Arms Around the Future, Back Up Against the Past

by ChannelD

Napoleon Solo stood in his hotel room and adjusted his bow tie. He pulled it just a little too tight and checked himself from head to toe. He was satisfied with what he saw. He looked over eager, he looked very American, he looked naïve and young and nervous. To go with that façade he planned to portray a character very buttoned down, trying through fussy overzealousness to cover up that youth and naivet. That was for his first cover, as a salesman of novelty toys and magic tricks.

It was a cover he had used before. He favored it, because with a sample case full of oddities he could conceal other, more useful items, out in plain sight. In this pose Chet Nardick was meeting with some Soviet bureaucrats to attempt to gain a license to import his company's items. Doomed to failure, of course, and on the face of it a wasted trip.

But his secondary cover was as a CIA agent exchanging codes and ciphers in the name of international cooperation and unity. Those who met with him would be aware of his real mission, and were committed—on paper at least—to keeping their country's part of the bargain.

And his real identity, Napoleon Solo, the man from UNCLE, was known to no one. He was here to find out what had been going wrong with these exchanges. Too much had leaked out, too many of the wrong people were getting too much information. At first the CIA had assumed that the leaks were on the Soviet side, lower level Party officials feathering their own nests with stolen information despite the risk. That view changed when their last man committed suicide on returning to America.

"Suicide," Napoleon had said to Waverly at his briefing. "Then we're probably looking at some sort of extortion, something he didn't think would end with this mission."

"Precisely," Waverly had agreed. "Now he tried his best to make it look like an accident, and his agency is pretending to believe it, so as not to alert the other side. We very much want this next exchange to proceed just like all the others."

"So you want me to go along with whatever they set up?"

"Yes, Mr. Solo. Special Agent Grant is to walk right into their trap. You may surrender data at your own discretion. We are prepared to close those operations down as soon as you return. Allow yourself to be compromised, if that is their game."

"How far am I expected to go? I mean, how compromised do you want me to be?"

"Enough to drive an honorable man to suicide," Waverly had returned. "We have to know what is going on."

"Yes sir."

So now Napoleon pulled Chet Nardick's prissy, prim personality around him and let Agent Grant lurk just beneath. He was meeting them at a popular bar, where many low level officials gathered to drink and talk, and where higher level men met in the private back room to conduct their business. Nardick would be excited and nervous at this immersion in a foreign and suspect culture. Grant would be a little too self confident, a little too smug, feeling himself just a cut above those around him, relying too much on his cover. He would be an easy man to lure into a trap, an easy man to compromise. And Napoleon Solo would watch, and wait.

The bar was in a dismal neighborhood, where sailors just in from their tours of duty prowled the streets, and the objects of their desires—both female and, to Napoleon's surprise, male—lay in wait for them. It had been his impression that homosexuality was severely disallowed in the Soviet Union but in this place all the rules seemed to be suspended. Nardick was propositioned with both aggression and a bawdy delight in his shrinking lack of response. Napoleon wondered if this was the sort of compromising situation Waverly was talking about, but surely this was too obvious even for the heavy handed Soviets. He shook his head at the offers, clutched his attach case in both hands, holding it to his chest like an affrighted Victorian maiden, and slid sideways into the bar.

Sailors and soldiers and thugs drank and laughed and talked, but they fell silent as Napoleon entered. They said nothing to him, just tracked his progress towards the back room. At the door a heavy set man brandishing a large club barred the way.


"Ah, Chet Nardick." He stiffened, put a school boy's 'I'll tell' tone into his voice. "I'm expected. You'd better... stand aside." The bravado of that speech was somewhat spoiled by his voice climbing an extra octave, ending in an undignified and certainly non threatening squawk. The man laughed.

"Hold on," he said. "Don't get in a state, now. I'll check and if you're who you say you are we'll have no problems." He disappeared inside, then returned. "You're supposed to have a card."

Napoleon fished in his vest pocket and produced one. The other man studied it. "You're also supposed to know the password," he said.

"Oh my," Napoleon said. "Such silly games. Ah, let's see." He pushed his glasses up on his nose. "The rain comes early in November."

"Only in Argentina," the guard finished and stepped aside. Napoleon entered.

This first night the game was played out. Nardick's cover was not questioned, although they did take his attach case apart looking for hidden compartments, while another two men went over each item in there with a fine tooth comb. Nardick uttered little protests, breathless with fear at his own temerity. "Those are very expensive... I have a list, I know just what's in there... stop cutting that!" This as they pulled the bottom out of the case. "If you don't want the items, just say so. We have a thriving market in Beirut and other cities as well." When they had finished he snatched the items back, putting them in the case, patting and fondling each one as if consoling it for the rough handling. A man who had taken no part in the investigation of his belongings rose.

"Well, Mr. Nardick," he drawled the name, "all of your toys appear to be just that. Toys. Is that all you've got for us?"

"Well, of course, I mean to say no, er, I mean..." Napoleon fussed about some more but let his eyes move around the room in a way far too sharp for the hapless Nardick. He didn't want them to think him too good, because it was only middle level officials who had come here before, and there was no point in putting them further on their guard. So he let Grant show through the thin veneer of Nardick and didn't miss the satisfied glances they gave one another.

"We'll meet again," the same man said. "Next time maybe you could bring some serial numbers for these toys?" He leaned both hands on the table and looked hard at Napoleon. "Serial numbers," he repeated. "So we can be sure they're the real deal."

Napoleon leaned his own hands on the table and looked hard right back. "Maybe," he allowed. "If I can get authorization for that from my sup... boss," he amended quickly. "My boss has to okay any release of, ah, serial numbers."

"You do that. We'll meet back here but I'll let you know when. Goodnight, Mr. Nardick." The way he said the name was now downright insulting. Grant nodded sharply.


As he left, a woman approached him. She was attractive enough, in a rather well used way, her ample breasts spilling out of her dirty evening gown. "Want some company?" she asked brightly. "You must be lonely, so far from home. I am very good in bed." She winked at him. "Very tight pussy," she added helpfully.

Napoleon wavered. Was this the lure he had been told to expect? He looked her over. Surely not. Too obvious, and since he was still supposed to be at least pretending to be in character, not a good fit at all. He drew Nardick's persona around him and sniffed indignantly.

"Certainly not. Certainly not, young lady. Now if you will excuse me... really!" He hustled towards the door, talking to himself. "Filthy... I know they have baths even in this benighted place." He gave an exaggerated shudder of distaste and, as he reached the door he cast an overtly suspicious look backwards. The man who had spoken to him stood watching. Napoleon gave him a faint jerk of the head, expressing Grant's contempt for such obvious and clumsy tactics, and walked back to his hotel.

He saw the boy for the first time the next night, in the hotel bar. The day had gone by without any contact at all, and that was just as it should be. They were evaluating Grant, checking into his background—which was legitimate, so Napoleon had no worries on that score. They were making Grant wait, too, making him sweat, or so they hoped. Napoleon wasn't sweating at all, but Grant probably would be so he let a little anxiety show as he sat at the bar having an after dinner drink. Nardick would be disdainful of these surroundings so he let that show, too, grimacing at the smudges on his glass, wiping them off with a napkin. The hotel staff thought he was Nardick, the Soviet agents thought he was Grant posing as Nardick, and Napoleon Solo tried to fulfill all of those requirements.

The boy came in just as he was finishing up. Napoleon watched him idly, feeling Nardick's lip lift in a scornful twist. Impossible to guess the boy's age—with his long blond hair hanging straight to his slim shoulders, with those great blue eyes and that delicate little face he could be fourteen or even younger. But he had an air of confidence and a street smart wariness on his face that made him look older—sixteen, maybe, or seventeen. Underage to be in a bar, no matter how you looked at it.

He became aware of Napoleon's gaze and looked him over, mouth twitching in barely concealed amusement at Nardick's bow tie. His eyes slid down, then up, pausing at the drink in his hands—a tonic water on ice. The amusement deepened.

"Not that one, surely?" he said to the bartender in Russian which Nardick didn't speak, Grant spoke haltingly and Napoleon fluently. Nardick scowled because the gesture made it plain the question was about him, whether he understood it or not. The bartender laughed.

"No, not that one." He laughed again, and the boy laughed with him. "Herr Schmidt, over there." He gestured to a burly Teutonic looking man standing alone at the end of the bar and the boy's smile faded.

"Oh," he said, and the bartender spat.

"Bad enough," he snarled, "that we have to put up with that." Here he jerked a dirty thumb at Nardick. "At least we were on the same side. This pig..." he spat again. "I should be putting him up against the wall instead of serving him drinks." Just then Schmidt came over. He didn't look happy.

"I wanted a woman," he hissed at the bartender. "What are you thinking of me, sending me this" he finished with an obscenity.

"You said you wanted something special," the bartender objected. "Something different, that you can't get at home. You did not specify a woman."

"What else would I want? I am not a..." he extended his arm and flopped his wrist about.

"I'm special," the boy said and gave the man the same slow inspection he had given Napoleon. "And I..." he leaned up and said something too low for Napoleon to hear. "The best you've ever had it," he finished and licked his lips. The message was unmistakable and Napoleon saw Schmidt perk up.

"Jah? You will do that? My wife won't do that—even my mistress will not."

"I will. And that doesn't make you..." he imitated the limp wrist Schmidt had shown earlier. "Not as long as it's me doing it to you."

"Jah, jah, what difference does it make, whose mouth? Come on then." He turned towards the stairs. The boy followed.

Schmidt was back within the half hour. He had a self satisfied smirk on his face and his hair was wet with sweat. He beamed at the bartender.

"Good work," he said, and winked. "I will sleep well tonight, jah?" He ordered a shot of whiskey and Napoleon couldn't help grinning when the bartender surreptitiously spat in it before turning and slapping it down. Schmidt drank it in one swallow, and went back upstairs.

The boy slipped out of a dark recess after he had gone by. Napoleon hadn't even seen him return. His mouth was set in a grim line and there was a fresh bruise on his cheek. He leaned against the bar and ordered a Coca Cola. The bartender set a glass in front of him and the boy paid—paid far too much, a fat wad of bills and the bartender ruffled through it, nodded, and slipped it into his pocket. The boy didn't touch his drink, but turned and left.

Napoleon sighed. The tawdry little scene had depressed him. He found himself disliking the bartender, disliking Schmidt, and pitying the boy. But he had chosen his way, had he not? Napoleon had no romantic illusions about that. Here was a young man who didn't want to work at a steady job, didn't want to give up what he no doubt saw as his freedom, so instead gave blow jobs to strangers for quick cash. But it wasn't hard for Nardick to give the bartender a disgusted look as he went to his own room. No, that wasn't hard at all.

He had another meeting with his contacts two nights later. He brought the sample case and gave some serial numbers, but not all, and not the ones they really wanted. "I need some evidence of good faith first," Grant snapped at them. "This isn't a one way street, you know. Where are the telephone numbers and addresses you promised us?"

"Tomorrow," the leader assured him. "You come tomorrow night at this same time and we will have them for you—as long as you are prepared to reciprocate."

"I am prepared," Grant said, and left the back room.

In the main part of the roadhouse a band was playing and a crowd of men, including several of the men Napoleon had met with over the past week, were drinking. He gave the scene one appraising look, and went out the door.

The boy was standing on the curb talking to one of the club's bouncers. He wore the same clothes he had had on the night before, and that blond hair was a bright beacon under the streetlights.

"No," he was saying, and Napoleon sympathized. He had heard at least four different names for this man, and none of them were probably the right ones. He was a hulking brute with small piggy eyes and thick lips, which he wet constantly with his fat tongue.

"Twice your usual price," he bargained and the boy shook his head again.

"No. Not after last time. I was laid up for a week, and lost more money by far than you paid me."

"You might regret it," the man threatened and the boy stepped back, out of reach.

"Don't threaten me," he said and a knife showed briefly before disappearing back into his pocket. "Or it might be you regretting it. Look out, there's your boss!" When the other man turned the boy fled, running across the street, vanishing between two buildings before the man turned back around. He said something Napoleon didn't catch, but looking at that ugly face, twisted now with rage, Napoleon found himself sympathizing afresh with the boy's refusal.

I'd watch that one if I were you, he thought as he made his way back along the dark streets. I'd... turning the last corner he almost bumped into the boy himself, leaning against another streetlight.

It was such a clich that Napoleon stiffened, suddenly suspicious. Was this the compromise he was looking for? A boy whore, who would then blackmail him? But surely this was too obvious, just like the first one had been. A test, maybe, to see how gullible Grant was. Well, he didn't want to be underestimated and, this close to his hotel, it was Nardick who was on display. He sniffed.

"Please step out of my way, young man. Isn't it late for you to be out? Don't you have school tomorrow?"

"My schooldays are behind me," the boy answered without moving. "But I could teach you something, if you like."

"No. No, certainly not. Now let me pass or I will call the authorities."

"Suit yourself," the boy said with a shrug and moved up against the wall. "You don't know what you're missing, American."

"Well, I never. I —"

"I hear your country's women don't do what I do." There was a slow smile, a shake of that hair which was beautiful, no question about it, and for a moment Napoleon wondered what it would feel like if he touched it, if he put both hands in it and... he stepped back. The boy, who had been watching him closely, smiled again. "Don't be afraid. I don't bite. I swallow though," he offered, and sent a quick sideways look at Napoleon's crotch. "You'd like it, and who's to know?"

"I said get out of my way!" He let Nardick's voice climb a little, crack at the upper register and the boy laughed.

"All right, American. Good night." Then he was gone. One minute he was there, the next he had faded into the night. Napoleon shook his head. If that had indeed been the bait he had blown his mission, but he still didn't think so. Anyone the CIA sent would know better than to pick up a street prostitute—especially an underage male. It was just asking for trouble. Surely when it came it would be more subtle than that. Surely it would.

The next night the gloves were off. A new agent was there, and his authority was clearly higher than those around him. He had the passwords Napoleon—or rather Grant—needed, so Napoleon, as Grant, gave a few codes. More would follow, once this first bit of information had checked out, but for now they were finished. After all the build up it had been terse, utterly professional, and concluded quickly. They were having a celebratory drink—if you could call it that, since everyone drank in absolute silence—when a commotion erupted from the dining room outside. A door slammed, there was the sound of furniture flying and then a scream.

"No! No no nyet! Nyet, nein, no no no no" the words stopped then, as if someone had been harshly silenced, and in their wake came a chorus of hoarse cheers. Napoleon leapt to his feet along with the rest of his drinking companions and they crowded around the door.

The man Napoleon had seen talking to the boy last night had him in an iron grip, one arm across his midsection, pinning both arms to his sides, one hand over his mouth. The boy's eyes were wild with terror but even as Napoleon watched he stomped down on the man's foot, using all his weight. The man yelled and loosened his grip. The boy twisted, got one hand free and the knife came out. He slashed at the hand holding his face and was free. He wasted no time crying out again but whirled and ran.

Four men tackled him, slamming him to the floor. The knife bounced away and they hauled him up, dragging him back across the room. He was screaming again and, even as Napoleon watched, the first man swept his arm across a table, sending the plates, cups and serving platters flying.

"Get him up here!" he yelled. "Too good for it, too good for me, I'll show you, you little piece of shit!" He scooped up the knife and stomped over to the boy, still pinned helplessly by the thugs holding him. He laid it against his face and the boy froze, not struggling now. His lips trembled.

"No," he whispered again and the man cut the shirt right off him. In one quick move he sliced down and the garment fell open in two halves.

"Get in line if you want some," he said without looking over his shoulder, and the rest of the men who had been standing around, including three from Napoleon's party, stampeded towards the table. "Bring him over." He turned his back, putting the knife in his pocket and the other four began dragging the boy towards the table and the waiting men. He screamed again, the sound nearly lost in the noise around him.

The events had unfolded so quickly, one atrocity on top of the other, and there was no plan for this, none at all. Nardick would be simultaneously repelled by, and attracted to, the scene, to the violence and the boy's terror. He would stay where he was, and watch. Grant—Napoleon didn't have a clear picture of Grant's reaction, but it was a moot point, because Napoleon Solo lost his temper.

