My name is Napoleon Solo," he said, and Illya's eyes widened again. It had not occurred to him that even the name he thought he knew was a lie. "I am a free lance agent currently working for the UNCLE—hold!" He lunged forward, just managing to grab Illya's foot as he leapt up, started to run. He dragged him down, pulled him back in, twisting and struggling, and pinned him on his back with his own weight. "I am here to save you, not harm you—Illya! Stop!" And Illya froze at the sound of his name, and stared up at Quahar—Solo, he corrected himself.
"You knew who I was the whole time?"
"Yes. I was sent to bring you out, and back to New York—as was originally planned before our man turned traitor.
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"For this very reason." Cautiously he shifted his weight, taking it off Illya but still holding both his wrists in one fist. "You would have no reason to trust me—quite the reverse. My orders were to purchase you off the auction block without anyone knowing why. Petrovich is still following your path very closely. Actually—" he thought it over "this raid couldn't have answered our purpose better. It will throw a smoke screen over our escape—no one will be sure what has become of you. You could have fled on your own, or with me—or been taken by the raiders and killed. By the time it is sorted out you will be safely in New York."
"So we're back to the original plan? New York, and then?"
"Cambridge. UNCLE is still prepared to offer you a full scholarship there while you get your degree."
"So it was all an act?" His voice was incredulous.
"Not all," Napoleon said. He released the hands he held and when Illya scrambled to his feet again made to move to stop him. Instead he rose to his knees, waited until those blue eyes met his.
"I wish," he said carefully, "to offer my apologies. I will not ask for your forgiveness—I know I don't deserve it. But believe me, I am desperately sorry. I am sorry for the threats, for the ugliness of that first night."
"You wouldn't have done it?"
"No. I just—I didn't want to have to keep you drugged, or tied up. I thought it was better—kinder, in the long run—to convince you there was no point to any further resistance. But it was harsh, and brutal—and frightened you so badly. Illya—I know sorry sounds inadequate but I am. I was sorry even as I did it, and have been sorry for it every moment since. I would never have harmed you, or permitted anyone else to do so. And I am sorry for every time I touched you when you didn't wish it, sorry I forced myself on you." His voice broke and he lowered his head, unable to meet those eyes any longer. "Illya—I am very sorry."
Illya looked down at that bent dark head in silence while he went over every word in his mind. All an act. This man was not his master, was not even of desert blood. His accent now definitely placed him as an American. An UNCLE agent who had been sent to find him and bring him to New York. All an act. All. But—"What part exactly wasn't an act?"
"I have done a reprehensible thing," Napoleon said. He reached for Illya's hands again and Illya let him take them, turn them over. He placed a kiss on each palm and, when they jerked in his grasp opened his own hands flat, releasing them. "I have fallen in love with my assignment." Illya's whole body jerked this time and he took a step backward. "I'm not saying—you owe me nothing—I just want you to know that when I held you in my arms, close to my heart, when I kissed you and called you sweet—none of that was an act. If you want revenge on me, for hurting you and frightening you and shaming you, you have it. You have my heart, Illya, and I am not a man to say that lightly. I have never said it before—I know I have no right to say it now. But I find I cannot bear to have you think that I didn't mean it. And believe me—you have nothing to fear from me now. I will never touch you again in that way." There was another long silence. Then, slowly, Illya went to his own knees, very close—so close that he was easily able to lay his head on Napoleon's shoulder and Napoleon shivered, put both hands behind his back to keep from reaching for him.
"And I love you," Illya whispered against his neck. "I knew you wouldn't hurt me—by that second day I knew it. When you found me where I fell, and carried me back—when you made love to me so carefully, and so gently, and it was so wonderful—I knew I had nothing to fear from you."
"But I was terrible to you. That first night—" he couldn't continue.
"I know." For a moment it seemed he could feel again those fingers squeezing his testicles, pulling them hard, feel again the cold metal against warm flesh, smell the hot iron—he shuddered. Napoleon did embrace him then because Illya trembling against him broke his heart, and he had to offer what comfort he could. Illya sighed, slid his own arms around Napoleon's waist and held on. "I love you, my..." he stopped. Laughed a little. "I don't know what to call you now."
"Napoleon." Their position was getting awkward and he shifted, meaning to bring them to their feet but Illya leaned against him and they ended up on the blanket, stretched full length, still locked together. "Call me Napoleon."
