Two Way Street
And here he comes. My partner. My new American partner. I've heard about him, of course. He is supposed to be handsome, and charming, and quite a ladies man. I love ladies men. So often they make the best lovers.
Rumor can be exaggerated, but not in this case. Napoleon Solo is every bit as handsome as promised, and then some. He is dark, not a tall man but beautifully built, and obviously fit. That fitness shows in every line of his body, every move he makes in that so exquisitely tailored suit. And the other part of his reputation must be true as well, because the two receptionists at the desk are still gazing after him when the door closes in their faces, and Mr. Waverly's personal assistant is lingering, talking to him and smiling at him while he looks at her as though she is the only person in the world. Heady stuff, even at second hand like this.
I am not comfortable with this. The gossip also has it that my new partner does not want a partner. He prefers to work alone, and will make a short, not quite jest about his last name when pressed. Alone, or at the head of a team. But not with a partner. That implies a sharing of the load, and this is not a sharing man. I heard about his protests, both official and unofficial. I heard of his complaints. And I don't expect the reality of me and my record to help matters any. Over here on loan from the Soviet Union as I am—as I am ostensibly. I have already spoken with Mr. Waverly quite frankly, and he agrees with me that after spending years in the West I will not be welcomed back with open arms. In fact I may well face a prison term as my reward. Unless something changes, I will not be returning.
I do not want to return. I know I am supposed to have a great sentimental trough of love for my homeland, for Mother Russia, but when all I would be likely to see is a train and a courtroom, and another train and then the frozen wastes of Siberia, I manage to keep my sentiment under control. Besides, as an agent, and looking the way I do, I was frequently subjected to unpleasant and humiliating 'missions' which often involved me on my knees with my mouth full, or on my stomach with my ass full. Not that these experiences are necessarily unpleasant, but I do like to pick and choose and have my own say in the matter, and when I laid that out bluntly for Waverly he agreed that that part of my career was behind me. So to speak.
'Unless your best judgment indicates that it is the only way to complete an assignment' Waverly warned. 'All of our agents operate under that proviso. But it will be per your own judgment, and not by order. You have my word.'
Alexander Waverly's word. Somehow I knew I could take it as fact, and I smiled at him. I was grateful, under my arrogant façade and he seemed to sense it because he smiled back at me. 'I hope your experience with UNCLE will be a good one,' he said. 'You will be quite expendable, of course, like any operative, but you will not be pimped.' His mouth twisted as he said the word, and I suppressed another smile because it sounded so incongruous there. 'I will assign you a senior field partner,' he continued, and gave me a sudden, piercing look. 'A carefully chosen partner.'
'Thank you, sir,' I said. 'I will serve you and UNCLE with everything I have in me. You have my word on that.'
My word. The word of a spy, a whore, a defector. I knew how it sounded. But Waverly only nodded gravely, and shook my hand. "I have every confidence in you, Mr. Kuryakin," he said, and I flushed. All my defenses—and they were formidable ones, no question—were useless in the face of this grave integrity. Useless—and maybe not even necessary. Only time could tell about that. I returned the handshake, and went back to my interim work in the laboratory.
My assignment to Napoleon Solo was the result of that meeting. Carefully chosen, Waverly had said. I had read Solo's file, and could only be honored by that choice. He was a superb field agent with a stunning streak of successes adorning his record. He was on a hard track for promotion, and was already spoken of as Waverly's protégé. And such a ladies man.
What does he think of me, I wonder? He has surely gone through my file as I have gone through his. There is the obvious, of course—despite my own string of successes, despite my prowess in UNCLE's training programs, despite all of that I have never actually been a field agent, which means he will have to teach me. And my nationality may present a problem. Many Americans in the intelligence community form their view of me from that alone, and believe they need look no further. 'Any Red is better dead,' one teacher told me flatly and there is little to be said to that. I have learned to say nothing. I have learned all the nuances of the sideways look, the thinned lips, the hard eyes that give people pause—that at least make them think twice before insulting me to my face. But surely Waverly would not have put us together if Napoleon Solo were one of those.
Then there is my sexual preference. "Men" I told them when they asked. "I like men. Yes," answering the inevitable next question before it was asked, "I can be with women too, and if the mission calls for it I will. But you asked my preference. I prefer men."
Men were really all I knew. Women had played no role in my upbringing. There were women teachers at school, but they offered no nurturing and I would have accepted none. I had already resolved to accept nothing offered from the adult world. Adults were the enemy. And for me, adults meant men.
They had slavered after me for as long as I could remember. My uncle first, of course; first and foremost was my dead mother's brother, who was my guardian. He tore at me from the beginning. Then it was his friends and colleagues, and later still my own superiors. By then, of course, I knew how to turn it back on them, understood my own power. Sex was a weapon that could cut both ways, and I learned young how to wield it.
Learning about pleasure took a little longer, but once I did I understood the whole business better. Not the force—I never have comprehended what pleasure could come through force, although I have witnessed it first hand in the eyes of the men panting and heaving over me. But the body is capable of much pleasure, and I decided I might as well lie back and enjoy it when possible. I said that once to one of my clients and he laughed. That was the first I knew that someone else had already said it. I laughed too, and pretended to have been quoting, and when he set about to prove its truth to me I let him, and let him think, when it was over, that it was his decision to end it, not mine. I could at least give him that, when he had tried so hard.
So I take lovers when so inclined, and indulge myself with the pleasure they seem so eager to give me. I had never cared what anybody thought about it, but now I wondered. What did Napoleon Solo, grooming himself and being groomed for Waverly's position, and such an inveterate lover of women, think of that little box on my form that stated my sexual preference? Had he objected to that as well? Complained? Was he afraid that I would flirt with him? Well, I might. But it would be so subtle that he would think it was his imagination. Then he would wonder why he would imagine such a thing, and then... well. I brought my thoughts back to the present. Even now he was turning from the woman and looking at me.
"So you're Illya Kuryakin," he said, and he smiled, made me a little bow. "Napoleon Solo, at your service." He held out his hand and I took it, shook it. Then I looked into his eyes.
Well what do you know, I thought. I'm the only person in the world too. I must be because... because... his eyes were dark and, for the moment, unreadable. I was nervous suddenly, very nervous. I had been nervous all along but had thought it hidden, buried deep. Now I was afraid it was in my eyes, in this handshake which had already gone on too long. I pulled my hand free, realized that that had been too abrupt, put it behind my back to hide my lack of grace. How gauche this man made me feel! Clumsy, and young, and... he was looking harder into my eyes now.
"I am very pleased to make your acquaintance," he said carefully. "Your record..." he stopped, cleared his throat. "Speaks for itself," he finished and I frowned a little. That certainly could be taken a lot of ways.
"Pleased?" I said, and my voice was sharper than I intended. "That's not what I hear." Instantly I was sorry. Why had I said that? The fact that I was unwanted at the least, and actively resented at the worst could at least be concealed under common courtesy, as he was trying to do. Now I had made him angry. I waited stiffly for the rebuke.
"I suppose it was too much to hope for that you hadn't heard any of that," he said and his voice was regretful. Startled, I looked up and our eyes met, and held. His were—I looked into them. There was something familiar in them, something that reminded me of Waverly. Was it that same integrity? Well, I already knew that. No matter what anyone said about Napoleon Solo, about his ambition and his ruthlessness, his integrity could not be denied. He was a man of rectitude, of morality. A man, like Waverly, whose word would be his bond. But there was something else, too, almost a gentleness. Kindness. The word clicked into my mind. His eyes were kind, as Waverly's had been. It had taken me a while to recognize it because I wasn't used to it. I became aware that we were still staring at one another, and flushed. He smiled at me, and the kindness in his eyes was in his smile too. "I am sorry," he continued. "Waverly says I have things to learn that I can't learn by myself. And you have things to learn that he feels only I can teach you." That smile again, and there was a mischievous touch to it now that I felt myself responding to. My mouth curved upwards involuntarily, and his smile widened in what appeared to be genuine pleasure. "I deeply regret that any premature remarks of mine, repeated irresponsibly, have caused you distress. I promise you that when I say I am pleased to make your acquaintance, I am speaking nothing but the truth."
Someone interrupted him then, and he turned. It was shocking, having him turn away from me. But how can he, I thought, confused. I'm the only person in the room, in the world. He said so... well... I could feel myself flushing again. How attractive he was. How very attractive. And where were my intentions regarding him? This was not a man to play games with, although I wanted to more than ever, having seen for myself that hard muscular body, that grace. Then he turned back to me. Dimly I was aware of the door closing, and the new silence in the room.
"Now that we're alone there are a couple of things I want to clear up," he said and I looked at him again. Here it comes, I thought. Whatever it is, here it comes.
"I have heard some disparaging remarks about your country of origin, and your original place of service. I won't permit it in my hearing. We're all here to work together, and if we don't start working together the whole world is going to pay for it. So if you have no problem with my American passport I'm fine with your Soviet one. Yes?"
"Yes." What else could I say? He was trying to put me at ease, I could feel it. It felt good, actually. Why would he bother unless he cared how I felt? He wanted me not to worry about the 'better dead than Red' issue. He wanted to reassure me that he didn't feel that way. I smiled at him with real warmth, and he smiled back. How long had we been in this room, smiling at one another, looking into one another's eyes and smiling?
"And..." he cleared his throat and I blinked at him. He looked ill at ease and already I could tell that was a rare experience for him. "The other thing. Your..." he stopped again. "I'm going to get personal now. Don't be offended with me, please."
"Your sexual preference."
"It doesn't mean a thing to me. As long as you do your job I don't care what you do in your free time. But I care very much that you should be accorded the respect you have earned. If anyone ever says anything to you that fails in that respect—for whatever reason, but particularly for that one—I want to hear about it. I will end it. Yes?"
"I understand you," I answered obliquely, not ready to make promises that I knew already I would have to keep. I would not make promises to this man lightly. He frowned at me, and I looked blandly back at him.
"I guess I have to accept that," he said finally. "I just—I like to have these things up front and out in the open."
"All right." What an American thing to say. Up front and out in the open. Was he serious? When the game of espionage was all under cover and under wraps?
"We're partners," he said, looking earnestly into my face. "We have to be able to rely on one another almost one hundred percent."
"Well, you know." He laughed a little. "Trust no one."
"Ah. They tell you that too?"
"Yes. And it's good advice."
"Waverly doesn't think field partners should be romantically involved with one another," he said abruptly. "He knows it happens, but he doesn't approve. I assume that's one of the reasons he put us together. Because there's no possibility of that."
A challenge. Involuntarily I shivered. How I love a challenge. But I only smiled up at him, using our height difference for the first time, watching him straighten a little in response. "I'm sure you're right," I agreed demurely and saw him straighten a little more. And he probably was right. But I thought there might be a little more to it than that. I thought maybe Waverly had known that despite his original protests Napoleon Solo's eyes would be kind when they met mine. Why Waverly would care about that I didn't know, but it warmed me all the same.
"May I use your first name?" Solo said then, formally. "Illya? Is that all right?"
"Yes," I answered but it irked me a little. I liked the way my name sounded on his lips, but none of his colleagues called him anything but Solo. It was to point up the difference in our rank I supposed, but then he was smiling at me again, the formality gone.
"As long as you don't think you'll trip over mine," he said and I was disarmed all over again. "Will you?"
"Napoleon," I said. "No, I don't think that I will." And here we were again, smiling at one another.