Something ignited in his brain with a white flash and a soft whump, like the atomic weapons he had seen tested on television. He had time to think of that, to make the comparison clearly, even as he moved. He threw himself across the table, body horizontal in the air, and knocked three men off their feet. Regaining his own he drove both fists into the stomach of the ringleader who gave a soft grunting sound and slid to the floor. Everyone else froze but he didn't, he grabbed the boy by the wrist and yanked him to his side, backing towards the door. When the prostrate leader gasped "Get him you cowards, what are you waiting for?" he drew his gun.

That stopped the forward rush and Napoleon kept moving towards the exit. "Get me a car," he snapped to the man he had given the codes to. "It can pick us up between here and the hotel. Tell the driver to give me the password I used my first night. Or the whole thing is going straight to hell and I'll bring you down with me!" He kicked over a table and ran out the door, still dragging the boy.

He didn't have to drag him for long. As they pelted down the dark street he kept pace with Napoleon easily. Napoleon didn't release him, and in turn he didn't try to pull away. When a dark car pulled up to them, Napoleon gasped out his line about the rain in November, and the driver replied that that only occurred in Argentina and unlocked the doors. Napoleon yanked the back one open and pushed the boy inside. He followed, slammed it behind him and locked it. The car took off, quietly, not attracting any attention, and Napoleon exhaled.

"Where do you want me to drop you off?" he asked, at the same time realizing he was still clutching that thin wrist. He released it. The boy rubbed it.

"Nowhere!" he gasped. "They'll find me, they'll be looking everywhere I know to go and they'll kill me next time! Please—please can't you hide me? Just for tonight? I'll find a way out of the city tomorrow while they're still sleeping it off. Please? I won't... I won't be any trouble. I promise. Please!"

Napoleon sighed. It was far more involved than he wanted to get, and as his anger faded his better judgment tried to prevail. "I can't possibly bring you back to my room. Tell me where I can take you or I'll leave you here."

"You should have let them have me then!" the boy flared. "What was the point of pissing them off? There has to be someplace I can hide! You owe me that!"

"I owe you?" Napoleon raised an eyebrow at him. "That's not how I see it."

"I'll do anything! I'll..." his voice broke then, on a great sob, and he turned away, hiding his face in the corner. When he spoke again the desperate pleading was gone. "All right," he said dully. "Let me out here, close to the river. I'll try to find a place to hide and if they come for me again I'll... I'll jump in. It would be faster and better than whatever they have planned. Thank you for what you did. I know you were trying to help." He pulled at the door handle. "Unlock it."

"No," Napoleon said. The boy was right. Where could he go? They'd be like a pack of ravening wolves after a rabbit. A very young rabbit. He sighed. "All right. I don't know... but all right." He looked up as the car stopped. "Thank you," he said to the driver and gave him a handsome tip. "You never saw us."

"Saw who?" the driver said, and laughed. Napoleon didn't laugh.

"I saw you. If we're traced because of you you'd better pray they kill me."

"Kill who?" He guffawed at his own wit and Napoleon climbed out, the boy right behind him. He wrapped both arms around Napoleon's left arm and hung on tightly.

"Now what?" Napoleon said, frustrated. "I can't bring you up to my room. The bartender knows me—and you. I..." belatedly he reached for Nardick. "I have a wife and children at home."

"I can come up the fire escape," the boy whispered. "I've done that before. You're not the only one who didn't want to bring me through the lobby. Just unlock your window. Which one is it?"

Napoleon scowled. But it was better than the alternative, so he pointed to his window, pulled his arm free and went inside. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a shadow flit towards the fire escape and with a leap seize the lower bar and swing itself up. He crossed the lobby, nodded tersely at the bartender's greeting, and went upstairs.

The boy was at the window and Napoleon let him in. He was shaking—with cold, with fear—and when Napoleon reached a hand to help him across the sill he recoiled so violently he nearly fell. Napoleon made an exasperated sound.

"What do you think," he demanded after the boy had climbed in on his own and, without being told, shut and locked the window behind him. "If I wanted anything from you I would have just taken you up on your offer last night."

"All right." He looked subdued now, twisting his fingers together, casting apprehensive glances around him. "I can stay here?"

"You can stay here tonight," Napoleon agreed, and pointed to the sofa. "Sit down."

"All right." He went over to it, sat down, bounced on it experimentally. Then he gave Napoleon a shy smile. "Thank you."

He cleared his throat. The boy had an extraordinary smile when he wasn't using it as a tool of his trade. It was sweet, and quick, and brightened his whole face. He found himself smiling back. "You are welcome."

He turned away and went into the bathroom. He needed a moment alone to collect his thoughts. This was madness, and he knew it. His room was certainly bugged, and perhaps wired for video as well. He would have to be very careful, not to give the wrong impression to his unseen audience. He washed his hands at the sink, filled with self recriminations. Why had he gotten involved in something that was clearly none of his business? How could he have allowed himself to be so... he stopped washing his hands. So... compromised? Was that it? Was this all a set up? He went over the events of the past few days. He had been shown the boy—in his hotel, on the street—so he would recognize him, so he would perhaps feel a relationship with him, and thus be more likely to interfere. Was this what had happened to the others? They tried to help, did a good deed, and found themselves hopelessly—compromised?

But the boy's terror had been real, he could swear it. Maybe they had expected Grant to join in. Maybe they had shown Grant the boy so he would know him for a prostitute, think less of him, think he deserved what he was getting and join in. And hadn't it been a little too easy to get them both out of there? He dried his hands slowly and came out of the bathroom. And he had left the boy alone, with his briefcase, with his... when he emerged the boy was by the desk and he jumped guiltily when he saw Napoleon, putting both hands behind his back.

Napoleon crossed the room in a leap, grabbed his arms and twisted them hard, at the same time pinning him against the wall, giving him no room to maneuver, to hide whatever it was he had stolen. When he didn't release his grip Napoleon twisted harder, a savage wrench that forced a cry from him and his hands opened.

A half eaten sandwich fell to the floor. Napoleon's lunch. His discarded lunch which he had tossed into the trashcan. He looked into the boy's face and the boy dropped his eyes, reddening. Napoleon let him go.

"That's it?" he demanded. "You expect me to believe... turn around." He spun the boy about without giving him a chance to comply—or not—and patted him down, making no attempt to be gentle. He couldn't feel anything, but... "strip," he ordered harshly. "Right now, no hesitation, no tricks. Strip."

He did so, letting the torn shirt slide from his shoulders, unfastening his pants, pushing them down, stepping out. He wore no underwear. And if he was bugged, or concealing anything, Napoleon didn't see it. He patted him down again, lifting his arms to check underneath, lifting his penis and testicles, probing there too. "Squat," he snapped. "Squat and cough—hard. Harder. Again. Now lean over, hands on the floor." He inspected him closely but again saw nothing. "Stand up." He ran both hands through his hair, just as he had imagined doing, and it was soft and cool. "Hmph." He stepped back. The boy wrapped both arms around himself and shivered. "Cold?"


"Want to take a hot shower?" He wanted the boy out of the way so he could check his briefcase, but couldn't help being touched by the way his face lit.

"Really? A hot shower?"

"Yes. I have an extra pair of pajamas you can wear. Tomorrow I'll find something else for you to put on before you leave. Go on, if you're going." He waited until the boy had gone into the bathroom and closed the door, and until he heard the sound of the shower. He wedged a chair under the knob to avoid any surprises, and went quickly through his briefcase. Nothing seemed disturbed. He looked around, and his attention was caught by the discarded sandwich on the floor. Damn. He stood for a moment, then lifted the phone and called down to the bar.

By the time the boy returned, the plate of stew and hot bread had arrived. Napoleon had removed the chair from under the bathroom door, and laid the extra pajamas out on the bed. The boy stood in the doorway, hesitating, eyes moving across the room. They passed over the food as if it wasn't there, but paused at the trashcan where the half eaten sandwich, again discarded, showed plainly. He bit his lip, then looked at the pajamas. "For me?" His voice shook a little and Napoleon felt a wave of pity for him. Perhaps none of this was his idea. His looks had made him a target, just as Napoleon's position had targeted him. But the boy had an assignment, no doubt, a job to do; a job that involved putting Napoleon into a position where he would see no choice but to betray his trust. A position from which suicide would appear the only retreat. He hardened himself.

"Yes." His voice was short. "You can't go around like that." Naked, fair skin glowing with hot water and scrubbing, wet hair clinging around his shoulders, he looked like—like an angel. Like a fallen angel. Napoleon remembered the feel of him, hard muscle under soft skin. He was probably a lot stronger than he looked, and fast as well. Not someone to underestimate. Napoleon cleared his throat. He waited until the boy had donned the pajamas, which were absurdly big for him, hanging down onto the floor, trailing over his wrists. Even as he watched, the boy tucked up the sleeves with neat, economical movements, freeing his hands. Then he bent over, did the same for the legs, making deep cuffs. He pushed his hair back behind his shoulders and regarded Napoleon solemnly.

"It is very kind of you to offer me shelter for the night," he said. "I am grateful."

"As well you should be." He gestured abruptly at the plate. "That's for you."

The boy's eyes widened. "Really? For me? All... all of it?"

"Every crumb. I've already eaten." He indicated the leftover sandwich, and the boy picked up the plate and fell on the food. He ate fast and with complete concentration; with flawless manners but no pause for conversation or even for looking around. He ate everything, even the decorative little sprigs of parsley. Watching him, Napoleon felt pity again. He forced it down.

"You can sleep there," he said, pointing to the sofa which he had embellished with his extra pillow and a heavy blanket—it got cold in here at night. "I need you gone first thing in the morning—after breakfast," he added because he couldn't send him away hungry. Shouldn't, in fact, send him away at all because this was supposed to play itself out. He needed to see what the next move would be, needed to be thoroughly... compromised. But surely the others would have protested, at first, would have been aware of the danger of keeping him around, so Napoleon said what was expected of him, and waited.

He didn't have to wait long. The boy looked at the couch, then at him. He was clearly taken aback and Napoleon wondered suddenly just how much of a struggle his predecessors had put up. Not much, by the look of it. "You... you want me to sleep here?"


"But..." he shook his hair back and gave Napoleon a decidedly provocative glance, before lowering his eyes again. "Don't you want —"

"No." He said it firmly, but not harshly—he didn't want to scare the boy off. "I am a married man. A normal man. I didn't want to see you torn apart by that mob, I didn't like seeing you hungry, and I don't want to throw you out on the street at this hour. Don't think there's any more to it, because there isn't."

"And I am grateful," the boy said again. "You saved me, you fed me... I am very grateful. I wish I had something to give you in return, but I have nothing. Well, I have one thing." He looked up again, eyes wide and ingenious. "I have one thing to offer, and it would be good." He took a step closer. "Very good. Better perhaps than you now think."

"Not interested." But he let his voice waver, just a little, just enough. "You don't need to repay me. Now go to sleep..." he stopped. What should he call this boy? He couldn't keep thinking of him as 'the boy', as if he were no one, as if... "What's your name?"

"What do you want it to be?" A prostitute's reply, and it angered him suddenly.

"Don't play your whorish tricks on me!" he snapped. "I asked you a civil question. I have no fantasies to layer onto you. I just need to know what to call you if I want to get your attention."

The boy flinched away as if he'd been struck. Napoleon regarded him with interest as he visibly struggled to regain his composure. An act? All an act? He waited, and after a moment the boy said, "I don't give my name. I have found it's better that way."

"Then make one up. I don't care one way or the other."

There was another long silence. The boy studied his feet as if they were objects of great interest. At last he said, "Nicky. You can call me Nicky."

"Nicky," Napoleon repeated. "And you can call me Grant."

"Mr. Grant," the boy said, and Napoleon stiffened. How would he know that was a last, and not a first name? He looked at him hard. "Grant," he repeated. "No Mr. Just Grant."

"All right." The boy... Nicky... smiled at him and Napoleon's breath was caught somewhere in his throat. It took him a moment to find it. It was, as he had observed before, a beautiful smile, slow and sweet. It began in the corners of his mouth, making Napoleon—surely making any man—wonder how it would be to kiss them, then widened to sparkle in those blue eyes. "Grant. Goodnight, Grant."

"Goodnight, Nicky." He waited until the boy was on the couch, under the blanket, and turned out the light. He had tucked his briefcase under his pillow along with his gun and papers, so he had to shift around a bit to get comfortable once in bed, but he managed it and, with the ease of long practice, found a light level of sleep.

He woke to ecstasy. It was so pure, and so piercing that for a long moment he didn't know what was happening to him. Had he died, and gone to heaven? He had never known, never dreamed of such pleasure. Then, as he came fully awake, he realized that the wonderful wet pulling sensation was coming from his cock. His cock—in the boy's mouth. It seemed as if his cock—his whole body, but the pleasure was centered so strongly in his loins—had been waiting for this his whole life, as if it—he—had never been fully satisfied before and now... he groaned aloud... he was. The pressure built and involuntarily he reached down, put both hands in the boy's hair.

He flinched—not drawing back, but hunching his shoulders in the only self protective move he could make given his position, and Napoleon cupped his head gently. "It's all right," he whispered, and massaged a little with his thumbs, trying to reassure him. "It's all right, it's..." he groaned again and thrust into that warm mouth, that mouth which was doing such incredible and delightful things to his organ, shutting down his better judgment, shutting down everything but this pleasure, and the strong desire not to hurt, not to frighten. He stroked Nicky's hair and that warm tongue caressed him in return. The finish rushed on him so quickly he just had time to get the pillow over his face to silence his screams as the boy sucked and swallowed, sucked hard, drawing every last drop from him and then it was over.

Over. Napoleon lay panting and felt that warm tongue again, swirling around the head, making it throb weakly in response, and then the boy sat up.

As reason returned Napoleon found himself thinking furiously. What now? What to do now, now that he was most thoroughly compromised? What should—would—Grant's reaction be? Anger, he thought and was saddened. Grant would be angry. Grant would bolt upright, seize the boy and shake him, shout into his face, throw him aside or, quite possibly, punch him right in the mouth. All right, then. He counted to three and sat up, fast, grabbed those slim shoulders.

And couldn't do it. The boy stared at him and there wasn't terror in his face so much as there was resignation. He was waiting for it, waiting to be hit and kicked, called foul names and very probably thrown right out the door. He looked at Napoleon and, when nothing happened, his mouth shook. "Don't be angry," he pleaded and Napoleon could see the fear now. "I just wanted to do something good for you, like you did for me. I thought..." he looked away. "I thought you might like it," he finished. "If you didn't I'm sorry." He sounded very young suddenly, a child offering what he must know were pitifully inadequate excuses for inexcusable conduct. Napoleon swallowed.

"It's all right," he said, and took Nicky's chin between thumb and forefinger, turned his face back to him. The blue eyes met his in one quick flash, then were veiled again by those ridiculously long eyelashes. Napoleon leaned forward, kissed his cheek. "I liked it," he said because in for a penny in for a pound, and he might as well let this play itself out. A picture of him getting a blow job from a male prostitute—an underage male prostitute—would be good for them, but maybe not enough. He could always deny that he was awake, say he thought he was dreaming and anyway a mouth was a mouth, male or female. A good operative could possibly bluff that out. They would take it, if that was all they could get; if he threw Nicky out now they would have to, but they would doubtless prefer more and it was his job to give it to them. But he didn't have to participate in the bullying of this... this child. They might be surprised at Grant's unexpected softness, but since it would work to their advantage they shouldn't look at it too closely. Hopefully.

"You—you're not angry?" the boy sounded incredulous and Napoleon drew him closer, to avoid those eyes that suddenly seemed to see too much. He was stiff against Napoleon, stiff and trembling a little, and, without thinking, Napoleon rocked him.

