The Déjà Vu Affair
PROLOGUE—"...such things as dreams are made on..."
"ILLYA!" Solo's eyes flew open as he choked off the cry. He was bathed in sweat, his heart pounding. "Illya", he gasped with a moan.
He winced at the sharp stab of pain in his left shoulder as he moved incautiously. Now fully awake, he fought to bring his breathing under control as he reoriented himself in the present. His heart rate gradually slowed.
He closed his eyes, took a slow breath and then opened them again, determinedly forcing himself to confront the ebbing wisps of his dream. As the images played out the final one to fade was that of the limp form hanging from the handcuffs before him. The body broken and bloody, the heart stilled, the final breath given up to the ether.
So much blood! Everywhere... There'd been so much blood. Around the marred face and head it had flowed so freely that Napoleon could barely recognise him—the man the obscenely-swinging corpse had once been.
Solo found he was trembling. He closed his eyes tightly once more and gulped for air as the tears spilled down his cheeks.
ACT I—"En plein aire"
Two Weeks Earlier
Napoleon Solo reached into his inside pocket and took out the gently warbling pen. Removing its cap he replaced it deftly on the pen's opposite end and with a final twist spoke into it.
"Solo", he said softly, glancing surreptitiously about the quiet square. He was sitting at a table under a plane tree by the square's central fountain. It was early—barely 10.00 am—and most of the other tables were empty.
"Where are you?" came his partner's voice, slightly breathless.
Solo smiled. "I'm sitting in this delightful square quietly sipping a Cognac with my highly tuned senses alert for any trace of our feathered friends." he squinted in the sunlight as he watched the waiter serving the tables on the far side of the caf bar.
"Take care the pigeons don't mount an offensive, Napoleon," Illya Kuryakin snorted. "The cleaning bills for your suits already outstrip the Gross Domestic Product of a small country."
Solo's grin broadened. "And where are you, partner mine?"
"I am just about to leave Turkey—I hope," Kuryakin continued. "And you are...?"
"As I said, I'm..."
Kuryakin interrupted him, "Would you care to give me a further clue?" He was on the way to exasperation. "For example hemisphere, continent...?"
"Impatient Russian," Solo admonished through his grin. "I'm somewhere in France. Northern Provence, I think. Or... maybe the next one over?"
"Le Gard? In Languedoc?" Kuryakin's voice quickened as Solo heard shouts and noises in the background. "Listen, Napoleon, I am rather pressed for time. How far are you from Marseille?"
"Er... I'm not exactly sure..."
Illya cut him off again. "No time, Napoleon. Get there as soon as you can and in the meantime have the Marseille office dig out everything they can on a Sebastian Blanchard. I'll be in touch again when I can. Out."
The connection went dead.
Solo slowly recapped his communicator. "Take care, tovarisch," he murmured to himself with a slight frown.
He caught the eye of the waiter and raised his chin slightly. The young man finished wiping off the table he was clearing and came over.
"Encore un petit Cognac, M'sieur?"1
"Non, merci, Alain. Mais tu peux me donner l'addition, s'il te plait."2
Napoleon lowered his voice as he took out his wallet and searched for a five-franc note. "Does the name Sebastian Blanchard sound familiar, Alain?"
The young man's olive eyes looked thoughtful for a moment then he shook his head. He was about Solo's height, slim and Gallic-looking with glossy black hair that fell almost to his shoulders.
"I do not think I have heard the name before, Monsieur Solo," he murmured with a light French accent, "but I will check with records at headquarters for you. Something may have come through whilst I have been out here en plein aire."3
Solo nodded slowly.
"Ah, can you take some sudden leave from the café, Alain?" he said with a smile. "Say—to attend an ailing U.N.C.L.E.?"
Alain responded with a wry grin of his own. It lit up his face. "I will go and inform le chef now that my U.N.C.L.E. needs me."
Napoleon watched as the young Section IV operative strode across the square towards the front of the café, removing his apron as he went. Solo stood and drained his glass then moved off towards the street where his car was parked.
1Another small Cognac, Sir?
2No, thank you, Alain, but you may give me the bill, please
3In the open
ACT II: "Cherchez l'homme"
Marseille. Three days later
Alain Rambert sat in the 2CV6 waiting for Napoleon Solo to finish his briefing with Marseille's Section II head. He'd found a spot outside the Marseille Old Port Authority Office, the cover for U.N.C.L.E.'s front entrance. The smoke from his Gitâne curled through the open fabric roof and his eyes glittered in anticipation. He felt absurdly proud to be accompanying Solo to check out the latest, albeit sketchy, intelligence reports on Sebastian Blanchard. The honour of escorting U.N.C.L.E. Northwest's legendary CEA around Marseille could have fallen to anyone but Alain's knowledge of the darker areas of the cosmopolitan port made him the clear choice.
Rambert was twenty-two years old, an operative in Section IV, Communications and Security, of the Marseille office. He'd joined U.N.C.L.E. three years previously on completion of his baccalauréat4 and was still as fascinated by the work as he'd been from the start.
Providing accurate and timely intelligence for field agents was vital to U.N.C.L.E.'s mission structure. And Rambert was good. He and the rest of the Section IV team monitored the airwaves and published media, sifting out and collating information that could prove crucial to the success of a mission. In many cases it meant the difference between life and death for U.N.C.L.E.'s field agents.
Marseille's Section IV operatives, whilst not field-trained, also spent time beyond headquarters gathering intelligence. This they did on a rotational basis. It gave them a welcome break from the canned atmosphere of headquarters.
Alain's spell as a waiter in the café had been part of his rotation en plein aire. Another week and he would be back in the communications centre at headquarters again.
Spotting Solo coming down the steps, he straightened in his seat and took a final drag on the Gitâne, flicking the stub out through the open roof of the deux chevaux5. As Solo approached the car he started the engine.
"Where to?" he asked as Solo clambered into the passenger seat and pulled the rickety door shut with a grimace.
"Remind me to requisition an automobile next time we have to go en plein aire, Alain," he muttered.
Rambert looked quizzically at him. "Comment?" he asked, his brow puckered.
Solo gave him a wry grin. "Er... this isn't...," Solo stopped and shrugged. "Never mind," he said. Suddenly he missed Illya. "We're heading for...," he glanced at the map, "Le Panier."
In a manoeuvre that Kuryakin would have been proud of, Rambert ground the little car into gear and with barely a glance behind lurched away from the kerb into the hooting late- afternoon traffic.
As they headed north, Solo brought Alain up to speed with the latest information he had from Pascal Dumesnil, Napoleon's counterpart and head of Section II in Marseille.
"Sebastian Blanchard has had dealings with the Corsican Family. Details are sketchy but there seems little doubt that this is how he acquired his wealth."
"Why does he interest us?" asked Alain, swerving to avoid a bright red Velocette carrying an entire family plus their small dog.
"It seems that he may be behind the sudden flood of cocaine into the US," mused Solo. "No evidence so far of THRUSH involvement. We may find out more today."
They began to weave their way into the maze of steep, narrow streets that formed Le Panier. Bicycles, donkeys, handcarts—all vied with motor traffic for road space in this oldest part of the city. Solo searched for street names on the pastel-coloured houses that lined their route and looked down to check the address Dumesnil had given him.
He was suddenly flung forwards as Alain stood on the brakes and the little Citroen's nose dipped and rocked.
"Merde!" exclaimed Rambert.
He half stood, poking his head through the open roof, and there followed a stream of French invective. A youth with a handcart cowered under Rambert's tirade. One wheel had come off the cart and it now leaned crazily across the street. Napoleon almost felt sorry for the young man.
And only for a second—which was all it took for his senses to scream at him.
"Back!" he yelled as he grabbed at the waist of Alain's jeans, snatching a glance over his shoulder as he yanked the younger agent back down into the seat. "Go back!"
The second or two it took Alain to register the urgency in Solo's voice and begin to comply were too long. In a flurry of large bodies the doors of the 2CV were snatched open and the two agents were roughly dragged from their seats and bundled down a narrow alleyway.
At the other end of the alley a large black van waited with its engine running.
With his arms twisted behind him, Napoleon was powerless to reach for his gun. The men dragging Alain ahead of him were being none too gentle and the young Frenchman was doubled over and retching from a vicious blow to the abdomen. Napoleon struggled hard and his heel made contact with some soft part that produced a satisfying gasp from one of his captors. It was the last thing he remembered before something solid caught him on the side of the head. Poleaxed, he spun down into blackness.
4 An exam taken in the French educational system at the end of secondary school
5 Literally, two horses. A colloquialism for the Citroen 2CV6 car
ACT III: The Message
Napoleon came to feeling dizzy and nauseous with a loud ringing in his ears. He was suspended from—something—and he could feel the toes of his shoes just grazing the floor. His hands were numb although his wrists hurt and there was a bone-deep ache in both his shoulders.
Fighting down the nausea, he breathed slowly and deeply, keeping his eyes closed but listening intently for any sound that would indicate he was not alone. He heard nothing beyond the ringing in his ears and slowly cracked first one eyelid then the other. The light slashed into his skull and his head began to pound. Hurriedly he closed his eyes again.
Daylight, then. He must have been unconscious all night.
Taking a moment to get the pounding under control, he gritted his teeth and opened his eyes again, squinting around. He was handcuffed to a solid wooden ceiling beam. About three yards farther along the same beam Rambert was similarly suspended facing him, but with his feet shackled to a ring in the floor. He appeared unconscious and his head lolled to one side.
As Solo looked more closely he grimaced in anger and disgust. The young Frenchman had clearly undergone a savage beating. Although an U.N.C.L.E. agent, as a Section IV researcher Rambert was not field trained. He was essentially an office worker, and Napoleon felt almost as protective of him as he would of an innocent. There was also the nagging anxiety at the back of his mind—why him and not me?
He forced himself to look at the ravaged face. One eye was swollen shut and Alain's nose and mouth were covered in dried blood. A ragged, bloody hole below his lower lip showed where his teeth had punctured it. The whole facial contour was bizarrely altered from the beating. It gave Alain's head a grotesque, pumpkin-like quality.
Shit, thought Solo, alarmed now. This did not look good.
Dragging his eyes away from the beaten agent, he looked round. They were alone in what appeared to be a wooden barn with a dirt floor. Probably not in the city any longer, then, Solo mused. It was empty except for rows of wooden pegs on the walls holding several arcane agricultural implements. He tried to crane his neck to look over his shoulder but could see nothing.
"Alain," he called softly. Then, more loudly, "Alain." There was no response.
Solo squinted up at his handcuffs. He stretched, trying to get some purchase with this feet to take a little of his weight off his hands. It was futile. He attempted to ease himself along the beam towards the young agent. With a grunt of frustration he realised that the chain linking the handcuffs was solidly stapled to the beam. Presumably Alain's was too. A sobering thought crept over him that this was probably not the first time the barn had been used in this way.
He risked calling out more loudly to the Frenchman. "Alain," again there was no response. "Agent Rambert!" he called, alarm now giving his voice an edge.
As if in answer to his call there was the sound of a key in a lock and Napoleon heard a door open behind him. Alain remained slumped in his handcuffs. Solo craned his neck to look over his shoulder—and was met by a harsh, blow to his face.
"Non, non, non, Monsieur Solo," a well-modulated voice with a trace of a French accent breathed in his ear.
Napoleon felt a hand in his hair and his head was roughly yanked back. Blood from his bitten tongue trickled down his throat almost choking him. The hand brought his head level again, forcing his face to the front.
"This is where we want your attention focused," the Voice continued smoothly. "All your attention. All of the time. On your young friend here."
Without releasing his grip on Napoleon's head, the speaker moved into Solo's field of vision. Not a big man, not bulky but solid and well-proportioned. He looked tanned and fit in the way that only the very rich do. Silky hair, the colour of honey, framed a face of soft, almost child-like, contours. The smile that played around the lips was faintly amused. He was dressed immaculately—and expensively, the perfect image of a wealthy playboy. Solo looked into the man's eyes—and immediately re-appraised the urbane image.
The eyes were so pale as to be almost colourless. What disturbed Solo was the complete absence of anything human there; no curiosity; no compassion; no engagement. Nothing. Solo had looked into the eyes of such men before—usually just before he'd had to kill them. THRUSH habitually boasted more than its fair share of them among its ranks. They seemed ever-present no matter how many were removed by agents of the Command. Sociopaths, psychopaths—however they were categorised Napoleon knew that one thing was inevitable. Wherever they were, people died. Dreadfully. Needlessly. Sometimes they themselves died, sometimes others. But sure as hell, somebody did.
"Forgive me, Monsieur Solo." His captor released Solo's head and stepped between the two suspended agents, turning to face him. "Allow me to introduce myself. I am Sebastian Blanchard."
Solo swallowed and inclined his head towards Blanchard. "The pleasure is all yours," he said, meeting Blanchard's cold eyes neutrally.
"Ah," said Blanchard, nodding slightly. He continued, "I know that you have heard of me, Monsieur Solo. Your organisation has been showing an annoying interest in my affairs for some time now.
"You will know that I am extremely wealthy. Last year I turned over two and a half million dollars and have already matched that this year to date." He rocked on his heels in front of Solo. "You will know too that I am a powerful man." There was no arrogance in Blanchard's voice or manner. He was merely conveying facts as though to a rather dull student.