"Want some lunch?" he offered. "We can order deli in, and eat in my—our—office. I can show you how I keep the files organized, and how I like the paperwork done."
Mentally I counted my cash. I had just enough for the cafeteria all week, and that was it. One big delicatessen lunch would take it all. But I couldn't make myself plead poverty to this man in his expensive suit. I could say I wasn't hungry, but then he would eat in front of me and my noisy stomach would probably betray me because I was hungry, I was very hungry. "I'd like that," I agreed. I could always bring peanut butter sandwiches for the rest of the week.
"My treat," he went on casually as we walked out into the hall. I gave him a sharp look—had he read me so easily? It was a disconcerting thought—but he wasn't looking at me. "SOP for a new co-worker."
"Oh." And maybe it was. It was a relief either way. "Thank you."
"You are more than welcome, Illya." We had reached the elevator when he stopped. "I left my briefcase," he said, clearly surprised. "I never... hmm." He looked hard at me. "I'll meet you in our office. Do you know how to find it?"
"Yes," I answered, and smiled to myself. He hadn't actually said that I had distracted him, but it had been in that sharp look. But we were off to a good start, the two of us, and maybe I was wrong. Maybe sex wouldn't enter into it at all. Maybe we would just be friends, and he would sleep with his women, and I would sleep with my men, and never the twain would meet.
The elevator door opened but I waited, watching him go down the hall. He moved with a brisk, confident stride and the women's eyes tracked him wherever he went. I tracked him too, appreciating that hard athlete's body, remembering those commanding brown eyes, that wry grin that made him look years younger whenever he used it. My whole body had responded to that grin, to his physicality, to his sharp gaze. We'll meet, I thought. One of these days I'll show you... I'll show you how it could be, and you'll show me, too. One of these days...
Waverly was in the conference room when I returned, and his voice was brisk. "What do you think about Illya Kuryakin?" He handed me my briefcase.
I think I'm in love, I thought, but did not say." He needs a haircut," I said instead, rather inanely. Waverly nodded.
"You may say so to him if you wish," he agreed, and I smothered a grin at the picture that made. Waverly laid a staff file on the table facing me. Illya's name was on the red label that indicated a deep level of security required to access it—deeper than mine, and I looked at Waverly. He nodded, so I opened the folder and began reading. I read about Illya Kuryakin's childhood as his uncle's plaything, about his adolescence as his uncle's personal honey trap, about his young adulthood in his country's service, and the sordid assignments he had routinely been given.
It was quite a story. It made me angry, and sick to my stomach. I thought again of my new partner, of his brittle composure, his stellar ratings. "I assume that is over."
"Yes, with the same caveat we all operate under." He said this matter of factly and I shot him a quick glance. Alexander Waverly had been a handsome man in his youth. But his expression now told me nothing, so I abandoned it and returned to the topic at hand.
"The circumstances of his tenure here are ambiguous, to say the least. Who exactly is he working for?"
"UNCLE, of course."
"But they maintain the right to withdraw him at any time."
"Mr. Kuryakin and I have already discussed that matter. It is settled to everyone's satisfaction."
"Except, perhaps, the people who sent him," I suggested and Waverly's eyes twinkled.
"Except for them," he agreed. "Mr. Solo, I want you to know that I assigned you two together for many reasons," Those eyes weren't twinkling anymore. They were very sharp on mine now, leaving me the alternatives of returning his stare, or of looking away from him. Neither option made me comfortable, so I settled for focusing my eyes on the bridge of his nose, and letting him read what he pleased in them.
"First and foremost, he is very good at what he does, and his areas of expertise coincide with your areas of weakness. I believe you will complement one another, and become an effective team."
"Yes sir." That was of course the goal. I trusted Waverly's judgment, and was aware of what he considered my areas of weakness. I didn't always agree with him, but I was aware.
"You are an effective instructor. He has enormous potential. I want that potential developed and utilized. I have faith in your ability to do that."
"Thank you sir." It was an enormous compliment. It softened me. I should have known better.
"Your sexual proclivities would appear to speak for themselves," Waverly was continuing and I lost my focus on his nose, met his eyes and blinked. Chagrined, I looked away. I might as well now. What did Waverly know about my sexual proclivities, besides what everyone knew? Or thought they knew?
Napoleon Solo, the great womanizer. It was a clich, the womanizing spy. But clichs are just that for a reason. What else was there for me to do? A relationship, a steady relationship, was impossible for a man in my position. It would be too risky for the other person involved, until I retired from the field. Then it would be possible—Waverly himself the first example of a man who managed to have it all. But I didn't want to retire from the field yet. I loved my work. It exhilarated, thrilled and fulfilled me in a way no relationship ever had.
But my sex drive is strong. In a profession where your life is on the line each and every moment of the day, a strong sex drive seems to go with the territory. Get all the pleasure life has to offer now, because it may end tomorrow. That is true for everyone, of course, but I am in a unique position to have it brought home to me, often savagely, on a regular basis. It gives you an appetite for life, no doubt about it. And an unfilled appetite can be a distraction, can open you up at the wrong time, in the wrong circumstances. With the wrong person. So I satisfied that appetite, as I did those for food and drink, sleep and exercise, whenever the opportunity arose because who knew when it would come again? And with a serious relationship being out, and prostitutes at whatever level being too high a security risk, what was left except the casual dating, the steady flow of easy women?
There were men, of course. As Waverly had said, my sexual proclivities would seem to state otherwise, but in reality gender was not that important to me. It certainly wasn't as important as other factors, such as intelligence, humor, attractiveness—I admit it, that last ranks right up there with the others and if that is a clich too no matter. But sex with men is fraught with risk—risk of all kinds. Risk to one's reputation and job prospects, whether that be just or not. Risk to one's self image. With women I am always in control. I know it, they know it—it is familiar territory. In my few encounters with men, mostly in college, a few in the Army, the issue of control has been contested—not in a bad way, necessarily, but still... it makes me uncomfortable despite the pleasure inherent in the act. With women I am never uncomfortable. So I embrace the clich, but I had thought that the clich was all that showed. Now, under Waverly's steady gaze, I wasn't so sure. I thought about it, then shook my head. What did it really matter, one way or the other? But I understand what he is saying. It wouldn't be fair to impose any of that on Illya Kuryakin, given everything, not the least of which is our respective positions as well as job descriptions. I nodded, and Waverly nodded too.
"Very well. I am counting on you, Mr. Solo."
"I am honored by your trust, sir," I said, and meant it. I would do my utmost to validate that trust. I would teach Illya all the myriad of details about being a field agent you don't learn in school, and I would try to teach him, too, the intangibles; the things that in the long run keep you—and your partner—alive. I would learn to utilize his gifts, to rely on him and he on me. We would be a team. It was an intriguing prospect after all. And I certainly wouldn't let the clich drop. Not for one moment, despite those blue eyes that I could swear were lifted to mine with just a touch too much candor to be real, would I let my new partner know that he was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, and that part of me had already begun weighing risks and benefits. Not for one moment must he suspect.
He was waiting in my office and I stopped at the door, amused. He had his arms folded across his chest, and his lower lip protruded just a little bit in what was unmistakably a sulk. He glared at me from under those bangs as I entered.
"Sorry," I said briskly. "Waverly kept me." I saw his face change, and realized that he thought I had kept him waiting on purpose. To establish my rank, to set the scene for further humiliation; for whatever reason, he thought I had done it on purpose. Now, faced with an unarguable excuse, he flushed.
"Oh." Then the scowl returned. "I'm hungry," he accused.
"And here I thought it was the pleasure of my company you were missing," I said lightly and he tensed up again. Not used to being teased, I thought, and mentally shrugged. He needed to get used to it. I wasn't going to change my approach for him, and I hadn't meant any harm by it. "I ordered lunch sent in from the deli down the street," I offered anyway and he brightened. When my secretary tapped on the door and came in with two paper sacks, setting one down in front of each of us, he brightened further.
I left him alone, watching him eat everything in front of him with dispatch. His manners were faultless but he ate like someone who hasn't seen food in days. And maybe he hadn't—or at least hadn't fully satisfied his appetite. I had seen that mental counting of money when I had suggested delicatessen. I had never had to actually live on what UNCLE paid, because my personal finances were more than enough to make me comfortable, but I had wondered, on seeing those early paychecks, how anybody managed to pay rent in Manhattan with that. And when he finished, I saw him looking at the untouched half of my sandwich and, amused again, pushed it across to him. He took it without demur and demolished it—again with those perfect manners.
"I've seen your deep file," I said finally. I didn't like having unspoken things between us. He would be wondering, and wondering too what I had thought, if anything. The blue eyes met mine and they were wary now. But his chin lifted.
"So... I just wanted to let you know, well, I just wanted to say, well." I cleared my throat. I wasn't used to stammering and hemming and hawing, and it irritated as well as intrigued me that he had that effect on me. "I'm glad it's behind you," I finished awkwardly. He quirked an eyebrow at me.
"So to speak."
"So to speak," I echoed. "And Waverly doesn't work that way."
"No. I know. I'm glad to be here, too. I'm sorry I... I mean, from what I hear this pairing was not of your choosing."
"I'd work alone my whole career if it were up to me," I admitted frankly. "But that doesn't necessarily mean that's what would be good for UNCLE—or for me . Waverly feels we will do well together. And I trust Waverly's judgment."
"I have been warned that you will do your best to have me removed, one way or the other," he said. I looked him over again. So Illya Kuryakin didn't like things hanging unsaid in the air either.
"I trust Waverly's judgment," I repeated. "What I will do my best to do is find a way for us to work together. Do you think that can be arranged?" I smiled at him then, my best smile, warm and charming and revealing nothing of what I might have been thinking—which at that moment was how delectable he looked, gazing solemnly into my eyes, that blond hair tousled a little. He colored up at the smile and looked down, giving me an opportunity to see that his eyelashes were just a shade darker than his hair, and to appreciate how they lay on his flushed face. Then he looked back up and smiled too.
I felt dizzy, a little. Illya Kuryakin had a remarkable smile, slow, sweet, giving me the impression that it was gifted to few and I one of those few. I swallowed hard. For another moment we just stared at one another, then I opened the nearest folder.
"Now," I began. "This is how I organize my cases." He rose without asking and came around the desk so he could lean over, read while I did. It put us very close together and I wondered suddenly how accidental it was. Was he flirting with me? It seemed inconceivable, and yet with his background maybe it wasn't. Maybe he thought that was the way to get along with his new superior. Maybe... but he was putting a finger on one of the indexes now, and I was ashamed of my thoughts. He was clearly entirely focused on work.
"Do you organize all the tabs like this?"
"Yes. Consistency is my watchword. After our missions, when you do the reports, I want you to follow my procedure. Ideally no one should be able to tell where you took over."
"Unless I find something else works better for me," he said and I cut my eyes at him sharply. He was studying the document in front of him and for a moment I looked at his profile, at the pure clean line of his jaw, the flawless skin, the aristocratic nose.
"Unless you do," I agreed finally. "But it has to work for me too."
"Of course. Do you mind if I look this over?"
"Sure. I have a meeting that will take up most of the afternoon. Why don't you use the time to go through these records." I put a stack down by him.
"Do I have an office too?"
"We share," I answered. "They'll bring your desk and equipment in in the morning."
"Oh." He faltered. "Do you mind?"
I had. Now I didn't. "No."
"I'll see you tomorrow, Illya."