"No. I should be..." he smiled against that soft hair. "But I'm not. That was..." he drew back, looked into the young face because the truth of this was something he could safely let show. "That was wonderful. Wonderful. I've never... I've never experienced anything like it." He had had oral sex before, of course, but even in this day and age most women wouldn't, and those who would did it quickly, as if it were a distasteful chore to be gotten through. Even when they remained in place for the ultimate moment, even when they swallowed, he could sense their unease, and too often there was the sprint for the bathroom, the sound of spitting and rinsing. But this... you're good, he thought, looking again at that beautiful face, the purity of his jaw line, the sweet lines of his mouth, the stubborn chin. You're very good. No wonder... but it's not your choice, really, is it. Who would choose those masters freely? Who would choose to wake some strange man up with a blow job when the odds are excellent that you'll get the crap beaten out of you in return? It took a moment to realize the boy was addressing him. "I'm sorry," he said, and smiled again, trying to put him at ease. "What did you say?"

"Why are you looking at me like that?"

"Like what?"

"As if you feel so sorry for me." He tensed up, Napoleon could feel it. "Are you... are you going to kill me? Because you don't have to do that. I'll go. I'll leave right now." He slid off the bed even as he said it and stood up, edging nervously towards the door. "I'll go."

"It's below zero out there. You're in pajamas and bare feet. Where would you go?"

"I... it doesn't matter." He took another wary step away from the bed. "It's all right."

"I'm not going to kill you," Napoleon said. "I was just thinking that those men who had you before... they might still be out there. You... you can stay here as long as you want—as long as I'm here, if you like. Surely they'll have given up looking for you by then.'

The boy blinked. "Oh. Really? You'll hide me until then? Until you leave? How long will that be?"

"I'm not sure. A week, more or less. Do you think that will be enough time?"

"Oh, yes." He came back over to the bed and smiled shyly at Napoleon. "I'm sure it will. A whole week?"

"Yes. And I'll give you money before I leave. Enough money for a train ticket, if you want. If you still don't feel safe here. It's the least I can do."

"The least you can do?" And that gaze was sharp, suddenly, very sharp. "Why should you do anything for me at all?"

"Because," Napoleon said, tugging at his hands, bringing him back down onto the bed, wrapping him up in the covers so their bodies were close together. "You're going to do some things for me, aren't you?" He took the boy's hand, placed it on his organ, still flaccid from its earlier exertions. "Well? Aren't you?"

The boy stroked it, and under those skilled fingers it stirred. Nicky smiled and Napoleon peered at him, trying to decipher it. He looked pleased with himself, and relieved... he had probably never had such an easy assignment. He was sure of success now, his masters would be pleased... Napoleon's heart ached for him. A week must seem like an eternity to you, he thought, and what will happen when they learn that what I'm going to give them is false? What will happen to you when UNCLE traces just where that false information ends up, and acts on that knowledge? He didn't know, and couldn't imagine. All he could do was make the time pass as pleasantly for this boy as possible, and maybe, given enough money, he could be far from their reach before it all came down. So he let the boy touch him, those hands as professional and skillful as his mouth had been. When Napoleon came he dragged the boy down beside him, kissed his mouth hungrily and the boy, after one startled recoil, kissed him back, lips warm and honey sweet under Napoleon's own.

"Hungry?" Napoleon asked after a while, when he had panted and tried to recover himself and the boy had lain beside him quietly, that hard, supple body pressed against his.

"Hungry?" The delight in his voice was unmistakable. "You're going to feed me again? Like you did last night?"

"Just like that, only I thought eggs? Sausage?"

"Oh, yes." The fervor with which he said it made Napoleon laugh out loud. "After a shower," he said, and threw the covers back. "Come on. I'll scrub your back if you do mine."

"All... all right." His voice was suddenly very small and Napoleon glanced at him. But he followed Napoleon into the bathroom obediently, and stepped into the tub. He trembled when Napoleon put both hands in his hair to rub the shampoo in and Napoleon wondered what exactly he was expecting. Some form of torture? To be held under, perhaps, or his head pulled back, the shower water pouring into his mouth, down his throat? He was afraid of something, that was clear, trying anxiously to follow Napoleon's lead, grant his wishes, whatever they might be. But after a while, when Napoleon had done nothing more alarming than wash his hair, scrub his back, then turn around so the same could be done for him, he relaxed and washed Napoleon all over, going down on his knees at the end to take Napoleon in his mouth again, giving him that same sensation of finding something he had searched for his whole life without knowing it, bringing him to ecstasy, then staying on his knees in the shower, water sluicing onto his head which looked achingly defenseless, bowed and waiting for whatever would come next.

What came next was a vigorous rubdown with the towel, an offer of fresh clothing, and breakfast. By the time they were finished eating he was laughing at Napoleon's jokes, and even told a few of his own, looking inordinately pleased when Napoleon threw his head back and shouted aloud with laughter. They laughed together for a while, then, at Napoleon's urging, went back to bed.

This time he eased the boy down and shook his head when he reached for Napoleon's pants. "No," he said. "It's your turn, don't you think?"

"My turn?" He frowned, and his frown was as delightful as his smile. Napoleon kissed the little wrinkle between his eyebrows. "I don't know what you mean."

"Well, things seem a trifle out of balance. I'm a fair minded man, so let me..." he caressed the boy intimately through his trousers and he jerked back.

"What? No! No, I don't have to give that, I don't..." he stopped, and looked at Napoleon with an expression of such pure misery that Napoleon couldn't speak for a moment. He did have to give that if Napoleon wanted it, that was so obvious that saying it would be unnecessary as well as cruel. He faltered. "I mean I... I never...I don't know... do you want to fuck me?" He offered this with his body as well as with his words, rolling onto his stomach, opening his legs. "You can. And if you close your eyes you could pretend it's a woman, it's the same, isn't it?"

"That's not why I close my eyes," Napoleon said gently, and rolled him back over.

"You like it this way? I can do that..." he arched his back, drawing his legs up, preparatory to wrapping them around Napoleon's waist.

"No." Napoleon stroked him again. "This is what I want to do. Let me." He didn't mean it to come out so much like a command, but it had, and the boy nodded and bit his lip. He lay there like someone waiting to be racked and Napoleon moved up, touching his hair instead. The boy looked up at him piteously and Napoleon kissed him with all his skill, because he was skilled at giving pleasure too, and surely it wasn't that different. He kissed Nicky until his lips parted, until his breath quickened, and then he kissed his throat, his ears, the sensitive place just behind them. He drifted down, kissing his chest, tonguing his nipples until they were hard. Only then did he bring his hands back into play, sliding them up his thighs, discovering with delight that he was exquisitely sensitive there, hearing him cry out for the first time. Nicky looked abashed then, and tried to hide his face with one arm but cried out again when Napoleon kept on, stroking him and tickling him, trailing feather light fingers over his balls, his own cock fully erect now.

He didn't use his mouth—touching another man this way was quite enough, but he tongued his ear, breathed his hot breath there while he pumped him, returned to his nipples once more when the boy whispered his name in wonder and pleasure, and kissed him again at the end, silencing his outcries with his own open mouth, pumping hard and fast then slowing, slowing, knowing what he himself liked at each stage of this act, bringing Nicky down slowly, easily, gently until he lay still again on the bed, eyes closed.

Napoleon got up and washed his hands, brought a warm damp washcloth over and cleaned the boy's stomach and thighs before tossing it aside and climbing back in bed. He held the boy against him, feeling him shiver, then stop shivering, feeling him move closer, body growing limp, breathing slowing until he finally sighed, turned more fully into Napoleon's embrace, and fell asleep.

The next five days would have felt like a dream if it were not for the daily contacts with the other side. They called him and made appointments and he went and no one was there. It annoyed him but he played the game out, arriving at the roadhouse, leaving in a visible rage when stood up again. He had to carry it through when he arrived back at the room because he knew they were watching, so he stomped in, threw his briefcase in the corner and tossed down a fast drink or two.

Nicky always watched him with enormous eyes, keeping well out of his way, but when Napoleon turned to him, reached for him he went into the embrace with relief and, touchingly, confidence that he would not be harmed, as well as eagerness for the pleasure to be found there.

It was on the second night that Napoleon used his mouth for the first time. He had been lying there while Nicky sucked him, slowly because he had learned that that was how Napoleon liked it, slow and drawn out. Turning his head he noticed that the boy was erect, aroused solely by this act because Napoleon hadn't been touching him at all, just leaning against the headboard with his arms crossed under his neck, enjoying himself. He might as well enjoy it, he was in this all the way.

The boy's arousal interested him so he reached for him, stroked him and then decided what the hell, this was as good a time as any to take it a step further. They were both fresh from the shower, and surely what was happening to his own cock would provide sufficient distraction in case the other was unpleasant. So he pulled on Nicky's hips, turned his head and took him in his mouth.

Not unpleasant, he thought as Nicky froze. Not... he closed his eyes and let the boy's scent, his taste, flood his senses... unpleasant at all. Soon they were writhing together, arms wrapped around one another, moving and sucking and thrusting and crying out, both crying out. When the finish came it was exquisitely slow, amazingly satisfying, amazing... he could hear Nicky making smothered sounds against his flesh and his own outcries were lost against flesh too and he was lost as well, lost and falling and found. Found, in those young arms that tightened once more, then released him. Found, in that warm mouth that deposited one last kiss on the tip of his wilting cock. Found, in those blue eyes that met his own, darkening with adoration as they did so. Napoleon swallowed. Why did the boy look at him like that? He had done nothing out of the way; was, in fact, using him without regard for what would—what must—come next.

This little game was surely almost played out. And when it was, the boy would be yanked back on the short leash his masters kept him on, sent out again on another assignment and the next man wouldn't trouble to handle him gently, wouldn't see that he was well fed and warm.

"Why do you do it?" he asked as Nicky turned in the bed to nestle closer to him. "You're not stupid, you must know it's a dead end. Why don't you do something with your life instead? You could go to school, or find another job... I'll help you. I told you I'd give you enough money to get away, enough money to live on until you find something... his voice trailed off because Nicky was looking at him very seriously.

"I have no papers," he said and Napoleon looked back at him, wordless. No papers? But without papers he couldn't travel, work, rent a room. Without papers he could be picked up any time and sent to prison—or worse. Without papers he was at the mercy of anyone with a little authority.

"Why... how did that come about?"

The boy shrugged. "For this," he said flatly, waving one hand in a gesture that included the shabby room, the rumpled bed, Napoleon himself. "From the time I was little, it's always—and only—been this." He paused, and his next words, when they came, were barely a whisper in Napoleon's ear. Napoleon had to strain to hear him, and understood that he didn't want to be overheard. "I could go to school. You're right, I'm smart. I'm always reading, trying to learn... I'm a lot smarter than they think. But without papers, I'm trapped. I'm... I don't want to think about it. What's the use? Now is good. It's never been good before and now it is. Why waste it thinking about what happens next?" He put his face in Napoleon's shoulder and Napoleon held him, patted him, stroked his tangled hair.

I could help you, he thought. I could... I could talk to Waverly. Waverly would see that it would be wrong just to walk away from you and leave you to face their anger when they realize... as they surely will realize... that you've been duped, along with them. But he didn't want to make promises he might not be able to keep, so he just kept smoothing his hair, and rubbing his back, and after a while he realized the boy was asleep. It took him longer, his mind working out one plan after another, but eventually he did.

Three days later they called him again and he wouldn't talk to them, slamming the phone down. It rang, and rang again and finally there was a loud knock at the door.

Nicky fell out of bed scrambling away from the sound. He hit the floor and rolled underneath, pulling the covers down to screen him from view. Napoleon answered the door. It was the man who had escorted him the first night.

"You don't answer your phone?" he said with reproach.

"You don't keep our appointments?" Napoleon countered.

"Well, Mr. Grant, they are waiting for you now. We had to be sure, you see, that you were not being followed. Come now." And, as they walked down the stairs, he added, "You need not hide your little boy whore. We know all about him."

"I wasn't hiding him," Napoleon snapped. "He's afraid of you, and I'm sure with good cause. And it isn't like that. I'm just letting him stay with me temporarily. He sleeps on the couch."

The man nodded. "I am sure that he does," he said soothingly, and said nothing more.

They were all there, in the back room of the roadhouse. Napoleon seated himself and they didn't, standing and confronting him. "Well?" he snapped. "Can we conclude our business now?"

"We will conclude it. We want the plans for your organization's upcoming conference in Munich," a bespectacled man said. "Location, security arrangements, names of attendees and their room numbers—everything, Mr. Grant. Everything you know about it. And that is only the beginning. We will want a great deal more before you leave the country... and after, too. Our arms are long."

"What the devil is this?" Napoleon snarled. "You must be crazy. There isn't enough money in the world to buy that information—or me."

"We are not offering payment, Mr. Grant. Perhaps you need to look at this. Then you will be in a more reasonable state of mind." He threw a picture onto the table.

Even prepared as he was, it was a shock. The eight by ten black and white glossy was very clear, and the faces were perfectly recognizable. Himself, on his knees between Nicky's thighs, Nicky's cock down his throat. The picture was so good you could see the hollow in his cheeks as he sucked. Nicky's head was thrown back in ecstasy, lips parted, eyes wide and fixed on the ceiling. He looked absurdly young. It was a career ending, life destroying photograph. Napoleon snatched it up, tore it into pieces. The man sighed.

"Surely you know, Mr. Grant, that this is not our only copy. Moreover, this is not the only pose. We have many more. This is merely one of the most disquieting. You and our little friend have been extremely busy."

"Your little friend? You mean he —"

"Yes, Mr. Grant. He knew perfectly well you were being photographed. It was his job to bring you to this place, and he has performed brilliantly—as usual. He is our very best. You should be honored."

"Like hell. I'll kill that fucking little whore. And I fed him! I... I'll wring his fucking neck!"

"I'm sure you would like to. But he is already gone and in hiding, in one of the many secret places we maintain for just such times as this. He knew when they came to get you that tonight would be the night. He's no fool. He does have a delicious little ass though, doesn't he." He laid another photograph down and Napoleon looked at it. Nicky, lying on top of him, legs twined about his legs, and the ass in question plainly visible, as were Napoleon's hands, cupping it. His face was clear here, too, and he was shouting aloud with pleasure, mouth wide open, cords standing out on his neck. Wordless, Napoleon looked away.

"What do you want?" he asked hoarsely. "I can't possibly do what you suggested. I... I can't."

"Then copies of these pictures, and all the others, will arrive on the desks of your superiors, selected colleagues, and an American magazine we know well."

No wonder the last one killed himself, Napoleon thought. No wonder... and he felt a deep pang at the thought of Nicky, hiding from him. He had meant to help the boy out of his situation somehow. Now he would never see him again, and Nicky would go on to his next assignment. That man—whoever he was—would hardly bother to see that he ate, or was warmly covered at night—much less give him pleasure. In fact he might hurt him, might beat him or... he thought of all those times Nicky had flinched from him, of the wariness in those blue eyes. He had worked hard to overcome that, and had thought he had succeeded. But of course Nicky would run and hide rather than face him now. Napoleon sighed heavily.

"All right," he said, and his voice broke. "All right, you bastards. Ask me your questions and I'll answer. But that better be the end of it."

"No promises. You are in no position—none at all—to make conditions." He pushed a tape recorder over to Napoleon and turned it on. "Now. About that conference."

It was much later that Napoleon left the roadhouse. He staggered out the door, drained by the long hours of questions and answers. But he had done his job well. He had loaded them up with data that would be confirmed as true when they checked it out. They would pass it on, and on, and UNCLE would track it all the way, noting everyone in the chain. Then there would be a swoop, and all those with a finger in this particular pie would be netted.

And what of Nicky? He was small fry, true, but he had played his part. Poor kid, Napoleon thought. Where is he now? What will happen to him? The sorrow he felt surprised him with its depth. It was easy to walk slump shouldered, as if crushed by the night's events. In a way, he was. He should have known better. He should have... he entered his room and looked around.

