"You don't really want to do this."
"No?" Illya prowled toward him, unhurried, inexorable. Goddamned sneaky Russian was between him and the only way out of the small cave they'd taken refuge in, and the storm howling outside made any thoughts of trying to scale his way up the sea cliff now look like assisted suicide. Not that Napoleon would feel the cold, at least; the drug pounding through his system had taken care of that.
"Illya, it's the gas, dammit, you know that, it has to be! I'm feeling it too, but—"
"Hm, yes you are, aren't you?" The Russian's gaze dropped southward and Napoleon felt it like a physical caress across his crotch, a hot, friendly hand that weakened his knees and further stiffened his already aching cock. "You've been flaunting that in front of me for years. Years, Napoleon," Illya growled, his accent thickening, voice a low rumble that Napoleon had only ever heard in his best, worst dreams. "You've made free with it to everyone, women, men—oh yes," he purred as Napoleon started, "did you think I didn't notice? Everyone. Everyone but me." Illya was less than a foot away now, blue eyes washed to a dark, glittering gray in the stormy half-light, heat and lust rolling off of him in waves, Napoleon could smell him. "But we will fix that now."
Storm be damned. Napoleon feinted left and made a break for it.
The next he knew, stone pressed cold against his back and Illya pressed hot against his front, pinning him to the cave floor with the full length of the body Napoleon had been trying not to watch for more than a year now. Chest to chest, groin to groin, his partner's erection shoving hard, hard into the hollow of Napoleon's hip, a white-hot brand even through four layers of wet clothing. The drug-enhanced arousal that Napoleon had only just barely been keeping leashed snapped its restraint.
"Illya." Napoleon arched up, moaning his partner's name, fighting Illya's hold on his wrists as the Russian's mouth descended. Illya licked rain and sweat from his throat, and Napoleon shuddered at the sharp nip of teeth. Painful and sweet, and he'd had Illya this close before, had this whipcord body flush against his own in rescue or relief but never like this, in lust and madness, never these lips against his skin. Just the gas, he knew with that bit of his rational mind still functioning, because Illya wasn't like him—Illya didn't bat, even occasionally, for both teams. It was the thrice-damned THRUSH gas driving his partner down this road hell-bent for leather, brakes gone. Napoleon had breathed some of it too but Illya had taken it full in the face when the glass had shattered. The THRUSH scientists had been trying for mind control—what they'd gotten instead was a devastatingly powerful aphrodisiac.
He dug his fingers into Illya's shoulders, dimly aware that his partner had let go in order to tear at the remains of Napoleon's shirt. Illya covered the newly bared skin with savage kisses, finding a nipple and sucking hard. Napoleon shouted and grabbed at wet golden hair, back arching in a plea for more. Illya gave it to him, biting and licking and sucking again, broad fingers tormenting the other nipple while Napoleon twisted, half-mindless, beneath the barrage. Mindless enough in fact that he completely missed the strong fingers at his waist until he groaned in relief as his trousers were jerked open and his underwear down, and shouted again as those same strong fingers wrapped around his cock and pulled.
Sweet, raw friction and Illya's heat against his side, the smells of ozone and fucking and Illya in his nose and Illya's voice in his ear, slurring filthy, beautiful things in Russian, words of sex and love that nobody ever meant, not like this, not in the middle of passion winding higher higher tighter until the air was gone and Napoleon shouted one more time and fell, ecstasy black as night sucking him down, dimly understanding as he drowned that Illya fell with him.
Napoleon swam slowly back up to consciousness, feeling weight on his legs and delicious, tickling warmth at his groin. He managed to raise his head and saw Illya sprawled over him, licking gently and quite deliberately at his half-hard cock, broad hand curved in possessive warning around his hip. A hot, intent blue gaze met his, and Napoleon groaned and lay back, closing his eyes in arousal and despair as his own body betrayed him again. It was going to be a long night.
Under his fingers. Sweat-sharp in the air he breathed, hot-salt against his tongue. All he knew, all there was. All he most wanted, desired, craved. All that he must, would, possess. All of him. Napoleon.
Flesh silky hard in his hand. Sliding against his tongue, stretching his lips, the spiky-sweet taste, alkaline edge of the pleasure there had been, the pleasure coming again soon, soon. He would own this man and he alone, never again the many, the legions his partner had seduced. No more.
Napoleon moved against him, beneath him, taut muscle twitching, flexing in waves like the ocean, faster now, the beautiful voice breaking, rising in plea. In need. In wild, keening surrender as the flesh in his mouth gave up the essence of the man, forever into his keeping. Owned.
Owned this way and all other ways, soon, as well. And what he owned, he kept. He growled out his triumph, tossing his head back, fingers digging into the hard thighs that filled his hands as the bliss ripped through him again. Not satisfied yet, no. But he would be, with his partner. His.
Napoleon lay on his back and panted, heart still racing, as the world came back into focus. His mouth was dry but his head was something closer to being clear. Which was interesting because two—or was it three—earth-moving orgasms in less than half an hour should have had rather the opposite effect, but maybe all this activity was helping to flush the gas out of his system. A smile pulled at his mouth because that was funny, wasn't it? God knew he'd used fucking as an antidote for things before, but never quite like this... fucking. Oh, God. Would Illya try to—Napoleon's eyes snapped open and he stared up at the half-visible cave roof. Illya was right but wrong, too, Napoleon had been with men but not many, and he'd never let anyone try, never trusted anyone enough to -
A low rumble from the vicinity of his hip, much like the purr of a big hunting cat, the golden-tanned, blond variety who was currently sliding up his body, a sleek full-skin caress that fired nerves in its wake and it hurt, almost, the way the arousal sliced through him yet again. Illya loomed over him, practically nose to nose, eyes nearly black, color only a thin ring. If orgasms were the solution, then he was practically duty-bound to help Illya get off as many times as possible, a prescription for as much sex as either of them could stand. And then, somehow, he would have to go back to seeing the man as his work partner and only that. Assuming, of course, that there was any way in hell that their partnership could survive this. Napoleon swallowed. "Illya."