"Mr. Solo?" Then, at my surprised look he colored again. Fair skin is always a handicap for an agent. He could compose his features all he pleased, but that flush was a dead giveaway. There was no concealing it. All he would be able to do was mask the reason for it. And it made him look younger than ever. "Napoleon."
"You are going out of your way to make things easy for me. I want you to know I appreciate it."
"Well, you're going to make things easier for me too." Again I tapped the stack of reports. "Paperwork was never my forte."
"Nor mine," he admitted.
"When you're senior you can dump it on your partner too. That's how it goes."
"Not that I'm in any hurry for that," I added hastily. "I mean—I think this is going to work out just fine."
"Yes. Don't you?"
For a long moment he regarded me. There was no trace of flirtatiousness now and I wondered if it had ever been there. But if it hadn't, why would I think that it had? Did I want him to flirt with me? That would certainly complicate things unnecessarily. "Yes," he said finally, and again I got the benefit of that smile. "Yes, I think it will."
"Good." We smiled into one another's eyes for another moment, then I remembered my meeting. I went to the door, and when I turned around all I could see was the top of that blond head as he bent over my reports. Well, good. I had a date tonight and I had been fretting a little over the mound of accumulated paperwork. Now it was as good as done. I went down the hall, already looking forward to this new arrangement.
They had been beating me for a long time, trying to make me give them Napoleon's location and cover. It had been days, for certain, and maybe weeks. They beat me, then they left me alone with my pain, then they returned and beat me again. It's one of the oldest tricks in the book, but effective for all that. The cessation was always a relief at first, but the pain remained, throbbing in my head, pounding in my ribs, stabbing in my gut. Then there would be the clang of the door leading to my cell, the tramp of feet and my pulse would accelerate, my breathing become ragged. No matter what mental tricks I used, no matter how I tried to send my mind somewhere else, what they did to me hurt, and when I knew they were coming I was afraid. I hid it behind an attitude of bored resignation, which only infuriated them more but left me at least some semblance of dignity.
I hadn't talked. I wouldn't have talked, of course, no matter what they wanted to know, but keeping quiet on this issue was easy. It wasn't only UNCLE information, it was Napoleon's life. I would die before I gave Napoleon up. Napoleon was the first and best friend I had ever had. He had risked his life for me many times over the year we had been together and, moreover, he had been kind to me. He trained me rigorously—as rigorous as Survival School itself in many ways, but there was always the encouraging word, the hand on my shoulder, the praise. Even if it hadn't been a matter of security, I wouldn't have given him up. I kept my mouth stubbornly closed and endured.
This time, however, they didn't take a break. They kept punching and pummeling, kicking and slapping me long past the usual time. Somewhere inside me a voice was crying out that it wasn't fair, that they should have stopped by now, but I silenced that too and only rolled my eyes to indicate my irritation with their heavy handed methods. Then they did leave me for a while but I was still bound to the chair. This was different. Usually they left me unfettered—after all, where could I go? The cell was very small and locked up tight; no window, no vents, no conveniently loose bars. When they returned they carried a cattle prod with them and shocked me through the bars, so when they came in I was helpless and twitching on the floor, in no shape to set up an ambush or cause them any trouble whatsoever.
But at least I could use the bathroom or, rather, the corner of my cell I had chosen for that purpose. They made remarks about that, pretending to gag or choke on the smell, but I cared nothing for their melodramatics. What did they expect me to do? They fed me, barely, so I had to void it. They knew it, I knew they knew it, so the childish tactics they employed bothered me not at all. This time, however, I had been strapped to the chair for hours and my bladder was full. I knew I should just release it. The shame, if any, was theirs, not mine. That's what our instructors taught us, and it is true. But so far I hadn't been able to make myself do it. I kept thinking they would return and beat me some more, and maybe my body would release urine of its own volition, or maybe they would leave again without tying me up and I could go then. But they didn't. After a while, what should have been a petty irritation became all I could think of. Every breath hurt. Just as I was ready to try and go anyway, they returned.
"Gotta go?" the guard sneered, looking pointedly at my crotch where my penis was at full and painful erection. I sighed noisily, as if wearied to the bone by their antics.
"What do you think?" I asked.
"I think maybe you're just glad to see me."
"Oh, that's right," I said with as much sarcasm as I could muster. "How clever of you to think of it. I'm not sure if it's the beer gut or the bad breath —" He backhanded me across the face. His own face was crimson and I laughed at him. Inwardly, though, I was cringing. This was turning sexual? That was bad. But it could be worse, and had been, so I shook my hair out of my eyes and watched him warily.
"I'll go for you," he offered and began undoing his fly. In my face, I thought, he's going to piss in my face. My stomach turned over, but again I reminded myself how much worse it could be and looked at him impassively. But he was erect too and it wasn't because he needed to use the bathroom. "Open up blondie. Make it good and maybe I'll let you use your stinky little corner."
I smiled at him. "Go ahead," I invited, making sure my smile showed my teeth. I'll bite it off, I thought, and my smile widened. I don't care what you do to me afterwards. It'll be worth it. I put that thought into my eyes and licked my lips. What would it be like, to do that? Would it be hard? Gristly? There would be blood, of course. But if he thought I was going to let him come in my mouth he was sadly mistaken. A tragic mistake, I thought, and laughed out loud. He shoved his penis towards my open mouth and I snapped at him. Hard. If he hadn't pulled back just in time I would have nipped the tip right off.
And then it exploded. The whole organ flew apart in a spray of blood and something white—gristle after all? It made no sense to me and I recoiled. There was another loud thunderclap, and then my would be assailant was lying sprawled against the far wall of my cell, a bloody mess where his face used to be and another one between his legs.
Well this is a surprise, I thought. Who knew he was booby trapped? But why would they... then I looked out into the hall and saw Napoleon, with an UNCLE special in his hand. "Napoleon," I said stupidly. "What..." With a burst of sparks the door sagged open. Now I could hear more explosions upstairs and around us. A full scale assault, I thought, and wondered why. This satrap wasn't that important.
Napoleon kicked the door and it fell. He crossed the room to me in two quick strides and pulled a knife from his boot. He cut my bonds and pulled me to my feet. I fell. It had been too long since I had moved and my legs would not support me. Napoleon made an exasperated sound and knelt beside me. "We have to go," he said urgently. "Just as soon as you possibly can, Illya, unless you need me to carry you." He was rubbing my legs as he spoke, fingers digging deep, making them cramp again and again but it felt good, too, to have the blood returning to them. I smothered my groans in my sleeve and in a few moments was able to stagger to my feet. Napoleon grabbed my arm and pulled me out into the hall behind him.
Oh I have to piss, I thought inelegantly as I stumbled along in his wake. He didn't pause at any of the crossings we passed, just firing as he went to clear our way. Now that I was upright and walking my bladder was more of a liability than ever. I could barely move, and the pain jolted me with each step. It was slowing me down, and I looked at his retreating figure. But he turned back, and while the exasperation was still on his face there was concern too. "Illya? I'm about to throw you over my shoulder and run like hell if you can't keep up better than this."
I thought of being thrown over his shoulder and shivered unexpectedly. There was definitely an upside to that, but I couldn't even imagine how it would feel against my bursting bladder. "I'm all right," I said without much conviction and tried to increase my pace. But I couldn't, and after a few more minutes I felt I couldn't walk one more step. I stopped, and he stopped too.
"What is it?"
"I have to relieve myself," I said stiffly. "It's been..." what? It felt like years. "A long time."
"Go," he said shortly, gesturing towards an empty office we were passing. "Get in there and go. I'll guard your back."
"We don't have to stop for that. I was just telling you why —"
"Illya! Go! Now!" He shoved me into the office and took his position at the door, facing out, gun at the ready.
I fumbled with my pants, opened them and let it go. The relief was absolute. It literally buckled my knees and I had to grab onto the wall for support. In that moment all there was room for in my mind was this relief. It felt so good, it felt so good... I groaned aloud, and heard his snort of laughter. Was he making fun of me? I zipped up, face burning. But when I rejoined him he grinned at me. "Been there," was all he said but I felt better immediately.
I felt much better. I still hurt all over, and there was an ominous shooting pain in my ribcage where they had kicked me repeatedly, but compared with the bliss of an empty bladder that was nothing. I followed him at a run now, panting and occasionally crying out when a particularly sharp pain came but at least I wasn't holding him back. The sounds of a raid were louder now and suddenly we were in the midst of it, surrounded by shouting men, the noise of small arms fire and the bright flares of explosives. Napoleon took my arm to guide me through the melee, and when he jerked on it hard to bring me to a stop before I plunged into a pit that had appeared where once only tile floor stretched ahead to the exit, I cried out again.
"Ribs?" he said without looking at me. His eyes were on the path ahead, flicking from side to side.
"Can you run once more? The chopper's right outside."
"Let's go." We ran, and my side hurt but not intolerably, and then we were outside.
The sunlight blinded me, after so long inside my cell. It stabbed my eyes like lasers and I had to squeeze them shut. Napoleon tightened his hold on my arm and led me. I followed blindly, trusting absolutely in that strong grip, in that sharp mind that was, I knew, weighing and evaluating risks and strategies. When he boosted me into the chopper and I was received by strangers' hands I tried to pull free, and nearly fell back out of the door.
"It's all right, Illya," he said and while his voice was rough his hands were gentle as he pushed me up again. "It's UNCLE medics. Let them help you."
"Where are you going?" I tried to pry my eyelids open so I could see him but couldn't, even in the dimmer quarters of the helicopter.
"Back to finish the job. I'll see you at headquarters."
As it happened, the next time I saw Napoleon I was in a hospital bed and so was he. They had wheeled him into my room, still unconscious. He had taken a bullet in the shoulder, and had lost a lot of blood. He was white and still on the stretcher, and a great hollow place opened up inside me. "Napoleon?" I whispered, struggling to sit up on the bed. They had set my ribs and wrapped them in plaster, and told me I had to stay prone for three days. Now, trying to sit up, I found out why. Sinking back onto the bed I groped for the bedside lamp, so I could see him more clearly.
He looked terrible, but the monitors over the bed told a more reassuring story. They beeped steadily and I remembered that I was in the post surgical wing of the hospital but not in intensive care, so if he was in with me his injuries couldn't be life threatening. The nurses and doctors hovered around him for a while, then everyone went away and it was just the two of us.
Just the two of us. I lay there with my head turned on the pillow so I could watch him sleep. And as I did so a wave of warm feeling covered me. Again I saw the bloody horror where a man's organs had been. No one had ever done anything like it for me before. I could almost see the blaze of white hot fury that would have been on his face as he pulled the trigger. I had seen it before, and had always been grateful it was not directed at me. Napoleon, for all his self control, for all his air of cool self possession, had an explosive temper which he always—almost always—kept under wraps. For him to have released it over me must mean... must mean... could it mean, that he cared? Really cared about me, and about what happened to me? It was hard to credit, but maybe... maybe he did. I smiled, and just lay there watching him sleep until sleep pulled me under, too.
We were there together for the full three days of my recovery. We slept, and ate, and talked. He talked about work, and his plans for his future. I listened, and felt honored that he was sharing it with me. More than that, he encouraged me to talk. He drew me out without seeming to, getting me to talk about work as well, and what I wanted to accomplish during my tenure with UNCLE.
We didn't talk about our pasts. But something was cemented between us during those long slow days in the hospital, and the morning I was released I stood by his bed awkwardly, feeling that I should say something to acknowledge what he had done for me—everything he had done for me.