Napoleon shrugged but made no reply.
"My wealth is largely from my control of the import and distribution of—a certain commodity through this key port." Blanchard's eyes flashed ice, "Be assured I have no intention of giving this up, Monsieur Solo.
Mustering as much nonchalance as he could, Napoleon sighed. "Why are you telling me all this, Blanchard?" he asked. "You must be aware that we already know all about you."
Blanchard chuckled in delight. "Ah, but you do not, Monsieur Solo. Not everything." His eyes gleamed. "U.N.C.L.E. has become of late, how do you say—a thorn in my side—yes?"
Napoleon made no response.
"A thorn in my side. Irksome, yes, but nothing more.
"I am, however, about to—how shall we say—develop my interests in this area of the world; and I tire of U.N.C.L.E.'s attention to my business." He looked Solo hard in the eye and his voice became sharper, full of ice. "It ends here!
"You, Monsieur Solo, and this young man...," Blanchard's voice softened slightly. He paused and tilted his head, gazing at Alain's unconscious form as though seeing him for the first time. "He must have been rather pretty," he mused somewhat distractedly before turning back to Solo.
"Alors, you, and he, will convey that message to your superiors. And in case your powers of persuasion are inadequate, this bel jeun homme—or what remains of him," he looked Alain up and down and made a moue of distaste, "will help you to convince them that I mean what I say."
With that Blanchard stepped to one side and nodded slightly to someone behind Napoleon. Solo tensed in readiness for a blow that never came. Instead, two of the immense thugs who'd ambushed them at Le Panier stepped into his line of sight and went to stand on either side of Rambert. He was still out cold.
Solo swallowed again, although his mouth felt suddenly parched.
"What developments, Blanchard?" he began hoarsely. Anything to stall for time, to distract, dissuade.
Blanchard looked at Solo for a moment with expressionless eyes then turned slowly away from him. He nodded towards Alain.
"Wake him," he ordered softly.
The two thugs turned to the pegs on the wall and each selected an implement; one, his shaven head glistening with slight perspiration, took a heavy grain flail. The other ran a hand quickly through his ginger crew-cut before choosing a sledge-hammer.
Adrenalin dumped into Solo's system.
"Wait!" he almost shouted. "Wait. He knows nothing. He's only a local guide—my driver." His voice was quieter now. "You can let him go. I'll deliver your message."
Blanchard's eyes glittered. "Ah, Monsieur Solo, Monsieur Solo," he said in that soft voice that was to Napoleon like nails on a blackboard. "Of course he knows nothing. We do not want information from him. No, no, his role is to help you to ensure that my message is fully understood." He paused for emphasis. "I will no longer tolerate U.N.C.L.E.'s scrutiny of my affairs."
His voice became even softer, almost a caress. "You will convey to your superiors, with conviction, that any further interference in any of my business ventures will result in a repeat of this..." Gesturing towards the young Frenchman he nodded once more to his henchmen, "with whomever they are unwise enough to send."
Solo was transfixed. He could no longer swallow. His mouth had become desert-dry. As he watched, the thug with the heavy sledge-hammer swung it upwards in a slow arc through the air and then down to smash Alain's left foot.
Rambert's whole body spasmed. His right eye flew open and his head was flung back as he erupted into consciousness, choking and screaming. His lungs hadn't fully emptied of the scream before the second thug whipped the flail across his right shin, audibly splintering the bone. Alain screamed again and met Napoleon's eyes in bewildered horror before vomiting noisily.
Napoleon felt a warm breath by his right ear.
"It ends here, Monsieur Solo," whispered Blanchard. "Goodbye." And Solo heard the snick of the lock as the door behind him opened then quietly closed.
The young Frenchman's hoarse screams continued for some time, interspersed with further wet cracks and soft, bursting sounds, before diminishing into whimpers. Finally, after about ten minutes, they stopped altogether. After ten more minutes so did the beating.
Solo gave no outward sign that he was present during it all, so effectively had he withdrawn into himself from the unspeakable scene before him. It was a technique all Section II agents were trained in to help them to survive torture. He and Illya had used it on too many occasions.
His final vision was of Alain's broken body swinging obscenely in front of him, before the bald thug, now blood-spattered and shiny with sweat, turned from the corpse in front of him and brought sweet oblivion to Solo with one huge fist.
ACT IV: The Messenger
Napoleon Solo was jarred into full consciousness as he hit the ground hard. Simultaneously a suffocating weight landed on top of him. He felt his left shoulder dislocate with a blinding stab of pain as the weight wrenched it awkwardly behind him. He was dimly aware of the roar of engine noise and of tyres and people screaming.
Confusion surrounded him. He couldn't see beyond the burden that threatened to stifle him. Horns blared, people screamed and suddenly he heard the voice of Pascal Dumesnil, Marseille's head of Section II close by. There was a sharp intake of breath.
"Merde! Non...," Dumesnil choked out. This was followed by a stream of rapid French as he barked orders in a voice that clearly strove not to crack.
Napoleon was aware of the weight being lifted from him but then cried out as the movement yanked on his dislocated shoulder. Gentle hands immobilised his arm. He felt something metallic near his left wrist followed by a solid 'snap' as someone used bolt cutters on his handcuffs and suddenly he could breathe. As he was lifted onto a gurney he felt consciousness slipping away from him again.
When he next woke, briefly, it was to the familiar smell of antiseptic. His left arm was taped firmly across his chest and a nurse was standing over him injecting something into an IV bottle that was running into his right arm. She laid a hand on his forehead and murmured something in French before he felt darkness closing over him again.
Somewhere near the Italian border
Illya Kuryakin leaned back in the driver's seat of the battered Fiat truck and activated his communicator as he waited in the queue at the border control. "Open Channel D, please, overseas relay."
"Mr Kuryakin," came Alexander Waverly's distinctive voice almost immediately. "Where are you?"
"I am about to enter France, Sir," Kuryakin responded. He shook his head with a smile. Did the old man never sleep? "Is there any news from Napoleon?"
Waverly paused then harrumphed. And the hairs on the back of Illya Kuryakin's rose in unison.
"Mr Solo will shortly be en route to an U.N.C.L.E. safe house not far from Marseille. You are to join him there as soon as you can."
Illya's eyebrows shot up. "A safe house, Sir?"—an oxymoron in the Russian's opinion—"What has happened?" His accent thickened as it did when he was drunk, exhausted or anxious. "Is he all right?"
"Pascal Dumesnil, Marseille's head of Section II, will brief you, Mr Kuryakin. Proceed with all speed, please. Waverly out."
The channel went dead. Illya frowned as he let in the clutch and eased the truck forward a few yards before the queue came to a halt once more. He activated his communicator again and spoke into it in his flawless French.
"Open Channel D, please. Local relay, Marseille." He waited a few seconds before a female voice responded, "Channel D is open. This is Marseille. Go ahead, please."
"This is Illya Kuryakin, Number 2, Section II, New York. I need to speak to Pascal Dumesnil."
There was a slight pause before the duty officer continued in a voice tinged with weariness. "I am sorry, Monsieur Kuryakin. Monsieur Dumesnil is not back from the funeral yet. May I ask him to call you when he is?"
Illya drew in a sharp breath. "Yes, please. When do you expect him back?"
"We aren't sure, Monsieur Kuryakin, but he's scheduled to check in at 17.30."
Illya glanced at his watch. 4.15pm.
"Please have him call me as soon as he is available. Kuryakin out." He replaced the cap on his communicator thoughtfully and nudged the truck forward once more.
Something was wrong...
U.N.C.L.E. HQ Marseille
During the forty-eight hours following his return to U.N.C.L.E. HQ Marseille, Napoleon Solo lay in the infirmary slipping in and out of consciousness. Occasionally a concerned nurse or medic would be hovering over him, occasionally he was alone. Once, Pascal Dumesnil's white and strained face swam into his vision.
On the morning of the next day Napoleon awoke to a welcome sense of clarity. Evidently his medication level had been reduced, although the sense of dislocation the drugs created, the insulation from reality, still lingered. It increased his sense of dejection. He thought wryly of Illya's habitual refusal of pain meds no matter how much the Russian was hurting.
He missed his partner's solid presence. It was a rare thing for one of them to be in the infirmary without the other keeping vigil to antagonise the medical staff, eat the grapes and keep the uninvited at bay. Without that distraction Napoleon's seared psyche was struggling to make sense of a mission that had gone so disastrously wrong. Napoleon missed Illya.
The door opened and a petite blonde nurse entered. She was followed by the station's chief Medical Officer, a short, round man with sharp grey eyes. With an effort, Solo fixed the nurse with one of his most charming smiles. She blushed prettily and fussed over his IV line. The medical chief glanced briefly at Napoleon's chart and then moved to his bedside.
"Bonjour, Monsieur Solo," he greeted in a surprisingly soft voice. "I am Jean-Paul Caillard, the chief of medicine here." His eyes held Solo's with concern. "Do you feel well enough to talk?"
Solo grimaced. "Well, I'd feel a whole lot better away from this bed, Doctor." He glanced down and then up again. "Ah, any chance of some clothes?"
The Doctor smiled slightly. "Pascal said it would be the first thing you requested. Let the nurse take down your IV then we'll talk." He turned as Dumesnil entered the room carrying a set of scrubs.
"The old man wants to see us both as soon as you can, Napoleon," he said quietly, handing the scrubs to Solo.
"I should like to sit in, if there is no objection," interjected the Chief Medical Officer raising an eyebrow at Dumesnil.
Dumesnil nodded slowly at Caillard. Solo scanned his French counterpart's face as he accepted the clothing. Dumesnil looked like a man at the end of his tether. Solo knew the crushing effect of losing an agent and felt immense sympathy for him.
"Just give me time to slip into something a little more comfortable," he said, and was gratified by a half smile from Dumesnil.
An hour later, Solo walked into the office of François Toudic, the head of U.N.C.L.E. Marseille. Dumesnil and Caillard were already seated at the conference table.
"Monsieur Solo. Please sit," greeted Toudic, indicating an empty chair opposite him. "How do you feel?"
Solo sat, and paused.
He had absolutely no idea how he felt. He hadn't opened the lid on that particular Pandora's Box since the first blow fell on Alain Rambert. Schooling his features into a bland mask he looked into Toudic's face.
"I'm fine, sir," he lied, with a small hitch of the sling on his left arm. "Luckily it isn't my gun arm."
Toudic regarded him solemnly for a moment.
"Tell us," he said softly, "what happened. Everything, from the moment you and Agent Rambert left here for Le Panier, until the moment you and he..." he paused, "were delivered back to us."
Napoleon closed his eyes briefly. When he opened them his control was imperturbable.
Slowly he began the mission report. Toudic and Caillard took notes throughout. His report was, as usual, a model of clarity and accuracy and as he continued, his automatic responses took over. He watched Dumesnil closely as he spoke.
As the report ended, silence fell in the room.
François Toudic finished making notes in the file in front of him then closed it and looked at Napoleon. "Rest now, Monsieur Solo. Alexander Waverly has already called and I will see that he has a copy of your report as soon as possible. He will call again to speak to you this evening."
As Caillard and Napoleon got up to leave, Napoleon paused and looked down at Dumesnil.
"I'm sorry, Pascal," Napoleon said softly. "You and Alain were close, weren't you?"
Dumesnil's head came up and he gave Napoleon a long look. Finally, with a tight smile, he said, "It wasn't your fault, Napoleon."
The grief in Dumesnil's eyes cut Napoleon like a knife.
"Pascal..." Solo hesitated, suddenly not knowing what to say. A heavy sensation was beginning to condense in his chest. "If there's anything you need...," he trailed off. Dumesnil looked up at him with a small smile and nodded. "A bientôt6, Napoleon," he said as Solo followed Caillard out of the room.
In the corridor, the Doctor moved next to him. "We need to talk now, Monsieur Solo," the Doctor said gently but firmly.
Napoleon came to a dead stop and stared at him, aghast. "Talk?" he flared. "What the hell was that all about then?" he spat, jerking his head over his shoulder towards the conference room. The anger he'd locked down so hard threatened to overwhelm him now.
"I thought you'd finished drawing blood, Doctor," he hissed, fighting for self-control. Jean-Paul Caillard remained very still, calm grey eyes never leaving Napoleon's face.
"Napoleon, you know we have to do this," he said even more gently. "What was said in there does not even begin to cover the nightmare you've just lived through."
At least I lived through it, Napoleon thought bitterly; and found he was trembling. Caillard regarded him sadly and gently took his elbow; Solo went with him without a word.
It was an exhausted Napoleon Solo who took the call from Alexander Waverly several hours later in Communications.
"You are to complete your psych evaluation with Dr Caillard, Mr Solo," Waverly was his usual dispassionate self "and then rendezvous with Mr Kuryakin at a safe house near Uzs."
Napoleon's head came up at the mention of a reunion with his partner and the leaden feeling that had settled in his chest grew a little lighter.
"When should I expect Illya, Sir?" he asked.
"His last call-in indicated he was leaving the Italian border and travelling across country to join you. He has, ah, one or two things to take care of in Marseille first. If all goes well he should be at the house sometime in the next couple of days," Waverly harrumphed. "He will share with you the latest intelligence we have on Sebastian Blanchard. It isn't good, I'm afraid, Mr Solo. Waverly out."