His partner bared his teeth in something that wasn't quite a smile. "For how many years, and still you cannot say it. I know you anywhere by way you cannot quite say my name. Why is that, I wonder?" The Russian's voice was low, raspy, drugged half out of his English. His breath brushed warm against Napoleon's face.
Napoleon swallowed again. The air was full of salt and musk, Illya's and his own, thick and heavy. His mouth watered. "You used to do something to mine, you know. In the beginning. Not quite the way anyone else said it."
"Did I?" Illya leaned in and for a wild moment Napoleon thought—but Illya's lips touched his jaw and his partner licked, then chewed along the bone up to the curve of Napoleon's earlobe. "How did I say? Na-po-le-on." Hot breath washed the sensitive inner ear channel as Illya whispered his name. Napoleon locked his arms around Illya's waist as he shuddered and thrust up, shoving his cock against Illya's, both of them impossibly hard again.
But Illya reared back, breaking Napoleon's hold. Then he straddled Napoleon's chest and Napoleon found himself staring at the underside of Illya's full, heavy erection. Then at the wet tip of it as Illya took himself in hand and aimed downward. "This time I want your mouth," Illya hissed, and the breath jammed in Napoleon's throat as he arched and sobbed and came, just like that. And somewhere, lost in the glittering black brilliance behind his closed eyes, he heard Illya laugh.
Napoleon warm against his side, beneath his cheek, around his back. Warm skin and cloth that smelled like Napoleon had been wearing it a bit too long. Strong scent of...musk? And something earthy? No, stony. Damp and salty. Safe, though; even though he was sitting on something cold and hard he had to be safe because he was in his partner's arms. Vertical more or less and leaning into his partner's chest, strong heartbeat in his ear. Napoleon was holding him...wait.
Illya tried to move and immediately knew it for a mistake. He hurt -
Napoleon's voice was deep and hoarse and comforting, except for that part where it vibrated his chest and therefore Illya's head as well and that was not comforting. "Must I be?" Illya rasped. "Are there any other choices?"
The arm around him tightened for a moment and Napoleon chuffed softly, which made Illya's head hurt even more. "Welcome back, partner. How are you?"
The words seemed a little hesitant, but Illya wasn't up to puzzling out the reason just at that moment. "My zhopy is numb. The entirety of the..." he coughed, "...the Komosomol have tramped through my mouth. Wearing dirty boots. And my stomach aches, as does my head." He worked his jaw for a moment, testing. Someone had gotten in a good shot. "So I am fine, obviously."
Napoleon chuffed again. "Of course you are. So, now that you've caught up on your beauty sleep, what say we work on climbing back out of this delightful little hideaway?"
Illya sat himself upright, wincing as his abdominal muscles protested, and looked around. The delightful little hideaway consisted of nothing more than bare stony walls, floor and low ceiling, which explained the cold. A rushing sound which he realized was the ocean accounted for the damp and salt. "Where are we?"
"I take it you don't remember?"
Illya turned to look at Napoleon and stilled. The American looked like he'd gotten the worst of whatever tussle he'd been through. His face was dirty and bruised, with a beauty of a cut on his forehead. The generous mouth was swollen at one corner and livid contusions showed in several places down his neck, disappearing down under the torn collar of his suit coat. Which skin Illya could see because—"Isn't it a little cold to be going without a shirt?"
Napoleon tilted his head; Illya followed the motion and saw a little heap of stained white fabric on the ground a few feet away. "Not even Del Floria's genius could save that one. Shall we go?"
Illya climbed to his feet, keeping the groan locked behind his teeth, and extended a hand. Napoleon wrapped fingers around Illya's wrist and was hauled upright in turn, giving Illya a close view of the V of Napoleon's chest exposed by the suit coat. Scratches and more bruising, dark and intense: collarbone, pectorals, sternum. The grimace on Napoleon's face as he got his feet under him didn't bode well for the rest of him being in pristine shape, either.
Illya bit back his questions for the moment. If Napoleon was damaged somewhere severely enough to put him, them, at risk, he would say so. If not, well...he'd either tell Illya about it later, or he wouldn't. People who believe that I am the secretive one in this partnership don't understand the first thing about Napoleon. He moved to the cave mouth, pressing one hand absently against his sore stomach, and looked out. Then down. Then up. Then back at Napoleon. "How did we get in here, again?"
Napoleon joined him, moving a little stiffly, and looked out at the cloudy sky and the restless ocean below. "Considering the storm raging at the time? I really don't have any clue. But it did keep whatever THRUSHies might have survived the explosion off our backs," he said with a decent approximation of his usual cheer.
"Then—we were successful?" Chyort, how much time had he lost?
Hazel-brown eyes narrowed, zeroing in on him. "Illya, how much do you actually remember?"
Illya thought, searching back through the haze. "We had finished with the laboratory and were in the holding room, setting—charges to destroy the gas that had already —" He blinked and looked at Napoleon, a shiver curling down his spine. "The containment tube I was working by—it shattered."
"It did." Napoleon nodded.
"Then I —"
"Turned into a bland, sweet, biddable thing?" His partner's half-smile looked wry. "Oh, no. In fact, oh hell no," he said, leaning out of their shelter, looking for footholds. "The product absolutely failed to work as advertised."
Something wasn't quite right with that statement. "What a shame," Illya said dryly. He didn't like the gap in his memory, not one bit, but Napoleon had been there so...wait. "Napoleon."