"I can't believe they're keeping me another two days," he grumbled. He was sitting up against the bed. He was much better than that first day, and his powerful body looked odd against the white sheets. Only the bandage on his shoulder spoke of his injuries. "I'm ready to leave right now."
"Want me to break you out?" I offered and he laughed. It warmed me all over. Napoleon Solo very seldom laughed out loud, and I was pleased to elicit it.
"Don't tempt me. But since you're a free man now you might stroll by our office and finish our reports."
"All right," I agreed. "But I'm not sure how to—I mean, what were you after at the satrap? Did you find it? Was the mission a success?" He was looking at me very oddly now and I struggled to find the words that would explain what I was saying. How could I do a report without knowing the mission's objective and if it had been attained or not? "I mean..."
"I know what you mean. The answer is yes. I found what I was looking for, and the mission was an unqualified success."
"Oh." I frowned. "But I still don't..."
"You, Illya. I went in there looking for you. I found you, and brought you out alive and well."
"For me?" I stared at him. "I mean, I know you found me while... but I thought..."
"Yes. You're my partner, aren't you? Did you really think I'd leave you to Thrush's tender mercies?"
"But how did you convince them?"
"A little fast talking, a little misdirection...but Waverly knew. I would have gone on my own if necessary, but he feels you are an asset to our organization. He authorized it."
"Oh. But I thought we were all expendable."
"And we are. Make no mistake about that. But whenever possible we like to get our people out." Then he smiled at me, and I almost had to sit down. "I wouldn't just leave you, Illya. You have my word. Unless urgent circumstances connected to the mission dictate otherwise, I will never just leave you behind."
"I won't leave you behind either." There was a long silence while our gazes held, then the nurse tapped at the door. I looked around at her, and when I looked back Napoleon had closed his eyes. "Well," I said awkwardly. "I'd better get to those reports."
"Yes." Then he opened one eye. "Visiting hours are seven to nine tonight," he said. "I wouldn't mind some company. I've gotten kind of used to having you around."
"I'll be back at seven," I promised. "Can I bring you something?"
"A porterhouse steak," he said and laughed. "Seriously, no. Just yourself for a little bit."
I brought him his steak, of course, going myself to order it and pick it up. I guarded it jealously, watching every stage of preparation. It never left my sight until the moment I delivered it to him. Seeing his eyes light up even as he scolded me for the unnecessary errand made my day. I kept thinking about that rescue, the manpower involved, the special UNCLE medivac unit dispatched—and all for me. For me, Illya Nickovetch Kuryakin, spy, defector, whore. For me.
I would die for you, I told him silently. Even if you never... even if we never... I would die for you willingly. I would kill for you. I would do anything for you except betray my trust, and that only because it would be unworthy of you. In lieu of any of that I sat up all night finishing his reports, turning them in at first light of day.
I stopped in the bathroom before I left. Standing there, watching my urine splash into the toilet water I remembered how it had felt, standing just like this in that abandoned office, feeling secure because Napoleon had my back. Napoleon had my back, and I had his back, and maybe between the two of us we would survive our years in the field. More than survive. Flourish. We would flourish. We would be the best team UNCLE ever had, and we would live to tell the tale. Surely we would.
Betrayed. Betrayed again. Be-fucking-trayed a-fucking-gain. Napoleon Solo, the original wide eyed fool. I threw the empty bourbon bottle across the room—or started to. As my arm went back it became lighter suddenly, and when I brought it forward and down it was empty. I stared at it stupidly for a moment, wondering what had happened, then abandoned the thought and picked up the full bottle, one of a set of seven full bottles, by my side. I yanked out the stopper with my teeth and drank.
I had been drinking since the assignment—ha. Fools mission, more like. Once again I had gone out on the line for an old friend. Like Clara. Like Colonel fucking Morgan. Every time I cursed myself and vowed never to do it again. And every time I thought—this one is all right. I know this one.
Like I thought I knew Jack Carson. Jack and I had been through Survival School together, and if that didn't tell you something about a man what would? Nothing. No fucking thing. Trust no one. Trust fucking no one. When would I learn?
I had to piss. Irritated afresh by the necessity I set the half empty bottle down and pushed myself up. Then I set my sights on the bathroom and made my way there. Tripped. And fell.
Fuck. I lay staring at the carpet. Why had I fallen? And why was my mind still so sharp when my body was evidently so useless? The more I drank the more I could see Jack's familiar face, normally so laughing and confident, now tight with desperation. How effortlessly he had drawn me into this useless adventure. "I need you, Solo," he'd pleaded. "They have my wife. I have to deliver the money and I don't have anybody else I can trust to help me. Please, Solo. They said I could bring a friend. One friend," he'd added, giving Illya an openly hostile look.
Illya. He had insisted on coming along, just as he had when I'd fallen for Clara's story, just as he had when I'd fallen for Morgan's. I should have known from that alone that something was hinky. And to think I'd done my best to discourage him.
"You're risking her life," I'd snapped at him. "Stay here. I don't need you." But Illya had followed. I'd tried to lose him, but when we'd arrived in Thailand there he'd been, outside our hotel room. How had he known where we'd be staying? How had he known Jack was lying, that he had only wanted my help in getting the money—his dirty money—across the border? How had he known it would end in a firefight, involving the police from two countries and an assortment of unsavory underworld types? How had he known I would need him after all? Damn him.
"Damn him," I said aloud as I came out of the bathroom, zipping up. "Fucking has to be right all the time Russian."
"Yes?" he said in that dry voice that usually amused me and now didn't. Great. I was hearing things. The alcohol was working on everything but my guilt and my self reproach, the two things I had wanted it to dull. Then I tripped again.
Over something. Over something warm and solid and... I looked around owlishly, blinking and trying to focus, and there he was. Sitting against the wall, legs outstretched. Two empty bourbon bottles were propped beside him and I pointed a finger at them. "Aha!" The mystery of the disappearing bottles was solved. "Give them to me." I snatched one up and threw it against the opposite wall with a very satisfactory crash. He sighed, rolled his eyes, and handed me the other. I sent it the way of the first and slid back down the wall to sit beside him.
"What are you doing here? How long have you been here, cold stone sober, watching me make a fool of myself? Again?"
"I was with you in the cab," he said with exaggerated patience. "I half carried you up in the elevator. Don't you remember? You started drinking on the plane."
"Fuck you," I mumbled. "Fuck you and the cab you rode in on." That struck me as hilarious and I laughed for a few moments. "I don't need you."
"So you've already told me. Let's just say I wanted the company."
"Yeah. Right." I snorted and drank some more. "I'm great company, I'm sure."
"I'm sorry, Napoleon. I'm sorry about Jack, and I'm sorry about the others."
"My own stupid fault. Trust no one. How many times do I have to have that hammered into my thick skull? Well, no more. No fucking more." I emptied that bottle and threw it too. Illya didn't stop me this time. He just sighed.
"Do you want another? You've had four."
"I can still think. Yes I want another." I took it from him. "I want to not be able to think. Or feel. I want... three innocent people died, Illya! When that storefront blew out there were three civilians there and they died! Because I'm a stupid fool who thought Jack Gerrigan was my friend!" It was a howl of anguish and I turned suddenly, gripped Illya's shoulders. "Spies have no friends. How often does it have to hit me in the face before I believe it?" I shook him, hard, and he let me. So I shook him again. It felt good to have someone to vent all this rage and self hatred on. He let me do that too, but when I lifted my fist to strike him he caught it.
"No," he said gently. "It would only make you feel worse."
"Fuck you," I said again and pulled away from him. We sat there for a long time in my darkened apartment, which now smelled rankly of bourbon and sweat and rage and disappointment. I drank, and drank some more. After a while the room was spinning so wildly that the next time I had to piss I knew I'd never make it on my own.
"Illya..." I struggled to stand up and he stood too, sliding an arm under my shoulders and bringing me up with him. He helped me to the bathroom door and I waved him away impatiently when I got there.
Once finished, I had another idea. "Going to find a woman," I announced. "In fact, I'm going to call Angelique. Least I know where I stand with her. No misplaced trust there. I'll call her from the lobby. She'll pick me up."
"I'm sure she would be delighted," Illya said. "But it's not a good idea, Napoleon. In fact, it's a terrible idea."
"What do you know about it? Let me by." I started for the door, but he had beaten me there, and now blocked my way. "Let me by I said!" I gave him a good shove, but it was like shoving granite. I ground my teeth. This was ridiculous. I outweigh Illya, I'm taller than Illya and I know for a fact I'm stronger. I pushed him again. He didn't push back, but he didn't yield either.
"No. You're going to pass out soon anyway. You might as well be in your own bed."
"Fuck you!" He sighed noisily.
"Your vocabulary certainly shrinks when you're drunk," he complained. "Can't you find some different expletives at least?" I pretended to give up.
"Okay, partner, you know best..." then I swung at him, a good roundhouse punch that should have put his lights out. The only problem was that I missed his jaw and hit his shoulder instead.
"Ow!" he said and despite my anger I giggled. Illya always was such a moaner and groaner. He never suffered in silence, not him. I swung again. He stepped aside so I hit the wall. This time it was me who yelled in pain. He didn't laugh, though—he looked contrite.
"I'm sorry, Napoleon," he said. "That wasn't very nice of me. But I'm not letting you leave. You'd be easy pickings. Come on, let's go to..." I grabbed him, pushed him against the wall I had just made such painful contact with. We grappled for a moment, but it was never a serious contest. He was sober and fit and... and his body was hard; lean, yes, but hard and muscled. I found myself becoming aroused, and ground against him. This was good, almost as good as Angelique... maybe better. At least I could trust... the thought exploded in my mind and red fury descended.
Again! Would I never learn! I swung at him in earnest this time, furious with him and myself.
"Fuck you!" I yelled again. "I don't trust you, I'll never trust anybody and certainly not another spy, worse a Commie spy, a damn Russian turncoat!" My rage didn't affect my arousal and when I ground against him again it was in a white hot blaze of passion and I couldn't tell whether I wanted to rape him or kill him.
Then I was on the floor. Just like that. He made one quick move and I was on the floor, with him standing over me. He didn't actually dust off his hands, but he might as well have. It was humiliating, how easy it was. Because I wasn't ready, that was all, because I trusted... I came off the floor in a fresh rage and body slammed him against that wall, one arm over his throat, pinning him there. My erection pushed hard into his belly and our faces were so close... I kissed him, forced his mouth open, shoved my tongue inside.
He allowed it, but he gave me nothing back. I might as well have been trying to have sex with a statue except that his flesh was warm and living. I pressed harder, there was a dizzying spin and I was on the floor again. This time he followed me down, lay across me, holding my wrists securely.
"No," he said and something in his voice doused my anger. All of a sudden I was very tired, a little nauseous and sad. So damn sad. It was me, now, betraying trust. Because Illya trusted me, despite everything he had been taught, despite life experiences that had to be worse than anything I had endured. He trusted me, I knew it. He had gone with me on this stupid whimsical crusade—again, had almost gotten killed for his pains—again, and now I was... humiliated, I turned my face away.