Everything was exactly as it had been when he left, except of course that Nicky was nowhere to be seen. Napoleon bit his lip. But they were probably still watching, to see what he would do, so he gave them a show.

He tore the sheets off the bed he and Nicky had shared, bunched them up and thrust them into a trash bag. He kicked the legs of the bed, overturned the sofa, knocked the hard upright chairs, in which they had eaten their meals, across the room. He swore as he did so, cursing Nicky in every language he knew. Then he stormed out onto the fire escape.

He didn't think they could hear him out there, but they could possibly see his back. He put his face in his hands and leaned his elbows on the railing, ignoring the biting cold.

"Mr. Grant." It was the faintest whisper. "Don't look at me."

He cut his eyes to the side anyway and saw Nicky, huddled in a corner. He was shivering with cold, and his teeth were chattering so loudly it was almost impossible to understand him. 'They can see your shadow," Nicky went on, "but nothing else. They can't see me at all."

"They said you'd be long gone."

"I should be. But I couldn't. Are you... are you going to kill me now?"

The same question as that first night, Napoleon thought. A wave of relief swept him, making his legs buckle. He clutched at the railing and sat down hard on the floor. Putting both legs through the bars he stared out, the picture, if anyone cared, of dejection. "No," he whispered back. "I know it's not your fault, or your doing. I was sorry, to think that you had run away from me. I wanted to help you. I still do."

"Please take me with you. To America."

Whoa, Napoleon thought. "I don't think..."

"It's the only place I'd be safe from them. Otherwise they'll hunt me down, and I'll wish they would kill me before they're finished."

All of this was undoubtedly true. Napoleon was silent. While he was still turning it over in his mind, still trying to think of a way, the boy spoke again.

"You were good to me. I never knew anyone could be so kind. I never knew... I want to help you, now. Whether you take me with you or not."

"Help me?" Napoleon smiled. "I'm all right. I told them what they want to know. I leave tomorrow afternoon. Don't worry about me. It's you we need to make a plan for."

"They know who you are, Mr. Solo."

It took everything Napoleon had, every bit of professionalism he could muster, not to react to that statement, not to jump up, grab Nicky by the shoulders, pull him to his feet and shake more information out of him. As it was, he grabbed the balcony rail so hard the rusted edges cut him, and he felt warm blood trickle down his wrists. "What?" he rasped finally. "What did you say?"

"They know who you are. They know it's a trap. They know the information you gave them was a plant. They know everything."


"You were betrayed by one of your local UNCLE agents yesterday. They didn't believe it at first—you must have been very good—but they do now. It fits with you being so kind to me—they'd wondered about that. They thought that you... that Grant... would join in the party that first night. Or fuck me and throw me away right after. When you didn't, they wondered. Now they're not wondering. They know."

Napoleon couldn't speak for a long time. Damn, he thought. Damn, damn, damn. "So it was all for nothing," he said finally. "We were going to follow that information and capture or expose all the links in the chain. But then what... why didn't they just kill me tonight?"

"They plan to arrest you as you board your plane tomorrow. They will charge you with deviancy, using the photographs as evidence. They will detain you and torture you and, when they have broken you—with drugs, if necessary—they will put you on trial. Publicly. They... they can't wait to get their hands on you. I have to stop it."

Napoleon was silent. That Nicky was telling the truth he accepted as fact. Some might question that basic premise, but he didn't. "All right," he said finally. "I have to get out of here." He reached for his communicator.

"I need an emergency exit," he said into it. "Tonight. I need an alternate way out that doesn't involve the airport. I need a place to hide until that can happen. I need the above times two. Signal Three B." He disconnected and looked at Nicky. "You ready to travel?" he asked and the boy's eyes widened.

"Yes. You won't regret it," he added. "They think I'm not too bright, but I am. I'm very bright, Mr. Solo, and I remember every detail of every trap I've ever laid. I can tell you where the secret information goes. I can tell you everything you would have been able to learn if your mission had succeeded as planned—and more. I know who they are, and who they answer to. You won't be sorry you brought me along."

Napoleon looked at him thoughtfully. "Is that so?"


"Hmm." He studied the boy for a long moment. His lips were purple now and he was shuddering violently. Napoleon frowned. "I should go in to bed," he decided. "I'll do something about the cold for you. I'll pretend to sleep and you pretend to be somewhere else. Surely they won't think of looking for you here."

"They won't look for me tonight anyway. They think I'm safely tucked away in one of their secret places, and I'm the last thing on their minds right now. Your arrest is paramount. When that falls through, when you're not at the airport, then they'll look for me. But by then..." his voice trailed off and he looked at Napoleon. Napoleon didn't hesitate.

"By then you'll be on your way to America with me. You have my word."

"Your word," Nicky echoed, and smiled. Napoleon smiled back, then went inside. He kicked the sofa again for good measure, then grabbed up the pile of blankets he had thrown to the floor earlier and hurled them out onto the balcony, slamming the door after he did so. He got clean linens out of the closet and remade the bed, throwing himself onto it in an attitude of despair and letting the night cover him.

He lay there for a long time until he heard the soft crunch of tires on gravel. Silently he slid off the bed, leaving the covers bunched up as though someone were still there. He crawled on his belly across the floor and inched the balcony door open. Very slowly he worked his body through it and closed it once more without making a sound. Nicky was curled up in the nest of blankets but he still shivered. It was well below freezing, and Napoleon shivered too as he peered through the bars of the balcony.

A black car was below them. Nicky clutched at his arm.

"It's a State car," he whispered and Napoleon couldn't tell whether it was fright or cold making him tremble now. "What if it's them?"

"We're about to find out," Napoleon said and took out his communicator again. He opened the channel but instead of speaking he just tapped it with his fingernail twice. In answer a cigarette glowed from within the car—one, two, three times. Napoleon put his lips to Nicky's ear.

"I'll go first," he breathed. "You follow right behind. But if something goes wrong, if it doesn't look the way it should, I'll drop the room key. If you see it fall, you run. Run like hell."

"No," Nicky said, and the young face was resolute. "I won't leave you. I'll help you, if you need it. Besides, where would I go? I've burned my bridges."

Napoleon didn't answer. The boy was right. Where could he go now? Instead he moved to the far end of the balcony, where Nicky had hidden, and climbed over the rail. He worked his way down, aware of Nicky following. He was surprisingly adept, quick, and graceful. Napoleon leapt lightly off the last rung and moved towards the car, hand to his weapon.

But all seemed in order, so he took Nicky by the arm and pulled him in behind him. The car was very warm—too warm, actually, but Nicky gave a moan of relief and burrowed against Napoleon's shoulders, shaking—again, from cold or fright Napoleon couldn't tell—and maybe the boy himself didn't know.

No words were spoken during the drive. They ended up at a private airfield. "We're sending you out tonight," the driver said, breaking the silence. "It will take you directly to London. Overnight there in a safe apartment, then into New York tomorrow morning. Good luck."

"Thank you," Napoleon said.

"Thank you," Nicky echoed. He held Napoleon's arm tightly as they hurried across the tarmac and climbed onto the private jet. Within minutes they were airborne and Nicky twisted in his seat, watching the diminishing lights of the city.

Napoleon watched him. How brave you are, he thought. Leaving everything familiar behind—however terrible it was, it was all you knew. Now you're casting yourself onto an uncertain future, because you trust me. And I... once I deliver you to New York, I won't see you again. I'm sure of it. They'll drain you of every bit of information you have, and then put you into some sort of protection program—school, maybe, given your age. For your own sake you can have no contact with me after that. You'll be alone—utterly alone in a foreign country. Nicky turned back around then and put his head on Napoleon's shoulder. Napoleon wrapped an arm around him and after a while, when he looked again, the boy was asleep.

The safe apartment was quiet, secure and comfortable. Soft carpet stretched out underfoot, leather sofas and chairs extended their own silent welcome. Nicky walked around wide eyed, touching the furniture, kicking off his shoes to curl his toes in the thick carpet. Napoleon watched him, amused. His own penthouse apartment was more luxurious by far, and he was as accustomed to staying in the finest hotels as in seedy dives like his most recent abode.

"Surely you've been in finer places than this," he observed when Nicky came out of the bathroom, rhapsodizing on the enormous tub. "They said you were their very best. They must have sent you to rich men on occasion."

"Yes, they did." Nicky played with the lights, turning them down, then up, then dialing them back to a muted glow. "But I couldn't do anything there. I couldn't sit on the furniture or take a bath or even do this." He stretched out full length on the floor and Napoleon laughed at him.

"A secret yearning for bourgeois luxury, comrade?" he said, and Nicky laughed back up at him.

"Don't tell," he said and Napoleon sat down beside him.

"Your subversive secret is safe with me," he assured, and Nicky sighed.

"So we're here all night long," he said contentedly. "And it's safe?" It was a question, and Napoleon answered it.

"Yes. I trust Baldwin," the head of Britain's UNCLE sector, "and he assured me personally that it was. You can—we can relax."

"Oh, good." He sighed again. Then he reached for Napoleon, ran a hand down his arm. Napoleon shook his head.

"We can't. Not anymore."

"I thought you'd say that." Nicky looked disappointed—more, he looked crushed. "It was only an assignment to you after all, wasn't it. Just one more distasteful task to perform for UNCLE."

"Hardly that," Napoleon said wryly. "I mean, it was an assignment, but hardly distasteful. And it was more. You know. You were there."

"Really?" His face brightened. "It was more than an assignment to you? It mattered—I mattered? It wasn't all an act?"

"No." Napoleon stroked his hair, spread out now on the carpet. "But it wouldn't be right to continue it. It wasn't right to start it, but the ends justify the means." He grimaced. "At least that's what they tell me."

"Why wouldn't it be right? If I want you to, I mean. And I do. Want you to."

"Because you're so young, Nicky. It wouldn't be fair to take advantage of that just because... well, just because I would like to. Look at you." He smiled at him, bemused. "You're scarcely more than a child and I'm a grown man. I took you away from that life for more reasons than the information you can give."

Nicky snorted. "I was never a child, Napoleon. And I... do you want to hear what I wish?"

Napoleon sighed. Already he had the feeling he was about to be talked into something that his conscience didn't rest easy with, despite the fact that his body wanted it urgently. And how sweet his real name sounded on the boy's lips. He had to smile at him.

"What do you wish for, Nicky? Now that you're on your way to America, what more is there?"

"I want to do it because I want it. Just once. I'd like to give pleasure, and take pleasure, because I want it. Me. It's never been about what I want before you. And even then, I was assigned to you. It's not like I could have said no. Not that I wanted to, after the first time," he added hastily. "But still—I'd like to do it without any of that being involved. No secrets. No coercion. No tapes or pictures or someone to report back to. Just you, because you want it, and me, because I want it. Because you know, Napoleon," here he rolled onto his stomach, propped his chin on his fists and regarded Napoleon seriously. "After this I don't know what's going to happen to me, but you said they wouldn't make me do that anymore."

"No." Napoleon set his jaw. "Whatever happens to you from here on out, you will not be pimped. You have —"

"I know. Your word. I have your word." Nicky smiled at him and Napoleon smiled back. They smiled at one another for a moment, and then Nicky continued.

"I don't think I'll be with anybody that way. I mean, since you probably won't be there." He looked wistful. "Or will you?"

"No. I'm sure not."

Nicky's mouth drooped. "You're the only person who's been nice to me," he said disconsolately. "The only one ever. And they're going to take me away from you and I'll never see you again."

Napoleon bit his lip. He wished he could offer some sort of assurance, but how could he, realistically. "I'm sorry," he said awkwardly.

"Are you? Are you really sorry? Do you wish we could stay together?" His eyes clung to Napoleon's face. Love me, they said plainly. Love me love me love me because no one else does. Touched, Napoleon stroked his cheek with the back of one thumb.

"Yes," he said gently. "I am sorry for that." And he was. It seemed harsh to him, too, that Nicky was to be torn from the only security he had ever known and cast adrift in a world that had been nothing but cruel to him. And his own world would be a little lonelier, too, without Nicky's smile, without his sharp wit and warm body. Love was not a commodity that had come his way so often that he could easily discard it now. "I wish things were different," he added. "But they're not, and I'm not going to lie to you and pretend that they are."

"I know." Nicky regarded him, and the adoration was back on his face. "Because you're a good man, and you'd never lie to me. I know that. That's why I'm not so afraid to be leaving you, because if you promise no one will hurt me anymore I can believe that, too. But this isn't what I started out to say."

"You were saying you won't be with anyone in that way—a sexual way, I assume you mean."

"Yes. Because..." he frowned as if trying to marshal his thoughts. "Because that's been me for as long as I can remember," he said finally. "That's all I've been good for, all anyone has ever wanted from me. I'm beautiful—right?"


"And they've taught me to do it very well—right?" There was a quick flash of a mischievous smile, and Napoleon smiled back.


"So that's all I was worth to them. But I'm more than that. I know I am. And now it's time to find out what I can do, what I can learn, what I can accomplish, and I think getting involved with that again—even if it's of my own volition, even if it's with a girl—would keep me from finding all that out. So I'm going to put it aside for a long time. Maybe even forever." He looked so solemn as he said it that Napoleon nodded with equal gravity.

"I think that's a good idea." He did. Nicky was right, he'd been defined by his sexuality his entire life. Whatever patterns he had learned couldn't be healthy ones, couldn't lead to healthy relationships.

"But before I stop, I want to do it one time because I want to. And you know what else?"

"What?" He would say yes, he knew it already. His body was alive with desire, remembering just what Nicky's mouth could do to him, what Nicky's' hands could do to him... and his heart was touched by the earnestness of Nicky's wish to have sex—just once—because he chose it. It really didn't seem too much to ask of the universe, and one more time couldn't hurt.

"I want it to come from you. I mean—I'm very good at seducing men. I can smile, or look away, or touch them... but no one's ever seduced me. I want that. I want you to... to...I don't even have words for it, but I know I want it. Please, Napoleon? It would make me feel like it wasn't only an assignment to you after all, like it was—I was—special. I've never been special to anyone. I want to know what it would feel like."

"You want to be wooed and won," Napoleon said, and his heart twisted painfully in his chest. "You're a child after all, Nicky. And I should be ashamed of myself for agreeing."

"But you do agree?" His eyes were blazing with excitement now. "You'll do it?"

"Go take a shower and when you come out, I'll show you. I'll give you the full treatment, with the clear understanding that this is the last time. The very last."

"Why? How early do we leave tomorrow?"

He had to laugh. "Early enough. Is it a deal?"

"Well..." Nicky looked at him sideways under his lashes. "I'm not making any promises. I mean, what if our plane is delayed and we have to stay over? What if it crash lands in... in Antarctica and we're all we have to keep each other warm? What if we meet again when I'm..." here he clearly groped for an age great enough to satisfy Napoleon. "Twenty?" he finished and Napoleon laughed again.

"Go shower," he repeated. "I'm not making any promises either."

"But you still promise that it will be all right. Don't you?"

"Yes." Napoleon rose and Nicky did too. He took the boy by those slim shoulders and looked squarely into his eyes. "I promise that everything will be all right."

"Good." Nicky reached up and kissed him on the cheek, quickly, lightly, then he was gone and the bathroom door closed behind him. Napoleon stood still, one hand to his face as if trying to hold the sensation there, and then he picked up the phone.

When the boy came out of the bathroom, nearly an hour later, Napoleon had laid out the dinner he had ordered, and opened the bottle of fine old burgundy. He had hesitated over the alcohol, thinking of Nicky's age, but then had decided that was ridiculous, considering everything. A large roasted chicken steamed in the center of the table, and assorted serving platters, containing mashed potatoes, gravy, broccoli with cheese sauce, cranberry sauce, and corn, surrounded it. He had turned out the lights and lit two candles, which were reflected now in Nicky's wide blue eyes. He stared at the table in obvious delight.