"You didn't—I —" He thought of the way he'd woken up, and Napoleon's bruises. "Is—there anything I need to apologize for?" he asked, trying to keep it light.
Napoleon was already halfway out, climbing. "Not a thing, partner." He sounded tired. "Not a thing."
"Dammit, Napoleon, what is wrong with you?"
Words that would have been bad enough had Illya been shouting them. That they issued in a fierce, near-whisper from the harsh white confines of a hospital bed made them that much worse. Napoleon set his jaw and hung grimly onto a temper he knew he had no real right to lose. "We have a bad turn in a mission and suddenly it must be something I've done? Thank you very much, partner."
"No, really. Tell me how I —"
"Not just this one; the last three affairs." Illya fixed him with a cobalt gaze that lost little of its power even for being doped up on painkillers. "You are not where you should be."
That tore it. "So now it's my fault that I'm not psychic?!"
"Napoleon." Illya looked like talking was taking all the energy he had, and Napoleon could hardly stand it. "You have always been where you should be, where I've needed you to be. Always. From the beginning. It's how we work, how we have always worked. But now you are...distant." Fair lashes dropped, then rose again, but slowly. "How are you not there? Why?"
The fractured grammar and exhausted tone, anger muted to a bewildered worry, punctured Napoleon's own temper. "Illya..." Napoleon sank into the chair by Illya's bed, laced his fingers together, rested his elbows on his knees and his head on his hands, and closed his eyes. "I'm sorry," he said quietly.
A touch on his shoulder, and it was all Napoleon could do to stay still beneath it. "I know; not needed to say," Illya murmured. "How do we fix?"
Oh, Illya. Napoleon squeezed his eyes more tightly closed, his best friend's concern wrapping around his heart like the most exquisitely sharpened barbed wire. We're not working because I'm not reading you, and I'm not reading you because I can't look at you. Can't look at you because I remember. Remember what you sound like, and how you smell, and what you look like when you come. I remember all of it, everything—everything that you don't. And then I remember that I'll never have it, any of it, again. Because it wasn't real. And I'm not sure I can stand it.
"Maybe I just need some time," he said aloud. "Vacation, or something."
The fingers on his shoulder tapped once, twice. "Da. We'll go. Talk to Waverly."
Illya's voice was very slurred now, and Napoleon looked up to see that his partner was nearly asleep, eyes closed. Napoleon reached up and lifted the broad hand from his shoulder, and gave it a gentle squeeze before laying it on the bed. A smile toyed with Illya's mouth, and Napoleon's heart ached that much more as he looked, now—now that it was safe, now when his far too perceptive partner couldn't see his eyes. "I'll talk to Waverly. You rest."
Yes, I'll talk to Waverly. Because now I understand what I have to do.
The elevator down from Medical felt like a tomb, and the steel corridors leading to the office of Number One, Section One were both longer and shorter than they'd ever been before. But the door hissed open for him, obedient as it always was for Napoleon Solo, Number One, Section Two, U.N.C.L.E./Northwest, and he walked into the familiar precincts of Alexander Waverly's office. Who would he be when he walked back out, though?
"Mr. Solo," Waverly said in greeting, most of his attention focused on the big world map currently displayed on the far wall. "Good timing on your part. We need to discuss the situation in Caracas." He motioned to the conference table, but Napoleon didn't sit.
"Mr. Waverly, sir," he said formally, falling into a parade rest posture he hadn't used since his discharge. "May I have a few minutes of your time?"
His boss's iron-grey head came around, and sharp, faded blue eyes examined him. Then Waverly flicked a switch on the console by his hand. "I am going into conference and my office will be locked down until further notice." Several more switches were thrown; ones Napoleon knew from experience would disable the various recording devices that nearly always ran in this room. Waverly nodded at him. "Now, what is it that you have on your mind, Mr. Solo?"
"Sir, I would like to request permission to take my accumulated vacation time."
Waverly's eyes narrowed. "And just how much of it are you planning to use?"
Napoleon cleared his throat. "All of it, sir."
A long, long pause. And then—"Sit down, Mr. Solo."
He sat. Waverly came over to him and sat as well, in the next chair. "Napoleon," the older man said quietly, shockingly, using Napoleon's name for the first time in a decade. "Tell me what this is really about."
Napoleon took a deep breath.
Sweet. Oh succulent, beautiful mouth, wet and panting with pleasure, ready. Ready for him, those lips to surround him, lips he'd been watching since the day they'd met. Ready for him now. "Beautiful," he said in the language of home. "Beautiful." The rich syllables on his tongue, almost as satisfying as Napoleon's cock would be again, later, soon. But now—"Open. I want your mouth." He leaned close, painting Napoleon's full lower lip with himself as the brush, sensation shocking through him at the slide of flesh on flesh, glistening trail left behind.
Dark eyes opened, lovely, like strong tea. Hands on him, Napoleon's hands, sliding up his thighs, into his pants, around his hips. Holding him—back. "No."
"Nyet?" Dangerous, a hot throb in his veins.
Napoleon swallowed, breathing hard. "Not like this. Lay down."
Suspicion flared. "You will run."
"I will not." Zavarka-colored eyes steady, voice steady, warm and deep. "Illya. Lay down."
And because it was Napoleon, he would. He did, barely feeling the cold stone beneath his back, chill burnt instantly in the fire of anticipation. A few tugs and his trousers, underwear were gone and there was only hot skin and hotter eyes and fiery breath as his partner leaned against his hip, one elbow between his thighs, and the dark head bent close. Wet pink tongue and he shuddered hard, head to toe, as Napoleon touched him, licked him, more, he needed more—"Suck me, Polya. Open your mouth, damn you, and eat me."