"All right," I whispered. "All right, Illya. You said no. I heard you. Although sometimes I could swear... but all right. You don't want me. You can let me up. I won't attack you again, I won't force myself on you again, even though you're the only one in this whole world I can... " the words almost choked me but I forced them out anyway, because Illya deserved to hear them. "Trust," I finished and was astonished when it came out in a sob. A huge, chest wrenching sob. Great. Now I was going to weep. "Sorry," I mumbled. "Nothing worse than a maudlin drunk. But sometimes..." I looked up into those blue eyes and they were so filled with compassion that they wrenched another sob from me. "Sometimes I could swear..." he had released my hands and I touched his face. "Sometimes I could swear you're flirting with me, Illya," I finished, trying desperately for a touch of humor. "You bat those eyelashes, you look up at me sidewise... sometimes I could almost swear..." he smiled. Incredibly, after all this, he could find a smile for me. Could I do less? I forced one of my own.
"Napoleon," he said softly, and now it was he caressing my face. "When—if—it ever does happen between us," he wiped away a tear I was unaware of shedding. "It won't be because you're too drunk to know what you're doing—or to whom—and it won't be because you're angry with me and trying to take me down a peg. When... if that day ever comes, it won't be like this." He indicated with a gesture our relative positions, managing to include the violence, the sodden drunkenness.
"What will it be like?" I asked, genuinely curious.
"I don't know," Illya said thoughtfully. "I have no experience with..." here words failed him. For a long moment we just lay there, staring at one another. And then he moved, lifting his weight off of me and that started the room spinning again. My stomach spun too.
"Oh, no," I said weakly, and I tried to make it to the bathroom, crawling on hands and knees. Illya was gone and then he was back with a wastebasket and I was sick, spectacularly, noisily sick. The stink of bourbon and bile rose around us both as I gagged and retched.
Finally it was over and I sagged back onto the carpet, thankful for Illya's speed with the trash can. He left again and I heard the door to my apartment open, then close. Then it opened again and he was back. "Where..." I managed.
"Into the disposal chute," he said and I groaned.
"It's too big," I protested. "The chute will get backed up."
"Not our problem," he returned. "Come on, Napoleon. It's been an enchanting evening, but now it's time for bed." I laughed and regretted it when it tore at my flaming throat. He laughed too, and helped me up.
He took me into the bathroom and ran me a hot shower. I stood in it, too sick and drunk to help myself, and he helped me. He washed me, and then dried me off. He rummaged in my dresser and found me clean pajamas. They felt like heaven, and my bed did too, accepting my weight, just as Illya accepted my... my weakness. I had never shown anybody my weakness before, and Illya's silent acceptance was balm. He drew the covers up over me and stroked the hair off my forehead.
"Go to sleep, Napoleon," he said and his voice was unabashedly tender. "I'll bunk on your couch. If you need me, just call."
"Here." He placed another trash can beside the bed. "Just in case."
"And you'll be right out there? I mean... just in case?"
"Just in case," he agreed. He rose and crossed the room, turning off my lights. "Goodnight, Napoleon."
"Goodnight, Illya." I closed my eyes, feeling the oblivion I'd been seeking all night rise up to claim me. The last thing I remembered was the soft pad of his footsteps coming back over, and the light brush of his lips on my forehead. It was a benediction and I accepted it, sinking into sleep, at peace with myself, at one with him.
Damn Napoleon Solo! Damn him! I finished the last page of the third report and signed his name with angry scrawling letters, adding my initials—signifying that it had been me who did the work, all the work, all by myself—underneath. I snapped those pages across to the completed pile and pulled the next sheath in front of me.
It had been a complex assignment, requiring cooperation from many different branches of service—the NYPD, the FBI, the CIA, Interpol, and three different UNCLE sectors. Each different branch had its own set of paperwork, which meant we had been left with an enormous stack of forms to fill out.
But Napoleon wasn't here. Napoleon had taken the FBI agent, who was a striking redhead with long legs and a voluptuous figure—just Napoleon's type, as if he had requested her on a form of his own—out to dinner. I didn't know whether it was the paperwork or the thought of the feast Napoleon was no doubt even now enjoying that infuriated me more. It was eight-thirty at night, I hadn't eaten since a grabbed roll at six this morning and furthermore Napoleon knew it.
"I'm hungry too," I had complained, watching Napoleon make his dinner reservations.
"You'll get over it," Napoleon had answered cheerfully and I had scowled. I usually tried to control my temper around Napoleon, much preferring to freeze him out, knowing that made him far angrier than any outburst, but tonight I couldn't. Tonight I let it go. I told Napoleon exactly what I thought of his selfishness, exactly what I thought of his shallow womanizing, exactly what I thought of his dereliction of duty in abandoning the paperwork to me. Napoleon had listened and laughed at me which was so predictable... I ground my teeth now at the memory.
"Senior partner gets to do that," he'd said lightly when I had waved the sheaf of reports at him. "I paid my dues. I spent years doing it alone."
"When you worked alone!" I shot back. "This is supposed to be a partnership! That means we should share it!"
"Not tonight," Napoleon had answered, still lightly. "Tonight I have bigger fish to fry." And, when I had begun to sputter, he had laughed again.
"Watch it, comrade," he'd said, adding insult to injury, flicking my nose with the back of his finger. "You're becoming incoherent."
Recovering my command of the English language, I had told him precisely what I would do to that finger if it touched me again. Napoleon had raised his eyebrows.
"Now you're insubordinate," he observed. "Be careful, or I'll find some more reports that need finishing before you leave here tonight and you'll have no choice but to do them."
I gave him some impossible anatomical suggestions, but was prudent enough to make them in Russian. Napoleon only laughed again.
"See you Monday," he'd said pleasantly. "Have a good weekend."
"How can I?" I had demanded, indicating the pile of papers. "I'll probably still be here Monday when you come in!"
"Nonsense. Mad as you are, you'll be through by midnight at the latest. Nightie night, Illya. Don't let the bedbugs bite." He was gone before I could think of a suitable rejoinder, and I had thrown the paperweight after him. It hit the door with an unsatisfactory thud and fell to the floor in pieces. I had cut my finger cleaning it up, and now I sucked on it sullenly. My stomach growled and I slammed my fist against the desk. Now my fist as well as my finger hurt, I was still hungry, and the paperwork seemed not one whit diminished. I scrawled another angry signature, put holes in the paper jabbing my initials into it, and shoved it aside.
My office door buzzed. "What!" I shouted and it opened. One of UNCLE's messengers came in, looking wary.
"What does the sign on the office door say?" I snapped.
"Well, it says Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin. Which one are you?"
"What do you think? Does this sound like an American accent to you?"
"Neither name looks American to me, sir. A simple yes or no would do."
"Yes! I am Illya Kuryakin! Who wants to know?"
"One minute," the young man said and disappeared. My nostrils twitched. Was that... did I smell steak? But how could that be? The young man reappeared carrying a large covered tray. He set it in front of me and lifted the lid.
It was indeed steak. And fettuccine alfredo. And broccoli with cheese sauce. And mushroom gravy. And mashed potatoes. And buttered rolls. I stared at it. The young man went out, came back with a pot of coffee which smelled far better than anything UNCLE's cafeteria offered. "One more thing," he said and disappeared again. Stunned, I poked at the steak.
The final tray proved to contain an assortment of pastries—tiny cannolis, chocolate clairs, cherry turnovers, petit fours and caramel cheesecake. "There's a message, too. Want to hear it?"
"Yes," I said numbly.
"Ahem." He cleared his throat. "The steak is rare, the broccoli is green, the coffee's the strongest you've ever seen. I hope that the pastries will sweeten your mood, I hope that the paperwork goes faster with food. Napoleon."
"Thank you," I said. I watched the door close behind the young man and looked again at the food laid out before me. Every single thing here was something I loved. Even the caramel cheesecake was something I'd requested seconds on three missions ago.
Damn Napoleon. How could someone be so selfish and so considerate all at the same time? All on the same night? And why... why did it touch me so? I was moved so deeply I could barely breathe. But the thought that Napoleon must really like me, that Napoleon must really care about me, and how I felt, what I liked, and about the bare fact that I was hungry—had he planned this all along? 'You'll get over it' he'd said when I had complained, and then had ensured that I would.
No one had ever cared in the least whether I were hungry or full, much less remembered what I liked. No one. And that had made it easy for me to maintain my barriers against the world, to keep everyone at bay. But Napoleon cared. He did. Damn him.
I stirred and stretched, turning onto my side so I could run my hand along Illya's bare side. He stirred too, turning towards me, even in the depths of slumber he turned towards me. I smiled as his head came to rest on my shoulder because now I could smell his hair. It was sweet, and wild too, like new mown hay, like rain in the morning. I sighed, replete.
It was the yoga that had done this, I reflected. The yoga and the fear. Those twin strokes of fear—the first when I knew Illya was dead, and the second when I knew I was.
It had been a harrowing mission, and at what seemed certain to be its end Illya was dead. I was sure of it. Thrush had left him tied to a chair at the bottom of an abandoned well—a well that was filling with water. When they took me away the water had reached his knees and I could well imagine how the knots were tightening as the rope got wet. They dragged me from the well's edge, out of the little shed enclosing it, and put me up against a wall.
I was beside myself with grief and rage. I had fought them desperately while they tied Illya up although he only rolled his eyes and made a sarcastic comment about their rope tying skills—ensuring that they would pull them even tighter. But that was Illya. He would go out with a twist to his mouth and a caustic word on his lips. Only he wouldn't, of course. He would go out choking and coughing and breathing icy well water. It drove me insane. I cursed them and fought them and only when I was tied to a post and McLeod, alone now, was loading his pistol did I realize that I was about to follow. Grief was still my main emotion, and when I saw water bubble out from under the shed door and understood that the well was full and Illya's life was gone my heart broke. I felt it. It was a terrible rending pain and I wished fervently for one more moment with him, one more moment to hear his voice, see his face. Then the gun was lifted, brought to within an inch of my face and the barrel filled my world.
I was afraid then, too. Anybody who tells you they aren't afraid to die is either a madman or a liar. Of course I was afraid. However fast it would be—and it would be fast, far faster than Illya's wretched death—there would still be that moment when metal tore through flesh and bone. I tried to brace myself for it.
The explosion deafened me and there was a violent impact that would have knocked me down if I weren't tied to the stake. It didn't hurt after all, I thought dazedly. It didn't... then McLeod's body was pulled away from me and I was looking into Illya's face.
Illya was afraid, too. I saw it, in that unguarded moment. His eyes were wild with fear—fear for me, fear that McLeod's gun had gone off with his own and that the desperate last minute shot which was my only hope had killed me. But I was alive, and he was alive too. Dripping wet, wrists bleeding from the ropes, but alive.
I opened my mouth and what came out was "Well, that took you long enough. What were you doing in there, the backstroke?" What I meant, of course, was thank God you're alive, how can you possibly be alive, and thank you for saving my neck one more time.
He snorted. "Well it was obvious you weren't going to be any help. It was all up to me as usual while you lounge around holding up the wall." What he meant, of course, was I'm so glad I was in time, I'm so glad you weren't killed. We understand one another, Illya and I. He was struggling with my bonds now because the respite was only temporary, and we only had a few precious moments before reinforcements arrived.
"McLeod had a knife in his boot," I offered and he snatched it up and cut me free. We ran, and Illya hotwired a jeep and I hung out the back and shot out the tires of the pursuing vehicles. Soon enough we were on a plane on our way back to New York.
That was when I asked Illya how he was able to get loose in time, and he said it was the yoga.
"Yoga?" I asked. "I didn't know you studied yoga." Only one of the many things I didn't know about Illya. I had long since stopped being surprised by them.