Napoleon closed the connection and remained in silent thought for a moment.
He turned to find Pascal Dumesnil standing by the door, waiting to escort him to the safe house. Their eyes met briefly. Dumesnil's dropped first as he stood back silently to let Napoleon pass. Solo slowed as he passed him but said nothing, and Pascal followed him out.
6 See you later
ACT VII—"...an impressive entrance."
U.N.C.L.E. safe house, Uzès, three days later.
As the dream left him ravaged once more, Solo wiped his eyes and flung back the sweat- soaked top sheet. He was still breathing heavily as he stumbled his way to the bathroom. On the way, he paused to check the panel in the hall that indicated the property's perimeter was intact and that the door and window sensors were operational. All green.
In the bathroom he turned on the shower, used the toilet then stepped under the warm spray. As he soaped the sweat from his body and one-handedly shampooed his hair, the final wisps of the dream dissipated. By the time he'd rinsed the last of the shampoo from his hair, he felt more in control of himself. Switching off the shower, he grabbed a towel and dried himself off.
As he shaved, he grimaced at his reflection in the mirror. His cheeks were sunken and grey and his eyes looked as though he'd been on a three-day bender. His habitual half smile had been replaced by the hunted look of a man he didn't recognise.
Wearily, he headed for the bedroom to strip the damp bed linen. As he stepped over the threshold into the room, the hairs on the back of his neck leapt to attention.
Too late, he lunged for his Special, cursing himself in dismay for having left it under his pillow instead of taking it with him to the bathroom.
Something cannoned into him from behind, and he found himself flat on his face on the bed, all the wind knocked out of him, and a solid weight on top of him. As he struggled ineffectually, unable to draw a breath, his vision started to cloud as the blood roared in his ears and he began to see stars. On the periphery of consciousness he heard a clip being ejected from a weapon. It was immediately relocated and, with the snick of a safety catch, said weapon sporting an ivory "S" on the grip landed on the bed before his dimming eyes.
Suddenly, the weight lifted from his back and he drew in great gulping breaths. He gasped until he had enough to spare for speech.
"Next time why not try for an impressive entrance," he wheezed.
"Next time, if you live to see it," growled a familiar voice in response," perhaps you'd like to do a report for Mr Waverly on the folly of leaving one's weapon unattended in the bedroom whilst one takes a shower."
Still panting, Napoleon rolled over and took in the sight of his partner leaning against the door frame with his arms folded and a scowl on his face. The Russian was travel-stained with a three-day beard, his pale, normally glossy hair lank and matted. His eyes had a bruised look that spoke eloquently of too little sleep in too many days. Napoleon had never seen a sight so welcome.
Solo's face relaxed into something approaching a smile. "Ah, so young and yet so wise," he sighed as he sat up slowly, wincing at the tweak to his painful left shoulder. "I wasn't expecting guests until later." Still, he knew the magnitude of the error of judgment he'd just committed.
Kuryakin eyed his friend, speculatively, for a moment; read the pain and exhaustion—and something else he couldn't quite fathom—in his face.
"I'd have called ahead but I thought I might disturb something." Illya let his eyes scan the room swiftly as though looking for someone. "Where is she, Napoleon?" He looked acerbically at his partner, one eyebrow raised. "Did you send her on her way already?" He looked down and noted Solo's partial erection. "She can't have been gone that long," he said with a smirk. "I see you are still in a state of... interest."
Napoleon felt the treacherous organ twitch and he cursed under his breath. He rolled off the bed, grabbing his discarded gun and towel in one swift movement and stalked over to the dresser.
"I don't know about you," he threw back over his shoulder to his partner, "but I haven't had breakfast yet.
Illya eyed the tension in his partner's posture for a moment, then, with a shake of his head, grabbed a towel and headed for the bathroom.
His voice floated back from the hall, "Eggs, bacon, toast—please."
The bathroom door slammed. A second later it reopened. "Oh, and tea if you have it, Napoleon. My blood caffeine level is probably still toxic; all that Turkish coffee."
The bathroom door closed again, this time more quietly.
Solo raised his head and met his own eyes in the mirror of the dresser. Too damn close, he muttered to himself. One day soon, his partner's growling stomach would not be enough to divert his attention when Solo let slip his need.
He dressed quickly, stripped the bed and put the linen in the washing machine. Returning to the hall he checked the alarm panel. The bank of green lights winked mockingly at him. He frowned and went outside to do a perimeter check of the grounds. Sure enough there was a neatly-bridged gap, barely visible, in the circuit where Illya had come through.
Solo walked slowly back to the house rebuking himself for his error of judgement in leaving his weapon unattended. It was a rookie blunder, one for which Jules Cutter would have flayed the hide off any agent in Survival School—and probably sent him packing too. If it hadn't been his partner getting the drop on him, he could be dead.
By the time he got back indoors, the shower had stopped. He headed to the kitchen, took half a dozen eggs and a pound of bacon from the refrigerator and began preparing breakfast. He heard the bathroom door open and bare feet padded across the tiled floor of the hall. A second later Illya appeared in the kitchen, a towel slung around his waist, damp, golden hair tousled over his forehead and a face full of shaving soap. He held aloft a safety razor in one big hand.
Napoleon turned and caught his breath, transfixed, at the sight of Illya's hard-muscled and now tanned body. There were several healing abrasions and yellowing bruises around his torso but otherwise he looked—beautiful...
Christ, thought Solo, starting guiltily. Had he actually said that out loud?
"Sorry, tovarisch. Miles away. Er... what did you say?" Napoleon's voice was almost steady.
"Spare razor blades. Do you have any?" Illya said quietly.
"Sure. Just haven't unpacked them yet." With a massive effort Solo managed a nonchalant smile. "In the valise in my bedroom" he said.
Illya looked at him inscrutably for a moment longer then turned and headed towards the bedroom.
Napoleon leaned against the worktop and rested his head against the overhead cupboard closing his eyes. He exhaled slowly.
"Get a grip, goddammit," he muttered.
He opened his eyes, shook his head and continued breaking eggs into a bowl. From the bathroom he heard Kuryakin humming softly as he shaved.
By the time Illya returned to the kitchen, lustrous from his ablutions, Napoleon was piling eggs and rashers of bacon onto a large warmed plate and setting in on the table. The Russian's eyes gleamed and he began to load his own plate high as he sat down.
"Sorry, tovarisch, no toast," Napoleon said as he set a steaming teapot in the centre of the table, together with a crusty loaf of warm French bread.
Kuryakin merely grunted in response. Solo shook his head fondly. Eating was one of his partner's great pleasures and Napoleon never ceased to be intrigued by the sight. Illya consumed food with the same skilful economy that characterised everything else that Napoleon had seen him do. It was almost erotic... Steady, boy.
Illya looked up from his plate and caught Napoleon's distracted gaze. "What?" he said, swallowing a large mouthful and pausing in the midst of loading his fork for the next. Napoleon shook himself mentally. "What what?"
Illya looked at him a second longer and then resumed loading his fork. "You are looking at me as you do when you have some unpleasant task that you wish me to perform and are plotting as to how best to coerce me into doing it." He continued shovelling bacon and eggs into his mouth.
Schooling his features carefully, Napoleon sat down at the table and began to load his own plate. "Tell me about Turkey."
"The part where I was almost recruited into Blanchard's heroin empire, or the part where they realised they didn't want me after all and decided to terminate my contract?" Illya poured himself a large glass of tea. His eyes searched the table, clearly not finding what he was looking for.
Hiding his sudden unease from his partner, Napoleon stood abruptly and went to the cupboard. He returned to the table, his face impassive and set the apricot jam in front of the Russian. "Yes and yes," he said quietly.
Kuryakin began spooning the jam into his tea. "There's not much to tell really. I back- tracked the route the raw opium takes from the growers in the mountains and arranged to be available when they were recruiting drivers to take the next shipment to Marseille for refinement." He took a long pull of his tea and a satisfied look spread across his face.
Mopping the last of the egg from his plate with a piece of bread, he continued. "Unfortunately for me they took exception to drivers they believed were stealing from their payload en route and I was forced to decline their offer of a trip round the harbour—underwater." Illya popped the piece of egg-soaked bread into his mouth. "They were fairly insistent," he went on, as he chewed, "but in the end they saw things my way."
Napoleon looked on distractedly as the Russian sucked each finger clean in turn then licked his lips and sat back with a satisfied sigh. He locked his hands behind his head and yawned hugely. "Forgive me, Napoleon. Sleep has been in rather short supply this past week." He gave another jaw-popping yawn and rocked his chair back onto two legs.
"You and me both, my friend," Napoleon said softly, eyes unfocused.
Illya grinned impishly. "You never told me her name."
The look that suddenly shadowed his friend's eyes wiped the grin from the Russian's face.
"Napoleon," he said quietly "what is it?"
"Napoleon?" At the torment in his partner's face he reached out instinctively and his chair rocked forwards with a crash. His expression was unreadable as he laid a hand gently on Solo's forearm. In response Napoleon blanched and his mouth sagged open.
"Chyort!" hissed Illya. "Napoleon—tell me about it."
And so Napoleon did.
By the time he got to Alain's death at the hands of Blanchard's men, his voice was barely a whisper. Throughout, Illya's hand never left his partner's forearm, gently squeezing and stroking in a measured rhythm.
Solo drew in a sharp breath. "It was bad, Illya," he said in a flat voice. "He wasn't even field certified."
Napoleon fell silent and Illya's hand stilled in its stroking and moved to cover his friend's hand. "Nightmares?" he asked.
Solo nodded slowly and swallowed, looking as tired and defeated as Illya had ever seen him. After a moment he seemed to gather himself again for speech.
"But that isn't the worst," Solo whispered so softly now that Illya had to lean close to catch his words. "The worst part..." Napoleon hesitated and his breath hitched. "The worst part is that in the nightmares..." He swallowed convulsively. "...in the nightmares," his voice now a mere breath, "it's you they beat to death; right in front of me. So much blood..."
Solo's voice cracked and his head fell forward to pillow on his forearms on the table. And finally the tears came; great wracking sobs that shook him to the core.
Illya was out of his chair in an instant and kneeling at his friend's side. He laid his forearm across the heaving shoulders and with infinite gentleness turned his partner towards him. Solo clutched blindly for him and pressed his wet face into the crook of his neck as the sobs were wrenched from him. Illya held him and stroked his fingers through the short hair at the nape of Napoleon's neck, rocking him gently and crooning softly to him in Russian, until, an eternity later, the sobs diminished and finally ceased.
Eventually, Napoleon raised his tear-stained face from his partner's neck. Red eyes met and held Illya's for a long moment. Slowly Illya stood and drew Napoleon to his feet and into his arms again, hugging him tightly.
"Shhh, my friend. It was terrible. Losing an agent is always terrible but it wasn't your fault," he said softly next to his friend's ear. "Nothing in your power would have changed things. "I'm here. This is real. I am not a dream. I'm alive and so are you," he said, stroking Napoleon's back in soothing circles. "Come, Napoleon. Sleep now. We are both exhausted and Waverly is calling at 16.00 with our next briefing."
Solo responded with a small squeeze. It was as though it were the last voluntary act of which he was capable. He allowed Illya to lead him into the second bedroom, offering no resistance as his partner stripped him of his shirt and trousers and gently eased him into bed. He gave a final, hitching sigh before exhaustion finally took him.
Illya drew the sheet up over his partner and paused briefly before returning to the kitchen. He cleared away the breakfast debris before checking the security sensors on the doors and windows. He and Napoleon occasionally worked different ends of the same affair but Illya was never entirely comfortable with that. It always made him more morose and bad- tempered than usual when his partner was alone in the field.
Together they were unassailable. They read each other's intentions, pooled their considerable skills to astonishing effect and created mayhem amongst those who deserved it. In the midst of it all, they made sure they had each other's backs. Illya hated it when he wasn't there to cover his partner's back.
He was troubled by the effect this last solo escapade had had on his partner. He'd seen Napoleon drunk, exhausted, raving under the influence of THRUSH pharmaceuticals, beside himself with anger, even, but he'd never seen his friend so—Illya started in sudden realisation—afraid. Deep in thought, he moved on automatically through the security check.
As he passed the hall panel he attached a tiny magnetic box to it. He nodded in satisfaction as a green light blinked slowly on its side—an interference detector. He allowed himself a rueful smile. He hadn't yet worked out how to bypass its action so felt relatively certain that it would warn them if anyone else attempted to breach the perimeter security, with or without a bridge.
With that he moved into the bedroom and looked down at his soundly-sleeping partner. His expression softened as he brushed the wayward lock of hair from Napoleon's forehead. Do not be afraid, my friend. I will not leave you alone with your fear again.
He undressed and flung his clothes over a chair before lifting the sheet and climbing into bed beside Napoleon. He slid on the safety of his Special and tucked it under the pillow. Napoleon didn't even stir as Illya laid a reassuring arm about him and sighed heavily. Within seconds, the only sound in the building was the cadence of their sleeping breaths.
Napoleon swam up languorously from a deep, dreamless sleep he'd forgotten was possible. He felt warm, content and indolent. The warmth, he realised sleepily, was radiating from the body next to him and he snuggled back against it decadently. Still more than half asleep, he inhaled the familiar, welcome scent that enveloped him, and felt himself harden instantly in response. A drowsy smile played across his lips—and his eyes suddenly snapped open in alarm, his heart pounding, as he made the connection. Illya.