Dark eyes held his, flashed, flared with—what? It didn't matter because the hand at his root tightened and that mouth opened and he howled. Wet tight inferno, suction and pressure and Napoleon, he was inside Napoleon at last. He bucked, digging both hands into soot-black hair, fighting the weight on his hips, he needed to thrust, he had to, he—god, god -
It ripped through him like the end of the world, magnesium-white behind his eyes, muscle and bone wire-taut with the strain -
The shout echoed in the tiny room as Illya fell back, panting, twitching and helpless as his body pumped out the last of its pleasure. He pried his eyes open to stare blurrily at the familiar ceiling of his bedroom, then dragged one arm up to throw it across his face as ecstasy tumbled into desolation. So real, govno, this one had been the most real yet, vivid enough that he'd swear he still felt Napoleon's fingers bruising his hips.
Desire for his partner was nothing new—they'd been partnered for how long and Illya did have eyes, after all, eyes that he could use now, carefully, because this wasn't Russia—but he'd kept it firmly locked away because Napoleon Solo was quite blatantly only after anything in a skirt. As the years went on, though, Illya had watched, and begun to wonder. Still, the dreams had not been allowed.
And then Napoleon had left.
Illya moved his arm and looked at his bedside clock, and then levered himself upright with a grimace of disgust, both for the time and the state of his body and sleepwear. Might as well go shower and do something useful; there'd be no more slumber this night, he knew, despite the lassitude of orgasm.
He stripped off his soiled pajamas and stumbled into the bathroom to sit on the edge of the tub. He turned the taps on and let them run, and allowed himself his daily five minutes of "why." Why his partner and—he'd thought—best friend of six years had disappeared two months ago without a word and without a trace. Why Mr. Waverly—who obviously knew far more about the situation than he was telling—consistently refused to discuss the matter in any fashion whatsoever. Why Illya himself—who ought to be used to betrayal by now—still gave a damn about—no. No, that one he could answer.
Illya pulled the diverter and the shower curtain and stepped in to lean wearily against the tiled wall, letting the now hot water sluice away the evidence of that particular why. Because he was in love with the glupyj, bespechnyj, vysokomernyj ubl'udok, that was why. Had been for years. Oh, not at first, although he'd liked Napoleon well enough from the start, this American who'd displayed a much broader mindset and far more culture than most. No, the love had come much later, creeping up on him like a thief in the night; it seemed that one day he'd simply turned and there had been Napoleon, holding Illya's heart in one elegant hand, and Illya had never even felt the knife.
Still, his fantasies had stayed under lock even then; what point to inject awkwardness into a relationship nearly perfect, except for that one thing? No point.
And then—Napoleon had left.
Illya ducked his head under the spray, then raked his wet hair back out of his eyes and reached for the soap. Napoleon had left, all right, like that self-same thief; slipped away while Illya had been too battered to follow, left him lying there in that bed lulled with pleasant lies about "vacations" together, left him bleeding with no chance to heal because his heart was gone now, gone -
And now the dreams. The prokl'atyj dreams.
Sound cracked as Illya slapped his palm brutally hard against the tile and then leaned his forehead against the slick coolness. The soap fell, disregarded, to the floor.
They'd started after Napoleon vanished, vague at first but growing ever more intense, more distinct. Filled with the sight of the American, and then the sound and now even the taste and bozhe moi, the smell of him, of them together, doing things Illya had never let himself want and one or two he hadn't known to want -
"Stop. Stop. It." The flat English sounds echoed off the porcelain, harsh and satisfying. Illya pulled himself away from the wall, breathing deeply, and turned his face into the spray, washing away the traces of salt. His five minutes were up, and that was that. But.
But today would mark two months since Napoleon's disappearance. One month that the dreams had been haunting him. And three months since their affair to that benighted THRUSH mind-control lab, and a hole in Illya's memory that he'd never been able to fill. Illya straightened up, soap again in hand, and stilled. Were these things connected? A queasy, familiar curl in his belly said...yes.
The door had hissed shut and Illya was halfway across the room when he slowed, eyes narrowing. Something had changed; something was...poised. Waiting.
Mr. Waverly turned from his desk and moved to seat himself at the conference table, which held nothing this morning but a small, ordinary tape recording machine. "Have a seat, please, Mr. Kuryakin." Illya did, sinking into the one a chair away from his superior. "Mr. Kuryakin." Waverly did not look at him. "I'm sure that you are aware that it has been exactly two months now since Mr. Solo was last seen in this building."
The air around him seemed abruptly thinner. "Yes, sir," Illya said.
"I have something that I believe you should hear." Waverly snapped two switches on his console. Then he reached over and pushed the "play" button on the small recorder.
"Nothing else to tell." Napoleon's voice. Tired and rough; the normally velvet timbre ragged at the edges. Illya caught his breath. "Everything you need is on the report."
"Mr. Solo." Dr. Ed Carter, of U.N.C.L.E. Medical. Head of Medical, in fact, who never treated routine cases any more, so why -
"I said, there is no reason —"
"Mr. Solo, please." A pause, and Napoleon fell silent. "It is evident, and obvious, that your injuries are sexual in nature. We need to know what happened."
The air wasn't thin, it was non-existent. Illya stared at the tape recorder in shock.
"Mr. Solo." Carter's voice was quiet but firm. "You know why I have to ask this."
At last, a long sigh. "While we were setting the last of the charges, one of the containment tubes shattered," Napoleon's recorded voice said evenly. "I got just the edge of it, but Mr. Kuryakin caught a heavy dose of the gas, full in the face. It wasn't until we were out and taking shelter in the cliff cave, however, that the effects and reactions became acute."
"Reactions? Didn't your preliminary report state that the gas was ineffective?"
A snort from Napoleon. "For its intended purpose—as a means of mind control—it was. Almost completely ineffective. But it did make an unbelievably powerful...aphrodisiac."