"Oh," he breathed, and came over, naked as he was. Napoleon came up behind him and kissed the nape of his neck. Nicky shivered, then bent his head so Napoleon could do it again. He obliged, lips moving softly along his shoulder, down one arm. He lifted the arm, kissed the thin skin on the inside of his elbow. Nicky's breathing had quickened, and his head fell back so it was an easy matter to turn him, kiss his throat, moving up now, behind his ear, across his cheek until their lips met.

The world seemed to fall away then and there was nothing except this dizzying exaltation, this warm melting place where they held on to one another, kissed one another, belonged to one another. It was frightening to Napoleon, who had always kept his sex life rigorously separated from his personal life, but he had resolved to do nothing to jar this moment, to break this mood, so he only held that thin, hard body closer to his and, when Nicky's lips parted, he delved in.

Nicky sucked on his tongue, softly, and Napoleon could feel his erection pressing against his own, their two erections as close as their two bodies were, as close as their souls.

Then the boy's stomach rumbled and, startled, Napoleon laughed into his open mouth. Nicky laughed too.

"As hungry as that, are you?" Napoleon teased, and Nicky nodded.

"Yes. As hungry as that. And it looks wonderful, Napoleon. You did all that for me?"

"For you, my l..." he stopped himself just in time, appalled at the forbidden endearment that had almost escaped his lips. "My sweet," he finished awkwardly, hating the old movie sound of it but it was better than the other word, the word that would have promised all sorts of things he couldn't possibly deliver. But Nicky didn't seem to notice anything amiss, smiling up at him with that disconcerting adoration written plainly across his face. Napoleon smiled back.

They sat across from one another and Napoleon watched Nicky eat, amused again, as always, by the single mindedness with which he did so. Clearly, flirtation and seduction were to be set aside during the all important business of consuming as much of his meal as was humanly possible. Napoleon therefore let it go, refilling Nicky's plate when it emptied, getting up to fetch more gravy when the dish ran dry, sipping his own wine, eating his own food. The candles flickered, making Nicky's hair seem alive, like a fire of its own, sparks of red and deep gold and a pale wheaten color that made Napoleon want to touch it, to bury both hands in it, to put his face in it and inhale its scent. Nicky kept impatiently pushing it behind his shoulders as he ate and Napoleon finally got up, came around behind him and gathered it up, holding it back, bending over to indulge his desire for its texture and its wild grass scent. Nicky kept right on eating, although the contented smile that curved his mouth showed the attentions were not unpleasant to him, quite the contrary. He tipped his head to one side so Napoleon's hot breath was in his ear again, and that broke his concentration on his food. He dropped his fork, gasped sharply and then sat very still, as if fearing to end the moment by moving.

Napoleon lifted him from the chair by his elbows, cradling him, and his penis nudged against that hard, tight bottom. Nicky arched against him and Napoleon turned him around so they were facing one another. Nicky made a soft sound of protest and Napoleon shook his head.

"No," he said. "Not that. You're too young, it wouldn't be right. No."

"I want to know how it would feel," Nicky whispered, breath hot against Napoleon's flesh. "How would it feel, if you wanted me to like it too. If you don't—I may never know. All I'll know is them."

Napoleon smiled into his hair. "Surely the opportunity will arise again, at some point in your life. You're only—what, Nicky? How old are you really? And please don't ask me how old I want you to be. Just tell me."


"Fifteen," Napoleon repeated numbly. He had almost managed to convince himself that if Nicky wasn't exactly of age, then he was close. But fifteen—"You're a child," he said aloud and, when Nicky shook his head, he forestalled the words he knew he would hear. "No matter what you say about never having been one. Fifteen. You should still be in high school, taking girls out to a drive in movie. You should still have a curfew, and homework. You should —"

"Thank you," Nicky said sharply. "Thank you for pointing out everything I've missed, and am still missing. I should have parents who care about me too, shouldn't I? And a home. But I have none of that. I never have. All I've had is brutality and humiliation and pain. I might have forgotten that for a little while here, tonight, in your arms. So thank you very much for shoving my face in it again." He was stiff now in the embrace and Napoleon, filled with remorse and grief, pressed his head back down and rocked him a little, as he had that very first morning.

"I'm sorry." He was. He was desperately sorry. "But I'm still not going to... to..." he groped for an acceptable way of describing anal intercourse and again Nicky's voice snapped back.

"Fuck me? You won't fuck me? Too many before you? I'm damaged goods, I know that... what is your charming American expression for it? Sloppy seconds? Sloppy two hundred and thirty-firsts? I'll suck you then. That certainly shouldn't trouble your conscience. It didn't before. It —" Napoleon kissed him, stopping the flood of angry words, stopping this downward spiral before it ruined everything, ruined what he knew Nicky needed, to be cherished and made... made love to one last time before they parted. So he kissed that young, sweet mouth, kissed it until it softened, until Nicky's stance softened too, and he put his arms around Napoleon's neck and kissed him back.

Napoleon lifted him off his feet and carried him over to the bed. He had wondered, when planning this out, if that wasn't a bit much, a bit over the top, but now that the moment had come it flowed naturally out of the rest of it. He carried Nicky to the bed, laid him down, stripped off his own clothes and joined him there. Their bodies came together with the ease of long practice, and when Nicky tried to fondle him Napoleon took his hand and pressed it back down onto the mattress.

"Let me," he whispered, as he had once before. "Let me... let me love you." The forbidden word came after all, came easily and Nicky made an inarticulate sound and spread his arms wide on the bed, opened his legs wide, exposing himself, giving himself to love.

And Napoleon did love him, loved him well. He caressed and kissed every inch of him, from those narrow high arched feet to the crown of that golden head. He slid his hands up the fine bones of his legs, kissed the exquisitely tender flesh of his inner thighs. He turned him over and stroked his buttocks, hard and muscled, skin so soft, and so sensitive. The backs of his knees were, too, incredibly sensitive and Napoleon pressed warm wet kisses there, making him cry out, making him moan. Napoleon turned him again and began at the top, his ears first because he knew Nicky loved that, and indeed he pressed his head closer to Napoleon, closer, crying aloud in frustration when Napoleon stopped and left a trail of kisses across his neck to his other ear, kissing that too. Then he moved down, tonguing his nipples until they were hard as little pebbles under the rose velvet skin, down his abdomen to where his cock rose from its nest of sunlight colored curls. He sucked Nicky softly, feeling Nicky's hands in his hair, making him shiver. He drew Nicky's balls into his mouth, one at a time, rolling them with his tongue, reaching around to tease his entrance with one finger, feeling it tighten then open, wanting, but now was not the time so he moved up once more, stretching out full length on top.

Their organs rubbed cozily together, their mouths were sealed together, their hips moved together, and when the finish came they came together, hoarse broken exclamations kept within one another's open mouths, arms clutching tight, fingers digging deep, warm wetness spreading against one another's abdomens, love spreading too, growing until it consumed them in its furnace, leaving them nothing but the other, clutching at the other, holding on fast to the other, heavy and lax and sweaty, against the other.

Sleep came quickly, taking them just like that, tangled up together, damp with sweat and love, and neither one stirred until the wake up call came the next morning.

They had to hurry to shower and get ready, so there was, as Napoleon had predicted, no time for anything else. But he stopped Nicky at the door, stopped him despite the toot of the horn telling them their car was ready to take them to the airport. "I will never forget you," he said. "New York will be busy and we probably won't get to be alone again, so I want to say this now."

"But you'll be with me, right?" Nicky looked horrified. "You're not just dropping me off and leaving, are you? What are they going to do to me? How will they... please don't leave me, Napoleon! I'm afraid they'll hurt me, and send me back when they're done with me! I know you said... but if you're not there? Please..." he was gripping Napoleon with all his strength now and Napoleon held him too, rubbing his back.

"I won't leave you until everything is settled to your satisfaction. I promise. But we won't be left alone, I'm sure of it, and it has to be business now if they're going to take me seriously at all. And I want to tell you something now, before... well, before."

"Before it has to be all business."

"Yes. Here." He handed Nicky his card and the boy looked at it, raised an eyebrow.

"Napoleon Solo. New York, New York. Hardly very helpful."

"Look on the back."

Nicky did, and they both regarded Napoleon's phone numbers, his home and his work number.

"If you need me, call me. I will drop everything to help you. You have my word on that, too."

"All right." Nicky put it in his pocket. "Thank you."

"You have your whole life in front of you, Nicky. I am quite sure UNCLE will offer you an education. Take it. You're smart, as you've told me. Take it and run with it. The world is very wide, and your choices limitless. I wish you nothing but the best, and I hope with all my heart that nothing I have done has... has damaged you, or hurt you in any way."

"No. You found me, you saved me, and you loved me. If a man like you—an honorable man, a good man, can love me then I must be worth it. I will never forget you either. And I will do my utmost to be worthy of your regard. I will not look back. I will take my education, and my life. You have my word."

Napoleon kissed his forehead, a brief benediction, a close to this chapter in their lives, and picked up his suitcase again. He held the door for Nicky, and they walked out, into the next thing.

They didn't speak of personal matters again. That was over. So Napoleon had resolved, and he kept to his resolve. They spoke of the traffic in London, of the disconcertingly bumpy flight to New York. Nicky had tied his hair tightly behind him and tucked the ponytail into the jacket of his charcoal grey suit. Napoleon was in his usual business attire. They attracted no attention, and that was how both wanted it. But as the plane banked into its approach to New York, Napoleon tapped on the window.

"Look," he said, and Nicky leaned over and gazed down on the Statue of Liberty, guarding New York harbor.

"Oh," he said, and stared some more. Napoleon watched him, that pure, clean profile, those long lashes. "Is that for me," Nicky whispered, as if to himself. "Can that be for me? Or will they interrogate me and put me on the next plane back to Russia?"

"Over my dead body," Napoleon said levelly and Nicky turned that blue stare on him. Their eyes held, then Nicky looked down.

"Thank you," he said finally. "But do you... do you really think it will come to that?"

"No. I've spoken to Mr. Waverly already. He is a man of honor, and he assures me that you have nothing to fear."

"And you trust him?"

"I trust him," Napoleon agreed.

"Oh." He said nothing further, returning to the window. He watched it all approach, and then there was a bump and they were down.

Two agents Napoleon recognized met them at the gate. Nicky drew closer to him, and Napoleon took his arm, held it against his side. "It's all right," he whispered and Nicky nodded, but his body was taut, quivering with tension. Napoleon patted his back, and guided him into the private car waiting at the curb.

They said nothing all the way into Manhattan. Napoleon had greeted their escort, made polite introductions and Nicky had responded with equal courtesy, but after that there was nothing to say to one another so they said nothing. They were dropped off outside Del Floria's, and Nicky stopped, looking up and around in open wonder. "Oh," he said again. "It's... I had no idea." He craned his neck back and turned in a circle. "I love it," he whispered finally. "It's..." then he flushed painfully. "And I'm gawking like I have no sense," he said and Napoleon smiled down into his face.

"No, you're fine. New Yorkers gawk all the time. It's the tourists who are afraid to be caught staring. But it's not a good idea to linger out here. Come on."

Without another word Nicky followed him down the little steps and into the tailor shop. He looked puzzled when they went behind the curtain, but when Napoleon pulled the lever and the door slid open he gulped audibly, and moved even closer to him. The receptionist smiled at them both.

"Well, Napoleon. Back in one piece I see." She put his badge on his lapel, grazing his neck with her nails as she did so, and he winked at her. Then she smiled at Nicky. "Hello, sweetie. Lean in, I have to put this on you myself." She did so, then smiled again.

"Mr. Waverly is waiting for you both in his office."

"Thank you, Lois." He gave her a final lingering look, and led Nicky into the depths of UNCLE headquarters.

They went through halls, and up in the elevator. More halls and then the door slid open and Alexander Waverly rose to greet them.

"Mr. Solo. Well done. The original plan may have miscarried, but if what you say is true, what you have accomplished is far more valuable. Is this the young man in question?"

"Yes, sir. Alexander Waverly, this is Nicky. Nicky—Mr. Waverly."

Waverly extended his hand and Nicky took it, allowed the brief contact, then, when released, wrapped both arms around Napoleon's upper arm and held on tight. "He said you won't hurt me," he blurted out. "He promised you won't drug me, or torture me. You don't have to—I'm here willingly. I'll tell you everything I know. And he said—he said you won't send me back when you're finished with me. He said you'd help me have a life—a real life." He was trembling so hard that Napoleon would have put an arm around him if he could have, but Nicky's grip was too tight. He was losing the feeling in his hand, but didn't try to disengage. The boy had every right to be terrified.

"I assure you," Waverly said gently, "that we have every intention of keeping Mr. Solo's agreement. You will not be drugged, or injured in any way. You will be questioned thoroughly, and you may find it intrusive, or even offensive. You will certainly find it exhausting. But you will not be harmed. You have my word."

"Your word?" Nicky considered Alexander Waverly for a moment then, incredibly, he smiled. It was a small smile, but it was real. Waverly smiled back.

"And after that you will spend the night here. We have sleep rooms available. You will be quite comfortable."

"And alone?" Nicky's voice had sharpened slightly and Waverly cocked an eyebrow at him.

"Yes," he answered. "You will sleep alone. Your room will have a single bed only—we don't pamper our agents—but there will be private toilet facilities as well. Showers are open to anyone who needs them, but all you have to do is draw the curtain in your stall and no one will trouble you. And tomorrow you will take a battery of standardized tests, to see where you belong educationally. We will send you to school, all expenses paid through college. Graduate school as well, if you desire. Mr. Solo has taken responsibility for you in UNCLE's name, and we will honor that. Does all of that suit?"

"Oh, yes." Nicky looked very young, suddenly, gazing wide eyed at Alexander Waverly as his future was handed to him on a plate, as a life—a real life, as he had said—opened before him.

"Do you have any questions, or concerns?"

"Can he be with me? When they ask me questions?" His grip tightened on Napoleon's arm and Napoleon squeezed him with it, knowing before Waverly said it what the answer would be.

"No. It is best that you have no further contact with Mr. Solo, for your own safety. They may well be trying to track you, and we don't want them to be able to do so through him."


"Be of good courage, young man," Waverly said quietly. "The worst is behind you now. You will see."

"All right." It was said reluctantly, but Nicky released Napoleon's arm, lifting his chin as he did so.

"Nicky has more courage than anyone I've ever known," Napoleon said, and was shaken by the gratitude in the look he got. "But I think he would also like to know about his meals," he continued, and Nicky's eyes brightened. Clearly he hadn't wanted to appear to be asking for more than had already been offered, but Napoleon knew him well enough to know that would be a priority.

"Whenever you like," Waverly answered and Napoleon caught a twinkle in those eyes. "You have an open account at the cafeteria. I will have your escort take you by there before your debriefing, if you are hungry now, and then you will be able to find it for yourself. Just tell them you are on guest account seven-two-nine. Or you can call from your room, and a tray will be delivered if you prefer."

"Really? Any time I want? As much as I want?"

"Any time at all, as much as you desire," Waverly agreed.

"Thank you. Sir," he added earnestly. "I... I will do my utmost to live up to your faith in me, Mr. Waverly. I will do well in school, I am sure of it. I will strive to be worthy of you—of both of you," he said, looking at Napoleon now. Napoleon smiled at him.

"It is time to say your goodbyes to Mr. Solo." Waverly's voice was still gentle, but firm.

Napoleon put both hands on Nicky's shoulders. Best done quickly, he thought. "Nicky—I wish you all the very best."

"You too." Nicky's eyes were too bright, but his mouth was set firmly against any undue emotional display. "I can never thank you enough."

"Me too, Nicky. You saved my life. I won't forget that. You have my card." He ignored Waverly's raised eyebrows. "If you ever need me, call me."

"I will. I mean, I won't if I don't have to, but if I need you—if they find me—I'll call you."

Although he had not planned on it, Napoleon pulled him in for a hug. Nicky stood in the embrace for a moment, then put his head down on Napoleon's shoulder. Napoleon patted his back. "Take care," he said, turned and went through the door without looking back. He heard it close behind him, and exhaled.