"Napoleon. I love you, Napoleon. And I do not say that lightly either. I loved you when I believed you my master and now, knowing differently, I love you still."
"I forgive you."
"How can you..."
"I forgive you, Napoleon. I believe you did what you thought best, for my sake. I forgive you for everything, and I thank you—for saving me. On the auction block I was so afraid—and yet I was safe already. Wasn't I?"
"And no one has ever been so good to me. No one has ever loved me. For that, I give you my life's devotion."
"That's not a sufficient reason. You don't have enough perspective to see that yet." Illya began kissing his neck and Napoleon tried to turn away.
"We can't do this anymore."
"Why not?" Illya kissed his neck again.
"Because—because I am not a slave owner. I have no hold on you."
"Yes you do. I love you. And you—you love me. Does that give me a hold on you?"
"It does. You hold my heart, Illya. But..."
"Don't say but. Not now. Soon they will come for us, and who knows what will happen? Right now, we have each other. Let me come to you of my own free will, this once. Let me have that to remember. Please. Give me that gift—please?"
And how could he refuse? How could he refuse Illya anything? He couldn't. So he made love to Illya, sweet ecstatic love, drawing it out under the blazing stars above them, the desert wind blowing their hair, the lonely cry of a coyote in the distance. They made love all night long, talking and making love, as if they could hold the world at bay through pleasure and conversation. It wasn't until the sun was again showing in the east that they slept, held fast in one another's arms, neither master, neither slave—one in their love.
Napoleon was awake early because rescue could come at any time and they needed to be ready. He woke Illya, wanting him to be dressed when they came, wanting to say what he should have said last night.
"We won't be together after this," he said and Illya looked stricken. "We can't be.
"Why not? I thought—you said you loved me! Was it an act after all?" He knew better, but Napoleon's words had hurt him and he wanted to hurt back. He was sorry, though, when Napoleon flinched. He reached for Napoleon, and was wounded afresh when Napoleon held him off.
"Listen to me," he said urgently. "I have no right—I have no right to claim you. The world is wide, and you will be loved many times. You are brilliant and beautiful and sweet—oh, my love, you are so very sweet." Again he warded off Illya's attempt to embrace him. "There will be many—women as well as men—who will want to be with you, be good to you. Just because I was the first doesn't mean I am the only. You have a right to find that out for yourself. I'm too old for you, Illya!" It was a cry of pain. "I have led a sordid life—my talents for sale to the highest bidder, my body given to every passing fancy. You—you are so pure... and don't speak to me of all those men your uncle passed you on to. I don't mean that. Your soul, your spirit is pure, Illya. I see it every time I look into your eyes. I feel stained and defiled beside you."
"No. I see your spirit, too, when we are together—and it is pure as well, my lord."
"Don't call me that." It hurt him terribly.
"All right. But you are, Napoleon—lord of my heart, and my life."
"You don't know any better now. You have a right to learn. I want you to learn. I want you to go to Cambridge, to reach all your goals."
"And never see you again? I'll die without the hope of seeing you again! You said there was always hope! Would you take it from me now?"
"When you are finished at Cambridge," Napoleon said painfully, "if you decide to come work for UNCLE, in New York, and if you still—UNCLE will know how to find me. If you want to come back to me I will have a home ready for you. But I will not bind you with promises. Illya—please let's end this. Please let me keep some integrity. I could never live with myself if I took advantage of you—your youth, your inexperience, your—your recent dependence on me. What kind of a man would I be, if I used all that to keep you?"
"Do you want to keep me?"
"Yes! Yes, I want to keep you. I love you. I would—I would hold you close to me and—and—but I can't." He forced himself to stand. "I can't, Illya. It would be wrong. You deserve your freedom and I have to give it to you."
"All right." Illya rose too. He couldn't bear the anguish in Napoleon's voice. "All right. I will—I will go to Cambridge, and when I am finished there I will come back to New York and seek you, my—Napoleon. If you still want me."
"Oh, I will want you." He reached out, brushed loose hair off Illya's forehead. "But I will not hold you to this. If you meet someone else, or if you decide you like being alone—whatever you decide, Illya, I will understand. I will abide by your choice, I promise you that."
"I will claim that promise, when I return."
The roar of a helicopter overhead made them both look up. In the resultant flurry of loading the chopper, of climbing up the rope ladder to the cabin, of crowding in with the pilot and copilot nothing else was said. Once they arrived at the airport Illya was surrounded by solicitous medical personnel and Napoleon too was the object of attention. They didn't exchange another word, even after landing in New York, where they were whisked off in separate limousines. Napoleon, settling back into the comfort, told himself it was better so.