Illya tried to swallow, and couldn't.
"Aphrodisiac? Well." Something in the doctor's voice set Illya's teeth on edge. "I'll bet that —"
"It hurt, Doctor." Solo's voice cut in like a whip crack. "Yes, I like sex as much as the next man, maybe more, but the human body is not designed to react that way, not that long and not that hard."
"I see," Carter said quietly, after a pause. "So, you and Mr. Kuryakin...."
"Yes. There was...no other option."
Illya folded his arms across the conference table in front of him and laid his forehead down against them, and tried to remember how to breathe. Images from his dreams, or what he'd thought were only dreams, slithered across his inner eye. He barely heard Napoleon's voice over the roaring in his own ears.
"The effects dissipated sooner for me than for Mr. Kuryakin, and eventually I was able to catch him off-guard and render him unconscious, in hopes that would...ease the symptoms." Which explains the sore jaw and the sore stomach, Illya thought, a little hysterically. "When he did come back around, a number of hours later, he had no memories of anything that had happened after we escaped the laboratory. He still doesn't. I intend to make sure that he never does."
Illya raised his head a little, staring blindly at the top of the table.
"Mr. Solo —"
"It would serve no useful purpose whatsoever for him to find out about it now," Napoleon said, his voice dangerously level. "All it would do would be to create guilt for actions that were completely out of his control. I won't let anyone put that on his conscience. My dose was tiny, and I couldn't fight it." A deep breath. "If Illya had even been able to try to fight? The stress probably would have killed him. No." Another deep breath. "Only I know, and now you because you need to treat me, but the information will never leave this room."
But it had.
Waverly clicked the machine off and Illya jumped about six inches, heart pounding and adrenalin shocking hot-cold through him. He'd forgotten the other man was even in the room. Number One, Section One sat back and regarded him with the same calm, even expression he'd been known to use for birthday parties and world catastrophes alike. "Sir," Illya started, his throat tight, and stopped. What could possibly be said?
"Mr. Kuryakin," Waverly said finally. "Is the information on this tape accurate?"
"I...don't know, sir," Illya whispered. "If Napoleon said it...happened...."
"But you have no memory of what Mr. Solo is describing."
Illya shook his head and squeezed his eyes shut, hard. "Only, for the last few weeks...bits of dreams...what I thought were dreams. I...." He laced his fingers together and leaned his forehead against them, groping desperately for the last shreds of his composure. Napoleon. Oh dear god, Napoleon...what did I do to you? How have you even been able to look at me? But the answer was obvious, wasn't it? Napoleon hadn't been able to.
Napoleon was gone.
The only sounds in the room other than Illya's own harsh breathing were those of Waverly fiddling with his pipe. The distinct odor of his tobacco brand, always an element of this office, strengthened as the older man packed the worn briar. Finally, the strike of a match and moments later, the acrid edge of smoke, proclaimed his success in getting it lit. The smell was strong, and comforting.
"Mr. Kuryakin." When Waverly eventually did speak, his voice was quiet and gruff. "I am quite well aware that things happen sometimes in the field. Awful things, over which we have no control. Things we cannot undo or unsay, no matter how very much we may wish it. Veridicals, poisons, tortures of various kinds—neither I, nor indeed U.N.C.L.E., as an organization, would blame an agent for his or her actions in such a situation."
"Yes, sir." Illya forced his features into something he hoped resembled his usual impassive expression and raised his head. My conscience is another matter altogether....
"Mr. Solo is not, as word would have it, on long-term underground assignment. Nor has he been let go from U.N.C.L.E., as I have also heard whispered. He came to me with a request to use his considerable backlog of vacation time."
"Maybe I just need some time." "So he is on vacation, then?"
Waverly leaned back in his chair. "No. Mr. Solo is on MHA leave."
MHA. Mental Health Assessment. Illya's eyes widened. MHA was the shorthand term for an agent being mandatorily sent away for a time, both for the agent to consider his place in U.N.C.L.E., and for U.N.C.L.E. to consider the agent's place. And whether he would have a place when he returned.
"U.N.C.L.E.'s decision on this matter is not in doubt. Mr. Solo's, however, is. We have had no word from him since he left, but I believe that two months is more than long enough for any man to make up his mind about his future. I need his decision, Mr. Kuryakin. And I want you to ask him what that decision is."
"Do..." Illya swallowed. "Do you know where he is, sir?"
Waverly didn't smile, but the faded blue eyes were almost kind. "I have heard a rumor, Mr. Kuryakin, that he has gone sailing."
The island had a name, Illya was sure, but he'd lost it amidst the names of the thousand other tiny dots of sand and coral and biting insects that he'd searched. Knowing all the while that it might be a useless game, for what was to prevent Napoleon from arriving tomorrow somewhere that Illya had searched yesterday?
And the sea, always the treacherous, hypnotic sea. Surrounding him, mocking him, the salt and susurration everywhere, whispering I have him I have him I have him. And you do not.
He was so numb with fatigue, walking along the docks of yet one more tiny marina, that it took precious seconds to register when he did see it. Like a mirage brought on by heat and his own deep, painful desire, there it was, written in graceful letters across the stern of the small sloop: Pursang.
Illya blinked and stared, almost in disbelief, but no, it had to be. The tiny lettering beneath the name claimed her home port as New York. There, that flag, and there, the bell; the color of the wood of her brightwork and the curves of her brass trim, he knew them all, had seen them the times he'd been aboard her—this was Napoleon's boat.