As he struggled to roll away, a well-muscled arm suddenly snaked about his waist and held him in an implacable grasp.
"Where do you think you're going?" a gruff, sleepy voice murmured against his neck.
"Bathroom," he choked out hoarsely, trying to fling back the sheet that covered them.
He gasped suddenly and froze, as Illya's broad, calloused hand moved from his waist and slipped under the waistband of his boxers to caress his burgeoning erection.
"Hmph. Much good that will do you in this state," Illya snorted. "You'll have to wait awhile I think."
Napoleon caught his breath, as his cock leapt at a firm squeeze from his partner. Illya gave it an unhurried stroke from tip to base and back again, then let go. He propped himself up on one elbow, looking down at Napoleon quizzically.
"Hey," he said softly.
"Hey yourself," Napoleon breathed, as he rolled onto his back and looked up uncertainly into the candid blue eyes, trying to read the next step. He cleared his throat. "Are you..." he began doubtfully.
Two fingers were laid gently over his lips. "Hush, Napoleon," murmured Illya. He held Napoleon's gaze. "You need this—we both need this."
Illya's hand moved from Solo's lips back to the waistband of his boxers. Napoleon lifted his hips as his partner slid them off and discarded them. He sighed as Illya's hand found his now fully-erect cock once more.
Napoleon watched in fascination as his friend began to stroke it, slowly but firmly, rolling his thumb over the head at each stroke. His breath hitched and he closed his eyes, revelling in the sensation sparking in his groin. Within seconds slippery pre-ejaculate began to leak freely from the tip. Illya carefully smoothed it over the head with each stroke of his thumb—and then he stopped. Napoleon moaned and opened his eyes.
Looking directly into Napoleon's eyes to ensure he had his full attention, Illya brought his now slick thumb slowly up to his own mouth and sucked it inside. Napoleon whimpered helplessly at the sight. Illya closed his eyes dreamily for a moment and an expression of joy spread over his face as he licked his thumb clean.
Suddenly Napoleon couldn't drag his eyes away from his partner's face. Illya was breathing heavily through slightly parted lips as he moved his hand back to stroke Napoleon's now throbbing and weeping cock. The Russian's eyes were a lustrous black surrounded by slim rings of cobalt, almost glowing with—desire. It was like looking into a mirror.
Napoleon reached out blindly for Illya's cock, provoking a startled moan as he made contact with its solid length. Its size was a revelation. Illya's erect, uncircumcised shaft was almost as long as his own and just as thick—if not thicker. Napoleon couldn't believe how good it felt to touch his partner like this. He squeezed and tugged gently, then more insistently, discovering which movements drew the greatest response from his friend.
Solo let his gaze travel slowly down between their now glistening chests and up to his partner's face. "Beautiful," he gasped, as he caught his breath in wonder. He had seen Illya naked so often, that his body was almost as familiar to him as his own. Had seen the numerous scars of old wounds, seen transient damage too, but he'd never before seen him fully aroused.
Illya's eyes were hooded and dark with need and he panted through moist and swollen lips—Napoleon had never seen anything so dazzling. "So beautiful," he breathed as he began to pump Illya, relentlessly, and was rewarded by a matching rhythm from the hand on his own shaft. He knew he was close and guessed Illya's need was as urgent as his own.
"Ready, tovarisch?" Napoleon panted hoarsely.
"I... ohh... yesss..." Illya whimpered and then his mouth opened wide in a wordless "O" as he came explosively, his cock spurting endless, hot, thick ropes of semen over Napoleon's fist and belly.
Alive! The word coursed through Napoleon as he watched his friend's orgasm. Alive! The sight of Illya coming over him shattered the remains of his beleaguered self-control and he ejaculated wildly with a shuddering groan, his semen pooling with his partner's on his own belly as Illya milked him.
With a final hitching breath, Illya collapsed, half on, half off Napoleon's chest. For moments there was no sound but their rasping breaths. Then Napoleon reached up slowly, and wrapped his arms around his partner's heaving torso, and felt the heart hammering against him slow to normal speed. Alive!
Spent, and suffused with a sense of peace he'd believed lost to him, Napoleon Solo drifted into a dreamless slumber.
They jolted awake simultaneously to the warbling of a communicator; Illya still draped half on half off his partner. Napoleon flipped him over onto his back and leaned over him to grab the pen from the bedside table grimacing at the itchiness of dried semen on his belly. As he uncapped the communicator he looked down and raised an eyebrow at Illya who made a similar face then grinned at him.
"Ah, Mr Solo," came the voice of the head of U.N.C.L.E. northwest. "Is Mr Kuryakin with you yet?"
With a grin and a shake of his head Illya wriggled out from under Napoleon and rolled out of bed heading for the shower.
"Ah... not right now, Sir," Napoleon hedged. "I think he may be taking a shower."
Waverly harrumphed, apparently at the effrontery of agents who held ablutions in higher esteem than mission details. "Very well. See that you apprise him of the details when he comes out, Mr Solo. You are both required immediately in Marseille..."
Illya Kuryakin stood under the shower, letting the hot water needle his skin as he soaped the stickiness from his belly and genitals. Eyes closed against the water that streamed from his hair, he shivered as saw again his partner's face contorted in ecstasy as he came in great, scalding spurts. The feel of Napoleon's hand on him had felt more erotic than anything he could remember, and he'd been taken by surprise by the ferocity of his own orgasm in response.
He smiled softly as he recalled the utter relaxation on Napoleon's face as he'd slept afterwards, sated. The shocking, haunted look that Illya had been alarmed to see bruising his partner's eyes when he arrived at the safe house had disappeared. It hadn't reappeared when he woke. Illya was still smiling as he turned off the shower and began towelling his hair dry.
The bathroom door opened, and Solo entered, heading for the toilet. He was naked and dishevelled and completely unselfconscious, making Illya's smile broaden. "What did Waverly have to say?" Illya inquired, sitting down on the edge of the bath and continuing to dry his hair.
Napoleon had a pee, flushed the toilet then put the lid down and sat facing his partner.
"Well, partner mine, it seems we may have a tiger by the tail," he said looking pensive, "and you seem to have rattled its cage."
Illya frowned slightly. "How so?"
Napoleon looked hard at him. "Just how did you manage to ah... persuade Blanchard's grunts to see things your way, tovarisch?"
Two points of colour rose in Illya's face and he looked evasive. "I er..." his voice tailed off.
"Come on, IK. Give."
"Well, we had arrived at the laboratory where the stuff is refined..."
"The trucks arrived you mean?"
"Well, when they caught me 'stealing' from the payload I wasn't exactly stealing from it..."
"No, more adding to it."
"What were you adding to it?" Napoleon's face was suspicious now.
"Well you know that Section VIII has a relatively new plastic..."
"You blew up the truck carrying the raw opium?" Solo's eyebrows rose in admiration of his pyromaniac partner. "No wonder they were pissed at you!"
"Er..., no. Not exactly." The Russian squirmed slightly. "Not just the one truck."
"Not just the..." Solo's eyebrows rose a little more. "How many?"
"Er... all of them."
"All of them?" Napoleon's eyebrows were almost at his hairline. "You blew up the whole damn shipment? How many trucks were there?"
"Seven. They found me as I was setting the charges in the last one. Then..."
"What?" A look of doubt flickered across Solo's face. "There's more?"
Kuryakin shrugged. "Well the trucks were in the warehouse..."
"Jesus, Illya," Napoleon's voice was an awed whisper. "You didn't... not the entire laboratory?"
The Russian jumped to his feet in his excitement. "You should have seen it, Napoleon. It was amazing!" His face split into a broad, almost manic grin and his eyes sparkled. "If you place the charges at key..."
Solo's face suddenly clouded and he rolled his eyes. "Always with the damn pyrotechnics..."
He took a breath and continued, speaking patiently as though to a dull-witted child. "Illya, that set-up's owned by the Corsican Family. They're everywhere. They're the largest processors of Blanchard's raw material—not the only ones but the biggest by far. They refine it for him and then he ships the final product out."
"Then we've crippled a major heroin trafficking operation," Illya said, puzzled at his friend's reaction, "and you are going to tell me why this is not a good thing, yes?"
"Yes... No," Solo shook his head in sudden exasperation and ran his hand over his eyes. "Waverly was right. We've...ah, you've caught a tiger by the tail. A very large and likely very angry tiger"
Illya grinned wolfishly at him. "Then it's a good thing there are two of us, is it not?"
For the first time since he and Alain Rambert had been abducted, Napoleon chuckled.
Illya wrinkled his nose as he turned to leave the bathroom. "Isn't it about time you showered, Napoleon? We don't want our adversaries to get wind of our approach."
Napoleon threw his wet towel after him and turned on the shower.
ACT VIII—"I had hoped you would learn your lesson better."
Napoleon Solo sat at a café table, sipping a pastis7 on the picturesque harbour front in the old port of Marseille. He wore a baseball cap, Ray Ban Aviators and a loud Hawaiian shirt. He was surrounded by tripods and camera bags into which he dipped from time to time to change lenses on the OM-1 slung around his neck.
It was a little after 7.00 pm, and the afternoon bustle of port traffic was waning with the heat of the day. The café tables were filling up with tourists sipping aperitifs and observing the local colour. Part of that local colour—groups of dockside workers and boat crew—sat around other tables catching up on the day, arguing politics and playing backgammon.
Napoleon raised his glass in salute and beamed at a couple of fishermen as they cast off from the quay. He'd just completed a series of supposedly atmospheric picture-postcard shots of them sitting cross-legged on and around their vessel, ostensibly mending their pristine nets. He'd used a wide-angled lens stopped right down—less than ideal for the type of shot he was supposedly taking, but perfect to catalogue any activity in the background.
"Merci beaucoup, Messieurs," he exclaimed heartily, as they raised their hands in grateful acknowledgement of the bundles of francs he'd pressed into their hands earlier.
Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted the café's proprietor heading his way. He groaned inwardly. During the five hours Napoleon had been there, snapping away with overt exclamations of admiration and delight as vessels moored or cast off, the man had taken every opportunity to insinuate himself into every shot Napoleon had set up.
"Ah, René," Napoleon called jovially. "If you have a moment now we could take that other shot we spoke about earlier. Remember? The moody one of you looking out over the harbour."
The man almost simpered. "Ah, Monsieur Solo, you are too kind," he said with a deferential bow "but as you can see...," with a shrug, he indicated the full tables.
"Tant pis8. Maybe later then?" Napoleon suggested with an arch of his eyebrow. "Perhaps a moonlit view of the harbour with you in front of your café?"
René beamed. "Parfaît9, Monsieur Solo," he said wringing his hands "and you will let me have the proofs soon?"
Napoleon grinned expansively and thrust a business card at him. "Of course, René, of course. They'll be ready within the week."
As the man bobbed his way between the tables, Napoleon glanced casually to left and right before taking a few more random shots, including one of the warehouse frontage a little way along the quay. He stole a quick peek at his watch and frowned slightly.
"Time to go, IK," he murmured under his breath. "Where are you?"
Napoleon began slowly to pack away the bulk of his lenses and equipment. He locked one of his equipment cases, and looked up to see two grubby-looking gypsies lurching towards the café tables, clearly the worse for drink. They were jostling each other and arguing in the guttural patois of the region that was beyond Napoleon's understanding.
As they drew level, gesticulating wildly, one gave the other a firm shove that propelled him into the wall of the café. He himself staggered back as a result and cannoned into Napoleon's table, sitting down hard on the quayside amidst drunken laughter from his erstwhile companion and an adjacent table of dock workers. He shook his head and slurred what might have been an apology as he tried unsteadily to stand.
"Ah," murmured Napoleon, "a colourful son of the Camargue. Perhaps you would pose for a photograph, hmm?" he said raising the camera that swung round his neck.
A stream of largely obscene French told him what he could do with his cameras. Napoleon smothered a grin as he helped the dishevelled intruder to his feet, dusted him down and pointed him along the quayside, palming the miniature camera as it was passed to him and slipping it into one of the camera cases. He watched the man stagger off into the maze of streets that spread back from the port, finished packing up his kit and, with a nod to the occupants of the neighbouring tables, headed off in the opposite direction towards his car.
Once at the car, Napoleon packed his camera kit in the trunk, along with the baseball cap and, with a grimace of distaste, the Hawaiian shirt. Now in his undershirt, dark slacks and deck shoes he locked the trunk and strolled back towards the quay. As he passed a fisherman walking in the opposite direction he tossed the car keys casually towards him. The man caught them with barely a glance and continued on his way.
A hundred yards farther on, his communicator began to warble. Uncapping it, Napoleon stepped into a narrow side alley.
"Solo," he murmured, checking there was no one in earshot.
"Napoleon, I am at our rendezvous point," came an irritated voice. "Where are you?"
"Ah," Napoleon grinned, "a colourful but impatient son of the Camargue".
"Don't make me have to come and get you," his partner growled. "Kuryakin out."
Napoleon's grin broadened as he capped the communicator and picked up his pace.