It was an odd mixture of emotions swirling through him. A strong sense of loss, and a strong feeling of relief. He had accepted this responsibility, and it had weighed on him. Now it was off his shoulders. He needn't worry about Nicky, he would be well taken care of—schooled, and set on whatever vocational path he chose. Yes, he was relieved. But he would miss the boy too, miss his sharp wit, their easy companionship, the wide ranging conversations. He would miss that lithe body against his, those warm lips under his, the engaging smile, the blue eyes. He smiled a little. He needed a woman, he decided. A woman for tonight, a new assignment for tomorrow, and he too would move on with his life.

Napoleon Solo, CEA of UNCLE New York, tossed the file folder down with a scowl. It was the record of a fellow agent—a new agent, just out of training. Twenty-two years old, with an impressive background, an excellent education, and stellar ratings from all his instructors. Nothing in any of that to scowl about, but Napoleon was scowling anyway. Waverly had given him the file folder that morning, with a tart comment.

"Your new partner, Mr. Solo. And I want it to work out this time. I am counting on you to see that it does. I want no more complaints about your harshness, your impatience, your lack of tolerance—your inhumanity. I want this to work."

"I don't want a partner." Napoleon didn't quite dare to scowl at Alexander Waverly, but his voice clearly showed his displeasure. "And I am neither intolerant nor inhuman. I give my utmost to this job, and I expect nothing less from those under me. It is hardly my fault if they fall short."

"Mr. Kuryakin is the best agent to come along in many years."

"The best student," Napoleon corrected. "Nothing can predict how someone will do in actual field conditions. And he's too young. Too inexperienced for the assignments I am generally given. He will be a hindrance."

"He has the potential to be an enormous asset to this organization. I am placing the responsibility for developing that potential on you. And I do not wish to debate the matter further. It is decided. Do you understand me, Mr. Solo?"

"Yes sir." Under Waverly's disapproving stare he abandoned the argument, donning a noncommittal gaze. "You have made yourself very clear."

"Good. You meet with him in an hour, in your office. After that meeting, Mr. Solo, you may wonder afresh why I assigned you two together. You may wonder if I appreciate all the ramifications of this pairing. Be assured that I do. The accusation that you are losing your humanity in your current position is not entirely without merit. I don't like seeing it. In fact I rather miss the brash young man who scooped up a KGB lure and brought him all the way to New York. I find myself wondering if you would do the same thing today."

Napoleon's lips tightened. But he only said again, "Yes sir."

"Leave some time free this evening. You may want to discuss your new working arrangements further—over dinner, for example."

"I'll be damned if I'll —" as Waverly's eyebrows drew together he backed down. "If necessary," he agreed.


So now he stood in his office and glared at the inoffensive file folder. Dinner hell. He'd give Illya Kuryakin his first set of orders—type up and file the overdue reports currently overflowing Napoleon's in basket, then research all of Napoleon's cases over the past year, drawing up an analysis of their success or failure, including details of how he felt he could have contributed to the former, or how he could have prevented the latter. Then he could go through the daily updates of the current world situation going back six months. That should keep him busy and out of Napoleon's hair for a while—too busy for dinner out, that was for damn sure.

A tap at his door made his scowl deepen. There was a perfectly adequate buzzer system that was there to be used. He wasn't about to start listening for random taps and knocks. "Come in." His voice was sharp, sharper than even he had intended, but he put both hands on his hips and prepared to carry this through in the same tone.

Illya Kuryakin came in and let the door close behind him. Blue eyes met his levelly and a mane of blond hair caught the light from the ceiling fixture. His face was taut and nervous, but in a moment his lips curved into a small smile, which widened. Napoleon wondered why, then realized that he himself was smiling too—grinning, in fact. He gave a shout of delighted recognition.

"Nicky! I'll be damned... Nicky!" Before he even had time to think it through he had closed the distance between them in two strides and caught the younger man into his arms. Nicky laughed and hugged him back.

"You are glad it's me—Mr. Waverly said you would be, but I wasn't sure. Oh Napoleon." He squeezed Napoleon, and Napoleon squeezed him back. "I'm so glad to see you."

"And I am more than glad to see you. Let me look at you." He put Nicky back and looked him up and down. "Nickovetch," he said in realization. "Illya Nickovetch Kuryakin."


"I guess I'd better get used to calling you Illya. So you did give me your real name—in a sense."

"In a sense," Illya agreed. "It was more than I ever gave anyone else."

"And you're my new partner?"

"Yes. If you'll have me."

"If? Of course I'll have you. So this is your record?" He stepped back and tapped the file folder. "Very impressive."

"Thank you."

"How did this come about? Last time I saw you you were heading off to high school. And now..." he looked Nicky—Illya, he corrected himself—over again. How beautiful he was, still. A man's beauty now, although that adolescent boy's loveliness still shone in his eyes, still flushed up his cheeks. The blond hair merely brushed his collar, instead of cascading down his back, but the lights struck sparks from it as before. He was slim still—he would never be a large man—but his shoulders were broader, his hands bigger.

"Now I am here," Illya said, and smiled. "UNCLE put me through school, and accepted me for training. I was successful..." here he made a little bow towards the file folder still lying on Napoleon's desk. Napoleon smiled back.

"You certainly were. Survival School may never be the same."

"It didn't need to be," Illya said dryly. "And then I told Waverly I wanted New York. I've never forgotten looking at the Statue of Liberty, and hoping it was for me. I never forgot those skyscrapers, and you telling me New Yorkers look at them all the time. I never forgot you." He said that very simply and Napoleon reached out, took his hand.

"I never forgot you either," he said, and Illya's fingers curled around his own. Napoleon squeezed them. "Did you ask to be assigned to me? I still can't quite believe Waverly did this." All the ramifications, Waverly had said. I am aware of all the ramifications.

"No. I wouldn't have dared. But when I saw what he'd done, I was glad. I hoped you would be too."

"I am. I think—I think we will do well together."

"Good." The electricity was coursing through their hands, running along Napoleon's spine, up to raise the hairs at the back of his neck, down to his groin, raising something there too. He swallowed.

"Are you hungry?" he asked and suddenly thought of Waverly suggesting he take his new partner out to dinner, and his indignant response. He had to laugh, and Illya laughed back at him.

"Yes. I've been a little nervous about this, so I missed breakfast and lunch. I'm starving."

"Well then..." he extended his arm towards the door and Illya released his hand and walked through it.

"Are we going to end up in bed together tonight?" Napoleon asked over the pre dinner wine. He wanted to get everything straight between them before the food came, because once it did he was sure he'd lose Illya's attention for the duration of the meal. And how easy it was to think of him that way. Illya. Illya Kuryakin, his new partner.

"If you still want to." Illya looked at him shyly. "I haven't been with anyone since you. Remember I said I was going to take a break from it? Well, I did. And then when I realized I was coming back here after all, I waited for you. It seemed appropriate, to end and then begin again with you."

"No one in all that time? You must be ready for it."

"I haven't thought about it until now, not really."

"And now that you have?" He moved his foot under the table until it grazed Illya's ankle and he jumped.

"I can't wait," he whispered, and then looked away.

"Me neither," Napoleon answered honestly, and then stopped talking because the waiter was laying down plates. As he'd expected Illya turned his attention to the food and conversation was halted, but that was all right because it gave him full opportunity to study him, those long lashes still lying on the clear delicate skin under his eyes, those high elegant cheekbones, that pure clean line of jaw and chin still giving him the look of a Russian prince. And he'd waited... all these years, he had waited. For him, Napoleon Solo. For his touch, his lips, his cock. It swelled in his pants and he had to shift position a little to accommodate it.

"We need to keep it light, though," he said, when dinner was cleared away and they had given their dessert order. "We don't dare let it become too intense because our enemies would use it—use us, against one another. I'll keep dating women..."

"I know. Napoleon Solo, the great womanizer. Your fame has gone ahead of you. I might not particularly like that, but it will be all right."

"And you?"

"Oh, I'll be out there too. I've never been with a woman—that will be interesting. But no more men. Just you. And the same needs to go for you."

"I haven't..." but under that suddenly steel blue stare he couldn't lie. There had been men since Illya, few and far between but once he'd learned he could like that, did like it, there had been times—Sabine for one and there had been others, dangerous handsome men. They had met and clashed as equals and it had been wildly exciting. But he gave it up now without a second thought. "Deal. No other men for either of us. Just women." He felt the need to strike back, just a little. "Lots of women."

"Done." Illya extended a hand, and Napoleon shook it across the table.

"Ready to leave?" he asked, and was surprised that his voice was hoarse. Illya arched an eyebrow at him.

"Are you mad? I haven't gotten my cheesecake yet."

"After dessert then. Right after."

"What about the after dinner brandy? I see they have Martell Extra. I've always wanted to try it, and I understand that you are extremely wealthy."

"Wealthy enough to order a bottle of that to take with us." When the waiter returned with their cheesecake Napoleon did just that. "We can have it at my apartment... afterwards."

Illya was watching him with a little smile now. He looked entirely cool and collected, and only that telltale flush gave him away. "I want you to fuck me," he said softly and Napoleon knocked over his water glass. It was nearly empty, but there was still a little flurry as the waiter hurried over and mopped it up, offered elaborate apologies as if he had been the one to wet the tablecloth, and brought him a fresh glass of water and a new napkin. Illya only sat and smiled, eating cheesecake, licking a dab of raspberry jam off his upper lip. Napoleon nearly spilled his water again, seeing that.

"Are you sure?" he said instead.

"Yes. I understand why you wouldn't before, but I'm twenty-two now. You've been with women younger than I am. Surely your scruples can be laid to rest. And I..." he leaned across the table, eyes intense. "I've thought about it, dreamed about it, wondered... and wished. Tonight. I want you inside me tonight."

"Let's go," Napoleon said. "I'll buy you more cheesecake. I'll buy you a whole damn bakery. Let's go now."

"Don't you have to pay the check?"

"Not here. They know me. They'll put it on my bill. Come on, Illya, out of that chair. Don't make me hurt you." He was sorry as soon as he said it, those light jesting words that resonated so strongly from Illya's past. But Illya only smiled at him again, pushing back his chair.

"You won't," he said, and Napoleon shook his head.

"No. I won't. You have my word."

"Your word. Yes. I have your word." Illya left the cheesecake then without a backward look and walked towards the exit. Napoleon followed, clutching the bottle of old brandy in one hand, already digging his car keys out of his pocket with the other.

He wanted to take it slow, to make it last. To make this time, of all the times, good for Illya as well as for him. Illya was counting on that, he knew, counting on him to make this act, this act which had always meant pain and fear and hatred and shame, good. But when Illya began pulling at his clothes, unbuttoning his shirt, unzipping his pants, putting one hand inside and caressing him through his shorts, he returned the favor; more, he tore at Illya's garments, ripping the shirt right off of him, sending buttons flying. And Illya didn't seem to mind, he gasped out Napoleon's name and ground against him with all the fervor of a healthy young man who had gone years—years, Napoleon thought—without. Well, surely not entirely without. But without a partner. And now he was that chosen partner and what was he doing? Why was he being so rough? He forced himself to stop and Illya groaned aloud against his neck.

"What... why... touch me, Napoleon. Now. Do it now."

"Not like this," Napoleon managed, and marveled at his voice, hoarse, scratchy. "It'll hurt you like this. I don't want to—I won't—hurt you. Slow down, Illya, or I'll never be able to..." Illya squeezed him and he abandoned speech, abandoned thought. Instead he grabbed Illya by the arm and hustled him into the bedroom, half dressed as he was, stumbling over his pants, pausing to kick them aside. They fell onto the bed together, reaching for one another, grabbing and pulling and pumping...

And coming. Napoleon cried aloud hoarsely and Illya cried out too, wordless sounds of passion and desire and completion. They finally sank back, gasping and panting and Napoleon could feel his heart racing. He rolled over and rested his cheek on Illya's smooth chest, and Illya's heart was pounding too. It slowed as they lay there, and finally Napoleon gained the strength to gasp "What the hell was that?"

"Mmm." Illya stretched under him. "If you don't know, Napoleon... oh, that was good." He sighed. "It's been so long, and now here we are." He put his arms around Napoleon's waist and hugged him.

"Here we are," Napoleon repeated. "But surely you've not gone entirely without all these years. Surely you've..."

"Surely I have," Illya said, and laughed. It was an infectious sound, and Napoleon laughed too. "It was actually very pleasant, using all my well honed skills on myself. And when it was over I could just roll over and go to sleep, or get something to eat, or read... whatever I wanted. Whenever I wanted. I liked that. But this..." he ran one hand along Napoleon's spine and Napoleon shivered. "This is even better."

"I wouldn't mind seeing that one of these times," Napoleon whispered in his ear, and this time it was Illya who shivered. "Watching you touch yourself, watching your face... yes. One of these times."

"When? Not tonight, Napoleon. I've waited too long for you, to feel you inside of me."

"Not tonight," Napoleon agreed. "But when we're... oh, let's say we're on a mission. On a mission and sharing a hotel room—but not a bed, because we can't do this, you know, when we're working. But lying in twin beds, you could... and I could watch. And then I could... and you could watch."

"Or snore," Illya said and laughed again. "I get pretty sleepy afterwards."

"You're not sleepy now."

"No. And probably I wouldn't be then. Probably I'd want to do it again, after I saw you."

"And then I'd want to do it again. And when we'd get any sleep I don't know." And had Waverly considered the ramifications of that? he wondered, and laughed some more. He felt younger, lighter, more alive than he had in years. More... human. He smiled into those blue eyes, which smiled back at him invitingly. "Hold that thought," he whispered, and got out of bed. He washed his hands and Illya came in behind him to do the same. They washed one another off and Napoleon changed the sheets. Illya helped, and when the bed was freshly made up he climbed in while Napoleon brought a tray with the brandy bottle and two snifters on it. They drank brandy and stroked one another, toyed with one another's genitals, light brushes of contact, and soon enough Napoleon set his glass aside and reached over to get the lubricant from his bedside table.

"You come prepared," Illya observed, watching him set it on top of the table, within easy reach, top loosened.

"Not my first time," Napoleon answered. It was true. He had done this often enough—never with his infrequent male liaisons, because neither of them were inclined to trust the other that far, but there were enough women who liked it so he knew what he was doing. "I won't hurt you."

"I know. What do you want me to do?"

"Just lie there," Napoleon whispered. He lay down beside Illya again, and stroked that soft blond hair back from his face. "Just lie there and let me... let me make love to you. Slow, sweet..." he kissed Illya's cheek... "love."

"Yes," Illya whispered back. He turned his head so Napoleon's lips could wander across his face and shuddered violently when they reached his ear. "Love me."

Napoleon didn't answer. He was exploring the inside of his ear, tongue delicately tracing the whorls and hidden darkness, hearing Illya gasp something incoherent. He did the same with the other ear, then began drifting down, down his body.

Illya was hard everywhere, shoulders, chest, abdomen. Napoleon wouldn't have needed to see those unarmed combat ratings to know he'd be hell on wheels in a fight. But his skin was so soft... he rubbed his cheek against it, feeling the scratchiness of his whiskers, hearing Illya murmur something, hand coming up to touch Napoleon's hair. Hard muscles, soft skin—Napoleon was lost in the pleasure of him, lost in his scent, his taste, his sweetness. He bypassed the erect organ, which was straining towards him as if pleading for his touch, and nuzzled the inside of Illya's thighs instead, cheeks scratchy there as well and Illya clamped them around his head, squeezing. Napoleon wrapped both arms around his hips, squeezing too, and then he sat up and turned him over.

Illya's ass was hard as well, and his skin was even softer there. Napoleon stroked him, lightly, watching him writhe under it, hands clutching at the sheets, face buried in the pillow. Napoleon spread him wide, thumbs digging in, not hard enough to hurt, but hard enough to signal that something different was coming now, and Illya arched upwards towards it, welcoming it, welcoming him. Napoleon tongued the entrance and now he could hear the smothered sounds Illya was making into the pillow, broken exclamations, moving now, thrusting forward into the mattress, backwards against Napoleon's mouth.