After his debriefing Napoleon showered, and put on a suit. He looked at himself for a long time in the mirror, at his sun darkened skin, at his face, which it seemed should look different but didn't Then he requested an audience with Alexander Waverly.
"I have a confession to make," he said abruptly as soon as he entered the office, and Waverly indicated a seat.
"Yes, Mr. Solo?"
"I have become emotionally involved with my contact."
"I see. You surprise me, Mr. Solo."
"I surprise myself," Napoleon admitted painfully. "But I felt I should tell you. I became emotionally attached to him, and he—he returned my feelings. I know it was taking advantage of the situation," he hurried on, unable to meet those mild grey eyes. "I know it was wrong. I know it was—unprofessional."
"To say the least," Waverly said dryly and Napoleon, still looking down, didn't see the twinkle in his eyes.
"I am sorry. It won't happen again." No it wouldn't. His heart was no longer his to give away.
"Very well, Mr. Solo. I accept your confession—and your apology. Is there anything else?"
"Yes. I want to place my name in consideration for a position with UNCLE. A full time position." UNCLE will know where to find me, he had told Illya and he meant more than just a forwarding address. If he were to make a life for them, it would have to be a more stable one than he had heretofore lived. And if Illya didn't return—and he wouldn't, of course, would change his mind once he'd been on his own for a while—well, Napoleon was still weary of his nomadic existence. And Alexander Waverly, who had many times tried to convince Solo that his future should be with UNCLE, wasted no time accepting his decision, welcoming him in, scheduling him for orientation and sending him off to Personnel to complete the paperwork. He was smiling, because the vagaries of the young amused him, and because of the conversation he had had with Illya Kuryakin just the hour before.
Three days later Napoleon looked at the message on his desk. He was on the list of those scheduled to accompany Illya to the airport, to see him on his way to London, to Cambridge, to the bright future awaiting him. "This must be a mistake," he said to Waverly. "He won't want to see me." He had convinced himself of this, over the past lonely nights—that Illya would never want to see him again; that when Illya looked at him or thought of him he saw himself naked and afraid, on his knees or on his back—helpless to say no to Napoleon's desires no matter how much he must have wanted to. "It's a mistake."
"It is no mistake, Mr. Solo. Mr. Kuryakin placed your name on that list himself."
"Why on earth would he want me? All I've done is shame him."
"You rescued him," Waverly pointed out, amused all over again. He really would not have expected to see Napoleon Solo in this state of mind because of anyone, much less a twenty year old boy he'd known for less than a month. "I am sure he is grateful."
"He has no cause to be grateful to me."
"Well, it is up to you, Mr. Solo. You are not required to attend. Mr. Kuryakin cannot give you orders—he can only ask. And he did ask."
"I'll think about it."
But he was there, of course he was there. Napoleon told himself that anything Illya wanted of him he was honor bound to give, because his debt to Illya seemed too deep ever to be repaid. He told himself that, but there was no denying the fact that the prospect of seeing Illya again, of looking into those wonderful blue eyes, flooded him with joy. Joy and pain, guilt and love—they swirled tumultuous in his heart as he got into the company car he was sharing with the two other men who were going to the airport with them. He kept it well hidden, and no one looking at him, impeccable in his black suit, would have ever guessed that he was in turmoil.
Illya didn't guess. He got into the car, felt his heart leap with excitement at sight of Napoleon sitting by the window, looking utterly composed and even a little bored. Illya flushed. Napoleon was probably busy and he was taking him away from his work. He gave Napoleon a tentative smile and received a cool nod in return. Crushed, he turned his attention to the passing scene.
Napoleon watched him out of the corner of his eye. How lovely Illya was. He was wearing a charcoal grey suit over a powder blue turtleneck sweater, blond hair drawn back into a ponytail, tucked under his jacket. His color was high, his eyes brilliant with excitement but those perfect features were composed. He was still gazing out the window, and Napoleon's heart constricted. Illya was so young, to be utterly alone in the world. And how brave he was. Illya turned his head at that moment to steal a glance at him and their eyes met. He smiled again and this time Napoleon smiled back and they sat there smiling at each other before the car lurched to an abrupt stop. Napoleon was thrown forward and their knees bumped. The contact sent a surge of electricity through them both—Illya audibly gasped, and Napoleon steadied himself, leaned back.