Arriving at a dingy-looking cobbler's shop in an equally dingy-looking alleyway, he spared a glance about him before slipping through the doorway. Illya was waiting for him in the gloom and was just buckling on his shoulder holster. His snug black T-shirt and jeans painted his hard body with shadows, the beacon-bright hair seeming to cast shadows of its own. Glancing up, he held out a duffel bag and Napoleon's own weapon and holster. Napoleon swallowed, not taking his eyes from his partner as he took the items and slipped into his holster in silence.
Illya rolled his eyes and turned towards a metal box the size of a transistor radio that sat on the cobbler's bench.
"We can monitor the surveillance devices I planted in the warehouse with this," he said flicking a switch on the box and fiddling with a couple of dials. The distorted sound of voices filled the room and Illya adjusted one of the dials until the sound level dropped.
Napoleon was suddenly all business. "That's going through to headquarters too?" he asked.
Illya nodded. "They should also have visual, if the cameras are working." He continued to adjust the dials on the front of the monitor to minimise the distortion. "I expect by now they've developed the film I took when I was in there." He glanced up at his partner with a slight scowl. "You did deliver the film, Napoleon, didn't you?"
"What—you needed my help?" Napoleon's eyebrows rose in mock astonishment as he laid his palm against his chest. "I, ah, thought you had everything covered—wunderkind," he said with a smirk.
Illya glared at him and opened his mouth to reply.
Napoleon dropped a hand onto his friend's shoulder. "OK, already," he sighed. "The film was picked up with the rest of the stuff as arranged. François Toudic is no doubt looking at our holiday snaps as we speak."
"Let us hope so," his partner replied witheringly.
Illya suddenly looked down at the hand that remained on his shoulder and his eyes snapped up to meet his partner's. Napoleon glanced down and snatched his hand away as though burned. He looked into the Russian's eyes and caught the brief sparkle of amusement there before it was masked once more by an icy glare.
Ouch, thought Solo wryly. Straight from the Steppes.
"I photographed as many of the manifests as I could find," Illya continued, "but they were undoubtedly the 'official' ones. They were all for local shipments of olive oil and soap and that kind of thing. We need to get back in there to see if we can unearth the 'unofficial' ones."
The voices emanating from the monitor had gradually ceased. Illya slowly rotated a dial on the front. After a moment or two of silence, he grunted in satisfaction.
"That would seem to be our cue," he said, turning off the monitor and reaching for his battered leather jacket lying next to it on the bench. His eyes gleamed. "Ready?" he asked with a glance at his partner as he shrugged into his jacket.
Napoleon grinned at him as he popped and relocated the clip in his special. "Right behind you, tovarisch." He shook his own dark blouson out of the duffel bag and drew it on as he followed Illya to the door of the workshop.
They slipped into the deserted alley in silence.
The warehouse was in darkness when they arrived. There were no vehicles in the immediate vicinity and no sounds of activity. They hugged the shadows at the rear of the building until they fetched up by a postern gate in a large door. Napoleon glanced up at the roof and then did a 360 degree sweep before nodding to Illya who was poised by the door.
With an answering lift of his chin Illya triggered a small incendiary he'd placed in the lock and flattened himself against the wall as it fired. As the smoke cleared he nudged the door gently with his foot and grinned at Napoleon as it swung silently inwards.
Taking out their Specials, they each chambered a round. With a smirk, Napoleon inclined his head deferentially towards the door, inviting his partner to lead the way. Illya rolled his eyes and approached the doorway sideways, head down, weapon braced, listening intently. After a few seconds, he seemed satisfied and nodded once more to Napoleon before cautiously stepping over the threshold.
With a further glance about him, Napoleon followed and stood for a moment inside with his back to the wall, letting his eyes adjust to the deeper gloom of the warehouse.
The narrow beam of a penlight flared to his right and he swung round to see his partner heading up a steep flight of metal steps leading to a walkway that ran around the warehouse at a height of about fifteen feet. Several doors led off the walkway and Illya headed towards the farthest. Napoleon watched him go then took out his own penlight and began to look around the floor of the warehouse. It was stacked with crates and boxes in serried ranks to a height of about thirty feet.
Napoleon moved cautiously to the nearest stack of crates and began to examine one of them. It was approximately three feet by three, made of rough slats. He didn't recognise any of the stencilling. Between the slats he could see nothing but thick plastic sheeting. He holstered his Special and, putting the penlight in his mouth, took out and opened his pocket knife. Crouching close to the floor he began to slice through the plastic near a corner of the crate. Gradually, after several moments, he began to work it loose.
He was startled by a noise from above. He dropped the knife in an instant and his hand flew automatically to his Special as he spun round, still in a crouch. He was momentarily dazzled as the lights in the warehouse snapped on with a clatter. As his eyes adjusted, the first thing he took in clearly was the sight of his partner standing on the walkway with a look of chagrin on his face. His hands were cuffed behind his back and he was held firmly between two huge men, a gun pressed against his temple. What chilled Napoleon to the marrow was the sight of the ginger crew-cut and the shaven head of his partner's captors.
Napoleon rose slowly and raised both his arms outwards, letting his weapon hang loosely from the finger and thumb of his right hand.
"Very good, Monsieur Solo," a quiet voice murmured from an open doorway leading off the high walkway.
Sebastian Blanchard stepped nonchalantly to the guard rail of the walkway, holding a machine pistol trained unwaveringly on Napoleon. His dark navy suit was immaculate, as though he'd just stepped out from a board meeting.
"Now, lay your weapon slowly on the ground—slowly, I said—and kick it away from you." Napoleon complied, his eyes never leaving Illya's.
Blanchard continued in the same quiet voice as he moved to the top of the steps, "I must confess that I am surprised and somewhat disappointed to see you again, Monsieur Solo."
"Ah, yes... I'm having rather a sense of déjà vu myself," Napoleon replied, looking at Blanchard fully for the first time and forcing his stiff facial muscles into a rueful smile.
"I had hoped you would learn your lesson better."
"I'm afraid I'm rather a dull student."
Blanchard shook his head and pursed his lips. "I see I shall have to punish you before we leave."
He nodded almost imperceptibly to Illya's captors.
Napoleon's eyes snapped back to his partner and widened in disbelief. He moaned in horror as the two thugs snatched his friend's slight body from the walkway as though it were a feather and flung him head first over the guard rail to the floor of the warehouse.
Illya gasped as he jacknifed desperately in the air. It was testimony to his athleticism that he almost made it but, off balance and with his hands cuffed behind him, he was helpless to right himself in time. He hit the floor with a noise that turned Napoleon's guts to water, groaned once and lay still.
Napoleon had no recollection of how he got there, but he found himself kneeling by Illya's side. His friend's eyes were closed and he was unmoving. Blood seeped from under his head. Napoleon ran a quick inventory of his injuries. The left collar bone was broken and the left leg, which lay at a grotesque angle. Glancing at his partner's hands cuffed behind him he realised that the left wrist too had snapped with the impact. With a hand that shook slightly, Napoleon gently brushed the overlong fringe of soft, pale hair from the broad forehead. Illya's slack face was ashen and beaded with moisture.
Moisture. Not dead, not dead, not...
As though a radio had suddenly been switched on, Napoleon became aware of sounds behind him and of Blanchard's voice as a monotone. Gritting his teeth, he dug deep for the control he knew he had to find. He turned to see Blanchard, now flanked by his two heavies, standing behind him, the machine pistol implacably trained at Solo's midriff.
"I find, Monsieur Solo," Blanchard was saying briskly, "that we must leave sooner than anticipated in order to avoid entertaining your colleagues from U.N.C.L.E. Alors, you, and your friend, who I see is still alive, will accompany us after all."
Napoleon was aware of the sound of a helicopter approaching and glanced upwards reflexively. Blanchard caught his gaze.
"Ah, I see you are thinking this might be your colleagues come to rescue you, eh?" he smiled. "They could almost walk here from your headquarters, n'est ce pas? Mais non, Monsieur Solo. No, no that is Georges, my pilot, come to whisk us away before your colleagues arrive."
Blanchard paused. "Pardon," he said, nodding to the redhead.
Napoleon flinched involuntarily before a blow that lifted him from his knees and sent him spiralling down into unconsciousness.
7Aniseed flavoured spirit
ACT IX—"Déjà Vu"
Napoleon became aware of a shrieking discomfort in his left shoulder. He was suspended by his wrists. His head throbbed and his ears sang. Forcing himself not to move, he listened carefully for sounds of another presence. Slowly he opened his eyes—and with a moan shut them again immediately. Illya!
Sick dread clutched at his stomach and his heart hammered in his chest as he fought disorientation and panic.
It's OK it's just a dream, it's just... but he knew that this was real. As real as the time he'd hung here before; here in this barn with the stained dirt floor and the wooden pegs in the wall.
Gathering himself, he called softly to his partner, "Illya." No response. The Russian's head lolled to one side as he swung a little from his handcuffs, feet clear of the floor. A mercy for his leg, Solo thought, and then winced as he saw his partner's left wrist and hand grotesquely discoloured and swollen.
"Come on, boy," Napoleon pleaded. "Please, IK."
This time there was a definite shift in Illya's breathing, although no other discernible movement. Napoleon drew breath to call to his partner again but froze at the familiar sound of a door opening behind him. He held his breath, awaiting the next move.
Predictably, Sebastian Blanchard moved into his field of vision. He looked at Solo speculatively in silence before shaking his head with a wry smile.
"Well, Monsieur Solo. You have proved to be a grave disappointment to me," Blanchard mused as he walked slowly around Napoleon. "You failed to deliver my message. And it was so simple." He came and stood directly in front of Solo, pale eyes only inches from his. He wagged an admonishing finger at Napoleon, his mouth twisted into a parody of a smile. "You are clearly not to be trusted.
"And yet, and yet," he glanced over his shoulder at Illya "you bring me another extraordinarily beautiful young man to enjoy." He dropped his chin and glanced knowingly at Solo through pale lashes. "What am I to make of this generous gift?" he chuckled.
Napoleon didn't trust himself to speak but concentrated his face into a mask of indifference.
"Strip him," said Blanchard, inclining his head over his shoulder towards Illya.
The two thugs moved into view. It took only moments for them roughly to tear Illya's T- shirt and jeans from him and to fling them into a corner by his jacket. Napoleon heard the fractured bone fragments shift with the rough handling and Illya came to with a muffled groan. Eyes glazed with pain snapped open and sweat beaded on his forehead.
"Splendid, Monsieur Kuryakin," chuckled Blanchard with relish. He walked over to Illya and circled him admiringly. "Welcome to our little entertainment. Now, a little something to prevent your interest from wandering." He turned to his henchmen. "Gregor," he murmured, and stepped back.
Napoleon looked on in misery as the shaven-headed thug removed his jacket and selected a Guardien's whip from the gallery of implements on the wall. He swished it experimentally and, at a signal from Blanchard, began systematically to flog Illya.
The Russian bit his lip and stifled a gasp as the first blow landed. After no more than two or three strokes, however, he was unable to contain a whimper each time the lash landed.
The pale hair plastered to his forehead was now dark with sweat, and fine tremors ran through his body.
After a dozen lashes, Blanchard raised his hand. "That will do for now," he instructed in a voice that was faintly hoarse. "Let Monsieur Solo see your handiwork, Gregor."
Breathing heavily and now covered with fine blood spatter, Gregor stopped. With something approaching a leer, he grabbed Illya's hips and twisted him viciously in the handcuffs until his back faced Solo.
The movement dragged a feeble cry from Illya as the bone fragments in his wrist and collar bone ground together once more and he finally passed out. Napoleon stared at his friend's back and bit his lip, swallowing hard. It was a bloody mass of criss-crossed cuts and tears. It looked as though he'd been flayed.
Still breathing hard, Gregor released Illya's hips so that he swung back into position, sweat-darkened head lolling against his chest.
"Wake him," said Blanchard, licking his lips as his eyes travelled hungrily over Illya's broken body.
"Wait..." interjected Solo desperately.
Blanchard turned to face him coldly.
"Monsieur Solo, you can have nothing to say that I want to hear," he snapped impatiently. "You know how this works. First I kill your friend, slowly and painfully—because I can," he paused, "and because I choose to."
Blanchard looked Illya up and down again and Napoleon was nauseated to see a partial erection thrusting against the fine cloth of the Frenchman's suit.
"Then, as punishment for your failure, Monsieur Solo, you also will follow him in the same way."
Napoleon glanced across at his friend and saw that Illya was conscious once more and listening intently. Blanchard followed his gaze.
"Ah, awake again I see, Monsieur Kuryakin," cried Blanchard gleefully. "So glad you could join us. You are, after all, the star of our show."
He nodded to the redhead. "It is time to begin in earnest, Mathieu."
As the redheaded thug moved to select the grain flail from the pegs on the wall, Napoleon locked desperate eyes with Illya. Although dark with pain his friend's eyes met his unflinchingly and were suddenly filled with something else. Napoleon caught his breath and his own eyes widened in wonder.
No... he thought. Too late, too late, too...
Fighting to keep the shock and anguish from his face, he reflected his partner's look with all the intensity as he could muster.
"Me too, Illya Nikolaivech," he whispered before his throat closed completely, "Me too," as, with a barely perceptible nod, his friend turned the fiery blue of his gaze away from him and became separate once more.