"For years now. Strength training is all very well and good, and martial arts of course are a given, but when you're in a tight spot flexibility counts." He gave me one of those ambiguous come hither smiles that always drove me crazy. "I'm very flexible."
"Are you," I said weakly. "Maybe I should try it sometime."
"I have a class tomorrow morning. You're welcome to sit in—or participate, if you think you're able."
One of these days, I thought. One of these days I'm going to take you up on those unspoken offers, and then I'll make you pay for every smart remark you've made from day one. I snorted. "I think I could manage a stretch or two."
A stretch or two hardly covered it. I did manage, of course. I'm strong, and fit, and flexible enough that the various postures the teacher moved us through weren't beyond me. But Illya—Illya seemed to flow from one position to the next, like water, like a tree bending in the wind, like the wind itself. I got so caught up in watching him that several times I found myself a beat behind, missing an instruction or a demonstration. I didn't care. This wasn't my sort of thing at all. I didn't care about massaging my ascending colon or loosening childhood memories supposedly located in my right hip. The droning tinkly music irritated me and while I could see the value, I thought I could gain the same benefits some other way. But watching Illya seemed to heighten my senses, raising my awareness of his other attributes; his steadfastness in times of crisis, his courage, his formidable intelligence. His integrity, and his sweetness. And then he went into something called the downward dog and that hard, tight ass was in the air. A wave of lust swept me.
It took my breath away, and with it my balance. I had to stop, lean against the wall because while everyone else was down on hands and feet I was, as before, a step behind, still standing with one leg stretched out behind me. I nearly fell and Illya grinned at me upside down. I wanted him so urgently that it was all I could think about, all I could visualize. I wanted to shove my rock hard cock right up his ass, wrap my arms around those slim hips and make him hold still for it. Would he smile at me then? How would he look, in the throes of passion? How—what could it possibly be like, me and Illya together?
Well, I was going to find out. The resolve set hard in me, as hard as my cock which I was trying to arrange in a comfortable and less revealing position in my thankfully loose yoga pants. I was going to find out. Illya had teased me and flirted with me for years, and now I was going to act on it. He might be surprised, to find out what he had unleashed. He just might be.
I didn't even ask him. As we were changing into street clothes I said, "Tonight. My apartment."
He paused in the act of tying his shoes and looked up at me. "Oh? Maybe I have other plans."
"Not anymore you don't," I said harshly. "I'm calling you on it, Illya. I'm calling you on all of it. Be there or..."
His eyes glinted at me, like blue steel in the sunlight. "Or?"
"Or..." I floundered. Illya always could do this to me, make me feel about two feet tall. For a moment my resolve faltered. How would that work out in bed? Well, I'd worry about it when the time came. "Or I'd better not see any more of those come fuck me looks on your face," I snapped.
He blinked, and for a moment he looked hurt. Instantly I was sorry. Illya could do that, too, wash my anger away in a flood of remorse and guilt. "Please?" I added hesitantly.
Maybe it was the please, or the slight awkwardness in my voice that clearly showed he had damaged my confidence, shaken my ego a bit. Whatever it was, it worked.
"Your apartment," he agreed. "Tonight." And then he smiled. "Tell me the truth, Napoleon," he teased. "It was the downward dog, right? I saw your face."
"Just be there," I said. "Around eight?"
"Around eight," he agreed.
And now I lay in my bed, still reeling from what had been beyond question the best sex I had ever had. It had been... had been... the earth had moved. I knew it was trite, but surely here in the privacy of my own mind that was all right. The earth had moved. Was still moving.
At first things had been awkward. He had brought vodka, and I had purchased brandy. We had laughed a little over that, and when I had insisted on the brandy he had yielded. We sat on my sofa and drank a little—not too much because I didn't want anything to blunt my senses, didn't want anything to dull the moment. After a little desultory conversation I leaned in and kissed him.
He kissed me back, hard. Our tongues dueled briefly, then he put his hand on my crotch and squeezed. My cock leapt to full erection and I groaned into his open mouth, struggling to get my legs open further in the confines of my trousers, struggling to get his zipper down. "This is ridiculous," I finally said. "Let's go." I tugged him to his feet and we went into the bedroom.
I stripped, and he did the same. No false romance here, I thought. I wasn't wooing Illya, and the outcome wasn't in doubt. Naked, we fell onto the bed.
Illya was surprisingly aggressive, although probably I shouldn't have been surprised. Illya never had been a fragile flower. We rolled around together, pushing against one another, masturbating one another with hands well accustomed to their task—Illya from who knew how many men and me from my few male male encounters and years of pleasing myself. Illya probably had a fair amount of experience there too, I thought. Espionage was a lonely business. But it made me uncomfortable, that he seemed to be trying to take control of the encounter. All my prior unease with my own gender surfaced again. I needed to be in control. With women, I always was. This... this man was pushing my boundaries, pushing me. I didn't like it, although my body did. My body was raging. Illya was incredibly skillful. If only... and then he stilled.
I opened my eyes, surprised that they were closed. Illya was looking searchingly into my face and I couldn't begin to read his expression. Funny how that still happened. Then he smiled at me, a soft, melting smile that reached right inside my heart and pierced my soul. He relaxed his hands, where they had been gripping my shoulders and instead slid his arms around my neck. While I was still wondering what that meant he rolled over, putting me on top. He kissed my cheek. He didn't say anything, but the message was clear. I could be in control. I could... I kissed him again, softly this time and when his lips parted my tongue entered with care, and delicacy. He sucked on it and I moaned, surprised at the sound. He arched his back, pressing us together.
I barely remember fumbling in the drawer for the lubricant, although I remember using it all right, making love to him with it, letting him take some on his fingers and apply it to my swollen, throbbing organ and that was like lovemaking too. He wrapped his legs high around my back and, thinking of that yoga class, I had to chuckle. He chuckled too, then reached under and did something that made me jump, made me lunge forward and then it was all hot tight pumping, all sweet sweaty passion.
Afterwards he was the one to get up and get a warm wet washcloth. He cleaned me with a tenderness I had never experienced before, and then, after another trip to the bathroom to return the cloth and, presumably, clean himself, he came back to stand by the bed. I pulled him down, and embraced him. We didn't speak. What was there to say? We were still agents, still field partners. No words of love could be exchanged, no promises for the future made. But maybe someday... I hid that thought in my heart and kissed Illya's temple. He made a contented sound, and next time I looked at him he was asleep.
He was very beautiful, smiling in his sleep, golden hair tousled, body lax and trusting in my arms. I felt, absurdly, that I should stay awake all night, stay awake and guard his sleep because he seemed terribly vulnerable now, now that he had let down all his barriers, given away all his control and put himself into my keeping. It was foolish, of course, because we were in my Security Level One apartment and I needed my sleep. So I lay there and counted my security systems, starting with the fully trained guard on duty in the lobby, and before I had finished I too was asleep.
And there he is. My partner, and my newfound lover. He is chairing this meeting, and looking at him now, proud—some might say arrogant—Napoleon Solo, it is hard to believe that just this morning we woke in one another's arms. I had opened my eyes and found myself wrapped up snugly in his embrace, and just that told me so much.
Napoleon didn't snuggle. "I get them out as soon as decently possible," he'd said once, laughing. "Nothing worse than waking up to last night's leftovers." But his first response on waking with me had been to draw me nearer, to caress my back, stroke my hair, kiss my forehead. Then the phone had rung, and we had been launched into the day. I haven't seen him since we were both hurrying around his apartment getting ready. I had been brushing my hair and laughing at him, hopping on one foot, trying to simultaneously insert his leg into his pants, talk on his phone and find his shoes. He had laughed back at me.
"You're beautiful in the morning," he said and, having successfully pulled his pants on, gave me a quick kiss. "I have to run."
"So do I," I said from my current position, on my knees peering under his bed for my socks. "I have a meeting first thing."
"I know. I'm chairing. See you there." He gave my backside a playful swat and was gone before I could retaliate.
You would never know any of that now. He is immaculately groomed as always, and perfectly self composed. I sighed. How handsome he is. And look at his hands, spread wide on the papers he is going through. How sensitive they are, seeming to read my most secret thoughts and desires, and fulfilling them. How they had aroused me last night, and then how they had satisfied me. I sighed once more, then caught myself.
Look at me, mooning over Napoleon Solo. Like every woman he's ever slept with. I should be mortified, but I'm not. I'm happy. I have never been so happy. I, who have always prided myself on my aloof self sufficiency, have fallen head over heels in love and I cannot regret it.
I can even put my finger on the precise moment it happened. We had been rolling around in bed, scuffling for precedence. I hate that, it always happens and I hate it. It's the only thing about men that makes me think heterosexuals might have it right, and it's worse for me, because of my appearance. My sex partners always feel I should take the submissive role because I am usually smaller than they are, and what with my eyes and my hair and my fair skin, they assume I will. And I don't. I demand to be in charge, to be dominant. I insist on it, and if my partner truly will not go along I end it. I have walked out more times than I can count. On occasion I have had to fight my way out and that is a pleasure too, if not the same one.
So last night as I was grabbing Napoleon and he was shoving at me, both of us grinding at one another in a fever of passion I looked at him, fully expecting to see that smug look on his face that would say he fully expected to win this unacknowledged skirmish. Instead his eyes were squeezed shut, and his mouth was tight, and I saw with sudden clarity that he was terrified. Oh, not of me physically, but of losing control of the situation. Napoleon Solo is a man who needs to be in control. I saw that with blinding clarity, and it undid me. My heart melted, my defenses disappeared and I was yielding before I thought, and even when I did think, I yielded. I was full of tenderness for him, and I wanted to protect him, too, from this need to be in charge all the time. How exhausting it must be, I thought. Never to be able to let it go, never to relax. At least I relaxed at home. I suddenly sensed that Napoleon didn't even do that. So I opened my hands, opened my arms, opened my legs and let Napoleon have his way.
Oh, and how sweet it was. How good it was. Napoleon's response hadn't been to dominate after all. Instead he had surrounded me with caring, caressed me with gentleness. It had all been about me, about my responses and my readiness. No step was taken until I was wild for it, and when I was wild for it he gave it to me with such skill and such control—there's that word again, I remember thinking dizzily, clinging to him and moving with him—that it was beyond doubt the best sex I have ever had. Ever. Nothing else even came close to it. And after it was over, after I had cleaned us both up because I was fully expecting to be nudged out of his bed, into my clothes, into a cab, I was drawn into his arms instead and held fast all night long. I sighed some more. It had been wonderful. Just wonderful.
Everyone was getting up and I blinked. The meeting was over and I hadn't heard a word. I smothered a laugh. It didn't really matter. I would get the minutes in my office mail, and I could go over them in privacy without the distracting presence of Napoleon. Napoleon, who even now was coming around to where I sat.
He put his hand on my shoulder and I shivered. It felt as if my bones were melting, as if my skin where he touched me was scorched. I looked at his hand, at the dark hairs that sprinkled the back and wanted to rub my face against it, to kiss his fingers, and then... "Illya?" His voice was quizzical.
"What do you mean, what? I asked you a question."
"Oh," I said, and blushed, to his obvious delight. He pulled up a chair and faced me.
"Didn't you hear me?"
"No," I confessed. Hopeless, I was hopeless that was clear. I looked at him, half fearing mockery or alarmed withdrawal but he was smiling at me, his warmest smile, and I smiled back.