Illya leaned for some moments against a piling as he fought down the rush of relief that threatened to weaken his knees. Getting his feet back under him, he moved closer, his soft shoes making no sound on the battered wooden planking of the tattered dock. His heart thundered, though, loud enough that he almost expected it to outsound the seabirds calling overhead. But the pounding was only in his own ears, and sent no warning to the man lounging in the chair at the Pursang's bow, staring out to sea, turning something over slowly in his hands—a slim, silver tube that flashed in the sunlight. Illya swallowed hard, and braced himself, and took a deep breath. "I'm told that they work better if you uncap them first."
The man in the chair jerked around, right hand tapping his left side in a move Illya knew from the inside out. He was thinner and quite tanned, clad in a faded brown shirt and khaki shorts that reached to his knees, both pieces far more worn than anything Illya had thought he'd be caught dead owning. The dark hair was too long, and bright with candescent sun-lights and even some red-kissed strands, flickering among the sable. Expressions chased across the mobile face almost too fast for Illya to follow, and it was only the glimpse of the first of those that gave Illya a thread of hope that cornering the man here was not about to become a terrible, terrible mistake. "So," Napoleon said, his voice flat, eyes unreachable behind dark glasses. "I guess the several thousand miles of space wasn't enough of a hint?"
Illya stood perfectly still and drank in the sight of his partner. No matter what the final outcome, this was water to his soul after the parched desert he'd wandered these last few months. "May I come aboard?"
Napoleon had never been as happy for sunglasses as he was at this moment, staring at his dream made unexpected flesh and standing not fifteen feet away. "Could I stop you?" he said, hearing his own voice still harsh with shock.
"Yes," Illya said simply, not moving, and Napoleon stared some more, trying to take him all in. The Russian wore beat-up khaki pants and a badly wrinkled white shirt, sleeves rolled high. A battered, multi-pocketed vest that undoubtedly hid his gun somewhere completed the ensemble. He was as tanned as he ever got, and Napoleon saw the edge of sunglasses peeping from one chest pocket. But he wore no hat, and his fair hair shone like a beacon light in the sun, a gleaming mass of whites and golds. Napoleon's fingertips itched. He clenched his hands and felt the narrow length of the communicator hard against his skin.
"And have I been 'leashed' all along?" he asked, pleased at the mocking tone he managed.
Illya shook his head, and the flash of his hair was blinding. "No. No tracking devices, as was agreed. Had you ever used that —" nodding at Napoleon's communicator, "—we could have triangulated you, but you never have."
So Waverly had talked to him. "The Old Man sent you, then?" Illya nodded, and Napoleon snorted. Of course he had; after the way Napoleon had left, there was certainly little reason for Illya to have searched on his own. Napoleon's chest ached. "To bring me back? Or just this?" Napoleon tilted the silver pen back and forth.
"The communicator is yours for as long as you care to keep it, Napoleon."
Napoleon. Oh God. Just that; just the sound of his name in that cultured, lightly accented voice and he was ready to fall again, his hard-won peace fractured like badly fired glass.
"May I come aboard?" that voice asked again, softly. "It's very pretty here, but it is a bit hot."
Napoleon opened eyes he hadn't realized he'd closed. So be it, then. It would end here, one way or the other. "As you apparently searched half the ocean for me, I guess I can spot you a beer. It's not exactly cold, though," he added brusquely, moving to the entrance to Pursang's interior.
The sloop shifted as Illya's weight hit the starboard side, and Napoleon half-smiled, unseen, as he ducked down into the cabin, pulling off his sunglasses as he went. He deliberately hadn't moored close on to the dock and he certainly hadn't laid out a gangplank, but little things like that had never stopped his agile partner.
"Cold beer is an American affectation," Illya said, voice coming first from above and then from behind him, "and not one I've ever particularly favored." The dry teasing, so clear to Napoleon's ears, made the ache in his chest worse.
He stalked over and yanked two bottles from the tiny cold storage in the equally tiny galley, popped their tops with the opener nailed to the wall and turned to shove one at Illya, who took it with widening eyes and backed a step or two, coming to rest against the side of the eating bench that doubled as the third berth. So, he'd managed to startle his impassive partner? Good. Then maybe he wouldn't be the only one here feeling like the world was ending. Napoleon took a big sip and then folded his arms across his chest, bottle held loosely in one hand. "So. Here we are. Now what?"
"Now?" Illya stared at the bottle in his hand as if he'd never seen one before, then lifted it and tilted his head back. Napoleon tried to ignore the clean line of his throat as he swallowed several times. "Now...I try to find some way to apologize," Illya said, brown glass dangling from his large fingers, staring at the toes of his well-worn shoes. A half-laugh. "I had some words earlier, I know I did, but where they've gone...."
A cold finger touched Napoleon's spine. "Apologize for what? Tracking me down against my wishes?"
"Napoleon." Illya swallowed again, eyes still on the floor. "I know. Mr. Waverly played me the tape."
The touch grew icy and began to slide downward. "Tape?"
"Of your conversation with Dr. Carter." Illya's voice cracked. Illya's voice never cracked. "After we returned from neutralizing the mind-control gas laboratory."
The icy finger grew a nail and jabbed him, sharp and deep. "Tape. From Medical. Son of a bitch." Napoleon turned and slammed his beer down on the counter, then grabbed the edge of the wood and squeezed until his knuckles turned white. "Of course there was a tape," he laughed, the bitter inevitability of it all bubbling up and out of him like acid, leaving an etched, aching sort of calm behind. He should have known. Maybe he had. "Of course there was."
Behind him, a deep breath. "I'm sorry." Illya's voice wasn't quite steady.
Napoleon shook his head. "Nothing for you to be sorry for."
"Napoleon, I —"
"No, dammit. It wasn't —"
"K'chortu, Napoleon, will you shut up?! I raped you. Will you please let me at least try to begin, somehow, to apologize?!"