"Stop!" cried Blanchard as Mathieu raised the flail. The thug let it fall immediately, grimacing as it barked his knuckles painfully.
"Well, well," chuckled Blanchard softly looking from Napoleon to Illya. "Une aventure10." He licked his lips. "We must devise something very special for Monsieur Solo's lover."
He nodded once more to the two henchmen, "Spread his legs." It was almost whispered.
Illya failed to suppress a cry as his broken leg was dragged sideways.
With a feral grin Blanchard turned to the rows of pegs on the wall. He paused for a moment in thought and then selected a pickaxe handle. He walked in front of Illya, rhythmically caressing the wooden shaft in his hand and looked the Russian up and down slowly, eyes lingering over the exposed genitalia before coming to rest on the pain- contorted mouth.
Suddenly Blanchard grabbed Illya roughly by his sweat-soaked hair and took his mouth in a vicious kiss. When he stepped back a long moment later, breathing hard, pale eyes glittering and his erection now straining to escape the confinement of his trousers, there were blood drops on the Russian's full lower lip. Illya showed no response and stared straight ahead.
Blanchard turned to face Solo, eyes dark with lust and a triumphant smile on his face. Without warning he suddenly spun round and smashed the pickaxe shaft into Illya's exposed groin.
There was a primal, inhuman howl and Illya gagged and vomited reflexively before passing out.
Napoleon suddenly found he couldn't draw breath into his lungs. In all the years that he'd known Illya, he'd never heard a sound like that wrested from his partner. Long-buried mages of Korea crashed through Napoleon's mind. He tried to push them away as he finally managed to draw in a sobbing breath. Despair began to settle around him like a mantle.
Blanchard canted his head to one side and gazed at the unconscious Russian. He grimaced in distaste at the now soiled body in front of him.
"Hélas11, " he sighed. "Not so pretty now. No matter. Take him down," he barked at his thugs as he absently unfastened his fly and released his engorged penis
As his partner's limp body was dropped roughly to the floor, Napoleon was appalled to find that he was unable to control the fine tremors that had begun to shake his own body as adrenalin coursed through his system with no outlet.
There was a slight sound behind him and he craned his head round to try to see what was happening—which was why he missed the redheaded thug folding silently into a heap on the ground. At the sound of the collapse he turned to the front once more in time to see the second thug follow his collaborator down, both victims of U.N.C.L.E. sleep darts. As if in slow motion he saw Blanchard snatch a sickle from a peg on the wall and, with a howl of rage, swing it round in an arc towards Illya's unconscious form.
There was a soft popping noise and Blanchard suddenly grew a third eye in the centre of his forehead before dropping to the ground as though his strings had been cut.
Napoleon was suddenly surrounded by sharp voices and chaotic movement. Pascal Dumesnil appeared in front of him, unscrewing the silencer from the Walther in his hand. He crossed the barn swiftly to check that Blanchard was dead.
Holstering the weapon, he reached Napoleon in two long strides and stretched up to press incendiaries to the locks of his handcuffs. The Frenchman held his gaze, searching his eyes as he shielded Solo's head from the flare. Napoleon collapsed as soon as his hands were released and would have landed in a heap on the floor if Dumesnil had not caught him and lowered him down gently.
Ignoring the agony as the blood began to flood back into his enervated arms Napoleon half staggered half crawled over to where his partner was sprawled in his indignity.
Grabbing Illya's leather jacket from where it lay on the floor, he forced his trembling and uncooperative hands to drape it gently round his friend's shoulders and bleeding back, as he drew his head into his lap. Shrugging out of his own blouson, he laid it tenderly over his partners loins then clumsily snatched a handkerchief out of the pocket and began cleaning up the vomit that was drying on Illya's chin and chest.
As he cleaned him, crooning softly to him all the while, he took a deep breath and forced himself to look beneath his jacket at his friend's abused genitals. The sight of Illya's blackened and grotesquely swollen scrotum shocked a sob from him.
"This agent needs urgent medical attention!" he choked out hoarsely.
The two medics who had just entered the barn were at his side in seconds with a stretcher. As they began to move his partner, Illya whimpered but didn't regain consciousness.
Wild-eyed and unthinking, Napoleon lashed out, despite the throbbing in his arms. "Don't—hurt—him!" he snarled ferally, shielding his friend's body with his own.
"It is OK, Napoleon," Dumesnil's voice was gentle at his shoulder. "We have him now. You can let go."
Napoleon's head dropped and he took a shuddering breath. Pascal eased him back as the medics moved in immediately and with infinite care laid his partner face down on a stretcher. They quickly checked his vitals before speeding with him out of the door of the barn. Napoleon tried and failed to struggle to his feet to follow them.
"He's in the best hands, Napoleon," said Dumesnil, laying a gently restraining hand on his shoulder. "A car will be here shortly to take you to the hospital."
"Not to medical?"
"We saw the footage of the warehouse. Caillard wanted him thoroughly checked out after that fall."
"Fall..." Napoleon's voice trailed off as he became aware of other agents removing the handcuffed and unconscious hulks of the instruments of that fall.
Illya's jacket lay where it had fallen from him and Napoleon picked it up and hugged it to his chest inhaling deep draughts of his partner's scent. He leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes, oblivious to the sounds of helicopters overhead and to the rest of the clean-up going on around him.
Eventually Dumesnil came over and lowered himself to Napoleon's side. Napoleon opened his eyes. They sat in silence, not looking at each other.
Dumesnil was the first to speak. "I er, must have had the wrong clip loaded," he offered hesitantly.
There was a pause.
"He could have given us his whole operation," Napoleon replied evenly.
After a moment Pascal sighed. "And what would you have done in my place, mon ami12?" he asked quietly. "Gone for a leg shot? Asked him to wait a moment before guillotining your partner?"
Solo's head sagged in defeat.
He'd never felt so depleted, even in Korea. He knew what he'd have done; knew what Illya would have done if their roles had been reversed. Knew too what he ought to say to this man who grieved for his own friend—lover perhaps. And it sickened him. He wondered if Dumesnil would survive the inevitable inquest.
"No," he lied. "I'd have shot him between the eyes. And then again. And then again and again until he'd paid for what he did to Alain; for what he's done to Illya." Napoleon bowed his head to hide his shame.
Dumesnil got up and offered his hand to Solo. Napoleon took it and hauled himself to his feet, still clutching Illya's jacket. He looked up into the haunted eyes of Pascal Dumesnil and held them for a long moment. The Frenchman dropped his eyes first and moved towards the door, and Napoleon knew he'd been caught out in the lie.
"Incidentally," Napoleon called after him.
Pascal turned and looked at him. "Yes?"
"How did you find us?"
Pascal shrugged. "Homing device."
"A homer?" Napoleon frowned in confusion. "Where? They took our communicators at the warehouse"
Pascal gave a small smile.
"Illya had Section VIII place one in the button of his Levis." He shrugged. "We thought it must be standard procedure in New York."
Oh, my smart Russian, Napoleon thought, as he stooped to pick up his partner's jeans and followed Pascal out of the barn to the waiting car.
U.N.C.L.E. safe house, Uzès. Two months later.
There was a brief flash of pale gold and the compact body entered the water with barely a ripple. Coming out of the front door onto the vine-shaded terrace, Napoleon caught his breath at the sight. He watched as his partner sped along, shimmering in the early- morning sunlight, just below the surface. At the far end of the pool, he executed a perfect tumble-turn and swam a further length under water before surfacing. Illya gasped a little as he flung his streaming hair out of his eyes, then turned and began ploughing steady lengths with his powerful and economic front crawl.
It had been the pattern for the last two weeks, ever since Napoleon had returned from New York. In the mornings, Illya would swim forty or fifty lengths of the short pool then rest, and in the afternoons he would work on the reports that came his way from the Marseille HQ, courtesy of François Toudic. In the cool of the evening he'd cycle the eight kilometres or so to the town and back.
Two or three times a week, Napoleon would spend time with Pascal Dumesnil reviewing Section II practices. The rest of the time, Napoleon watched his partner and tried to work out if and how they could interpret the wrenching insight they'd shared in that fleeting moment on the brink of hell.
Reluctantly he tore his eyes away from his partner's sleek body. His lips compressed as he caught sight of the cane abandoned at the edge of the pool...
Immediately after their rescue from Sebastian Blanchard, Napoleon had been ordered to New York by Alexander Waverly. He had, of course, insisted on detouring en route to the airport, to see Illya in the hospital in Marseille, almost missing his flight as a result. Illya had been heavily sedated and it had cost Napoleon more than he'd imagined, to leave his friend without being able to speak to him.
The New York end of Blanchard's operation had to be dealt with swiftly whilst U.N.C.L.E. still had the initiative. Napoleon had spearheaded the operation with the authorities but, as soon as he could reasonably hand off to his team, he'd sought Waverly's agreement to allow him to rejoin his partner in Uzès, ostensibly to provide back-up support for the French clean-up, citing the value of their expertise to the smaller French station.
It was largely Pascal Dumesnil's influence on Toudic that had secured from Waverly an agreement to a two-month respite from active duty in the field for the New York agents. Dumesnil was acutely aware of the severity of the trauma both had undergone at the hands of Blanchard. His own grief at the loss of Alain Rambert made Dumesnil an uncompromising negotiator and Toudic had acceded to his CEA's recommendations. One of these was that Solo and Kuryakin should have a period of psych support from Dr Caillard.
Napoleon and Illya had both endured their individual weekly psych sessions with Jean- Paul Caillard, volunteering as little as possible. Neither had spoken to him, nor to each other, about what had passed between them during Illya's torture at the hands of Blanchard. At times Napoleon wondered, briefly, if he'd imagined the moment. But then the aching sensation in his chest that grew rather than diminished as the weeks passed assured him that he had not. The nightmares had returned too.
"Tell me about Sebastian Blanchard," Caillard had said.
"He's dead," said Solo flatly.
Caillard nodded slowly. "What does that mean to you?"
Napoleon shrugged. "He's dead. I'm glad. End of story."
Caillard looked at him. "There's more," he said slowly "isn't there?"
Solo raised his eyebrows sardonically.
"Is there?" he said quietly. "More than crippling one of the largest drug-trafficking empires in this part of Europe? More than preventing millions of dollars' worth of heroin from hitting the streets of New York this fall?" Napoleon realised his voice was increasing in volume. He checked it. "More than the death of one more evil sonofabitch from the ranks of the opposition?"
Caillard watched him intently.
With supreme self-control Napoleon forced a wry smile. ""He's dead. I'm glad. End of story."
Caillard smiled back at him then looked down at his notes briefly. Still smiling he looked up again and met Napoleon's eyes.
"Tell me about your partner..."
Illya hauled himself dripping out of the pool with uncharacteristic clumsiness. He winced then gritted his teeth as his left arm refused to hold him. Recovering his balance, he flicked his right leg under him and stood upright. He scowled as Napoleon held out his cane to him then accepted it grudgingly and limped over to the lawn where the sun- loungers were arranged under a tree. Napoleon followed. Sitting on the edge of one of the loungers Illya gathered up his towel and began to dry off, still panting a little from his exertions.
He looked up to find Napoleon watching him intently.
"It's such a short pool you can't build up any speed," he complained as he towelled himself off.
His partner grunted in amusement. "You'd prefer perhaps a lake? Maybe one you could chip the ice off before your morning swim?"
Illya glared. "At least I can swim." He grunted.
Napoleon shot him his patented 'wounded' look. "Are you suggesting, partner mine, that I can't?"
Illya snorted. "Napoleon, you wallow like a drowning cow in the water."
"So," his partner responded silkily, "you don't think I could beat you in a race then?"
"Even with one leg," Illya glanced down with a grimace, "it would be no contest."
"Seems like you'd be bound to win then, eh tovarisch?"
Illya looked up at him and for a moment their habitual sharp exchanges felt as comfortable as they always had. Then the memory tumbled around him and he looked away. He felt Napoleon freeze momentarily beside him. Nevertheless his partner's voice remained steady.
"Tell you what, partner, I'll race you over two lengths," Napoleon said "but you'll need to give me a head start."
"A head start?" Illya was incredulous. "I'll give you a complete length start and still beat you by a length." He paused for a moment. "OK. The loser cooks dinner and does the dishes."
Napoleon chuckled. "Deal," he said as he took Illya's outstretched hand and helped him up. "Oh and I get a wet start."
Illya nodded as he limped back to the pool. Solo slid into the water, grimacing at the cold against his hot skin, and took up position at the end of the pool. Illya rolled his eyes and shook his head. "Ready?" he asked.
"In your own time then," said Illya impatiently.
Napoleon pushed off from the wall of the pool and began to make his way, with much graceless splashing, towards the far end.
"Can we finish this in daylight, please, Napoleon?" Illya called after him.
His partner made a gesture over his shoulder as he ploughed on. Illya smiled and took up position on the pool side. As Solo touched the far end, gasping, the Russian dived cleanly into the pool. Moving through the water like an otter, he swam the length under water and tucked into a tumble turn.
As he came out of it, strong arms suddenly clutched him round the waist and yanked him down and sideways. Startled, he released the last of the breath he was holding and kicked and struggled to the surface gasping and spluttering.
"I knew you'd cheat!" he coughed as he wriggled to escape his partner's grasp.
Napoleon was laughing but held on. "Well I am the senior partner," he grinned, "and how else could I out-swim a performing seal?"