"I'm sorry," he said, meaning—so much.
"It's quite all right," Illya answered and again their eyes met and held. Then the car doors were opened from the outside and they climbed out. Illya's bags were taken from the trunk and checked through to London and they walked inside the terminal. At the gate Illya shook hands with all of them; thanking the first man for helping him with the college applications, the second for arranging his paperwork—his residence permit, his student visa to England. Finally he turned to Napoleon, extended his hand once more. Napoleon took it, held it between both of his.
"Thank you so much for everything."
"You have nothing to thank me for." I raped you, he thought, and didn't know the anguish was plain in his eyes for Illya to read. I raped you, I threatened to have you castrated, crippled, killed—I tied a damn leash around your neck and led you around like a dog! "Nothing," he repeated and Illya shook his head.
"Everything," he answered, thinking of those strong arms under him, carrying him to safety; of those hands, showing him—oh, showing him so much—pleasure and tenderness, strength and—and love. Napoleon was shaking his head.
"It is very kind of you to say so," he said, taking refuge in formality and at the same time realizing he was still holding Illya's hand. He dropped it as if it had burned him and Illya's face softened. Napoleon's vulnerability touched him in a way Napoleon's strength never had. Deliberately he stood on his toes, put both arms around Napoleon's neck and kissed his cheek.
"Good-bye, my lord," he whispered and was gone, leaving Napoleon, deeply shaken, touching his face where Illya's lips had brushed it, watching the retreating figure, head held high, thread his way through the crowds, showing his ticket at the gate, walking out of his sight, out of his life. A great cry of pain welled up in him but he stifled it, turning away from the interested stares of the men with him and walking stiffly to the car. It would be years, if ever, before he saw Illya again and by then Illya would know—would have realized—that he had nothing to thank Napoleon Solo for. His plans to build a life for them seemed foolish now, his new position with UNCLE a trap, the luxurious condo on the Upper West Side he was furnishing with Illya in mind a joke. But he would continue on with it. He had given his word, and if by some miracle Illya did come back—four, five, seven years from now—he had promised there would be a home waiting for him and he would keep that promise, however absurd it seemed now.
One year later
It was strange, Napoleon thought as he stepped out of the taxi in front of his apartment building, to regard such a thing as Friday night. In his free lance days the weekend meant nothing—he worked or not as the fancy took him and as the mission required. But now, fifty-two weeks into his new position with UNCLE, he worked Monday through Friday like any other professional man. He had declined the offer of fieldwork. He was through roaming the world, killing to avoid being killed. His current position offered enormous challenges, great satisfaction, and a regular schedule. Illya had confided in him, that last night as they lay together under the brilliant desert stars, that his dream was to work in science, doing research. He too had no interest in being a field agent. "I want a normal job," he'd said, laughing at himself. "I want to be like everybody else—go to work, come home" he squeezed Napoleon as he said it, "argue over who will do the dishes—sleep in the same bed every night," another squeeze, "in your arms, my—Napoleon. That's what I want. Before that man betrayed me they promised I could work, and keep going to school as long as I liked—and I love school. I'll get my degree, and a Master's and a PhD and who knows what else. Whatever is offered." He laughed. "Is all that really going to happen now?"
"All," Napoleon promised him, and did some squeezing of his own. Illya had tickled him and Napoleon had tickled back and they had closed around one another and stopped talking. But Napoleon remembered, and had laid his plans accordingly because it wouldn't be he, who changed his mind.
He had had a magnificent king sized sleigh bed installed in the master bedroom suite, so high that a step stool was needed to reach it, and a window seat built into the wall, with a cushioned divan there, and curtains to close it off. The bathroom contained both a roomy stall shower, and a whirlpool tub deep enough for two to indulge themselves in whatever fashion was desired. He had the wood burning fireplace, which previous tenants had bricked over, restored and cleaned, ready for use, and completely tore out and renovated the kitchen so now it was a gleaming marvel of technology. He did all this, and more, and then sat in his chair and brooded over it, because Illya would never see it. Illya would come to his senses as he grew up, would learn to despise the very memory of Napoleon, who had twisted his arm and forced him to his knees, threatened him with a riding crop, handled him with lewd familiarity. But Napoleon kept on making improvements, he couldn't help it. He was a lonely and bitter man, in his solitary splendor—he dated, but never brought a woman here, always used her place because all this luxury was for Illya, and only for Illya, and if Illya never used it it would be for no one.