"I don't know what to do about last night," he said abruptly. "I mean—where can it go, as things stand?"
"I don't know," I said because I didn't. Field partners were not supposed to be lovers. The occasional fling, of course; it happened when two adults were thrown together under such intense and intimate circumstances. But we couldn't have any sort of a relationship—that would be the equivalent of throwing one another under the bus. And someone would get run over, that was for sure.
"I'm going to have to keep on dating," he went on. "I mean—it would look funny if I suddenly stopped, and besides... I'm not sure I want to give that up."
"All right," I said. It hurt me, but I understood. I understood Napoleon perfectly. "And I will do the same," I said, wanting suddenly to hurt him, too. His eyes darkened.
"I suppose that's only fair. We'll just have to act as if... as if..." he leaned even closer, face dark and intent. "As if last night wasn't the most wonderful thing that ever happened—to me, at least."
"Me too," I said honestly. He reached out, as if to touch my face, then clenched his fist and let it drop into his lap.
"Look at me," he said, and forced a laugh. "I can't keep my hands off of you, even right here in Headquarters. We will have to date, if only to diffuse things. But when we're not dating, and not on a mission, we'll steal some time together. We'll work it out. Yes?"
"Yes," I said. "Whatever... whenever you say, Napoleon." It was an admission of surrender, and I knew it. I made it because I never had been dishonest with Napoleon before, and I certainly wasn't going to start now. I held my vulnerability out to him, openly asking him to be kind, at the very least. He reached out again, took my hands between his.
"But some day," he whispered. "Some day the field work will be over. Another three years, or five... it will be over. I'll be too old, or they'll decide we're too recognizable, or one of those bullet wounds won't heal so neatly. Something will change. And when it does... Illya, I'm going to say this this one time, because I can't not say it. I don't dare take the chance that you won't know it. I love you. I love you with my whole heart. You are the very best part of me, the one thing that keeps me human in an inhuman job. Without you I'm afraid I'll turn into some sort of sociopath, killing and feeling nothing. Don't be hurt, when you see me with women. It won't mean anything except that the time isn't right for us."
"I love you too," I said. I had been afraid my voice would shake, or crack, the emotions stirred up by his speech were so strong. But it was steady, and sure. "I have never loved anyone in my whole life, and I thought I never would. But I love you. It will hurt me to see you with them, I can't help that. But I understand, Napoleon. Women—it's part of who you are. It would arouse all sorts of speculation if you suddenly stopped. But when that day arrives...it better stop. Or tell me now, and I won't wait."
"When that day arrives," he said, and his voice was steady too. "It will stop. You have my word."
His word. Napoleon Solo's word. I smiled at him, and since we were brazenly holding hands in the deserted conference room I yielded to my former impulse and leaned over, laid my cheek against the backs of his. We sat like that for a moment, then someone cleared their throat in the doorway.
We were too well trained to jump apart. Napoleon turned his head and said "Just a minute," and I straightened. He squeezed my hands once more, and rose. We left together, nodding to the nervous looking secretary who had come back to fetch a forgotten file, and went back to our work, back to our lives.
The stiffness left the woman's body, and her lips parted under mine. I kissed her some more, my eyes meeting Illya's over her dark head. Illya's face was frozen and his eyes were unreadable—which told me all I needed to know. Sorry, I thought, and bent the woman backwards a little, arms encircling her, cradling her. It's necessary. Necessary, I told him with my eyes, and he turned away.
But it was necessary. Juliana was our guard, a trusted Thrush employee, and it had taken me two hours of flirting to get us to this point. She had the keys to our prison cell, and the codes that would get us out of the building. I had seen the spark in her eyes as she looked at me, and had gone into full seduction mode. I had smiled at her and teased her, flattered her and, finally, kissed her.
"Mmm, Napoleon," she purred when I finally broke contact. "You're everything I've been led to expect."
"And so is Thrush," I told her bluntly. Time for some plain speaking. "You know you're expendable to them. What makes you think they'll take you with them? They'll blow you up along with us and this facility."
"They wouldn't," she protested, but she didn't move away from me. I ran one hand down her back, stopping just short of her rounded buttocks.
"Illya heard them talking about it," I said, without looking at him. "Didn't you, Illya?"
"Yes," Illya said promptly. "They said they were going to seal off this sector and take the choppers out. One of them—the ugly one with the beard?"
"Mac," she said, and pouted. "Mac is my boyfriend."
Illya made a disgusted sound. "Miss, little Thrushettes like you don't have boyfriends. Mac said 'what about Juliana?' and the other man, the one who wears the pince nez?"
"Tim," she said, and her mouth twisted. It wasn't a pretty sight. "He doesn't like girls. Little faggot," she added venomously, and I suppressed a grin against her hair. Illya rolled his eyes.
"So irrelevant," he complained. "Can't you just tell me the important things, like what his position is?"
"Ass upwards," she said, and giggled.
"If you don't want to know..." Illya's voice trailed off and she reached for her gun.
"You'd better tell me now, or I'll blow your head off ahead of the bomb," she threatened. He raised an eyebrow at her and I made a clucking sound.
"Now, my lovely, don't wave your gun at my partner. It makes me nervous. And if I get nervous, I won't be able to fulfill all your girlish dreams." I caressed her back again.
"Will you really, Napoleon?" she breathed. "Will you carry out all my fantasies?"
"You have my word," I promised and a flash of something crossed Illya's face.
"All right, what did Tim say?" she challenged him.
"His exact words were 'that stupid little bitch won't know what hit her. When the bomb goes off she won't have time to worry about her make-up before she's smeared all over the wall," Illya recited with what I thought was unnecessary relish. She paled.
"Did he really?"
"What did Mac say?"
"He said too bad so sad, but cheap tramps are a dime a dozen," Illya improvised and she glared at him.
"I am not a tramp!"
"I know," I said soothingly, turning her back to me. "And UNCLE would appreciate your talents. It's not every woman who could deliver their two top agents to them alive and in one piece. They'll be grateful. I..." I traced her lips with my tongue and they opened again, sucked my tongue in. "Will be very grateful."
There was some more arguing, and some more pouting, and she pointed her gun at Illya twice more before it was all over, but in the end she led us out. She even had a key to the chopper, so we left the Thrush satrap in style and headed back to New York.
Illya didn't speak to me all the way there. He obviously felt he had done his bit, and dozed against the wall of the helicopter while I flew and she gave me a hand job from the co-pilot's seat. It wasn't a bad hand job, but of course I'd had better. I stole a look at Illya just before the penultimate moment, but he was snoring softly and after all these years I still couldn't tell whether it was real or feigned.
I came to his door at five in the morning. I had spent the intervening hours with Juliana, carrying out my promise. She liked it rough, and she liked it long, so we played rough all night. I used every bit of my charm, and my technique, and needed all of my famous stamina, but when I left her she was smiling. "Will I see you again?" she coaxed as I stepped into my loafers.
"Probably not," I said, putting as much regret into my voice as I could. "After they finish your debriefing they'll send you far away from here, for your own protection. They'll give you a new identity, a new life. It would be far too risky for you to be seen with me. It's not easy being a spy," I added plaintively, twining a lock of her hair between my fingers. "Just when you find something wonderful, they take it away from you."
"Yes," she sighed. "Just like me and Mac."
"Sure," I agreed dryly. "Just like that." I kissed her nose, and left.
I went straight to Illya's apartment. I felt worn out, used up. I felt sick—sick and tired. This used to be fun, I thought as I climbed his stairs. Didn't it used to be fun? When did it stop being fun? I knocked at his door and he opened it, regarded me.
He clearly hadn't slept either. He was in his pajamas, blue pajamas that matched his eyes, and his feet were bare. He looked the way I felt.
"Napoleon," he said, and stepped aside so I could enter. "Did you at least shower before you came from her bed to mine?"
"I'm not here for that," I said, and belying my words went straight to his fold out sofa. "I don't think I have any of that left in me." I wrestled with the sofa and managed to lever it open and out. A double mattress confronted me, and I kicked off my shoes and flopped down on my back. "But yes. I showered."
"Then why are you here?" Illya stood over me, frowning.
"I don't want to do it anymore," I said abruptly. "I don't like it anymore. I'm tired. I'm tired of the whole thing, the frantic running and scrambling, the killing to avoid being killed, the lies and the cover-ups. I'm too old for this."
"Ah," Illya sat down on the bed, shoving me over a little so he could do so. "Dangerous words from a spy. What are you thinking of doing instead? Selling encyclopedias door to door?"
"No. I don't mean I'd leave UNCLE. But that nice desk job I used to scoff at has been looking pretty good to me lately. We can't go anywhere without being spotted. It's gotten ridiculous."
"As to why I'm here, I just... I just need to be with someone who cares about me. About me, Napoleon Solo. Not the job I do, or the people I know, or the multiple orgasms I can deliver. Just me. Tired and old and discontented. Me." I looked up at him. "Aren't I in the right place for that?"
He curled up beside me. "Yes," he whispered finally. "You know you are."
I turned to embrace him, and felt too wrung out to do more. But I wanted to. I wished my organ, which had been manipulated and blown on and gobbled like a three course meal, could give—and get—some gentle, simple loving. I wished that so much that tears stung my eyes, and that dismayed me. I must be more tired than I thought. But I wasn't up to sex, that was for sure. Initiating the act, carrying it through, arousing and then satisfying Illya... no. I wasn't up for it. I laughed, a short choked sound. So to speak.
"Turn over, Napoleon," Illya said, and I did, without a question. I was too tired to question. He sat up again and began rubbing my back. It felt good, and I made a sound of pleasure to communicate that. He turned, straddled me and gave me a real massage, starting with my shoulders. I groaned aloud.
It occurred to me, as I lay there feeling Illya rub away all the tensions of the day, all the tensions of the past few hours, that I didn't have to do anything. I didn't have to think, or worry, or plan, or anticipate. I could just lie here and let Illya... let Illya take control. I turned that thought over. Let Illya take control. Wouldn't it be nice, to let somebody else be strong for a change? I could trust Illya, I knew that absolutely. I could trust his steady calm strength, could depend on it. Could rely on Illya, on his courage and his integrity, on his devotion to me. To me, Napoleon Solo. I could lean on it. On him. I sighed. For the first time in all our times together it didn't seem frightening, to picture that leaning. It felt wonderful. It felt... like love.
So I silently surrendered my authority, and when Illya's touch lightened, when he was caressing instead of massaging, when my abused organ did stir, finally, I still took no initiative. I turned over, and let Illya stroke me, fondle me, his fingers giving pleasure that was exquisite in its subtlety. He was watching me, and his expression was somber. I smiled at him, to reassure him that this was all right, and his face brightened. He smiled back. His cock was hard too, and I reached for it, brushed it lightly. He shivered, then moved over, on top of me.
Oh. I was momentarily nonplussed. This was how it would go, then. It would be the first time Illya had... the first time I had let... well, I had lost control, hadn't I? This was what happened when you let someone else be in control. And maybe it wouldn't be so bad. Illya would never hurt me, I knew that. And I wanted him, my hips moving involuntarily, my breath coming faster. All right, then. I didn't want to take charge. I was still too tired, felt too..."I'm such a whore," I said hoarsely, and Illya stopped. He looked into my eyes.
"No," he said finally. "It was necessary."