"A perf... mmf" the remainder of Illya's outraged response was lost as his mouth was suddenly engulfed in wet heat.
Meeting no resistance, Napoleon dipped his tongue tentatively inside then withdrew to explore the full lower lip before plunging back in with renewed vigour. He felt himself harden instantly and at the same moment Illya gasped and began to pull back. Napoleon clutched him harder.
"Illya...?" he began breathlessly as his friend pulled away from the kiss.
"Napoleon," he gasped "I can't," and suddenly Illya was white and trembling and breathing heavily as they stood apart with Napoleon's hands still clutching his hips.
Napoleon scanned his friend's face desperately for clues and found none. "Well, partner mine, you're going to have to tell me what that means," he said slowly, "because I've never heard you use those words before."
Illya said nothing but stood shivering in front of him in the waist-deep water.
"Look, tovarisch," Napoleon plunged on, uncharacteristically searching for words, "deathbed confessions that aren't..." He heard Illya's sharp intake of breath.
Oh yes, Napoleon Solo, wordsmith extraordinaire, you could be a little more insensitive, maybe?
"I mean... they're like promises made in bed..."
God, when had he become so crass?
He sighed in frustration and tried again. "Did I misunderstand?"
He felt Illya flinch but still blundered on recklessly, "Is that what you're trying to say? Because if it is..." Napoleon suddenly caught sight of his partner's eyes and was shocked into silence by the shame and fear he saw there.
The silence pressed around them. Illya finally broke it.
"No Napoleon," he said in a low voice. "I can't..." he paused and turned away, "I can't, because I am impotent."
Compassion relaxed Napoleon's iron grip and Illya seized the opportunity to pull away, diving under the water as though to wash away the humiliation Napoleon had read in his face. At the far end of the pool he hauled himself out awkwardly, snatched up his cane and headed for the house, not stopping to pick up his towel.
Napoleon stood in the water, closed his eyes and flung back his head.
Shit! Shit! Shit!
Aiming for total destruction, Solo, or only a light maiming?
He opened his eyes and trudged to the side of the pool and up the steps. Grabbing his towel he looked towards the house. And wondered how to save his friend.
Illya stood under the shower until it ran cold, ignoring the sporadic knocking on the bathroom door. Finally, he turned off the stream of water and stepped out of the shower. He towelled his hair dry and slung the towel around his waist before turning to lean on the wash basin, head hanging. Raising his head eventually, he looked into the mirror.
Despite his unaccustomed tan, his face looked pinched and drawn and there were dark circles under his eyes. His gaze travelled to the almost fully healed scar that shone pink over his left collar bone and he absent-mindedly flexed his left shoulder. Minor discomfort, barely noticeable against his normal background level of aches and pains. Nothing indeed, compared to the continuous, growling ache around the pin-site in his leg.
He clenched his left hand into a fist and pushed it farther back with his right. It was now pain-free but the residual stiffness worried him. His strategy of using his left hand preferentially had helped but he knew he still had a lot of work to do on fine motor-control. Until he had access to proper facilities, though, weapons-practice would have to wait.
Twisting his body he glanced over his shoulder at his torn back. The scars from the whipping were a maze of fine, pink lines intersecting with older scars. Most of them he hadn't been able to reach to massage with the lanolin he'd been instructed to use daily. He smiled ruefully. Your back will not be your fortune, Illya Nickolaivech.
A further gentle knock at the bathroom door interrupted his reflections.
"You still in there, tovarisch?" came Napoleon's voice from the hall. Concerned? Pitying?
Illya bent his head again. "Go away, Napoleon," he said flatly.
"Ah, it may have escaped your notice, but there aren't too many places around here for me to 'go away' to," came the response. There was a pause. "Besides, you can't stay in there forever."
Illya gritted his teeth and bit back a sharp retort. He opened the door abruptly and strode out past his partner who was leaning against the door frame. Napoleon grabbed his arm as he passed and swung him to a stop.
"IK we need to talk," he said, searching Illya's face.
Illya rounded on him. "About what?" he hissed. "About the fact that I can't get it up any more? About locker-room jokes? Hm? The commie fag who is guaranteed to take it up the arse because he cannot get a hard on?"
Some part of Illya heard himself from a distance and wondered who was this stranger who was speaking. He was sickened by his own self-pity—and yet he couldn't seem to stop. He hated to feel this vulnerable.
His accent thickened and his voice rose as his control snapped. "Or maybe it will be 'Oh, Mr Waverly give me new partner, this one seems to be broken?'Just what do we need to talk about Napoleon? Hm?"
With that he wrenched his arm free of Napoleon's grasp and staggered blindly towards the sitting room, his cane forgotten in the bathroom. Suddenly bereft he came to an abrupt stop in the centre of the room and wrapped his arms around himself, breathing hard.
"Illya," began Napoleon gently from the doorway, the cane held loosely in one hand, "let's start with what the medics have told you."
The warmth in his partner's voice sapped his resentment. His shoulders sagged as Napoleon moved to his side and calmly drew him down to sit on the sofa, waiting for him to compose his thoughts. The silence grew.
"In the hospital," Illya began hesitantly, not looking at Napoleon, "they drained almost a litre and a half of blood from my scrotum. There was damage," he continued, still looking at his feet, "and they did some repair work."
He felt his friend tense beside him but Napoleon said nothing, merely laid his hand gently on Illya's forearm. He allowed the touch.
"I had to wear this—thing," he cringed and gestured vaguely towards his groin "until the swelling went down. When I left the hospital they said they couldn't be sure whether I'd be sterile." He grimaced "Oh, and there would be loss of—sexual function."
"Did they say how much loss?" asked Napoleon.
Illya merely shrugged.
"Will it be permanent?"
"They didn't say," he replied tonelessly.
"You didn't ask?" his partner said with a look of incredulity.
He rolled his eyes. "Not all of us consider sex as necessary to life as oxygen, Napoleon," he said in exasperation.
Napoleon raised an eyebrow but said nothing.
Illya's eyes became unfocused. "Caillard wondered why I didn't ask the question, too," he mused, "when he was asking me how I felt about being—impotent."
"He asked you what?" Napoleon shook his head "Never mind. What did you tell him?"
"More or less the same," frowned Illya, "that sex isn't everything."
"What did he say?"
"He asked me if I'd ever been in love."
Napoleon became very still as the silence drew out. Finally he said "And what did you say to that?"
"I asked him what he meant by love."
He drifted into silence.
Napoleon watched his friend, hardly daring to breathe. Appalled by the devastating physical implications for Illya, he tried to prepare himself for the emotional blow he felt sure was to follow.
Eventually Illya seemed to gather himself.
"We spent the rest of the session dancing around the topic until he finally gave up." Illya gave a crooked smile. "As an interrogator he couldn't hold a candle to Blanchard."
As if he realised what he'd said, Illya's face once again became shadowed. It was the opening Napoleon had been waiting for.
"Illya, what Blanchard did to you wasn't interrogation," he said quietly, giving Illya's arm a gentle squeeze. "You had no key to stop it; no answers he wanted from you. Your only role was to suffer—for Blanchard's perverse gratification."
This time the silence lengthened and Napoleon wondered if the memory was too much for his friend. Illya was pale and trembling slightly under his touch and there was a sheen of moisture on his upper lip. Finally he seemed to gather himself with a shudder.
"At first I couldn't work out what he wanted," Illya said distantly. "And then as it went on I began to think I was being punished for something I'd done and I couldn't work that out either. And then right at the end—after I'd... we'd... when he..." Illya took a deep breath "I thought maybe that was what I was being punished for."
"Punished...?" Napoleon's voice cracked. "For loving me?"
The silence crashed around them. Napoleon looked on in open-mouthed horror at Illya's hooded expression, appalled at what he'd just heard himself say. There. There it was, then; the elephant in the room. Whether his partner could bear to hear it again or not.
He let go Illya's forearm and, sighing in frustration, buried his head in his hands. "Illya, I..." he began, and felt the sofa dip as his partner stood without a word. He looked up as, taking up his cane, Illya limped out to the hall and shut the door firmly behind him.
Napoleon released the breath he'd been holding. Oh, nice going, Solo. What was wrong with him? He'd never felt so out of his depth. Accustomed to responding instinctively to every nuance in a situation he couldn't believe he'd suddenly started to get it so badly wrong—now, when it mattered so much that he get it right.
He jumped as his communicator sounded from behind him. Leaping up with a rare curse, he snatched it from the pocket of his jacket on the back of the sofa.
"Solo," he said more sharply than he'd intended.
"Napoleon? Ici Pascal," came the Frenchman's voice. "Ça va13?"
"Fine, Pascal," lied Napoleon.
"We're setting up the milk run to the house for this evening and I wondered if you needed anything in particular."
Napoleon sighed. "Do you have any equipment to remove a foot from a mouth?"
"Comment?" Dumesnil's bewilderment was evident.
"Ah, I seem to have to developed a real talent for saying all the wrong things," Solo said ruefully.
"Ahh, I see," said Dumesnil. There was a pause. "Is all not well with your friend?"
"No... yes... it's complex, Pascal," faltered Napoleon.
"Hmm," said Dumesnil. "It may be simpler than you think, Napoleon."
"Sure," Napoleon said noncommittally. "Ah, Pascal?"
"Can you keep Caillard off our backs for a couple of days?"
"D'accord14, Napoleon. I will try to get you some... how is it... breathing space? Dumesnil out."
Napoleon recapped the communicator and remained for a moment in thought. Eventually he made his way to his bedroom and kicked off his swimming trunks. Wrapping a towel round his waist he headed for the shower.
Opening the bathroom door he was startled to find Illya there, twisted in front of the mirror trying to rub lanolin into the uppermost scars on his back and shoulders. Guarded blue eyes met his in the mirror. Eventually Napoleon reached out slowly and took the tube of lanolin from his friend's fingers. He felt as though he were stalking a wild thing. Illya looked as though he might bolt at any minute.
"Let me?" Napoleon said quietly.
After a moment's hesitation, Illya nodded and leaned his hands on the wash basin, bending his back for Napoleon's attention. In silence Napoleon began to massage the lanolin tenderly into the angry scars. He frowned grimly at the damage. Illya winced as Napoleon attended to some of the more severe wounds and Solo murmured soft apologies once or twice. At the next grimace of pain from his partner he stopped.
"Look, tovarisch," he sighed, "it would be much more comfortable for you if you'd lie down to let me finish this."
Illya solemnly met his eyes in the mirror and nodded. Without a word he made his way to his bedroom with Napoleon following, and lay face down on the bed. Napoleon knelt next to him and took up where he'd left off, gently kneading each scar with his thumbs, working the lanolin deep into the tissues.
Finishing the last of the scars, he knelt back on his heels and capped the tube of lanolin, letting his eyes rove up to his partner's shoulders, knotted with tension. He shook his head wearily and reached for the tight muscles. Illya jumped as though scalded and immediately tensed further at the touch.
"Shhh, IK," he said softly, "let me do this for you. You need it."
He began to knead the tense muscles, digging his lanolin-coated thumbs into the knots he found there. Illya groaned.
"Easy, partner," soothed Napoleon, "it'll make you feel better."
The groans continued for a short while, and then Illya became silent as the knots in his tense muscles eased. Napoleon continued until every knot had dissipated and his friend's breathing was deep and regular. Finally he sat back on his heels and rolled his own aching shoulders. He glanced down at his throbbing erection, and sighed wistfully. Easing himself off the bed, he drew the sheet over his sleeping partner and left the room, heading finally for his long-overdue shower.
Standing under the stream of hot water, Napoleon shampooed and rinsed his hair then soaped himself all over. As the water cascaded over him he lathered up his hands again and, moving a little out of the stream, took hold of his distended cock and soaped it thoroughly. He was already rock hard; the massage he'd given Illya had seen to that.
Closing his eyes, he stroked himself sensuously once or twice and thought back to that time, ever more precious now, when he and Illya had come together for the first time. The fear that it might be the only time made his skin prickle. He pushed the despairing thought away roughly.
He remembered how the feel of Illya's hands on him had been a revelation; how right Illya's heavy penis had felt in his hand. Remembered how they'd responded to each other's need on the bed in which his partner now slept across the hall. His lips parted as he recalled the look of desire on his partner's face, the fall of the soft, golden hair across his forehead, the scent of him. Napoleon drew in a sharp breath.
As he continued to stroke his soap-slick hand over his now throbbing erection he imagined what it would be like to make love to Illya—really make love to him. Not merely a mutual tossing-off to release adrenalin or emotional energy, but something they invented and explored together. The fantasy was captivating. Napoleon was panting now. He marvelled that nothing had ever felt as erotic to him as the thought of making love to his complex, irascible and gloriously male partner.
"Illya," he moaned softly as his hand began to move faster on his shaft.
He panted harder as he imagined Illya sprawled wantonly before him, the superb body glistening with a fine sheen of sweat, eyes dark with desire, swollen cock weeping with need; imagined seeing again that look of ecstasy on his face as Napoleon took the cock into his mouth, licking and sucking and swallowing him deep, and—aaah—with a cry of release Napoleon came hard, semen shooting over the tiles and flowing thickly over his hand to mingle with the soap suds as they swirled down the drain. He stood, shuddering and gasping, under the steamy cascade for a moment longer, then leaned against the wall until his breathing slowly returned to normal.