He was a hot flower of flesh against Napoleon's lips, and Napoleon teased him, dipping in, planting wet kisses there, still stroking his buttocks lightly and then he reached for the lubricant.

He applied it to Illya first, finger dipping in, coating him from the inside, sliding around the rim, then he put it on his cock, which was throbbing and swollen and nearly painful now. He felt he might swoon at that cool caress but he didn't, he stretched out flat on top of Illya, full weight, probed, and entered.

He did it very slowly, feeling Illya twitch against him, helpless and willing, trying to press back, to get him in deeper, faster, but Napoleon was relentless; slow, so slow, until finally he was all the way in, fully encased, and then he just lay there, giving Illya time to adjust to his size, giving Illya time to catch up, and then he reached around, underneath Illya's belly and grasped him.

He kept it slow at first, thrusting and pumping, using the same rhythm for them both despite Illya's now frantic attempts to speed things up. After a little while he increased the pace until finally he was pounding into Illya and Illya was thrusting forward into his hand, back against his groin, both of them thrusting, Illya screaming into the pillow, Napoleon screaming into his hair and then there was a frozen exquisite moment on the top of the precipice. Both stopped moving and they hung there, barely able to breathe, and then they fell over into ecstasy.

There was nothing but ecstasy, no thought, no language, no awareness of self as distinct from the other, just throbbing glory. It pulsed around them, in them, wildly at first then more evenly, then it was faint ripples spreading outward from that deep hidden place where they were joined. Joined, and made one.

Napoleon pushed himself over and fell onto his back on the bed beside Illya. He reached out immediately, because the separation was intolerable, reaching and finding, drawing close and holding on. Illya turned into the embrace and clung to him, chest heaving in what almost sounded like sobs unless you looked into his face. Napoleon did, and that same glory was reflected there, eyes wide and shining like stars, a hectic brilliant flush on his cheekbones. Even his mouth seemed redder than usual and Napoleon kissed him, kissed him long and deep, their lips clinging as their bodies had, their tongues entwined as their bodies were, their souls as one.

Sleep took them without warning, pulled them down with its warm dark undertow and they went without struggle, bodies pressed close, Illya's head on Napoleon's shoulder, both still holding on, one to the other. They slept.

They showered together the next morning before work. Illya washed Napoleon all over, hands unexpectedly tender, as if it were Napoleon who needed shielding, Napoleon the one who was new to the job and uncertain. He went down on his knees towards the end, washing Napoleon's legs, his feet. Napoleon looked down at that bent blond head, water droplets running off and down his back and was aroused again, with an urgency he hadn't experienced in all the years since they had been together. He bent over and cupped Illya's elbows in both hands, lifted him to his feet. Then he put his hands around that slim waist and lifted him again, Illya helping him, wrapping his legs around Napoleon's waist, his arms around Napoleon's neck, letting Napoleon cradle his buttocks, lowering him slowly onto Napoleon's hard shaft.

Illya was light still—not as light as he had been as an adolescent because he was all muscle now, and muscle was heavier than it seemed, but light enough that Napoleon supported him with ease, bracing him against the shower wall. Illya squeezed him, all along the length of him and Napoleon groaned and came, fast, explosively fast.

When it was finished he let Illya slide down and leaned his arms on the wall, head resting on them, and panted. It took him a while to recover but when he did he became aware that he had been too fast, that Illya hadn't had time to catch up, that Illya was still hard, standing there watching him, cock straining towards him. Napoleon smiled and reached for it, took it in his hand, explored every inch of it, hand drifting downward, exploring Illya there too, his balls, drawn up tight and hard under the soft skin containing them, the delicate place underneath. Illya thrust against his hand, making soft pleading sounds that cut Napoleon like a knife into butter. He answered without words, down on his knees now, drawing Illya into his mouth, deep into his throat, still caressing him, sucking and swallowing and caressing, hearing Illya's shout of pleasure, filled with pleasure himself.

Afterwards Napoleon toweled Illya's hair dry, smiling to himself as Illya tipped his head back, nearly purring under his attentions. Then he sighed, put the towel aside and regarded Illya. Illya stared back at him.

"Well," Napoleon said finally. He had to laugh, a short, almost painful sound. "I'm certainly glad we're keeping this light. I don't know how I could cope with intensity if this is..." he couldn't keep it up, couldn't make a joke out of it so he took Illya into his arms again, feeling Illya melt against him as if he belonged there, as if they belonged together.

And they did. He knew it absolutely. He and Illya belonged together. And someday, maybe... but in between now and someday there were—hopefully—a lot of years, a lot of adventure and danger, and during those years they had to diffuse this somehow. They had to.

"Don't worry so much, Napoleon," Illya said, voice muffled in Napoleon's throat. "You'll date, and I'll date, and we'll live in our separate apartments and only come together when we're both off duty and it will be all right. No one will know."

"They'll wonder..."

"Let them wonder. They won't know for sure, and that's all that matters. I won't like seeing you date, and I'll say rude things to you about it, but only you and I will know the real reason."

"I won't like seeing you date either. I'll be pissed off, and jealous..."

"As long as they think you're jealous of me, not for me, we'll be fine. Hiding things is our business, after all."

"Yes." Napoleon smiled briefly into Illya's hair. "But underneath everything else, underneath all the womanizing and the hiding, there will only be you."

"And for me as well. Only you, Napoleon." He kissed Napoleon's neck. "Only ever you."

"My love." Napoleon held him harder against the image of danger, against the coming years, against the clock on the wall which even now was telling them they had to hurry up and leave for work. "My love," he repeated, and Illya nodded.

"I love you too Napoleon," he said and again that curious tenderness was in his voice. "And in between now and someday, we'll save the world."

"We'll save the world," Napoleon echoed and they separated, dressed, and left Napoleon's apartment to do just that.

Napoleon found the memo on his desk when he returned from lunch. He had lunched alone, but in a state of contented anticipation. He and Illya were not on a mission, his only assignment that day was to get through the paperwork that had accumulated the last time they had been away, and Illya was spending the day doing translator's duty for a party of visiting Eastern European officials. So both would get off at a reasonable hour, and they had already planned to rendezvous at Napoleon's apartment for dinner, drinks and whatever came next. Just picturing what would doubtless come next made Napoleon's pants feel too tight. He grinned at himself. Like a teenager, he thought, amused. Like a horny teenager on a Friday night.

He and Illya had been field partners now for five years, and their passion still burned brightly, white hot and dangerous. Perhaps it was the danger that made it so exciting, but Napoleon rather hoped not. Because one day—sooner rather than later, probably—the field work would be over and they would face their future. Napoleon assumed they would face that future together. He and Illya never discussed it because there was no sense in tempting fate, but he believed that Illya felt the same way. So Napoleon hoped there was more to it than danger, more to it than adrenaline, because if not, then once that ended where would they be?

But for right now they avoided physical contact while on assignment, and dated to dampen the flames. Napoleon dated the most, his libido strong, his appetite always whetted by the sight of Illya, the scent of Illya, the feel of his body as they hid or drove or ran together. Illya didn't like it, that was plain for anyone to see, but they both passed that off with a shrug and a laugh as mingled irritation at what Illya regarded as Napoleon's unprofessionalism, and jealousy because Napoleon usually got the girl in the end.

But sometimes Illya got the girl and Napoleon didn't like that, either. He snarled at Illya, made disparaging remarks to and about the girl and he knew that looked like jealousy too, so that was all right. When they came together, assignments over, missions completed; when they came together off duty they clutched at one another, tore at one another's clothing, panted and gasped and sobbed out their passion for one another until the brief hiatus was over, and they returned to work.

And tonight would be one of those times. There had been one mission after another, he and Illya being sent all around the globe, and it had been months since they had been together. Napoleon was ready. He was more than ready, and he didn't plan to wait one more minute than he had to, didn't even intend to wait until they reached his bedroom. He would lock the door behind them and grab Illya, bring him down onto the floor in his vestibule, silence any protests Illya might make—because Illya liked his comforts, no question, he liked Napoleon's enormous sleigh bed with the feather mattress and Egyptian cotton sheets, liked the down comforters and huge overstuffed pillows—with his own open mouth. He had to shift position again, thinking of it. To distract himself he looked at Waverly's memo.

"See to this, Mr. Solo," Waverly had written in his distinctive script. Napoleon frowned at it. See to what? And why the acerbic tone? He moved the memo aside and looked at the report under it. As he read it, his heart sank.

Oh no, he thought. Oh, no.

Illya had arrived that morning at the conference room to meet the group he was supposed to be translating for. He had been selected because he was the only agent on site whose language skills and security rating qualified him for the task of translating a top secret multinational briefing. But he had translated nothing. He had walked in, looked at the assembled group, turned on his heel and stalked out. He had refused to return, refused to give any explanation, and ended by refusing to accept any more calls on the matter. He had locked the laboratory door in the face of the man sent to bring him back, and had not emerged since then. The briefing was on hold, the delegates buzzing like a hornet's nest.

Napoleon knew the reason, of course, and he was sure Waverly knew it too. Illya had recognized someone, someone from his past. Someone he refused to speak to, refused to sit civilly in the same room with. And he no doubt had good cause.

But that was irrelevant. Illya had to do his job, and by putting the issue in Napoleon's lap, Waverly was telling him that he expected him to do his too. Unpleasant and personally distasteful as it might be, Illya had to follow orders and so did Napoleon. Napoleon sighed.

How to manage this? Should he send for Illya, or seek him out? Sending for him would keep Napoleon on his own ground, give him the advantage. He would sit behind his desk and Illya would stand in front of it and their respective positions would be unequivocally established.

But he didn't—couldn't. If there was any way to resolve this without undue animosity he needed to make the first move a propitiatory one. So he went to the lab himself, and buzzed at the door which had remained so adamantly closed, buzzed twice, then again, longer this time. He knew Illya would recognize his ring, and he was right.

Illya opened up. He was incandescent with fury, Napoleon could see that as soon as he walked in. Illya's eyes were snapping, his body was taut and he was pacing. At sight of Napoleon he began talking very fast.

"Napoleon! You won't believe what they expect me to do! If I told you about it, if you'd seen it for yourself, you wouldn't believe it!"

"They expect you to do your job," Napoleon said flatly. "They expect you to set aside your personal issues and carry out your duties like a professional. That's what I expect too, and I've come here to tell you so."

Caught off guard, Illya blinked at him. Then a slow flush reddened his face, rising from his neck to burn in his cheeks, making his eyes even brighter. "You don't understand," he said tightly. "It's not as if I just didn't feel like working today. You know me better than that."

"You recognized one of those men from your past," Napoleon answered levelly. "So you don't want to deal with him. So you left. Do I have the facts straight?"

"Yes." Illya said it slowly, studying Napoleon as if he'd never seen him before. "Yes. I recognized him. I know him. And I won't talk to him, I won't translate for him, I won't stand there and address him like a human being when he isn't! He isn't at all! He's a monster! He... he's lucky I didn't kill him on the spot! I could have. It would have all been over before anyone could stop me. I should have. He's very lucky walking out was my first impulse instead of homicide."

"You're lucky," Napoleon said. "You would be in prison now. This man is a guest of our organization, and —"

"A guest!" Illya took a step forward, as if he wanted to grab Napoleon and shake him, make him understand. Instead he threw the lab stool that was between them aside, sending it crashing against the wall. Then he came very close to Napoleon, so close that Napoleon wanted to back up, but he held his ground. "He fucked me," Illya told Napoleon savagely. "He fucked me, and he hurt me, and he made me cry. I was seven. Seven! Long before I knew you. Long before I knew anything. He fucked me, and then he let his damn henchmen fuck me while he held my face and wiped my tears away with his damn finger! Son of a bitch! I will kill him. Let me pass."

"I am sorry about all of that," Napoleon said steadily. "You know I am. But it has nothing to do with this present moment. If you kill him, you will spend the rest of your life in jail. Is that what you want?"

"It would be worth it." Illya's voice was defiant, but he avoided Napoleon's gaze.

"I understand that in the heat of this present moment you may feel that way. But you know that wouldn't last. A year from now, ten years, fifty—would it still be worth it? No. Your life is far more valuable to UNCLE than that. Now I want you to pull yourself together, remember that you are a professional, go in there and do your job. Now."

Illya looked at him with disbelief. The hurt in his eyes hurt Napoleon too, but he kept that hidden and only stared back implacably.

"And if not?" Illya jerked the words out without taking his eyes from Napoleon's face.

"Then you will be written up for insubordination," Napoleon answered deliberately. "You will be removed from duty and sent home in disgrace, until such time as the Board convenes a disciplinary hearing. It would be a serious blot on your record."

"My record is spotless!"

"Currently," Napoleon agreed. "Go. I will be in shortly to monitor the proceedings. Go now."

For a long moment they stared at one another, Illya still defiant, Napoleon refusing to look away. But then he thought, what harm to give Illya this little victory? So he did look away, and as he did it he suddenly realized how dismissive it was, how condescending it appeared, so he brought his eyes back to Illya but it was too late. All he could see was Illya's stiff back as he marched through the door, outrage in every line of his body. Napoleon sighed heavily, and followed.

Illya was cold and excessively formal as he greeted those present, each in his own language. There was not the slightest hint of emotion—the Ice Prince, Napoleon thought, and was saddened. The appellation had amused and delighted him when he first heard it, and he teased Illya about it when they were alone. But now—the perfectly correct phrases, the unbending rigidity of his posture, the pale emotionless face, the glittering blue crystal eyes, all spoke of a pain almost too great to be borne. Napoleon's heart ached for him.

But he carried it off perfectly. Even Napoleon couldn't tell which of the men in the room was the monster from Illya's past. Illya addressed them all with the same exquisite courtesy, the same icy indifference. It was a spectacular performance, and Napoleon knew he was the only one there who recognized it as such. If the delegates were puzzled by Illya's abrupt retreat and unexplained return, if one delegate in particular was not puzzled but understood too well, all was concealed under a matching show of courtesy, and the conference went on smoothly.

When it ended Illya cut the farewells short, turned on his heel and left. Napoleon couldn't do the same. He had to play the game out, sipping wine, passing on the hors d'oeuvres because his stomach was a tight twisted knot, making small talk, wondering all the while which of these perfectly ordinary businessmen was the beast who had brutalized a seven year old child, enjoyed his pain, and mocked his tears.

He had no idea. He kept edging towards the door, knowing his departure needed to be unremarkable, finally seizing his moment and slipping out.

In the hall he ran into Alexander Waverly. "You knew," Napoleon burst out as soon as he saw him. "You knew when you assigned him to this job."

"I knew," Waverly agreed. "But he was the most qualified, and if he couldn't do it we needed to know that."

"So who were you testing? Him or me?"

"Both of you," Waverly said equably. "And if it is any consolation, Mr. Solo, you both passed with flying colors."

He couldn't answer. Now it was he stalking away and he couldn't even be sorry. As he went to his office, as he backed down his computer, as he logged out, his soul was desolate within him. Illya had not looked at him once during the meeting. Illya would never forgive him for this. Illya... he and Illya... were over. It was over. There would be no shared future for them after all. He was alone, as he had always been alone. This had only been a brief, bright interlude in his life, and not the culmination of it as he had imagined.

It made him feel old, and tired, and very sad. It was questionable whether he and Illya would even be able to work together after this debacle, much less... so this is how it feels when your heart breaks, he thought as he gathered his briefcase, his jacket, his car keys. This tearing, grinding pain, this black weight sitting on my chest, this despair. Illya and I are over, and my heart is broken. He made his way through the corridors, nodding in response to the greetings he got until he was able to close his car door behind him.

He parked in his underground garage and went in through the basement door, not feeling up to his customary exchange with the security guard acting as doorman. He took the elevator straight to his penthouse apartment, unlocked the door and walked in, dropping briefcase and jacket on the chair, tossing his keys into the bowl kept by the door for that purpose.