And here it was another Friday night, and like any working man he was relieved that the week was over, that tomorrow he could stay home. It was pouring rain and windy and he drew the collar of his trench coat higher as he hurried towards his lobby. A figure rose from where it had been crouched on the pavement, trying to find shelter in the building's overhang and approached him.
He stiffened, reaching automatically for the weapon he still carried and then his hand dropped. His jaw dropped too as Illya smiled up at him. "Hello, Napoleon." He was soaked clear through, his hair plastered to his back, water running down his face, drops beading on his eyelashes, his eyes bluer than ever in the rain.
"Illya!" He rubbed his own eyes, disbelieving what they were telling him. "Illya what—how on earth—why..." Illya was laughing at him now and he looked so beautiful standing there in a New York downpour that Napoleon rubbed his eyes again. "Illya." His voice broke. "How—how can it be you?"
"Are you going to invite me in?"
"Yes, of course—look at you, you're soaked!" He put an arm around Illya's shoulders and steered him into the lobby, where the doorman hurried to press the elevator button for them. Illya smiled at him too.
"I told you," he said and the doorman shrugged apologetically.
"I couldn't just take your word, you know. I can't let anyone in without Mr. Solo's permission."
"They wouldn't let you in? Not even into the lobby to get out of the rain?" Napoleon asked and Illya shook his head.
"He didn't know me, Napoleon. I'm glad you're so well guarded."
"We'd have half the population of New York... I'm sorry, Mr. Solo."
"Look at him carefully," Napoleon told the doorman. "He is to come and go as he pleases. I'll give you a key if you want, Illya—how can you be here?"
"Well," Illya began and waited for the elevator doors to close behind them. "Do you remember promising that when I was through with Cambridge, and working here in New York I could come live with you?"
"Nonsense. It's only been..."
"A year. I know." Napoleon unlocked his apartment door and Illya came in behind him. He stopped dead in his tracks, staring around in wonder. "Napoleon. This—this is beautiful."
"You like it?" He was enormously pleased. "I did it all for you, my love—oh, my love." He took Illya into his arms, helpless to do otherwise and Illya melted against him, arms around his neck once again, mouth seeking Napoleon's and then they were kissing, a storm of kisses. Napoleon lifted him up, off the floor, claiming his lover with his strong arms, his restless hands, his urgent body, then he stepped back, sank onto the sofa. They twined one about the other, still kissing.
Illya sneezed. He managed to turn his face aside in time, and then he sneezed again. Napoleon leaped up. "And you're still soaking wet! Get out of those clothes at once!"
"Yes master," Illya said demurely and Napoleon laughed shortly, a painful sound.
"That's not funny. I'm not ordering you. I'm just telling you—for your own good, that is—you'll catch your death."
"I won't catch a cold from being wet," Illya scoffed as he began obediently to strip. "Colds come from viruses," he continued to lecture as Napoleon herded him towards the bathroom. "Being chilled might lower my resistance, but..." he was stopped by Napoleon's mouth on his, and sighed with contentment. "Oh, Napoleon. I've missed you so much. Let me tell you..."
"No. Don't tell me anything until you've had a hot shower. Here." He rummaged in his closet, pulled out a heavy terry cloth bathrobe. "Put this on. Towels are in that closet there. There's shampoo and everything else you need in the bathroom. Have you eaten?"
"Not since lunch on the plane and that was terrible. You must be very rich, Napoleon." He looked approvingly at the bathroom. "Are you?"
"Actually, yes. I am."
"So that part wasn't an act. Good."
"Illya, I don't understand—no. Not until you're warm, and dry. I'll make you something to eat while you're in there. After that we can talk."
"There's nothing to talk about." Illya stood there at the bathroom door, naked, hair still dripping, arms full of towels and looked at him. "I told you I'd claim your promise. Here I am."
"I meant later. When you finished school. When you are grown. Look at you." He had to smile. "You're such a child still."
"You're wrong, Napoleon. I was never a child. I've been an adult all my life. Don't you want me anymore?" It had been an enormous gamble, coming here. He had heard a great deal about Napoleon Solo while in New York, and then later, in London. He was a sophisticated man of the world, a man of many and varied affairs, a man who despite all that kept himself very much to himself. Had he made a terrible mistake? "If you don't, just say so. UNCLE has found me an apartment. I told them I wouldn't need it but I can probably still—" Napoleon put a finger to his lips.