"Yeah. Necessary." I closed my eyes
Illya said nothing further. He reached into the drawer and I felt the cool smooth kiss of the lubricant as he applied it, gently, so very gently. Then he took my cock, still gently. I pushed into his hand and he leaned down, kissed the very tip. I opened my legs, willing myself to let this happen.
And it did happen, but it wasn't at all the way I thought it would be. Illya opened me, came into me slowly, responding to my every movement, my every gasp. All I had to do was lie there and pant, cry out, clutch at him, and then I came. I came with a broken sob, and when it was finished I wasn't surprised to find that my face was wet. He groaned, and in that sound was all the effort it had cost him to hold back, to let me come first. It was an enormous gift. I tried to return it as best I could, moving with him, having no skill to offer in this new thing, but with tenderness and love and acceptance. He had accepted me, and I accepted him.
Afterwards it was my head on his shoulder, and his arms strong about me. It felt wonderful to let it all go, safe in Illya's strength, safe in Illya's love.
They say be careful what you wish for, and they might be right. It was the very next day that I was called into a conference with Waverly and Jake Davenport, his replacement. Waverly had actually retired some time ago, but he had arrived this morning, so I knew something big was coming.
"We have decided to pull you out of the field," Davenport said abruptly. "Your recent missions only show us how much your notoriety has sapped your effectiveness. Everyone knows Napoleon Solo. And too many people want to kill you. It seems an inefficient use of your talents."
"Ah, thank you," I said and it was almost a question. I stole a look at Waverly, and relaxed. His eyes were smiling. Whatever this was, it wasn't bad news.
"We would like to offer you my former position," Davenport went on. I blinked. It had stood vacant since Waverly's retirement and Davenport's elevation to Section Chief. It was an enormous honor—and an enormous challenge. I felt myself perking up in a way I hadn't in a very long time. "Thank you sir—sirs," I said promptly. "I accept." Then, "what about Illya? Mr. Kuryakin," I added hastily. "He's just as recognizable as I am, and has as many—if not more—enemies."
"He is also going to be offered a new position," Davenport said. "Head of our combined Science and Laboratories Sections."
"In New York?" I asked, because anything else was unthinkable. It was here at last, our future was here at last, and if we weren't' going to be together, well...
"In New York," Waverly confirmed, and the smile deepened. I had a sudden strong suspicion that discrete as Illya and I believed ourselves to have been, Waverly had not been fooled for one minute. I flushed, because Davenport was regarding me quizzically.
"If you would like to take some time off before tackling your new assignment, to decompress from the fieldwork," Davenport offered, "that would be permissible. You are well overdue for some vacation time, and that would probably be better than jumping right in. You look tired."
I knew I did. I had been tired for a long time now. "Thank you again," I said, and they rose. I shook Waverly's hand, and Davenport's, then I left.
Illya was waiting in the outer office, and the expression on his face when he saw me was priceless. "Napoleon? Are you... is everything all right? They wouldn't tell me why they wanted me, but somebody said they saw Mr. Waverly."
"Everything is fine," I said, and he looked relieved. "I'll be taking some vacation time," I went on casually. "If you want to take it with me, meet me in my office when you're finished here. We'll make plans."
"Yes." I looked into his face, into that well beloved face. "We will."
The water was cold, too cold to tempt me in further. Despite Waverly's frequent references to my familiarity with the cold, that didn't mean I liked it, so I stood where I was. The ocean lapped at my shins, the sand was sucked out from under my heels. The sea stretched out in front of me, the setting sun behind me casting its ruddy light on the waves. They were small and low, rolling in endlessly, breaking around my legs in little ripples and washes of foam.
I was the only one on this beach, at this very exclusive, very expensive Florida resort. Napoleon had been supposed to come with me, but at the last minute he had to work. "I thought they said you could have a vacation in between jobs," I had protested and he had shaken his head ruefully.
"They did. But now they want me to meet with my department heads, and one of them is going out on maternity leave Monday so it has to be now." He had sighed. "I wish I didn't have to. I wish I could just fly out with you, but I'll have to settle for joining you for dinner."
"That's all right," I had said.
"I suppose you—we—had better get used to it," he had said then. "This position is going to be very demanding, and the hours might be long. I'm sorry."
"That's all right," I had said again, and I had meant it. Now, standing alone on a tropical beach, I smiled to myself. It was all right. I had never minded being alone. Truth be told, I enjoy being alone. And now that Napoleon and I were moving in together, now that we were together for the whole world to see, long work hours seemed a paltry issue compared with being shot at every time we left the office. Well, not every time. But that was how it had felt.
I extended my left hand and looked at the ring on my finger. Napoleon had put it there before I left for the airport. He had given me a lobby key to his—our—building, and a key to our penthouse apartment. He had given me a bank card with my name on it that would draw from his apparently bottomless account. "It makes more in interest than I can possibly spend," he had said, laughing. "Don't hesitate to use it. Fly first class. Take a limo to the hotel. Whatever you want. Whenever you want."
"My, how agreeable you are today, Illya Kuryakin. Is this what I have to look forward to for the rest of my life?"
The rest of his life. I couldn't answer him, and then he went down on one knee and took my hand. "Yes?" he had said, and, yes, I had answered and he slid the ring on my finger. I had dropped to my knees too, and accepted the other ring he held out. I put it on him, and then he had kissed me, and I had kissed him back.
I smiled, looking at the ring. I loved Napoleon's romanticism. I couldn't even pretend anymore to deride it, as I had in the beginning. It made me feel cherished, it made me feel special, it made me feel loved.
The sun was almost down now so I turned and padded across the sand, back to the hotel. I stopped to rinse off my feet and slide my sandals back on, then went through the lobby and up in the elevator. We were in the penthouse here, too—Napoleon always liked the extra security it provided. Ours was the only suite on that floor, and you needed a special key card to get there. We weren't quite civilians yet, and never would be. Caution and watchfulness would be the orders of the day every day, but we weren't out looking for trouble anymore and that was fine with me. Just fine.
The message light was blinking on the phone when I entered the room, and I picked it up.
"Illya." It was Napoleon's voice, as I had known it would be. Who else would be calling me here? "I hate to say this, but I'm going to miss dinner. The meeting ran over, and I'm just now leaving the building. I'll eat on the plane. You go ahead. Get room service if you want, or eat out if you'd rather. I'll see you late tonight."
Oh. I frowned at the phone, wishing I had been there to take the call myself. But this was all right. It was very pleasant here, and waiting for Napoleon gave everything a frisson of excitement. I ordered dinner, and took a shower while I waited for it to come. It was a big luxurious stall shower, and the towels and robes provided were thick and soft. I'm going to like getting used to this, I reflected. Being swathed in comfort, wrapped in luxury, enveloped in Napoleon's love, for the rest of my life. I sighed, then laughed at myself. I never had gotten over mooning about Napoleon. I was as susceptible to his charm, as bowled over by his good looks as ever I was. But he was susceptible to me, too. All I had to do was look at him sideways, or even begin a sulk and he was right there, trying to seduce me, trying to make whatever it was up to me.
Once he had caught me staring in Macy's window at Christmas time, looking forlornly at the decorated scenes. I had been thinking how nice it all looked, and wondering what it must be like to have had a family that cared about you and wanted to make you happy. I know how it sounds. In my own defense, the last time I had glanced at Napoleon he had been flirting with a pretty Salvation Army bell ringer. So I had thought myself unobserved, and indulged in a little self pity. Was that so wrong? Anyway, Napoleon had turned away from the girl and seen me. He had said nothing at the time, but on Christmas morning he had dressed as Santa Claus to come through my front door before I was even fully awake with a sack full of gifts. Some were expensive, some trivial but meaningful to me, some simply outrageous. I still have the two headed vibrating dildo in red and green, though I have never taken it out of its package. I have no need of it.
I ate my lobster and garlic mashed potatoes out on the balcony, watching the ocean. I love the ocean, and Napoleon knows it. Hence this hotel. Hence the beach house out on Long Island he has already promised me. "I am going to spend the rest of my life giving you your heart's desires," he had said, and I had shaken my head at him.
"You are my heart's desire," I had answered, and he had gathered me into his arms, held me close.
"As you are mine," he had said, and I know it to be true. We are one another's hearts' desire, and now we are together. So I sipped my wine, and watched the ocean waves, and waited for Napoleon.
When he came I heard the door open and close, heard his familiar step as he came out onto the balcony behind me. Dinner had long since been cleared away, but I had refreshed his glass of wine every hour, wanting it to be just the way he liked it when he finally did arrive.
He kissed the back of my neck and I shivered, bent my head so he could do it again. He sat down beside me, very close, and picked up his wine. He lifted it towards me in a toast, and I touched mine to it. We drank, and smiled at one another over the rims.
"Are you here for the full two weeks?" I asked, wanting to know, wanting everything up front. "Or are they liable to call you back in at any moment?"
"For nothing short of a Level One Emergency," he answered, and I laughed out loud with happiness.
"If there's a Level One Emergency I'll have to go back too," I said, and laughed again. He laughed too.
"You look so happy," he marveled, leaning even closer to peer into my eyes. "Where is that famous Russian stoicism? Where is the Ice Prince tonight?"
"On vacation," I responded promptly. "On vacation someplace cold. And I left my stoicism back in New York. Is that all right? Or is that what you really fell in love with? Because I can put it on, if you want." I affected a stony mask. He laughed again and I couldn't help it, I laughed with him.
"You know," he said, "that's the biggest bed I ever saw, waiting in there for us."
"I know. I love it."
"Done." And it was, because he ordered it right then and there, talking on the phone, giving directions, calling his apartment security manager, arranging delivery. "It will be waiting for us when we return," he informed me and I laughed some more. I couldn't seem to stop laughing, and smiling, and when Napoleon kissed me I wrapped my arms around him and kissed him back.
He lifted me bodily off the seat and I laughed some more, into his open mouth. "Stop," he said with mock severity. "I'm trying to sweep you off your feet, and if you make me laugh now I might drop you."
"No you won't," I said, making myself comfortable in his arms, tucking my head into the crook of his neck, reveling in the strength supporting me so easily. "And you already swept me off my feet."
He carried me into the room and stood over the bed. "I did, did I? And when was that?"
"Way back when," I whispered. "When you said you were sorry that I had heard you didn't want a partner."
"And I really didn't," he said, and his voice was shaky, suddenly. It was as if he had had a glimpse into that possibility, that Waverly had actually listened to his complaints and let him remain on his own. "But when I looked into your eyes I did. I wanted a partner. I wanted you."
"And I wanted you." He kissed me again, at that, and we kissed for a very long time. There was no more worrying about precedence, or control. No more wondering about who was in charge, or what position we would use. It seemed to flow, as it always had, really, and when he turned so his breath was hot on my cock, and his cock was nudging against my lips I opened my mouth, and took him in.
We made a perfect circle, then, a circle of passion and tenderness, of desire and love. Like our rings, I thought dizzily, feeling his arms go around my hips, holding me hard against his hungry mouth, hard as iron bands, keeping me immobile despite my urgent need to move, to thrust into him. I squeezed his buttocks, tickled the cleft, knowing that always drove him wild. It did tonight too, and his wildness met mine and ignited it. We blazed like meteors, like comets, like... like... there was nothing, then, but the white hot furnace in which we both burned, and were not consumed.
We lay quietly. I kissed the tip of Napoleon's cock as it slipped away and he kissed mine. Then he turned, coming back to the top of the bed, holding me once more against his heart. Once more, and forever.