Finally he shut off the shower and stepped out, grabbing a towel.
Napoleon was dressed and heading for the kitchen when he heard the familiar coded beep from the security panel in the hall. He grabbed a pile of completed reports from the table, together with his Special, and offed the safety as he made his way to the perimeter gate. He completed the sign/countersign routine and admitted the U.N.C.L.E. courier with their week's supply of groceries. It was their only routine delivery apart from the bread and milk delivered to the end of the lane daily. Tucked among the groceries were copies of the usual reports and updates for himself and Illya to review.
Once the courier had left and the security system had been reset, Napoleon packed away the groceries and poured himself a drink. He selected several reports at random, taking them into the garden along with his drink, and seating himself in the shade of a tree.
After ten minutes he knew it was futile. Closing the file with a snap, he let his mind wander to the problem it wanted to address—how to persuade his stubborn partner that he didn't have to deal with his problem alone. Whatever the ultimate physical outcome for Illya, Napoleon knew that if they were ever to function successfully again as a team, they both had to negotiate the emotional minefield in which they found themselves.
Twenty minutes later he was arrested in the act of getting out of the chair to go for a refill, by the sight of Illya heading for the pool with a towel slung around his shoulders. His limp seemed a little more pronounced this evening and Napoleon made a mental note to check the pin site later. Illya must be hurting to forgo his evening cycle ride.
As he watched, Illya dived cleanly into the pool and began determined lengths of butterfly. Punishing himself, thought Napoleon in exasperation. Each time Illya's glistening head broke the surface it glowed impossibly golden in the now reddish evening light. Napoleon watched, rapt. A seal, he thought. A goddam golden seal. Well, my friend, you will perform again or I don't deserve my reputation. With a final glance towards the pool he headed indoors to refill his glass.
By the time Napoleon had returned to his seat with his refill, Illya was hauling himself out of the pool. He caught Napoleon's eye and paused in the middle of towelling himself off. Napoleon sighed and prepared for a Siberian sulk from his partner. Instead Illya draped the towel around his shoulders, picked up his cane and slowly came towards him, tossing his damp hair out of his eyes. He stopped at the foot of Napoleon's lounger. Napoleon held his gaze and drew his legs aside, nodding to his partner to sit. Illya sat awkwardly and then dropped his eyes. Napoleon waited for him to speak.
"Thank you for the shoulder massage," he said, eventually, without looking at Napoleon.
"You're welcome, tovarisch," replied Napoleon. "How did you sleep?"
Illya sighed and rubbed a hand across his eyes. "I slept well, thank you. I feel somewhat—refreshed."
He looked at Napoleon with his self-deprecating half smile. Napoleon waited, watching his partner, allowing a silence to grow. Illya caught his eye briefly then looked away. Eventually he spoke again.
"Napoleon," he began haltingly "this—problem," he indicated his groin with a vague wave of his hand. "It is not your fault..."
Napoleon opened his mouth to speak but Illya raised a hand to stop him.
"No, Napoleon, please," he said, running his hand distractedly through his damp hair. "This is—difficult." He paused again before continuing haltingly.
"I know how hard it was for you to watch Blanchard doing what he did to me. I saw how you were when...before. The nightmares... after Alain Rambert—remember?"
Napoleon nodded but remained silent, his eyes never leaving Illya's face.
"And I know how I would feel if I had had to watch whilst you..." he paused with a shudder, "but none of it is your fault, Napoleon." He laid a hand on his partner's knee to emphasise the point.
Napoleon became very still. Illya almost never initiated physical contact and he feared losing the intimacy of the moment.
"I do not know what will happen—if I will ever—function that way again. But..." he shrugged and fell silent.
"Are you saying," Napoleon said slowly, frowning "that it wouldn't matter to you if the..." he hesitated, searching for the right word, "condition were permanent?"
"Yes... no..." Illya shook his head. "I don't know."
"I see. Well, thanks for clearing that up," said Napoleon with the ghost of a smile.
Illya tried again. "Before..." he tailed off, "I would simply have learned to live with it." He looked rueful. "I may still have to, but it is more—complicated—now." He stopped again and shook his blond head, a picture of frustration.
Napoleon tried to speak again but Illya held up his hand.
"No, Napoleon. Let me try to do this." He was breathing more heavily now.
"When I—we both—thought I was going to die, I wanted you to know how I felt—how I feel."
Napoleon caught his breath as Illya continued.
"You are my partner and I believed you deserved the truth, if only I could make you understand." Illya began to twirl his cane agitatedly in his hands. "I had not meant to burden you. I had no thought—it was not in the expectation—that..."
"I meant it, partner mine," Napoleon interjected quietly. "No, please, IK, let me speak now. I meant it then and I mean it now. I think I may always have meant it..." He paused and smiled at the revelation. "Well, well. How about that?" he mused.
Illya sighed and tossed aside his cane.
"Napoleon, can't you see how difficult this makes it?" he groaned. "For myself, I will cope—if I have to—but you... you need..."
"You're suddenly the expert on my needs?" Napoleon answered. "You think what I need is your decision to make?"
Illya faltered—and a surge of triumph coursed through Napoleon.
Checkmate, he thought exultantly.
"Please do me the courtesy, tovarisch," he said, smothering a jubilant grin, "of allowing me to make my own decisions about what—or whom—I do or don't need."
He reached out and laid his hand on the back of his friend's neck and gave it a gentle shake. "We'll deal with this together, IK, just as we always have. You rescue me, I rescue you. It's what partners do."
Illya looked at him with doubtful eyes.
"Stubborn Russian," said Napoleon. And he leaned forward until his lips were inches from his partner's, sighed quietly and kissed him.
This time he waited for Illya to take the next step. He exulted as he felt Illya's tongue slip boldly between his lips and find the slickness of his own. Instinctively Napoleon began gently to suckle it and was rewarded by a whimper from Illya. As Illya's tongue slowly retreated, Napoleon chased it with his own but was distracted by the lips he encountered on the way, licking and nibbling them until he felt them swell under the attention.
"God, your mouth..." Napoleon breathed as he nipped and suckled the full lower lip gently between his teeth.
He felt Illya smile in response and then was suddenly taken aback as his own mouth was almost savagely plundered. Illya's lips, tongue, teeth were everywhere, tasting, suckling, nipping. Napoleon, who considered his own expertise in the kissing department to be unrivalled, was transported by the devastating technique.
Finally, the blood rushing in his ears, Napoleon wriggled, struggling to breathe. Illya moved back, panting, and regarded him with eyes that were almost black and full of amusement.
"Was this what you had in mind?" panted Illya.
Napoleon nodded slowly. "Let's take this inside," he said, standing and holding out his hand to his partner. Illya took it and hauled himself up. It seemed somehow redundant to release it. Napoleon stole a surreptitious glance at his partner's trunks and noted that their smooth line was undisturbed. His own erection was almost painful. He gave a mental shrug then squeezed Illya's hand.
"Come on, tovarisch," he said with a grin as they moved towards the house. "I think we have some catching up to do."
As he slowly undressed, Napoleon gazed down at his partner, entranced. Illya lay naked on his back on the bed, hands behind his head and one knee canted out to the side. Apart from the absence of an erection, he looked completely debauched—a golden phantasm.
The sight quickened Napoleon's breath and brought a lump to his throat. He swallowed hard.
"Napoleon?" said Illya softly. "Close your mouth, remove those ridiculous shorts and come to bed."
Realising he'd been staring, Napoleon shut his mouth suddenly and looked down at himself. Despite his diversion in the shower earlier his boxers were tented out by a sizeable erection. He gave a wry grin and swept them off, tossing them aside before crossing the room and kneeling on the bed next to his friend.
Illya's eyes met and held his as the Russian pushed himself up on his forearm and reached for Napoleon's bobbing cock. Napoleon's hand shot out and grasped his partner's wrist gently but firmly, pushing him away.
"No, tovarisch," he said softly. "Not this time."
Illya looked momentarily nonplussed. "Then what?" he asked hoarsely. "What do you want, Napoleon?"
Gently Napoleon pushed his friend down onto his back and lay down next to him, propping himself on his elbow.
"I want to love you," he replied huskily "like this," he kissed first one mink-lashed eyelid, then the other, "and like this," a sweep of his tongue over an eyebrow. "Like this," he nibbled and sucked on an earlobe, "like this," gave the lightly-stubbled jaw-line a sharp nip "and like this," and he lowered his mouth to Illya's and marvelled once more at its silken warmth.
Illya's arms came up around him and drew him down until Napoleon was pressed along his partner's length. It was like coming home. Held gently but firmly between Illya's spread-eagled thighs, Napoleon felt a lump in his throat. That this astonishing and complex man, his partner, his friend and now, finally, his lover, could open himself in this way despite all the agony he'd been through, moved Napoleon beyond belief. He withdrew slowly from the kiss and buried his face in the crook of Illya's neck.
"Napoleon?" Illya's voice was breathless in his ear.
"Is there any other way you might want to love me?"
Napoleon drew back and looked down inquiringly into a pair of mischievous blue eyes.
"Only you see," Illya continued "I was promised some catching up and I was wondering when it might start..."
"Russian brat!" Napoleon growled and took Illya's mouth again in a merciless kiss.
As Illya began to struggle for breath, Napoleon released his mouth and dipped his head to nip and suck at an already puckered nipple. He was unprepared for the response. Illya arched up suddenly beneath him, gasping and almost rolling him off onto the bed.
Napoleon smiled to himself. "Liked that, huh?" he panted as he nibbled and nipped at the nipple's neglected twin.
Illya bucked under him again with a moan. This time Napoleon was ready and pressed himself firmly against the Russian's groin, pinning him to the bed. His own erection was fully, achingly hard now but despite Illya's flushed face and swollen, lips his friend's penis remained resolutely flaccid.
Napoleon changed tactics. Never taking his mouth from the nipple he courted, he rolled himself off his partner until he lay on his belly at ninety degrees to him. Illya continued to moan and shiver under his tongue. As Napoleon brought his teeth to bear on the nipple once more, he gave Illya's soft cock a firm squeeze. He couldn't be sure, but thought he felt a slight twitch. Undaunted at this modest response, he moved his mouth to the other nipple and repeated the procedure. This time there was a definite twitch of interest.
O-kay, he thought.
Sitting back on his heels he replaced his mouth on Illya's nipple with the flat of his hand, and worked it in small circles as he watched his partner's face in delight. Despite the lack of an erection Illya was clearly aroused. His head was flung backwards, framed by a nimbus of lemon hair, his face was flushed, eyes closed and he panted between swollen, moist lips. Napoleon's engorged cock wept at the sight.
He looked down at Illya's groin and suddenly couldn't help himself. He lowered his head, clamped a hand on his partner's hip and sucked the limp organ into his mouth to the root.
The effect was spectacular.
"Napoleon! Oh..." Illya cried out almost desperately as his hips reared against Napoleon's restraining hands, his head thrashing from side to side. And suddenly, wonderfully, Napoleon was struggling to contain the burgeoning shaft in his mouth.
Yes! He thought. We can do this!
Moments later he gagged and backed off a little as the rapidly swelling length caught him off guard. He recovered in an instant and triumphantly licked and sucked the intruder as Illya whimpered in response, losing his English entirely and babbling softly in Russian. Napoleon knew they were both close and marshalled the remnants of his self control.
Withdrawing momentarily, he glanced quickly at his friend's face and drew in a hitching breath at the sight. Illya was lost, abandoned utterly to the sensations that Napoleon was gifting him.
As he felt his balls tightening, Napoleon plunged Illya's now freely-weeping cock far down his throat, swallowing hard to combat the gag reflex. He heard his own name in the shuddering cry of completion he drew from his partner and suddenly his mouth was filled with warm, salt bitterness. He gulped it down, struggling for breath, and then his own orgasm was roaring through him with a potency that left him shattered.
As his breathing began to return to a sustainable level, he crawled up beside his partner and searched his face apprehensively. The deep blue eyes sparkled and brimmed with unshed tears but Illya's face was suffused with a look of utter contentment. Napoleon had never in his life seen anything so affecting. As Illya reached towards him and brushed aside his forelock, stroking his face, he felt the moisture welling in his own eyes.
He gave his partner a watery grin.
"Hey," he said softly with a sniff.
"Hey yourself," murmured Illya with a drowsy smile as he thumbed away a tear from the end of Napoleon's nose. "Did you...?"
Napoleon nodded languidly.
He nodded again as he stroked his fingers through the soft, sweat-damp hair.
Illya smiled impishly. "That will do nothing for your reputation, my friend."
"What, you're planning on comparing notes at the water cooler?" He dropped his head forwards and kissed his partner's eyebrows fondly. "Brat," he said.
He rolled onto his back, enchanted as Illya rolled with him and held him tightly with an arm and a leg.
His partner sighed contentedly. "Of course, I could be persuaded into further research to refute the hypothesis," Illya mumbled against his chest, "Perhaps a further sampling in—say—twenty minutes?"
Napoleon smiled wryly up at the ceiling.
"Ah, tovarisch," he said solemnly. "In your enfeebled state? Better make that an hour..."
He yelped as an enfeebled Russian tornado engulfed him.
~ FINIS ~