And there they were. The words Napoleon had never wanted to hear, that he'd come a thousand miles to avoid, now hung in the air between them, harsh and ugly. And wrong; so very, very wrong.
Napoleon put a hand through his hair, then wiped it down his face and sighed, long and deep. He turned to look at his partner, really look. At the trim, compact body he knew so well, its posture now tight and unhappy. At the broad hands clenched too hard around the bottle they held; at the haggard face and bright, miserable eyes, blue as the water lapping softly against Pursang's hull.
"No, Illya, you didn't," Napoleon said quietly, meeting those eyes. Amazing how easy it was now to say it, the peace that came when there was no other choice and nowhere to hide. "You didn't. You can't rape the willing."
For a long moment Illya was still as stone. Then his brow furrowed and his lips parted, to slowly and soundless form bits of the words Napoleon had just spoken. The blond head shook suddenly, and his eyes closed. "That there was—no choice, I understand, and you did—what was needed. But still, I forced you to —"
"No, Illya," Napoleon repeated. He leaned back, glad of the solidity of the counter at his back, and stuffed his hands into the pockets of his shorts. "You didn't. Okay, maybe some of it was a little...rougher than I prefer, but that was all."
Illya's eyes snapped open and his jaw dropped. "R-rougher. That was all?" His voice rose, the tone incredulous. "That was all?! Napoleon, we botched three affairs and you disappeared for two months because you can't even look at me! How can you say —" He broke off as if the very words were choking him, and looked away.
Oh, God, Illya. I'd've paddled around the world twice to spare you this. Napoleon started to reach and checked himself, his own calm vanished as if it had never been. He ached to touch his partner once more, just one more time, but he couldn't. He couldn't.
"You're going to make me lay this all out, aren't you? Okay then. You're right. And you're wrong. I did leave because I couldn't look at you. I had to leave," he said as Illya's eyes came back to his, "because my problem was getting you hurt and it was going to get you killed if I didn't do something. But you're wrong, too. I didn't leave because of what you'd done. I left because you're never going to do it again. It was just the gas and I was there and I know that: you were never to blame." God, Solo, stop talking! But still the words tumbled out as Illya's eyes widened. "But you're in my head now and you won't leave, and I can't look at you without remembering —" He finally got his jaw snapped shut and turned away, gripping the counter edge once more. Breathe. Breathe. It's almost over.
"Go away, Illya," he managed after a few moments. "A little more time, and I'll get over this. And when I get back; it's your decision if our partnership continues."
"And...if it does not?" Illya asked, thickly.
Napoleon's eyes stung. He squeezed them closed. "Then I guess I'm Section One a little early. If Waverly doesn't toss me out after this, anyway."
Seabirds, and the soothing creak of the sloop, and his own breathing. The softest rustle of fabric behind him and then hands, hands Napoleon would know—had known—literally anywhere, curved lightly around his shoulders. "What if...." Warm breath brushed the nape of his neck. "What if I don't want you to get over it?"
"Wha..." The word wouldn't form; there was no air. He needed to move. He couldn't.
Illya's hands slid down to settle at Napoleon's waist, and a pressure that must be the Russian's forehead came to rest just above Napoleon's right shoulderblade. "Napoleon." Something rich, something that Napoleon had never heard there before, trembled in Illya's voice. "You have been plain; let me be also. I want you. I have wanted you for years. That you did not know this—is it because you are that dense or because I am that good?"
Dense. Dense? Now wait just one—"Illya?" Napoleon still couldn't quite breathe but he could move now and he did, turning to catch Illya by the upper arms, solid biceps under his palms. The blue gaze was still bright but the misery had fled, replaced with something else, something Napoleon might even dare to call joy. "Illya," he whispered, half-afraid to believe it.
Illya tilted his head. "Yes?" he said, mouth curving open into a rare, playful smile, and that was more than Napoleon could stand. He cupped the square jaw, fingertips touching the silky skin over high cheekbones, and kissed him.
Illya made a tiny, broken sound and opened his mouth against Napoleon's, kissing back, giving heat and breath, the yeasty taste of beer and the sweeter taste of himself. Giving everything and then taking it back, equal trade, over and over again, fingers tightening on Napoleon's hips to the point of pain.
Napoleon was breathless again when it ended, hours or years later; they both were, Illya's breath coming in soft gusts against Napoleon's lips. He leaned his forehead against Illya's, eyes closed, his partner's stubble prickling the palm of his hand and was, for the time in years, utterly content.
"For the last month," Illya murmured after a while, "there have been dreams. Fantasies that I believe now are memories, at least some of them, of things we did there, in that cave. But this, to...kiss you, feels...more intimate. New." Strong hands rubbed at Napoleon's waist in apology, then caressed their way slowly up his back, beneath his shirt, to cup heat around his shoulderblades.
"It is." Napoleon swallowed. "We didn't, then."
"Ah." Illya raised his head; Napoleon opened his eyes and met a blue gaze both impish and rueful. "So I was the dense one, then?"
"Yes." Napoleon moved his hand from Illya's face to bury it instead in tousled white-gold silk and use a handful of it to gently urge his partner's lush mouth back to his own. "But I'm pretty sure you're teachable."
The air around them was close and heavy and too warm, the island breeze having only limited success at curling its way through the Pursang's cabin. But it didn't matter, because Napoleon lay asleep beside him and, given how big the berth wasn't, almost under him. Asleep and naked.
Illya indulged in a long, luxurious stretch, and then cautiously propped his equally naked self up on one elbow and indulged in a long, thorough perusal of the trim body next to his. It was far from the first time that they'd slept in the same bed, but certainly the first time they'd done it like this.
All real, from the sweat-sharp musk he breathed in to the hot-salt taste that lingered on his lips, it was all real. All his.