"Of course I want you," he said gently. "All this," he waved his arm at the bathroom, the apartment, the as yet unseen bedroom, "is for you. But I meant later. You're too young. I'm too old. We're..."
"But you still love me."
"Yes." Once again, as he had done before, he fell to his knees, took Illya's hands in his, not caring that the towels landed on the floor. "I love you. But..."
"And I love you, Napoleon." Illya moved closer and Napoleon embraced him, arms about his waist, forehead resting on his hard, flat stomach, breathing in the good scent of him. Illya stroked his hair. "Everything else—what does it matter, next to that? You love me, and I love you." He sneezed again and Napoleon rose, placed the towels back in his hands, gave him a gentle push towards the bathroom. "All right. I'm going. You'll be here when I come out, right?" He looked suddenly uncertain and Napoleon cupped his face between gentle hands, placed a kiss on his forehead.
"Yes. I will be right here—as I've been all along. Waiting for you, sweetheart."
"I'll hurry," Illya promised and closed the bathroom door behind him.
Napoleon had just finished scrambling eggs when he reemerged. He was ravenous, and Napoleon ended up slicing and frying potatoes along with more eggs, making toast and jam before he was finally satisfied. Then, cozy on the sofa in front of the leaping flames Illya told his story.
"I went to Cambridge for one year," he said. "I promised Mr. Waverly that much. Now I've transferred to NYU."
"Yes, Napoleon. I'm going to college here. And I'm not a schoolboy, to spend all my days in a classroom. I want to work. Mr. Waverly said they'd arrange my schedule so I could do both—here, in New York. I told him I wanted to be with you, and he said he couldn't speak for you but he wouldn't be at all surprised—so I came."
"Illya, I thought I told you..."
"When I was finished at Cambridge. And I'm finished."
"It's not as simple as that."
"Yes it is. That's what you don't see. It's just as simple as that. I love you. I need you. I missed you terribly—every minute of every day and all night long too. I don't want to sleep with other people. I know you think you're giving me some wonderful opportunity to do that, but I don't want to. I don't want anyone else to touch me ever again. Just you. I love you. Please—please don't turn me away."
"But I wanted to set you free."
"You did. I am free. I'm not your slave, I know that. I'm no one's slave. Not my uncle's—and not yours. I'm free to choose. And I choose to come back to you. And I will make you so happy, Napoleon—you'll see. I'll pet and indulge you, too, just like you did me." He looked straight at Napoleon. "I'll be good for you, Napoleon, you'll see."
"I believe you."
"So I won't need that apartment?"
"No." He was free himself, for the first time in his life. "You won't."
"And you're going to stop sleeping around with all those people." He shook his finger. "I won't like it."
"I wouldn't like it either." He slipped his hands under the robe, and began rediscovering Illya's body. He was still thin, but not starved, not anymore, hard, and slim, and perfect. Carefully Napoleon removed the bathrobe, then stood still as Illya undressed him, going down on his knees finally to untie and remove Napoleon's shoes and socks, slide pants and briefs down over his muscled thighs, kissing him there.
Illya was dizzy with the rich, musky scent. He drew Napoleon into his mouth, remembering that first night, when he'd been so frightened and Napoleon, remembering too, ended it. He lifted Illya, walked him into the bedroom, brought him down onto the bed, stretching out full length on top. Illya wriggled a little under him, spread himself wide.
"This is so much better," he said contentedly and Napoleon paused, looked down at him with great tenderness.
"Because you don't feel like my slave?" he asked, and kissed Illya's nose.
"No. Because the mattress is softer than that mat." Napoleon laughed, and Illya laughed too.
"And sometimes, my lord," he whispered, tracing a fiery path across Napoleon's back with his fingers, "sometimes it might be fun to be your slave again—for a few hours."
"And always," Napoleon whispered back, nudging Illya's thighs apart with his knee, sinking into him with an incredulous sense of wonder, "I will be yours."
"We will belong to each other," Illya said and Napoleon paused. He looked into those blue eyes, which had pulled him in that very first night and had never let him go.
"Yes," he said finally. "We belong to each other." And then passion took all words away, took all thought and he was moving, crying aloud with joy, Illya crying aloud too and their voices were one, their bodies were one, their hearts and minds were one. When passion, satisfied, ebbed away they fell asleep still clasped in one another's arms, and they were still—and forever—one.