There was another set of keys already there, another briefcase on the chair. He stared at them, then looked around the living room. There was no sign of Illya there, but as he moved further into the apartment he could see Illya standing on the balcony, looking over the city.

It was an odd sensation, having your soul lift in joy while your stomach tightened with dread. Illya had come to unload all that pent up anger. Illya, no longer on duty, no longer Napoleon Solo's subordinate, would blast him with that blend of ice and fire peculiar to him. Illya would... slowly Napoleon approached the balcony, and hesitated at the door.

Illya didn't turn around, didn't give any indication that he knew Napoleon was there although he did, of course he did. No field agent would have missed the sound of the door opening and closing, the rattle of keys, the thud of a briefcase. Illya would have heard Napoleon's footsteps cross the carpet, Illya would be acutely aware of Napoleon standing there. But he made no sign, no acknowledgement. He just stared out, at the lights in the buildings around them, at the dark expanse at their feet that was Central Park.

The ball was in his court then. Napoleon swallowed. "Illya...." He began.

"He didn't remember me," Illya said in a tone of wonder. "Isn't that something? All that angst and rage on my part, and a complete lack of recognition on his. He didn't remember me at all. It meant nothing to him."

"Well..." Napoleon hesitated, came out onto the balcony. "That was a long time ago. You've changed." But the false words stuck in his throat because surely Illya hadn't changed that much. Maybe Illya had had a rounder face in childhood, maybe his hair had been even lighter, maybe he had looked completely different. But somehow Napoleon doubted it. Illya was right. It had only been one night among countless others to that man, and had left no emotional resonance at all. "I'm sorry," he added awkwardly.

"It meant nothing to him, I meant nothing to him, my feelings meant nothing to him." Illya turned then, and they faced one another. "Just like today. My feelings meant nothing today either. Nothing then, nothing now, nothing ever. How I feel means nothing. It's only what I do that matters. I shouldn't have expected anything different."

"Illya," Napoleon said, and was shocked when the word came out as a great sob. "Illya, it meant everything to me. It nearly killed me, doing that to you. And when you left me without a backward look," again his voice broke and he looked away, embarrassed. "I thought we were through," he finished. "I was afraid... am afraid, Illya, right now standing here talking to you... that the best thing that ever happened to me is over, because the job came first, because my damn job took precedence, because I hurt you and... forgive me!" He cried that last, not ashamed of his neediness, just needing. He held his arms out to Illya, not caring if he debased himself, not caring that Illya saw him weak, not caring that for right now all the power was in Illya's hands, power to break Napoleon Solo... or not.

Not. Illya came into his embrace, put his head on Napoleon's shoulder, kissed his throat, wrapped both arms around his neck. "I forgive you," he said and his voice shook too. "I forgive you, Napoleon. I see you felt you had no choice—and maybe you didn't. It's hard to see that now, but maybe it's so. Either way." He kissed Napoleon's throat again. "Either way, Napoleon. It could never be over, at least on my side. I gave you my heart way back in that hotel room when you got me dinner and talked to me so kindly, as if I mattered. I couldn't take it back. It would kill me."

"Me too," Napoleon whispered into Illya's hair, near drunk on the sweet, familiar scent of it. "It would kill me too. I love you, sweetheart. I love you with everything that is in me. And I'm sorry, so sorry, that I hurt you."

"And I'm sorry I put you in that position," Illya said. "Maybe... maybe I was wrong too, a little."

Napoleon faked a swoon. "You? Wrong? Even a little? Are you well, Illya Kuryakin?"

Illya smiled, Napoleon could feel it against his skin. "Yes—no. No, I'm not well, Napoleon. I'm sad, and I feel lonely, and I can remember how ashamed and afraid he made me feel. Love me, Napoleon. I need to feel that you love me. I'm lost without it, and that makes me feel afraid all over again."

So Napoleon loved him. He didn't make love to him, sensing without words that this was not the time for that. He took Illya into the shower and washed his hair, scrubbed his back, soaped him up all over then rinsed him off. Illya stood passively, face attentive as if concentrating wholly on the sensations filling him.

Napoleon toweled him dry, wrapped him in a bathrobe, brought him into the living room and settled him on the sofa, with cushions and his favorite throw. He turned on the television, handed him the newspaper and went into the kitchen to cook dinner. He made spaghetti with the special sauce he always prepared ahead of time, on days when he had plenty of leisure to do so, prepared and froze for just such occasions as this. He put garlic bread in the oven, and tossed a salad.

They ate on the balcony, cozy at the small table, drinking red wine and eating spaghetti. Illya was silent, subdued, but he didn't look sad anymore, just tired. Napoleon didn't try to engage him in conversation, just smiled at him and refilled his wine glass. He was overwhelmed with gratitude that they were still together, that their love had survived this great test—with flying colors, he thought, and smiled again. This was no transient affair after all, but the substance of his life—of both of their lives, just as he had hoped, wished, dreamed.

He tucked them both up in bed, holding Illya hard against his own hard body, rejoicing anew when Illya wriggled a little to get closer and fell sound asleep, a very faint smile on his lips that, when Napoleon kissed them softly, still tasted of wine.

This was what married people did. The thought struck him so poignantly it brought tears to his eyes. Married people didn't leap into the sack at every opportunity and fuck their brains out. Sometimes... sometimes married people just ate dinner and watched TV, showered and put on pajamas, and went to bed. Sometimes they just snuggled close like this, just like this, and fell asleep after a long hard day. Married people could do that, could afford that luxury because there was always tomorrow for love making, tomorrow and tomorrow... someday, he told Illya silently. Someday that will be us. And for tonight... he drew Illya even closer, kissed his temple. For tonight, it is us.

Napoleon Solo stood in his new office and adjusted his tie. He finished the perfect knot and checked himself head to toe. He was satisfied with what he saw. He looked polished, professional, successful. He looked every bit the Section One executive.

He had turned forty years old last week, and been promptly retired from the field. It was a funny thing, he mused, how age changed the way you thought. When he was in his twenties the idea of forced retirement had incensed him, and he had laid many plans to circumvent it. By his thirties he had decided it was a good idea on the whole, if not specifically for him. And now—now he was relieved. His body was not as resilient as it had once been. It took longer for broken bones to mend, longer to recover from concussion. When beaten to the ground it was becoming a real effort to leap up and plunge back into the fray. And sometimes... sometimes he had a very strong feeling that the mission wasn't worth the cost. Reprehensible, he knew—that decision was not his to make, and he certainly never acted on the feeling, but it was there nonetheless.

The finishing off of Thrush had a lot to do with it, of course. UNCLE had finally defeated its old enemy, helped by a slow seeping rot from within its ranks. Too many operatives knew about the sixty-five year deadline. And while members of Thrush Central had always been exempt, they couldn't carry on without the support of their underlings. Too many of those underlings had been abandoned; left to death or capture while their superiors escaped with their lives and their plunder. Thrush was having recruitment problems, plain and simple. And once UNCLE had cracked their inner circle, coaxed first one then the other to defect, it was only a matter of time before the whole structure came tumbling down. Once it did, to a large degree Napoleon's job was over.

There were other foes, of course. There were always those who lusted for world domination, lusted for unlimited wealth and power. There were terrorist organizations, renegade governments. UNCLE would have its hands full for the foreseeable future. But a man with Napoleon's experience could do a lot more to thwart them from Section 1, and now he would have that opportunity. And one day—still in the future, but not as far off as all that—he would sit in Waverly's chair, occupied since the old man's retirement by Jake Davenport. But Davenport had higher ambitions, and would move up sooner rather than later, leaving Napoleon a clear field. These thoughts pleased him, and he smiled at the reflection in the mirror.

And then there was Illya. He was not nearly forty yet, of course, yet the idea of him remaining on active field duty, either on his own or with another partner, had been anathema to them both. Illya was too recognizable, as Napoleon had become. Illya had made a lot of enemies, and without Napoleon at his back he would be seen as vulnerable. Whether that were true or not was debatable—Illya was a formidable opponent in his own right. But he would be a target, and Napoleon refused to countenance the prospect. So he had sat down with Illya, and asked him about his vision for his future.

It had, as it turned out, been clear cut. Illya didn't want to be in the field without Napoleon. Illya wanted to focus on his work in the Science sectors. Illya, when pressed, had very definite ideas about how to improve those sectors, how to combine their various elements under one administrative department. Illya also had very clear ideas as to staffing. He wanted to hold the reins in his own hands, while delegating the administrative details to his current laboratory partner, George Piper. He wanted a fair amount of unstructured time to spend in pure research. He admitted to having received several offers from private research facilities guaranteeing him all of the above and more. Napoleon listened, and gathered information, and went in with Illya when he presented his plan and his goals to their superiors.

They jumped at it. Napoleon was surprised, and relieved, although he hid both emotions behind a bland assumption that of course they would see the wisdom of Illya's proposal. Illya knew too much to be running around where anyone could pick him up, one of Napoleon's contacts confided in him later. Napoleon knew too much too, but UNCLE knew where he would be. Illya had been regarded as rather a loose cannon, and the assurance that he wanted nothing more than a secure berth in the heart of New York Headquarters had been a relief to everyone.

After their work status had been settled to everyone's satisfaction, Napoleon had brought Illya back in with him and laid their personal situation on the line. "We are going to be together," he had said calmly. "I am no longer Illya's immediate superior, so that is not an issue. We will be working in different departments, and our security clearances match. I will list him as my life partner, according to Guideline 87 A. He will do the same. We will share a domicile. I trust there are no objections?"

There had been none. To Napoleon's further surprise, it turned out that they had regarded him as a loose cannon in his own right, his multiple sexual liaisons being seen as a security risk. "And unbecoming to a senior staff member," Jake Davenport had added severely. "While we would prefer it if you married an appropriate woman, this is acceptable." He had smiled then, very briefly. "Congratulations."

"Thank you," Napoleon said, and

"Thank you," Illya echoed.

Waverly, who had sat in on these meetings, rose and extended a hand to Napoleon. Napoleon took it and shook it gravely. "My best wishes for your future happiness," Waverly said, then his eyes twinkled. "As I said all those years ago, I understood the ramifications perfectly. I had faith in your professionalism and your integrity, Mr. Solo. I consider that faith justified."

"Thank you sir," Napoleon said.

Waverly had then turned to Illya, and they shook hands with the same gravity. "I am very pleased with the way this has worked out," Waverly told him. "You are happy, Mr. Kuryakin?"

"Yes," Illya said, and gifted Waverly with one of his best smiles. "Very happy. Thank you sir."

"You are more than welcome. You also have more than justified UNCLE's trust in you. And I will be dropping by to see these new arrangements in Science. I have always felt there was duplication of effort, and inefficiency in processing information there. I presume that will now be a thing of the past."

"That is my goal," Illya said and they smiled at one another for another minute, then Waverly released Illya's hand, and Illya stepped backward. After another brief round of good wishes, they left.

They had separated then, each to his own areas of responsibility, to lay the groundwork for Monday's initiatives. They were meeting at Napoleon's apartment... their apartment, Napoleon corrected himself now. Illya would be moving in over the weekend, and he had better get used to thinking of it that way. Their apartment. Their home.

They had done it. They had carried out their duty, and they had remained alive to enjoy the results. And now they would be together. No more women, for either of them. Just each other. Just the other, for each of them. Forever.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, he thought, and smiled. And here it was Friday night, and for the first time that had a traditional meaning for both of them. They were regular staff employees now, which meant that in the absence of a crisis, or a sustained assignment of some sort, they would have their weekends and holidays off. Off, and together. Of course they would have to return to work Monday, and there would be long hours at first, as they settled in to their new positions, but maybe they would take a vacation after that. In a month's time, say. A week, or two—neither one had ever used much vacation time. They could choose a destination that pleased them both, and go there with nothing to do but talk and laugh and eat and sleep and make love. He smiled again, and turned away from the mirror.

Illya was waiting for him when he got home. Napoleon took him in his arms and closed his eyes in thankfulness. Here it was, then. Their future, at their feet. His future, in his arms. He kissed the top of Illya's head, and Illya made a contented sound. Napoleon looked around.

It wasn't very different. Illya had brought several cases of books, and they filled out Napoleon's shelves and spilled over in piles on the floor. New bookcases had already been ordered, and would be delivered on Tuesday. Illya's record albums resided cozily side by side with his own, and Illya's antique coffee table with the hidden drawers had replaced Napoleon's glass topped one, which he had put into storage. In the bedroom a pair of matching dressers now augmented Napoleon's built ins, and Illya's clothes would be neatly folded in the drawers. The extra closet that had always held Napoleon's out of season clothing was now for Illya's use, and those items were also relegated to the storage room in the basement. Illya and his possessions had slid into Napoleon's space very easily, just as Illya himself had moved into Napoleon's heart that night when he had seen a terrified adolescent being dragged across the floor by several grown men, and had intervened. He smiled again, remembering that.

"I must have loved you from the moment I saw you," he said. "It's the only explanation for my acting so rashly and without thinking the consequences through."

"And I loved you for snatching me away from them, and letting me stay on your sofa—your sofa, Napoleon, that was a new one on me—and feeding me and all. By the time I fell asleep that night I loved you."

"And now here we are," Napoleon said. "For the rest of our lives."

"For the rest of our lives," Illya agreed, and tipped his head back for a kiss. Napoleon obliged, kissing him slowly, and sweetly, holding him as if his life depended on it... and it did. It did.

It was late, and both had eaten at the office, so they showered and went straight to bed. It had been a fast shower, no fooling around, both wanting to close the world out of the bedroom and come together under the covers for the thousandth time, for the first time.

They lay head to foot, side by side, neither on top. Napoleon took Illya, already hard and throbbing, in his mouth and groaned with pleasure as Illya did the same for him. They kept it slow, trying to prolong it, sucking softly, fingers stroking buttocks, hair tickling thighs. They rose toward pleasure and fell away, passion swelling and receding, like drifting on some tropical sea, Napoleon thought, lost in the bliss of Illya's taste, of Illya's scent, of Illya's mouth on his, sucking him with the expertise born of love, love for him, Napoleon Solo. Illya knew him to his core, and Illya loved him. It was the bedrock he had built his life on. It was the warmth of his humanity.

The waves of passion were more insistent now, and there was no more falling away, no more backing down. They sucked harder, hands gripping instead of stroking, thighs clamping tightly around heads, urging, pleading; bodies curved so they made a perfect circle, a circle of desire and love and longing and... Napoleon cried out, a guttural sound and heard Illya's breathless cries, also smothered in flesh. They bucked and thrashed against one another and once again, as he had before, Napoleon felt that this was what he had needed all his life, what his cock had needed, what his heart had needed, what his soul had needed. He had needed Illya, and Illya needed him. They were one in their need, as they were one in their pleasure, as their lives were one, their hearts reaffirming the message as they pounded in unison. One, one, one, now and forever, one. One.

Later they sat up in bed, propped against the headboard with pillows. Napoleon read the Times, and Illya read a historical novel about the Roman Empire, one in a series he had been working his way through. Napoleon read aloud any news items he thought would interest Illya, and Illya shared historical tidbits he thought Napoleon would enjoy. When the narrative turned into a detailed description of an orgy Napoleon read over his shoulder, and after a while they came together again, laughing at how easily they had been roused to this, laughing at the lines Illya persisted in quoting from the book, laughing for joy and then they stopped laughing and sealed their mouths together. Napoleon sank deep into Illya's sweet, yielding flesh and they rocked together, barely moving, just a hot throbbing pulse between them, Illya quivering like a bow drawn too tightly in the archer's grip, Napoleon shaking with the effort to maintain that stillness, and then they shuddered and lay still on the bed.

After an endless time Napoleon rolled over, off of Illya who turned immediately and settled into his embrace. Together, they lay there. Together, they drifted towards sleep. Together, they embraced their future. Together.

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