He might even have to learn to like the sea, because they would be forever mingled for him now, as they had been in his dreams: the smells of sex and the sea and Napoleon. But the pain that had always followed was gone, because he was no longer dreaming.
Not that the sex part had exactly happened yet, he acknowledged with a twist of his mouth; exhaustion and relief had felled him before they had done much more than undress and Illya had barely blunted his hunger for the taste of Napoleon's skin. The twist became a tiny smile; given the arm draped possessively around Illya's waist, Napoleon hadn't minded the idea of a nap together all that much.
Napoleon shifted a little and murmured, but settled again, square-tipped fingers curling against Illya's bare ribs. Yes, rest, Illya thought, but not too much longer, and directed his lazy attention to his partner's hair, grown long enough that it feathered against the pillow. Strange to see it so. Stranger still and beyond wonderful to touch for no reason other than the want of it, sliding the sable and mahogany strands through his fingers like some glossy, precious fur.
Napoleon muttered again, dark brow creasing, and Illya thought he heard his name. "Sh-sh," he breathed, dropping into his mother tongue without thinking, still playing with Napoleon's hair. "Bud'te spokojny, zdes' ya."
A sudden breath and Napoleon's eyes snapped open. He stared up at Illya, and then he smiled. Not the smile the world saw but the real one, wide and brilliant, that stretched his mouth and crinkled his eyes. Faced with that, Illya had no choice but to smile back and lean down and kiss him. And kiss him, and kiss him.
Napoleon sighed when Illya eventually pulled away, lured by the siren call of other, sleep-warmed skin. He mouthed his way along the line of Napoleon's jaw and beneath where the pulse beat strongly, stubble raspy against his tongue. Napoleon arched his neck, inviting, and Illya accepted, licking, following the curve down to the salt-damp hollow. There he lingered for a while, nibbling on collarbones and the heavy bend of shoulder, memorizing what made his partner move and moan beneath him.
He worked his way further down, mapping the lightly haired chest with his lips, delighting in Napoleon's twitches and gasps at attention paid first to one peaked nipple and then the other, at the way Napoleon cupped a hand around his head and urged him closer.
He filled his own hands with the curves of Napoleon's ribs and waist, sweeping lower to caress a hip, teasing inward until his fingertips discovered wiry curls. His own arousal was a growing, pleasant ache to be ignored for the time being in favor of Napoleon's. He shifted, pushing his leg between Napoleon's thighs. Napoleon groaned and grabbed and pulled, spreading his own legs so that Illya fell between them.
Napoleon's full erection pressed hot and hard against Illya's own, and the pleasant ache flashfired into searing, urgent need. Illya groaned now and pressed his forehead against Napoleon's damp chest, rolling his hips, the friction setting off little starbursts behind his eyes. So good, the kiss of their cocks together, so incredibly good, silk and steel and sweat and power, the strength of another man. This man. The exhilaration of an equal, of not holding back, of muscle a match for his own.
He rocked, hearing Napoleon's moans mingling with his own tight sounds of pleasure, feeling elegant fingers at the small of his back sliding down to massage his buttocks. Fire built low at the base of his spine and he shuddered, biting his lip against the words that wanted to flow, fueled by delight, ridiculous emotional things—oh, he needed to fill his mouth with something else instead. Oh yes. He started to slide down.
Strong hands caught him. "Illya, no, not yet," Napoleon said breathlessly. "Not yet. With me; stay here with me. Please."
Their gazes locked and it hurt, the barely-there edge of pleading in his partner's voice, in tea-colored eyes nearly black with desire. This man should never plead. Never. Illya surged up and kissed Napoleon ferociously, shoving hands beneath and up to curve his fingers over the broad shoulders, weight balanced on his forearms as Napoleon's hands dug into his ass, locking their hips together. "Yes," Illya hissed. "Yes."
They moved together, loving in the dark, private place between them, sweat slicking them just enough for a shivery, breath-stealing friction. A little faster, a little harder; eventually Illya had to tear his mouth from Napoleon's to pant, half out of his mind, the air almost too thick to breathe, nothing existing but Napoleon's skin, Napoleon's scent, Napoleon. They slurred out of him then, those ridiculous things, emotional things, beautiful filthy words he was barely aware of saying.
Napoleon heaved, breath sobbing harshly in Illya's ear, and froze, shuddering. Wet heat flamed against Illya's belly as his partner convulsed and cried out, and the knowledge that it was Napoleon coming apart beneath him shoved Illya over the edge as well, the world shattering into fire and darkness.
It was a long time before Illya considered the idea of raising his head again, a hazy space of gradually slowing heartbeats in his ear and the sticky warmth of skin against his cheek, the lazy glide of Napoleon's hands as they counted the vertebrae of Illya's spine like treasure, one by one. But he did, because he wanted to see his partner's face.
The look in Napoleon's honey-brown eyes was better than any of Illya's dreams: soft and sated. Happy. One finger drifted slowly up under Illya's ear and over his jaw to trace a path lightly along his lower lip. "Real," Napoleon said, quiet and husky.
Oh, that voice. Illya raised an eyebrow. "You're sure?" he said, teasing to cover the way his belly fired with all that the simple word implied.
"Pretty sure," Napoleon replied, as he curved fingers around the back of Illya's head and gently tugged him down. "Of course, I might need some more research, you know," he murmured against Illya's mouth, "because only my very best dreams ever spoke Russian to me."
Komosomol—Communist Union of Youth, a syllabic abbreviation from the Russian Kommunisticheskiy Soyuz Molodyozhi, the youth wing of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
zavarka—Russian word for tea concentrate
bozhe moi—my god
glupyj, bespechnyj, vysokomernyj ubl'udok—stupid, thoughtless, arrogant bastard
bud'te spokojny, zdes' ya—be calm, I'm here